The Briefing 05-07-15

The Briefing 05-07-15

The Briefing


May 7, 2015

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


It’s Thursday, May 7, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) British elections reflect decline of clear British cultural identity

As we said earlier this week about the United States, a major election is not only a worldview contest when it comes to the candidates, it is also very revealing of the worldview of the electric. Keep that in mind when you remember that today is Election Day not in the United States but in the United Kingdom, in Britain. And the election there has vast stakes when it comes to the future of that nation. It also may play a role in indicating the future of politics in this country as well.

That’s because at least in recent decades there has been an interesting parallel between political developments on that side of the Atlantic and this side. The parallels have to do with the fact that for example in the late 1970s Margaret Thatcher came to powers as the Prime Minister of Great Britain, indicating a conservative revolution. That was later to sweep Pres. Ronald Reagan into office in a landslide election in the United States in 1980.

The parallelism between Reagan and Thatcher was matched at least in part with a parallelism that overlapped between American Pres. Bill Clinton and the British Prime Minister then, Tony Blair. And then of course you have the election coming up today in Great Britain and the big question is whether or not the conservative government headed by Prime Minister David Cameron will remain in office.

One of the things that Christians must keep in mind is that the structure and system of government of a people indicates, in terms of the long view, the worldview that has produced that society. That is to say the political system reflects the values and the worldview of the society it would represent. And when it comes to a Democratic system of government that is especially the case, and in United Kingdom we have a parliamentary system of government.

Let’s look at the differences between the election taking place today in the United Kingdom and the election that will take place in 2016 in the United States of America. What is the basic difference between a parliamentary system of government and the system of government here in the United States headed by a president in terms of the chief executive? One of the things to keep in mind is the fact that the British Prime Minister is the head of government, not the head of state. The head of state in the United Kingdom is the Queen, or the reigning monarch of the time. Britain is a constitutional monarchy, the government serves in the name of the monarch and the government is elected by the people. But the parliamentary system of government is very different than what we know here. The head of state is not the head of government, the head of government is not directly elected by the British people.

The British people, when they go to the polls today, will make a single and very significant electoral vote. They will elect their own Member of Parliament. The United Kingdom is divided into 650 parliamentary districts and in every one of those districts the local voters will vote for their Member of Parliament. They will not vote for Prime Minister, they will vote effectively for their own Member of Parliament and for the party that winning candidate will represent.

And then we go to the Parliament itself, remember that there are 650 elected Members of Parliament, they are, virtually every one of them, identified with one of the political parties. The political party that is able to put together 326 seats will eventually form the government. The government is constitutionally formed when the individual who heads the party that is able to assemble at least 326 seats is asked by the monarch to establish the government in the monarch’s name.

Here in the United States the president is directly elected by the people, almost. Actually, the people of the United States here do vote for the president, but they’re actually voting for the electors who will eventually constitute the Electoral College who will elect the president. But in almost every case that means that when voters go into the polling place here in the United States and they vote for a candidate for president, the one who assembles the most votes will eventually be elected by the Electoral College and become president of the United States. But in United Kingdom it is very different with a parliamentary system of government. There, today, when voters go into the voting booth they are going to be voting only for Members of Parliament.

And that leads to a different point, the actual Prime Minister is the individual backed by the coalition or the party that comes up with at least 326 votes – and that can change between elections. So, parties can change Prime Minister because the dominant party can elect a new head of that party who would, if the party is in power, become the new prime minister. If that sounds complicated, it’s because it is. Driven by our own political expectations Americans are likely to wake up on Friday or even to go to bed on Thursday night wondering who was elected Prime Minister of Great Britain, when that’s actually not the logical question. The logical question is: which party is gaining dominance? And when it comes to that magic number 326, if not one of the parties has 326 seats, what kind of coalition has to be put together in order to form a government?

