August 3, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, August 3, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Pending SB 1146 would mean the end of comprehensive Christian education in California
There are many religious liberty issues that are looming on the horizon, but none more urgent anywhere in the United States than what’s going on even today in a California legislative committee. And that has to do with what is known is Senate Bill 1146. Now just before we went into the summer season, it was clear that Senate Bill 1146 in California was an explosive issue. Sometimes these issues dissipate over time; it becomes more clear that they do not represent such a clear and present danger. The opposite is the case with this particular bill, and that’s why it demands so much attention today and attention of such urgency.Show Full Transcript
Senate Bill 1146, it is no exaggeration, would basically put an end to the entire project of Christian higher education in the nation’s most populous state. What we’re looking at here is an LGBT rights bill, as it is designated, and it originated in the California Senate in an effort, it was claimed, to try to aid students of LGBT orientation who may be studying in Christian universities. Now one of the big issues here is the logic behind this legislation. Those who were pushing it are arguing that there are LGBT students who are being unfairly discriminated against in California’s Christian colleges and universities and, in particular, they are claiming that there are some who come to their own LGBT identity during the time they are in college, effectively then suffering discrimination they did not sign up for when they accepted admission to the college or university.
We’re looking here at a complete moral meltdown. We’re looking at an absolute worldview collision, and we’re looking at it taking place in the legislature of the state of California right now. As I said, even as we speak, today there is a Senate committee that is to be once again revisiting this bill with a view to bringing it before the entire General Assembly before the end of the summer.
Now one of the very interesting things we should do in looking at this kind of issue is find out what the other side is saying. One example of this is a Religion Dispatches release that came out just the 1st of August–that is, this past Monday. The article is written by Stephanie Russell-Kraft and in it she basically champions the bill. She writes this:
“Religious universities are currently exempt from certain anti-discrimination provisions in California’s Equity in Higher Education Act, and they may request exemption from similar Title IX provisions that bar discrimination against LGBT students and staff.”
She goes on to write,
“Since 2013, there has been a massive uptick in the number of schools across the country requesting and receiving Title IX exemptions.”
Now just to pause here for a moment, the Title IX exemptions are a part of the original Title IX legislation. That was the legislation adopted by Congress decades ago that put an end to gender discrimination in terms of higher education. It started out with sports, but also in other programs as well. Now any institution receiving federal funds, and in particular Title IV funds, finds itself completely under Title IX, unless it requests this exemption. The exemption is granted to religious institutions that make very clear that their decisions and convictions on issues related to sexual morality, sexual orientation, and gender identity have to do with deeply rooted religious beliefs, and they also have to certify that the school is under the control of a religious denomination that requires those beliefs. But we also see here in this article from Religion Dispatches the argument that there has been a significant uptick in the number of institutions requesting these exemptions since 2013. Now wait just a minute, that is exactly what we would expect to find as Christian colleges and universities are confronting the moral revolution, the sexual revolution, and all that came with it, including the Obergefell decision legalizing same-sex marriage.
But we also look to this Religion Dispatches article to find out what the other side thinks about this legislation, and whether or not it’s a good idea, and whether or not conservative Christians have misunderstood or perhaps exaggerated the threat that is posed by this legislation. The author of this article, Stephanie Russell-Kraft, is absolutely convinced that conservative Christians are crying wolf. She cites the LGBT advocacy group The Human Rights Campaign and says that, according to that group, LGBT students at religious universities are,
“…enrolled at schools that are granted the legal right to discriminate against them partway through their degree program.”
But then she says,
“The bill has undergone several rounds of substantial revisions. To some degree that’s made it difficult to pin down exactly what effect it might have.”
Well, there’s an alarm bell, by the way. But she goes on to write,
“But it’s also been hard to get a clear picture because the opposition’s rhetoric has consisted of broad reactionary strokes and doomsday predictions.”
So here you see the writer suggesting that conservative Christians, and in particular those leading conservative Christian colleges and universities, are crying wolf, effectively exaggerating the threat. She then cites Molly Scheer writing in The Federalist who said,
“The bill would essentially outlaw religious schools. It would make it ‘impossible for private schools to operate under any faith-based principles,’ said ‘critics’ identified in The Daily Signal.”
