Tuesday, April 7, 2020
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Tuesday, April 7, 2020. I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Constitutional Questions on Both Sides of the Atlantic: The Queen’s Speech, Boris Johnson’s Health, and Wisconsin’s Election Chaos
Back as World War Two began, it was very clear that this was going to be, as we now call it, a world war. It would be a global conflagration. It would be a nation versus nation pattern that would be not only across single national borders, but across the globe. By the time World War Two ended, much of the world had been directly involved and furthermore, we had two major arenas or theaters of the war, the European theater and the Pacific theater. But now as we're looking at the COVID-19 crisis, we are also looking at a global pandemic and the stories and headlines nation by nation add up to a bracing reminder of the kind of challenges the world has faced in the past.
One of the most interesting headlines in recent days has come from Britain where Queen Elizabeth II for only the fifth time in her reign, address the nation on a day other than Christmas day. Going back to George V who reigned during the time of the first World War, the British Royal family, the British Monarch in particular, began the pattern of a Christmas radio address. George V was himself entirely old school by definition, most of his lifetime had been during the 19th century. But dragged into the reality of the modern world, modern warfare, and modern communications in the form of radio, the British Monarch, George V found a way to talk to his people by means of the radio and found not only that it did not decrease the majesty of his throne, but rather it increased the bonds between the people and the Monarch. This becomes extremely important when you consider how many royal families and imperial thrones were overthrown in those early decades of the 20th century.
George V upon his death was succeeded by King Edward VIII who after all held the throne for an inordinately short amount of time, a scandal in itself, he was succeeded by his brother, King George VI. George VI was, of course, the father of Queen Elizabeth II. If you put their two lifetimes and their two reigns together, you're looking at a major portion of what we know as the modern age.
As the disaster of the second World War began, King George VI spoke to the British people in a radio address in which he said that the coming conflict will be hard. "There may be dark days ahead, and war can no longer be confined to the battlefield." Now those last words from George VI had to do with the reality of the threat of aerial bombardment, of bombers coming from Nazi Germany and of course London and many other British cities experienced exactly that terror. King George VI had warned them in advance that the war would not be limited to the battlefield.
Queen Elizabeth II used similar language in her radio address, and as I've said, depending on how you count, it was either the fourth or fifth radio address by the British Monarch other than on a Christmas day. Mark Landler reporting for the New York Times said that the Queen’s address carried "a distinct echo of the celebrated radio address of her father, King George VI delivered in September 1939 as Britain stood on the brink of war with Germany."
Landler then continued, "Like the king eight decades ago, the queen appealed to the quintessential British traits of stoicism and solidarity and explicitly linked the pandemic to the war as a defining moment for modern Britain." "This time," said the queen, "the country needs to come together to vanquish an enemy that brings death, not in terrifying bombing raids, but in the ordinary encounters of people transmitting a dangerous pathogen." In the Queen's own words, "I hope in the years to come, everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge, and those who come after us will say that the Britons of this generation were as strong as any, that the attributes of self-discipline, of quiet good humored resolve, and of fellow feeling still characterize this country.” Those lines are reminiscent of the most famous address given by Winston Churchill in the course of the second World War when the British prime minister spoke of what was being demanded of the British people at the time and spoke with the hope that future generations would look back and see this as their finest hour, that is the finest hour in British history.
In her speech, Queen Elizabeth II very poignantly spoke of the first time she had addressed the British nation when she was just a teenager in 1940. That if nothing else reminds you that when you're looking at Queen Elizabeth II, you're looking at someone who not only knows history when it comes to the last century, she has basically lived it.
The queen turns 94 years of age this month and she with her husband, the consort Prince Philip, are now sequestered at Windsor Castle outside of London. The historical links there are powerful considering the fact that it was to Windsor, that Queen Elizabeth I fled during the plague of her own reign. There was also a poignancy in the Queen’s address given the fact that the news media had just briefly before that announced that the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, had been admitted to the hospital. Days ago, at the end of March, the prime minister had announced that he had tested positive for the virus, but he insisted at the time that he was not feeling extremely unwell and that he was going to continue at the reins of the British government. But all that changed even more fundamentally yesterday when it was announced by the British government that the prime minister had been moved from a general admission ward of the hospital to its intensive care unit.
