The Briefing 01-22-16

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Britain charges Putin with assassination crime, seeks justice by airing truth

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Children's lives unacceptably endangered in Flint, Michigan as city sought to save money

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Government promises to "out" schools seeking Title IX waivers in response to LGBT lobby

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As higher ed institutions move further left, the free exchange of ideas is threatened

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U of L Law School's diversity initiatives tend to produce monolithic, liberal results

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Transcript

The Briefing

January 22, 2016

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It’s Friday, January 22, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Britain charges Putin with assassination crime, seeks justice by airing truth

The big international news story came yesterday. It came from London and it sounds like the latest headline from a spy thriller, not necessarily from the newspapers. In this case it has to do with the fact that a London court found that Russian President Vladimir Putin likely either approved or ordered the fatal poisoning of a former KGB agent who was then a London citizen, a citizen of Great Britain and an agent of British intelligence when he was assassinated. The court’s result was announced yesterday by Britain’s Home Secretary on the floor of the House of Commons. There the Home Secretary announced that there was irrefutable evidence that Alexander Litvinenko had been assassinated back in 2006.

The report from the British court says that two men had lured Alexander Litvinenko, the former KBG agent, to the Pine Bar at the Millennium Hotel on November 1, 2006 in London, and they served him a cup of green tea laced with a massive dose of the radioactive substance polonium-210. As I said, this sounds like something right out of a spy thriller, and in one sense it is because the two men charged with assassinating Litvinenko, Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun, were members of the FSB, that is the Russian intelligence agency.

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This is a big news story by any estimation, but it grows more interesting once you take a closer look at the details. You’re looking here at something that happened almost ten years ago. You’re looking at a very lengthy investigation now that has been ratified by a British court. You’ve also had the Home Secretary of the British government make an announcement of the findings of this report on the floor of the House of Commons. This is the kind of thing that very, very rarely happens in international affairs. It’s virtually unprecedented to have the British government charge that the president of Russia actually ordered the assassination of a British citizen. The report offered the documentation that the prosecutors used in making these charges. That evidence included the fact that this radioactive element polonium-210 was found in trace elements where the two FSB agents had been, and on the plane on which they had traveled, offering a radioactive footprint indicating that they were indeed the assassins.

The other aspect of this is placing the blame directly on the president of Russia. The reason for that is rather straight forward. Litvinenko had been a prominent critic of the Putin regime, and Putin was known to have wanted him out of the way. As the report from the British court made clear, it is unlikely that the FSB, the Russian intelligence agency, couldn’t have undertaken an assassination on this scale without the direct approval of the Russian president.

In a fallen world the exercise of statecraft is often quite messy. The use of deadly force by governments is hardly a new development. It’s as old as government and as nations themselves. When you look at this particular case, the unprecedented moral nature of this is the fact that the sitting president of Russia has now been identified by the British government as the one who personally ordered the assassination of a British citizen. We are also reminded in this story of the limitations of any government to deal with an issue like this. The British government has no power to arrest the president of Russia, and the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, has simply denied the charges and his government is dismissing them wholesale.

Even if President Putin escapes all prosecution on this issue, along with the direct assassins involved in this case, it is also true that the airing of the truth itself is a very important issue of justice. It is important that a British court officially authorized the release of this report, and it is very important that the Home Secretary of the British government read from it aloud on the floor of the House of Commons. If nothing else, the world has now been presented with ample evidence of the moral nature of the Russian regime.

Children's lives unacceptably endangered in Flint, Michigan as city sought to save money

Next, here in the United States, headlines of a contamination of a very different kind, but also of utmost importance.

The city of Flint, Michigan, it is now known, changed its water system, and that change led to the fact that the citizens of that city have been receiving water contaminated with lead. The effects of lead poisoning are very well documented. One of the chief effects of lead poisoning has to do with the effect especially on the mental development of children and young persons. It is now known that the water Flint citizens have been drinking, drawn from the Flint River rather than from the municipal system of Detroit, has been for some time conveying lead into not only the water system, but the lives of the citizens of that city.