That’s where the Christian, especially in the United States, watching the election in Great Britain needs to pay very close attention because even as in our own election we understand that we have two major political parties: the Democrats and the Republicans. And even though there many issues that do not divide them by a chasm of significance, there are many issues that do. Those include moral issues, they include foreign-policy issues, and they include issues related to the economy. But when it comes to Great Britain the difference is separating the parties, especially in recent years, have been even more acute.

The current British government is headed by Prime Minister David Cameron; he heads the conservative party – popularly known in Great Britain as the Tories. But that party did not gain 326 seats in the last election, so it had to enter into a coalition with the Liberal Democrat party. On the other hand you have a second major party in the United Kingdom and that is the Labour Party. The Labour Party has been, at least in terms of its dominant history, a socialist party. That was changed somewhat under the leadership of Tony Blair, and yet after Tony Blair’s departure from the scene that party has swerved even more to the left.

Meanwhile, when it comes to the conservative side, to the Tory party, David Cameron has not been a leader who has followed the pattern of previous conservative Prime Minister’s including Margaret Thatcher. Even though he has put forth what has been called austerity budgets, he has not been a small government leader of his party. And on social issues he has swerved that party, the so-called conservative party, rather wildly to the left as well.

The five major parties on the British ballot tomorrow include the conservatives, the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats who had joined with the conservatives to form a coalition government five years ago, the Scottish national party, and the United Kingdom independence party. That’s especially important because as you look to the election today the conservative party has 302 seats – remember it takes 326 to form a government. It is expected that that number will fall to about 276. The Liberal Democrats, with whom the Tories are in power, they are expected to be decimated in today’s election. They currently have 56 seats, that is expected by polling to be reduced to three. The Labour Party, the more liberal party, currently has 256 seats – that’s expected to rise to 272. If you’re doing the math, that means that no party is expected to gain anywhere near enough seats to form a government. So whichever government is eventually formed will be the coalition of parties that most quickly comes up to 326 seats.

It is even more complicated when the party that is expected to gain the most in terms of the election today, that is the Scottish national party, is a party that will take those seats not from the conservatives but rather from the Labour Party and the Labour Party said that it will not form a government with the Scottish national party. Which means that the United Kingdom may have more or less the same kind of government it has now – a government that is headed by the current British Prime Minister David Cameron. But then again, all that can fall apart if the numbers are even slightly off.

From a Christian worldview perspective here’s the big thing we need to note, what we’re witnessing right now is the decline of the United Kingdom, the decline of Britain, made very clear in the fact that Britain no longer knows who it is as a nation. This particular election, and the fact that neither the two major parties is expected come even close to being able form of government, demonstrates a deep social, cultural, and spiritual weakness at the very heart of Britain. After all, just consider the fact that the party that is expected relatively to gain the most in today’s election is a party that represents Scotland wanting to leave the entire nation.

The election today has a great deal to do with the relative place of the United Kingdom in Europe and elsewhere in the world. And as the Financial Times reported just a few days ago, the big concern in the United States is that one of our closest allies – the United Kingdom – is simply falling out of a major player role on the world scene. The headline in the Financial Times was, United States Decries Britain’s Waning Global Influence. The same thing was made clear by columnist Michael Wolff writing in USA Today when he said that the American indifference, generally true about the election taking place today in England, is understandable. He then said,

“Almost every possible election outcome will make Britain less relevant to the United States and less significant in the world. It really is an-end-of- Britain-as-we-know-it sort of moment”

The really concerning thing for us in the United States is that the relative weakness and the decline of one of our closest allies is not good news for the United States. The so-called special relationship that has existed between the United States and Britain ever since the Second World War is now threatened by the fact that Britain seems no longer to know what Britain is, who they are as a nation. And as the influence of Britain is receding on the world scene, that leaves the United States without one of our key allies. And the weakness that is going to be demonstrated in the election today is a weakness that will register in capitals all over the world.

