The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, May 25, 2023

It is Thursday, May 25th, 2023.

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

Part I

The Moral Revolution’s Targeting of Institutions: It’s Not an Accident, It’s a Strategy

As we think about the impact of the moral revolution, particularly upon Christians of conviction, we often think in individual terms, and there are many individual consequences, many individual dimensions of this issue. How do you operate as an employee within a company, as a partner within a law firm? How do you operate as a student on a campus? How do you operate as an employer or an employee? All of those are questions that can come right down to individual lives. But we also need to recognize that the challenge presented to us by the moral revolution, it’s institutional as well as individual.

Now, Christians understand this primarily because the most important institution on planet Earth is the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, than the creation order institutions He has given us, including marriage and the family. But by institutions in the formal sense, I’m using the term, I mean institutions like schools and foundations and corporations. You look at institutions, most particularly colleges and universities, big philanthropic organizations. And for that matter, your local neighborhood association, all of them are one way or another, voluntary associations, and eventually many of them become institutions.

Now, here’s something just to remember in terms of the history of Western civilization. We understand that the very rise of these institutions is made possible by citizen activity. Citizens create many of these institutions. Now, some of them are created by governments, and the ones that are created by governments are more clearly under government control. But in a free society, the ability of free citizens to create voluntary associations and free institutions that’s absolutely vital to our freedom of association, our freedom of speech, and frankly, to the entire constellation of freedoms that we believe and have said are ours by natural right.

In one sense, an institution is just a manifestation of individuals coming together in an ongoing way to accomplish a particular purpose. And that’s why you have schools, that’s why you have universities, colleges. That’s why you have hospitals. That’s why you have corporations. You could go on the entire list. The kind of institutions I’m talking about are the institutions of a free society. But we also need to recognize something else, and that is that we should divide those institutions primarily these days between the public and the private, because they are two different forms of institutions.

As I said, when the government establishes an institution, when it funds that institution, if the institution is accountable primarily to the government, well, that’s one category of institution. But for Christians, the far more important category of institution would be free institutions, they are private institutions, the ability of private citizens to establish these institutions.

Why does that matter? Well, it matters because all of a sudden both conservatives and liberals in our society agree on one thing, and that’s the importance of institutions. We just disagree about who should control those institutions, to whom they should be accountable, and who gets to set the agenda for all of those institutions.

Now, in a free society, let’s be clear, government institutions are public institutions, and that means that the public should have a great deal of say in those institutions and eventually the institutions should be accountable to the people, that is, accountable to the public. But when you’re looking at so many of the most contentious issues of our day, it’s clear that different segments of the public are going to demand very different decisions and policies when it comes to these public institutions, government funded institutions. Take state universities, what are they going to teach related to say, critical race theory, yes or no, and an entire constellation of issues? And what you see right now is a great battleground that is inevitably a political battleground in our country over who will have the say over these institutions.

You also have, as we noted on so many other issues, both demographic and geographic factors here, because it’s just simple to say that voters in Alabama might have very different expectations for their public universities than would be the case in the state of Oregon, just to take two states, one kind of institution for example.

Now, as I said, it’s interesting right now that both those on the right and on the left, both liberals and conservatives in this country, we both now understand the institutions are important.

Now, what makes that new is that in general, institutions have been primarily created by those with a more conservative bent. Conservatives have been far more likely to think in institutional terms to want to create a college or to want to create some kind of voluntary association or some kind of institution to do a certain kind of work. That’s been a very conservative impulse. It’s not to say the liberals haven’t done it is to say that the big change is not that liberals are now doing it. It is that the cultural Marxists at the midpoint of the 20th century began to understand that the way they would bring about a Marxist revolution and fundamentally transform and change society was what Rudi Dutschke, one of those Marxist theorists, and one of the organizers said would be the “long march through the institutions. This would be a long march, institution by institution taking over, institution by institution, reshaping, redirecting institution by institution towards the goals of the more Marxist agenda.”

And it’s not now something that is just held by doctrinaire Marxists. The left itself has pretty much figured out that the way to win the culture is to take over the institutions or to make the institutions bow to their agenda.

