The Briefing 02-02-15

The Briefing 02-02-15

The Briefing


February 2, 2015

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


It’s Monday, February 2, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) CUNY revocation of gender-specific prefixes signals extent of gender revolution’s impact on language

Even as we are made in the image of God, God created us as linguistic creatures; we are creatures who communicate and words are central to that communication. That is made very clear in Scripture itself as our Creator addresses us as His human creatures, the only creatures made in His image with words. Therefore words take an unusual importance in the Christian worldview. That’s why Christian theology, Christian doctrine, the entire universe of truth as revealed in Scripture, comes down to a pattern of words. Even as the apostle Paul would write to Timothy, one of his responsibilities was to maintain a pattern of sound words and that is a responsibility that continues even now in the Christian church.

When we observe a change in language we’re observing something more than linguistics, we’re watching a massive change in the way human beings think of themselves and think of the issues they are describing with words and think of the truth they are seeking to articulate – or the truth they are seeking to deny.

That’s why Christians should pay particular attention to a story that emerged last week and got far too little attention. As the Wall Street Journal’s Mike Vilensky reports,

“‘Mr.,’ ‘Mrs.’ and ‘Ms.’ are being shown the door at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.”

As the Journal reports,

“In a new policy that has sparked debate among academics, school staffers have been advised to refrain from using gendered salutations in correspondence with students—and instead use a student’s full name, according to an internal memo sent out earlier this month.

The directive [according to the Journal,] pertains specifically to administrators’ written interactions with students and prospective students,”

That [is] according to Tanya Domi, a school spokeswoman for the City University of New York. But the memo says the policy should be,

“…interpreted as broadly as possible”

And it was sent to all faculty at the Graduate Center.

Juliette Blevins, linguistic professor, said,

“My interpretation was that I was being asked to adhere to this policy, as were the other professors who received the letter,”

She had good reason for that assumption. The College Fix, that received an actual copy of the memo, demonstrates why this professors concern is very well-founded. Here’s the explicit language of the memo itself,

“Effective Spring 2015, the (graduate center’s) policy is to eliminate the use of gendered salutations and references in correspondence to students, prospective students, and third parties,”

That came from Louise Lennihan, serving as interim provost of the graduate center.

“Accordingly, Mr. and Ms. should be omitted from salutations.”

Again the provost instructed all members of the staff to interpret the new policy “as broadly as possible,” also stating that it applies to,

“All types of correspondence, such as: all parts of any letter including address and salutation, mailing labels, bills or invoices, and any other forms or reports,”

Again, the memo from the Provost instructs the staff, including professors, to avoid using ‘Mr.,’ ‘Mrs.,’ ‘Ms.,’ or any gendered pronoun, and instead to refer to students always by both their first and last names. If you asked the question ‘why?’ the interim provost answers the question, saying that it is part of the schools,

“ongoing effort to ensure a respectful, welcoming and gender-inclusive learning environment…and to accommodate properly the diverse population of current and prospective students.”

The spokeswoman for the school also said that the schools was,

“working within a regulatory framework to comply with Title IX legal principles,”

That’s referring to the Title IX Federal Statute the bands gender discrimination, sex discrimination, and other forms of discrimination in all educational settings that receive any government support.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal was unable to find any other major school – indeed any other school at all – in the New York tri-state area that followed a similar kind of policy. As the Journal reports,

“Calls to several prominent universities in the New York tri-state area revealed that none had heard of—or had themselves instituted—such a directive.”

So much for work being mandated by Title IX. What it is being mandated by, so to speak, is the current realm of political correctness and the fact that the gender revolution has destroyed our ability to use some of the most familiar words in the English language. And they’re not just familiar words, they are very important words; important especially in terms of the moral nature of human beings and human social institutions – most importantly, the institution of marriage.

This moral revolution is already changing the way we speak, or are expected to speak. Words as fundamental as male and female, boy and girl, words as fundamental as marriage, are being redefined before our very eyes. Redefined in the space not only of a century but redefined in the space of far less than a generation, indeed at this point, even less than a decade.

Just days ago we reported that the governor of Virginia was doing his best to get the state law changed so that the words husband and wife would be removed from all legal documents in that state. Instead it would simply be spouse and spouse – or in other jurisdictions, partner and partner. So we’re now entering that brave new world in which words such as ‘mother and father’ or ‘mom and dad’ are simply becoming too confused or perhaps even too controversial to use in almost any public setting. Words such as boy and girl, words such as man and woman, are now being largely so confused in the larger culture that now to use them is considered a form of discrimination in one sort or another; sometimes described in very harrowing terms.

