Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018

Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018

The Briefing

January 16, 2018

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

It’s Tuesday, January 16, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Today we will look at religious liberty threatened in the state of Iowa specifically on the campus of the University of Iowa, and then we will see religious liberty threatened even more explosively when Chinese authorities dynamite a major church in that nation. We’ll be looking at the issues of work and welfare and at the distinction between political intentions and political reality. And then we’ll be looking at the dichotomy between a false warning that was heated in Hawaii and a real warning that is being ignored to eternal peril.

Part I

In the name of eliminating all discrimination, University of Iowa discriminates against Christian student group

We’ve been watching the inevitable collision between religious liberty and sexual liberty. Sexual liberty of course being a newfound, newly constructed liberty that isn’t actually in the U.S. Constitution not mentioned at all but has recently especially by action of the U.S. Supreme Court been enshrined as the nation’s primary liberty. That inevitable collision comes because when you’re looking at religious conviction in general and Christian convictions specifically you are looking at a worldview that cannot bend the knee to the sexual revolution not without theological accommodation, compromise and surrender. And when you’re looking at where these conflicts are likely to come, one of the most important front-line arenas is the American college and university campus.

That’s why today’s news takes us to Iowa City, Iowa and the main campus of the University of Iowa identified by the Associated Press quite naturally as the flagship institution of higher education in the state of Iowa. David Pitt of the Associated Press as reported and published in the Washington Post reports this,

“The University of Iowa is caught up in a legal fight with a conservative Christian student group that denied a leadership position to a student who is gay.”

As the reporter tells us,

“The case pits a university policy barring discrimination based on sexual orientation against the religious beliefs of a 10-member group called Business Leaders in Christ.”

He goes on to tell us,

“The group sued after the state’s flagship university in Iowa City revoked its campus registration in November.”

Now as Pitt goes on to report this group known as business leaders in Christ declares itself open to everyone but requires its leaders to affirm a statement of faith. That statement of faith reflecting historic biblical Christianity rejects homosexual practice and behavior.

“The university,” says Pitt, “respects the right of students, faculty and staff to practice the religion of their choice but does not tolerate discrimination of any kind.”

This is where we need to stop and reflect upon what we have just read. We have just come to understand that in the name of eliminating all discrimination the University of Iowa will openly, candidly discriminate against a Christian group. Notice also the very ambiguous and intentionally confusing language that is employed here. The University says that of course it respects it always respects the rights of faculty and staff and students to practice the religion of their choice. But here’s the problem – that respect goes right up until the point that that religious practice offends the new sexual morality of the university administration. We should note that this small student group in the business school at the University of Iowa is explicitly Christian in its identity and mission statement. It says that it exists in order to encourage and mentor students on,

“how to continually keep Christ first in the fast-paced business world.”

But the group has run afoul of university administrators because it requires a belief statement of those who will serve as leaders. The group lost its registration and as the Associated Press tells us the loss of that official registration means that it can no longer reserve campus meeting space. It can’t participate in student recruitment fairs or access funds from student activity fees. It can’t use even university wide communication services. Amongst the beliefs the group requires of leaders is the fact that all should embrace not reject their God-given sex, and it also requires that they support the idea that marriage can be only between a man and a woman. The statement of faith says,

“Every other sexual relationship beyond this is outside of God’s design and is not in keeping with God’s original plan for humanity”

After being stripped of their official recognition, the group has now filed a federal lawsuit against the university claiming an abridgment of its own religious rights furthermore freedom of association and freedom of speech. But in one of the most interesting arguments made in the case, it is abundantly clear that this group is claiming that the University of Iowa is rejecting any group’s ability to have leaders who support the actual identity and mission of the group. Eric Baxter an attorney from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty representing the students said and I quote,

“Every organization to exist has to be able to select leaders who embrace its mission”

He went on to argue,

“You would never ask an environmental group to have a climate denier as their leader. It’s the same thing here.”

Meanwhile a spokeswoman for the university said that the institution has what she defined as,

“a right and obligation to ensure an open and nondiscriminatory environment on campus.”

