The Briefing 04-06-15

The Briefing 04-06-15

The Briefing


April 6, 2015

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


It’s Monday, April 6, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Iran nuclear deal faces scrutiny in  US and Iran, offers less than it appears

International news demands our immediate attention as at the end of last week Pres. Obama spoke to the world declaring that the United States and other nations had reached an historic accord, or at least the framework for an accord, with the nation of Iran. As Michael Gordon and David Sanger reported for the New York Times,

“Iran and the United States, along with five other world powers, announced on Thursday a surprisingly specific and comprehensive understanding on limiting Tehran’s nuclear program for the next 15 years, though they left several specific issues to a final agreement in June.”

Now, that’s one of those opening paragraphs that both reveals and conceals because as the New York Times claims that this report was “surprisingly specific and comprehensive,” the same paragraph declared and I quote, “they last several specific issues to a final agreement in June.”

In the world of diplomacy this kind of framework agreement is something like an agreement to make an agreement. At this point it’s enough of an agreement that both sides, especially the United States and Iran, have to take the framework back to their respective governments to see if there’s any hope of ratification, or at least of making progress in terms of the agreement. The reason on the United States side is this: even though Pres. Obama is the chief foreign-policy officer of the United States, the economic sanctions that Pres. Obama and his team promised Iran would be lifted, can only be lifted by action of Congress since they are the result of legislation. And Congress, particularly the United States Senate, has shown itself very unwilling at this point to take the agreement at face value.

And as we step back and look at the situation there is very good evidence for why the United States Congress is taking such a cautious approach. The same is true in an even more emphatic sense for the nation of Israel which declares Iran – quite understandably – to be a threat to its own existence. We are reminded that several leaders of Iran, going all the way back to the founding of the Islamic Republic and all the way forward to the last president of Iran – that is Ahmadinejad – had declared the sworn intention to wipe Israel off the face of the earth; to wipe it off the map. And now Prime Minister Netanyahu is asked why the nation of Iran is allowed to sign a document like this without assuring that the main nation in its attack sites, that is Israel, is acknowledged as having a right to exist.

In response the Obama Administration said that this was a specific agreement that was limited to issues of Iran’s nuclear weapons potential and to nothing else. But that means that the nation of Israel understands itself to be even more vulnerable as a result of this framework agreement. Pres. Obama defended the framework agreement saying that it represents our best hope for peace, but as Lawrence Norman and Carol Lee of the Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend,

“Differences in the interpretation of what was achieved this week began emerging as the week ended. In Tehran, Iranian negotiators challenged U.S. statements that the agreement merely provided for the ‘suspension’ of international economic sanctions against Iran once inspectors certify the country’s compliance with terms of the agreement.”

That is hardly the only issue in contention. And furthermore, even if the agreement were to work exactly as promised what it would achieve is to link them the amount of time it is believed the Iran would require to create a workable nuclear weapon from about 2 to 3 months to one year. That is exactly what the framework agreement says that the United States and its allies have negotiated from Iran.

The President declared that Iran has agreed, as a part of this framework, to allow for an unprecedented close scrutiny of its nuclear facilities, but we have to wonder exactly what Iran thinks it is doing. And furthermore, we have to understand the agenda of the Iranian regime; a regime we should remember that the United States government, through successive administrations, has understood to be one of the most dangerous on earth.

Over the weekend, writing at the Wall Street Journal Reuel Marc Gerecht and Mark Dubowitz point out that the supreme leader of the Islamic state,

“…has a divine calling to lead Muslims away from the West and its cultural sedition.”

Iran has been a terrorist nation ever since the Islamic Republic was established in the late 1970s. And in the intervening decades it has been a net exporter of terror throughout the world. It has declared its intention to do as much damage as possible to the United States and to Western civilization as a whole and it has specifically targeted the nation of Israel. And as Gerecht and Dubowitz point out in their Wall Street Journal article, the current president of Iran, Hasan Rouhani, was none other than the chief nuclear negotiator with Europeans after the United States invasion of Iraq in 2003. He said then and I quote,

“The fundamental principle in Iran’s relations with America—our entire focus—is national strength,”

He went on to say,

“Strength in politics, culture, economics, and defense—especially in the field of advanced technology—is the basis for the preservation and overall development of the System, and will force the enemy to surrender.”

