The Briefing 09-22-14

The Briefing 09-22-14

The Briefing


September 22, 2014

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


It’s Monday, September 22, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Scotland remains part of United Kingdom but exposes global fragilities of nation-state

The world was watching this past weekend to see if the United Kingdom would remain united. And in one sense, it clearly will – in other senses, that remains to be seen. The vote was 55 to 45% as voters in Scotland voted on a referendum about whether or not to become an independent nation, ending almost 4 centuries of union in what became known as the United Kingdom – the United Kingdom that includes England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. The vote of 55 to 45 came as a relief to Westminster politicians; that is to the British Parliament and to the government headed by Prime Minister David Cameron. It also came as a relief to world financial markets and to many people around the world who wondered if the vote in Scotland, if it had gone the other way, would’ve led to a fracturing, not only of United Kingdom but of other nations as well. But what we also saw in Scotland was a move that was brought about by concessions made by the politicians from all three major parties in England. The leaders of all three of Britain’s major political parties went to Scotland to try to convince the nation, as it is known, to remain in the United Kingdom. And evidently the argument won. It might have won anyway, polls are very difficult as predictors of many elections, and this one was particularly difficult to predict; but in the days prior to the vote there seemed to be a surge for the yes vote, that is for declaring independence from the United Kingdom. In order to gain traction with the Scottish voters, the three political party leaders went promising home rule, increased – what is known as – devolution, with power to be shifted from Parliament in London to the local assembly there in Edinburgh. Whether that happens or not remains to be seen, and whether it happens or not, probably has a great deal to do with whether or not this vote that took place on Thursday, and was made clear over the weekend, will be the last word for this generation; or whether it might be actually a prelude to an actual secession yet to come. All that remains to be seen.

A couple of interesting things, I think, from a Christian worldview perspective that ought to be noticed here. First of all, the importance of the nation-state in the modern world – we’re looking at a fact that the nation-state, we come again to recognize, is an achievement – it doesn’t simply happen. It requires a tremendous amount of political will; will not only on the part of the whole, but of the parts. And that is what was very much in question when it comes to Scotland, and it’s still in question. And that’s why the entire experiment, now almost 4 centuries old of the United Kingdom, is not a settled assured fact. That experiment is still very much in danger. And then we look elsewhere around the world and we notice that the idea of the nation-state is sometimes artificial. In the Bible, as we have seen even recently in the table of the nations in Genesis 11, it speaks of tribes and clans and families and nations; but those are ethnicities not modern nation-states. And many modern nation-states are made up of multiple ethnicities that don’t really have any commonality. That’s very much the situation that brings about the crisis in modern Iraq; that’s very much the crisis that brings about, well, what you just saw in terms of the referendum in Scotland. And it won’t end there.

The weekend edition of USA Today includes a headline article by Alan Gomez entitled, “Others Want Out: Look to Scotland.” As he says, there are seccession movements worldwide that now have a blueprint to follow. Even if the secession movement in Scotland failed (at least for now), there are many others trying to capitalize on the very idea. One of those regions is Catalonia, currently inside Spain. Catalonia has considered itself a separate nation for a matter of generations and centuries now, and this has been a major hotspot in terms of Spanish politics. But the Catalonian Parliament has declared it will be holding a referendum on November 9. There is a key distinction here, the Westminster politicians – that is the government there in London – approved the referendum in Scotland, but the Madrid government is not going to even consider approving this kind of referendum in Catalonia. But there is another distinction; you can almost count on this one going the wrong way if you’re looking for the continuation of the nation-state. The Catalonians are just itching for an opportunity to declare their independence. But it’s not just in Spain and Catalonia that we see this. As Gomez makes clear, and I quote,

“From a faction in northern Italy that wants to break off into its own country to the Faroe Islands, a 540-square mile archipelago that wants to be free of Denmark, there was plenty of sadness around the globe following the vote in Scotland. But that collective disappointment leads to one final lesson: The domino effect seen throughout the 2010-12 Arab Spring and other recent revolutionary uprisings does not necessarily translate to secessionist movements, successful or unsuccessful”