She said that all,

“on-campus groups must guarantee ‘that equal opportunity and equal access to membership, programming, facilities, and benefits shall be open to all persons.’”

Now here we encounter the kind of language that is now customary in the sexual revolution. It’s language that justifies discrimination in the name of opposing discrimination. When you have this inevitable conflict of liberties between religious liberty and the new sexual liberty, make no mistake the University of Iowa is choosing sides. It is clearly choosing to prize and to defend sexual liberty even at the extreme of de-certifying, denying official registration to a student group established by Christians for Christian conviction in a clearly Christian identity and mission statement. It simply has no place in the modern American university according to this logic.

We also need to know that similar kinds of cases against this kind of university discrimination have already failed, one of them most famously from a law school in the state of California, and we need to note that this not only affects public universities but many private universities as well. It’s been years ago now that Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee took similar action against Christian organizations leading to the departure from the Vanderbilt campus of many prominent Christian ministries, including the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. In the name of absolute nondiscrimination, many Christian groups on campuses are now being discriminated against even being denied the right to require leaders of organizations, serving a Christian purpose, claiming a Christian identity to be Christian. In a brilliant rejoinder to the University’s action and its statements, a young man by the name of Jacob Estell, a business student there at the University and a member of the group, said,

“Like the higher-ups at Cal State,” that’s the law school of which we spoke, “the officials at my school have told our group that we must ‘revise’ our religious beliefs to their satisfaction.”

But then he writes,

“our beliefs weren’t made by us, and they can’t be changed by us — and certainly not just to please coercive university policies.”

Here you have this college student making the absolutely essential argument. This group didn’t make up Christianity. They are claiming Christian identity. Christianity is a revealed religion. It is based upon the Scripture. The Christian church has held uniformly for 20 centuries that marriage is and is exclusively the union of a man and a woman, and it has held to a consistent sexual morality in terms of the sexual moral judgment based upon the very issues of contention in this case. Regardless of how the case turns out in the courts and far beyond the importance of the constitutional interpretation that will be key here, the theological understanding of the church is most important. And that’s what Jacob Estell has made very clear. When speaking of Christian conviction, he stated,

“our beliefs weren’t made by us, and they can’t be changed by us”

If only every Christian organization and every Christian congregation understood that fact, just as boldly.

Part II

Religious liberty threatened even more explosively as Chinese authorities dynamite major church

But even as we give necessary and proper attention to this inevitable collision between sexual liberty and religious liberty, we have to understand that in some places the denial of religious liberty is a lot more dangerous and sometimes a lot more explosive.

Saturday’s edition of the New York Times included the headline,

“Chinese Police Dynamite Christian Megachurch”

Russell Goldman reports that,

“Chinese police officers demolished one of the country’s largest evangelical churches this week, using heavy machinery and dynamite to raze the building where more than 50,000 Christians worshiped.”

Now as you look at the story, it’s clear that this church that is the building known as The Golden Lampstand Church had been unregistered. But as the New York Times indicates even as it is believed that China now includes far more than 60 million Christians about half of them are believed to worship in nonregistered congregations. That’s important. It’s important to recognize that China has taken on a newly aggressive atheism and has especially identified evangelical Christianity as a modern foreign threat. We also need to note that the Chinese government following the familiar pattern of dictatorships claims to have the right to register all organizations. There is no freedom of religion or freedom of assembly in the nation of China under communist rule. But it’s also really important for us to understand that in this modern global civilization the tyrants in China did not fear international backlash even after it’s no exaggeration dynamiting a major Christian church building in China.

As we’re thinking about the fact that there are Christians those claiming the name of Christ around the world who are in constant danger, we need to recognize that when we speak about the infringements of religious liberty in the United States – we’re speaking here about something real – but we’re speaking elsewhere about something a good deal more deadly and a good deal more urgent. Back in the year 2000, communist authorities arrested many of the leaders of the church and also confiscated Bibles. Now they have gone so far as to blow up the building. In a very public statement that the Chinese government expects to communicate in a way that is unambiguous. It sees Christianity as a threat.

