Monday, May 17, 2021
It's Monday, May 17 2021.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Yet Another “Faith-Based” University Surrenders — A Lesson From Texas
It's not a surprise really that the American college and university campus is often ground zero for cultural conflict. It's been that way when it comes to colleges and universities going all the way back to the foundation of the university model in the medieval world. There were student protests and student uprisings even then, but more often than not, they were about lodging and food, not about the big moral issues of the day, because they would not have recognized then the moral issues that our society is convulsing about now in particular, the cultural and moral revolution and the frontline being all that covered with LGBTQ. Now that takes us to big headline news over the weekend. The board of Regents at Baylor University has adopted a new policy, but this new policy comes down to the fact that it is going to try to find a way to have an officially-chartered LGBTQ student group on campus.
Now that might not sound like the big convulsion of a moral revolution, but I'm going to argue that it is. It's exactly what we're looking at here, because the moment you allow an officially recognized chartered student group identified with LGBTQ identity, then you're basically saying that that identity has a legitimate place within the university or the college. Now the secular universities are far beyond that. They have become the engines for championing and for pushing the progressive agendas and the totality of what is often described now as LGBTQIA, and don't forget the plus sign at the end, more to come. Rod Dreher writing at the American conservative got right to the point when he began his report by saying, "Well, Baylor university did what it was always going to do and caved."
This looks at the decision made by the Baylor board of Regents and it appears to be with the encouragement of the university's administration. And again, many people will look at this and say, "This is not that big a deal. It is just a chartered student organization." But it is a big deal and we've been talking about that on the briefing. I've been talking about the fact that one of the trip wires, one of the most significant trip wires for any kind of supposedly Christian institution is whether or not it is going to put itself in the position of recognizing certain students as marked by an identity that's now identified or summarized by LGBTQ. Once you accept that identity an official student group, that means you are basically recruiting students who share that identity. You're going to have to deal with those students on their own terms. Now here's what's really interesting, Baylor university started of course by Baptist, but bolting from the Baptist in the 1990s, in terms of the election of trustees, Bayer university is trying to have its cake and eat it too.
Trying to say that it is maintaining some kind of commitment to an historic Christian understanding of marriage and sexuality, but it is going to be accepting an officially chartered student group that will oppose that understanding. By now, of course, it's well known that Baylor University and its alumni and its student body, and no doubt in many of its faculty actually has moved to a very affirming position, but Baylor is in a cultural or denominational bind here, even though it does not have any direct accountability whatsoever to the Southern Baptist Convention and it made sure of that back in the 1990s, the reality is that it still wants to present itself as, in some sense, a Christian institution, in some sense, a Baptist institution. But what we're looking at here is just another way of getting to surrender to the moral revolution without admitting that that's what you're doing.
So let's look a little more closely at what's going on here, but in order to understand what took place in recent days, we need to put it in the context of what's gone on in recent years. Until 2015, just six years ago, Baylor University's student conduct code explicitly identified, amongst other illicit sexual acts, homosexual acts as what would bring a sanction by the university. They were expressly forbidden in terms of student conduct. But back in 2015, Baylor changed the policy to remove the specificity of mentioning homosexual acts. They took out other acts as well. Instead, the university adopted a statement that says, basically, "Baylor will be guided by the biblical understanding, the human sexuality is a gift from God and that physical sexual intimacy is to be expressed in the context of marital fidelity. Thus, it is expected that Baylor students, faculty, and staff will engage in behaviors consistent with this understanding of human sexuality." Notice what was taken out then.
And this is back in 2015, any specificity. There's a general statement about what Baylor University sees officially as the gift of human sexuality and the norm in this sense, but there was no doubt that this was a step away from any explicit mention of homosexuality, homosexual identity, homosexual acts, as a matter of fact, back in 2015, the Washington Post ran an article, the headline, "Why Baylor University's sexual conduct policy no longer calls out homosexual acts?" The local newspaper there in Waco, ran a headline, "A small step in Baylor's sexual conduct policy." Well, what took place in recent days is another step, but you could predict this would be the next step. The statement released by the university in recent days said, "The university continuously works to examine and improve the ways in which we support student success while remaining firmly grounded in our Christian faith and led by God's word."
