The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Friday, September 16, 2022

It’s Friday, September 16th, 2022.

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

Part I

‘A State’s Imposition of Its Own Interpretation of Scripture Calls Out for Review’: The Supreme Court Declines to Defend Religious Liberty at Yeshiva University

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court of the United States narrowly, but very clearly, turned back an appeal from Yeshiva University in New York for the stay of a decision made by a state court judge there in New York that would violate the very religious identity of Yeshiva University, requiring the university immediately to recognize an LGBTQ student group. Now, we talked about this on The Briefing just a few days ago, but this is an astounding new development and one that demands a lot of our attention. This is one of those developments that all of a sudden is helping people all over the world to understand here’s what’s really at stake. If you had said just a matter of a few weeks ago that a headline like this might actually come to this kind of conclusion with this kind of velocity, I think most people would’ve considered that alarmist. But here we are, just ask Yeshiva University.

As we discussed just recently, Yeshiva is one of the oldest and most vulnerable Jewish institutions in the United States. It’s very name invokes the tradition of Jewish education, and it makes very clear it’s Jewish identity and its religious mission. It refers to itself in religious terms. It is a part of what’s known as the Modern Orthodox Jewish Movement. It also is very clear that it requires, for example, it’s male students to spend between one and four to five hours a day studying the Torah. Now, you look at this and you recognize that anyone looking to Yeshiva University must, if honest to any degree, recognize it as a religious institution. Interestingly, we now know that the state court judge there in New York found that Yeshiva is not to be recognized as primarily a religious institution because it was established as an educational institution.

Now, that is a fundamentally important issue because let’s just consider it for a moment. For one thing, as you look at state laws, man, we’ve got 50 states. As you just look through those laws, the distinction between a religious and an educational institution is in most cases rather fictitious because educational bodies founded by religious organizations further the religious ends and purpose, and are expected to teach the religious beliefs of those founding religious institutions. And so you ask, looking to a Christian school, is it Christian or is it a school? The answer is yes, it is a Christian school.

Now, just about everyone in the United States, at least anyone involved in the law or public policy must recognize the venerable existence of religious schools. It’s not like this is an entirely new category that judges would be unexpected to understand. No, we’re looking at something extremely clear. Indeed, when it comes to educational institutions, we’re actually looking at the mainstream academic history of the United States with so many of the early schools, particularly in the colonial and early national eras, being established by Christian churches, denominations, and Christian and other religious organizations.

Given the promise of religious liberty, Jewish citizens have just as much right to establish Jewish schools as Catholic citizens have to establish Catholic schools, Protestant and evangelical citizens to establish evangelical schools. It is the same offer promise compact of religious liberty, the same constitutional deference and recognition.

Just days ago on The Briefing we discussed the fact that Justice Sonia Sotomayor who is the associate justice responsible for this geographic jurisdiction, she had issued a temporary stay that granted Yeshiva University relief from the judgment of the New York court. But this was always open to a subsequent review by the full Supreme Court. And it was the full Supreme Court that voted. It was a 5-4 vote, all justices voting. And the majority of the justices voted to allow the order of the state court to go into effect, but then basically invited Yeshiva University to seek relief, first of all, from the state courts in New York. And should that fail, then to turn to the federal courts and in particular to the Supreme Court of the United States.

So as you’re looking at this, one issue to keep in mind is that at least some on the Supreme Court wanted to say this is, in this case at this time, a largely procedural issue rather than an issue of constitutional principle, which is to say, they said, “Look, the university did not exhaust its opportunities for appeal.” That’s what is meant by the language of opportunities for legal relief there in the state of New York. It should go through those processes. But Yeshiva University and its legal counsel, and that would be the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, I think very wisely and urgently had gone to the Supreme court to say, “Look, the forced recognition of an LGBTQ student group on our campus will constitute a harm to the university that it should not have to suffer. The Supreme court should have given this relief.”

