Monday, Feb. 5, 2018

Monday, Feb. 5, 2018

The Briefing

February 5, 2018

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

It’s Monday, February 5, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Today we’ll see huge issues and legislation running under the radar, we’ll see why the secular mind lays claim upon certain words, we’ll see the Pope bow to communist leaders in Beijing, and we’ll talk about why you can add the word “poemish” to your vocabulary list.

Part I

Major religious liberty issues in new higher education legislation fly under the radar

Sometimes legislation that looks almost innocuous is anything but; sometimes legislation that will have historic and long-lasting effect doesn’t go by any name that would get the citizens’ attention; and sometimes it’s almost as if politically it’s moving under the surface without much attention at all. That’s the case with what’s happening right now in Congress. The legislation is the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965. The original bill, the original act, was proposed by President Lyndon Johnson and passed by Congress back at the midpoint of the 1960s, but it’s up for reauthorization and it is known right now in Washington as the new Higher Education Act and it deserves a great deal of attention because in this reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965 is an entire clash of worldviews in one piece of legislation. And it’s to the credit of the Trump administration that the over 500 page bill that the administration is putting forth is loaded with respect and concern for the future of religious liberty in the United States, and, most specifically, the future of religious liberty on American college and university campuses. Among the provisions found in the bill are protections when it comes to religious liberty and freedom of assembly for student groups and for students, for faculty and for administrators, and not only for individuals but for Christian colleges and universities. Using language that appears to be intended to warn a largely secular readership, Anemona Hartocollis reporting for the New York Times tells us,

“Religious colleges would be able to bar openly same-sex relationships without fear of repercussions. Religious student groups could block people who do not share their faith from becoming members. Controversial speakers would have more leverage when they want to appear at colleges.”

She goes on to say,

“A 590-page higher-education bill working its way through Congress is a wish list for a wide range of people, groups and colleges saying that their First Amendment rights — freedom of speech, religion or assembly — are being trampled. Many of them,

she says,

“are religious, right-leaning or both.”

A statement that came from the office of Representative Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, she serves as the chairwoman of the House of Representatives education committee, said, and I quote,

“Colleges and universities, both public and private, have long been considered environments that support robust debate and freedom.”

and the statement went on to say that this is

“sending a message to the higher education community that these important issues cannot be ignored.”

Now as intelligent Christians learn to read the major media, a newspaper like the New York Times, and to understand what’s going on in a story like this, there can be no doubt that those introductory paragraphs are intended to get the attention of the reader and to cause a kind of secular alarm, an alarm that something is going on here that is quite different than the anticipated worldview of the readers of the New York Times. And as the article unfolds, the other skill that Christians have to employ is understanding how statements made within an article like this actually make the very point that is implicitly denied in those introductory statements. If you read the statements fair-mindedly, you would come, perhaps, to the conclusion that Christian students have been complaining too much on campuses about perceived threats to religious liberty, and that Christian colleges and other religious institutions have been, to some extent, crying wolf. But later in the article we read statements that actually make the point and make the point quite clearly. For example, David Stacy, identified as the government affairs director of the Human Rights Campaign, that’s a major LGBTQ activist organization, said, that the implications of this bill could be far-reaching. He said,

“You’re not just talking about a little Bible college. … When you think about Catholic universities, there are a lot of those, and quite a few of these universities would discriminate against same-sex student relationships.”

What in the world is he talking about? He’s talking about the right of Catholic institutions, even an institution that would be identified as a Catholic university, to operate in hiring and in admissions and in curriculum and in housing and other university affairs as, now wait for it, a Catholic university. What we are witnessing here is something we need to stop and observe, and it’s the fact that a secular society is increasingly trying to gain exclusive ownership over certain vocabulary terrain; words like college and university. So what we’re seeing in this article is that the secular world claims to be able to define and to define in a sole exclusive power what should be recognized as a college or as a university, especially a university, to the extent that it becomes illogical, according to the secular worldview, that you could put any word to modify university of which they do not approve. One of those words would be Catholic, another one of those words would be Christian; those words are not allowed to modify the word university according to the secular mind.

