Tuesday, January 9, 2024

It is Tuesday, January 9, 2024.

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

Part I

The Sexual Revolution and Its Strange Allies: The Massive Issues Behind Ohio Governor DeWine’s Veto of House Bill 68

As we’re looking at revolutions, you look at some in the global scene, many of those are military, but as you’re thinking about other revolutions, you understand that cultural and moral revolutions are, if anything, just as powerful as military revolutions. And in the United States and throughout much of Europe, you have moral revolutions, cultural revolutions that have been taking place, especially since the end of the 20th century that have utterly reshaped human society. You have the reference to the cultural revolutions of the 1960s, but in retrospect, the revolutions in the culture paled over against the revolutions in morality. Because as you’re looking at civilization, you recognize that even as God made us in His image, as moral beings, we crave a moral structure and we will create a moral structure, one structure or another.

In these days, we have rival moral structures between conservatives and progressives in one society, the progressives, by the way, of course, are winning, but you do have a moral structure everywhere you look. Even the people who say that they want no moral structure, they’re actually lying perhaps even to themselves. They just want a moral structure of their liking, a moral structure that’s consistent with their own worldview. The revolutionaries of the 1960s–and by the way, this is not just generational; it is true that there was a very youthful part of that revolution, but you actually have to understand there were a lot of adults in the room at the very same time who have been pressing for this kind of vast moral change–they were awaiting their opportunity. The end of the Second World War brought in one sense that opportunity because everyone knew there was a reconstitution of society that was going to have to take place in many nations.

Another aspect of what took place was simply the advent of new technologies. Most importantly, the pill and the separation of human conjugal relations from human reproduction was one of the central goals of the sexual revolutionaries. And as a matter of fact, they couldn’t have their revolution until the advent of the pill and birth control. But as you were looking at this, you also come to understand that all these things come together in a way that confused many people who weren’t ready to join a complete revolution in morality. For the most part, they didn’t even recognize that was what was taking place even before their eyes. But the sexual revolutionaries have been absolutely convinced that they’ve been in the driver’s seat of our society since the late 1950s, particularly since the 1960s and the 1970s. There’ve been a couple of things that have thrown a wrench into their system, and one of those was what took place at the Supreme Court in 2022 with the reversal of Roe v. Wade, that 1973 Supreme Court decision that basically guaranteed abortion on demand to American women.

Well, that was one of the centerpieces of the cultural and sexual revolution. That’s why the pro-abortion movement and the left in this country thinks the reversal of Roe is absolutely unthinkable, unacceptable, and thus, it is their central goal to reverse it.

But we’re also looking at other technologies and we’re looking at other shifts. If Roe was in one sense the establishment of the sexual revolution and the reversal of Roe was what had been unthinkable, what was also unthinkable is that there might be limits to this sexual revolution, and yet it appears we’ve hit one of these limits. Now, this does not mean that the transgender revolution is not going to be eventually complete, but it is interesting that we should note that the transgender revolution has not gone forward as smoothly as the engineers of the sexual revolution had believed would be the case.

Now, as I’m about to explain, Christians do have a detailed explanation for that, but let’s just recognize how all this came about. You had one moral barrier after another fall to the sexual revolutionaries. The ban on divorce, the ban on premarital sex, the ban on extramarital sex, all of this came with changes in language, changes in law, changes in moral custom. All of this came with different sets of expectations, but what is central to all of this is actually oddly revealed in the majority opinion of the Supreme Court in the Roe v. Wade decision. Now, remember, that was one of the key achievements of the sexual revolutionaries, but you know why Roe v. Wade is very out of date from the perspective of the left? It’s continued insistent reference to the pregnant person as a woman. You look at that 1973 court decision and you recognize the transgender revolution is not only not here, it’s not imaginable in this world.

Well, you fast-forward to other aspects of that revolution and sexuality, morality, and gender, and you now have the acronym LGBTQ, the plus sign a reminder that other things are coming. But as you look at LGBTQ, here’s the interesting thing, T has hit a snag. It’s hit a very significant snag. That’s not to say that the transgender revolution won’t eventually press on and steamroll its way through the entire society, largely to the obliteration of any meaningful category of sex or gender, but it is interesting that it hasn’t gone like the L and the G and the B. The T is different, and I think we as Christians understand that the difference in T is not that it’s simply an uncomfortable partnership with L and G and B is that it’s actually a very different thing. As you’re looking at L and G and B, lesbian and gay and bisexual, you are looking at arguments about sexual orientation and sexual behavior. But one of the things that makes L and G and B understandable, even coherent, is the fact that you’re talking about male and female, men and women, and we know the difference.