Pres. Obama clearly intends for this framework agreement to be considered by the view of history to be his great foreign-policy achievement, and yet it is very vulnerable in terms of exactly how the agreements going to be received, not only by those in the United States Congress but also how it’s going to be received by the supreme religious leadership in Iran; which may not have been represented by the Iranian government. That’s something that previous American administrations have also come to understand.

At this point we do not know the framework agreement will get through the United States Congress, we don’t know if it’ll get through the Iranian religious leadership; we do know this: there are good reasons right now to suspect that this is not going to achieve what is promised. We can remember history lessons, in 1938 British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned from a meeting in Munich with Adolf Hitler declaring that he achieved, quite infamously, peace in our time. It didn’t turn out that way.

As a matter of fact the Munich agreement was simply a prelude for Hitler to invade Poland and to launch what became the Second World War. But we need to go back to 1938 and understand that at that time many people, including many British people, believe that Neville Chamberlain had achieved peace and had done the right thing. Had the Munich agreement presented Adolf Hitler from what became the second world war then Neville Chamberlain would be remembered as one of the great achievers of peace in human history, but that’s not the way it turned out and there were many at the time who understood full well that the agreement had no chance of being successful on its promises. Among them was Winston Churchill, the future Prime Minister of Great Britain, who declared in light of the Munich agreement that Britain had been faced with the choice between shame and war. And as he said, it has chosen shame and it will get war.

The reality is that history doesn’t provide many winning and successful examples of how to hedge in a terrorist state. Stay tuned to a fierce debate in the United States Congress, but this debate will not be limited to the United States Congress because the consequences of this agreement are not even limited to Iran and the United States; the entire world has a stake in this agreement and most especially the nation of Israel. And for that reason, if for no other reason, this is a situation that bears very close watching.

2) President Obama excluded as one of world’s 50 greatest leaders by Fortune

As we stated earlier, President Obama’s investment in this issue makes it a crucial test of his presidential leadership. And that raises an issue of very interesting timing because the current issue of Fortune Magazine, one of the most influential business magazines in the world, is a cover story on the world’s 50 greatest leaders. It’s a very interesting survey; the magazine does this periodically giving a list of the most powerful and influential leaders in the world. But the most interesting aspect about this list, as Fortune Magazine acknowledges, is not who was on it but who isn’t. Because not listed in the top 50 leaders in the world is the president of the United States.

Alan Murray, the editor of Fortune, writes,

“I grew up at a time when the President of the United States was routinely, and without irony, referred to as ‘the Leader of the Free World.’ So it is disturbing to publish a list of the World’s Greatest Leaders that, for the second year in a row, excludes the current President.

This isn’t a political statement. Fortune, like most of its readers, celebrates practical success, not ideological rigor. My own politics are militantly centrist, and I have a presidential voting record that has ricocheted between parties as their standard bearers have alternately seduced and disillusioned. I voted for Barack Obama in 2008 largely because of his call to unite blue states and red states behind a politics of hope. But it hasn’t happened.”

Fortune also declared that the President has left a great foreign policy vacuum in the world and that this has made the world a more dangerous place. The magazine goes on to defend its list of the 50 most influential leaders in the world without the President of the United States by saying that the magazine had identified more than 50 men and women who have demonstrated superior leadership on the world stage in government, business, nonprofits, and the arts. He goes on to say,

“To be sure, most of them haven’t faced the kind of complex political and geostrategic challenges that President Obama faces. But each, in his or her own way, has been through the crucible of leadership and triumphed.”

The big issue here, again, isn’t so much who is on the list but who is not. For the second year in a row, it tells us a great deal about leadership that President Barack Obama, the President of the United States, is not on the list of Fortune Magazine’s 50 most important leaders in the world.