The Christian worldview significance of the election taking place today has to do with the parliamentary system of government as well in Great Britain. One of the strengths of a parliamentary system of government, contrasted with our own, is that the government in power, in accordance with a parliamentary system of government, can’t lose a vote. That means that the government in power has a great deal of forward momentum in terms of accomplishing its own policies. But when you look at the weakness of the parliamentary system, one the most immediate things we see is that when you have the weakness of Britain right now, the kind of coalition, the bargaining that is going to have to take place between the parties to come up with 326 votes, it will almost surely weaken the government and it will weaken the nation. That’s a warning to us.

Both the American constitutional system and the British parliamentary system are deeply rooted in the Christian worldview. Two different applications of what it means to recognize the inherent rights of citizens to determine the shape of their own government. But as we look at the relative strengths and weaknesses of their system versus ours, today is likely to be a significant civics lesson for voters in the United States and for Christians in the United States.

Our constitutional system of government with the division of powers and into three branches in checks and balances, checking the power of each, it has its weaknesses. But as contrasted with the British parliamentary system and the British election taking place today, my guess is that the very few Americans would trade our Constitution for there’s.

As Christians understand , every election is a test of worldview and when it comes to voters in Great Britain the election choice they may face is for a member of Parliament, but the election will actually reveal a great deal more. The election will reveal the worldview of the British people. What do they actually believe, even when it comes to the question: what do they believe about Britain?

2) Secularists note gap between liberal and conservative voters reflects gap in moral values

Next, when it comes to the interaction between worldview and politics it is hard to come up with an article that’s more insightful and important than one that appeared recently at Bloomberg News. The author of the article is Cass Sunstein, who is a law professor at Harvard University. And Sunstein is also the director of the Harvard Law School’s program on behavioral economics and public policy. The most important thing I can do is simply quote from how he begins his article because he’s explicitly talking about worldview and politics. He writes,

“What separates conservatives from liberals? In the past decade, the most illuminating answers to this question have come from Jonathan Haidt, a New York University psychologist whose research bears directly on the emerging 2016 presidential campaign — even if his answers might not be quite right.”

Sunstein goes on to write,

“Haidt’s basic finding is simple. Throughout history, human beings have operated under five sets of moral commitments: (1) avoidance of harm, (2) fairness, (3) loyalty, (4) authority and  (5) sanctity. Conservatives recognize all five, but liberals recognize only the first two.”

Now if you’re thinking about the importance of a worldview understanding of politics, how could there be anything more important than this? Even if both Haidt and Sunstein are way off in their analysis here, this much is important: they are recognizing that the worldview of an individual directly relates to the electoral decisions made in the polling booth. And as they are now looking, from a secular and rather liberal perspective on how people make these decisions, their understanding is that there are five different issues that conservatives tend to think about when they make their electoral vote. But when it comes to liberals – I’m not saying this, they’re saying this – there are really only two.

Let me quote again from Sunstein’s article. He writes,

“Conservatives and liberals agree on the importance of avoiding harm. If someone assaults someone else, people of every political stripe object. The two sides also agree on the importance of fairness. People who cheat one another, or break promises, meet with bipartisan disapproval — even if people often disagree over what fairness requires.”

Sunstein then writes,

“According to Haidt’s research, what separates conservatives from liberals is that they also care a great deal about loyalty, authority and sanctity. Suppose that people have betrayed their family, or that they have acted disrespectfully toward their parents or their bosses, or that they have engaged in a disgusting act. Conservatives are far more likely than liberals to feel moral outrage.”

What we have here is an extremely revealing analysis. And as I said, the source is not inconsequential to the importance of the article. We’re talking here about a law professor at Harvard University who says, if you want to look at why moral conservatives and moral liberals think differently and vote differently, they are separated, as we have said, by an increasing gulf when it comes especially to moral values. One of the most important things about this article is that both Jonathan Haidt and Cass Sunstein understand that those moral issues are real.

But the most fascinating part of the analysis here is that liberals operate on the basis of two moral criteria and conservatives generally on the basis of five. Liberals and conservatives are agreed on the importance of avoiding harm and the importance of fairness even if sometimes they define these issues differently – that’s important. But the most important aspect is where Haidt and Sunstein now tell us that when it comes to conservatives not only are there the moral criteria of avoiding harm and fairness, but also loyalty and authority and sanctity.

