The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

It’s Tuesday, May 2nd, 2023.

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

Part I

Medical Elites Serving the Moral Revolutionaries: Journal of the American Medical Association Publishes Article Addressing Prostate Cancer in Transgender Women

Every once in a while something just comes to your attention and you say, “Wow, the world has changed and the world’s gone crazy.” But at times you also see a deeper lesson, and that’s the case with an article that I’m going to bring up that was released just over the weekend. It was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, and that’s why this is important. So many Christians want to know how is it that vast social and moral change takes place so fast in our civilization? We’re simply looking truthfully at the reality that a generation or two ago, no one could have imagined what is now headline news in this country. No one could have imagined the redefinition of marriage. No one could have imagined really the redefinition of parenthood in ways we’re going to understand later in today’s program.

But as you’re looking at this, you need to recognize that if you’re going to bring about strategic change in a civilization, one of the most important drivers of that change are the professions. If you can get ahold of the professions, then you can change the culture. Now, before we even look further at this, we need to recognize that that was one of the central insights of the cultural Marxism that really began to emerge in the 20th century under the guise of the Frankfurt school in Germany.

Their argument was that it turned out that there was no revolution in terms of the proletariat rising up, and thus they were going to have to redefine Marxism as coming by some other means. There simply wasn’t the revolution brought about by workers in country after country, as a matter of fact, where there was something like a communist revolution, it tended to appear in the places that Marx and Engels would’ve believed that were less likely, such as looking at Russia, which was virtually industrialized as compared to western nations such as Britain and Germany, where Marxism really didn’t take hold.

And so these new Marxists said, “The way that we will bring about a Marxist revolution is by capturing the institutions, not so much a revolution from beneath with the workers rising up, but a revolution from above with the elites being convinced that the revolutionary way is right, we will take over the elites.”

And that’s exactly what you see here when you consider the fact that there are few professions as elite as medicine, and if you’re going to try to bring about a moral revolution, and in particular, if it is going to be known, as we know it today, as the LGBTQ revolution, and if you dare to press for the T as in transgender, and of course that runs you directly into a collision point with biological reality, then you’re not going to get very far unless you get the doctors to go along.

Now, I want to be clear, not all the doctors have bought into this, but the point is that the medical elites increasingly are serving the moral revolutionaries and they’re doing so in ways that would at least, let’s just say at face value, seem to be contradictory to the very ideals of the profession, especially when you’re talking about medicine, modern medicine, which claims that it is fact-based and science-based and of course has brought about so many medical technologies, innovations and treatments that have saved and also enriched so many lives.

But medicine is now front and center in the culture war, and when it comes at least to some in the medical elites, they’ve joined the revolution. This was made very, very clear in an article that was released online on Sunday at the Journal of the American Medical Association. Just put a footnote in here, if you’re talking about the medical elites, there are few representations of that elite, more elite than the Journal of the American Medical Association.

So what’s the headline? Headline is this, “Prostate cancer in transgender women in the Veterans Affairs Healthcare System, 2000 through 2022.” Now, wait just a minute, prostate cancer, that appears to be a very legitimate medical concern, prostate cancer among veterans, that appears to be a very legitimate medical concern, but prostate care in transgender women in the Veterans Affairs health system, 2000 to 2022.

My first thought in seeing this was that I would like to take that article back in history just a little bit, show it to the editors of the Journal of the American Medical Association, say just a matter of 20 years ago, and I would want to hear them say, as I know they would say, that an article like that would never appear in the Journal of the American Medical Association because if there is anything that anyone in the medical community knows it is that women do not have prostate glands.

It was right after church on Sunday that I saw that headline loaded in the announcements that came to my email, and I looked at that and simply thought, this is just a wake-up call for us all. If on a sunny Sunday afternoon you can all of a sudden look down and find that in your email is the announcement that the Journal of the American Medical Association thinks that there are women who have prostate cancer, well, that would require a lot of explanation. It is a shock, it is a sign of the times. In this case, of course, what we’re looking at is the T as in the transgender revolution and the transgender word’s right there in the headline, the term transgender women who are afflicted with prostate cancer, which means, well, you beat me to this one, that they supposedly have a prostate gland.

