Monday, June 7, 2021
It's Monday, June 7th, 2021.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
How Does Culture Change on Big Issues of Sexual Morality? Shaming, Targeting, Incessant Messaging, Eventual Coercion
How does culture change? In particular, we asked the question, how does culture change on big issues of sexual morality? We've traced many different trajectories for cultural change on The Briefing, but now we're looking at the intersection of two different arguments that have appeared in the mainstream media just in the last several days. Why now? Probably because we're coming up on the sixth anniversary of the Obergefell decision legalizing same-sex marriage. That decision handed down by the Supreme Court of the United States in 2015. The two arguments that are coming to the fore have appeared in two of the nation's most influential newspapers, the one in the Washington Post, the other in the Los Angeles Times. The article in the Washington Post is by Sasha Issenberg, who argues that the reason same-sex marriage became a successful moral, political and legal crusade in the United States was because eventually the majority in the larger culture figured out they had nothing in particular personally to pay.
There was no particular loss to them if same-sex marriage were to be legalized. Now going back, just not only six years ago to the Obergefell decision, going back to the previous several years of public debate, that was one of the arguments that the gay rights movement, as it was known then, and also the movement for marriage equality, that's how they phrased it and you can understand why they used that language, they invented the language in order to further their cause. The reality is, if you look at their arguments, they were simply arguing over and over again. Figures such as Jonathan Rauch and others were saying, "Look, no one is a loser in this. Everyone is a winner. All that the gays want is to get in on marriage." And again, that's the language that was used then. The language was, the same-sex marriage ought to be recognized as a constitutional right. Not because of course the framers of the constitution had any such notion in mind, but because it is the outworking of a constitutional logic of a progressivist interpretation of the constitution.
And they just went on to argue over and over again, "Look, two men getting married or two women getting married takes away nothing from a man and a woman getting married." But of course this is where Christians responded, "Oh yes, it does. It destabilizes and subverts marriage in every conceivable way." And marriage throughout the millennia of human history has meant man and woman united in a privileged and sacred union that has certain responsibilities and certain rights because civilization depends on it. Why does civilization depend on it? The answer would have been given throughout thousands of years of human history, reflecting not only human common sense, but common revelation and common grace. The answer would have been, because human reproduction and the raising of children depends upon marriage and the family, the marital union as the essential bond of the family.
The moment you say a man marries a man and a woman marries a woman, yes, it is true, it doesn't take anything away from the legality of a man and a woman getting married, it just takes a great deal away from the normativity of marriage. Marriage now means something else. Marriage was redefined, not just for same-sex couples, marriage was effectively redefined for everyone. And by the way, the story of the last 100 years is of the subversion and the destabilization of marriage by one definitional change after the other, in which we were told it won't matter. But just to take one issue from recent headlines, just consider the plummeting birth rates all over the world and recognize, of course it matters. Sasha Issenberg wonders aloud what would have happened if what is referred to here as the defining gay rights demand of the past generation had not been equal marriage rights.
Now, the point that Issenberg is making is that as you look at cultural opposition to the Equality Act, and I've said over and over again, it's the greatest threat to religious liberty and to cultural destabilization in our lifetimes. But Issenberg is saying that opposition to the Equality Act is because people think they will lose something if the Equality Act is passed. They will be forced to change their behavior, cake bakers, wedding photographers. But not just that, employers, school administrators, you just go down the list. There will have to be changes in behavior, that's the whole point of the coercion of the Equality Act. And so Issenberg is reasoning here, that is why there is so much opposition to the idea of the Equality Act. But here you just have to rewind history and recognize, there was an incredible amount of opposition to same-sex marriage.
Until the year 2012 where the American people state by state had a vote, they voted against it. How many times? 35 times. In 2012, there were four successful statewide same-sex issues on the ballot. But before that, there had been 35 losses. You're looking at a major hinge in history thus in the 2012 election cycle. But that means that the history before 2012 is measured in millennia, the history after 2012 is not yet a decade. It reminds me of a statement made by Supreme Court justice, Samuel Alito back when the oral arguments for the Obergefell decision were being held. He pointed to a smartphone and said, "Whatever same-sex marriage is, it's newer than that." So Sasha Issenberg is saying that the reason why same-sex marriage is now just not an issue in the larger culture, thus the argument here, is because no one had to give up anything, everyone's a winner, the culture could just move on. But at almost the very same time, an article appeared in the New York Times by, yes, you guessed it, Sasha Issenberg. That tells you something, by the way.
