briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, January 20, 2020

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

It’s Monday, January 20, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

A Christian School Caught in the Act of Being a Christian School: National Media Blasts Christian Academy For Acting Upon Biblical Conviction

You can count on the fact that just about all of the media space in the nation is going to be taken up over the course of the next several days with the impeachment trial in the United States Senate of the president of the United States. That is, of course, inescapably an extremely important story. That trial gets underway tomorrow and we will be talking about it. But we also need to recognize that there are other big issues that should be getting attention from intelligent Christians and one of them has to do with a story that might appear to be just a blip on the media horizon. Indeed, it should not have been a media story at all and certainly should not have been the media story that it became, but there in is a huge lesson for all of us.

The headline in The Washington Post last week was this: “Christian school expels teen after she posed with rainbow birthday cake, mother says.” The articles by Michael Brice-Saddler. And the article says this, “Kimberly Alford says she typically plans big birthday celebrations for her daughter. But when Kayla Kenney turned 15 late last month, the Louisville mother opted to organize a smaller gathering of friends and family at Texas Roadhouse, one of her daughter’s favorite restaurants. Ahead of the party, Alford instructed a bakery to decorate a cake with colors that pop, she recalled. It just so happened that the cake’s rainbow motif mirrored the design on her daughter’s sweater, and she took a picture of Kayla smiling next to it to commemorate the December 30 party.”

Then the paragraph that follows says this, “Now, Alford alleges the seemingly innocuous photo caused Kayla to be expelled from Whitefield Academy, a private Christian school in Louisville, where her daughter was a freshman. In an email to the family on January 6,” says The Post, “the academy’s head of school, Bruce Jacobson, wrote that Kayla’s enrollment was terminated effective immediately because of a social media post.”

Now even before we look further into this story, let’s just consider that middle paragraph where we are told that the mother said that the rainbow-colored cake was actually so as just an innocuous matter. The Post put it this way, “It just so happened that the cake’s rainbow motif mirrored the design on her daughter’s sweater.” And we’re told the picture was just innocuous, the rainbows meant nothing and therefore the school is overreacting.

As Rod Dreher said in his column at The American Conservative, “This is just another example of the media seizing upon a story that they think will make Christians look either stupid and out of step or in this case downright evil and mean-spirited. Stupid Christians doing stupid Christian things.” Something else we need to note here is that all of these allegations have come from the girl’s mother. Now, it is interesting at least that The Washington Post put in its headline, “Christian school expels teen after she posed with the rainbow birthday cake, mother says.”

Now just consider the contrast if you do an internet search of these articles and you’ll discover that most of those headlines actually do not include those crucial words, “mother says.” Instead, it’s just presented as an absolute fact that a Christian school expelled a 15-year-old student for wearing a rainbow sweater and eating a rainbow cake and posting the photograph to some form of the internet.

And the mother is all about the story as she told The Washington Post, “Rainbows don’t mean you’re a certain gender or certain sex or sexuality. I’m not saying she’s this or that,” speaking of her daughter. She said, “She’s just Kayla to me. I ordered the cake, she didn’t.” The Washington Post article tells us, “The family was stunned by the school’s rationale for the expulsion and furthermore, the mother said that the daughter said to her, ‘Mom, I didn’t do anything wrong.'”

Another paragraph in The Washington Post article reads like this, “Alford says she is aware that the rainbow striped flag is a symbol of the LGBTQ community, but emphasize that her daughter’s matching rainbow cake and sweater were simply a coincidental aesthetic and not intended to mean anything more.” Now focus on those words from the mother that the cake and the sweater were simply, “A coincidental aesthetic and not intended to mean anything more.” As Rod Dreher said it getting right to the point, “That is almost certainly a flat out lie.” Now, in making that assertion, Rod Dreher is almost certainly flat-out right and he goes further and provides ample documentation for the fact that this was no coincidental aesthetic at all.

