The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

It’s Wednesday, April 13, 2022.

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

Part I

‘Each Year the Child is Coming to Belong More to the State and Less to the Parent’: The Issue of Parental Rights in Schools Is Not New, But it Is Urgent

As we think about the collision between the government and parental rights, especially with the locus of the controversy being the public schools, it is tempting to think that we’re looking at something new. Actually, we’re looking at a very long argument and a very long struggle. But there is no question the stakes are getting higher. But it’s very interesting to go back and consider during the 20th century, the particular flash points at which parents and the public schools came into conflict.

Jill Lepore, who is the David Woods Kemper professor of American history at Harvard University, also writes for The New Yorker. And she’s written a very interesting piece in a recent issue that goes back to what she calls The Parent Trap. She describes how school fights from evolution to anti-racism pit parents against the state.

Jill Lepore is really a specialist when it comes to popular history. She’s writing from the left, but conservatives ought to pay attention to what she’s writing here because she points to a very important pedigree, she points to a very long argument. And I think she’s onto something when she goes back to the evolution controversy in the early decades of the 20th century to say, “You’re pretty much looking at the same kinds of arguments that we see today.”

Now, ground zero for those arguments during those years included states like Tennessee, remember the Scopes Trial, but also states like Kentucky. But outside the region of Kentucky and Tennessee, you’re looking at a lot of states, a lot of school systems in which evolution became an absolutely explosive issue. And once again, you see the fact that parents, in particular Christian parents, were very concerned.

Now, as you think about this, one of the most important things for us to recognize is that we are having this consideration in the year 2022. And for the course of the last many decades, evolution has been taught in one way or another in science classrooms and for that matter, in other areas of the curriculum throughout most of the public schools. So looking at this in retrospect, perhaps one of the first things we need to recognize is that parents can win what appear to be short-term victories only to lose the long-term war.

Now, you just have to ask the question, if we’re able to look decades in the future, will there be an article like this in The New Yorker by another professor at Harvard University saying, “Hey, do you remember when parents used to get upset over the LGBTQ issues and what was being taught to their children? You remember those days way back in the past? Do you recognize the country just got over that very quickly?

Now, just understand that’s what the left is counting on. The left is counting on the LGBTQ+ issues, critical race theory go down the list as issues of very temporary, very transient, parental or citizen concern and eventually the institutional progressives win. That is their confidence. And this article by Jill Lepore at The New Yorker, frankly written for a very liberal, very urbane readership, basically is sending that signal. No, this is a very real controversy right now, but don’t worry, the culture is going our way.

Lepore, remember she is a Harvard historian herself, writes, “A century later,” speaking of a century after the Scopes Trial and the evolution controversy, “the battle over public education that afflicted the 1920s has started up again, this time, over the teaching of American history.” Now let’s just remind ourselves, it’s not just that, Professor Lepore, it is two things in particular. Yes, over the teaching of history, particularly critical race theory, but also it is the gender and sexuality revolution, LGBTQ, sex education and a progressive guise. This also fuels the fire. This is also central to the current controversy.

Jill Lepore tries to put this into context, consider her argument here, “In the 1920s, the curriculum in question was biology. In the 2020s, its history. Both conflicts followed a global pandemic and fights over public education that pitted the rights of parents against the power of the state. It’s not clear,” she writes, “who will win this time.” She goes on to say, “It’s not even clear who won last time.”

Now, I think that’s basically not true, that is to say I think it’s pretty clear who won last time and the evolutionists basically won. And that’s especially true at the elite level, it’s especially true at the bureaucratic level. Yes, there are some school systems that have put at least some restrictions upon the teaching of evolution, but the bottom line is that no one actually believes these days that the public schools are agnostic on that issue.

Lepore says that the big issue here really isn’t now about history, “It’s about political power. Conservatives believe they can win midterm elections and maybe even the presidency by whipping up a frenzy about ‘parents rights,'” as put in quotation marks, “and many are also in it for another long game, a hundred-years war, the campaign against public education.”

