Tuesday, August 2, 2022
It's Tuesday, August 2nd, 2022.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
The Moral Evasions of Monkeypox: A Parable of Our Times
Dr. Dimie Ogoina, who's director of medicine and infectious diseases at Niger Delta University in Nigeria, began several years ago to trace outbreaks of a virus that became known as monkeypox. Most recently, he detected it in an 11-year-old boy who is believed to have been playing with monkeys. It is now believed that that child was the source of the current outbreak of the monkeypox virus.
Now, this particular virus is known as zoonotic, which just to say it originated in animals and then spread across species to humans. But the reason we're talking about it right now is because the outbreak has reached the United States. Counties like Broward County, Florida, have noted marked outbreaks of the disease. But it is not evenly distributed throughout the population. We are indeed looking at a medical crisis, but it's also buried in medical confusion. That's really not caused by medicine, but by moral insanity, thus, the paradox of monkeypox.
Returning to Nigeria and Dr. Ogoina, he noticed something interesting. Eventually, the cases that were presenting themselves in Nigeria were not children who might well have been playing with monkeys, thus the source of the monkeypox, but rather in young men described by the doctor as healthy young men in their 20s and 30s, and the painful and unmistakable blisters characteristic of the disease were, well, let's put it delicately, in their most private regions. Very quickly, the doctor came to the conclusion that a sexual history revealed that the virus had been spread by what's described as intimate contact.
Now, the New England Journal of Medicine recently estimated that 95% of all the cases in the current outbreak can be traced to sexual contact, and not just sexual contact, but the sexual contact among men. As a matter of fact, the epidemiologists and the medical community continue to warn that those who are at highest risk and where the spread has been most widespread is among those described as, "Men who have sex with men." The risk of transmission was highest among those men who were having such sexual activity and even higher among men who were reported to have had several homosexual partners.
Now, anyone of a certain age or of certain historical knowledge will see the parallels between monkeypox and the original outbreak of what became known as AIDS eventually tracked to a virus known as HIV. Then, as now, this was not so much described as a sexually transmitted disease as a virus that was clearly transmitted through sexual behavior, and not just any sexual behavior and not just in any sexual population, but rather particular forms of sexual activity. Now, the euphemism here is intimate contact. That again comes down to the description of men having sex with men.
Now, most of us would do quite well without thinking about such issues or talking about such issues, but the parable of our day comes down to this. If we who understand the moral reality will not speak to it clearly, then we're simply abdicating the field. We are unfaithful as Christians because the Scripture does speak to these issues. First and most fundamentally, it speaks to the reality of a moral universe, of a moral universe in which the creator embedded certain moral commands, moral rules, and a very sufficient moral knowledge to understand how we are to handle and to be stewards of the sexual gift. The Bible's abundantly clear about the nature of homosexuality. More on that in just a moment.
The big issue here is to understand that the controversy right now, and what we see in our society, our public health officials, government officials, sources in the mainstream media and others constantly warning that the big issue here is not so much monkeypox, but moral stigma. That the one thing society must give full attention to is avoiding any kind of stigmatization or adding or pointing in any way to the moral stigma that might be attached to men who have sex with men because of the outbreak of monkeypox.
This is where Christians simply have to understand what's going on here. This is a massive exercise in cultural self-deception. It's a massive exercise in dishonesty. But it tells us a great deal about our society, a society that prides itself on supposedly being clear about such matters as science and viruses and epidemiology, but, on the other hand, a society in which medicine itself has become deeply infected with all kinds of ideology. The use of the word stigma here over and over again, it's in almost every headline, it seems, about this issue, it just tells us that the issues here are far more about a medical establishment and the elites trying to protect the issue of homosexuality rather than, in a candid way, dealing directly with the virus and with, what the New England Journal of Medicine reports, is 95% of the viruses in this outbreak, wherever it has been found.
An example of this approach is demonstrated by Juliana Kim of National Public Radio, and NPR, by the way, is demonstrating this pattern over and over again. A representative report here points to the tragic moral confusion of our times. The entire purpose of this article is to describe how to talk about monkeypox citing experts, of course, putting that in quotation marks, who offer ways to reduce stigma. She cites one professor of public health and public health promotion who has warned that focusing the image on how the virus impacts different populations can be unproductive and unhelpful. Seriously? We're talking about 95% in one population defined by sexual behavior. To ignore that fact is simply to exercise another form of moral insanity, moral evasion. This really isn't about public health, at least what would mean the health of the public. It's about the moral revolution and protecting the moral revolution against any kind of stigma.
Now, one of the things Christians need to understand, by the way, is that the more you say you need to remove stigma, the more in a Catch-22 you underline the fact that the stigma is there. That's true about abortion. It's true about illicit sex. It's true about homosexuality. And there's a good reason for that. God created a moral universe, and in that moral universe men, to use their phrase again, who have sex with men will experience moral stigma. The more a society insists that there is none and should be none, the more it points to the fact there is.
