The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

It’s Tuesday, August 23rd, 2022.

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

Part I

Christians Did Not Start the Culture Wars, But We Cannot Evade Them: The Imperative of Christian Engagement for the Good of Society

Are we or are we not in the midst of what’s described as a culture war? I’m just going to say simply straightforwardly, undeniably we are. Culture war explains much of what is going on in the world around us. It doesn’t explain everything, but it explains why at the most fundamental level of our civilizational life, there is a war over what is true, what is beautiful, what is good, what should be moral, what is marriage, what does it mean to be male and female, or does it mean anything that’s subjectively true.

Now, we need to recognize at first, that the term culture war is originally descriptive. That is, it describes a fundamental struggle over the future of the culture. A fundamental struggle over the future of the civilization. A struggle that is not merely the engagement of partisan politics, it’s not merely an argument over national policy, it’s an argument over reality. Now, the term wasn’t even originally English, it was originally German. It comes from 19th century Germany where the term was Kulturkampf, meaning culture war, or struggle for the culture. It goes back to the 19th century and the unification of Germany as a modern nation.

Even as that was taking place under the leadership of the man known to history as the iron chancellor Otto von Bismarck. The reality is that there were fundamental differences about how the new German society should be arranged. What should be the laws, what should be the customs, even what should be the holidays, who should run the schools. One of the major distinctions was between the Protestant states of Germany and the Catholic states of Germany. So it was a Protestant/Catholic struggle over the future of the culture.

Would it be a culture as defined by Protestantism or would it be a culture defined by Catholicism? Now, in one sense, looking back at the Kulturkampf, the culture war in the 19th century in Germany, it looks almost quaint because they weren’t arguing over whether or not boys were boys and girls were girls. They weren’t arguing over whether marriage could include something like so-called same-sex marriage. They weren’t arguing over whether there is any such reality as objective truth. So if anything, the culture war in the 19th century in Germany was a far more superficial affair, politically real, and very culturally significant, but just a far less fundamental affair than the culture war that defines modern America.

Now, the term culture war in English goes back, particularly in say evangelical conversation to the 1990s, and to the contribution of a sociologist at the University of Virginia, whose name is James Davison Hunter. It was James Davison Hunter who actually published a book on the culture war in which he made very clear that descriptively, what’s going on in America is such a conflict over fundamental issues. That it’s not just say an argument over abortion, it’s not just an argument over sexuality, it’s not just an argument over the sides of government or taxation or foreign policy, it is a fundamental struggle to define the future of the civilization on its most basic terms.

Now, there’s another interesting dimension to this, which is when you are talking about modern electoral politics, you’re talking about constitutional self-government, you’re talking about a struggle over who’s going to decide what is and isn’t marriage. Who’s going to decide the prevailing moral structure of the civilization, but there have been literal wars over the culture over civilization in times past, thinking of Western history, perhaps the most important of those were the military encounters between the Western European nations and the Ottoman Empire.

There you were looking at a civilization is defined by Islam under the Quran, and a civilization that had very serious and obvious Christian commitments. Let’s just say that life under those two different civilizations would be remarkably different. Thus, this was a battle between two civilizations. It was a culture war between two cultures. The point of the culture war right now is that the most interesting battles are inside a single civilization, inside a culture. In the case of the United States, inside one nation, and you see that right now, it’s all over the headlines. It’s beneath and above, it’s throughout, just about everything.

You think about the issue of abortion, you think about the headlines, you recognize that just on the issue of abortion. On the issue of whether the fundamental moral reality is supposedly a woman’s right to choose or to control her own body on the one hand, and the preservation of human life on the other hand, in this case, an unborn human life in the defense of the sanctity of life, you look at those two different arguments, one or the other will gain supremacy in our society. That’s just the way it works. One or the other. This is not like a war between two different empires, one pro-life and one pro-abortion, this is a battle within one culture, or at least what right now appears to be one culture.

The danger is, of course, that the culture war points out there isn’t a unitary culture, you end up with two different cultures, and one’s going to win and one’s going to lose. One of the most interesting conversations or debates right now is found among Christians, and that would include at least some evangelicals arguing or debating over whether or not, or to what extent faithful Christians should be engaged in a culture war. There have been articles written by figures suggesting that it’s wrong for evangelicals to become cultural warriors or culture warriors. But in other point I want to make is that we are in a culture war, whether or not we want to be. It’s not something that we have declared, it was declared on us.

Furthermore, it’s a struggle over the society that no one in a participatory democracy can actually evade. This is not a war that say conservative Christians declared upon a supposedly secular and liberal state. For that matter, it is not so much that you had the left declare a culture war. The left tried to gain supremacy in the culture and has largely won in many sectors of our society. They’ve done so under their own fundamental vision of human flourishing and their idea of the human good. We believe that it’s fundamentally wrong, fundamentally flawed, that it will lead to the opposite of human flourishing, and that it actually represents the opposite of human good.

