Tuesday, May 7, 2024

It’s Tuesday, May 7, 2024.

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

Part I

‘I Didn’t Go to School Carrying a Tent’: Campuses Face Blowback from Donors after Protests and Divestment Attempts

Sometimes it is the intellectual, the theological responsibility of Christians to take an issue that looks to be very complex and say, biblically speaking, that’s actually a pretty simple, straightforward issue. It’s a matter of do this or do that. It’s a confrontation of good or evil. It is the distinction between the truth and a lie, but sometimes it’s also a Christian responsibility to say when you are confronting some issues, they get very entangled. Issues can get very complex and sometimes it is our Christian responsibility to admit a bit of the complexity. So you have headlines that occasionally bring something to light and you say, “That looks like a big issue. Maybe we better track that down a bit.” So let’s think about the college campus protests.

Let’s think about one of the demands made by those protesters. One of the demands is divestment. They’re saying we want these universities, prestigious universities with a lot of wealth, a lot of endowments, that’s of course funds permanently held for the financial strength of the institution. Basically like a giant trust fund for the school. And you have the demands being made by some of these militant students, pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel. They’re saying, you need to divest. Now, the word divest has an interesting history because even as it means the opposite of invest, invest is put money in, divest means take money out. This goes back to similar kinds of moral efforts. One was most famously undertaken an opposition to the apartheid regime in South Africa where you had students and others protesting saying you need to take money out of any kind of what we would now call a mutual fund, to divest from South Africa to make a moral statement that we don’t want complicity with that regime and it’s apartheid morality.

And you had an awful lot of campuses that did this. You had an awful lot of investment funds that declared they were absolutely free of investment in South Africa. The issue is that moral change did come in South Africa. It didn’t come quickly, it didn’t come evenly, but the apartheid regime was eventually ended in South Africa. But in retrospect, it’s not really clear to what an extent those divestment efforts contributed anything in terms of say pressure on South Africa. And you asked, “Well, where else did it happen?” Well, during the Cold War here in the United States, you had some very liberal forces saying you need to divest from defense stocks. We need to get out of the military industrial complex. A term by the way, that was used by President Dwight David Eisenhower, who had also been Supreme Allied Commander.

So you are looking at the fact that you had Eisenhower say there is a military industrial complex. It’s made up of these big companies. And there were those who said, you need to divest for the name of peace. You need to divest from those corporations. Again, it’s not at all clear that that made a lot of difference, but it did get a lot of attention. You had an awful lot of political attention. And so you could have boards of trustees, you could have investment committees who would say, “We’re going to divest from South Africa. We’re going to divest from these military stocks. We are going to divest from this cause or another.” And right now you have some university administrations that have entered into an agreement with some of these protesting students that they will consider whether or not they will divest from companies that are economically linked to Israel.

Now, let me just say at this point, I think that is morally wrong as an effort in the first place, and I think it is actually piling up on Israel in a way that is absolutely morally wrong and absolutely morally inconsistent. So let me just state that right up front. And furthermore, it gets to the point that an awful lot of these students, when you understand their worldview, they would want to divest not only from Israel, they would want to divest from the United States of America, and yet at the same time they would like their student aid funds continuing, please, from the endowment, sure.

There’s just an awful lot of hypocrisy that is baked into this cake. But I want to step back from hypocrisy for a moment and just say there’s something else that you need to understand here, and that is that if you want to have any kind of moral leverage when it comes to this kind of scale of investment, well guess what? Your little decision isn’t going to have much of an impact on anything anyway. You’re going to make yourself feel good if you are right now on the left calling for a divestment.

Let’s say the students demand that Brown University, Columbia University that they divest, let’s say that is a part of trying to bring an end to the student protest movement, some of these boards agree, it will amount to absolutely nothing. Now, in a worldview perspective, at least part of what we need to understand is that the left is often bought off with this kind of symbolic action. And I said that carefully because I want to come back and say sometimes the right is too. That is to say both liberals and conservatives can be bought off with some noise, and with some argument, and with some artificial actions that sometimes don’t amount too much of anything. But right now, this is a particular pattern on the left, and frankly, it’s been that way for a very long time.