When you see these kinds of opinion pieces, especially the lengthy one in the New York Times, Sunday edition yesterday, also the Washington Post, see how the author ... if there's a repeated pattern here, see how the author is identified. In this case, Issenberg is identified as, "Author of The Engagement: America's Quarter-Century Struggle over Same-Sex Marriage." Oh, the author of a new book. Here you have these two newspapers effectively pushing the new book by publishing these op-ed pieces. But in the article in the New York Times, Issenberg is making a very interesting case, and this one is about coercion. And actually if you put the two articles together, you have to wonder how the same author could write them both with a straight face. Appearing in major American newspapers, separated by days, if not by hours. The question asked in the headline of the New York Times piece is, "How we got marriage equality."
And Issenberg's article in this case is that it was brought about by public shaming. By shaming those who have been contributing to efforts to prevent the legalization of same-sex marriage. Put bluntly, this is a clear example of an activist for the cause saying it was coercion that was brought. The cultural change came as a result of coercion, which in a sense is virtually opposite of the argument that was made in the Washington Post. Issenberg writes, "Anyone looking to understand how same-sex marriage went from legal in one state to the law of the land a decade later should not overlook the small crowd that gathered outside the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel in San Diego just past noon one Friday in July of 2008, holding signs that said, 'The Hyatt of Hypocrisy."' The article says that the rally had been called by a political operative named Fred Karger.
"His aim was the defeat of Proposition 8, a ballot measure that if passed would ban same-sex marriage in California." Instead of aiming to mobilize voters, however, he decided to target the money behind it. At the center of the target in this particular protest was Doug Manchester, the owner of the hotel and others for that matter, who had donated $125,000 to the cause for Proposition 8. Proposition 8, again, was a voter referendum in California that would have limited the definition of marriage to the union of a man and a woman, excluding same-sex marriage. We're looking again at the year 2008. Here's something to remember, a majority of voters in California supported Proposition 8 in 2008. Issenberg writes that this particular protest and the boycott that was associated with it, "Was the first time gay marriage activists adopted a strategy of scaring their most well healed opponents away from the fight." "Long before the phrase cancel culture entered the lexicon or Republicans complained about the power of woke capital, Mr. Carter redefined a digital era playbook for redirecting scrutiny to the opposition's financial backers."
I continue reading, "The movement to legalize same-sex marriage is often understood as a civil right test case and indeed savvy legislative lobbying fortuitous demographic change and pop culture influence all played their part. But a largely forgotten story is the way a group of political entrepreneurs changed how cultural conflict was waged and showed that shaming and shunning could be more than an online pylon and serve as a potent tactic for political change." That is exactly what's been going on. And it didn't start just in 2008, but it certainly did gain momentum in 2008. Here's something else to note, when you're looking at the two sides in American politics, one of them keeps calling for all of the donors to any kind of cause like this or non-profit having to be legally identified.
Now, why would they do that? Well, the left does it because they want to shame the right. They want to scare away anyone who is in business from having anything to do with something like upholding a biblical understanding of sexual morality and gender or marriage. And this article in the New York Times yesterday is about the success of the left enforcing cultural change by this very tactic. It is a celebratory article. It is a form of chest thumping in effect to say, we tried it in 2008, it worked big time. And of course, this becomes the platform for how cultural change will happen in the future. But even as this article makes reference to this particular tactic, notice the fact that the author mentions that there were other engines of social change. For example, for tour twist demographic change, that means younger, more urban, more living on the coast, you know what that means, it's a sign of social progressivism as a man. Also, a more secularized environment, savvy, legislative lobbying.
Again, that became a factor. But in most of these states, the legalization of same-sex marriage did not come by legislation, it came by some kind of prior court action. Eventually of course, the Obergefell decision nationwide itself. Also, we're told here, pop culture influence also played a part. Of course it played a part, it played a huge part. Celebrities, Hollywood, the cultural messaging coming out of the entertainment industrial complex, all of that played a huge role. But yes, Issenberg is certainly right, shaming donors away from the issue had a lot to do with it as well. By the 2012 date, when those four states for the first time approved same-sex marriage by this kind of vote, Issenberg writes, "It was clear activists had succeeded in making it," here's the quote, "socially unacceptable to give vast amounts of money to take away the rights of a minority." That's in the words of none other than Fred Karger. But here's something we need to note, look at the language there, that activists had succeeded in making it socially unacceptable. So there's the social pressure.
