The Briefing 12-18-14

The Briefing 12-18-14

The Briefing


December 18, 2014

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


It’s Thursday, December 18, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) President Obama announces historic reversal of status quo with Cuba

Huge and historic news came from Washington, DC yesterday having to do with an announcement made by the President of the United States that in a reversal of over a half-century, a very crucial American history, the United States would establish full diplomatic relations with the nation of Cuba and would establish a full embassy in Cuba’s capital city. Now many Americans, certainly those under 50 years of age, are unaware probably of what’s been going on in terms of the relationship between United States and Cuba. Diplomatic relations between the United States and that island nation 90 miles to our south came to an end in the conclusion of the Bay of Pigs crisis and deteriorating relationships between United States, the Soviet Union, and Cuba; with Cuba well understood then as a proxy state of the Soviet Empire. Of course almost immediately thereafter in the very next year came the 13 days of the most intense crisis of the Cold War; that is the Cuban missile crisis.

One of the things that quickly became apparent, even a year after diplomatic relations had ended, is that that came with a cost; and the United States actually had to communicate with Cuba through Soviet agencies and officials during that massive crisis. And of course this has been a very intimate issue for the United States. The United States was deeply invested in Cuba, especially United States firms – including sugar firms and the tourism industry. The fall of the Batista regime in Cuba to a communist insurgency led by the now infamous Fidel Castro was seen by the American government as a direct threat, a violation of the Monroe principle, that had been set forward early in American history whereby the United States had sent ample warning that no European nation was to try to interfere in politics and in world affairs in the New World – and especially anywhere near the United States of America.

But there’s a great deal more to the political context in the United States where the cessation of diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba also had a great deal to do with the fact that there had been a huge immigration of Cubans from that island nation to the United States, and in particular to the area of South Florida where Cuban concentrations were located in cities such as Tampa and especially in Miami – which soon became known internationally for its neighborhood of Little Havana. Like the Americans of that era the Cuban refugees who became immigrants and eventually, most of them, citizens of the United States were ardently anti-Communist and they pointed to the dictatorial rule of Fidel Castro as ample reason for the United States to have nothing to do with the island nation. Furthermore, this came hand-in-hand with what became developed as an economic embargo – effectively, for over a half-century, a near total economic embargo in terms of business and financial transactions, as well as tourism between people in the United States and in Cuba. And this was an excruciating issue for many of those émigrés because after all they were unable to send money and financial support, even foodstuffs, another form of aid, back to their Cuban relatives and friends.

The Cuban community in the United States saw this as a necessary action, even though it came with a tremendous cost in light of the autocratic and dictatorial reign of Fidel Castro. But one of the things that many modern Americans tend to discount is the actual nature of the Castro regime in Cuba. It has been an ardent enemy of human rights; it has been very repressive when it comes to religious liberty. In terms of the fall of communism worldwide and in particular the breaking a part of the Soviet bloc, the former Soviet communist empire, many people forget that there are still vestiges of the former Soviet type form of communism and the classic vestige of it is actually the nation of Cuba.

Amazingly enough Fidel Castro is still defying history, alive in Cuba, and very much a part of the Cuban scene. He did give power to his brother Raúl who currently serves as the president of the nation. In one of the most interesting aspects of the announcement made yesterday, it came after a fairly long period of intensely private – even secret – conversations that involved a third-party – and in this case the third-party was Pope Francis I, who had a very particular and personal interest and took an action he had not previously taken before – writing a letter to the President of the United States and to the leadership in Cuba proposing this kind of a resumption of full diplomatic relations. Now a couple of things need to be noted very quickly, first of all, the President of the United States has the constitutional authority to decide the issues of this kind of diplomatic recognition. He is our diplomat and chief, the Secretary of State, the entire State Department reports constitutionally directly to the President of the United States even though there is congressional oversight.

But when it comes to the economic embargo, that was not a presidential decision. It grew out of a presidential proposal but it eventually was undertaken by the force of legislation passed by Congress. And that leads to a very interesting contemporary context. That means, the President of the United States can decide – he can indeed declare – in a surprise announcement made yesterday, virtually publicly out of the blue, that the United States is going to reestablish full diplomatic relations with Cuba. He can do that; he can announce there is going to be an embassy. One of the things by the way that could become problematic if Congress defies this, is that the President could find himself unable to fund the embassy he has just declared he is going to open in Havana.

