Thursday, Apr. 12, 2018

Thursday, Apr. 12, 2018

The Briefing

April 12, 2018

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

It’s Thursday, April 12th, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Appointment of first humanist as lead chaplain is yet another signpost along the way to secularization

Sign posts along the way indicate just how secular Western societies are becoming. Here’s an interesting sign post that has emerged from Great Britain. The Guardian, a London newspaper, reports that Britain’s National Health Service has now appointed the first humanist who will lead a chaplaincy team. As Harriet Sherwood, religion correspondent reports, “A humanist has been appointed to lead a team of NHS” … that’s National Health Service … “chaplains, in a move that reflects growing demand for emotional and spiritual support from people who do not identify”, she says, “with any organized religion.”

The Chaplain is Lindsay van Dijk who, according to the report, “Will lead three Christian chaplains and a team of 24 volunteers, including a Catholic nun, a Buddhist and a Bahá’í, at the Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS trust. The world-renowned spinal injuries unit at Stoke Mandeville hospital”, we are told, “is part of the trust.” The story goes on, “Although there are two other humanists among the NHS’s paid chaplains, it is the first time that chaplains in hospitals and hospices will work under a non-religious leader.” In a statement celebrating the appointment, Van Dijk told the newspaper, “A lot of people don’t have an organized faith, but still have spiritual and emotional needs at difficult times.” “Often”, she said, “People are trying to make sense of their lives and the situations they find themselves in.” Now, one of the issues raised by the reporter is the reality and meaning of an afterlife, and then the reporter reminds us that humanists do not believe in the afterlife.

Van Dijk then said, “Many people approaching the end of their lives want to reflect on a life well lived.” The chief nurse of the NHS Trust, Carolyn Morrice, said, “Lindsay’s appointment confirms our commitment to provide a chaplaincy service with individual choice at its heart, catering to all our patients, visitors and staff regardless of faith, denomination or religion, including those who have no faith or religion.” Now, a little backgrounding on the story would remind us that a recent British social attitudes survey that was just from 2017 found that more than a half, 53% of British people, indicated that they hold to a secular belief system. That’s 53% in Britain. A spokesperson for the group Humanists United Kingdom celebrated the appointment, “NHS trusts are now recognizing that non-religious people often need support from like-minded pastoral carers, just as religious people need such support from people of their own religion.”. Now, as I said in introducing the issue, this is yet another sign post along the way of the rapid secularization of Western societies. In this case, Great Britain is probably still a bit ahead of the United States in this rate of secularization.

But even though this is a signpost worthy of our attention, that is not the most important aspect of the story from worldview analysis. The most important aspect of the story is that statement made by the reporter reminding readers of the newspaper that humanists don’t believe in an afterlife. Now, you would think that secular people will at least be somewhat familiar with a secular set of beliefs, since they are themselves secular people, but of course what we’re looking at here is the fact that even most secular people are rather inconsistent in their secularism when it comes to the biggest questions of life. Thus we will get that response by Van Dijk, who was the humanist chaplain now in charge of a team of chaplains, responding to how a humanist would counsel or offer pastoral care when there is no afterlife, she said, “Many people approaching the end of their lives want to reflect on a life well lived.”

Now, what is most important here is to recognize that that statement begs the question. The question is this. Does anyone at the end of life really look back on a life well lived, in a perfect and absolutely satisfying sense? What about those who profoundly cannot look back at their lives as a life well lived? One of the things this reveals is that humanist chaplains can probably answer the questions if they get to limit the questions, but the moment questions get to the very heart of meaning, the meaning of life and the reality of death, the question of significance and of individual identity, the questions that are built into the human soul by the creator who made us in his image and, as you remember from Ecclesiastes chapter three, that creator has put eternity into the hearts of men.

What does that mean? It means that even the person who considers himself or herself most secular, at the moment of anticipating death can’t possibly truly think in exclusively secular terms. But if the story tells us anything, it is that as the percentage of British people slide into secularism, the representation of secular humanist chaplains is also going to increase. But there’s something else embedded at the very end of the story. We are told that there has been a marked decrease in the total number of chaplains in the National Health Service there in Great Britain. I think we can understand why. Even as this story officially celebrates this promotion of a humanist chaplain, the bottom line of the story is that there really isn’t much of a role for a humanist chaplain at all.

