The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

It’s Wednesday, April 20, 2022.

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

Part I

An Entire New World of Moral Complicity: Corporations Take Leftist Positions on Cultural Issues

As you think in moral terms, we often talk about moral agency, that is the capacity of making moral decisions and that’s the responsibility for making moral decisions. But we also talk about moral actors. You are looking at a cow, you say that a cow’s not really a moral actor, no one’s going to arrest a cow. If that cow trespasses, it’s going to be a problem for the cow’s owner, not for the cow. The cow is not understood to have moral agency. The cow is not a moral actor. Now, a cattle rustler, on the other hand, he is a moral agent and he is a moral actor. Moral agency is why we hold him responsible for his crime. You don’t arrest the cow, you do arrest the cattle rustler.

But as we think about moral agency and moral actors, it’s really important to recognize that an entire new world of moral agency and of moral actors has appeared on the scene. Now, we’re talking about American corporations, and global or international corporations, transnational corporations as they are sometimes known. But let’s just think about corporations in the United States, in the main. Let’s just think of those corporations as now increasingly being identified by their position on moral issues. Now, the time was, in a not too distant past, that when you bought say a box of laundry detergent or you went and bought an insurance policy, or for that matter, you walked into an appliance store and bought a washer and a dryer, you were not intending to make a major moral statement.

Furthermore, the department store that sold you the washer and dryer and the insurance agency that sold you insurance, all of this was basically without the intention or the valence, as is often said, of moral agency. It’s simply not a matter of choosing between department stores because of their position on moral issues. Because again, not too long in the past, you just didn’t know what moral positions one of these department stores might have as compared to any other. Now, in one sense, all that began to change in a minor way in the 1970s and ’80s, and a lot of it came over issues of discrimination, feminism, the civil rights movement. But beyond that, the breakout issues often became contentious issues, and companies did their very best to avoid coming anywhere into proximity with one of those contentious issues, isn’t good for business.

But that began to change, and it changed with an acceleration during the period of the 1990s and into the 21st century. All of a sudden, as you think about the sexual and gender revolution, you saw this show up in advertising by major American corporations. They wanted to show by their advertising that they were with it, but they wanted to follow a very straight path that wasn’t overly divisive or controversial. They wanted to send a progressive signal, but they didn’t want to be identified as a polarizing corporation that after all, again, isn’t good for sales. It restricts your customer base. But that entire model now seems to be passing from the scene. Just recently, The Washington Post ran an article about the claim that corporate America has now somehow become “the last firewall for abortion rights”.

We’ve been talking about this most importantly as is related to the Disney corporation and controversy in the state of Florida, but we’ve also seen it, a host of other issues we have seen, especially Hollywood entertainment corporations and similar organizations taking stands about positions and legislation in states like Georgia where Hollywood increasingly has investment and activity, and you also see this just across the board coast to coast with different product companies, different services agencies saying, “We want to be seen on the right side of history.” But still, at least until now, most of those corporations have not wanted to get out in any risky way ahead of their consumer base.

But that appears now to be changing. Because for one thing, it turns out that one of the new dynamics is the competition for policy positions with the consumer base on one side and to the company’s own employees on the other side. We see that with Disney where many of the employees are extremely liberal. After all, the controversy inside Disney was occasioned by LGBTQ employees at Disney, protesting the fact that Disney’s CEO had not been aggressive enough in opposing the Florida legislation that limited sexuality education for young children. But on the other side, you have the customer base, which isn’t uniformly conservative, but given the fact that it is trying to sell so many of its products to families, it is evidently a great deal more conservative than the employee base.

But then, you have other corporations that appear now to just decide, “We’re going to join these moral revolutions with abandon even if it costs us our consumer base.” Right now, they’re making a bet that the consumer base of the future is going to be considerably more liberal and progressive than the consumer base they might be losing now. It is long-term gain in the moral revolution they are looking for. They really do want to be on the right side of history. That’s in this case, not just a moral claim, it’s a business plan. Catherine Rampell writes in this Washington Post article, “American employers have become the latest firewall against the GOP’s assault on women’s rights, because doing so is in their financial interest.”

Now, before we even look ahead, just understand the language that The Washington Post has run here, telling us that the big issue here is the GOPs as the Republican assault on women’s rights. Let’s face it, we’re talking about the issue of abortion, but here you see how The Washington Post wants to contextualize and present the issue as if it’s just about women’s rights. Rampell looks at states that are restricting access to abortion. And the state of Texas is very much front and center in her consideration, you might even say at the center of this corporate target. But we are told, “Women’s rights activists,” and again, let’s just stop that. The Washington Post is saying women’s rights activists, these are abortion activists, “have lately found a somewhat unlikely ally in the fight against these laws, corporate America.”

