Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019

Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019

The Briefing

January 17, 2019

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

It’s Thursday, January 17, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Outrage from the sexual revolutionaries as Second Lady Karen Pence will teach at school that affirms historic Christian teachings on sexual ethics

Wake up calls for evangelical Christians come these days with alarming regularity, but one that arrived yesterday should certainly have the attention of America’s evangelical Christians. The Washington Post ran a headline, “The school that hired Karen Pence requires applicants to disavow gay marriage, trans-identity.” Similar kinds of headlines appeared throughout the mainstream media, and if the headlines registered anything, perhaps the first issue was that the readers of those newspapers or those who visited the websites or watched the broadcast should be appropriately appalled that the wife of the Vice President of the United States would dare to teach at a school that represents the actual biblical convictions of multiple millions of Americans, not to mention the theological and moral consensus of the Christian church through 2000 years. Eli Rosenberg, reporting for the Post, begins the story this way, “The school where Vice President Pence’s wife, Karen, has accepted a part-time job teaching art requires potential employees to affirm certain religious beliefs that seek to exclude homosexual and transgender applicants, including that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.”

The truth is that just about every sentence, certainly every paragraph, of this Washington Post news story deserves some kind of attention. But in that lead sentence, just consider the fact that historic biblical Christianity is here reduced to “certain religious beliefs that seek to exclude homosexual and transgender applicants.” You would think that that’s the entire point of biblical Christianity. It is instead just demonstrating the obsession of the secular left with the moral revolution that comes down especially to sex and particularly in these days to the LGBTQ revolution.

The school in question here is Immanuel Christian School in suburban Washington D.C. It is identified in the story as “a private K through eight school in Springfield, Virginia.” And it is a school that according to the Post “sets forth the position in its employment application for teachers and support staff in a section that requires applicants to initial a set of standards that begins with a promise that they are born again Christians.” Again, you’re supposed to be absolutely shocked. The school, as we noted, is identified as a private K through eight school in Springfield, Virginia. It’s actually, of course, more than that. It is very clearly a Christian school and not just in some kind of title or some kind of advertising policy. But in the actual substance of what is taught. The history of the school is instructive. Immanuel Baptist Church was established there in 1966. 10 years later, the church began what is now Immanuel Christian School. When you go to the website of the school and you look at the essential doctrines that are required and taught, you are taken right back to the faith statement of Immanuel Baptist Church. So this appears to be a Christian school that is clearly established on the biblical and confessional identity of a sponsoring congregation of Evangelical Christians in suburban Washington DC.

Amongst the requirements of all those who are either students, or parents of students, or those who will teach is that they must live a life of moral purity. Included in that is this statement: “I understand that the term marriage has only one meaning. The uniting of one man and one woman in a single, exclusive covenant union, as delineated in Scripture.” Now what we have to keep foremost in mind is that this is intended to be a serious news story in the leading newspaper of the capital city of the United States of America. The Washington Post clearly believes that this is news– big news, breaking news, news that requires the attention of Washingtonians and the watching American people. It’s news that the wife of the Vice President of the United States has dared to accept a part-time position as an art teacher in a school that affirms the definition of marriage that all Christians everywhere, in all times, in all places have held until extremely recently, a very thin slice of theologically liberal denominations and churches have joined the sexual revolution. And again, that’s very recent and in the numbers of worldwide Christianity, those who affirm the sexual revolution are very few.

Sexual misconduct, as identified by the school, includes “heterosexual activity outside of marriage,” otherwise known as premarital sex, “cohabitation, extramarital sex, homosexual or lesbian sexual activity, polygamy, transgender identity, any other violation of the unique roles of male and female, sexual harassment, use or viewing of pornographic material or websites, and sexual abuse or improprieties towards minors as defined by Scripture and federal or state law.” Now from a traditional, biblical, classically Christian perspective, there is nothing even slightly controversial in that list. There is nothing that virtually every single Christian denomination and church everywhere would not have eagerly affirmed, again, until some liberal denominations join the sexual revolution. But even that has been uneven. And even that has been in just the last two to three decades. That is to say the least, the blink of an eye. Given two millennia of Christian witness and experience.

To its credit, The Washington Post went to Robert W. Tuttle, Professor of Law and Religion at George Washington Law School, who, according to the paper, “said that the school’s language on sexuality was typical of conservative Christian institutions and he was not surprised by Pence’s school choice, which he said was well within her rights.” Just about everything in that sentence is true. But then consider how the professor continued, “They have staked out a certain set of positions on issues that are confrontational.” He was there, according to The Post, speaking of the Trump White House. The professor said, “The administration seems to live on wedges, so paying attention to this just feeds their interest in driving one more wedge. And this confirms they’re bonafides with the religious conservatives, and they sort of seem to do that because Donald Trump, whatever he might say, is not that.”

