Monday, May 21, 2018

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Briefing

May 21, 2018

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

It’s Monday, May 21, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Why a sane society cannot ‘throw their hands up’ after another school shooting, this time in Texas

Once again, gunshots rang out in an American public school. Once again, there were multiple fatalities. This time, it took place early Friday morning in the little Texas town of Santa Fe. It is believed that at about 7:30 AM local time, a 17-year-old young man, who was a student at the school, a student that had not been suspected of harboring any such intentions, entered the school and conducted what USA Today called, “30 minutes of terror.” I will not name the 17-year-old suspect, but it is believed that he confessed to law enforcement officials that he had indeed carried out the murders.

Furthermore, he indicated in an even more sinister twist that he had chosen some of the victims precisely because he did not like them, had not shot others because he liked them more. And he said to law enforcement officials that he had let at least some students live, who had directly witnessed the mayhem in order that they could tell the story. Precisely because this young man obviously has a hunger for publicity behind this murderous attack, I will not mention his name, but we cannot fail to talk about the mass murder that took place in a normally placid High School in Santa Fe, Texas.

Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, described the murders as, “One of the most heinous attacks that we’ve ever seen in the history of Texas schools.” As is expected in the aftermath of this kind of school shooting, there was immediate political controversy and commentary coming from all sides. The normal political divides were immediately apparent, but there on the ground in Santa Fe, the concerns were a lot more urgent than politics. Furthermore, even those who had been tracking closely the political debates noted that those debates are growing stale even as the concern is growing more urgent.

James Poniewozik writing for The New York Times in a headline story entitled, “This is School in America Now”, said this, “The heartbreaking thing about the images, one heartbreaking thing among many is the precision, the cooperation, the orderliness. Time after time,” he says, “a report comes of another everyday nightmare at an American school and with it, a harrowing ritual. We see the children, those who survived, filmed from news helicopters, leaving the building in neat lines. They’re 16 years old, or 11, or 6. Their hands are in the air or on one another’s shoulders, heads down or eyes looking around anxiously.” He concludes, “It is an image of relief and horror. They’re in transit, away from the killing zone but not entirely safe either.” In his last sentence, Poniewozik wrote, “So the ritual goes on. Another group of children, our children, flees a school. They throw their hands up, eventually, so do.”

But of course, no sane society can throw its hands up. And one of the most troubling aspects of this particular murderous spree in an American school is that there were absolutely no exotic weapons whatsoever involved. The young man, it is believed, went into the school with a shotgun and with a 38 caliber handgun. Major national and international media are reporting that the 17-year-old carried out the attacks with weapons that belonged to his father and by all accounts, were legally held. Texas law does require all gun owners to have their guns secured from improper use at all times.

The death toll of 10 with another 10 wounded immediately drew comparisons to the February 14 attacks that took place in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. There again, it was a teenage murderer, who had entered a school, or at least at one point, he had been a student. But what’s distinct, very different in contrast about these two incidents, at least insofar as we now know the facts, is that in the case of the Florida shooting, there was tremendous documented concern about the fact that the young man intended to carry out and had the capacity to carry out such a murderous rampage. But that stands in contrast to the situation in Texas where law enforcement officials and the state’s governor indicate that there were few, if any signs of the kind of trouble that was coming. But at the same time, investigators had released by yesterday morning, the fact that it is known that this young man had highly detailed plans and furthermore, his plans were even more murderous than he was able to carry out in those 30 minutes.

Part II

Prayer is at the center of the conversation after shooting in community that has famously fought for their right to pray

Immediately after news of the shootings broke on Friday morning, there were assurances of prayer, urgent, multiple, and of course, this is where Christians understand that is a right response. It is at least a right, first response. We understand that the impulse of prayer is absolutely right under all conditions. And in a situation of such urgency as this, our hearts immediately go out to the hearts of all others, especially those who were closest to the tragedy and those whose lives had been most affected by the tragedy. And of course, prayer goes out beyond that to those whose lives may very well be hanging, even then, in the balance. And of course, beyond that, Christians are praying for all those who are enduring and experiencing this kind of tragedy.

But one of the most interesting responses to this reality came in a front-page news story above the fold, published in The New York Times on Saturday. The headline was this, “Prayers Flood Shaken Town That Has Long Found Solace in Faith.” Vivian Yee and Amy Harmon are the reporters and they say, “They are praying today in Santa Fe, Texas. They often are. But after Friday, the need feels bottomless. Even before the gunman stopped shooting, even before the headlines reported tragedy, even before they knew it was 10 dead at the high school in the middle of town, a plea hurried out from person to person, scream to scream, “Please pray,” began one text message sent to a mother’s prayer list. “My niece is not accounted for, was in art when shooting took place.” “Urgent prayer request,” read another, “I don’t have details, but was just informed that there is an active shooting going on at Santa Fe High School.” Their requests were heeded as someone responded immediately, “Prayers lifted for the Santa Fe schools right now.”

