The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, January 13, 2022

It’s Thursday, January 13th, 2022.

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


Part I

Trans NYT Columnist Trumpets “Radical Normalcy of Trans ‘Jeopardy’ Winner.” But the Article Undermines the Argument — Normal Doesn’t Get a Headline

How are we to think about some things? The world’s ready to tell us, and as a matter of fact, one of the most interesting ways we need to watch the world shape opinion is by certain authority, certain influencers in the world telling us constantly, this is how you should think, or perhaps even more coercively, this is how you must think. Getting with the right think of the world is an imperative of our secular age. Now let’s just understand the sociology of this. No matter where and when you live, there is a predominant set of understandings, and living in a fast-paced time of moral change, those understandings are changing fast among the cultural influencers. We are now constantly being told, nearly 24/7, how it is that the new moral revolutionaries want us to think, demand that we will think, and tell us over and over again that to think otherwise is simply not only to be out step on the wrong side of history, but just blatantly ignorant or perhaps even evil.

But let’s just look at how we’re being told, how it is we are to think. Sometimes these arguments are so over-argued that that becomes a part of the story. That’s the case in a recent argument that was made in the New York Times. It’s an opinion piece by Jennifer Finney Boylan, and the headline is this, “The Radical Normalcy of a Trans ‘Jeopardy!’ Winner.” We’re talking about a Jeopardy! champion, but we’re being told that the fact that this champion is trans, transgender, is now just a part of what is radical normalcy. This is the radical normalness. I just want to step back and say, if it were so normal, there would be no article about it in the New York Times. The very existence of this article, the existence of the headline, the existence of the argument tells us that this is about trying to persuade us that something is normal because if it really was normal, there wouldn’t be the article in the first place.

This is really about the media preaching and the media preaches over and over again. But here’s something we need to know. The New York Times doesn’t run news articles that aren’t about news and the New York Times doesn’t give precious opinion space to arguments about nothing. There’s something going on here. One indication is the author of this piece, Jennifer Finney Boylan, who is a transgender person, and this transgender columnist for the New York Times who’s written some really fascinating, incredibly revealing pieces, such as articles reminiscing about the boyhood of this author, who now presents as a woman.

The interesting thing is that this author is now telling us that the fact that there is now a trans Jeopardy! winner, who’s identified as the first woman to achieve this particular level of win on Jeopardy!, we’re being told that this is just normal and we just need to celebrate, I guess, the fact that it’s normal, but again, if it were normal, you would not have this writer. You would not have this article. You would not have this space devoted to it in the New York Times.

Boylan writes, “I’d like transgender equality $100, please.” Boylan continues, “The answer is this kind of behavior infuriates people opposed to progress for trans and non-binary individuals.” The question is then asked, “What is passing as normal?” We’re then told, “In late December, an Oakland, California engineering manager named Amy Schneider became the winningest woman in Jeopardy! history and then kept on winning. Last week, she,” this is the way the article’s written, “became the first woman in the history of the game show to surpass $1 million in winnings during regular season play.” The article continues, “Ms. Schneider tweeted in December that she felt proud, dazed, happy, numb, all those things.” We’re then told that halfway through this winning streak, Schneider “began to talk publicly about her pride and another aspect of her identity.”

“I am a trans woman and I’m proud of that fact, but I’m a lot of other things too.” And then Boylan tells us, “She asked her new followers to consider a holiday donation to charities that help trans folks in need, including the Trans Lifeline and the Transgender Law Center.” Now later in the article, Jennifer Finney Boylan tells us that the only naysayers in this are some fundamentalists and conservatives who just won’t get with the program and who are, now get this, denying that this person who was born male is actually the winningest woman in the history of Jeopardy!. Boylan writes, “Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, Ms. Schneider’s trans pride awoke a crew of conservative pundits who worked to chip away at her joy insisting she hadn’t achieved the accomplishment of most consecutive victories by a woman.” She continued, “Their ugly quotes are hardly worth repeating, but the sum of it was the complaint that Ms. Schneider’s remarkable achievements weren’t a win for women. That of course is because they insist she is not a woman at all.”

Well, they are insisting on rationality. Truth, they are insisting upon creation order. They’re making sense. The argument here is turning the entire created order on his head. We’re being told in this article that normal means a trans Jeopardy! winner and normal means that someone who clearly was born a man is now claiming to be a woman is actually the winningest woman in the history of Jeopardy! Now, one of the things that does before anything else is basically to make the category of woman meaningless.

Now, the interesting thing here is that this is a man who’s identified as a woman writing the article about a man identified as a woman who is the champion. Missing from this article, by the way, is anyone who is actually a woman that is born female and identified as female and writing as a female. Here, you see the absolute insanity and you also see why you have so many feminists who have figured out that feminism instantly disappears the moment you have the transgender revolution, because after all they’ve been fighting for women, and by that, they mean females, as in born female, grew up a girl, identifies as a woman. And you are now looking at the fact that that particular definition of woman just disappears.

