Monday, June 18, 2018

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Briefing

June 18, 2018

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

It’s Monday, June 18, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

America faces a moral crisis at its southern border: How did we get here and how will we respond?

Many issues facing the United States are complex. They are so complicated, it is difficult to get a handle, a clear understanding on exactly what is going on. There are issues of politics. There are issues of policy, issues of economics, issues of political structure and constitutional order that are sometimes very difficult to summarize, to distill down to an essence, but America, right now, faces, at this moment, a moral crisis that is easy to understand. It comes down to something as understandable as children being separated from their parents at a moment of urgency.

In this case, the moment of urgency may also be a moment of illegality. What we are facing is a policy that took effect at least by the 19th of April of this year, when orders from the White House and the Justice Department and the Trump administration, border officials, on America’s southern border, began separating children of parents or a parent who had entered the country illegally. When the policy was announced, it was announced as being an urgent, urgently needed, and short-lived program, but, already, between April the 19th and May the 31st, 1,995 children have been separated from 1,940 adults, and those adults, most specifically, the parent or parents of the children.

This issue now not only has the attention of the country, but also the watching world. One of the issues that Americans must keep in mind is that, in the watching world, there is a moral judgment made about nations, and just as individuals have only a certain amount of moral capital, that is true of nations, as well. The world is watching to see what America really believes about its most fundamental values when it is now routinely, by policy, separating children from parents, but as is so often the case, when we’re looking at anything related to immigration, this is a complex question. In a larger policy arena, that larger policy context has to do with the fact that America has had broken immigration laws for decades now.

Furthermore, America has been swinging, administration by administration and political majority by political majority, between either ignoring those laws or enforcing those laws, sometimes brutally. There is a consensus in the United States, somewhere in the political middle on issues of immigration reform, even the need for comprehensive immigration reform, but the left wing of the Democratic party and the right wing of the Republican party prevent their own parties from reaching even a partial common sense accord when it comes to reforming America’s broken immigration laws.

It’s a fundamental issue for us to think about. Every single nation has to have borders, and those borders have to have some definition. Every rational government has the responsibility to create a rational set of immigration policies. Those immigration policies have to balance national interest and humanitarian interests. Over the course of American history, this country’s made many mistakes in its immigration laws. Some of them, such as the immigration law that was passed in 1924, are now an utter embarrassment to the United States. The moral problems with that 1924 legislation included discrimination on the basis of race and ethnicity and national origin, which amounted to discrimination on the basis of religion. It was a limitation there, we should note, on Eastern European immigration, which would have been overwhelmingly Catholic and, to a minor degree, Orthodox.

That 1924 legislation on immigration in the United States was actually cited by Adolph Hitler in the Nazi party as partial justification in the international context for their own race-based theories and policies. Over the course of the last two generations, the United States has attempted what it has called comprehensive immigration reform, and, at times, especially in the 1980s and ’90s, there was some commonality between the two parties and the opportunity for at least some bipartisan advance, but make no mistake. There is a basic divide in this country on questions related to immigration, and if you want a central symbol of that divide, just consider the lawlessness that has now been embraced by many in the Democratic party with such moves as the so-called sanctuary cities and then the brutality of the policy now undertaken by the Trump administration in separating children from their parents.

There’s an even greater moral crisis related to children and immigration behind this most urgent headline, and I fault the mainstream media for giving inadequate coverage to this reality. In federal custody right now, there are no less than 11,400 children and adolescents. They are right now in federal custody. The vast majority of them were not separated from their parents. Rather, they came over the border illegally on their own, and, because they are children, they are minors, and they are now in federal custody, we are looking at a crisis of the federal government offering and responsible for childcare and the care of many adolescents who are now in federal custody.

The Trump administration has said that at least part of its rationale in this policy has to do over recent months with a surge in illegal immigration across the nation’s southern border.

Friday’s edition of The Washington Post had a front-page story with this headline, “Once a Walmart, Now Home to 1,400 Immigrant Boys.” The story’s by Michael E. Miller, Emma Brown, and Aaron C. Davis. They begin, “For more than a year, the old Walmart along the Mexican border here,” that’s here, as in Brownville, Texas, “has been a mystery to those driving by on the highway. In place of the Supercenter’s trademark logo hangs a curious sign, Casa Padre, but,” the reporters say, “behind the sliding doors is a bustling city unto itself, equipped with classrooms, recreation centers, and medical examination rooms. Casa Padre now houses more than 1,400 immigrant boys in federal custody. While most are teenagers who entered the United States alone, dozens of others, often younger, were forcibly separated from their parents at the border by the new Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy.”

