The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

It’s Tuesday, October 17, 2023.

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

Part I

Shifts in the American Political Landscape: The House Needs a Speaker, and Louisiana Elects a Conservative Governor

Yesterday we discussed the fact that, in just a matter of days, it’s as if the world has been reshaped, and the same thing is true when we think about some of the elements related to politics. Now, we’re going to be tracking events in the Middle East, but we’re going to wait until there’s a little more clarity on exactly what’s going on there, but right now, we do know with clarity that a decision point has been reached today.

The United States House of Representatives is scheduled, after a weekend recess, to come back and vote on a nominee for the office of speaker, the role without which the House cannot operate.

Of course, we had Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, toppled from that post just a matter of days ago. But soon after that happened, you had the Hamas attack upon Israel, all kinds of events, two massive carrier strike groups moving into the Eastern Mediterranean. We clearly need a functioning national government, and that means that the House, with a very thin Republican majority, must elect a speaker. This is a situation that is now escalated beyond anything that was on the imagination of those who took the action to remove Kevin McCarthy from that post, but the absence of a plan B after plan A has become glaringly obvious. At this point, it’s leaning into irresponsibility.

James, commonly known as Jim Jordan, head of the House Judiciary Committee, Republican congressman from Ohio, is the nominee of the caucus, but he doesn’t have enough votes even within the Republican caucus at this point to reach the magic number of 217. That, by the way, added to his own vote, would make 218, which makes a majority in the house, majority necessary to elect a speaker. Will that happen? Even most Republican insiders don’t seem to think that a speaker will be elected today for the good of the nation. Frankly, we need to hope that the House will elect a speaker expeditiously to be able to deal with these challenges, but the worldview conflict that comes down to matters of politics, policy, and understandings on any number of issues.

Even the role of individual politicians and the mission of a political party, all that gets mixed up in this, and the pressure of the international situation, it may or may not be a catalyst for a more expedient action by the Republican majority in the house. Time will tell. We’re going to have to see, but at this point it is up to Jim Jordan and his supporters to muster enough votes to elect him speaker. Otherwise, it’s back to square one, and that’s not going to be good for the Republican Party. That’s not going to be good for the House of Representatives. It’s not going to be good for the United States, and that means right now, it’s not good for the world, so there’s a lot writing on the house, in this case, the House Republican majority being able to elect a competent and efficient Speaker of the House.

It’s either going to be Jim Jordan or someone else, and the house needs to make that decision and move ahead for us all.

But then the scene shifts to Louisiana, because even as just a few weeks ago, no one expected that there would be an opening in the role of the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the United States Congress. The fact is everyone knew the Louisiana governor seat was coming open. Louisiana has a rather open primary system, sometimes referred to as a jungle primary, which means you have all the party people who are mixed together. Generally, it leads to a runoff. Sometimes that runoff is between opposing party candidates, so you have a Republican versus a Democrat.

But the fact is no runoff is going to be necessary this year, because one candidate won a majority on the first round of the jungle primary, and so Louisiana knows who it’s next governor is going to be, and that is the current attorney general, Jeff Landry. He is a conservative Republican, and that really matters in this case, because the incumbent, two-term governor of Louisiana is John Bell Edwards, and John Bell Edwards is the only Democrat holding that office across the entire Gulf region and the deep south, so you are looking at a very interesting development. Louisiana, unexpectedly, knows exactly who its next governor is going to be. It is a political game changer. In this case, changing a moderate to conservative by the measure of the Democratic Party, Democratic governor.

Replacing him with an openly conservative, Republican governor is going to be a game changer. John Bell Edwards, frankly, is conservative enough that he’s just woefully out of step with his own party, the Democratic Party, but he’s also out of step with Louisiana on so many of these issues, and in this case, the newly elected governor to be, Jeff Landry, he’s a very conservative figure. He has, actually, as Attorney General, led in many legal challenges to the governor, a situation very similar to what is undertaken right now in the state of Kentucky, the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The Attorney General, who’s a Republican, Daniel Cameron, has led several challenges to the incumbent Democratic governor, Andy Beshear.

They’re squaring off in a gubernatorial election coming in just a matter of days. In this case, you have Louisiana and Kentucky following the same odd, electoral calendar with the same unusual situation with the Republican Attorney General for years now with a Democratic governor, and the Democratic governor, John Bell Edwards, as we said, is term limited in Louisiana, can’t run again, and the Republican, Jeff Landry, won on the first ballot in that primary. We’ll find out what happens in Kentucky, but the stakes are equally high.

