Monday, January 15, 2018
Monday, Jan. 15, 2018
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Monday, January 15, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian world view. Today we'll look at a looming political crisis in the United States, especially over the next four days and we'll see that the larger crisis is actually over the moral issue of immigration. Then we'll look at language and morality in the White House and in your house, and then we'll look at Martin Luther King Day in the United States.
With the possibility of government shutdown only four days away, political crisis looms over Washington D.C.
We are looking at a looming political crisis in Washington DC and not for the first time of course, but now we're looking at a bare minimum four days of crisis. Why? Because once again, in effect, the federal government kicked the can down the road. This was a conspiracy on the part of both houses of Congress and the President of the United States to delay making a decision on spending authorization, so just before the end of the year when the current spending authorization ran out and the threat of a government shut down loomed, they, in effect, just kicked, they punted, and yet they put a deadline on that delay. That deadline, January the 19th, Friday of this week.
Unless the Congress and the President and his administration can come to a decision and agreement in terms of extending spending authorization for the federal government, a limited government shut down will begin almost immediately. Now, you notice the word 'limited' inserted before government shut down, that's because when it comes to the federal government, in the largest sense, it can't really shut down. What's called a shut down of the government doesn't affect the largest percentage of federal spending.
It doesn't affect defense, it doesn't affect entitlement programs. What it affects are issues of political expediency more than anything else. We're talking about issues that tend to get a lot of public attention, especially during the summer in this case, because the prime example is whether or not the national parks are open. A less pressing issue in January than in July, but more significantly we are talking about the forced layoff of thousands and thousands of federal employees, but does that mean that those personnel costs will not be spent? No, in virtually every case, as soon as the political parties come to an agreement, they also agree on back pay for those laid off federal employees.
This is politics' theater, and not good theater, it's a dangerous way to run a democracy, and just to state, the most obvious but often unarticulated reality in this, if the federal government does shut down, what it shuts down are the parts of the federal government we can't afford for some time given this political theater to shut down, but if the parties fail to reach agreement and the government does go into that limited shut down on Friday, it would be the nation's 19th in terms of recent political history.
If you go back to the first, it would be 1976 when there was a similar shut down to the government. That was the only government shut down during the administration of President Gerald Ford. During the administration of Jimmy Carter with just four years in the presidency, there were five government shut downs. Ronald Reagan served two full terms and in those eight years, there were eight government shut downs. Only one under Bush 41, that is President George H. W. Bush, two under President Clinton, and the last, the 18th, before now, came under President Obama, October the 1st through the 16th of 2013.
But as we're applying world view analysis to this, one of the things we need to recognize is that we need to name political theater as theater, but we also need to understand that politics is largely about theater. It is about posturing, public statements, public argument. It's about finding which argument wins and it's about risk. Both political parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, will be playing their political game believing that their best course will be to do whatever puts the opposing party in worse light. What neither party is going to admit is that the basic fact is that there are huge spending differences in policy and principal between the Republicans and the Democrats.
The Democrats favoring continually expanding government funding, even at the expense of deficit spending, and the Republicans at least saying that they are opposed to that kind of expansive government funding and often raising the issue of the deficit. What is not so articulated as I'm saying here is the fact that both of the parties nonetheless are complicit in continually expanding the spending of the federal government and in now continually raising the level of the national debt and our deficit.
This means that to a greater and a lesser degree, and that's not unimportant, both parties are co-conspirators in shackling our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren with a level of debt no one actually believes they're going to be able to pay. But in a broader sense and with greater importance, the political crisis of the next four days in Washington DC may really have less to do, even in terms of the raw politics, with an agreement on spending.
Why comprehensive immigration reform is needed, but should not be based on racial prioritization
It is likely to have far greater to do with an argument over immigration. Specifically the DACA program, a program put in effect by the Obama administration in the year 2012. A program put in effect by President Obama's executive order creating a new class of immigrants to the United States previously identified as illegal immigrants or undocumented immigrants. These are young people who came to the United States illegally but not by their own action but the action of their parents.
