The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, May 4, 2023

It’s Thursday, May 4th, 2023.

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

Part I

Battle Over Religious Charter Schools: Why the Battle Against School Choice?

An awful lot of what we are focusing on in the United States right now is how public policy is made real in every dimension of life, and one of those dimensions of course, is education. And a part of what we need to track even more closely is how government control of education and government funded and influenced education has become such a central front in the culture war.

But very interestingly, there’s pushback coming from some rather unusual sources and there’s some arguments coming to which Christians need to pay attention. The main argument I want to consider today, is one that appeared in an article by Amy Laura Hall that appeared at Religion News Service. Here’s the headline, “How school choice drives America’s people of faith apart.”

Now, the point in this RNS article is that the development of religious private schools and in particular charter schools and other forms of school choice for parents, this is actually, she argues segregating Americans increasingly by faith, and she makes the argument that this is one of the results of giving parents more choice. Parents tend to make choices that become more religiously specific, and this is over gets the background of the fact that at least a large part of the project of the public schools, and Amy Laura Hall doesn’t go into this in detail.

But a large part of the background of the public school movement or the common school movement in the United States in the 20th century was about an effort to minimize religious difference in the United States. The belief that modern citizenship, would require the submission or at least the sublimation of religious impulses, so that religious differences became less and less important over against the idea of a national unity.

But of course, that meant that national policy focused on what you can only describe as kind of a pan religious movement and certainly a theological minimalism. But as we’re going to see, this was actually much of the public argument made for the common schools or the public schools at the time.

Amy Laura Hall writes about her own state, she calls it the Purple State of North Carolina. Where she says, “Republican lawmakers have proposed another expansion of charter schools.” She continues, “A movement that has as one of its premises that parents ought to have the right to separate their evangelical children or Catholic children from Jewish and Muslim children in those of other faiths.”

She goes on to say, “The topic of school choice has caused a fever here since last year when the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals deemed that charter schools specifically one in Brunswick County near Wilmington that demanded girls wear skirts are state actors.” She says, “This designation would prevent the state from approving religious charters, publicly funded private faith academies as unconstitutional. Charter school advocates, in least 10 states, are now seeking a reversal from the Supreme Court.”

Now, state by state across the country, you would have a quite differentiated map on this question. You would’ve some states where there’s a bit more directness in the fact that some of these charter schools, that are after all funded with public money have some kind of religious basis. But in most states that’s a somewhat minimized basis in terms of the declared mission and identity of the schools. But there’s now an effort to make that religious identity even more clear and more publicly stated.

That’s where the controversy arrives, particularly in North Carolina, but Amy Laura Hall is making the argument that the funding of these schools with an explicitly religious identity would not be good for the country. She describes appeals for these religious charter schools as basically dangerous because they will separate Americans by parental choice, in such a way that children will be separated from one another in religious terms.

It’s really interesting that she has someone that she identifies to blame for this problem. She writes, “The destabilization of public schools has an even longer pedigree.” She goes on to say, “James Davison Hunter is the evangelical Christian sociologist at the University of Virginia, credited by the Wall Street Journal with coining the phrase culture wars in 1991, the year before Pat Buchanan. In Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America, published that year.” She writes, “Hunter borrowed the term, he explained from the German kulturkampf or culture war of the last decades of the 19th century. In Germany,” She says, “culture wars were a battle to preserve the religious content and character of public education.”

Now, I’ve engaged the thought of James Davison Hunter going all the way back to this book and even previous books that he had written, and it is true that the term culture wars and its modern context can largely be credited or in her case blamed James Davison Hunter of the University of Virginia. But there’s one particular part of Hunter’s argument that she goes after, and that is the fact that the big kulturkampf, the big culture war in the United States, is primarily between people of religious conviction and those who basically hold to some kind of secular humanist background or worldview. Amy Laura Hall, by the way, is herself Associate Professor of Christian Ethics and of Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies at Duke University.

