briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

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

It’s Tuesday, April 9, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

In the name of anti-discrimination, Yale Law School discriminates against students who won’t surrender to the moral revolution

We have been watching how moral change takes place within a culture. Sometimes in big headline news, sometimes in stories that don’t get that much attention. Sometimes in stories that have to do with just one school, maybe even just one policy. But given the school and given the policy, it turns out the story is actually much larger.

So, for example, a story about a policy change at Yale’s Law School turns out to be a very big story. A big story because if this is happening at Yale, it’s going to happen elsewhere, probably quite quickly. The reason for that, before we even turn to the policy, is that elite institutions drive the culture before other institutions. It is the elite institutions that set the example that other institutions in society follow.

How does that work? Well, just look at the most prestigious colleges and universities in America, they set something of a standard. What they do, other institutions follow. You can think of this like concentric circles. You could put the ivy league in the very center of that circle, and then you look at the circles that would then continue outwards.

Next beyond the ivy league would be the other historic, most prestigious American research universities. Outside in the next circle would be a constellation of prestigious American four year liberal arts colleges. The next circle would include the most prestigious of the public universities. The universities of North Carolina, Michigan, Florida, the University of California at Berkeley. And then in the next circle out you would have the extremely well-funded private institutions that aren’t in the very top tier, they are not in the historic ivy league, but they’re not that far behind. They are still magnetic institutions that regionally and nationally exert a great deal of influence.

In the concentric circles moving out, there would be the rest of the institutions. You’d be looking at well-funded regional universities, you’d be looking at regional state universities. You would also be looking at eventually Bible colleges, institutions, community colleges. The point is, that the most elite of the institutions exert extraordinary influence. The other institutions want to look like them, it doesn’t work in reverse. You do not have the ivy league institutions trying to look like regional state universities. No, it works exactly the opposite. Eventually the regional state universities are doing their very best to look like the ivy league institutions.

That includes such issues as accreditation and academic standards, but make no mistake, it includes moral and worldview issues as well. Those institutions at the center, they exert extraordinary influence. And when you’re looking at Yale, you are looking at one of the most important universities in America. You are looking at a university that looks basically only to Harvard University as a peer that is older than itself and thus, chronologically, just a little bit more prestigious.

When you think about the Yale Law School, just consider the fact that every single sitting Justice on the United States Supreme Court have studied at either the Yale or the Harvard Law School. You might say, “Well there’s an exception to that and that would be Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She graduated from Columbia.” Yes, but she graduated from Columbia after having studied at Harvard.

Columbia, by the way, is another of the ivy league institutions. But you put all this together and you see the extraordinary influence of the Yale Law School. And thus we are concerned about a headline that recently appeared in USA Today. The headline is this, “So Yale Law School endorses anti-religious bigotry now?”

The story is by Samuel Adkisson and he writes, “What happens at our nation’s elite law schools rarely stays there. That is why recent events at Yale Law School are so disturbing. In an effort to appease campus protesters, Yale announced that it would begin discriminating against religious students. This should concern all,” says Adkisson, “who value intellectual diversity and religious freedom. But even more troubling is the fact that this anti-religious bigotry is unlikely to confine itself to the ivory tower for long.”

That story goes hand in hand with a piece that was written by Aaron Haviland, a student at the Yale Law School. The headline of the story in The Federalist, “Yale Law School yanks stipends from students who work for Christian firms.” He writes, “After the Yale Federalist Society invited an attorney from Alliance Defending Freedom, a prominent Christian legal group, to speak about the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, conservative students faced backlash. Outlaws, the law school’s LGBTQ group, demanded that Yale Law School ‘clarify’ its admissions policies for students who support ADF’s,” that is the Alliance Defending Freedom, “positions. Additionally, Outlaws insisted that students who work for religious or conservative public interest organizations such as ADF during their summers should not receive financial support from the law school.”

Then the next paragraph, “On March 25, one month after the controversy, Yale Law School announced via email that it was extending its nondiscrimination policy to summer public interest fellowships, postgraduate public interest fellowships, and loan forgiveness for public interest careers. The school will no longer provide financial support for students and graduates who work at organizations that discriminate on the basis of ‘sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.'”