But of course in this case, women can’t mean women because prostate glands are not found biologically in women. Prostate glands are not found biologically in females. They are found, to the consternation of many males at a certain point in life, in males and only in males, and yes, they seem to be particularly susceptible to cancer. But in this case, this headline article in the Journal of the American Medical Association is actually trumpeting how this revolution in morality has become a revolution in medicine, and how the revolution in medicine has become a revolution in vocabulary,.

Prostate cancer in transgender women, what in the world is going on here? Well, it is evidence of how this revolution is making its way through the entire society. By the way, the article actually becomes a parable in so many different ways. Listen to this sentence, quote, “Transgender women retain their prostate, even after gender affirmation surgery, and thus remain at risk of prostate cancer.”

Studies to date are limited to case reports. Instead, these researchers “describe a large case series of transgender women with prostate cancer within the Veterans Affairs health system.” I just hope you think about that for a moment, I want to go back to the first sentence. Transgender women retain their prostate even after gender affirmation surgery and thus remain at risk of prostate cancer. The key issue there is transgender women retain their prostate. The fact that they retain their prostate means that they are actually biological males. Period. That doesn’t change.

You can do cosmetic surgery, you can do all kinds of what you might call gender-affirming surgery, but at the end of the day, the prostate gland is still there. It also becomes clear in this article exactly as you would expect it to become clear, that the use of hormone therapies and other things just might complicate the whole picture. And that complication is itself a part of the problem.

The very fact you have a headline about transgender women having prostate cancer tells us a great deal about the intentional confusion of our time. This intentional confusion is not brought about by some kind of natural occurrence. I mean, it wasn’t that all of a sudden people started just showing up a prostate gland declaring to be women. No, this is the result of ideology.

This is the result of a revolution in morality. But it also shows you, and this is what’s really important for Christians to understand, that when you defy creation order, you can only get away with it to a certain extent. You can only get away with it for so long. And it turns out in this case, you can’t get away with it for very long or very effectively if you declare yourself to have changed gender, but you’re still carrying around that prostate gland.

All right, I’m going to leave this now to the medical community to try to justify and figure out. I just want Christians to understand it is the medical community that is now complicit in this. This wasn’t published in some kind of crank medical pamphlet. This is the Journal of the American Medical Association, and it becomes an edifice of what so many people on the left simply call the science, trust the science. If it’s published in JAMA, as it’s known, it must be the science. And yet, the science can’t adequately explain how it is that prostate cancer shows up in anyone called a woman. You have to insert that word transgender, and that really reveals what’s going on here.

Part II

Conservative Americans Aren’t the Only Ones Rejecting Same-Sex Marriage: What’s Happening in India and Italy?

But next, thinking about the moral revolution and thinking about marriage, you realize that same-sex marriage is a recent innovation. Samuel Alito, Supreme Court Justice, in the oral arguments in the Obergefell case, held up a smartphone and said, “Whatever same sex marriage is, it’s more recent than this.”

And that just underlines the fact that throughout most of human history, human beings have been really, really clear about what marriage is and what marriage isn’t. Testimony of that, by the way, is coming from some interesting places, two countries in particular facing big headline news over same-sex marriage and also what you’re looking at in terms of the reproductive revolution with gay couples and put this in quotation marks, “having babies.”

But first, let’s look at the issue of same-sex marriage currently being considered by a court in India. Now, the big news coming out of India is that India Supreme Court is now taking up the issue of whether or not marriage rights, as they are defined, should be extended to same-sex couples. Now, India is at this point the world’s most populous nation, so this is a big news story. It’s a big news story in other ways as well because India is a nation that has of course a lot of religious pluralism in it, and India’s had a lot of religious confusion.

But the one thing India has been pretty sure about through an awful lot of history in recent decades, is they know what marriage is, and of course this is rooted not just in recent decades, but in all of human existence. They know that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, and thus, there is a lot of controversy right now in India over the fact that the Supreme Court just might, in that nation, hand down a redefinition of marriage. Now, if you’re in the United States or in the West, you might think the same-sex marriage is just a fact of life everywhere, but of course it isn’t.

If India were to adopt same-sex marriage, it would become only the second country in Asia to do so. So right now, before India’s Supreme Court rules on this issue or India’s government acts, the reality is that the number of nations counted as being a part of Asia that would have legal same-sex marriage, that number is one. India would make it two. But it would be a big story because India’s now the world’s most populous country.