Part II

‘Red Letter Revival’ attempts to plant new political theory on parts of the New Testament while being openly opposed to the rest of it

Meanwhile back in the United States, a bit of headline attention was given to a group that met in recent days in Lynchburg, Virginia. They call themselves the Red Letter Christians and they called their meeting a Red Letter Revival. Jack Jenkins reporting for Religion News Service says, “When Tony Campolo began his altar call in Lynchburg, he embellished his spiritual charge in a way not often heard in Evangelical services, ‘Are you ready to say ‘I’m going to commit myself to Jesus,” Campolo asked as many rose to their feet”, he says, “some closing their eyes and raising their hands in prayer.” Campolo then said, “I’m going to be committed to the poor? I’m going to stand up for the refugee? I’m going to speak for those who are oppressed by our society?” That altar call was part of what was called the Red Letter Revival, but as Jenkins reports for Religion News Service, it wasn’t a large revival. Roughly 300 to 350 people who met in a high school there in Lynchburg, Virginia.

One of the speakers, Shane Claiborne, said that they were not there for the Red Letter Revival in order to protest, but rather he said, “we’re here to pro-testify.” Some of the biggest names in the Red Letter Revival are themselves revealing. Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo long identified with this group called the Red Letter Christians, and then Jonathan Martin and Brandan Robertson. Claiborne and Campolo date the beginnings of this movement of Red Letter Christians back to about 2007 and of course, they’re pointing to the words of Jesus in red. The point they are making is that Evangelicals are too identified with the portions of the New Testament or the entire Bible that are in black. They want to prioritize what they identify as the words of Jesus, printed often in red letter editions in red. They want Evangelicals, they say, to be known as Red Letter Christians. The site of the meeting place of course was not accidental. It was intentionally in Lynchburg, Virginia in order to create a bit of controversy and media attention over against Liberty University also there in Lynchburg.

But that’s a long dynamic. Looking at Claiborne and Campolo, they have long defined themselves over against conservative American Evangelicalism. At the same time they want to be known as Evangelicals, and that’s why this particular topic is worthy of our consideration today. It comes down to the question, of course, who is an Evangelical and who gets to speak for Evangelicalism. There was no false advertising in this meeting, it was a meeting of those on the political left. They also claim to be on the Evangelical left, and thus you have the headline at Baptist News Global, “Campolo says Red Letter Revival seeks to convert Evangelicals to social activism.” But for the last several decades, there has been a group on the Evangelical left, and the question is just how left will they continue to march? When you look at what actually took place in Lynchburg, there are some huge questions of a theological nature that come immediately to mind.

The speakers at the Red Letter Revival said that their main concern is that conservative Christianity in America is being transformed just into a version of Christian nationalism, which they identified as idolatry. As one of the speakers said, “We’ve got to expose injustice so that it becomes uncomfortable.” That was Shane Claiborne. He went on to say, “Our goal is certainly not to antagonize, not to manipulate, not to be inauthentic. But our goal is to expose some of this stuff.” the RNS report acknowledged that this Red Letter Revival movement, “Holds little sway in more mainstream Evangelical circles.” Some of those who were present said that it represents a refreshing new movement amongst those who style themselves as progressive, but there’s something else that became very clear in the news coverage, and that is that this group may not be able to hold together for long. What would be the explosive and divisive issue? LGBTQ rights.

There was a session identified as LGBTQ plus Christians and their allies as a workshop at the Red Letter Revival, but as Jenkins indicated, “Some of the movement’s contours have yet to be delineated. Preceding this weekend’s event was a social media debate over whether organizers were affirming of LGBT identities or relationships. While the revival ultimately included LGBT speakers” said Jenkins, “it remains unclear whether disagreements on the topic could split the budding movement.” Strategic questions, according to the report, remain unresolved. An account by reporter Josh Moody of the local Lynchburg newspaper The News Advance said, “The event featured readings from Kaitlin Curtice, a Native American Christian author who spoke about finding God outside of the church; Brandan Robertson, a bisexual Christian writer and activist who shared a letter about the need to accept the LGBT community into congregations without judgment; and a spoken word necessitation from Micah Bourne, a poet and musician, that pressed the need for peace and called for a shift away from funding military operations and toward backing humanitarian missions.”

