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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

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

It's Wednesday, June 13th, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing: a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part

How will history remember the summit between the United States and North Korea?

Well, now it's history. The summit meeting between the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump and the chairman of the Communist party of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Kim Jong Un. The meeting took place in Singapore, as history will record, on June the 12th of 2018. One of the most interesting questions to ask is how history will look back at this event, and the answer, as we shall see, thinking about the history of this kind of diplomatic summitry, the answer will not be known for a very long time.

One of the quandaries of this entire process of foreign affairs is that many of the summit meetings in Western history that have been declared almost immediately to be successes turned about to be abysmal failures and some that were thought to be failures at the time turned out to be successes. History teaches a lot of hard lessons, but one of the hardest lessons is that you have to often wait in order to find out the meaning of events, even such big symbolic events as there.

A formal accord was reached between the two nations and the Singapore Agreement between the US and the DPRK is basically arranged around four framework points. The first is the declaration of a new period of relations between the United States and North Korea. What's most important there is until now, the United States of America has had no official diplomatic relations with the nation of North Korea. That, according to this framework, will change. What will also change in the second pillar is the declaration of a goal of a lasting and stable peace.

The third pillar is de-nuclearization, but as we shall see, even as that word can be defined, it's not clearly defined as either a reality or a time table in this agreement.

And the last pillar has to do with recovering the bodies of soldiers of the United States and its allies who were POWs or are missing in action. Many Americans considering the historic importance of the summit need to be reminded of what is known in American history as the Korean War, and that goes back to events from 1950 to 1953 that came in the aftermath of World War II and in particular it came as part of the Cold War between democracy and communism that came in the wake of that great war in the middle of the 20th century.

The conflict on the Korean Peninsula came as a shock to the United States and its allies and it led the United States back into war within just years of the United States' victory in World War II. But the United States never declared war on North Korea, and furthermore, it wasn't exactly clear at many points during the Korean conflict exactly what kind of war this was or would become.

But what is clear is that so far as official documentation and historic context demonstrates, according to the continual understanding of what it means to be at war, North Korea and the United States are still at war and have been so ever since 1950.

The Korean conflict ended with something of a political and military stalemate. It ended up with two different nations, known as South Korea, that's a democratic nation allied with the United States, and North Korea, which became a very paranoid Communist regime under the sponsorship of originally the Soviet Union and then later more of communist China.

The most important dimension in this consideration is that ended without a peace treaty and so without that treaty, at least in legal terms, the United States and North Korea have been considered continuing belligerence. That has been a major factor in fueling the paranoia of North Korea, often known as The Hermit Kingdom.

The leaders of the Communist Party in North Korea have been a dictatorial family, the Kim family, now in its third generation. And even as the summit meeting seemed to indicate something of the normalcy of the North Korean regime, we need to remember that the regime is anything but normal.

You're talking about a paranoid murderous regime that has killed many members of its own ruling family and furthermore, has been willing repeatedly to starve its own people. The official dogma of the North Korean dictatorship holds that all three generations of the Kim family have been supernatural in origin and are basically deified, even though North Korea is an officially atheistic state, there are supernatural trappings that are associated with the dictatorship that stands at the very center.

The ideological background of the North Korean state mixes something of a paranoid psychology with a strict extreme form of communism, added to a cult of personality. It's a recipe for political disaster and for the repression and starvation of the citizens of the nation.

A satellite image of the Korean peninsula at night demonstrates the fact that South Korea, as a modern, industrialized nation, is ablaze with light, whereas North Korea has only a few spots of light with the vast majority of the nation's land mass in almost entire darkness.

Symbolic of the fact that not only is there a lack of industrialization, there's a lack of freedom as well. One of the most interesting aspects of this particular summit meetings is that until it happened, it was almost unimaginable. For one thing, there never had been a meeting in such a context between the president of the United States and the leader of North Korea.

And we should note that had been for very important reasons. This kind of diplomacy with two heads of state and heads of government facing each other, with all the symbolism of a summit meeting, as you saw in Singapore with the flags of North Korea and the flags of the United States, the recognition of the one leader for the other. The passing of handshakes and the adoption of accords. That recognizes the status of a nation that has the right to expect a meeting with the president of the United States.

