Monday, Oct 1, 2018

Monday, Oct 1, 2018

The Briefing

October 1, 2018

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

It’s Monday, October 1st, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Theological warning in the midst of natural disaster: What the earthquake in Indonesia reveals about creation

In the United States in recent days, the headlines have been generally political, hotly political, inherently political. But we need to pause for a moment and recognize that there are people, right now, on planet Earth who do not have the luxury even of thinking a political thought. They are living in a moment of urgency where human survival may well be at stake. Think, for instance, of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Last Friday afternoon the earth began to shake. By the time the earth stopped shaking, Sulawesi had experienced a major earthquake that registered 7.5 on the Richter scale and then aftershocks, several of which, individually, would have ranked as major earthquakes each on its own.

But then the earthquakes, together, set loose a tsunami that would eventually reach 18-feet in height, a massive wall of water. As of Sunday night, it was apparent that, at least, 800 people had died. But the expectation is, given the devastation that, that death toll was going to rise tragically. Indonesia has one of the largest populations of any nation, and many of its major islands are very densely populated. That’s the case in Sulawesi where the town of Palu has largely been destroyed. And between the earthquakes and the tsunami, massive devastation has now reached that island and much of the island is cutoff from all communication and even from most conventional rescue operations.

While we’re thinking of so many issues here, in the United States, our hearts, and minds ought to be also very much with the people of Indonesia. Recognizing that they are undergoing, yet again, a major natural disaster. But here’s where we also understand that it makes a great deal of difference where you live on planet Earth. Plant Earth is itself a very active planet. The Earth’s surface is constantly shifting. Massive forces under the surface of the earth are also continuing to build up pressure, sometimes along fault lines. Indonesia happens to be on one of those major fault lines. Furthermore, it is an area of dense and repeated volcanic activity and, since it is by definition a nation of many thousands of islands, some of those islands are extremely vulnerable, even if they are also densely populated.

But when we think about Indonesia, we need to understand that, that nation has so many natural disasters that they are classified into three different categories: macro-disasters, meso-disasters, and micro-disasters. But Indonesia has experienced more than its share of those greatest of all, the macro-disasters. Keep in mind that Indonesia is a major part of what is known as the volcanic ring of fire. That’s a circle, or a basically circular drawing, that would include the west coast of South America going all the way to North America, for example to Alaska, and then crossing over the Pacific to look at the eastern edge of Eurasia and, eventually, South Asia, as well.

Many of those islands in Indonesia are only existing because of volcanic activity and then they’re put at risk by other volcanic activity. One of the most important registered eruptions in the history of mankind occurred in August of 1883 with the explosion of the volcano Krakatoa. When it erupted, it completely destroyed the entire island of which it had been a part. It also led to climatological changes, not only in the area of the South Pacific, but all over the world as the eruptive dust and debris went through the upper atmosphere to circulate the world for a matter of decades.

We should also keep in mind that just 14 years ago, in 2004, Indonesia experienced another massive earthquake. This time in the Aceh Province and north Sumatra that led to another even larger tsunami that, in the end, killed at least 170,000 people. Now, just try to place that into some kind of context. Just imagine what it would be like for a nation the size of the United States of America to experience a natural disaster that would eventually account for the deaths of 170,000 people. It’s staggers the imagination, but it happened in Indonesia. And it happened after the widespread use of video cameras, and it became one of the first major recorded incidences of any kind of disaster of this scale being recorded even as it happened.

One of the features of the earthquake and tsunami that took place this time, in 2018, is that given the experience of 2004 and other disasters with earthquakes producing tsunamis, there was an understanding that when the earthquake happened it would likely produce a deadly tsunami and warnings were issued. Those warnings probably saved many, many lives. But at the same time, there is only so much people can do in a densely populated area that amounts to an island with incredibly vulnerability. There will, of course, be a rather massive international effort to help Indonesia, especially with the island of Sulawesi in the wake of the earthquake and the tsunami. But Christians also need to ponder for a moment, the reality of these natural disasters and what they tell us.