And of course Christianity is a threat to any totalitarian regime because the Christian faith underlines the fact that there is no ruler, no king, no emperor, no president, no premier, no party leader who claims authentically any total power. That power belongs to God alone. And in that sense with 20 centuries of church history behind us, we can now assure the communist authorities in China that if they thought they could extinguish the gospel of Jesus Christ by blowing up a building they’ve deluded themselves. But we should also note that if the Chinese party in China thought that it was making a statement of its power by excluding this church it was actually demonstrating its weakness and its paranoia.

Part III

Hard lessons learned in the state of California on the issues of work and welfare and the distinction between political intentions and political reality

But now we shift back to the United States where we look at developments that remind us of the difference between political intention and political reality. The story’s by Kerry Jackson. It’s published as an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times. That in itself is important. The headline,

“Why is liberal California the poverty capital of America?”

It’s asking a very good question. In this case Kerry Jackson asked, why if California has only 12% of the nation’s population it has about 1/3 of those in the nation who are dependent upon welfare of one form or another? The answer to the question is really interesting. The author points out that it’s not because California policymakers have neglected to wage a war on poverty. One way or another California has spent between the years 1992 and 2015 $958 billion in social welfare programs. That’s $958 billion. In many places in California welfare recipients can continue to receive financial benefits through social welfare programs even if their family income is 200% above the poverty line. So California has a very liberal state government that declares itself to be committed to eliminate poverty, but after spending $958 billion in 23 years, it has actually led to the increase of poverty levels in the state.

As Jackson writes,

“The generous spending, then, has not only failed to decrease poverty; it actually seems to have made it worse.”

Jackson then goes on to ask the question, why? And he raises an issue we’ve discussed previously on The Briefing. And that is the fact that as he documents back years ago,

“In the late 1980s and early 1990s, some states — principally,” he points out, “Wisconsin, Michigan, and Virginia — initiated welfare reform, as did the federal government under President Clinton and a Republican Congress.”

But he points out that the common thread in this welfare reform was a work requirement. As he writes,

“Welfare rolls plummeted and millions of former aid recipients entered the labor force.”

He then writes,

“The state and local bureaucracies that implement California’s antipoverty programs, however, resisted pro-work reforms. In fact, California recipients of state aid receive a disproportionately large share of it in no-strings-attached cash disbursements. It’s as though welfare reform passed California by, leaving a dependency trap in place. Immigrants,” he points out, “are falling into it: 55% of immigrant families in the state get some kind of means-tested benefits, compared with just 30% of natives.”

So the first answer Jackson gives to the question, why would poverty be rising even in the face of this incredible anti-poverty spending? Is the fact that there is a decoupling, a moral decoupling of receiving the benefits and the expectation of work. As I’ve pointed out many times, that’s a biblical principle now verified in public policy.

But secondly Jackson points to another fact. The California government includes 883,000 full-time equivalent state and local employees. He says that California which obviously has an enormous bureaucracy includes a disproportionate number of these bureaucrats who work in social services, and many he argues would lose their jobs if the typical welfare client were to move off the welfare rolls. He points to a perverse incentive we need to note often affects government, the perverse incentive to make the problem worse in order to justify increased spending and increase staffing.

So I’m simply going to submit that I’ll accept the best of intentions on the part of those in California leadership in eliminating poverty. The fact is there policies and programs are not working. They are making the problem worse, and there are moral and there are financial reasons why. The worst of these reasons takes the form of perverse incentives in which the government actually creates financial and political incentives to make the problem worse rather than better. When we look at this story in terms of biblical analysis, what we should see is that all of the key insights though extremely relevant and modern are actually found within the logic and often the explicit teaching of Scripture. The Scripture certainly warns against the moral not to say the permanent separation of labor and income, and it does so in such a way that it creates a lesson that is now being learned by the state of California the hard way if sadly enough it’s being learned at all.