This Higher Education Reauthorization Bill would very clearly stipulate that Christian colleges and universities, in fact it doesn’t limit this to Christian colleges but also to any kind of religious college or university, it would not have to violate its own convictions even as its students continue to receive title IV funding as college scholarships or Pell Grants. This legislation would specifically prevent the federal government from denying such status to colleges and universities when they are acting out of religious conviction. Just in case you wonder if that’s what Mr. Stacy was talking about, well let’s look to the New York Times article, and I quote,

“The provision that particularly worries Mr. Stacy prohibits the government from taking action against colleges — such as revoking their tax-exempt status or disqualifying their students from federal loans — for policies related to their religious mission or affiliation.”

Now, that’s a stunning statement, and it’s in an article in the New York Times that evidently went by last Friday without much attention. But it’s not just implicit in the article, it’s explicit in his statements; he is arguing that religious universities and colleges should not be able to retain their tax-exempt status when a matter of concern comes down to the religious institution’s mission. What kinds of issues might this concern? Well, Hartocollis goes on to report,

“The bill does not mention sexual orientation or gender, but its intent is clear. At some Christian colleges, gay dating or marriage is forbidden, and same-sex couples are not permitted to live together in married-student housing.”

Now by the way, we simply need to note that off the screen, evidently of this article, is the fact that unmarried heterosexual couples are also not allowed at Christian colleges to live together and cohabitate in student housing. But what ought to have our immediate attention is the fact that this bill that would recognize the right of Christian colleges and universities to be Christian is already drawing such a fever pitched response from those whose agenda is now abundantly clear: To deny the right of Christian colleges and universities to operate according to Christian conviction. And you’ll note the specific examples, it is cited as if this would be news, perhaps readers of the New York Times, that there are actually Christian colleges that do not allow same-sex behaviors, do not recognize same-sex marriage, and do not allow persons who are not married — that is married as a husband and a wife — to live in married student housing on the campuses of those Christian colleges. The article makes specific mention of charges against some Christian colleges in the past, a specific college was raised that is a member of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, that’s the regional accrediting agency for the Northeast, and an official of that organization’s commission on colleges Barbara E. Brittingham is quoted as saying,

“There are many things in motion about American higher education, and,”

she says,

“with that comes the obligation to make sure they [that means the colleges] are treating all students in a way that supports the students personally and academically.”

The key items to note here is the acknowledgment of the phrase,

“in motion,”

that tells us that what we know today should not be expected to remain true tomorrow, and implicit in that is a threat against Christian colleges and universities. The other thing to note is that that accrediting officer spoke of her responsibility to make certain that colleges, I read this again,

“are treating all students in a way that supports the students personally and academically.”

That would appear on its face to exclude the possibility of a Christian college operating on Christian conviction and applying Christian moral ethics to its student body. That’s the very kind of concern that is directly addressed in the protections that are included in the Trump administration’s proposal concerning the Higher Education Reauthorization. But we should also note that the protections do not apply merely to religious organizations nor to religious students on campuses or their student organizations. The protections apply across the political or ideological spectrum, and that point was also made clear, although it’s a minor theme in this article, this would also protect the free speech rights of those on the left as well as on the right; those who are secular as well as those who are operating out of clear, religious conviction.

As you might expect in a bill that at this point run some 590 pages, this is only a summary of what’s in the bill, most of it is probably nothing more than routine reauthorization especially when it comes to the higher education financial aid programs that are dated back to the 1960s and beyond. But that’s the issue, Christians need to be aware that what might look like routine legislation can turn out to be anything but, and at this point it is no exaggeration to say that the future of religious liberty, for individuals and for institutions of higher education in America, will have a great deal to do with the disposition of this bill. There are so many issues of urgent concern in Washington, D.C., in many cases legitimately so, but when it comes to this bill it needs to have a great deal more attention, not only in Washington but amongst American Christians.

Part II

The Pope bows to Communist leaders in Beijing

Next we shift to China, an absolutely stunning headline story, also on religious liberty. It made the front page of Friday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal. The headline,

“Vatican to Bow to China on Bishops.”

