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Eliminating Discrimination by Discriminating Against Christians, Work and Welfare, Hawaii’s Real Warning

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

Today we will look at religious liberty threatened in the state of Iowa specifically on the campus of the University of Iowa, and then we will see religious liberty threatened even more explosively when Chinese authorities dynamite a major church in that nation. We’ll be looking at the issues of work and welfare and at the distinction between political intentions and political reality. And then we’ll be looking at the dichotomy between a false warning that was heated in Hawaii and a real warning that is being ignored to eternal peril.

In the name of eliminating all discrimination, University of Iowa discriminates against Christian student group

We’ve been watching the inevitable collision between religious liberty and sexual liberty. Sexual liberty of course being a newfound, newly constructed liberty that isn’t actually in the U.S. Constitution not mentioned at all but has recently especially by action of the U.S. Supreme Court been enshrined as the nation’s primary liberty. That inevitable collision comes because when you’re looking at religious conviction in general and Christian convictions specifically you are looking at a worldview that cannot bend the knee to the sexual revolution not without theological accommodation, compromise and surrender. And when you’re looking at where these conflicts are likely to come, one of the most important front-line arenas is the American college and university campus.

That’s why today’s news takes us to Iowa City, Iowa and the main campus of the University of Iowa identified by the Associated Press quite naturally as the flagship institution of higher education in the state of Iowa. David Pitt of the Associated Press as reported and published in the Washington Post reports this:

“The University of Iowa is caught up in a legal fight with a conservative Christian student group that denied a leadership position to a student who is gay.” As the reporter tells us, “The case pits a university policy barring discrimination based on sexual orientation against the religious beliefs of a 10-member group called Business Leaders in Christ.” He goes on to tell us, “The group sued after the state’s flagship university in Iowa City revoked its campus registration in November.”

Now as Pitt goes on to report this group known as business leaders in Christ declares itself open to everyone but requires its leaders to affirm a statement of faith. That statement of faith reflecting historic biblical Christianity rejects homosexual practice and behavior.

“The university,” says Pitt, “respects the right of students, faculty and staff to practice the religion of their choice but does not tolerate discrimination of any kind.”

This is where we need to stop and reflect upon what we have just read. We have just come to understand that in the name of eliminating all discrimination the University of Iowa will openly, candidly discriminate against a Christian group. Notice also the very ambiguous and intentionally confusing language that is employed here. The University says that of course it respects it always respects the rights of faculty and staff and students to practice the religion of their choice. But here’s the problem – that respect goes right up until the point that that religious practice offends the new sexual morality of the university administration. We should note that this small student group in the business school at the University of Iowa is explicitly Christian in its identity and mission statement. It says that it exists in order to encourage and mentor students on, “how to continually keep Christ first in the fast-paced business world.”

But the group has run afoul of university administrators because it requires a belief statement of those who will serve as leaders. The group lost its registration and as the Associated Press tells us the loss of that official registration means that it can no longer reserve campus meeting space. It can’t participate in student recruitment fairs or access funds from student activity fees. It can’t use even university wide communication services. Amongst the beliefs the group requires of leaders is the fact that all should embrace not reject their God-given sex, and it also requires that they support the idea that marriage can be only between a man and a woman. The statement of faith says,

“Every other sexual relationship beyond this is outside of God’s design and is not in keeping with God’s original plan for humanity”

After being stripped of their official recognition, the group has now filed a federal lawsuit against the university claiming an abridgment of its own religious rights furthermore freedom of association and freedom of speech. But in one of the most interesting arguments made in the case, it is abundantly clear that this group is claiming that the University of Iowa is rejecting any group’s ability to have leaders who support the actual identity and mission of the group. Eric Baxter an attorney from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty representing the students said and I quote,

“Every organization to exist has to be able to select leaders who embrace its mission” He went on to argue, “You would never ask an environmental group to have a climate denier as their leader. It’s the same thing here.”

Meanwhile a spokeswoman for the university said that the institution has what she defined as, “a right and obligation to ensure an open and nondiscriminatory environment on campus.” She said that all, “on-campus groups must guarantee ‘that equal opportunity and equal access to membership, programming, facilities, and benefits shall be open to all persons.’”