But that leads to the second observation and that is that the President of the United States has now declared himself on this issue. He went as far as he could go in terms of his constitutional authority and he then invited Congress to become involved. He said he would welcome an end to the economic embargo if Congress decided to send him legislation that would accomplish the end of that action. And that’s where it’s going to get really, really controversial. For the last half-century and more there has been solid economic support for the economic embargo, even though there have been proposals – some of them come from people like former President Jimmy Carter all the way back in the 1970s – that there might be a better way to engage the Cuba nation and actually to lead to greater freedom for the Cuban people. The economic embargo has been politically sacrosanct, virtually untouchable.

For one thing, in the state of Florida where I grew up, no major politician is going to be elected in terms of statewide office – much less in South Florida – unless that politician supports the economic embargo because that is considered to be so important as a political statement on the part of the Cuban-American community there in Florida. But that’s beginning to change, its changing in the first place generationally. Younger Cubans are indicating a much greater openness to ending the embargo and reestablishing economic relationships that might enable, first of all, the reestablishment of some very personal relationships, and the freedom of travel. And then would also bring the promise of greater economic prosperity which, in the case of at least some nations, has meant a growing middle class that simply demands the political reforms that brought an end to a communist dictatorship.

But there’s an even more fundamental issue for us to consider here, as Christians, who are very committed to a biblical worldview, we need to recognize that the Christian worldview does not give us a yes or no to this kind of action or proposal. It doesn’t give us a simple answer in terms of what is right in the situation. When it comes to the morality of the Castro regime, it is certainly in a moral repressive totalitarian dictatorship. But, the United States has maintained for some time official diplomatic relationships, indeed for the entire period with which it had broken those relationship with Cuba, with regimes that are almost assuredly as bad, if not worse.

The approach the United States government took with the nation of China was almost diametrically opposed to what was undertaken in Cuba. And one of the reasons for that is that it was politically possible for President Richard Nixon to go to Beijing – then called Peking – it was not politically possible for even Richard Nixon to go to Havana. The Christian worldview and our commitment to that worldview means that we are absolutely to seek that which leads to the greatest demonstration of righteousness, the greatest realization of justice, the greatest promise of human flourishing. There are good economic and political – even historical – rationales for what the president did yesterday, at least what he announced, and for what many would now propose should be the next step and that is ending the economic embargo. This is exactly what the United States did with some other nations, but there are also very good reasons on the other side of the equation for keeping the embargo in place. And what we discussed yesterday on The Briefing having to do with the economic crisis now in Russia is, on the other hand, an example of why an embargo can sometimes be very effective in leading to the very same goal.

Our goal must be the increase of human flourishing; our goal must be greater liberty, religious liberty, every form of liberty for the Cuban people. Our goal must the demonstration of righteousness and justice. There is no easy way here, there are no assured answers, the decision made by the president yesterday is a decisive very historic shift. Will it lead to greater freedom and liberty for the Cuban people? Time will tell. There is good reason to believe that the establishment of diplomatic relations may actually serve that cause; then again, will this give the Cuban government a reward it doesn’t deserve? That’s the other side of the equation. As for the economic embargo, there is no real political expectation that Congress is going to act to remove that embargo. The President said he would welcome that legislation coming from Congress, but even in so saying the President must’ve known it’s very unlikely he would receive such a bill.

In the actual details of what the President announced yesterday there was a swap of intelligence officers that have been held; one American, three Cubans. There was also the announcement of some specifics having to do with the allowance for financial transfers – the kind of things that would be within the constitutional authority of the President. But as for the big announcement, it comes down to this: the United States government, after the intervention of Pope Francis I, has decided, in the form of the President of the United States, to establish formal diplomatic relations that reverses over a half-century of diplomatic experience here in the United States. It is an historical act, and when you think about the long-term relations between the United States and Cuba, it turns out that December 17, 2014, unexpectedly, turns out to be a very huge day.