The official statement coming from Downing Street, 10 Downing Street being the office and the residence of the British prime minister much akin to the White House for the American president, it was very sober, indicating the seriousness of the condition of the British prime minister. The statement from Downing Street also indicated that the prime minister had asked the second ranking member of the British cabinet, the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, to function as his deputy. As Max Colchester of the Wall Street journal pointed out, "Should Mr. Johnson's health continue to deteriorate, it could raise a constitutional headache at a crucial moment in the United Kingdom's battle against the virus. Britain doesn't have the equivalent to a vice president who automatically takes over if the prime minister dies."
In recent days on The Briefing, we have pointed to the lessons learned by looking to nations rather than collectives of nations in handling the coronavirus crisis. It is also interesting for us to know that there is more than a linguistic reason for America's particular interest in the United Kingdom. The ties between the United States of America and Great Britain go all the way back through the entireties of America's national history and much of Britain's as well. But the closest of the bonds is indicated by the language because the language is the most important representation of a common culture, so much so that Winston Churchill would refer repeatedly to the United Kingdom and the United States of America and their allies speaking English as the English speaking peoples, speaking particularly of England and the United States of America. And even though we have different constitutional systems, the two nations together have two have the oldest constitutions still in operation anywhere in the modern world.
In the United States, speaking about constitutional order, that political process goes on, or maybe it does. The big question right now has to do with Wisconsin where today's primary election was on then off then apparently on, again. It's going to be a very interesting unfolding story. It was on at least until yesterday, the state's Democratic governor, Tony Evers and the Republican controlled legislature had agreed until yesterday that the primary election should go on, which by the way, in Wisconsin is not just a presidential primary election, but is also election day for nearly 4,000 local contests. But then yesterday, Governor Evers announced on his own that he was unilaterally rescheduling the primary and the state election until June, but until yesterday when the governor announced he was rescheduling the election unilaterally, he had publicly agreed with the Republican leaders that he did not have the authority to do so. But then yesterday, he acted as if he did have the authority and he postponed the election until June.
Republican leaders in the state challenged the governor's decision and it went all the way to Wisconsin Supreme Court where later on yesterday, that court announced that the state would continue with the election today.
A part of the constitutional rationale cited by the Republican leaders is that the delay announced by the governor would put the date of the election only after several of the terms of office for elected offices had already expired, leaving those offices effectively vacant. Constitutionally, this should remind us of the fact that states generally have a great deal of leeway in establishing their own statewide elections, and it also reminds us of just how important local offices are. Municipal offices, county offices, state offices, they're all extremely important. One of the offices up for the election today in Wisconsin is a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
All this when it comes to constitutional questions on both sides of the Atlantic, points to the unique nature of the urgent emergency nature of the COVID-19 crisis, and of course looming in the background for all citizens of the United States are huge questions about how exactly our national election is to take place as scheduled in November. In all of these headlines, the constitutional crisis is a pointer to an even more urgent crisis.
We’re All Homeschoolers Now: An Encouragement to Christian Parents in This Unique Moment of a Pandemic and Opportunity
But next, coming back to the domestic sphere, one of the most interesting developments that has changed the lifestyles and the experiences of many families is the fact that most families with children have now become homeschooling families, not by intention or by strategy or even in most cases by principle, but rather by fact, by the fact that the only instruction now available to most children is coming at the very least by means of an online experience, and the context is within their own homes.
Operating out of a biblical worldview, we have to understand that the entire premise of homeschooling is basically found within the book of Genesis with the responsibility given to parents for their children, and of course that means the education of their children. Ancient Judaism had that abundantly clear and parents were understood, as you see in a passage like Deuteronomy 6, to have the primary responsibility to raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord and to school them for life.