Every revolution does seem to come with a change in language. In the Communist Revolution people were informed that they should address one another not as mother and father, brother and sister, nor as Mr. and Mrs. but simply in all cases, regardless of age or gender or marital status or anything else, simply as ‘Comrade.’ Another ideological revolution, the French Revolution, instead suggested that every single person – indeed it was more than a suggestion, it was a mandate – should be known simply as ‘Citizen.’ But in both of those revolutions, not only political and economic revolutions but of course moral revolutions as well, the change in language was an effort to reduce every single human being to the same thing; to make issues of gender identity, of age difference, of marital status, to make all of these things absolutely irrelevant.

In the French Revolution part of it was to get rid of any kind of noblesse oblige, any kind of noble status. But in the aftermath of the French Revolution, a secular revolution that sought explicitly to put human dignity on a secular foundation, what instead happened was what was known as ‘the Terror’ that left Napoleon in its wake. So let’s watch this particular revolution very carefully and just remember it didn’t stop with marriage, it didn’t stop with man and woman, it won’t stop with Mr. and Mrs. or even with Ms.

2) “Second wave” political correctness causing increasing tension even within political left

Meanwhile, the very same week a very important article appeared in New York Magazine. It was written by liberal author Jonathan Chait and the title was Not a Very PC Thing to Say. It’s about political correctness and Jonathan Chait writing an article that, as other observers have said, is actually more right than wrong – even as he’s writing about the resurgence of political correctness, what he calls a second wave of political correctness. And yet what basically has his attention – and this is very important to note – is not any form of political correctness used against moral and political conservatives, but rather against political liberals; and he counts himself as one.

As Jonathan Chait writes,

“After political correctness burst onto the academic scene in the late ’80s and early ’90s, it went into a long remission. Now it has returned. Some of its expressions have a familiar tint, like the protesting of even mildly controversial speakers on college campuses.”

He then writes about the growing number of campuses that are adopting so-called trigger warnings. He describes these as warnings to texts that may upset students. And he says the movement of the new political correctness is also coming back in a campaign to eradicate what are called micro-aggressions – or small social slights that might cause searing trauma. He then writes, and I quote,

“These newly fashionable terms merely repackage a central tenet of the first p.c. movement: that people should be expected to treat even faintly unpleasant ideas or behaviors as full-scale offenses”

Chait then writes,

“Trigger warnings aren’t much help in actually overcoming trauma — an analysis by the Institute of Medicine has found that the best approach is controlled exposure to it, and experts say avoidance can reinforce suffering. Indeed, one professor at a prestigious university told me that, just in the last few years, she has noticed a dramatic upsurge in her students’ sensitivity toward even the mildest social or ideological slights; she and her fellow faculty members are terrified of facing accusations of triggering trauma — or, more consequentially, violating her school’s new sexual-harassment policy — merely by carrying out the traditional academic work of intellectual exploration.”

The professor say,

“This is an environment of fear, believe it or not. [She went on to say] Every other day I say to my friends, ‘How did we get back to 1991?’”

Chait is also absolutely right when he says it would be mistake to categorize today’s PC culture as only an academic phenomenon. He writes that this new PC wave is permeating the entire culture, even reaching popular culture through the elites. He then goes on to define it as an,

“…attempt to regulate political discourse by defining opposing views as bigoted and illegitimate”

Interestingly Jonathan Chait tries to draw a distinction between liberalism and the left. That’s not a false distinction, it’s just growing very confusing when in the United States liberals are acting like leftists, and increasingly so. As he explains, leftists are traditionally Marxist; they are committed to a Marxist philosophy and worldview. And Marxism, historically, and right down to the present in its pure form, doesn’t allow for any validity to dissenting worldviews, to any kind of dissenting opinion. They’re simply to be eradicated. Classical liberalism, says Chait, is quite different. It is supposed to be about the freedom of expression and he considers himself not a leftist but a liberal. The problem is other liberals are trending leftist.

National ReviewMagazine has quite accurately pointed out that Jonathan Chait really isn’t concerned about political correctness being used against any conservative arguments. As a matter fact, he’s been using them for years. But it is at least a form of honesty, some form of progress in terms of the culture, if Jonathan Chait realizes that this new wave of political correctness is going to shut down even more speech.

