The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, September 9, 2021

It’s Thursday, September 9, 2021.

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

Part I

Court Rules Against Catholic School’s Firing of a Gay Teacher — Warning Every Religious Institution of the Inevitable Clash of the Sexual Revolution and Religious Liberty

A flurry of activity on numerous fronts compels our attention. For one thing, a headline that comes from Charlotte, North Carolina, we are told that a court has ruled, a federal judge has handed down a decision that a gay substitute teacher was, in the words of the Associated Press, “wrongfully fired by a Roman Catholic school after he announced in 2014 that he was going to marry his longtime partner.”

Well, once again, we’re looking at that inevitable collision between religious liberty and the LGBTQ revolution, but this is one of those headlines that really does demand our attention because after all, this is the case in which a federal judge found for a man who said that his civil rights have been violated because he was fired from teaching at a Roman Catholic school after he announced that he was, after all, getting married to a man, which is a direct violation of Roman Catholic teaching.

Now, this is of importance, of course, not just to Roman Catholics, it’s of interest to evangelical Christians. Our schools are just as much on the line, but there are lessons to be learned from this story, even as it will certainly be appealed going forward. The Associated Press reports, “US district judge Max Coburn ruled last Friday that Charlotte Catholic high school and the Roman Catholic archdiocese’s of Charlotte violated Lonnie Billard’s federal protections against sex discrimination under Title Seven of the Civil Rights Act. Cogburn granted summary judgment to Billard and said a trial must still be held to determine appropriate relief for him.”

That means damages or other kinds of legal action. The bottom line is this, here you have a federal judge who has interpreted Title Seven of the Civil Rights Act in order to argue that a Catholic school doesn’t have the right to fire a teacher who is living in flagrant violation of Catholic moral doctrine. That should be of alarm to any of us.

There are lessons here. First of all, knowing that the LGBTQ movement is savoring every single one of these cases, trying to bring action in virtually every jurisdiction where it’s possible in order to try to build case law and court decisions to the cumulative effect that religious institutions would simply give up and bow to the inevitable pressure. The pressure is coming, of course, not only from the courts, it is coming from Hollywood, it is coming from Silicon Valley. It’s coming from Washington, DC. It is powerful, and it is going to arrive at every single Christian church, every single Christian denomination, every single Christian schools, sooner or later.

In this case, you’re talking about the Roman Catholic world, but evangelicals need to look closely at this because our own churches, if we’re faithful to scripture, also will teach that marriage is and can only be the union of a man and a woman.

Our own schools must, if operating in any sense of biblical fidelity, apply what we know to be a biblical theology and a biblical morality concerning sexuality, marriage, and gender. And let’s understand that if the evangelical churches and our schools abandoned that, then we abandon not only what we might just try to find is biblical morality at several points, we’re actually abandoning the gospel. Because if we defy the clear teachings of scripture concerning what sin is, then we inevitably corrupt the gospel itself, which is about the atonement accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of sinners.

We furthermore air evangelistically because we tell people that this particular act, the scripture makes very clear is sin, you tell them it’s not sin, we mislead them about their own spiritual plight and need for a savior. This story also helps us to understand what is at stake in terms of what’s being demanded here.

What’s being demanded is not just what’s being defined as civil rights, but also moral validation. This point was made very clearly in the plaintiff’s statement in this case, Lonnie Billard. He said, “After all this time, I have a sense of relief and a sense of vindication. I wish I could have remained teaching all this time.” He said, “Today’s decision validates that I did nothing wrong by being a gay man.”

Well, you’ll notice that in his own words, he spoke of vindication and validation. He said that this decision brought a sense of relief and a sense of vindication. He said that the court decision also validates his own moral assessment that there is nothing wrong, in his words, he did nothing wrong, “By being a gay man.”

Well, vindication, validation, we understand that that’s moral language. It’s not just legal language and that’s exactly what the LGBTQ movement is pressing for here.

But of course, it’s also directly pressing for civil rights legislation to be interpreted in such a way that it means that religious schools can no longer operate on the basis of their own religious convictions. Now, a little bit of background here, this has been a contested issue for some time, but the Supreme Court in a very important decision handed down in the year 2012, that’s now almost 10 years ago, the decisions often refer to as the Hosannah-Taber decision because of the church that appealed for the action.

The Supreme Court held that churches and religious schools have the right to determine who is and is not a religious teacher and thus to discriminate. That’s the inevitable legal term here in hiring and in other personnel actions in order to hire only those teachers who are in agreement with, and in accord with the theological and moral teachings, the religious distinctives of the particular school or the particular church, or for that matter synagogue or mosque.

