The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, March 9, 2023

It’s Thursday, March 9, 2023.

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

Part I

Too Christian to Teach in Arizona?: Public School District Ends Relationship with Arizona Christian University For Christian Convictions on Marriage, Gender and Sexuality

Sometimes events feel like they are shaped in something of a funnel, and as you get towards the narrow end, the velocity grows faster and that’s exactly what we are seeing happening in the culture right now. Certain things are happening and they’re happening very fast. Even on some issues and on some fronts where we have to go back again and again and say, “Well, we have to take note of this,” as you look at the last several days, certain pieces of puzzles are coming together in a way that makes the big picture pretty hard to deny.

I want to go first to the state of Arizona, and yesterday, when I was in Arizona, I woke up to the newspaper headline that a local Christian college was being targeted in order “to protect LGBTQ students.” Now, what in the world is this all about? Well, it turns out that the college in this case is Arizona Christian University and the targeting is that a local school district there in the Phoenix area, the Washington Elementary School District, has decided that it is no longer going to accept student teachers from Arizona Christian University.

As Laurie Roberts, columnist for The Arizona Republic and USA Today Network, writes, “The Washington Elementary School District school board has a message for education majors who attend Arizona Christian University. You aren’t welcome here.” She then goes on to explain, “The board is ending its contract with Arizona Christian University, which for 11 years has supplied student teachers in the North Valley’s school district.” She goes on to say, “It seems the university’s budding educators are simply too Christian to be allowed to teach in the district’s 32 schools.”

Now, there’s a lot going on in this story and as a matter of fact, what makes this particular article and this particular event of focal attention for us today on The Briefing is that you have people saying things out loud that at least in many cases, they wouldn’t necessarily say out loud. We’re going to be looking at that conversation. This is a debate. It’s a controversy. It needs to be a controversy because what you have here is an effort to try to decertify one particular Christian school for holding to Christian convictions from having the ability to play student teachers in the local school system.

Now, this is a complicated issue, but just notice the bottom line here. It’s an effort to say that one particular Christian university is just over the line in cultural acceptance. So far over the line, morally speaking, that it would be in the minds of at least one school board, unthinkable that students in this Christian university holding to Christian convictions could be allowed anywhere near student teaching opportunities in the public school district. Now, in this case, one of the things we need to note is the Arizona Christian University is not being singled out because there has been any identifiable bad experience in any school with any one of their student teachers. Nothing like that comes up. No. This is something that is coming from the LGBTQ community which is going to accept nothing but absolute surrender from all the powers that be, and not only that, exclusion of any kind of Christian university from any kind of influence in the public schools, at least if it is possible to avoid or to eliminate that influence.

The values of the University of Arizona Christian University singled out, for censure here, include the university’s public declaration on its website that it defines traditional sexual morality and lifelong marriage as being between one man and one woman. Now, one of the persons involved in this just issued outrage that students from such a university wouldn’t have anything to do with internships in student teaching opportunities in the public school district. The effort to try to decertify the school and to eliminate its graduates from serving as student teachers is identified as Washington Elementary board member, Tamillia Valenzuela, “who noted the university’s mission to influence, engage, and transform the culture with truth by promoting the biblically informed values that are foundational to western civilization.”

Those biblical values include a biblical understanding of gender and sex and marriage, so this board member said, “At some point, we need to get real with ourselves and take a look at who we are making legal contracts with and the message that it’s sending to our community because that makes me feel like I could not be safe in this school district.” She told that to fellow board members and she went on to say, “That makes queer kids who are already facing attack from our lawmakers feel that they could not be safe in this community.” Now, here’s something we just need to note. There has been, at least on the record, absolutely no complaint from any student, from any teacher, from any parent. This is coming from a board member who is just demanding and apparently quite successfully, that students at this Christian school must have nothing to do with the student teaching opportunities in the entire school district.

The Arizona Republic article tells us that Valenzuela, that is the board member, “describes herself on the district’s website as a bilingual, disabled, neurodivergent, queer, black Latina.” And the school board also has at least reported that three of the five school board members are LGBTQ. Three of five school board members, in this case. It might be a wake-up call for some people to know that would make a difference.

It turns out that another new board member, Kyle Clayton also was concerned about language that this Christian college and its students would teach reality “with a biblical lens.” He said, “I just don’t believe that belongs in schools. I would never want my son to talk about his two dads and be shamed by a teacher who believed a certain way, and is at a school that demands that they teach through their biblical lens.”

