Thursday, February 8, 2018
Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018
Tags: Audio, DACA, Gloria Copeland, Holocaust, Poland
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, February 8, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Today we’ll look at a dramatic week in American politics. We’ll ask why democracy is particularly messy. We’ll see why trying to shut down an argument almost always intensifies the argument, and we’ll ask what it means when a televangelist denies flu season.
Drama in both the House and Senate as Congress considers budget deal and DACA fix
Democracy, constitutional democracy, representative democracy is often very messy. It's often unwieldy, and it is usually unpredictable. And it has its own ways, its own rules and its own game being played out. Now as you look at the United States in both the House and the Senate, you look at the United States Congress and you see how the political ball gets hit one way and then the other. In the last budget deal it appeared that the Democrats had caved to Republicans who had the upper hand, but right now at least in the United States Senate it appears to be the Democrats who have won a major victory in a bipartisan agreement between the majority leader Mitch McConnell and the minority leader Chuck Schumer who have agreed to a rather significant increase in federal spending as the cost of achieving a new budget deal. That’s something the Democrats have been working for for years now ever since a budget agreement back in the year 2011 that put a significant limit on the federal debt.
At midweek it appeared that the big story was going to be in the United States not only the bipartisan agreement between Senators McConnell and Schumer that would extend the budget deal, but also the fact that the Senate Majority Leader, Senator McConnell, had agreed to allow a bill that would extend protection and residents’ eventual citizenship to the dreamers to reach the floor. The dreamers are those young immigrants without documentation who have no legal status in the United States but who came here illegally not by their own action but by the action of their parents. They are the subject of a policy that had been put into place by President Obama that was entitled Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. President Trump rescinded President Obama's order. By the way at the time I had argued that President Obama's order was unconstitutional, but at the same time it was morally right. What's unconstitutional is for the president of the United States to do what only the Congress has the authority and right to do. The president is to enforce and to apply legislation and the nation's laws not to change them unilaterally. But what President Obama did though unconstitutional was morally right, and thus that raises the question how can we fix the situation?
The fix requires a legislative remedy. It requires Congress to act according to its own constitutional responsibility and act as a clear majority in both the House and the Senate have indicated they would act to extend permanent protections for the dreamers. This is where the political game gets really, really interesting. If you look at the Senate, the reason why a bill on the dreamers is almost sure to pass is because the majority leader is going to allow it to reach the floor. There a significant number of both Democrats and Republican senators added together will more than amount to the 60 votes needed to bring the full measure to the floor where it will succeed. But then just when we thought that the big drama was going to be this week in the United States Senate, yesterday the minority leader of the House of Representatives, California representative Nancy Pelosi, took to the floor of the house and gave what will be recorded as the longest speech, the longest officially recorded speech in the entire history of the United States House of Representatives. The speech was eight hours 10 minutes long, and it had one major political purpose. It was to speak over Congress over her fellow Congress persons directly to the citizens of the United States of America by means of technology and communications in order to bring sufficient political pressure against the speaker of the House of Representatives, Representative Paul Ryan to force the speaker to allow a bill that would also extend protection to the dreamers to reach the floor of the United States House.
But the political gain in the House is even more interesting than most major media indicated yesterday. And that's because in the House as in the Senate there is no question that there is a significant majority ready to vote for legislation that would create a fix for the dreamers. So why is it not assured of happening? It's not an official rule of the House. It is instead a self-imposed rule that Republican speakers have placed upon themselves ever since former Republican Speaker Dennis Hastert, a Republican from Illinois. That policy – it’s often called the Hastert rule – says that a Republican speaker will not bring to the floor any measure that does not have the support of a majority of Republicans in the House. So minority leader Pelosi, we should note herself a former speaker of the House of Representatives, she sought to bring pressure against the current speaker in order to get a pledge from the speaker that he would allow the measure offering protection to the dreamers to arrive on the house floor. And that's the price she sought to exact in order to have a sufficient number of Democrats support the budget agreement that will get the nation past the budget impasse that will arrive, let's just remind ourselves, at midnight tonight.
Intelligent Christians should be interested in all of this not only because of the importance of the issues being debated, but because of the importance of watching how politics happens, how there are different patterns in the United States house and the United States Senate. This points back to the founding vision of those who framed the U.S. Constitution who not only came up with the separation of powers between the judicial the executive and the legislative but who also understood the need for one chamber of Congress that would be more directly democratic – that’s with a little “d”, more inclined to attention to urgent democratic passions. That's why members of the House are elected every two years, and on the other hand an upper house – that’s the United States Senate – much cooler passions presumably to reign there. And the Senators are elected for a six-year term that means they have more political insulation. It's also because the framers wanted the United States Senate to be a control or a break upon the legislative process, slowing down what might happen if the entire Congress were made up just of the House.
