The Briefing 01-27-15

The Briefing 01-27-15

The Briefing


January 27, 2015

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


It’s Tuesday, January 27, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Winners of Greek election present danger to European project, lesson in danger of debt

A political and cultural earthquake took place in Greece in recent days as the government there was swept out and a new government brought in. And the new government is going to be led by a far leftist party and its young leader who is now going to be the Prime Minister. It’s one of those electoral results that points to the fact that something has been building for some time. Just as in terms of a geological earthquake, pressures under the surface of the earth build up and then suddenly seem to erupt; politically much of the same kind of syndrome takes place when political pressures build up and then suddenly burst onto the scene in headlines that announce a drastic political change.

From a Christian worldview perspective there are a couple of big lessons here. The first one has to do with the fact that the European project is really in danger. We’ve been talking in recent weeks, recent days, even recent months, about the weakening of the European project as a civilization. We’ve been watching that over the process of the last couple of centuries; indeed the 20th century was a century of horrors that seem to call into question the very existence of Europe – two massive cataclysmic world wars that spread beyond Europe to the rest of the world, but certainly began there.

What we’ve seen in terms of the recent secularization of the European continent and what we’ve seen in terms of a deep identity crisis in Europe. That brings immediately to mind the fact that Europe as an identity, European as an adjective, all of this is now hugely called into question. And as we have repeatedly observed, it’s because the basic worldview that once united Europe in terms of a Christian civilization – not in terms of everyone being a believing Christian, but of everyone having Christianity’s the main reference point and operating out of a basically Christian worldview, in terms especially of moral understanding and the understanding of what it means to be human – that has been largely swept away in terms of the secularization of the worldview and the horrible events of the 20th century.

And that affirms, once again, that worldview explains politics. Nothing else can. The only thing that can eventually explain political behavior is the thinking that falls behind the vote. And the vote in Greece points to the need for some very clear understanding of the thinking that is taking place. What we have seen here is a political earthquake, the pressures have been building; one out of four Greek citizens of working age is without a job. Even as the European governments around Greece forced upon Greece an inordinate economic austerity, and even as there are huge questions as to whether Greece is even capable of pulling off that kind of fiscal discipline, the reality is that the economy of Greece shrunk by 20% even with those austerity measures in place.

To put the matter bluntly, even in the worst years of what was called the Great Depression in the 20th century in the United States, neither of those statistics pertained. We’re looking here at an economic construction and a level of unemployment that is virtually unprecedented in modern European history. And that’s a sociological experiment that’s doomed to fail.

But that gets to the second issue of worldview importance here and that is fiscal reality and economic responsibility. Greece got itself into this crisis by reckless behavior, by unbelievably reckless behavior. You’re talking about a country that has over $350 billion in external loans. You’re looking at a country whose economy has not produced even the ability to pay the interest on those loans for many years now. You’re looking at an economy that is based upon outsized pension promises and unbelievable levels of public employment. And you’re also looking at a country that defines employment in a way that wouldn’t fit the American society nor the rest of their European neighbors. Because when they’re talking about employment increase they are talking often about holding a job without any obvious responsibility. That has becoming notorious issue in terms of the public sector in Greece.

You know the Bible is very clear about the fact that you have to pay your bills. The Bible’s very clear about the kind of fiscal responsibility that comes with honoring investment, honoring thrift, honoring the payment of bills, honoring the avoidance of debt. We’re making a country here that has put itself into a position of radical economic dependency and they had depended upon the fact that their European neighbors would eventually either discount their debt or pay their bills in order to keep the European project going – especially the European common currency known as the euro.

Alexis Tsipras, the young man who is going to become the new prime minister and the Syriza party – the party that he heads – are going to be a real threat, not only in terms of the Greek future, they are going to be a real threat to the entire project of Europe. And it’s going to be a fascinating thing to watch.

By the way the new prime minister ran on the platform of calling upon Greeks debtors to forgive at least half of the, again, over $300 billion in debt that Greece has now amassed. Greece effectively put itself into a position of effective bankruptcy and then called upon its European neighbors for help and now it doesn’t want the terms of that help. And here’s the big lesson from a Christian worldview, debt is very dangerous; it’s dangerous not only for nations but it’s dangerous for individuals, it’s dangerous for families, it’s dangerous for institutions. You take on this kind of debt, a debt that you cannot pay, and eventually two horrifying things happen.

In the first place, you consign your own children – your own descendants – to paying off a debt that if you cannot pay, they almost surely cannot pay. And secondly, you put yourself in a position of dependence upon those to whom you owe money. You know I think most of us would like the deal that if we could just vote and say our debt has gone away, but voting doesn’t make the debt or the Greek crisis go away.