Now here we encounter the kind of language that is now customary in the sexual revolution. It’s language that justifies discrimination in the name of opposing discrimination. When you have this inevitable conflict of liberties between religious liberty and the new sexual liberty, make no mistake the University of Iowa is choosing sides. It is clearly choosing to prize and to defend sexual liberty even at the extreme of de-certifying, denying official registration to a student group established by Christians for Christian conviction in a clearly Christian identity and mission statement. It simply has no place in the modern American university according to this logic.

We also need to know that similar kinds of cases against this kind of university discrimination have already failed, one of them most famously from a law school in the state of California, and we need to note that this not only affects public universities but many private universities as well. It’s been years ago now that Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee took similar action against Christian organizations leading to the departure from the Vanderbilt campus of many prominent Christian ministries, including the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. In the name of absolute nondiscrimination, many Christian groups on campuses are now being discriminated against even being denied the right to require leaders of organizations, serving a Christian purpose, claiming a Christian identity to be Christian. In a brilliant rejoinder to the University’s action and its statements, a young man by the name of Jacob Estell, a business student there at the University and a member of the group, said,

“Like the higher-ups at Cal State,” that’s the law school of which we spoke, “the officials at my school have told our group that we must ‘revise’ our religious beliefs to their satisfaction.” But then he writes, “our beliefs weren’t made by us, and they can’t be changed by us — and certainly not just to please coercive university policies.”

Here you have this college student making the absolutely essential argument. This group didn’t make up Christianity. They are claiming Christian identity. Christianity is a revealed religion. It is based upon the Scripture. The Christian church has held uniformly for 20 centuries that marriage is and is exclusively the union of a man and a woman, and it has held to a consistent sexual morality in terms of the sexual moral judgment based upon the very issues of contention in this case. Regardless of how the case turns out in the courts and far beyond the importance of the constitutional interpretation that will be key here, the theological understanding of the church is most important. And that’s what Jacob Estell has made very clear. When speaking of Christian conviction, he stated, “our beliefs weren’t made by us, and they can’t be changed by us”

If only every Christian organization and every Christian congregation understood that fact, just as boldly.

Religious liberty threatened even more explosively as Chinese authorities dynamite major church

But even as we give necessary and proper attention to this inevitable collision between sexual liberty and religious liberty, we have to understand that in some places the denial of religious liberty is a lot more dangerous and sometimes a lot more explosive.

Saturday’s edition of the New York Times included the headline,

“Chinese Police Dynamite Christian Megachurch”

Russell Goldman reports that, “Chinese police officers demolished one of the country’s largest evangelical churches this week, using heavy machinery and dynamite to raze the building where more than 50,000 Christians worshiped.”

Now as you look at the story, it’s clear that this church that is the building known as The Golden Lampstand Church had been unregistered. But as the New York Times indicates even as it is believed that China now includes far more than 60 million Christians about half of them are believed to worship in nonregistered congregations. That’s important. It’s important to recognize that China has taken on a newly aggressive atheism and has especially identified evangelical Christianity as a modern foreign threat. We also need to note that the Chinese government following the familiar pattern of dictatorships claims to have the right to register all organizations. There is no freedom of religion or freedom of assembly in the nation of China under communist rule. But it’s also really important for us to understand that in this modern global civilization the tyrants in China did not fear international backlash even after it’s no exaggeration dynamiting a major Christian church building in China.

As we’re thinking about the fact that there are Christians those claiming the name of Christ around the world who are in constant danger, we need to recognize that when we speak about the infringements of religious liberty in the United States – we’re speaking here about something real – but we’re speaking elsewhere about something a good deal more deadly and a good deal more urgent. Back in the year 2000, communist authorities arrested many of the leaders of the church and also confiscated Bibles. Now they have gone so far as to blow up the building. In a very public statement that the Chinese government expects to communicate in a way that is unambiguous. It sees Christianity as a threat.

And of course Christianity is a threat to any totalitarian regime because the Christian faith underlines the fact that there is no ruler, no king, no emperor, no president, no premier, no party leader who claims authentically any total power. That power belongs to God alone. And in that sense with 20 centuries of church history behind us, we can now assure the communist authorities in China that if they thought they could extinguish the gospel of Jesus Christ by blowing up a building they’ve deluded themselves. But we should also note that if the Chinese party in China thought that it was making a statement of its power by excluding this church it was actually demonstrating its weakness and its paranoia.

Hard lessons learned in the state of California on the issues of work and welfare and the distinction between political intentions and political reality

But now we shift back to the United States where we look at developments that remind us of the difference between political intention and political reality. The story’s by Kerry Jackson. It’s published as an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times. That in itself is important. The headline,

“Why is liberal California the poverty capital of America?”