But then the article takes this bizarre turn when Boylan writes, “Like all dust-ups over trans success stories, this bloviating over a trans woman winning one of America’s longest running game shows is not about Ms. Schneider herself or the records she has set. It’s not even really about women’s rights or biology.” I’ll just intersect. It certainly is not about those two things because they disappear here. But Boylan then continues to explain to us what this supposedly is. “It’s about how terrifying some Americans find any shift toward inclusivity and tolerance. It’s about their unwillingness to accept the reality that it’s actually not very radical to be trans anymore. What, after all, is more mainstream than ‘Jeopardy!’?” But this isn’t an article about a Jeopardy! winner. This isn’t an article about a Jeopardy! champion. This is an article supposedly telling us how normal this is. But the very that the article is written tells us this isn’t normal at all.

If it were normal, there would be no such article. And by the way, you see here one of the techniques of the moral revolutionaries, one of the techniques of trying to force moral change. That is to keep telling people, “Here’s normal. Don’t believe your eyes. Don’t believe your reason. Don’t believe the scripture. Don’t believe the wisdom of humanity throughout generations. Don’t believe little boys and girls on the playground who have figured this out a long time ago. Believe Jennifer Finney Boylan. Believe the authority of the New York Times. Believe the moral imperatives and the ideological insanity of the transgender revolutionaries. Believe us or be left behind.” But then again, if the United States, if our citizens, if the vast majority of people really considered this normal, there would never have been such an article in the first place. Let’s be honest. This article really isn’t about what the headline says, “The Radical Normalcy of a Trans ‘Jeopardy!’ Winner.” It’s about the fact that we’re being told here, “Look, you know this isn’t normal. All your instincts say this isn’t normal. All the history of humanity says, this is not normal. Biology says, ‘This is not normal,’ but we’re going to call it normal. And if you don’t get with the program and consider it normal, you are the one who is abnormal.”

But here’s the thing. This is not a winning argument. You do not actually see vast increases across the American population in people who say, I really believe that a man can become a woman or a woman can become a man. Instead, what you do see is a decreasing willingness to declare the truth in public. What you really have here is a transgender writer writing about a transgender Jeopardy! champion saying, let’s just make very clear that we’re going to call this normal. Boylan concludes her article, at least in part, by saying that “Normal, as the saying goes, is just a setting on the dryer.” No, it’s actually two things. In a cultural sense, normal is whatever the culture negotiates as normal. And that’s the big push here to get our society to renegotiate male and female, and to negotiate into an acceptance of transgender, non-binary, you go on.

But nonetheless, there is a second meaning of normal we need to note here, and that means in accordance with the norm. And yes, the New York Times and this writer may say, “Here’s the new norm. Here’s the norm. Here’s the normal norm.” But here’s what we need to recognize that God made very clear in scripture that there is a norm. And the reality is that that norm is made so clear within scripture and so clear within the created order and so clear within nature that no number of Jeopardy! champions, no number of articles in the New York Times, no conspiracy of the larger society is going to be able to overcome that norm. It’s not just a setting on a dryer.

Part II

Demands that Airlines Add Non-binary to Tickets — How Moral Change Rides (Flies) on Public Pressure

That takes this to a report by NBC News that a mother is now taking on Delta Air Lines for “a lack of gender options for her non-binary child.” In this case, child just means offspring because we are talking about an adult.

Tat Bellamy-Walker reporting for NBC News tells us, “A mother from Arizona is calling out Delta Air Lines after she said she could not buy a plane ticket for her non-binary child due to the airlines lack of gender options during the booking process.” Dawn Henry, 52, is the mother, and in a Twitter thread, according to NBC News last week, “She said she was trying to buy a surprise plane ticket for her adult child when she discovered Delta only provides male and female gender options. We’re then told that due to that fact, to the exclusivity of male and female options, she was unable to buy her child the ticket.” Well, here’s the point she could have bought the ticket. She could have actually checked anything. There is no check of gender when one gets on a Delta Air Line’s plane or any other airline. This is a political point. It’s an ideological point. It’s a public relations point in the moral revolution. This isn’t really a point about biology at all.

And of course, that’s really the point because the moment you bring biology in, let’s just say everything’s clarified and Delta’s options are right. But nonetheless, the other thing we need to recognize here is that Delta had already promised that it was going to be coming up with a non-binary option. It hasn’t done so yet, but this political pressure coming from this woman on Twitter has led Delta to affirm that, it along with some other airlines, will be moving forward in creating a non-binary option, because this is another way the moral revolution happens.

