briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

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

It’s Wednesday, September 4, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Can a Religious School Actually Operate by Its Own Religious Convictions? The Intentional Subversion of Religious Exemptions in the 1964 Civil Rights Act

As we have been watching the moral transformation of our society, every dimension transformed by the new sexual and gender revolutionaries, we have seen that one of the main fronts is in the collision between religious liberty and the newly declared sexual liberties. The Supreme Court of the United States in its next term is scheduled to take up several of these issues, but NBC News recently ran a story with the headline asking the question, “Can a religious school fire a gay teacher?” The headline answers with, “It’s complicated.”

Julie Moreau is the reporter in the story. She takes us to Roncalli High School in Indianapolis where Lynn Starkey worked for nearly 40 years. We are then told, “In May, however, the Roman Catholic school fired Starkey as a guidance counselor after officials discovered that she is married to a woman.” The story goes on to tell us that Starkey “sued the school and the archdiocese of Indianapolis claiming in part that they discriminated against her on the basis of her sexual orientation.”

Now, let’s just consider what we’re really facing in a headline like this. The headline should be a wakeup call for all Christians simply by the way the question is posed, “Can a religious school fire a gay teacher?” Embedded in that is the assumption that the answer should be, “No.” You don’t ask the question that way unless the cultural momentum is behind answering the question, “No. Of course, a religious schools should not be able to fire someone simply on the basis of sexual orientation.” But the headline you’ll remember ends with the explanation, “It’s complicated.” Well, what complicates it?

Well, as you’re looking at the story from Indianapolis, what complicates it is the fact that at least in some of these places, you have Catholic schools coming to different decisions or sometimes even taking the same action, but with exceedingly different explanations for why they have done so. In some cases, you have schools rather directly run by the diocese or Catholic orders, they have tended to take more decisive action than other Catholic schools. But what’s most important here is that what is being raised as whether or not a religious school, regardless of the religious group, should have the right to hire and to fire with sexual activity and sexual orientation, gender identity and presentation, a part of the hiring and firing understanding and criteria.

The guidance counselor, in this case, was fired because she was found to be, “In violation of her contract and contrary to the teaching of the Catholic church.” Both of those are, at least in so far as this news article makes clear, objective facts. She had violated her contract and she had violated the teaching of the Catholic church. But then NBC reports the archdiocese there in Indianapolis, which is also being sued by a gay teacher who was recently fired from a different Catholic school in the city, claims that it has a “constitutional right to hire leaders who support the school’s religious mission.”

Now, again, just think about this for a moment. How have we reached the point in America where that is a contested question? How do we get to the point that the cultural momentum in our society would imply, if not coerce, that religious schools do not have the ability to hire and to fire on the basis of those religious convictions? But that’s where we now are. This NBC report makes this very, very clear. Many Christians have assumed that some kind of conflict or collision between the new sexual liberties and religious liberty, it would be either hypothetical or way out there somewhere in the future, or they may even, if not geographically, that might take place in Los Angeles or San Francisco or Portland or New York or Brooklyn or Boston, but not in Indianapolis. But this story is centered in Indianapolis, Indiana.

The archdiocese there responded to the press requests by stating, “Catholic schools exist to communicate the Catholic faith to the next generation. To accomplish their mission, Catholic schools ask all teachers, administrators, and guidance counselors to uphold the Catholic faith by word and action both inside and outside the classroom.” Now, more liberal Catholics have responded to this news story by saying that the school acted arbitrarily. It doesn’t act on every violation of Catholic moral teaching or theology, but it acted in this case, and it did so wrongly is the very clear liberal implication.

But here’s where we need to understand that the legalization of same sex marriage has presented every single religious body with a new objective reality that calls for a moral response. The fact is that marriage by nature is a public institution. That’s why same sex couples sued to have the right, it has been declared, to marry an individual of the same sex or the same gender. It is because marriage is a public institution. It’s a public record. It is a public recognition. That was what was demanded. But the very public nature of it means that employers, including religious employers, will find out what they otherwise would not have known about the sexual orientation or the sexual interest of their own employees by the fact that entering into a same sex union establishes as an objective reality, that one has now refuted the teachings both of traditional and current Catholicism when it comes to the official catechism of the church and against all who would hold to a biblical understanding of morality or a biblical definition of marriage.

NBC goes onto to report, “The issue of gay educators being fired by or excluded from employment at religious schools is not new. And since 2014, several cases have come before the courts.” The report goes on to say, “The issue of gay educators being fired by or excluded from employment at religious schools is not new and since 2014, several cases have come before the courts. It’s also not unique,” says NBC, “to Indianapolis or Catholic institutions.”

