June 11, 2014
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, June 11, 2014. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Returning to a story that made big news just a matter of a few weeks ago, The New York Times ran a headline yesterday that reads, “Colleges and Evangelicals Collide on Bias Policy.” The article is by Michael Paulson and it’s a very fair report on a major dynamic now taking place on many of America’s leading and not-so-leading colleges and universities. It is indeed a collision; a collision between the new bias policies adopted by so many academic institutions and, on the other side, evangelical organizations and the integrity of their own ministry. To his credit, Michael Paulson, the reporter for The New York Times, seems to understand exactly what’s going on. He writes:
For 40 years, evangelicals at Bowdoin College have gathered periodically to study the Bible together, to pray and to worship. They are a tiny minority on the liberal arts college campus, but they have been a part of the school’s community, gathering in the chapel, the dining center, the dorms.
After this summer, the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship will no longer be recognized by the college. Already, the college has disabled the electronic key cards of the group’s longtime volunteer advisers.
In a collision between religious freedom and antidiscrimination policies, the student group, and its advisers, have refused to agree to the college’s demand that any student, regardless of his or her religious beliefs, should be able to run for election as a leader of any group, including the Christian association.
Clearly we have a problem. The student Christian organizations are unable to accept the nonbiased policy which would allow non-Christians to participate in leadership positions without either compromising or entirely denying their organization’s Christian identity and their own Christian convictions. As Paulson explains:
Similar conflicts are playing out on a handful of campuses around the country, driven by the universities’ desire to rid their campuses of bias, particularly against gay men and lesbians, but also, in the eyes of evangelicals, fueled by a discomfort in academia with conservative forms of Christianity. The universities have been emboldened to regulate religious groups by a Supreme Court ruling in 2010 that found it was constitutional for a public law school in California to deny recognition to a Christian student group that excluded gays.
He goes on to report:
[From] Cal State, the nation’s largest university system with nearly 450,000 students on 23 campuses, the chancellor [of that giant, nation’s largest university system] is preparing this summer to withdraw official recognition from evangelical groups that are refusing to pledge not to discriminate on the basis of religion in the selection of their leaders.
You’ll notice this doesn’t even make a direct statement about sexuality. It’s about religious conviction. The groups are now being told that they cannot discriminate even in the leadership of their organization on the basis of religion. Paulson then goes to Nashville, Tennessee; where at Vanderbilt University over a dozen Christian groups have already had to lose their official standing over the very same policy issue. In a key paragraph from The New York Times coverage, we read:
The evangelical groups say they, too, welcome anyone to participate in their activities, including gay men and lesbians, as well as nonbelievers, seekers and adherents of other faiths. But they insist that, in choosing leaders who often oversee Bible study and prayer services, it is only reasonable that they be allowed to require some basic Christian faith — in most cases, an explicit agreement that Jesus was divine and rose from the dead, and often an implicit expectation that unmarried student leaders, gay or straight, will abstain from sex.
Now, needless to say, that is hardly a very robust definition of Christian identity. At the very least, it is barely minimal, but it’s enough to run into direct conflict with these new bias policies on American college and university campuses.
The cost of forfeiting this kind of official university recognition includes the loss of access to university students, to university facilities, and even in some cases to the use of the university’s name. As Paulson also indicates, this is not the case everywhere. There are some institutions, including the University of Florida, the University of Houston, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Texas, that have decided in their policies to exempt Christian organizations, indeed, religious organizations, from these bias nondiscrimination policies. In an amazing statement, one of the student leaders from Cal State, that’s Austin Weatherby, a 20-year-old, he said, “We’re not willing to water down our beliefs in order to be accepted”. He furthermore said, “Anyone can join, but if you want to lead a Bible study, you need to believe these things.” One of the things he says such a leader should believe—well, it stipulates here: belief in the holy Trinity and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Once again, we’re talking about a very minimal definition of the Christian faith, but, once again, quite enough to run into a direct collision with these antidiscrimination policies.
It is interesting, of course, and quite instructive that in their headlong rush into political correctness and so-called nondiscrimination these universities are actually adopting extremely discriminatory policies. They’re making it actually impossible for a Christian organization to remain in any sense legitimately Christian and remain on the campus. But that leads to what is acknowledged even in this article in The New York Times: a direct collision between the idea of toleration and the practice of toleration. Indeed, these universities say that they’ve adopted these new policies precisely in order to tolerate everyone and to be intolerant towards any withdrawal of toleration, but they’re not tolerating Christian groups as Christian, and that’s something that they seem to be unable even to acknowledge. There are some people who are looking at this situation and saying, “It’s a tragedy,” but they seem to be quite unwilling to actually adjust the policies even as they recognize Christian organizations are being required to forfeit their Christian identity if they want to continue to be recognized by the university.