You change the way society esteem social movements and all of a sudden the movement to defend marriage is seen as immoral and the movement to redefine marriage is seen as moral, that's the way this kind of cultural shift happens. Social unacceptability is switched. But there's something else here. It was, we are told here, a success on the part of activists that it became socially unacceptable, "To give vast amounts of money to take away the rights of a minority." Now, wait just a minute, what kind of sense does that sentence make, to take away rights? In 2012, notice what happened was the redefinition of marriage. It wasn't as if same-sex marriage had been legal and all of a sudden the danger was it will be taken away, the rights will be taken away. No, you see yet another way that moral change takes place. You write about demands for the legalization of same-sex marriage and say that those who oppose this radical redefinition in the most basic institution of human society are, "Trying to take rights away."
Now, note very carefully what that implies. It implies that the rights are there now, someone is trying to take them away. But of course, it wasn't true that the issue was that this so-called artificial right was about to be taken away, the right did not exist. And by the way, operating out of a biblical worldview, we still do not believe that it is a right. But the language that's used here suggest that, and just notice this, suggest that the status quo, the norm throughout human history is that a man can marry a man and a woman can marry a woman and the issue is whether that right will be taken away. Of course, that was absolute nonsense. But you'll notice it ends up in the New York Times yesterday.
Why Did So Many Who Defended Marriage Go Silent? The Playbook Revealed
But there's another paragraph in this article that really ought to have our attention. Issenberg celebrating here, "Even religious denominations responded to the new pressure. In Maine, the Catholic Diocese of Portland, which had donated $550,000 to pass question one, a 2009 ballot measure banning same-sex marriage did not directly contribute anything when the issue came up again in 2012."
Now, how much time has passed between 2009 and 2012? Three years. But the moral change in those three years was so significant that the Roman Catholic Diocese there.... Now remember, the Roman Catholic Church defines marriage as a sacrament, which is and can only be the union of a man and a woman. It said that out loud, putting money behind the effort to define marriage as a man and a woman in 2009. But as this article celebrates, was silent in 2012. Now, when people ask me, why did 2012 become such a crucial hinge year? One of the reasons is, you had people and organizations and denominations that had previously been willing to stand up for a marriage who went silent. They went silent by the time we were coming up to the 2012 elections. Why? They also feared being publicly shamed.
Here's the point, if your institution, your school, your organization, your congregation, your denomination is unwilling to be publicly shamed by those who are the power structure of the new moral revolution, then you're going to abdicate. And the first way you abdicate is by keeping silent on this issue. You go silent and eventually you just go along.
And it wasn't just the Roman Catholic Church, the article tells us, "Alan Ashton, a WordPerfect co-founder." If you don't remember WordPerfect, it was a word processor. He, we are told, who had served as a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as a Mormon Bishop and state president and was a grandson of a former church president donated $1 million to "yes" on 8, that's back to the California referendum to define marriage as a union of a man and a woman. "Four years later, he too seemed to have walked away from the issue."
Frank Schubert, who was defending marriage, pointed to how this pattern worked when he said, "The impact of donors being scared off was significant." The first thing they wanted to know is, am I going to be publicly disclosed? But this hinge didn't take place simply because the defenders of marriage stopped defending marriage, it is also because people who had not joined the cause for same-sex marriage felt liberated and supported to do so. We're told that when a similar measure came up in Washington State, the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, with his then wife gave $2.5 million to the pro same-sex marriage cause. Again, it makes a difference. But look at the timeline, there was a point in which Jeff Bezos didn't think it was politically safe or politically advantageous to give that kind of money for the redefinition of marriage. Then there came a point when he decided it was to his political advantage to give that money.
