The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, May 24, 2021

It’s Monday, May 24, 2021.

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

Part I

Will America’s Worldview Divide Change Our National Map? Five Counties in Eastern Oregon Want to Join “Greater Idaho”

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

Well, will parts of Oregon become part of what is now to be called Greater Idaho? Politically it’s unlikely, but in terms of worldview analysis, it really is an interesting question. And it points to the fact that as we underline regularly on The Briefing, differences in worldview do have a geographical pattern. The pattern’s something we discuss regularly. And that is the fact that the closer you get to a coast, the closer you get to a campus, the closer you get to a city, the closer you get to a more secularized worldview, the closer you get to a more normalized, progressive, or liberal worldview.

It’s been that way for a long time, by the way. Infamously throughout history, port cities where you have the interaction of people from different cultures tend to be more liberal. And furthermore, coastal societies also tend to be more on the cultural edge. It’s the interior of most countries, indeed in many patterns, it’s the Southern portion of many countries that is more recalcitrant when it comes to joining cultural revolutions.

But ground zero for our analysis of this situation is the state of Oregon. We’re talking about, of course, the Pacific Northwest. We’re talking about that state that lies between Washington State and the North in California, specifically Northern California to the south. We’re also looking at a state that has a very interesting pattern. For example, when you think of the state of Oregon, you think of a politically liberal, very Democratic state. As a matter of fact, Democrats are in virtual control statewide. But as you’re looking at say the 2020 presidential election, which candidate would you think won the majority of counties? That candidate would be Donald Trump, the Republican candidate. And yet Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, handily won the state.

That’s because in terms of population, it is not an evenly distributed pattern. The largest percentage of the population lives on the West Coast, right along the Pacific, and in heavily metropolitanized areas. In this sense, if you take the West Coast all the way from Washington, you can go above Washington. Culturally, you can go into British Columbia, a city like Vancouver. You can go from Vancouver, south, virtually all the way along the coast, well into California, and you are in very, very liberal territory.

And furthermore, even in Southern California, which is somewhat different than Northern California, the fact is that the same pattern pertains. The more you move inward, the more conservative. The more you move to the coast, the more concentrated and the more liberal. Also the more secular. But why are we talking about Oregon today? It is because in the last several days, no less than five counties in Oregon voted to secede, to leave the state of Oregon, and to move into an identity with Idaho, a part of what will be defined as Greater Idaho, which by some estimations would become in landmass the third largest state in the United States.

Kirk Johnson, explaining this most recent development for the New York Times and a front page article, writes, “Political divisions in Oregon can, to a great degree, be measured by a river, the Deschutes, which winds its snaky, circuitous way through the state’s midsection. The river divides the high prairies of the eastern half, agricultural and politically conservative largely, from the wetter, woodier western half, which has long been more populated and more liberal.” Why now? Well, it is because the context of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown orders, masking orders. Just go down the entire list. Look at the divide in the United States, which is at least to some degree, a red-blue divide, and understand that Eastern Oregon–and we’re talking about a lot of territory–it considers itself quite red. It also looks to Idaho as predictably red and says, “We belong more in Idaho than we do in Oregon.”

And there’s a lot of history behind this as well. The fact that the further west you go, the more recent, in the main, are the state borders. And some of those borders don’t make a lot of sense politically. They do make some kind of sense geographically and historically. When you look at those five counties in eastern Oregon, they well could have been part of Idaho.

Now, when you’re looking at this situation, you also have to face the political reality that this is extremely unlikely. Let’s just point out one big factor from American history. Secession basically hasn’t happened. There is no political will for it. There’s enormous political will against it. If you were to look at the potential transferring of these five Oregon counties to Idaho, who would have to agree with it? Well, first of all, Oregon, and then Idaho, and then the United States Congress. You’re probably looking at strike three.

First up to bat would be Oregon. And to put the matter, clearly Oregon will not want to lose that territory. And furthermore, the liberal Democrats who are in control of the state don’t really have to take more conservative counties into political account at all. Instead, they can basically just consider it a part of Oregon that’s going to be routinely out voted. Yes, that is very frustrating to those in eastern Oregon. You bet it is. They look across the border there in Idaho and they say, “There, it looks like a much friendlier territory. We would be much more likely to be genuinely represented by those in Idaho.”

So let’s just review. First up to bat, Oregon. Not about to go for it. Then Idaho. Well, would Idaho welcome these five Oregon counties? Well, it could well be that many in Idaho would. It could even be that the Idaho legislature and the Idaho governor would decide this is a good thing. But then again, states don’t always operate in ways that you can predict. And furthermore, there will be those in Idaho who would think it would be the worst thing imaginable to add more conservative counties to Idaho. That would be the more liberal, and in this case, Democratically identified portion of Idaho.