Now again, I think it’s fair to say that at least some of the justices would say this was a procedural issue. But once again, at least one justice responded with crystal clarity, and in this case it was Justice Samuel Alito. He said this and I quote, “A state’s imposition of its own mandatory interpretation of scripture is a shocking development that calls out for a review.” So this is a very important argument. I think Justice Alito is absolutely right. In this case, the Supreme Court should have granted this relief to Yeshiva University because even if on a temporary basis, if the state of New York can force this Jewish university, established in Jewish terms on Jewish convictions, to compromise those convictions even for a temporary amount of time, that is nonetheless a harm to Yeshiva University and thus to its religious convictions and its religious freedom that should not be tolerated even if temporary.

The statement from the full court denying the stay said that, “If applicants seek and receive neither expedited review nor interim relief from the New York courts, they may return to this court.” Now that also means that the Supreme Court may have signaled there that it would be ready to receive a plea from Yeshiva University, even in an expedited way if the university does exhaust such opportunities for relief from the New York courts and is unsuccessful. So that offers at least some ray of potential hope. And Justice Alito went on to say that if this case were to come before the Supreme Court, he would certainly hope that the Supreme Court would grant full relief to Yeshiva University just on the grounds of religious liberty.

He went on to say, “I doubt that Yeshiva’s return to state court will be fruitful and I see no reason why we should not grant a stay at this time.” He then said, again this is Justice Samuel Alito, “It is our duty to stand up for the constitution even when doing so is controversial.” Justice Alito was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett in that assessment. And in that assessment, I believe Justice Alito and his colleagues were entirely correct.

I say this as the president of a religious institution, a Christian institution, explicitly Baptist institution. If some state court, or for that matter, any court can impose upon us an act or a policy that violates our religious liberty and religious convictions, then I would certainly hope that the Supreme Court would not say that we have to suffer this injury for some time until we, having exhausted ll other means, have to go back to the Supreme Court. I think this is a dangerous precedent in that light. I understand that the Supreme Court has to operate by certain patterns and policies that prevent just anyone from making appeal to the Supreme Court without exhausting other opportunities for appeal.

But nonetheless, this is very alarming because, and here’s where Christians need fully to sympathize and furthermore to share outrage, the teachings of the Old Testament concerning the matter of human sexuality and gender, those teachings are very clear. Yeshiva University will have its own religious convictions clearly violated by this act by the state court. Even if temporary, what sense does it make for the Supreme Court of the United States to say, “We may step in and do the right thing at some time?”

But as for now, this religious institution, this very venerable Jewish institution in New York is going to have to suffer the violation of its convictions. I just hope Americans, all Americans, hear the danger in those words.

Part II

A New Category Comes to the Boston Marathon: Non-Binary Runners Get Their Own Field of Competition in 2023 — But Details Still Need to Be Settled

But next, just before we turn to questions, an interesting article in the sports section of the New York Times. We don’t often get to go to that section, but nonetheless, here’s a worldview story that should grab your attention. The headline in yesterday’s print edition of the New York Times is this, “Non-binary runners are gaining ground.” You see the clever way those words are put together. The subhead, “The global movement toward inclusion.” Talya Minsberg is the reporter in this story. And we are told, “As the oldest annually contested marathon in the world, the Boston Marathon often sets standards in the world of running.”

 So when the Boston Athletic Association, the race’s organizer announced this week that it would invite non-binary athletes to compete next year without having to register in the men’s or women’s divisions, it sent a signal to runners. And one runner here is mentioned too by name. Now later in the article, we come to understand that the Boston marathon is here innovating by making very clear there will be a third category. There will be a male category of competition. There will be a female category of competition and a non-binary category as well. That’s news, no doubt about it. That’s headline news, not just in the sports section, but in the larger culture. And we are told in this article what frankly we already know, and that is that there is a resurgence of interest in and political controversy about those who identify as non-binary.