But here’s where things get really interesting because the law in India only recognizes marriage between a man and a woman, and that is backed up not only by Christian teaching, but also by more historic teachings in India having to do even with indigenous religious claims.

You have Islam in India, you have Hinduism in India big time, you also have Christianity in India, and as the Wall Street Journal reports, and I quote, “The court, meaning the Supreme Court in India, is navigating tricky legal terrain in India where religion-based laws called personal laws often govern marriage and other aspects of family life, including inheritance and adoption. The Hindu Marriage Act, for example, regulates the nuptials that is the marriages of Hindus. The Christian Marriage Act does the same for Christians.” Here’s the key sentence, listen to this, “All of them limit marriage to between a man and a woman.”

That’s an astoundingly simple claim. It makes things very, very clear. All of these laws in India representing so many different religious groups, are absolutely unified in one thing, the definition of marriage means a man and a woman, period. Remember that the next time you are told that the only opposition to same-sex marriage is coming from conservative Christians. It’s also interesting that India, which is the nation’s most populous nation, sees that as basically a good thing and also sees having children as a natural good thing that the government should encourage and understands that that isn’t going to happen with same-sex couples. For example, the Solicitor General of India, Tushar Mehta, argued before the Supreme Court in India, “Heterosexual union is responsible for the perpetuation, the very existence of the human race. Without it, society itself will not live. Nations will not be there.”

Now that statement by the Solicitor General of India is what is otherwise known as common sense, truth, irrefutable argument about how you get babies. On the other side, you have those who are claiming that equality demands the legal recognition of same-sex marriage. But here’s where we have to come back again to say, “Well, okay, let’s look at the word equality here.” In what sense would a same-sex couple be equal to a heterosexual couple when it comes to marriage? Certainly not in the capacity to have to bear and to raise children, which is understood to be one of the reasons why marriage is regulated by society and respected by society. A simple declaration by the Supreme Court, any court or any government anywhere cannot make them the same thing, period, because they are just not the same thing.

Now, the next headline news story doesn’t come from India, it comes from Italy where datelined from Rome, the same newspaper, the Wall Street Journal, tells us that in Italy, gay couples and I quote, “Face new parenting curbs.” This has to do with the fact that when it comes to same sex couples in Italy, there is a tremendous resistance in Italy towards unregulating assisted reproductive technologies, technologies that would be available for heterosexual couples to try to use their own cells in order to produce a successful pregnancy in a baby.

There is a great reluctance in Italy towards applying that to same-sex couples because again, just to remind ourselves, let’s just be clear about this, you need the male and the female reproductive cells in order to achieve fertilization, conception, pregnancy, and baby. And Italy’s current government, under largely conservative control, and under–the newspaper article here from the Wall Street Journalist asserts the influence of the Roman Catholic Church. It is just not running towards the recognition of so-called same-sex parenting that you see in so many other Western countries and increasingly more secularized countries.

And here you have in the United States, the anomaly that in this country you have what some ethicists refer to as the wild, wild west of reproductive technology, very little regulation or oversight or limits at all. The Wall Street Journal article says this, “Italy is bucking the trend in Western countries which have mostly been moving toward greater equality of rights and recognition for same-sex couples. Same sex couples can’t get married in Italy, lesbians are banned from accessing fertility treatment. Gay adoption is only allowed under exceptional circumstances.”

Well, the point is that right now, both India and Italy are demonstrations that this issue is not over, that not every country, not every culture is joining the moral revolution and certainly not doing so evenly. In India and in Italy there is pushback, and remember Italy is a part of Europe and the European community, and still it defies the larger secular trend in those countries.

Now, as you look at Western attention to what’s going on in Italy, and in the same sense as you look at Western pressure and what’s going on in India, ask yourself the question, with the current administration in the United States in power, what kind of political power, persuasion and influence is being brought in the name of the American people? In both cases, I think we recognize that is very bad news. So we’ll be tracking all of this together because we’re expecting even more headlines from both India and Italy on this issue.

Part III

A Theological Revolution in an Obituary: Rabbi Harold S. Kushner Dies at 88

But finally, for today, I want to turn to a big story. It’s a theological story. It’s a story that in terms of the current catalyst, comes down to an obituary, in this case an obituary for an American Jewish rabbi. The rabbi is Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, who died in recent days at age 88.