There are several people asking very critical questions. Obviously, the who, what, where, when, and why questions come immediately to mind. Who knew? How long did they know? What is the moral responsibility, and of course, what is now going to be done about it? Christians looking at this have to recognize there are a couple of dimensions here that demand our attention. One is the fact that the city of Flint, Michigan is an economically depressed city. It is a city with a very large African-American population. It is a city that is not politically powerful as, for instance, would be the very wealthy suburbs of Detroit or other areas of an American city. We are talking here about a major city near Detroit, Michigan that is disproportionately black and disproportionately poor, and now is disproportionately lead when it comes to the contamination of its water system.

There are numerous issues here that demand our attention, but one of them is this, could this possibly have happened where there would be people with wealth and people with political power who could have, first of all, demanded that the water be tested before it was switched, and then would have prevented the water from ever being used once it was documented that it was contaminated with lead?

We need to remember that there are certain things that we’ve learned to take for granted. We take them for granted, whereas virtually no previous generation of people on earth had such a luxury. One of the things most modern Americans trust is if we turn on the tap, in terms of a modern water system, we will get uncontaminated water and we can use that water. We can give that water to our children. We can bathe our children in that water without the danger of lead contamination, without the water itself turning out to be deadly.

As Christians, we most often think of justice in terms of a court of justice and a system of laws, but we do need to recognize that justice also becomes tangible in something as simple as drinking water. The contamination of this city’s drinking water is a matter of injustice that must be addressed not only by government officials there in Michigan, but with the concern of the entire nation and with the understanding that it simply isn’t acceptable for the children in a major American city to be subjected to water contaminated with lead.

We are told that the decision to switch the water system that led to the contaminated water being used in Flint was due to the fact that the government wanted to save several hundred thousand dollars by making the switch. Let’s be clear, it simply isn’t acceptable to save a few hundred thousand dollars by putting the lives of children at risk.

Government promises to "out" schools seeking Title IX waivers in response to LGBT lobby

Next, also here in the United States, as we are watching the inevitable collision between religious liberty and the LGBT agenda, Baptist News Global’s Bob Allen broke a story yesterday that Catherine Lhamon, the Education Department’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights has responded to a letter from eight United States senators by saying that the department will list the schools that have asked for waivers from the Title IX requirements having to do with LGBT and other gender issues. The department will do so in the name of greater transparency so that American citizens can know which schools have asked for the waiver.

The letter from the senators to the Department of Education was dated December 18, 2015. The senators said,

“As senators committed to advancing equality and civil rights in the lives of every American, we are writing to request that the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights immediately take steps to address the discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and gender non-conforming students by bringing greater transparency to the waiver process under Title IX of the education amendments act of 1972.”

—that is, Title IX. The senators went on to say,

“We are concerned these waivers allow for discrimination under the guise of religious freedom.”

That is an astounding statement, but it is also one that demands our immediate attention. Here you have eight members of the United States Senate publicly charging Christian schools, who intend to operate by their own Christian convictions, of operation, “under the guise of religious freedom.” The word “guise” there is extremely important. It means the appearance of, implying that the argument is not actually about religious liberty. The very sentences used by these senators indicate that they insist the issue is simply one of discrimination. Religious liberty is dismissed by using that word “guise,”

“…under the guise of religious freedom.”

We also need to recognize that in the response to the senators, the Department of Education said they agreed with the senators. Again it was the Education Department’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Catherine Lhamon, who wrote back to the senators saying,

“I appreciate your suggestion that we provide more transparency about the religious exemption request received,”

and the Office of Civil Rights’ response is,

“I agree.”

She went on to say the office of civil rights currently publishes some basic information on its website, but they’re going to add the information about the schools that have requested the exemptions.

Let’s keep in mind what’s at stake here. We discussed this thoroughly recently on The Briefing. We are talking about Christian schools that have followed the law and an explicit allowance in the law to write to the Department of Education asking for a waiver based upon their own Christian convictions when it comes to the ability to operate their institution and housing, admissions, hiring, and other aspects when it comes to LGBT issues. Here you have eight members of the United States Senate—remember there are only one hundred senators—here are eight of them writing to the Department of Education saying that the issue really isn’t one about religious liberty at all, but rather just about discrimination. It’s clear they do not approve of the waivers at all, but they’re actually demanding in this case “transparency,” to use their word, in listing the schools that have asked for and received the waivers.