And now, we see where the inevitable collision between that plan, that agenda on the one hand, and Christian colleges and universities on the other hand, where that collision is coming. And we’ve seen it coming and we’ve talked about it. We have seen it erupt campus by campus and institution by institution. And the point I have tried to make is that this collision is inevitable because those who are seeking to transform our society cannot rest until all of the institutions are made to tow the same line, to follow the same agenda, to operate by basically the same policies. And this is why the progressive left will never be satisfied with having ownership of the elite educational institutions in this country, and by that I mean functional ownership and direction and power.

They’re not going to be satisfied even with taking over most of the public universities.

They’re not going to be satisfied until every institution recognized as a legitimate college or university is entirely under their control or at least entirely enthusiastic about a leftward agenda. And right now, of course, you know this already, the leading edge on these issues are the LGBTQ issues, and that’s where we arrive at a big news story having to do with the Christian college today.

Part II

The Fight for Institutions Will Come to Your Christian College: Houghton University Under Scrutiny After Firing Employees For Using Preferred Pronouns in Email Signature

The Christian College of our concern today is Houghton University in upstate New York. It had been established by what’s described as a conservative branch of the Methodist church. I think it’s more accurately described as an institution, a college, a Christian college established by what is known as the Wesleyan Church. The Wesleyan church is very much directed towards personal holiness as a part of the Wesleyan tradition, it’s Arminian in its theology, it hews indeed a rather conservative Methodist tradition.

And when it comes to issues of sexuality, gender, marriage, et cetera, it has officially adopted policies that conform to historic Christianity, at least, to this extent. As the New York Times says, “Houghton University affiliated with the Wesleyan Church,” which teaches that, “gender confusion and dysphoria are ultimately the biological, psychological, social and spiritual consequences of the human race’s fallen condition.”

The church also says that “adult gender nonconformity is a violation of the sanctity of human life.” Houghton University, which has been one of those names known as a brand name in evangelical higher education. It’s one of those legacy brands. The institution has fallen on harder times in enrollment and finances of late. But nonetheless, it holds to the beliefs of the Wesleyan church as the paper tells us this is the New York Times, “The university maintains a public declaration of its beliefs.” Describing itself as “solidly biblical” and saying, the teachings of the Wesleyan church are “central everywhere on the campus.”

So just a couple of facts stipulated up front. The Wesleyan Church is really, really clear on these issues. And when it comes to the transgender challenge makes a very interesting statement. Let me repeat it again, that “gender confusion and dysphoria are ultimately the biological, psychological, social and spiritual consequences of the human race’s fallen condition.”

Now, as we discussed before in the Christian worldview, the worldview is shaped around those four great movements of biblical theology, creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. The question is, where does something arise? And this is where, when it comes to the LGBTQ movement, some of the activists have been trying to argue that the LGBTQ array would’ve been found in the goodness of Eden.

Now, I believe that is completely contradicted by scripture, and frankly, most Christians reading the scripture understand that to be profoundly true. But instead, the Wesleyan church accurately says that if you’re going to try to locate those kinds of aberrations from a biblical sexual norm or a gender norm for that matter, you’re going to have to locate them in the fall. And interestingly, the confessional statement of the Wesleyan church does exactly that.

In this sense, the Wesleyan church on this issue actually has an official statement which is a bit more detailed and I think substantive than is found in many other conservative Protestant denominations. In contrast to conservative evangelical understandings on the question of gender in ministry, the Wesleyan church and Houghton University officially believe that women should serve in the pastoral role. Again, that sets it apart, and as I’ve said on the briefing many times, the hermeneutical or the biblical interpretation issues related to the question of women in the teaching office are very, very parallel to the issues related to gender and sexuality in general terms.

But just skipping over that for a moment, the big issue is why are we talking about Houghton University today? Why is the New York Times all of a sudden aware of and concerned about Houghton University today? And the answer comes down to two young people who have been terminated as resident assistance in the dormitory and in the student life of Houghton University because in their university digital signature, they put in preferred pronouns.

As Liam Stack reports for The Times, “When Raegan Zelaya and Shua Wilmot decided to include their pronouns at the end of their work emails, they thought they were doing a good thing following what they viewed as an emerging professional standard and also sending a message of inclusivity at the Christian University where they worked.” Stack continues his report, “But their bosses at Houghton University and upstate New York saw the matter very differently.

Administrators at Houghton, which was founded and is now owned by a conservative branch of the Methodist Church asked Ms. Zelaya and Mr. Wilmot two residence hall directors to remove the words she/her, and he/him from their email signatures saying they violated a new policy when they refused to do so, both employees were fired just weeks before the end of the semester.”

