The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

It is Tuesday, September 19, 2023.

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

Part I

Liberal Theories, Conservative Lives: Liberal Authors Make Brave Argument About the Breakdown of the Nuclear Family

There’s so many huge issues for us to discuss this week. It is like we’re all of a sudden living at the intersection of so many urgencies, but today I simply have to turn to an argument that made its way into the New York Times because for us, this is just absolutely crucial. We need to understand what’s going on right now is that even some on the left are beginning to understand that there is more to the family crisis than they had been admitting.

Now, in order for a liberal to bring this up, it has to come up in a different way than, say, conservatives might start this discussion about the nature of the family and the importance of the family. Very interestingly, though, and I think honestly, Nicholas Kristof, very liberal columnist for the New York Times, throws the issue into the equation with a piece he ran over the weekend entitled The One Privilege Liberals Ignore. So, there you have it. If you want to get the attention of a liberal, use a word like privilege and then tell the liberals, “This is the privilege you are ignoring.”

We’re going to come back to this at the end because I don’t think this is a legitimate use of the word privilege, but nonetheless, from the perspective of those who basically look at the family sociologically and economically, I guess privilege isn’t the worst place to start, not when all of a sudden this requires a bit of honesty, and there’s a lot of honesty in this article. Kristof begins with these words: “American liberals have led the campaign to reduce child poverty since Franklin Roosevelt, and it’s a proud legacy, but we have long had a blind spot.” He continues, “We’re often reluctant to acknowledge one of the significant drivers of child poverty, the widespread breakdown of family, for fear that to do so would be patronizing or racist. It’s an issue largely for working class Whites, Blacks and Hispanics, albeit most prevalent among African-Americans.” He continues, “But just as you can’t have a serious conversation about poverty without discussing race, you also can’t engage unless you consider single parent households.”

Now, frankly, it’s hard to overestimate just what a thunderclap that is in terms of the New York Times, the American elite, liberal opinion and conversation. As I say, you back into this by talking about the one privilege liberals ignore. But again, what Nicholas Kristof is doing here is pretty brave. It’s pretty courageous. And he’s actually in this article citing a book we’re going to discuss in coming days on the Briefing in greater detail. It’s by Melissa S. Kearney, an economist at the University of Maryland. The title of her book is The Two Parent Privilege. Now, what you see here is an increase all of a sudden, kind of just almost out of the blue, out of nowhere, attention on the part of at least some from the left, about the fact that it turns out that children who do not have two parents in the home are at a disadvantage over those who do. And it’s not just a little bit of a disadvantage, it’s a massive disadvantage.

And it’s also important that Nicholas Kristof understands what’s going to happen to him as soon as this article appears. He’s going to be accused of racism, and he has to acknowledge, even in the first paragraph, that you can’t take race out of this equation. But what he doesn’t have time or doesn’t give attention to in this article is actually dealing with why the racial issue then when this controversy first began back in the 1960s and the racial situation now is both the same and different and in ways that are both sad.

Okay, first, Nicholas Kristof, drawing from the book and other research, offers some data points. Number one, families headed by single mothers are five times as likely to live in poverty as married couple families. Number two, children in single mother homes are less likely to graduate from high school or earn a college degree. They’re more likely to become single parents themselves perpetuating the cycle. Number three, “Almost 30% of American children now live with a single parent or with no parent at all. One reason for the sensitivities is large racial disparities. Single parenting is less common in White and Asian households, but only 38% of Black children live with married parents.”

So, 38% of Black children live with married parents. That means, by contrast, 62% do not. Melissa Kearney, the author of the book, says, “The data presents some uncomfortable realities. Two parent families are beneficial for children. Places that have more two parent families have higher rates of upward mobility. Not talking about these facts is counterproductive.” Well, that’s a brave statement, and both Melissa Kearney and Nicholas Kristof deserve credit for raising the issue just out of concern for children. Let’s just say the reason we discuss this should be concern for children, and Christians have to say an honest assessment of what makes for health, flourishing, and happiness among children. Having two parents is not accidentally sociologically and economically important.

