Monday, Apr. 23, 2018

Monday, Apr. 23, 2018

The Briefing

April 23, 2018

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

It’s Monday, April 23rd, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Transfer of power in Cuba proves that some of the worst and deadliest ideas seem to persist the longest

The headlines over the weekend announced a change of power in Cuba, but the most important thing to recognize is that nothing fundamental has changed. Some of the worst, even deadliest, ideas seem to persist the longest and there is no greater example of that than the island nation of Cuba. Just south of the continental United States, it has been in the grip of a communist regime ever since the Marxist revolution of 1959. In 1959 that revolution was led, most famously, by Fidel Castro who served as the dictator of Cuba between 1959 and 2008. Upon his retirement, largely due to ill health, in 2008 his brother Raul took over and Raul has been the dictator from 2008 until last week. Or at least last week he relinquished the head of state duties officially as state president. Those duties were shifted to the new president, Miguel Diaz Canel, but make no mistake this really isn’t much of the shift at all.

One of the issues we should note here is that when Western media and many Western diplomatic figures look at the pending kind of transition that everyone knew, just as a factor of age, was coming in Cuba they always seem to hope and claims to have evidence that this new leader is going to be a reformer, secretly a moderate whose moderation and leanings toward the West will come out only when they have the opportunity and seize power.

Believe it or not, that’s just kind of speculation arose even when Kim Jong Un took over as the new leader in North Korea, another communist dictatorship. Just over the border from North Korea the same kind of speculation was even more widespread when Xi Jinping took over the reins of the Chinese Communist Party. Now, just keep in mind that immediately after that speculation the regime in North Korea swerved into a deeper and more little dictatorship while across the border in China we just saw, in recent months, that Xi Jinping is not even going to relinquish power, but is instead establishing a widespread and seemingly permanent power base.

Christians looking at this need to think at the deepest worldview level and understand that the basic issue when it comes to Cuba is its Marxist philosophy that has taken the shape of a communist ideology. Behind the regime in Cuba is communism and behind Cuba is the Marxism, that basic worldview is established upon a sterile materialism and upon that materialism is built an entire political ideology. Materialism is the argument that there is no reality beyond material reality, reduces human beings to mere atoms and molecules, denies supernatural, any form of theism, or even spirituality. That’s why officially Marxist regimes, especially communist regimes, have been totalitarian and atheistic regimes. Communism has its own understanding of creation that’s the doctrine of evolution in its materialist form, and it goes on to have its own doctrine of original sin, which is the oppression of the proletariat, that is the working class by the rich with the aid of the middle class.

Marxism is a secular ideology explicitly seeking to replace Christianity, also has its own gospel that is the good news of political revolution, but of course that good news turns out not to be good news at all. Communism in the stage of revolution and especially the rule of the Communist Party was supposed to be a temporary inter-medium between revolution and the arrival of pure communism, a utopian dream which is the communist eschatology, but nowhere, of course, did that dream ever materialize. The eschatology never came instead every single communist regime got stuck in a dictatorship that was claimed to be on behalf of the people, but it was the people who suffered.

It is interesting to note that in 1959 when that communist revolution occurred in Cuba worldwide there was the assumption that communism was the winning political strategy, the ideology that was on the ascent. We tend to forget, now, that there were many Western figures who had invested tremendous hope in communism, an entire cultural left well described by the communists in places like the Soviet Union as fellow travelers. Those were useful to the revolution because they shared its basics political aims.

Fidel Castro promised prosperity and equality. He promised liberation to the people of Cuba, but instead what he brought was a brutal regime that began in murder and continued political murder. The use of the power of the state and its military to shut down all opposition to imprison political prisoners, sometimes for life, and to lead to an entire generation or even now more than a generation which included many who were simply identified as ‘disappeared by action of the state.’ It’s also interesting to see some of the language that gets through.

In an article that appeared on this transition yesterday in the New York Times with the headline Cubans Doubt a Change at the Top Will Bring Change at The Bottom the reporter is Azam Ahmed. The article cites a man identified as José Luis Armenteros, he’s identified as a psychologist who was taking a smoke break on Thursday afternoon when the reporter got the comment. Here’s comment, “In other countries when a new president is elected it brings  change in one form or another. Here, he said, A new president comes and no one believes will be changed.”