Haviland continues, “Yale based its decision on a unanimous recommendation from the school’s Public Interest Committee. The committee explained: ‘The logic of our broader recommendation is that Yale Law School does not and should not support discrimination against its own students, financially or otherwise. Obviously, the Law School cannot prohibit a student from working for an employer who discriminates, but that is not a reason why Yale Law School should bear any obligation to fund that work, particularly if that organization does not give equal employment opportunity to all of our students.'”

A few months ago, we dealt with a similar story coming from Canada. In that case, the government of Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau had issued a policy saying that high school and college students would not be able to receive stipends for their volunteer work with public interest organizations that would discriminate against persons on the basis of the LGBTQ array. That meant, of course, that those teenagers and young adults could not gain summer financing for their work for organizations that held to an historic Biblical, traditionally western understanding of the family, a definition of a marriage, an understanding of sexual morality and gender.

And so what was presented by the Trudeau government as a societal advance, a victory for non-discrimination, turned out to have a directly discriminatory effect amongst Christians in Canada. Now the very same principle is being applied by the Yale Law School. And, of course, what you see here is the law school presenting this policy as if all right minded persons should be committed to it as well.

One of the interesting things that Haviland points out, also the piece in USA Today, is that the Yale Committee brought back a recommendation that went even further than the group known as Outlaws, the LGBTQ activist group among Yale Law School students, had even demanded.

Samuel Adkisson, in that article published at USA Today, points to the central irony in all of this. The story only came about because Kristen Waggoner, counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, was scheduled to speak to the Yale Law School. It was her scheduled speech that brought about the protests coming from gay and lesbian students. Or at least from the Outlaws group representing them.

The irony is this, it was Kristen Waggoner who made the oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case and it was her arguments that prevailed at the United States Supreme Court by a 7-2 decision. How can her position be extreme if it was affirmed by a 7-2 majority of the United States Supreme Court so recently and when so many of the liberal Justices were even included in that 7-2 majority.

But this just points to what is happening in America’s law school campuses. Those law school campuses are often even far more liberal than the most liberal judges and justices who sit on the nation’s federal courts. This is a signal about the future and one that simply must not be missed.

Adkisson described the controversy this way, “One might expect an event with a successful Supreme Court advocate to be welcomed at an elite law school. But before the event had even taken place, more than 20 student organizations publicly condemned the event and speaker.”

Now what is the Alliance Defending Freedom? It is one of the most important national organizations that represents those whose religious liberties have been threatened. I have worked with them. They are not only a respectable organization, they are a respectable organization that often wins decisions at every level of the courts. Most importantly, repeated wins in the federal courts, including the appellate courts and including the Supreme Court of the United States. Thus, it is implausible to argue that they are somehow an extremist organization. We are talking about an organization that not only makes arguments, but wins them in the federal courts.

Adkisson describes the response of the school this way, “But in late March, Yale Law School adopted a novel tactic: one-upping the protesters. It announced three major policy changes that went further than many of the protesters’ demands, all under the guise of an expanded nondiscrimination policy.” Those words are really important, “all under the guise of an expanded nondiscrimination policy.” We are now living in one of those Orwellian moments when discrimination is being repackaged as nondiscrimination.

Adkisson continued, “The new policies require all employers to swear that, when hiring students or graduates who benefit from certain Yale funding, they will not consider an applicant’s ‘religion,’ ‘religious creed,’ ‘gender identity’ or ‘gender expression,’ among other factors.” As he says, “The effect of this is that if a Yale Law student or graduate wishes to work for an organization that does consider religion in hiring, say a Catholic organization or Jewish advocacy group, Yale will cut them off from three important programs.”

Furthermore, as you look at the explanation of these programs, it will be very difficult for a graduate of the Yale Law School to get a job if he or she has not participated in these programs, getting vital experience in public interest law. It is also clear that there will be a dramatic financial impact on the students who are found to be outside this policy. Once again, Yale will say it’s not the student who violates the policy, it’s the employer.

