The Briefing 09-03-15
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, September 3, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Portland Catholic school reverses policy on gay employees in less than 48 hours
Just how fast does moral change take place? We’ve been noting repeatedly how the moral revolution taking place around us has accelerated in terms of its velocity. And yet an article coming from the Pacific Northwest raises a very urgent question, just how fast can moral change take place within the life of just one school or one institution? The entire series of events covered in this controversy took place basically in just one week , last week, and it took place mostly within about 48 hours and that’s the point.
Reporter Shelby Sebens for Reuters indicates that a Catholic high school in Portland, Oregon has reversed its policy on gay employees after receiving a public backlash for refusing to hire a woman because she is a lesbian. The school is identified as St. Mary’s Academy there in Portland. It is an all-girls school that is identified with the Catholic Church, the school board of that school voted unanimously late Wednesday of last week to add sexual orientation to its equal employment opportunity policy. But the controversy had emerged because also revealed last week; the school had turned down by its administration a candidate for a position as academic counselor because it was revealed that the woman was a lesbian.
In the middle of last week, the president of the school Christina Friedhoff indicated that because of the school’s Catholic identity it was led to make this decision. In a letter sent to families of the school she said,
“St. Mary's nurtures the Catholic identity, practice, culture and mission on which we were founded. We understand that others may hold different values, and we respect the right of individuals in society to do so. At the same time, as a Catholic high school we are obligated to follow current Catholic teachings regarding same-sex marriage in our employment practices.”
And yet, just about 24 hours later, the same president announced that the school had changed its policy now no longer in line with Catholic teaching, but in defiance of that very moral teaching, indicating reports the Portland Oregonian that the school now,
“Welcomes and includes gay and lesbian students, faculty, alumni, parents and friends, including those that are married”
In continuing her statement the school’s president, Christina Friedhoff also said this,
"We are proud of our work preparing the next generation of women leaders for service and leadership. We are still deeply committed to our Catholic identity."
In a very important book entitled The Dying of the Light, James Tunstead Burtchaell of the University of Notre Dame indicated the process whereby schools forfeit their religious identity, the very religious convictions upon which they were established. Here in a microcosm in a single school in this case, a Catholic girl’s high school from the Pacific Northwest, we see an example of how that shift takes place not over a generation, not certainly over a century, over the process of about 48 hours. The story is actually so important; it’s instructive to look back to the two statements made by the head of the school in about two successive days. On the one hand she said,
“St. Mary's nurtures the Catholic identity, practice, culture and mission on which we were founded. We understand that others may hold different values, and we respect the right of individuals in society to do so.”
But then remember these words,
“At the same time, as a Catholic high school we are obligated to follow current Catholic teachings regarding same-sex marriage in our employment practices.”
And yet just a day later all that is reduced to,
“We are still deeply committed to our Catholic identity.”
The author of The Dying of the Light is no longer alive, but his argument is as relevant as could possibly be. Here we have the story of just one school in Portland, Oregon that absolutely reversed its policies on matters related to sexuality and marriage and did so in the process of just about two days and did so on the one day claiming it was obligated to follow Catholic teaching and in the next day when it merely said it is committed to its Catholic identity. The importance of the story is by no means limited to this Catholic school and to the Roman Catholic Church. This is the same pattern that is found in so many other institutions that are established by communities of deep conviction in particular churches and denominations and then turned and reject those very convictions that is what Burtchaell is talking about in terms of the dying of the light. How schools founded on one worldview eventually adopt a worldview that is directly contradictory and hostile to the very convictions upon which those schools were established.
Burtchaell was clear in his book written two decades ago that the general process can be tied to larger cultural change, it has to be and the process is also tied to two things that are of crucial importance. The first is outside pressure from the larger culture and that’s very present in this story having to do with St. Mary’s Academy. The major outside pressure was coming from Tim Boyle, who was the CEO of Columbia sportswear identified as a major donor to the school who said that he and his wife had been “Extremely disappointed.”