The reporters for The New York Times indicated that there were immediate responses and affirmations of prayer coming from places as diverse as Nigeria and Grapevine, Texas, Virginia and Sao Paolo, Brazil.

The interesting thing about this front-page story is that apparently many Americans are perplexed as to why so many, especially in Santa Fe, Texas, would turn immediately to prayer. But then the New York Times reports, “But in Santa Fe, where football players appeal to the Lord before Friday night games, where church on Sunday is all but a given, where the school district once went all the way to the United States Supreme Court to preserve the right to sponsor prayer, these expressions of faith bind the community together.” So what is this about this particular school district going all the way to the United States Supreme Court about the issue of prayer? This takes us back to a Supreme Court decision handed down in the year 2000.

As the New York Times reports, before the Supreme Court decision in 2000, “Every Friday night, Santa Fe High School had been allowing students to deliver prayers over the loudspeaker before football games kicked off. We are told that Mormon and Catholic families filed a lawsuit to stop the practice.” In fairness, I think it’s probably important to note that these parents were more animated by secularism than by either Catholicism or Mormonism. But the story goes on to say that after these parents challenged the practice, the school district defended the practice all the way to the Supreme Court, where they lost in the year 2000. The court ruling in that decision, that allowing the students to have the microphone at the high school games before the games to initiate prayer was unconstitutional. But at the same time, the court said that students, that is American public school students, so long as they are initiating the prayers, may organize and voluntarily pray either on campus or off campus. But they said, the captive audience on the live microphone at the football game was one step too far.

As the New York Times reports, “Despite the Supreme Court loss, students at Santa Fe High School are still praying, but just not over the loudspeaker.” The New York Times coverage of this story from Santa Fe Texas is admirable and accurate from all I can tell, but it’s also clear that there is a basically secular presupposition behind the story that makes what takes place in Santa Fe Texas concerning prayer extremely interesting, after the shooting of course, front page interesting. This means that behind that basically secular presupposition among so many in America, it is not the absence of prayer that must be defended or described, it is the presence of prayer. And furthermore, there are other anecdotes and illustrations in the story published in The New York Times that make that point very clear. For example, in using double negatives, one parent said that the school district, “doesn’t make it a point to have religion not present.”

We’re told that at least one teacher in the Santa Fe High School holds an optional Bible study in his classroom during lunch, once a week. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes meets also at the school, “And sports teams still pray, only more quietly.” As one parent told the Times, “They may not let us do it across the loudspeaker for the whole world to hear, but our kids are still getting up and doing it.” The very fact that that story was published on the front page of the Saturday edition of The New York Times is worthy of notice, but so is a turn, an interesting turn that has taken place in the conversation about how to prevent, or at least to reduce radically, the kind of shootings that have taken place in all too many public schools in America.

At least some of this turn in the conversation had preceded the shootings that took place in Santa Fe, Texas, but there seems to be an amplification of these arguments in the aftermath of understanding the unpredictability of the shooting in Texas and the fact that the weapons were hardly exotic. In what is assuredly a sign of our times, this turn in the conversation is towards the question of whether our schools simply have too many doors, too many openings, too many opportunities. The question is whether or not the schools should be hardened. That’s the kind of language used in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Hardening public buildings is what took place not only after 9/11, but after the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

Hardening means restricting access and using screenings and having ways of controlling access beyond what has been customary in public facilities. One interesting dimension of this to note is that we have hardened so many of these facilities already. In a fallen violent world, there has been little choice. Just go to Washington D.C. or other major cities and see how far you are kept away from facilities, including facilities paid for by taxpayers, facilities that have been frequently visited by Americans, facilities that we are now kept far away from and can see only at a distance. And of course, airports have been hardened. Access to airports used to be multiple, the doors used to be many and that access was fairly free. Not any more, and we would consider it unthinkable that it would be. It is of course, an extremely sad commentary on our society that we would need to harden the schools populated with our children. But at some point, we will almost assuredly ask the question we’ve asked about these other facilities. It’s not why would we do it, but why did we wait so long?

Part III

Monarchy in the modern age: The societal and moral shift reflected in the royal wedding

But next we shift to a very different story from a different country, in this case, Great Britain. We’re talking about the royal wedding that took place last Saturday, a wedding that brought together Prince Harry of the House of Windsor and American actress, Meghan Markle. Our main interest in looking at this story is the moral shift, the great societal and moral shift that was reflected in the wedding, reflected in ways that most people including probably most Christians did not recognize. The first issue that did catch a lot of recognition was what is considered to be the modernizing of the monarchy.