What this tells us is that the local reporter from the town newspaper considered that it just might be newsworthy that one of the authorities cited at the meeting is speaking about finding God outside of the Christian Church, and that it also included a bisexual Christian writer and activist who openly called for the need to accept the LGBT community, “into congregations without judgment,” and on and on. Tony Campolo, cited in the Baptist News Global article, said, “In the 20th century, the focus was on orthodoxy, making sure theologies were in tune with the theology that came forth from the epistles of Paul,” but he said, “in addition to having the right theology, it is important to have the right lifestyle, a lifestyle that takes Jesus seriously.” While I have no doubt that Tony Campolo speaks honestly when he talks about following Jesus, but it’s not honest to say that the issues of basic biblical and theological orthodoxy have been settled. They are profoundly unsettled in the midst of the very group that gathered there in Lynchburg. They are not only profoundly unsettled, they are deliberately unsettled.

If you’re talking about finding a meaningful experience with God outside of the Christian church, then you’re openly flirting with universalism and that’s something that many of these “progressives”, as they style themselves, have done in the past. When you talk about settling the issues of orthodoxy, and then in your own program allow the very authority of the Pauline Epistles to be called into question by calling for what Paul condemned, you’re hardly settling on unorthodoxy. A fundamental issue for our consideration is how in the world you can even refer to some people as “liberal” or as “progressive” Evangelicals when we’re in fundamental disagreement about the Evangel, about the Good News, and about the basic foundational definition of what it means to be an Evangelical Christian. Sometimes protest groups like this can raise some fundamental and relevant and important questions, but it’s very sad to observe this particular Red Letter Revival and understand that what they are fundamentally trying to do is to plant a new political theory on what they call “the red letters” of the New Testament while setting themselves in open opposition to the rest of the New Testament.

This is where finally, on this issue, Christians need to remind ourselves that we believe in the inerrancy and infallibility, the verbal inspiration of every word of Scripture. That means that Jesus himself would instruct us not to prioritize one word over another word. Not to allow the red letters in a red letter New Testament to suggest that Jesus is somehow correcting Paul, or even that they can be set over against one another. There is no way you can have the moral revolution and stay faithful to even the red letters of the New Testament. Jesus himself spoke about the clarity of Creation in what God had intended a sexual relationship and marriage to be from the beginning, a man and a woman.

In Matthew chapter 19 verse 4, this would be in red if you have a red letter New Testament, Jesus said, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh? What therefore God has joined together”, said Jesus, “let not man separate.” Not one Evangelical Christian is totally faithful in our walk with Christ or in our obedience to Scripture, but we do know this. We have no right to put one letter over another letter, much less to deny what is even in the red letters of the red letter New Testament. But this is where Christians come to understand that we are to be obedient and submitted to the Word of God in its entirety, not just to the red letters, not just to the black letters, but to every letter.

Part III

As governments escalate predation on their most vulnerable citizens, gambling losses reach record highs

Next, we shift from the United States to Australia. Just a few days ago the New York Times ran a major report by Adam Baidawi, entitled ‘Legalized gambling provides blind spot in Australian politics.’ As Baidawi reports, in pockets of suburbia all across Australia, electronic gambling machines known as pokies await their many customers in pubs, hotels and sports clubs, as common a fixture as ATMs in a shopping mall. But he goes on to say, the unremarkable machines contribute to an extraordinary level of gambling. Government statistics, he reports, show that they account for more than half of individual Australians’ annual gambling losses, a gargantuan 24 billion Australian dollars or about 18.4 US dollars. That’s 18.4 billion US dollars. On a per capita basis, The Times reports, Australians lose far and away the most in the world, with the average Australian losing an average of 1,200 American dollars or 920 American dollars every year. That’s the average per capita loss on the part of the Australian people.