In the news that the school had turned down this job applicant and he was clearly threatening to remove his financial support, unless the school joined the moral revolution, which as we know it shortly did. But the second thing Burtchaell pointed out is that it’s not only external pressure that brings about this kind of change, it is also an internal unwillingness to define the issues and that’s exactly what we also see here. The news reports make very clear that there was incredible pressure brought upon the school not just from outside, but from within, especially from students who organized to protest the administration’s decision. This school in Portland that becomes a microcosm for what is happened to so many institutions, to so many colleges and so many universities, any honest observer would have to concede that most of the institutions of higher learning established by Christian churches have been lost to those churches and we would also have to say that those schools did not shift into some kind of neutral secular position, but rather into a set of convictions that is openly hostile to the convictions that gave the schools their birth.
In the letter to families written by the head of school last week she also said,
“St. Mary’s is grounded in the Catholic religion.”
Then in just a matter of hours after the policy that was consistent with the church’s position was reversed for one that was not she said,
“We are still deeply committed to our Catholic identity.”
It takes an incredible convictional fortitude to hold back the forces outside our institutions, outside our churches, outside our denominations, demanding that we change our positions in order to join the moral revolution. But we weaken our situation fatally when we allow those pressures to arise within our institutions and even more fundamental than that we set the stage for an inevitable collapse of conviction when we exchange doctrine and truth for mere identity and heritage. So we ask again the question with which we began, just how quickly does a moral revolution take place and we have to answer the question, here it looks like it took place in about 48 hours. But we then know that’s not exactly true. Any honest assessment would acknowledge that the stage was set for this convictional collapse long before it happened. The moment the convictions of this institution were put up for renegotiation and reconsideration, the battle was in effect already lost.
UT's proposed gender pronoun policy exposes presence of morality shift even in Bible Belt
Yesterday, we talked about a controversy at Washington State University over language related to male and female and then that very day comes a series of headlines telling us of another institution in pretty much the same predicament. But in this case, what’s instructive is the fact that this isn’t at Washington State University, this is the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. And as much as I didn’t plan to talk about this same issue two days in a row, the fact that this headline has erupted makes the very point that I have to. It would be easy for many people in the Bible Belt in the United States as it has been known to dismiss that story from Washington State University, as if its way out there in the Pacific Northwest, far away from the great center of the evangelical subculture in the United States, but you can’t say that about Knoxville, Tennessee, and that’s the point. The Nashville Tennessean, reported yesterday,
“University of Tennessee students have been asked to use gender-neutral pronouns such as "ze."
“The University of Tennessee Office for Diversity and Inclusion is asking students and faculty to use the pronouns in order to create a more inclusive campus, multiple media outlets report.”
The actual document upon which the stories are built is available online and it’s on the University’s webpage. The director of the Pride Center at the University of Tennessee wrote,
“Transgender people and people who do not identify within the gender binary may use a different name than their legal name and pronouns of their gender identity, rather than the pronouns of the sex they were assigned at birth.”
Now before going anywhere else in the story, the most important thing for us to recognize is the stark and unbridgeable chasm between those for whom this kind of argument makes sense and those for whom it can never make sense.
The document posted at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville’s website says,
“We should not assume someone’s gender by their appearance, nor by what is listed on a roster or in student information systems. Transgender people and people who do not identity within the gender binary may use a different name than their legal name and pronouns of their gender identity, rather than the pronouns of the sex they were assigned at birth.”
The article tells professors how they are to take roll in the classroom,
“In the first weeks of classes, instead of calling roll, ask everyone to provide their name and pronouns. This ensures you are not singling out transgender or non-binary students. The name a student uses may not be the one on the official roster, and the roster name may not be the same gender as the one the student now uses.”
Now at this point we simply have to interject, how in the world is this going to work? It’s actually such an obvious question that many in the mainstream media have at least been honest enough to ask it. How can this work when according to this new ideology, an individual may have a different gender identity from one day to the next, and a different name from one day to the next, and different preferred pronouns from one day to the next? We saw that in one school in this case, a secondary school not a University, the suggestion was made to teachers that they ask students every single day, what is your preferred pronoun? Just a few days ago, The Independent, a major British newspaper reported on developments in the United States, indicating that the University of California at Berkeley has made the decision to include six gender categories on its applications. Those categories by the way at the University of California, Berkeley will include,
“Male, female, trans male/trans man, trans female/trans woman, gender queer/gender non-conforming and different identity.”
