The Briefing 05-22-14

The Briefing 05-22-14

The Briefing


 May 22, 2014

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


It’s Thursday, May 22, 2014. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.


Hirings and firings of teachers in religious schools have been garnering headlines of late. The latest comes from California. The Riverside California Press Enterprise reports that a school in Corona, California, is now in the center of controversy because four years ago it fired several employees, including four teachers for teachings that violated the religious beliefs of the school. As David Olson, the reporter for the paper, tells us:


Four years after Corona’s Crossroads Christian Schools fired 11 employees for their religious beliefs, legal experts disagree as to whether the dismissals violated the law.


In May 2013, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission [or EEOC] found “reasonable cause to believe” that the conservative evangelical Christian school violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by dismissing the four teachers, most of whom are Catholic.


But as the newspaper makes very clear, the EEOC opted not to file a lawsuit against the school. It offered at least two of the teachers who had filed the complaint the opportunity to sue the school, but they chose not to do so. Now the school finds itself back in the headlines because of a controversy over whether or not the school was justified, legally justified, in firing the teachers and whether or not a similar school in a similar situation would be within its rights to do the same.


The charge by the EEOC that, in the words of the agency, there was a reasonable cause to believe that the school had violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964, is a huge issue for any Christian school. This is precisely the kind of news story that should have the attention of anyone interested in the integrity of Christian education. As David Olson writes, even as the two teachers decided not to sue, the issue is now back in the public eye and, as he says, the case pits the religious freedom of the school against the religious freedom of the employees. The school, by the way, has 863 students. It ranges from kindergarten to the 12th grade. It belongs to the Crossroads Christian Church. That church is an evangelical congregation and it has had policies in place that all who teach within the school must be also those who are evangelicals and hold to evangelical doctrine. But four years ago, discovering that it had several Roman Catholic teachers and others who were not evangelical on the faculty or staff, they were eliminated. Eleven total employees were eliminated, including four teachers. Officials with the school said that as a ministry of their church, the school should expose students only to beliefs that are in line with the beliefs of the church. Church officials also said the school had long had rules requiring employees to adhere to certain religious beliefs and practices—but listen carefully to the next words in this report—“but did not strictly enforce the rules until the 2009-2010 school year.”


So here we have a problem. We have a school that is established by, owned and operated by a Christian church, an evangelical congregation. It has 863 students, a fairly large teaching staff, faculty and administrators to run a school of that kind of magnitude, and over a period of time, it evidently did not apply its own hiring policies. Instead, it hired persons who were non-evangelicals. It then at some point—evidently leading up to the 2009-2010 academic year—it decided that that was not wise, that was not a good stewardship of the church’s identity and mission and that of the school as well. And so these employees were terminated. Those fired employees and the school found themselves at the center of a controversy and, as this most recent headline makes clear, the controversy hasn’t gone away. The reason this is now in the news in California is because legal experts are back at the argument, arguing as to whether or not the school was within its rights to fire these employees. The arguments are coming fast and furiously. On one side are secularist arguments saying that it is the religious liberty of employees that should count, not of the school. On the other hand, you have those who are saying no, the school as a confessional school, as a Christian school has a right to hire teachers and only teachers who hold to the same beliefs—evangelical Christian beliefs. There are also those who are saying that this church and the school found themselves in this mess because they hired people who took the jobs in good faith only effectively to change the rules at a later point. But the reality is the major issue here. The issue of most central debate is whether or not the school was within its rights to fire these employees and whether now the school is within its rights to hire only those teachers who will clearly teach in accordance with the church’s doctrine.