Part IV

A false warning that was heeded in Hawaii vs. a real warning that is being ignored to eternal peril

Meanwhile the biggest news of the last several days has come from the state of Hawaii, and it has to do with the false alarm, a false warning given by the government concerning an imminent attack by ballistic missile. About 8:07 AM on Saturday morning Hawaii time, an alarm went out to residents and tourists in Hawaii,


As Amy Wang reported for the Washington Post,

“A more detailed message scrolled across television screens in Hawaii, suggesting, ‘If you are indoors, stay indoors. If you are outdoors, seek immediate shelter in a building. Remain indoors well away from windows. If you are driving, pull safely to the side of the road and seek shelter in a building or lay on the floor.’”

As the story continues to unfold, there have been two different explanations for how the false alarm was sent. One explanation blames a shift change and a miscommunication in a computer instruction. The other has said that an employee simply pushed the wrong button, making the distinction the wrong choice between an alarm as a test and alarm as a reality. According to this explanation, there was a choice on a drop-down computer menu between test missile alert and missile alert. The employee we are told chose the wrong option by accident. This would be a disaster at any time but a particularly acute disaster when there are heightened fears of a ballistic missile attack from North Korea.

But while we are thinking about the inefficiencies of bureaucracy, perhaps the worst part of the story from Hawaii has to do not with the wrong alert alarm that was set out at 8:07 AM, but the fact that it took 38 minutes for a correction to be sent along similar lines of communication. That doesn’t mean that it took 38 minutes for authorities to determine that the alarm was wrongly sent. It means that it took 38 minutes, 38 torturous minutes for Hawaiians, in order for the message to be corrected. Why? Because we are now told the state government had authority to use the federal communication system to send the alert but not in order to withdraw. The bureaucracies had come up with no approved language for withdrawing an alarm. So while state and federal bureaucrats were arguing over which language could be appropriately used in order to withdraw the alert, the fact is that the residents and tourists of Hawaii were living through 38 minutes of sheer terror. It’s also instructive to note that it would take less than 38 minutes for ballistic missile attack from North Korea to reach the Hawaiian Islands.

Rest assured that at some level heads will roll. There will be some placement of accountability and blame with some kind of consequence. But we should also note a couple of huge lessons. The lesser of these lessons has to do with the fact that we are very vulnerable to this kind of false alarm. At several points during the Cold War, we came frighteningly close to a nuclear attack that would have lead to a nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union over what amounted to false alarms. But for Christians I think the bigger lesson here is not the false alarm that had to be corrected, but the real alarm that is so often ignored.

I’m thinking about the gospel alarms found in Scripture. I’m thinking about Ezekiel Chapter 33 where the prophet Ezekiel is identified as the watchman whose responsibility it is to blow the trumpet when the enemy approaches Israel. As we read in Ezekiel Chapter 33,

“if he sees the sword coming upon the land and blows the trumpet and warns the people, 4 then if anyone who hears the sound of the trumpet does not take warning, and the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be upon his own head. 5 He heard the sound of the trumpet and did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself. But,” Ezekiel is told, “if he had taken warning, he would have saved his life. 6 But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any one of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.”

In verse seven of Ezekiel 33, we read,

“So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel.”

And just as the prophet Ezekiel was made in this sense a watchman over the house of Israel, every pastor, every preacher is made a watchman over his own congregation, bearing the responsibility to issue the warning. If he issues the warning and people do not respond to the warning, then their responsibility is their own. But if the preacher or the prophet fails to sound the warning, then the Scripture makes clear God will require the judgment of the prophet or the preacher.

I also think of the key biblical text of Hebrews Chapter 12, speaking of what happens when sinners reject the call to salvation and the warning of divine judgment which is to come. In Hebrews we read in Chapter 12 verse 25,

“See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven.”

So from a Christian, from a gospel minded, from a biblical perspective, the really important story here is not the false alarm that was heated, but the real alarm that is ignored.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to BoyceCollege.com.

I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me using the contact form. Follow regular updates on Twitter at @albertmohler.

Subscribe via email for daily Briefings and more (unsubscribe at any time).