She continues, “A host of employers with workers in Texas condemn the state’s abortion ban last year. Citigroup, Yelp, Apple, Levi Strauss, Bumble, Match Group and others have also recently expanded employee health coverage of reproductive care.” Again, notice the fact they will not use the word abortion. Avoid using the word abortion at all costs. Back to the quote, “including covering travel expenses for out-of-state abortion care.” Well, there it turns out they finally used the word abortion, the next to the last word in the sentence. Rampell points to this change in corporate America, Uber and Lyft, we are told, announced that they will pay legal costs for any driver sued under Texas’s bounty hunting provisions. Then she says this, “Companies once studiously skirted divisive social issues, but lately, they’ve been forced to take positions.”

Well, let’s just think about that sentence for a moment. Forced to take positions, forced by whom? Well, it turns out the forced here is basically referring to two different issues. Number one, employees. Sometimes, you do have employees who are saying, “Okay, Disney, you’re going to have to declare yourself on this issue publicly whatever the cost,” very liberal employees when it comes to Hollywood. But then, you also have the consumer base. And the argument here is that these companies are having to take positions because customers are demanding them. Well, that comes back to the question, which customers? But there’s a fascinating argument that Catherine Rampell gets to. At the end of the article, she says, “Companies are generally amoral. They are offering more reproductive care to workers, or say belatedly condemning anti-LGBTQ laws, because they believe doing so will help their bottom lines.”

That is a profoundly true statement. You may disagree with everything else in this article, but she’s absolutely right when she says that these companies are taking these stances because they believe in the long term, it will help their bottom lines, that is increase revenue, increase profits, increase their customer base. That’s the bet they’re making. But the big issue here really is the employees right now because the company has a direct relationship with employees that is different than the relationship it has with consumers. The consumer base, almost assuredly, is far more conservative. After all, you’re talking about the fact that that law against abortion in Texas has vast popular support in Texas. And Texas is a very big population, it’s a very big customer base.

The employees, however, are if not right down the hall, then they are just a click away. And they can be very loud, they can be very organized, and they can increasingly hold these companies, at least in one sense, hostage. Rampell writes, “Companies need to attract and retain talent, including female talent. And conditions in some places are now a hard sell.” Imagine she says, telling workers, “Join our new branches in Texas or Oklahoma.” She then goes on to misrepresent some of the laws there, but she concludes with these words, “Companies must prove to employees and perspective hires, at least those with the education and skills to command greater bargaining power, that their rights will be respected and their families will have access to the healthcare they need.”

Again, look at the euphemism, healthcare, we’re not talking about getting a broken leg fixed, we’re talking about abortion here. By the way, the worldview behind this has made clear in these sentences. “Sure, some of these red states have drawn a lot of new workers and businesses in recent years. After all, low taxes and warm weather are pretty attractive, but such perks can lose their appeal if the trade-off is loss of bodily autonomy.” Again, look at this. You’re looking at the high altar of the idolatrous ideology of bodily autonomy. This came just days after Yelp, one of the companies mentioned in this article, had announced that it’s going to cover expenses for employees, not only for employees but for their spouses, who they say must travel out of state for “abortion care”.

Well, credit at least for using the word abortion, but you’ll notice the phrase abortion care. How in the world do you use that phrase, abortion care, if you make reference to the unborn baby? Oh, wait just a minute. They’re going to avoid that reference at all costs. Another thing to note is that money, education, and class really do show up together sometimes. This is a footnote you might say to this issue. But consider this portion of an article that ran in The New York Times about the announcement by Yelp, “The median income at Yelp was $92,000 in 2020, according to regulatory filings, and companies where employees earn higher wages are often the most vocally opposed to legal restrictions on abortion.” Fascinating.

Often, you hear these policies and corporate stances explained as a way to help lower income workers, but it turns out it’s higher income workers who are really at the center of this kind of policy. And you have the admission of that right here in The New York Times.

Part II

‘We Must Do Well and Do Good’: The Responsibility of Christians in the Marketplace

Now, all this for Christians reminds us of several things, but most fundamentally, we are reminded of the fact that how we do business has everything to do with our own moral priorities. It really does, one way or another. You may not be able to decide that you’re going to buy a can of say, baked beans made one manufacturer over another because you know the moral stances of respective makers of baked beans. But as you think about other goods and services, increasingly, you really do have a choice.