The immediate effect in Louisiana is going to be that a Republican governor is going to work with a very conservative Republican majority in the state’s legislature. That legislature has been producing conservative bills on abortion, any number of issues.

Some of them, not all of them, but some of them have been vetoed by John Bell Edwards, the Democratic governor. The legislature has overridden his veto at times, but it is going to be a different game entirely when there is a Republican governor seated in the Governor’s mansion. We’ll expect a much faster pace of legislation there in Louisiana.

Part II

A Great American Fracturing? — Americans are Moving States Based on Political Views

But next we have talked about the worldview divide in this country, and how that’s coming down to a map, increasingly described as red and blue. Then, we have blue states. They are very democratic, increasingly progressivist and liberal, but they have some red spots in them like the state of Oregon, where the entire east is basically very conservative, but it’s outvoted by the more highly populated West.

Washington state, pretty much exactly the same picture, but you also have the opposite; you have some very red states with some very blue dots. Just think of the state of Texas, and then think of the city of Austin. They’re home to the University of Texas at Austin. That’s not a coincidence, but in any event, you also have now the phenomenon of people leaving one state to move to another state `where they will be more politically comfortable. Front page article in the New York Times by Trip Gabriel talks about two families making a move. First of all, you have Steve Huckins, a native of Oregon, who is moving with his wife, Ginger, from Portland, Oregon to rural Missouri outside of St. Louis, and so they’re moving from deep blue to deep red.

They’re doing so because they’re fed up with blue. They’re fed up with the spiraling crime rates, open use of hard drugs, and they just decided it had 2000 miles east. Meanwhile, the same article tells us about another couple. This is Jenny and Jeff Noble, who according to the article, were packing a 26-foot U-Haul truck in suburban Iowa, and they’re headed to Minnesota, because their only child, identified as Julian, “came out as transgender at age 11.” Iowa has passed legislation that prevents certain so-called treatments for adolescents identifying as non-binary or transgender, so they’re moving to another state, the state of Minnesota, which is far more progressive as to liberal on those policies. So front page of the New York Times. Interesting stuff, right?

You have people moving, because some want to move from red to blue, and some want to move from blue to red. Increasing polarization in the United States as is represented by even the use of these colors and by the fact of these moves. It just underlines the reality that there’s a worldview divide in this country that is becoming deeper. It’s becoming more significant, not less significant. It’s becoming more unavoidable. It just isn’t avoidable. It is becoming now such a matter, that you have widespread observation that people are deciding where they’re going to live based upon the prevailing worldview of that location. It also points to something else. Again, vast difference between more rural areas and more metropolitan areas.

I, often, point out, on the briefing, the closer you get to a campus, the closer you get to a city, the closer you get to a coast, the bluer things get, the more progressivist, the more liberal, the closer you get to a farm, the closer you get to rural America, the closer you get to the entire enterprise of agriculture, well, you just go down the list, the more red the society becomes, the more conservative. Now, by the way, the Christian worldview says you have to note something there. The closer you get to ontological concentration, the more conservative things get. That’s a lot of syllables, but what it means is this. If you actually are going to try to raise a crop, and you are going to have to manage animals in order that, if you have two cows, you can then have more cows, you’re going to have to deal with ontological reality.

Which is to say being, which means male and female, which means fixed categories, which means the discipline of crops, which means waiting for rain, which also means a far more conservative environment than you can find on a lot of college campuses, where people can afford all kinds of abstractions of dangerous ideas, because they don’t have to grow anything. All they have to do is go to the supermarket or, more likely, their local, organic egg outlet, or to put it another way, there are all kinds of ideas that might make sense in a seminar room at Stanford University, that do not make sense on the back 40-acres of a farm. They’re just not going to work, and you’re looking here at the fact, however, that this is being put in moral language.

I want to read to you the headline, “Politics made them feel unsafe, so they moved.” At least part of this is the modern use of the word “unsafe,” which means, “I don’t like what you believe,” and especially when it comes to the LGBTQ revolution, the word unsafe is being used as if it is making me unsafe that you do not affirm everything I claim about my gender or sexual identity. So you see, they’re leaning into fragility, which again is something that actually doesn’t work too well on a farm. It doesn’t work too well in a rural context, but in the politically and ideologically charged atmosphere of identity politics on a campus, that’s just the way the game is played.