The Christian worldview reminds us that government is a gift to humanity by the creator; government is assigned certain limited responsibilities to restrain evil and to reward those who do good, to keep order and to exercise justice – that’s a very important set of responsibilities invested in government. We also come to understand from the biblical worldview that leadership is inherently important to humanity and we come to understand that the responsibilities of leadership often are not those that are chosen, but those that are assigned by the current circumstances, by the context of leadership.

In a world marked by sin leadership becomes very, very important and the absence of leadership becomes very, very dangerous. That’s why, regardless of partisan identification, it isn’t good news for the world, it certainly isn’t good news for the United States, that Fortune Magazine’s list of the 50 most influential leaders of the present doesn’t include the President of the United States.There are lessons here for the president, but when it comes to leadership there are lessons here for all of us.

3) Kenya massacre example of increasingly common persecution of Christians in other nations

Next, turning to the massacre of 147, mostly college students, on a campus in Kenya by the group al-Shabaab, we now know even more about the deadly and insidious attack. As Jeffrey Gettleman for the New York Times reported on 4 April, we now know that the terrorists lured students out of their dorm rooms by promising that if they emerged their lives would be spared. As it turned out, that was hardly the case. One of the most interesting reports on this has come in the form of an editorial that appeared over the weekend in the Wall Street Journal. The editorial makes very clear this was not just a terrorist attack; it was a targeted attack upon Christians. As the editors wrote,

“With grim predictability, the Easter weekend brings annual Islamic attacks against Christians in the Middle East and Africa. This year it started in Kenya.

Early Thursday five shooters from the Somali-based al-Shabaab terrorist organization swept through a university in the Kenyan town of Garissa, shooting Christian students. They knew who to kill because they ordered students to recite an Islamic prayer. Those who could were spared. Those who could not were shot dead, about 147 so far.”

The killing, said the editors,

“…of these Christian students reveals, once again, the harshest reality of the chaos spreading throughout these regions. The reality is that multiple jihadist armies, invoking Islam, are engaged in a planned strategy, not merely of territorial aggrandizement, but of extermination.”

Later in the editorial they write,

“Before the Syrian civil war began, there were an estimated 1.1 million Christians who lived there. Some 700,000 have fled, largely because the most radical Islamic fighters were singling them out for punishment or death. Iraq’s Christian population has fallen from nearly 1.5 million to under 300,000.”

“More than a hundred years ago, Christians made up about 20% of the Middle East’s population. Today it’s about 5%.”

It should tell us something that the editors of the Wall Street Journal, one of the world’s most influential secular newspapers, has acknowledged the fact that what we are witnessing is the systematic elimination, the systematic killing, of Christians in the Middle East in order to cleanse that entire region of any Christian population or Christian witness. Again it should tell us something that a secular newspaper has come to that assumption; understanding just how dangerous it is to be a Christian in those regions of the world.

The other acknowledgment in this editorial is that on an annual basis there seems to be a planned attack by Muslim organizations on Christian populations timed for publicity as Christians are celebrating, in terms of the annual church year, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. That again should tell us something; it tells us that were living in a more dangerous world than many Christians understand or want to understand. It also tells us that even as Christians in the United States are struggling with new issues, some Christians around the world are living under a direct threat to their very lives.

Even as we read headlines coming from places like Kenya and elsewhere in the Middle East, even as we come to understand that the secular media is growing increasingly aware of the threat to Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere, we need to go back to the Scripture and remember what Jesus told his own disciples in the Gospel of John 15. Beginning in verse 18 Jesus said,

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.

So while international organizations, international governments, are trying to determine the root cause of terrorism against Christians, Jesus offers a distinctly theological answer. Speaking again to his disciples Jesus said very specifically in verse 21 of John chapter 15,

“But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.”

Jesus tells his disciples not only that they are not greater than their master – speaking of course not just to the 12, but to all of us who are disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ – Jesus speaks to us and says the servant is not greater than his master. What Jesus experienced we also will experience. If we were of the world Jesus said than the world would love us, but we are not of the world because the followers of Christ can, in that sense, not be of the world.