It’s a very interesting point; we’ll have to wait and see. But there is another interesting point in all this that I think many have missed: this was the first time, that is that vote that took place on Thursday in Scotland, was the first time that in the United Kingdom that some 16 and 17-year-olds got to vote. They’re not able to drink, they’re not able to do many other things, they’re not considered even legally able to stand on their own or represent themselves in court, but they could go into the polling place and vote. This came after the Scottish Parliament gave 16 and 17-year-olds the vote mostly in a hope that that would add momentum to the secession movement. And that’s the point of my consideration today. Why would those pushing for secession, for independence from the United Kingdom, believe that 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds would greatly aid their cause? Would vote disproportionately for succession? Well it is because of this: those who are behind giving teenagers the vote had the very clear and probably correct idea that it would be easier to fire up teenagers with the kind of vision for independence than it would to perhaps reach their parents – who after all have to consider the larger economic consequences. But that’s the point.

From a Christian worldview perspective, one of the things to note about democracy is that the vote simply is one for one – one individual, one-vote; that vote is not weighted. And that points to the fact that one of the fragilities of democracy is the fact that many people can vote who actually don’t have much of a stake. Now those who are behind giving the franchise to teenagers there in Scotland said, well they do have a stake because this is about their future. Well that’s true, but they really don’t have much accountability when it comes to making a decision in light of having to feed a family or send someone to college, like themselves, or to start a business or to sustain it. The economic consequences are almost assuredly what kept older Scottish voters, voting overwhelmingly now, to remain in United Kingdom. But the plan behind the extension of the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds in Scotland points to the fact that sometimes people are just looking for votes they can influence, votes that don’t have to be tied to larger economic and social realities. In creating a constitutional republic, the founders of the American experiment did their very best to accentuate the advantages of a system of democratic government while minimizing the dangers. What you see taking place in United Kingdom is a signal that that’s not always an easy balance to strike – whether or not you grant the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds.

Next, you may have noticed that the vote in Scotland gained the attention of at least some people here in the United States – not about so much what might happen to the United Kingdom, but to the United States. You can almost expect that reporters and newspaper editors, television correspondents, and all the rest would go out asking people in states like, oh I don’t know, Texas if they thought their state would be better off separated from the United States of America. That’s always a very popular question to ask Texans, and not only that, now Californians, Alaskans, and any number of others, because as we think about our own local experience, it’s more difficult to extend that kind of loyalty and identity to the corporate whole. That is what has set the United States apart, at least over the last hundred years or so. The United States has been held together by a very strong national sense of narrative, a very strong national sense of identity. People have identified themselves as Americans who happen to live in Alabama or Alaska or New York or Texas, but when you see issues like this come to the floor, we all of a sudden recognize that in our actual lived lives, well we live those lives locally, not nationally – far less even globally.

Much of the tension that was behind the vote that was just taken in Scotland has to do with the fact that the people in Scotland began to believe that politicians in London, seemingly far, far away, really were either incompetent or unwilling to govern in the way that best suited their needs. Now, in the United States we have a system of federalism in place, understood as recognized within our constitutional order. Federalism means that there are many rights that are attributed to the states, rather than understood as being under the power of the federal government. But over the course of the last 200 years there has been a massive shift from the states to the federal government. One recent indication of that, by the way, is well, to just utter the words “common core.” And when you look at that, you recognize that many people in this country, though hardly anywhere near wanting to take the kind of vote that took place in Scotland, do raise the question, ‘Am I really well served by politicians making decisions that affect me locally when they’re making those decisions in Washington DC?’

