Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Briefing

May 15, 2018

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

It’s Tuesday, May 15, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing: a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

U.S. embassy in Israel officially moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as protests erupt in Gaza

In one of those powerful significant and symbolic acts of recent American diplomatic history, yesterday, the United States of America moved its embassy for the state of Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The unveiling in Jerusalem yesterday of the new American embassy came just several months after President Donald J. Trump indicated that that would be the American action.

But this requires some background clarification. The first question, what is the capital city of Israel? Now, the state of Israel would respond that its capital city ever since the Israeli government recaptured Jerusalem in the 1967 war has been the city of Jerusalem, an undivided city according to the claims of Israel. But foreign nations including most European nations and the United States until yesterday had kept their embassies in Tel Aviv rather than locating them in Israel’s capital Jerusalem. The question then is why?

Well, it is because of long-standing diplomatic agreements and more than that even diplomatic practice that it indicated a reluctance to indicate by moving the embassy to Jerusalem that Jerusalem is a settled issue. The hope had been that Jerusalem and its final disposition could be held out as a matter for continued negotiation in the very tense negotiations and the ongoing friction between Israel and Palestinians.

Just months ago when President Trump made the announcement of the move of the embassy of the United States from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the president said that the first reason was that this was the intention of congress all along. There’s a good reason the president said that. Congress has indicated its long-term intention to do just that.

As a matter of fact, the president’s second statement was that the failure of the United States to establish the embassy in Jerusalem rather than Tel Aviv was treating Israel as something other than a faithful ally. An additional question would be, if congress had given its intention to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, why had previous presidents had not done so? It was because those presidents wanted to hold out an option, perhaps an incentive on one hand for Israel, on the other hand for the Palestinians that will be presented by any future symbolic action in moving the embassy.

And as many in the international media have noted, virtually every American president and in this, you can go back to Harry S. Truman had indicated an ambition to bring about a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, most importantly, a peace of the Arab nations that are the neighbors to Israel with the existence in the sovereign right of existence of the state of Israel.

The unveiling of the seal of the new US embassy in Jerusalem yesterday came almost to the minute to the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the state of Israel, a very highly symbolic act on an extremely symbolic day. And that symbolism was made extremely clear by those who were present at the unveiling ceremony yesterday. They included the president and the prime minister of Israel, members of the supreme court, leaders of the Israeli defense forces and senior representatives of the rabbinate as well.

From the United States, the delegation included the president’s daughter and son-in-law Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner along with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Also instrumental was the United States ambassador to Israel. The point is that the picture demonstrated to the world was the unusual solidarity and the long-standing relationship between Israel and the United States.

But it’s also true that the action yesterday was controversial on an international scale. Adding to that headline was also made clear with the news that at least 52 people had been killed in uprisings and protests especially in the Gaza Strip. A team of reporters from The New York Times explained the situation this way and I quote, “The protest took place as the United States embassy was formally relocated to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv on the 70th anniversary of the formation of Israel. The formality and celebration created an almost surreal contrast to the violence ranging barely 40 miles away.”

Palestinian leaders identified the move of the embassy as a hostile move and America’s European allies almost to a nation protested and argued against the relocation of the American embassy. Those European nations have indicated that their embassies will continue to be located in Tel Aviv. Felicia Schwartz reporting for The Wall Street Journal tells us that the opening of the relocated US embassy fulfills a campaign promise of President Donald Trump’s while dialing up tension around another administration’s goal, peace in the middle east.

She went to say that Mr. Trump’s decision to relocate the embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv has faced fierce criticism from European and Arab officials who say it could hamper any future peace negotiations. “Palestinians,” she reports, “are refusing to meet with representatives of the Trump administration and say they no longer recognize the US as the main broker of peace talks with Israel.”

Now, long-term observers of the situation in the Middle East point to the fact that virtually every American president has tried to achieve to service a broker of an international peace in the Middle East but to no avail. As a matter of fact, the Wall Street Journal article provides a summary paragraph that states this, “A peace deal has alluded Mr. Trump’s three most recent predecessors as president and the most recent round of talks collapsed in 2014.”

Now, what’s important to note there is that 2014 is at least two years before the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. The Trump administration was signaling at least in part that it was moving ahead with the relocation of the embassy out of frustration that the Palestinians would ever enter into meaningful and lasting negotiations that would stipulate upfront the right of Israel to exist as a nation.