It’s asking a very good question. In this case Kerry Jackson asked, why if California has only 12% of the nation’s population it has about 1/3 of those in the nation who are dependent upon welfare of one form or another? The answer to the question is really interesting. The author points out that it’s not because California policymakers have neglected to wage a war on poverty. One way or another California has spent between the years 1992 and 2015 $958 billion in social welfare programs. That’s $958 billion. In many places in California welfare recipients can continue to receive financial benefits through social welfare programs even if their family income is 200% above the poverty line. So California has a very liberal state government that declares itself to be committed to eliminate poverty, but after spending $958 billion in 23 years, it has actually led to the increase of poverty levels in the state.

As Jackson writes:

“The generous spending, then, has not only failed to decrease poverty; it actually seems to have made it worse.”

Jackson then goes on to ask the question, why? And he raises an issue we’ve discussed previously on The Briefing. And that is the fact that as he documents back years ago:

“In the late 1980s and early 1990s, some states — principally,” he points out, “Wisconsin, Michigan, and Virginia — initiated welfare reform, as did the federal government under President Clinton and a Republican Congress.” 

But he points out that the common thread in this welfare reform was a work requirement. As he writes, “Welfare rolls plummeted and millions of former aid recipients entered the labor force.” He then writes, “The state and local bureaucracies that implement California’s antipoverty programs, however, resisted pro-work reforms. In fact, California recipients of state aid receive a disproportionately large share of it in no-strings-attached cash disbursements. It’s as though welfare reform passed California by, leaving a dependency trap in place. Immigrants,” he points out, “are falling into it: 55% of immigrant families in the state get some kind of means-tested benefits, compared with just 30% of natives.”

So the first answer Jackson gives to the question, why would poverty be rising even in the face of this incredible anti-poverty spending? Is the fact that there is a decoupling, a moral decoupling of receiving the benefits and the expectation of work. As I’ve pointed out many times, that’s a biblical principle now verified in public policy.

But secondly Jackson points to another fact. The California government includes 883,000 full-time equivalent state and local employees. He says that California which obviously has an enormous bureaucracy includes a disproportionate number of these bureaucrats who work in social services, and many he argues would lose their jobs if the typical welfare client were to move off the welfare rolls. He points to a perverse incentive we need to note often affects government, the perverse incentive to make the problem worse in order to justify increased spending and increase staffing.

So I’m simply going to submit that I’ll accept the best of intentions on the part of those in California leadership in eliminating poverty. The fact is there policies and programs are not working. They are making the problem worse, and there are moral and there are financial reasons why. The worst of these reasons takes the form of perverse incentives in which the government actually creates financial and political incentives to make the problem worse rather than better. When we look at this story in terms of biblical analysis, what we should see is that all of the key insights though extremely relevant and modern are actually found within the logic and often the explicit teaching of Scripture. The Scripture certainly warns against the moral not to say the permanent separation of labor and income, and it does so in such a way that it creates a lesson that is now being learned by the state of California the hard way if sadly enough it’s being learned at all.

A false warning that was heeded in Hawaii vs. a real warning that is being ignored to eternal peril

Meanwhile the biggest news of the last several days has come from the state of Hawaii, and it has to do with the false alarm, a false warning given by the government concerning an imminent attack by ballistic missile. About 8:07 AM on Saturday morning Hawaii time, an alarm went out to residents and tourists in Hawaii,

“BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

As Amy Wang reported for the Washington Post,

“A more detailed message scrolled across television screens in Hawaii, suggesting, ‘If you are indoors, stay indoors. If you are outdoors, seek immediate shelter in a building. Remain indoors well away from windows. If you are driving, pull safely to the side of the road and seek shelter in a building or lay on the floor.’”

As the story continues to unfold, there have been two different explanations for how the false alarm was sent. One explanation blames a shift change and a miscommunication in a computer instruction. The other has said that an employee simply pushed the wrong button, making the distinction the wrong choice between an alarm as a test and alarm as a reality. According to this explanation, there was a choice on a drop-down computer menu between test missile alert and missile alert. The employee we are told chose the wrong option by accident. This would be a disaster at any time but a particularly acute disaster when there are heightened fears of a ballistic missile attack from North Korea.