This is where the most important legal analysis then enters the picture, and that comes courtesy of the United States Supreme Court in the case known as Hosanna-Mount Tabor that was handed down by the court in 2012. In that case, the Supreme Court of the United States stated clearly, emphatically, unquestionably that a Christian school has a right to hire only Christian teachers and to higher or to fire according to its own theological beliefs without interference from the state, interference from the government. That’s why Alan Reinach, who is the executive director of the church state council of the Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, a lawyer who was sought as counsel by some of those who were terminated by the school, said that it was not the church that aired in this decision, but the EEOC. As he said, religious institutions have a right to dismiss employees because of their religious beliefs even if the employee’s duties are secular in nature. He said, by the way, that he’s a strong believer in the separation of church and state, and allowing religious institutions to hire and fire people based on religious beliefs strengthens that separation. He said, “One of the most basic functions of any faith is transmitting their faith to the next generation. If the state can tell you who to hire and fire, they can tell you what to teach.” That is an emphatically important point. It bears repeating. The attorney said, again, “One of the most basic functions of any faith is transmitting that faith to the next generation.” The next line is incredibly vital: “If the state can tell you who to hire and fire, they can tell you what to teach.” That is absolutely true and that is the bottom-line issue in this account.


But on the other side of the argument, the paper cited Erwin Chemerinsky. I’ve cited him often on The Briefing because of his influential nature as one of America’s primary legal theorist. He’s a man of the left and he is the dean of the University of California Irvine’s law school. He said that though religious schools can impose certain religious belief requirements on ministers and those who teach Bible classes, they can’t do so on those who hold secular positions. Now is he right or is he wrong? Well he’s at least partly right and the way that he’s partly right should have our attention emphatically. It is this: if you have a Christian school that holds that there are certain subjects that are religious subjects and other subjects that are secular subjects, then you fall right into the trap—that school falls right into the trap that Erwin Chemerinsky has set. If you say that these disciplines are secular, then you can’t hire or fire on a theological or doctrinal basis. But that’s where it’s so important that Christians remember (evangelical Christians in particular) that we don’t hold merely to certain doctrines; we are committed to a total worldview. Thus, anything that is taught within a Christian institution is to be taught on a theological basis, an explicitly Christian-worldview basis. That’s not just a matter of constitutional law; far more importantly, it’s a matter of Christian integrity.


But sometimes a story like this functions as a wake-up call for all Christian schools. If you intend to be a Christian school, then you had better hire and fire on a Christian basis. You’d better protect the integrity of your school and what is taught in your school by hiring and firing on the basis of a very clear doctrinal and theological worldview statement. And you also better be very careful. You can’t discriminate in your teaching between areas that are theological and areas that are not, areas in which the Christian worldview applies and areas in which the Christian worldview does not because if you do so, you’re setting yourself up for a constitutional crisis. But far more than that, it’s a theological crisis. The Christian worldview lays claim upon every intellectual and academic discipline bar none. When we forget that, we truly are in trouble.


And speaking of being in trouble, one Christian college finds itself in trouble, if trouble means finding yourself in controversy on the front page of The New York Times. Yesterday’s edition of The New York Times had a front-page story with the headline “College is Torn: Can Darwin and Eden Coexist?” The reporter is Alan Binder. The dateline is Dayton, Tennessee. Some of you will remember immediately that Dayton, Tennessee, was the town in that state where in 1925 the infamous Scopes trial over the issue of evolution and the teaching of evolution in the public schools took place. The school is Bryan College and it’s named for none other than William Jennings Bryan, the man who argued the case against evolution in the Scopes trial.


Many Americans living today do not remember the importance of William Jennings Bryan. He held the Democratic nomination to be president of the United States in 1896, in 1900, and in 1908. In 1896 and in 1900, he was defeated for the presidency by William McKinley. In the year 1908, he was defeated by William Howard Taft. He was also the Secretary of State for Woodrow Wilson until he resigned shortly before World War I because his pacifism ran into conflict with the increasing militarism of the American president. He was one of the major figures on the world stage and one of the most famous names in America. His name was given to a college; a college that was established in Dayton, Tennessee, explicitly in order to combat evolution. But as Binder reports:


William Jennings Bryan earned a permanent place in American history nearly nine decades ago in the Scopes trial, when he stood in a courtroom here and successfully prosecuted a teacher who broke the law by teaching evolution in a public school.