Now, the reason I want to go into this depth on this particular argument today, is because I think it’s really important that we recognize there is a history here. And in one sense, Amy Laura Hall is right about that history. The history of the public school movement in the United States was at least in part intentionally to minimize religious difference, in order to create a new common citizenship. And evidence of that comes from several different directions, including some of the most formative figures in the history of American public education.

The most important of them, John Dewey. Primarily known for his philosophy of pragmatism, also one of the early framers of the secular humanist manifesto. And John Dewey was very open about the fact, that he saw the religious conviction of parents and thus of families as threatening to American unity. And so he wanted to minimize the impact and the public role of that religious conviction as much as possible, in order to create through the public schools a new model of a public citizen. And that would be a very secular model of a public citizen.

The rituals and the ceremonies would be essentially secular. They would be patriotic, they would be national, they would not be Catholic, they would not be Protestant. They would basically not be religious. They would be, if anything, religion owing the sense of civil religion, which means basically a non-theistic religion. That is to say it’s a religious practice without any particular religious belief.

But here’s what we need to note that the catalyst for this article is the argument over charter schools, and I think you’re going to see that as an increasing pattern state by state. You’re going to see parents in a lot of states say, “Look, we are simply not willing any longer to put our children in the public schools as this amalgam. Instead, we expect that there will be some opportunity for parental choice when it comes to the education of our children and charter schools, which do operate with some level of public funding ought to be one of those options.”

That’s the argument, of course, you have increasing numbers of American Christian parents who are pulling their kids out altogether, putting them in private schools, putting them in explicitly Christian schools, classical Christian schools. That’s the biggest new movement in terms of educational choice for many Christian parents or homeschooling those children. But as you look at this, you do really come to understand that there are many, particularly on the left who see this not as the exercise of parental choice, but as a subversion of the secular project.

Now, there’s certainly a lot more to consider here, but we do need to understand that there are those who are revealing their agenda very, very clearly. Just making the agenda, we need a basically secular culture, and that means that religious conviction will be contained in some way. And one of the ways you would contain that religious conviction and the exercise of that religious conviction, is in having a public school system that is an amalgam of just about everything, and that means minimizing all theistic or all religious claims, and basically creating a new secular reality in the place of what parents would otherwise choose as a religious education for their children. But there’s more going on here than just that.

Increasing numbers of American parents and especially increasing numbers of American Christians who are parents, are recognizing that the public schools are not neutral. Indeed, they’re recognizing that increasingly so many of these school systems under any number of influences are actively toxic. In some cases, we have so many Christian parents understanding that sexual morality is being taught to their children that they see as absolutely contrary to their religious beliefs.

In other cases, we see that everything from transgender or non-binary identity is being affirmed by some school systems, even without telling parents this is going on. So it’s not just now a matter of religious differences in Presbyterian and Methodist and Baptist or even Catholic and Jewish and Protestant. It is now a religious difference between those who are absolutely religiously committed to the new sexual morality and gender identity. And those who for any number of different religious reasons of conviction, can’t go along with that revolution and don’t want their kids being taken captive, by that revolution.

But I want to finish this simply by saying that Amy Laura Hall is making the argument, the school choice in her words, or at least in the words of the headline of her article, “Drives America’s people of faith apart.” I want to make a contrary argument. I think it’s also very interesting to note that people of conviction, whether that be Orthodox Judaism and conservative Roman Catholicism and traditional confessional Protestantism and Evangelicalism, the fact is that I think what binds so many of those families and parents together is a mutual concern about what is being ideologically foisted upon America’s students in so many of these school systems and classrooms.

The fact is there is more common religious concern about this, than in some cases even religious difference. But you know, it’s also true, that the more conservative, the more traditional, the more confessional the religious group is, the more the convictions actually matter. And this is also a matter of respect. Here you have traditional Roman Catholics and conservative Protestant evangelicals and Orthodox Jewish citizens who actually have even more respect for one another, because of the convictions that are held individually, and family by family.

