Friday, May 10, 2024

It’s Friday, May 10, 2024. 

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

Part I

Federal Court Rules Catholic School Has Right to Be Catholic: Huge Win for Religious Freedom as Court Sides with Catholic School’s Firing of Teacher in Same-Sex Marriage

A couple of important things happened this week that we really need to note before we move on. One of them is a decision that was handed down by the Fourth US Circuit Court of Appeals. It’s seated in Richmond, Virginia. This has to do with a religious school, actually with a Catholic school, and with the decision handed down by this court, increasingly described as a liberal appellate court. But nonetheless, the court upheld the fact that the Catholic authorities in this case had the right to remove this faculty member because the faculty member was functioning as one in a ministerial role.

And that’s really crucial because when you look at the intersection of religious liberty, and the LGBTQ challenge and all the rest, the right of Christian schools to teach according to their own Christian convictions is increasingly under attack. There are many on the left who are simply saying, “That should not be allowed.” That instead, non-discrimination policy should apply to Christian schools as much as to any other. And in some cases, it comes down to what is taught. In other cases, it comes down to personal behavior. Rachel Weiner writing for the Washington Post tells us, “One of the most liberal appellate courts in the country has ruled that a Catholic high school could fire a teacher for marrying another man, a victory for conservative and religious advocacy groups that have pushed back against anti-discrimination law.”

Now, I think this is important, if for no other reason than the fact that most Christians hearing this would be shocked that this could become a matter of law in the first place. We’re just talking here about a Catholic school, in this case, a Catholic high school, that fired a teacher as a man for marrying another man. And I think the vast majority of Christians would think, of course a Catholic school would have the right to make this decision, of course an Evangelical Protestant school would have the right to make this kind of decision, of course a Christian Classical school would have the right to make such decisions. And that’s not only true when it comes to the employment of faculty, it should also be true concerning admission and continued study in the school in the part of students. But what we need to understand is that encroaching secularism is openly challenging the right of Christian schools, Christian organizations, and even Christian congregations to hire and fire according to Christian doctrine and belief.

And you’ll notice here, by the way, that the court really didn’t have anything to say in this case and nothing meaningful to say about this particular former Catholic teacher and his religious beliefs. No, it’s an action that is defined as the issue here, and that is the fact that as a man, he married another man. As The Post reports, “The court ruled that Lonnie Billard who taught English and drama before becoming a substitute teacher to Catholic high school in Charlotte counts as a minister who can be fired for not adhering to the church’s religious beliefs on homosexuality.”

Now, how could that be? Is this actually a legal declaration that all teachers in a Catholic school or all teachers in an Evangelical Protestant school, a Christian school, are to be accounted as ministers? Well, you need to understand that that’s a very important argument. And the fact is that insofar as these teachers are teaching as Christians, insofar as a Catholic teacher is teaching Catholics in a Catholic school, Catholic doctrine is translated into a ministerial responsibility. And the same thing is true, say, of the evangelical teacher in an elementary school, which is a Christian school. Insofar as that teaching includes any religious content, then at least according to the law here, that means that teacher qualifies for a ministerial exception to the prevailing laws that would say you can’t discriminate on the basis of similar behavior.

For instance, if you are talking about the elementary school down the street, that’s a public school, the courts are probably going to say, and say very quickly, that that school can’t discriminate against a public school teacher as a man who marries another man. Because there’s no claim that this is in any sense a school that’s accountable to an ecclesiastical or a religious body. Thus, the employees of that school are not in any sense religious agents. But when it comes to Christian schools, it’s really important we recognize that this legal definition is absolutely crucial. Insofar as the Christian school teacher is teaching Christian truth, there is a ministerial role.

And that of course has nothing to do with ordination, it has nothing to do with the call to preach. It has everything to do with the fact that a Christian school has every right, and indeed every responsibility, to inculcate Christian learning. Which is also another way of saying what Christians must understand, and that is that, in a Christian school, you’re not just teaching biology, you have to be teaching a Christian understanding of biology. You’re not just teaching literature, you’re teaching a Christian understanding of literature. In any discipline, not just teaching that discipline, you’re teaching that discipline in accordance with the Christian worldview. And by the way, if you’re not, your school isn’t legitimately Christian. If it is legitimately Christian, then there is no subject matter that does not come under this description in terms of worldview instruction, and thus does not have the protection of this ministerial designation.

