Wednesday, Aug 22, 2018

Wednesday, Aug 22, 2018

The Briefing

August 22, 2018

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

It’s Wednesday, August 22, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

The story behind the story as LGBT candidates appear on ballots in record numbers

As much of the attention of the nation is directed to the 2018 midterm elections, it’s interesting to ask what is drawing the attention of the mainstream media. The answer at least in part would be the number of LGBT candidates running in this particular election cycle. Headlined in The New York Times, “In Rainbow Wave at Polls? 2018 Has More LGBT Candidates Than Ever.” This article is by Liam Stack and Catie Edmondson.

The interesting thing about this article datelined in Kansas City is that there is no actual number that is given in this report in The New York Times about the number of openly LGBT candidates who are running. How can the newspaper present a headline like this without giving a specific number? The answer is actually quite simple. It is because this claim is almost undoubtedly true. How do we know that that’s the case? Well, it is simply a matter of the forward movement of a moral revolution in the culture. It is almost impossible that this claim is not true.

Furthermore, there are numbers embedded in the story that tell us for example that there are now about 500 openly LGBT public officials serving. Now that doesn’t refer to this election, but rather the previous elections. What we are being told in this story, and in this case this article is representative of so many others in the mainstream media this cycle, is that that number of 500 is soon to be eclipsed by a larger number.

But there are some interesting new developments as we think about this midterm election cycle and as we look at this article, one of the interesting aspects is that about half of the openly LGBT candidates identified in this article are running not for national office, but for state office. That raises an interesting question, why would so many be running for state office rather than national office? Well, there are probably two answers. The first answer is probably the straightforward political answer and that is that it is usually less difficult and far less expensive to run for state office rather than for office at a different level.

Most importantly, the national level. But there’s a second answer to that question and it’s underlined in this New York Times article. It comes down to this, many of the issues understood to have the most direct relevance to LGBT communities are adopted at the state level. Now as Christians, think about this. We need to understand that there is an exact parallel when it comes to the issue of abortion. The most important legislation over the course of the last 40 plus years in the United States on abortion has come at the state level.

About the only exception you can imagine at the national level is the comprehensive ban on partial birth abortion, but just about every other law with even an incremental effect on abortion since 1973 has been adopted at the state level. Now this is perhaps a wake up call for many Christians who give inadequate attention to state and local elections. When it comes to the actual issues of great concern to us, many of those issues are legislated and often adjudicated at the state level more frequently and with greater effect than at the national level. It tells us something that strategists for the LGBTQ communities have zeroed in on that and it’s not an accident.

That at least half of those who are running in this “rainbow wave” celebrated by The New York Times are running at the state level. Next we turn to a specific state, that is the State of Vermont, where earlier this month the first openly transgender candidate for governor won the nomination of one of the two major political parties. Liam Stack reporting in the August 16 edition of The New York Times tells this quote, “Christine Hallquist, the former chief executive of an electric utility company, made history on Tuesday when she beat three other candidates in Vermont’s Democratic primary to become the first transgender person to be nominated for a governorship by a major party.”

Now when you look at this article, the article turns out to be more interesting than the headline might indicate because of a twist in the story that doesn’t seem to be recognized or acknowledged by the newspaper at all. What makes it even more interesting is that the article is presented in an interview format. The newspaper interviewing this individual, a transgender individual identifying as a transgender woman who now is the Democratic nominee for governor of the State of Vermont. By the way, a footnote here, have you noted just how liberal this state turns out to be in so many elections? Dare we mention independent United State senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont?

It’s an interesting parallel here. It also points to a very interesting dynamic in the American Northeast. New Hampshire, which borders Vermont, is far more conservative than Vermont as you think about electoral politics. How can two small states in such close proximity, both of them bordering on the State of Massachusetts, be so different when it comes to politics? Well, as you look at the history of the two states, they matter. As you look at the demographic composition of the states, especially the economic composition, the nature of the economy, it turns out it makes a difference. As we’re looking at Vermont in this particular case, the twist in the story has to do with the story.

What do I mean by that? Well, listen to two different exchanges that are recorded in this interview. The New York Times asked Hallquist, “What kind of responses did you get while campaigning to your status as a transgender woman? How did you make it part of the story you told voters?” The candidate answered, “In Vermont, it’s not part of my story. I can simply say I have talked to thousands of Vermonters and I can think of only one who brought it up. It’s just not an issue here in Vermont, and I think the data proves that.” Now just think about this exchange. The New York Times asked this candidate how being transgender affected the way the individual candidate told the story.

The candidate responded, “In Vermont, it’s not part of my story.” Those are the words of the reporter. Those are the words of the respondent. But then later in the same interview, The New York Times reminds the candidate that the chairwoman of the Vermont Republican Party said that she didn’t think that the transgender status of the nominee of the opposing party should “play a part in the race.” Then the reporter asked, “Why do you think they want to downplay that?” Then the reporter went on to say she, meaning the head of the Republican Party in Vermont, “said she didn’t think you being transgender should play a part in this.”

