The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, March 30, 2023

It’s Thursday, March 30th, 2023.

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

Part I

A Heroic Testimony to the Goodness of God’s Assignment to Government: The Courageous Response of the Officers in Nashville

Our hearts continue to turn to Nashville, Tennessee, where families there continue to grieve and a community, a school and a church. And a fellowship of Christians seeks to rebuild on the other side of the unspeakable. But there are huge issues of worldview implication that come up almost hour by hour. And today, I want us to look at one particular dimension of this story that has caught a lot of attention. And it actually is testimony to a far deeper truth that Christians need to understand and in this case, respect. For this story, the most important lead article appeared on the front page of yesterday’s edition of the Washington Post. The headline is this, “Police Actions at School Lauded.” The subhead, “Nashville footage details operation, experts said exact opposite to Uvalde shooting.”

Now, we just have to remind ourselves at what’s at stake here. And what’s at stake is not just an evaluation of how the police acted, but for Christians, it’s also an affirmation of the order of a society according to scripture. The ordering of a society made up of sinful human beings and distorted and corrupted by sin, and the necessity of law enforcement and a system of justice in such a fallen world. As we’re going to see, the New Testament is actually quite clear about the very government powers that should be rightly exercised on behalf of righteousness and justice in a case such as this. But first, let’s look at the actual situation as it unfolded there in Nashville, and then we will have to do some inevitable comparisons.

First of all, we know that even as this mass shooting was taking place in Nashville, local police authorities were quickly informed. And in a spectacularly short amount of time, demonstrating an incredible professionalism and response, local law enforcement had put an end to the crisis, at least in terms of shooting.

The front page articles by Robert Klemko, reporter for the Washington Post, and he begins the story this way, “For the second time in 10 months, police officers were called to confront a mass killer at an American elementary school, but this time, unlike last spring in Uvalde, Texas, the officers at the Covenant School in Nashville rushed right in. Body camera footage released Tuesday shows heavily armed officers, methodically sweeping colorful classrooms and backpack lined hallways until they find and kill the suspect. A police response experts described as textbook. ‘They did an awesome job in a very high stress situation,’ said AJ Yoakley an instructor in firearms and building clearing at the Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Academy in Nashville. The timeline is extremely instructive. According to the report, the police received a 911 call about an active shooter at the school at 10:13 AM on Monday.”

Within minutes, the police had responded, and even as they arrived on the scene, they went immediately into the school. John Drake, chief of the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department said at a news conference on Tuesday, “They,” speaking of the police officers, “heard gunfire and immediately ran to that and then took care of this horrible situation. I was really impressed,” said the chief. “With all that was going on, the danger that somebody took control and said, let’s go, let’s go, let’s go, and went in.”

Now what we now know putting all of this into a retrospective analysis is that within a matter of minutes, the police had been called, the response had been made and police officers had charged into the building having heard the gunshots. And within a very short number of minutes, the clearing of the classrooms was estimated by some at taking less than three minutes with the police obviously showing a high degree of training going into the classrooms, bursting open upon the room, finding there were no students and no shooter and moving on until they eventually confronted the shooter, and that ended in the shooter’s death.

Now, this stands in contrast to what took place just a matter of months ago in Uvalde, Texas. There, law enforcement officials from various police forces and agencies waited for hours outside the school while shooting was going on rather than charge into the facility. Now, it might seem that all of this should be obvious to those of us who are not police officers. You should obviously rush into a school when there’s an active shooting going on.

But here’s where we need to note that law enforcement like every other realm of human endeavor has to learn sometimes by very costly lessons, how exactly to handle situations. So in order to understand the context by which there’s an evaluation of an excruciatingly inadequate response in Uvalde, Texas, and a textbook response in Nashville, Tennessee just months later, how do we put that into context? In order to do that, we have to go back to the year 1999.

In 1999, the United States faced its first massive shocking school shooting. Again, it was a student in the school that went into the school in Columbine there in Colorado, killing several classmates. There were two boys involved in that attack. But the big point is that law enforcement surrounded the school, but the current law enforcement policy called for the police officers to stay out of the school so long as gunshots were still heard.

Now, to people hearing this discussed today, you might think that is absolute nonsense. There would be no reason why the police should ever have had that policy, but that policy was put in place in a time when the greatest risk, it was assumed, was the police rushing into a building and not knowing who is who. Not knowing who’s the perpetrator and who might be the victims. Not knowing who to apprehend, who to protect, and who to arrest.

