Friday, March 19, 2021
It's Friday, March 19, 2021.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Senate Confirms Xavier Becerra as Secretary of Health and Human Services: What’s at Stake Concerning Religious Liberty, Abortion, and More?
By a vote of 50 to 49 yesterday, the United States Senate confirmed former California Attorney General Xavier Becerra as the new Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Now, just before the nomination actually went through to confirmation, the New York Times ran an article in yesterday's print edition with a headline Biden's top health posts remain empty as GOP focuses on culture wars. Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes the article and the way the article is written tells us a great deal about the challenges that we now face.
Let's just look at the facts. Xavier Becerra has absolutely no experience in healthcare whatsoever, and yet, President Biden, then President Elect Biden appointed Xavier Becerra to be the head of the Department of Health and Human Services, it was an overtly political act. Furthermore, even as President Biden had indicated at least in his public messaging that he was not going to play the culture wars, the reality is there was no qualification for Xavier Becerra other than that he was one of the lead culture warriors for the left.
This is a man who has sought to shut down crisis pregnancy centers, women's health centers of a pro-abortion nature in the State of California. This is a man who openly suggested that religious organizations ought not to have the right to operate on their religious convictions. This is a man who, for example, made very clear that he would use the powers of the law to try to prevent Christian adoption and foster care agencies from being able to operate on the basis of their convictions. This is a man who, as a member of Congress, voted against the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. He holds to a radical view of abortion, abortion rights without any restriction whatsoever all the way to birth. Yet, we're told this is the administration that's trying not to signal that it's entering into the culture wars.
It is. It has named a prime culture warrior of the left as the head of the Department of Health and Human Services. Yes, his nomination was delayed by controversy, but it went through, a 50 to 49 vote. Now, if you look at that, remember 50/50, 50 Democrats, 50 Republicans in the Senate. It would look like there were 50 Democrats who voted for the nomination, the confirmation, and then there would be 49 Republicans who voted against Becerra. But that's not actually how it turned out. As it turned out, there were 49 Democrats and one Republican voting for the confirmation. That one Republican was Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins, just reelected back in the election that took place in November.
Now, just notice what's going on here. This confirmation couldn't have taken place unless one Republican decided to join the revolution and one Republican did. The backdrop to this, the one Democratic Senator who did not vote from Hawaii could later have voted, maybe it would have been a 50/50 split. Maybe the Democrats would have had to pull the Vice President Kamala Harris in order to break the tie, that would have been a better situation than having even one Republican vote for the confirmation of this candidate. By the way, one of the most dangerous beliefs of Xavier Becerra is that religious liberty is held only by individual American citizens, not by Christian churches, denominations, or religious institutions.
That is one of the most insidious and dangerous ideas that one could imagine. It undercuts the constitutional right of religious liberty for, just to give an example, a Christian hospital or a Jewish adoption agency or a Christian college or university. It means that there are no religious liberty claims to be made according to his theory. The good news is that Xavier Becerra's theory that only individual citizens possess religious liberty rights is not the dominant view in the United States. But the bad news is it could soon become that and he could be an agent for that. Indeed, we should expect he would be an agent for that as the new head of the Department of Health and Human Services. It's not like we didn't know who he was long before he was nominated, much less confirmed.
Cohabitation Is a Growing Problem in Evangelical Churches? Why Christians Must Be Incredibly Clear—and Consistent—About What the Bible Teaches About Marriage and Sex
But next, turning to a very different issue of more immediate Christian responsibility, let's think about the responsibility of the Christian church to honor, to teach, to preserve, to respect marriage, indeed, to make marriage normative. The normative moral expectation for adults who are, let's just use the word of the secular world, sexually active. Why are we talking about this? Well, headline at Christianity Today, an important article recently released there by David J. Ayers, Professor of Sociology at Grove City College. The headline is this, "The Cohabitation Dilemma Comes for America's Pastors." Now, let's just think about that for a moment.
Cohabitation, that means two people living together, and that means sexually related to one another, living in the same place without being married. That's why it's called cohabitation. We're looking at the fact that now we are told that there is a cohabitation dilemma coming for America's pastors. Now, from a Christian worldview perspective, that puts marriage right at the center of the moral expectation. How in the world can a pastor committed to sexual expression only within marriage, as the union of a man and a woman, how can there be a dilemma? Well, the dilemma, according to Professor Ayers in this important article is that there's an increasing number and percentage of American evangelicals, at least self-identified evangelicals, who say that they're quite open to cohabitation.