But looking at situation one and two, it is far more likely that Idaho would go for this than Oregon, but there probably isn’t much reason to waste too much attention deciding whether or not it’s going to happen. The big issue in worldview analysis is that these counties have formally voted to secede. That is a huge statement of political and ideological dissatisfaction. And it reminds us of the fact that this is a nation divided over the basic issue of worldview, and it reminds us of the fact that those divisions aren’t just between borders.

Yes, if you were to look at two states…. And by the way, they don’t share a border, obviously, but you look at Mississippi and Massachusetts, they could well be in different countries in one sense. But it’s also true if you look within states. Colorado is one of those states. When you’re looking at Colorado, you’re looking at a map, and if you were to map all the voting districts, by say, red and blue, you’d be surprised where many of those concentrations are.

But here’s the other thing. In most of the states where you do have that kind of diverse pattern, the population growth is in the more blue areas rather than the red. And that’s not so much because of birth rate. The blue areas are not known for high birth rate. They are known for high levels of incoming population. But there are limits to that, as we’re going to see in just a moment. And it’s not just Oregon, it is also New York. But it’s a rural and metropolitan divide that becomes clear in Oregon. It also becomes clear in the state of New York.

Upstate New York, those counties in the northern area of New York, are far more agricultural. They’re far more rural. They’re far less liberal. And there has long been discussion about them leaving New York state as well. As the New York times tells us, “Talk of gathering up grievances and divorcing has long been a staple of American politics. Rural upstate New York regularly threatens to sever ties with the more liberal city of the same name. Californians have long toyed with splitting their state in two. Texas, which always wants to go larger, sometimes talks of leaving the United States entirely.”

The movement towards a Greater Idaho… That’s what this proposal is for the secession of the five states transferring to Idaho… This movement has been around for a while, but the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 presidential election at least have served as catalyst to increase the intensity, and they’re in the political background of the fact that these five counties actually put it to a vote.

The political realities militating against this kind of development are many. One of the most interesting comments was made to the Washington Post by Norman Williams, a constitutional law professor at Willamette University in Oregon. He said, “Given the number of entities whose approval would be required, I just don’t think it will happen.” He went on to say that even if the Democrats in Oregon decided that they would be glad to be rid of these counties, “No legislature or governor wants to be one, I think, who goes down in history as having given away half the state’s territory to Idaho.” To look at it another way, they’re probably not going to put up a statue in Portland of a governor who decides to give away about half the state. But then again, the way things are going in Oregon, I wouldn’t bet on any statute staying up anyway.

There are other complications. And this has to do with the fact that when you’re looking at the basic worldview divide in the United States, there are some complications. One of them is the fact that many people who call themselves conservative are actually more libertarian. That is to say, they basically don’t want a big government. They want less government intrusion in the economy. They want taxes low. They want to be left alone by their government. And many of them have found their way to Idaho, sometimes even called the Redoubt, in that sense. But when you look at eastern Oregon and Idaho, there’s a big difference on one cultural issue, and that is marijuana. It is legal, very legal in Oregon. It’s not legal in anything like the same sense in Idaho. And furthermore, Oregon is basically decriminalizing almost all drugs. At least they’ve indicated the fact that they want to do so, including so-called hard drugs.

People in Idaho go across the Oregon border for two reasons. Number one, some of them want to buy marijuana or something else. Number two is Oregon doesn’t have a sales tax. Idaho does, and that makes a big difference. And so there are people who drive from Idaho to Oregon in order to make purchases without paying a sales tax. If you move the border further west, that’s going to become an impossibility. The metropolitan area of Boise, which is the fastest growing part of Idaho and also increasingly liberal as a blue dot there within the state, well, it’s about an hour’s drive from eastern Oregon. You move the border, it’s going to be a lot further.

But on this issue, there is another development, and this is made clear in an article by Jason L. Riley in the Wall Street Journal. The headline, “Shrinking Blue States Have Defund the Police to Blame.” Riley’s talking about the fact that yes, there is an exodus from many of these blue states and population. Illinois has lost population, New York State has lost population, and California for the first time in history between the last census and the most recent, has lost population for the first time in history. Unthinkable. Until very, very recently, California is going to lose a congressional seat by population apportionment.

Jason L. Riley knows there are many issues behind this, behind the divide between red and blue America, but law enforcement and an approach to policing is part of it. And he points out that at least part of what many people are fleeing as they’re leaving more blue areas and blue states for redder states, a part of what they are fleeing is the Defund the Police movement, because you are looking at rising rates of crime, including violent crime. As Riley writes, “The progressive response to rising crime and disorder has benefited Texas and Florida.”