Chelsen Vicari, who serves as the Evangelical Program Director at the Institute on Religion & Democracy in Washington, D.C., was quoted in the Christian Science Monitor and is then quoted in this Religion Dispatches article as stating that,
“SB 1146 would amount to the state ‘punishing’ a private, Christian college ‘for simply having behavioral expectations for their students and staff, and in accordance with their faith-based teachings.’”
Now remember that these conservative authorities are being cited as obvious examples of exaggeration. In this article, the author Stephanie Russell-Kraft also credits the original sponsor of the legislation, Senator Ricardo Lara, as listening to criticism coming from Christian colleges and universities and making some adjustments, revisions to the bill. She then wrote,
“These changes are meant to accommodate the moral and religious beliefs of the universities so long as they don’t infringe on the rights of LGBT students.”
This is where we have to pause for just a moment. What in the world does it mean to say that these changes are meant merely to accommodate the moral and religious beliefs of the universities, but “so long as they don’t infringe on the rights of LGBT students”?
The legislation, as it now stands, would make it virtually impossible for a Christian college or university to teach in all of its relevant departments in accordance with its Christian conviction or to hold faculty or staff or students to behavioral expectations that are deeply grounded in the Christian tradition and in biblical authority. But now you see that the statement is being made, that the sponsor of the legislation has been willing to accommodate moral and religious beliefs of Christian colleges and universities, again, I cite the article, “so long as they don’t infringe on the rights of LGBT students.”
That means an absolute normalization of LGBT behaviors and relationships, and it means an end, a complete destruction, of Christian higher education in California. So what we’re seeing here is an article that says that conservatives have been exaggerating the problem and then, in order to make her case, this very author actually gets to the bottom line very quickly, demonstrating that conservatives are not crying wolf. They are actually facing a real and present danger, not only to their religious liberty, but to ours as well.
In this article Stephanie Russell-Kraft continues writing,
“But, the universities have essentially argued, what if one of their core religious beliefs is that gender identity is inseparable from biological sex at birth?”
She then summarizes,
“One gets the sense that no version would ever pass muster on the religious right.”
That is an absolutely stunning statement. It’s a statement that reveals the fact that this writer has absolutely no understanding or sympathy with orthodox Christians, with those who hold to the beliefs of the Christian church based in Scripture for over 2000 years. They are simply dismissed as principles and beliefs of the so-called religious right.
When she writes, and I quote again, “one gets the sense that no version would ever pass muster on the religious right,” she is basically saying that, shocking as it seems, orthodox Christians seem to be unwilling to abandon and to contradict their orthodox beliefs.
We also need to look at another article that arrived this week, this time in a news piece from NBC Los Angeles by Dano Nissen. And in this article, NBC tells us,
“According to the official synopsis during the assembly committee on judiciary hearing, ‘The bill specifies that existing Government Code Section 11135 – which prohibits discrimination in any state-operated or state-funded program or activity – applies to any religious college or university that receives or benefits from state assistance,’ and ‘(The Bill) requires a college or university that claims a religious exemption from Title IX laws and regulations to make specified disclosures to students, faculty, and staff, and,” listen to these words very carefully, “specifies that religious colleges and universities are subject to state anti-discrimination laws, as specified.”
Once again, the language we’re looking at spells the end of any authentic Christian higher education. A statement released by Biola University said that,
“If passed, this bill would substantially interfere with the ability of California’s faith-based colleges and universities to conduct themselves in a manner consistent with their beliefs.”
Concordia University President Kurt Krueger also released a statement indicating that his main opposition to the bill was seen in the fact that it could require the University to hire faculty and staff that do not hold to Christian beliefs. He also indicated that students at Concordia University Irvine and other faith-based institutions could then lose their Cal Grants–that is, financial aid to students from the government for California universities.
The biggest issue here has to do with the fact that this would mean the end to any comprehensive Christian worldview education. The reason for that is the fact that the legislation identifies exemptions specifically and exclusively for colleges and universities and seminaries for the training of ministers directly. Those programs that would be found within a Christian college for the training of clergy would be covered by the exemption now recognized federally by Title IX. But that would not be the case for any other area of the curriculum or for the training of any other kind of professional or degree recipient. That means that, just to take one example, history could no longer be taught entirely from a Christian perspective, from a Christian worldview understanding. Furthermore, the legislation would likely make it impossible to hire only those who are confessing, believing Christians to teach in those areas and might also make it impossible for a Christian college or university to enforce its own moral understandings when hiring those who will teach in faculties outside the direct training of ministers.
