Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017

Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017

The Briefing

December 7, 2017

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

It’s Thursday, December 7, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

We’ll look at the significance of the United States recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and remind ourselves of the historical context. We’ll see how the marriage revolution in Austria reveals the comprehensive confusion of the sexual revolution, and we’ll see why if religious liberty is for everyone that would actually include Christians.

Part I

The significance of the U.S. recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel

About 1000 years before the birth of Christ, Jerusalem became inseparable from the Jewish people in terms of geography and imagination. Jerusalem became inseparable from God’s covenant promises to Israel. And Jerusalem became central to Israel’s self-identity as God’s covenant people. Jerusalem became known as the city of David, and not only that, associated with Mount Zion, the place where the temple would eventually be built, and the place therefore associated with the worship of God. In the 122 Psalm there is an entire Psalm of David about Jerusalem. David wrote,

“I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!” 2 Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem! 3 Jerusalem—built as a city that is bound firmly together, 4 to which the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, as was decreed for[a] Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord. 5 There thrones for judgment were set, the thrones of the house of David. 6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! “May they be secure who love you! 7 Peace be within your walls and security within your towers!” 8 For my brothers and companions’ sake I will say, “Peace be within you!” 9 For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good.”

It was in Jerusalem of course that Jesus Christ was tried, and where he was crucified, and where he also rose from the dead. It was from Jerusalem that he ascended into heaven. It was Jerusalem that was destroyed by Roman attack where the temple itself was also destroyed in A.D. 70. Then in the time from A.D. 70 through successive generations and centuries Jerusalem became a place that was under the control of others, first the Romans, eventually the Ottoman Empire. And then when Israel was declared a state and won its independence in 1948, that original war of independence included action in which Israel took possession of West Jerusalem. When Israel was attacked by its Arab neighbors in 1967, Israel actually gained control of the entire city of Jerusalem both the West and the East. In 1980 the Jewish government adopted legislation identifying Jerusalem as the capital of the nation. And then on December 6, 2017, Donald Trump the President of the United States announced that the United States would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and would eventually move its embassy there.

So Israel lost control of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 as the Romans destroyed the city, and then Israel regained Jerusalem as we know it today in 1967. You can do the math. That’s a span of about 1900 years between A.D. 70 and A.D 1967. When President Trump made the announcement yesterday, the international media and most of the mainstream media in the United States responded with the absolute declaration that the president’s action was controversial. The Washington Post in its headline declared the president’s action to be a reversal of longtime U.S. policy. Is it? Well that gets complicated. Back in 1989 the United States actually arranged from Israel the long-term lease of property that could become an American embassy. Keep that date in mind, 1989. In 1995 the United States Congress overwhelmingly passed legislation that would require America’s government to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. That’s 1995. The president speaking yesterday announced that the United States would now move forward with recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and would also put into action plans to move the embassy as well. That move at the embassy could be as simple as turning the current consulate in Jerusalem into an embassy. That’s basically just a declaration of new status. It could also involve as the president indicated an entirely new building and compound that would become the United States Embassy in Jerusalem.

But why the controversy? Well when you look at the headline from the Washington Post again it declares this is as a reversal of longtime U.S. policy. But as we said that’s very complicated because the United States Congress in 1995 voted overwhelmingly to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Furthermore the United States Senate reaffirmed that vote just in terms of recent months. So how in the world can it be a reversal of U.S. policy? Why in the world would it be controversial? Well here’s another twist in the tale. If you look at the United States Congress in 1995, it adopted that legislation in what we would now call a symbolic action. Congress did not intend that at that time the Clinton administration would actually move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It was a symbolic action that was intended to offer a certain amount of political leverage in terms of the peace talks at the time. It was also understood to be a symbolic action that would be an encouragement to Israel and would also be warmly supported by Jewish people in the United States and friends of Israel. The legislation adopted in 1995 also included a trigger framework that required every administration to report every six months on why it had not moved the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. And ever since 1995, every six months the incumbent president of the United States has explained that the embassy was not moved for national security reasons.