Behind that is the political unrest and economic uncertainty and political oppression in the case of so many of the nations to America’s south in Central and Southern America. A flood of refugees has been coming in recent decades from the South to the North. That’s a pattern that isn’t new, but it is coming with a new intensity, and it is coming at the very time that the American political system is broken, and there appears to be no willingness on the part of Congress to address the issue directly.

Part II

Why both political parties must own up to the political and moral crisis brought on by the failure to act on the issue of immigration

Some of those commenting on America’s immigration policy, in general, refugee policy and migrant policy, also, some of those even dealing specifically with the most urgent headlines related to the Trump administration policy, seem to imply that it might be possible for the United States or any other nation to come up with a policy that would never create human suffering, would always lead to the alleviation of human suffering, and would never require such urgent measures as the separation of members of the family. That is not rational. It is irresponsible, but at the same time, the current Trump administration policy is an absolute zero tolerance policy that puts the United States in the official position of making the policy that those who, as families or as parents, enter this nation illegally with children will be separated from those children.

The Trump administration has said that this is a matter of law. It isn’t, however, a matter of law. There is no legal necessity of separating parents and children, but the law does make clear, and many seem to be missing this, that entering this country illegally is, in its own sense, a criminal act. In response to the fact that it is, according to law, duly passed by Congress, a criminal act, some on the left are routinely now saying that the law should be ignored, and that’s not only something coming from the political periphery. Increasingly, that’s the official policy of the Democratic party in the United States. It’s the official policy, defacto policy, of many cities in the United States that have adopted the so-called sanctuary policies.

It was the policy, in general terms, at least some of the time, for the administration of President Barack Obama, and as Ross Douthat pointed out in yesterday’s edition of The New York Times, it was the signal sent by the Obama administration about the non-application of this law that is at least largely responsible for the surge in those who have come intending to break the law from southern nations, but the amnesties afforded by previous administrations have led to a general confusion, and the Trump administration argues an incentivization of those intending to come to break the law on America’s immigration policy, to enter this nation illegally.

Douthat writes, “Liberals hailed these amnesties while paying less attention to the consequences of the dreamer amnesties, in particular. It created the impression,” he writes, “that kids brought to the United States illegally would soon gain legal status, which, in turn, helped drive the surge in children being sent north without their parents, overwhelming the border patrol and saddling the Obama White House with a problem that it ultimately passed along to President Trump.”

National Review Magazine, one of the historically most important conservative magazines in the United States, in its June 11th edition, pointed out that, “The Trump administration, leading members of the Trump administration, have offered at least three different rationales for the current policy officially separating children from their parents.” The President says that, “This is to be blamed on the Democrats because of their failure to apply and to enforce American immigration policy.”

Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, says that it’s, as National Review said, “An unfortunate byproduct of the administration’s policy of referring all illegal border crossers, including people seeking asylum for their families, for criminal prosecution,” but the most important statement thus far has been made by the man who was the former Secretary of Homeland Security under President Trump and is currently the Chief of Staff in the White House, John Kelly. He said that, “The entire purpose of this policy is deterrence.” The White House Chief of Staff told National Public Radio in May, “A big name of the game is deterrence.” The Chief of Staff went on to say, “The children will be taken care of, put into foster care or whatever, but the big point is they elected to come illegally into the United States, and this is a technique that no one hopes to be used extensively or for very long.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, last Thursday, in a speech in Fort Wayne, Indiana, said, “Having children does not give you immunity from arrest and prosecution.”

The Los Angeles Times yesterday, in its coverage, quoted an official of Homeland Security who said, and I quote, “There is a straight cause and effect with this. The number of unaccompanied minors and families has grown dramatically over the last few years because of not prosecuting family members. It’s a clear line cause and effect. That’s why we have to do this.”

Before we take this apart further morally, we do need to look at what we’re facing here. The White House has now applied an absolute policy in a situation in which almost no absolute policy will work either way. We’re looking at a human equation, but, in this case, the human equation calls for a national policy that separates children from their parents. What we are looking at here is the zero tolerance of which the Attorney General spoke being a zero tolerance for adults who illegally cross America’s border. They are now being arrested, and as arrested adults, they cannot have their children with them in custody. The children are then being separated, but the Trump administration, even in stating that they intended this policy to be limited and short-lived, they did not understand or clearly did not seem to understand the numbers of those who would be involved.