Luke Goodrich of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a very important litigation group here, said, “This is a massive victory.” And as The Post said, “no other court” has ruled “that a substitute teacher who did not teach religious classes counted as a minister.” That’s the words of The Post. “Under the logic of this ruling,” says Goodrich, “almost every teacher at almost every religious school could be dismissed for violating core religious beliefs.” Now, that’s just really important. It’s really important that teachers in a Christian understanding understand that if they violate those teachings in terms of their own lifestyle, in terms of their own marriage, a man marrying another man, in terms of their own moral behavior, they can very quickly be removed by the school precisely because they are violating an essential function. And not only is it essential to the school, it is essentially protected by the religious liberty protections of the United States Constitution.

Now, by the way, just understanding how this game is played in the larger culture. Once this man had announced that he was marrying another man, indeed in October 2014, “That he was engaged to his partner of 14 years.” Here’s what’s important. The American Civil Liberties Union backed his lawsuit accusing the school of sex discrimination.

I mentioned this particular case because of its worldview importance and because frankly of its importance in terms of the struggle and the fight to defend religious liberty when it comes to Christian schools. And in this case, a victory for one school, by extension, becomes a victory for other schools as well. But I also just want to remind those listening to this program that if you are indeed responsible for a Christian school and you are not maintaining Christian doctrine and Christian moral expectations, then quite frankly you’re guilty of false advertising. If you are quite authentically Christian in terms of the instruction and the ethos, the principles and policies of your school, then you’d better be looking at this kind of thing and remember that if you do not make clear the Christian responsibility of your teachers in every way to inculcate Christian truth even as they’re teaching any and every doctrine, then you’re setting yourself up not for a win in this kind of case, but for a loss.

Part II

What are Your Most and Least Favorite Aspects of Being President of an Academic Institution? What Advice Do You Have for a Christian with Higher Education Leadership Ambitions? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Well now, we’re going to turn to questions. I’m always glad to get your questions. Just send them into Sometimes I get questions and I realize it’s going to take a little bit of time to deal with that one. So, we’ll get to as many as we can.

I was very happy with a question that was sent in. This particular listener writes in and asks, “I would like to know more about your role as a university president, And we’ll keep my message brief. What is the hardest part of being a university president? And, or, what do you like least about the job? What is the best part of being a university president? And lastly, what advice would you give to a faithful and conservative Christian seeking to work in higher education leadership, especially in a secular higher education setting?” Okay, lots of good material there indeed. It’s not just one question, it’s a series of questions. And all of them are important.

I am indeed the president of a college and a seminary. And ask about being the president of an academic institution, what’s the hardest part, the hardest part is having to deal with hard things. It’s just like in the church. The hardest part is often having to deal with hard things. But when you’re dealing with human beings, you have to deal sometimes with hard things. And by the way, it’s not just students and faculty, it’s a much larger circle. There is, in any position of Christian responsibility, the call to have to deal with some hard things. I’ll just say, over a period of time, those hard things don’t get easier. And that’s just a recognition. There’s something I think deeply biblical about that.

But then, I am asked, what’s the best part of being a university president? And my answer is, the best part is just being around students. That is such, such a great thing. And the longer I am in this role, now in my fourth decade, I just have to tell you, I get so happy being around students. And that means graduate students all the way up to doctoral students at the seminary, and undergraduate students, they come in fresh out of high school. And I just want to underline again, there’s just nothing like being in a classroom with students. Or for that matter, just being in a hallway conversation with students. You realize what a precious stewardship this is. And students make me very, very happy.

The other thing that makes me very happy is teaching with colleagues. I’m speaking to you right now, having this week being in the experience of commencement. And it’s two massive commencements. Both so large, we have to have them out on the seminary lawn, on the quad. And they’re so emotionally moving. I have the responsibility of delivering a message at each of those and presiding over them. I get to put every one of those diplomas in the student hands. It’s just incredibly moving. I guess the older I get, the more moving it becomes. But the other aspect I want to mention here is the joy of working with faculty colleagues. Even just this week, I’ve had the honor of honoring faculty, colleagues, some of whom have taught for 30 years, 25 years, 20 years. We tend to do things in five and 10 year anniversary recognitions. But just another reminder, how incredible is it to get to teach with such faculty as colleagues? All that makes me very happy. There’s more to it.