Now if there was clarity in the first statement, there’s just a jumble of confusion in the second. But there is also a sheer problem of intellectual honesty here. It turns out that Karen Pence taught at that school for roughly a decade during the time that her husband, now the Vice President of the United States was a member of congress. So in this case, the wife of the Vice President is returning at this point to a part-time teaching position teaching children art at a school where she taught for a decade sometimes passed. And yet, The Washington Post says this is explicable only in a political context that this must be some effort by the Trump Administration to drive, in the words of the professor, “yet another wedge.” But here, again, we simply have to turn the table and say it’s the theological moral revisionists who are driving the wedge in Christianity. In this case, the wife of the Vice President is doing nothing but teaching at a school that stands for what Christianity stands for.

From London, the BBC, remember, that’s the British Broadcasting Corporation, ran a story with the headline, “Vice President’s wife, Karen Pence, to teach at anti-LGBT school.” This is another pattern we have seen on both sides of the Atlantic. And frankly, even more recently in Australia, where if a school dares to hold to a Christian biblical understanding of sexuality, that becomes now in the secular mind, the only issue that matters. The headline just reduces this entire Christian school to, “An anti-LGBT school.” That tells us that it is not the school that is obsessed with sexuality. It is the secular culture driven by moral progressives for whom this is the only issue that matters for now.

In the United States, Politico ran a very similar headline. It’s simply this: “Karen Pence to teach at school that bans gay students, parents, employees.” Once again, you would think that the only issue of importance about the school is its position on certain issues of human sexuality. And also, what is missing from this context is the fact that this school has held at these positions for decades. And that those positions would have been, let’s just say it explicitly, uncontroversial amongst virtually all Christians and the vast majority of Americans until very, very recently. We could put the matter another way. Let’s just think of it in these terms. Back when Karen Pence taught at the same school holding to the same positions and taught there for a decade while her husband was in congress, well, the future democratic nominee for President in 2016, Hilary Clinton, held to the very same positions. At least she said so publicly. During the same time, the man who would later serve two terms as President of the United States, Barack Obama, when he ran for President the first time, also held to the very same positions. Though, in his own words, he evolved in time to affirm same-sex marriage by the time he ran for reelection to that office in 2012.

Another amazing dimension of the story is that nowhere in any of these mainstream media articles is there any acknowledgement whatsoever that vast millions of Americans hold to the very same convictions. And there is absolutely no acknowledgement whatsoever that most Christians around the world today, and that’s an understatement, the vast, vast majority of Christians around the world today still agree with this entire set of beliefs. Nor is there an acknowledgement that throughout the history of the Christian church this is exactly what Christians have understood the Scripture to teach.

One final thought on this story and on the media coverage, at some point, you simply have to begin to wonder if this is some form of insistent intellectual dishonesty or a horrifying lack of knowledge. That’s to put it this way. When you look at the reporters and the editors and those who were involved in the elite of mainstream media, do they actually have any real knowledge of what Christianity is? And of what Christians believe? Do they really live and work within such a media cultural bubble that they have no idea that tens of millions of Americans hold to these positions and virtually always have? But that story that broke yesterday by The Washington Post is intended by the Post to tell us about the notorious beliefs of this Christian school. Actually, the story does tell us a great deal, but it’s about The Washington Post, not about Immanuel Christian School.

Part II

Parental rights, religious liberty, and homeschooling: Why it’s dangerous and unsustainable to ground fundamental rights in a secular worldview

But next, we shift to Europe and a question of religious liberty and the rights of parents. The BBC, again, The British Broadcasting Corporation, just a few days ago ran a story with a headline, “Home education court rules against German Christian family. Home education in this sense means home schooling, given the vocabulary in the United States. And the story that broke from the BBC is one in a series that should serve to inform us of the fragility of parental rights and religious liberty around the world. Even in cultures and in nations where we would think that those inherent rights would be respected. In this case, the country is Germany. As the BBC reports, home education is banned in Germany. But the Wunderlich from Darmstadt, who are Christian, wish to educate their children in this way. Their four children were taken into custody for three weeks in 2013. Thereafter, the Christian family took their case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The new story in the BBC is about the fact that the court turned down the parents’ claims that homeschooling their children was a basic matter of parental rights and religious liberty.

Specifically, in the judgment handed down just days ago by the European Court of Human Rights, the court ruled that the Christian parents did not have their human rights violated when the German government took their four children into custody because they did not send them to the state schools, but instead insisted on homeschooling them. Paul Coleman, Executive Director of the Alliance Defending Freedom International said, “This ruling ignores the fact that Germany’s policy on homeschooling violates the rights of parents to educate their children and direct their upbringing. It is alarming,” he said, “to see that this was not recognized by the most influential human rights court in Europe. This ruling,” he said, “is a step in the wrong direction and should concern anyone who cares about freedom.”