Part II

The American Religious Intuition: Are U.S. Lawmakers More Religious Than Their Voters?

But next I want to shift to another headline. This one was published by the news system Axios. The headline is, “Our lawmakers are more religious than we are.” This came out just days ago. And according to this report, “Members of Congress are more Christian and more religious than the American public by wide margins.” Again, according to an analysis undertaken by Axios.

Russell Contreras is the reporter in this case. And as Axio says, it matters, “The discrepancy, a trend also present in state legislatures provides a window into why policies and debates on abortion, LGBTQ rights and other issues often don’t reflect what Americans want.” The next sentence, “It also shows how the nation’s two-party system with its partisan primaries, favors candidates who openly profess a faith, even as the number of people unaffiliated with their religion is growing.”

Now, the Christian worldview both insists upon certain questions that we ask here and helps to explain what in the world’s going on. I want to go back to the sentence in which this Axios report made the claim that policies and debates on abortion, LGBTQ rights and other issues, “Often don’t reflect what Americans want.”

Well, one of the things we need to recognize is that much of the data on this, is almost assuredly misleading. What do Americans want? Will Americans show what Americans want, at least in part to the electoral system? Now, it often comes down to a binary choice in which voters don’t get exactly what they may want, but in most cases, they are making a pretty clear choice, particularly when you are looking at statewide elections and elections for federal office.

The fact is, there just aren’t that many close calls anymore. Most voters pretty much know for whom they’re going to vote and why. And as you’re looking at this, you recognize that the claim being made by so many in the media, is that Americans are far more liberal than the political equation would indicate on issues of abortion, LGBTQ rights and other issues. Well, the fact is, that remains to be proved. It might be true, but it remains to be proved.

But what is also interesting here, is the fact that this Axios report says that there’s something wrong with our political system, because those who are elected to these offices tend to be more religious by their self-designation and more identified with some form of organized religion than the voters who are voting for them. Or you could put it another way, a larger percentage of voters indicate a secular identity than those who are elected to office. Now, why would that be?

The article in Axios makes the argument that it’s basically a political reality. It’s political maneuvering that’s responsible here, “In today’s politics, the success of conservative and evangelical Christian Republicans in pushing their agenda, has created large gaps between lawmakers priorities versus public sentiment.”

Now, as a conservative evangelical, I want to push back and say, I can’t really explain what’s going on here. Because voters have the opportunity to make their vote count and to change the electoral equation. A significant number of votes shifting from here to there, and a primary from this candidate to that candidate, well, it will make a great deal of difference.

Now, it seems that much of this argument is that conservative evangelicals are better at political strategy and maneuvering than others. There might be something to that. Certainly conservatives have learned a lot over the course of the last several decades. But the point I want to make is this, it is almost assuredly true that throughout most of American history, if not all of American history, our lawmakers and those elected to office, have indicated a more likely religious identification than many of the voters. Ask yourself the question, why?

And here’s where there is plenty of other data to indicate why that is so. And check this in terms of the biblical worldview, and just think about the reality of going into the electoral process or voting as a citizen. You go into a voting place, you cast a vote, or these days, of course, you could do it by other alternative means, but the point is only very rarely, when you’re talking about a statewide election or a congressional election or other election to federal office, only very rarely does the voter personally know the candidate. So instead, the voter is acting on the basis of certain kinds of data that are signaled by the candidate.

The most important of these right now, is whether there’s an R or D by the name. And that’s the greatest predictor right now of how people are going to vote. Republicans vote for Republican candidates. Democrats vote for Democratic candidates. Of course, there are some who are unaffiliated, but again, the R and the D, they’re shorthand for telling you a whole lot about the candidates.

But of course there are other indicators of where candidates stand on various issues, but the issue of character is simply unavoidable. And of course it’s quite contestable too. Just think about recent presidential elections. But what would be the shorthand in thinking about the character issue? Well, here’s something that is very well documented in the social science data.

