Monday, February 7, 2022

It’s Monday, February 7th, 2022.

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

Part I

What Does It Mean to be an Evangelical? According to David Brooks, It Means to be a Part of a Fracturing Movement at War with Itself

This week’s getting started off in a big way yesterday, the New York Times review section, that’s the opinion section of the New York Times gave three entire pages in yesterday’s print edition to an article by columnist David Brooks entitled, “The Dissenters Trying To Save Evangelicalism.” And the online edition, a couple of words were added, “The Dissenters Trying To Save Evangelicalism From Itself.” Now it’s very interesting that this article appeared that timing is not accidental. And even as we begin to look at this article, we recognize that there is something to how David Brooks begins this article. He begins by looking at a divide in the midst of what’s called evangelicalism in the United States. More on that in just a moment. He is of course, a clever writer, and he begins in a clever way.

He says, “Think of your well closest friends. These are the people you vacation with. Talk about your problems with do life with in the most intimate and meaningful ways. Now imagine if six of those people suddenly took a political or public position you found utterly vile. Now imagine learning that those six people think that your position is utterly vile. You would suddenly realize that the people you thought you knew best cared about most had actually been total strangers all along. You would feel disoriented, disturbed, unmoored, your life would change.” Now, I think just about anyone living in America over the course of the last several years can at least identify with the pattern David Brooks is suggesting here, but the article is clever because he goes all the way to the judgment that the other’s position is utterly vile. There is no position between being friends, sharing everything in the most intimate way, and then dividing over the judgment that the other is utterly vile.

But there is, as I say something to this, and what I think is most central to this experience is understanding that the lines that we knew, the relationships that we saw a matter just a few years ago have been completely reshuffled by both internal and external forces. And much of this has to do with what it means to be an evangelical Christian, who gets to decide the definition of evangelicalism now I said, we’ll get to the issue of evangelical definition, but at this point, let’s stick with David Brooks’s article. And it is a blockbuster of an article. He profiles several people he declares to be reformers trying to save evangelicalism from itself. Speaking of his opening scenario, he writes, “This is what has happened over the past six years to millions of American Christians, especially evangelicals. There have been three big issues that have profoundly divided them. The white evangelical embrace of Donald Trump, sex abuse scandals in evangelical churches and parachurch organizations, and attitudes about race relations, especially after the killing of George Floyd.”

Now working backwards. There is no doubt that the first and most important issue here is Donald Trump, the division within evangelicalism that comes down to making a political judgment in an electoral context. But I don’t think David Brooks is right to date this as emerging just in the last six years. I think most of us can see the lines of this divergence going a lot further into the past, but there was hopefulness that perhaps the division wasn’t as deep as it appeared. There was a hopefulness that perhaps the explosion of these issues would lead to some new consensus rather than the destruction of an existing consensus. There was a hope for the fact that there would be a new sense of unity within the evangelical movement that would come on the basis of biblical truth.

But by now, we know we are looking at two different and rival visions of evangelical identity of evangelical conviction and of the evangelical future. So David Brooks is right. The division really does exist, but we have to understand that David Brooks is always a moralist. Everything he writes is imbued with a sense of moral urgency and his own moral judgment. And we need to understand he has loaded his own moral judgment in this article. He sees one side in the evangelical debate as the good guys, so to speak. And the other side is the bad guys. And it’s the more conservative who are the bad guys. And again, when it comes right down to it, Donald Trump is the issue. Now there are other issues that are embedded within this article to be sure. And even as David Brooks writes this piece, and it is a massive piece, I said, three pages in the print edition, two of them text, the other basically the cover art.

And he writes about this division that is taken place in evangelicalism. And clearly it is his judgment that evangelicals don’t deserve much of a future unless evangelicals followed the directives of these would be self-appointed reformers. Later in the article, Brooks writes, “The turmoil in evangelicalism is not just ruptured relationships. It’s dissolving the structures of many evangelical institutions.” He continues, “Many families, church, parachurch organizations, and even denominations are coming apart.” Now that might be an overstatement, but there’s certainly something to this. I think most of us can look around and see some of this division. Some of this fracturing, some of the weakening of institutions, even denominations, huge questions, but at the same time, it’s very difficult at any point in history to understand how this will be seen in retrospect, but even as there are many issues that are addressed in this article, and many of them are concerns that come, particularly from what we might call the evangelical left.