The legislation would also make it possible for students and alumni to sue colleges and universities that are faith-based in order to claim that they were discriminated against by the religious beliefs of the college or university. As one college president in California pointed out, that would mean that a student could effectively sue against any chapel attendance requirement or even sue if there was a claim of injury from something that was said in a chapel service.
Now this kind of legislation would’ve been absolutely unthinkable in America until just about right now. What we’re looking at is the intersection of opportunity and urgency when it comes to those who are pressing the LGBT agenda and the larger sexual revolution. Armed with the Obergefell decision at the U.S. Supreme Court and by what they understand as history on their side, they have now decided to take no prisoners when it comes to the universities and colleges in California that claim a direct and clear Christian identity.
Dr. John MacArthur, President of the Masters University, released a statement on Senate Bill 1146 in which he cited as his example Martin Luther. He wrote,
“So, the question remains, how will we respond? Will we doubt God’s sovereignty and disobey his commands by compromising in order to make life comfortable? Or will we, like Martin Luther who faced a similar choice, stand firm and say, ‘Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason. . . I am bound by the Scriptures . . . and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything since it is neither safe nor right to go against my conscience.’”
Dr. MacArthur then wrote,
“There is no question. We will not bow.”
This is indeed a question of deep Christian conviction; it’s also a question of basic liberties, in particular religious liberty. It is now abundantly clear that Senate Bill 1146 represents an existential threat to Christian higher education, starting in California but certainly not stopping there.
Schools that refuse federal aid or request Title IX exemption blacklisted by secular left
But next, we actually need to look at these issues on a federal level and at a very ominous article that appeared in recent days in The Atlantic. It was by Ibby Caputo and Jon Marcus entitled,
“The Controversial Reason Some Religious Colleges Forgo Federal Funding.”
Now keep in mind that Senate Bill 1146 in the first place has to do with those California Christian institutions that in any way participate in state funding, in particular, what are known as Cal Grants. But the larger principle is now very much in evidence, and that is the fact that there is going to be an attempt to sever all federal and state educational funding from institutions that are determined to stand in historic Christian conviction. But there have been some institutions that from the very beginning, or at least for many years now, have refused all federal or state funding. The institution I serve is one of those. But the article that appeared in The Atlantic suggests that the reason some religious colleges forgo federal funding is indeed ominous and dark. That controversial reason cited in the title is the determination of these schools to operate by Christian conviction.
The authors begin by looking to Hillsdale College in Michigan, saying that students there are not allowed to “take any of that government aid, which comes with strings attached—among other things, requiring that institutions follow federal regulations governing how to respond to sexual assault and banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.”
Now when we look at this article, one of the first things we need to recognize is a problem with the chronology. Later in the article it is acknowledged that Hillsdale College, Grove City College, and a number of other institutions have historically refused federal aid. The issues described here in terms of federal regulations on sexual assault and banning discrimination based on sexual orientation–those are newly added to the mix. They are certainly not the historic rationale for why Hillsdale College, or Grove City College for that matter, not to mention The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and our sister institutions, have refused all federal aid. It is more deeply rooted in a basic principle of religious liberty and in a basic understanding that where tax dollars go, government control soon follows.
David Whalen, cited in the article, the Provost at Hillsdale College, said that it’s “a matter of principle” in terms of his college’s refusal to participate in federal financial aid programs, especially those that fall under what is known as Title IX. That’s the vast majority of federal funding in terms of student loans and scholarships and grants. He said,
“The regulatory and bureaucratic intrusion that Title IV brings with it gets deeper and deeper with every passing year.
“As everyone knows, where there is money there is control.”
But the interesting thing about this article, especially in terms of its headline, is the accusation that these colleges have foregone federal aid, or for that matter in most situations state aid as well, simply to avoid the federal regulations in terms of reporting on sexual assault and banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. But that’s not true. It is true that some of those issues have certainly raised the stakes, but as this article later makes itself quite clear, this is an historic principle upon which these institutions have stood for some time, long before those issues were even on the horizon. But it’s really interesting to see that what this now poses is a situation in which we should find suspect–that’s the clear implication of this article–any institution that forgoes federal funding, because after all they’re also trying to forgo federal control. But that of course is the very point, and one that institutions should not be shy about embracing and advertising.