All this points to the political process that happens in the United States but doesn't appear to happen elsewhere even in other constitutional democracies. Take for example the differences between the democratic political systems in the United States and in the United Kingdom. When you take Britain and the United States, you are looking at two of the most enduring experiments in democratic self-government in the history of humanity, but they're quite different. How are they different? It is because Britain follows as we should note most constitutional democracies follow a system of parliamentary governments. Whereas the United States has a constitutional governance of the separation of powers. This means that in Great Britain when an election is held it is a party that gains dominance not a political leader. The Britons do not directly elect their Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is elected by the majority party, and the Prime Minister is the head of government but not the head of state. And when you have a parliamentary system, you avoid an awful lot of the messiness of American democracy. Why? Because by virtue of the fact that the ruling party has a majority the ruling party at least in theory can never lose a vote.
So in the British system of democracy, itself a constitutional democracy without a written Constitution, in Great Britain the Prime Minister should never lose a vote in Parliament. That is not true in contrast when you look at the United States of America and when you look at the president of the United States. The president of the United States is often thwarted by Congress even as we see sometimes when the Congress is made up of a majority of his own party. This tends to make American democracy by definition and also by experience messier. And we’ve seen some of that mess, let's rephrase it as drama, in both the House and the Senate in a single week. The Prime Minister of Great Britain as head of government at least in theory should never lose a vote in Parliament.
So is the president of the United States then politically weaker than the Prime Minister of Great Britain? Well, no. That's because according to our constitutional order the president of the United States is not merely head of government. The president of the United States is head of government, head of state and commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces. Thus, the president of the United States constitutional elected by the people of the United States can act unilaterally in a way that no parliamentary Prime Minister can, and it takes a good deal more political energy to get a bill all the way to the signature of the president. It requires the approval of a majority in the House of Representatives, the approval of the majority usually a super majority in the United States Senate and it requires the concurrence of the president of the United States.
All this reflects a certain worldview commitment by the framers of the U.S. Constitution. That separation of powers is deeply rooted in a Christian worldview and the recognition that putting absolute power into any human hands is an invitation to disaster. That's due of course to the Christian biblical understanding of sin, so you add together the biblical affirmation that government is one of God's gifts, and at the same time the warning against the concentration of sinful power in any single source and you come up with something that necessitates the kind of constitutional order we know in the United States. And that means that when you're looking at what's happening in Washington even this week dramatic as it is – and let's face it an eight hour 10 minutes speech in the modern age on the floor the United States House is real drama – and let's face it the big question of whether or not an agreement can be forged inside the house and inside the Senate and then between the House and the Senate and then between Congress and the president all of this is a political drama over issues that truly matter. When it comes to the dreamers, we’re talking about real human lives, and we’re talking about nothing less than the American vision. We’re talking about the kind of culture we are and the kind of culture we want to be. Politics sometimes deals with the mundane. We are reminded this week sometimes it deals with matters of true and lasting significance.
Lessons from Poland: Why trying to shut down an argument almost always intensifies an argument
But next also on legislation shifting from the United States to Poland, yesterday the Wall Street Journal reported that Poland has now enacted a libel law intended to punish those who accuse Polish society of complicity in the Holocaust. This despite as the Wall Street Journal notes objections from the United States, Israel and some survivors of the Holocaust, including some survivors of the Auschwitz prison camp, the death camp that is located in what is now Poland. They said that the new law threatens,
“to stifle honest discussion of the Nazi genocide.”
The Polish president, President Duda, said in defending the legislation,
“It is important to protect the good name of Poland and the Polish people. We have a right to our historical truth.”
Now this is where we need to note that when you make that kind of argument you are actually intending to bring about an argument, or at least honestly you should know so. What the Polish government has done here is a self-inflicted wound. In trying to shut down discussion of the historical truth in Poland concerning Polish complicity with the Nazis and with the death camps, the actual effect of the legislation is going to be to bring about exactly what the legislation was intended to prevent. One of the key worldview insights here is that trying to shut down an argument is exactly the way to expand the influence of the argument. The Polish government will learn in this occasion what other governments have learned. When you try to deny free speech and open argument on a debated question, indeed an historical question, then what happens is that you bring now in this case international attention to the question you are trying to limit.
The president’s statement also included something else that should bring about a worldview alarm, and that is the expression he used about truth. He said that the Polish people are entitled to what he called our historical truth. Well that's where we need to note that historical truth cannot be actually preceded by any pronoun – yours, mine or ours. We are committed to an understanding of history and an understanding of truth in which historical arguments may be yours or mine, but the historical truth doesn't belong to anyone. But furthermore the conversation that will now happen as a direct result of the Polish government’s action, the very conversation that will take place even as they tried to shut down the conversation, will direct serious historical attention and that means international attention to the fact that there were anti-Semitic purges and pogroms back for centuries before the rise of the Third Reich. And there can be no question that the historical record demonstrates that there were persons in now what is called Poland who were complicit in the machinery of the death camps.