You have people who are making what they believe is a moral self-expression when they talk about everything from what they eat, to what they wear ,to where they buy their clothes, or what they do with this and they act like they’re independent of the larger economy. Guess what? You’re not. But Christians do understand that our economic lives are an expression of our worldview and of our commitment. So we as Christians would want to the greatest degree possible to invest in the things we believe are morally right and not to invest in the things that we believe are morally wrong. And so if you are investing money, say in the stock market in a mutual fund, you can choose some mutual funds that will tell you here’s what we are doing, here’s how we are investing.

And I’m not saying that’s not important, I believe it is important. But we also need to be honest, that mutual fund is only going to make money if in the context of the larger market, certain other economic dynamics pertain. And if the whole market is going up in one sense, then all those funds are going to go up. The hard decisions come when the market’s going down, and when you have to make hard decisions about investing.

The author of the Streetwise column at the Wall Street Journal, James Mackintosh understands what’s going on here. His headline is simply “Divestment Won’t Work.” Here’s how he begins. “Student protesters who have brought Columbia University to a halt want the institution to sell its investments in companies linked to Israel. Their demands appear to be about finance, but to the extent the money makes a difference, not much. It would leave them worse off and Israel’s friends better off.” “The divestment campaign along with the student demand to break academic ties to Israeli universities can only succeed by isolating Israel culturally. It can’t work financially, so its only chance is that Israelis fed up with being treated as the bad guys will push their government to change direction.”

But the point he’s making here is that that’s not going to happen. Here’s one of the problems with divestment in terms of trying to make this kind of statement. You can say, “Okay, we’re going to sell all of our stocks.” Let’s just say we’re going to come up with a country and let’s just say it has an immoral policy. Let’s say that it kidnaps whales, and we want to divest from any company that has identification with this country that kidnaps whales. Kidnapping whales is bad. We don’t want anything to do with that. We do not want to invest in it. Well, here’s the problem. If you give the stock away, it still retains the value. Here’s the other problem. If you sell it, it had so much value that someone bought it from you. So guess what? You’re still complicit with the company that kidnaps whales. You may have gained financially in the past by holding this stock. You may hold the stock in the present. You may intend to trade the stock in the future. It doesn’t matter. In a world in which this is a part of the economic investment pool, once you are in, you’re in.

But the other thing we need to recognize is that you have too many people that are bought off of symbolic actions. Let’s say, “Okay, we are not going to invest anymore in this country that kidnaps whales. We’re going to put out press releases that we put out a new policy. We are going to divest.” Well, how much money are you actually taking out, and is this even worth any kind of a headline? Okay, so Mackintosh goes on to make this point, get this, Columbia University has a huge endowment, and I have to say, as the president of a conservative Christian organization, we’re not even in the same game. We’re not even close. What is the endowment of Columbia University? It is about 14 billion. That’s with a B, $14 billion. That’s a lot.

So let’s say that they are going to divest from a company. Let’s say that company is Microsoft. They divest from Microsoft, they have $14 billion. Now, of course, it wouldn’t all be in one stop, but let’s just say so we can keep this straight that it is. How much is Microsoft valued to be worth? $3 trillion. Guess what? Your $14 billion are not a hiccup for a company that holds the wealth of $3 trillion. Hope you made yourself feel better.

Okay, here’s the other thing, and this has to be a live issue if you’re the president of one of these Ivy League institutions, you need big financial support from donors who might actually get angry at you taking this action. I think you’re going to see that in the case, especially of Jewish donors. I think you’re going to see it very quickly. And as Mackintosh and others point out, as quickly as you make this decision, you can actually lead to real financial harm to your institution because people stopped giving. You just took a symbolic action that didn’t change anything anyway, and now you’re losing real money in real time. Now, as a conservative, I have to say, I hope that’s exactly what happens.