And we really are increasingly making our own moral priorities clear, and yet we’re living in a fallen world in which if you are trying to fly from point A to point B, you might well find yourself on an airline that holds to a set of moral principles diametrically opposed to your own. You may have limited choices when it comes to medical insurance, or for that matter, any number of other insurance coverages. We are living in a fallen world in which the fallenness, the sinfulness, the depravity is making its way into every single part of our economic lives. But somehow, Christians who are called to be in the world but not of the world have to figure out how to minimize the moral risk, how to make our way in an increasingly morally confused and indeed morally corrupt economy in a way that does least damage to our own moral principles and to our own moral witness.

You may find yourself even sometimes almost by accident looking at a restaurant review that appears on Yelp. But understand, your visit to that site or your use of that app really is helping to subsidize abortion in America. You didn’t choose that, but that’s the reality. For Christians, we do understand the fact that we do not get a pass when it comes to our moral responsibility for our consumer and economic decisions. But we also recognize that we can sometimes think we’re making a stand for righteousness and justice only to find out that we weren’t quite making the statement we intended to make. I can remember years ago when you had credit card companies, some of which were taking pro-LGBTQ policies. People would say, “Well, I’m going to switch to another credit card company.” And it turned out that company had the very same policies.

When it comes to credit cards, you have limited choices when it comes to banking. But that just reminds us that when it comes to the economy, you do not know where that dollar bill was before it ends up in the next transaction handed to you. But that doesn’t absolve us of responsibility. The bottom line in all of this is that Christians seeking to be faithful to Christ and consistently Christian as we’re trying to think through these issues, we recognize that there is no moral safe place in the economy because there is no abortion of the economy nor anywhere you find human civilization that is not tainted by sin. But we still are moral agents. Back to that. We still are moral actors. We still have the responsibility and the stewardship of making decisions where we can about where we do and do not spend our money in order to make certain we are not subsidizing what we believe is nothing less than sin, sometimes even the sin of the killing of the unborn.

There’s an old economic adage, it’s a moral adage that is attributed to Christianity which is, that for the Christian, it is our responsibility in the economy not only to do well, but to do good to the best of our ability.

Part III

Florida District Court Judge Strikes Down CDC Mask Mandate — What’s the Bigger Story Here?

Next, I mentioned on The Briefing yesterday that just on Monday, a federal district court judge in Florida struck down the Biden administration’s mask mandate when it came to public transportation that had anything to do with the federal government. Its regulation, its funding that comes down to just about all public transportation including trains, including airlines, and including also most airports. The mask mandate has been in place, now, wait for it, only since January of 2021. That absolute mask mandate in that sense was put into effect within the first two weeks of the Biden administration.

And it represented a very clear break with the preceding administration, of President Donald Trump, and it was basically a way of saying to the left wing of the Democratic Party, “We’re going to be taking this seriously the way you want us to take this seriously.” But that also just pointed to the fact that the masks themselves became a very partisan issue. The mask divide became a worldview divide. And the mask divide was predictable as you look at a map and think of red states and the blue states. Blue states, mask states, red states, not so much if at all. If you were traveling at that time, you may have found yourself in a situation like this. You are in your house in Los Angeles where you do not have to wear a mask. You have to wear a mask the moment you walk out of your house.

You get in your car. In your car, you do not have to wear a mask. You park your car and then you go into LAX, Los Angeles International Airport. You have to wear the mask there, you have to wear the mask as you get on the plane, you have to wear the mask the entire length of the flight, you have to wear the mask in the Orlando, Florida airport where you land. But as soon as you get out of the Orlando, Florida airport, you can take the mask off. Not by coincidence perhaps, it was a Florida U.S. District Court judge who on Monday, struck down the Biden administration’s extension of the mask mandate. But it’s interesting. She had not only struck down the extension, she struck down the mask mandate itself saying, and here’s the bottom line of her ruling, that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had exceeded any legal authority in establishing this policy.

She also pointed out in less significant issues that the policy had not gone through even the normal policy-making process and thus, virtually at every point in which the CDC acted, it did so without proper legal authority. The judge in this case was U.S. District Court Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle. It’s interesting, by the way, that almost all the mainstream media, immediately after using her name, went on to say, “Appointed to the federal judiciary by President Donald Trump,” as if that’s supposed to explain everything. Well, for some passengers, the news of Judge Mizelle’s ruling came even mid-flight. There were people who got the news as they were on flights. They took their masks off. But you had major airlines who responded pretty quickly saying that they were not going to be mandating masks.