Now here's something we need to know. God's word is extremely specific. God's word does not speak here merely in terms of aspiration or generalities, it speaks with remarkable and unflinching specificity. The Baylor statement markedly does not. The statement goes on, "Baylor continues to place a priority on care for all students while rooted in its Baptist beliefs and traditional biblical understanding of human sexuality." Note the language very carefully: "In doing so we must be intentional about meeting students where they are across all areas of development, academic, personal, and spiritual, helping them become the person God wants them to be. Loving our LGBTQ plus students is an expression of our Christian faith and our responsibility as an institution entrusted with the education of more than 19,000 students from all 50 states and more than 90 countries." Rod Dreher is exactly right, what you see here is the language of a moral revolution couched in the phraseology of middle-class respectability and the therapeutic worldview.
In a very interesting portion of the statement released by Baylor, "Baylor administrators will approach this work," that's the work of chartering an LGBTQ+ student group, "Baylor administrators will approach this work with a spirit of grace and truth just as Jesus did. We will start anew in working with students to explore, establishing a chartered LGBTQ+ student group, consistent with the core beliefs and values of the university and its board and administration." Now that's very interesting language because if you are talking about students, very affirming of LGBTQ+ identity, then that very statement of affirmation, that very demand for this kind of recognition is in itself contradictory of what the university says is it's continuing commitment. You can have one, you can have the other, you can't have both. You can sense what is behind this when the statement reads, "Additionally, federal and state guidance on LGBTQ+ rights continues to evolve, however, we must do what we believe is right for our students and provide them the best opportunity for success at Baylor. As we have historically done, Baylor has the opportunity to demonstrate how a faith based institution can strengthen care for LGBTQ+ students that rises above the cultural landscape and remains true to our mission and values."
Notice the lack of specificity, but notice something else, notice the identity of the university as a "faith-based institution." Now that could mean a very great deal, but it almost never does. It usually means using faith-based as a way of saying, "We've basically left any accountability of the very believers who brought us into existence, but we want to continue to market our product to them so we're going to call ourselves a faith based institution." An article in the local newspaper, the Waco Tribune explained the fact that the board of Regents was moving towards the development of this kind of chartered student organization. And speaking of that possibility, the report said "that might include forming a new official student group, one that follows Baylor statement on human sexuality, a policy that states Christian churches have a firm purity in singleness and fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman is the biblical norm." And that Baylor students are expected to "not participate in advocacy groups which promote understanding as a sexuality that are contrary to biblical teaching."
Again, you can have one, you can have the other, you can't have both. Basically, chartering this kind of organization is establishing an official student organization that has to be now, because it's chartered, identified with the institution and reckoned with by the administration in which the college or university says, "We're going to maintain our convictions, but we're going to invite people to argue against us in the classroom, on the campus and now in official university policy." In other words, it comes down to saying, "We're going to maintain our policy, but don't worry, not for long." Other recent news reports concerning Baylor indicate that there are employees who are dissatisfied with the fact that at present Baylor does not extend spousal benefits for its employees to the spouses identified in same sex unions. It's really interesting to note that when you look at the front lines of where this controversy becomes most heated and the stakes get very high, you're looking at the fact that a lot of these institutions bring in an incredible amount of tuition money.
A lot of that is from Christian families paying that tuition money, and also comes down to the fact that these universities participate in title four funding, the massive funding of the federal government through its higher education programs. And those are now very much at risk with the equality act looming before the United States Senate. But it's not just the equality act, even the executive orders handed down by the Biden administration are the background to what the regions recognized as an evolving situation in terms of the federal and local regulations. But pay close attention here, the big issue here right now is not the threat of eventual sustained government coercion. No doubt that's coming, or at least the Biden administration wants to bring it, so do the Democrats in the House, we'll see what happens in the Senate, it's not just that, it's not even just the executive orders.
It is the focused and very intense cultural pressure that no doubt is being brought on Baylor by many different constituencies, including, you can expect some donors, especially big corporate donors looking for that, well, all the markers of being on the right side of history, being identified with and contributing to a university, a faith-based university by its designation, that holds out even minimally in some sense of a biblical understanding of sexuality and sexual morality. That's not likely to be sustained very long. But it's not just that, it's the pressure coming from students. If a university or college, or for that matter, a Seminary is not abundantly clear about its convictions and the binding nature of those convictions, if it actually begins to recruit students or even to accept students who hold to a contrary view and then allows official recognition of that group, well, you have just sown the seeds for the revolution of your own institution.