Until now, no president of the United States has wanted to grant that kind of legitimacy to the regime in North Korea. Having a summit meeting between two different nations does not imply, by any means, absolute equality, but it does recognize a certain kind of respect. And again, until now, the United States of America has steadfastly refused to extend that kind of respect, especially on a world stage, to North Korea.

So what has changed? Well, on the one hand, you might say what has changed is the fact that North Korea, for the last six years, has had a new dictator. And what's also changed is that there is a new occupant in the Oval Office.

Both Donald J. Trump and Kim Jong Un are very interesting figures, both unprecedented as you think about the political history of their own nations. The front page article in yesterday's edition of the Dallas Morning News got right to the point with this paragraph:

"Brash, impulsive leaders who only a few months ago taunted each other across a nuclear abyss, Trump and Kim had set aside their threats in a gamble that, for now at least, personal diplomacy can overcome decades of distrust."

There can be no doubt that one of the issues that has changed is that Donald Trump is now president of the United States. And he has, as he made very clear in his business career, a very strong confidence in his own ability to strike the deal.

In his words, the art of the deal. What from the American side, from Trump's side, was seen in Singapore's was a display of a transfer of his deal-making in business to deal-making in diplomacy. One of the most revealing statements made by the American president was made in a press conference after the G7 meeting, when he said, largely in the context of conversation with Western allies, speaking of the meeting in Singapore and his meeting with Kim Jong Un:

"Within the first minute, I'll know. My touch, my feel. That's what I do." The president went on: "You know the way they say you know if you like somebody in the first five minutes? Well, I think very quickly I'll know whether something good is going to happen. I think I'll also know whether it will happen fast."

Well, in the historical context, one thing to note is that no president of the United States has ever said such words, at least in public. Presidents may have said similar kinds of words to their advisers just before walking into such a meeting, but no president has ever spoken that way of his own personal self-confidence in his personal diplomacy and in his personal intuitions before a meeting of this kind of consequence.

But then we have to ask what else has happened and that other major development has to do with the fact that North Korea is now undeniably a nuclear power. That was made very clear, just over the last year, and the fact that North Korea has achieved the ability to develop and to launch nuclear weapons is a game-changer on the world scene. That is required for our understanding of why the president of the United States would risk the kind of diplomacy represented by a face to face meeting with the dictator of North Korea.

Another factor that has changed is the arrival of Kim Jong Un as the leader of North Korea. When he came to that position six years ago, by the death of his father, in the wake of both the reign of his father and his grandfather, in contrast, Kim Jong Un appeared to be young. No one knew then, or even now, exactly how old he is and he also appeared to be weak.

But Kim Jong Un has turned out, if anything, to be a wily figure on the political scene. Kim is ruthless to be sure but he has also turned out to be rather creative in a way that previous Korean dictators have not. In contrast with his grandfather and his father, he appears to have a certain amount of diplomatic skill that he now also seems to demonstrate with some confidence.

So you have two brash, two impulsive, two intuitional, and two very unpredictable leaders in Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump. And all this came down to one very unpredictable meeting in Singapore.

John Lyons in his front page article recently in the Wall Street Journal noted that Kim:

"Has killed rival family members, staged public executions and is keeping some 100,000 people in gulags," that according to United Nations investigators, "He's had more defense ministers so far than have served in all of North Korea's previous 50 years."

Now that tells you something. Interestingly, think of all the personnel changes in the presidential cabinet of Donald Trump, just over the last, say 15 months. And add that to that fact about the five defense ministers in the last six years in North Korea. What that perhaps indicates more than anything else is that in this case, you have two world leaders who have a lot more confidence in themselves than in their own advisers and staff.

Part

Human rights abuses linger as United States and North Korea move forward under new agreement

Some Western critics of the summit meeting in Singapore have pointed to the fact that the American president did not raise major human rights issue with the North Korean dictator. But Christians looking at this kind of news need to think about a very long historical context to this kind of tension.

American presidents in succession were often roundly criticized for negotiating with the Soviet Union over issues of arms control and disarmament without direct reference in every one of those conversations to human rights, even though human rights abuses were one of the major evils represented by the Soviet Union. But over the long haul, the United States held a very strong line against the Soviet Union on human rights.

