The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, January 12, 2023

It’s Thursday, January 12th, 2023.

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


Part I

‘Deferring to Parents Cannot Be Morally Justified’: Educator Group in U.S. Calls Teachers to Disregard Parental Rights on Issue of Gender Identity in Schools

Here’s a question for you, and I quote, “Is defying parents the only ethical alternative?” Now that’s a headline story that appeared just this week in The Atlantic, it’s by author Conor Friedersdorf.

And it has to do with whether or not educators should see a child as a legitimate transgender subject and thus parents as the problem or defer to parents in raising their own children. And especially, or particularly in this case when it comes to gender and sexual identity.

Well, you can imagine that this is a fraught issue, but I hope it’s an issue that now has the attention of Christian parents and all those who believe in the importance of the Christian family and of Christian parenting. This also needs to begin with an alert, and the alert is this, our society increasingly sees conservative parents, Christian parents as oppressors who must be overcome not as the legitimate authorities with the responsibility for the raising of our children.

We are in a very new and precarious, particularly difficult cultural context, one in which many Christians simply are not aware of what’s increasingly at stake. What’s at stake is whether or not Christian parents will actually have the right to raise our children according to our own convictions on something as basic as the transgender question.

That’s the issue behind Conor Friedersdorf article. And by the way, it will be troubling enough if we were talking about a 14-year-old as the test case to begin this article, but this test case is not a 14-year-old child but a four-year-old child named Michael. But we’re told that when Michael gets to his preschool, he wants to change into a female identity.

The parents do not want this to happen, but the teacher named Ana in this study is asking the question about how she is to handle this, and the answer is basically coming according to the Code of Ethical conduct of a group known as the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

They publish a journal that is known as Young Children. And that’s a group by the way, that claim 60,000 members and is identified in the media as the largest and most influential group of teachers that have a focus upon preschool education. Now just keep that in mind.

But Friedersdorf’s article begins by citing a report that is under the auspices of the National Association for the Education of Young Children by Stephanie Feeney, Nancy K. Freeman and Katie Schaffer. And these three argue that the teacher, in this case, Ana, should basically defy the parent and encourage the child, a four-year-old in terms of that child’s chosen gender expression.

And the article, by the way is very clear, it’s very explicit in saying that parents in most of these cases have specifically said that they do not want their child to be recognized according to the gender opposite the birth gender. We’re even talking in terms made necessary by this kind of moral perplexity.

But nonetheless, the issue that Conor Friedersdorf is raising is whether or not there’s something like a third way between saying the parents have their say or the child has his or her say. Friedersdorf’s writes quote, “The National Association for the Education of Young Children, which publishes Young Children has a code of ethical conduct that directs teachers to “recognize and respect the unique qualities, abilities, and potential of each child to develop relationships of mutual trust and create partnerships with the families we serve and to acknowledge families’ child rearing values and their right to make decisions for their children.”

Except as it turns out, they don’t mean that last part at all. Friedersdorf writes, quote, “In essence, this case study explores what ought to happen when those obligations are in conflict. Ana”–remember the preschool teacher of the four-year-old in this case–“should defer to the child,” its authors conclude, “not the mother. In fact, they say she has an ethical responsibility to do so.”

So Conor Friedersdorf is raising an alarm. Now remember, his alarm is not whether or not we should accept the transgender insanity. No, he’s saying that there must be some kind of middle ground between parents who want to resist a child’s transgender identity and teachers who according to this group, who have the responsibility, decide with the child and even to mislead parents in such a morally fraught context.

They are to see themselves as advocates for the child and advocates for the entire LGBTQ array. By the way, this group, I’ll name it again, the National Association for the Education of Young Children is pretty well recognized as a progressivist organization on the left.

But then again, so are most teachers groups and all the major teachers unions. They see parents as the problem. They see the schools and teachers in particular as having the responsibility to separate children from the prejudices of their parents. That actually has a long pedigree and we’ll return to that in just a moment.