Okay, so that leads me to another article. This one appeared in the New York Times and I got to say I just love the way this one ends. Here’s the headline, “Billionaire Donor Assails Brown’s, [I mean Brown University’s] Unconscionable Deal with Protesters.” The donor in this case is Barry Sternlicht and he is a billionaire and he has donated more than $20 million to Brown University, but he says he’s not giving any more for now. Like many other prominent Jewish donors, he is saying, “Look, we’re just finding out what the real commitments of this institution are. Try funding this place without us.” You’ve had similar responses at the University of Pennsylvania. I guarantee you that all of the presidents of these big prestigious institutions understand that what the students are demanding is not going to make a big economic difference, but giving into their demands is going to come with an enormous economic cost.

Rob Copeland reporting for the New York Times simply says this, “The blow back from Mr. Sternlicht who has described himself as a political independent and whose name is on a Brown [that means Brown University residence hall] shows how quickly the issue of divestment from Israel may vex universities. Until a week ago, even discussing this subject was widely considered a non-starter as it was sure to divide a large swath of students and faculty from many of the business people whose donations fill university endowments.”

Well, at this point, I can only say I think it could be healthy and only healthy for a lot of these donors to recognize what in the world they’ve been paying for, for the last several decades. They’ve been funding cultural Marxism. They’ve been funding radical leftist ideologies. They’ve been funding critical theory, and quite honestly, they’ve been putting their names on these things. They should have known what they were doing. They shouldn’t have been giving money to these institutions with their leftist commitments. And some of them right now are just having a certain wake-up moment. I can only hope that this wake-up moment will be longer than a moment.

But this article simply reminds us that some of these universities, Brown is one that said it’s going to negotiate with the students about the question of divestment. Well, what about with the donors who are paying the money? But I mentioned to you that I really love the way this article ends and it ends with Mr. Sternlicht recognizing that there’s more going on here, remember he’s the donor, there’s more going on here than meets the eye. These student protests require an explanation, and an awful lot of the details of these student demonstrations indicate they were not a spontaneous development. How does Mr. Sternlicht know this? This closes the article. “I don’t know about you,” he said, “but I didn’t go to school carrying a tent.”

Part II

Trust Me, You’re a Long Way from the Gulag: Privileged Activist Upset for Being Treated Less Than Privileged as a Disruptor on Columbia’s Campus

But speaking of wanting to draw attention to the end of an article, boy do I want to do that in a big way with a piece that ran yesterday at USA Today. Every once in a while you see something and you go, “Okay, it’s like the final piece of the puzzle has fallen onto the picture and you ought to be able to figure out the pattern now. You should be able to figure this out. Woe unto you if you don’t see what’s going on here.” The article in this case is a big opinion piece by Allie Wong identified as an opinion contributor, and you can pretty much figure the way this is going. The headline is, “My Columbia Arrest was a Nightmare.” So Allie Wong was among those identified as students at Columbia University who had occupied Hamilton Hall–that’s as in Alexander Hamilton Hall. They had broken glass, they had entered and occupied the building. The administration finally called out the police. The police arrested them, and as she says, my arrest was a nightmare.

“We knew we were likely to be arrested for being on campus despite the university mandated shelter in place order, but we chose to run into the fire anyway. As a human chain draped in keffiyehs and shaking like leaves in the autumn wind, we sang with hushed tones and breathed deeply as hundreds of officers from the New York Police Department armed with flash grenades and pepper spray marched towards us like a military parade.” While turning this into a form of a soap opera, Allie Wong writes, “As they approached from multiple directions, we sang with frail and cracking voices. ‘This is the love that I have, the world didn’t give it to me. The world didn’t give it, the world can’t take it away.’ As officers threatened student journalists with arrests presumably to ensure minimal coverage of the aggression they were about to exert.” The storm troopers arrived.