And furthermore, there had been some previous examples in which you had perpetrators of violent acts who upon police rushing the building, had just blended in with others. And so there was at least some basis for the response or lack of response in Columbine in 1999. But Columbine was supposed to be the game changer. At the time, it was assumed that this will change everything in terms of best practices for police response to an active shooting inside a school. And thus, for the better part of the last two decades, police forces have been trained and school officials, teachers have been trained in how to protect children and how to limit the deadlines of attacks in schools. And police were at least in theory, to an official policy of police strategy, that meant rush the building if there is an active shooting going on and an active shooter inside the building.

So why didn’t that happen in Uvalde? As a matter of fact, right now, the situation in Uvalde is being held up as a textbook example of how not to handle such a situation. And it appears that the failures were multiple. There were several issues that contributed to the colossal failure there in Uvalde. One of them had to do with the fact that there were too many different law enforcement agencies, and those law enforcement agencies had inadequate training, but still, there’s the human factor. It still appears that at some level, the problem was that those police officers in Texas were just unwilling to rush the building and they didn’t, and we know the result.

But what took place in Nashville, the opposite textbook example, is that police did rush the building and even though they could not prevent the shootings, the deadly shootings that had already happened, killing three adults and three nine-year-old precious children, the reality is that they stopped the shooting.

And in a fallen world, sometimes that is the most apparently obviously right thing to do, stop the shooting. Now, there are a couple of other issues here for us to consider.

Very quickly, I just want to say that there’s another professionalism that becomes very clear here. There are reports coming from analysts all over the nation saying that not only was this a textbook police law enforcement response, it was also a textbook example of how school administrators and teachers should preserve the lives of children in such a context. The teachers in this situation did exactly what they were called upon to do. Again, textbook. By the time police got to most of the classrooms, all they found were backpacks. The children had been taken by teachers to a safe place. And without going into detail, that again is another demonstration of how a rightful authority acts in a rightful way to do the right thing and to preserve human life.

It also appears that the schools’ administrators did exactly the right thing and it may turn out at direct danger to themselves. We’ll know more about this story, but at this point, it is a testimony to rightful authorities acting in a rightful way.

And Christians need to take that with deep seriousness, because this takes us to a far deeper biblical and Christian worldview issue that Christians sometimes don’t think about. We are of course, as Christians, very concerned about government doing what government is not assigned to do. One of the major political strains in our society, and it’s not just in the United States, is government that wants to respond with overreach in just about every situation, reaching where the government does not belong, enforcing government decrees and setting forth government policies where the government has no right to be involved in the first place.

But what I want us to think about is the fact that God has actually given government to us as a gift, a rightly ordered government doing what God has assigned the government to do.

That is actually a testimony to the goodness of God, and it is a testimony to the rightful ordering of a society. It’s also a testimony to the fact that human sinfulness requires restraint. And sometimes as we saw tragically in Nashville on Monday, that restraint even turns out to be deadly restraint. Now, the direct testimony and Scripture to this comes most classically in Romans 13. Paul writing to the church at Rome by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit writes this, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”

Now let’s just stop there. That’s the very first verse. What it tells us is that government is not just some good and necessary human idea. It is one of the structures of creation God gave us. The usefulness of which the essential nature of which became very apparent after the fall.

In verse two, Paul writes, “Therefore, whoever resists the authorities, resist what God has appointed and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers,” this is verse three, “for rulers are not a terror to the good conduct, but to bad.” Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good and you’ll receive his approval. For he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrong doer. Therefore, one must be in subjection not only to avoid God’s wrath, but also for the sake of conscience.” That’s a fascinating passage of Scripture, and it’s one that Christians often fail to think about in a situation such as this. We are very ready to see government failure and that’s not wrong.

We are very ready to see government overreach. Actually, that’s a very necessary insight and concern. But Christians also need to understand that when government does what government is assigned by God to do, that is not only a good thing, it’s not only necessary for society. It’s a testimony to the goodness of the orders of creation that God has given us.

In this case, in a fallen world where there are people who will give themselves to evil such as Audrey Hale gave herself to evil, then someone has to put a stop to it or there will be no end to the deadlines of the attack. And that’s exactly what took place in Nashville. It’s not a small thing to look at all of this and have law enforcement say that was a textbook response. It’s not a small thing that a rampage in a school was put to an end.

It’s not a small thing that even as we are looking here at an unspeakable tragedy, the sad fact in a fallen world is that in this case, it could have been much worse. Given the weaponry and the ammunition that Audrey Hale took into that school, there could have been a far higher death toll had there not been an intervention, but the intervention did come. So again, this is just a reminder to Christians that when we see God’s order being respected and the authorities God has put in place actually doing their jobs in a fallen world restraining sin, that’s such an important issue. We fail to understand that one of the main responsibilities given to government is to restrain sin.