There are some that all evangelicals need to take very seriously, including the scandals over sex abuse and sexual misbehavior. We need to understand what’s at stake there, but as he is dealing with these issues, it is clear that the issue behind all these other issues is Donald Trump or particularly the fact that as he wrote, “Roughly 80% of white evangelical voters supported Trump in 2020.” But the issue for us to understand is that he comes back again and again to Trump. And so do so many of the people he cites as the reformers in his article, the good guys, or at least the good people. They’re not all men. Some of them are women. He mentions me as part of the problem by name. And he also makes a negative comment concerning World Opinions, which I edit. But I understand that. I understand that this is coming.

I understand what it means that David Brooks would make this point. It is clear that as he sees it, the big issue is here what he calls, “The white evangelical embrace of Donald Trump.” He also cites people identified again as the reformers, these important voices that he cites calling for evangelical Christianity to reform itself, or to be abandoned. He writes about a particular evangelical quandary because evangelicals, “While differing over politics and other secondary matters, they are in theory supposed to be unified by their shared first love as brothers and sisters in Christ.” Well, that’s, of course, biblical language. But as you look at that statement, you understand that when he writes about differing over politics, and then he says other secondary issues. Well, that raises the question. How is he defining primary and secondary issues? And wait just a minute, who is David Brooks to be writing about this?

Well, I wrote an article about David Brooks just a few months ago. It was entitled, “Sir, you are no conservative,” and he’s not a conservative. But even as he writes this article with a programmatic thesis about American evangelicalism, and clearly he’s suggesting the way forward for evangelicalism, he is not himself a Christian evangelical. He has in recent years spoken of recovering a sense of his Jewish identity and also identifying in some way as a Christian. But evangelicals understand that the truth issue is absolutely paramount.

And David Brooks is simply not an evangelical Christian. In some of his most recent writings David Brooks, identifies himself as a spiritual seeker attracted to both Christianity in the Judaism, into which he was born. But all of this is basically just on his own terms. In his book, The Second Mountain, he asked himself a question, do I believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, he comes back and asks, do I believe his body was gone from the tomb three days after the crucifixion? He then writes, “The simple brutally honest answer is it comes and goes.”

Part II

Evangelicals are Out of Step with the New York Times — No Surprise There

David Brooks, by the way, just in terms of his general approach to issues defines reality in his own terms to an extent that no other writer with which I am familiar does, he simply says, I know some people say this is this, but I’m going to write about it as that. That also has to do with marriage and the family. It’s important to recognize that David Brooks has been an early and an extremely ardent advocate for same-sex marriage. He’s also tried to shame people who simply don’t affirm same-sex marriage. He has gone on to say that Christians will be well-advised to abandon an ethic, that limits sex to the context of heterosexual marriage. He was known in recent years for writing articles about the fact that in his words, “The nuclear family was a mistake.”

He says that society should embrace new forms of communal life. By my designation, he is neither a Christian nor a conservative, but here he is writing about his exhortation about how conservative Christianity in America is to be saved from itself. But then again, maybe not. Maybe when he’s writing about evangelicalism, he’s not really writing about conservative Christianity in America. Maybe he’s writing about his own idea of what evangelicalism should be. So in that sense, what we see in this article is what David Brooks and by extension, the New York Times wishes evangelicalism was or wishes that evangelicals were. There are sins of which evangelicals need to repent, and those must be defined in biblical terms. And there must be genuine repentance. There are issues that evangelicals need to address. There is the challenge of learning, how faithfully and biblically to speak of the realities or the conversation about race in the United States.

There is an imperative to show the unity of the church, but we must understand that that unity is in truth. It’s not just in spirit, it’s not just in institutional organization. It has to be a unity in the truth. And it’s simply the case that David Brooks is in absolutely no position to suggest that he knows any sense of what the evangelical future should be from within evangelical Christianity from within the belief system of evangelical Christianity. And even as we see an article here, which is basically telling evangelicals what they should think about these issues, how evangelicals should re-think the political equation, how we should see ourselves within American culture, we need to understand that this is written by an ardent partisan for Joe Biden, who’s complaining about why he identifies as the partisanship of conservative evangelicals. He says, “Partisan politics has swamped. What’s supposed to be a religious movement.”