Once the mother went public with the story, the school, Whitefield Academy in Louisville did release a statement, a very limited statement, given the requirements of student confidentiality in which the school said that they expulsion came only at the end of a two-year process in which the school had worked with the student and the student’s parents. But as you’ll see in this story, it’s not only about a student being expelled, this is about parental malpractice, not only untruthfulness and presenting this story to the media, but facilitating a child in the sexual or sexuality experimentation in the LGBTQ revolution. In this case, a Christian school was found guilty of operating on Christian principles.

Now, I need to state at this point that Whitefield Academy in Louisville is affiliated with Highview Baptist Church. My family and I were members of that church for over two decades and I served as a teaching pastor of the church along with other responsibilities. I’ve been careful not to jump on this story but rather to wait until someone in the national media got ahold of the story and began to deal with it honestly. It’s on the basis of the provided by Rod Dreher, I want to state that explicitly, that I am speaking further on this story. I am not speaking after any conversation with any authorities connected with the school. I have had no such conversations, intentionally so.

The statement from the school includes these words, “Inaccurate media reports are circling, stating that the student in question was expelled from our school solely for a social media post. In fact, she has unfortunately violated our student code of conduct a numerous times over the past two years. In the Fall, we met with the student to give her a final chance to begin to adhere to our code of conduct. Unfortunately, she did not live up to the agreement and therefore has been expelled.”

Crucially, Whitefield Academy went on to make an identity statement, “Whitefield Academy is a Christian-based school with a 43-year history of educating students in a learning environment informed by our shared Christian values. All parents who enroll their children in our private school know upfront that we ask the students to adhere to a lifestyle informed by our Christian beliefs.” The school requires all families, in this case, parents enrolling children in the school to sign a statement of agreement that includes these words, “I understand that Whitefield Academy will provide my child with a Bible-centered education and the Christian tradition. The mission of the teachers and administration at Whitefield Academy is to inspire every student to become a mature follower of Jesus Christ. I agree,” the statement requires, “to support the standards of the school in every area of its philosophy and policies including academic, behavioral, spiritual, dress, moral, and disciplinary policies.”

Furthermore, in its official documentation released not only to students but available to the public under the statement “Role with the Christian School,” we find these words, “Whitefield Academy’s biblical role is to work in conjunction with the home to mold students to be Christ-like on occasion the atmosphere or conduct within a particular home may be counter or in opposition to the biblical lifestyle the school teaches. This includes but is not limited to sexual immorality, homosexual orientation, or the inability to support biblical standards of right and wrong.”

What Rod Dreher could document but the school could not comment upon is the fact that in a series of social media postings, just over the last several months, the teenager in question posed as a girl dressing as a boy, taking another girl to a social event in a public high school. In other social media postings, she identified herself with the words, “Me, finally coming out,” and “Me, finally getting a girlfriend,” or “GF.”

In yet another post, she identified herself as putting a Bible into a dryer. Rod Dreher went on to summarize that the teenager, “Was openly advertising her lesbianism, or at least her bisexuality and even claiming to have gone to bed with a female.” The mother said that she was, “Really trying to clean up her behavior,” but Rod Dreher points out that’s hardly consistent with either the words of the mother or the social media postings of the daughter, nor the effects in time of being expelled from the school.

And remember the mother was sponsoring the party that provided the opportunity for the rainbow cake and the rainbow sweater and the photograph that led to the student’s expulsion from the school. And the mother seems to be playing up the story. As Dreher wrote, she has, “been playing the media and the media have been eating it up because it confirms their biases.” In parentheses, he says, “Ha ha, look at those crazy conservative Christians, freaking out over a rainbow cake!” Dreher continues, “If the media want to criticize a conservative Christian school for not affirming a gay or lesbian student, that’s fair.” But says Dreher, “What the media have been doing here, painting Kayla Kenney is an innocent unfairly punished by a wicked Christian school is a lie.”