Again, we’re talking about roughly 2,000 children now and federal custody by this policy just between the 19th of April and the end of May, and if deterrence was the goal, the evidence is this is not amounting to deterrence at all, but then we have to ask the question, why? Why would parents put themselves and their children at risk, put themselves at risk once they’re in the United States of arrest and separation from their children, put their children at risk of being separated from themselves and all the trauma that would be involved, and, furthermore, often between their home and the American border, put themselves through a very risky, sometimes death-defying process of human trafficking or at least of traveling as a refugee in order to cross America’s border? Why would these parents do this? If indeed the Trump administration’s policy requiring the separation of parents from children is now being communicated thoroughly throughout Central and South America, why would these parents continue to bring their children?

The answer is profoundly simple. It is because even the threat of arrest and separation in the United States appears to be less threatening than what they are facing at home.

In its front-page coverage of the issue yesterday, The New York Times made clear that President George W. Bush and Barack Obama both understood that this policy was a potentiality. It was a possibility. It was within the scope of the law, but both of those previous administrations and both of those previous presidents had seen this particular policy as a nuclear option they were unwilling to enforce. Earlier in the Trump administration, President Trump had indicated that he was moving in this direction only to step back given political blow back. As the New York Times reported, “For President George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the idea of crying children torn from their parents arms was simply too inhumane and too politically perilous to embrace the policy,” and Mr. Trump, though he had made an immigration crackdown, one of the central issues of his campaign, succumbed to the same reality, publicly dropping the idea after the Chief of Staff’s comments, he was then Secretary of Homeland Security, had touched off a swift backlash, but, as The New York Times coverage makes clear, there were those inside the administration who would not let the issue drop. They gained the upper hand, and the policy was announced. It went into effect about the middle of April.

The bottom line on the policy is this. It is inhumane. It reflects horribly on the United States of America. Americans should not put up with this policy. It is a scandal. We should note that that moral judgment is being made even by many who have been stalwart defenders of President Trump and the Trump administration. Even the First Lady of the United States, Melania Trump, said yesterday that she hates to see children separated from their families. Of course, that’s a basic human instinct. It reflects a basic human value that is even more important than any zero tolerance policy when it comes to American immigration, but we also have to note that America’s immigration laws are broken, and enforcement has been haphazard. We do not currently, as a nation, have a responsible set of immigration laws that have the backing of the majority of the American people. We, furthermore, do not have any enforcement mechanism that enforces even the current laws in a way that is both consistent and humane and, furthermore, successive American administrations have sent so many mixed signals and successive Congresses have failed so abysmally that the United States now finds itself in the humiliating position of not even knowing, in general terms, what it intends to do with immigration and the question of immigrants and refugees and political asylum.

The friends and advisors to this administration must make the point clearly that his policy cannot stand, and even as the President has indicated that he adopted this policy in part to gain some political leverage against the Democratic party in its own obstructionism on the question of immigration, the reality is that both parties must own up to this responsibility, both parties must face down the moral and political realities, the legal and constitutional realities of America’s immigration problem, and we must face these questions in a way that breaks beyond the kind of partisan deadlock and irresponsibility we’ve had on this question, not just for a matter of weeks or months or even years, but now for decades.

Political common sense makes very clear that this policy cannot continue and will not stand. The question is, how much of America’s moral capital is going to be spent before the policy is revised.

Part III

How should Christians rightly understand our relationship to government in light of Romans 13?

But next, even as we stay within this current controversy and headlines, we shift to at what is actually a different story, and that is the strange emergence of a biblical text into American national and then global international debate on this issue, the text Romans 13.

The catalyst for this conversation once again was the Attorney General of the United States, Jeff Sessions, who, in that speech given in Fort Wayne on Thursday, invoked Romans 13 as a biblical justification for the administration’s policy. The Attorney General said, “I would cite to you the apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for His purposes.” The Attorney General went on, “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves. Consistent and fair application of the law is, in itself, a good and moral thing and protects the weak and protects the lawful.”

There has been an immediate backlash to this and deservedly so. This was the misuse of a biblical text by the Attorney General of the United States, but before we go too far on this too fast, it wasn’t a complete misuse of Romans 13 by the Attorney General. It was an overuse of the text and over-reading of the text rather than an absolute negation of the text.