And by the way, when he takes his aim at World Opinions, and at me, he basically says that there was controversy over the fact that an opinion section would appear that might compromise journalism and then will wait for it. He publishes that particular thesis in the opinion section of the New York Times. Clearly the real offense of David Brooks is not the existence of opinion or an opinion section, but the existence of an opinion section that will run contrary to his own opinions. But he comes back to the issue that 80% of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in 2020. I don’t know if that figure is exactly right, but it’s probably close. But you’ll notice the fact that if you’re looking at a movement like this and you’re making the audacious argument, that 80% are absolutely wrong and holding positions that the other side might rightly see as vile, there is no way to hold that movement together.

There is going to be a deep fracture. And basically you can already see that even in the contours of his article from generation to generation evangelical, Christians have faced the reality that there have been those who have come and said, evangelicalism is going to have to redefine itself. It is going to have to renegotiate its posture in culture. Or there simply is not going to be a younger generation. Young people are simply going to walk away. Now that’s been said recurringly over the course of evangelical history since the midpoint of the 20th century. One day, that prophecy is almost sure to be true. And that is because we are not promised institutional vitality. We are not promised denominational energy. We are not promised big numbers, but we are however faced with the reality as evangelicals that eventually we are going to be even more out step with this culture.

And eventually even more out of step need we say this with the opinion section of the New York Times. Now evangelicalism as an “-ism,” as a movement in the United States emerged as an attempt to maintain orthodox biblical Christianity while still engaging the larger culture. It was a reaction against Protestant liberalism that simply came culture Protestantism. It just gave itself to the culture, abandoning its convictions and over against fundamentalism that tried to hold to the theological position of orthodoxy while disengaging from the culture, which it saw as hopeless. Evangelicals said, “There’s not going to be any possibility of ultimately escaping culture engagement. So let’s learn how to do it faithfully.” But that has made evangelicalism a rather unstable project from the very beginning, and every 10, 15, 20 years, there comes a moment like this. Not exactly, but at least a similar moment in which there are some people who say, “I really don’t like evangelicalism as it is.”

Maybe they don’t like the conservative cultural positions. And sometimes they even pointing to real problems. What we have to say are real sins within evangelicalism, but they are basically negotiating their way out. Now, again, looking at this article, David Brooks was never in. I think at least some, if not most, of the people who cooperated in this article are similarly on their way out. And especially when you look at the very numbers that David Brooks comes back to. If you’re talking about having a huge problem with a movement, 80% of whom you think represent the problem, then just do your own math, but there’s something else going on here. And this is seen in the fact that this article did appear in the New York Times, the most prime of prime media real estate in the United States in what it builds itself as the paper of record of the United States.

And this is a paper that is increasingly liberal, increasingly committed to very progressivist, moral assumptions, as well as politics. This is a paper that has never looked at American evangelicals in the modern era and said, “That is a group we really appreciate and admire.” And then you raise the question, “What would evangelicals have to do in terms of what David Brooks presents as a reformation to all of a sudden be included in the very good people in the consideration of the New York Times?” Well, whatever would be left would not be evangelicalism.

But what we have to recognize is that we are looking at what amounts to a demand to abandon evangelicalism as a project, or at least a demand to leave behind something like 80% of American evangelicals in order to get with the future that David Brooks, the New York Times, and others would appreciate. Some of the people cited in this article very clearly are negotiating their own criticism of evangelicalism in such a way. It’s very difficult to believe that they would want to be in any sense continually identified with American evangelicalism. And furthermore, there is this sense of just a general distaste at the populism and at the base of evangelical Christianity in the United States.

But let me be clear, speaking as an evangelical, as a committed, evangelical, as an evangelical committed to what I see as the classic paradigm of American evangelicalism. Thanks be to God the future of evangelical Christianity in America is going to be determined by the flawed, yet faithful members of say Calvary Baptist Church, Christ Presbyterian Church and the Bible Church down the street. It’s not going to be decided by the editorial section of the New York times. And as I argue in an article that appears today at World Opinion, right now, you can pretty much figure out where someone is headed. If you know whether they see that as good news or bad news.