But it's not just that. As we bring this story to a conclusion, just to remember those very, very important initials, NCAA, the National Collegiate Athletic Association. And know the pressure the NCAA is bringing on, not just institutions, but States as we have seen, denying some States and localities opportunities, such as post-season tournaments, you're looking at more than that. You're looking at outright pressure for the NCAA to demand the joining of the moral revolution by its member institutions.
Just consider the mainstream media and beyond that, even the larger cultural pressure when it came to Oral Roberts University's men's basketball team making it to the sweet 16 in the National Basketball Tournament this year. But then consider something else. What team won the NCAA men's National Basketball Tournament this year? None other than Baylor university. Baylor can't possibly face the reality that it's team that just won the national championship might not have access to post-season play. No one's denying that Baylor university faces incredible pressure, but what we are seeing is a one step at a time succumbing to that pressure.
And make no mistake, the decision made in recent days by Baylor will be remembered as a crucial turning point. There's probably no turning back now.
Biden Administration Hosts Meetings with Secular and Atheist Groups: The Biden Administration Sends a Secular Signal
But next, as we're thinking about big changes in our culture, we need to recognize that a signal event took place in recent days, and that was the fact that the Biden administration held official meetings with atheist and secular organizations. Now what's interesting there is not just that the meetings took place, but that they took place under the sponsorship of the white house office of faith-based and neighborhood partnerships. The interesting thing here is that the Biden administration has indicated indeed, according to these organizations, basically promised that the faithless will qualify on the same basis as those who hold to a religious faith when it comes to faith-based partnerships.
Now there's a big background here as we know. We're looking at a secularizing culture, but we're also looking at these organizations, not just being the result of secularization as a process, they are ideologically committed to secularism. It's not an accident one of the organizations is known as American Atheists. It's also certainly not an accident that the larger coalition is known as the Secular Coalition for America. And here, when we say secular, we mean secular. The American Atheist Organization released a statement after the meeting, "We're pleased that the Biden-Harris administration takes seriously its obligation to meet the needs of atheist humanist and other nonreligious Americans. It is reassuring to know that the White House office of faith-based and neighborhood shares our commitment to government neutrality, church, state separation, and religious pluralism. And that means including atheists."
Now there's a fascinating background to all this, it has to do with whether or not atheism is a religious faith. And you'll notice that atheist generally want to claim that it is not. But here they want to say, "Yes, it does count as a faith when we argue that the faithless should be considered just like the faithful, or at least those who are identified with a religious faith." And the other part of the background is the fact that the Democratic party is not only trending in a more secular direction that is a larger number and larger percentage of Democrats who are not only voting, but indicating the fact that they hold to a secular identity, but the reality is that that particular group among Democrats has an inordinate influence because they demand it. They work hard at it. You'll also notice they don't hide their secularism when it comes to something like, let's just say a Christian hospital.
They write, "While we continue to have deep concerns about the reliance on faith-based service providers in our nation's social safety net, it is encouraging that this administration is committed to meaningfully engaging with our community and being responsive to the policy concerns of our constituents." American Atheists went on saying that the organization "will continue to advocate for more robust protections for Americans seeking services from religious providers to ensure that no one is turned away from a shelter, adoption, or foster agency or denied access to any other basic service due to religiously motivated discrimination."
Boom. Well, there the fireworks go off. That's exactly what you should expect coming. They're talking here about, say a Christian adoption agency saying that a Christian adoption agency should not be able to operate on Christian convictions. But you'll notice here the incongruity. They're arguing that the faithless should be considered with the faith based and that the faithless basically get to set the rules even for those that are well, I'll just use that language because it's in the very title of the White House office, faith based. In other words, everybody has to operate on a secular basis according to their logic. Similarly, a release from the secular coalition for America said that the organization was proud "to have had a productive meeting with the White House office of faith-based and neighborhood partnerships this past Friday, May 14 2021." "Together with our member organizations, the American Humanist Association, American Atheists, Center for Inquiry, Ex-Muslims of North America, and The Freedom from Religion Foundation, we highlighted priorities from our coalition's secular agenda for the Biden-Harris administration and discussed what the administration can do to better uphold the rights of secular Americans."
