Friday, June 2, 2023
It's Friday, June 2nd, 2023.
I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Target Has Redefined its Business Model to Force Its Consumers to Make a Choice: Will They Support the LGBTQ Revolution Or Not?
Well, once again, we're coming to another American corporation in big headlines, big controversy. In this case, of course, we're talking about Target. We're talking about the company that has in recent weeks made itself infamous by pushing Gay Pride Month and Gay Pride Month merchandise, and even in advance of June the 1st and the opening of what's now declared by so many in the culture to be Pride Month, a great victory as we shall see by LGBTQ activists.
The reality is, that Target has found itself in very hot water with its consumer base. The company, according to recent reports has lost, get this, $12 billion worth of value just in terms of the controversy over its Pride Month merchandise. And without going into any kind of graphic account, let me just tell you that what was being featured for children, teenagers, and adults in this section was nothing less than absolutely abhorrent and absolutely scandalous.
It included, I'm simply going to say swimwear that was intended to make possible a transgender identity. And even as that merchandise, the company says it was directed only at adults. That wasn't at all clear, and frankly, that's not the only moral issue at stake here.
We're talking about this major American retailer, which has branded itself as a family-friendly retailer, basically entering into the LGBTQ activism to the extent that, when you walked in one of its stores, as my wife and I did in a small southern town, again, we weren't in San Francisco, but in a small southern town. We walked into the Target store and what we were met with was a massive display that included square yards of ground space in the store, the floor space very prominent at the front of the store and it was pushing in every way imaginable, the most blatant and clear LGBTQ activist message.
There was no mistaking that Target was advertising on behalf of the moral revolutionaries, and the company was determined to take sides. It turned out that customers took sides as well, against Target. In response to what it claimed were security concerns, Target did pull some of the merchandise, but they pulled none of their public support for the moral revolution.
There are a lot of issues for Christians to consider here. For one thing, we are looking at the result of concerted political and cultural effort by the Gay Rights Movement, the LGBTQ activist community for a matter of decades, and we are seeing the capitulation of major American corporations, one after another.
When it comes to Target, there have been signals even in the past that this is the direction the company intends to go. And we're looking at the fact that as Christians we're given the responsibility of stewardship, as the scripture says, it is required of stewards that we be found faithful, in a fallen world there is no space of economic absolute innocence. But we as consumers do have choices we make, and we make our priorities very clear by some of those choices.
But it's also really interesting to look not only the dynamic related to Target as a corporation pushing Pride Month and this pride merchandise with explicit LGBTQ moral statements. It's not just that. It's not just the bare fact of Target's involvement. It's not just the story of how consumers pressed back and the stock market's now showing the effect. It's not just Target along with Bud Light and other American corporations and brands that are feeling the heat and pushing the revolution a bit too hard, perhaps? It is also how this is being discussed in the larger media. And here's where I want us to look at a couple of examples because these turn out to be really, really interesting.
One is an article that appeared in the business section of The Wall Street Journal. Now, in one sense, when you say business section of The Wall Street Journal, you're repeating yourself. The Wall Street Journal, even as its masthead indicates, is basically the mainstream newspaper of the American economic establishment. That's what The Wall Street Journal is.
The Wall Street Journal knows how to count, and it knows how to read financial reports. But in recent days in the business and finance section of The Wall Street Journal, the paper ran an article entitled, "Combative Consumers Dent Marketing Plans." The articles by Katie Deighton and Patrick Coffee.
Now, wait just a moment. Combative consumers dent marketing plans? You'll notice that the issue here is basically identified as problematic consumers, not problematic or ill-conceived corporate behavior. I find that very interesting. So the problem turns out to be consumers, combative consumers who, let's remind ourselves of the other words in the headline, "Dent Marketing Plans." Well, in one sense, at least some of these plans haven't just been dented, they've largely been crashed. It's just interesting to note how Wall Street is describing to itself the response to Bud Light and Target.
The reporters in this story tell us this, "Both brands, along with many other large consumer goods companies, have long supported LGBT rights. And their opponents in each case stirred outrage through social media, where previous corporate pressure campaigns have typically produced a lot of noise without significant results." Well, let's just state the obvious that in both cases these companies have gone where they've never gone before.
No one is surprised that Target and its larger corporate structure is pro-LGBTQ rights. That's something that the company has been advertising for some time. There is no question that Anheuser-Busch and its parent company hold the very same policies, but nonetheless, the involvement in social media of a transgender celebrity, that's just the way the person is described, and the involvement by Target in marketing pro-gay rights merchandise for toddlers, that's crossed a certain line. But Wall Street seems to think that the problem is actually the consumers, not the companies. It's the consumers evidently who need to get in line, not the companies.