Mike Donnelly, who is the Director of Global Outreach for the Homeschool Legal Defense Association said, “This judgment is a huge setback, but we will not give up the fight to protect the fundamental right of parents to homeschool their children in Germany and across Europe.” Now, we need to back up for a moment and understand that there is a huge background here that has massive worldview implications. For one thing, when you look at the statements made by those two experts on religious liberty and homeschooling, both of them refer to a fundamental right that belongs to parents to raise their children and a fundamental issue of religious liberty. But here we have to ask the question, where are those rights grounded? What is the authority that makes very clear that parents inherently have that right? When you look at contemporary Europe, we are looking at a highly secular society. When you look at the European Union and institutions such as the European Court of Human Rights, you are looking at intentional efforts to operate entirely on a secular worldview.

But the fundamental issue here is that a secular worldview offers no grounding of human rights or human dignity beyond the simple assertion that human beings have rights and some kind of civilizational or political statement that guarantees those rights. But as we have seen over and over again, if these rights exist only on paper or on the text of some kind of declaration, they can evaporate in a hurry. And furthermore, we also have to note that in the European context, that paper doesn’t actually grant to parents any such right. It doesn’t respect some kind of fundamental right of parents to raise and educate their children. And thus, we simply also have to observe that from a secular worldview, it becomes very difficult to make an argument for parental rights in this light because given the fact that the state guarantees the rights, according to the secular worldview, then the rights really belong to the state. The state has the right to say that parents cannot homeschool their children.

But another massive issue looms behind this. That’s the fact that Germany is the country at the center of this story. Germany was unified in the late 19th century. Under the Bismarckian Regime, the argument was that Germans must require compulsory attendance of children in the state schools in order to inculcate in those children an understanding of German national identity. At the end of World War II, modern Germany reconstituted after the third Reich, made a similar insistence. The insistence was that Germany would be held together as a nation. Remember at first this was what was known as West Germany before the unification that came after the fall of the Soviet Union. But even after that there was a renewed argument that compulsory state education would be necessary in order to create good German citizens out of the children of the nation. Thus, Germany outlaws homeschooling.

Germany denies to parents the inherent right to determine the upbringing and the education of their children. That should make Christians in the United States all the more appreciative of the fact that the rights of parents, the explicit rights of parents to raise their own children, to bring them up according to their own convictions, and to homeschool them or to make decisions related to the education of their children, this has been something that is now driven deeply into not only American culture, but American constitutional law. It took some time for these precedents to develop. In 1852, the state of Massachusetts became the very first state to require compulsory attendance of children in the public schools. But by the time you reach the 1970s, with an important case that came before the Supreme Court of the United States. The case was known as Wisconsin versus Yoder, this case that had at its very center, the question is to whether or not Amish parents would have an unquestioned right to bring their children up according to their convictions. And to make educational decisions, including what is now called homeschool. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Amish parents, and that has become an extremely important precedent for the rise of homeschooling in the United States, and that rise has been dramatic.

Currently, it is estimated that between 1.3 and 2 million American children are being homeschooled. And that, according to very strong legal protections, that makes clear that homeschooling as an option is legal in all 50 states. Now there are threats to the integrity of that right in the United States. Most coming from the educational establishment with efforts to regulate or to supervise homeschooling. But still, this place is the United States and all 50 states in a very different position than citizens of Europe. And if we needed any wake up call on that, the decision in recent days by the European Court of Human Rights, when it comes to the Wunderlich family, should make the point abundantly clear.

There’s another danger that is looming over all of this. And it goes back to the fact that in a modern secular age, there is an effort to try to establish by constitution, or declaration, or some kind of manifesto, or treaty rights that otherwise have no grounding at all. A classic example of that comes in 1989 with the beginning of what became known as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Now at first hearing, who could be against such a statement recognizing the rights of children? But a closer look at the document and the movement behind it, and of course, the United Nations itself indicates that this document actually emerges from an internationalist movement that seeks more than anything else to protect the rights of states rather than the rights of parents. Not to mention children. The rights of children here are actually becoming something of a political camouflage to give power to states and to international organizations. That at the expense of parents. That’s not to say that all the signatories to this statement have that intent. It is to say that some of those who framed it explicitly had that intent.

It’s also very interesting to note the dates here. That treaty emerged in 1989. That is the convention on the rights of the child of the United Nations. Now in 1989, George H. W. Bush was President of the United States. During his administration, the United States did not sign the declaration. But President Bush’s successor in office, President Bill Clinton, did sign the declaration. But he didn’t send it to the Senate. Why? Because there is no way that the Senate of the United States of America could possibly ratify that statement. Thus, President Clinton made the public statement on his own political terms of signing the declaration. But it has no effect whatsoever, because the convention has not been ratified by the United States Senate.