So what are those national security reasons? They’re not actually about the national security of the United States, first and foremost, but about America’s national security interest in securing peace in the Middle East. That’s the big complication. It’s not only Israel that claims Jerusalem as its capital city, but also Jerusalem is claimed particularly East Jerusalem as the capital city of what would be hoped by many Palestinians to become a reality of a Palestinian state. Part of the reluctance in previous administrations or even the Trump administration until now in actually moving forward with the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was that it would be destabilizing in terms of peace talks and furthermore can actually lead to Palestinian retaliation.

In his speech given yesterday President Trump referenced that legislation from 1995 known as the Jerusalem Embassy Act, and then he continued,

“Yet, for over 20 years, every previous American president has exercised the law’s waiver, refusing to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem or to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city. Presidents issued these waivers under the belief that delaying the recognition of Jerusalem would advance the cause of peace. Some say they lacked courage, but they made their best judgments based on facts as they understood them at the time. Nevertheless, the record is in. After more than two decades of waivers, we are no closer to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.” The president then said, “It would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result. Therefore, I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”

So what would be the result of the president’s announcement? For one thing it immediately changes the entire international scene when it comes to the understanding of the capital of Israel. The United States thus becomes the very first major power to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. That’s not only symbolic, that’s substantial as it comes to political action. Furthermore, the president announced that the United States would actually move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel that goes beyond the first step of recognizing Jerusalem to the second step of making that concrete in terms of a metaphor in the form of an American embassy.

In his speech yesterday the president said that this did not mean in any way that the United States is retreating from a commitment to an international peace process in terms of especially the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. But make no mistake this is absolutely big news. This is big news both in Israel and in the United States and just about everywhere in the world. It also underlines another basic fact, and that is that the majority of nations in the international community do not recognize Israel’s claim not only to Jerusalem as the national capital but to East Jerusalem as Israeli territory. The move yesterday is likely to be very encouraging to the current Israeli government and to the Israeli people. It is also going to be extremely irritating – that’s beyond controversial – for many of the other nations of the earth, particularly major European capitals, that had been trying their very best to forestall the United States from taking this action.

In terms of major Arab capitals there is likely to be a voice of protest, but it’s not likely to go much beyond that the answer to that is actually very surprising. It has to do with the fact that the Arab nations do not see Israel as a threat. They see Jerusalem in terms of this claim as an irritation, but they do not see Israel as a threat. In more cases than not they see other Arab nations as a greater threat. There is no question that in the United States domestic scene this announcement cannot be separated from the president’s support base. It was the president as a candidate who pledged that if he were elected he would move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and that support base includes many millions of evangelical Christians. Some of those evangelicals are likely to see this action as having something to do with biblical prophecy. On the other hand, a good many evangelicals will see this more importantly as a matter of American foreign policy.

An honest assessment would have to acknowledge the fact that we often simply are unable to know the midterm or the long-term impacts of a decision of this kind of foreign policy consequence. Even those publicly identified as Zionists both in Israel and in the United States are divided over whether or not this announcement is in the best interest of Israel. Some very ardent Zionists say that the symbolic action will not be worth the risk in terms of an increase in the war on terror or the declaration of a new intifada with its center in Jerusalem. On the other side is the argument that this is the appropriate and timely recognition of Israel’s right to its own capital and to the territory that it seized only after being attacked. The other argument is that the announcement that came yesterday was simply timely, recognizing the right of the people of Israel to declare their own capital, and furthermore to include in that capital East Jerusalem as was gained by Israel only after it had been attacked by its Arab neighbors.

Christians looking at the announcement made yesterday understand that the consequence and the meaning is not just in the context of the last say 30 years or even three centuries but three millennia in which Israel has been at the very center of our theological imagination. But we are also reminded by that very text in the 122 Psalm that we are to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. And that means praying for a genuine peace, praying for a lasting peace, a peace that is in reality not merely in symbolism and a peace that recognizes the fact that many of the Palestinians who will be most offended by this action are those who are identified as Christians trying to find their own way in terms of the tumultuous politics not to mention the geography of Israel today. There will be those who will celebrate, and there will be those who criticize perhaps are alarmed by the announcement made yesterday. But what Christians know to do is simply to obey that mandate from the 122 Psalm – above all things pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

Part II

How the marriage revolution in Austria reveals the comprehensive confusion of the sexual revolution

Next we shift to the issue of legalizing same-sex marriage. You’ll recall that even right now the nation of Australia in terms of its parliament is debating the eventual final form of legislation legalizing same-sex marriage. But our immediate concern this week is not Australia, but rather Austria where on Tuesday Austria’s high court the constitutional court ruled that preventing two people of the same gender from marrying is a violation of the Austrian Constitution. The court then ruled that Austria must allow and recognize same-sex marriage beginning on January 1 of 2019. Now this raises a host of questions. Why that length of time between December 2017 and January 2019? It turns out that the answer is that the Austrian court is now ordering the government to come up with appropriate legislation and changes in legal structures in order to facilitate those same-sex marriages beginning on January 1 of 2019.