As Andrew Sullivan, a very prominent gay activist said, “It’s no fun being gay if you don’t know who a man is.” That would seem to be an obvious statement if it would be out of place in any previous age of human existence. Nonetheless, he has a point and the T doesn’t actually belong in L and G and B except for the fact that once you buy into the idea of identity politics when it comes to sexuality, then you just have to keep adding letters. But my point right now is that the transgender revolution has hit a significant snag. It is simply the case that fewer Americans, even in polling indicate they support the transgender identity claims and the transgender policy demands. That’s something in the last five years that has changed.

In the last half decade, America has not grown more conservative, but you know what, creation order is becoming more insistent. You have Americans who are looking at a picture and here’s a women’s aquatic team, a university women’s swim team, and there’s a man on it, and you don’t have to have labels to understand as you’re looking at those human beings in bathing suits, one of them is not like the others. And the one of them, well, as you know in the University of Pennsylvania controversy, the one who is not a woman actually won in the women’s competition. And so Americans were beginning to say, “I don’t want that for my daughter. I do not want that for my granddaughter. I do not want that.” And others are simply looking at some of the claims made about non-binary identification and all the rest, and people are just saying, “I don’t think this is right.”

I will not argue, some people will say, I’m not going to argue against L and G and B. Americans have largely lost the intellectual and moral ability even to make those arguments. But when it comes to T, an awful lot of people are saying, I just am not for children and teenagers having access to massive surgical and hormonal treatments that will claim to actually change that individual’s sex or gender. But as you’ll notice, there’s actually very little argument that it changes sex. It’s the argument that it changes gender, but these days it’s a part of the revolution that gender trumps sex as in biological sex.

Now, this takes us to the state of Ohio. It takes us to what is known as House Bill 68. House Bill 68 passed not only the House but in the Senate there in Ohio. It is legislation that would ban hormonal and surgical treatments for children and teenagers, that is to say non-binary or sex reassignment or gender affirmation surgeons. Regardless of the Orwellian language that is used, it would say no to those in the state of Ohio for children and teenagers.

The law went a little bit further and very helpfully also said that when it comes to school athletics, K through 12, and when it comes to state supported higher education in the state of Ohio, only biological women can compete on girls and women’s teams, biological females only. And again, that by the way has vast support among the American people, also amongst the people of Ohio. But Ohio’s Governor, Mike DeWine vetoed the legislation just before the end of the year and he vetoed it comprehensively while making a very extensive statement about why he vetoed the legislation.

Now, the legislation will probably nonetheless become law and perhaps even in coming days simply because the state legislature had already adopted House Bill 68 in both chambers, by majorities that are veto proof. So the Governor knows that. The Governor was thus making a statement and perhaps he was also trying to prevent the law from taking effect in order that he could make some changes. It’s a little complicated, but it’s very important that we understand what’s going on here.

Mike DeWine had been a Republican elected to Congress. He had been a Republican who had served in the United States Senate. He had served as Ohio’s Attorney General and he’s now in his second term as the Republican Governor of Ohio. Now, even as his life has changed in all those different roles, the state of Ohio has changed. It has gone from being the quintessential swing state in American politics to being basically a red state. Certainly when it comes to presidential politics. In the most recent Senate election there in the state of Ohio, Republican J.D. Vance was elected and you’re looking at the fact that the open Senate seat in 2024 is going to be very closely watched, but Ohio is increasingly a red state, and Mike DeWine knows that. He is a Republican, but he’s a Republican significantly out of step with his party on this issue.

Now in Ohio, governors can issue what is known as a veto statement when they issue a veto, and in this case, a veto message was offered by the Governor. He said that his action vetoing the legislation was about, “Protecting human life.” He went on and summarized his argument by these words, “Parents are making decisions about the most precious thing in their life, their child, and none of us should underestimate the gravity and difficulty of those decisions.” Very interesting. There you have DeWine making a typical Republican argument about parental rights, and most Republicans, most Christian conservatives would say that in the main parental rights are to be respected and are to trump all other considerations, but not when it comes to surgical intervention that would supposedly change the gender of a child. Not when it comes to hormonal and surgical treatments that will fundamentally change the life of a child.

In this case, the legislature’s making the right argument. The Governor’s making the wrong argument, but it wasn’t made stupidly. He knew what he was doing. It is really interesting to note the Governor DeWine said that he had reached this conclusion and made the decision to veto the legislation because of his conversation with people there in the state of Ohio, including parents and young people, in particular teenagers, and also the medical establishment. And when he vetoed the legislation, the LGBTQ activist community responded with broad affirmation. The Governor’s done exactly the right thing, they declared. The Endocrine Society made a similar statement, and that’s a group of physicians, and it’s just a reminder to us that the medical society, the medical culture, the medical establishment has largely given itself over to the LGBTQ revolution.