They tell us that something is wrong in the cosmos. Something is broken and out of kilter. Something that should be in control is out of control. Forces beyond our human imagination are set loose in the cosmos, even under the surface of planet Earth, sometimes breaking onto the surface of planet Earth. All of this reminds Christians of the reality of Genesis 3 and also what we read in Romans 8, where we are told that the entire creation, due to our sin, is groaning under the weight of sin. Awaiting, as we are told, the appearing of the Sons of God.

Look at it this way, an earthquake, and tsunami system like this includes, and we should be thankful it includes, warnings unprecedented in human history. Made possible, for example, by modern technology, seismographic evaluations, and communication systems. But even more importantly, we understand that natural disasters like this are themselves a fundamentally different kind of warning. They are, to be sure, a theological warning.

This should surely make Christians remember the passage in scripture found in Hebrews, Chapter 12, verses 25 to 29. The writer of the Book of Hebrews, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, writes, “See to it that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape, who turn away from him who warns us from heaven? And his voice shook the earth then, but now he has promised saying, ‘Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ This expression ‘yet once more’ denotes the removing of those things, which can be shaken, as if, created things, so that those things, which cannot be shaken may remain.” The passage concludes, “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom, which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire.’”

Part II

Azusa Pacific reverses course, reinstates ban on on LGBT relationships. Why this is important for Christian higher education

Next, we turn back to the United States. Last week on The Briefing, we gave extensive coverage to an announcement that came from Azusa Pacific University in California. Just last week, the news media there had released a statement that included this headline, “Azusa Pacific Removes Ban on LGBTQ+ Relationships Creates Program for Students.” As we discussed, the announcement was that the university had removed language from its student’s standard of conduct agreement that had prohibited public LGBTQ+ relationships for students on campus. The statement then, published in the student newspaper, said, “As an evangelical institution APU still adheres to the Biblical principles of human sexuality, the belief that sexual union is intended by God to take place only within the marriage covenant between a man and a woman remains a cornerstone of the university’s foundation.”

And back then, the statement that was found at Zoo Media said, “This change is the result of much dialog between students and administration. For years, LGBTQ+ students at APU have run an underground support group called, Haven. However, because they weren’t endorsed by Azusa Pacific University as an official club, they couldn’t gather on campus or advertise their meetings.” Now, as the statement made clear last week, the change in the student handbook would allow for same sex. But remember, the language here is the entire categories of letters, LGBTQ+, for those relationships, including romantic relationships, to have a place on campus. For students to form and to make clear, in public, those romantic relationships.

As it was summarized in the media, the announcement was that the university would allow for same sex, and otherwise LGBTQ+, romantic relationships, but not for sex, nor for the allowance of same sex marriage. As I said on The Briefing last week, that is a major reversal, much larger in moral significance than the university had acknowledged. And furthermore, it makes no sense to allow for romantic relationships, but then to insist that the university is holding the line on a traditional Christian Biblical ethic. As we said last week, this change would turn the Biblical understanding of human relationships, and even of romance, on its head and would set the stage for what could only be further concessions, unless the move was corrected. But just at the end of the week, the move was corrected. An announcement came from the Board of Trustees of Azusa Pacific University that the change was being reversed, at least, for now.

The statement released by the board on Friday was addressed to the university community. The trustees said, “Today, as a board, we reaffirm our responsibility to steward the Christ-centered mission of Azusa Pacific University. We commit the following to each member of the APU community and to all who share in the 2000 year legacy of Christianity that forms our bedrock.” The first statement is this, “We remain unequivocally Biblical and orthodox in our evangelical Christian identity. The Bible serves as our anchor. Secondly, we stand firm in our convictions, never will to capitulate to outside pressures, be they legal, political, or social. Third, we affirm God’s perfect will and design for humankind with the Biblical understanding of the marriage covenant as between one man and one woman. Outside of marriage He calls His people to abstinence. Four, we advocate for holy living within the university in support of our Christian values. Then, finally, we declare that our clear mission to equip disciples and scholars to advance the work of God in the world is more necessary today then ever before.”