This article also points an accusatory finger at the 38-plus institutions that have requested and, for the most part, received exemptions from Title IX based upon their Christian convictions and the control of the institution by a church or denomination. That, also clearly insinuated here, is merely an effort to try to get around the federal control in terms of the antidiscrimination legislation. They write,
“A growing number have been granted, or are seeking, exemptions from the U.S. Department of Education from provisions under Title IX of the laws governing higher education, which protects students from discrimination in housing, athletics, and access to facilities on the basis of such things as gender, sexual orientation, sex or pregnancy outside marriage, or having an abortion.”
Now read that backwards. What this clearly means is that the reader should find suspect any institution that would take any disciplinary action for example against a student who had sex or pregnancy outside marriage and on other issues. It’s abundantly clear in saying that the Title IX laws prohibit discrimination in housing and access to facilities on the basis of “such things as gender.” When the phrase “such things as gender” is used in this sense, it should serve as a significant warning of what we’re facing here.
The presence of this article in a journal as influential as The Atlantic, the article running under the headline in such conspiratorial tones, and the argument found within the article, all these point to the fact that the expectation is that people will recoil in horror that institutions would dare to request what is legally available in terms of this exemption on the basis of religious conviction and, furthermore, that they might actually try to operate on the basis of that conviction. The landscape being reshaped all around us by the moral revolution now indicates in at least part of its terrain the fact that religious liberty is absolutely in danger in terms of Christian institutions that would operate as Christian, on the basis of Christian authority, under the control a Christian church or denomination, standing on the Christian beliefs held by the church for over 2000 years. The fact that within the hundreds and hundreds of higher education institutions in America there would be a handful of holdouts against the moral revolution is untenable, unthinkable, and unacceptable to the secular left. And we now see exactly what their agenda looks like. The schools that are standing against the tide, identified here as 38 schools, are now to be effectively outed by the secular left and held up for scandal.
As the article in The Atlantic says,
“Thirty-eight religiously affiliated institutions have received exemptions from Title IX, according to a list released by the Education Department under pressure from Democrats in Congress after the gay-rights organization the Human Rights Campaign used public-records laws to help expose the practice.”
Several lawmakers have joined in the chorus, including Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington, who has also demanded that the list of colleges be made public. That’s a first step towards an even more dramatic action. And that’s not an idle threat, it’s clearly implicated in terms of the events we’ve just discussed. So here we have the background of public pressure from the left to out the 38 institutions identified here who had asked for and received Title IX exemptions.
Pepperdine University "repents" of its Title IX exemption to escape LGBT fury
But next comes a very interesting headline in that regard. It appeared last week in the Chronicle of Higher Education,
“A University Makes a Rare Call to Ditch Its Title IX Exemption.”
Gabriel Sandoval, writing for The Chronicle of Higher Education, says,
“Earlier this year Pepperdine University’s president quietly sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The subject line was nearly identical to that of a letter that a previous president had sent, in 1976: ‘Pepperdine University’s Title IX Exemption.’”
But as Sandoval says, the two letters had opposite goals. In 1976, Pepperdine requested the exemption from Title IX. Now four decades later, the university is quietly forfeiting that very exemption. The letter from Pepperdine’s president said,
“Please accept this letter as Pepperdine University’s withdrawal of its 1976 request for an exemption from certain provisions of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.”
Pepperdine is affiliated with the Churches of Christ, but it’s not under the direct control of the denomination. One of the most interesting things in terms of this article that appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education is the recounting of the argument made in 1976 by this very university in requesting the exemption. It mentioned two grounds: the first was the historic understanding of the Christian church concerning gender roles, in particular for ministers; but the second had to do with the university’s determination in 1976 to operate by a Christian biblical standard of sexual morality. On that point, Pepperdine’s president in 1976, William S. Banowsky, made the argument that the university claimed the right to take disciplinary action against people having either heterosexual or homosexual relationships “outside the holy union of wedlock.”
Well, evidently that was then and this is now. Very quietly, Pepperdine has effectively retreated from that argument by withdrawing its request for the exemption. Commenting in The Chronicle of Higher Education, one LGBT activists said,
“Sounds like they don’t want to be associated with these other anti-LGBT campuses any longer? Maybe,” he said, “Pepperdine wants to be on the right side of history.”
So in the absolute maelstrom of these urgent issues, John MacArthur argues that with Martin Luther we have to be absolutely determined to stand on biblical conviction and biblical authority. Meanwhile, we are also warned that that just might mean standing on the wrong side of history. Convictional Christians have heard that argument before. We’re soon going to know where everyone stands.