Jenny Gross, writing for The Wall Street Journal, reported the story this way, “The wedding between Prince Harry VI in line to the throne and Ms. Markle, a mixed race, divorced star of the popular American television series, Suits, marks a seismic shift in the once stodgy reputation of the British monarchy whose head, Queen Elizabeth II is 92 years old. The ultimate transatlantic celebrity marriage, the wedding,” said The Wall Street Journal, “represents a first of its kind mix of Hollywood glamour with one of the most popular members of the royal family.”

One person cited in the article was Vernon Bogdanor, he’s a professor in the United Kingdom’s constitutional history at King’s College in London who said, “Someone who has been divorced and doesn’t come from an aristocratic family shows the monarchy is adapting to the modern age.” There is a virtual avalanche of press attention about the so-called modernizing of the monarchy. The front page of The New York Times headline, “A Royal Pivot To Modernity.” The headline on the inside of the paper, “Royals Get Nudged Towards Modernity As Markle joins family. Then yesterday’s edition of The New York Times, the headline, “A Royal Union For The 21st Century With An Heir Of Black Culture.” The Associated Press reported the marriage as representing a new tolerant view by the monarchy, and in this case of course, that tolerance has a great deal to do with a moral shift especially on the question of divorce.

In that sense, the wedding on Saturday doesn’t merely mark a seismic shift in a once stodgy monarchy, it represents a massive moral shift in Western civilization and in particular, specifically, in the Church of England and the British monarchy on the issue of divorce, and that means the definition of marriage. The Associated Press noted this shift with these words, “Divorce has bedeviled Britain’s royal family for centuries. It has created problems not only when Prince Charles and Princess Diana ended their marriage in the most bitter fashion in 1996, but also when other royals, Princess Margaret fell in love with people who had been divorced and could not marry them for that reason.” And of course, a bigger story is the 1936 abdication of King Edward VIII precisely because the Church of England and the Royal Court would not abide the idea that he would marry a twice divorced American.

The big issue, by the way, is not just divorce, but the fact that the divorced spouse is still living. And at least until recently, the Church of England had declared itself to believe in the indissolubility of marriage, which meant no remarriage, so long as there is a surviving divorced spouse. That was the issue back in 1936 when Wallis Simpson had not just one but two surviving spouses from whom she had been divorced. It was the issue that created the massive controversy concerning the fact that Princess Margaret was not allowed to marry a man who, again, had a surviving, divorced spouse.

But fast forward to 2018, and it’s not just the case that there was little uproar if any, about the fact that Prince Harry was marrying yet another divorced American woman with a surviving spouse, but the fact that three out of the four children of the current head of the Church of England, that is the Supreme Governor of the church, none other than Queen Elizabeth II, the reigning monarch, three of the four have divorced. What just a generation ago would have been unthinkable, now hardly seems to matter. This was the declaration of the Associated Press declaring that the marriage on Saturday represents perhaps the latest twist in the tale of a tolerant view of divorce that marks a new era in the British monarchy. But of course, it’s not so interesting that this will be a shift in the British monarchy, if it were not for the fact that it represents a massive shift in Western civilization.

But the story is even more interesting than just this because back in 2005, the Queen would not even attend the marriage of her own heir, the Prince of Wales, Charles, with Camilla Parker Bowles. That marriage took place in 2005. It was a marriage that took place in a civil context. The Queen did not attend, although she and Prince Philip did host a reception following. But on Saturday not only was the queen in attendance, even as the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, but she had that morning indicated that the prince and his new bride would become the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. And furthermore, she had given royal permission for them to establish a household and that means, to live together, even in months before they were married.

In a context like this, the couple could not have married without the Queen’s permission, and not only did she grant her permission, but she also, very conspicuously, attended the ceremony. And the ceremony itself was noted by many as being a rather traditional Christian ceremony according to the rights and liturgy of the Church of England. But it really wasn’t nearly so traditional as many had thought. The official liturgy and thus church order of the Church of England is established by the Book of Common Prayer that emerged first of all under the reformer King Edward VI in the year 1549. It was very influentially revised by the reformer Thomas Cranmer in 1552.