The Times article states this, by the way, “Americans are increasingly fracturing as a people, and some are taking the extraordinary step of moving to escape a political or social climate they abhor. Democrats left Iowa, Texas, and other red states, as Republicans have moved out of California, Oregon, and other blue states, often over their views on issues like abortion, transgender rights, school curriculums, guns, race, and a host of other matters.” It’s also true that there’s a basic distinction, discernible and irrefutable, between red and blue America when it comes to, say, religious belief or more secularized environments. It’s just very trackable to red and blue. It’s not to say there aren’t any believers in blue America. It’s not to say there aren’t any skeptics or atheists in red America. It is to say, in both places, those are outnumbered by those who hold to a more normal, prevailing worldview, colored either red or blue.

Part III

The Motherhood Penalty: Nobel Prize Winner Shows Gender Wage Gap Comes Down to Having Babies

We’ve been speaking about college campuses. Let’s talk about the very height, the greatest elite in terms of academic recognition, that would be the Nobel Prize. Just in recent days, a woman was announced as the winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics. That woman is Harvard University professor, Claudia Golden, and the fact that she is a woman has led in just about every single headline, because that’s what so many in the news media find of greatest interest. But in this case, this woman who is an economist at Harvard has been working for years, indeed decades, tracking what so many people are concerned about in this situation related to economics. That is the disparity between the lifetime incomes of men versus women, or women versus men.

It’s a matter that is often defined as income inequality. It is packaged as a form of discrimination. Claudia Golden’s done a very good job in terms of the quantitative analysis here. She’s been very honest in saying, “Look, maybe we need to look at this in such a way that we’re measuring men and women who have the same education and they’re in the same roles, and thus we’re not, say, comparing apples and oranges. So let’s just compare a man who, say, is an attorney with the same kind of education, the same kind of degrees, beginning in the same point in career, versus a woman, track this over a few decades in a reasonable work pattern.” The fact is that, across the board, women end up with lifetime earnings that are lesser than the lifetime earnings of men. Again, this is on average.

It’s not to say every man and every woman, but on average. As you’re looking at this, if you are looking at it through a secular progressivist stance, you’re going to say, “Well, that’s a form of discrimination. This is just obviously the result of discrimination.” To her credit, Claudia Golden has been looking at the data to understand what’s going on, and she clearly understands that there is one issue, above all other issues that explains this disparity, that one reality over all other realities, that explains this pattern, is having a baby. As it turns out, the experience of having a baby or having babies, having children, turns out to be what, in some of the headlines, is described as a motherhood penalty for women. This gets really interesting.

Claudia Golden, and some of the news media reports, are very clear that she did not have children. She has been arguing that the gender gap in earnings is not explained by different education, not even by different occupational choices in the Maine. It’s by the fact that women have babies, and there’s a disparity in the domestic sphere, that is to say in the home, that if not eradicated means that there will be ongoingly, permanently, a disparity between men and women in terms of lifetime income, even with the same education and in the same profession. The article at USA Today, looking at her research, said that in 2022, “For example, women with at least a bachelor’s degree earned 79% as much as men who were college graduates, while women who were high school graduates earned 81% as much as men with the same level of education.”

Speaking of Claudia Golden or Professor Golden’s Research, USA Today reports, “After collecting and analyzing 200 years of US historical data to demonstrate how and why gender differences in earnings and employment rates have changed over time, she found that, while historically the wage gap could be explained through differences in education and occupational choices, recently the differences among men and women in the same profession widens after the birth of the first child. Golden’s research also finds this trend, differences in both pay and ability to stay in the workforce, reflect differences in the division of unpaid caregiving responsibilities between heterosexual couples.”

She goes on to say it’s a bigger disparity than you might think. It’s not just that women tend to have to leave the workforce for some period of time, unless they fall behind in earnings. They fall behind, in some cases, in progression towards advancement in their career, because in many cases, it’s not just a few weeks or months. It is because women exit the workforce in order to spend time with their children, especially in younger ages, before they reenter the workforce. One of the examples here is a woman who had two babies, and she was out of the workforce for seven years, but it’s not just that there is a negative impact upon women who leave the workforce. It is also, and this is really interesting, just in worldview terms, this is fascinating, men who are married, this means heterosexual marriage, we, as Christians understand this, the only marriage we recognize, but nonetheless, men who are not only husbands but become fathers actually experience a fatherhood premium in income.

Which means that, not comparing men to women, but comparing men to men, men, once they become fathers, actually begin to earn more money than before they were fathers, and what would be the economic explanation for that? They seem to feel like they need to work more in order to secure an adequate financial foundation for their home with the children. It turns out that much of this is trackable to how much time people spend at work, and men spend more time at work than women once a baby arrives, and the fathers of those babies actually spend more time at work than some of the other fathers, because they are intent upon earning to provide for the family, and thus there’s a seriousness with which they take that task. I said there are vast worldview implications to this.