So, Melissa Kearney is cited by Nicholas Kristof as saying, “Not talking about these facts is counterproductive.” Well, let me tell you what talking about them can do. Back in the 1960s, Daniel Patrick Moynihan–who, by the way, served in both Democratic and Republican presidential administrations, one of America’s most prominent intellectuals, Harvard professor, and by the way, he was also a man who had an extremely quick wit–he was, I think, or at least thought to be, intellectually honest. And in 1965, he wrote a report about the decline of marriage and the family, predominantly among Black Americans. This came in the context of the Johnson administration trying to figure out what kind of social programs would help. Now, at that point, rates of children not living with both parents, they were fairly low everywhere as compared to now.

And as I said, the racial situation has actually changed a great deal, and it’s gotten worse for many children in minority communities, but it’s also gotten spectacularly worse for many White children. Even if we have to talk in these terms, in this article, and the data will talk in these terms, we need to recognize that the breakdown of the family is now pretty much across the board. It is now, yes, there are socioeconomic conditions, it’s now racial, at least in some of the patterns, there’s no way to get around that, but it’s predominantly an issue of class and expectation. And here’s where there is some honesty, also, in the Nicholas Kristof article and in the Melissa Kearney book, and it’s something we’re just going to have to discuss.

Years ago, I described this pattern as liberal theory, conservative lives. Brad Wilcox, a very fine scholar at the University of Virginia, calls this talk left, walk right. Now, what are we talking about there? I’m just talking about this. If you go to liberal enclaves, and by this, I don’t mean just some restaurant or resort, I’m talking about neighborhoods, where those who are very much in the intellectual, political, social, cultural elites live, when you go to places like Capitol Hill, you go to Manhattan, you go to Boston, Chicago, the wealthier suburbs and all the rest, you’re going to find people who vote Democratic, but live Republican. They do, as Brad Wilcox said, talk left and walk right, or the pattern I describe as liberal theories, conservative lives.

They’re all for the sexual revolution. They’re all for LGBTQ issues. They are all for liberation of all people. They are all for everything leftist. They’re all for critical race theory. They’re all for all those things but not for themselves and their children. They live very conventional lives. These days, the divorce rate is more predictable by socioeconomic terms and by cultural status than it is by race or many other significant factors. It’s simply become a matter of class. Or if you have enough money, coming from the left, you want to conserve that in terms of little investments, otherwise as children.

When it comes even to a lot of the sexual issues, yes, there are liberal parents who might be ready to have a coming out party when it comes to LGBTQ issues or non-binary identity for their children, but the fact is there is a lot less enthusiasm at the personal level than there seems to be at the public and political level. Now, as I said, we’re going to have to be looking at this. The book’s actually released this week, and I don’t like to discuss a book until you’re able to go get a copy of it, see for yourself. So, later this week, we’ll be talking about that in a more concentrated way, just some of the data points.

But what we’re talking about right now is the fact that the book is out, that it courageously takes on this pattern, this truth. Nicholas Kristof, liberal columnist of the New York Times, who I think does seek to be very intellectually honest on these things and in this case is courageous, both of them, is coming out and saying, “Look, this is an issue, and it is not really helping children to deny this is an issue.” Now, as you look at it, both of these authors basically handle this sociologically. Look, here’s the data. We work backwards. These living patterns don’t work out so well raising children. Here’s the data point. And they raise many of these data points, and again, they’re absolutely beyond refutation.

The article states, “In fact, children simply do better on average in school and typically earn more in adulthood if they have married parents, and this is particularly true of boys.” And that should be particularly surprising to no one. One of the points I make in contrasting what it means to raise boys and to raise girls is that throughout all of human history, raising boys has been considered a challenge to the entire civilization. In no civilization I know has been raising girls been raised to the level of a significant cultural challenge. There is just something that requires a lot more energy and a lot more cultural investment and a lot more structure and a lot more parent in raising boys than raising girls in this sense.

Now, I think in terms of clarity, it’s also important as Nicholas Kristof indicates in his article, he says, “I want to interrupt this column with a shower of caveats. Many children raised in part by single moms do extraordinarily well. One was a two-term president in the 1990s, another served two terms until 2017. And I think the big driver for the rise in single parent households is bad decisions by policymakers that led to mass incarceration and a collapse of earnings for working class men.”

Now, I don’t disagree with every word of that, even in the causality. I think mass incarceration has had an effect. That doesn’t mean that just reversing mass incarceration will solve the problem. And furthermore, the collapse of earnings for working class men that has made a big difference is going to be something we’re going to discuss when we look at the mass strikes taking place in the United States in just a few moments. But the fact is, if you go back to the 1950s, and even before that, especially if you go back to, say, the industrial age and its beginnings, the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the wage of a male wage earner who was defined as a head of household was defined as a family wage.