In that sense, given that theological test, perhaps we should come to understand that the church of the Lord Jesus Christ should be less concerned about itself when it is facing persecution – or we might say in mirror image, far more concerned about itself if it isn’t; because if we’re not experiencing hostility from the world, it must be because the world considers us safely within its own. In John chapter 15 the theological reason Jesus gives us is because those who hate Christ and those who also extend that hostility to his followers know neither Christ nor the one who sent me. Jesus said they do not know the father, that’s a very clear statement coming from the Lord Jesus Christ himself. This is the same Lord who in the previous chapter had said “I am the way, the truth, and the life no man comes to the father but by me.”

Seen in that light, the persecution of Christians around the world, the persecution experienced by Christians throughout the history the Christian church, is something that has deeper theological significance than even the secular world can understand. The secular world sees oppression, sees martyrdom, sees terrorism – we see a theological issue that cries out for a theological response. We come to understand that the reason why this kind of opposition to the church takes place, the reason why those students were targeted, simply can’t be adequately defined by politics; it can’t be defined by economic, sociology, or any of the human discipline. At the core is a deep theological issue and that issue is the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is Jesus Christ himself who said ‘I am the only way to the father, to know me is to know the father, to refuse to come to me is to refuse to come to the father. And even as they do not know me, they do not know the father, and their hatreds expressed towards me and the hatred will also be expressed towards those who are my disciples.’

Jesus told the 12 that they should understand this in very clear terms, even as he was headed for the cross. It is the responsibility of Christians in our generation to be, on the basis of biblical authority, on the basis of the words of Christ himself, just as aware of the theological truth behind these headlines; not as we are watching Jesus go to the cross, but even as we on the other side of the cross in the empty tomb celebrating the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead.

In coming days we will be looking closely at some of the challenges Christians in this nation, in this generation, are facing. Unprecedented an unparalleled challenges in terms of the Christian church in this location, in this era. But we also need to understand very clearly that we put those within the context of what some of our brothers and sisters in Christ are experiencing elsewhere in the world. Even as the Pew Research Center indicated at the end of last week, that the majority of Christians will soon be living in the two thirds world, in the so-called global South including sub-Saharan Africa, we’re looking at the reality that these headlines are pointing toward the church in the future – a church that in many places in the world is likely to know more persecution and not less.

Christians in this country are facing some very real and present dangers, and not to mention some very significant challenges to faithfulness. But before turning to those issues as we will this week it just seemed necessary to turn first to the reality of persecution of Christians around the world where the word used by the editors of the Wall Street Journal wasn’t persecution or an infringement of religious liberty, but rather the word extermination. There is already plenty for us to talk about this week and by the end of the week there will surely be more, but before turning to any of those issues let’s remember to pray for brothers and sisters in Christ whose lives even right now are on the line. Grieving parents and families of those students in Kenya, and for all those around the world – wherever they may be found – whose lives or whose lives of loved ones are on the line simply because of their allegiance to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. And let’s remember even as we pray, as Jesus instructed his disciples, that the rationale, the motivation behind the persecution of believers in Christ, is not merely political, is not economic, sociological, or demographic, it is inherently theological. This we know because Jesus told us so.


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Podcast Transcript

1) Iran nuclear deal faces scrutiny in  US and Iran, offers less than it appears

Iran Agrees to Detailed Nuclear Outline, First Step Toward a Wider Deal, New York Times (Michael Gordon and David Sanger)

Disputes Begin Over Details of Iran Accord, Wall Street Journal (Laurence Norman and Carol Lee)

Iran’s Negotiating Triumph Over Obama and America, Wall Street Journal (Reuel Marc Gerecht and Mark Dubowitz)

2) President Obama excluded as one of world’s 50 greatest leaders by Fortune

Why Obama isn’t on Fortune’s World’s Greatest Leaders list, Fortune Magazine (Alan Murray)

3) Kenya massacre example of increasingly common persecution of Christians in other nations

Come Out and Live, Shabab Told Kenya Students. It Was a Lie., New York Times (Jeremy Gettleman)

Killing Christians in Kenya, Wall Street Journal (Editorial Board)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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