Indeed, there's research indicating that a larger number of those who identify as evangelical actually are cohabiting, and it comes down to the fact that this is presenting a pastoral challenge to churches, a pastoral challenge that is made clear in this article and the fact that some of these pastors are getting pushback from their congregations when they make very clear that cohabiting is morally wrong. The article has a very interesting beginning. It begins with Chris Pratt and his fiance, Katherine Schwarzenegger. Evidently in early 2019, they indicated that they were going to be moving in together.
Now, here's where it gets interesting. Ayers writes, "Media outlets cited of the couple's evangelical Christian faith as the reason they did not cohabit until they were engaged. Few," he writes, "suggested there was any contradiction between Pratt's cohabitation and his status as a devout Christian, a folksy popular evangelical who urged "living boldly in faith." Well, that's a fascinating way for this article to begin. When you look at Chris Pratt and Katherine Schwarzenegger, the internet was indeed ablaze and abuzz with the word that they were moving in together, and with that very odd footnote, that they had not moved in together because of their moral concerns until they were engaged, as if engagement was some kind of biblical standard for when people should move in together and begin being sexually active together. As if engagement is even in the Bible in that sense, certainly as an institution.
Now, let's just fast forward. Let's get to the bottom line here. The Bible makes abundantly clear in both the Old and the New Testaments that marriage is the only institution God has given, the central and blessed institution that God has given for human beings, a man and a woman to be related in the monogamous covenant of lifetime marriage, and then they have sexual rights, each to the other. What they do together as a conjugal married couple is right and glorious and the sight of the Lord. In so far as it's biblical and faithful. Of course, it also comes with the fact that marriage is given with the anticipation of children, be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.
But remember how the second chapter of Genesis ends. It ends by telling us that the man and the woman together in the institution of marriage were naked and not ashamed. Naked and not ashamed is one of the Bible's most beautiful ways of saying this is right indeed glorious, and at that point before sin, even perfect in the eyes of the Lord. Everything else is contrary to scripture. The Scripture gets to that very quickly. The Scripture makes clear that any kind of sexual expression or activity outside of the bonds of marriage as the lifelong monogamous union of a man and a woman defined by the way as a covenant, any such activity or behavior outside of marriage is by one name or another sin, and not only that, grievous sin.
The Bible takes sexual sin with very great seriousness, so much so, that the Bible makes very clear that sexual sin threatens the soul. Ayers understands the point when he writes, "This," meaning the controversy or lack of controversy about Pratt and Schwarzenegger, "may seem odd to those who recognize that scripture forbids all sexual activity outside marriage. But," he writes, "the choice that Pratt and Schwarzenegger made isn't contained to Hollywood. It's the new norm among young professing evangelicals across America."
Now, I look at that sentence and I have to wonder, could this be right? Could it be that cohabiting is now the new norm among young professing evangelicals? Well, the problem here is, first of all, identifying who is and is not an evangelical. This article by Ayers turns out to be actually very confirming and revealing on those terms. But you aren't looking at the fact that many people who identify themselves as evangelicals, which by the way, on this kind of survey can sometimes happen because there isn't another block to check. They're not Jewish, they're not Roman Catholic. When you think about even just Protestant, they don't identify with the old mainline liberal denominations, just about all that is left on most survey forms or most questions asked is something like evangelical.
This is where we have to recognize, when we look at the number of supposed evangelicals in the United States, we have to understand, we don't really know what we're looking at in those numbers. But here's the issue, and this is fundamental for the Christian worldview, we better know who we're talking about when we talk about our local church. Ayers writes later in the article, "Simply put, living together is far more common and accepted than Christians realize. American pastors are grappling with how to navigate wedding policies and premarital counseling among cohabiting congregants. But one thing is certain, if the church is to preserve and protect marriage, something about its approach has to change."
Well, amen to that. But let me tell you the most disturbing content in the article, it's the fact that we are told that many people in supposedly evangelical churches seem to be unaware of the Bible's teachings about marriage, about the sinfulness of all sexual expression outside of marriage. Or if they know the Bible says even or teaches such a thing, they don't understand the consequences of disobeying scripture. Now Ayers tells us that even the surveys indicate that evangelicals are much less likely than Americans overall to approve of cohabitation. But nonetheless, something's going on here.
The article begins by the way by telling us about some pastors who've had pushback from congregants because they have made very clear that cohabiting is sin and that marriage is the full moral expectation as we're told here in the article, "The sociology professor have been speaking to a group of pastors in 2019, he asked about how many of them face cohabitation regularly in their churches? The report, "Most raised their hands. One told me that he had stopped conducting weddings because so many of his engaged couples were cohabiting and got angry when he addressed it. Another suffered bitter criticism from church members when he dismissed a church employee who refused to leave a cohabiting arrangement."