Well, the last part rings at least in part true. The first part just isn’t true. This is not a genned up political issue. Yes, there may be politicians who see political advantage to jumping on this issue right now, but let’s face it, this is an issue of genuine pressing concern to parents. And insofar as those in the cultural elites don’t get that well, they simply don’t get that.

But one of the things I talk about on The Briefing and I write about fairly regularly is the fact that, for many in the cultural elites, the public schools are the way of gaining control of children. And at least in some ways, in some circles, they’re pretty bold about saying that right out loud. This isn’t particularly new. Let’s go back to a statement that was written in 1909. So yes, more than a century ago. And this is by Ellwood Cubberley. He said this, “Each year, the child is coming to belong more and more to the state and less and less to the parent.”

Now, the thing to recognize here is that the man who wrote that was writing it with the confidence that the public schools were going to be the engine to accomplish that. And he knew what he was talking about, Ellwood Cubberley was a professor of education at Stanford University. He represented a generation that identified as progressive and they believed that the government needed to move in and seize control of children and the minds of children on behalf of the state to seize those children from their parents in one way or another.

Now here’s something to understand. It wasn’t going to be easy actually to seize them. And frankly, if you physically seize them, you’ve got to house them, you’ve got to take care of them, you’ve got to watch them, you’ve got to feed them. No, instead what they really wanted to seize was the minds of children and they were pretty upfront about that. Again, I repeat that statement by Ellwood Cubberley. He said, “Each year, the child is coming to belong more and more to the state and less and less to the parent.”

Now again, I just ask you to remember that statement was made by a prominent education professor in the year 1909. This is 2022. We are 113 years after that statement, but it is no less true when it comes to many involved in our government, when it comes to most involved in the cultural elites and when it comes to many as they enter into debates over the public schools.

Parents were even then among the progressives often considered the enemy when it comes to the state’s interest in children and especially coming from the left. Lepore writes, “Parenthood as an identity and even as a class of rights bearers is a product, both of progressive reform and of those who resisted it.” She continues, “The magazine, Parents, began publishing in 1926.” Here’s a quote she offers from the magazine, “Devoted, but unenlightened parenthood is a dangerous factor in the lives of children,” that by the editor of Parents Magazine. And as Lepore said, the editor maintained, “That parents weren’t to be trusted to know how to raise children. They had to be taught by experts.”

Later, Professor Lepore writes, “Anti-evolution laws usually understood as fundamentalism’s response to modernity emerge from this conflict between parents and the state. So did the teaching of biology.” You may remember that the lawyer who defended Tennessee’s anti-evolution law was the former secretary of state and well-known populous political leader, William Jennings Bryan. Bryan speaking for parents, not only in the Tennessee case, but as a general principal, said that the question is, “Who shall control our schools?”

My point in underlining in that question is to say that it’s pretty much the same question today. Just consider the recent election in the state of Virginia, consider controversies state by state by state, perhaps most recently and famously in the state of Florida. The question is still, who will control the schools? And eventually one of the questions we have to confront is the fact that some kind of educational establishment, and especially with increasing activism coming from the federal government, the reality is that increasingly it is government that controls the schools. And the question is, how exactly is that working out in every single school district?

But notice this, the activists for the left are basically at work most importantly at the national level where they can offer mandates in terms of federal funding, but eventually they are working at every level. And as you look at this article in The New Yorker about the Scopes Trial, evolution, parents versus the government schools back in the 1920s, you recognize the issues really are pretty much continuing right along the same lines.

Part II

Proof of the Burden and Priority of Parenthood: Parents Willing to Change Voting Positions Based on Impact of Democratic Handling of Covid-19 Pandemic

Now just keep that in mind when I turn to a front page article in the print edition of The Wall Street Journal this week, the headline, “School mess drives parents to GOP.” The subhead, “Some Democratic voters frustrated with the party’s COVID policies are backing Republicans.” Michael C. Bender is the reporter in this article and the interesting thing is that COVID is now added to the mix.