The headings in this article, again, it’s a full half page in the print edition, “Our Arrests were Violent and Not Professional.” And she documents all the horrible things the police are said to have done here, including putting them in holding cells that she found quite unacceptable. And well, let’s just say that anyone who knows anything about the criminal justice system knows that this is not intended to be a nice welcoming place, and you are not put in holding cells with nice, sweet, middle-class people.

Another subhead, “Protesters Aren’t Anti-Semitic. Our AeHarts are with Innocent Gazans.” And again, there is no acknowledgement here that a lot of this was orchestrated as support for Hamas, a terrorist Islamist organization that unleashed its attack on Israel on October the 7th and continues to hold hostages. It’s one of these situations in which you just have to wonder who looks at this article and goes, “This is a very dispassionate, fair, sweet-minded student just peaceably protesting when all of a sudden the stormtroopers arrive and haul them off to a horrible jail.” So let’s just say we know what’s going on here. Saul Alinsky, a community organizer during the political protests of the 1960s, ’70s and beyond, he wrote a book entitled “Rules for Radicals” in which he–among others–made the argument that what you need to do is to make a lot of your arrests and you describe them in these kinds of morally clarifying terms. In other words, you make yourself a victim. That’s a very important part of the political strategy.

It’s also interesting of course, that she, as so many other students have turned on the university. So every authority is evil. The university authority, evil. The police authority, evil. The judicial authority, evil. And yet she doesn’t think that the entire cultural system is so evil that she doesn’t write a piece as an opinion contributor to USA Today. Let me just point this out. You are not a political prisoner if USA Today offers you the opportunity to tell your story on a half page in the print edition and identifies you as an opinion contributor. But I think we need to go to the very end of this article. And in this case, it’s not the end of what she wrote, it’s what is written about this student. Again, the student, Allie Wong.

She’s complaining that she was mistreated in her Columbia arrest. It was a nightmare. She concludes her article. “We are not the heroes, nor are we the villains. The latter category belongs to Columbia and the broken system, it refuses to heal.” So Columbia University identified here is the villains, the police, the servants of the villains. But that isn’t the good part. That’s not the important part. The important part is where she is identified by USA Today. Listen to this, “Allie Wong is a PhD student at Columbia University. She holds a master of arts degree in nonproliferation and terrorism studies from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, a Master of Arts [an MA] in International Affairs from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations and a bachelor’s degree in human rights, peace and non-violent activism from New York University.” Three degrees, every single one of them in some kind of leftist studies. One of them at an institution in Moscow, another one from another prestigious New York Institution, New York University, a baccalaureate in human rights, peace and non-violent activism.

She studied activism as an undergraduate and did two additional graduate degrees in activism. She’s now doing a PhD probably in activism. The point is, this is her career and she’s been subsidized no doubt by many funding sources, and no doubt many government funds, and no doubt the financial support of many donors, again, either directly or indirectly. And this is another case in which you bite the hand that feeds you, but not only that, you demand that the hand that feeds you make an abject public apology, and you also demand that the larger culture give you a half page in USA Today to tell the story of the awful treatment you have received. 

Oh yeah, just like in the gulags.

Part III

It Was a Total LGBTQ Victory: History Will Record that the United Methodist General Conference Was a Comprehensive Capitulation to Theological Revisionism

Last week we gave a lot of attention to the general conference of the United Methodist Church that ended just last weekend. And we talked most importantly about the U-turn that that denomination did. And that U-turn is from fidelity to biblical teachings on sexuality and gender as applied to its membership to so-called same-sex marriages to openly gay clergy and all the rest. It was all one giant U-turn. The update I need to bring is that by the end of the week, the general conference attendees didn’t go home until they had made the U-turn as absolutely complete as they could in one massive meeting.

Yonat Shimron of Religion News Service put it this way, “United Methodist concluded their general conference on Friday by removing the last barriers to full equality of LGBTQ members in the life of the church. After repealing a 52-year-old declaration that the practice of homosexuality is ‘incompatible with Christian teaching.’” delegates on Friday went further she tells us, “eliminating a passage in their book of discipline or church law that states “ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.”