Now let’s look at those three words. Let’s look at the fact that these two political theorists are saying that when it comes to conservatives, moral conservatives, these three issues pertain, they serve as criteria for decision-making, whereas they do not among moral liberals. That is a very interesting analysis because let’s look at those three issues more clearly. First of all, loyalty. This would include, but isn’t limited to what we might call tradition – that is loyalty to a moral tradition that has held a certain moral understandings throughout time. Generally speaking, even if you listen to today’s controversies, there are those on the left who say that what we need to do is to break from tradition in what they would call a progressive arc of moral development, whereas conservatives are saying in that tradition is a moral wisdom we dare not abandon.

The second word here is authority. And that’s really, really revealing, and that’s where time and again we come back on The Briefing to discuss the fact that the issue of biblical authority in particular is the most crucial issue among moral conservatives when it comes to such a thing as the redefinition of marriage or the establishment of sexual morality. The authority here is almost, in every case, explicitly a theological authority. And now we are being told that authority doesn’t even factor as a major issue when liberals are doing their political and moral decision-making.

The third issue that conservatives think about, but liberals don’t according to this analysis, is the issue of sanctity. And just hearing that word sanctity refers by its very essence to holiness. There are certain issues – certain realities – that we believe are sacred simply because we believe there is a god who is established that they should be and that they are good. For instance, the meaning of every single human life – and this includes the issue of abortion or other issues in biomedical ethics – that the sanctity of every human life is established not merely by the fact that it is human, but that every single human life is the creation of a divine creator who has declared that life is his gift.

When it comes to the issues that separate Americans, whether in electoral contest or a public controversy, Jonathan Haidt, according to Sunstein, makes the claim that a cross partisan lines people often fail to understand one another because a moral concern that strongly motivates one group may be obscure or unintelligible to another. Now the point being made by these authors is that when you look at liberals looking at conservatives, liberals are often dumbfounded as to why moral conservatives believe what they believe – and that is generally because liberals aren’t basing their own moral and political analysis on some of the criteria that are most important to conservatives.

Cass Sunstein doesn’t buy all of Jonathan Haidt’s analysis at face value; nonetheless he says he has amassed a mountain of evidence to make the basic structure of his argument very sound. He then writes,

“There’s a big lesson here for those who aspire to public office, including the White House: If they neglect the values of loyalty, authority, and sanctity, they’re not going to speak to the moral commitments of a large segment of the American electorate.”

Now as Christians operating out of a biblical worldview look at this analysis we should be the least surprised people on earth. We should understand that those three words that are so important by this secular analysis of moral conservatism, the words loyalty and authority and sanctity, those are indispensable words to our moral vocabulary. Not only that but when we look to the first two criteria, the criteria conservatives and liberals supposedly share – that is the avoidance of harm and fairness – moral conservatives, Christians in particular, have to understand that we understand those first two issues actually in light of the next three: loyalty and authority and sanctity.

As I said, it is hard to imagine an analysis of moral decision-making and of American politics that is more significant from the perspective of worldview development than this. And what makes it even more important is that it appeared from two secular thinkers operating from a secular worldview, asking the question: what really divides people? And their answer: it is worldview. That’s not the word they use, but that’s exactly the point that they are making.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For more information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For information on Boyce College just go to We continue to take questions for Ask Anything: Weekend Edition. Call with your question, in your voice, to 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058.


I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.


Podcast Transcript

1) British elections reflect decline of clear British cultural identity

British Parliamentary Elections 2015, New York Times (Steven Erlanger, Katrin Bennhold, Stephen Castle and Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura)

White House no longer sees anything special in UK relations, Financial Times (Geoff Dyer)

Why Britain’s election is such a big deal, USA Today (Michael Wolff)

2) Secularists note gap between liberal and conservative voters reflects gap in moral values

What Conservatives Care About, Bloomberg BusinessWeek (Cass Sunstein)


R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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