And the fact is the entire economy was built that way. If you’re going to have both mom and dad in the workforce and you’re going to decouple the job from a family wage, then you’re not going to have the same investment in pay. Now, furthermore, the fundamentals of the economy moves so far beyond the age of the family wage that we’re now living in a time in which, quite frankly, no one knows exactly what the jobs of the future are going to look like or how they’re going to pay. But the reality is Christians understand the question of the family, the question of marriage, the question of children, is not only historically but theologically prior to the question of jobs.

It’s very important that Nicholas Kristof acknowledges in his article that there’s just a lot of, his word is, discomfort, deep discomfort in liberal circles about acknowledging these realities. And then he also discusses the fact that there are those even on the far left or, for that matter, they’re not necessarily that far left in the contemporary spectrum, who basically want to look at this picture of the fact that children in two parent homes do better by saying, “Well, let’s just try to create a situation in which it’s impossible for that family privilege to be perpetuated.” Now, that’s one of the saddest, most ridiculous and radical things we could consider, but you just need to know the left’s going to put that on the table. If we have an inequity, then what we need to do is to make sure no children have the benefit of a two-parent family. And that doesn’t mean necessarily that they’re going to make it impossible to have a two-parent family. It means that economically, they want to “de-privilege” that particular social unit.

Part II

Creation Order Rings Out Loud: Even the Most Determined Secular Society Cannot Escape God's Design for Marriage and Family

But we’re going to be looking at that in detail. Let’s wait for the book to come out in its fullness. Right now, the Nicholas Kristof piece is more than urgent for our discussion. I think you may hear things about it in the larger conversation in the culture this week, but I want to come back and say we as Christians don’t start with sociology. The sociology is informative, it’s illustrative, it’s not authoritative. Authoritative for Christians is the Bible. Authoritative for Christians is the revelation of God. And this is where we understand that both in the Bible and in nature, that is to say even in lived human experience, what our Creator has made very clear is that His intention was that children, both boys and girls, be raised by two-parent families. And by the way, this doesn’t just mean two parents, as if the magic number two is all there is to it. This is a mother and a father, a husband and a wife.

Now, Nicholas Kristof says, “The data don’t indicate so much that it has to be gender related.” Well, I think we, as Christians, just need to say upfront, “Oh yes, we know it does.” And here’s where we just have to step back a moment and say, “This kind of data is really illustrative of the fact that the rebellion against the Creator and the rebellion against creation order is such that there’s a revulsion on the parts of many in this society to saying there are any thou-shalts or thou-shalt-nots when it comes to, say, marriage, family, sexuality, gender, children, raising children, et cetera.”

And we as Christians understand that any rebellion of that sort is going to end in abject disaster. The sociological data that are so devastating and the lives that are so diminished in terms of their promise, in terms of economic, of jobs, of educational advancement, we understand that’s all just downstream, and frankly, Christians have to say inevitable once you reject God’s plan. Now, the Christian gospel doesn’t end with the affirmation and clear revelation of the consequences of rejecting God’s plan, but it does–and this is really important for Christians, I’m going to be writing about this because I’m hearing nonsense from Christians on this score–we need to come back and say, “The New Testament doesn’t say, ‘Oh, all that Old Testament concern with marriage and the family, well, that’s all over now in the new covenant of Christ.'” That’s not true. Just read the letters of the Apostle Paul.

And even as the church is concerned with helping those and ministering to those and validating those who are not in those kinds of homes, the fact is that the New Testament church holds up the same revealed–affirmed in creation order–plan of God for the family. And quite frankly, even in our congregations, we see the difference. We understand why it matters, and we as Christians want to help all children and all parents in all contexts, certainly within the church, but also even in the community, to do better, to flourish, to have greater opportunity. But we also understand that a rebellion against God’s order and, for that matter, even just a fracture because sometimes people are in this predicament, never intending to be in this predicament. They don’t even bear responsibility directly for being in this predicament. But I think of all people, they’re the last people to say, “This isn’t a predicament.”

Again, we’ll be talking about this. There’s going to be a lot of data coming in, and quite frankly, I’ll tell you in advance, we’ve got to look for the cultural backlash against this book, this column, this argument, because that’s going to be really, really interesting.