Americans, and again, if you’re secular, you think this is a problem. But Americans overwhelmingly demonstrate the pattern of believing that having a clear religious identity, indicates more character than not having a religious identity.

Now, taking a closer look at the data, we do not see the individual American voters are making this so much about an individual candidate. Again, they’re looking for shorthand. They’re looking for an indication of how they are to make an electoral choice, how they are to either grant credibility to a candidate or see a lack of credibility. And as it turns out, that is simply verified by the way Americans vote.

Americans may identify increasingly as having a more secular identity, but they really haven’t changed their voting patterns all that much. They still continue to vote overwhelmingly, for those who have a very clear religious identity and are willing to state it out loud. As a matter of fact, the secular caucus in the United States Congress at times has had basically no one in it. It’s still a very small group. They do not need a large conference room. And it’s unlikely that they will anytime soon.

And it’s also interesting to look across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe, where even some of the nations that are far more secular than the United States tend to have politicians and office holders, who are far more likely to indicate a religious identity than even the voters indicate about themselves. What does that tell you? It tells you that even more secular voters, tend to have some kind of inexplicable, perhaps pattern of voting for more religious candidates.

I think this is a very clear sign of what Christian theologians sometimes call the religious intuition. Which is to say, there’s an intuition that persons who claim some kind of theistic belief and thus seem to claim some kind of belief that there’s objective truth, and there’s really a right and a wrong, and that someone is aware of their inward thoughts and will judge them by their acts. It turns out, that they trust persons who state that kind of belief more than they do the alternative, the candidate who would state no such beliefs.

Now, this gap between office holders and the electorate, well, that gap is far more apparent in the Democratic Party than in the Republican Party. In the Republican Party, overwhelming number of both citizens voting and those for whom they are voting have a religious identity. On the Democratic side, it’s very different and extremely interesting.

Listen to this, “Black and Latino members of Congress, mostly Democrats, almost all identify as Christians, even as the number of religiously unaffiliated Black and Latino Americans continues to rise.” So you’re supposed to hear that and go, “Boy, that’s a perplexity. Why in the world would that happen? What could possibly explain that? It must be some kind of misunderstanding.” My argument is, voters are smarter than that. This is not a misunderstanding. It indicates where voters see credibility, or where they at least think there’s a greater likelihood of such credibility.

One of the most important sections of the Axios report attributes ideas to Azhar Majeed, identified as Director of Government Affairs for the Center for Inquiry. That’s a far more secular group. And the idea that is identified with him is that, “There’s an inherent bias in the political system towards religious elected officials.” In his exact words, he said, “It’s an unpopular position to take, to declare oneself to be non-religious or non-believer or humanist, certainly to declare oneself an atheist or an agnostic.” And Majeed also said, “According to the report, that this remains the case even as the country changes demographically.”

So, what we are told is that even though an increasing number of voters identify as more secular, in some sense, they steadfastly refuse to elect politicians who identify as equally secular. Or to put it another way, they overwhelmingly vote for candidates who are supposedly less secular than themselves.

But my favorite part of this report is where we are told that there’s an inherent bias in the political system towards religious elected officials. An inherent bias in the political system? We are talking about voters. If there’s a bias, what this really means is that there is an inherent bias among voters towards religious elected officials. And once again, I just want to say from a Christian biblical perspective, that’s pretty easy to understand.

Part III

Discrimination Through a Dress Code?: Texas Department of Agriculture Receives Critique for Requiring Dress Code According to Biological Gender

But next, I want to turn to a very different kind of headline. This one is coming from National Public Radio, NPR, and you’re supposed to be absolutely outraged by this. Here’s the headline, “Texas agriculture department’s new dress code is based on ‘biological gender.'” Often on the briefing, I make reference to the fact that the pace of moral change in this country is coming so quickly that it would be virtually impossible to explain this kind of headline, to someone who lived to say just 30 or 40 years ago. And by impossible, I don’t mean difficult, I mean just impossible.