The University of California has suggested a whole new set of pronouns,
“Instead of "he" or "she", there is "ze" or "xe". For "him" or "her", it could be "them" or "they" (so eliminating gender by talking about the person in the plural).”
You are told not to do that in English class by the way. Or according to newspaper it could be,
“It could be "zem" or "xir" or "hir". So, "I can see zem" or "Have you seen xir?"
To that I can only respond we should have seen ‘zis’ coming. One of the central issues we need to make clear here is this points to the incoherence of the new transgender ideology. It simply doesn’t work even if you try to apply this ideology as its activists are calling for, you really can’t figure out exactly what to do, it becomes an unworkable system. That truth is made very clear by Jonathan Turley; we’ve cited him on this program many times, one of the most influential law professors in the United States who teaches at George Washington University. He said in response to these proposals,
“As an academic, this would be a pretty daunting task for keep[ing] track of so many options," he says on his legal blog. “I have a class of around 130 students. More importantly, I am still behind the learning curve on what terms like “xyr” mean, though Braquet insists that this is just part of learning the new lingo for a new age.”
By any measure, Jonathan Turley has to be recognized as one who has been driving this moral revolution and yet he now says he’s not sure how to apply this in class. The options are just too daunting. According to at least some media reports, the University of Tennessee has said that this is not a mandate simply a set of suggestions coming from one of its official offices. But the very fact that the story almost instantly made the Nashville Tennessean and beyond that worldwide media, indicates that what we’re looking at here is not just a development that can be limited to the academic fringe. We’re not just talking here about the University of California at Berkeley, we’re talking about the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. That raises another issue from the Christian worldview, we need to recognize that the culture with which one identifies and that includes not only individuals but institutions is not necessarily as geographic as it might like to think. The University of Tennessee at Knoxville may be solidly situated within the state of Tennessee, but in terms of the worldview culture its faculty identifies with that’s far more likely to be set by the secular academic mainstream then by the neighbors who live around them in Knoxville, Tennessee. But we also need to recognize that when these changes take place in higher education they don’t just take place in the academic elites, they don’t stay there. They filter down even to other universities and colleges. They filter down through systems of faculty appointment and tenure and promotion, they filter down through systems of accreditation and credentialing, they filter down through various academic means that do not stay limited in effect to academia. And what happens in Berkeley doesn’t stay in Berkeley; it took no time at all for the same headline to appear from Knoxville, Tennessee.
Missouri high school grants transgender teen access to girls' bathroom
Next, while we’re looking at the internal collapse of the worldview that drives the transgender movement, we need to look at a heartbreaking story that emerged in recent days from the state of Missouri. Michael E. Miller, reporting for the Washington Post goes back to some of the celebrity transgender announcements that were made in recent months and then asked how would other less famous transgender Americans be treated? He writes on Monday morning, a small town in Missouri provided the answer. For two hours approximately 150 students stood in front of Hillsboro high school, the protest - a transgender teens use of the girls facilities and he writes,
“And for those same two hours, the 17-year-old transgender teen huddled inside her counselor’s office — with the door locked.”
Miller tells us that the high school is in a community of only about 3,000 people that is now put in the national spotlight where it never intended to be. Last week, a meeting of the school board had to be moved after far too many people attended in order to discuss this very issue. The controversy comes down to this, a biologically male student is identifying now as female is demanding the use of the girls facilities and has been approved by the school for that very use and yet the teenage girls who have been using that facility are quite concerned about a biological male sharing that space. Unsurprisingly, a good number of parents have agreed with those girls who have the concern and the entire community now finds itself being torn apart by a controversy that would’ve been unimaginable not just a generation ago, but just a matter of a few years ago. The student who is biologically male now claiming a female identity said,
“I wasn’t hurting anyone.”
Speaking of using the bathroom facilities,
“I am a girl. I am not going to be pushed away to another bathroom.”
But the response of many families, parents and students came back to that represented by Tammy Sorden who said,
“The girls have rights, and they shouldn’t have to share a bathroom with a boy.”