But I’ll tell you, the next question you ask is, what advice would I give to a faithful and conservative Christian seeking to work in higher education leadership, especially in a secular higher education setting? I will tell you, some of the same joys are there. Some of the same joys and some of the same dangers. Being in a secular setting, you also have to deal with some really hard stuff and you also have the joy of working with students. I’ll just tell you, students are students. I do think there’s a qualitative distinction between those who are believers and those who are not. But young people are just eager learners by constitution and that’s a fun thing.

But I want to state that I’m not sure I’m in the position to give the best advice about how to operate as an academic administrator in a secular higher education setting. I think, honestly, that is going to be a situation that’s going to be more and more difficult for convictional Christians. I think those opportunities are going to become more and more rare simply because of some of the big issues whereby hiring and promotion and all the rest are now happening in secular higher education. I’ll just put the matter bluntly. In most institutions, conservatives are definitely not in charge. And in most institutions, the left definitely is in charge. And in most institutions, being an Evangelical Christian in that context is not seen as an asset, but a very significant liability. I am encouraged that there are believing Christians who are aspiring to that kind of leadership and that kind of influence. And I certainly pray, for this listener to The Briefing, the greatest opportunity and the greater stewardship of that opportunity. I just need to speak honestly. I think increasingly those opportunities are going to be more rare for believing Christians.

Part III

My Adult Son Embraced a Sinful Lifestyle and Walked Away from the Lord. Does That Disqualify Me from Ministry? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Okay, next. It would be very easy not to deal with this particular question in the public. Sometimes they’re hard things. I just talked about hard things. And sometimes, you have to deal with hard things. And I think this is a hard question about a very hard situation that is worthy of our consideration. Here’s a man who writes that from the age of 15, “All I wanted to do was be a pastor.” He felt called to be a pastor. He followed that into preparing to be a pastor in terms of education all the way from a baccalaureate degree to a PhD degree. He says in the background that he was forced to resign from a church as senior pastor because of his son coming out as bisexual and transsexual or transgender to some degree. The son also said he was no longer considering himself the son of these parents. And this now former pastor asked the question, “Based on Titus 1:6, am I disqualified from vocational ministry because of my son’s lifestyle?”

I think the household codes found in the passage about the call of ministry in 1 Timothy 3 and in Titus 1:6, and I know you’re making specific reference to Titus 1:6, I think this verse first and foremost to children and young people who are a part of your household. I think that’s the context here, at least the looming, larger context, is that the pastor is to have a well-ordered home in such a way that there’s not a disorder that would lead to the discrediting of the pastor’s ministry.

Now, I know that there are those who would say that this should apply to any offspring for as long as those offspring may live and the minister may be in ministry. I just don’t see that as the context. Especially when in this case the son, and I’m just taking this as it comes to me, the son has basically disowned his parents and said he wants nothing to do with him.

I’ll tell you where a complication would come, and that is that this father who’s a pastor in any way endorses his son’s defiance of Scripture and disobedience to God’s law, and quite frankly, a flagrant and open sin. I think there would be a problem if this pastor in any way backed off of not only biblical conviction, but also the willingness to speak and teach and preach about those convictions, as much as that preaching may bring up very difficult situations even in an extended family. I think it’s very important that we measure our faithfulness by whether or not we teach what the Bible says, and we teach what the Bible says even when it comes to us at a cost, maybe especially when it comes to us as a cost.

Now, I know there are others who would take this all the way to the lifetime of a child, an adult child. I would simply say that I think the context, and I think this is something I will be glad to back up with exegesis here, I think the context is clearly the household of the pastor. And at some point, our adult children move out of our household, sometimes they declare themselves to have moved outside our household. And I think our response to those children is very much a part of our current household responsibility, but the child himself or herself is no longer a part of that household.

Of course, I say this knowing that for every Christian parent, even if the son or daughter is no longer a part of the household, they’re very much a part of heartache. And I also just want to say that even as a son or daughter can bring us great heartache, we as Christians have to live in witness and we also have to live in hope. We have to hold those two things together, heartbreak and hope. And I hope I’ve answered your question faithfully. And I thank you for having the courage to send it in.