The point is that the religious body, the religious school has the right to say, this is what is and is not a religious teaching. And we have the right also respected by the US Constitution to operate our school or our denomination, our college, or our seminary on the basis of our own religious convictions.

At face value, this federal judge’s decision handed down just days ago in Charlotte would appear to be a direct contradiction to that Supreme Court decision from about nine years ago. Inevitably, this is going to be appealed. It will make its way up to the circuit court. Eventually, it is likely this case will make its way all the way to the Supreme Court. At least it is likely that there will be an appeal to the Supreme Court. But it’s also important for us to recognize that there are some issues in this story and in this particular case, that should also be frontline matters of attention for any kind of Christian school.

Now, what are we talking about? Well, for example, the Associated Press story tells us that the defendants in this case, and they were also the losing side at this point, that would be the Roman Catholic high school and the Roman Catholic archdiocese there in Charlotte, that they had argued in court that the teacher had been fired, “not because he was gay, but rather because”–and this is another quote–“he engaged in advocacy that went against the Catholic church’s beliefs when he publicly announced he was marrying another man.”

Now here’s where evangelical Christians better wake up and smell the coffee. We better understand that that’s the kind of argument that first of all, lacks biblical credibility, and it also sets any institution, school or church up for the accusation that it is simply a matter of advocacy, not personal morality. That’s a very odd distinction and it’s one that evangelicals cannot make based upon our own understanding of the necessity of living holy lives.

We will demand the right not only to hire teachers who are in accord with our moral teachings, but living by them as well. The Associated Press goes on to say that the federal judge, “Ruled that the school’s action didn’t fit into exemptions to labor law that give religious institutions leeway to require certain employees to adhere to religious teachings, nor was the school’s action protected by constitutional rights to religious freedom.”

Well, the very way that is stated indicates that it is likely to be a very flimsy precedent in this case, but still, cumulatively, the case is being made over and over again. And just to state the obvious, if this decision does stand, every single religious school is being served a notice of a vulnerability here. The federal judge also said this, and I can only hope that every evangelical Christian, particularly anyone with responsibility for a church or a school is listening to this.

The judge wrote, “Plaintiff is a lay employee who comes onto the campus of a religious school for the limited purpose of teaching secular classes with no mandate to inculcate students with Catholic teachings.” What does that tell us? It tells us that evangelical Christians had better make absolutely clear that every single teacher in our academic institutions is teaching Christian truth, is teaching the Christian worldview, does have an unmistakable, undeniable responsibility to inculcate Christian teachings in everything that is taught.

This is where Christians must understand that there is no distinction between secular and non-secular disciplines, not when we understand the comprehensiveness of the Christian truth claim and the comprehensiveness of the Christian worldview. There is no secular discipline. The diocese in Charlotte announced that it was considering how to proceed, but it also released a statement, “The first amendment, federal law, and recent Supreme Court decisions all recognize the rights of religious organizations to make employment decisions based on religious observance and preference. They do not, and should not compel religious schools to employ teachers who publicly contradict their teachings.”

Now, what’s the problem with that statement? It is the use of the word publicly. It should not be that a church or a school draws the line only when there is a public contradiction with the church’s teachings and moral expectation. Again, evangelical Christians have to understand there is no distinction in this sense between the public and the private, not without committing a fatal theological error.

Part II

The Culture of Death Scores Another Victory: Mexican Supreme Court Decriminalizes Abortion

Meanwhile, we shift to a headline coming from Mexico, where just a matter of a few days ago, on Tuesday of this week, Mexico’s Supreme Court struck down criminal laws against abortion. It had to do with a particular set of laws in one particular Mexican state. But the court’s decision is basically now a major constitutional precedent and it is binding upon every state that is a part of the nation of Mexico.

The Washington Post ran a headline, “Mexico decriminalizes abortion, a dramatic step in the world’s second biggest Catholic country.” Now that’s not a particularly helpful headline, not in terms of the phrase, the world’s second biggest Catholic country. What after all does that mean? It probably means just in terms of the numbers of Catholics that are in the country. That would mean that Brazil will be number one, Mexico indeed would be number two.

It’s also important to recognize that what the Supreme Court did was to decriminalize abortion. Now we hear that kind of language in the United States, most commonly now with reference to laws being struck down concerning drug use, and the word is not legalization, but decriminalization. What’s the difference? Well, legalization means it’s an absolutely legal act. Decriminalization means that there is now no longer a penalty or an enforcement mechanism for what may be a law still on the books.

That is to say the Supreme Court didn’t strike down all the pro-life laws, all the abortion restrictions in Mexico, it simply decriminalized for the better part of the entire question of abortion, the practice of abortion within that one Mexican state, extended to the entire nation.