The fact that this happened is not so unexpected. We’ve been watching this kind of inevitable issue arise ever since, especially, the Supreme Court’s decision back in June of 2015 legalizing same sex marriage. What’s really interesting in terms of the larger moral revolution is how the entire moral equation has now been changed. Going back twenty years ago, people were “outed” for being LGBT. That was the term that was used. It was a termed that was used by the LGBT community. When someone declared themselves to be gay or were declared to be gay, transgender, or any of the other orientations covered by the LGBT agenda, then what was said was that they were “outed,” or perhaps that they had “outed” themselves. Now, what this kind of list represents is an effort to “out” Christian institutions that will not join the moral revolution. That’s what makes it particularly interesting and informative.

Here you have the Department of Education saying to these eight Liberal senators in the United States Senate: Yes it makes sense that we offer, in the name of transparency, a list of all those schools. These are predominately Evangelical and Roman Catholic schools, we should note, who simply will not join the moral revolution, who will not bend the knee to the new moral mandates. The letter from the Department of Education was dated January 20, 2016, just this week. It tells us, we should note, of things yet to come.

As higher ed institutions move further left, the free exchange of ideas is threatened

Next, when we’re looking at how a culture is shaped, morally speaking, and in every aspect of its worldview, we have to go to where the minds are being shaped, and especially, we have to go to the American college and university campus. One of the hallmarks of that campus is its increasingly leftist perspective. This has been noted now not only by conservatives, but also many people on the Left, including some professors on the Left who are increasingly worried that there’s no opportunity for the free exchange of ideas. There will be no exchange of conservative ideas if there are no conservatives present. That is increasingly what’s found discipline-by-discipline and campus-by-campus in American higher education.

A recent report on this has come that is titled “Political Diversity in Social and Personality Psychology,” and what it tells us is we are really looking at a very disproportionately liberal academic context. Jonathan Haidt, a well-known social psychologist and one of America’s most often cited academics wrote on January 7,

“Just how much viewpoint diversity do we have in Social Psychology? In 2011,” he said, “nobody knew, so I asked thirty of my friends in the field to name a Conservative. They came up with several names, but only one suspect admitted, under gentle interrogation, to being right to center.”

He then wrote,

“A few months later I gave a talk at the annual convention of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in which I pointed out the field’s political imbalance and why this was a threat to the quality of our research. I asked,” he said, “the thousand or so people in the audience to declare their politics with a show of hands, and I estimated that roughly eighty percent self identified as Liberal or left of center. Two percent, I counted exactly twenty hands,” he said, “identified as Centrist or Moderate. One percent identified as Libertarian, and rounding to the nearest integer, zero percent identified as Conservative or right of center. That gives us a Left Right ratio,” he says, “of two hundred and sixty-six to one.”

Haidt went on to cite academic research undertaken by Yoel Inbar and Joris Lammers. This was conducted through a major scientific study, and their summary of what they found is offered by Haigt when he describes the self descriptions of political identity among social psychologists as being liberal to conservative, Left to Right, thirty-six to one. In terms of presidential voting, voting for either the Democrat or the Republican candidate, it was seventy-six to one. In terms of views on selected political issues, it was three hundred and fourteen to one, showing an even more disproportionate liberal imbalance.

Haigt then gives us some very important information when he writes,

“The ratio of Democrats to Republicans and liberals to conservative was roughly three to one for most of the twentieth century,” writing about the American academic context, “but it skyrockets,” he writes, “beginning in the 1990s as The Greatest Generation retires and Baby Boomers take over. Most people,” he writes, “know that professors in America and in most countries generally vote for Left leaning parties and policies, but few people realize,” he said, “just how fast things have changed since the 1990s. An academic field,” he writes, “that leans Left or Right can still function as long as ideological claims or politically motivated research is sure to be challenged.”

Then he warns,

“When a field goes from leaning Left to being entirely on the Left, the normal safeguards of peer review and institutionalized dis-confirmation break down. Research on politically controversial topics becomes unreliable,” he writes, “because politically favored conclusions receive less than normal scrutiny while politically incorrect findings must scale mountains of motivated and hostile reasoning from reviewer and editors.”

Rarely do you see that kind of documented research and candor coming from the academic Left. It’s just important that we recognize the reality that the American system of higher education has not only been trending Left, as Haigt points out—that was true for the twentieth century—it is growing on many campuses exclusively left.