Another public health official warned against what was described as over-stressing sex and advised avoiding any mention of homosexuality. The NPR report also turned to efforts to communicate this message at a recent "leather and fetish street fair in San Francisco, complete with questions about bondage performances." Now, I can tell you right up front, this is an awkward issue to talk about, but talk about it we must. If no one else in this society can talk about it honestly, we must. For one thing, we care about the people who are involved, and we understand the moral and the medical issues simply can't be divided the way our increasingly insane society insists that they must.
Joseph Goldstein reporting for the New York Times tells us, "Some public health experts say that many gay men are likely to push back against any advice that could be seen as discouraging or stigmatizing gay sex." The New York Times continues, "They say that such advice shifts blame onto them for the outbreak and could lead the intended audience to view public health authorities with distrust." In other words, if you do not join the mass delusion, then you're part of the problem. We're told right up front, too, that the price exacted by the LGBTQ community, in this case those identified as gay men, were told that their population, which is experiencing 95% of the cases of this truly horrifying disease especially in terms of the pain, we're told that they simply won't accept any argument that gets to, well, how the virus is actually being transmitted.
Now again, if you're of a certain age or a certain historical knowledge, you know that this is exactly what happened in the '80s and in the '90s in the AIDS crisis. You had public health officials including, now wait for it, Dr. Anthony Fauci who came against all medical knowledge and all the evidence to say you really can't focus on gay sex being wrong or even particularly dangerous in medical terms. You just have to redefine it with a very happy message of safe sex. Of course, here again, Christians understand that you cannot make illicit sex safe sex. By the way, this is not just something that as in one of the reports was cited as a Bible thumping preacher would say. This is something that an epidemiologist, if honest, would have to say.
Consider this additional statement found in the Goldstein report in the New York Times, quote, "'Telling people not to have sex or not to have multiple sex partners and not to have anonymous sex is just a no-go, and it's not going to work,' said longtime AIDS activist, Charles King," who is described as the head of an organization known as Housing Works, "which provides housing in social services to the homeless and those affected by HIV." "People are still going to have sex, and they're going to have it even if it comes with great risk."
In other words, public health is out the window in the midst of the very public that is experiencing the outbreak. Now, just keep that in mind. It's, again, a demonstration of moral insanity, but the public health community's turning around and saying, well, now you just have to factor that in and figure out some other way to try to deal with this outbreak. You can't tell people that they can't have sex regardless of how they want to have sex, and you can't say that there are moral much less medical consequences, particularly as these reports make clear because they use the phrase over and over again when you're dealing with men who have sex with men.
Here, we need to turn to Scripture. The Bible explicitly and repeatedly defines the very sexual practices that are now identified as leading to viral transmission as sodomy. It's a very strong word. There is no moral evasion in Scripture. Furthermore, as awkward as it might be even to Christians, the medical reality is that the sex acts at stake here involve parts of human bodies that were never meant to come together. The tissues involved are easily damaged, medical authorities concede, leading to the transmission of disease. Christians understand that the natural law and the Scripture underline the difference between natural and unnatural sexual relations. The natural law points also to the necessity, medical and moral necessity, of understanding the difference between the reproductive and digestive systems. Let's just leave it at that.
But this really is a fundamental moment, a teaching moment in terms of our society because it reminds us that when we're talking about moral stigma, it's possible that could be wrongly directed. It could be wrongly attached to something. So we, as Christians, have to turn to Scripture and say, "Should there be stigma attached to this? Is this sin?" Well, this is where the Scripture comes back. It's, of course, explicitly dealt with in Leviticus but also in Romans. In Romans, you also have the phrase that the apostle Paul, uses in Romans 1, "Against nature."
Now, that takes us back to Genesis and the very origin and order of creation. That's what we're talking about when we say that even by natural revelation, general revelation, even by just understanding how a cow and a bull come together in order to have a calf. As that kind of reproduction is fundamental to biology, we understand that there is also a structure to the universe that is nature that reveals something supernatural. That is God's glory most fundamentally, but also the way that God intended the cosmos and, in particulars, human creatures to relate to one another. We need supernatural revelation. We need Scripture in order to tell us all that we need to know, including not only the way of salvation and the revelation of Jesus Christ, but we also need Scripture in order to tell us what, due to human sin, we would never be able to discern in the created order.
For instance, God in Scripture makes very clear that adultery is wrong, sex outside of marriage is wrong, and there's an entire category, an entire catalog of sexual sin in Scripture. But when it comes to men having sex with men, or for that matter women with women, then Romans 1 is just abundantly clear. God's inherent and infallible word describes those relationships among people of the same gender. Again, the physical aspects are clear as not just being sin and not only a violation or breaking of the commandment of God, but against nature, which is to say, this attempts to undo God's act in creation.