Part IV

How Can Girls Dress Modestly Without Being Legalistic, and How Can Boys Take Ownership of Their Thoughts Towards Young Women? — Dr. Mohler Responds to a Letter from a 15-Year-Old Listener of The Briefing

Okay, an extremely different question, but also a fairly urgent question perhaps, with all of us going into warmer months in the summer season. A 15-year-old listener writes, “In a world where legalism is heavy in many churches, how can girls dress modestly without being legalistic? And how can boys take ownership of their own thoughts about women when it comes to what they wear?” Okay, now that’s an honest question or maybe two honest questions. And I think it’s a relevant question. I don’t want to duck these questions. And frankly, I think these are questions I’m thankful that we had a listener brave enough to ask these questions out loud. And I think these questions are posed very well.

In the first one, “Even though legalism is having many churches, how can girls dress modestly without being legalistic?” I just want to say as carefully as I can say this, I think this is a situation in which it’s not particularly dangerous to be a little bit legalistic. We are called not to be legalistic in terms of adding to the gospel, and we’re not to be legalistic in terms of feeling an undue spiritual pride by that legalism. But I think we all understand we do have to live much of life under a certain set of guidelines. And I think some of it sometimes has to be set arbitrarily. I think some of it also has to be set in ways in which we as Christians understand, we’re not just called to be minimally morally acceptable, we want to be pleasing to the Lord and we don’t want to be the occasion of someone else’s sin.

And this listener is a teenager. I appreciate that context. And so, how can girls dress modestly without being legalistic? I would like to say, I think that a certain Christian common sense would apply here, but I think at times, and by the way, I will note that most Christian youth groups planning some kind of beach event or something, they’re likely to be a little bit legalistic and saying, “Look, this is exactly what we expect teenagers to wear. Boys and girls, young men, young women, we have certain expectations.” Someone’s going to say that’s legalism, but someone’s got to define these terms. Because especially in the world in which we live, quite honestly, without the definition of some of these terms, the terms turn out to be relatively meaningless. Alright, that’s the one side of it.

The other question was, “And how can boys take ownership of their own thoughts about women when it comes to what they wear?” Well, I simply want to say, the Bible’s really clear in its warnings against lust. Men and boys are given the command that we are not to give ourselves to lust. We are given the warning of what lust is and what lust will do.

I simply want to say, and the listener who sent this in is a young woman, and so I just want to be very honest, not at all going beyond where I think I should speak here. I just want to say that a part of what you have to keep in mind here is, not just that boys are to take ownership of their own thoughts about women when it comes to what they wear, but one of the problems is putting boys in a situation in which they have to think about thinking about the very same issue. In other words, at least a part of the Christian Church is in removing occasions for sin, removing opportunities for sin. And I just want to say that even having to think about thinking about thinking about not thinking in certain ways, that will be basically a surrender to lust. Now, that’s something every Christian young man’s going to have to learn, but I just think it’s probably something that you hope every Christian young man doesn’t have to learn in terms of ongoing lessons when together with the church youth group.

Now, I want to be clear. I do not want to be legalistic by offering what might be a set of rightful rules. I’m simply going to say the set of rightful rules is not necessarily a dangerous form of legalism. And I also want to say that, look, I appreciate the gracious Christian spirit behind this letter and the genuine doctrinal and biblical concern behind this question. And I would simply say, I think it’s really important that we do our very best, regardless of how old we are to be agents of thinking holy thoughts among our friends, and not agents of anything less than that. It’s not to say that I have a set of magic rules whereby I can tell you exactly how that should work. But I’m telling you, I think most of us can pretty well come to an understanding on some things of how that should work. I’ll just leave it there. Thanks so much for the question.

Part V

How Can I Share the Gospel with an Atheist Who is Coming to My School to Share His View on the Origin of the Earth? — Dr. Mohler Responds to a Letter from a 12-Year-Old Listener of The Briefing

Alright. Absolutely a wonderful question, in this case, coming from a 12-year-old young lady. She writes in speaking about her experience as a sixth grade student at a Christian school. And she writes, this is very interesting, “This month, my science teacher’s atheist uncle will be visiting our class to debate the age-old controversy of evolution versus creation. How can I effectively share the gospel and the truth of creation by God in a respectful manner? Simply put, if I have one chance to speak to this unbelieving man, what should I ask or say?”