It’s also interesting that just a couple of days later, the New York Times, the same newspaper, ran a piece by Jessica Gross entitled, There’s Still Overwhelming Cultural Pressure to Get Married and Have Kids. Now, what makes that interesting is that if you just take the headline, that would mean that the presumption is maybe we could or should get past the time when there’s overwhelming cultural pressure to get married and have kids.

And once again, just looking at the Jessica Gross piece, it’s pretty clear about the fact that there is still, what she describes as, overwhelming social pressure to get married and have children. She says, “A substantial majority of Americans, 75%, have been married by 40,” by the way, just in human scale, that’s very late, “and once they’re in their 40s, over 75% of men and over 80% of women have had a biological child.” She goes on to say, “There’s this idea floating around that if only the broader culture pushed marriage and family harder, we wouldn’t have so many single parents. And I always wonder, when exactly did the broader culture stop pushing marriage and babies?”

Well, that’s where I’ve got an answer for you, Jessica Gross. The answer is that in the academic elites and the ideological elites, they’ve been fighting against the natural family and against marriage and against having children as the expectation for decades. But here’s the problem, creation order still is so loud as revelation that there’s really no way to get past this. I want to go back to the pattern. The reason I’m talking about these two things today is because I think the same pattern is there, where you had Brad Wilcox talking about talk left, walk right, or, as I describe, liberal theories, conservative lives.

The fact is that you have two couples, and let’s just say they’re rich and advantaged. Let’s just say one of them got tenure at Harvard and the other ones working in Palo Alto. And the four couples have four jobs. They have two children, they get married, young man and a young woman. You know what all four of those earlier parents want to be? Now, I’ll just say this out of a deep personal testimony, they want to be grandparents. And even though they may live by the liberal theory that that’s a bourgeois, old-fashioned, patriarchal, oppressive expectation, the fact is that I think that young liberal couple is still going to drop some older liberal hints about the fact that a grandchild or grandchildren would be very welcome.

And, by the way, I don’t think that’s selfishness. It could be. It could be demonstrated in selfish ways. I think that’s creation order. I think that’s a desire God has put within us. I think it is something that explains why, in spite of all the liberal theories, when a young mom and a dad get on a plane and you got one kid who’s in a papoose and a couple others coming on by hand, what do people think when they see that family? They might not want to sit next to a crying baby, but the fact is most people just can’t help smiling when they see those little children and they see that family coming on the plane. There’s just a picture there. And even if, ideologically, they say, “I don’t want to advantage or privilege that picture,” the fact is that in their hearts, they see something that’s inherently good they just can’t deny.

That, too, by the Christian worldview is a revelation of the glory of God. It is the things that you cannot not know, the realities you cannot ultimately defeat even in your own heart. And I just have to confess to you, I’m speaking here not only as a theologian and as a churchman and as a Christian, I’m speaking also as a son and a grandson and a father and a grandfather. And I just want to tell you I’m pretty happy about that, pretty unspeakably happy about that, and I want to see even more people happy like that and know that joy.

And I simply want to say to this columnist in the New York Times, what she describes as an overwhelming cultural pressure to get married and have kids, that isn’t just some hangover of a bourgeois Victorian culture. That’s actually nature at work, or, more specifically, that’s creation order at work. And you can resist it, but in the end, creation order wins.

Part III

Where Are the Young Men on College Campuses? Boys Are Increasingly Left Behind by Schools and it Is Showing Up in College Enrollments

All right, I was going to look at some of the news coming in from the big strikes, the UAW strike, the Hollywood strike. That’s going to have to be put on hold because it just seems right to discuss another development in the media because it’s so related to these issues. Erica Komisar has written some really, really great stuff on kids and on education. She wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend. “School is a hostile environment for boys.” She goes on to say, “If boys were dramatically outperforming girls in school, policymakers would declare a crisis and urgently seek ways to reduce the disparity. But, in fact, girls are dramatically outperforming boys. Why don’t boys get the same respect?” she asks.

She goes back almost 10 years ago, 2014. She says, “An American Psychological Association Journal published a study that found girls and women from elementary to graduate school receive higher grades than males in every subject.” They looked at research spanning, this is what’s important, 30 countries and nearly a century, 1914 to 2011. Listen to this. “The study reveals that recent claims of a boy crisis are not accurate because girls’ grades have been consistently higher than boys across several decades with no significant changes in recent years.”