But then the trustees got right to the heart of the matter. In their statement they said, “Last week, reports circulated about a change to the Undergraduate Student Standards of Conduct. That action,” they said, “Concerning romanticized relationships was never approved by the board and the original wording has been reinstated.” The board continued by affirming the students saying, “We see every student as a gift from God, infinitely valuable and worthy in the eyes of our creator. And as members of our campus community, we believe our university is the best place for earnest and guided conversation to unfold with all students about every facet of life, including faith and sexuality. We embrace all students who seek a rigorous Christian higher education and voluntarily join us in mission.” The board statement concluded, “We pledge to boldly uphold Biblical values and not waver in our Christ-centered mission. We will examine how we live up to these high ideals and enact measures that prevent us from swaying from that sure footing. Through prayerful obedience to God’s word, we believe Azusa Pacific University’s best days lie ahead.”

Now, looking at this statement, we would have to say it’s very, very strong. For that, of course, Biblical minded Christians should be very appreciative. It is interesting to look at the third to last paragraph, where the board concluded, “We embrace all students who seek a rigorous Christian higher education and voluntarily join us in mission.” That’s a very carefully crafted sentence. The word, voluntarily, is a clear signal. Legally, as well as morally, that those who accept in mission to Azusa Pacific University, do so understanding the convictions that the university publicly holds.” But it’s also interesting to note the first part of that sentence, where the board said, “We embrace all students who seek a rigorous Christian higher education.”

Well, what’s interesting about that is that the statement indicates what’s true, not only about Azusa Pacific University, but many other historically Christian universities. Their student body is not defined as Christians seeking a Christian education, but rather merely as students. They maybe Christians or not who, by seeking admission to the university, indicate that they are, according to the philosophy of the school, seeking what’s defined here as a rigorous Christian education. As I stated last week, I will simply repeat here, universities that become tuition dependent upon non-Christian students, they will eventually have to reckon with very non-Christian expectations. It’s going to be a part of market pressure. And, at the very same time, that this news came from Azusa Pacific University, the same student news sources, officially tied to the university, indicated severe financial constraints and $17 million budget shortfall for the fall of 2018.

It’s also very interesting to look at a secular news report that appeared over the weekend in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, the reporter is Christopher Yee. He quotes one of the members of the board, Albert Tate, identified as Senior Pastor for Fellowship Monrovia Church, as explaining what happened when the language that had forbidden same sex relationships was removed. Pastor Tate said this, “When we took out the language everyone else filled that gap with their own language and interpretations and it was hurtful to LGBTQ students, our faculty, our constituencies outside. We reinstated that language,” he said, “With the intension to strategically partner with our LGBTQ students to find the best language possible to capture our heart and intent.” But that statement, we need to concede, might be taken out of context, but if it is in context, it appears to be something of an equivocation about where the board is going to be headed as it seeks to engage these issues in the future.

Let’s be clear, the statement from the board is very clear. We can only hope and pray that it will continue to be equally clear. It is also evident that Christian institutions and, especially Christian institutions of higher education, are now under pressure and, in the future, will be under increasing, continuously increasing, pressure to join the sexual and moral revolution and, particularly, to concede ground on the LGBTQ+ issues that are now the leading edge of those revolutions. This story isn’t over, as the report in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune makes clears, but the statement from the board is extremely encouraging and, for that, we should be thankful. We should also give it the attention that is its due, simply because here you have a Board of Trustees that dared to do its job, to actually protect the convictions and the mission of an historic Christian institution. That is good news and we dare not miss that kind of news when it happens.

Part III

Is hunting grizzly bears an exercise of stewardship or a display of human predation? Federal judge’s ruling exposes worldview and constitutional issues

Next, we shift to yet another story in the United States, but this time it’s really about grizzly bears, except it’s not. It’s really about the courts. Trevor Hughes reported last week for USA Today, “Overruling Trump Administration officials, a federal judge in Montana has reinstated legal protections for grizzly bears living in and around Yellowstone National Park, and blocked planned hunts in Wyoming and Idaho. The judge ruled that US Fish and Wildlife Service officials were arbitrary and capricious in their 2017 decision to remove the bear’s protections under the Endangered Species Act.” In another sentence in the article we read, “The ruling represents a major victory for animal rights groups that argued in a lawsuit that the estimated 700 bears, living in the greater Yellowstone area, should be protected from hunting, because there are so few of them left alive. Advocates had argued that the bears are both a key part of the local ecosystem and a major tourist attraction.”