The news report then goes to Karen Pence, the wife of the vice president of the United States, Mike Pence, who, “Said she would return to teaching at a Christian school in Virginia that refuses to hire LGBTQ employees or to educate LGBTQ students.” But the key turn in the NBC report is when the reporter asked the question, “So is this legal?” NBC then reports, “While the majority of Americans across all religious groups support employment nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people according to a recently released PRRI public opinion poll, the law is less straightforward.”

Now, here again, I want to interject a point that is often missed in this kind of reporting. When you look at this claim that the majority of Americans across all religious groups support employment nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people, or when you look at generalizations considering that the vast majority of Americans endorsed this or oppose that, want this or don’t want that, whether it’s gun control or just about anything else, one of the things we need to note is that Americans respond to survey questions quite differently than they do to the specifics of legislation.

Legislation is indeed a matter of words. Legislation is very detailed. Legislation requires definitions. Legislation on an issue like that covered in this report would have to answer the question, “Should there be a constitutional exemption for religious employers when it comes to any proposed non-discrimination legislation?” That is not the kind of detail that is going to be asked of the American people when they are responding to polls or surveys. But the article then cites, Jenny Pizer, Law and Policy Director for Lambda Legal, an LGBTQ Civil Rights Organization, who said, “The law is in flux. There are some principles we are sure of and some that are still being developed and sorted out in the courts and state and federal legislatures.”

The NBC report then tries to break down the issues, and they are multidimensional. First, you have federal law. The article in NBC goes to Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prevents employers from discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. But Marcia McCormick, a professor of law and gender studies at Saint Louis University, pointed out that that 1964 Civil Rights Act, “Contains multiple overlapping exemptions and that’s especially true when it comes to religion.”

So going all the way back to 1964 before anyone knew the word “transgender,” before LGBTQ had entered the American lexicon or same sex marriage had become imaginable, the issue back in 1964 would be more commonly expressed as whether or not a kosher deli could discriminate in hiring Jewish butchers in order to maintain its kosher status. But at the level of federal law and the civil rights act, this is where Christians need to pay some very close attention because back in 1964 even as the law said there must be no discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin, it exempted religious schools, institutions, and ministries from that provision, and understandably so.

You can’t have a Catholic school if it can’t hire Catholic teachers. You can’t have a Lutheran school if it can’t hire only Lutheran teachers. You could go down the list. You can’t have an Islamic school if that school is required to hire persons who are in conflict with Islamic teaching as teachers or guidance counselors or administrators. But it’s really interesting and a bit haunting to see the example that NBC news gives. I quote, “A school run by Southern Baptists that seeks to encourage more people to convert to the faith could, according to this section of Title VII, hire only Southern Baptists.”

Now, I will speak at this point as the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, an institution that hires only Baptists, indeed only Southern Baptists, that is members of Southern Baptist churches to teach on our faculty. You can’t have The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary if it cannot have the right recognized constitutionally and for that matter morally to hire the teachers who are members of the denomination and its churches and will uphold without reservation its teachings, including theology and morality.

But also going back to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the word “sex” is included. “There can be no discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.” But what did “sex” in this sense mean in 1964? It was quite simple. There were two boxes, appropriately so: male and female. That’s it. That’s the entire catalog in 1964. As a matter of fact, that’s the entire catalog when it comes to biblical Christianity.

Even as a very small percentage of population has been marked by a genetic complexity on those issues, the reality is that the society had organized itself around male and female completely consistently with Genesis 1 and there was no confusion. There was certainly no push back against what is now called the gender binary. The sexual revolutionaries now consider that gender binary something that must be overcome if human beings are to be fully liberated. But even as the word “sex” in the 1964 act was easily understood as referring to the two sexes, male and female, an understanding that continued for decades thereafter, in more recent times LGBTQ activists have been pressing to include sexual orientation, sexual identity, and gender identity as protected classes simply under the word “sex.”

The problem there should be obvious to anyone who is thinking clearly and that is that such was not envisioned in 1964 when the Congress adopted the Civil Rights Act and it was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson. No one had any concept of sexual orientation in 1964. It wasn’t even discussed in the culture at all. And the transgender issue, the spectrum of LGBTQ, was clearly neither imagined nor included in the legislative intent of 1964. Marcia McCormick, again, professor of law and gender studies at Saint Louis University said that the issue that definition of sex in Title VII is key because the law, “Has an expansive definition of religion, not just a beliefs, but also practices.”