But this is where Christians looking at the situation have to step back and look not only to the history of Israel but to the moral questions that come with this very excruciating international situation. The background to the establishment of Israel comes in the ruins of World War II with the understanding of The Holocaust, something that western nations had refused to acknowledge as it was happening. And even as the scale of The Holocaust and the murder of millions of Jews came to be irrefutable, it was also understood that the very existence of the Jewish people required some kind of international response.

The western nations, predominantly the allies so embarrassed by the reality of The Holocaust were led to pick up the cause of the establishment of Israel. Britain had committed itself to a Jewish homeland going all the way back to the Balfour Declaration of 1917. But it was an action of the United Nations dated November 29, 1947 that led to the international agreement through the United Nations for the Jewish people to establish a homeland according to certain geographical designations.

The existence of that homeland and what had been defined as a partition between Jews and Arabs there in that region of the Middle East was opposed by virtually all Palestinians and Arab leaders, but the state of Israel announced its own existence as a nation on the May the 14th in 1948 and head immediately to go to war in order to secure its perilous existence. But as we think about the relationship between the United States and Israel, we need to recognize that just 11 minutes after the declaration of the statehood of Israel, the United States President Harry S. Truman, made the United States the very first nation to recognize Israel as a nation.

David M. Halbfinger reporting for The New York Times tells us, “When Israel declared its independence in 1948, President Harry Truman rushed to recognize it. He took just 11 minutes and Israelis about go to war to defend their infant state were euphoric. Seventy years to the day,” he reports, “and nearly as long since Israel declared the holy city of Jerusalem its eternal capital, the United States will formally open its embassy on a hilltop here two miles south of the Western Wall.”

He goes on to say, “The embassy’s move from Tel Aviv and President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as capital reversing decades of American foreign policy comes at a moment so fraught with both pride and peril that the Israelis seem not to know what to feel.” From the perspective of Christian ethics, there is an excruciating nature to this entire question. That’s because prior to 1948 in the establishment of Israel, there were persons often Palestinians, some of those Palestinians Christians who lived on the very land that became the state of Israel, a state that was defined from the beginning as a Jewish state.

There were many Palestinians who were removed from their villages, from their homes and they became a people largely homeless. History will record that the Palestinians had been some of the most distressed and mistreated peoples in history. But history would also have to record that that mistreatment long preceded the establishment of Israel as a Jewish state in 1948. That same history would also have to indicate that the Palestinians has suffered more from the Arab nations of Israel than from Israel.

The reality is that those Arab nations have not wanted the Palestinians and have not wanted to recognize their claims. The other problem is that the Palestinian people have suffered tremendously from the fact that their leadership has failed morally, made most clear by the fact that Palestinian leaders just a few years ago walked away from what was an apparent victory in achieving a two-state solution. The reality is that the price of recognizing Israel’s right to existence in a meaningful way as a Jewish state, that is simply too much for this negotiation process to bear.

In a fallen world, it becomes very sad that in some situations there are inevitably winners and losers. There are moral claims that are plausible on their face that cannot be reconciled with reality. If two individuals looking at one plot of land believed that each of them has 100% right to own the land and the other has absolutely no right, there is no way that that situation can be negotiated without a winner and a loser.

The situation in Israel is certainly a bit more complicated than that but the complications only make the situation even more morally difficult. In the biggest of moral perspective, it’s important to recognize that the United Nations in 1947 recognized the need for the existence of the state of Israel as a Jewish state. Not only a need but a moral mandate and that moral mandate surely included the right of that Israeli nation as a Jewish state to exist and to defend itself.

Israel has done so repeatedly and bravely even though vastly outnumbered and surrounded by antagonistic nations most of which for all its history have called for the non-existence of Israel as a Jewish state. There were also many theological issues swirling about as the events unfolded in Jerusalem yesterday. For one thing in the formal observances, there were many Scripture citations both in the prayers and in the comments. This reminds us that the existence of the state of Israel is believed by many Christians particularly dispensational premillennialists to be a sign of the end times and seeing May of 1948 as the fulfillment of specific biblical prophecy concerning the establishment of the Jewish nation.

The close relationship between dispensational evangelicals and the political leadership of Israel was made very clear when you consider the symbolism that the minister has chosen to offer the opening and closing prayers at the commemorations yesterday. But there are other evangelicals who are not dispensational premillennials who also see the existence of the state of Israel as a moral necessity and put it in the larger context of a covenant theology that understands a continuing divine interest in the existence of the Jewish people and particularly a connection of the Jewish people to the land.

This particular Christian perspective does not see the establishment of a secular Jewish state in 1948 as the fulfillment of any specific biblical prophecy but does see the existence of Israel as a moral necessity and the continuation of a sign of the covenant that God made with his people. But it also underlines the fact that President Trump has demonstrated a lack of conventionality in American foreign policy.