“A trajectory,” he points out, “that is increased dramatically in velocity since the 1990s.”

Responding to this reality, Megan Mcardle recently wrote at Bloomberg Business Week, “The leftward skew disconnects academia from the society that it is supposed to serve. The bitter culture war,” she writes, “we’ve been living through and the increasingly nasty partisanship are the signs of a society whose factions no longer know how to talk to one another.”

U of L Law School's diversity initiatives tend to produce monolithic, liberal results

But finally, on this same note, a strange confirmation from right here in Louisville, Kentucky, where this week the Louisville Courier-Journal wrote,

“After a fierce and sometimes emotional debate, the faculty of the University of Louisville’s Brandeis School of Law on Tuesday voted twenty-six to two to, ‘Champion the cause of compassion.’”

As reporter Andrew Wolfson made clear in pointed columns published in the paper or at his website, two conservative professors complained that the law school was forcing its progressive views on students and should resist what one called,

“The feel-good lure of these ideological brands.”

As those professors argued very energetically, labeling the law school as a so-called compassionate school is actually making a worldview declaration. It’s making a political branding.

As Professor Russel L. Weaver had written at the Courier-Journal,

“Virtually everyone recognizes the importance of diversity in modern society and the need to prepare students to work in an increasingly diverse society. However, in order for diversity to achieve its intended function, it needs to be implemented in an intelligent and meaningful manner. At many universities,” he writes, “particularly at the University of Louisville that is not happening. A couple of years ago,” he writes, “the acting dean of the law school ordered all law faculty and staff to attend diversity training sponsored by the Vice President for Diversity.”

The professor goes on to write,

“At that training, we were first asked to identify our religious preferences. Would everyone who’s Catholic please stand up? Would everyone who is Jewish please stand up? Would everyone who is agnostic please stand up? Would everyone who is atheist please stand up? We were then asked to identify our sexual orientation. Would everyone who is gay please stand up? Would everyone who is lesbian please stand up? We were then asked to stand if we were disabled. The session,” he says, “was conducted like Chinese mind control training. Before the first group was asked to stand up,” he tells us, “we were instructed that we were expected to clap for each group and we were told that polite clapping was simply insufficient.”

He went on through his entire list of all the lifestyles and identities that were supposed to be applauded, and then he said,

“Group-speak was the agenda of the day. Individuality and, indeed, diversity of thought were adamantly discouraged.”

In another article, Professor Weaver wrote,

“I agree with the idea that compassion is a worthwhile and understandable objective. Indeed,” he says, “it is an essential part of life. If the movement towards a compassionate organization were nothing more than that, who could object? However,” he writes, “to suggest that the law school has not adopted a partisan social agenda and that it has not labelled non-Liberals outsiders, is at the very least wrong and misleading.”

As we’re thinking about American higher education, we have to understand that this is increasingly the direction taken by many schools, in this case, it’s the Brandeis School of Law of the University of Louisville. Remember the vote that was taken by the faculty came out twenty-six to two. We know who the two conservatives were because both of them had written articles critical of the proposal to the local newspaper, the Courier-Journal.

We are not just looking now at movement in a generalized liberal or more secular direction. We’re looking at the fact that there is just one worldview that is increasingly acceptable on the American college and university campus. Ideological diversity and that free exchange of ideas that had been the hallmark of higher education, it’s giving way to the kind of partisan branding, the kind of ideological conformity that is actually being signaled by this step undertaken by the University of Louisville.

We look at several of these news stories today and we recognize there is a general issue of concern to us here, and something we ought to note. That is, that not only is there pressure on Christian institutions that intend to be Christian, there is also the virtual elimination of anyone who would hold to an historical Christian understanding of morality or to the totality of the Christian worldview on America’s college and university campuses. These colleges and universities are doing their very best to move to the Left faster than their neighbors so that they can have bragging rights about just how well-branded they are toward the ideological Left.

America’s Christian parents often have a rather generalized sense of concern about the worldview their offspring will be likely to confront on the American college and university campus. As this research and as these news stories make clear, it’s not just a general direction. It’s a very specific march to the Left. The largest point is also that what’s happening on these campuses points to the eventual direction of the culture. That, more than anything else, should be our long term concern.

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing