The Briefing 03-10-15

The Briefing 03-10-15

The Briefing


March 10, 2015

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


It’s Tuesday, March 10, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Footage of OU fraternity’s racist anthem exposes persistence of racism in ‘modern people’ 

Yesterday we talked about the 50th anniversary over the weekend of Black Sunday; that Sunday when violence was visited upon African-American protesters at the now infamous Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. And yet today we find ourselves talking about an incident that wasn’t 50 years in the past, but just a matter of days ago. As Eliott McLaughlin reports for CNN, a video broke Sunday afternoon and into Monday showing members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house at the University of Oklahoma on a bus headed to a fraternity party chanting and singing a violently racist song.

The words that were sung by the members of the fraternity actually cannot be repeated on this program, but they had to do with the fact that they were promising never to allow an African-American young man to become a member of the fraternity – instead they said, ‘you can hang him from a tree, but he can never sign with me.’ After using the most derogatory terms imaginable, these fraternity members at the University of Oklahoma made their racism and their views abundantly clear. And they did so while being videoed apparently by either a member of their own fraternity or someone else who was allowed to be on the fraternity bus at the time.

While it is not at all clear that the members of the fraternity filmed in the video understood they were being recorded singing their racist song, it is clear that they knew the words and it was apparent – at least to many observers of the video – that this was something that was not new to these fraternity members. It appeared to be a song they well knew and knew together. One of the most shocking aspects of this is the sheer brazenness of the racism. And frankly, coming 50 years after Bloody Sunday, what we’re looking at is the realization that racism never actually goes away. Even as some come to terms with the reality of racial equality and come even to champion it as a cause, others are taking up a far more racist ideology.

For many people looking at the video, perhaps the most shocking aspect of it all was the fact that these were privileged young white men who were singing this song. Even as they had to be as educated members of the University of Oklahoma community, they had to be aware of exactly what they were singing; they have to be aware of the symbolism, they had to be aware of the threat they were making even as they were singing songs that celebrated the lynching of African-American males – even as they were singing a song which amounted to a fraternity version of an anthem of white supremacy.

It is shocking to see these young white men of privilege singing this song. It is shocking to believe that members of the so-called millennial generation, who are supposedly a generation so committed to diversity – so embracing of the diversity that marks the demographics of their generation – shocking to see these young men singing that song and singing it in a spirit of fraternal comradery that appeared to be reminiscent (horrifyingly enough) of groups such as the Hitler Youth in the 20th century. It has become increasingly common in recent years to speak of ideas (lasting and pernicious ideas especially) as memes – that is m-e-m-e-s – units of thought that are equivalent to units of biology like genes. Just as parents and previous generations passed down a genetic inheritance to the generations to come, so also is there an ideological and intellectual inheritance that is passed down. And one of the things that is most humbling to us as Christians is the recognition that sin has so marked the human species that these memes (toxic as they are) tend to erupt again and again here and there, showing the pernicious persistence of the most horrifyingly evil ideas; in this case the evil idea is racism. And it is nothing less than shocking to see this video and recognize it is not dated to 1965, it’s not dated to 1975, it’s dated to 2015 – just a matter of days ago.

One thing we also need to note (and this too is important): the response of a society to this kind of incident tells us a great deal about the moral character of a people. And on an issue like racism there is abundant evidence that the response in 2015 was very different than it might’ve been, almost assuredly would’ve been, in 1965. Even as the persistence of racism is important to note, it’s also important to note that this society is now sending a very clear signal about what racism is – identifying it as both sin and evil and responding to it in ways that are neither delayed nor indirect.

The president of the University of Oklahoma, former US Sen. David Boren, responded with tremendous firmness – closing down the fraternity chapter and ordering its inhabitants to move out by midnight tonight. Pres. Boren told a press conference yesterday,

“The house will be closed and as far as I’m concerned, they won’t be back.”

There is also evidence that the University may pay for the misdeeds of this fraternity chapter in ways that might have been unexpected. For instance, in the immediate aftermath measured not in days but in hours of the publicity about this event, African-American recruits to the university’s much respected athletics program began to indicate that either they were not coming or they well may not come. Given the importance of a sport like football in the state of Oklahoma, the biblical adage that the sins of the fathers are visited upon the sons may well be politically reversed with the sins of the sons being visited upon their own fathers.