Wow, I think this is a very interesting question. It’s a very interesting context. And the way you set it up, it’s a Christian school, my science teacher’s atheist uncle will be visiting our class to debate. I simply want to say, I think that can be a very good experience. Now, I think it’s a fairly high risk situation. I’ve got to think of this as a college and a seminary president here. I would want to set the parameters for this pretty carefully. But you know what? I think it could be very productive to hear someone speaking from a materialistic, atheist, agnostic, unbelieving worldview. Speaking about the origin of the earth, which also means speaking about the meaning of human beings as well as every other form of life, but in particular the meaning of human life.

So you ask, how can I effectively share the gospel and the truth of creation in a respectful manner? Well, I’m just pretty sure, the way you asked that question, you’re going to do whatever you do in a respectful manner. You understand that you are actually speaking to a man who’s been invited guest in class. I’m pretty sure you’re going to be respectful. And I would just encourage you to stand by the gospel.

And I’d also encourage you to think about this, and that is that the hardest question for an atheist who holds to an evolutionary viewpoint to explain is why there is any human dignity at all, why there’s anything special about humanity at all. At the end of the day, there is no consistent Darwinist, evolutionist answer to that question. And of course, you believe that every single human being is a bearer of dignity because every single human being is a bearer of the image of God, made in the image of God. And I’m not expecting you might have the opportunity for a lengthy conversation in this classroom encounter, but maybe you could at least raise that question and see what indeed his answer might be. Even as we know up front, there’s no adequate answer that can come from a secular, materialistic, atheistic worldview. If you actually hold to that worldview, then nothing has meaning and nothing includes you.

Part VI

How Do You Respond to Conservatives Today Who Denigrate Conservative Bastions Like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Okay, I love this question. A man writes in and says, “I know you were a young conservative in the Reagan generation. And you looked up to Ronald Reagan, President Reagan, along with Margaret Thatcher, former British Prime Minister, as bastions of conservative leadership in the time that they were desperately needed.” He says, “I couldn’t agree more. Both are political heroes of mine. However, there seems to be a growing movement among ‘Conservatives,’” He puts in quotation marks, “and the right wing of politics to denigrate and look down upon them. What are your thoughts on this and how do you respond to people who think that way?”

Well, I’ll say to people who think that way, you’re pathetic. No, seriously, I just want to say, we need heroes and heroines. But this is where being a Christian really helps us because we don’t expect anyone to be perfect. And we understand that in God’s providence, everyone is in the flow of history. So I must say as a conservative, I think I hold to many positions that are more conservative than what Ronald Reagan held to. But he was fighting back against a dominant ascendant, mid-20th century liberalism, and he moved the equation mightily. I don’t think Ronald Reagan would’ve said, “This is where the argument ends.” I think he understood the argument needs to be extended. And every politician, by the way, makes bad political moves, questionable political judgments, and in the retrospect of history is seen to have done things that might’ve been done differently. That’s true of Ronald Reagan, it’s true of Margaret Thatcher. And boy, do I admire them both. You come to my study, you’re going to see that, because you’re going to see vestiges of that affection for Margaret Thatcher and for Ronald Reagan.

But I think it’s also really important to understand that both of them were convictional politicians. Both of them were driven by convictions. Ronald Reagan’s convictions were at times so clear he could put them on three by five cards. And that’s one of the reasons why he was so politically effective. And that’s one of the reasons why he caught even the liberal world by surprise with the fact that he actually intended to turn those conservative convictions into public policy. And in a way that is absolutely amazing to us now, he did. And the same thing with Margaret Thatcher. She was head of the government there as head of the conservative party during a time of that party’s dominance in Great Britain. But its dominance was largely due to her and to her convictions. And she put those convictions into action.

I think a lot of contemporary conservatives, frankly, are not actually classical conservatives in one sense, I think they could actually learn a lot from Reagan and Thatcher about what being conservative means within a political context. I am not frustrated that they want to take the logic of conservative principles further than either Thatcher or Reagan took them. I join you in that, I want to do the same. But I think it’s also important from a Christian understanding to see clearly that we would not be where we are today, had those two conviction politicians not arisen in the 1970s and come to such influence in the 1980s and beyond.

Sometimes I look at a question like this and I recognize that the alternative to looking at these leaders with appreciation is frankly a lack of gratitude, and that’s not good anywhere you find it.

Well, alright. We’re simply out of time. But I don’t think we’ll ever run out of good, thoughtful questions, and so we’ll stay at it. 

In the meantime, thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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