Another board person, in this case, the chairwoman, Nikkie Gomez Whaley said, “For me, this is not a concern about Christianity. There are plenty of Christian denominations who are LGBTQ friendly, so I want to make it clear that for me, my paws is not that they’re Christians so much as that this particular institution’s strong LGBTQ stance and their belief that you believe this to your core and you take it out into the world.” She went on, “How do you shut off an essential part of your being and not be biased toward individuals in which you are in charge of nurturing and supporting unconditionally? I don’t see how that disconnect is possible.”

Now, just notice all that went on there. I said that’s some rather astounding language in this, and well, that gets right to the heart of that language. Here you have the chairperson of a school board saying, “This is not about a religious discrimination claim. This is not about some form of opposition to Christianity. Why? Well, because there are Christians who actually are for LGBTQ. There are those denominations and churches with the rainbow flags right out front entirely for the revolution.”

So, I just want to work backwards with listeners to The Briefing today and say, here’s where we need to note that bad theology produces more than just more bad theology. It actually impugns the very character of Christianity. It confuses the world about the moral and theological convictions of the church, and thus we are right now, as biblically minded evangelical Christians or traditional Christians of any sort, we are in the position right now of having the world come to us and say, “Look, this isn’t discrimination against Christianity. This isn’t religious discrimination because we are glad to have pro-LGBTQ Presbyterians, Lutherans, Baptists, Catholics.” You get it on the list. It’s a ridiculous argument and it’s not an argument that will go uncontested, but at least we need to note this is the kind of argument that carried by a significant number in an Arizona public school district. This isn’t theoretical. This is actual.

The board’s action was actually unanimous and they released a statement that said, “The board unanimously voted to discontinue its partnership with Arizona Christian University whose policies do not align with our commitment to create a safe place for our LGBTQ+ students, staff, and community. This is not the statement said. This is not a rejection of any particular faith as we remain open to partnering with faith-based organizations that share our commitment to equity and inclusion.”

Now, as a theologian, I want to point to the essentially religious character of that argument. It’s an argument saying we are going to privilege certain forms of religion over other forms of religion. Very clearly this is a statement saying, we’re going to privilege progressive liberal morally revisionist denominations that have abandoned the Christian heritage, over against any institution that would dare to stand for historic biblical Christianity, and just remind ourselves of this, the beliefs of this Christian college when it comes to gender, sex, and marriage are the beliefs of Christianity for 2000 years. The innovation is not on their part. The moral rebellion is on the part of the culture.

Here’s where we need to note that the enablers, the facilitators, the encouragers, the cheerleaders of that moral revolution include those in liberal denominations who just can’t wait to join whatever revolution and morality is the current flavor of the day. Remember, right here in this statement is LGBTQ, and then IA, and then plus sign because if you are about the task of theological and moral revision, then your job will never be over because there will always be a new demand. There will always be something that has to be forfeited in light of the moral revolution of the day, and that’s exactly what’s going on, and rarely do you have this kind of juxtaposition.

In this article, two different figures related to this school board who made the statement, “Look, this isn’t anti-religious discrimination because there are religious people who agree with us. This isn’t anti-Christian discrimination because there are Christian denominations that are pro-LGBTQ.” Here’s where we see that the basic revolt inside so many denominations, so many churches, so many religious organizations between those who hold to the faith once for all delivered to the saints and those who are doing their best to get about the task of abandoning it, that comes with consequences that go far beyond the local church. This is a school board in Arizona, a unanimous decision. You look at this and you understand this is a sign of what Christians in virtually any profession in virtually any community are likely to face and face pretty fast.

As I say, this story just emerged in Arizona and I saw it just as I was flying out of Phoenix, and it’s a sign of the times. It also reminded me that just a few years ago, similar headlines were coming from the state of Massachusetts having to do there with a college known as Gordon College where the Lynn Public Schools had also severed a relationship with Gordon College over the very same issue. You also had the fact that it wasn’t just that one public school system. It was also the fact that Gordon College is no longer allowed to use the town hall in Salem because of the stated policy of the school when it comes to sexuality and marriage and in particular, the LGBTQ issues.

I think there are going to be a lot of Christians who are going to be tempted to say, “That’s not likely to happen here where we live,” but it’s easy to look at Salem, Massachusetts and say, “Well, after all, just think of history. That’s Salem, Massachusetts.” But in this case it’s the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona, and it’s getting a lot closer to Middle America in this sense.