Now, let me just make something very, very clear. If you are a member of a church that does not hold up the sanctity of marriage and does not identify, make very clear, anything that is sexual expression outside of marriage is sin, if your church is allowing cohabiting couples to be considered faithful members who are attending the church and the Lord's supper and their relationships are considered to be biblical, you're in the wrong church. You're in the wrong church if it is the point that is described by this article.
But Ayers is exactly right. If the church is to preserve and protect marriage, something about its approach has to change. Later in the article, we are told that by research, a large number of high school and college students and other young adults seem to be relatively unaware of the church's teaching on marriage. Again, whose fault is that? It is, first of all, the church's fault. One of the interesting things to think about here is that it takes a certain amount of cleverness and evasion to avoid marriage in scripture. It's so consistent in scripture. It's so interwoven in biblical theology. It's where the Bible starts in the book of Genesis, and by the time you get to the New Testament, Jesus is making very clear an answer to a hostile question that God's intention from the beginning was a union of a man and a woman.
Jesus doesn't take a light view of sexual sin, even fornication. Jesus goes so far as to say, "You've heard it written in the law. You shall not commit adultery." But Jesus said, "That's not enough. If you've looked upon a woman with lust and you've objectified her as a sexual object, then you have already committed adultery." Furthermore, as if there's any way to miss this, the central metaphor of the relationship between Jesus Christ the Redeemer and his redeemed people, the church, is marriage, the church, the bride, Jesus Christ, the bridegroom.
Then just in case you just happened to miss this, by the time you get to the end of Scripture, one of the most glorious visions is described as the marriage supper of the lamb. You can't avoid marriage. If you're preaching the word, you're going to be talking about marriage. Furthermore, as you look at the law, as you look at the prophets, as you look at the promise, by the way prophets, dare I say, Hosea, as you are looking to the New Testament, as you are looking to the church, as you're preaching the gospel, you've got to be preaching marriage.
Furthermore, if you look for example, at Paul's letters, you'll notice how practical Paul is. Paul becomes an example for pastors. Your people had better know, Christians in churches had better know, preachers had better teach, and parents had better tell, and all Christians must affirm that God's intention is indeed revealed in marriage. God's intention for sexual expression is limited to marriage and marriage is unquestionably defined as the union of a man and a woman. But furthermore as we're looking at this, we have to recognize another central sign of theological slippage. Theological slippage takes place not only when people say, "Hey, I know the Bible teaches that, but I don't believe it," or, "There aren't that many verses on it in the Bible. It can't be that important."
Theological slippage doesn't just come from people who say, "Look, you got to get on the right side of the issue. You had to get on the right side of history." Theological slippage also comes when people say, "I'm not really sure we should talk this very much out loud." I just invite you to read the scripture and notice how plain the speeches in scripture concerning these things. It's not as if God in his own verbally inspired word is reluctant to talk explicitly directly in terms of absolute right and absolute wrong, in terms of explicit reference to forms of sexual sins. Not as if God is reluctant to speak to his people this way. If God loves us enough to talk this way, we had better love our people enough in the church to preach this way.
There are a couple of other very interesting sections in this article. I said there was a certain confirmation when it comes to evangelical conviction, as Ayers writes, "There is some reason for hope. The cohabiting habit is less acute among those who are theologically conservative and attend church weekly. Even with shifting cultural attitudes, the study showed that evangelicals who attend church regularly or regard their faith as very important to their daily lives are much less likely to plan on cohabiting or to actually do so. Church attendance and personal faith commitment make a huge difference." Now sad is the church for whom that has to be explained. But nonetheless, it's important to have that here in black and white.
I appreciate this professor of sociology, Professor Ayers at Grove City for stating that very clearly. It also tells us that many of the times when you look at a headline like this, where you look at survey or polling material, again, I go back to the fact, you better know who you're talking about here. But the difference that preaching, the difference that attendance and worship and a gospel-believing, Bible-teaching church makes, well, here it is, right here in the words of this article. It's very well-documented, the cohabiting habit is less acute among those who are theologically conservative and attend church weekly.