President Obama with widespread Congressional support, especially from his own party, put in effect a policy that created a new category allowing for long term permanent residency for those young people identified as qualified for DACA. There were other qualifying considerations, including the fact that these young people had to be either involved in higher education or working, and they had to avoid committing any kind of major crime.
DACA or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals has become one of the most important and urgent political considerations and particularly because last year President Trump announced an end to the program reversing the Obama administration executive order and Congress has been at least to this point unable to come up with an agreement between the two parties and between the House and the Senate that would effect a legislative fix for "the dreamers" as they are called.
But late last week, the situation already messy and contentious got a good deal messier and more contentious. This is because in a White House meeting on Thursday, the President of the United States made arguments that hadn't been uttered by a major political figure in the United States for generations. President Trump, using language unrepeatable on The Briefing, and by the way, the White House at first denied the President used that language but senior White House officials have since confirmed that he used the language.
The President nonetheless raised explicitly ethnic and racial rationales for America's legal immigration policy. By that we mean the distinction between what is legally defined as legal and illegal immigration with this turn. In terms of the President's conversation on Thursday, we enter into some really urgent world view analysis and it's difficult. We need to think very carefully. For one thing, we need to define our terms very carefully. Both as we're looking at the issue of immigration and laws concerning immigration. There is this key distinction, especially as we're thinking of the current political climate.
Two huge immigration issues loom over our political and moral discussions. One of them has to do with what we call illegal immigration. That is what to do with millions of those who are in American who entered the nation illegally. We're talking about between 12 and 13 million people in the United States at present it is believed. But the second issue has to do with the illegal immigration and every nation has laws on the books and policies and principles behind them having to do with how the nation receives those who are not born in the nation but rather have to be received and naturalized into the national identity.
Once again we see political gamesmanship at work, both parties at different times have contended for and against what is called comprehensive immigration reform, but it's particularly interesting on the Republican side where it was Republicans who gave a great deal of leadership to the last major overhaul of the nation's legal immigration policies. But more recently, President Trump ran on an agenda as he campaigned for President of limiting immigration to the United States and explicitly for the first time in modern recent American history, extending that to legal immigration.
The President often confuses the two categories and that appears to be what happened on Thursday. Saving the language issue for future consideration at this point, the most important issue for us to recognize is that the President appeared just in stark terms to raise the issue of how America in our legal immigration policies should prioritize the right people coming to this country instead of the wrong people.
The biggest problem here in moral terms is that he made this argument in nationalistic, ethnic, and apparently racial terms. Notably, we should understand that the President didn't use the issue of race explicitly, rather he listed countries on the good side of the ledger and countries on the bad side of the ledger. That was the incident that brought about the language issue, but as you look at those nations, they basically break down between light colored people and dark colored people.
From a Christian point of view, we definitely do need comprehensive immigration reform in the United States and we need Congress and the President to take responsibility for this, but it must not be based upon any kind of racial or racialist kind of categorization or prioritization. That should not be a defining issue. It really shouldn't even be a debatable issue in the United States, but we also need to recognize that some who immediately condemned the President's statements made statements that are themselves unsubstantiated. They are not supportable.
For example, there is the argument that we should have no consideration as to which persons should be prioritized for entry into the United States and naturalization by means of immigration. But of course we should, this is where Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina got the issue exactly right when he spoke back to the President last Thursday saying that America isn't a race, it is an idea. What was most right about what Senator Graham had to say there is that it affirms that America should have an immigration policy that prioritizes not merely those who want to come to America, but more urgently those who really want to become Americans.
This is something America learned in some very difficult twists and turns of the 20th century. In the early decades of the last century, the United States adopted a racist race-based immigration policy. It was not only immoral, it was a disaster. We should also note that in those different times the prioritization, the distinctions were different, those American immigration laws were primarily directed against those who were trying to come to the United States from eastern and southern Europe.