But don’t misunderstand what’s going on here. This is a way of punishing Yale Law students who are found to be on the wrong side of history, or for that matter, on the wrong side of the group known as Outlaws, or on the wrong side of the faculty of the Yale Law School on a crucial moral issue such as the definition of marriage. And also, make no mistake, this is not just about sending a signal to those students. It is also about sending a signal to the entire culture.

The Yale Law School here is saying, this is where we stand. We’re going to discriminate and call it nondiscrimination. We’re going to get away with it because the momentum of the entire society is behind the newly invented erotic liberties at the expense of the Constitutionally guaranteed religious liberty.

Part II

Scandal hits the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that makes ‘hate group’ accusations against convictional institutions

But next we’re going to turn to a very different news story that actually makes the very same point, or at least makes another point we need to observe very, very closely. Here’s a headline article written by Kristen Waggoner, you’ve heard of her, she was just mentioned as the speaker at the center of the controversy at Yale. She’s identified by The Wall Street Journal as Senior Vice President of U.S. Legal Division for the Alliance Defending Freedom. Here we are again.

Her article is headlined, “We were smeared by the SPLC.” Now note this story very carefully. Listen to those initials very carefully. SPLC, The Southern Poverty Law Center, keep that in mind. Waggoner writes, “The Southern Poverty’s Law Center’s co-founder, president, and legal director, have all departed amid a scandal over publicly unspecified workplace conduct reportedly involving racial prejudice and sexual harassment. But the SPLC’s work itself is scandalous. The group falsely maligns ideological opponents in an effort to crush them rather than debate their ideas honestly. I know,” says Waggoner, “because in 2016, the SPLC branded my organization, the religious liberty non-profit Alliance Defending Freedom, a hate group.”

Now we’ve talked about this over and over again, the SPLC and others are now identifying groups that they find objectionable as hate groups, rather than enter into an honest debate on the issues, they simply seek to dismiss historically Christian institutions, but we shall see selectively, as being outside any kind of moral acceptability. Labeled as hate groups, lumping historic Christian churches, denominations, organizations, institutions and schools along with groups such the Ku Klux Klan. That’s exactly what they’ve been getting away with.

Later in her article, Waggoner writes, “When I graduated from law school, I expected tough arguments with ideological opponents. I didn’t expect to be smeared as a bigot or physically threatened simply for defending American’s freedom to speak and live in a manner consistent with their beliefs. But the SPLC insists on vilifying rather than debating its ideological opponents. It’s method of choice is the hate group label hurled at peaceful groups that disagree with its far left worldview.”

But then she writes this sentence, it is itself an understatement, “The SPLC has become partisan, unreliable, and lucrative.” Those three words, partisan, unreliable, and lucrative. It is indeed all three of those words and it is much worse.

Waggoner goes on to write, “It’s ironic that a non-profit with poverty in its name has amassed a war chest of more than $500 million, $120 million of which is held in off-shore accounts. The SPLC’s dark departure from its original mission hasn’t been a secret. Having successfully fought the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s, it needed a new opponent, so it began claiming that conservatives like me pose the same threat as violent racists.”

Now that’s undeniably true. The Southern Poverty Law Center, as it calls itself, the SPLC, has been buying mailing lists and employing direct mail fundraising for years. Which means that many of us who subscribe to national news magazines have been receiving their fundraising letters. Fundraising letters that warn that we, historic Christian institutions, schools, and organizations, are effectively hate groups. And, of course, the letters always came with a plea for fundraising in order to save the nation from hate.

But when a scandal like this breaks, the obvious question always comes, didn’t someone see this? Didn’t someone know this was taking place? And here we’re talking about whatever is the unspecified misbehavior concerning racial and gender discrimination and other forms of harassment that led to the firing of the senior staff. But in the larger picture, just given the fact that they were fundraising while lying, it would have seemed that someone, even on the left, would have complained.