As you look at this, you’ll recognize, this is a logic that is almost certain now to spread school system by school system, and you’ll notice here by the way that no complaint by any kind of registration, there’s been no mention of any complaint against any of the student teachers of the school, no complaint whatsoever. This was because of outrage over a statement on the school’s website about the school’s long-standing conviction, which is to say something else. In this case, it’s not the school that changed its policy. It’s the entire community that evidently in the case of this public school system is changing its morality.

Part II

Walgreens Sets Off Bomb in the Abortion Culture War: Company Outrages Pro-Abortion Politicians for Recognizing Legal Reality in Pro-Life States

But secondly, there’s another really big story and it looked like it was going to be a big story, but boy, did it blow up into a big story. In this case, the center of the story is the drug chain, the pharmacy chain, Walgreens, and Walgreens is at the center of this story, because given the fact that different states in the United States have different laws when it comes to abortion and have different understandings of the law even as it is related to so-called medication abortions, and that’s in the main, the two drug regimen.

Walgreens had indicated in recent days through an official statement that it would not distribute mifepristone, one of the two drugs in that two-drug regimen, in the states where it would be illegal. That came after attorneys general in those states had told the company that the company may well be committing a crime by distributing the drug within their states.

So, New York Times headline, “Walgreens under fire for not offering abortion pill in 21 states.” The 21 states has to do with the number of states where the sale or distribution of this drug is either illegal or about to be, or likely to be under current or prevailing legislation. You’re looking at 21 states in which at least in many of them, you had an attorney general who wrote to Walgreens saying, “You’re announced policy, going along with the Biden administration of distributing mifepristone.” And by the way, the Biden administration had made it very clear, it wanted to do that to try to make some form of abortion available even in states which have sought to make abortion illegal and unavailable.

Walgreens and other major national chains have been designated even by name in some cases, by figures within the administration, as the likely distributors. Walgreens through its statement said it will do so where it is legal. It will not do so where it may be or is illegal, but now Walgreens is under fire in particular from the pro-abortion side and in a very hot way.

Pam Belluck and Julie Creswell reporting for the New York Times tell us, “Walgreens landed at the center of a consumer and political firestorm in recent days, after saying it would not dispense an abortion pill in 21 states where Republican attorneys general have threatened legal action against pharmacies that try to distribute the medication.” Now, the story unfolds and what is most instructive to us is the fact that the pro-abortion regime will not brook. It will not tolerate any deviance whatsoever, and it will go so far as to threaten these big drug chains if they do not make the abortion medications available, even where they might be acting illegally to do so.

There are some pretty prominent voices in this and some of them also fairly predictable. Governor Gavin Newsom of California expressed outrage at Walgreens and even put out a statement saying that he would see to it that the state of California did no more business with Walgreens. The Los Angeles Times had to put in a little note indicating that Governor Newsom often makes statements about policies without actually working out the policy in advance, but nonetheless, the moral statement was made. The political statement was clear. Here, you have the governor of California saying, if Walgreens will not become an agent for the termination of unborn human life in all 50 states, it will not be recognized to do business, at least with the state in the state of California, and given the medical assistance programs, that could be a very, very large part of the state’s pharmaceutical business.

Governor J. B. Pritzker of Illinois, another Democratic governor, very, very, very pro-abortion, demanded a call. He had a video call on Friday of last week with the company’s senior leadership. That’s the senior leadership of Walgreens, and the headquarters of the company, by the way, in North America is in the state of Illinois. So, Illinois’ governor was calling up to say he was outraged by the company’s announcement that it’s basically going to follow the law in the states because what you see here is the deep and growing moral divide in this country illustrated on the question of abortion, and even now illustrated by two little pills that come together with an abortive fashion effect, two little abortion pills. And even where it might be illegal, and I would say thankfully so, you have the powers that be saying that they won’t do business with Walgreens unless Walgreens even breaks the law.

There are other people saying, “Look, this moral divide is so big. How in the world can one company please people, say, in California and in Alabama?” Well, the answer is that even if it just goes with something like a local option, and Alabama obeys Alabama law, and California, it operates by California law, eventually, the two sides in the abortion controversy won’t be satisfied with that, and in truth, neither side really will.

However, at this point, it is the pro-life side that is far more committed to federalism, that is to the states being the rightful place of such legislation and regulation, than at the federal level. And I think you can see why the pro-life community has learned over time to take the action to the states. It is a big number, considered 21. I think a lot of people in America might be surprised to know that the attorneys general of 21 of our 50 states actually sent that message to Walgreens. That was actually what occasioned the response from Walgreens, that is now so outraged Governors Newsom and Pritzker, and for that matter, the entire political left in the United States.

