The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Friday, March 26, 2021

It’s Friday, March 26, 2021.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

What Happens When Identity Politics Takes Hold of a Political Party? A Progressive Ultimatum from Two U.S. Senators

From time to time on The Briefing, we have looked at the reality of identity politics. The most important thing to recognize is that identity politics reorganizes and reprioritizes politics, with an eye to various descriptors of personal identity. We’ve seen how this becomes inescapably linked to the idea of intersectionality, because when you are looking at the contemporary politicized categories of personal identity, you’re also looking at the fact that many of them are multiple and overlap. And, no story in recent months has made this point more clearly than one that comes out in a statement made by two United States senators about how they’re going to be dealing with appointees from a president of their own party, President Joe Biden. Both of these are Democratic senators.

They include senators Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii. Both of them, basically together, made a statement that they will not vote to confirm any more nominees from President Joe Biden, unless they are specifically minority or LGBTQ. It’s been rightly described in the media as an ultimatum from the two senators, and they went on to say that they would not vote for the confirmation of any nominees, no matter the politics, no matter how liberal, no matter how Democratic, unless they have a greater representation of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in these top appointments from the President. But then they also said that even as their basic purpose is to demand more Asian American and Pacific Islanders in the top ranks of the administration, this frustration is not going to keep them from voting to confirm nominees who are identified as, well, I’ll just put it in the statement made by Senator Hirono.

“This is not about pitting one diversity group against another, so I’m happy to vote for a Hispanic, a black person, an LGBTQ person, an AAPI person,” that’s Asian American Pacific Islander person. She went on to say that the President had made a commitment to diversity and, “That is what we are calling for.” And so what we’re actually looking at here is a meltdown in the confirmation process. The meltdown comes down to this. There are 50, 5-0, Democratic members of the Senate and the Senate confirmation requires a majority, and so you’re looking at the fact that when it comes to the majority, you are looking at the reality of 50/50 math. If they lose Democrats, then the Biden administrations in huge trouble. And here, they have lost two. Two very prominently identified Democratic senators.

When it comes to Tammy Duckworth and Mazie Hirono respectively of Illinois and Hawaii, they’re saying that even when President Biden nominates someone who is a white person, by their designation, or a majority person not having a diversity score in this count, when President Biden nominates such a person, until such time that the Biden administration nominates more Pacific Islanders and Asian Americans, they’re going to vote no or they are not going to vote yes, and either effect that will mean that President Biden’s nominees die.

Now, this is hardball politics. It’s hardball identity politics coming from within the Democratic Party. At this point, the Republican Party isn’t even a factor. We’re talking about a debate entirely within the Democratic Party, but we’re also seeing what happens when identity politics takes hold of the political system, and when it takes hold of a political party. Because, there is no end to this. This is not the endgame. This is just one very interesting inning in a game that is never going to end this as long as identity politics becomes the game itself. Because in identity politics, which has to come with some form of intersectionality, there is no end to the permutations of the demands that will be made.

The ultimatum from these two senators really does come down to the fact that even as they’re saying, “the main issue is the absence or the lack of a sufficient number of Pacific Islander, Asian American identified nominees,” they are not going to take out their judgment on all of President Biden’s nominees until their standards are met. They’re going to give an exception. And again, this is, in Senator Hirono’s words, “for those who are Hispanic, identified as black, LGBTQ, or Asian American, Pacific Islander.”

In other words, they are drawing a line in the sand, but it is only a line for white people. In other words, they’re the one category that don’t fit the exceptions that were given by these two senators. In the language, in this case, of Senator Hirono. But an interesting issue to observe there is that these two senators are also women and they’ve been pushing for women nominees, but they’re listed set of exceptions would not include an exception for a white woman. They’re not saying that given their concerns they’ll vote against nominees unless they are minority of a certain kind, including women. No, white women are not included here either.

News coverage and the major media have told us that this has been a building frustration on the part of senators in particular, these two Democratic senators, both of them women. And, we are told that they’ve been communicating their dissatisfaction to the White House, a report in the New York Times by Nicholas Fandos and Emily Cochrane tells us, “Senator Duckworth said she followed up on Tuesday morning to inform the White House that she was a “no” on everything other than the diversity candidates who came before the Senate until she felt Mr. Biden’s team was taking the right steps, beginning with the President’s nominee for under Secretary of Defense for policy.”

So in other words, not only are they looking at a specific demand, an ultimatum, they’ve identified a specific sub cabinet position that is of direct importance to them. This is hard ball. It’s very interesting hardball. It’s hardball, but for the first time, at least to my knowledge, puts United States senators on record saying that they are going to oppose nominees from a President of their own party until their own demands are met.