But when it comes to sports, there are some particularly vexing, particularly difficult issues. If you are talking about the category of men, there aren’t that many controversies, because those who are biologically female and who claim to be nonetheless identifying as men, they don’t have a physical advantage over those who are biologically male, at least in most cases. But when it comes to the female category, well, as we now all understand, there’s the problem because those who have undergone male puberty and have inhabited biologically male bodies, when it comes to sports, even to skeletal structure and leg length, muscular strength, and other categories, all things being equal, a very physically fit biological male has many advantages in many sports, and marathon running is one of them, over someone who is a biological woman. And that’s why the controversy basically has to do with women and girls sports.

But there are also those who claim to be non-binary. And it turns out that when you read the story about the Boston Marathon and look into the issue, they’re really two different parts to this. One of them has to do with the qualifying for the marathon in the first place. In one sense, that’s the first big hurdle. And evidently, at least until this change in policy, those that are biologically male had to qualify as male. And those who were biologically female, they qualified as female. Now, this new third category is going to change everything.

Now, by the way, one of the big issues with the rise of the feminist movement, second-wave feminism in the 1960s was the fact that there was a very strong clarity in this culture about the fact there are two genders, male and female. Then there was the suggestion that there might be something like a third gender, but it is only in very recent times that you could even contemplate an event as major as the Boston Marathon coming up with something like this new non-binary category that wouldn’t have been imaginable just a matter of a couple of years ago. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t the fact a couple years ago. As a matter of fact, as you look at the story, it’s not a fact this year. It is announced to be a fact next year.

But I’m simply going to close with this, by offering that one Christian worldview dimension of this we need to note, is that predictably it’s a lot easier to announce that you’re going to have a non-binary category in next year’s competition than to explain right now how exactly that’s supposed to work. My favorite sentence in the article is this, “Even with the non-binary division established and the qualifying times laid out, more details would still need to be settled,” runners said. Just think about that for a moment. More details will need to be settled. You just bet they will.

Part III

When I Sin Against God and He is Upset, Does He Leave Me? Does God Hear My Prayers in Those Moments? — Dr. Mohler Responds to a Letter from a 12-Year-Old Listener of The Briefing

But now let’s turned to questions last week because of the unexpected death of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. We gave attention to that news story and understandably so. But this week, we’re glad to get back to questions. And as always, our privileged questions coming from young people.

A very interesting and perceptive question was asked by a 12-year-old named McKinley. She explained that she’s been reading the book of Exodus. Good for you McKinley.

And she says she has a question and she roots it in Exodus 33, where the Lord through Moses says to Israel about the crossing of the River Jordan going into the land of Canaan, “I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey, but I will not go with you because you are a stiff necked people and I might destroy you on the way.”

McKinley then ask this perceptive question. She says, “I know that the Lord is sovereignly angry, but did the Lord physically not go with the Israelites?” She says, “When I do wrong against God and he is upset, would he leave my side sometimes?” Even asking about prayer, she basically asks, “Are there times that God might not hear my prayer because he’s angry with me?” McKinley, sweet question. And by the way, it’s one of those questions that I’m thankful someone asks out loud. I think sometimes Christians are afraid to ask this kind of question.

But first of all, let’s go back to the first part of your question. Why did God not go with the Israelites physically? Well, God does not have a physical form. As a matter of fact, he is not embodied. That’s what makes the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Chris so very astounding, God in human flesh. God the Father does not have a physical body. And he makes reference to that. The scripture’s very clear about that. But he sometimes does appear in a physical presence or something we can see physically, visually. In the Old Testament, this is called a theophany. God sometimes appeared, for example, in a column of smoke, at least his presence, or speaking even from a burning bush, a bush that burned and was not consumed as you know in the call of Moses. You’ve been reading Exodus so you read that some time ago. But nonetheless, God is speaking here of his presence in this sense as his holiness. And he’s speaking to Israel because of Israel’s disobedience.