If you look at the book of Proverbs, the wisdom literature in the Bible, but the book of Proverbs in particular, the historical context was the instruction of a father to his son. And furthermore, you look at a passage like Joshua 4 and again you have the reminder that the fathers of Israel were to teach the sons of Israel and by extension the parents of Israel were to teach the children of Israel and that was a non-delegatable responsibility. As I have often said, when you look at educational options as they are classified in the United States with Christian parents trying to think these issues through, as I've argued consistently over time, regardless of what Christian parents say they have chosen is right for their children—public education, private education, Christian education, homeschool education—the reality is that if you have children and you have a home, then parents are homeschoolers. The only question is intentionally or unintentionally, and the Bible makes it very clear it should be intentional.
That's not to say that parents can’t have other partners and make other choices for their children. It is to say that right now the most important thing to recognize is that God made the home to be a school and thus what the world now finds as perplexing, confusing, and frustrating, Christian parents, although they will have moments of perplexity and frustration, will understand this is a part of why God intended and gave us the gift of the family in the first place. It's extremely interesting to look across the secular media and see all the how to articles and expressions of frustration that have appeared. You've got writers in the New York Times speaking about why they will not be homeschooling moms and others speaking about how to be a homeschooling parent. You also have the Washington Post running articles such as “A Homeschool Plan That's Realistic, Not Sadistic.”
It just goes to indicate the fact that there are so many people right now who are so confused about how to conduct homeschooling, but it goes back to some prior confusions that have to do with the role of parents, the reality of education, and of course the very identity of children and what it means not only to raise children, but to educate them. And this is where Christian parents right now and Christian families have an extraordinary advantage over so many secular neighbors who to be honest right now, don't have a clue.
An important word came from Matthew Hennessy, the Wall Street Journal's Deputy Editorial features editor, and he wrote an article with the headline, “The Virus Makes Homeschoolers of Us All.” Hennessy and his wife are not new to homeschooling. They were at it long before the COVID-19 crisis and they were at it with their own six children. Hennessy begins, "Many families have found themselves running pop-up homeschools. Most students will return to traditional classrooms when the crisis passes, but some families, perhaps many, will come away from this involuntary experiment with a new appreciation for home-based education. They may even decide that homeschooling is not only a plausible option, but a superior one."
Later in the article, Hennessy writes, "Homeschoolers like my wife and me have known about these options for a while. It's possible for a teenager to do college prep work in a comfortable, low pressure environment, free of vaping, bullying, emotional warfare, peer pressure, and other social dysfunctions that thrive wherever the young congregate. Parents,” he writes, “may be anxious about spending so much face time with grumpy hormonal teenagers, but most adolescent attitude is socially acquired. After a few weeks of homeschooling, parents may find they like their kids much better. As the attitudes adjust, they may see academic progress too."
There's just incredible wisdom in those sentences. It is true that a great deal of misbehavior, especially at older school ages, is socially acquired. It is also clear that many children do thrive in what Hennessy describes as a “comfortable low pressure environment, free of vaping, bullying, emotional warfare, peer pressure, and other social dysfunctions.” It is also more than anything a profound reminder of the fact that the home is most basic. The family is most basic. To the family, marriage is most and after that children and the domestic context, indeed the domestic civilization of the home, and most particularly the Christian home.
And of course right now as we're speaking about homeschooling, a lot of it extends even beyond high school with college students required by the COVID-19 crisis to continue their classes online as well, and most of them online at home. Now, I will say as a college and seminary president, there's something extremely sad about that, but it could also be something that is very positive, healthy, and even holy for Christian parents and their children, for Christian families together. And Christians understand homeschooling primarily as a matter of spiritual and parental responsibility. And we're also reminded of the interesting fact that in the United States, there is ample constitutional precedent for understanding that parents have a right to homeschool in all 50 states. That's over against efforts by many to try to stop homeschooling in the United States, and here we need to recognize that at least some of the legal precedents that have enabled the constitutional defense of parental authority in the education of their children, including homeschooling, go to the Amish who had to fight battles against compulsory state education and the Supreme Court upheld the right of parents to make that decision.