From a Christian perspective, we have to understand that the Christian worldview doesn’t deny that there are identity markers for human beings, and especially when it comes to the very revelation of God in Scripture, the first identity markers are male and female. And by the way, those are immutable identity markers. That is to say, it doesn’t change. Male and female created He them. The unity however of the human race is what’s most important. First of all, in the entirety of the biblical narrative, the fact that our unity is in the fact that we are all commonly equally made in God’s image, and then in the New Testament, for the church the most important thing is our commonality in our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, regardless of any identity markers, real or perceived, political, socially constructed, or rooted in creation. The fact is that what is most important is our unity in Christ. Our commonality of union with Christ. Identity politics is perhaps what inevitably happens when these identity markers become primary in political calculations and of late, they have become primary. Almost every headline these days, almost every political controversy in Washington, DC and elsewhere is really driven by this kind of identity politics.

I mentioned intersectionality. Intersectionality is a subset of critical theory that holds that these identity markers actually overlap or “intersect” as in intersectionality, so when you’re looking at systems of oppression, you’re not only looking at the fact that you have, for instance, what they would describe as an inequity between male and female, or between for that matter those identified as white and black, but you go on and there are further intersections of interlinked oppressions when you come to, for example, a lesbian who is also black, who is by definition a woman, and you could just go on and without making a parody of this, there are permutations of these identities that continue onward.

But when it comes to the failure of intersectionality to bring any coherence, or for that matter justice to a system, just understand that here you have two United States Senators who basically making an argument rooted in intersectionality and identity politics are saying, they will not even support, indeed, they will deny support to nominees of a President from their own party. This is an argument that isn’t over the ability or the aptitude of those who made be the nominees for these offices. This is a demand of identity politics that is now so bare knuckled, that it is right down to specifics.

And again, so fascinating, the specific exceptions to this policy that these two senators have indicated because given the reality of identity politics, they would find themselves in too much hot water if in a blanket denial of the confirmation vote, they would extend that to those who have their own minority claim. All of this basically is a political meltdown. And again, we’re looking at a meltdown in this case, in just one party. It’s a party that has increasingly just defined itself in terms of intersectionality and identity politics. And what we see here is that this is a meltdown. It’s a meltdown that will continue to melt. Our concern about it, however, cannot be primarily political. Our concern has to be primarily theological. And as we’re looking at this, we need at least to understand we’re seeing a signal warning where these ideas lead.

Part II

The Standards Keep Changing: Army Changes Fitness Test Standards to Ensure Women Can Qualify for Combat

But next, let’s shift to a different issue. This one also in the headlines these days, having to do about men and women in the United States military, and by extension for registration for the draft. Different issues that are united in the gender question to the intersection of the military, but let’s understand what we’re talking about here. Well, for one thing, women in the military, that’s not an entirely new issue. Certainly in the 20th century, there were even in earlier times in Western military tradition, you had the alliance between the military and the medical profession, even the emergence of nursing in an event such as the Crimean War of the 19th century.

During World War II, there was a women’s corps that was very important to the military, but women were not deployed in combat. With the rise of second-wave feminism in the 1970s, calls came, indeed demands came, that women must be eligible for combat positions and for routine enlistment in the United States military and all of its services. Over the last several decades, the controversies and unfolding developments have brought the fact that now at least by argument, all branches of the United States military say that women are fully eligible for service even in forward deployment, even in what’s defined as combat. And of course, for advancement in officer ranks.

Now, there’s something else behind this, and that is the fact that the second-wave feminists were not particularly pro-military, and that’s an understatement. They didn’t see the military is a great good and they wanted women to be able to get in on that good, they saw the military as a central institution of society that was inherently patriarchal and masculine. They wanted to reduce the patriarchal and masculine nature of the military. They also made the argument of equality. Equality of access. Women, young women in particular, ought to have the same access to the military as young men, but that raises a host of issues.

Now, let’s just think biblically for a moment. What does the Bible say about women in combat? Well, it doesn’t say anything directly. What we do have is a pattern of biblical reasoning, and here we need to be honest, the Bible does speak explicitly to a distinction between men and women when it comes to roles and responsibilities in the church and in the home. So, let’s start with the home and then move to the church. There you have two concentric circles. The Bible speaks in both the Old and the New Testament in very clear, very specific terms of the distinction between the mother and the father, the wife and the husband, in marriage and in the family.

A very clear distinction in terms of the roles of men and women, even though there is that fundamental commonality, as we are made equally in God’s image. And then in the New Testament, there is further elaboration of the fact that there is a distinction of roles, not only in the family, Paul affirms that again and his letter to the Ephesians, but you also have the reality that in the church, there is a division of labor, a distinction of roles, and teaching office for example, is to be held by men, and there are both positive and negative explicit statements in scripture to make that clear.