The Times was drawn to the controversy precisely because it is reported that the two staff members being fired has “dismayed” some of the alumni, nearly 600 of whom signed a protest petition, and it comes as gender and sexuality become major fault lines in an increasingly divided nation. Well, you can consider where the story goes from here. And furthermore, the sympathy of the newspaper is rather clearly with these young people who were fired and also with the young people who include alumni of Houghton University who are outraged that the university would take this action.

Now, the university also says there’s more to this story as an institutional life. There almost always is, but there is no doubt that a basic affirmation in some sense of LGBTQ identity, and in this case this would mean gender non-conformity, the gender non-binary, transgender, however you want to describe it, that is very much explicit in the use of these preferred pronouns.

The very use of preferred pronouns indicates that they are a matter of preference. They’re not a matter of biology. They’re not a matter of the creator’s determination. They’re not a matter of the language corresponding to anatomical reality. Instead, now, they’re just a matter of preference. The word preferred in preferred pronouns actually gives the entire game away. But we’re going to leave this particular controversy and the resulting media coverage to Houghton University and that university bears the challenge of dealing with this controversy.

But one of the points I want to make emphatically is that eventually this kind of controversy is going to show up everywhere because the long march through the institutions is going to reach virtually every college, university, or for that matter, seminary campus. And thus, the leadership of those institutions have better be prepared. And being prepared in this case means having a very clear, doctrinal, moral and biblical statement. And just equally as important, having the absolute courage to stand by those convictions and not allow the moral revolutionaries to make an institution move from biblical commitments, because that’s exactly what is being demanded.

This is not just a story about personal pronouns. It’s not just a story about two former resident directors in the dorm life of a Christian college. It’s about the very future of Christian education and whether or not there will be genuinely Christian institutions.

And that’s where we also have to recognize that the institutions that will not bow to the moral revolution are going to be hounded, they’re going to be opposed, they are going to be derided, they’re going to be, for that matter criticized in every conceivable way. They’re going to be under sustained public pressure, and we’re about to find out who’s going to stand and who’s going to fall. But I want to talk about another dimension of this, and that is the fact that at least according to the media reports, the trip wire here were the so-called “preferred pronouns.”

And this is where we need to understand that there are some institutions, some that would identify themselves as being evangelical institutions, some evangelicals even as individuals or individuals who would identify as evangelical, who want to argue that it’s just a matter now of personal courtesy to acknowledge people the way they demand to be acknowledged.

The simple Christian world viewpoint is that there are severe limitations to that particular strategy. There are severe limitations to that proposed policy. Because eventually, if you just accept the fact that preferred pronouns are a part of human existence, now you’re arguing that for all of humanity, for everyone, gender is just a matter or for that matter, sex identification is just a matter of personal preference.

Now, here’s what we need to understand that if you’re trying to bring about a moral revolution, that’s an excellent and speedy way to bring it about. Just bring it about by implying that not only are there persons who are struggling with gender identity, but that for every single human being, eventually gender identity is simply a matter of personal preference, your own preferred pronouns. Just imagine how civilization collapses when all of a sudden pronouns which have made sense by the way, throughout centuries of human existence, even throughout centuries of the development of the English language, when now all of a sudden they’re indeterminate. Already so much of what is written in English language is beyond understanding, it’s gibberish.

You have individuals described as they, and even when you seek to read the article and follow who’s the object, who’s the subject of particular actions or issues or who’s speaking what words, it’s becoming increasingly difficult because the specificity achieved by the English language over centuries is being almost instantly undermined by gender ideologues.

We’ll be tracking this story with you, but the reality is we’re going to have to be tracking a lot of these stories in years ahead because the long march for the institutions is going to be at least directed at every single Christian institution and in most cases more quickly than you might think.

Part III

Trust Teachers Over Parents? Beware the Progressive Bandwagon Telling Parents to Go Home

Now, I want to switch gears to talk about public education, public school education, and those who run public school education, at least in many places and at several levels

It’s important to recognize that when you elect a president, you elect eventually a cabinet, at least the cabinet that is nominated by that president. And in the case of the Department of Education, the department problematic even in its existence, Miguel Cardona is the U.S. Secretary of Education having been nominated by President Joe Biden. So, he is President Biden’s education secretary. Just a matter of a few days ago, he made a statement on Twitter.