But as we know, it’s not just Texas and Florida. It is also Idaho. And that makes the story all the more interesting. But there’s a warning here to Idaho, and in particular, to cultural and moral conservatives in Idaho, and that is the fact that when people from California move to Idaho, they bring some of their worldview and some of their political habits with them. And that’s why we have seen such an utter transformation of a state like Virginia. It isn’t that Virginians turned more liberal. It is that more liberal people, by eventually the hundreds of thousands and the millions, moved into Virginia. And yes, Virginia, that makes a big difference. So once again, we see that worldview matters, and it matters right down to the headlines, and it matters about in which state five counties currently in Oregon shall be counted and shall be mapped on the United States.

It’s not likely that they’re going to be changed in any way. It’s likely that the postal address for all of these counties will continue to be Oregon rather than Idaho, but the fact that they have raised this issue this way makes it big news, and it’s even bigger news in worldview analysis.

Part II

Is the Sport of Cycling Infected with Pervasive “Whiteness”? The Endless Analysis and Unceasing Critique of Theory

But next of course, in the United States, we’re looking at the very fraught and difficult issue of race, racism, all kinds of claims in the society. We’re also looking at the impact of worldviews such as critical theory, and in one variant, critical race theory. We’re looking at one category. And the way it’s playing out in one news story right now, and it’s a niche news story. That is to say, it’s about a relatively small portion of the culture. But ideologically, it tells us a very great deal.

In this case, it’s an article that appeared in Bicycling Magazine. It’s entitled, “Cycling and the Power of White Privilege.” The author P. Khalil Saucier, Who is associate professor and director of the program and Africana studies at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. The point he wants to make is that white privilege pervasively is a problem, if not a distinctive of the culture of cycling.

The article begins with a quotation, “Anti-racist efforts within cycling must move beyond the euphemisms of inclusion, diversity, sensitivity, and allyship, and begin to seriously consider the dimensions of power at play.” Now, do Christians believe that when you’re looking at the analysis of power, you’re looking at something that is significant and ethical in moral terms? Of course so. Of course. The Bible is extremely clear that the use or misuse of power is a very significant moral category. It’s an issue of moral accountability. So far so good. But when you’re looking at the impact of critical theory, the assumption is that virtually any form of power that exists in a system that is marked by any kind of say, discrimination or any kind of history, it is itself illegitimate, the entire system, and has to be undone.

One of the categories of analysis used here is the idea of white privilege. Now, could there be a situation in which there is an unfair racial advantage? Yes, there could be. Again, the biblical worldview tells us that sin can take many forms. We would want to identify what that is, but we must use biblical categories and a biblical understanding in order for us to, as Christians, deal with this responsibly.

But the problem with critical theory is that it basically becomes something like an acid. It just burns through everything. It isn’t based in any claim to objective truth. Instead, it is based in theory. And that theory is a very ruthless and rigorous form of criticism, and it’s never-ending. You have all these cycles. You keep pressing back on them, every entrenched form of hierarchy and power, and that includes existing law and government. And yes, it also includes the basic structure of Christianity and the truth claims of Christianity. It’s all a part, says critical theory, of one great cultural conspiracy.

Now, not all people who hold anything that’s called critical theory go this far, but this is the superstructure of the idea system, of the ideology. It’s the superstructure of the theory. Now, using a category like white privilege, let’s understand how Khalil Saucier applies it. He’s speaking about the recent events in the United States and writes, “When George Floyd, Brianna Taylor, and others were killed by the police in 2020, forcing the nation into a racial reckoning, the cycling industry responded with promises to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Fuji announced it was suspending the sale of their bikes to police departments while various other industry leaders committed themselves to increasing diversity in the sport of cycling. Yet,” he writes, “looking at the actions of some cyclists at the top of the sport, along with their sponsors, I see how the system of privileges and advantages afforded to white people remain strongly rooted both inside and outside the sport of cycling.”

He continues, “It’s time for cycling to think beyond white fragility, white privilege, implicit bias, and microaggressions, and begin to think about its root cause. Cycling must reject interventions that continue to individualize anti-black racism and work to break down the structures that allow whiteness to retain power in the sport.”

Well, one of the aspects of critical theory is that its advocates would argue that the theory has to be applied everywhere to everything all the time. The argument being made here is that when you’re looking at the specific cases that are mentioned, they are not events, actions to be taken into moral consideration individually. They are indications that the entire system is one of systemic oppression. Now, if you’re wondering how in the world this gets to cycling, well, the author of this article, Khalil Saucier, gets to the fact that yes, there have been some racist comments made by some, but at least some of the comments, he mentions, aren’t necessarily what people might agree would be considered racist. For example, one of the cyclist quoted here raised the issue as to whether or not white privilege exists. And the response to this is that that statement itself is racist. Well, here you get into a situation in which quite honestly, there is no way to make progress in the argument.