2) Church of England’s first woman bishop necessary result of mishandling of Scripture 

Big news was also made in the United Kingdom yesterday, but this wasn’t about diplomatic relations, it was about the appointment in the Church of England of the first woman Bishop. This came after a great deal of controversy, indeed 20 years of controversy, within the Church of England. It came after the British Prime Minister, when the church failed to approve women bishops a matter of about two years ago, simply by political pressure on the church asking the church when it was going to “get with the program?” There were actually political threats made against the Church of England that it was violating antidiscrimination statutes and the entire culture of antidiscrimination that is now very much a part of Great Britain. And furthermore, there were even suggestions that the Church of England should be disestablished – that it should lose its status as the official state church, the official state religion, there in the United Kingdom.

But the church responded earlier this year by approving the legislation that would eventually lead to the appointment of the first woman Bishop and it happened yesterday. In this case, the first woman Bishop is the Rev. Libby Lane, identified by The Guardian as a parish priest from Crewe. According to The Guardian, she is the surprise choice for the Church of England’s first female Bishop. She has been appointed a suffragan Bishop of Stockport, which the church counts as part of the diocese of Chester. Now just a couple of issues here for those who are unfamiliar with all things Anglican. A suffragan bishop is an assistant Bishop, not a Bishop over an entire diocese, but something of an assistant to the Bishop who is also holding status as a bishop. But the suffragan bishop does not have a seat in the House of Lords, the 20 something seats in the House of Lords for the Church of England, those seats are reserved for diocesan bishops – that is a bishop who has a cathedral and is recognized as being the head of an entire diocese.

Now what makes this really important is that this is how in so many of these very hierarchical denominations and churches, women are actually eventually named bishops. Their name basically ‘junior bishops’ before eventually they become a diocesan bishop. But the other big thing here is that this kind of appointment did not require all the bureaucratic kinds of actions and approvals that would’ve been necessary within the process of the Church of England had the seat been open for a diocesan bishop. Which means the Church of England in this case was able to fulfill its promise of establishing and naming the first woman bishop before the end of the year 2014. But what we’re looking at here as we’ve discussed even recently on The Briefing is that what we’re seeing is the church of England quite officially, apparently quite openly, accommodating itself to the larger culture around it. That’s what an established church really has to do; if you’re going to be the establish state church, you’re going to have to represent the state, and if you’re the establish state church, you really do care if the Prime Minister tells you you’re going to have to get with the program and thus decided that is what the church of England has done.

But we also noted the theological trajectory. This would’ve been impossible had the Church of England a generation ago not done the very same thing on the issue of women priests or ministers. And as I argued even back then, that decision laid the inevitable seeds and foundation for this decision that was announced yesterday. And furthermore, in terms of the way the biblical text is handled in the case of appointing a woman as a priest or woman as a Bishop, what we’re looking at is a way of handling the Scripture that also sets the very foundation and lays the seeds for this church’s eventual capitulation on the issue of homosexuality and the appointment of openly gay priests and openly gay bishops. The pattern of handling the Scripture in that way is exactly the same. And that’s why the advocates for the normalization of homosexuality and for the approval of same-sex unions are now openly saying to those egalitarians in the church, ‘we can understand why those who are opposed to women ministers might be opposed to the normalization of homosexuality and openly gay ministers, but we fail to see how those of you who approve women ministers can fail to approve openly gay ministers as well.’ As they recognize, and agree with us in this sense, is the very same form of argument and the very same pattern of dealing with the Scripture.

But the other thing to note in terms of this announcement is that it sets in motion an even greater risk that the Anglican Communion will break apart. Because one of the things that has been true until now is that the churches around the world, in the so-called global South that are very much more conservative than the Church of England, they had been able to relate to the Church of England and to its chief cleric – that is the Archbishop of Canterbury – because that church did not have women as bishops. But that changed yesterday, or at least the announcement was made that it will change; all that will be changed by the end of the year and thus we’re going to find out just how much of a communion the Anglican Communion really is. And the presenting issues, once again, are the same two. That is, the ordination of women and the normalization of homosexuality and the ordination of openly gay priests and bishops. So it’s not just conservative evangelicals in the United States who oddly enough, in this case, agree with the advocates for gay ordination and the normalization of homosexuality in terms of what exactly is going on in terms of biblical interpretation, there’s also an agreement that comes from the global South where those churches now face simultaneously the question of how they can relate to the church of England given its liberalized position on homosexuality and now the fact that it has its first woman Bishop.