So in other words, all those rules that had required the denomination to hold to a biblical position on these issues, they’re all gone. By the time they went home, they’d done everything they could to take all the references to an orthodox biblical teaching out of the policies, discipline, and doctrine of the church. And that is why we’re coming back to it today. It’s not just to give an update. Yeah, they did it and they changed every policy they possibly could. It is just to say that from a worldview perspective, you need to understand that you’re going to have an alignment around one central logic. If you’re an organization of any size, and certainly if you’re going to present yourself as a religious organization of any size, you’re going to eventually have to be pretty clear about what your doctrines are. And let’s just say there’s some who say, “Well, we have no limits on doctrines.”

Well, that actually tells me everything I need to know about your doctrine. You don’t consider any doctrine true enough or important enough even to be constitutive of your identity. If you say we have no boundaries, well, that is simply another way of drawing a theological boundary. In this case, you’re putting orthodoxy out of the boundary, or anyone committed to orthodoxy, out of the boundary.

And this worldview consistency is exactly what we see having worked its way out, by the end of last week, through the general conference of the United Methodist Church. It’s a big theological point we need to think about. Every single church, every single Christian institution, every Christian denomination is going to eventually have to align itself around a coherent set of doctrines, practices, and beliefs on these issues. Inconsistency doesn’t work, and this is the only point at which I’m in agreement with those at the general conference of the United Methodist Church. Eventually you’re going to be consistent. The United Methodists made that point by going through their doctrine, discipline, and policies and removing everything that had upheld a biblical understanding of sexuality, gender, or marriage or ministry.

But I want us to take one step further and there is conversation right now. A lot of this has not happened yet, but there is a lot of conversation that in some denominations such as the PCUSA, the Presbyterian Church USA consistency might soon lead to saying that if you don’t affirm this new doctrine and practice and morality, then you’re out. Whereas previously it would’ve been, say openly LGBTQ clergy who are out. The ones who are about to be out are those who won’t celebrate LGBTQ+ clergy. And if you don’t believe that marriage can be the union of a man and a man or a woman and a woman, you might soon not qualify for ministry. It would be those who believed that such things were possible, who would’ve been denied ordination in times passed, and well, the tables are now turned, and it might be that we’re living in a year in which some of these tables are going to do a lot of the turning.

By the way, on the Methodist scene, there is another big question because the church moved towards this regionalization largely because of the radical worldview and theological distinctions between some of the churches in Africa and the church in North America, in particular in the United States. And so it is going to be very interesting to see if indeed the distinction between those regions pans out. It is also clear by the time the general conference came to an end that the United Methodist Church now under overwhelmingly liberal leadership, is not going to give the African churches an easy way out. After the church lost about 7,000 congregations in North America through the plan by which conservatives left, the United Methodist Church did not extend the same process to the churches in Africa or elsewhere.

And this gets to something else that’s just very sad, and that is that in many of these very established more liberal mainline denominations, you have some conservative believers, you have some conservative pastors perhaps in increasingly isolated cases, and you have some regions even of these churches that are basically being held captive. It’s almost as if it’s a hostage situation. And to add insult to injury, the denominational hierarchy in some cases such as the United Methodist Church, actually tells the local congregation how much it must pay to undergird the national effort. So the obvious question to many of the congregations that didn’t leave when it comes to the United Methodist Church is this, given the course of the last several days, given the U-turn made by the United Methodist Church, how many of those congregations wish they had left? But in a lesson that may need to be learned by others as well. By the time you ask that question, it may already be too late.

It’s easy in this sense to imagine many believing Christians who are faithful to the gospel themselves, who are now a part of a church that not only is going to hold them captive in terms of their congregations they’ve known and loved for years, but is also, every year, going to send them a bill. 

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. 

For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter or X by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com

I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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