"Boston, USA - June 9, 2012: Low angle view of an architecural detail of a building at Harvard University featuring the school's motto: ""Veritas"" which means truth in Latin."

Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018

The Briefing

February 27, 2018

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

It’s Tuesday, February 27, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Ideological cleansing on campus: Harvard forces Christian ministry to choose between Christian convictions and continued ministry on campus

In order to understand one of today’s most important headlines, we have to go back in history, quite a way back, back to the year 1636. That was the year when Harvard College received its first charter.

Harvard was established by the Puritans of New England, who were concerned that New England never be without a faithful ministry. That meant an educated ministry and that meant a ministry that was educated in Christian in Protestant orthodoxy. Now keep that in mind because as we’re following the timeline, that was 1636.

Harvard gained its name, its first library, and its original stable funding from the estate of John Harvard, himself a Puritan minister, who left his library and half of his estate for the school. In 1643, the college adopted as its motto Veritas, the Latin word for “truth”. In 1650, that motto was replaced by yet another, In Christi Gloriam, “for the glory of Christ”.

The historic shield of Harvard University includes that word “Veritas” and it also includes three books. Historically, two of them have been open and one of them closed. The two open books represented the Old and the New Testaments. The book that was yet closed is a book that is yet to be written. It is the book which is the testimony of the second coming of Jesus Christ. Now keep that history very much in mind when we turn to a headline that appeared just recently just a few days ago in The Harvard Crimson, the official campus newspaper.

The headline is this “College Places HCFA” that’s the Harvard College Faith and Action “On ‘Probation’ After Group Barred Student In Same-Sex Relationship From Leadership”. As the news story begins, “The Office of Student Life has placed religious group Harvard College Faith and Action on ‘administrative probation’ for a year after the organization pressured a female member of its student leadership to resign in September, following her decision to date a woman. College spokesperson Aaron M. Goldman announced the move to put HCFA on probation in an emailed statement sent to The Crimson last week.”

The Harvard College spokesman said, “After a thorough review and finding that HCFA had conducted itself in a manner grossly inconsistent with the expectations clearly outlined in the Student Organization Resource and Policy Guide, OSL has placed HCFA on a one year administrative probation.”

The story goes on to say that the HCFA, the Harvard College Faith and Action, is the largest Christian fellowship on the Harvard campus. According to the report and the finding of the Office of Student Life, HCFA had, “Violated Office of Student Life expectations.” What exactly where those expectations? That was clarified by the two student co-presidents of HCFA. I quote, “Earlier today, we met with an administrator who informed us that the college would place HCFA on probation, citing our relationship with Christian Union as well as our standards for leaders.”

They went on to explain that the Christian Union is a national umbrella group with outposts at all eight Ivy League schools and at Stanford University. It is the overarching organization that helps to fund and support the ministry on the Harvard campus, which, again, is known by the name Harvard College Faith and Action.

The Crimson goes on to report that the Harvard College student handbook stipulates that all recognized campus student groups are prohibited from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The report in The Crimson says that the paper interviewed 12 current and former members of HCFA and it also reviewed documents, emails, and text messages, and, according to the paper, what is now determined and has now been the judgment of the Harvard College Office of Student Life is that this Christian ministry, the largest Christian fellowship on the Harvard University campus, is to be put on probation.

As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that one of the student Bible study leaders had been discovered as a woman to be in a romantic relationship dating another woman. In explaining the situation to The Harvard Crimson, the leaders of the ministry said that the decision made by HCFA had been on the basis of a theological disagreement. According to the student leaders, “All decisions about HCFA, its policies, and its people are made entirely by the undergraduate leadership completely independent of ministry fellows or Christian Union.”

The unfolding story eventually reveals in subsequent reports from The Harvard Crimson that the group, now put on a one year administrative probation, has been told that if it is to be re-recognized by Harvard College, it will have to bring its policies in line with the nondiscrimination expectations of the college and it will also have to sever its ties with the umbrella Christian ministry, Christian Union. Christian Union has been active on prestigious American college and university campuses for many years. Now the group at Harvard is being told that it must separate itself from Christian Union or face permanent expulsion or de-recognition from the Harvard campus.

When The Crimson pressed the student leaders of HCFA to explain the nature of the theological disagreement, they stated that it came down to the organization’s stance on extramarital sex. The student leaders said, “Our theological view is that, for professing Christians who are in leadership, celibacy is the only option outside the bounds of marriage. We have applied and do apply this policy regardless of sexual orientation.”

Now that statement raises a host of questions unto itself. For one thing, it raises the question of how exactly that policy is to be interpreted on the other side of the legalization of same sex marriage. But that issue doesn’t even quite explode in this story. Instead, it’s just another case of a major college, in this case the oldest university, the oldest college in America, telling a Christian ministry that it must choose between its Christian convictions or a continued ministry on the campus. The story that was released yesterday at The Crimson says, “Harvard College Faith and Action will need to sever ties with parent group Christian Union in order to re-earn recognition from the college at the end of its yearlong administrative probation.