In this case, even just looking at the social media posts alone, you’d be driven to the inevitable conclusion that this is a student who is not only caught in violation of the school standards, but has been publicly flaunting the convictions of the school in which she has been enrolled. And you have a mother who’s not only facilitating this, but is also celebrating the daughter’s flaunting these standards. And then the mother trips something very important and no one seems to have noticed in the media. She said about her daughter, “I just want her to be true to who she is. She’s very individual.” But speaking directly of the school’s conduct policy, the mother asked The Washington Post, “Who determines what is Christ-like?”

Well, you look at this and you immediately understand that this is a far deeper issue than a rainbow cake and a rainbow sweater or even a series of social media postings. This is a direct subversion of the very convictions on which this school has been established, but it hasn’t been established on these biblical convictions in secret. No, it has actually required every parent enrolling a student in the school to sign a statement of agreement, and this mother signed that statement. Evidently she at least signed a statement saying that she knows that this is a school that has the right to determine what’s Christlike based on Scripture, but this is how the game is now played and that game is far more serious even than just a media game.

It is a media game of course, and one of the first thoughts I had when this story broke is that this could be called Covington Catholic School, part two. You remember that controversy last year. Rod Dreher gets right to that point saying, again, this is another Covington Catholic story. The media jump on this because it appears to be the kind of story they want to communicate about conservative Christians and in particular conservative Christian schools that would dare actually to operate on the basis of biblical and Christian convictions.

Part II

The Coming Reckoning for Every Christian Church, School, and Organization: The Warning Is Clear

But again, it’s about far more than the media. The article by Billy Kobin that appeared first in the Louisville Courier Journal included these words, “Chris Hartman, Executive Director of the Fairness Campaign, a Louisville-based LGBTQ advocacy organization said, ‘If the photo factored into the student’s expulsion, then the school’s action seems incredibly outrageous.'” Those words “seems incredibly outrageous” credited directly to Hartman. But then the Courier Journal says, “But he noted that Whitefield Academy, which is affiliated with Highview Baptist Church, has the authority to expel students who may go against its religious beliefs because of exemptions for faith-based schools in Louisville’s Fairness Ordinance.” That Fairness Ordinance is now about two decades old and indeed it is an LGBTQ advocacy law adopted within the city of Louisville. And by the way, when it was adopted, they wouldn’t even have known what LGBTQ meant. That’s how fast this revolution is progressing.

But you will notice that Whitefield Academy, according to this logic, indeed the explicit words in this statement, that Whitefield Academy is only able to operate on the basis of Christian convictions as a Christian school because of what are described as exemptions to Louisville’s Fairness Ordinance. Now notice also that there are many who are actually now complaining that there should not be religious exemptions to this kind of LGBTQ or SOGI. That is sexual orientation and gender identity bills, legislation, statutes or regulations.

Now you come to understand why this story in Louisville, Kentucky, is not limited to Louisville, Kentucky, not only because of the media blast, but also because of the fact that basic issues of religious liberty are very much at stake. There are huge issues here for every Christian Church congregation, for all Christian parents, indeed for all Christians and especially for Christian schools, not only K through 12 schools, but also Christian colleges and seminaries, Christian universities, all schools. It comes down to this: If you begin at any point to operate on anything other than the most explicit statement of biblical beliefs, if at any point those who are enrolled in your school or are parents enrolling students in the school have any right to say they don’t know what the school believes and stands for and requires, then you’re in big trouble. Thankfully in this case, Whitefield Academy had made everything explicit and there can be no question about the school’s theological and biblical commitments nor its right and responsibility to operate on the basis of those convictions and commitments. But the fact is that there are many Christian schools that are not prepared in this way to deal with the kind of challenge that this school in Louisville, Kentucky, confronted not only with one student, but all of a sudden with a tidal wave of national and international media.

There’s another extremely sad fact here. Many congregations, many Christian organizations, many Christian schools find that the obstacles to dealing with students in biblical terms are sometimes the parents of those students. How sad is that? But I assure you it is a fact. Of course, we go back to the fact that one of the major issues we confront here is the fact that the culture at large represented by the media is ready to pounce on Christians for being Christian. In this case, a Christian school for operating as a Christian school. It is ready to take a story supposedly about a rainbow sweater and a rainbow cake and turn it into a massive morality tale even when it turns out the media have the story exactly wrong.