Friedersdorf does understand what’s at stake here. He write, “Although disagreements between educators and parents are as old as the teaching profession itself, disputes over gender expression are becoming ever more frequent in American classrooms as the number of young people who identify as trans has increased.”

And he writes, “To a degree that has surprised me, many educators believe that their judgments on these matters should trump the judgments of parents if the latter are even consulted about their children.” Now I’m talking about this issue with you today on this edition of The Briefing out of a sense of compulsion and moral urgency, but I simply want to note that The Atlantic is not a conservative publication, certainly not a Christian publication.

And yet even within the pages of The Atlantic and on its website just this week, here, you have one of their own major writers raising the alarm saying that he, even he is surprised by the fact that increasingly parents are seen as those to be sidelined.

Their authority overcome, trumped. And parents in some cases to be rejected as the authority in such a situation with their own child and raising the question as to whether or not the parents are even to be consulted at all. Friedersdorf also understands that this is a politically volatile issue and he acknowledges this was an issue very much at stake in the gubernatorial election in Virginia in the last round when Republican candidate Glenn Youngen won.

And one of the reasons Glenn Youngen won in what had been an increasingly purple, if not blue state of Virginia, is that parents there were increasingly agitated and for that matter infuriated that school authorities were irrigating authority to themselves at the expense of parents. Teaching children, and in this case in the transgender identity, even affirming children against the wishes of their parents and sometimes without even allowing the parents to know the situation existed.

And that included children showing up at school using the name of the opposite gender, being known by that name, preferred pronouns, and even changing clothes into the dress associated with the opposite gender once getting to school. Who are parents after all? They’re in the way of progress. Now Friedersdorf doesn’t really confront or even engage with the LGBTQ ideology or even the legitimacy of a child or teenager claiming that identity.

Instead, he’s asking the question about parental authority. And you’ll recall that he’s asking the question if it’s true that in all cases basically the parent is to be the advocate for the child, whatever the child’s LGBTQ identity or demands at the expense of the parents or even in the parent’s knowledge. Friedersdorf is basically asking out loud if that always is always true.

He’s calling for a category of what two researchers call ethical finesse. Now that comes up in another context in the same periodical from the same group in the column notice focus on ethics. There, two writers call for what they call ethical finesse, and that’s what Conor Friedersdorf acknowledges and affirms, “That is finding a way to meet the needs of everyone involved without having to make a difficult decision.”

Some kind of middle way, some kind of accommodation. But here we need to recognize that we are talking about the gender identity of children. We’re talking about the sexual identity of children. We are talking about the public schools and a very major group with vast influence over those who have influence over the children who are youngest in these school systems.

Here you have a question as to whether or not breaks need to be put on or perhaps at least a third category envisioned in which there might be some kind of ethical finesse, some kind of say working the issue in such a way that parents don’t have to be left out of the equation altogether. Remember, the title of the article is, Is Defying Parents the Only Ethical Alternative? Now that certainly implies that it is an ethical alternative and it implies at least in some cases it’s the right ethical alternative.

The most alarming word in there is perhaps the word always. Now the stridency of all of this is made clear and Conor Friedersdorf reports on this rightly. I went back and read the original research reports and the articles in Young Children.

And it’s just accurate to say that these writers conclude that the teacher has “an ethical responsibility to respect the four-year-old’s gender self-determination.” Remember, that’s the illustration given here, this four-year-old, “that deferring to the parents cannot be morally justified.”

I just want you to hear those words, deferring to the parents cannot be morally justified. That’s an astounding statement and it describes what many parents, including many parents of children in the public schools don’t understand. This is the kind of mentality, seeing parents as the problem and as those who are probably best just left in the dark when it comes to the most basic identity questions and moral questions concerning their own children.