But most ominously, we need to recognize that America's comprehensive immigration policy put into effect by our government in 1924 became a blueprint for another nation to apply its own racial principles and it actually used the very logic, language, and statutory enactments of the United States immigration policy, but that nation was Nazi Germany and it ended in genocide.
That immigration policy also worked hand in hand with what was considered to be a reproduction policy, which went under the name of eugenics. The very name means good genes and the argument was that we need more children from the fit, that often meant racially fit, and less from the unfit. Now one footnote here is that we need to note that that was a major idea and principle behind Margaret Sanger and the formation of what would become known as Planned Parenthood.
But it also drove American immigration policy and it was transferred to Nazi Germany, a nation that picked up our arguments and did so all the way to genocide. Christians should affirm the need for comprehensive immigration reform and that begins with reforming our laws for what is rightly considered legal immigration. Here we need to be very honest. This nation depends upon legal immigration. We depend upon people coming and joining the American experiment and we shouldn't apologize for the fact that we want people who are going to join the American experiment, who are going to contribute to this nation.
We must be extremely careful never to define that potential or that commitment in racial terms, and we should repudiate any form that that argument may take, but we should not release ourselves from the responsibility to look to the future wanting to make certain that the persons who are a part of the American dream are those who want to become a part of the American dream. Who want to become Americans, not just to live in America, but that leads to our affirmation that there should be comprehensive immigration reform when it comes to understanding what we are going to do with those who are currently in this country without documentation or authorization or any kind of long term status.
Here we also need to be honest to say that much of our economy depends upon the very presence of those persons within the United States. Furthermore, we also have to understand that we as a nation have created the problem. That's not to say that we are responsible for every person illegally entering the United States, but we are responsible for our failure as a government to deal with these issues straightforwardly, honestly, and effectively. Here we have to affirm the fact that a nation that doesn't have an effective way of policing its immigration policy will not be a healthy nation for long.
As we're thinking about how to determine whether persons really want to become Americans as opposed to merely wanting to live in America, that brings us back to that program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA. The young people referred to by many as 'the dreamers'. That refers to the fact that they dream of becoming a part of America. These are young persons who were brought to the United States illegally by their parents. They made no such decision of their own. They have been largely raised in the United States.
I believe that when President Obama established this program, he did something that was morally right but he also acted unconstitutionally. I do not believe that the President of the United States has the authority to ignore or to revise federal law, which is what President Obama did. That is something that is instead left to the powers of Congress, the power to legislate. But I do believe that there is a moral cause for creating a future for 'the dreamers'.
If we are thinking about how to distinguish those who want to become part of the American experiment and to contribute to this nation, we would begin with those who have stayed out of legal trouble, who have instead as young people advanced in education and entered into our workforce. That's exactly what we would be looking for. Those are positive contributions to America as an experiment, America as a culture.
Writing over the weekend in The Wall Street Journal, reporter Ian Lovett ran a story with the headline 'For Evangelicals, A Change of Heart on Immigration'. He looks back to 2006 and then forward to 2018 and suggests that there has been a seismic shift in the evangelical conscience on the question of immigration. Most particularly, he points to the fact that evangelical churches have themselves become far more radically diverse and established churches and denominations now include active outreach to those who have come to the United States by immigration legal or illegal.
Furthermore, in many evangelical denominations, it is precisely those churches that are the growth curve, but Lovett also recognizes that this change he identifies in the evangelical conscience is driven not merely by pragmatism, but also by principle. This is a coming to awareness of the fact that immigration is a significant moral issue and that America's evangelical churches should see immigration as an opportunity rather than as an obstacle.
As we are thinking about the great commission, the establishment of churches, and of course, as we are thinking about the fact that the picture we are given in the scriptures to which we aspire in the church is to see men and women drawn from every tongue and tribe and people and nation. The closer our churches look to this, the closer our churches look to the church established by the Lord Jesus Christ.