On the other hand, Wall Street also understands that companies only make money if they sell stuff to people, and those people are moral agents. Don't we know it? It's also interesting to note the following paragraph in the story, "But critics this time were focused on transgender issues which have climbed into the top ranks of conservative social agendas."
Now, wait just a minute. This is the kind of reporting that leads you to want to ask the reporters, "Do you have any idea what normal Americans are talking about? Do you think the normal Americans are talking about this raising the issue? Do you think that conservative Christians in the United States got together in a committee room and said, 'You know, here's an issue. We really need to talk about this transgender thing. We need to get talking about that.'" No. The initiative was taken by Bud Light. The initiative was taken by the LGBTQ activist community. The initiative was taken by Target. It was Anheuser-Busch and Target who put this issue in front of the public. It was not conservative Christians who raised the issue just hoping to have a controversy.
Let me go back to the language, the Wall Street Journal used, saying that these issues, transgender issues, "have climbed into the top ranks of conservative social agendas." Well, conservatives weren't looking for items to add to the social agenda. It is the LGBTQ activism that put the issue on the agendas of conservative Christians, and for that matter, a good many others as well.
The injury to Bud Light and the injury to Target in terms of the bottom line, can't be explained only by outraged conservative Christians. It turns out that an awful lot of others tend to be outraged about these issues as well, perhaps a bit less vocally.
It's also interesting that this article concedes that Target had drawn controversy by featuring in this Pride Month collection. Some items produced by a company that "sells some products elsewhere with satanic references, such as a Satan Respects Pronouns enamel pin." But then follows this sentence, quote, "Those items weren't sold by Target." So does that mean this is not a morally significant, a theologically significant fact?
Here's where you have to look at the worldview that evidently just reigns as the norm on Wall Street and understand it doesn't sell on Main Street. It certainly doesn't sell to people who understand, that there just might be an issue with the fact that a company is putting out messages associated with satanism. It just might matter.
The most accurate statement made in this entire report is made by Allen Adamson, identified as co-founder of brand and marketing consulting firm Metaforce who said, "Previously you could send a homogeneous message to the country, but there's so much divisiveness and polarization on so many issues that that's become almost impossible."
Yes, it has become impossible. There is no way to walk in a Target and see that Pride Month display, without understanding that Target has taken sides, and it is a side that's incompatible with anything close to a Christian worldview.
Now, Christians aren't particularly surprised by this anymore. We live in a culture in which it is clear that the leading cultural momentum is not moving consistently with a Christian worldview, but rather consistently opposed to a Christian worldview in the main. But nonetheless, Target is in controversy here and it's not because it tried to send a mainstream message to America, it is because it's taking sides in this clear, a very extreme side in one of the most contentious issues dividing Americans at the present.
You take a side like this, you put up a pride section with that kind of merchandise. You involve yourself in all these multifarious moral issues of complexity and potential outrage, and then as a company you act surprised? Maybe Wall Street needs to get a very clear message. Wall Street is not the only street in town.
Finally, on this issue, it's also very interesting to note that there are those trying to look at this from simply a commercial brand advertising perspective. Looking at it from a marketing worldview who say, "Here's the problem." Target, in the words of one analyst "lost control of the narrative."
Now, as I pointed out before, that's a very interesting language because the use of the word narrative in this sense is actually a part of a larger shift in the worldview. Post-modernism, as it was known, it concentrated on a battle of narratives and that was translated into the marketing world as having the more successful message that is being marketed. The more successful narrative, that is being marketed.
But now, and in this case, David Rutz of Fox News is the reporter. We see marketing experts who look at the controversy related to Target and say that the company's big problem was to lose control of the narrative. Katya Skogen identified as director of cultural insights, that's a job title for the Collage Group, said that Target might recover from all of this, "They have seemingly lost control of the narrative. They may be doing the right thing to protect who they have on the floor. That's important to protect people and assets, but the way the conversation is happening right now is definitely not in their favor."
This report, by the way, also cited an individual identified as "a transgender designer whose products were pulled from Target stores." This person said that this is one of the problems of Target's "Rainbow capitalism." This particular individual said, "It's a very dangerous precedent to set, that if people just get rile up enough about the products that you're selling, you can completely distance yourself from the LGBT community, when and if it's convenient."
Now, here's the point this seems to be missing here, and that is that if you are involved in a retail operation, you only continue to exist if people, yes, buy stuff. And if is even this statement concedes, the problem is that consumers, quote, "Got riled up about the products the company was selling." Well, guess what? The company's not going to sell products.