She continued, “There are a lot of rules and a lot of religions about how people ought to behave when it comes down to what it means to be male and female or to sexual or romantic activity.” Now, let’s just state that’s absolutely true. A lot of religions have a lot of rules based upon their fundamental worldview, upon their claim to revelation, and upon their entire doctrinal and theological system. It comes down to detailed rules about sexual morality, definitions of marriage, who can marry, who can’t marry whom, and all the rest. It’s also true that that has basically been objectively a part of what it means to have a religion throughout human history.

The point being made here is that what we are witnessing now is an intentional subversion of that understanding. It is the effort on the part of activists to try to make the argument that even though that might have been true in generations past, we have to overcome it. A progressivist arc of history means we have to let go of it. Even though there were expansive religious exemptions written into the 1964 law, we can’t afford them now, not if humanity is going to be liberated.

But Title VII also included an explicit ministerial exemption, and the Supreme Court of the United States importantly in 2012 affirmed the fact that that ministerial exception is extended to anyone who has a teaching responsibility or a ministerial role within a religious body, or for that matter, a school. Here’s where you’re going to see one of the key battle fronts after the Supreme Court decision in 2012. You’re going to see those on the progressive left try to argue for an extremely narrow ministerial exemption. It might refer to those who are pastors or senior pastors of churches, but it should not extend, they will argue, to others who have more administrative responsibility or teaching responsibility.

But this is where Christians need to be alerted immediately to the fact that we will lose all Christian schools if the administrators are not required to be Christians, if those who are doing the teaching are not required to be Christians. If we cannot stipulate the Christian convictions and the Christian moral standards to which Christian teachers are required to adhere to teach in Christian schools, then we will not have Christian schools. Period.

The NBC report, which is quite comprehensive then turns to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and to state law and also to the administrative state through executive orders and department rules, reminding us yet again that elections have inevitable consequences, and the future of American society on this question may well be one of those consequences.

Part II

Why Are Lesbian Communities Shrinking? How the Inevitable Collision Between the Gender Binary and the LGBTQ Revolution Helps Explain It

But next, even as we note that inevitable collision between religious liberty and the new sexual liberty, it’s also very interesting to note another collision that is also inevitable, and it’s incredibly revealing of just what’s going on in the society around us.

It also, oddly enough, tells us a little bit about how we have arrived at this moment. It fills in some gaps in the story. In this case, we turn to the New York Times, a recent Sunday Styles article with the headline: “Is this the End of Paradise?” The subhead: “Womyn’s lands established as lesbian utopias struggled to attract a new generation of members.” Now perhaps you have already spelled it out in your head, but the word women here is spelled W-O-M-Y-N so as to avoid even using men or the letters M-E-N in defining who is or is not a woman.

The stories by Rina Raphael, and here’s the interesting historic background and that is the fact that if you go back a generation, you had prominent lesbians who were arguing for a lesbian withdrawal from an androcentric patriarchal society, and they were establishing certain refuges. Some of them were almost like lesbian villages and we’re not only talking again about the coast, we’re also talking about places like rural Mississippi where the land was cheap and a certain amount of isolation was possible.

But here’s the big issue: Back in the 1960s and ’70s when these women’s lands emerged as a part of the American counterculture, it was very, very clear that the operant worldview was still that you could know there was a distinction between male and female. There’s no point in being a lesbian if you are not adamantly female. So the other collision we’re looking at is between the old gender revolutionaries who now look very outdated and the new gender revolutionaries pushing against the binary.

We’ve seen that collision on the campuses of elite women’s colleges where if they are going to join the LGBTQ revolution as every single one of them predictably has, then they’re raising the very question of what is a women’s college when you can have someone born male who is now a woman, or someone born female who is now a man. Is that individual a woman or is that individual not? It has everything to do with who’s admitted to an historic women’s college, who’s allowed to continue as a student, who’s hired as faculty, who’s recognized as a graduate.

Again, just to state the issue as clearly as language would intend, you can’t have a women’s college if you don’t know who a woman is, and you can’t know who a woman is unless you also know who a woman is not. American feminism, especially second wave feminism that so reshaped to the culture in the 1970s and beyond, it was indeed extremely clear about who is and is not a woman, and so were the women’s lands as referenced in this New York times article.

But the headline you recall is asking the question if those paradises have now reached an end. It turns out that they may have reached an end for two different reasons. One of them is the aging of the historic lesbian populations that established these retreats and refuges. It turns out the younger lesbians, in so far as they identify as lesbians, are not really signing up for the same experience.