But nonetheless, as you look at this, Jonathan Franklin reporting for NBR tells us, “The Texas Department of Agriculture has handed down a new dress code for its employees mandating they follow with it in a manner consistent with their biological gender.” We’re told that the Texas Agriculture Commissioner, Sid Miller is somewhat behind this.

Then we’re told, “The Texas Department of Agriculture is ordering its employees to comply with a new dress code, mandating they abide by it in a manner consistent with their biological gender. An ACLU attorney says it violates federal law that bans employment discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The Texas Observer is credited with obtaining. As if this is some kind of top secret horrifying information. A memo that was dated April the 13th, handed down by the Agriculture Commissioner in Texas and is “required by all employees as part of a dress code and grooming policy.” The new policy is clear, “Employees are expected to comply with this dress code in a manner consistent with their biological gender.”

Now, on this story, I don’t think I need to go into any greater detail because I think you pretty much understand it already, which pretty much is the point. If you’re thinking about a dress code, the dress code might operate in say one of two ways. You might just have a general dress code, saying that you must dress in a way that is appropriate for the office. You may not wear casual clothes. You may not wear a swimsuit, et cetera. That’s not particularly gender-specific, and I don’t think any of us wants a colleague showing up in a bathing suit, in the workplace period.

But you also recognize that doesn’t get you very far in terms of an actual dress code. And so if you’re going to go any further into specificity, which I’m going to say as president of an academic institution, is actually quite necessary, it’s actually necessary to say, we’re talking about this. And yes, here in our school, we hold to a very different dress code for men and women, and that is because we understand the difference between men and women.

Here you have the pushback, and remember this headline is written because you’re supposed to be outraged to the fact that the Texas Agriculture Department’s new dress code is based on biological gender. But then you have to ask yourself the question, “What would be the alternative?” And the alternative would be supposedly choosing your own gender identity. But then you’ll also note, that as you’re looking at this, you have non-binary and those who want to declare no gender identity, they want to declare no specific gender orientation.

What we’re actually looking at here is the simple truth, that if you want to have any kind of actual rules, about how people are to present themselves in the workplace in this context, then you’re pretty much going to have to acknowledge there’s a difference between men and women. And that’s going to show up in the traditional ways, based not only by the way, in custom, but also in biology and physical structure. You’re going to have to deal with the differences between what is appropriate for men and is appropriate for women.

Now, you might try to jump to some kind of science fiction future in which everyone is wearing some kind of aluminum foil suit, but short of that, you’re going to have to deal with the fact that there are men and there are women. If you want to join the new gender confusion, which after all is now becoming absolute policy across so much of our culture, you need to recognize that you simply are going to have to give up on an awful lot of regulation, custom, politeness, and for that matter, just cultural understanding across the board.

If you’re going to have a dress code, you’re not going to be able to have much of a dress code, if you’re going to buy into the LGBTQ revolution. You simply can’t. And at least a part of the way this article is written, is to bring about outrage at the fact that the policy makes a distinction on the basis of, “biological gender.” And a part of what makes this article so important is because the words biological gender are put in quotation marks as if they’re not really a thing. This is just a linguistic invention, that some conservative came up with, in conservative outrage in the 21st century. Now, that’s just nonsense, but sometimes the nonsense is very revealing.

But just listen to this, this is how the NPR report ends, “Brian Klosterboer, an attorney with the ACLU of Texas, told the Texas Tribune that the new dress code violates Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act, which bans employment discrimination based on one sexual orientation or gender identity, in addition to the First Amendment’s right to free expression.”

You just got to love how that last part’s thrown in. The First Amendment’s right to free expression. Just understand that that particular claim taken to any logical conclusion doesn’t argue against the agriculture department in Texas when it comes to its dress code. It argues against any dress code. If the issue really is a legitimate right to free expression, then get ready to see that bikini in the office. A two-piece bikini, worn by a man.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to

I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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