2) NYC mayor reneges on promise to allow churches to meet in schools

A sad development came from New York City over the weekend, but before I get to that development let me point to an article that appeared the week previous in the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal. That article is by Rob Moll, it is entitled Gathering the Faithful, No Church Required. He writes about an interesting statistic I hadn’t seen cited elsewhere. As he writes,

“Church construction in the U.S. has fallen 80% since 2002, now at its lowest level since record-keeping began in 1967, according to reporting in this newspaper. The $3.15 billion in spending on religious buildings is half the level of a decade ago. Several factors are contributing to the declines, including postrecession financial challenges—religious giving has never returned to its 2007 peak—and the waning of religious affiliation.”

Yet he says that might not be the big story because the big story just might be Christian churches that are not meeting in buildings they buy or buildings they build but rather in buildings they use, buildings they borrow, or buildings they rent. He writes about the phenomenon of church planting, especially among American evangelicals and points out that many of these church plants aren’t now in the church building business and they may never be in the building of church buildings business. They instead are looking at how to start churches in alternative kinds of facilities.

One of the clearest examples of this is one that he cites in his article. Rob Moll points to Manhattan’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church that is started, according to this report, over 300 churches in 45 cities over the past 12 years. Cooperating, he says, with 34 church planting networks on five continents. Well those are a lot of numbers but the bottom line, the importance is very clear. We’re looking at a church planting generation and we’re looking at a church planting movement that isn’t concerned primarily with building buildings. And furthermore when you’re looking at America’s largest metropolitan areas, and especially the urban cores of our largest cities, you’re actually looking areas in which it is impractical for evangelical congregations ever to build or to own property. The costs are simply too astronomical. That’s where the alarming news in New York City comes in – just from the weekend.

Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra reporting for Christianity Today on 23 January put out a story entitled, No Worship Services in Public Schools, New York Mayor Tells Supreme Court. The bottom line, Bill de Blasio, the Mayor of New York City, campaigned on the promise of letting churches rent school space; now, according to CT, he’s asking the Supreme Court to prohibit it. I want to make reference to an article by Emily Belz of World Magazine. It appeared back on September 30 of last year; the headline, NYC mayor reiterates promise to let churches keep meeting in schools. This was a big issue in the campaign that elected Bill de Blasio to office. As Emily Belz wrote,

“New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, as part of his campaign last year, received support from many pastors of largely minority churches in New York after he promised to undo the Bloomberg administration’s policy forbidding churches from using public school facilities for Sunday worship.  ”

You may be aware that it was his predecessor, now former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose administration ruled after there had been a court challenge that churches could not use New York City’s public school facilities for meeting places. You’ll also recall that that would mean that there will be hundreds of evangelical church plants that would have virtually nowhere to meet. Those congregations were given an immediate reprieve by a court order that said that the mayor’s decision would have to be put on hold until the issue could wind its way through the courts. And it is almost certainly headed eventually to the United States Supreme Court.

But the big story that came over the weekend from Christianity Today is that the mayor has reneged on his promise; he has effectively reversed his position and he did it without even the decency of any kind of warning. Just last April, according to CT, the mayor said,

“I stand by my belief that a faith organization playing by the same rules as any community non-profit deserves access,

But as they noted,

“…five months later, the policy was still in place, and the Bronx Household of Faith [that’s one of the congregations that was threatened with being displaced] petitioned the US Supreme Court to overturn an appeals court’s ruling that the city’s ban is constitutional.”

The press secretary to the mayor had told World Magazine at that time that,

“His position on this issue has not changed.”

Then Christianity reported over the weekend,

“This month, [the] de Blasio’s administration filed a legal brief in opposition to the Bronx Household of Faith’s petition, arguing in favor of the city’s policy. ‘[It] does not involve any government-imposed prohibition, restraint, or burden on religious exercise,’ the brief stated.”

Indeed the New York City Board of Education argued that prohibiting worship services is – amazingly enough – to use their term, “viewpoint neutral,” even though the main groups affected would be evangelical church plants; and even though those who brought the case challenging the constitutionality of churches using those facilities were explicitly arguing against the theological positions of those very churches.

So the big story is that the mayor of New York campaigned on the promise of protecting those churches and their rights to access these facilities and then, as it turned out, when the time came for the city to file its legal petitions with the court, it argued the opposite case. Effectively trying to oust those very churches it had asked for support.

Look back to that article I cited from the Wall Street Journal just days earlier and you come to understand the depth of the problem. You’re looking at evangelical churches that may effectively be told ‘you can’t meet in the public school facilities of New York City.’ And of course that will be decision that would reverberate throughout the United States. We’re looking here at a situation in which other groups can use those school facilities. Other groups can use them for their own assemblies, for their own meetings, and as is the case with so many other issues, the Supreme Court had at least ruled in the past – as in its Mergens decision on equal access – that if the public schools offer a forum for one group they cannot deny a forum to another based upon the content of their presentation or their beliefs.