The devolution of power that was promised by those politicians to the voters in Scotland is something that many Americans have as a concern as well. And as I’ve mentioned time and time again on The Briefing, there’s a basic theological principle behind this and it’s known as subsidiarity – that basic theological principle rooted in the doctrine of creation says that issues are best addressed in the smallest possible social unit. That’s why you don’t have the creation of a global society in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, but the creation of man and woman made in the image of God and the creation of marriage and the family; it starts small, every healthy move in society starts small. But the further you get from that smallest unit, when those smaller units are either broken, as in so many cases by divorce with the families now marginalized and the family’s been so weakened by various social and economic forces – indeed moral trends – that the family is longer functioning as it should. At that point, the government then steps in; the government is a far larger collective and is not only the local government in the county or the city, it’s the state government, eventually the federal government. And then you have massive social programs, massive policies and laws established at the national level there in Washington, DC that are expected now to address the brokenness in an individual family or in an individual unit somewhere in the United States embedded within a local society or local culture, or a local community. There you see the problem, subsidiarity reminds us that it’s built into creation itself by God’s intention that things have to be made right at the local unit, at the smallest unit, at the family unit, if they’re going to be right anywhere else ultimately.

2) Ineffectiveness of world combating Ebola reveals crucial importance of local authorities

Now keep that in mind when there have been a flurry of very frightening headlines on the issue of the Ebola outbreak, because as we’ve seen this outbreak is not only not being stopped in its tracks, it threatens now to expand and to expand radically. The current analysis indicates that there may be as many as 277,000 more people who will contract Ebola by the end of this year in West Africa and beyond. Now remember we started out talking about dozens of cases, then hundreds of cases, then thousands of cases. The total number of those infected by the Ebola virus doubled in the last month, and as it is now breaking out elsewhere, and not only that where there is the threat of it mutating in terms of the viral form, the analysis is that there could be almost 300,000 people in addition to those already infected who may then be affected by the end of the year. And remember we’re just talking about now a matter of just a few months. We’re also talking about a disease that has a mortality rate of at least 55% and in some variance as high as 90%, we’re talking about something that should indeed scare us. If anything on earth should scare us, it should be an outbreak of a runaway virus with this kind of mortality. And as many health experts have been pointing out, it is simply not rational to suggest that it can be limited in terms of its spread to Africa. It will affect all of us eventually if the outbreak is not stopped.

The editors of the Wall Street Journal over the weekend wrote an editorial entitled “Hot Zones Without Borders” just pointing out the fact again that this is the kind of epidemic that begins with scattered representations in places like West Africa and then all of a sudden reaches the point of a breakout that is very, very difficult to stop and can be stopped only after thousands, perhaps even now hundreds of thousands, of deaths. But I told you to remember that issue of subsidiarity because that principal factors into the story as well. The New York Times on Friday reported that Ebola presents a challenge and an opportunity for the leader of the United Nations. If you’re worried about this breakout, well this article tells us that perhaps you don’t have to worry because the United Nations is running to the rescue. The article by Somini Sengupta quotes Richard Gowan , an associate director of New York University Center on international cooperation, who said,

“In some ways, Ebola is the perfect crisis to show why the U.N. matters: Solving it will take the whole range of U.N. tools, including [says the article] its tens of thousands of peacekeepers and experts on global health.”

He went on to say Ban Ki-moon, that is the general secretary of the United Nations:

“…can talk about it as a case-study of why we need a strong U.N. and reliable global institutions, in contrast to a divisive political showdown like Ukraine.”

Well, if only.

Of course if the United Nations were to be effective in dealing with this kind of situation, it will be dealing with it already, not simply at this point. What this actually points to is the dramatic, unquestionable ineffectiveness of the United Nations in dealing with any major crisis. Just ask yourself; since the existence of United Nations has it resolved any major issue? Has it dealt effectively with any major crisis? The truth is that the more critical the crisis is, the less effective the United Nations becomes. The more urgent the need, the less effective the United Nations reveals itself to be – even the New York Times responding to a statement by the professor said,

“All the same, the crisis points precisely to the weaknesses of the world body. The United Nations has already come under withering criticism for not reacting more swiftly to the epidemic.”