A couple of worldview issues come immediately to mind. The first is this: no one, no sane person, is absolutely tolerant of all positions. That was made clear in the 1960s by Herbert Marcuse, a French political philosopher of the far left, who, in a book entitled On Tolerance, suggested that tolerance should be extended to everyone except to anyone who isn’t fully tolerant of everything. But even in the 1960s, this led to a massive political repression on the French university and college campus. Now this same logic has come to the United States and its come here in a big way. The very fact that this new story made the front page of yesterday’s edition of The New York Times tells us that even the secular media has taken note of the fact that this is a major and newsworthy development. But, of course, from a Christian perspective it’s far more than merely newsworthy; it’s deeply troubling. It tells us that religious liberty in this country is being significantly and severely redefined and constricted right before our eyes, and in this case, right before the eyes of the rather secular readers of The New York Times. To the credit of the newspaper, they are acknowledging that this has created a direct collision between the antidiscrimination policies and religious liberty, but as the report in the paper also makes very clear, when this collision takes place, it is the Christian organizations who lose and lose in a big way. And this story, you can mark, will not be limited to the universities and colleges mentioned and documented in this news report. This story is coming very soon to a campus near you.
Thinking about the current state of American culture, on yesterday’s front page of The Washington Post was a very important article entitled, “Trial and a New Era.” We looked at this development before from the vantage point of Vanity Fair magazine, but now the leading newspaper in the nation’s capital points back to the 20th anniversary of that O.J. Simpson incident and the following trial. Kent Babb is the reporter for The Washington Post. He points out that by the time that infamous car chase with O.J. Simpson in that white Ford Bronco had ended, 95 million viewers in America had tuned in to all or part of the broadcast car chase. Now that is a very interesting statistic when you consider the fact that at that time America had slightly less than 300 million citizens. That meant that roughly a third of all Americans watched all or part of that car chase.
But that wasn’t the end of the story. As Babb makes very clear in this coverage on the 20th anniversary, there was a major change in the way Americans considered crime, the news, and celebrity. The coverage in Vanity Fair we discussed previously suggested that the O.J. Simpson trial and the constant television coverage of that trial opened the door to the development of the vast new entertainment medium known as reality television, an oxymoron to be sure, but something that is now a staple of American household television entertainment. But as Babb makes clear, what is also evident on the 20th anniversary of the O.J. Simpson chase and following trial is the fact that there was a basic coarsening of the culture. Things that had never been discussed in polite company or even in public became the conversation of everyday life given the fact that the trial itself and the investigation that led up to it were constantly discussed on cable news stations and in the larger national media. Babb suggests that all of the news coverage concerning O.J. Simpson became what he calls a “gateway drug” to the coarsening of American culture in terms of the constant crime coverage and other things that we now take for granted. He documents, for instance, that going back 20 years ago, CNN, or Cable News Network, was 14 years old. It had a certain hold in terms of American media, in terms of kind of a niche market, but it became an overnight sensation with Americans turning in to the constant coverage from that Cable News Network that found its viewership growing exponentially. The coverage of the trial, the murders, and the evidence led to a coarsening of the culture and a discussion of things that had previously just not been discussed in public. This is made clear by Greta Van Susteren, identified in the articles as a former adjunct law professor at Georgetown University (most Americans don’t even remember that she had that job), who became a star for her legal analysis on CNN and now hosts a nightly show on Fox News. She said, “It made a lot of things look pretty rotten, made things look pretty raw” – talking about all the evidence that was brought forth in rather grotesque and graphic form in the midst of the investigation and the trial.
But Americans accommodated themselves to it. If the O.J. Simpson trial was a gateway drug to what later became known as reality television, it also open the gateway to the discussion of the most grotesque and graphic criminal evidence, especially having to do with sensational murder trials. The Washington Post quotes Mark Crispin Miller, a well-known professor at New York University who studies media and culture. He said that the Simpson case was “a harbinger of an entirely different media landscape.” He also said, “You have to become gradually acclimated to this kind of spectacle. Fifty years ago,” he said, “what you would’ve turned away from as outrageous, you turn to as kind of normal and interesting and then you can’t do without it.” That is a very interesting statement. He suggests that Americans would once have recoiled in horror from this kind of information, but they began to laugh it up salaciously and now they expect it.
And in terms of expecting, one of the very interesting developments in terms of the law was that until the O.J. Simpson case, most Americans knew nothing about DNA evidence. But that DNA evidence, for the first time, in a widely-publicized criminal trial, played a big part in the controversy over the trial of O.J. Simpson. And as a matter of fact, it led Americans to believe that DNA evidence should be expected, if not required, for a conviction in criminal cases. Something that was hardly the case even at the time that the O.J. trial took place. Looking back to that development, Greta Van Susteren said:
DNA was so complex and complicated that nobody really asked for it. They might find some man or woman, usually man, sitting in some county jail somewhere in the middle of some state, and, all of the sudden, after watching O.J. Simpson – because the world – did, he asked for a DNA test.