Here’s the entire tweet as it is called: “Teachers know what is best for their kids because they’re with them every day. We must trust teachers.” Now, several Christians pointed to this and said, “What in the world’s going on here?” Because what does this mean? And at least a good deal of the meaning has to be drawn from the context in which there are many parents who are expressing outrage that those who are at least representing teachers and those who are representing the leaders of many school districts are basically telling parents to go home.

That’s exactly what Terry McAuliffe did, and it cost him the Governor’s office in Virginia in the last gubernatorial election in that state. And it came down to the fact that the then former Democratic Governor running for the office again in the midst of controversy, especially among conservative voters, very concerned about some of the issues that were arising because of the curriculum in Virginia’s public schools because of policies.

 Terry McAuliffe just told the parents to shut up and go home. Now, let me just paraphrase and let’s look at his exact words. What he said was maybe a little bit nicer, but not much. “I don’t think parents,” he said, “should be telling schools what they should teach.” So again, parents shouldn’t be telling the schools what they should teach. Instead, you’re just parents. The teachers are teachers. The educational policy makers are the experts. Parents go home.

The point is that that argument hasn’t gone away. Terry McAuliffe did lose that election to the future Republican governor, Glenn Youngkin of Virginia, but nonetheless, the argument is still very much out there. Ryan McDougle, who is the Virginia Senate’s Republican Caucus Chairman, says that it’s still out there in Virginia. He mentions the fact that there are examples of Virginia policymakers and educators actually continuing to try to defy the will of parents and to tell parents they don’t really have any interest in determining what should be taught or what the policy should be at a public school.

That tweet from the United States Secretary of Education seems to fall along the same lines, and we’re getting the very same argument over and over again, state by state, from authorities and particularly from the academic elites, the teachers colleges and the teacher training programs, in elite universities, they’re basically telling America’s future teachers as well as those who are in especially teacher unions now, that parents are the problem and the parents are seeking too much influence.

Senator McDougle said this, “Parents have a right to a say in their children’s educations. Children also deserve to be acknowledged when they achieve educational excellence. Instead of being made to feel guilty for receiving an academic award, we need to get back to basics,” he said, “and encourage our children to reach the highest standards, not to settle for less.” Increasingly, by the way, in many school districts, parents are officially not even to be told matters related to their own children that might arise in an educational context. And that includes matters of gender, sexuality, you can go down the list.

Now, that’s not true in every public school system. It’s not. But looking at the pattern, there’s a very real sense in which the question is not a matter of if this will happen or at least be proposed in virtually every public school system, but how long will it be before it’s proposed in yours? And for that matter, if it does become policy, would you even know it?

Now, there’s another dimension to this that just demands our attention for a moment before we close, and that is, why would politicians think that somehow it’s a winning strategy to tell parents basically to go home, or for that matter, to keep information from parents even about their own children? And the answer is because politicians fear those who hold political power and those who hold political influence, and you would think that that would ultimately mean voters.

But that’s where we also need to understand that’s not exactly how our society now works. There are interest groups that might be far more powerful and frankly, a far more formidable threat to many politicians than voters, because voters after all can be fooled. But those who are coming with a very clear activist agenda, and those who also are coming with the power of, say, teachers unions come with an enormous advantage.

Because many of the discussions that are held about what parents should and should not know are actually held among those who have a very clear vested interest, largely in ideology, but also just in terms of political power. They have a vested interest in not even involving parents, and the question of the extent to which parents should be involved in the making of educational policy and for that matter, even in the educational trajectory of their own students. It’s interesting that so often you hear people refer to the fact that the encouragement of parents is absolutely central when it comes to the academic success of children in schools.

And I can simply say, as an educator, that is profoundly right. But now we see that the tune in many educational circles has changed remarkably. Now parents are the adversary class, parents are those to be avoided, perhaps to be placated with some very vague assurances. Again, thankfully this is not true in every single public school system, but what we need to note is that the long march through the institutions is also marching through the entire culture of the public schools.

And if the public schools in your area don’t follow this kind of policy or ideology yet, well, it will not be because there are not those trying to force this ideology on every single public school system, every single teacher education program, every single PTA, coast to coast, district to district.

And when it comes to the public dimension of the public schools, one of the saddest things is, it’s not just parents who are often told to go home, it is the general public. “Leave education to the experts.” That’s what the Education secretary just said in a tweet. And the sad thing is, we know he meant it.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’m speaking to you from Orlando, Florida, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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