But while we are thinking about the inefficiencies of bureaucracy, perhaps the worst part of the story from Hawaii has to do not with the wrong alert alarm that was set out at 8:07 AM, but the fact that it took 38 minutes for a correction to be sent along similar lines of communication. That doesn’t mean that it took 38 minutes for authorities to determine that the alarm was wrongly sent. It means that it took 38 minutes, 38 torturous minutes for Hawaiians, in order for the message to be corrected. Why? Because we are now told the state government had authority to use the federal communication system to send the alert but not in order to withdraw. The bureaucracies had come up with no approved language for withdrawing an alarm. So while state and federal bureaucrats were arguing over which language could be appropriately used in order to withdraw the alert, the fact is that the residents and tourists of Hawaii were living through 38 minutes of sheer terror. It’s also instructive to note that it would take less than 38 minutes for ballistic missile attack from North Korea to reach the Hawaiian Islands.

Rest assured that at some level heads will roll. There will be some placement of accountability and blame with some kind of consequence. But we should also note a couple of huge lessons. The lesser of these lessons has to do with the fact that we are very vulnerable to this kind of false alarm. At several points during the Cold War, we came frighteningly close to a nuclear attack that would have lead to a nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union over what amounted to false alarms. But for Christians I think the bigger lesson here is not the false alarm that had to be corrected, but the real alarm that is so often ignored.

I’m thinking about the gospel alarms found in Scripture. I’m thinking about Ezekiel Chapter 33 where the prophet Ezekiel is identified as the watchman whose responsibility it is to blow the trumpet when the enemy approaches Israel. As we read in Ezekiel Chapter 33:

“if he sees the sword coming upon the land and blows the trumpet and warns the people, then if anyone who hears the sound of the trumpet does not take warning, and the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be upon his own head. He heard the sound of the trumpet and did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself. But,” Ezekiel is told, “if he had taken warning, he would have saved his life. But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any one of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.” 

In verse seven of Ezekiel 33, we read:

“So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel.”

And just as the prophet Ezekiel was made in this sense a watchman over the house of Israel, every pastor, every preacher is made a watchman over his own congregation, bearing the responsibility to issue the warning. If he issues the warning and people do not respond to the warning, then their responsibility is their own. But if the preacher or the prophet fails to sound the warning, then the Scripture makes clear God will require the judgment of the prophet or the preacher.

I also think of the key Biblical text of Hebrews Chapter 12, speaking of what happens when sinners reject the call to salvation and the warning of divine judgment which is to come. In Hebrews we read in Chapter 12 verse 25:

“See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven.”

So from a Christian, from a gospel minded, from a biblical perspective, the really important story here is not the false alarm that was heated, but the real alarm that is ignored.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to @albertmohler.For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College just go to boycecollege.com.

(This podcast is by R. Albert Mohler, Jr. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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The Battles over Truth, State’s Rights, and Our Eyeballs

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

Today we’ll see the persistence of truth in an age of untruth, we’ll ask is the truth really more important than ever before, we’ll see the cultural rift between California and Washington D.C., we’ll look at the battle for our eyeballs in modern television programming, and we’ll ask what we can learn from those constant drug ads.

The persistence of truth in an age of untruth: Is truth more important than ever before?

The most noteworthy aspect of yesterday’s edition of the New York Timeswasn’t a news story, it was an advertisement. An ad placed by the New York Times about the New York Times about truth. Yesterday’s edition included a full page with these few words,

“The truth has power. The truth will not be threatened. The truth has a voice.”

At the bottom of the page, the simple iconic masthead the New York Times.But just the day before in Sunday’s edition of the paper, timed for that evening’s Golden Globes Awards program, the New York Times on the first of these pages had the words,

“He said. She said.
He said. She said.
He said. She said.”

And then 144 more times, an unbroken,

“She said.”

Very clearly was the New York Times signaling its own virtue associating with the #metoo campaign and the political messaging sent at the Golden Globes concerning the issues of sexual harassment. It was a pretty unnuanced message. Again,

“He said. She said.
He said. She said.
He said. She said.”

And then 144 times,

“She said.”

The second full page in the New York Times about the New York Timessimply had the words,

“The truth has a voice.”