Two things about the Friedersdorf article before we leave this specific segment, and that is this. Number one, the key issue of his consideration going back to the title of the article is this, “Is Defying Parents the Only Ethical Alternative?” Now that’s just a revealing issue even in how the question is asked, the only ethical alternative. It’s not denied that that might be an ethical alternative that is defying parents at least now.

Well, parents, I hope you know where you stand. The second thing is that what is sought in this article is what is described as ethical finesse. Now remember, finesse in this sense is the use of a word that means trying to massage or to fix something in order to not resolve the underlying problem, but just say, get through it or find a workable solution.

And moral finesse, however, is for Christians, a subject that we need to recognize comes as greatly, morally fraught. That is to say it comes with all kinds of problems. Our command is not to finesse issues but rather to deal with them. And if you’re talking about morality, well, if you’re talking about moral finesse, you’re basically saying, “You know there are competing moral claims here and somehow we just need to find a way to say massage them or adjudicate them.”

But notice that that’s saying that there is a good of a child and a good of a parent that on something this basic has to be seen basically in oppositional terms. The role of the educator according to this very progressivist notion is how in the world to just finesse that. But remember, finesse that is what he’s suggesting is a more conservative alternative to the prevailing ethical and moral reasoning of this group, which is that educators should see themselves as advocates for the child.

Advocates driven by what I’ll simply describe is a radical categorical LGBTQ ideology. Now I said a moment ago that what we need to recognize is that increasingly many educators see their responsibility to be separating children from the moral prejudices of their parents, from the moral worldview of their parents. As I said, that’s not particularly new, it’s just newly urgent.

And when I say it’s not particularly new, I just want to tell you that at least many who helped to form what we know as the modern American public school system had that as an ambition. The most central of those figures was John Dewey, pragmatist, philosopher, and very much associated with the teachers college at Columbia University who actually came out and said that one of the main goals of the public schools should be to separate children from the moral prejudices of their parents.

Not coincidentally, John Dewey was also one of the founders and framers of the modern secular humanist movement in the United States. Vastly influential, Dewey was one of the framers of what became known as the Humanist Manifesto in the early decades of the 20th century.

He was released, if anything, rather consistent. But we need to recognize there’s a bigger issue here, and that is that you are looking at progressives mostly in control, not only the teachers colleges, but of the teachers unions, virtually universally. Extremely identified now with the left. And you’re looking at the kind of credentializing groups such as this one, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, and you’re looking at bureaucrats mostly at the state and federal level, the overwhelmingly lean liberal.

There are still some Christians in those roles, there are still some conservatives serving on school boards. Increasingly that’s important, but also serving as administrators and certainly allegion of Christian teachers. But the reality is that they’re running out of options and they’re running out of time.

Lastly, I’m just going to say that there really is no middle ground here. Let me just read you Friedersdorf’s concluding sentences, “But judgments about what’s best can be informed by nuances, one grasp from knowing particular kids, families, and communities. The best approach on this issue is to dictate no mandatory approach. Ethical finesse can be useful even on matters as contentious as gender identity in schools.”

Well, if your child is in one of those schools, just consider what’s at stake. These educators with vast influence over public education in America not only do not see you as the ally and authority for your child, but as the enemy of progress.

And by the way, this report also reminds you that you may not know what is going on with your own child or children in the public schools or for that matter, any kind of liberal school context at any time. Because increasingly, your will is not only defied, you are not even informed of the issue in the first place. And I just have to state this one more time.

In this case, remember, we’re not even talking about teenagers, we’re talking about a hypothetical four-year-old. The current context here is not only rightly described as difficult, I think it’s nothing less than diabolical.

Part II

Who Should Be Allowed in Which Bathroom? Who Should Be Allowed on Which Team? — Transgender Revolutionaries Continue to Fight For Control Over Public Schools in Florida

On a similar note, I want to reference an article that appeared just this week in the Orlando Sentinel, that’s the major secular newspaper here in Orlando, Florida.