He goes on to say:


The continuing debate at Bryan College and beyond is a reminder of how divisive the issues of the Scopes trial still are, even splitting an institution whose motto is “Christ Above All.”


Here’s what he reports:


Since Bryan College’s founding in 1930, its statement of belief, which professors have to sign as part of their employment contracts, included a 41-word section summing up the institution’s conservative views on creation and evolution, including the statement: “The origin of man was by fiat of God.” But in February [of this year], college officials decided that professors had to agree to an additional clarification declaring that Adam and Eve “are historical persons created by God in a special formative act, and not from previously existing life-forms.”


Now who in the world would be surprised that the trustees and administration of Bryan College of all places would expect that of those who would teach within the institution? But as Binder reports, this has led to a firestorm of controversy within the school and also within the larger constituency. He reports:


For administrators and many members of the governing board at Bryan, the new language is a buffer against what they see as a marked erosion of Christian values and beliefs across the country. But for critics, the clarification amounts to an assault on personal religious views, as well as on the college’s history and sense of community.


But a closer look at this story reveals that there are links between this controversy and the one in Corona, California, and frankly, the controversy that surrounds any school that intends to make very clear it will hold itself and will hold its professors or its teachers to a very clear statement of doctrine. But there’s something else in this story that we need to watch very carefully. Those who are arguing against this more detailed doctrinal statement are saying that, after all, it is more detailed than the one they had a sign in the past and they’re saying that’s not fair, and that there is now an increased binding of their intelligence and their conscience in terms of their role as teachers. And that is true. The question is: is it justified? And I would argue that emphatically it is.


This is one of the great principles of historical theology. You don’t have to require things until you have to require them. In other words, looking through the early centuries of the Christian church, you see that the creeds and confessions get longer. Why do they get longer? Because heretics are denying more doctrines and more principles of doctrine that have to be refuted and have to be corrected. Just to give you an example. When the Baptist Faith and Message was adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention in 1925, it didn’t mention homosexuality. It didn’t mention homosexuality when it was revised in 1963, but it did when it was revised in the year 2000. Why? Because now it is a controversy. Now the issue has to be clarified. No one teaching in any Christian institution should be surprised that over time there are additional affirmations that must be made. Binder cites William Ringenberg, the author of a book on the history of Protestant colleges in the United States. He said, “The struggle for Christian colleges is to try to define how a Christian college is different from a Christian church. Is one different from the other?” The obvious answer to his question is yes, they are different from one another, but not in the respect that is implied here. They are not different in terms of holding to certain definite doctrines. They are not different in terms of having to be confessional and very clear about those doctrines if they intend for those doctrines to be perpetuated into the future.


The article ends with Dr. Ringenberg saying that there’s a constant tension in Christian institutions between a freedom of debate and doctrinal standards. Such debates often take place, he said, as the colleges try to fine tune the balance of faith and education. He said, “Soon enough, the two of them will clash if you’re serious about academics and serious about having a biblical view of Christianity.” That is emphatically true and, of course, the big question is this: When that collision takes place, which wins? If it is not decided upfront that the theological integrity of the institution is paramount, then I guarantee you that whatever is claimed as the latest cause of academic freedom will win and the truth will lose and the academic integrity of the school will be lost. The reality is that no school can serve two masters. You can’t serve a secular ideal of academic freedom and the Christian mandate of theological integrity. Sooner or later every institution will have to make its choice.


Meanwhile back in Washington, President Obama and his administration are at the center of an expanding controversy over the Veteran’s Administration. It starts in Phoenix, Arizona, where several veterans died on the waiting list for medical treatment at the VA hospital there. The accusation is not just that these were mishandled and leading of course to the deaths of these veterans, but also that this is an expanding situation that may include as many as 26 different VA hospitals. And the scandal, however, is directed at the Obama Administration because the press and others with knowledge of the situation claim that the president and his administration were warned about this problem years ago and did nothing. This is leading to a controversy that has led several, including the editorial board of The New York Times, to say that this is a genuine scandal that has landed explosively right in the lap of the president of the United States, who yesterday held a press conference in order to discuss these issues. He made very clear that he was outraged. How do we know that? Because he said he was outraged. He said:


When I hear allegations of misconduct, any misconduct, whether its allegations of VA staff covering up long wait times or cooking the books, I will not stand for it, not as commander-in-chief, but also not as an American. None of us should. So if these allegations prove to be true, it’s dishonorable. It’s disgraceful and I will not tolerate it. Period. I know that people are angry and want swift reckoning. I sympathize with that, but we have to let the investigators do their job and get to the bottom of what happened.