Now in worldview analysis, just a few things here, of course, this is another very tragic headline telling us of another country that is going headlong into the ideology of the culture of death. But beyond that, there are a couple of other things that leap out at us from the story from Mexico. For one thing, you will notice that so many in the mainstream media and in the political class are simply cheering this on as if the Mexican Supreme Court has done the obviously right thing in their view, bringing Mexico closer to being on the right side of history. That’s that kind of moral progressivism that drives so much of our culture and thus, even a story like this is basically reported in that way.

But the next thing we need to recognize is that this does have a big precedential value in much of the Spanish speaking world. That is to say because of the historic influence of the Christian pro-life ethic and as coming in so many of these countries in Latin America and Central and South America with the authority of the Catholic church, that represents a majority of the population in many of these countries that has been a restraining issue, a restraining power in much of this part of the world when it comes to legalizing abortion.

We’ve also seen that in countries like Argentina, there is a moral liberalism that has been pushing in these directions quite successfully. Now Mexico is being cited, and that explains the headline in The Washington Post, where it says that, “Mexico’s decriminalized abortion, a dramatic step in the world’s second biggest Catholic country.” That’s as if to send notice, the rest of you, you need to understand this is where history is going. You want to be on the right side, not on the wrong side.

Melissa Ayala identified as coordinator of litigation for the Mexican feminist organization known as GIRE made the point when she said, “This will not only have impact in Mexico, it will set the agenda for the entire Latin American region.” Well, that tells us at least, right out loud, what they want to happen. Time will tell if it happens and how quickly it happens throughout much of the remainder of the Latin-speaking world.

Part III

Gender Neutrality by Government Decree—Legislature of California Seeks to Push Itself Into Every Aspect of Life, Including the Toy Aisle

Well, we started today in Charlotte, North Carolina then went to Mexico. Now we need to go to the state of California where The Hill is reporting that California state legislature last week, “Passed a bill intended to ban the practice of separating store sections for items like toys by their traditional pink and blue color schemes.”

This according to the Associated Press, again, reported by The Hill. The Hill also reports, “The bill does not seek to prohibit boys and girls sections in department stores, but rather is aimed at requiring stores to have a gender neutral section displaying items, ‘regardless of whether they have been traditionally marketed for either girls or for boys.'” We’re also told that the bill would only affect department stores in California with 500 or more employees. And we’re also told that “It wouldn’t apply directly to the sale or display of clothing, but only to toys and what are referred to as childcare items.” The definition of those childcare items not made so abundantly clear.

Assemblyman Evan Low, a Democrat who’s been pushing so many of these kinds of bills in the state of California, he authored the bill that just passed last week. He told the Associated Press that his particular interest in this had been prompted by a ten-year-old girl named Britten, and we are told that the girl’s mother worked in his office.

The assemblyman said, “Britten asked her mom while shopping why certain things in the store were off limits to her because she was a girl but would be fine if she was a boy? Thankfully,” said Lowe, “my colleagues recognize the pure intentions of this bill and the need to let kids be kids.” As if by the way, the state legislature in California has any such power and authority to let kids be kids. But they are claiming the authority to tell department stores of a certain size in California how they must display their retail wares, how they have to present themselves to the public, how they have to conduct their retail operations.

We aren’t talking about the state government in California, which is one of the most liberal governments imaginable in the United States, pressing itself into virtually every single dimension and arena of life. Let’s put it another way. Let’s say that this issue wasn’t even about the entire gender or LGBTQ array of issues. Let’s say it was about nothing related to those things, but nonetheless, it was ordering retail establishments about how they had to order the aisles in their stores and to display and market their products. That’s an intrusion into the economy that can only be explained by the kind of ideological obsession that the left has now on matters of gender or what the left calls gender.

There was a bit of kickback in the statement that was made by Senator Melissa Melendez, a Republican. She voted against the bill saying that the state should simply let parents be parents, but the state Senator in this case went on to say, “Unlike the author, I actually have children, five of them to be exact. And I can tell you, it is very convenient for parents.” She means the distinction between boys sections and girls sections. She went on to say, “I don’t think parents need the government to step in and tell them how they should shop for their children.” But that’s a new divide, a new worldview divide, partisan ideological divide in the United States. The divide between those who do and do not believe that the state government should tell parents how they should shop for their children and to tell retailers how they should display and sell their retail items.

But make no mistake, even if this particular law targets only large department stores, if you live in California or for that matter anywhere within the reach of this kind of legislative ambition, they’re coming for you.

Part IV

Irony in the Academy? Study About Dishonesty Turns Out to Be Dishonest

But finally, for today, we ended up at Duke University where professor Dan Ariely, who has been one of the hot stars of Ted Talks and other kinds of online presence, a public intellectual in the United States who is known for his pithy statements and for his pop psychology.