Romans 13 has been central to the Christian worldview ever since the Holy Spirit inspired the apostle Paul to write the epistle to the Romans in the first century. In Romans chapter 13, beginning in verse 1, we read, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities for there is no authority except from God and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore, whoever resists the authorities resist what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment for rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who was in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive His approval for he is God’s servant for your good, but if you do wrong, be afraid for he does not bear the sword in vain, for he is a servant of God and avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore,” wrote the apostle Paul, “one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath, but also for the sake of conscience, for because of this, you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God attending to this very thing.” Finally, in verse 7 of chapter 13, Paul writes, “Pay to all what is owed to them, taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”

Though we have to understand that the entirety of the ministry of the apostle Paul was within the political context and reality of the Roman Empire, we also have to understand that the Roman Empire would be the very political authority, which would eventually sentence Paul to death. Christians throughout the centuries, without regard to the particular political system, under which Christians had to live and operate, understood that the biblical worldview affirms the fact, and this is true in the Old Testament, very clearly, as in the New, that anarchy and disorder and chaos and the absence of government is a curse everywhere and in all times, and God’s people must understand that under the sovereignty and the providence of God, one of the gifts of God to His human creatures is order rather than disorder, it is respect rather than disrespect, it is the presence of law rather than the absence of law, and it is the reality of duly structured government rather than the anarchy that would lead to even incalculable human misery.

Furthermore, throughout the entirety of the Christian experience and Christian history, Christians, like the Jewish people before us, have had to struggle with the ultimate question of when a government is not worthy of this respect and honor, when laws are not worthy of our obedience. Just consider the fact that you had the celebration of Daniel in the Old Testament and the honoring of Daniel precisely because he would not obey the decree that he was to worship an idol. You had the example of the three Hebrew young men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who are also honored not because they respected the government, but because they respected the limitations of a government when a government dishonors itself and dishonors God by requiring idolatry. At that point, the God fearer cannot obey the government. At the same time, just as the apostle Paul in the first century, there is the recognition that the government does not bear the sword in vain.

In the media coverage, after the Attorney General’s comments, there were responses from scholars, such as John Fea, a Professor of American History at Messiah College in Pennsylvania. According to The Washington Post, Fea said, “There are two dominant places in American history when Romans 13 is invoked. One is during the American Revolution, when it was invoked by Loyalists, those who oppose the American Revolution. The other,” he said, “was in the 1840s and 1850s, when Romans 13 is invoked by defenders of the south or defenders of slavery to ward off abolitionists who believe that slavery is wrong. I mean,” he said, “this is the same argument that southern slave holders and the advocates of a southern way of life made.” Is that right, or is that wrong?

Well, it’s not wrong, but it’s not exactly right, either, because even as there were the Loyalists, the Tories in the United States, who used Romans 13 as an argument against the validity of the American Revolution, that was an explicitly biblical argument within an explicitly Christian context of argument. The reality is that many of the American Revolutionaries and the preachers of the American Revolution also cited Romans 13. Their point was that the king, the British king, King George, had invalidated himself even by the standards of Romans chapter 13, and the Revolutionaries were not arguing for no government and no responsibility to government. They were arguing for rightful government. That’s the very argument that is found in the opening words of the Declaration of Independence, but the critics of the Attorney General’s use of the passage are absolutely right that Romans 13 does not argue that every law adopted by every government is right and is, therefore, to be defended in those terms. Indeed, even as you look to the fact that those who were Christians in the first century had virtually no political influence whatsoever. That included the apostle Paul. The fact is that we now have a great deal of political influence and that comes with a stewardship and responsibility, and in the ordered liberty of a constitutional republic, the people have the responsibility to make certain ultimately that the laws are right and righteous.

Romans 13 requires respect for government and its rightful responsibility, and in the United States, that means respect for our constitutional order. It does not mean satisfaction or an absence of protest against the law if the law is wrong and unrighteous and unjust.

Going back to that ultimate moral conflict in American history of slavery in the middle of the 19th century, we can understand that respect for government did not mean respect for laws that legally supported slavery. We also come to understand that that particular issue also points to the middle of the 20th century, even with legally enforced Jim Crow laws and racial segregation in the United States well into the last century. Again, the Christian responsibility was not to dishonor the government by calling for anarchy, but rather to use the very processes of government to achieve more righteous and more just laws.

There are so many other big issues, urgent issues, that I’d hoped to get to today, including the Trinity Western University case before the Supreme Court of Canada last week, and, in the United States, the release of the report on the FBI. Those are huge stories. They also demand our attention. They’ll have to wait for a later day. Why? Because the issue of America’s immigration policy and the current policy of separating parents and their children is simply too important to cover lightly, too important to ignore, and too timely to put off for any later day.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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