Well observers going all the way from John Stuart to the editorial board of The New York Times and the editorial board of several other major liberal newspapers as well have made very clear they’re not buying the argument. One of the most interesting aspects of this story is something that every leader had better note with grave concern and, furthermore, Christians with particular concern. You can’t say you’re outraged and be believable if you do not appear to be outraged and if your actions do not indicate that you’re outraged. The president of the United States says he’s outraged, and yet he said it in just the way he says just about anything. President Obama, you may remember, came into office promising a rather cool personality, but cool doesn’t work when you’re outraged. The American people expect to see a president outraged over something this outrageous and then respond in a way that matches that outrage. The president thus far has not demonstrated outrage; he’s simply declared it. And furthermore, he has kept his Veteran’s Administration secretary in office, even as the leaders of his own party are calling for the secretary’s resignation.


I’ll let others worry about the politics of the situation. This is certainly something that the president’s going to have to handle and handle quite quickly if it doesn’t explode into an even larger scandal. But my main interest is the leadership dimension here. There’s a key issue of leadership that’s demonstrated when you see the response to a president who says he’s outraged, but doesn’t appear to be believable in terms of that outrage. I’m not questioning the president’s heart. I’m simply stating that we should all learn something here. When you’re outraged and should be outraged, people need to see you act in a way that’s commensurate with the outrage. Merely saying I’m outraged doesn’t solve the problem.


Finally, just two days ago on Tuesday, May 20, 2014, I landed in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. And even as I landed, I all the sudden recognized that was the one-year anniversary of the horrible F-5 tornado that hit a suburb of Oklahoma City last year, the suburb of Moore. You may remember that that tornado, ranked among the strongest ever recorded, wreaked a path of destruction across Oklahoma that left 25 dead, including seven young students at the Plaza Towers Elementary School there in Moore, Oklahoma. So I landed on Tuesday in that proud city one year to the date after that horrifying disaster. I didn’t see disaster and catastrophe when I looked at the city, but that doesn’t mean that the catastrophe is not still there live in the hearts of the people who lost so much and witnessed so much. It’s a reminder to us that when something like this grabs the headlines and soon passes that it doesn’t pass for the people who lived there. So when we think about those who lost so much in Moore, Oklahoma, and pray for them with that in mind, let’s remember there are so many others, once in the headlines but now gone, who still need our concern and our prayers.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. Remember the weekly release of Ask Anything: Weekend Edition. Call with your question in your voice to 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058. For more information, go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

Podcast Transcript

1) Corona school’s right to hold doctrinal standard a matter of integrity of Christian education

CORONA: Questions linger about Christian school’s firings over religion, Press Enterprise (David Olson)

2) Detailed doctrinal statement required by Bryan College over creation entirely justified

Bryan College Is Torn: Can Darwin and Eden Coexist?, New York Times (Alan Blinder)

3) VA scandal in Washington presents lesson in leadership: actions should match words

Troubles With Veterans’ Health Care, New York Times (Editorial Board)

Obama on VA allegations: ‘It is disgraceful, and I will not tolerate it’, Washington Times (Ben Wolfgang)

Why the VA Scandal Is the Real Outrage, Slate (John Dickerson)

4) Anniversary of F5 tornado in Oklahoma;  headlines don’t fade for those who lived them

Moore residents, officials gather to mark anniversary of May 20, 2013, tornado, The Oklahoman (Silas Allen)

No shelter from the storm, The Oklahoman (Juliana Keeping)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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