Baidawi goes on to say that Australia’s gambling losses per adult are more than double those in the United States, around 50% higher than second-placed Singapore. That according to the analytics company H2 Gambling Capital. Now, when it comes to gambling, operating from a biblical worldview we have to remember that the Bible makes a very clear connection between labor and its rightful reward. The Bible warns against seeking to have financial gain other than by legitimate means. Gambling is in the Bible identified as a form of foolishness. As similar as someone putting coins into a pocket or a bag that is known to have holes in it. But something else we have to keep in mind is that there are massive, astoundingly large profits to be made from gambling, both legal and illegal, and we also have to note further that many governments want their own piece of the action.

In the United States, gambling became widespread not just because there was a market for gambling or even because there were those willing to put up the capital to build casinos, but because state by state, state governments decided that they wanted to prey on their own citizens. First also preying on the citizens of adjoining states by means of the lottery and other gambling mechanisms. Now the states are in a fifty-times free for all trying to get the most gambling income, and every time one of these states either adopts or expands gambling, the legislators and government officials say that they are putting in place protections because they recognize that gambling just might have a negative impact upon some citizens. That negative impact in this story is made abundantly clear, the average Australian … just think of a family of four … the average Australian, per capita, is losing about 920 dollars, that’s American dollars, a year just in gambling losses. Add that up.

Now, morally speaking there are a couple of absolutely crucial insights in this article. One is how it could be that the average Australian has so much opportunity to gamble this widely and to lose this much. As Angela Rintoul, a research fellow at the Australian Gambling Research Center said, “What makes Australia unique is that we’ve allowed these machines to be embedded in our local communities. We haven’t contained them just to casinos, where many jurisdictions in the world have.” So the first moral issue we see here is simply proximity. Seeking to profiteer as widely and as deeply as possible from gambling, governments have allowed these pokies, as they’re known, these gambling machines, to be embedded in local communities. Which means they’re virtually impossible for the average Australian to escape. Not every Australian is going to gamble, but they are going to be faced with the repeated opportunity to gamble.

To indicate what this is like, the story tells us that Woolworths, one of Australia’s largest supermarket chains, is the biggest single operator of the gambling machines in the country. Controlling, we are told, about 12,000 machines through its majority stake in the Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group, defined as a large company that encompasses bars, restaurants and wagering. But the second moral point that demands our attention is understanding that even as these governments have decided to prey on their own people, it’s also vitally important to understand they are preying on the most vulnerable of their own people. As in the United States, state by state in Australia the vast majority of those who lose money in gambling are in less privileged neighborhoods, where these machines tend to be concentrated.

Add to that a third point in the equation, and that is that these machines allow the average Australian to wager far more in a short amount of time than most American jurisdictions, and what you have is a fundamental reality that those who are least able to lose the money are most enticed, they are most surrounded by the machines. They have the most to lose, and very clearly, they do lose. That same expert on gambling, Angela Rintoul, said that, “The people who can least afford to be losing large sums of money are losing the most.” She pointed to a fact that one survey of the area around Melbourne found that the less wealthy area had twice as many of the gambling machines and, “more than three times the per capita losses.”

Now, just in case you thought that that’s a story safely across the Pacific Ocean far far away, just consider the fact that just this Monday the Wall Street Journal ran a major story with the headline ‘States eager to bank on sports betting’. With the Supreme Court expected to rule in a way that will legalize sports betting in all 50 states, big commercial enterprises and the states themselves are beginning to lick their chops at the opportunity for even more gambling income. Of course, we also have to recognize that means a further escalation in gambling losses, a further predation by the government upon its own people.

And all that came just about a couple of weeks after Roger Goodell, the Commissioner of the National Football League, said that his main concern when it came to legalized sports betting was ensuring the integrity of football. Now, this is the very same commission that has allowed one big NFL team to relocate soon to Las Vegas, Nevada. Speaking of his interest in the NFL, Mister Goodell pointed out that long term, the NFL would not be able to afford other people to profit off of its business without having some of those profits for itself. But as much as Roger Goodell and the governors of the states and others want to be very clear they intend to be winners in this enterprise, the losers are kept, you can be sure, far, very far out of sight.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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