But of course, as you look at human beings and our organizing of society, there is a realm beyond the domestic, which is marriage and the family, and then the church, and that realm is the larger society. Now, does the Bible, especially as you think about the New Testament, speak specifically to distinct roles between men and women in the larger society? The answer is no. There is no, say, 3 Corinthians that gives us specific information about how distinctions between men and women should be respected throughout civil society.

Now, because of that, we have to be more humble and more careful in making arguments about any distinction between men and women in that sphere. But still, as you’re looking at civil society, in one sense, it is the further extension of the very bedrock molecule of civil society, which is marriage and the family. And even just looking at the physical constitution of men and women, there is also the implication of different roles. Different body structure, different strength, even different skeletal structure, different abilities, different giftedness. Now, this is not absolute, when it comes to something like say being a firefighter, but it is nonetheless important. Given the strength requirements that do come with being a firefighter.

Now, Christians have to think very carefully. In every society, there are certain distinctions between men and women that are merely culturally constructed. That is to say, they are just a matter of social custom, some kind of social assumption, social habits, those things do exist in every society. But at the same time, there is what Christians would affirm as a basic physical, even using theological language, an ontological distinction between men and women, that regardless of the intention of a society, it’s never going to be able to overcome.

By the way, with reference to the fact that the larger civil society has to grow out of the small society of marriage and the family, we just have to point out that civil society has a very important interest in say; reproduction, procreation, the production of children, the birth of babies, and then the raising of those children. And again, there is even ontologically, that is rooted in being in physicality, a distinction between men and women, when it comes to those categories.

I’ve confronted the question about women in the military, and in particular women in combat, and those are two different issues. There is no basic Christian moral concern about women in the military. The issue is women in combat. Now, I don’t have a Bible verse that I can produce in order to tell you that it violates the will of God and the order of creation for a woman to be in combat. I can simply say that combat itself is such a moral atrocity, and it is also such a physical horror that putting women into that context does not appear to meet the requirements for respect for women and the protection of the vulnerable that would be called for in a biblical worldview.

Now, again, listen to me carefully. I haven’t said that women serving in combat violates any specific biblical texts. I am saying that the project of moral and theological inference from scripture that is our Christian responsibility, should lead us at the very least to understand there is a problem here. There’s a challenge here.

Part of it is once again, a physical challenge. There are different physical challenges, and to make the point that has been made by the military and revealed through history, there are different physical capacities, strength levels, skeletal structure, endurance issues, when it comes to men and women in the main. Both of these come together in current cultural conversations, one of them has to do with the Army’s new try to try develop a strength test that can apply to men and women soldiers that will not come up with a result in which many women fail the test. Too many women fail the test.

By the way, a lot of this is just overtly politicized. You have legislators saying, “Too many women are not passing the test, therefore for equity and equality,” those two words do not mean the same thing, “you’re going to have to make some change in the test.” Now, one of the things we just need to note, or at least as an historical observation, is that when the military began to open itself to women serving in combat, every single branch of the military indicated that the one thing they would not do is redefine the specific requirements for deployment in those units by gender. But that is now what they are doing, and the reason they’re doing it is because they have to do it. They’re going to have to make changes if there will be, what legislators will decide would be, a requisite minimal number of women in these units.

The army is trying to come up with a new version of its combat fitness test, and what’s interesting is that so much of this is being driven not just by the military, but by Congress putting political pressure on the military to come up with a new test. It’s also interesting that in the media coverage about the conversation about this basic physical aptitude test for the military in this case, the army, there is the acknowledgement that the test as it stands, and as it stood before the latest revision, doesn’t allow as many women to pass as men, or to put it another way, women aren’t passing the test in the same percentages as men. There are issues here related to upper body strength and endurance but in any event, in worldview analysis, the interesting thing is the fact that the army is trying it yet again.

And they’re actually proposing that perhaps the standard of evaluation amongst soldiers shouldn’t be soldier to soldier, but soldier to soldier within gender categories. Whoa, wait just a minute. Just think about all the denials of any specific meaning to gender that has been taking place just in the courts of the LGBTQ revolution, which is to say that if they come up with a third test that passes political muster, it won’t pass muster for long.

But it’s going to be very interesting to see how this turns out and just how honest the military and Congress will be about how it turns out.

Part III

Should Women Be Required to Register for the Draft? The Biblical Distinctions Between Males and Females

But the second issue might be of more urgent interest to many American Christians, and it has to do with the controversy going on now in the military and in political ranks in our country as to whether or not it is inherently discriminatory that young men and not young women are legally required to register for selective service, which is to say for the draft.

Now, there is no current process of draft or conscription in which young men are being involuntarily pulled into the American armed services, but the selective service registration is there in the event any threat to the United States would make that necessary. So right now, the argument of equality means that all the branches of the military had to include women, and that means recruit women and advance women according to the claim of equal access when it comes to equal responsibility. When it comes to registering for the selective service, well, at this point, you have many people in Congress saying it is then fundamentally unfair and probably unconstitutional, by their reading of the gender issues, that selective service requirements should be addressed only to young men and not to young women.