Running for President in 2008, Barack Obama also said that he believed the United States should be a full participant affirming the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. However, he in eight years in the White House also did not send the treaty to the United States Senate. Why? Because he knew that the Senate would not ratify the convention. But make no mistake, there are those who very much want to see the Senate eventually receive and ratify this convention. And they’re basically buying their time. Just waiting until they believe they have a sufficient majority in the United States Senate to get the convention through to ratification. At that point, you can count on the fact that many in the United States on the left will begin arguing that the United Nations convention on the rights of the child is a legally superior document to the Constitution of the United States. And lest you wonder what that would look like, well, just consider the decision in recent days of the European Court of Human Rights. And consider Christian parents in Germany who were told that their rights were not violated when their children were taken away from them because they insisted on homeschooling.

Part III

Why divorce is never as smooth as the Bezos announcement tries to makes it appear

Coming back to the United States, the mainstream media has been a buzz with reports of the impending divorce of the founders of, Jeff Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie. What makes the story really interesting from a Christian worldview is the fact that divorce, though the very cause of the story, is treated as something that is now so casual, unimportant, and morally acceptable, that there could be no doubt about whether or not divorce would be the right thing to do here. The only question is how do you announce divorce in this age of social media? How do you protect shareholder value in a massively valuable American corporation when the founder gets divorced? And how in the world is all of this going to shake out economically?

The Wall Street Journal’s front page story says this, “ Incorporated, Chief Executive, Jeff Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie, are divorcing after 25 years of marriage during which, Mr. Bezos amassed a personal fortune while building the world’s most valuable company.” The next sentence: “The divorce could hold implications for the ownership structure of Amazon, where Mr. Bezos is the largest stakeholder with a 16.3% stake, according to the company’s latest proxy.” “Mr. Bezos, the Wall Street Journal tells us, “is the world’s wealthiest man, with a net worth of about $137 billion.” And the editors and writers of the Wall Street Journal want us to know that the most interesting question in all of this is what the divorce might mean for corporate control of the world’s most valuable corporation.

Meanwhile, another very revealing article from the same newspaper tells us that the interesting dimension of all of this just might be the art of the divorce announcement, in this case made by Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos. What makes this interesting, well, they made the announcement together. It was terse, it was positive. It stated that they still have affection for one another. That they will still be involved in partnerships. And that they both want to face the future. It was so positive as to state, “If we had known we would separate after 25 years, we would do it all again.” In the unusual statement, we also find the language, “We’ve had such a great life together as a married couple, and we also see wonderful futures ahead as parents, friends, partners, and ventures, and projects, and as individuals pursuing ventures and adventures. Though the labels might be different, we remain a family and we remain cherished friends.” That is all so incredibly positive, and yet, there’s at least some dawning recognition in the media that something doesn’t smell right with that statement. If everything is so rosy, why are you getting a divorce?

Upon reflection, that particular document, now known as the divorce announcement, appears to be an effort to try to create as little mayhem financially, politically, and socially for themselves and for as possible. Elizabeth Bernstein, the writer for The Wall Street Journal tells us, “Welcome to divorce in the age of social media.” She continues, in a world where personal news can spread to millions in minutes, it’s no longer enough for divorcing couples to sit their kids, family members, or close friends down and explain their decision. Increasingly, couples or individuals are issuing divorce announcements on social media. The purpose, she tells us, is to tell many people at once and to jump out ahead of gossip and speculation for CEOs. She clarifies, it’s also a question of reassuring shareholders, employees, colleagues, and customers that they won’t be experiencing turbulence.

Rachel Zamore, a marriage and family therapist in Brattleboro, Vermont, who is identified as working with couples considering divorce said, “With an announcement, you are framing the narrative. You are saying, this is the tone and this is the story. You don’t have to fill in the blanks.” Well, Bernstein may be right that this is the shape of a divorce announcement in the age of social media.

But this is where Christians have to understand that divorce, the break down of the covenant of marriage, is never so smooth as this. It cannot be papered over or made more palatable, more morally acceptable in the age of social media. This kind of announcement may be a sign of the times and may be intended to calm the nerves of shareholders and stakeholders. But absent from the entire picture is an acknowledgement of what divorce really represents.

I have so often quoted the novelist, Pat Conroy, who stated in one of his novels that every single divorce is the death of a small civilization. There’s the heart breaking realization that the front page news of divorce in this case has nothing to do with divorce itself, has no acknowledgement of the moral seriousness of the breakdown of a marriage. Instead, all that remains are suggestions about how to announce the divorce in the age of social media. It may well be that this reflects the way the culture around us genuinely thinks, but this can’t be the way that Christians think.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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