We’ll see if the Supreme Court is going to uphold that principal in terms of this case. One thing is abundantly clear, the mayor of New York not only did not uphold that principal but he actually reversed himself, effectively telling these churches they weren’t welcomed after he welcomed their votes.

3) Boy Scouts compromise on homosexuality pleases no one, California forbids judges’ participation

On the same front of religious liberty; another big development. This one comes as something not of a shock but as a great disappointment. And the graphic nature of the decision handed down by the California Supreme Court just as the weekend began is another indication of the challenge we are going to face. Just last week the California Supreme Court, which is constitutionally charged with developing a code of ethics for judges in the state, ruled that those judges cannot participate, in any way, with the Boy Scouts of America because they are a discriminatory organization when it comes to sexual orientation.

Remember that when we looked at the decision made now couple of years ago by the Boy Scouts to change their position, we noted that it wouldn’t gain them the kind of cultural traction they were hoping for; it wouldn’t neutralize the critics. They changed their long-standing policy, even after they had won a case at the United States Supreme Court. They change their policy to allow for openly gay scouts but not for openly gay scout leaders. And that is led to the claim, now, by the state of California that they are discriminatory, even as they allow openly gay scouts. And now in a very clear sign of the closing of the American mind when it comes to the issue of sexual orientation or when it comes to even the definition of discrimination, the judges of the state of California are being told they can’t participate in an organization as venerable and well-respected as the Boy Scouts of America because now that organization, despite its change of policy, is on – well you’ve hear this before –the wrong side of history.

One of the articles of greatest concern on this issue that has appeared since the development of this decision is something that appeared in the Bay Area Reporter; as was reported on the weekend,

“The only remaining exception to the general rule is membership in a religious organization,”

That was stated by Fourth District Court of Appeal Justice Richard Fybel, chair of the Supreme Court’s advisory committee on the code of judicial ethics.

“One other exception – belonging to a military organization – was eliminated as well, because the U.S. armed forces no longer restrict military service based on sexual orientation.”

So you put all this together and there had been, until this weekend, three exceptions to the rule that California judges couldn’t belong to a discriminatory organization. The exceptions were when it came to the United States military, when it came to nonprofit organizations – especially the Boy Scouts of America – and when it came to religious organizations. If you heard me read that direct quote clearly what you heard is that they head of the commission said only one of those exceptions remains; and then he said religious organizations.

Now just remember until this development there have been three exceptions. But the very use the word exception really tells you something. That implies that there is something that is undeserved but nonetheless granted as an exception to a general rule because of some reason such as political pressure or public pressure. But now when it comes to the issue the Boy Scouts of America, judges are told you can’t participate and continue as a judge. When it comes to the American military, they are told you can now participate but only because the military changed its policy to join the moral revolution. The only exception that remains of the judge is the exception of religious organizations.

One immediate question comes, ‘for how long? For how long will that exception last?’ And we’re talking here about religious organizations – how long will that mean not only something that might be a religious institution or something to find merely as organization, how long will that be before the organization is your local church? How long will it be before the judges of California are told you can’t be a member of the church that officially teaches that homosexuality is a sin? How long will it be before they’re told you can’t belong to a church that doesn’t celebrate or recognize same-sex unions? How long will it be before you can’t be the Fire Chief of the city of Atlanta and belong to such a church and be known for such beliefs? Well we know the answer to that question don’t we?

As for California the question is still out. But the very use of the language involved here and the fact that they have now said no judge can participate as a volunteer in the Boy Scouts of America tells us how the moral revolution in America’s not only happening but happening at such a lightning pace. And just remember the word that is used here, the word is ‘exception.’ How long will the exception survive? To put the matter bluntly, that’s an exceptionally important question.

4) 70th anniversary of Auschwitz liberation reminder of tragedies world has allowed

Finally, today marks a very important historical observance. It is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp known simply by one of the most ominous names of humanity: Auschwitz. It was 70 years ago today that forces of the Soviet Union were the first to reach the camp. The Nazi murderers had largely fled, abandoning their inmates. But when the Soviet army arrived it found what Western authorities had denied could even have existed: the death camps on the scale of Auschwitz.

The scale is still almost impossible to believe, but believe we must. Over 7 million people were killed, the vast majority of them Jews. When it came to the death camps it was an official part of Nazi policy. It was begun by Adolf Hitler himself and it was eventually bureaucratized and rationalized by the entire machinery of the Nazi regime. The first camp at Auschwitz began in May 1940; the extermination of prisoners began in September 1941. The second death camp was built later, connected to the neighboring village of Birkenau and together these two camps led to the death of over 1 million people.