For Christian parents, it's good to understand these issues in context and to understand also that when you're talking about homeschooling, it really does level the historical field somewhat. It reminds us of the responsibility of parents in ancient Israel and Christians throughout all the centuries of the Christian experience, going back to the early church where we have faced this responsibility from the very beginning. It's also not to say that parents do not need to look for help from other parents and from external sources that may be able to offer assistance, it should not be an embarrassment to any Christian parent if that parent needs help as mom or dad in dealing with a specific academic issue or academic challenge. In a truly faithful homeschool, parents are not called so much to be an expert in every field as they are called to be an expert on their own children and the experience of learning.
There will also be ample opportunities for irony and humor along the way and the best attitude is to be good humored about it. One Kentucky mom put up on Facebook a photograph of a statement made by her eight-year-old son, her third grader. The boy’s name is Ben. He dated it very accurately, 3/16/20, and then he identified it as “homed school,” H-O-M-E-D school. And then the boy wrote this, "It is not going good. My mom's getting stressed out. My mom is really getting confused. We took a break so my mom can figure this stuff out and I'm telling you, it is not going good."
The boy's mom, Candace Hunter Kennedy, as the press said, wasn't entirely upset by her son's remarks because, after all, she posted them on Facebook and she did so good humoredly. She also wrote, "Y'all, I'm dying," speaking of the challenge coming to an immediate homeschooler. But the fact that the boy who wrote the statement and the mother then posted it in good humor is a pretty good indication of the fact that things are going better in that household than the little boy’s note might at first make clear.
Sometimes in homeschooling, the experience will be that it seems that the child and the parent, perhaps together, have learned more than they ever thought possible in a day. On other days, they're all going to join with Ben and wanting to say, "I'm telling you it is not going good." Well, let me just tell you, as a professional educator, there are days in any academic contexts that go both ways, some better than you ever imagined, some other days, well, not quite so good.
But that's also just a part of the human equation and education is a transaction. It is an exchange. It is a communication. It's a sharing of mind to mind and of heart to heart. And as you know in any relationship, that doesn't work exactly the same way every day. My encouragement and prayer to Christian parents is that you will enjoy these days and look back at these days as an unprecedented opportunity where you not only may reconsider huge academic and educational questions, but you will cherish the time that you were together with your children in a context that might well not have been of your choosing. And I will also offer you the experience of an educator, of an institutional president, to tell you that homeschooling kids turn out just fine.
Don’t Forget to Wash Your Hands! A Look at the Relatively Recent (And Very Interesting) History of Handwashing
But finally, for today, we need to remind ourselves that one of the most important lessons that every home must school for all of its members is to wash the hands. But here in an historical perspective, it might help us to recognize how fairly recent that has become as a matter of policy and expectation, even in the United States of America, even in the English speaking world, even in what we might call the modern world.
Lindsey Fitzharris writing a full page article in the Wall Street journal writes this, "Hand-washing to kill germs might seem like basic hygiene today, but it is a relatively recent discovery in the history of medicine. In the early 19th century, even hospitals had no inkling of the importance of cleanliness. They were breeding grounds for infection, often referred to as houses of death. Hospitals provided only the most primitive facilities for the sick and dying, many of whom were housed on wards with little ventilation or access to clean water."
There's some graphic details that Fitzharris includes in the article, but I want to continue to this paragraph. "The first doctor to understand the importance of hygiene and stopping the spread of infectious disease was Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian physician who in the 1840s was working in the maternity department of Vienna's general hospital. At the time, the idea that the squalid conditions in hospitals played a role in spreading infection didn't cross many doctors’ minds. But the point is here, this doctor observed women in the maternity wards and noted without going into more detail, that those who are treated by doctors who had clean hands did far better when it came to sepsis and other infections than those whose doctors had dirty hands. Even more ominous, some of the doctors were doing surgical routines on women and they had come from doing autopsies on cadavers, and between the two they did not even wash their hands.