Sometimes, however, the kind of complaint that needs to come comes after the controversy breaks. Thus, recently in The New Yorker, again one of the most influential magazines of the cultural elite, Bob Moser wrote an article entitled, “The reckoning of Morris Dees and The Southern Poverty Law Center.” And in this case, he writes from the left and he writes as someone who as a young person had signed on idealistically to work for the SPLC.

In Moser’s article, he makes clear that there were those who would ask the questions and had even spoken openly about the answers. He writes, “The great Southern journalist John Egerton, writing for The Progressive, had painted a damning portrait of Dees, the center’s longtime mastermind, as a ‘super-salesman and master fundraiser’ who viewed civil-rights work mainly as a marketing tool for bilking gullible Northern liberals. ‘We just run our business like a business,” he told Egerton. “Whether you’re selling cakes or causes, it’s all the same.'”

The article also makes clear that Dees had actually begun in the fundraising business before he found the cause upon which he would build millions and millions, hundreds of millions of dollars of fundraising that made him and his organization very rich.

Moser writes about working for the SPLC, “We were part of a con and we knew it.” He continued, “Outside of work we spent a lot of time drinking and dishing in Montgomery bars,” that means Montgomery, Alabama, “and restaurants about the oppressive security regime, the hyperbolic fundraising appeals, and the fact that though the Center claimed to be effective in fighting extremism, ‘hate’ always continued to be on the rise, more dangerous than ever with each year’s report on hate groups.”

As Moser then writes, “‘The SPLC, making hate pay,’ we’d say.”

The Editorial Board of The Wall Street Journal got right to the same point in an editorial entitled, “Who watches the ‘hate’ watchers?” As they said, “The Southern Poverty Law Center’s recent turmoil is sad irony, but it’s an irony that should have been obvious.” They wrote, “Warnings about a tidal wave of ‘hate,’ those are charges of hate meant to build fundraising.” The Editorial Board says, “This is what keeps funds flowing into Poverty Palace,” as some SPLC workers have called its headquarters, “its endowment is now $470 million. Donors should take this moment, if they haven’t already,” says the Board, “to find a better cause.”

Again, that is a profound understatement. You’re looking at a group, however, that is widely cited by other authorities and the media as having some kind of objective criterion by which they judge who is and is not a hate group. And that means that groups not only like the Alliance Defending Freedom, but historic Christian churches and denominations fall under the group’s definition of being a hate group.

But I’ve often pointed out in the past that they are very selective in labeling such groups. They want to raise money, they want to isolate groups. As Kristen Waggoner says, they want to shut down all discussion and debate. But you’ll notice they don’t take on the really big organizations that would fit their definition of a hate group.

Where has The Southern Poverty Law Center ever defined the Roman Catholic Church as a hate group? It hasn’t, of course, but its own criteria, it would qualify as a hate group. So why is it not? Because they’re not going to raise money claiming that the Roman Catholic Church is a hate group and they know it. They’re not going to take on an institution with hundreds of millions of dollars of legal power to come back and crush them. So instead, they’ll take on the little guys. They’ll take on Christian organizations, they will take on Christian institutions, and they will seek to crush them because they know they can get away with it.

But the truth we need to see here that links both the story from the Yale Law School and now the scandal at The Southern Poverty Center is that this is how moral change is coerced within a society. Here is how it is driven by elite institutions and by special interest groups. And it uses a vocabulary, a vocabulary that justifies discrimination in the name of nondiscrimination. A vocabulary that uses words, essential words of moral importance. Christians understand this, words such as hate and uses them in order to shut down historic Christianity, or anyone who would stand over against this revolution in morality.

Part III

Virtue signaling in private? Why Christians understand the inclination to signal virtue even when it seems like no one else is watching

But then finally this brings us to yet a third story, this one another major article in an influential newspaper. This one appeared in recent days in The New York Times. The question is asked in the headline, “Are you virtue signaling?” Now let’s just think about that for a moment. Virtue signaling is a fairly recent cultural issue of vocabulary. It comes down to the fact that individuals, institutions, groups, seek to signal virtue publicly.