Now, let's think about that for a moment. Theologically conservative. What would that mean? Well, at the very least, it had better mean understanding that the Bible is the inerrant, infallible word of God, and that we are obligated to obey scripture and that the Christian church has one ultimate authority for knowing how we are to honor Christ and glorify God and that is the scripture. There's other good material in here, such as the fact that some young people argue, and by the way it's not just young, but some people argue that living together gives them some experience to confirm that they're right for each other in marriage. But the data reports are very clear. It turns out that there is no evidence that living together strengthens marriage, and there is abundant evidence that it does the opposite.
Furthermore, sociologists such as Bradford Wilcox at the University of Virginia have done copious research indicating that cohabiting makes the lives of children in a family far more fragile and endangered. Also interesting in this article is what we've heard before and talked about on The Briefing. There are people who will come and say, "I can't afford to get married because weddings are so expensive." Well, folks, weddings don't have to be expensive. I'm not going to critique anyone that has an expensive wedding. After all, expensive weddings are even revealed in scripture. The point is, most of the weddings revealed in Scripture weren't expensive. They were simply weddings. They were covenant expressions of a man and a woman before God's people making the pledge of enduring fidelity together.
The expectation of an expensive wedding is in itself ungodly. But the fact is, as you're looking at this, that the expectation of an expensive wedding is sometimes put as a higher priority than the morality of obeying God and actually not having sex until you're married. But the interesting thing about marriage is that the wedding does need to happen in one way or another. There is every biblical authority for believing there needs to be a ceremony, but the ceremony doesn't have to be expensive. Actually, it doesn't have to cost anything at all. The point about the ceremony, however, is that marriage is a public commitment. It is a commitment that is made in public when a man and a woman exchange vows, vows of exclusivity and fidelity for so long as they shall live. But for Christians, of course, this can't be just interesting. It has to be considered important. Let's just remind ourselves again, we're talking about marriage.
Are Humans Distinctly Different From Squirrels? Human Dignity Depends on Understanding the Distinction
But finally, I want to talk to the definition of human beings as human beings. Crispin Sartwell, Professor of Philosophy at Dickinson University in Carlisle, Pennsylvania recently ran an article at the New York Times entitled, "Humans Are Animals. Let's Get Over It." The subhead, "It's astonishing how relentlessly Western philosophy is trying to prove that we are not squirrels." Now, what's he talking about here? He's talking about the fact that in the entire Western philosophical tradition, a great deal of attention has been made to the fact that human beings are distinct from other creatures. Crispin Sartwell is saying, "That's wasted time. We should simply surrender the argument that human beings aren't squirrels."
Sartwell's argument that human beings shouldn't be so concerned about human exceptionalism or human dignity, he makes the point, and this is his central argument, that this is at the expense of the animals, because it means that we can treat animals as other than human beings. We can thus disrespect them because after all they're not human beings. But let me just point out that it's not just Western civilization that has made this distinction. It's a fundamental distinction for human survival. If you want to find a society that doesn't know the difference between human beings and animals, well, that society doesn't exist anymore because no society can exist, can thrive and flourish if it doesn't understand that human life is infinitely more valuable than animal life.
Now, animal rights activists, by the way, and they could not have emerged in terms of making these kinds of arguments without a larger secularization in the culture, animal rights activists are arguing that animals do have rights. Now, one of the things I've talked about on The Briefing before is that animals deserve our respect according to the Christian worldview. We should not abuse them. We should not merely use them. We should receive them as gifts, gifts given to us by God himself, who, by the way, in scripture told us how we are to enjoy them, how we are too respect them and how we are to use them.
But the Bible is abundantly clear from the very beginning of Scripture, as we were talking about marriage, even before marriage, you have human beings made God's image. What's distinctive about human beings in all of the biblical teaching is the fact that human beings have the capacity to know God, to worship God, to be the friends of God, in a way the animals do not. Animals glorify God? Yes. But animals are not conscious of the fact that they glorify God. But what we are seeing here is a very dangerous depreciation of human dignity, because here's the thing we need to know, when you have philosophers such as Crispin Sartwell or others arguing that making the distinction between human beings and animals as a way of disrespecting animals, well, the fundamental reality is this, one of the most dangerous ideas on planet earth is that the way to respect animals is to degrade human dignity.
Yes, there is a difference. There is a reason why the legal status of a boy is not the legal status of a pig, which is not the legal status of a dog. A society that considers a pig and a dog and a boy to be the same moral reality is a society that will sacrifice the boy. By the way, even as there are many people in academia making these arguments and animal rights activists out with their signs, and even as there are people who are making the arguments for everything from veganism to closing the zoos, the reality is, even as they're saying there should be no distinction, the reality is there is a distinction and they know it. If they have a choice between saving their own niece or nephew or the neighbor's pet, my guess is, my hope is that they're going to choose the child rather than the pet.