Saucier calls for greater sanctions against one particular cyclist who is mentioned in the article. But the bigger issue here is the ideological context. He cites David Leonard in a book Playing While White: Privilege and Power on and off the Field, “To be white is to exist as an angel, even in the face of counterevidence.” Again, the argument here is that a white cyclist gets away with what an African-American cyclist or a black cyclist would not get away with.

But the larger ideological issue gets down to the fact that this author is saying that cycling itself is a representation of whiteness. Professor Saucier writes, “Cyclists and the cycling industry must come to terms with the reality that cycling is a powerful narrator and the power of whiteness that feeds anti-blackness. Anti-black racism becomes all the more powerful because actions like those taken by the cyclist quoted here, Dygurt and Quinn, are simply seen as youthful, uneducated blunders.” He continues, “If cycling and its stakeholders are to take anti-black racism seriously, it must frame its understanding of the world beyond the individual. To proclaim that black lives matter would also mean being attuned to the ways in which whiteness as a position of power continues to be normalized on and off the bike.”

It’s always important for Christians to recognize that a biblical understanding of sin includes the fact that there are structural manifestations of sin. But when you’re looking at something like this, this theoretical analysis, deeply rooted in critical theory, doesn’t really argue that this particular structure is itself the problem, and thus needs to be fixed. It argues that the entire system is so pervasively warped by an effort to oppress that nothing’s going to be possible unless the system itself is undone.

And the example that I’m bringing to our attention today from Bicycling Magazine is just to point out the fact that after all, this is coming from Bicycling Magazine, suggesting that bicycling itself, as a sport, as an industry, as an enterprise, is basically deeply embedded in oppression in itself. The category of white privilege here, I will just simply argue, doesn’t help in any sense morally for us to understand this situation. Where there is injustice, Christians must call it sin for what it is.

But looking into further arguments along these lines, you come to understand that eventually, cycling is put in the context of sports. Sports, put in the context of larger systems in society. Those systems are put into context of interlocking other systems and a larger system of reality. And basically, the problems keep get ratcheting up until the point that there’s really nothing that even cycling can do about this until say, the entire economy has changed. The entire political structure has changed. I’m just going to argue that that does not help us. It is ideologically wrong, and it is morally unhelpful. This does not help a community to deal with very real problems, and yes, imperatives of justice understood in a biblical frame. This doesn’t help Christians to know how to respond to these issues in a way that will honor Christ.

And furthermore, the most basic problem is that it’s not grounded in an understanding of objective truth because of the existence of a Creator God. It’s not deeply rooted in an explicit understanding of human dignity as grounded in the image of God, every single human being equally made in the image of God.

Part III

Should Tim Tebow Give the Job Back? The Christian Way of Faithfulness Is Not Helped by This Kind of Analysis

But finally, a similar issue came up with ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith. He was making a comment about Tim Tebow returning to professional football, and in particular, for the Jacksonville Jaguars. And it was an argument that his return is an example of white privilege. He said, “Let me be the first to say,” he says, “I don’t care how you feel.” I cleaned that up. “I mean what I say. It’s white privilege.” Well, that’s a serious argument. Let’s try to track down what does he mean? Well, he means that Tim Tebow has been given this opportunity as a white man in a way that a black man wouldn’t be given a similar opportunity. Is that right or is that wrong? It’s going to be very interesting for others to debate because I am certainly not going to be giving you sports analysis.

But this is a situation that’s fairly easy to understand when you look at the long-standing relationship between Urban Meyer, who is the new head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Tim Tebow, who was his most famous player during years including a national championship at the University of Florida. During that time, Tebow also won the Heisman trophy. He has played professional baseball. He has played football, his professional career nothing like his collegiate career. He is now coming back as one of the older players to be added to an NFL team, and it’s almost entirely due to his relationship with Urban Meyer. Just about everyone concedes that. But the really interesting part of the analysis offered by Stephen A. Smith of ESPN is where he said, “That’s where the words white privilege come in. There’s no way to eradicate white privilege without white individuals giving up some of their privilege.” Very, very interesting. Without white individuals giving up some of their privilege.

So is this an argument that Tim Tebow, having been offered the job, should decline the job in order to make a point about race in America? Christians understand that there is a lot of brokenness in this world we want to overcome. We understand that the sin of racism is horrifying and it is real. But we also understand that the use of these categories is profoundly unhelpful when they’re drawn from this kind of critical theory and they come down to us lacking any kind of moral context in which Christians can respond in a biblical way. These are hard issues to talk about.

They are complex issues to think about. It’s up to us as Christians to be faithful in the responsibility to think and to act as Christians: bring everything captive to Christ. No one said that was going to be easy, but it is nonetheless our task.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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