The big test will be whether or not in future conversations and negotiations between the United States and North Korea the American president and American government representatives also maintain a very clear witness and line on the issue of human rights in North Korea.

In a 2014 report, the United Nations described systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations in North Korea, and also, as Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times has pointed out, the report pointed out that North Korea "does not have any parallel in the contemporary world."

But even if North Korea doesn't have a parallel anywhere in the world with respect to human rights abuses, it does possess nuclear weapons, and that's what explains the meeting this week in Singapore.

But we also have to recognize, and this is a matter of some consequence, that America's friends and closest allies are even more nervous about this meeting after it happened than before it happened. In particular, two nations are recognized to be perhaps a good deal more vulnerable after this meeting. Those nations? South Korea and Japan.

Two nations are thought to have come out way ahead: North Korea and China, its historic patron. Perhaps the most alarming aspect, as you think about our allies, is the fact that both Japan and South Korea are very discouraged and concerned by what most pleased North Korea and China and that was the announcement by the president of the United States that he would discontinue joint military operations in the region.

Is the Singapore meeting and the Singapore agreement ... are they going to be a success? Well, as we have said, only time will tell. Gerald Seib, writing in the pages of the Wall Street Journal points out why the situation is so daunting. He wrote:

"There is literally nothing in the history of the past three decades to suggest that the diplomatic dance that President Donald Trump begins with North Korea will succeed. No hard evidence Pyongyang will give up its nuclear weapons program. No record of North Korea's honoring international agreements. No sign it would allow economic pressure to get in the way of military priorities."

Seib then asks the question: "Why go ahead with this process at all? Why give North Korean leader Kim Jong Un up front a big prize, the international legitimacy, bestowed by a meeting with the American president?"

Seib then points to a speech given just a few weeks ago on April the 20th to the North Korean Workers Party's central committee. In that speech, Kim made the point to the Communist Party in North Korea that his first priority and the next phase of the nation's life should be economic development.

Kim said to the party: "Let us further accelerate the advance of our revolution by concentrating all our efforts on socialist economic construction."

So one major argument about what motivates North Korea is the fact that having achieved nuclear weapons, it now intends to leverage that development and that pressure on the world scene towards economic development. The poverty of his nation and the economic instability of his regime may be what has now pressed Kim Jong Un into this dance of diplomacy.

As I said in the beginning of the program, it is often difficult at the time to understand whether a summit is a success or not. Looking back at 1938, British prime minister Neville Chamberlain famously went to Munich to meet with Adolf Hitler. He came back to London at the end of the September, declaring that he had achieved peace in our time. But we now know that even as that summit meeting was considered, almost universally, a massive success, within a matter of just days, it turned out to be a diabolical failure.

Meanwhile, president Ronald Reagan was criticized in 1985, 1986, 1987, and 1988 for summit meetings with Soviet leaders that were considered at the time to be something less than successful, but in retrospect, they were massively successful, if not individually, then taken together.

It is very important to remember that it appeared just a matter of months ago that the United States and North Korea were standing on the brink of a nuclear abyss. Just a few months ago, the United States president and the North Korean dictator were hurling personal insults at one another.

But I'm reminded of a statement made during the era of World War II by Harold McMillan, another later prime minister of Great Britain, who said famously: "Better to jaw jaw than to war war." And even more famous British prime minister Winston Churchill said "Better to meet jaw to jaw than to war."

So the bottom line that it is not yet known whether or not the Singapore meeting between the president of the United States and the North Korean dictator was a success. It's hard to know now. It's actually impossible to know now whether or not history will look back at the event on June the 12th 2018 with favor or disfavor.

But Christians have every reason to understand the important moral insight in that adage from Harold McMillan. It is indeed better to jaw jaw than to war war.

Part

Secularization in the Bible Belt: Once unthinkable, opposition to gambling fades in Alabama

Next, coming back to the United States, the New York Times has a really penetrating look at moral change in the United States, looking at the southern state of Alabama and the question of gambling. Alan Blinder writes:

"Even more than its Bible belt neighbors, Alabama has steadfastly resisted legalizing gambling for generations." Blinder then explains the cult of evangelical Christians helped make sure of it. But he says the resistance is now openly fraying, suggesting that "gambling is no more a potent moral issue that animates voters and politicians the way it once did."