Well, that’s exactly the point. And here again, it is the United Nations, representing perhaps the most radical extension of the rejection of subsidiarity, that points to why it’s so ineffectual. Now let me be clear, we have to be absolutely hopeful that the United Nations, and any other body for that matter, will be effective in saving lives and stopping this epidemic; we have to hope that. The problem is we really can’t have much confidence in it. The confidence isn’t what takes place locally, and that takes me back to the editorial that appeared in the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal. The editors of the Wall Street Journal point out that the outbreak of Ebola in the several different selected places could have been stopped in its tracks if there had been local public health, local government, in place to deal with it locally with competence. But as they said, it was neither recognized for what it was, it was thought to be another disease since Ebola had not been in that part of Africa before, and they thought they had actually stopped it at one point only to find that it was anything but.

Finally, both the New York Times and the Washington Post have run articles about the challenge that the Ebola outbreak presents to the World Health Organization. And once again, the problem is the title ‘world’. We should be hopeful that the World Health Organization can find some way to be effective in this fight, but the more this is transferred from those who can deal with it locally to those who can mostly think and talk about it globally, the less actually takes place. That’s why I’m thankful for the action taken last week by President Obama on this when he spoke at the Centers for Disease Control because as the President made clear, we can’t wait on the W.H.O (that’s the World Health Organization), we can’t wait on United Nations. And as the United States has the ability to respond to this, it needs to respond to it as a friend to the world, as a friend to these nations, as a way of dealing with this as a nation. We’ll wait and see what United Nations does. But that’s really the point, most of the time we wait rather than see.

So these stories taken together should lead us to step back a moment as Christians and think about the fact that God has created an order that reflects a structure and a meaning that he has revealed in Scripture. And what the Scripture tells us is that we have to give attention to developing what the Scripture tells us will lead to human flourishing, and that means respecting marriage; that means respecting the family, building up marriage in the family, not stripping them of their authority, not trying to invade them with a regime of experts, not trying to suggest that marriage doesn’t matter or can mean anything other than union of a man and a woman, and not undermining the family by means of all kinds of social policies and for that matter even economic impacts that weaken the family unit. And then we need to recognize that in family comes community, as a community is made up of the families within it. And where there is brokenness, for instance in a family structure in that local community, the community can respond to it and can respond to it on the basis of the knowledge of the individuals involved, and a real sympathy for those who were involved. The further you get from the knowledge, the direct knowledge of that local community not only do the policies become more abstract, they become more dangerous. They often have the unintended consequence of doing the opposite of what is intended. For instance, many of our national policies actually subsidize the very wrong moral behavior that leads to the break of the family; the children being born out of wedlock, and any number of other things that make human flourishing almost impossible. It’s easy for us to look at the events that took place this past week in Scotland, or to think about the real challenge of Ebola and think, ‘well those are simply secular matters taking place and responded to by secular governments and secular agencies,’ but Christians understand the news is never merely secular. Embedded within the headlines in the cultural controversies all around us, embedded in the economic reports and just about everything else, are issues of great biblical and worldview significance. It’s up to Christians to see what’s behind the headlines, and to understand that in every one of these stories, in every one of these controversies, in every one of these issues pressing upon us, one of the most basic questions is whether or not we will receive what God gave us in creation as a good gift and respect it and do our very best to honor it. If we ever failed to do that, we harm the very chance of human flourishing we claim to be our purpose. And as the Bible reminds us, when it comes to matters of public policy, intention isn’t enough, it’s not enough to intend to do well – we must be very certain that what we do leads to good.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at you can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For information on Boyce College just go to I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.


Podcast Transcript

1) Scotland remains part of United Kingdom but exposes global fragilities of nation-state

Secessionist movements learn lessons from Scotland vote, USA Today (Alan Gomez)

For Scotland’s 16-Year-Olds, The First Vote Will Be On Independence, NPR (Ari Shapiro)

2) Ineffectiveness of world combating Ebola reveals crucial importance of local authorities

Hot Zones Without Borders, Wall Street Journal (Editorial Board)

Ebola Presents Challenge, and an Opportunity, for U.N. Leader, New York Times (Somini Sengupta)

An Urgent Campaign Against Ebola, New York Times (Editorial Board)

The global complacency on Ebola must end, Washington Post (Editorial Board)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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