And the big question is, would the Biden administration appeal Judge Mizelle’s ruling? The bottom line is that I predicted that the Biden administration would not seriously contest the ruling because it is politically convenient. President Biden can tell the left wing of his own party, “Hey, I did my best, but a federal judge struck the issue down.” In the meantime, the president would also conveniently escape the wrath of American voters who had had quite enough of mask mandates. So, in one sense, it becomes unlikely the Biden administration will seriously challenge Judge Mizelle’s ruling. But here’s the big issue. In constitutional terms, her ruling was absolutely right. The law is the law. There is no way that the CDC had acted within the scope of its legislative mandate when it handed down this mask mandate.

Judge Mizelle, in handing down her ruling, cited a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States in another COVID case just handed down last year in which the decision of the Court said, “Our system does not permit agencies to act unlawfully even in pursuit of desirable ends.” That includes the desirable end of not spreading a very contagious virus. We just need to remind ourselves of the history of the mask issue with COVID. Early in the pandemic, you had government authorities such as Dr. Anthony Fauci saying that masks wouldn’t make a difference, that there should be no public wearing of masks. Later, he basically explained his change of mind by saying out loud that he had lied to the American people because he did not want a consumer run on masks and other personal protection equipment.

He said he wanted those to be reserved from medical personnel. But let’s not mistake the fact he basically said right out loud that he misrepresented the issue to the American people. At the very same time, he and others like him continued to say, “Trust me.” When the government changed its policy, Anthony Fauci came back and said, “Well, you know, there is now further evidence about how COVID is spread.” I will grant that case. That is actually true. But it is interesting to note that even as the government was supposedly changing its mind on these issues driven only by scientific data, it was extremely choosy about what kind of scientific data were cited by government officials.

Part IV

1 State, 2 States, Red States, Blue States: Divide in America Over Mask Mandate—And Other Issues—Boils Down to Cultural and Moral Issues

Pretty quickly, the wearing or the non-wearing of masks became a political statement, and the scientific evidence was all often misrepresented.

By the time you get to say the beginnings of 2022, a couple of things are clear. Number one, masks can make a difference. But they basically make a difference if they are advanced masks such as the N95 respirator model and if they’re worn properly, which means completely covering both the nose and the mouth. All you have to do is reflect upon any recent flight to understand that even as instructions are given that way, people were wearing all kinds of masks, that the best medical authorities right now are just saying really don’t matter all that much. In so many ways, it became a symbolic issue. But you know, conservative Christians should not deny that the wearing of masks could, in certain circumstances, be absolutely sensical and could make a difference.

No one’s going to argue that you want a surgeon to come into an operating room not wearing a mask. But the point is, most of us are never walking into an operating room. You didn’t even have to wait until 2021 until the issue of masks really became a red state, blue state issue. And there we were once again. It also became clear certainly by the last several months that the differential between high regulation blue states and lower regulation red states was not adding up when it came to hospitalizations for serious illness or for deaths. In other words, eventually looking at the issue of social distancing and also mask regulations, The New York Times, even The New York Times had to come back and say that the answer to the question as to whether there was much difference is surprisingly unclear.

Well, if that picture is unclear, the fact is that Judge Mizelle’s ruling was extremely clear. She struck down the mandate precisely because she said it was illegal. It was not in accordance with the law. The CDC had acted without legal authority. I mentioned that some people found out about this judge’s ruling even as they were on airplanes, perhaps looking at their newsfeed, but the interesting thing is, some masks almost immediately came off, other masks remain on. It remains a very clear division in the American people. And the overlay on other moral issues, let’s just say the red-blue divide, that is not a perfect overlay, but it’s pretty close to accurate, it’s pretty close to predictable. I published an article on this issue in today’s edition of World Opinions and I reflected on the sadness that comes to me as I think about this issue.

And as I think about comments made by some people including some teenagers, adolescents, quoted in a recent article who said they feared taking off their mask. And it really had nothing to do with COVID-19. It had to do with the fact that they have spent the last couple of years of their lives, and we’re talking about teenagers, we’re talking about very short lives, they’ve spent the last very socially important two years of their lives largely behind a mask. And that has led to a very interesting phenomenon where some of these young people are saying they now fear taking their mask off. To many of them, the idea of not wearing a mask seems threatening and vulnerable. I really think we need to respond to that with understanding.

But we need to understand, that is a problem. That is not how God intended us to face one another, mask to mask. God made us to show our faces. He made our faces. As the Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then, face to face. Now I know in part, then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” We need to see each other face to face until we see his glory face to face.

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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