It’s also interesting to see that many driven by a basic feminist argument here are saying that it’s unconstitutional for young women not to be required to register with selective service because that status alone indicates that there’s something different about men. Well, of course, that status alone does imply that there’s something different about men.

Back when there was much conversation about the general idea of women in the military, I pointed out that the logic of the military must be acknowledged. The logic is this: If you have a right to serve, you might well have a duty to serve. If you have a right to serve under any situation, by command of the military authorities, then that right to serve, once enlisted, becomes a duty to serve. The other thing to note is that if the military or the government claims a right to conscript you by draft into the armed services, then if access is to be equal, according to men and women, then the duty should be equal. The vulnerability should be equal between men and women also.

Now, I raised that issue decades ago because in dealing with this issue, I pointed out that the vast majority of Americans then were clearly outraged by the idea that their young women and girls actually, teenage girls, would have to register for the selective service and thus would be at least potentially vulnerable to being called up by the draft to involuntary service, but there’s another part of the military logic you have to recognize.

Once you are inducted or enlisted into the military, you are under military command, and you go where you are sent. And so even as you have many people saying that women should be free to volunteer for the kind of service they want, the very logic of the military command and of conscription means you can be plucked off the street and put into uniform and assigned wherever the military wants to assign you. And if it is wrong to discriminate between men and women, in the beginning and the middle, it’s wrong to discriminate at any point, all the way to the end.

Let me put the issue this way. From a Christian perspective, there would be something wrong, I believe there certainly is something wrong, with a society that tries to argue there is no inherent difference between men and women, and especially in the context of something as excruciating and as horrible as combat. There’s something brutal about a society that basically says all distinctions between men and women based upon chivalry or concern for the protection by men of women is unconstitutional and wrong, there should be equal vulnerability.

By the way, if it’s wrong in the military, in terms of this vulnerability, then wouldn’t it be wrong for men to give up their places in the lifeboats to women and children in the sinking of a ship? Of course, this is where we’re looking at reality. We’re looking at the fact that people want to argue for an absence of distinctions when morally almost everyone acknowledges there has to be some distinction. The question is what is that distinction? But, if you really are buying into the argument there isn’t any distinction, then guess what. You are about to have to be compelled to argue for the required registration of young women and girls in this selective service, just like young men and boys.

And given the logic of identity politics is represented by the two United States senators in our previous conversation today, where in the world will this lead? How long will it be until there is an argument that there will be no advancement in the military, until a sufficient number of those identified as sufficiently minority in terms of identity politics, how long are we until we have no functioning military because the demands go all the way from the general to private?

Part IV

Unicorns, Volcanoes, and Dinosaurs Riding Sharks: Why Your Kids Can’t Just Read What the Algorithms Say They Want to Read

But finally, as we end The Briefing for this week, very briefly, I want to look at a headline story that appeared in The Wall Street Journal about the use of algorithms in contemporary children’s publishing. Now, I’m not going to look at the specific kinds of stories that are coming out of these algorithms, but it is interesting that recent experience, especially during COVID-19, access to digital platforms tells us a lot about how children read and what interests them.

I’ll just put it this way. Here’s what publishers are finding out. Poop is big. The team from the company known as Epic “knows that children prefer owls to chickens, and chickens to hedgehogs. Kids hunt for unicorns almost twice as often as they look for mermaids. Volcanoes are more popular than tsunamis, which are more popular than earthquakes. The Titanic is bigger than cowboys, pizza is bigger than cakes, science is bigger than art, and poop is bigger than all of them.”

Now, at least one angle in this is the warning that yes, they are collecting all this data on your children as they read on electronic platforms. It’s also interesting that what this article really doesn’t discuss and what these technology officers might not want to reveal is the breakdown between boys and girls in reading. So they are using algorithms, that is, sophisticated computational models available in the digital age, to try to crunch the data, to figure out what children want in order to give them more of what they want.

“When it comes to animals, it turns out that owls score higher than koalas. Worms rack up more hits than kangaroos, and ferocious beasts have a loyal following, as does the grumpy face blobfish.” We’re also told that bugs are more interesting to children than crocodiles. Very few look for hippos in their literature, but snakes ranked very high.

One official with the company said that when it comes to popularity, “If we create a book about a dinosaur riding a shark, we could just retire.” All of this comes as a reminder to parents that we should and must find great joy in reading to our children who will find great joy in our reading to them.

But it also comes with a warning that if we just give children what the algorithms say they want, they’re going to miss an awful lot of literature, including exposure to those creatures, those stories, those persons, those narratives that they do not yet know that they want. Once life is reduced to an algorithm, everything is going to be dinosaurs and sharks.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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