At the bottom of the page, again, the iconic masthead of the New York Times.Now it’s really clear what’s going on here, the New York Times is signaling by means of these ads that it is the authoritative voice for truth in the culture, that it cares deeply about truth, that it — perhaps alone — is committed to finding the truth and giving the truth a voice. This follows last year’s first effort in this series by the New York Times, that time it was scheduled to coincide with the Academy Awards presentation. The messaging back then in 2017, I quote,

“The truth is hard. The truth is hard to know. The truth is more important than ever.”

That last line is the most important of the claims made by the New York Times, and in accordance with this particular advertising campaign it actually draped those words around its building.

“The truth is more important than ever,”

claims the Times.

Well, before looking further and more deeply at the issue of truth in our contemporary moment, it is really important for us to recognize that from a biblical perspective it simply is not true that the truth has never been more important. It is true to say that it’s never been more important and it’s never been less important. For Christians, according to a biblical worldview, truth is always the paramount question. It has never been less important. It’s actually a fairly ludicrous claim on the part of the New York Times, are they really suggesting that going back to that paper’s own history, if you look at the last decades of the 19th century, the truth wasn’t so important? When you look at two cataclysmic world wars during the 20th century, the truth wasn’t so important. When you look at the depression, the Cold War, and everything that followed, the truth was less important then than it is now. Of course, that’s not a serious claim that they would make. It is, however, the background impulse to their current advertising campaign. We know what’s going on here, it’s very similar to the kind of campaign and posturing undertaken by the major newspaper in the nation’s capital, the Washington Post. Just several months ago that paper began printing under its own masthead the words,

“Democracy dies in darkness.”

In both cases you have two major newspapers, two of the most influential newspapers in the world, claiming their priority in terms of the business of truth telling, and in the words of the Washington Post implicitly, saving democracy. Saving democracy from what or from whom? Defending truth against what? Well of course the most immediate challenge that is reflected in these campaigns is what is referred to as fake news, it’s the destabilization of the entire truth and information and media universe. But this is where Christians really do need to think a bit more deeply about this than the New York Times and the Washington Post. Is it because we are less invested in truth? No, to the contrary; it is because we are far more invested in truth. It’s also because we understand that the New York Times really does pride itself, along with the Washington Post and other major media, in being very concerned about the truth; they have entire journalistic teams of reporters and writers and editors and levels of editors and then publishers and all the rest, all supposedly working together in order to reveal and to report the truth. And of course when it comes to a story, let’s just take a routine story like a break-in in a neighborhood, if we’re looking for report on that break-in, we want to know the factual answers to who, what, when, and where, of course, why would help also. But as we’re looking at that we recognize that the very secular reporters and editors and publishers of the news media, they really do believe in the facts, they want to get to those facts when it comes to a break-in in a home. But when it comes to bigger and more complex questions, well at that point, the editors and the reporters and others tend to mix up their own categories. The New York Times when they’re claiming to be the voice of truth, they’re not just speaking about what they take pride in in terms of their rather objective reporting about major events. No, they’re implying that also about their analysis; they’re claiming truth for their own worldview. This is where Christians also have to understand that one of the hallmarks of the modern age as we know it is the denial of certain forms of truth, the existence of objective truth when it comes to morality, and, furthermore, when it came to the movement known as postmodernism, the denial of objective truth at all.

Now as we’re looking at this, we understand that no society can actually operate in any same way while denying all objective truth. So what you have in the contemporary world are two rival visions of truth, sometimes in the very same mind. You have a level of objective truth, and that’s understood to be, well to go back to our story about a break-in in a home or the robbery of a store, there are facts and those facts are merely be taken as facts, they’re facts because they are true because they correspond with reality. But when it comes to a question of morality, well, there’s a second dimension of truth, and that’s often hand-in-hand with the rejection of the fact that there can be any moral facts there are only moral opinions. The Christian thinker Francis Schaeffer pointed to this in his most important book, that book was written in 1968, the title, Escape from Reason. Schaefer famously argued that in the modern secular mind there was actually a two-story picture of truth; a lower story that consisted of facts and an upper story that merely contained opinions. The lower story was cognitive, the upper story was noncognitive. As Schaefer indicated, the denial of objective truth in matters of morality was the modern age’s way of putting all those questions, that it wanted to answer in a very different way, beyond the cognitive level of facts into the noncognitive level of mere opinion.