It’s about public relations. It’s about theatrics. It’s about political pressure and yes, it’s about requiring a new option that actually isn’t according to biology and option at all. But here again, that’s the point.

This is how revolutions happen.

Part III

The Parable of the Reformed Church in America—43 More Conservative Congregations Depart and the Total Membership Plummets

But next and most importantly for today, a major American denomination is a changed denomination, as of January the 1st of this year.

I’m talking about the oldest Protestant denomination in the United States now known as the Reformed Church in America. That church going through transformations of its own largely over LGBTQ issues, but other issues, conservative, liberal as well, the Reformed Church in America lost 43 churches that exited as of January the 1st, and that exit had a great deal to do with the denomination’s insistence on moving leftward, especially the restlessness of many LGBTQ activists in liberal congregations within the Reformed Church in America that simply don’t want the denomination to hesitate between acceptance and non-acceptance when it comes to LGBTQ issues, and that includes openly gay clergy and recognizing and performing same sex weddings. The majority of that church wants to get on with the program of LGBTQ affirmation, but it did create in 2020 a mechanism whereby the churches that don’t want to go along, at least go along that far in the revolution, can leave the denomination and take their property.

As of January the 1st, 43 churches had left. And by the way, that’s a very significant percentage of the entire church. Many of those congregations are among the most conservative, and that means among the largest and the congregations making the greatest financial contribution to the denomination. Many within and without the Reformed Church in America now openly wonder if the denomination can survive organizationally or financially without those churches. But as you’re looking at that denomination, you also recognize it is a parable of liberal Protestant decline. We’ll be looking at those numbers in just a moment. Kathryn Post of Religion News Service tells us, “On New Year’s Day, 43 congregations of the Reformed Church in America split from the national denomination, one of the oldest Protestant bodies in the United States, in part over theological differences regarding same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ clergy.”

The more conservative congregations that left…. And we’re told that more than a hundred congregations are considering leaving. They can leave, by the way, with their property, according to this agreement from 2020. They have these 43 churches joined an organization known as the Alliance of Reformed Churches. That is not going to be a denominational parallel to the institutionalized Reformed Church in America, but it’s describing itself as a new missional denomination or alliance of these churches. The split has now come into denomination is nearly 400 years old, but by the time the split took place, the Reformed Church in America had fewer than 200,000 members and fewer than 1,000 churches. Now remember 43 churches left. That is at this point almost one-twentieth of the entire denomination. RNS tells us, “The new denomination, besides not affirming same-sex marriage or ordination of LGBTQ individuals, will have a strong emphasis on church planting and feature a flexible organizational model meant to foster theological alignment and efficient decision-making.” That, according to leaders of the Alliance of Reformed Churches.

One of the things we need to note here is that this organization, this new denomination is making clear it is not opposed to the ordination of women as pastors. One of the leaders in the new movement described the understanding of marriage as restricted to a man and a woman. That’s a “top-tier” theological belief. But the question of women’s ordination is described here as a second-tier issue and local churches are going to be able to disagree on that issue. I have to interject here. That’s a recipe for the fact that this is an instability that will not last for long. Over and over again, I’ve made the point in writing and in The Briefing, that the logic of the ordination of women is exactly the same logic as the acceptance of the ordination of LGBTQ persons when it comes to the hermeneutic or the approach to understanding Scripture. If you can find a way to get around the text that make very clear that only men can serve as a pastor, then you can find a way to get around the texts and make very clear that marriage has to be the union of a man and a woman.

But again, you’re looking here at the fact that this is a basic instability, and a part of the explanation for that is that the churches that have pulled out as of January the first stayed in a denomination that was increasingly ambiguous on key theological issues and on these moral issues for a long time. I went back to look at all of the statements and papers adopted by the Reformed Church of America on these issues since 1978. That year is crucial because back in 1978, the RCA General Synod voted to make a paper available to all the congregations, and that paper in 1978 stated, “Heterosexuality is not only normal. It’s normative. Homosexual acts are contrary to the will of God for human sexuality.” Now that’s really clear. Again, heterosexuality is not only normal. It is normative. That is to say it is morally, creationally right.

Homosexual acts are contrary to the will of God for human sexuality. That was 1978. But that statement in all of its clarity did not have confessional status and it was an instability. By the time you look through page after page of the statements adopted by and considered by the RCA, you find out that by the year 1998, the denomination had basically reached the point where there was no consensus on issues of human sexuality and sexual morality. I also have to just interject here. You can’t survive as a denomination without a very clear understanding on these issues. You are here talking about top-tier theological issues that will simply have to be answered. And even if you had congregations in the RCA that did not go along with the LGBTQ positivity that’s been pushed for so long, they are at the very least part of a denomination associated with other churches contributing to a movement that does include those who support the full acceptance and normativity of LGBTQ identities and behaviors.