First of all, it’s really interesting to see that professor Golden, and perhaps especially many of the people who are using her research, they’re arguing that gender equity will only be reached when there’s absolute equity in the domestic sphere, including in the taking care of children, and that includes explicitly infants. Here’s where I simply want to say, not as a matter of debate, but just as a matter of observation, and I’ll stand by this. I believe this is a matter of Christian conviction based upon a biblical worldview, but I also believe it’s just irrefutable based upon, say, biology and human experience, mothers can do things fathers can’t do, and God has equipped mothers to do something that’s absolutely essential, not just something, but many things, that are absolutely essential, especially in the youngest years of a child’s life.

Thus, you can come up with whatever political platform you want, but even in liberal, progressive Scandinavia, they haven’t been able to overcome that distinction. The only way they have found, in order to try to create, say, a mitigation of the financial inequality, even in a progressive, secular nation, such as those in Scandinavia, is to force men to leave the workforce when they become fathers, even as women, or mothers leave the workforce. But that’s quite artificial, and it is a largely failed sociological project, and that is because, again, the Christian worldview tells us this isn’t merely sociology. There’s something a lot deeper going on here. A part of it is ontology, which is to say a part of it is biology.

Part IV

Couple Faithfulness, Not Couple Equity: The Ontology and Moral Good of Complementary Work Roles in Marriage

But there’s also something else to this: That is that this doesn’t account for the fact that many women, and the Christian worldview just explains why this is so, actually want to be at home with their babies, and they want to be at home with their young children in a way that is not equally true of fathers. You can think that’s just prejudice or you can see that as something of God’s plan. But there’s a part of this that isn’t just, say, Christian versus a secular understanding. It’s not just, say, a conservative versus a liberal understanding. A part of this is a little more complicated, and this is the fact, that there are far too many people who believe that our national imperative should be to get as many adults in the workforce and to have them fully engaged in the workforce, as is possible.

Regrettably, that’s not just many people in the ideological left. That’s many people in the big business, who believe that someone working in the home is under employed. We, as Christians, need to press back against that argument. We need to understand that it is based in a fundamentally secular and, not only non-biblical, but un-biblical set of assumptions. The suggestion that the home is less significant than the place of work is deeply insulting, not just to the family, but to the entire biblical worldview, which actually says the opposite. In an interview with The New York Times, professor Golden said, “We’re never going to have gender equality until we also have couple equity.” Now, I don’t want to get too far out of line here. I don’t want to make a prognostication I can’t stand by.

But I think I can stand by this one: By her definition of couple equity, that reality is never going to happen, and one of the reasons it’s not going to happen. It has nothing to do with prejudice. It has nothing to do with male and female stereotypes. It has everything to do with just male and female. It has everything to do with the categorical distinction between fatherhood and motherhood, and the biblical worldview doesn’t tell us that one is greater than the other. It tells us that children need both. When the scripture says, “Therefore, a man shall leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife, and they should become one flesh,” and then that begins a family with the children that are added to that union, and that’s the most basic atomic unit of the entire society.

Christians understand that getting that wrong means that nothing after that mistake can ever be made truly right. What Christians must prize, and unapologetically do so, is not couple equity, which quite frankly, is an abstraction that’s never going to happen, but rather couple faithfulness, which is a very different thing. In this case, let’s be clear, couple means a man and a woman in the marital unit, in the covenant of marriage. It means mothers and fathers living out in faithfulness what it means to be a mother and a father, and understanding that that means both must be fully deployed for the flourishing of the home, but not in exactly the same way to exactly the same measure.

This isn’t making an argument about whether or not women should be involved in the workplace. It is to say that, when it comes to this kind of analysis, when you are looking at lifetime earnings and you’re looking at what this economist says is a lack of couple equity, that couple equity in the greater goal of what she identifies as gender equality, that’s not going to happen, so long as human beings continue to have babies. In any event, professor Golden’s research certainly raises issues that are important to Christians. As we try to understand these issues, not merely economically, but biblically, we can be thankful for that.

By the way, just in case you care, there actually is no such award as the Nobel Prize in economics. It is officially the Sveriges Riksbank’s Prize in Economic Sciences in memory of Alfred Nobel. It’s commonly known, however, as the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. So if you call it in the Nobel Prize in Economics, you’re not exactly right, but you’re also not exactly wrong, if you care.

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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