Well, no one has any reason at this point believe there will be change, but what’s interesting is to see how the reporter and the editors let this man used the word ‘elect’ as if it makes sense. Again, he said in the beginning of his statement, “In other countries when a new president is elected it brings change in one form or another,” so how exactly with the new president of Cuba elected. He was elected, basically, by choice on a ballot of one, that one would be Raul Castro, for whom he served as Vice President and evidently a very loyal and ideological lieutenant. It’s also important to note that the deputies there in Cuba had to vote for this new president and they did, here’s a surprise, overwhelmingly. By the way, not one of the deputies had any opposition in any election.

There’s something else that appears here. In his inaugural address, offered last week, the new president said that he is a staunch ally of Raul Castro. He went on to say that there is, “No room in Cuba for those who strive for the restoration of capitalism.” After announcing his own styled reforms of the communist economy there in Cuba a matter of years ago, Raul Castro more recently has been cracking down and reversing even the minor amount of liberty that he had created or allowed. Just in the last several months some fledgling businesses that had actually started to prosper were shut down because the prosperity of those free enterprise entities threatened the communist ideology.

The article in yesterday’s edition of The New York Times blames the United States and most importantly the current administration for the crackdown that is taking place and the repression in Cuba. What’s really important to note is that even just a little bit of searching would reveal that The Miami Herald, a newspaper unusually attentive of course to developments in Cuba, had run an article on August 22nd of last year offering, what the headline suggested, was a rare glimpse of hard line ideology from the presumed next leader of Cuba. Reporter Nora Gámez Torres tells us that in a leaked video the now new president of Cuba, then the vice president, said in response to the Obama administration’s attempts to create a new diplomatic climate with Cuba, he said, “We do not have to give anything in return.”

The man who is now the new president also said, according to The Herald, that, “The process of normalization of relations initiated by former President Barack Obama with just a different way of attempting what he called the destruction of the revolution.” In this leaked message that he delivered to Communist Party leaders in Cuba he went on to announce that he was going to further crackdown on the media and, speaking of one particular news source, he said, “We are going to close its digital platform and let the scandal ensue. Let them say we censure, it’s fine. Everybody censors,” he said.

Even as this headline article in The New York Times yesterday is certainly right when it says that a change in the top at Cuba isn’t likely to bring any basic change for the bottom of the nation, what isn’t really given attention here, and it should’ve been, is the fact that Raul Castro’s holding onto leadership of the Communist Party. That this change isn’t really much of a change at all, and that what is most importantly unchanged is the Marxist communist ideology of the Cuban regime. If anything, what we see here again is the Western temptation to believe that any new communist leader is a moderate who’s really an untold friend of liberty. The new president, Miguel Diaz Canel, did not gain his new office by promising Raul Castro that he would moderate.

Back in 1949 a bunch of Western intellectuals who believed they had been duped into believing the false promises of communism understood what was at stake, a political idolatry. In 1949, they published a book entitled The God that Failed: Speaking of Communism. That was back in 1949, which means all the way from 1949 to the present there is no excuse for believing that Communism is anything other than what it is.

Part II

As socialism resurges in the United States, many who identify as socialists don’t really know what socialism is

Meanwhile, I have to wonder next if anyone noticed that the New York Times ran not one but two articles on communism and socialism. The other one was a full-page in the front section. The article’s by Farah Stockman and the headline is this, Candidates are Embracing the S Word. The subhead in the article, Socialist Once a Slur used by Conservatives has New Meaning Among Younger Voters. The entire purpose of this full-page article in the New York Times is to argue that there is now a resurgent socialism in the United States. Now, of course, in the 2016 presidential election there was the unprecedented rise of Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders running as a democratic socialist. Most Americans, however, didn’t know what democratic socialism might mean. Bernie Sanders really didn’t care about that, but what he did represent was a resurgence of the far left in American politics. What became clear is that there is an enormous energy and hunger for the far left in the Democratic Party and what was also clear is that many younger Americans, especially amongst the millennials, are at least open to flirting with Marxism and socialism.