Now, Target's probably going to be fine, even factor in the loss of $12 billion of market value, but the reality is the company's determined to press ahead and it's likely that they'll come back, understanding that the way it works right now is that you transgress, if you step back, you're only stepping back a few feet, a few yards on the field so to speak. Next year, Target will be back and my guess is they'll be back in a big way for Pride Month.
It's also interesting to see that some of the media were referring to the situation that has embroiled Target, by describing it as "a Bud Light" situation, because these days everyone now knows what that means. It also tells us a very great deal about our current cultural moment that this particular consideration, for instance, is covered in The Wall Street Journal's business section, has to do with how these companies can recover.
But the implied point here is that it's the consumers whose behavior is going to have to change, not the companies. And then you see the complaining about the fact that companies are in a position where they can't please anybody with their marketing plan. Well, what if they just marketed, "We sell good stuff, buy from us."
But high value at low prices sold to the American family, that is not where these corporations are. And it's not that they have moved because of clear commercial and economic factors, it's because they have to a greater or lesser degree, greater in most cases, simply become engines of the cultural and moral revolution.
Should Christians Do Business With Companies Who Support Causes We Cannot? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing
But next, we're going to turn to questions and this week some interesting questions, some of them related to the very issues we're discussing. For instance, Mitchell wrote in and he is actually referencing the Target situation, Nike, Adidas and others. He says this, "While I too, am repulsed by the actions and stances taken by these companies, I wonder if it's feasible to boycott any company or organization that makes decisions that defy our worldview?"
Well, there are a lot of issues related here, Mitchell, but I'll tell you one thing is really, really clear, and that is that in a fallen world, you expect to find fallenness, you expect to find sin. You expect to find sin systematized in the sense that you're going to have people that turned it into a profit motive, or turn a profit motive into an occasion for sin. You're going to find sin pervasive and at least contaminating virtually every area of the economy. That's what we understand in a Christian worldview and a biblical understanding of sin.
But in a consumer society, companies are trying to sell themselves to consumers. And even though you might have say, two companies that might have very similar policies, and this is one of the problems, say with credit card companies or with banks, they increasingly have the very same policies. Advertising still matters and cultural engagement still matters.
I would just say that the issue here is that there are companies that are to a greater, rather than a lesser extent, pushing these agendas and pushing it on consumers. Pushing it on the entire company. And so, I think it's really important that Christians understand that there is no entirely safe place in the economy. That is to say, safe from sin and from the influences of sin and the effects of sin. But the reality is that there is still a sense in which we are responsible moral actors in the economy. So we have to go on the basis of the best information we have, to make the best decisions we can make. And yes, that does affect our consumer choices.
We do not act naively, as if we can somehow be in a separate economy than the rest of the economic community, but we do understand we are accountable to a higher standard. And so there are simply some very difficult decisions for us to make. And by the way, in a fallen world and a sinful world, sometimes it's a trade-off where you simply say, "You know, I just feel that as a Christian family we need to prioritize not going here, not going there, not because everywhere else is absolutely safe, but because we actually have messaging coming from say, company A and B, that is just right in our face and incompatible with our values." And so that does seem to raise the moral stakes in that situation.
It also points to something else in the economy and that is, that buying locally is sometimes morally a significant act if you have far more moral information about the people with whom you're doing business at the local level, than you might at the national level.
Now again, that principle doesn't solve everything, because sins found everywhere, but it does resolve an awful lot of issues where the political pressure at the national level has been very evident in these companies basically trumpeting, advertising their endorsement of the revolution in morality.
It is interesting by the way that there is less Christian involvement right now in organized boycotts, precisely because in our increasingly integrated economy, those got more and more difficult to sustain and explain. And sometimes there was a bit of artificiality built into some of those things because the other companies with which you were doing business, were actually just as committed to the moral agenda you were trying to refute or punish on the other hand.
How Should Protestant Christians Think About the “Incorruption” of a Nun? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing
But next, sometimes some really interesting questions come in driven by headline news stories and some of them, frankly, they're hard to ignore when you look at some of these stories. One of them came with a major news story that has run in several newspapers and it's been run by several media outlets over the course of the last several days. It has to do with a report from Missouri, that a body of a nun was exhumed in order to be relocated in another place.