The right that has been used by the church for centuries actually dates to 1662. And that authoritative version of The Book of Common Prayer was actually so much in force that it was the structure of the ceremony, explicitly including the historic language when Prince William married Kate Middleton in the year 2011. That’s just a little over seven years ago, seven years and a few days. But the wedding that took place on Saturday was not the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, but rather the revised Liturgy of the year 2000, merely known as Common Worship. Using this revised, updated Common Worship, the Dean of Windsor began the ceremony’s most formal portion on Saturday morning with these words, “Marriage is a gift of God in creation through which the husband and wife may know the grace of God. It is given that as man and woman grow together in love and trust, they shall be united with one another in heart, body and mind as Christ is united with his bride, the church.”

The gift of marriage,” said the Dean, “according to Common Worship, brings husband and wife together in the delight and tenderness of sexual union and joyful commitment to the end of their lives. It is given as the foundation of family life in which children are born and nurtured, and in which each member of the family in good times and in bad, may find strength, companionship and comfort and grow to maturity and love.” That’s the kind of language that was adopted by the church as an official alternative In the year 2000. But what kind of alternative? Well, a much more ambiguous alternative than the language of the Book of Common Prayer from 1662, thus contrasts the marriage language, the ceremony, the liturgy and the vowels taken by William and Kate in 2011 with the vows taken by Harry and Meghan in 2018. They represent a seismic shift.

I hold in my hands a copy of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. These are the very words used in 2011. In that case the Dean of Westminster, Abbey, began the ceremony by saying, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God and in the face of this congregation to join together this man and this woman in holy matrimony which is an honorable estate instituted of God at the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and His Church, which holiest day, Christ adorned and beautified with his presence and first miracle that he wrought in Cana of Galilee and is commended of St. Paul to be honorable among all men, and therefore not to any to be enterprise nor taken in hand unadvisedly, lightly or wantonly to satisfy men’s carnal lust and appetites like brute beasts that have no understanding, but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly and in the fear of God, duly considering the causes for which matrimony was ordained.”

So, what would be those causes? They’re not really explicit at all in the 2000 liturgy that was used on Saturday. They are extremely explicit in the venerable Book of Common Prayer that is still the official liturgy of the Church of England, just not used last Saturday. It was used in 2011, and this is what’s so significant. The purposes for which marriage was given of God, according to The Book of Common Prayer are these. Listen carefully. “First, it was ordained for the procreation of children to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord and to the praise of His holy name. Secondly, it was ordained for a remedy against sin and to avoid fornication, that such persons as have not the gift of continence might marry and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body. Thirdly, it was ordained for the mutual society help and comfort that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity, into which holiest day, these two persons present, come now to be joined. Therefore, if any man can show any just cause why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak or else hereafter, forever hold his peace.”

What’s so significant there? That would be extremely awkward language, using the word fornication as that which is to be remedied and avoided by marriage, when you’re talking to a young couple who have been publicly living together for quite a long time. What else is awkward in that language? Well, you’ll recall that in the purposes of marriage, the very first one, “It was ordained for the procreation of children.” Now, let’s just note that requires a husband and a wife. It requires a man and a woman. It requires a man and a woman, who from the very beginning, have been a man and a woman and understand themselves to be a man and a woman. That too would be extremely awkward given the presence of couples who claim to be married in same sex marriages there in this celebrated fusion of Hollywood celebrity entertainment on the one hand, and the modern monarchy on the other. Very visible, the ceremony was Elton John himself involved in one of those same sex marriages.

And again, when the first purpose of marriage declared by the Book of Common Prayer is the procreation of children, well, that language simply can’t be used. And not only that, when the language of the Book of Common Prayer is resolutely over and over again not only man and woman, but man and woman for procreation. But there was other language, very important language that was completely absent from the ceremony on Saturday. It is where the presiding minister would turn to the couple and say, “I require and charge you both as you will answer the dreadful day of judgment when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed, that if either of you know any impediment why you may not be lawfully joined together in matrimony, you do now confess it. For …” And here’s the really crucial language, “For be ye well assured that so many as are coupled together otherwise than God’s word doth allow, are not joined together by God, neither is their matrimony lawful.”

Oh, my goodness, that language so deeply rooted not only in the Church of England, but in the entire Church of the Lord Jesus Christ simply could not be spoken in that celebrity marriage that took place last Saturday.

There were other aspects of both the marriage and the ceremony that took place on Saturday that are to be noted and some of them admired. But what caused one king to abdicate in 1936 and has been a continuing issue of clear definition, at least until very modern times is now, according to the Church of England and to its Supreme Governor, the queen, evidently really not much of an issue at all. To say that that moral shift is massive would be a tragic understatement.

The ceremony on Saturday took place in one of the most beautiful and historically important chapels in all of England. But what took place inside that chapel on Saturday morning represents not just a shift in the liturgy of the church, but an entirely different theology and an entirely different civilization.

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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