The article begins in Houston, Texas where Franklin Bynum had won the Democratic nomination to become a criminal court judge in Houston. In his own statements he said, “Yes, I’m running as a socialist. I’m a far left candidate. What I’m trying to do,” he said, “Is be a Democrat who actually stands for something and tells people, Here’s how we’re going to materially improve conditions in your life.” The article continues rather than shy away from being called a socialist a word, says the New York Times that conservatives have long wielded as a slur, candidates like Mister Bynum are embracing the label. He is, we are told, amongst the Democratic Socialists of America members running in this fall’s midterms for offices at nearly every level nationwide. The list then provided includes a candidate in Hawaii running for Congress, another in California former mayor of Richmond, California running to be that states Lieutenant Governor. Even in a state like Tennessee, a man identified as Dennis Prater, an adjunct professor at East Tennessee State University, is running to be a local county commissioner.

The article takes an interesting turn when we are told, “Supporters, many of them millennials say they are drawn by the Democratic Socialists of America’s promise to combat income inequality, which they believe is tainting every facet of American life including the criminal justice system, medical care, and politics. They argue,” says The Times, “That capitalism has let them down saddling them with student debt, high rent, and uncertain job prospects, and they’ve been frustrated by the Democratic party, which they say, has lost touch with working people.”

Now, before looking at the larger world view issue we should at least note the facts that right now unemployment in the United States is at spectacularly low levels, so even though the economy is changing there, at this point, is no shortage of jobs. Furthermore, when you consider the fact that this generation is complaining that capitalism has let them down and the key examples are student debt and high rent we should note that some of the millennial generation identified in this article are some of the very people who chose to saddle themselves with enormous student debt, sometimes at universities that have charged exorbitant tuition. Tuition charges that were well known and documented at the time.

Furthermore, this generation has tended, especially as reflected in this political development, to move towards urban and coastal enclaves with unusually high rent, so we can understand the reality of high student debt and also high rent, but there are variables behind this that will have nothing to do with whether or not the economy trends in a more socialist direction. Here is where we also need to note that the elites, which are sounding the greatest alarm about income inequality, tend to gather themselves in the areas of the country with the greatest income inequality of which they themselves are the main driver.

Sometimes in an article like this you just need to watch people talk about themselves. That occurs in the case of Amy Zachmeyer, identified as a 34-year-old union organizer, she said, speaking of the aims of the democrat socialist, “We want to see money stop controlling everything that includes politics.” Now, before we go any further we simply need to note that socialism doesn’t take away the problem of money. It certainly doesn’t lessen to any degree the power of money in politics, but let’s just move on. She went on to say, “That just resonates with millennials who are making less money than their parents did, are less able to buy a home, and drowning in student debt.” There we see the argument, but then look at the next sentence in the article. “Miss Zachmeyer who pays about $1000 a month in student loans says that financial burdens helped persuade her to become a socialist.” The bottom line is that that means she took on this burden with her own student debt and then wants someone else to pay for it.

The article in The New York Times is really helpful in pointing out that the current generation of young Americans has no basic understanding of the actual history of socialism and communism in the 20th century. It’s also abundantly clear in the article that many of the millennials who claim that they’re now open to socialism and even identify themselves as socialists have no basic understanding of what socialism means. This becomes clear in some studies in which a greater percentage of younger Americans say that they identify as socialists or are open to the option, but when actual economic and political statements are listed one by one they don’t choose the socialist propositions. What that tells us is that, at least for many, socialism sounds good because it sounds like something different than what they know.

Now, remember also that the man who began this story is running to be a criminal court judge in Houston. Just consider the article as it continues, “Many socialist candidates sound less like revolutionaries and more like traditional Democrats who’s secret return to policies in the mold of President Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal. They want single-payer health care, a higher minimum wage, and greater protections for unions, but others,” says the article, “Advocate more extreme changes like abolishing the prison system.” In the case of Mister Bynum remember he’s running to be a criminal court judge in Houston. “He wants an end to a cash bail system that requires people accused of crimes, even major offenses, to pay money to be released from jail before trial.”

Now, that might sound like power to the people, but what it really means is criminals on the street. Remember that the preceding sentence said that some of these candidates are actually looking to abolish the entire prison system. By the way, Marxist regimes have not abolished prisons. Instead they have filled them with political prisoners. The Democratic Party’s established leadership is not all sure what to do with this resurgent socialism. Christine Pelosi, a California member of the Democratic National Committee and daughter of the former Speaker of the House and current minority leader of the House Nancy Pelosi said, “Diversity helps the party.”