Both his friends and critics point to the same unpredictability. President Trump has not looked at the world as he received it when he was inaugurated as president of the United States in January of 2017 intending merely to continue the diplomatic patterns that previous American administrations had established. There is a certain audacity to the foreign policy of President Trump, an audacity that is made clear in the fact that he has an upcoming planned summit with the North Korean dictator. That audacity was also demonstrated as President Trump made the announcement that he would be moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

President Trump surely understood exactly what he was doing and furthermore, he was advised to do it by the very people who understood the nature of the powerful symbolism. One of the most interesting aspects of the national response to this is that even the president’s critics concerning this move have conceded that previous efforts and previous patterns of diplomacy haven’t paid off.

It can be argued plausibly that the president’s actions in moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem sent a very important moral statement. And yet, at the same time, we need to understand that it was as a moral statement the kind of moral statement that has to be followed by yet other moral statements. But we also have to recognize why there was such euphoria in Israel in the announcement and in the celebration yesterday.

We’re talking about a nation only 70 years old. We’re talking about a nation that was first recognized by the United States of America. We’re talking about a nation that has looked to Jerusalem not only as its capital city but as its central national identity. We’re talking about a nation that has had to fight for its existence for all of its 70 years with very few exceptions when it comes to diplomacy and the achievement of any kind of peace.

We’re talking about a nation that has turned a desert into a garden. We’re talking about a nation that is the only thriving democracy in the entire region of the Middle East. We’re talking about a nation that has developed one of the most advanced economies in the world. We’re talking about a nation that itself bears a very strong moral identity and also carries a very important moral responsibility. But even as Christians understand that our biblical responsibility to pray for the peace of Israel, we do assuredly pray for the peace of Israel and we pray for the peace of all in Israel and beyond.

Part II

Supreme Court rules that states are free to authorize sports betting in constitutionally sound but morally fraught decision

But next, we shoot back to the United States, an important decision handed down yesterday by the Supreme Court of the United States. Robert Barnes reports it this way and I quote. “The Supreme Court struck down a federal law that kept most states from authorizing sports betting, a ruling that is sure to set off a scramble among the states to find a way into the billion dollar business.” Barnes goes on to report, “The challenge was brought by the state of New Jersey which had said it would be ready within weeks of a favorable decision to offer sports betting at its race tracks and casinos. Other states,” he says, “are expected to act quickly as well.”

What’s the stake in all of these? By a six-three decision, the Supreme Court struck down a law known as the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. That was an act that forbade the legislatures of the states from authorizing or regulating betting on organized sports. There was an exception. The exception was the state of Nevada. And that’s why the state of New Jersey, jealous to get in on the action, took the plaintiff position supported by other states in order to argue that this act was unconstitutional. It gave to Nevada what it forbade to 49 other states.

Furthermore, since the passage of this legislation, sports betting has become a massive business. Barnes points to the fact it is a billion dollar business. Actually, it is estimated by law enforcement officials to be a business of about $150 billion a year. Now, that’s of huge interest because as always, morally speaking, we need to follow the money. We need to follow the money. We need to follow the money from Las Vegas to jealousy in New Jersey. We need to see the politicians in New Jersey want to get in on the action. They want to be able to profit from sports betting that would take place in the race tracks and casinos at least for now in New Jersey.

Other states also want to get in on the action but it’s not just the states, it is also professional sports and even perhaps collegiate sports such as the NCAA. Leaders of the NFL are vindicated that it’s not fair for the states and for others to profit from gambling on their activity if they’re producing the entertainment. Similar kinds of arguments have come from player’s unions because everybody wants a part of the action, especially action this big.

On the one hand, the decision that was handed down yesterday, remember it was a six-three decision, is about striking down a law that prevented state legislatures from authorizing and from regulating betting on organized sports. Was the Supreme Court saying that it’s good? That betting on sports should now spread to 49 other states? That’s not exactly what the Supreme Court said.

This is where we need to remember that the role of the Supreme Court of the United States is to determine whether or not legislation is constitutional, not whether or not legislation is wise, not whether or not legislation would come to good moral effect. Conservatives looking at the decision yesterday, even those opposed to gambling, could welcome to the conclusion that yesterday, the Supreme Court of the United States handed a big win to the US constitution on the basic question of federalism.

On this core, it can be argued that a majority of the US Supreme Court struck down this law not because it had anything to do with gambling at all, but because it was an act of congress telling the legislatures of the states what those legislatures could not do. Justice Alito was particularly clear on this point when he said that the United States Congress has no right telling the legislatures of the states what they may or may not do when congress has not passed any such legislation on its own authority.