But virtue signaling has really become an issue of late because of the power of social media, of digital technology. And thus the demand that someone must immediately signal virtue or be left behind as part of the dust bin of history. You’ve got to be on the wrong side of history these days, that can be a matter of seconds or minutes, not just of decades and centuries.

And, of course, virtue signaling has been primarily something demanded by the left. It’s something that has become part and parcel of the tool kit of the left. But as I’ve discussed often on The Briefing, to be human, to be a sinful human being, is to some degree to be tempted to virtue signal or to signal virtue. This is the very issue that’s brought up in this article in The New York Times. It’s by Jillian Jordan and David Rand. Jordan is at Northwestern University, Rand is at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

They write, “Expressions of moral outrage are playing a prominent role in contemporary debates about issues like sexual assault, immigration, and police brutality. In response, there have been criticisms of expressions of outrage as mere virtue signaling, feigned righteousness intended to make the speaker appear superior by condemning others.”

The authors then go on to say, “Clearly, feigned righteousness exists. We can all think of cases,” they write, “where people simulated or exaggerated feelings of outrage because they had a strategic reason to do so. Politicians on the campaign trail, for example, are frequent offenders.” We should point out that there are other repeat offenders, you can look now at major American corporations, you can look at major American academic institutions, and, of course, the entire array of Hollywood and other media celebrities trying to signal over and over again their virtue as being on the right side of history, especially on the LGBTQ issues. But they’re not alone, there are many other issues that are also the topic or catalyst for virtue signaling.

And then the writers continue by effectively asking a question. They write, “So it may seem reasonable to ask whether someone is expressing indignation, is she genuinely outraged or just virtue signaling? But in many cases,” they write, “this question is misguided, for the answer is often both. They then say, ‘You may not realize it, but distinguishing between genuine and strategic expressions of indignation assumes a particular scientific theory. Namely that there are two separable psychological systems that shape expressions of moral outrage. One is a genuine system that evaluates a transgression in light of our moral values and determines what level of outrage we actually feel. The other is a strategic system that evaluates our social context and determines what level of outrage will look best to others.”

But the point made by these two scientists, we need to note, is not applicable to institutions or to groups, but rather to individuals because they say these two systems really are not so independent. Human beings are just too complex for that. And then they make an even more interesting argument. They make the argument that people tend to express disgust or outrage and to make moral judgments and not only negatively, but positively, they want to be seen as moral, even when apparently no one is watching.

And now you see why this story is more interesting than even the researchers who wrote it seem to understand. They write, “So even though no one was watching, they had a stronger subconscious motivation to express outrage and as we found, they reported feeling significantly more outraged.”

Now, what’s the point we need to note here? It’s really the words, “as if they were being watched.” Isn’t that interesting? Written from a purely secular viewpoint, thus this behavior makes no sense. Why would someone seek to signal virtue when no one’s watching? Well, here’s where the Christian worldview interjects to say, they are being watched and somehow, made in the image of God, they even subconsciously, if not consciously, know they are being watched.

So while we’re thinking about moral change in society, we have to put virtue signaling amongst one of the most important and ominous developments of recent cultural history, it’s a real thing and even the authors of this article recognize it really is a real thing. It is predominantly a feature of the left, but sometimes it also shows up amongst those on the right, more conservative. Why? Because we all want to be seen as righteous, we want to be seen as doing the right thing, even when we’re not being watched, as if we’re not being watched. But as Christians know, we are always being watched and nothing is hidden from God, nothing at all.

Every once in a while, even in a secular story like this, there appears something that can only be described as a hint of transcendence. The fact that the secular worldview actually can’t explain what is being considered here. A secular worldview can’t explain why people, who apparently are not being watched, feel they are being watched. They may not know why, but we do know why.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

Remember the release of my new book, The Apostles’ Creed: Discovering Authentic Christianity in an Age of Counterfeits. Perhaps more than ever before, it is essential that Christians know how to, as Jude tells us in Jude 3, “Contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.” I’ve written this book for that very purpose. I hope you’ll find it helpful.

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 tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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