Harold Kushner was one of the most influential theological figures in the United States during the last half of the 20th century. I don’t think he ever set out to be so, but he became so when he wrote a book that became a runaway bestseller entitled, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. That book came out in 1981 and it was published by Schocken Books, which is a Jewish publisher not known for having a lot of bestsellers across the entire American publishing landscape, but this book became a bestseller indeed and Harold S. Kushner became, by any measure, the most famous rabbi in the United States. But the influence of this book was not limited to Judaism, liberal Christianity was greatly influenced by this book, as were many people who as Christians did not understand a more biblical approach, and who found Rabbi Kushner’s article to be strangely seductive.

And indeed it spread like wildfire. Again, the book became a bestseller and Harold Kushner became a major media figure, at least for a number of years. The book itself is rooted in tragedy and we need to recognize that. You look at Rabbi Kushner and his wife, they had a young son who almost immediately after birth was diagnosed with progeria, a genetic disease that leads to severe advanced aging such that the child dies at an early age because the genes are working as if the child is an elderly person. Progeria is a devastating disease and it’s a genetic disease, and back at the time when Harold Kushner wrote this book, it was basically unknown to most Americans, but there is no doubt a deeply heart winding story here about the rabbi and his wife who lost a beloved son. A couple of years after the son’s death, the rabbi decided to write a book about his reflections.

That book became, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, and whether he recognized it or not, he had actually set off a theological revolution that would extend far beyond Judaism. Sam Roberts writes the obituary article that appeared in the New York Times about Rabbi Kushner just in recent days, and in the article he states this, “The book that is, When Bad Things Happen to Good People was rejected by two publishers before it was accepted by Schocken Books. It catapulted to number one on the New York Times Bestseller List and transformed Rabbi Kushner into a popular author and commentator.”

Now, I have the book in my hands, but I want to talk about the summary sentence that is cited in the New York Times obituary. This is what made the book so revolutionary and so influential. When Rabbi Kushner wrote, and remember the tragedy in his own family’s life, he wrote, “It becomes much easier to take God seriously as the source of moral values if we don’t hold him responsible for all the unfair things that happen in the world.”

So the theological revolution that Rabbi Harold S. Kushner sought to bring about was one in which God would be fundamentally redefined. What would be most important in that redefinition is surrendering the notion of the omnipotence and sovereignty of God. The God who’s redefined in this book is a God who is well-intended but not in charge of the universe, a God who would mean well and who wants to bring value out of suffering, but who cannot prevent bad things from happening, who is not behind tumors and termites and illnesses and viruses, but is simply limited in his power, limited in his authority, well-intended, but in many situations without the power to prevent evil from taking place or even evil from prevailing.

Now, why in 1981 would that lead to a theological revolution? Well, it’s because at that point in the advanced secularization of the United States, you had many people who simply no longer believe in the God of the Bible. They no longer believe in the God who is “immortal, invisible, God only wise, in light inaccessible, hid from our eyes.” They don’t believe in the God who is omnipotent. They don’t believe in the God who is omnipotent and sovereign, and so they have to redefine the doctrine of God in such a way that he fits their understanding of the modern age, an age in which it’s viruses that are in control, not God, an age in which things just happen.

But there’s more to this theological revolution because a part of this revolution isn’t in the first of the title, When Bad Things Happen, but rather in the second part of the title, to Good People. Now, in order to understand this, we got to step back for a moment because there are a lot of huge questions here. How do you get a Jewish rabbi arguing against the omnipotence and the sovereignty of God?

I mean, after all, the Old Testament is very, very clear about the fact that God is omnipotent and he is sovereign. He is all good, He is all loving, and He is also just, how do you get around that? Well, you just need to understand that after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in the year AD 70, Judaism took on a largely different cast. It took on a different shape. It became known as what we call now rabbinical Judaism, and it became a tradition in rather endless process of being redefined. In the United States, there are basically three different branches of Judaism.

There’s Orthodox Judaism, that’s the most conservative. There’s Conservative, which isn’t all that conservative, it’s in the middle. That’s where Harold Kushner is. It is at least largely accommodated to changing theology in the modern age. Then you have reform Judaism, which is the far left of Judaism, that’s what is most popular, at least among many in the cultural elites. And belief in a personal God isn’t even required by reform Judaism. Reform Judaism includes those who are agnostic and even some who are atheist.