How did the candidate respond? “Oh, well, you should know that is bigotry and I’m going to call that out. When you elect a candidate, you hear the candidate’s life story. So it’s okay if you’re a man to say, ‘I grew up hunting. I grew up in the rural woods,’ but it’s not okay for me to say I’m transgender? I’ve got news for you. That’s bigotry and I’ll call that out.” The candidate continued, “You can’t tell your story because you’re transgender? Well, too bad. I’m telling that story and people have to get over it because they have to recognize their own implicit bias.”

The candidate continued, “That’s just who I am. I’m a transgender woman. I don’t say I’m a woman. I’ve been a woman only legally for three years, so I tell them the truth.” The candidate concluded, “I am a transgender woman. People have to get over that fact because I’m not saying anything else. You always hear people say they’re a woman or a single mom, this or that. Well, this is my story.” Did you catch the twist in the tale here? The same newspaper reporter asked the same candidate just moments before how the story of being transgender worked out on the campaign trail, and the candidate responded, “In Vermont, that’s not really part of my story.”

But then immediately thereafter when a Republican leader is cited as saying, “The LGBT status here shouldn’t be necessarily a part of the campaign,” the very same candidate comes back and says, “Well, this is my story and I’m sticking with it. I’m going to continue to talk about this as my story, and it’s unfair to say that my story is not as good on the election trail as any other story. This is my story.” The candidate ends the interview by saying, “Well, this is my story.” Which story is it? The story that it’s not a story or the story that it is a story?

How can you have two absolutely contradictory claims in one article without any apparent recognition or acknowledgement by either the newspaper or the candidate that the story the candidate claims as the candidate’s story is not actually the same story the candidate related just a few paragraphs before? But fundamentally, we do have to have to recognize that The New York Times knows this is a story that’s why The New York Times has run both of these articles. From the Christian worldview perspective, we also know this is a part of the story. It’s a part of the story that has been made a part of the story, and it is a story of a moral revolution that continues to unfold around us. That’s a revolution with consequences that continue to reverberate far beyond Vermont.

Part II

What the prosecution of a 95-year-old Nazi guard reveals about the difference between the biblical and the secular worldviews

Next we turn to yet another issue of enduring consequence for the Christian worldview. It is the question of justice. In this case, we turn to The Washington Post yesterday’s edition for a headline story “95-year-old Nazi guard living in the U.S. deported to Germany as prosecutions for Holocaust crimes surge.” Prosecutions for Holocaust crimes surge now more than 70 years after the end of World War II and a 95-year-old defendant who is now being deported from the United States to Germany? What kind of justice is this?

Well, it’s the kind of approximation of justice that is the very best that human beings can achieve in a fallen world, but what you also see in his headline is the fact that more than seven decades after the end of the second World War, after the conclusion and the knowledge, the near universal knowledge of the Holocaust, there is a continued moral urgency and impulse that those who perpetuated this great crime against humanity should face before they die a court of human justice. You’re looking at this and it’s not often that you see the deportation of someone who’s lived in the United States this long. It is not often that we look at the age of a defendant.

In this case, someone who might not even live through the process of trial, much less of sentencing. He’s 95 years old, and then you are looking at what’s described a surge of prosecutions for Holocaust crimes. Rick Noack of The Washington Post in this article gives us the rather stunning information that every single suspect when it comes to the crimes of the Holocaust on the official list of the German Court are in their 90s. Every single one of them. A chronological perspective would indicate that it would almost have to be so.

Because even the very youngest who could have been participants amongst the Nazis in the Holocaust before the end of World War II, even those who might have been 16 or 17 years old would now be in their 90s. That raises a fascinating question, but it also raises a fundamental distinction in the understanding of justice between a secular and a Christian worldview. What do we mean by this? Well, here you see an urgency in Germany and beyond. The article in The Washington Post by the way tells us that the urgency in the deportation of this 95-year-old came from the United States and the Trump administration rather than from Germany.

Why? Because it is not yet understood what jurisdiction, Ukrainian, Polish or German might be invoked in the case of the 95-year-old Jakiw Palij. That is because by the time these war crimes took place–and Jakiw is now believed to have been a member of the SS–by the time these crimes took place, it was all under the egis of the axes. All under the control of Nazi Germany, but this was after Germany had moved to the East and after the Wehrmacht to conquer this territory. This reminds us historically what historian Timothy Snyder refers to as the blood lands. The area of Eastern Europe between Germany and Russia became the great bloodletting of Nazi Germany and the Nazi regime.