Another insight we need to see here is the Christian moral insight that people will often, and that means not only individuals but collectives of individuals, forfeit or shirk the responsibility that is invested in them. We’ve seen the congress shirked its responsibility in matters political and economic and moral. We have seen for instance congress refuse to take action over decades dealing with very important immigration issues. We have seen congress on this score unwilling to legislate itself on a federal policy related to sports betting. Instead, congress merely told the states they could not legislate on the issue.

In all likelihood, the Supreme Court ruled exactly right by a six-three majority that congress and taking that action was violating the federalism inherent in the US constitution. The United States of America is a union of 50 states. It is not one government with 50 departments. But here, as we understand how these issues turn and twist in a fallen world, we have to follow the money because we’re going to have to know that congress will now actually have to legislate on this issue and pass its own authorization, or its own lack of authorization, or its own regulations on sports betting because the Supreme Court has just said that it has no constitutional right to tell the states that they individually may not.

There can be no doubt that gambling is one of the most morally dangerous and insidious enterprises ever invented by human beings, and the part of the moral complication of that equation is the fact that states and other governments begin to see how they themselves can profit by looking to organized gambling as a new form of revenue. Look immediately for battles to shift to all 50 states. Nevada itself has to be included because Nevada now lacks the monopoly that it had until yesterday by action of the United States Congress.

By action of the Supreme Court, there is no monopoly. And so, Nevada now finds itself surrounded by 49 state competitors or at least potential competitors and every one of those states in its own state government is going to have to debate new forms of gambling. And we have seen over the last several decades states that we thought would never give in to the seduction of gambling turned pernicious on their own populations by sponsoring gambling and then of course having to try to feed and fuel every enterprise of gambling for maximum state income.

Government will take every dollar it can get, and then it will factor that in the baseline, and then it will always have to have more which is why there is always a call for more income. And there is the seductive call that will be simply made that to avoid raising taxes, we’re going to have to compete with the other states and expand legalized gambling. The morally injurious effects of this upon sports at every level are already apparent even before 49 more states jump into the enterprise.

And given the twisted and contorted way this often shows up in public conversation, you’re likely to hear that the Supreme Court of the United States just legalized organized sports betting in the states. It didn’t do that. It merely struck down as unconstitutional, a law by congress that artificially said that the states could not still legislate.

Part III

Why it’s important to know that an asteroid’s near miss is no mere accident

But finally, even as yesterday we saw a secular world struggling to understand the end of the world and the projection of an apocalypse, Alix Langone of Time Magazine reports that sometime today— that’s right— “Today an asteroid the size of the Statue of Liberty will zoom past Earth. It’s going to be a very close call,” we are told. “It’s going to pass by Earth at 28,655 miles an hour and it’s going to come within 126,419 miles of Earth that’s the closest this particular Statue of Liberty size asteroid has come to planet Earth in 300 years.”

But Langone says, “Don’t worry, it is still considered to be a safe passing distance. In all likelihood, according to projections from EarthSky, the asteroid is going to zip past us 126,000 miles away at 28,655 miles an hour. An asteroid the size of the Statue of Liberty at 6:05 p.m. today, Eastern Time.”

Some astronomers looking to the end of the world according to their own world view warned that it just might come with the collision of an asteroid with planet Earth and that collision doesn’t actually have to be a collision. It could just be a collision that represents a near miss that penetrates the atmosphere.

You’ll be relieved to know that we’re told this asteroid, though so large, is not likely to be visible to the naked eye though it should be visible through most telescopes, an image we expect that should be getting bigger and bigger as you look to the eyepiece. But then again, given the giant calculations made in space, a 126,000 miles isn’t all that big. It could be within the margin of error. So, if you do see this asteroid coming about 6:05 p.m. Eastern Time, if you see it with the naked eye, this will not be good news.

From a Christian world view perspective, regardless of your biblical eschatology, the reality is we know the world is not going to end this way, that history isn’t going to end by asteroid. But that’s not to say that we don’t learn anything by this development because a near miss is a near miss. And from the biblical world view, a near miss or any miss isn’t an accident.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. Has God called you to ministry? Are you considering a call to ministry? Well, I hope you’ll join me this evening at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time for a special Ask Anything live broadcast. It’s going to be focused on just those questions. You can join us tonight, May 15 at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Facebook Live and YouTube. In other words, about an hour and 55 minutes after the asteroid is supposed to pass us by. I’ll meet you then.

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.

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