Now, just remember something, McKinley. Israel has experienced 40 years in the wilderness precisely because of Israel’s disobedience. God is basically saying, “I am not going to set up for that to happen again.” So instead, he sends an angel in order to represent him. And the angel opened the way for the children of Israel to cross the River Jordan and to be victorious over the Canaanites. So let’s get to the bigger issues you raise. No, you don’t have to worry that God at times will not hear your prayer if you are at all worried that God will not hear your prayer. So what do I mean by that, McKinley? I mean this, if you have a heart towards God, and he knows that, if your heart is not hardened and closed to God, you don’t have to worry that he will not hear your prayer.

And here’s the sure sign, and it’s so sweetly reflected in your question. If you’re concerned that you have offended God, then you do not have that kind of a hard in heart. If indeed you’re worried that God might look to you in judgment in this sense, even as you seek to pray… Well, I just want to say again, it’s sort of like what we have in the New Testament as the unforgivable sin, the sin that is beyond forgiveness. What is that unforgivable sin? Well, it is the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. And in other words, it is an insult to salvation. It is basically closing one’s heart, hardening one’s heart, even to our need of salvation, which is to say if we’re worried about whether or not we have come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and we have offended God in some way, then by definition we’ve not committed the unpardonable sin. And essentially, that’s the same answer I want to give you McKinley.

The fact that you are concerned about this, well, it’s just an indication that your heart is not hardened against God in order that he would not hear your prayers. Now, if you reach a point, at any point in life where you just don’t care, well, there’s a sign of a hardened heart. Just remember the promise that we have in Scripture in 1 John. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We don’t have to worry that that’s sometimes, some places promise. It’s in all places, all times promise to believers.

Part IV

Do Animals Go to Heaven? Did Animals Talk Before the Fall of Adam and Eve? — Dr. Mohler Responds to a Letter from Two Brothers Who Listen to The Briefing

We had several just really fascinating questions from young people. A 14-year-old listener wrote in whose brother is 12, and the explanation is, “We were having a Bible study with our grandma who listens to The Briefing. We were reading Genesis and had a couple of questions. Do animals go to heaven? Did animals talk before the fall of Adam and Eve? Did Adam and Eve go to heaven?”

Now those are three interesting questions. First of all, do animals go to heaven? Well, I just have to tell you there is no direct evidence in scripture that animals go to heaven. Heaven’s described as the place of God’s dwelling and the place that Jesus is preparing right now for those who are his to be with him forever in the kingdom of Christ. And heaven’s described in such wonderful terms. But you know what? It is also described in such wonderful terms as a new heaven and a new earth. So I think that there is hope for Christians. Not speculation, we’re not free to speculate and imagine. But I think the assurance here given to us is that what was glorious on earth will be glorious in heaven. What reflects the glory of God in the first creation, well, it’s likely to be at least recognizable in the second, the new creation.

Another way of saying it is, if heaven is perfect, then it doesn’t lack anything that we knew in this life as one of the creation goods. Now, does that mean that there will be animals in heaven? I don’t know, but I’m absolutely confident that heaven will lack nothing of the perfection that God intends for it and for us. And so I can simply say I don’t think it’s wrong to hope that there will be animals there as well. Did animals talk before Adam and Eve? There’s no evidence of that whatsoever. Just absolutely none. And for example, when an animal does speak such as the donkey who spoke to Balaam in the Old Testament, that’s presented as something so spectacularly unusual and unexpected that it clearly reflects what we would call a miracle.

The same unusual capacity is what I think you see in Genesis 3 with the serpent who speaks. Clearly, the very fact that there’s a speaking serpent is to get our attention. There’s no biblical evidence that the other animals in Eden were talking. Rather interestingly, in Genesis 2, one of the signs of Adam being made in God’s image is that it was he who named the animals. The animals didn’t get to name him. Now, these two young listeners also ask about Adam and Eve going to heaven. I dealt with that on the May 27th edition of The Briefing. I hope you’ll find that helpful as well. And to all of you, thanks for writing.