That means that government does exactly the wrong thing when it entices people to sin as in organized gambling or when it fails to limit and restrain sin as we see in all too many cases. Or when government seeks to enter into arenas and dimensions where it doesn’t belong. But when government does what government is called to do here, the Apostle Paul says, this is a testimony to the fact that this government is actually acting on behalf of God. It also leads to a very difficult quandary for Christians and in so many situations, this is a quandary in which we find ourselves. It’s hard to talk about, but we just have to put it this way.

Sometimes there are situations that are so excruciating that you say there is nothing that is a testimony to good and righteousness to love and right order that comes out of this, but that’s not exactly true. There are elements of God’s glory and there are glimpses of a reality that can only be explained by God’s ordering of creation. In this situation, even in the tragedy, there is a Christian Church acting like a Christian Church, that’s to God’s glory.

There are Christians responding to this situation just as Christians should, that is to God’s glory. There is a testimony to the love between parents and children and for brothers and sisters, for each other. And the love of children for learning and the love of teachers for students.

All of that is demonstrated here, and that is also to God’s glory. This is a very, very painful, a horrifyingly painful way for certain goods of God’s creation to be displayed. The response of this pastor in Nashville, the response of the church, the response of so many Christians has actually been God glorifying. Any sane person would do everything possible to prevent what took place in Nashville.

Part II

Vestiges of God’s Glory: Christians Show Courage and Faith in the Face of Unspeakable Evil

But on the other side of that horrific sinful act, there are vestiges of God’s glory in signs of the gospel, and for that, we should be thankful.

The lead paragraph in an article that appeared on the front page of the New York Times yesterday begins this way, “In a stately stoned building on a hill, the Covenant School was a private academy designed as an escape from the bustle of Nashville and a haven where students could learn and grow, with the curriculum that reflected the Christian values of the families who sent their children there.”

The story goes on to give testimony to the love of those who led this school, directed the school, and taught in the school for the children, the closeness of the families in the school. It’s actually a very interesting article because whether intended or not, it does bring glory to God and does point to the reality of a Christian education, a Christian school that is formed by a church and by Christian parents because they want to teach their children Christian truth. And this is not presented in this story on the front page of the New York Times cynically in this case, but rather, respectfully. That’s no small thing.

Something else we need to understand is that controversies over education are to be expected when there are deeper controversies in the society. And the reason for that is simple, education is controversial. It was controversial in Ancient Greece. It’s been controversial from the beginning in the United States, sometimes more controversial than at other times.

But the fact is that education is about the future of civilization. And if you care about the future of civilization and every sane person does, when you have a conflict of visions over what the future of that civilization should be, well, then you’re going to have an argument about what the shape of the school should be, what curriculum should be taught, what kind of people should be hired to teach, what kind of policies should be put in place, even what kind of signs and symbols need to be put on the front of bathroom doors.

That’s just how complicated the situation is. It’s just how deep the divide in the United States is.

Part III

‘Parental Rights’ Is Just an Advantageous Political Term?: The Battle Over Public Education (And Much More) Rages On

An interesting testimony to that appeared in yesterday’s addition of the local newspaper here in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The headline in the article, “What the Republican Push for Parents’ Rights is Truly About.”

Now, we talked about this development with the legislation that just passed in the house. It passed narrowly. It’s a parent’s rights bill. Of course, the left has opposed it saying that it’s an imposition of one position at the expense of the other, which means they’re more preferred liberal position. But nonetheless, this is an article by Jamelle Bouie that was originally from the New York Times. It tells us something that has been published here in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

But Bowie begins by saying, “You may have heard the phrase parents’ rights. It sounds unobjectionable. Of course, parents should have rights, which is probably why it’s become the term of choice for the conservative effort to ban books, censor school curricula, and suppress politically undesirable forms of knowledge.” Now, Jamelle Bouie is speaking as a man from the left, he doesn’t like the parent’s rights movement. He certainly does not like the legislation recently passed in the house.

And he goes on to say that this is just a political smoke screen for conservatives trying to force the American society in a more conservative direction, and in particular, to force the public schools to respond in just the same way. He goes on to write this, “Parents’ rights, you will have noticed, never seems to involve parents who want schools to be more open and accommodating towards gender-nonconforming students. It’s never invoked for parents who want their students to learn more about race, identity, and the troubling parts of American history.” And he says, “We never hear about the rights of parents who want schools to offer a wide library of books and materials to their children.”

