The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, March 18, 2021

It’s Thursday, March 18, 2021.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

8 People Killed in Tragic Shootings in Atlanta: What Do We Know? And What Should Christians Think about This Terrible Violence?

America’s heart has been turned to the region of Atlanta, Georgia, where on Tuesday, eight people were killed in a mass murder that took place in three different locations, but all of those locations identified as a massage spa or a massage parlor, depending upon the media report. As of last night, The New York Times was reporting that at least six of the eight victims were women of Asian descent, and as of yesterday, it was reported that authorities had a suspect and they had him in custody, and he had been tracked because he was driving the vehicle which had been located and identified at all three of the locations, in proximity to the shootings.

The news report is that the suspect was named Robert Aaron Long of Woodstock, Georgia, and according to USA Today, he told the authorities in Georgia that his actions were not racially motivated, but that he had a sexual addiction. Cherokee County Sheriff’s Deputy Jay Baker said, “These locations, he sees them as an outlet for him. He was attempting to take out that temptation.” Now, clearly, we are dealing here with some kind of very deep mental illness. We’re also dealing with some huge questions, and the media have sometimes, indeed in many cases, as of yesterday, jumped in speculation, making connections that may or may not turn out to have anything to do with this particular tragedy, not only a tragedy, a mass murder, a major crime.

We are looking at the fact that what the young man said is that race was not the issue, but rather, sexual temptation was the issue. Trying to unwind that is going to take some time, and until we have adequate facts, it would be irresponsible to try to draw generalized conclusions. But at least at this point, we have to say that there is a racial pattern here. It’s a racial pattern in terms of the fact that six of the eight victims have been identified as women of Asian descent. Is it true that they were targeted because of their ethnic identity or their Asian descent? Were they targeted because they were women, or were they targeted because they were working in these, variously described, massage spas? That turns out to be something that is an employment pattern. It may be impossible right now, it may be impossible going forward to unpack exactly what was going on in a very troubled and deranged mind.

What is beyond any kind of question is the fact that this is a crime, that this was murder, that there are not only eight victims, but there are eight grieving families. We’re looking at an entire community that is stunned, and frankly, we’re looking at something that is going to be extremely difficult to understand, even if we do have all of the purported facts in the case known. Even if we know everything, here’s where the Christian worldview helps us to understand.

The one thing we cannot actually know is exactly how any of these ideas, including the most toxic and sinful of ideas, come into the mind of any particular individual. We can indeed, we must try to piece that together as best we can. That’s the responsibility of law enforcement right now, it’s the responsibility of a court system. At some point, it might be the responsibility of a jury, but in any event, what we’re looking at right now is the acknowledgment, and this is very deep in the Christian worldview, that we simply cannot get into the heart of another person, as much as we desperately would want to do, and either rewire that heart, or totally discern its intentions.

It’s interesting to note that The Washington Post has already run a report by Sarah Pulliam Bailey with the headline, “Christian Leaders Wrestle with Atlanta Shooting Suspect’s Southern Baptist Ties.” There’s a very interesting lede in this report, “Years before being suspected of killing eight people in a suburb of Atlanta, including six Asian women, Robert Aaron Long was active in his Southern Baptist congregation, his youth pastor said Wednesday.”

One thing I want to point out as Christians think about this, is that when we look at this story, in one sense, this is the press doing its job, looking for the facts, trying to make connections, providing context and analysis, but on the other hand, what we are looking at here is a story that turns out at this point, to be not yet a story, and even The Washington Post doesn’t know where to go with this. It begins by telling us that years ago, this young man was active in his Southern Baptist congregation, the young man identified as the suspect, in this case, but here’s the thing. There is no obvious connection between his church membership and his church activity years ago, and the crimes of which he is now alleged, not enough to try to jump to any conclusion whatsoever.

It’s also extremely interesting to see that The Washington Post makes reference to the sermon that was preached on the Sunday before the crime, and the sermon was about the apocalypse, about the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. We’re told the Reverend Jerry Dockery presented a sermon on Sunday, and Dockery said that, “Jesus is coming, and the world must be ready.” According to the quotation that came in The Washington Post, “We’ve had, what, 45 presidents in our brief history as a nation? How many other kings around the world, how many other rulers have sat upon thrones claiming to be in charge? The King is coming again,” and the pastor went on to say, “When Christ returns, he will wage war against those who have rejected his name. There is one word devoted to their demise: swept away, banished, judged. They have no power before God. Satan himself is bound and released, and then bound again and banished. The great dragon deceiver, just that quickly, God throws him into an eternal torment. Then we read where everyone, everyone that rejects Christ or joins Satan, the beast and the false prophet, in hell.”