So we have to recognize that the modern age has been trying to argue that there are some facts, those facts are understood to be true, true in the sense that they correspond with reality. In the modern cultural moment you see this especially affirmed amongst persons who reduce all matters of fact to what’s often limited to science, fact-based research they say. But when it comes to questions of morality such as whether or not an unborn human life is actually human, whether or not abortion is right or wrong, whether we can know that abortion is either right or wrong as moral facts, well at that stage everything’s simply kicked up into the second story into a matter of opinion, then it’s just a matter of which opinion gains majority status and support. We need to understand that that is the essence of modern politics and cultural conversation. We need to understand that that is the worldview that drives those identified as the cultural creatives, those who are the producers and the directors and the storytellers in Hollywood and beyond. We need to understand what Francis Schaeffer warned about as this two-story picture of truth, it is being drilled through every level of the culture, it is being drilled especially through every level of education, particularly higher education, but there’s plenty of evidence these days that it is also being drilled down even into kindergarten and grade school in terms of much of the official curriculum.

It is encouraging, in one sense, that the New York Times is so interested in truth, even if it comes in the form of a self advertisement, but when it states that the truth has never been more important, Christians agree with every single word so long as it’s followed by the fact that the truth has never been less important either. For Christians, the truth is not just important, it is ultimate.

California learns to sing the anthem of states rights as the rift grows between California and Washington D.C.

Next, I turn to looking at that deep cultural divide we see an America, we’re not the only ones who see it, the New York Times and others see it as well, sometimes referring to not just one America but two Americas speaking of that very deep moral and cultural divide. Recently, the New York Times ran a front-page article by Tim Arango, the headline,

“One America Fights Another As Rift Widens.”

The subhead is interesting,

“California pushes back against White House.”

Now it’s not just California and the White House, but that particular dynamic is the initiating catalyst of the story. It’s really about that great worldview divide that separates Americans, and when it comes the state of California there is no doubt where the majority of the political leaders in that state stand, almost all of them are California Democrats. But when it comes to the rest of America, is California now foreign country? Arango writes,

“In many ways it feels like that these days, as the growing divide between California and the Trump administration erupted this past week over a dizzying range of flash points, from immigration to taxes to recreational marijuana use.”

I think in many ways it’s that last issue that has the front place attention here. Last week Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the federal government would be reversing a few Obama era executive orders that it indicated that the Department of Justice would not pursue investigations and prosecutions of federal marijuana laws. There are now about eight states that have legalized recreational marijuana, and the Obama administration had announced that where the states had done so, the feds would not prosecute even though in all 50 states and in all American territories the use, the possession, the distribution, and the sale of marijuana remains a federal crime. So you now have a dynamic between those states that have legalized marijuana and the federal government, but what’s really interesting is what this shows us about how, in a moral Civil War, people or states for that matter can change sides and change arguments pretty quickly. Back during the 1950s and 1960s it was largely southern states using a state’s rights argument who sought to defend segregation laws and the larger nation, especially led by those who were ardently anti-segregation, argued that the states had no right to violate federal laws or federal decrees. That was a major dynamic, on the one hand you had an argument about states rights, on the other hand you had a prevailing argument about federal supremacy on such questions, but when it comes to marijuana all of a sudden California is singing a very different tune. California has learned to sing the anthem of state’s rights over the issue particularly of legalized marijuana.

We have often observed that the closer you get to one of the oceanic coasts the more liberal the society becomes on many moral and cultural issues. That’s true on the East Coast, but particularly in the Northeast, but it is true on the entirety of the West Coast, the United States Pacific Coast. Just consider this political profile,

“In California, every state leader is a Democrat, including the governor and the leaders of the State Senate and Assembly. Of the state’s 53 members in Congress, only 14 are Republicans, and,”

the article in the Times goes on to say,

“analysts believe several of them are in [serious political] jeopardy [in the 2018 midterm elections].”

One of the interesting dimensions of this article in the Times is that it identifies a certain impulse in this liberal direction in the state of California and traces it back to the Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. He had begun to use the language of California being

“an almost nation-state. And,”

Then, as the paper goes on to say,

“many Californians feel that way.”

The most important issue for us is to understand that the worldview distinction is real and that eventually it becomes tangible in politics, in laws, legislation, and policies. California knows that; frankly, we all know that, but what you’re looking at in this article is the recognition of a very deep divide that seems only to be getting wider and deeper at the cultural moment. Interestingly, with many other issues also on the table, marijuana has emerged as one of the key issues of contention leading even a state like California all of a sudden to begin talking about state’s rights reversing the very kind of arguments it had made decades ago. But that really goes both ways when you consider the fact that the current US Attorney General Jeff Sessions was making many of the same arguments in terms of very different issues also a matter of decades ago. What makes the story even more interesting to Christians is our understanding, just as we were discussing on the previous story, that that divide is actually deeper than the secular mind can understand.