Now, I raised this because it’s not a stupid argument that Jamelle Bouie is making. It’s a fairly honest argument. I don’t think he presents the issue as honestly as he should have, but let’s just face it, you’re looking at two rival visions for what should be taught in the schools.

And increasingly what we see is that in the public schools, these are irreconcilable agendas. They’re two different visions that are so radically different that what appears to be exactly right for one group of parents, looks exactly wrong to the other group of parents. Now, as we discussed on the briefing, local controlled the schools was supposed to be the American principle such that these things would get worked out at a local level, but that’s largely just a mirage now, when it comes to the public schools. Federal mandates and the federal or national ideological conformity that’s brought about by the education schools and accreditors in the entire process.

All that means is that for the better part of the last several decades, the public schools have been largely in the hands of those with the Progressivist agenda, which means they’ve been generally pleased with the direction. And so on the one hand, what this appears to mean is that you’ve got liberal families who would rather the public schools be more liberal, and you’ve got conservative families that would rather the public schools be more conservative.

But there’s actually something else that’s revealed in this article that you might not have caught. Jamelle Bouie’s saying, why is it that when conservatives press on this issue, they do so in the name of parental rights? And he says, look, that’s a politically advantageous term. It’s pretty hard to say parents shouldn’t have rights. And yes, by the way, it is a politically advantageous term. And you can just ask Glenn Youngkin, who largely won his election as governor of Virginia by reminding parents they should have rights. And you had the competitor at that time, the former Virginia Governor, Terry McAuliffe, saying that he didn’t think parents should be making these decisions. Understandably, parents didn’t like that.

But what you’ll notice on the other side is not so much a parents’ rights movement. And so to Jamelle Bouie, I would say, you say that there’s a lack of liberal parents trying to make these arguments.

Well, that’s simply explained by the fact that liberal parents don’t have to make these arguments. The arguments are being made by school administrators, by those who are on the faculty and in the leadership of the teachers schools, the educational programs in the United States, and those who are in the federal bureaucracy of the Department of Education, in particular, the larger cultural elites are making this argument and have been in control.

And yet, there’s another issue here that I don’t think Jamelle Bouie understands. When it comes to many of these issues, even supposedly liberal parents turn out to be not so liberal when it comes to the education of their own children. This gets back to the principle we see in the United States in which you have people who are very much in power and the intellectual elites and are trying to do their best to destroy, or at least to subvert traditional morality.

And yet when it comes to their own children, they’re not trying to subvert traditional morality at all. In their homes, you have a very conservative culture. The problem is they do not want to encourage that among everyone, and that’s become a politically and ideologically loaded issue. All that to say Jamelle Bouie raises a very interesting question. I think he misses the point. The reason why there is not so much a liberal parents’ rights movement is because those liberal parents pretty much have what they want.

And furthermore, they don’t even have to make the argument because the professionals in education are making that argument for them. But there’s something else he misses, I think, and that is that the average person looking at these issues, whether that person identifies as liberal, or conservative, or moderate, or somewhere in between, actually thinks it makes sense for parents to have a lot more say in what the education of their children actually is and isn’t.

It turns out that most Americans are pretty much easily convinced that that’s not such a radical idea after all. Here again, Christians need to understand that a controversy like this directed to the public schools doesn’t start there. It has to start somewhere else. And where it starts isn’t a basic cultural divide in this country that’s increasingly impossible to deny. Where we go from here, that remains to be told. This is an unfolding account. And frankly, there are a lot of battles, a lot of controversies, a lot of headlines out before us.

But it does remind Christians that these are live issues that aren’t just theoretical. They’re not just about a policy that will never be put in place somewhere that someone can just imagine and just consider will not affect their own families, their own children, their own grandchildren. The fact is we know that is no longer the case.

These policies matter on the ground. They matter in the classroom. They matter school by school and school system by school system. And we do know that who controls those school systems does control what happens in them. And what happens in them has a lot to do with the future shape of this country, and that’s why these battles are so hot. It also points out the absolute necessity of the freedom of education in this country that allows Christian parents and Christian churches to form Christian schools. And on the basis of Christian truth, to educate Christian young people in such a way that they are not simply put into the petri dish of modern American public education with hopes that something good and something non-viral will come out.

The reality is education matters and Christians understand why it matters. We at least are supposed to understand biblically why it matters better than anyone else, and at a deeper level. We just need to remind ourselves of that.

Thanks for listening to the Briefing.

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This program was recorded in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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