So you have two rival understandings of what is good for humanity, over what kind of policies and laws should be put in place. The culture war explains why, when you look at the division right now among Americans, it’s not uneven. It’s not like, okay, over here, you have a division over abortion, over here, you have a division over same-sex marriage. Those are completely different pictures. No, they’re not. They’re largely the same people. In other words, you have pro-lifers who are also pro-marriage, is the union of a man and a woman. That’s because there’s a theological worldview structure behind that commitment, that explains the commonality on these issues. On the left, again, you have largely, if not uniformly, a consistency on the left.

In other words, you have very few people on the left, you’re going to find out who say, I am absolutely for same-sex marriage, but I’m against this transgender revolution. There just aren’t that many people, because if you feel free to redefine human morality, sexual behavior, marriage, and all the rest, it’s really difficult to say, well, I’ll go for A and B, but not for C. This is where, as you think about conversations with neighbors, as you think about reading the headlines, increasingly, we really aren’t looking at Americans looking over a vast cultural divide of contested terrain. The point I want to make is this, there is no way to go AWOL in the culture war. There is simply no way to avoid it.

One thing to think about here, is what I have often described as the evangelical voters’ dilemma. A vote is a moral choice. A vote, thus is an exercise of moral responsibility. But in an electoral system, not voting is no less a moral choice and a moral responsibility. In other words, if you have the power or the vote, if you vote for candidate A or candidate B, or you don’t vote, they are all moral choices. They all come with political consequences, and not one of them is actually less ethically fraught than any other. This issue recently erupted in our conversation, at least partly prompted by an article that appeared in the New York Times by Tish Harrison Warren entitled, “The God I Know Is Not a Culture Warrior.”

Now, let me be clear, that’s an interesting statement in and of itself. I need to specify that sometimes writers of columns in newspapers, and this also includes the online world, don’t write the headlines for their articles. Those headlines are often produced by copy editors or by others. So as you look at a headline like this, it’s not necessarily honest, fair, or accurate to say that’s what the author or the columnist determined would be the headline. But nonetheless, this headline does not mislead about the content of this article. Tish Harrison Warren warns that Christian should not use God as a tool, or as a weapon in political warfare, should not reduce faithful Christianity to a cultural conflict.

Again, the headline of the article is, “The God I Know Is Not a Culture Warrior.” Those words are not found within the article, but she does use similar language. She says this, “The God I often hear about in American politics, in the news, and on Twitter is one of cultural division and bickering.” She went on to contrast that with a recent worship service in her church, she said, “The God in our cultural discourse seems impotent and irrelevant, a mostly sociological phenomenon related to political posturing and power plays.” Later in the article, she says, “It’s not that I think God has no place in politics or public discussions, faith touches all areas of life and issues such as abortion, religious liberty, and the relationship between church and state are important.”

But she says, “When we primarily talk about God in the context of political or ideological debate, believers’ actual experience of God, worship and faith, not to mention spiritual virtues like humility, gratitude, and kindness often gets lost. God becomes merely another pawn in the culture wars. A means to a political end. A mean to our own opponents online, or an accessory dawned like a power tie.” Now, the fact is that you can look all across the political spectrum and see God misused, God misquoted, God misattributed. You can look all across the political spectrum and you can see people making bad theological arguments or frankly political arguments that don’t even meet the slightest theological muster. But nonetheless, the point I want to make is that Christians didn’t declare the culture war. Conservative Christians didn’t decide that there would be a fundamental struggle over our society and civilization.

I want to make the point Christians can’t avoid it. We can’t evade it. Like it or not, someone’s going to decide what’s taught in school, in the public schools. Like it or not, someone’s going to decide what the laws are. Like it or not, someone in this representative democracy of constitutional self-government’s going decide what the definition of marriage is. Someone, like it or not, is going to decide what parental rights are. Just how far parents are understood to have the rights to raise their own children. Someone’s going to decide just how far religious liberty is to extend. Someone’s going to decide fundamental issues of reality. It’s not just speed limits we’re talking about here, it’s not just the IRS and taxation, it is the fact that in our times, the state has taken on a claim of power and authority. That means the state is largely invading the life of every single family, the life of every single home, the life of every single community.