Headline in the local news section is this, “Trans Athlete Lawsuit Revived.” Jim Saunders is the reporter on the story. There have been a succession of stories on this issue that have been reported by this particular newspaper.

But the big issue here is that one of two lawsuits has been revived by a federal court, and as he reports in Tallahassee, “After an appeals court upheld a school board policy that prevented a transgender male student from using boys bathrooms, a federal judge has reopened a legal battle about a 2021 Florida law that bars transgender female students from playing on women’s and girls’ sports teams.”

Now this deserves a closer look because we’re not just considering what’s going on in Florida, but what’s going on in the world around us and in its worldview. And increasingly the very same worldview that drives the transgender ideology is becoming what drives the courts as well. But inadvertently or not, this article actually helps to underscore the moral insanity of our current moment.

Because you’re really looking at two absolutely incommensurate goals. We’ve seen this before. One is the goal of feminism and the other’s the goal of the transgender ideologies. Feminism’s goal is to try to raise the stature, the recognition of women, empower women, and that included by the way, empowering girls and young women in sports.

And the way to do that was pretty well recognized, and that is to require recognition and structure and funding for girls and women’s sports. The argument being that boys and men, particularly in adolescents and beyond, have a natural physical advantage over girls and young women.

And by the way, this comes down not just to strength but to other forms of athletic endeavor. It has also to do with anatomical structure including just the average stride of say, a teenage boy as compared with a teenage girl. And yet you’re looking at the fact that the transgender ideology says a boy can claim to be a girl and a girl can claim to be a boy. And of course, that is no longer just some kind of hypothetical issue.

As we saw in recent intercollegiate swimming competition on the women’s side, you had a biological man standing there having displaced biological females in what was described as a woman’s competition. That same biological male, we’ll just say a man, by the way, had competed for years as a teenage boy and as a man, as a male. And yet you’re looking here at the fact that the young women on that platform were basically robbed.

But here again, you have a choice. You can declare yourself to be an advocate for say females, but you cannot declare yourself at the same time to be an advocate for transgender ideology because it just doesn’t work. And of course, many of the most ardent feminists, some of whom are actually also lesbians, have helped to make that point such as the tennis champion, Martina Navratilova.

But of course, that just gets her sidelined in the current conversation because being a world champion tennis star and a lesbian and a well-identified feminist, well, that not puts you on the wrong side of history, and it might put you by the way in the wrong bathroom. The big issue here is not the legal technicality and a lawsuit being revived, it’s the fact that there are now two current lawsuits working their way through the courts dealing with either school board decisions or legislation here in Florida.

One has to do with who gets to use which bathroom, and the other has to do with who gets to play on which team. Now both of these cases are live and they’re live in the courts. The one about the bathrooms is pretty easy to understand, and it is grounded in the fact that school authorities told a female, biologically female student who is now claiming a male transgender identity that the student could not use the boys’ bathroom.

Now that’s quite an issue in itself, but you flip the equation and you seem to understand that it’s just not right for a biological male to be in the girls’ bathroom or changing room, and it’s not right for a biological female to be in the boys’ changing room and locker room. Now here’s where we need to recognize that even before anyone knew what a locker room was, humanity had a real clear understanding of who was a male and who was a female.

And they knew pretty quickly how to tell the difference. That by the way, is still true in the vast, vast majority of cases even in the delivery room. Now both of these cases in Florida have to do with the public schools. The one about sports could reach far beyond the public schools and the precedent set in the bathroom case could also reach far beyond the public schools.

But the fact is, once again, the public schools are the contested constitutional and legal arena. And one of the reasons why it’s so important is because those on the left fully understand if you control the schools, you do control to a great degree the destiny of a generation. I want to read to you a section from the documents filed by the attorneys for the state of Florida.