Now in this complicity the Polish people are by no means unique, but that doesn't make the story less important. It simply points to the fact that there were many peoples and many nations complicit with the genocide of the Third Reich, an apparatus of death that could not have happened without multiple complicities. It also points to a reality of a deep-seated and deadly anti-Semitism that has been more the rule than the exception, especially in Eastern Europe throughout many of the last several centuries. That's the reason why historian Timothy Snyder pointing to that region of Eastern Europe has referred to it as the blood lands. And furthermore the historic record will demonstrate objectively documented that Polish people had been both the victims of and collaborators with various forms of evil and repression over the last several centuries. And again we affirm that this is not at all unique to the Polish people, but right now it's a Polish moment because the Polish government has taken action that draws attention to it even when trying to do exactly the opposite. Here's a great lesson for us, you can't win by trying to shut down an argument. You can only win by winning the argument.
Gloria Copeland says you should not ‘receive’ the flu. Why that doesn’t mean you won’t get it
Next, sometimes headlines force theological issues upon us in the most awkward way. How about this one from yesterday's edition of the Washington Post? The headline,
“A televangelist’s flu-season advice: ‘Inoculate yourself with the word of God.’”
The report in the Wall Street Journal tells us that at least 53 children across the country have died during a particularly nasty flu outbreak that is already documented as one of the worst on record.
“But Texas televangelist Gloria Copeland thinks,” according to the Post, “there's nothing to worry about. In fact,” even as she has, “advised President Trump's campaign,” she now, “says she doesn't believe there is such a thing as flu season.”
Copeland said and I quote,
“We got a duck season, a deer season, but we don’t have a flu season,”
She went on to say,
“And don't receive it when somebody threatens you with, ‘Everybody's getting the flu!’”
Theological analysis points us to the meaning of those last words where she said don't receive it when someone says that everybody's getting the flu. By receive it she is using language that is now rather characteristic of the word faith movement where receive it means to agree with it. By saying don't receive it, she’s saying don't receive it as true. Do not agree with it. Don't agree with the fact that flu is a real thing and that flu season is a real time. Do not agree with the fact that flu is a real threat. Gloria Copeland and her word faith evangelist husband Kenneth Copeland have long been associated with arguments against modern medicine. She has said for example that she and her husband don't need or use prescription drugs because the Lord heals all illnesses. Even when it comes to cancer Gloria Copeland has argued that such a diagnosis should not be received.
Gloria Copeland has said that her listeners should simply receive the fact that our health is in God's hands. And then she went on to say and I quote,
“‘Jesus himself gave us the flu shot’ and ‘redeemed us from the curse of flu.’”
She said that the word of God offers protection from the flu,
“If you say, ‘‘Well, I don’t have any symptoms of the flu,’ well, great! That’s the way it’s supposed to be,’ she said. ‘Just keeping saying that. ‘‘I’ll never have the flu. I’ll never have the flu.’’ Put words. Inoculate yourself with the word of God.’”
The word faith movement is a particular perversion of biblical Christianity that appeared and became wildly popular in the middle decades of the 20th century. Kenneth and Gloria Copeland are now type A examples of the word faith movement and even as they and their ministry continue now well into the 21st century the arguments are virtually the same as those that emerged in the very beginnings of the movement. The argument is that power is given to believers in the Lord Jesus Christ to defy physical reality, to make things materialize by visualization and by claiming them by the power of faith alone, claiming even material wealth and health. And furthermore this then morphed into the kind of arguments that you see here. Arguments that relying upon God means that we do not turn to modern medicine. Arguments that actually defy biological realities such as the existence of viruses and how they operate.
Furthermore, this perverse kind of theology often associated with the prosperity gospel also makes promises that the Gospel never makes. The biggest problem with that is that it makes God a liar, and furthermore it distracts persons from the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ that does not promise us escape from the flu but does promise us escape from sin and death. It diverts attention from the Gospel and from the facts of the Gospel and the biblical promise of the Gospel to a vain concern for health and wealth. And it is a theology that is grotesquely untrue. It is a theology that cannot by definition deliver on its promises. That's to say that you can expect the listeners to Ken and Gloria Copeland's television ministry to have about the same ratio of flu as anyone else. But they're likely to have a worse time with it if they believe that their faith in God prevents them from turning to modern medicine.
It’s also important to recognize that we would not be discussing this event on The Briefing if it were limited to the kind of video that either of the Copelands may offer to merely their own viewers. We’re discussing it because this was a headline story published by the Washington Post. Sadly, there are many people across this country who believe that what the Copelands preach is the book of Christianity. But that is quickly refuted by the Bible.
Finally, on this issue prosperity theology does not, and this is very well documented and can be easily observed, it does not lead to prosperity amongst those who are the followers. But amazingly enough, it does lead to prosperity amongst the prosperity preachers. Kenneth Copeland might not take a flu shot, but he did recently take possession of the Gulfstream five private jet. And of course that private jet is going to fly according to physical laws that evidently both the Copelands accept quite conveniently so. The very same kind of physical laws they reject when it comes to flu, flu season and the existence of a virus. And you can take it to the bank that even as Gloria Copeland says that you should not receive the flu, that doesn't mean you won't get it.