Now, on The Briefing, we have looked at how we understand moral change. And in contemporary America, there are probably three big issues that demonstrate that moral change better than any others. They are the sexuality issues, the issue of legalizing marijuana, and the issue of legalizing and expanding gambling. Because as you're looking to all three of those moral revolutions, what's interesting is that they have continued apace in something of a parallel movement over the last 30 or 40 years.

If you were to go to a state like Alabama and go back 30 or 40 years and talk about legalized gambling in that southern state, it would have been virtually unthinkable for at least a couple of reasons. The most important reason would have been the fact that the vast majority of the voters in Alabama would have identified as Christians and that Christian identification would have come with the very clear understanding that the biblical worldview is unequivocally opposed to gambling in any form.

But the article in the New York Times also points out that Alabama is, even in its region, now something of an outlier. He writes: "As the landscape shifts in Montgomery, the state capital, the consequences may reverberate across the state, where nearby states gladly rake in billions of dollars that Alabamians are not allowed to wager at home."

Now as we're thinking about moral change, on the issue of gambling in the United States, we need to note what we see so often, which is the argument made by politicians and supporters of legalized gambling in some form, the argument comes down to this, "If we don't do it, our neighbors will. Our people will then take their money and others will reap the benefits. It's unfair to our own state and our own people to have this kind of exodus of capital and money, when we could be reaping the benefits right here."

That's the argument that's being heard right now in Alabama. One of the most interesting figures cited in the New York Times report is Don Siegleman. He's a former Democratic governor of the state and he had proposed a state lottery in Alabama in the year 1999, but Siegleman's proposal was voted down by the voters of Alabama back then.

But the former governor said to the Times: "I think there's been a change in attitude. A slight change in attitude. Maybe an unwitting change in attitude. I don't think the evangelicals," he said, "would organize and execute a plan to defeat sports betting with the same passion and enthusiasm that they mustered in 1999."

Now that kind of statement requires a very close look. First of all, the former governor made a very interesting statement when he said that the voters in Alabama may have shifted their minds on gambling unwittingly. The use of that word unwittingly is very important morally. He's saying that the people of Alabama probably have not made a pre-meditated decision to change their convictions on gambling. Rather, the change came by not thinking about the question.

But the former Democratic governor also made another very interesting statement in light of the recent decision of the US Supreme Court, striking down a federal ban on sports betting as legislated by the states. In Alabama, sports are king. And the former Democratic governor indicates that the opinion of Alabama citizens when it comes to gambling just might be different now that sports can be a part of the equation.

Blinder went on to report no single theory has won out to explain why Alabama's anti-gambling fervor may have ebbed. The next paragraph's really important. He writes:

"Some see a creeping secularization in what has long been one of America's most church-going states or wonder whether voters and elected officials alike have simply grown exhausted by the issue. Others," he said, "see rising voter frustration over how Alabamians wind up padding the budgets of other states when they cross budgets to buy Powerball tickets or play blackjack."

likely that all those factors play a part, but secularization has to be a big part, and in this case, secularization, as we should note doesn't necessarily mean that church-going people don't go to church anymore. It doesn't even mean that people who consider themselves Christians think of themselves as any less Christian.

It does mean that the binding authority of the Christian moral judgment against gambling is no longer very binding. But as the article ends, going back to the former Democratic governor, I want to as well. He said this:

"I think that evangelical Christians of all denominations, many of whom used to be opposed to the lottery, see that if the money is spent on our children for our children's education or for some other important public purpose, then it's okay."

Now, here you have a man who had been a very big advocate of legalized gambling in Alabama saying that maybe the argument would be successful if we made clear that the beneficiaries would be us. Our children. Our children's education. That's the kind of argument that is so often made.

But then the former Democratic governor said this, speaking of various forms of gambling. "It's like a donation to the church or a donation to education or a donation to veterans." That's the insidious aspect of gambling that needs our attention. A donation is a donation. A gambling wager is not a donation. The state does not sell a lottery ticket as a donation. The state wouldn't allow para-mutual betting, or sports betting, as a donation.

For this former governor to admit that in his view, it's all rationalized as a donation is just one big illustration of the moral evil that is everywhere and always at the heart of gambling.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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