And the suggestion here in this front page article in The Wall Street Journal is that, when you look at the elections that took place just a matter of a few months ago, and then you fast forward and you consider the midterm elections that are coming, the prediction is that there will be some who have voted Democratic in recent election cycles who will vote Republican, at least in part because they are outraged at what they consider to be the mistreatment or neglect of their children in the schools by liberal and Democratic leaders who used COVID as excuse or the rationale.

They are looking at those COVID policies saying, “They hurt my child. I would prefer to have Republicans who in this site have a better track record when it comes to COVID issues.” Just compare a couple of states like, say, New York state and the state of Florida, two very different approaches to these issues. And here’s what’s interesting, voters are noticing that.

And there’s something else that’s interesting and that is that you have here in this article an explicit statement, that there are some parents who are saying, “You know,” on all kinds of issues. One of the issues that comes up here is actually abortion. On all kinds of issues, some of these parents are saying, “My more natural home is in the Democratic Party, but when it comes to the welfare of my children, well, that trumps all other issues.”

That’s a very interesting observation. And it tells us something that Christians, first of all, understand simply because of the burden and the priority of parenthood. Parents, here’s the deal. Parents have to think like parents. And even when they might, on other issues, be more or less conservative or more or less liberal, when it comes to the welfare of their children, it turns out parent is a pretty good indicator of at least how many people are actually going to vote.

The impact of COVID is made clear in this article when the reporter tells us, “These voters say democratic officials left pandemic restrictions in place too long and mishandled the health crisis with devastating consequences for their children. While Republicans have generally pushed to minimize school closures and keep the economy open.”

Again, just a very interesting observation, because you may recall that Florida was often singled out by people on the left saying, “Look, that is simply going to become a state that is going to become a giant morgue of people who are going to die of COVID.” But as it turns out, and even The New York Times had to reflect upon this recently, as you’re looking at the states that were more restrictive and less restrictive, it turns out that doesn’t turn out to be a very accurate predictor of death rates, even from COVID in those states over time.

Begin, as we’re thinking about parents pushing back against the school systems, The Wall Street Journal has been very helpful on this issue, running a series of articles and editorials. That paper recently pointed to the fact that another school board election indicates just how fed up many parents are. In one school district in Wisconsin, in an election, citizens kicked out, not one, not two, but three members of the school board over diversity and equity and inclusion curricula.

COVID also played a part in this election in Wisconsin, but it’s the moral issues that probably were front and center. As the editor of the paper wrote, “Last year, a Wisconsin kindergarten teacher was suspended for a day after she refused to take down a gay and transgender pride flag she’d hung in her classroom. The local teacher’s union urged staff to wear rainbows in solidarity. Parents,” write the journal, “could be forgiven for wondering about this seeming focus on ideological activism instead of education.”

Part III

Vladimir Putin—and Russia With Him—Has Entered Unprecedented Territory in Modern History as a Superpower Now Clearly a War Criminal

But next, as we’re thinking about issues of priority in the Christian worldview and moral urgency, let’s talk about the problem of crime. But let’s also recognize that as we’re talking about crime, sometimes we talk about what might be described as petty crimes, minor crimes, misdemeanors and at other times, we’re talking about felonies. Sometimes we’re talking about felonies on a global scale.

Just consider an argument that was recently made by Thomas L. Friedman writing in The New York Times. He talks about the fact that Russia, Russia under Vladimir Putin, is now offering a challenge to the entire world order when it comes to understanding war crimes. Because one of the things he points out is that in the modern age, there has never been, say, subsequent to Nazi Germany. There has never been a country as consequential as Russia that has just gone over to the evil side.

And just about everyone these days and it’s right now no longer really a liberal conservative divide, just about everyone has had to come to the conclusion that Vladimir Putin is a war criminal and that Russian troops are carrying out serial war crimes in the nation’s invasion of Ukraine. Thomas Friedman’s been watching these issues for a very long time. He raises this question, “How does the world have an effective United Nations with a country led by a war criminal on the Security Council, who can veto every resolution?”