Now as I said, this story is heartbreaking and Christians operating out of a biblical worldview have to be heartbroken in seeing this kind of headline and especially when we read the story it represents. Here we are looking at a teenager whose heart is enormously confused over an issue so basic as his sexual identity. We have a young person who is putting everything at risk in order to make the claim of being transgendered, of not being actually a boy, but rather being a girl. And yet we also have in the midst of a heartbreaking confusion, the situation in the larger culture in which, once again, we have such a basic unbridgeable divide between people for whom this proposal makes sense, that is allowing a biological male to use a high school girls facility and those who believe it doesn’t make sense and it can’t make sense.
But even as the transgender revolution is so reshaping American public and private life, we need to note, once again, that the logic of this movement simply doesn’t work. As we have seen, there are conflicting absolutes, absolute principles being held by those who push this agenda. There is an inevitable collision, which is very interesting to observe between classical feminists and those who are driving the transgender revolution. Furthermore, even among those who are driving this revolution, there is not an agreement as to exactly when or how the transition from one gender to the other is supposed to take place and be recognized. But the one thing this controversy makes very clear and this has vast worldview implications, is the fact that this ideology of the transgender revolution that says that we have the right and the autonomy to say who we are, in terms of our own sexual and gender identity. It is directly infringing upon the rights of others and that collision is inevitable. How in the world are teenage girls now to be told they simply have to accept a biological male within the most intimate spaces of the school in terms of the bathrooms in the locker room? It doesn’t make any sense to the parents who were involved. It doesn’t make sense to the girls who are protesting. It doesn’t make sense unless you accept the ideology of the transgender movement. But we need to note that ideology doesn’t actually answer the questions it raises.
We also have to interject that the Christian biblical worldview would make clear that the fundamental moral issue is not whether or not an individual has what’s referred to in this article as,
The Bible tells us that those who sow the wind will reap the whirlwind and that’s exactly what we’re seeing here. Those who have sown the seeds of this moral revolution are going to reap the whirlwind of its inevitable confusions and collapse. But since they are now in the driver seat in this culture, the reality is we are all going to be caught in the very same whirlwind.
Pervasive doping raises questions of reality for fans of track and field
Finally, another really interesting article appeared this week at the New York Times on the front page of the sports section. It’s by Juliet Macur, the title of the article,
“What’s Real in Track? It’s Hard to Know.”
The story comes from Montréal and it has to do with international track and field events. Some of them in the past, some of them upcoming and at the bottom line of the article it is abundantly clear,
“[Sports] fans must decide if they should believe what they see.”
As she makes clear, the use of performance-enhancing drugs has now become so widespread and the testing has become so questionable that no one actually knows what they’re seeing. Are you watching a new world record set before your eyes or are you just watching the effects of drugs? As she writes,
“The Russian teams remained the focus of an investigation involving accusations of widespread doping, cover-ups and collusion. Two Kenyans tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, adding to that team’s list of more than 30 runners who have failed drug screenings since 2012. And those are the dirty stories of only two countries.”
It turns out that the United States is also not without accusations and guilt on the very same issue. Justin Gatlin, identifies an American and the 2004 Olympic gold medalist in that event has served two judgments identified as, “Doping bans.”
Macur then offers a very insightful point when she writes,
“A sport just isn’t the same when its fans must decide if they should believe what they see, based on being burned in the past.”
She then raises the very awkward question, if we think right now we just might be seeing a world record being broken, how do we know whether that’s true or not and furthermore, how do we know what the world record that might just a been broken wasn’t also set by someone who was enhanced in terms of drugs? She concludes by saying that at present,
“It’s hard to determine what’s fact and what may be fiction in track and field.”
From a Christian worldview perspective, it’s also very disappointing to see that one of the major rationalizations by which people use these drugs is the fact that they have to use them in order to stay equal or competitive with the other people who are almost assuredly also using them. But it’s a very telling sign of the times, that here you have on the front page of the sports page of the New York Times, the open question being articulated - when we watch track and field are we seeing fact or are we seeing fiction? Sadly, we have to recognize that’s a question we increasingly have to ask not just in terms, we should note, of track and field.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at Albert Mohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College just go to BoyceCollege.com.
I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.