But there’s something else I want to note, and that is that the Los Angeles Times’ editorial board has now released, just in the last few hours, an official editorial statement about Walgreens. Now, get the headline. This is the Los Angeles Times sending out an editorial about a major American pharmaceutical corporation, the drugstore down the street, the big drugstore chain. Here’s the headline, “Walgreens is despicable for bowing to pressure not to sell abortion pills in some states.”

An editorial board of a paper as large as the Los Angeles Times using a word like despicable about a company that at least by one reading is merely saying it’s going to obey the laws in the states where it operates. Later in the editorial, the board writes, “It would be understandable if Walgreen officials put out a statement saying their hands were tied in the 10 states where abortion is banned, but instead,” listen to these words, and I quote, “the pharmacy chain caved to political pressure, and that is despicable.”

You know the definition of despicable. It’s an incredibly strong term of moral outrage. What brings the Los Angeles Times to make that statement of extreme moral outrage? A company saying that it is going to recognize the legal reality in 21 states, and at least for now not sell the abortion pill. Which side is really extreme here? I think that becomes more and more evident when you look at the outrage towards Walgreens, which after all, didn’t say it was getting out of the abortion pill business. That’s what we would want on the pro-life side. Just that it’s going to recognize, there are legal issues the company’s going to have to face.

One last thing before leaving the editorial statement from the Los Angeles Times, a women disappear once again in light of pregnant people. So, another sign of the times, one thing you can say about the Los Angeles Times editorial board, they’re not behind when it comes to the moral revolution. Here’s how they end the editorial, by the way, “Shame on Walgreens’ executives who’ve rewarded years of support from customers with a cold shoulder just when they need help most.”

I’ll just interject here. Do they mean customers in San Francisco or customers in Birmingham? You’ll notice that this is just a statement as if the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times is speaking for all the customers of Walgreens, but nonetheless, the statement continues, “This spineless betrayal has already caused the company stock to dip amid understandable calls for boycotts. Walgreens should reverse course, take back promises made to anti-abortion politicians and loudly affirm that the chain will indeed sell mifepristone in every state where abortion is legal, period.”

Part III

The Rule of Law Requires Far More Than Words: There Is No Real Rule of Law in China—Just the Power of the Communist Party

Finally, one of the achievements of Western civilization is the rule of law, and that’s often referred to in the American legal tradition as the rule of law rather than men, which is to say, the law having been adopted through legal and constitutional means becomes independent in such a way that the law serves the cause of the people for which it was created, and is an authoritative reference point for what the society is determined to be right and wrong, righteous and unrighteous, the right way for order to be maintained in society and all the rest.

The rule of law and the western legal tradition, and in particular, in the English-speaking legal tradition, it comes with significant protections for defendants. For instance, the presumption of innocence, that’s a huge, huge innovation, and furthermore, the fact that it is the state which must prove guilt, not the defendant who must prove innocence. There are contrary systems around the world, and from time to time, it’s good that we notice it and that we track things back to more fundamental issues, just reminding ourselves that a worldview produces a legal system, and a legal system reinforces a worldview.

A very important article that appeared yesterday in the Wall Street Journal by Chen Guangcheng. He by the way is distinguished fellow at the Catholic University of America’s Center for Human Rights. His article was entitled as, “The Rule of Law Disappears, So Do Chinese Dissidents.” The most important part of his article is how he begins. Very, very importantly, “There is no rule of law under the rule of the Chinese Communist Party. This simple truth contradicts the extensive facade of a legal system. The party is constructed from a constitution to an ‘independent’ judiciary,” which for decades he writes, “has painted a veneer of legitimacy over the regime’s abuses.”

Now, this particular author is pointing to one particular graphic example of that abuse. Here, you’re talking about a man who in this case happens to be a human rights lawyer in China. How’s that sound for a dangerous profession? And he has been illegally convicted, sentenced, and is now illegally held, and even as his friends and relatives are seeking his release and crying out for attention even in the West, as this particular author writes, “They might as well be screaming into outer space. For cases like his, the only relevant clause in all the so-called legal codes drafted by the Chinese Communist Party is the one that states, “It is necessary to maintain the leadership of the CCP.” The Chinese Communist Party.

If your rule of law comes down to the most important rule that it is necessary to maintain the leadership of the Communist party, guess what? There is no rule of law, and guess what? The rule of law doesn’t stand on its own two feet. It has to be built upon a foundation.

Destroy the foundation, you have no rule of law.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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