In his public comments yesterday Pres. Boren also said,

“It was unbelievable that this could have possibly occurred with UO [meaning University of Oklahoma] students. Sooners [speaking of the name by which fans of the University of Oklahoma are known] are not racists, they’re not bigots. There are people who respect each other and care about each other,”

Well to state the obvious, and certainly Pres. Boren knows this, at least some of his students were people who did not respect each other and did not care about each other, at least some of his students did do what he said was unbelievable; at least some of the students are racists and certainly it’s not limited to the young men who were video on that fraternity bus. The reality is that racism is far closer than we want to admit and even as it’s much safer to talk about racism 50 years in the past, it’s much more urgent to talk about the racism that is all too present in the present.

One of the things that Christians must always keep in mind is that we do not get to choose the moral fronts that are addressed to us. We don’t get to choose the videos that erupt in the public square and force the kind of conversation that we must have about this video from the University of Oklahoma. It isn’t fair of course to suggest that the video is indicative of Oklahomans, it’s not fair to say that the video is indicative of all the students or the faculty and administration of the University of Oklahoma. It is fair to say that this was a group of students who had gained admission to the University of Oklahoma and until this video met the eyes of the American public there’s every reason to believe that they could’ve continued on that campus with a more subvert and quiet form of racism, but racism nonetheless.

We can be thankful that just about every cultural authority imaginable has condemned the video and the actions of this fraternity chapter without reservation and without any form of hesitation. But we also need to recognize that we’re talking about young men who evidently felt the freedom, the liberty, to sing this song on their fraternity bus. And as Christians we’re well aware that the biggest problem isn’t what was in their words, but rather what was in their hearts – their words have betrayed them.

We will certainly know a lot more about this story in coming days. There is no way this will not be a major topic of conversation in the news and in the culture for some days to come. But one of the things that Christians also need to think about is what this reveals about America’s meritocracy. A meritocracy is a system whereby people rise to the top, they gain opportunity by the exercise of what is at least claimed to be their talent or their labor, their hard work. In this case what we like to talk about is that America’s meritocracy is made up of those who somehow deserve to be where they are and to enjoy the privileges that they so often are publicly seen to enjoy – in this case, young men who had gain the privilege of admission to the University of Oklahoma. But we need to note that America’s meritocracy, whether it’s on the American college campus or the University culture or the corporate culture or in politics, our meritocracy is increasingly detached from the issue of character.

If you look at official student handbooks just of a couple of generations ago on America’s most prominent colleges and universities, you will see the young men addressed as young men or young gentleman. And you’ll see young women addressed also with very respectful terms. And the understanding was clear, there was an expectation of character and behavior on the American college and University campus but that seems to have largely evaporated – at least on most of America’s most prestigious and America’s public University campuses. Even to cite these old student handbooks seems to have the ring of something from an entire civilization ago. Nowadays young people are admitted to the University on the basis of their grades and scores, or perhaps their athletic ability, not on the basis of their character.

Furthermore, there has been a systemic intellectual assault on the very idea of character. Add to that the fact that we see scandal after scandal in athletic programs, in academic programs, scandal after scandal on college and University campuses where people are misbehaving – not only students for that matter, but also faculty – because just about whatever generation you observe, the reality is that America’s meritocracy is, as we just said, increasingly separated from any question of character. Christians are those who understand that you can never take character out of the equation; that character always remains central. And if you deny the importance of character, as a culture, as a society, as a campus, don’t be surprised when a video like the one that erupted just in recent days of this fraternity chapter at the University of Oklahoma should meet the social media world and digitally explode. Because when you separate meritocracy from character what you end up with is a bunch of privileged young white men singing a song that sounds hauntingly enough like something right out of a chapter of the Hitler youth.

2) Lesson for evangelical institutions to hire according to convictions underlined by San Francisco controversy

In recent days, looking at the inevitable intersection between religious institutions and infringements upon religious liberty, I looked at the controversy that followed the Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco, Salvatore Cordileone, as he recently issued a policy that the teachers in Catholic high schools in his diocese had to uphold Catholic teaching privately and publicly. Now as the story says, to make very clear, in the San Francisco media and beyond, what the Archbishop did was to require (in terms of changes in the faculty handbook) those who would teach in the Roman Catholic high schools in his diocese to do nothing that would in any way publicly dissent from or violate Catholic moral teaching.