That doesn't mean they won't mourn the pet. It doesn't mean they would not try to save the pet. It means first things first, the boy and the girl before the dog. But Crispin Sartwell is onto something else here. He gets to the wrong place with it. But this is a good thing for him to mention. He says that there are those who not only argue for a distinction of dignity between animals and humans, but among humans. Yes, indeed. Histories revealed there are those who would make those arguments and Christians are the very people who can never make those arguments and must always recognize those arguments for the insidious assault upon creation and God's glory that they are.
Is Your Pet Sending You Telepathic Messages? Pet Psychics Are On the Rise, and You Honestly Can’t Make This Up
But as the week comes to an end, I'm just going to talk about one of the places this leads. The Wall Street Journal ran an article recently by Michael M. Phillips about dog psychics, pet psychics, who are now standing by. This is a good way to end the week. But this is a report from The Wall Street Journal. I promise you, I'm not making this up. You can find the article for yourselves. Yes, there are pet psychics. We are told about Terri O'Hara who visited a ranch in Littleton, Colorado to talk with the animals, "Ms O'Hara strolls through the barn, mingles with the herd and sits down with the poultry. She says she drinks in telepathic images that reveal animals' inner thoughts, be they profound or mundane."
"On a typical visit, Ms. O'Hara will report that a gelding is concerned that human staff members get dangerously underfoot around the feeding stations. The miniatures steer is miffed that the male pig has a female companion and he doesn't. The alpacas divulge cliques are forming among the volunteer ranch hands. The hens complain that the rooster is abusive." Folks, this is The Wall Street Journal. We are told that amongst the rescued horses, there is conversation, "There were horses we didn't realize were having an issue or they knew other horses were having an issue and they wanted to talk about it." Alex Von Vidder identified in the article as a former Manhattan restaurateur who's brought an animal communicator to her horse farm said, "Just because I don't understand it doesn't mean it's not." Well, Mr. Von Bidder, yes, it does mean in this case it's not real.
Ms. O'Hara, later in the article we read, lives in Eugene, Oregon and has a three week waiting list for appointments, and according to the article, she counts more than 10,000 animals among her clients. "Last month, she gave a woman the hard news that the family dog preferred to live with her soon to be ex-husband." She's even held telepathic sessions with Guinea pigs. Her quote is this, "On average, they have less to say." But by the way, this pet psychic isn't actually saying that like Dr. Doolittle, she hears the animal speak audibly. Instead, "I've heard them in a way that doesn't involve the ears. I've heard them in the heart." Now, I don't want to be mean-spirited, but I don't think it's merely that her way of hearing doesn't involve the ears. I don't think that it involves much between the ears either.
My favorite part of the article is were The Wall Street Journal tells us, "Predictably, animal communicators run into their share of skeptics." Yes, I'll count myself skeptic number one. This is my favorite paragraph, "Kyle Huwaldt's father has engaged Ms. O'Hara off and on for nearly two decades, spanning three generations of family dogs. But Mr. Huwaldt, a 21 year old finance student at the University of Denver just doesn't find it plausible that someone three states away can have a two way conversation with a dog by looking at its photo." Well, Mr. Huwaldt, I'm with you in denying that it's possible that that could take place. It's not plausible, but I don't think that if she were two states away, it'd be any more plausible than three states. I don't think that if the dog is present with her, it's any more plausible than looking at the dog in a photo.
We're also told about a brother and a sister who hired an animal communicator for a session with their parents' lab pit bull mix, Charlie, "Charlie's struck. This particular pet psychic is unusually needy and wondered if he was happy." We are told that the brother was hesitant, but the sister egged him on, "We should just try it." Here's my favorite part from this section, "They wanted to keep the session secret from their parents. We really didn't want to freak them out." I'll just say that's probably a good impulse. The article ends and so The Briefing this week with comment about one so-called animal communicator who communicated that the dog was telling her that the dog is bored when everyone stares at their phones, and this is supposed to be from the dog, "Really? You're going to look at that again. Come on. Let's go back outside, dad."
Now, I'm just going to suggest that it's not implausible that the dog wants to go outside. That's not impossible at all. It's not also implausible that the dog could communicate to you that the dog wants to go outside. But if you need a pet psychic to tell you what your dog is thinking, it's probably going to be too late to get the dog outside. It reminds me of the old adage that has sometimes vendor attributed to G.K. Chesterton saying that when people cease to believe in God, they don't believe in nothing. They believe in anything.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
You don't need a pet psychic to know that I'll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.