He asks, “How does the world have any effective global initiative to combat climate change and not be able to collaborate with the biggest land mass country on the planet? How does the US work closely with Russia on the Iran nuclear deal when we have no trust with and barely communicate with Moscow? How do we isolate and try to weaken a country so big and so powerful, knowing that it could be more dangerous if it disintegrates than if it’s strong? How do we feed and fuel the world at reasonable prices when a sanctioned Russia is one of the world’s largest exporters of oil, wheat and fertilizer?”

He concludes, “The answer is that we don’t know.” That’s a very significant statement. It’s very significant in global terms and political and economic terms. It’s very significant in moral terms. In the modern age, since say the midpoint of the 20th century, there has never been a situation in which a nation as consequential as Russia has simply, by almost unanimous world opinion, turned into a pariah a criminal nation.

Now this points to a host of issues. For one thing, on what ongoing basis can we assume the United States will even relate to Russia? Let’s just state the obvious diplomatically, an awful lot of bridges have been burned. Furthermore, Vladimir Putin turned out to be absolutely undeterred by the burning of those bridges. It may be that he simply decided that he is going to consolidate his rule as a pariah leader of a pariah country. And that’s especially perhaps an option for Vladimir Putin since he controls most of the media in Russia and the flow of information.

The long term future of Russia, that’s an open question. The long term future of the relations between Western nations and Russia turns out that’s also a big issue. We talked about the fact that even as the term war crimes is being used over and over again, because now it’s unavoidable, the fact is that the use of the word crime imply some kind of court proceedings that might adjudicate the question and ascertain guilt or innocence and apply an appropriate sanction or penalty, but no one right now actually believes that that’s going to happen.

Part IV

Is a Petty Theft Really Just Petty?: Not for a Sane Society Committed to Moral Order

But I began by saying that one of the stress points in terms of our contemporary world, and one of the most interesting issues, urgent issues for Christians to consider, is crime not only when it is writ large, but when it is writ small. Here’s something to consider. The war on crime as it was undertaken urgently in the 1960s and the 1970s basically made a very significant turn with the development of what was called the Broken Glass or Broken Windows Theory. It was often attributed to sociologist James Q. Wilson. New York city was kind of the locus classicist, the classical example of trying to deal with this.

James Q. Wilson argued that a community that allowed broken windows to continue unfixed, just broken right there at the street level was a community that was inviting crime. And that crime would start out at, say, low-level petty crime misdemeanors, but it would escalate into a lawlessness that would result in violent crime. Now, here’s what we need to recognize. You had a city like New York that, during crucial years, actually decided to apply that principle. And that led to a very significant reduction in the crime rate.

But there have been those who claimed that disproportionately affected minority populations who tended to be arrested for those kinds of crimes. And there was the accusation that’s a form of systemic or structural racism, and that thus the law needed to be changed or the enforcement of the law, so that petty crimes were simply ignored. And the argument was that police can give their attention to major crimes. But guess what, when one goes up, eventually the other goes up.

Now, this leads to a very interesting and troubling phenomenon going on in many major American cities and indeed some American states right now and that is an epidemic of shoplifting. And we’re not just talking about someone coming in and stealing a candy bar. We’re talking about organized shoplifting in which people are going into stores, grabbing luxury items and other things and simply running out. But it’s not so much that they fear getting caught because in many of these jurisdictions, even if they’re caught, this is treated as something that should be answered by the equivalent of a speeding ticket, not by any kind of criminal penalty or criminal record.

I turn again to The Wall Street Journal where that newspaper recently reported that a survey of 700 small businesses found that 54%, that’s more than half, had recorded an increase in shoplifting last year. Now, here’s something that might have to do with it. As you’re looking at states like California cities, most particularly like San Francisco, as you look at cities like New York, where there is an argument now and a movement against prosecuting shoplifting and in some jurisdictions, basically it’s virtually impossible to get a shoplifter arrested, much less prosecuted. The reality is, guess what? You end up with more shoplifters, you end up with more shoplifting.