Part III

The Transgender Revolution: If You Accept the Ideology You Accept the Policies

But next, we have to shift to some very interesting developments in terms of the transgender swimmer controversy that is particularly focused at the University of Pennsylvania and its women’s swimming team.

When the number one ranked swimmer identifies as a woman or identifies as female, but is transgender and is clearly biologically male. Lia Thomas is the name of the swimmer. And the two big developments are these number one, you’ll recall that just a matter of days ago, the NCAA said that it was going to be deferring to the organizations that represent individual sports, the formation of policy related to the definition of transgender issues and equity and fairness in the different forms of athletic petition. So in swimming, the group to which deference was supposed to be made is the group known as USA Swimming.

But last Tuesday, USA Swimming came out with a set of proposed policies to adjudicate how self-identified transgender athletes are to be allowed or not to be allowed participation in their gender identified sporting team. And that means whether or not, for example, a biological male declaring himself transgender could participate as a woman on a woman’s swimming team. USA Swimming came out with a fairly stringent policy, more stringent than what had been anticipated clearly by the NCAA, more stringent than in some other sports. Some of the guidelines that were handed down by USA Swimming are the requirement that a transgender woman that’s their phrase would have to maintain a testosterone level below five nanomoles per liter. That’s down from 10 in the previous policy and would have to do so for 36 months before being able to compete in qualified women’s events.

Now, again, Christians looking at this understand that the amount of time, the amount of testosterone is not really the issue. We understand that biologically that is just pointing to the reality that a man is a man and a woman is a woman and that no amount of politics, no amount of surgery for that matter is going to change that fact. And when it comes to athletic ability, one of the issues that comes up again and again in virtually every major article on this controversy is the fact that when an individual is male and goes through male puberty changes come in the body in the musculature, in the skeletal system, even in the development of the heart, that aren’t going to be undone by any level of lowered testosterone.

And by the way, all you have to do is look at the video or at the photographs accompanying this particular set of stories. And you understand just with your own eyes, exactly what we’re talking about now, USA Swimming handed down those guidelines last Tuesday, but last Wednesday, the NCAA said maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to say we were going to be deferring to the organizations that represent these individual sports. We are told by the New York Times, “The NCAA had revised its own policies with regard to transgender athletes last month, requiring transgender women.”

Again, this is their language, “To submit to testosterone testing and pending reviews, deferring to the policy of each sport’s governing body, or if no such guidance exists, the International Olympic Committee. But that eagerness to align with governing bodies is being put to an early test by USA Swimming’s more stringent policies.” But it turns out that the policy doesn’t relate merely to testosterone or even merely to time, but also to a team of designated experts who are to review each case. A three person team making some adjudication.

Now, again, the big story here is the fact that you have a biological male competing as a woman on the University of Pennsylvania’s women’s team. He had spent three years on the men’s team before transitioning is now on the women’s team and is completely reshuffling the entire equation, as you would expect a male swimmer would.

Part IV

'Lia Thomas Has Every Right to Live Authentically’: The Transgender Movement, Existentialism, and the Psychotherapeutic Turn

But the most fascinating development is reported by Noah Zucker of the Philadelphia Inquirer, right there in Philadelphia, where you have an article with the headline, “Transgender Swimmer Lia Thomas Has Unfair Advantage, 16 Penn”—that is, University of Pennsylvania—”Teammates Say.” And we’re looking at the fact that 16 women swimmers at the University of Pennsylvania signed this letter, but they did not release their names to the public. And instead the letter was forwarded to the authorities by a former Olympic gold medalist, a woman by the name of Nancy Hogshead-Makar. And she’s also the founder of what is known as Champion Women. But the text to the letter is what’s mostly important. And here you have women arguing that it is fundamentally unjust, fundamentally unfair. And for that matter, nonsensical that a biological male would be allowed to completely disrupt not only the team, but the entire sport.