Someone’s going to decide what the policies are, who’s going to lead, what reality is. Again, what marriage is, whether or not a boy is recognized as a boy, and a girl is a girl, whether or not you have forced conformity with a new ideology of sexual expressivism and progressivism, all that’s going to be decided, there’s no way around it. Now, honestly, the right kind of argument, I think to be found among Christians is how we are to engage these issues in the public square, and how we are to engage those with whom we disagree. The fact is that Christians owe the society at large and every single human being made in God’s image, we owe to our neighbor love of neighbor, but we also owe to our neighbor the truth. We also owe to our neighbor righteous laws and a just system of government, and a system of laws and policies that is consistent with creation itself and the Creator’s plan in making us, for example, human beings in his image, and making us male and female, and establishing marriage as the very fundamental institution of our society.

Love of neighbor is not just being sweet and polite. Love of neighbor also means we have an inherent responsibility to seek that the laws are righteous, that the laws comport with reality, that the policies and governing structures and reigning ideologies of our time are as consistent with biblical truth as is possible. One of the patterns I see, especially on the left wing of evangelicalism, if it can be rightly described as that is the fact that the culture warrior label is often attached to people who just hold to a different political understanding. Now, there are those who misuse God in just about every conceivable way, and that’s on both sides of the spectrum.

But the reality is that I see this criticism often thrown at conservative Christians who after all, right now are in a position of having to fight for the most fundamental issues from religious liberty, and the right to pray in public, all the way to the sanctity of human life. These aren’t uncomplicated. Frankly, we do have a responsibility to engage these issues while demonstrating civic respect, and for that matter, love of neighbor, which is even more fundamental. But again, love of neighbor doesn’t end with just being respectful, it also extends to defending the truth that is essential for the flourishing of humanity.

Part II

Yes, Christians Should Be on the School Board: Why Christians Cannot Abandon Responsibility for the Larger Society

Another article recently ran by a writer at Christianity Today suggesting, “Don’t Run for the School Board.” Interesting headline. Again, it might not have been offered by the author, but it’s very interesting because once again, the article is that we need to try to find a way not to be culture warriors.

Bonnie Christian writes about the logic, she says of the approach taken by many evangelicals in the 1990s, worried “around the moral devolution of American public schools.” She went on to say, “Whatever your politics, the core idea of joining or regularly lobbying the school board to improve our kids’ education is an obvious appeal.” Who doesn’t want their kids’ schooling to be virtuous, rigorous and healthy? She says, “It may not seem only sensible, but glaringly obvious to seize this power where available.” But then she says, “But what if the culture war is the wrong approach entirely?” She cites an argument of C. S. Lewis in which he stated, “A society which is predominantly Christian will propagate Christianity through its schools, one, which is not will not, all the ministries of education in the world cannot alter this law.”

Now, again, I find that statement by Lewis fascinating, but I see in it basically the opposite of what Bonnie Christian sees in it. I see in it, a reminder of the fact that we have a responsibility to bring our Christian witness to the public square, and to seek to make those arguments, and as you’re looking at our society, the fact is that this culture comes from a tradition of predominant Christianity. That alone is sufficient to explain the nature of our laws, our cultural and legal traditions, the general shape of our culture, it is not a secular fact, that is a fact of the inheritance of Christianity. Now, as you’re thinking here, C.S. Lewis is certainly right. A society which is predominantly Christian will propagate Christianity through its schools.

But that also means that a society which is predominantly secular will propagate secularity through its schools. But the problem is this, we’re in an odd situation right now where elites have inordinate influence over these issues, and so, Peter Berger, the sociologist put it this way in a longitudinal study of the religiosity variably measured among nations. He discovered at one point that just measuring religiosity, it turned out that the most religious nation on earth is India. It turns out that the least religious nation on earth, according to his study was Sweden. Explaining the United States, Peter Berger inimitably said, “America is a nation of Indians ruled over by an elite of Swedes.”

Now, what Berger meant is that by and large Americans are a lot more religious than sociologists want to admit. That religion is not just religiosity, it is the inheritance of Christianity. The vast majority of Americans still identify in some way with Christianity. So in that sense, C.S. Lewis’s statement applies in a very different way than might be implied here. The fact is that right now, what we have are secular elites in a largely secularist impulse in the courts and elsewhere that have led to the fact that there has been a sustained effort to try to realign the entire civilization, and the schools and other instruments are being used as critical leverage in bringing that about.

But I think there’s another fundamental problem when it comes to this argument that Christians shouldn’t run for the school board because after all, we’re not in control of the culture, so we shouldn’t try to control the culture, and there are limits to what kind of influence could be gained even by electing Christians to the school board. Furthermore, Christians have other options. Christians can homeschool. Christians can send their children to Christian schools, to private schools, consortium schools, classical schools. But my point is this, love of neighbor means we’re concerned not only with our own children, though that is our first responsibility, but all children.

Furthermore, one of the ways we care about our own children, as well as by love of neighbor, the children of others is that we care about the future shape of this society, even when those of us who are now adults are dead. I, for one do not believe it can for a moment be considered Christian faithfulness just to leave all the policy, all the government, all the hiring, all the questions about the future of society in the hands of others, especially when those others have told us up front that they intend to lead the entire society, rearrange the entire society in a very different direction.