Ken Babb is absolutely right that the O.J. Simpson trial became a gateway drug for Americans to something else; that it became an addiction of sorts, an addiction to very graphic criminal information, especially having to do with murder. This explains also a major shift in crime dramas on television. A shift from speaking in generalities and merely speaking about murder weapons, for example, to speaking about actual wounds and mechanisms of killing and graphic depictions even in terms of visual elements of what took place in a murder.
From a Christian worldview perspective, one very important lesson from this is the reminder that our culture defines us and we define the culture. Our entertainment reveals a very great deal about us. What we find interesting, informative, humorous, or moving reveals a great deal about our moral disposition and our worldview. The O.J. Simpson trial was not in and of itself a major culture shift, but it is a portrait of that culture shift revealed in the viewing habits and expectations of Americans when it comes to television coverage, both in the news and in terms of depicted dramas. As this article makes clear, the O.J. Simpson trial demonstrated that over time Americans have become very bloodthirsty when it comes to both information and entertainment.
Next, shifting to the issues of assisted suicide and euthanasia, just a few days ago we discussed the fact that last week the state of Washington reported a 43% increase in assisted suicides in that state in a single year. We also discussed the fact that the mainstream media in that state largely buried the story. In the case of the Seattle Times, publishing it last week on page B7 of the Thursday edition. But now The Week is out with another report. This time datelined from Zürich in Switzerland, where we read that the Swiss Right to Die Group, known as Exit, has begun offering suicide assistance to elderly people who do not have terminal diseases. At its annual meeting this past week, Exit added what it called suicide due to old age to its list of offered services. So to be very clear, here you have a group that not only advocates, butt offers assistance for suicides. And in this case, they are now offering what they describe as services, as if this is a medical clinic offering services for healing. But now the group is offering not services for healing, but services for assisted suicide, and not just to elderly people who are defined as having terminal illnesses, but to elderly people who are merely elderly. Their so-called “suicide due to old age” is one of the most ominous developments I’ve come across in a very long time. As The Week reports, the group said it received numerous requests from elderly individuals who been “mulling suicide for years.” Religious groups in Switzerland and also medical authorities and groups of doctors have condemned the new practice. Dr. Jürg Schlup of the Swiss Medical Association said this is causing us great concern “because it cannot be ruled out that elderly healthy people could come under pressure to take their own life.”
In Switzerland, euthanasia has been illegal since 1942. We need to document that very carefully. This slide into euthanasia and assisted suicide in Switzerland is not a recent development. It goes back before the end of World War II. But even as euthanasia in Switzerland has been legal since 1942, the logic of euthanasia has now unwound itself to the point that now you have a group offering what it describes as “suicide due to old age.” And as the medical authorities in Switzerland along with religious groups are now beginning to warn, this will put elderly people in the position of having to justify why they do not commit suicide. The interesting thing to note there is, of course, that elderly people, like the rest of us, simply get older as every passing day goes by, and that means, that given the logic of assisted suicide for those who are merely elderly, the logic of assisted suicide becomes at least partly an economic argument. Why should these old people be taking up space, using up so many resources, and especially needing so many expensive medical treatments? The logical argument coming from the culture of death is that the elderly should simply get out of the way and stop costing money. The fact that elderly people will become pressured to end their lives is not hypothetical. As we well know, in many contexts and in some countries, this is already happening. Civilized societies understand that a civilization or culture is judged by how it treats not the strong, but the week. A civilization is judged by how it treats the unborn, the infirm, the mentally disabled, and the elderly, and in all of these cases, the culture of death is now suggesting that the way to deal with such persons is to offer them a away out, and perhaps not even merely to offer a way out, but to usher them towards a way out, if not outright to coerce it.
But, then again, that respect for human life is based in at least the residue of a Christian worldview, and when that Christian worldview is rejected and that residue finally passes away, so does the understanding of the sanctity and dignity of every single human life. This much becomes clear. The secular worldview, in whatever its form, wherever it is found, has been proved to be stunningly incapable of defending the most vulnerable when it comes to the sanctity of human life. Here’s further evidence from Switzerland with the ominous words “suicide due to old age” offered as a service from a group known as Exit. Prime testimony to the fact that the culture of death is on the ascent and the sanctity of human life is under sustained attack.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter 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. Remember we’re collecting questions for the upcoming season of Ask Anything: Weekend Edition. Just call with your question in your voice to 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058. I’m speaking to you from Baltimore, Maryland, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.