It became the place where not only the Nazis conducted so many crimes against humanity, but others did as well. That is now extremely well documented, especially in the case of Ukraine. The Post cites the Nazi Crimes Authority in Germany and the fact all of the agency suspects are in their 90s “and some are likely to die ahead of any sentencing or could be declared unfit to stand trial. More than 70 years on, there is little time to be lost,” reports the Post, “It could be the last chance for Nazi criminals to face justice for crimes that continue to represent the worst of mankind.”

Listen carefully and understand that that sentence reveals that crucial distinction between the secular worldview and the Christian worldview. What’s the distinction? Are Christians and secular authorities any less committed to justice? No. We have to acknowledge that the German authorities and others here appear to be driven by a genuine quest for justice, a genuine concern, that there will be those now living who participated in the Holocaust who will escape human justice. Know the distinction is this, the secular worldview is very well represented in this article in the Post.

“It could be the last chance for Nazi criminals to face justice for crimes that continue to represent the worst of mankind.” The Christian worldview reminds us that no one will escape justice. The Christian worldview also reminds us of a human responsibility invested in lawful government to pursue the evil doer and to fulfill the greatest proximation of justice that humans can’t achieve. But when you are looking at the Christian worldview, we are reminded of the biblical truth that every single human being will face ultimate justice, ultimate perfect justice, by a righteous holy sovereign God and of that judgment no one will escape.

Now that fact should not impel Christians to be any less concerned about the human approximation of justice that is our responsibility, but it does give us the grounding of the understanding, which refers to every human being, including ourselves, that no one will escape God’s judgment. This points to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the reality that the only plea on that day of ultimate justice will not be innocent for there is no innocence in anyone of us, but rather it is the atonement accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ who was the innocent substitutionary savior on the cross. Thus, Christians look at a story like this with no less urgency.

But when secular people operating from a secular worldview look at this story, they assume that in death some people who are clearly guilty of these horrifying crimes will escape justice. We know that that is not so. It will never be so.

Part III

Wherever the cross of Christ appears, it must always be acknowledged as the cross of Christ

That takes us next to a story around Washington D.C.. In this case, it is in Maryland, in suburban Washington D.C., but the dateline in the article comes from Salt Lake City because the article appeared in the Deseret News. That’s the major newspaper in Salt Lake City. Closest officially to the Mormon Church, the LDS Church. In this case, the article is by Kelsey Dallas.

The headline is this, “Is a cross always religious,” and that’s what takes us to Washington. Dallas reports, “The supreme court could answer a brain teaser next term if it agrees to hear a case centered on a 93-year-old cross: When is a Christian cross not Christian? The answer,” the paper tells us, “according to those fighting for the Peace Cross to remain on public land in Maryland, is when it honors fallen soldiers, rather than Jesus Christ. Hiram Sasser, deputy chief counsel for the First Liberty Institute, said, “It’s a veterans memorial.”

Dallas then reports, “Others, including a majority of the judges serving the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, say a cross doesn’t stop being Christian when a war-related plaque is attached.” David Niose of the American Humanist Association, that’s the organization that has filed the lawsuit against the cross in Maryland, said, “If you were approaching it in a motor vehicle, you wouldn’t think ‘Oh, there’s a cross-shaped memorial.’ You’d think, ‘There’s a huge Christian cross.'” When the story first broke into legal action, I was in the Washington area and I drove out to look at the cross. Oddly enough, I find myself agreeing with this humanist spokesperson.

If you look at the cross, it certainly looks like a Christian cross. Kelsey Dallas understands that the issues at stake in this lawsuit are not limited to this Bladensburg, Maryland cross, but extend across the nation to different crosses, clearly Christian crosses, often on public land that are most often related to some kind of memorial. In just about every case, some lawsuit has been brought or has been threatened to be brought or eventually will be brought by secularists who are determined to expunged just about every possible Christian symbol from any kind of connection to public life, much less to public land.

Here’s where from a Christian worldview perspective there are some really interesting questions. It’s hard to imagine a question anymore central to the Christian worldview than the one asked by the reporter in the story, “At what point is a Christian cross not Christian?” That raises an issue of Christian conscience and Christian theology. Some of the arguments being made on behalf of the constitutionality and legality of crosses on public land come down to what we heard just a moment ago, a cross really isn’t a Christian symbol. It is often simply a memorial symbol. That’s the argument that’s being used in many different context.

It’s the same kind of argument that has been used by other kinds of religiously themed monuments or memorials on public land where one of the defenses argue is that this can’t be unconstitutional because it’s not really religious. Arguments have been made that the 10 Commandments are there memorialized as a representation of Western legal theory, rather than as the 10 Commandments given by God through Moses to the children of Israel. But as Christian, we have to recognize there are rather significant limitations to that argument. Lawyers have to make lawyerly arguments, and I’ll leave it to the lawyers to make those arguments.