One of the most interesting things to note is that even though you have so many people in this society who want to say, look, here’s the basic divide. The basic divide is liberal, conservative. The basic divide is Democrat, Republican. That’s not wrong, but it’s not really right. The alignment at the most fundamental level here is theological, not political. It’s not partisan. This is very clearly demonstrated in deep surveys and in legitimate research. Just looking at this, it’s not by accident that theism belief in God is largely identified with what sociologists would call strong theism and conservative positions on these issues, or a weaker theism or more secular worldview that holds to the more liberal positions.

Now, there’s not just an absolute rule here that you’re never going to have a conservative atheist, that’s not true. But the fact is that an atheist, if conservative is kind of accidentally so. But we began by looking at the reality of the culture war. Again, Christians haven’t declared it, and I think it’s not healthy to describe ourselves as culture warriors, but nonetheless, it’s an objective term and it’s an accurate term for the struggle over the future of our civilization. But it’s also true that we’ve been talking about the schools, and even in this case, the argument that Christians shouldn’t run for the school board as an exercise, of say, the culture war.

Part III

The Secular Shock: Christian Schools, There is a Price to Be Paid

But as we’re thinking about the schools, I want to transition to something very different. Headline’s coming out of Florida. One of them has to do with a Christian school in Florida that has attracted all kinds of media attention because it sent out a communication to the families involved in this Christian school, saying that it will refer to the students in the school only by biological gender, and which also ask those who identify as LGBTQ to leave the school. Now, this is a Christian school. The name of the school is the Grace Christian School in Valrico, Florida that’s near to Tampa. A matter of weeks ago, administrators in the school informed families related to the school of a clarification of policy.

The clarification of policy included these words, “One’s biological sex must be affirmed, and no attempts should be made to physically change, alter or disagree with one’s biological gender, including but not limited to elective sex reassignment, transvestite, transgender, or non-binary, gender fluid acts of conduct. Students in school will be referred to by the gender on their birth certificate, and be referenced in name in the same fashion.” The leader of the school, the administrator, who’s also a pastor, Barry McKeen said in the communication, “We believe that any form of homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality, transgender identity/lifestyle, self-identification, bestiality, incest, fornication, adultery, and pornography are sinful in the sight of God and to the church. Students who are found participating in these lifestyles will be asked to leave the school immediately.”

Now, the sections that I’ve been quoting there are from a report published at PinkNews in the United Kingdom. That’s interesting. Here, you have an LGBTQ website in Britain that has found this story interesting. NBC News here in the United States has also picked up on the story. Now, I don’t have the entire communication, but there’s nothing in this news story that indicates that this Christian school is doing anything other than defining its policies in terms of Christian truth, biblical truth. There’s absolutely no evidence here that this school is doing anything other than reminding those who are sending their children to this Christian school, that this is a Christian school. The other thing I want to point out is that if in your school, you actually permit the recognition of LGBTQ lifestyles, then there’s no way you’re going to be able to hold to any kind of consistent, biblical understanding in the entirety of the school system. That’s just impossible.

But this links to another story that’s also made the news, also about a Christian school, this one, the Bible Baptist Academy in DeQuincy, Louisiana.

In this school, and it’s a rather complicated story, but the bottom line is that you had a young girl who has same-sex parents, same-sex married parents in this case, legal parents, and the school finding out that the household included a same-sex marriage, said that the little girl was not going to be able to continue in the school. Now, there are many people just to recoil in horror over that, but the reality is that if a Christian school recognizes a same-sex couple as legitimate parents when it comes to the recognition of parents within their Christian school system, then again, eventually, you’ve just normalized what Christians don’t believe marriage is and can be.

Furthermore, if you just think about the practicalities of this, how in the world is this school going to teach its young people on the basis of Christian truth what marriage is, if you have this little girl sitting there in the classroom, who’s going to hear that, and hear very clearly and accurately that this school does not believe on the basis of biblical truth, that her parents are actually married. All this is just a reminder of the point we made when we began. Coming full circle, there is no way to avoid the cultural conflict of this age. There is no way to avoid Christian responsibility. Even those who say, look, you’re at culture war if you go into the public schools and try to get elected to the school board or et cetera, and affect policies that way. The fact is that I turned to these latter two stories about Christian schools precisely to make the point, the secular world is not waiting for us to engage the secularist agenda, it is coming for us in Christian schools.

You see in the final analysis, one of the things you need to know about a cultural conflict of this intensity, you may deny that you are actually a part of the battle, but like it or not, one way or the other, you are. The battle will find you.

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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