You also see in the situation of the RCA what happens when a denomination says, “We’re just going to discuss this issue. We’re going to adopt a statement,” but it doesn’t have confessional standing. It doesn’t have binding authority. One professor David Komline, a professor at Western Theological Seminary, explained that all of these statements by the church basically fell short of the Book of Church Order. He said, “There’s nothing in the Book of Church Order that says anything explicit about sexuality at all.” He went on to say, “The General Synod has repeatedly made statements that are more traditional in orientation about sexuality, but those are just statements. There are no mechanisms in place to hold people accountable to these statements.” That’s one of the reasons why in the year 2000, now over 21 years ago, the Southern Baptist Convention had to revise its confessional statement to give these issues confessional status, because even to that point, it became very clear that a theological statement of binding authority would have to be accepted.

Now let’s just look at the question of history, because this really is fascinating. You’re talking about the Reformed Church in America. Many people will say, I really don’t know much about that denomination. Well, it really is a fascinating story. It takes us back in the United States to the year 1628. Now the Dutch came to what became known as the New Netherlands in 1614. It came largely the behest of the Dutch West India Corporation, which was the main corporate extension of the vast Dutch Empire, Dutch Empire that went all the way into the West Indies, into the area of Southeast Asia, and of course also to what was known as New Netherland in North America. You say you don’t know where New Netherland is. Well, it’s now known as New York because even as it was a Dutch colony between the years of 1614 and 1667, and then again, 1673 to 1674, it then went to the English. New Netherland was changed to New York. New Amsterdam was changed to New York. That is the region and the city.

And you may know enough about New York history to remember that the aristocracy of that city was Dutch, including names, very famous throughout American history, including the Roosevelts. The Reformed Church in America, as it is known, is traced back to 1628, the formation of the first congregation of that sort in New Amsterdam, and then of course, the formation of a church with multiple congregations. The oldest of those congregations is quite well-known in New York City as the Marble Collegiate Church, perhaps most famous in the 20th century for its Pastor Norman Vincent Peale and for the fact that at least counted among its young members was Donald J. Trump as a boy. Now hold that thought for just a moment, because in more recent decades, the most famous congregation of the Reformed Church in America was known as the Crystal Cathedral with its Pastor Robert Schuller, known by my mother-in-law as “Schuller the jeweler.”

That was because Robert Schuller, representing prosperity theology, often offered as keepsakes from his television program, as long as you gave a gift, some form of jewelry, usually in some form of crystal, since he had hired Philip Johnson to build the postmodern, very famous building there in Anaheim, California, known as the Crystal Cathedral. Now the Reformed Church in America is at least historically a confessionally reformed denomination, but it always had a street towards what we can only define as a form of prosperity theology, a form of cultural accommodation in the new world that matched the kind of corporate imperialism of the Dutch West India Corporation. That included the mixture of pop psychology, positive thinking and prosperity theology. That was Norman Vincent Peale and also Robert Schuller.

Now both Norman Vincent Peale and Robert Schuller held to a form of official theological minimalism. That meant they really don’t want to talk about the major doctrines of the Christian faith. They wanted to talk about, well, prosperity, positive thinking and all the rest. This is not to say that that was true of the entire Reformed Church of America. There are many historically confessional congregations in that denomination, although we’d have to note 43 less after January the first. But we are talking about a denomination that represents a very interesting model of trying to fit into the American culture over that process of years and with some particular challenges, including the fact that well into the 20th century, so many of the pastors, theologians and writers of the church continued to both speak and teach as well as to write in Dutch, again, well into the 20th century.

But more recently, the RCA has been a picture of mainline Protestantism of liberal Protestantism and of the decline of membership, indeed, the implosion in membership of those churches. In the last 30 years, the Reformed Church in America has lost about 50% of its membership. And now it has lost 43 of its congregations, and more, we are told, are intending to leave. This becomes a parable of denominationalism in the 21st century, a reminder that a denomination that will not take a clear stand on these issues on a biblical authority will end up taking a clear stand on these issues eventually in accordance with the moral revolution. This is one of the situations in which the middle is disappearing fast, and the disappearance of the middle and of the membership is what explains this latest development in the Reformed Church of America. And note this, no amount of positive thinking is going to turn this around.

Oh, and about the Crystal Cathedral? For many years now, it hasn’t been the Crystal Cathedral at all due to financial collapse and the decline of the congregation. The property was sold. And it is now an actual cathedral, a Roman Catholic cathedral, the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange. And there’s another irony because it was the house of Orange, as in William of Orange, that was the main Dutch royal house that had such influence, not only in the Netherlands, but eventually in Great Britain, but that’s an orange of an entirely different color.

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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