But as Christian, we must understand the danger in arguing that a cross can ever mean anything other than what the cross means. Arguing that a cross can be some kind of memorial separate from inherent Christian meaning devalues the cross. It becomes nonsensical. Talking about the Nazi war criminals, I discuss the cross is the only answer to human sin. The cross as not only a symbol, but the cross where perpetuation was made, where Christ, the sinless substitute, paid the penalty for our sin. That’s a quite different issue than arguing that somehow the cross can now be simply a memorial. It is a memorial, but it’s never merely a memorial, and it is certainly not a secular memorial.

Now again I understand that lawyers must make lawyerly arguments in court and even when it comes to the intention and that’s an interesting question of some of those who created these memorials. The issue is their intention might have been secular, but Christians simply cannot in theological terms ever define the cross as anything other than the cross of Christ. I have great sympathy with the argument made by Luke Goodrich identified here as vice president and senior counsel for Becket. That’s the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty headquartered in Washington D.C.

He made a really good argument in defense of the Peace cross there in Bladensburg, Maryland when he argued, “Religious expression is a fundamental aspect of human culture just like race, sex, music or art.” He went on to say, “If we erase all religious references from the public square, that would tell a false story about who we are as human beings.” Another very interesting aspect of this article in the Deseret News is the fact that it cites the majority opinion from the panel of the 4th Circuit declaring that the cross in Maryland is unconstitutional. Listen very carefully to the language of that declaration from a federal appeals court.

Here it is, “Even in the memorial context, a Latin cross serves not simply as a generic symbol of death, but rather a Christian symbol of the death of Jesus Christ.” Now as a Christian theologian, I feel a bit of victory in the fact that a federal appeals court trying to define the cross couldn’t find anyway to define it other than with reference to Christ. Not only that, but in the decision of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, there are the words “a Christian symbol of the death of Jesus Christ.” Now I think we can almost guarantee that a federal appeals court doesn’t want to speak in this kind of explicitly theological language, but it did.

Why did it do so? It’s because it couldn’t do otherwise if it were to make the point the judges were trying to make about the fact that the cross is a religious symbol. Merely religious? How religious? Well, religious in that the cross must always refer, if rightly understood, to the death of Jesus Christ. Now there’s nothing in this decision that makes reference to the resurrection of Christ from the dead, nor is there any explication of the gospel, but there is a very powerful testimony to the power of the cross right here in this federal appeals court decision.

Whether intended or not, and we assume it was not intended, we find testimony that the cross of Christ require some explanation. The only explanation for the cross of Christ is that it was Christ who died on the cross and the only reason that we are talking about that in the year 2018 and it is being cited as the definition of a U.S. Federal Court of Appeals is because that cross of the Lord Jesus Christ was a decisive turn in the entire history of humanity. We sense the secular urgency in this kind of article to rid the public square of any reference to Jesus Christ and especially of the cross. As Christians, we understand why.

We understand that the cross has been a stumbling block and an offense ever since the Apostle Paul told us so in the first century in 1 Corinthians 1. But we also understand something else and that is that constitutionally we should make a distinction between the meaning of the cross as intended by government, by the cross merely appearing on government property, and the intention or the beliefs of the life being memorialized in such a way by a cross.

We should understand and make the argument that the speech, the admittedly religious speech of the cross, the inherently Christian theological speech of the cross, is not being made by the government, but rather is being made on behalf of those who identified with Christ whose lives are being memorialized in such a way. That distinction is extremely important and it’s very important even as it’s missing in this article. It’s very important because it explains why. If you go for instance to the American Cemetery in France, you will see row after row one of the most meaningful heart-rending sites you will ever see with human eyes.

Row after row of America soldiers and allies who died in the defense of liberty in Europe in 1944, most famously beginning on D-Day. Most of those graves are marked by a cross. Not all of them. If you look and as you walk the grounds of the American Cemetery, you will see many crosses, but you will also see the Star of David, and you will other religious symbols. What are the representations there? They are individual. They have to do with the lives of those being memorialized in that cemetery. If they identified as Christian, they’re identified with a cross. If they identified as Jewish, they’re identified with the Star of David.

It is not government speech. The government is not making a statement other than this, the vast majority of the people who died and whose lives are reflected in this cemetery died as those who identify as Christians. If the logic of the American Humanist Association and for that matter, the logic of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals applies across the board, then it will not just be the Peace Cross in Bladensburg, Maryland that will disappear. It will be the crosses in cemeteries. Inevitably, national cemeteries, particularly veteran cemeteries.

This also raises the very politically awkward question, what about that giant unforgettable cross in Arlington National Cemetery near The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier? If the Supreme Court of the United States takes this case, it will not have impact merely in Maryland. It will set a precedent coast to coast and anywhere American territory is found. Not only in Maryland, but as far away as France as well. This is where Christians understand that wherever the cross of Christ appears, it must always be acknowledged as the cross of Christ.

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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