Part III

‘Do Not Evangelize a Child’? The (Controversial) Responsibility of Christian Parents to Teach Their Children the Faith

But that takes us to our second issue. Religion News Service last week ran an article by Emily McFarlan Miller that begins like this, “It’s the sort of advice about parenting and progressive faith Cindy Wang Brandt has been sharing for years through her Parenting Forward book and popular ‘Raising Children Unfundamentalist’ Facebook group.” Then we are told, “What was unusual about the tweet for Brandt was the response that generated more than 760 retweets, 4,000 likes, and a seemingly endless string of comments.” What might she have said? Well, keep the parenting issue very much in mind. She writes, “Do not evangelize a child.” She went on, “Do not colonize a child’s spirituality. Do not threaten a child with a religious control. Your religion does not have a right to stake claim to a child’s allegiance.”

As you would expect, the tweet sparked controversy. Religion News Services, “It’s clear Brandt’s tweet struck a nerve amid the nasty personal attacks Twitter’s become known for, it also sparked a conversation among Christians about how parents pass on their faith to their children.” Brandt told Religion News Service, “It’s first like, whoa, this really escalated.” Then she said, “But then it’s also, oh, I’m glad that people are engaging with this.” She said, “I do talk about it all the time, so I appreciate the opportunity to get conversation going on this very important topic and very nuanced like how we parent and faith and values. What does that process concretely look like?”

Again, just reading the tweet she put up, “Do not evangelize a child. Do not colonize a child’s spirituality. Do not threaten a child with religious control. Your religion does not have a right to stake claim to a child’s allegiance.” That was posted at 6:21 PM January 8th, 2020. Later in the article, as authority Brandt points to the United Nations convention on the rights of the child that speaks of the rights of children to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Well, there you have the ultimate authority of the United Nations.

Now, as you might expect, there’s a huge story behind this. Before we look as Cindy Wang Brandt, we have to understand that there is a big effort these days to try to argue that parents have no right to catechize their children. They have no right to raise their children in any specific religious belief and this accusation is not being made only against Christians but also against those who are Jewish and Islamic and many others. In the case of Judaism, the accusation is often that children have a right not even to have their “bodily integrity violated” in the Jewish practice of circumcising boys. You see this argument going on over and over again. You also have the argument coming from the humanist societies in the United States and elsewhere, arguing that it is a form of child abuse to shape a child in a specific religious tradition that might for any reason whatsoever include categories of sin and guilt and the necessity of redemption or of obedience to authority. You can understand how all of that runs very counter to the spirit of our age.

At her website Cindy Wang Brandt writes, “I am a progressive Christian writer, but I have not always identified as progressive. In fact, I grew up conservative evangelical and was a career missionary for five and a half years.” She continues, “I have experienced a radical faith shift and I write often about how that shapes who I am today. Along the way,” she says, “I have become a parent. Trying to navigate parenting when your faith has and is evolving has been complicated, but nobody ever said parenting is easy. However,” she says, “I am convinced that one of the best ways we can make an impact in the world is to invest in the slow, unseen labor of cultivating values of hospitality, creativity, equality, social justice, and deep spirituality in the next generation.”

Now, you’ll notice what’s not stated there at all is anything that comes close to the gospel of Jesus Christ, but that in many ways is actually the point. I read her book Parenting Forward, and in the book, she is not at all unclear about what she thinks is the right way to raise children. The subtitle of her book, “How to raise children with justice, mercy, and kindness.” Now we’re all for justice. We’re all for mercy. We’re all for kindness, but each of those within a gospel context and keeping the gospel in the forefront. In her book, she makes many arguments, but she says such things as, “If the good news is to be good, it has to be good, not just for a small demographic slice of the population, but for people of all religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, gender identities, economic statuses, and ages.” Now again, she is not pulling your punches here. She tells us exactly what her worldview is.