We're told that Sister Wilhelmina had not been embalmed upon her death and that the casket, the coffin itself was decayed, but it appeared that her own body had not decayed commensurately. And so a lot of people are going to visit the particular place where this nun's body is found. It has become an attraction to many Catholics who are seeking to go to it, believing that this might be a supernatural sign. A listener to The Briefing just wrote in and said, "What do we think of this?" Well, I'm going to encourage all listeners to The Briefing not to think about this too much.
The Bible makes very clear that it is appointed unto men wants to die, and after that the judgment. And the promise of the gospel is not that our bodies will not decay, nor is there really any distinction between human bodies that decay or do not decay. We are told that it is the lot of human beings until Jesus comes to die and our bodies are corruptible. It is by the power of the risen Christ, the power of the gospel that one day we shall be raised as Christ was raised from the dead in corruptible. But that is a future promise, not a present reality.
We're not looking for a gospel promise of some kind of exception to the rule of a body that's not decaying as fast as others. We are not looking to that as a gospel promise. By the way, there are issues here that are related to official Catholic doctrine and there are others that are related to Catholic spiritual practice and what might be called popular Catholicism with an interest in such things. And that's why evidently, folks there in Missouri are getting ready for lots of people to come and visit this site. That is a fundamentally non-Protestant reflex. To us, the miracle is the singular miracle of the risen Christ, not any miracle of a supposedly non-decomposing body.
Should Christians Just Accept the Inevitability of AI Technologies to Get Ahead of the Curve? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing
Next, lots of questions this week about artificial intelligence and that's easily explained by so many headlines, as so much cultural conversation on the same topic. One of the questions often raised, and I'm looking at patterns in so many questions. One of the questions is often raised, and I'm looking for patterns in the questions, is whether or not there's a certain form of technological determinism. That's not what the writers are using as language, but that's what they mean, "Is there a certain inevitability to this?"
And so should Christians just either go along with the inevitability or even seek to pioneer to be in advance of others who might develop the technology even further? I'm just going to back up and say when it comes to so many of these issues, we have to understand that we do sense an inevitability about much of this technology, and yet it is still unpredictable because we do not know the future, but we do know our moral responsibility, and our moral responsibility is to understand where the technology is and is not compatible with Christian commitments.
And so when it comes to issues like this, frankly, it's going to take the wisdom of Christians, not just individually, but gathered together to try to think through these issues in a way that is clearly based on Christian truth and accountable to God's revelation in Scripture.
That's not going to be an easy thing because for one thing, even when you define artificial intelligence, we recognize that there's a distinction between something that looks intelligent and something that is intelligent in terms of intellectual responsibility, moral responsibility. And so, one of the other things we need to look at, is that we should be aware of any argument that says, "Look, someone's going to do this so we ought to do it first." That's a very dangerous argument.
Now, I want to back up and say that's not a completely stupid argument in certain context. And so for instance, the Americans and the allies were in a rush to develop nuclear weapons technology, even during the last half of World War II because they wanted to develop the technology before the Nazis could do the same. So that's not an entirely ridiculous argument. But technological determinism on its own is simply not a sufficient argument to try to go along, much less to pioneer and get there first.
One of the things that is very clear in terms of the biblical Christian worldview, is that we as believers remain morally responsible at all times in the beginning and the middle and in the end. And that means that we should not take an action now, that we believe will lead to immoral and wrongful consequences later.
Now, we're not morally competent always, to know exactly how these things work out. We're responsible in the present for the decisions we make now based upon good faith anticipation of what the effects of our actions will be. Sadly, by the way, one of the lessons, and I go back to nuclear weapons, go back to the atomic bomb at the midpoint of the 20th century.
One of the reality is that even though allied in American authorities and then when the Cold War was established, you might say the Western powers believed that it would take years for the Soviet Union to develop the technology and the information necessary to make an atomic weapon, much less developing thermonuclear weapons.
The reality is, that the Soviets we now know through an extensive spy network simply stole it, and thus they cut out a good number of those years and very quickly became a nuclear power themselves. Which is to say, that the Christian worldview understands that information moves. And that means it's naive to believe that we can somehow help to create or design on our own a technology that will just stay ours. And that's true whether we're an individual or a corporation or a country.
One final thought on this issue. It is really important that Christians understand that we have the responsibility to develop our own intelligence even before we get to the question of what in the world we will do with so-called artificial intelligence. We are called as believers to develop our minds, developing in our minds the mind of Christ, the Christian mind based upon biblical truth and the comprehensive reality of the Christian worldview.
And this is something that is our responsibility not only as individuals and as congregations, but as Christians together. Which is why we need to talk about these things rather constantly at home and everywhere else.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go 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 on Monday for The Briefing.