Now, here's where we understand, this is going to come with consequences. The most important consequence is the wrath of God poured out upon sin. But there's also a set of temporal consequences that come with breaking God's law and divine creation. What we have here in this one virus is just another demonstration of what that looks like.
But in our contemporary culture, this demonstrates the fact that we are increasingly in the midst of a society that will not only deny Scripture and deny God, it will deny the entire moral order that is revealed even in creation. That's the point at which we understand the depth of our society's rebellion, not only against God, but against creation, against biology. Christians understand that the more rebellion of our day comes with deadly consequences. HIV and AIDS made that very clear as does now monkeypox. Thankfully, monkeypox, dreadful as it is, is not so deadly, at least at this point, as HIV and AIDS. For that, we can be thankful. By the way, we hope for every sick person to be made well. We also want those who are not sick not to become sick, and there is a moral context in which that is more and less likely to happen.
The Undeniable Stigma of Sin: Watch the Morality in the Vocabulary
One of the interesting things we see right now is that the cultural elites are at something of a loss. They're very frustrated at trying to understand this and put it in some kind of context. Ginia Bellafante, reporting in the Big City column for the New York Times, wrote this, "In the most liberal parts of the country, we are ostensibly in the midst of a new wave of liberation and understanding around sexual and gender identity, one transforming the social order and expanding our cultural vantage." Yet, she says, "At the same time, here we are decades after the AIDS crisis unable or unwilling to effectively manage a virus that is disproportionately affecting gay men."
But notice something, and this is absolutely vital for the Christian worldview. We understand that a virus is not morally accountable. A virus is not a conscious being. But human beings are, and those described here as gay men are. Those who are making moral decisions, well, it's not the virus, it is the human beings involved. But this New York Times article is out to say, that is a very immoral virus, but of course there's no moral angle to the human sexual behavior here at all. Move on. It's also telling that, every once in a while, the moral issues just jump out in such a way that there is no way to deny what we're dealing with here.
A front page report on the monkeypox crisis that was published in the weekend edition of USA Today includes paragraphs with heading such as this, "No, the gay community shouldn't be blamed for monkeypox." "Gay people should not be stigmatized just because the virus started circulating among men who have sex with men," said Dr. Mahdee Sobhanie, an infectious disease specialist at the Ohio State Medical Center. He went on to say, "Don't think of this as a gay disease. It's a disease that can occur through close contact."
Now, by the way, again, the media reports make very clear it's a particular form of close contact. But then in the same paragraph in the same section of the article, the truth basically jumps out. USA Today reports, "Monkeypox has probably been quietly spreading and evolving in and around Nigeria for the past four or five years. It came to public attention only this spring when there was an apparent super spreader event among raves and bathhouses in Europe that explosively sent this worldwide."
Now just note, that would be gay raves, as they are known, and gay bath houses. There you have it, right there in the same USA Today section that says we shouldn't be thinking about a sexual origin of all of this in terms of human behavior.
We'll leave it there, but let's just remind ourselves that this really is a parable that very tragically we're seeing unfold before our eyes. If the world steadfastly refuses to be honest about this or morally clear, Christians do not have that luxury, and thus, the rather awkward conversation today on The Briefing.
But then we asked the question, Why? Why is this happening in modern medicine? What has happened to medicine or public health that has brought this moral confusion to the fore? Well, for one thing, we need to make an important distinction, and we'll be talking more about this. We'll look at this in greater detail in weeks to come. That is the distinction between medicine and public health. Even if you're looking at universities like Johns Hopkins, Harvard, or other universities, you'll notice that public health and medicine are separate disciplines, separate professions with separate faculties in many ways, if not separate schools. That's because they're very different endeavors.
‘Medical Education Goes Woke’: Critical Theory, Intersectionality, and the Age of Ideological Medicine
But public health, which has been far more liberal, progressive, ideological, it is now bleeding over into medicine. Evidence of that comes in a report recently released by the Association of American Medical Colleges. Make no mistake, it is about DEI: diversity, equity and inclusion. It's basically about the transformation of the entire curriculum for training American physicians into something that is openly ideological driven by critical theory heavily accented with intersectionality. It is basically laden with every modern progressivist ideological temptation you could imagine.
Just days ago, the Wall Street Journal ran a lead editorial with the headline "Medical education goes woke. Future doctors," warn the editors of the Journal, "will learn how health relates to systems of oppression." This is not about disease. This is about modern progressivist ideology. The group known as the Association of American Medical Colleges represents and advises medical schools. It really has vast influence, especially through what is known as the Liaison Committee on Medical Education. That is the accrediting body that accredits medical education, medical schools, the training of physicians in the United States.