Another reason Chait’s essay is so important is because of the historical review he offers of the first wave of political correctness that he said died in the nearly 90s, and the second wave that is in full steam now. Why did that first face of PC die? Jonathan Chait argues it was probably due to the election of William Jefferson Clinton as president of the United States. When Bill Clinton was elected in 1992, he was elected after running against the kind of political correctness that was giving such a bad name to the political left – especially to the academic left.

Bill Clinton’s effort to at least partly mitigate some of the liberalism of the Democratic Party’s academic left – the left that was also left over in terms of the leadership of the party from the early 1970s – Bill Clinton was at least partly successful, but only temporarily so. That explained why he was elected as president in 1992 perceived as something of a corrective to that academic left. But it also explains, as Jonathan Chait also helps us to understand, why another Clinton campaign for president might run into a very significant headwind in terms of this new movement of political correctness.

If the death of the first wave is, as he argues, the election of Bill Clinton, the second wave is going to make it very difficult for Hillary Clinton to avoid citing either with or against this new wave of PC. And as Jonathan Chait seems to indicate, it looks like it’s going to be very hard indeed for her to repudiate what her husband did in 1992. It’s far more likely that she will run on it rather than against it.

That raises an article that appeared yesterday as an opinion piece in the New York Times by Ross Douthat. He writes about Our Loud, Proud Left and he writes suggesting that a good many of us are going to be interested spectators in the war in the Democratic Party over these very issues. Douthat makes the very interesting argument that the spent economic energy of the left – as he said, the left would be filled with economic passion but is finding a very difficult time figuring out how to pay for its plans – he says that that kind of energy is now being directed into this form of cultural aggression, in the form of the new PC wave.

One particular paragraph in Douthat’s article demands our attention. He writes,

“I suspect that a lot of the ambition (or aggression, depending on your point of view) from the campus left right now reflects the experience of watching the same-sex marriage debate play out. Whether on issues, like transgender rights, that extend from gay rights, or on older debates over rape and chauvinism, there’s a renewed sense that what happens in relatively cloistered environments can have wide ripples, and that taking firm control of a cultural narrative can matter much more than anything that goes on in Washington.”

Of course many of us watching these developments with concern might well wonder if the academic left isn’t basically right about that fundamental assumption – that their ideas don’t remain cloistered for all, and that, like on the issue the sexual revolution, if they really can’t foment a revolution of ideas on the college campus, it’s unlikely to stay there. As a matter fact it’s hard for us to argue against that very fundamental assumption – that what happens on the American college and University campuses long-term far more important than what happens in Washington, regardless of which party is in control.

The reason for that is clear. On the American College and University campus, that’s where the issue of worldview is being hammered out. That’s where young people are developing the ideas that are likely to last for a lifetime. And if you win the battle there – the ideological, the worldview battle –you win battles that are far more consequential than anything that can take place in politics. Furthermore, you win a worldview conflict that will eventually be reflected in the politics. If you win the hearts and minds, you will eventually win the legislature.

And you put all this together in terms of the change of nomenclature at City University of New York and Jonathan Chait’s essay in New York Magazine and we come to understand that the fast changing cultural terrain that we as Christians now face is going to be a cultural debate that will in large part be hammered out without us.

3) Life of Winston Churchill presents tremendous example of gift of common grace

Finally last Friday I noted that that day marked the 50th anniversary of the state and private funerals for Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, by any measure, one of most dominant figures of the 20th century. Churchill was born on November 30, 1874; he died on January 24 of 1965. His state funeral was held on January 30 of that year, 50 years ago Friday. It was a largest state funeral in Western history. It drew representatives of 112 nations and it is now remembered, on both sides of the Atlantic, as one of the seminal transitional moments in the history the Western world – especially in the 20th century.

Churchill’s life was lived out in the canvas of a changing world. He was born in the reign of Queen Victoria and his life was bookmarked by another Queen, Queen Elizabeth II, whom he served as Prime Minister. In one way or another he served three Kings as well as one Queen. And the Queen during whose reign he was born was a defining mark in terms of the worldview of Winston Churchill. He was born a Victorian; he died in the last half of the 20th century. In between was a vast cataclysmic change in the way that Westerners lived, especially in the history of the nation of England.

And if anything, Winston Churchill was English, British, and he was of course also half American. His mother Jennie Jerome was an American before marrying the man who would become Winston Churchill’s father: Randolph Churchill. Churchill’s illustrious ancestor was the first famous Churchill – that is John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough – famous for his massive military victories on the continent. But as the first son born to the second son of the then Duke of Marlborough, Churchill was unsurprisingly born in the splendor of one of Britain’s most fabulous palace: Blenheim Palace.