But the point is Judaism now is not what Judaism was before. It is by definition now, rabbinical Judaism. Harold S. Kushner was of course a very prominent rabbi of conservative Judaism, but not all that conservative because what he proposed here is a basic theological revolution.

Nothing less than God himself is to be redefined, but also humanity because Judaism in this sense takes a basically positive understanding of human nature, of human goodness, and that shows through in this book as well. Human beings are basically good. God is well intended. Bad things happen because we live in a dangerous world and God cannot prevent those bad things from happening, but God is trying to bring moral value even out of very bad situations that he could not prevent and over which he is not in control.

On Page 134 of his bestselling book, Rabbi Kushner concludes, “I believe in God, but I do not believe the same things about him that I did years ago when I was growing up or when I was a theological student. I recognize his limitations. He is limited in what he can do by laws of nature and by the evolution of human nature and human moral freedom. I no longer hold God responsible for illnesses, accidents and natural disasters,” he writes, “because I realize that I gain little and I lose so much when I blame God for those things. I can worship,” he says, “a God who hates suffering but cannot eliminate it, more easily than I can worship a God who chooses to make children suffer and die for whatever exalted reason.”

Later, he writes, “God does not cause our misfortunes. Some are caused by bad luck, some are caused by bad people and some are simply an inevitable consequence of our being human and being mortal, living in a world of inflexible natural laws. The painful things that happen to us are not punishments for our misbehavior, nor are they in any way part of some grand design on God’s part.”

Let me just stop there. You’ll notice that this basically says there is no grand design on God’s part. We’re lost in the universe, but God is well intended, that’s the bottom line theology. He goes on to say, “Because the tragedy is not God’s will, we need not feel hurt or betrayed by God when tragedy strikes, we can turn to him for help in overcoming it precisely because we can tell ourselves that God is as outraged by it as we are, which also means God’s as helpless to prevent it as we are.”

Now, I mentioned that this book was a theological disaster. Now, if it had been limited in influence to American Judaism and particularly to more liberal variants of American Judaism, we wouldn’t be talking about it today. The problem is that many liberal Christians leapt upon this book and said, “That’s the kind of the theodicy. That’s the kind of defense of God’s character that I can buy into.” It became very, very popular in the United States, far outside of Judaism.

And it took orthodox Christians, biblical Christians to look at this and say, the fact is that many who call themselves Christians, they were given to a very liberal disposition, ready to understand two things and affirm them as affirmed in this book. Number one, human beings are basically good and we deserve good. If anything bad happens to us, that’s wrong, but then also the assumption that God is well intended, but we have to relieve him of all the moral responsibilities of being in charge as creator and certainly as sovereign Lord.

But here in conclusion is what Christians need to recognize, and in particular evangelical Christians need to recognize that what’s also missing in this book is any need for or promise of redemption, and redemption requires a sovereign God who is able to do what he sets out to do and to accomplish what He purposes, and that means that God so loved the world, that He gave his only son that whosoever believes in him might not perish but have everlasting life. That is only possible, that promise is only true because God is indeed omnipotent and He is sovereign.

Thoughtful Christians still have to wrestle with a lot of these big questions, and it’s really important for us to recognize the Bible validates the questions, but also gives us the answer, and the only answer is in understanding that God is exactly as He is revealed in Scripture, and that means there is no way to buy into a theology that says, let’s let God off the hook of responsibility by suggesting He’s pretty much well intended and just doing the best that He can.

One of the most important testimonies to the sovereignty of God is found from the testimony of one who suffered a very great deal, and in that suffering, learned this truth. In Job 42, Job answers the Lord and says in verse two, “I know,” this is the conclusion to the book, this is what Job has learned, Job knows. He says, “I know that you can do all things and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” That was not just Job’s final testimony, that was Job’s confidence, and it has to be our confidence as well.

Christians understand that bad things do happen. We face that fact honestly, but the wrong way to respond to bad things is with bad theology. I think in conclusion, it’s just really, really important that we recognize that in terms of the Scripture, that promise that God is sovereign is not bad news, as Job came to understand, it is unspeakably good news.

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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