Well, it turns out he’s on the hot seat right now because as a Chronicle of Higher Education ran a recent headline, “A dishonest study on dishonesty puts a prominent researcher on the hot seat.” Indeed, he’s on the hot seat because his research about dishonesty turns out to be well, there’s the word, dishonest. Tom Bartlett reporting for the Chronicle of Higher Education, which is like the Wall Street Journal of higher education in the United States writes, “The news that a well-known study on dishonesty was based on a lie is as ironies go, almost too perfect. The study published in 2012 purports to show that people are more likely to tell the truth on insurance forms when they pledged to be honest before filling them out. It’s a beautifully simple finding and one with countless practical applications.” The next sentence, “It’s also apparently bunk.”

The Chronicle report continues, “That revelation has put the high profile research of Dan Ariely, a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University under intense scrutiny. Ariely is known for cranking out clever experiments that dissect humanities, foibles, and felonies.” The article continues, “He’s the best-selling author of books like Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape our Decisions and The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone, Especially Ourselves.”

The Chronicle story goes on to describe him as an engaging speaker with a compelling personal story. His Ted Talks, we are told, have ranked upwards of 20 million views. And we’re also told that this particular professor. “Is also a co-founder of several companies that make use of his research-based insights.” Well, what if the research turns out to have been, well, made up? Even, and here’s the irony again, a study purporting to be about dishonesty, which turns out to be dishonest.

There are debunkers out there looking at scientific reports in order to find how many of them are basically using made up data. One of the tells, by the way, about such made up data is the fact that people are asked to respond with numbers and they give numbers that are very, very precise.

It turns out that those inevitably odd numbers are more likely to come from a number generator than from actual human reports. Humans tend to round off numbers. If you actually drive 9.7 miles, you’re likely to say you drove 10 miles. If you have a lot of numbers like 9.7 appearing for no explanation, you should be suspicious something’s going on here. And indeed something was going on there, even as the paper was published in the prestigious proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-review journal. Peer review is supposed to prevent this kind of problem in research, this kind of article from ever being published, but that tells you something about celebrity professors.

It tells you something about what is now known as the replication crisis in so much of the research that is published in journals, particularly in fields such as psychology and what’s described as social or behavioral economics. It turns out that an awful lot of it is simply nonsense.

The numbers in this case were supposedly reported to an insurance company. The company wasn’t cited in the research, but it turns out that it was the Hartford in Hartford, Connecticut, but the company says that it never actually produced such research. There is no one at the company who has any idea where the research came from. Basically, the company is putting as much distance as it can between this research and what was supposedly its own data. The company is saying the data basically never existed. It’s also interesting that there were other researchers who actually put their name on this report.

One of them now says that he had doubts about what he called implausible data going all the way back to 2011. Well, professor, that’s 10 years ago. Where was your public comment? The Chronicle reports, “Here’s what we know so far, the paper which was published by the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is going to be retracted. A spokesman for duke confirmed that the university’s office of scientific integrity is investigating, though there’s no requirement for that office to publicly reveal its findings. Whether professor Ariely himself will have more to say remains to be seen.”

And the kicker, of course, in all of this is that this purported to be a study about dishonesty, and yet it’s been reported dishonestly. But the professor went on to say that even though the data may have been fraudulent and he believes that the central idea of the research was actually legitimate. But how would he know? How will we know?

Part V

Epimenides Paradox: Can You Trust a Liar Who Says He Is Lying?

But then, in conclusion, this brings us to what is known in philosophy as the Epimenides paradox. What is that paradox? Well, it goes back to ancient Crete, where there was one philosopher named Epimenides who offered one line that has resounded through history. And that is the line that all cretins are liars. The apostle Paul, by the way, cites him and cites that very sentence in his letter to Titus 1:12. But as you’re thinking about it, understand why philosophers refer to this as the Epimenides paradox. It is because if someone from Crete tells you that all cretins are liars, can you believe him?

Thomas Fowler, a British figure in the 19th century described the paradox in these words, “Epimenides, the Cretan says that all the Cretans are liars, but Epimenides is himself a Cretan. Therefore, he is himself a liar. But if he is a liar, what he says is untrue. And consequently, the cretins are voracious. That is to say they are speaking truthfully, but Epimenides is a Cretan. And therefore what he says is true, saying the cretins are liars. Epimenides is himself a liar and what he says is untrue. That’s why we may go on alternately proving that Epimenides and the cretins are truthful and untruthful.” That is the Epimenides paradox. And friends, if you think about that too long, you’ll stay up all night.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing, and that’s no lie.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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