3) Growing worldview chasm within political parties evidenced in reactions to Cromnibus bill

Meanwhile as the year comes to a close, political developments in Washington remind us of the incredible worldview chasm that exist politically there; at least the politics makes that chasm of worldview very apparent. Am I talking here about the great worldview division between the Republicans and Democrats? Well that’s part of the story but the more interesting story as the year comes to an end is the worldview division between Republicans and Republicans and between Democrats and Democrats. And this became abundantly clear in terms of the so-called Cromnibus bill, the bill that was adopted by Congress and signed by President Obama that extends the funding for the federal government but does so in a way that gravely disappointed the Democratic left and the Republican right – that wing of the party known as the Tea Party movement. And what we now find in terms of this picture is that the most interesting worldview issues being discussed in Washington right now aren’t actually dividing Republicans and Democrats but Republicans and Republicans and Democrats and Democrats.

And there is another thing to note here, it is the Democratic Party that might be the more interesting to watch because what’s happening, and perhaps this is at least in part due to the fact that they have a second term incumbent president in office, is that the Democratic Party is trying to ask some basic questions about who it is, where it stands, and where it’s going. The left of the Democratic Party is now very much in the driver seat in terms of the political dynamic in that party and as recent political scientist have indicated, what we’re looking at there is that even as the Republican Party is more conservative than it was a quarter of a century ago, the Democratic Party is even more liberal than it was a quarter-century ago. As the new year comes into shape, we’ll be looking at how these issues are developing because they reveal just how a worldview operates in terms of very tangible political decisions that become very apparent – sometimes graphically so – in the context of a year that is leading up to a presidential election; which means the parties are trying to decide who they are, where they stand, and what they believe.

And finally as we’re thinking about that Cromnibus bill – that was actually passed by Congress and approved by President Obama that’s going to fund the federal government through September of next year – well it’s an example of what happens, that anger so many people about this kind cromnibus spending bill because what’s in it or what’s not in it is extremely revealing. For instance, higher salt levels for public school lunches, a defeat for the First Lady of the United States and a big win for school cafeterias who are trying to figure out how in the world they could cut that much salt and sodium out of the diets that were serving. Schools in this bill also gained an opportunity to get an exemption from rules that required whole grain servings when it comes to serving pasta and tortillas. Yes folks, that was in a bill to fund the federal government.

Legislators in both parties use this bill and the political pressure to adopted in order to get some of their pet projects through, or policies revised – including policies of the Environmental Protection Agency having to do with water and one that orders the Defense logistics agency to re-examine the way it defined small business when it buys boots for troops. As you might expect, that particular revision was sought by legislate who have factories within their districts that were decided to be too large to qualify as a small business to get preference for developing boots for the military. But as we come to a close my favorite part of this bill, as reported by Robert Pear of the New York Times comes down to this paragraph with which I will simply close,

“The bill says the government cannot require farmers to report ‘greenhouse gas emissions from manure management systems.’ Nor can it require ranchers to obtain greenhouse gas permits for ‘methane emissions’ produced by bovine flatulence or belching.”

And that means that the federal government is told that it can’t list as an official issue that must be measured, methane that had been inside an animal that somehow gets outside. That, ladies and gentlemen, is your government at work.

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 tomorrow for The Briefing.

Podcast Transcript

1) President Obama announces historic reversal of status quo with Cuba

Obama Announces U.S. and Cuba Will Resume Diplomatic Relations, New York Times (Peter Baker)

Obama moves to normalize relations with Cuba as American is released by Havana, Washington Post (Karen DeYoung and Brian Murphy)

Pope Francis played key role in U.S.-Cuba deal, USA Today (Gregory Korte and Oren Dorell)

FACT SHEET: Charting a New Course on Cuba, White House (Office of Press Secretary)

2) Church of England’s first woman bishop necessary result of mishandling of Scripture 

Church of England Names Rev. Libby Lane as First Female Bishop, New York Times (Alan Cowell)

Church of England’s first female bishop named as Libby Lane, The Guardian (Andrew Brown)

3) Growing worldview chasm within political parties evidenced in reactions to Cromnibus bill

In Final Spending Bill, Salty Food and Belching Cows Are Winners, New York Times (Robert Pear)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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