The editors of the Journal pointed out, "The AAMC recently released a report describing the new diversity, equity, and inclusion competencies that medical students and residents will be expected to master. Practicing physicians who work at teaching hospitals may also soon be required to undergo this form of," well, say the editors, "political reeducation." The starting point? Intersectionality, which the report defines as "overlapping systems of oppression and discrimination that communities face based on race, gender, ethnicity, ability, etc." We are told, "Medical students who managed to avoid learning critical race theory in college will now get an immersive course. They are also expected to demonstrate their competency and intersectionality when it deals with the patient's 'multiple identities.' Now, this isn't about personality disorders." As the editors note. "This is about identity politics."
I obtained a copy of the full report, and it's pretty much exactly what you would expect it to be. The editors of the Wall Street Journal describe it quite fairly. The report calls upon medical schools to redefine medical education so that doctors and residents entering the profession will demonstrate cultural competence, and that cultural competence is really grounded in critical race theory, other forms of critical theory, intersectionality, and the entire woke agenda.
Now just consider, this is an exact statement from the report by this Association of Medical Colleges, "The goal of medical education is to prepare physicians to improve health and evolve as evidence evolves." Now, I don't believe that the doctors I knew just a few years ago and most doctors perhaps practicing today understand that their job description is, well, describable and minimum as evolving as evidence evolves. Nonetheless, let's just move on past that language, "Since the founding of the United States, there have been systemic health and health care inequities grounded in racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, and other forms of discrimination that still permeate our current health system."
Now, what I want you to hear there is not just a concern about righting historical wrongs. It's the accusation that the entire system of the United States is one giant exercise in oppression, and it's tied to identity politics, and the fact that, as you noted, homophobia is described here as one of the moral ills that doctors must overcome. By the time you read through the report, you understand this is nothing more then the entire progressivist agenda distilled into an ideology now being forced upon medical colleges.
But wait just a minute. This report also says that medical students and residents have "strongly expressed the need for curricular change." That's believable too. When you consider the elite progressivist dominance in higher education and you consider just how woke America's colleges and universities have become, we shouldn't be surprised that young people are showing up in medical schools saying, "What about all this medicine? Why all this biology? What about all this anatomy? Where is the critical race theory?" In other words, and I'm simply going to say this, it is quite plausible that medical students are demanding these changes, but that should concern us all the more.
Just to give one concrete example, a representative course or program that is documented in this report comes from Harvard Medical School, surprise, surprise, where we read, "In 2018, Harvard Medical School launched a three-year Sexual and Gender Minority Health Equity Initiative to integrate sexual and gender minority health content across the curriculum. Early participant surveys demonstrated the need for a parallel curriculum to educate faculty in core sexual and gender minority health content while simultaneously teaching them strategies for creating a curricular context in which all students can acquire requisite SGM health knowledge and skills."
Now, you'll just notice how laden all of that is with ideology. And this is in medical school. Taking a balanced and very rational approach, the editors of the Wall Street Journal commented, "Relationships between race and disease aren't always well understood, but knowing they exist can improve minority patient outcomes. It doesn't help patients with immediate needs for a doctor to assume that their condition is really about the 'systems of power privileges and oppression in society.'"
The editors conclude, "America faces a looming and severe doctor shortage as Baby Boomers retire. It won't help attract prospective doctors to tell top students they must attend to their guilt as racial and political oppressors before they can diagnose your cancer."
Is “Monkeypox” Discriminatory? Will Monkeys Now Suffer Stigma? Major Media Tackle the Biggest Questions of the Current Health Crisis
Finally as we bring this to a conclusion, National Public Radio also just recently ran a report, indeed it was yesterday, headlined, "Critics say monkeypox is a racist name, but it's not going away anytime soon." It turns out that global health authorities aren't going to change the name for one thing because monkeypox has very recently, only recently entered our lexicon, and people now are understanding that the virus exists. Public health authorities don't want to change the name because that would basically just confuse people.
But it's also interesting to see that you have people who are arguing that it suggests stereotypes about monkeys to suggest that monkeypox emerged from monkeys, which, by the way, it did. But this gets back to the fact that some public health authority say that it was wrong to call the swine flu the swine flu even as it emerged in pigs in China because that might lead to discrimination against pigs. Now, might this lead to discrimination against monkeys? NPR tells us that the group, and yes, it exists, known as the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses told the network that, "Even if the name is changed in the next year or two, the term monkey will likely still be a part of any revamped name."
While WHO names diseases, the ICTV determines the formal names of viruses, recent discussions, serious discussions, I'll have you know, at the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses came to this conclusion, "The consensus is that the use of the name monkey is sufficiently separated from any pejorative context such that there is no reason for any change."
Remarkably, this entire story managed to quote everyone except a monkey.
We'll have to wait for that.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, good to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on 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.