Ian Lovett helpfully points to a resolution, an official statement adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention in 2011. I'll simply affirm the fact that it's not only important but we need to recognize that the resolution was adopted overwhelmingly by the Southern Baptist Convention, which was meeting not only in the year 2011, but was meeting in the city of Phoenix, Arizona.
In that 2011 public statement, known as a resolution, the Southern Baptist Convention cited moral and biblical mandates as we're thinking about immigration and then the convention went on to call upon the Southern Baptist Convention and its churches to declare that any form of nativism, mistreatment, or exploitation is inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and to deplore any bigotry or harassment against any persons regardless of their country of origin or legal status.
The convention called for Christians to ask our governing authorities to prioritize efforts to secure the borders and to hold businesses accountable for hiring practices as they relate to immigration status, and the convention called for governing authorities to implement with the border secured, a just and compassionate path to legal status with appropriate restitutionary measures for those undocumented immigrants already living in our country.
The resolution concluded by praying that our churches would demonstrate the reconciliation of the kingdom, both in the verbal witness of our gospel and in the visible makeup of our congregations. That's a powerful statement. It's an extremely timely statement, of all things more timely in 2018 than when the Southern Baptist Convention adopted it just a few years ago in Phoenix in 2011.
Language and morality...in the White House and in your house
Finally, as we're thinking about American culture, we need to reflect upon an article that ran over the weekend in the New York Times, the headline, 'When the President Says It, That Means It's Not Unprintable'. What had been unprintable in American political history until say the last 72 hours had been a word attributed to the President of the United States in this Thursday conversation. A word I'm not about to use on The Briefing and a word we shouldn't use and a word that had no place and has no place in the headlines or the news coverage of America's media, but you'll notice it tells us something about our culture that the media are now saying that they can use this kind of language so long as it is attributed to the President of the United States.
There's the headline 'When the President Says It, That Means It's Not Unprintable'. That article in the New York Times by Michael M. Grynbaum actually went through a recitation of exactly which anchor did use the term and did not looking also later at print media. The most telling statement came from CNN's Frank Sesno, Washington Bureau Chief. He said on Thursday, "Times and levels of White House discourse and what the public will tolerate have flipped." He concluded, "Right along with the rest of our culture."
Well, that's exactly the problem. Right along with the rest of our culture. The levels of White House discourse, but also of our national conversation have changed and have changed radically for the worse. Christians understand that our language reveals more than we often intend. Our language reveals our hearts and we need to take responsibility for our language. That's a basic principle that Christians understand and we understand it concerning all language, wherever it is used. In our house and certainly in the White House.
A dream that was right: Remembering Martin Luther King Jr.
As we come to the end of The Briefing today, we reflect upon the fact that 2018 is the 50th anniversary of one of the most pivotal and destructive years in American history, the year 1968. In Vietnam, it was the year of the Tet Offensive and it was the year that America appeared to be tearing itself apart, tearing itself apart politically. Just think about the riots that were taking place in American cities and all the way to Chicago in the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
It was the year of political earthquake with Richard Nixon elected as President of the United States and it was a dark year, one of the darkest of American memory in terms of assassinations. 1968 saw the assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, a major candidate for President of the United States, and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. But today, a federal holiday in the United States is not established by the assassination date of Martin Luther King Jr., but rather by his birthdate and the very fact that it is now federal holiday in the United States tells us a great deal about moral change in this country.
As we go through the year, we will be looking at some of those pivotal dates and will be considering what the 50th anniversary of those events means for America today. But on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we should remember what it means that King spoke so eloquently of his dream and it is a dream that all Americans should share. It was a dream that was right, morally urgent, and morally true in 1968. Just as true in 2018 and always true, because moral truths never change, they are always and evermore true.