The journal story begins,

“Pope Francis has decided to accept the legitimacy of seven Catholic bishops appointed by the Chinese government, a concession that the Holy See hopes will lead Beijing to recognize his authority as head of the Catholic Church in China.”

Behind this is a reality of broken diplomatic relations between the Chinese Communist Party and the Vatican. Now that’s to be expected when you consider what the Vatican represents and the fact that the Communist Party in China is officially not only secular but atheistic. Furthermore, tensions in the present and tensions in the past have everything to do with the secularist and atheistic totalitarian ambitions of the Chinese Communist Party. Even in recent months, there has been a serious crackdown on religious liberty in that country. For several decades now the Chinese Communist Party has denied the status of the Pope within China, arguing that the Pope is not the supreme head of the Catholic Church in China, and that’s understandable also because that’s what it means to be a totalitarian regime — to claim absolute authority over the entire culture, over the total society.

In a part of the showdown between the Pope and the Communist Party, the Pope has been appointing bishops and the Communist Party has been appointing bishops, and the Pope has refused to recognize the bishops proposed by the communist government and the communist government has refused to recognize the bishops appointed by the Pope. But the standoff is apparently over with a deal that even according to senior Catholic authorities means a sellout by the Vatican. In a major editorial published by the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal on the very same day, an editorial entitled,

“The Bishops of Xi Jinping.”

The editors wrote,

“Few prelates have ever been as blunt in criticizing the Holy See as Joseph Cardinal Zen, the retired bishop of Hong Kong. In an open letter earlier this week, the cardinal put it this way: ‘Do I think that the Vatican is selling out the Catholic Church in China? Yes, definitely.’”

Now notice, that’s not being said by some secular outsider, that’s not being said by someone outside the Catholic Church, that’s being said by one of the past Cardinal Archbishops of Hong Kong. The editors went on to tell us,

“Cardinal Zen was speaking about the Vatican’s bid to force two underground Catholic bishops faithful to the church to resign — and be replaced by government-backed bishops who were excommunicated when they were illicitly appointed. So concerned,”

said the editors,

“was the 86-year-old cardinal that he flew to Rome and asked for an urgent meeting with Pope Francis to persuade him of the damage he would be inflicting. The Pope ignored him. On Thursday news broke that the Vatican will accept the legitimacy of seven bishops chosen by the Chinese government. As head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of his own state,”

say the editors,

“the pope is free to chart whatever course with China he wishes. Even so,”

they wrote,

“it’s astounding that Rome would defer to Beijing to dictate one of the most important duties, [a duty] of any pope: [to choose] the bishops who will lead his flock.”

The editors of the journal go on to document human rights abuses in China including the denial of religious liberty, the imprisonment of Christians, the destruction of Christian churches, the assumption of total control of the Chinese Communist Party over what churches might exist, the existence of state recognized churches that affirm the Chinese communist government and serve as something of an extension of that government’s authority. Recall the fact that there are thousands and thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of what are called underground churches in China, and the story also just continues to unfold in a way that’s shocking when you consider the fact that the Pope, in order to have the Chinese government recognize his authority, is throwing overboard, and perhaps even imprison, some of those he has appointed as Bishop, and he’s allowing to be put in place bishops that are appointed with the favor of the Chinese Communist Party.

It’s unusual for a major secular newspaper like the Wall Street Journal to speak directly to a religious leader, either in the United States or elsewhere, but that’s why it’s particularly important to read the last sentence of this editorial. The editors wrote,

“Perhaps someone ought to remind the Vatican that the Lord’s advice was to ‘render unto Caesar’ not surrender to Caesar.”

Cardinals Zen, remember again he’s a former Bishop of Hong Kong and he’s been a very prominent defender of Catholics in China, he warned that the Chinese Communist Party will not even keep its word if it makes some pact with the Vatican even at the expense of the Vatican. He quoted Winston Churchill asking the question,

“How can we deal with a totalitarian regime? How can we trust a totalitarian regime? They are simply not trustworthy.”