Now let's ask the question. Why didn't they? Why wasn't it obvious? Well, it is because we know the reality of germs and viruses, but they did not know of either germs or viruses in any modern sense and they did not understand the importance of the hygiene of washing the hands. What appears to us to be disgusting throughout virtually all of human history, is closer to us than we might want to acknowledge. We're talking here about the 1840s and the entire point of the article is that the medical establishment did not accept the observations by Dr. Semmelweis. They rejected them, continuing to do surgical and medical procedures without washing the hands.
In 1947, after the maternity ward at the Vienna hospital following the doctor's advice, saw the mortality rate for new mothers fall from 18.3% to 2%, you would think that would be enough to bring about a change in medical opinion and practice, but it wasn't. That is because habits and ideas change very slowly, even when evidence is produced.
Later in the article, Fitzharris writes, "Semmelweis's theories about hygiene and infection never won acceptance beyond the walls of his own hospital. It wasn't until the 1880s that pioneers of germ theory such as Louis Pasteur or Joseph Lister and Robert Koch proved to the world that disease really could be transmitted by microscopic particles, leading to a revolution in sanitary practices. Only then was the crucial importance of hand-washing widely accepted and Semmelweis's contribution acknowledged."
That article in the Wall Street Journal reminded me of a very important but relatively unknown point in American history, at least it is not well remembered and well known by Americans, and that was the fact that James Garfield, the 20th president of the United States was shot by an assassin on the 2nd of July in the year 1881. The president of the United States received what was then considered to be the best standard of care and he lived for 79 days, eventually dying on September the 19th of that same year, 1881. Why am I raising this today?
Well, I'm raising it because the doctors who sought to care for the 20th president of the United States in the year 1881 did not wash their hands. They stuck their unwashed fingers into the gaping bullet hole in the president of the United States, and the president's autopsy later indicated that they had introduced what became the fatal infection into the body of the president.
Garfield's vice president Chester Arthur then became the 21st president of the United States, and it is interesting to note the shortly thereafter, the idea that surgeons and doctors ought to wash their hands, and by extension all of us ought to wash our hands, began to gain widespread acceptance. By the time you get to the early 20th century, America had turned to a certain habit and cultus, as it was called, of hygiene. And you also had developments such as you had commercial products bragging about how pure they were and how essential they were to hygiene. Just consider, for example, the very interesting early advertisements for commercial products such as ivory soap.
Then it took a relatively short amount of time for the preconception in the United States to go from not washing the hands, to everyone washing the hands and especially washing the hands before either practicing medicine or even more routinely, sitting down for a meal.
So in conclusion, especially in the context of the COVID-19 crisis, it turns out the handwashing is now not only the right word and command from our mothers and parents. It is not only the right public health and public safety advice. It is right now a moral responsibility in a way perhaps we never understood it to be before.
But a final note on this, consider that most of us have access to soap and water to wash our hands, we need to be aware that there are still millions and millions of people all over the world who have no such adequate access. Clean water, the existence of soap, and the entire culture of hygiene are not accidents, they too are products of civilization and civilization is an achievement and a precious one at that. So a part of what we owe each other in this civilization is to wash our hands.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
One of the links at the website for The Briefing today is a link to an article at the Washington Post that I co-wrote with Kelly Shackelford, a constitutional attorney, on how Christians and churches should think about the request that we not meet together in our normal assemblies in the context of the COVID-19 crisis.
Also, if you're looking for a book to read about the 20th president of the United States, James Garfield, and about the transition to Chester Arthur and the entire background of what I talked about, I would recommend the book by Candice Millard entitled Destiny of the Republic. If you're looking for something good to read, I can guarantee you that's a very good book to read. The website for today's edition of The Briefing will also have a link to that book.
For more information, go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.