But he had spectacularly unhappy childhood. His mother was very remote; he described her as a distant star, and his father was even more remote, even in many ways, at least emotionally, abusive. His father and Churchill’s teachers believed that Churchill the boys would amount to nothing as a man. But of course history demonstrates otherwise, as the history of the late 19th and 20th centuries simply can’t be written without reference to Winston Churchill. And as a matter of fact, as the man who became prime minister not once but twice, he is recognized in Great Britain and was recognized even during his lifetime, as the man most singularly responsible for that nation’s victory over Nazi Germany and its failure to capitulate to the Germans even in the early years of the Nazi aggression. The man who stuttered and stammered as a child became one of the most famous orators of the English language. As he himself said, he was not a lion but it was his responsibility, indeed his privilege, to become the roar for England.

One of the things that history will record about Winston Churchill is that in those political years known as his wilderness years when he was out of office, he was the one who most clearly understood the Nazi threat. And he understood it precisely because he knew it was a battle of ideas and when it came to the Nazis deeply evil ideas. And he understood that a nation could be organized, at least in terms of its leadership, around those ideas and could voice them upon its people.

When I was 13 years old I was assigned the task to write an essay on an historical person and for some reason I just immediately decided I would write a Winston Churchill. In retrospect I’m not even sure exactly why. But I’ll admit that that experience of writing the essay as a 13-year-old made Winston Churchill for me from then until now an enduring character of fascination. And from the Christian worldview Winston Churchill raises a host of issues. For the one thing, he demonstrates the fact that the great man theory of history isn’t really dead because even the people who tried to dismiss the singular role of individuals in terms of world history are hard-pressed when you look at the middle years of the 20th century to explain why horrors happened without reference to someone like Adolf Hitler, and why eventually liberty prevailed without reference to people like Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

But even though Roosevelt led the larger and greater nation, especially in terms of the years after the war, it was Churchill that had the outsized personality on the world stage. Churchill was a man of many faults and a man of even greater qualities. He was a man who was often wrong, but far more often right. And he was a man who lived long enough to see his own understanding of Nazi Germany not only vindicated but eventually represented by victory – something that was all too uncertain when he became prime minister in the very depth of the Nazi crisis. Churchill’s life does demonstrate that individuals can make a decisive difference on the world scene. The great man theory of history may not be adequate to explain history but history cannot be explained without it.

But as a Christian theologian, there is another aspect of Winston Churchill that is also raised and that is, how did someone with his worldview emerge and how did someone with his worldview lead in terms especially of those central years of crisis in the 20th century? He understood, prior to almost any other, the real danger of Nazi-ism. He also understood, prior to almost everyone else, the real danger of the totalitarian challenge of communism – especially of Soviet communism. It was his speech given just after the war when he was unceremoniously removed from office by the British people, a speech he gave in Fulton, Missouri at Westminster College in which he described that Iron Curtain that was descending upon so many nations in Europe. And that says Churchill was not only prophetic, he was also – as William Manchester, one of his most insightful biographer says – a Manichaean; seeing so many issues in terms of right and wrong and good and evil when others are trying to finesse the moral issues involved. Churchill was not about finesse.

But Winston Churchill also raises another issue for Christians and that is this: how can there be figures of such heroism on the world stage who – as in the case of Winston Churchill – was actually not conventional Christian believers. In truth Winston Churchill operated out of a Christian worldview, it was the worldview he inherited and it was the worldview he embraced. But he offered very little evidence of any traditional Christian identity; even as he was, of course, a member of the Church of England. But for Christians this also reminds us of God’s gift of common grace whereby people we can’t explain theologically we can admire historically. But it also means for Christians, when we define greatness there is a limitation to secular greatness and that’s another thing Christians must always keep in mind.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. 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) CUNY revocation of gender-specific prefixes signals extent of gender revolution’s impact on language

CUNY: Don’t Address Students as ‘Mr.’ or ‘Ms.’, Wall Street Journal (Mike Vilensky)

University Bans Use of ‘Mrs.’ and ‘Ms.’ in All Correspondence, The College Fix (Alexandra Zimmern)

2) “Second wave” political correctness causing increasing tension even within political left

Not a Very P.C. Thing to Say, New York Magazine (Jonathan Chait)

Liberals Seek PC Exemption, National Review (Kevin D. Williamson)

Our Loud, Proud Left, New York Times (Ross Douthat)

3) Life of Winston Churchill presents tremendous example of gift of common grace


R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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