As I reported last week, citing the New York Times, in Oakland three teachers quit rather than to adhere to the rules. But as the Times reported in San Francisco, in addition to the petitions and protest, eight state legislatures from the Bay Area asked the Archbishop to withdraw the clause as discriminatory. Two of them called for an investigation, accusing Archbishop of using religion – in the words of the legislators –as,

“As a Trojan horse to deprive our fellow citizens of their basic civil rights,”

This is one of those very important stories that just gets more important as the story unfolds and that seems to be the case as every day goes by. In yesterday’s edition of the Los Angeles Times we are told that the response not only in the community but in his schools has been very fierce opposition – at least on the part of some very vocal forces. Lee Romney reporting yesterday for the Los Angeles Times writes,

“Eighty percent of faculty and staff at the four San Francisco archdiocese high schools subject to the archbishop’s new moral strictures have signed a petition rejecting his additions to the handbook for the next school year.”

Now before I read any further in this article, let this be a warning to anyone who hires anyone in a religious institution. If you have 80% of those who are teaching in your school complaining about your policy to uphold the convictions of your church, you have done a very poor job of hiring teachers. And it’s abundantly clear that the archdiocese there in San Francisco has done an exceedingly poor job of hiring Catholic teachers to teach in Catholic high schools.

Furthermore, we also come to understand as we read the media reports that the archdiocese has been hiring many people who weren’t Catholic at all and is now expecting all of them to uphold Catholic teaching. Now let me be clear, I believe it is not only the right but the responsibility of the Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco to require every teacher in the Catholic schools in his diocese to uphold publicly and privately Catholic doctrine. But the first principle of that hiring thus should be: hire Catholics; and if you’re hiring Catholic, higher real Catholics. The lesson in mirror form for evangelicals is this: if we intend for our institutions to be genuinely evangelical in doctrine, in morality, in conviction, then we must higher self-confessing, privately and publicly committed evangelicals, and only such evangelicals to teach in our schools.

It makes no sense to hire people from outside our own convictions and then be surprised when we find ourselves in conflict with them over convictional matters. But there are huge religious liberty issues that are at stake in the controversy there in San Francisco. As Romney writes,

“[The controversy] comes in the wake of unanimous approval Tuesday by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors of a resolution calling Cordileone’s efforts to bring employees in line with strict sexual teachings ‘contrary to shared San Francisco values of non-discrimination, women’s rights, inclusion, and equality for all humans.’”

One of the interesting things to note by the way in that statement from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is that evidently they have to use the word ‘humans’ rather than saying something like ‘men and women.’ The failure of these Catholic schools to hire truly Catholic teachers is something that must now be something of an embarrassment to them. Frankly, it has put them in a very weak position. But still, the fact that you have the Board of Supervisors of a major American city calling upon the head of the Roman Catholic Church in that diocese to reverse course from upholding Catholic teaching in the schools of that diocese, that is an outrage that can’t pass by American evangelicals without us understanding that you could very quickly put one of us in that same position of censure. We’re talking about a city Board of Supervisors and in the same state we’re talking at least about some legislators who have threatened to investigate the Archbishop and to bring some form of political pressure against him, charging him with discrimination.

Well let’s be abundantly clear: shame upon any Roman Catholic archbishop who doesn’t discriminate on the basis of Catholic teaching, and shame upon any evangelical who doesn’t discriminate in hiring and in terms of the basic curricular decisions in terms of discriminating for evangelical conviction. If evangelical Christians do not exercise due diligence and care in the teaching of our students and the hiring of our faculty and the formation of our curriculum, then we’ll find ourselves in a position of equal embarrassment with that now being experienced by the Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco. And watch the religious liberty front with extreme care and deep interest because what’s happening in San Francisco won’t stay in San Francisco and of that you can be abundantly sure.

3) Secular media shocked by theological shape of evangelical support for Israel

Finally, a case study in how the secular media deals of all things with a theological subject that they at least recognize is theological. And the fact that it’s such a surprise to them that this theological conviction would exist, well that tells us a great deal about the media and about the media’s attempt in the secular age to try to understand us. This article appeared in Sunday’s edition of the New York Times, it’s a column by Frank Bruni entitled Christians loving Jews. The background to the article is Bruni’s surprise that the response of appreciation for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech seem to come even more from American evangelical Christians than from America’s increasingly secular Jews.