Whoa. Now wait just a minute. We actually discussed at length that set of secular demands coming from these organizations shortly after the election, as the Biden-Harris administration was coming into view. At today's webpage, we will put a link back to that program if you want to look further at the set of demands that were issued at the onset of the administration. The meeting that came just last week is an update, but the bottom line of what the secular organizations, the coalition, was demanding back then, is that everybody operate on exclusively secular terms, period. It might be interesting to put a little history into this picture, and that will take us back to the year 2010, not exactly ancient history just 11 years ago.
The president at the time was President Barack Obama. Margaret Talev of McClatchy Newspapers reported then on February the 25th of 2010, "President Barack Obama has burnished his Christian credentials, courted Jewish support and preached outreach toward Muslims. On Friday, his administration will host a group that fits none of the above America's non-believers." The report went on to say that the president wasn't expected to meet when his administration and its officials met with the secular coalition for America, nor was it expected that any new policy would result of it. But nonetheless, it was an official sit down between officials of the Obama administration and the secular coalition for America. Well, just notice the difference that an election makes, it makes a huge difference who is President of the United States, because that makes a huge difference in who's invited to white house meetings.
Now, it's not true that an administration welcomes only its friends for meetings. No, but it is interesting that in both of these cases, the Obama administration in 2010 and the Biden administration in 2021, the administrations seem to be stressing that they want to meet the demands of the secularist and make them happy.
What Issue Unites Conservatives and Liberals in Recent Days? Urgent Concern as Facebook Proposes an Instagram for Young Children
But finally, even as we're looking at cultural conflict, it's important to recognize that there are worldview implications when conservatives and liberals actually agree on something. And particularly when liberals and conservatives in America divided on so many issues at such a basic level view, when there is near unanimity in the expression of that concern. What could bring that about in recent days? Well, the announcement that Facebook was considering developing an Instagram for children, young children, children under the age of 13. What could go wrong?
I'm not often in agreement with editorials coming from the editorial board of the Washington Post, but I think the editorial board is exactly right when in recent days they ran a full opinion piece with the headline, "Instagram for kids, Facebook should tread carefully." And that very editorial sites something very interesting and significant, a very clear moral consensus here, "44 attorneys general," that means 44 of the 50 attorneys general of the states asked chief executive Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook "to cease the development of a product that would allow kids to use a spinoff of his company's popular photo-sharing app complete with parental controls designed to keep them safer." The point being made in this editorial and by 44 of the 50 attorneys general of the states of the United States, it really can't be made safe. Who thinks this is a good idea? Why would Facebook do this? Why would they create an Instagram for kids? They say, they're not really going to collect much data. Well, you can trust that or not.
They say they're not going to direct advertising. And that's probably not the purpose. What they will do is get kids signed up and in the habit of posting on Instagram and in the increasing habit of an online existence in a mode of sharing, and that's going to make kids into exactly the kind of future consumers that Facebook and Instagram are counting on. In a larger sense, it's also very, very interesting that the dangers of that online world have created another set of common concerns, if not yet, consensus. You have people very much identified as conservatives, politically and culturally in this country, and those who are very well identified as liberals who are sharing concern about the power of big tech over the lives of individual Americans and the direction of the culture as a whole.
It's interesting to look at where the editorial board of the Washington Post concludes their editorial statement. They cite the head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, who said on Twitter, that the question of whether social media is good for children under 13 in particular, is still unanswered. The editorial board said, "True in part because children under 13 are barred from most social media." So yes, even as some people will think the most interesting thing here is that the head of Instagram released this statement on Twitter an alternative and competitive platform, the bigger issue is this. Yes, indeed it is not clear whether social media is good for children under 13" because they're not allowed there. And the suggestion is that we'll find out whether it's helpful or unhelpful, healthy or unhealthy if we just let them on, it'll be an interesting experiment. Well, not with your kids I'm expecting. Social media is dangerous enough for adults. Who would want to put kids into that dangerous a neighborhood?
Interesting again, a consensus developing amongst 44 of the 50 state attorneys general. It doesn't happen very often, that tells you something big is really at stake, worthy of our consideration and notice.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
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.