What she is repudiating is a classical Christian understanding of parenting. She writes, “In the Christian fundamentalist parenting paradigm I grew up in, parents are tasked to bring up godly children via a top-down hierarchy. Armed with divine directives, parents act as agents of God to rule over children. Under this model, Scripture is used to justify spanking children into submission and physically coercing them into right behavior. This type of fundamentalism,” she writes, “fails to create intrinsic motivations to do good and offers very little emotional validation because emotions are not to be trusted. A forced spiritual identity comes with a prescriptive list of behaviors with which the child must comply in order to fit the role of the good godly kid. Add to that community expectations as external motivation for a child’s moral behavior. None of this,” she says, “is good news for the child.”

Now, of course you’re going to look at that and say that’s just a caricature of the biblical understanding of raising children. But what the Bible is abundantly clear about is the responsibility of godly parents to raise their children in the faith. You see that of course, central in the faith of the Old Testament. Consider a passage just like Deuteronomy 6 to take one classic passage in which the responsibility of the parents of Israel is to teach their children the meaning of the statutes and the laws and the commandments of God in order that their children and their children’s children may survive and enter into the land of promise. This is a matter of the covenant that God made with his children, Israel. It was a covenant made with Israel. It was a covenant made in a very real sense with the parents of Israel about the parenting of the children who would be the Israel of the future.

That very same logic continues into the New Testament where parents along with others, but centrally parents have the responsibility for the instruction of children and of course for the evangelizing of children as well. That must be the goal of every single Christian parent—to raise up a child in the way he or she should go, to raise up children who are knowledgeable of the Scriptures, children who honor God, children who, yes, obey their parents. Let’s just remember that of all the 10 Commandments as is repeated in the New Testament, the command to honor father and mother is the only command that comes with a promise, “That your days may be long in the land I have promised you.” Just consider that.

When you look at Brandt’s book, she is highly critical of first-time obedience. She says, “First-time obedience erases a child’s will and violates his right to speak and to push against boundaries and worst of all, it steals his imagination. When children are commanded to conform to parental directives, what need is there for them to think for themselves?” Now, it’s hard to imagine that anyone who has actually known a human toddler could write any such sentence, but she did. And of course the book has a good deal of influence, but theologically and in worldview analysis, press back. What would be the understanding of the child that would make that paragraph plausible? It would not be a paradigm or understanding of the child that understands that sin is wrapped up in a child’s heart. Now, of course, that doesn’t mean that the child is never sweet, is never good, is never noble. It does mean that the child is born a sinner.

When you look at that paragraph I just read, just note, ask yourself the question. When has a parent ever had to teach a child to learn to push against boundaries or to exercise imagination? Given the fallenness of humanity, no parent at any time has had to teach any child how to be competent at disobedience. No, it is obedience that has to be taught. But as you might expect, this also comes back full circle to the story from Whitefield Academy in Louisville, Kentucky.

In one chapter of her book entitled “Good News for the Body,” she suggests that parents should encourage their children to exercise agency in clothing and food. On page 41 she says, “Within reason letting your child dress the way they choose, it will go a long way in reinforcing their creativity and personal style, which will lead to confidence in other areas of life. Really, it’s okay. Spiderman jammies paired with rainbow tutus is the whimsy we all need.” You won’t be surprised that her entire approach comes along with a very eager affirmation of everything LGBTQ.

One final thought. She says on page 68 of her book, “Those of us who have faith shifted or evolved in our theological convictions can view the angst of our growing pains as a gift of our parenting.” She says, “By circumstance, we’ve had to learn how to navigate different opinions oft-times with people we love dearly.” Let’s just consider those words just for a moment: “Those of us who have faith shifted or evolved in our theological convictions.” Just think about how much is loaded into those two categories. Faith shifted, evolved in our theological convictions. It is interesting, isn’t it, that no one speaks of evolving into a more conservative Christian understanding? Evolution it turns out seems always to work the other way.

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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