The costly battle for our eyeballs intensifies in modern television programming

Meanwhile, as we’re the thinking about the media programming and advertising, a story in yesterday’s edition of the Times indicated that more TV shows are now vying for our eyeballs than in any previous time in history. Last year, John Koblin tells us, there were 487 original scripted programs, that’s a record breaker that follows last year’s record breaker of 455. Koblin explains,

“The staggering growth largely comes from the seemingly endless budget lines that help produce new shows for streaming services.”

Now one of the things we need to note is that we are looking here at streaming services primarily. The big three producers of scripted programs on television now are FX, HBO, and Netflix. Now just remember that that’s contrasted with what we would’ve understood even a matter of just a decade ago. Where are CBS and NBC and ABC, not to mention the major cable networks of yore. But from a Christian perspective, one of the most interesting aspects here is what this underlines in terms of the continued influence of television programming, it’s not going away, it’s not going away in terms of influence in the culture, it’s also not going away in terms of the competition for our eyeballs because this is where we always need to remind ourselves that programming is not really to entertain us, it is to entertain us in order to send advertising to us. That’s what pays the bills. Make the mistake, Hollywood does want to send moral messages in its entertainment but it can only do so successfully if it gets advertisers to foot the bill, and it’s a big bill. We are told in this news article that Netflix is going to spend over $8 billion in terms of production for this programming in just the next 12 months; $8 billion. I also found it interesting to find embedded in this article that just about every one of these individual programs cost on average $3 million. Somebody’s got to pay for a lot of advertising to make that commercially worthwhile.

What can we learn—about ourselves and advertisers—from those constant drug ads?

Meanwhile our advertising does reveal a great deal about ourselves, that’s why I was drawn to another article this time in the advertising column of theNew York Times. Joanne Kaufman writes that if you think you’re seeing more drug ads on television, you actually are. Koplin tells us that

“According to Kantar Media, a firm that tracks multimedia advertising, 771,368 [drug] ads were shown in [the last year documented, which is] 2016.”

There is every reason to believe there were more in 2017 and will be more in 2018. That number again over, 770,000 drug ads. She goes on to report by means of citing John Swallen,

“TV ad spending by pharmaceutical companies has more than doubled in the past four years, making it the second-fastest-growing category on television during that time.”

Now one of the interesting things is what’s documented in this article about this shift in these drug ads. It’s no longer primarily driven by pharmaceuticals for what would be called minor health problems, it’s now for major and massive health problems. Why? Well the article the Times argues it is because the television audience is trending older and because we are living longer, and as we do so more serious health problems represent themselves and the drug companies are battling amongst themselves in the war for our health and more urgently for our health dollars.

It’s also perhaps interesting to note that these health advertisements, drug ads, are directed primarily at television viewers for dramas and news shows. Speaking of the newly more serious drugs addressed in these ads, we are told by Thomas Lom, a consultant,

“In the old days, it was allergies and acid reflux and whatnot. …  Now, it’s cardiology issues. It’s cancer.”

Now if you’ve been looking at these ads you’re probably thinking what I’m thinking, how would anyone want to take these drugs once they have to tell us what the FDA requires, which is about the potential side effects, some of them truly horrifying, some potentially clarifying, others, admittedly, mystifying. But one of the interesting dimensions of what’s reported in this story is that all of those dreaded side effects the FDA requires to be cited don’t seem to have much of an effect upon the impact of the advertising. Part of this is because, authorities say in the article, that drugs that are to have a dramatic effect, well, are understood to sometimes come with dramatic other effects. But there’s something else in the article about the confusion that comes with white noise. That is to say we find ourselves tuning out what we’re not really interested to hear, and it tells us something about human nature, that we are more interested to hear the benefits of the drug than what might be the unavoidable side effects. But authorities in the article also say that the advertising might actually appear to be more credible and more truthful if the side effects are listed along with the primary benefit, but that takes us back to where we started on the issue of truth. It turns out that even a society in a modern age that wants to escape the question of truth simply can’t.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to @albertmohler.For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College just go to boycecollege.com.

(This podcast is by R. Albert Mohler, Jr. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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