Part V

How Do I Lovingly Make Clear to My Unbelieving Brother That My Beliefs are My Own and Not Just Pushed On Me By My Parents? — Dr. Mohler Responds to a Letter from a 15-Year-Old Listener of The Briefing

My heart was also particularly touched by a 15-year-old girl listener who wrote in, and the problem is in her relationship with her brother. Her brother, described here as an older brother, is living with what’s described as an alternate lifestyle. She says, “Did you understand my meaning?” Yes, dear listener, I understand your meaning. And what we have here is the picture where the brother is suggesting to the sister that she is somehow trapped in what’s described here as a stiff-collared Christian family. And this brother wants to influence this young listener to be woke. “Little does he know that I’m too far gone and actually want,” all capitalized, “to be a Christian. How do I make clear to him that my beliefs are my own and not pushed on me by my parents? And she means to do so in a loving but clear way.”

Well, I just have to tell you that my heart is touched by a lot of questions, but particularly by this question. I want to come back and say God bless you for your convictions. God bless you by the way for your love and respect for your brother. But even more, your love and respect for the truth, for the gospel, for Christ. This just reminds us of the fact that sometimes one of the most heartbreaking realities in a fallen world is that we’re never actually able to communicate to another person what we really do want to communicate.

Sometimes it’s because the other person is coming to us with what we might describe as something like a radio frequency that simply is one we can’t match. And that might be the case with your brother here. He might not actually believe anytime really soon that your convictions are your own rather than as he suggested just being forced on you by your parents. By the way, your statement about your own convictions is just very sweet, very encouraging, I think, to all of us, regardless of our age as believers.

But I thank you for wanting to express this to your brother. And I just want to affirm you in seeking to make very clear these are your own biblical Christian convictions. You just might have to say this over and over and over again. Firmly, sweetly respectfully, but also just consistently and showing that in your life. And as you grow in grace and in the nurture of Christ, it’s just really important that you be faithful just as your very sweet letter here just indicates your desire to be faithful. We can hope and pray, among other things, that your brother would come to respect and understand you as you speak about your own Christian testimony and Christian convictions.

At the end of the day, we’re just not promised that. And this is a hard thing to say. At the end of the day, we’re just not promised that even those who are closest to us and would love us and we would think understand us actually don’t understand us as sometimes breaks our heart. But I’m going to hope and pray that your brother will come to understand your genuine convictions. And I’m going to join you as I’m sure you are praying that your brother would come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, and would live his life in alignment with scriptural truth. But as for you, just to understand how encouraging you have been today to this older believer and to a lot of older and younger believers who are listening to The Briefing today, we draw strength from you.

There were some other just incredibly good questions and issues raised, and I realized they’re actually too big to discuss in, say, a weekly Friday edition of The Briefing. So I just want to tell you. For instance, a couple of interesting issues raised, someone wrote in asking about the origin of evil in terms of God’s sovereignty. Someone else wrote in about advice to Christian couples about in vitro fertilization or IVF technologies. Those are big issues. This is just a reminder to me that sometime very soon I need to take up those issues, not just on a Friday, but perhaps at greater length on one of the other daily additions of The Briefing, Monday through Friday.

So for those who’ve written in with those big questions, just know I’m trying to figure out how to fit those in. We’re just going to pray to have the wisdom to know exactly what day we can drop in that kind of consideration. But we are indebted to you for raising these issues as you do for such intelligent questions. I’m just very thankful for the thoughtfulness of listeners to The Briefing. I hope I encourage you. I want you to know that you certainly encourage me.

We’ll get to some other questions next week. And as always, we’ll try to give as much time as we can to looking at these worthy questions. Until then, keep thinking as Christians.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’m speaking to you from Bowling Green, Kentucky, and I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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