Well, that might be true of grades, and I think most of us who’ve been teachers understand that pattern, or, for that matter, those of us who’ve been boys, we understand it. I imagine those who are girls also understand it. But here, the fact is that other figures really do demand our attention. And I’ll say I’m speaking to this also as a college president. “Women account for some 60% of college freshmen.” Now, that’s not true everywhere. That’s the average. So, it’s actually worse in some places. I’m glad to say it’s better in other places in that there are more young men who are attending.

But by and large, the simple fact is that there are more young women graduating, say, at 17/18 from high school, equipped for and aspiring to college than young men. And the problem is not that there is a large number of young women who are ready and are aspiring to go to college and are doing well in college. God bless them. We want them in college. The fact is that it’s the absence of the young men that’s the problem. It’s not the presence of young women that’s the problem. It is the absence of young men. And, by the way, young women, I can tell you, on campuses where young men are rare, they don’t celebrate that scarcity.

Erica Komisar goes on to point out that if you just look at the numbers, this adds up to ominous numbers going forward because, as she says, most young women want to marry up. That is to say when they look at marital prospects, they want to marry someone who is at least as likely to have status and earn money as themselves. So, they tend to marry up. That means that they don’t want to marry down socioeconomically. And so, that really means many of them were very frustrated in the so-called marriage market. Now, Christians, we understand there’s a lot more to it than a market, but on the other hand, there are numbers and the numbers do tell us something.

But even before we get to that, let’s just remember the headline of the article was School is a Hostile Environment for Boys. I’ve talked about this a lot, written about it. I think that’s profoundly true. I think that a part of what happens in most classrooms is that boys are disadvantaged simply because they’re boys. They’re physiologically different, they’re hormonally different, and they learn differently. And Komisar really points to this, and she says the clinical observations that she has drawn as a psychotherapist are similar to what you see in the statistics.

She says this, “From preschool, children are asked to sit quietly for long periods of time. That is developmentally unnatural for boys who have far more testosterone than girls.” I think that’s something of an understatement, but you understand what that statement is saying. It’s saying here, it’s a hormonal difference. Maybe just trying to reach out to secular and liberal people saying, “Listen, if you don’t trust that there’s some creation order here, at least you understand there are chemicals.”

“When boys are asked to suppress their energy and aggression, rather than sublimate it into healthy activity, they develop high levels of cortisol.” There we go, back to chemicals, cortisol. “They develop higher levels of cortisol, popularly known as the stress hormone. This sends them into fight or flight mode, which makes them distractible, agitated, and squirmy. These behaviors can resemble the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and it’s likely many boys are misdiagnosed and medicated.” I think everybody knows that’s true. And I want to be clear, I’m not saying there’s nothing clinical to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. I will simply say that at least a good deal of that definition every single adult male recognizes was at some point diagnosable of them as a boy, if not for long periods of time as a boy, not for their entire experience as a boy. That’s simply baked into that cake.

She goes on to talk about how this leads to self-esteem. She’s brave. Here, again, courageous language she uses here. “Another consequence of feminizing boys is low self-esteem.” How candid and important is that? Here, simply dropped into an article that appears in the editorial section of the Wall Street Journal, influential as it is, is the statement about the consequences of feminizing boys. Again, creation order does show through, doesn’t it? The difference between boys and girls does show through. It shows through in greeting cards. It shows through in cartoons. It shows through in life. It shows through in the classroom.

Once again, even those who are trying to live by liberal theories, they have to deal with the conservative reality that there is a difference. The problem is that if you try to deny the difference and try to turn boys into girls educationally, if not in other ways, you’re going to be met with frustration at every turn. And that frustration is turning into pathologies that you even have sociologists saying are devastating to our society. We as Christians have to understand the first image we’re concerned about is to very real human beings made in the image of God, and that includes the boys who are simply disadvantaged in this. But it includes all of us, including the young women who actually want husbands later in life.

So, at least today, let’s understand not only are we dealing with the talk left, live right, not only are we talking about liberal theories, conservative lives, we’re talking about creation order shining through, even amidst intentional and ideological confusion, or for that matter, even sometimes a rather malign neglect. And so, when we’re looking at these things, what we should be reaffirmed in is not the wisdom of our own conclusions and perceptions, but rather the fact that what shines through here is God’s creation order, His intention for us and the structures whereby He has given us opportunities, if fulfilled and obeyed, for human happiness and flourishing. It is up to us to frame the observations about how that works. But the reason why it works is because our Creator has reflected His own glory in creation at every level.

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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