But there are other prominent Catholics in China who have been arguing for some kind of deal virtually at any expense. Cardinal John Tong, who served until August as the Bishop of Hong Kong, suggested that some kind of deal with the Chinese Communist Party would be the lesser of two evils. The journal minces no words in describing the situation, and I quote,

“The Communist Party keeps a tight grip on all religious practice, mandating that religious institutions be free of foreign control. New regulations that went into effect on Thursday [of last week] require that religious institutions gain government approval for teaching plans, overseas pilgrimages and other activities.”

Now just think about that for a moment. Here you have the Chinese Communist Party saying that it will not allow any foreign interference or influence in religious affairs in the country. The communist party then goes so far as to appoint its own bishops for the Catholic Church in China, bishops that are not the bishops appointed by the Pope, and then we are told in order to preserve his authority the Pope basically gives away his authority in a deal with the communist thugs in China and accepts their bishops in order that they will recognize him as Pope.

The facts related in the article are very difficult even to believe. The Vatican is now calling upon two bishops it authorized and two bishops who courageously took up their roles to give way instead to bishops that are not appointed by the Pope but rather by the Communist Party. Ian Johnson, reporting on the pact in the New York Times says,

“People following the issue said that the highly unusual series of events showed how badly the Vatican wanted a deal.”

The New York Times article points to another interesting background issue: Christianity has been exploding in China in recent decades, but the vast majority of that growth has been Protestant. It’s estimated that there are now about 100 million Chinese citizens who identify in some way as Christian, but over 90 million of them identify as some sort of Protestant. So Catholicism has been losing ground even as Protestantism has been exploding in China. The New York Times says that’s probably at least part of the Pope’s concern. Citing an authority in Belgium, the report says,

“that one reason for the Vatican’s eagerness was a sense that the faith had been growing relatively slowly compared with other religions in China.”

But in an even more interesting fashion, the New York Times points to a specific Catholic issue, and that is the fact that Pope Francis is the very first Jesuit Pope. The Jesuits have often been considered something like the Marine Corps of the Roman Catholic Church, going back to the 16th century and figures such as Ignatius Loyola, and the Jesuits have been amongst the most tenacious of all when it comes to the expansion of the Roman Catholic Church. The Jesuits were amongst the first of the Westerners to arrive in Asia, specifically in China, and, furthermore, the Jesuits have shown the ability to be remarkably flexible, even when it comes to religious practice and theology when it’s in a foreign context, such as China. There are those even outside the Roman Catholic Church who are looking at the pact that appears to be coming in the place between the Vatican and the Chinese Communist Party saying that it reflects what one authority called the extreme realism of Pope Francis, and what another described as the extreme flexibility that is allowed to a Jesuit.

But an evangelical would have to add that this is not a specifically Jesuit issue. We would point to the fact that over the centuries, the Roman Catholic Church in claiming to be Catholic, the name it likes to give unto itself claiming to be the universal church, it has shown an amazing ability to adapt to almost any cultural or governmental circumstance. One Vatican expert looking at the situation said to the Wall Street Journal, that Pope Francis, and I quote,

“is a man of extreme realism who calculates very much the effects of what he says or does.”

That would seem of course to be true, and in this case quite disastrously true.

Part III

Why you can add the word “poemish” to your vocabulary list

Finally, we shift back to the university campus and the rather relativistic mush that often passes for academic discourse. The Wall Street Journal recently extracted part of an academic paper that appeared in the scholarly journal, Qualitative Inquiry, dated January 28. Just listen to this. I quote,

“Discussion has occurred around what constitutes quality research poetry, with some direction on how a researcher, who is a novice poet, might go about writing good enough research poetry. … The authors interrupt the prose text throughout with poetic interludes and quotes from poets. The conversation is framed by the conception of ish and poemish which is drawn directly from [a] powerful book ish. Poemish representations may be said to be research representations characterized by features of poetry and an effort to blend the aesthetics of poetry and science of research into something which may be said to be poem-like, ish, or poemish.”

So we’re living in a world in which expressions like truthy have a strange traction and plausibility, and now you can add to truthy or to truthiness, poem-ish, what it means to be something like a poem but not exactly a poem. We’re living in a world in which even the poets and the researchers of poetry have lost a grasp on something so basic as what a poem is.

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 on tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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