Now we're in a position where if they don't give the money, they're considered on the wrong side of history. The big issue for our consideration is how moral change happens. And yes, these two articles taken together, as odd a combination as they are, actually tell us a great deal about how the social change happened that eventuated in the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015. And there's a sense in which the bigger issue, the bigger question from a Christian worldview is not just how did it happen that the Supreme Court, having been moving in a liberal direction on this issue for about 20 years. The big question is not just how the Supreme Court got to the point that it ruled this way, it's not even just how did the cultural momentum build to where this became politically possible, the big question is, why after the 2015 decision by the Supreme Court did the pro-marriage side in the nation largely go silent?
An Autopsy of the Revolution: A Look at a 1989 Playbook for Changing the Culture
But before leaving this issue, I want to go back in history, a lot longer than 2012, I want to go back to 1989. In that year, a couple of authors produced a book entitled After the Ball: How America Will Conquer Its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the '90s. So this was a book published in 1989, about how there will be a revolution in morality, a moral revolution during the 1990s. And actually there was, of course, revolutionary change towards such things as the normalization of homosexuality and the legalization of same-sex marriage in the 1990s. But before that, how did these two gay activist-authors, and that's how they were identified then, how were they making the argument of how cultural change could happen? I wrote about it in 2004 and dealt with their arguments in my 2017 book, We Cannot Be Silent. But now, even in 2021, we need to take a look back at the success of the methodology they laid out in 1989.
And some of the words in their argument jump out at us now, because in retrospect we understand even more clearly what they were really doing and how successful they were. For example, the two gay activist-authors argued that the gay rights community should talk incessantly about homosexuality in public. "Open, frank talk makes gayness seem less furtive, alien and sinful, more above board." "Constant talk builds the impression that public opinion is at least divided on the subject and that a sizable block, the most modern up-to-date citizens, except or even practice homosexuality." Notice here, the argument is, the strategy is, make homosexuality cool and never shut up about it. Make every program talk about it, make every Hollywood actor and actress and figure talk about it. Make certain that the media constantly talks about it. Just notice how successful that has been.
And if you wonder just how successful it continues to be, just pick up a print edition of yesterday's edition of the New York Times and see the talk, incessant talk. But going back to the book in 1989, I noticed something that tells us just how much further than these authors dream the revolution has gone. For example, the argument came in 1989 that if there was to be a moral revolution in favor of normalizing homosexuality, certain gay-identified figures would have to disappear from the public screen or from public attention. One of them, drag queens. I think it's safe to say that these two authors in 1989 couldn't imagine a complete revolution in morality to the point that children in public libraries are now presented with drag queen story hour. But notice the argument that was absolutely explicit in this book. They have to be out of the public eye and out of our public acknowledgement as a gay rights movement, the argument went, until we are successful.
What does that tell you? They know they are successful, out comes the drag queens. By the way, it's very important to recognize that these two authors back in 1989 targeted conservative religious organizations, in particular, conservative theology. Any kind of biblical evangelicalism, for example, any kind of Christian biblical theological orthodoxy on marriage as being something that had to be subverted. They argued, advising the gay rights movement, as it was known at the time, "This entails publicizing support by moderate churches and raising serious theological objections to conservative biblical teachings." That's exactly what's been taking place, book after book saying you don't have to take the Bible at its word when it defines marriage or talks about gender or sexuality. The arguments coming that any kind of conservative biblical theology is just historically backward and oppressive. You see the argument, the liberal churches are on the right side of history and the other denominations, if they will not join the revolution, simply must be marginalized, cast to the side, castigated as no longer publicly acceptable.
But I think it's very, very interesting that these two authors back in 1989 pointed to theology as an obstacle they would have to overcome. And indeed, a biblical theology is the great obstacle. And you can see just how successful they have been at marginalizing any voice for biblical Christianity in this country on this issue. They have scared off those who are the donor class, even to many conservative organizations and movements. They have basically captured most of the corporate world where corporations have turned themselves into engines of a social revolution, which they do not recognize will destroy the very society that provides them with a consumer base. We are coming up on an anniversary of the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.
But it's not the 60th anniversary, it's certainly not the 600th anniversary, that's implausible, it is only the sixth anniversary. Remember, newer than a smartphone. And the forces of social revolution haven't stopped. Needless to say, with the Obergefell decision in 2015, you will, your church will, your school will be forced to get in line. If not, you will be shamed.
And don't take it from me, take it from this article in the New York Times, it tells us how it worked and how it works.
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 about The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.