Now, I’m going to put a footnote in here and I want to state this very, very carefully. There is a commercial incentive for at least some, if not many, in the medical community to affirm these hormonal and surgical treatments, and for that matter, the entire complex of so-called treatments of sex reaffirmation or gender affirmation, whatever they want to call it, because this is, it’s more than this, but it’s not less than this. It is big business and there’s a business angle here that simply can’t be denied.

The cultural left was very eager to point to Governor DeWine and say, “look, here’s even a Republican who gets it.” And yet even at the same time, you had to look at the situation with Governor DeWine’s veto message and understand he’s also said something else. He said that he would issue executive orders that would prevent surgical change treatment when it comes to children and teenagers in the state, and he also said he would issue some regulations having to do with these surgeries in general.

Now, he vetoed the legislation and yet he said he was going to come up with an executive order that would do some of the same things. So why aren’t we happy about that? Well, for two reasons. Number one, he said part of what was in the legislation he would put into policy. But secondly, and here’s a big issue, and Christian conservatives need to pay a lot of attention to this. It does matter if you have a conservative governor or a conservative president who can issue the right executive orders. The problem is executive orders often last only so long as the executive and Governor DeWine knows that full well.

The other shoe dropped, so to speak, just a matter of days ago when the Governor did issue this order of restriction on transgender care. So he vetoed the legislation, but even as he said in his veto message, he was going to change policies in at least some of the same directions he actually followed through, he did that.

As Amy Harmon of the New York Times reports, “Just a week after vetoing a ban on gender affirming care for minors, Governor Mike DeWine of Ohio issued an executive order banning gender transition surgeries for anyone under 18 at state hospitals or ambulatory clinics.” Now, notice something else, this executive order is not as broadly applied as the legislation would’ve been, but anyone looking at this would immediately recognize something else that’s missing here, and that is the athletic dimension.

The original legislation that the Governor vetoed had stated that only biological females can play on K through 12 and state university systems of intercollegiate and interscholastic sports, they can only compete if they are biological females. They can only compete as women and as girls. That’s entirely missing from the Governor’s policy. But the Governor also said something very interesting when the very people who were pleased at his veto were displeased by his policy, he went back to what he claimed was his principle, and that is parental rights.

He said this, “I believe the parents, not the government should be making these crucial decisions for their children.” But the Governor by his policy said he was taking the surgical aspect off the table, and I just want to make the point that the Governor here is not applying parental rights as any kind of categorical. He has issued a policy saying that regardless of parental decision, children and teenagers should not be the subjects of sex reassignment surgery in the state. So, the Governor takes back much of what he said. Another reminder of the fact that we do need legislation not just executive orders, especially executive orders from someone who has made the kind of moral compromises as Ohio Governor Mike DeWine.

Part II

What’s Behind a Name? Disqualification of Transgender Candidate in Ohio Shows Danger Posed by New Ideological Notions of Name and Identity

But another issue of vast worldview consequence comes up with a story that just broke yesterday in the New York Times. The headline is this, Trans Candidate is Disqualified for Not Listing her Birth Name. Again, the state is Ohio. Emily Schmall was the reporter in the story: “A transgender woman was disqualified from a race for the Ohio House of Representatives after she did not include her previous name in election materials, raising the prospect,” says the Times, “that transgender candidates would face similar barriers elsewhere.”

Now, the candidate or would be candidate now goes by the name of Vanessa Joy. Identifies as a real estate photographer running as a Democrat in Ohio’s 50th District. The woman, again is now identified as Vanessa Joy and the candidate or would be candidate said, “Had I known this law existed, I likely would’ve bit the bullet and put my dead name next to my legal name.” The candidate went on to say, “I would have done it because I care enough to get on the ballot, but this will be a huge barrier to entry for transgender people.” The Times said that the candidate added, “That many transgender people have their birth name sealed out of concern for their safety.”

Okay, big issue here. Let’s just back off of the transgender dimension for a moment, although that’s why we’re talking about it. Let’s go to the issue of the name. As you look through the history of Western civilization, names become extremely important, and this is not something we should take for granted in the broad cultural landscape. Most people simply weren’t that well known, but increasingly in more sophisticated societies, you had to know who was whom, where they were born, and you had to know the continuity of identity. If you go back, say to the 20th century, you look at murder mysteries and suspense thrillers, a lot of them had to do with the fact that there were people who picked up dead names as aliases, dead names.