But in terms of the decision that was announced in Austria, there are a couple of very interesting aspects. The first aspect is the fact that once again we see this very new idea of dignitary harm embedded in this decision by the Austrian court. Dignitary harm is the new argument that persons are harmed if their dignity is insulted. In the case of Austria’s court the ruling was that having two separate institutions, one civil partnerships for same-sex unions versus marriage for the union of a man and a woman, caused that kind of dignitary harm. This is an almost entirely new moral concept amongst human beings, but we’ll notice just how quickly it has taken hold now being cited in terms of the structure of the argument by Austria’s highest court.

But there’s one other aspect. And that is the fact that what you really see here in terms of the legalization of same-sex marriage is not so much what is claimed by the proponents of such legalization. They are simply now including same-sex couples supposedly in the long and enduring institution of marriage. What you have is a redefinition of marriage itself, and that is made clear in the fact that now according to the ruling of Austria’s highest court. It is not only the case that marriage must be extended to same-sex couples. It is also the case that civil partnerships must be extended to heterosexual couples. What in the world does that mean? It means that the civil partnerships which were invented as a form of something like marriage for same-sex couples but which do not come with all the legal protections of marriage including the obstacles to divorce. Well it turns out that heterosexual couples themselves are now demanding access to what we might call marriage light.

Thus as CNN reported on Wednesday,

“As part of its attempt to iron out inequalities in the system, heterosexual couples will from next year be able to opt for a civil partnership that falls short of marriage.”

So now we can see on display the comprehensive confusion that the sexual revolution has brought about, including most particularly the confusion that comes with the legalization of same-sex marriage. Not only do you have same-sex couples demanding to be included in marriage, but at the very same time now you’ve got heterosexual couples demanding to be included in civil partnerships, marriage light.

Part III

If religious liberty is for everyone, that would actually include Christians

Finally coming back to the United States, we’ve been looking particularly this week at that dangerous intersection of the newly declared sexual liberty and then religious liberty. And in response to that intersection Luke W. Goodrich of the Becket fund has written an important essay published in the Wall Street Journal, an essay reporting on research that he and his colleagues have undertaken. Research that underlines the fact that religious liberty litigation in the courts, most importantly in the federal courts, actually has more to do with defending the rights of non-Christians than of Christians. Remember that both the Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of the Poor cases came up on appeal to the Supreme Court after being heard by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. But Goodrich then reminds us that the 10th Circuit decided more than 10,000 cases in the past five years. Apart from those regarding the contraception mandate, he says,

“there were only four victorious claims of religious freedom. None of them involved Christian issues. The four victories were for Muslims challenging an anti-Shariah law, Native Americans challenging a ban on killing eagles, reality TV stars challenging a ban on polygamy and atheists challenging a Ten Commandments monument.”

But then he asked the obvious question,

“Why is there so much hand-wringing about a handful of religious-liberty cases brought by Christians?”

Goodrich then concludes in very important words, and I quote,

“This is because the political left applies a double standard. If religious liberty is invoked by a favored minority, it is legitimate. But if it is invoked by a Christian with traditional moral views, it is seen as an excuse for hate. Progressives,” he says, “engage in culture-war bullying when religious liberty would stand in the way of their social views.”

That’s a very timely observation when we think about the Masterpiece Cakeshop case that was heard just this week before the U.S. Supreme Court. But it’s very important to recognize this also explains the allergy towards religious liberty claims made by Christians by so many in the cultural elites and amongst politicians and perhaps most importantly amongst figures in the media. So in this sense we need to remind the entire culture and those that influence the culture that when we rightly insist the religious liberty is for everyone that everyone actually includes Christians.

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.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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