In another story in The Crimson that broke just about two days ago, a number of students, the majority of students cited in the article, said that they believe the disciplinary action against the Christian ministry was entirely justified. The paper cited a statement from one of the officers of the Harvard College Queer Students and Allies Group, identified as an affinity organization for what a Harvarder called BGLTQ students said, “We condemn any and all discrimination against BGLTQ plus individuals and appreciate that the university is taking this situation seriously.”

It’s fairly easy to predict how this story is going to unfold, but the verdict made by the college is already abundantly clear. It’s also clear that, at least in the reporting on the campus newspaper, to no real surprise, it seems that a significant number of students, probably unquestionably a majority of students, agree with the decision made by the Office of Student Life.

Now you fully understand why I began not in 2018, but in 1636, because what we have here is the classic example, in the case of Harvard College, of what is now described as the secularization of American higher education. But we should note that this secularization is not just about recognizing the presence of secular ideas, ideas and worldviews, alternative to and even contradictory to Christianity, we’re talking about effectively ridding the campus, in a form of ideologically cleansing the campus, of the very convictions that had established the college in the first place.

Just review again the mottos successively of the university. It starts out with “truth”, Veritas, then clarifies that as Veritas In Christi Gloriam, “for the glory of Christ”. It then goes on, as it stated in 1847, as Christo et Ecclesiae, “for Christ in the church”. You look at the seal, the seal that will be on the diplomas of these students and, of course, even now emblazoned all over the campus of Harvard College and Harvard University, those three books, which historically referred to the Old and the New Testaments and then to the testament of the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Then consider the fact that this Christian ministry is being shown the door, or perhaps more historically appropriately shown the gates at Harvard University, told that it must, as so many other student groups on other campuses have already been told, choose between a continuing commitment to biblical Christianity or simply forfeit any continuing role on the campus of the college and university.

Many understanding this story, even in its historical context, may think, “Well, this is the kind of development we now expect on major college and university campuses in the United States, both private and public,” but what’s most important to recognize is that this pattern is not and cannot be limited to the most prestigious academic campuses of the nation. This is the very same set of moral demands … Let’s just call them, as this article makes clear, theological demands … being made of any kind of Christian ministry. That’s simply the truth, the sad truth, or Veritas, as Harvard’s historic motto would remind us.

Part II

In redefining Title VII, courts once again use the powers of legal coercion to establish a new morality in the United States

But next we turn to a very important headline on a similar theme. In this case, the scene shifts,  however, from the campus to the courtroom. In this case, we’re talking about a decision handed down yesterday by the Second US Circuit Court of Appeals, that’s the federal appeals court that covers in the main states of New York and Connecticut.

The case is known as Zarda versus Altitude Express Incorporated. It’s a bizarre case, but in the decision handed down yesterday, this federal appeals court ruled that the Civil Rights Act of 1964, specifically what is known as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, covers and eliminates any kind of discrimination in employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, sexual orientation in this case is the main issue.

Matt Zapotosky reporting for The Washington Post tells us, “Discriminating against someone on the basis of sexual orientation is prohibited under federal civil rights law, a federal appeals court ruled on Monday as it sided with a gay skydiving instructor who was fired from his job after discussing his sexuality with the client.”

You’ll actually just have to trust me that the circumstances of the case are in themselves quite bizarre. You’ll have to look those up for yourself. It’s also the case that the plaintiff in this particular court action died in yet another sky diving incident, but his estate has continued the case and now it won in the Second US Court of Appeals.

This might not sound like all that big a development, but German Lopez, writing at the website Vox, got it right when he wrote a story with the headline “This court ruling could help change the scope of gay rights in America”. He summarized that the federal appeals court ruling is a very big one indeed. He goes on to write, “On Monday, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that anti-gay discrimination in the workplace is prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

As he summarizes, “The law doesn’t explicitly ban anti-gay discrimination, instead banning discrimination based on sex. LGBTQ activists, however, have long argued that the ban on sex discrimination should cover anti-gay discrimination as well.” The consequences and ramifications of this federal appeals court ruling could be absolutely massive and also nationwide, but follow with me for just a moment how this question has unfolded.

The Civil Rights Act was adopted in 1964. President John F. Kennedy had called for it on June the 11th of 1963. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 included several sections, including Title VII, which prohibited any kind of discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or natural origin.

Now just to state the obvious, in 1964, the legislators had no category whatsoever for sexual orientation. They clearly did not intend or even conceived to intend sexual orientation, the entire array of LGBT issues in the legislation. That is conceded by everyone on both sides or, for that matter, on every side of this debate.

In 1979, the issue arose with the claim that the Civil Rights Act would cover any kind of discrimination when it came to sexual behavior or orientation. Homosexuality was the issue, but, in that year, 1979, a federal appeals court ruled that the act did not cover the matter in any way. Last year, in 2017, two circuits split. The Seventh Circuit ruled in a pro-LGBT manner, the Eleventh Circuit to the contrary. The Eleventh Circuit, by the way, stated that if the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is to be construed as covering LGBTQ issues, only the Supreme Court of the United States would be able to decide it. The court cited precedents entirely to the contrary.