Most historians believe that at least 1.1 million prisoners died at Auschwitz, about 90% of them were Jewish and one of six Jews killed in the Holocaust died in the death camp of Auschwitz. Major international media pointed to the fact that even as some of the survivors will be gathering their numbers are almost surely going to be much smaller than they were 10 years ago; raising the question of how many can possibly attend 10 years from now. One of the things we have to face is that those who were alive to understand the Holocaust as it happened, those who are the survivors, they are dying as a generation and soon we will face the reality that this great moral horror of the 20 century will be a matter of memory but not for those who are able to remember it personally.

Andrzej Kacorzyk, who deputy director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, told the New York Times,

“This will be the last decade anniversary with a very visible presence of survivors,”

At the 60th anniversary 10 years ago there were 1,500 survivors, this year there are about 300 that are expected. As the New York Times reports,

“Most of them are in their 90s, and some are older than 100.”

The Holocaust of the millions, in particular the Holocaust against the Jews, raises the specter of the 20th century and the awful crime of anti-Semitism, and the awful reality, the most unspeakable reality, of the mass murder of millions of people by the Nazi regime. There were other genocides and other mass murders in the 20th century and there were other murderous regimes; most importantly we would note Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China. But when it comes to the death camps of the Nazi regime they remain a singular memory in terms of human civilization, they remain a singular crime in terms of our moral history, they remain a singular symbol of the inhumanity of man and of the potential for deep murderous darkness that resides in a civilization that had claimed to be the most advanced and well educated civilization; the civilization of the highest culture on the earth at that time.

Even a secular society cannot fail to ponder the meaning of these things. That led to a very interesting article that appeared in the front page of the Wall Street Journal yesterday. Here is the headline, Grandson of Auschwitz Boss Is Trying to Remake Family Name. It’s an article about a very awkward attempt being made by Rainer Hoess, now age 49, to try to separate himself and his family name from the fact that it was his grandfather who was the head of the death camp at Auschwitz. His grandfather was the infamous Rudolf Hoess of the S.S. who was executed on those grounds for crimes against humanity in 1947.

The article about Rainer has points to his difficulty and the difficulty of other children and grandchildren of the Nazi leaders in Germany to distance themselves from the horrifying crimes of their fathers. And we are reminded of the biblical warnings from the Old Testament that the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children and down to successive generations. There are some names that have become so infamous, it is virtually impossible to carry that name in a civilized society. At the top of the list of the 20 century is certainly the surname Hitler, but that’s not the only surname that has become almost unbearable. That includes surnames like Goebbels and surnames like Hoess; Hoess in particular as it is tied to Rudolf Hoess.

The articles is about the rather awkward attempt being made by this 49-year-old man to overcome a name he inherited from a grandfather known to be a criminal against the very idea of humanity, and the murderer not just of many but of over 1 million. Furthermore the event being held today at Auschwitz-Birkenau points to the fact that the world let this happen. And it also points to recent headlines indicating that the virus of anti-Semitism that many people in Western society thought had been extinguished at the end of World War II was anything but.

In terms of the observance taking place at Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland, there’s a very important issue, a very important truth for Christians to keep in mind as well. There are those who were gathered there believe that the most important issue is the verdict of history. All history does have a verdict and we should be thankful that it does. But the bigger issue of course, from a Christian biblical concern, is not the verdict of history but the verdict of God. And even those who escaped earthly justice and may think they have escaped the verdict of history will not escape that judgment, nor shall we.


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) Winners of Greek election present danger to European project, lesson in danger of debt

Syriza Win in Greek Election Sets Up New Europe Clash, Wall Street Journal (Charles Forrelle, Nektaria Stamouli and Alkman Granitsas)

2) NYC mayor reneges on promise to allow churches to meet in schools

Gathering the Faithful, No Church Required, Wall Street Journal (Rob Moll)

No Worship Services in Public Schools, New York Mayor Tells Supreme Court, Christianity Today (Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra)

NYC mayor reiterates promise to let churches keep meeting in schools, World Magazine (Emily Belz)

3) Boy Scouts compromise on homosexuality pleases no one, California forbids judges’ participation

CA judges cut ties with the Boy Scouts of America due to LGBT issues, Bay Area Reporter

State high court’s vote affecting Scout affiliation stirs debate anew, Los Angeles Times (Thomas Curwen)

4) 70th anniversary of Auschwitz liberation reminder of tragedies world has allowed

For Auschwitz Museum, a Time of Great Change, New York Times (Rick Lyman)

How Grandson of Auschwitz Boss Is Trying to Remake Family Name, Wall Street Journal (Naftali Bendavid and Harriet Torry)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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