Now, for the readers of The Washington Post, that’s likely to be rather shocking language. Some may know that Christians, even conservative Christians, have differences of understanding, given the biblical teachings about exactly how the end times will unfold, but here all biblical Christian stand on common ground is the fact that Jesus Christ will bodily, historically, in victory return to planet earth. His kingdom will be established in full, and he will come as judge. He will judge the nations with a rod of iron. That’s just a part of biblical Christianity. Thus far, what we have seen from the pastor’s message is that he was preaching what you would expect a Christian preacher to preach on this theme and on this text. But furthermore, even as many readers at The Washington Post might or might not understand that, even as Sarah Pulliam Bailey continues, she says, “It is not uncommon for pastors to preach on the apocalypse, and it’s unclear whether Long heard the pastor’s teaching Sunday.”

Well, wait, just a minute. Now the article begins by at least suggesting that we’re going to be looking at some kind of connection and causality, but the fact is, there is no indication as to whether or not this young man, who is the suspect, even attended church and heard the sermon, which is reported at some length in this news story. So is this germane, or is it not? The fact is, we don’t know and furthermore, if this young man did grow up in this church and was hearing this preaching, this is probably in the background of his worldview and his understanding. But again, what exactly that means in the mind of someone that we now know was seduced into some kind of violence, fighting some kind of inner struggle that had to do by his own initial report to law enforcement, in a way that was uniquely sexual, we simply don’t know enough yet.

The former youth pastor who is quoted in the beginning of the article says that there’s nothing he knows of at the church that would “give approval to this. I’m assuming it’s a shocking and numbing to them as it has been to me.” It’s helpful to have that very carefully articulated in this story, but you do have to wonder if the overwhelming impression of this story is that we know more than we actually know. On social media and elsewhere, a lot of connections have been made that we do not yet know have any germane bearing on this case at all. They might, and if so, they well might be important, but we’re going to have to know more before we jump to such conclusions, and furthermore, when we are talking about an act of violence on this scale, that is, according to the suspected perpetrator from the beginning, tied to some kind of sexual struggle and the experience of a young man, well, we simply don’t know enough to know all that is behind it.

But could those connections, if true, become important? Yes. If true, they well might become important. Do we run from those questions? No, we don’t run from them, but we don’t run into them as if we have the answers before we even know which questions are particularly germane and appropriate. Is there a larger context that should have our attention? Yes, a larger context in which there is much violence against women, and the Christian worldview says that is emphatically always, in every context, wrong. The Bible also makes clear the sin of racism and the targeting any persons on the basis of their racial characteristics or identity, or appearance, or descent, is absolutely categorically wrong. At this point, there’s no reason to suspect that the people who were involved at this church and may be involved now, would disagree with any of that. If they do, that will become very interesting and germane, if those facts unfold in time, but at this point, we do not have those facts. We do not know any such things.

We do know something else, and that is that there has been increased attention to, and reportage of assaults and acts of bias against Asians in the United States, and by the way, that has a very long traction in Western history. It’s simply the fact that there have been all kinds of actions throughout history that have revealed waves or surges of violence and prejudice against people of Asian descent. The Christian response to that is not complicated. The Christian response to that is that such acts, such impulses, such feelings, are in themselves sinful, and they are condemned in scripture. The people of Christ are to have nothing to do with such things.

So what do we know right now? We know to condemn the murderous actions that were undertaken in these locations near Atlanta. We know to cry out for justice, and to call upon law enforcement to do a comprehensive investigation to find out exactly what did happen, who did it, what kind of responsibility is borne, what were the nature of the crimes, and what is the context? What are the connections that explain how these crimes, how these shootings, how these murders hold together? We know right now to pray for the City of Atlanta, and to pray intensely for families who have lost loved ones. These are not merely unnamed victims of violence, they are very real human beings, and the Bible makes it clear that every single human life is of infinite value, because every single human being is made in the image of God.

What does this tell us about this young man’s struggle with sexuality? Well, it tells us that sometimes those struggles can turn very, very dark. Sometimes those very, very dark struggles can turn very, very violent. Now, we have to look at this case and come to an understanding of what we must learn from it, but Christians looking at the entire span of human history, and even at the revelation of God in scripture in the Old and New Testaments, know that we have ample documentation of just how twisted the human mind can become, just how corrupted and even perverted the sexual impulse can become.

And you can count on the fact that there are many people, people beyond probably our reckoning in the Atlanta area, people who knew this young man, the suspect, and those who did not, who were wondering what might have been done to intervene in his life and in his soul before these tragic and murderous actions took place. We know that something tragically went wrong, something went wrong in a tragic way in this young man’s heart, and then in the scenes of the crimes, these three different locations, identified as massage parlors or massage spas.