Now, here’s something else to remember. As you’re thinking about so-called petty theft, it’s only petty because it doesn’t reach the financial threshold of a certain level. Now every system of law, to some degree, has to make that distinction. After all, you are not going to charge a kid stealing a candy bar with the same crime as someone who, with a gun, goes in and robs a bank. They are both forms of stealing and they’re both wrong, but the reality is they are actually two different crimes.

But here’s the point, both are actually crimes and both are wrong. And a society that will sanction one will eventually get more, not only of that lower level crime, but also of the more serious felonious, even violent crime. Just a matter of months ago, the Walgreen’s drug chain announced that it was closing five stores in the city of San Francisco, precisely because San Francisco had taken such a lenient approach to shoplifting that it was no longer possible to operate as a retail business in that city.

Now, San Francisco has become something of a parable for the breakdown of social order. After all, you’re talking about human bodily waste on the streets because of the epidemic of homelessness. But you’re also looking at the fact that San Francisco, as a society, seems to be losing the moral will to prosecute just about anything. Just consider the controversy over its district attorney, a very liberal figure as well.

The issue here for our consideration is just to remember that in a moral order, yes, it is important to say, “This is a lesser crime, this is a greater crime.” But a society that says, “Hey, we’re just going to tolerate lesser crime,” it eventually gets the greater crimes as well. A sane society would be demonstrated in misdemeanors being prosecuted as misdemeanors and felonies being prosecuted as felonies. The problem is when you don’t prosecute misdemeanors, guess what? You’re actually inviting not only more misdemeanors, you’re inviting more felonies. People do get the message.

Part V

Biden Administration Minimum Global Corporate Tax Policy Ends Before It Begins: Why?

We’ll be looking at some other big moral issues in coming days, but I want to go back to a story we talked about and that was the fact that the Biden administration had announced in recent months a multinational near-global agreement to establish a minimum corporate tax. And the argument was, look, we’ve got this ironclad agreement. All of these countries are going to agree to have a minimum corporate tax so that it will not serve the purposes of, say, a company to move its operations from the United States, say, to Ireland or somewhere else simply because it will save money on its taxes.

I pointed out the fact that this will not work. It simply will not hold because these countries, after all, are countries, they have bills to pay. They have income to make, they have people they want employed, which means they’re going to continue to cut deals they see as in their national self-interest. The Biden administration came back and said, “No, no, no, no, no. This is an ironclad global agreement.” Now, immediate questions came up in the United States because after all, the Biden administration on its own doesn’t even have the authority to make that agreement stick. That would require something like a treaty that would have to be affirmed by the Senate.

But no worry, the announcement was, “Hey, this global deal has held together.” But then comes this report by Paul Hannon. It’s again, in the Journal, “Global tax plan faces roadblocks.” The first paragraph tells us this, a global deal to introduce a minimum tax rate on company profits is stalled in both the United States and the European Union after Poland vetoed an EU agreement to implement the measure at the end of 2023.

So as it turns out, that idea of a global minimum tax, corporate tax, not only didn’t last very long, the policy wasn’t in place very long. It turns out that the shelf life of the idea didn’t even last long enough for it to be put into effect for a single second.

And in conclusion, there is a worldview issue here for us to consider and that is the fact that the nation state continues to be an important entity, united often by language in a common culture and by enough common identity that people know in that nation, what is in that nation’s best interest. It turns out that nations, even when they agree to a multinational agreement, in the end, have to come back and face the folks at home.

This again, just points to the failure of globalism and the priority of the local over the global. And in this case, the idea once again didn’t even last long enough to be adopted by a single major entity after it was announced as a done deal. And especially at the global level, that’s the way many done deals turn out. They’re announced that they’re done. And then all of a sudden, they’re undone.

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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