This cause Bruni to want asked some questions and as he was trying to answer these questions, he came across some serious theological issues. As he was trying to understand why so many American evangelicals are so supportive of Israel in general and so supportive of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu specifically, the question was ‘why?’ and the answer turned out was theological. And it turns out that this answer was news, or at least certainly appears to be news, to the editorial pages of the New York Times.

To his credit Frank Bruni understands that the answer to this question is theological. And then he writes two really interesting paragraphs. Paragraph 1:

“Some evangelical Christians’ interest in Israel reflects an interpretation of the Bible’s prophetic passages that’s known as premillennial dispensationalism. It maintains that the End of Days can play out as God intends only if Jews govern Israel and have reconstructed a temple on the Temple Mount, where there’s now a mosque.”

That’s paragraph 1, here comes paragraph 2. Again I quote:

“But just a subset of evangelicals subscribe to that. Others are motivated by their belief, rooted in scripture, that God always intended Israel for Jews and that honoring that and keeping Israel safe is a way of honoring God. God’s blessing of America, they feel, cannot be divorced from America’s backing of Israel.”

Now in response to that I simply want to say that Frank Bruni has well described two evangelical understandings of the relationship between our convictions and the nation of Israel. There is a third, which he does not treat in his article, and that’s the belief on the part of many American evangelicals that Israel is a very necessary vessel for the protection of the Jewish people and the sustenance of Jewish identity until that great turn to the gospel that is revealed to us in the book of Romans on the part of the Jewish people can be accomplished. If you put it all together the bottom line is this: the vast majority of American evangelicals see a very special significance to the land of Israel, but far more see a very special significance to the Jewish people.

And in terms of the geopolitics of our generation, it’s also abundantly clear (at least too American Christians, overwhelmingly to American evangelicals) that the fate of Israel has a great deal to do with the fate of the Jewish people in the world today. This leads me to an issue of which many American Christians seem to be unaware and that is that most of the modern founders of the state of Israel, Zionist to a person, were largely secular Jews. They were largely operating out of a secular worldview. They no longer saw the Jewish people as the covenant people of God. Several of them were openly agnostic; others of them were officially secular. Secularism was not the universal worldview and belief of the founders of the Israeli state but it was nonetheless seemingly the majority opinion in that generation and frankly the majority opinion now.

But the reality is that American evangelical Christians committed to the worldview of the Bible cannot fail to see an important role for Israel. We can’t fail to understand a very important issue in terms of the Jewish people. And whether one is committed as a dispensationalist or one who is committed to a form of covenant theology, the reality is we understand the importance of speaking as a friend of the Jewish people; and in this era, also speaking as a friend of the Jewish nation.

Looking at Frank Bruni’s column I think I can understand what raised the question in his mind. How is it that when it comes to American evangelical support for Israel, what it appears to demonstrate is that American evangelicals think in theological terms about the Jewish people even when the Jewish people don’t necessarily think in theological terms about themselves? That’s an irony that shouldn’t be missed either by the editorial page of the New York Times nor by us.


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Podcast Transcript

1) Footage of OU fraternity’s racist anthem exposes persistence of racism in ‘modern people’ 

Oklahoma school’s response to video caught between racism, Civil Rights Act, CNN (Eliott McLaughlin)

University of Oklahoma Fraternity Closed After Racist Video Is Posted Online, New York Times (Liam Stack)

University of Oklahoma fraternity closed after racist chant, Washington Post (Justin Moyer)

Oklahoma loses 4-star OT’s commitment after racist fraternity video surfaces, report says, Times-Picayune (Amos Morale III)

2) Lesson for evangelical institutions to hire according to convictions underlined by San Francisco controversy

Morals Clause in Catholic Schools Roils Bay Area, New York Times (Carol Pogash)

S.F. archdiocese teachers overwhelmingly reject moral strictures, Los Angeles Times (Lee Romney)

3) Secular media shocked by theological shape of evangelical support for Israel

Christians Loving Jews, New York Times (Frank Bruni)



R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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