Adding further confusion is the fact that when many of these young adults, now open to socialism, are asked what kind of socialist nations they want to emulate the point to Scandinavia, but the Scandinavian nations are not socialists they are instead welfare states and furthermore they are welfare states running out of money. Much of the money they both have and had has, from North Sea oil, but those are the fossil fuels the same generation says they don’t want to either extract nor sell. Margaret Thatcher had said that, “Socialism was over as an economic reality because it failed.” She said, “At some point you simply run out of someone else’s money to spend.” I don’t think Mrs. Thatcher, if she were alive today, would actually be surprised that the ideology has not gone away. As I said at the beginning of this program, sometimes the worst and deadliest ideas last the longest.

Part III

Why religious organizations’ right to hire people devoted to their religious beliefs is vital to religious liberty

Finally, yesterday’s edition of The Washington Post included a column by Carla L. Miller, it’s about work advice. The headline is this Facing Termination at a Religious Non-Profit because of a Change of Faith. The reader who wrote in said this, “I’m a layperson not an ordained member of the clergy working for a religious non-profit that requires its employees to be members of the faith in good standing and to provide a reference from our clergy to prove it. In the past year, I have lost my faith and no longer practice the religion. I love my job and would stay if I could but my status is up for review soon and when it’s discovered I no longer attend services I will be immediately terminated. According to policy, I could be terminated today if it were discovered. I had hoped to find another job for now, but I haven’t yet.” The advice, columnist Carla L Miller then wrote, “It’s hard to believe any organization can afford to dismiss a good employee who is devoted to the mission regardless of how you spend your day of rest,” but the columnist then cites the ministerial exemption honored by the federal courts and cites an employment lawyer as saying that if an employer, “Is an extension of the church and it is clear that adopting or adhering to the church’s mission or doctrine is part of the job the organization can insist upon it as a condition of employment.”

Now, what’s so vital to recognize here is that the entire context of this article in the Washington Post implies that that exemption is recognized by the federal courts but should not be. You have here a workplace advice column in which the columnist just clearly states that she can’t understand why any organization would dismiss, what she identifies as, a good employee who’s devoted to the mission regardless, now her definition is, how you spend your day of rest. You’ll notice there the minimization of any kind of religious identity, of any kind of doctrinal affirmation, even of any kind of specified religious practice depending upon the employer.

That ministerial exemption is one of the most important aspects of religious liberty unless Christian organizations can hire Christians committed to Christianity, and identifying as Christian, and demonstrating the reality of that Christian devotion, unless those employers can do so there is no such reality as religious freedom. It evaporates under the pressure of employment laws that would require religious employers, specifically in our case Christian employers, to hire non-Christians or those who do not affirm the very theological verities at the center of the organization’s mission as an extension of the church.

What is also not mentioned in this article is that back in 2012 the Supreme Court of the United States, in a case known as Hosanna-Tabor, actually upheld the right of religious employers who are connected to religious organizations to hire persons committed to the religious beliefs, and upheld that right by a unanimous decision. Now, that’s a unanimous decision in a radically divided court. The fact that that ministerial exemption was upheld by a unified Supreme Court as recently as 2012 tells you that even the most liberal members of the US Supreme Court recognize that a failure to honor this kind of employment exemption would be the end of religious liberty.

Here’s where we have to understand that even the left wing of the Supreme Court seems to understand what many in the culture at large, even columnists for The Washington Post seem not to understand. We must also recognize that the religious liberty protected in this exemption applies to every religion and the ministries of that religion. It allows a Mormon ministry to hire Mormons. A Catholic ministry, such as a Catholic school, to hire Catholics. It protects the right of Jewish entities to remain Jewish and also of Christian ministries to remain Christian. At the heart of the case, that went all the way to the Supreme Court back in 2012, it was the right of a Lutheran church school to hire Lutheran teachers.

These days we have to understand that holding to the authenticity of any kind of religious commitment brings on the opposition of a secular rising culture and we also have to understand even as we must come to an end, that the front line of much of this opposition isn’t so much a particular doctrine as it is the moral teachings of such a religion. What we’re going to have to watch very carefully is the right of Christian ministries, including theological seminaries and schools, and other aspects of Christian work to hire not only those who believe Christianity but those who are held to Christian moral principles. Finally, we also note that the concern here is not just what this columnist identifies as “how you spend your day of rest,” but with the fact that the comprehensiveness of Christianity applies not only to our day of rest but to all the rest of our lives.

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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