The reality is that something went wrong. Did something go wrong elsewhere? Anywhere else? Well, if so, we need to know, we need to find out, but until we do find out and until we do know, we need not to speculate on what might have happened. Some of the attempt to draw connections at this point is just basically irresponsible. It is equally irresponsible to say that we know things we don’t know, or to insinuate that we know them, as it is wrong to act as if we don’t know something when we do know. May God give us the wisdom to understand the difference, and to avoid both of those errors.

Part II

More Families Choose Homeschooling for the Future: An Important and Unexpected Development from the Pandemic

In other news, it is very interesting to note something that’s being observed nearly nationwide. As many school systems are coming back on in terms of in-classroom attendance, a lot of the kids aren’t coming back, a lot of the students are not back in the classroom, and a lot of the reason is not actually tied to concern about COVID-19. Instead, what you see are headlines, such as recently ran in The Wall Street Journal, “More Parents Shift to Homeschooling.” Let me give you the bottom line in the reports. The bottom line is this: even as many school systems have come online, many school leaders are actually shocked that few students have come back, far fewer in some cases than had been expected. When people have asked questions about why, many parents have simply responded that they are not yet ready to send their kids back into the classroom. Now, the interesting thing is when they are indicating their intentions for the fall, some of them say they still intend to continue to teach their children.

So what’s going on here? Well, The Wall Street Journal tells us that many parents who had not intended to homeschool, had discovered even after the shock of becoming instantaneous homeschoolers about March of last year, just about a year ago, they discovered that what they feared, and what they initially hated and caused all kinds of anxiety, has turned out to be very healthy for their family, and they’ve decided they like it so much, they’re going to keep homeschooling their children. As Valerie Bauerlein reports, as parents grow increasingly frustrated with remote learning during the pandemic, some are deciding to pull their children out of school and try teaching on their own. In North Carolina, we’re told the state’s homeschool monitoring website crashed on the first day of enrollment. More than 18,800 families filed to operate a homeschool from July 1 to January 22. That’s just a little bit more than a month ago, that closing date, more than double the school year before.

Now, this is really interesting because yes, there’s a lot of pressure on the part of many parents and in many communities to reopen the schools, and I think that is important, by the way. I think given the social role played by many schools, not only in education, but in particular, in social services for children, especially in many urban areas, the fact is the schools need to open. And in many cases, the obstacle to opening the schools is actually not COVID-19, it’s the school unions, the labor unions for teachers that are trying to opportunistically make gains in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But going back to The Wall Street Journal report, the paper tells us, “Homeschooling in the US has accounted for a small portion of all schooling since the 1970s, but it has been growing from a traditional base of education reformers and religious conservatives to families worried about issues such as bullying and violence. Homeschooling represented 3% of students nationally in 2016, the latest figures available, compared with 88% for public and charter schools, and 9% for public schools. But as the coronavirus pandemic upends the school year, data from several states shows,” says The Wall Street Journal, “more parents decided for practical reasons to take control of their children’s curriculum and schedule.”

Practical reasons. Well, there are many practical reasons. The ability of families to set their own schedule, there are all kinds of practical reasons having to do with the involvement of parents directly in the education of their children, children and siblings socializing together, in a way that sometimes is made virtually impossible by the fracturing of children and families during the school day. But there are more than pragmatic issues here, pragmatic issues that might extend to the quality of education, and even the performance of these students, when it comes to testing and college admissions.

But beyond the pragmatic, there are very important principled issues why I believe this transformation is taking place, and it’s not just reports like this in The Wall Street Journal, they are reports that are coming to me personally, just about every day, and certainly, repeatedly every week. Families that had not previously considered homeschooling, particularly Christian families, are beginning to rethink that equation.

And I think this is very important, and I think that even as homeschooling is not institutionally, that is to say, is the only school choice, the right choice for every Christian family, I have argued for my entire adult life that every Christian family is, in essence, a homeschool, and all Christian parents are homeschoolers, the issue is the seriousness with which Christian parents take that responsibility. They may partner with others, or just classical schools, or Christian schools, or any number of different school options, but the fact is, God has given parents the responsibility to raise their children and to educate our children, and that’s a non-negotiable, non-delegatable responsibility. We may have partners, but we’re going to answer to Christ for our children, not those partners.

But in the principal category, there are all kinds of reasons why I think even given the moral issues, even given the issues that are coming at us in such velocity since the inauguration of President Biden, given the Equality Act, and given executive orders that have taken place, what we’re looking at is an increased velocity in the moral revolution that’s taking place. All kinds of teachings that we now know are going on in classrooms, public schools, private schools, yes, even many Christian schools, and I’ll be discussing that in coming days, in which very toxic curricula are being taught to children in such a way that they begin to question even the teachings of their church and the teachings of their parents, because of the teachings of the schools that their parents have put them in.