From a Christian worldview perspective, what we are witnessing here is the attempted use once again of the courts to try to establish a new morality in the United States and use the powers of legal coercion to reinforce it. There is no way, politically speaking, that there could be a win for the LGBTQ community in this kind of legislation if I had to get through Congress, and they know it. It wouldn’t even be assured of passage with a Democratic majority in the House and in the Senate, or even with a Democratic president.

Just think of the fact that just a few years ago, we had eight years of the administration of President Barack Obama. But President Obama attempted to use executive orders and the advocates attempted to use the courts in order to gain ground. Of course, they did most famously in 2015 in the Obergefell decision legalizing same-sex marriage. That decision was not made by Congress, it was not a law signed by the president, it did not go through the democratic process. It was entirely rammed through the courts.

The argument being used before the courts by LGBTQ activists is that even though sexual orientation and gender identity don’t appear in Title VII from 1964 and even though they wouldn’t have been conceivable in 1964, we are to understand that they are indeed included because, in matters of sexual orientation, it is discrimination to say that a man who would otherwise not be in trouble for stating that he was dating a woman might be in trouble for stating that he’s dating a man … And I’ll just use “dating” here as euphemism … and that would get to the point that it’s sex discrimination.

But, of course, that’s ludicrous. But don’t count on the fact that a ludicrous argument won’t win in a federal court. This one just did in the very influential Second Circuit.

In the case concerning Harvard University and the Christian ministry, and now in the case of this decision handed down by the Second US Circuit Court of Appeals, we are looking at the fact that coercion is now the order of the day. Furthermore, we are looking at the fact that those who are pressing this revolution intend to take no enemies. They intend to leave no aspect of the culture, not one square inch of the society untouched and uncoerced by the revolution.

Now we have a split at the levels of the circuit courts, and that means that you can almost surely count on the fact that this will be a case shortly to arrive before the justices of the United States Supreme Court. That’s the very same court that, as we just said, in 2015, invented a new constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

I recall the fact that after that decision was handed down, the late US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said that if he had been the author of any such decision, in his words, “I would hide my head in a bag.” In his response to the decision, the Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts said that LGBTQ activists might well celebrate the Obergefell decision being handed down, but he went on to say something entirely true and very sobering. Speaking to them, he said, “But do not celebrate the constitution. It had nothing to do with it.”

But what was done then to the US Constitution is being done now to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Given the recent history of the US Supreme Court on these questions, most importantly, in 2015, the Obergefell decision, we have no basis in which to believe that this time the court will do better.

Part III

Chinese President to become ‘Emperor for Life’ in further concentration of power by Communist Party

But next we have to turn to the most important story on the international scene, and it is well introduced by Steven Lee Myers in a breaking story at The New York Times: “There was a time not so long ago when the Chinese leader, setting himself up as ruler for life, would have stirred international condemnation for bucking the global trend toward greater democracy. Now,” he wrote, “such an action seems fully in keeping with moves by many countries in the other direction.” As he continued to report, “The Chinese Communist Party released a surprise disclosure that it is proposing a constitutional amendment.”

By the way, if the Communist Party, which is the sole party in China, proposes such an amendment, the amendment will take place. But, in this case, the proposed amendment would remove all constitutional limits on presidential terms. That would allow the current Chinese president, Xi Jinping, to lead the nation indefinitely. As Myers said, this was, “the latest and arguably most significant sign of the world’s decisive tilt toward authoritarian governance often built on the highly personalized exercise of power”.

In China, power is concentrated and has been ever since the communist revolution entirely in the hands of the Communist Party. Xi Jinping holds several titles and offices but the most important, the three most important, are these: he is the state president, he is also the party general secretary, and he is chairman of the Central Military Commission. You put the three of those together, he’s the head of state, he’s the head of the Communist Party, and he is the head of the military.

But now this new proposed constitutional amendment announces that reversing decades of more recent Chinese history, he is likely to be president for life. The Chinese Communist Party has also indicated that Mr. Xi’s own views, his own communist doctrine, known as Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, is also to be written into the Chinese constitution. Oh, this does represent an increasing tendency on the international scene to abandon any kind of movement toward democracy and instead to move towards autocracy and an even deeper dictatorship.

We also have to keep in mind that the President Xi has used his power and the power of the Communist Party to crack down severely upon Christians in the Nation of China, even as there has been an explosion in Christian believers so much so that there are now unquestionably more Christian believers in China than there are members of the Chinese Communist Party.

But as the communists who are in power and who took power in a bloody revolution in the late 1940s and, as they have made abundantly clear, it is a dictatorial, autocratic power that they do not intend to release or even to relieve. Now they’re moving back in the trajectory in China towards the leader of the communist revolution, Mao Zedong, in giving President Xi virtually the same kind of autocratic reign, even now amending the Chinese constitution. As one observer noted, this means that essentially President Xi has become the Chinese emperor for life.

Behind this, we should note in worldview analysis is the view of so many around the world, and that includes, foremost, in this case the Communist Party in China, that democracy is soft and that autocracy is hard and will endure. That is one of the most important debates on the international scene, perhaps the most urgent at the moment, and it is one in which the stakes could not be higher.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You could 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’m speaking to you from Los Angeles, California, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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