Another problem in attracting lesbians to live in these communities is the fact that the LGBTQ revolution has made it so possible for them to live in other communities and indeed to live openly.

One of the persons cited in the article said, “35 years ago, this was a place to escape the patriarchy, and it still can be, but honestly in Burlington,” meaning Burlington, Vermont, home of Bernie Sanders, “the patriarchy has a lower volume.” Explaining how these communities were organized, the New York Times says, “50 years ago, just as gay liberation movements swept cities around the world, some lesbians began to leave them, the women decamped to rural areas where they could collectively purchase property and build communities from scratch. They erected outhouses, laid pipelines, and set up chicken coops.”

A part of the argument made by these communities is that they were to be uncontaminated by anyone with an XY chromosome to the extent that a few years ago I saw at a state park an announcement of one of the events similar to these communities, and women were warned even if they were mothers that they could not bring even infant sons to this event because they would contaminate the purity of the XX chromosomal structure.

But, and here’s the issue, the second big reason why these communities are not flourishing in the present is the gender revolutionaries, the transgender revolution, because it raises the whole question as to whether or not you can use the word “women” regardless of how you will spell it with any kind of determinant meaning. And the reality is the LGBTQ revolution says, “No.”

Part III

Hey Dude, You Can’t Use Those Gendered Words at Summer Camp Anymore: When the LGBTQ Revolution Goes to Camp

Next, I also want to note that just about the same time the New York Times ran another article, this one by Dan Levin. The headline: “In an All-Gender Cabin, Camp Goers Don’t Have to Hide.” This isn’t about people in their 60s. It’s about children and teens in summer camp and the fact that some camps are now at least offering as alternatives a non-gender binary cabin for children and teenagers. The story is datelined from Groveland, California and toward the end of the article a 12-year-old cisgender boy — that’s how the individual is identified here — a 12-year-old cisgender boy, which means he’s not transgender, it means that according to this indication, he was born a boy, he considers himself a boy, his first name is Zephyr.

We’re told that this 12-year-old boy from Santa Cruz, “Chose the all-gender cabin partly to get away from his brother, but more so because he thought it would be a really cool group of people.” One of the impressions you gained from reading this article is something we’ve talked about before and that is that the non-binary option or at least claiming some kind of gender confusion or resisting the binary in some way has now become a matter of cool for many American adolescents, teenagers, and young adults.

The question as to whether this will be any kind of lasting pattern is very much an open question, but what’s not open for question is the fact that it has become a new way of stating one’s identity, of standing out from the crowd, of being cool. It is interesting that Zephyr, the 12-year-old from Santa Cruz found out that once he was in the old gender cabin, he had to change his language because he was accustomed to calling everybody, dude. The boy said, “I call everybody dude, and some people in the cabin don’t like that term so I tried to be very conscientious.”

He went on to say, “In boy’s bunks and with my male friends back home, we’ll jokingly insult each other, but in this cabin everyone tries to be as kind and generous as possible. It’s made me more accepting and I feel better about myself, too.”

Well, little dude, one of the other realities you’re going to have to face is that you’re going to have to give up those pronouns you’ve been taught in school, or at least previous generations are taught in school, because at several points in this article, once again, the personal pronoun “their” is used apparently for an individual, which leads to mass confusion when other paragraphs and sentences clearly are not referring to individuals but to groups.

Part IV

Lara Spencer Faces Backlash Over “Insensitive” Comments about Prince George Taking Ballet, But Why?

But next, it’s also important to note that in the midst of this revolution, everything is a matter of extreme sensitivity and often of political controversy. Just ask Lara Spencer, one of the hosts of Good Morning America on ABC, who recently found herself on the wrong side of history and on the wrong side of an army of ballet dancers when she made a little light of the fact that Britain’s Prince George is, at age six, studying ballet. She made the statement of the little boy taking ballet as saying, “Well, we’ll see how long that lasts.”

But what lasted longer, at least in controversy, was the backlash to Lara Spencer for daring to even make a generalization that this is, in any way, unusual. Instead, the immediate pushback was that boys do ballet and that one should celebrate even some act as this as an indication of the fact that the gender binary raises its ugly head yet again.

Lara Spencer had to save her career by declaring that she had turned a negative into a teachable moment. She made a public statement in which she said, “I screwed up. The comment I made about dance was insensitive. It was stupid and I am deeply sorry. I have listened. I have learned about the bravery it takes for a young boy to pursue a career in dance.”

There is no indication whatsoever that Prince George has chosen ballet for a career. But the controversy, it at least threatened to harm, if not to end, the career of a TV journalist who dared to make a generalization, even in friendly jest.

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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