They said this, “Men and women’s athletic teams separated by sex are more than a longstanding social custom. They protect and foster the equal opportunity of girls and women to participate in athletics.” The document went on to say, “Courts have long accepted that boys and men are physiologically different from girls and women, and that male athletes if permitted to compete with, would displace and exclude female athletes.”

I simply want to make the further observation that these issues would not be before these courts even contested in this way if political leaders in the state of Florida did not dare to defy the transgender ideology and to establish policies that even led to the filing of these lawsuits. In some states, the state government and the entire educational apparatus would be unquestionably just on the side of the transgender and sexual revolutionaries.

Some of this also demonstrates what must be described as something like a law of unintended political consequences because at least some of the legal basis claimed by the transgender revolutionaries is based upon the language used by those who are framing pro-women or pro-feminist legislation in policies in generations past. That’s not to say that the policies in all these cases are wrong, it’s just to say that they even only make sense if you know who a man is and a woman is.

If you know who a boy is and a girl is. If you don’t know anymore, then the very language that feminist championed in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s is going to come right back and deny them the very place on the team they were demanding in the first place.

Part III

‘Male, Female, or Other?’: U.S. Census Bureau Struggles with Ramifications of the LGBTQ Revolution

But I’m simply going to conclude on this today by referencing a column by Josh Zumbrun that recently ran in the Wall Street Journal asking the question, “What’s Your Gender?”

And he argues that that question is now testing data gathering. Well, you bet it is. And it turns out that this is something as basic as say the United States census. Throughout the history of the United States, throughout the history of our national census and throughout the history of humanity for that matter, a box marked male and a box marked female would’ve been quite sufficient.

Thank you. And the question sufficiently clear, the answers sufficiently accurate. But no more of course, because once you add not only the transgender ideology but the entire category of non-binary, well, by definition and by ideology, there are no fixed identities at all.

How exactly do you factor that into your census, or for that matter, how do you factor it into your academic study, or for that matter, taking it a bit further, but as addressed in this article, how do you write a decent research report on something like medical research? When you talk about males and females, are you talking about biological sex? Are you talking about gender?

And when it comes to the recognition of the non-binary, who exactly are you talking about at all? As we know in the pronoun confusion, that’s an intentional lack of clarity. Zumbrun writes, “A growing portion of the population doesn’t identify as male or female. Though researchers are debating how best to measure the transgender or non-binary populations, recent surveys have found one to two percent of the overall population identifies with the terms. As recently as 2017,” he writes. An analysis of the limited survey to that date had estimated 0.4%. Adults under 30 are especially likely to say they’re transgender, as high as 3% to 5% in recent surveys from Gallup Incorporated and the Pew Research Centers.”

One of the survey methodologists at the Pew Research Center said, “We don’t want to exclude anybody who is non-binary, and we also don’t want to exclude folks who don’t believe gender is a social construct.”

So let me just ask this question honestly. How exactly do you plan to pull this off given the fact that some transgender identified persons are saying they have to be accounted for, we’ll, which way and how exactly? And non-binary, well, the very ideology says there are an infinite number of permutations and complexities to that question. I’m just going to guess the Census Bureau is not going to have an infinite form for you to fill out, but this is infinitely frustrating and incredibly revealing.

There’s another telling section in this article that states this, “Whether biological sex or genders the more relevant trait might depend on what is being studied.” I’m not going to go into any anatomical detail. I’ll simply say that is a profound understatement. In 2021, by the way, we’re told that the U.S. Census Bureau’s experimental household pulse survey actually asked two questions: “Question one, what sex were you assigned at birth on your original birth certificate? Question two, do you currently describe yourself as male, female, or transgender?”

Now obviously that doesn’t exhaust the possibilities, it doesn’t even come close. But I’m just going to raise an interesting question, how exactly would the vast majority of Americans go about even answering that question or would they answer it at all?

My guess is that there is still enough moral sanity among the citizens of this country that they’re likely to check either male or female. And as to the rest of it, just say, figure it out for yourself.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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