The letter includes the absolutely astounding section, “We fully support Lia Thomas in her decision to affirm her gender identity and to transition from a man to a woman.” So in other words, you have here the absolute surrender to the entire transgender ideology. And one of the things I want to argue as a Christian looking at this is that if you buy the logic, you’re going to have to buy the policy. If you buy the logic that a man can become a woman, a woman can become a man. If you’re going to change your pronouns and you’re going to change the entire structure. And if you’re going to assure by means of this letter, that everyone knows you’re actually for the trans a revolution, well, you just bought a revolution, but it’s the next sentence that is absolutely astounding, “Lia has every right to live her life authentically. However, we must also realize that when it comes to sports competition, that the biology of sex is a separate issue from someone’s gender identity.”

Then this, “Biologically, Lia holds an unfair advantage over competition in the women’s category as evidenced by her rankings, that it bounced from number 462 as a male to number 1 as a female.” That’s what I had not seen before rankings in which this individual a biological male was number 462 who competing as a male, but is now number 1, competing as a female. But in worldview analysis, one of the phrases that came earlier in that quote is really important where the writers of this letter said this, “Lia has every right to live her life authentically.” Again, that’s exactly how it’s written. The word authentically is the biggest in issue there. What does it mean to live authentically in order to understand that we have to go back and think about how the world view of the Western world was shaped during the 20th century, by a couple of movements.

And most importantly, those come down to the French philosophical movement known as existentialism, which wasn’t limited to France and the modern regime of psychotherapy. And when the two of them are combined, you basically have a major engine for the modern world, as we know it. And you hear for example, many who claim a transgender identity saying they did so in order to honor their authenticity, where does that come from? Well, I mentioned existentialism. Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, others, Simone de Beauvoir in especially, the period before, and even with greater influence after the Second World War. The existentialists were very secular. Sartre was very clear about his rejection of traditional Christian morality and of Christianity itself. He declared himself very much an atheist and thus a materialist.

He was also inclined towards Marxism, but the most important thing to recognize is that the existentialist said that the only meaning in life–there is no objective truth, there is no Creator–so the only objective meaning we can find in life is by seizing our experience of existence and our thrownness into any existential situation and discovering by looking within our authentic self, our authenticity, living out our authenticity, through the making of decisions and a world in which there is no fundamentally objectively right or objectively wrong decision. It is an expression of our existence and of our individuality finding in the crucible of decision making in this thrownness, our authenticity.

Now it should be obvious that’s a direct rejection of biblical Christianity and of course of the Creator’s sovereign right to determine the meaning of his creation and of his right to identify us and tell us who we are. It’s not a coincidence that Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir who were romantically linked were not particularly limited to each other. Let’s just say, nor was she particularly limited to men.That was all a part of finding her own authenticity. That should tell you something right there.

But then that second source of this ideal or ideology of authenticity I mentioned is the psychotherapeutic revolution where based upon many, the same fundamental assumptions, the idea was that by therapeutic means by the use of therapy talk therapy, other therapeutic approaches, the individual, the patient could come to terms with his or her authentic self and then live out bravely the authenticity they discovered within themselves.

Well, you look at that and you see the confluence of French existentialism, and you say, that sounds very remote. No, it’s not. It became mainstreamed throughout much of film throughout much of culture. And it really did get mainstreamed in the larger society. Existentialist ideas became very much a part of the furniture of the secular mind in the 20th century, and the psychotherapeutic revolution had impact not only on the secular world, but lamentably also within the Christian world, where many Christians just advocated our understanding of sin and self and of all kinds of behaviors and problems to the psychotherapeutic worldview.

But it is a good occasion for us to recognize that at least in part, that’s why you have so many people identifying as transgender saying that they’re living in out their authenticity. And you see even these 16 swimmers who are saying that Lia Thomas as identified in this article should not be allowed to compete as a woman. Nonetheless, they are emphatic about the fact that they do believe in the transgender revolution and they want to go on to say, “Lia has every right to live her life authentically.” But my argument is, if you accept the ideology of the transgender revolution, you’re going to have to accept the new rules of that very same revolution. The New York Post has also reported that at least some of these women’s swimmers are complaining about the fact that Lia Thomas as identified in the article is changing in the women’s locker room.

Well, very clearly what becomes evident is what I will simply say is a biological distinction that is continuing. And at least one of the swimmer said since she still presents male and still dates women, this can lead to some awkwardness in the locker room.

Well, I can only guess that’s true, but I have to come back to the fact that if you do accept the ideology, ladies and gentleman, you have bought the new policy.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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