That dead naming doesn’t come just as a transgender invention. It comes from our own legal history. A dead name is the name of a dead person that someone tries to pick up in order to create a new identity, and that was done by people. It was done by spies, it was done by criminals. It was done by people who just wanted to get lost. They assumed a new identity, very hard to do that in a modern society without something like a birth certificate. And so they looked for someone who died perhaps in childhood, they would assume that name. They could order the birth certificate, they could build an identity, and yet that was to put, not to fine a legal point on it, illegal and understood to be so because it threatened the ability of a society to even know who was within the society or who an individual is.

That turns out to be a very important question crucial to society. For that reason, and again, you go back long before the transgender revolution and before anyone would’ve known what those words mean, and you understand that societies, especially in the English-speaking world, but also you could say in the European world as well, made it very, very difficult to change one’s name legally.

There might be an occasion where you might have say, an informant on organized crime or someone that had a legally justified need to change a name, and there might be someone who would just change a name because frankly they wanted a new name. Society made that rather difficult and there had to be a record of continuity somewhere. Someone had to be able to know who someone was, even when there was say, the adoption of a new name for the reason of some kind of safety, because of a legal proceeding. Someone somewhere knew the continuity of those names.

But the transgender revolution has now progressed to such a degree that you now have lots of people in the United States who are demanding to change their names, and as this article makes clear, they’re demanding to change their names with no apparent continuity with who came before them, that dead name issues now been picked up and made a verb. You’re dead naming someone if you use their name before their transition, so to speak, or before they adopted the new name and the new gender identity they are claiming.

But there’s another point made in this article and that is this: voters have a right to know who someone is. They have a right to know the background of individuals if they’re going to be voting in elections, and so it’s really interesting that right now in the state of Ohio, you have a candidate struck because this candidate did not provide a continuity of name. There’s no reference to the fact that there had been a gender transition claimed and a change of name, and there’s the outright demand in this article that only the new name be used, which could mean that voters would have no access to any continuity of identity. Just think about the consequences of that for society. All that, just another reminder of the fact that policies have consequences and there are worldview commitments behind all these policies and political decisions, and we as Christians need to be watching very carefully at what’s going on here because this really is a big story, and it’s not just about one house district in Ohio, and I think we all recognize that.

Part III

The Very Dangerous World of Artificial Intelligence: Emergence of AI Pornography Raises Huge Issues of Morality and Identity

Finally, the big challenges presented by artificial intelligence include challenges to personal identity because first of all, there is the blurring of the word intelligence, at least as it’s used in this technological context between human intelligence and machine or artificial digital intelligence.

But there’s something else here, and that is to do with, again, responsibility and authorship. Who is the author of a product? Who is the author of an article? Who’s the author of an idea? All this becomes hotly contested. Now, we’re going to be looking at this in detail in coming weeks and months simply because the headlines are coming at us so fast, and we’re going to be looking at the crucial distinction in the Biblical worldview between say, artificial intelligence and the intelligence that is possessed by one made in God’s image. And there’s a categorical distinction. We’re going to be making clear why that is so, but there are also new challenges and in a fallen world, these challenges sometimes come to us from the very dark places.

Yesterday’s edition of The New York Times also had a front page business section article on the challenge that artificial intelligence is presenting to those who want to have any limits whatsoever when it comes to say, pornography. And especially when you can have facial recognition software, facial generation software, there’s the very real threat that someone could show up in pornography that is artificially created that isn’t even real in that sense, although it would be presented as having that real identity.

We’re living in a very dangerous world, and it’s not just dangerous to personal identity, a continuing theme in our conversation today. It is injurious to the very idea of what it means to be human, what it means to be a human being. But we also come to understand this, we’re in a society that increasingly insists there are no moral absolutes and an issue like artificial intelligence now comes along to say, if there are no moral absolutes, then guess what? Here’s what the world looks like without moral absolutes. If it’s not absolutely wrong to do this using someone’s artificially generated face on a pornographic image, if it’s not absolutely wrong, then guess what? It’s going to be very hard to act or legislate against it. But here’s the other point, if it is absolutely wrong, if it is absolutely evil, then guess what? There is a moral absolute. The only argument is about where that moral absolute is to be understood to fall and how it is to be defined.

We’re living in an interesting moment when many of the people had insisted that there are no moral absolutes are increasingly, vocally, and even with a sense of emergency crying out, that’s absolutely wrong. About the fact that there is absolute wrong, well, we know that they are absolutely right, but we also know they are increasingly hypocritical. Because they want to say over here, there are no moral absolutes when they want to say over there, oh, that’s absolutely wrong, is at least part of our responsibility to understand the problem with that dichotomy.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can find 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’m speaking to you from Davenport, Florida, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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