There’s some interesting aspects of this story far beyond that, for one thing, it’s not just that The Wall Street Journal and others, especially in the education community are noticing the trend, it’s also that in that Wall Street Journal article, there’s a very interesting sentence, and I read it directly from the article, it goes back to this, “Homeschooling in the US has accounted for a small portion of all schooling since the 1970s, but it has been growing from a traditional base of education reformers and religious conservatives, to families worried about other issues.” You’ll notice what it says here, is that the core of the homeschooling movement began among education reformers and religious conservatives. Very, very interesting.

Why those two different statements, education reformers, and religious conservatives? Well, it’s because many in the media, many in politics and beyond, just assume that if you meet a homeschooler, you meet a conservative Christian. Now, statistically that’s likely to be true, but that’s not the entirety of the story. The fact is that Christian conservatives didn’t start the homeschooling movement in the United States, the hippies did, the children of the left, the so-called unschoolers who rejected traditional schooling because they didn’t want the government, that is, the man teaching their children to be conformists.

So if you’re looking for the origins of the homeschooling movement, in this sense in America, in the modern age, don’t look to, say, rural Kentucky, look instead to the Pacific Northwest, to Washington, and Oregon, and Northern California, find people who wouldn’t be described as conservative Christians, in the main, who nonetheless, were taking their children out of the schools, because from the left, they feared that the schools would turn their children into little conformists. But then the Christian homeschooling movement arose, and why did it arise? It arose because many Christian parents understood that they did not want their children to grow up to be little conformists, when it comes to the spirit of the age. By the way, I’ve written about this and talked about it on The Briefing. If you want further documentation, you’ll find it at my website.

The constitutional respect for the right of parents to homeschool their children was largely won, not by the hippies, not by conservative Christians, but By the Amish, by the Amish, who argued that they had a right to raise their children without compulsory education, and they won key victories in the United States Supreme Court, and those victories have applied to yes, the hippies and conservative Christians as well. There are, by the way, still some on the left who homeschool their children for the very same reason as homeschooling emerged in the 1960s, and especially in the 1970s. But the fact is that the vast majority of homeschooling parents are conservative Christians, conservative parents, who are very concerned about the education of their children so much so, that they are unwilling to place them into schools, where they have very high probability being taught that which their parents do not want these children to be taught.

By the way, the opposition to homeschooling, in the main, are those who want to teach our children that which is different than what we would teach them, and they want the public schools, they see the public schools as the main vehicle for doing this. Now, as we’re going to see in coming days, elite private schools are, if anything, in many cases, even worse when it comes to ideological corruption, but we’ll have to wait until we look at that just in coming days. What we need to see right now is that there is a trend towards homeschooling, and it is important, and it is of particular importance for Christians. I see this as good news.

Part III

How Did Nearly $3 Billion for Private Schools Get Included in the Latest Stimulus Bill? The Answer May Surprise You

It’s also interesting to look at some other aspects, because as you’re thinking about not only homeschooling, but say, Christian schools, and private schools, there’s one little footnote to this $1.9 trillion so-called rescue bill that was passed by Congress, entirely with Democratic support, signed into law by President Biden, a budget-busting $1.9 trillion piece of legislation that’s going to transform the American culture, according to President Biden himself. But here’s something you might not know, smuggled into that particular legislation, surprisingly, was 3 billion, that’s with a B, dollars for private schools. How did that happen? Because when Republicans tried to put in support for private schools, and that would include Christian schools, when it comes to this kind of legislation, the fact is that the Democratic Party is adamantly opposed to it, the teacher’s unions that have inordinate power in the Democratic Party are absolutely opposed to it, the Democrats are in absolute control, so how did $3 billion all of a sudden show up for private schools in this legislation?

Well, there is one name that explains why that happened. That name is Chuck Schumer, the majority leader of the United States Senate, a Democratic Senator from New York, and he inserted that $3 billion because of a very powerful constituency in New York State. Not Christian homeschoolers, no, Jewish private schools. As Erica L. Green reports for The New York Times, “The deal, which came after Mr. Schumer was lobbied by the powerful Orthodox Jewish community in New York city, riled other democratic leaders and public school advocates who had spent years beating back efforts by the Trump administration and Congressional Republicans, to funnel federal money to private schools, including in the last two relief bills.”

It’s also interesting to see that when Senator Schumer was criticized for taking money that would’ve gone to the public schools and giving it to private schools, he responded that this was money for private schools that needed rescue, but it didn’t come at the expense of public schools. But someone was actually able to do the math, and they came up with the fact that $3 billion was reduced from the public schools, and $3 billion showed up for private schools. And so, what you’re looking at, any way you cut it, is $3 billion shifted. The bottom line is this, when Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education in the Trump administration proposed something like this, it was condemned as a far right agenda, but when the Democratic majority leader does it, it is called just part of the rescue plan.

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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