This is a story about grizzly bears, but the larger issue is really not about bears at all. But let’s not leave the bears for a moment, it’s one of the success stories of the modern ecological movement that the grizzly bears have been repopulating in the United States. Even though they had been an endangered species, it is now clear that efforts, and this is very important, an exercise of human stewardship and dominion had led to the kinds of regulations and policies that had allowed the grizzly bear population, once again, to build up, especially, around Yellowstone National Park. J. Carlton and Taylor Umlauf, reporting for the Wall Street Journal, in Friday’s edition, pointed out that Yellowstone is one of the two remaining strongholds for grizzlies in the continental United States, the other is Montana’s Glacier National Park. There, in that park, they remain on the endangered species list, but in Yellowstone where their numbers have now grown to, at least, 700.

What’s the issue here? Well, as it turns out, even a territory as vast as Yellowstone can only sustain so many grizzly bears. And, let’s just state the matter as clearly as we can, the grizzly bear is what’s known as an apex predator. There is no predator that preys on grizzly bears. Like the great white sharks in the open oceans, the grizzly bear looks down on the entire food chain of its own ecosystem. It turns out that’s one of the problems, because there has been an increase, given the population of grizzly bears, on predation on livestock in the entire region. Furthermore, there’s the increased danger of grizzly-human interaction, which quite generally goes badly for the human. As the Wall Street Journal tells us, “Five of the eight known fatal maulings of humans by grizzlies in the 148 year history of Yellowstone National Park have taken place since 1980. That’s pointing to when the efforts began to rebuild the grizzly population. While,” we are told, “An additional 38 people have been injured in run-ins with the bears since that time.” That, again, according to the National Park Service.

Just when you consider the worldview analysis that is invoked with the grizzly bear issue, it’s really interesting to note that here, you have what appears to be a very good exercise of human dominion and stewardship, not the expense of a creature, but rather in the defense of a creature, even one of our own natural enemies, the grizzly bear. But you also see here the extremism of some animal rights activists who are so concerned, in their own mind, for the welfare of animals that they will put human beings, and even human necessity, such as livestock at risk. And, furthermore, they are so committed to the animals that they will often resist even what that kind of stewardship is indicated. Which is not only building up the population of grizzly bears, but avoiding the problems that will come with an overpopulation.

The radical fringe of the animal rights movement, and we should note it’s a very, very large and influential fringe, very well funded, as well. It operates from a secular worldview that confuses the creator and the creation and worships the creation, rather than the creator. There is also a basic anti-humanism built into much of the animal rights movement and you see that in this article, as well. But remember, as I began this story, I pointed out that the bigger issue here really, in the long-term, isn’t about the bears, it’s about the courts. It’s about the fact that the news story that we found in USA Today, and was repeated in the Wall Street Journal, it reminds us that it was a federal district court judge who put an end to the proposed hunt. It was a very limited hunt by the way, just a very few permits were to be given. It was for 22 grizzlies to be hunted and killed. Idaho had issued just one permit.

Now, here again, you’re just talking about what would appear to be the exercise of stewardship, rather than a lack of consideration for the animals themselves. The larger question is why a federal district court judge would presume to have this kind of authority. This is a very important issue. The United States Constitution in Article 3 calls for a federal judiciary. At present, this means 870 federal judges. These include 673 positions of district court judges, 179 judgeships in the federal circuits, the courts of appeal, nine judges in the Supreme Court of the United States, and nine judges in a constitutional international trade court. There are 94 federal judicial districts, once again, that amounts to a total of 673 possible district court judges. And what we have noted, whether the issue is immigration, or abortion, or the question becomes even grizzly bears in Yellowstone, increasingly the venue that matters the most is a district court.

By definition, a district court is supposed to be only relevant, first relevant, to its own district. Remember, there are 94 federal district courts. We’re a nation of 50 states, these are 94 different districts. So the question comes, how can one federal district court judge, in just one of these 94 districts, issue a ruling that matters for the entire country or even considered binding on the entire country? Just recently, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas spoke of the kind of injunctions that are now sought politically by both the left and the right, by both Republicans and Democrats. But, primarily, we need to note, this has been a Democratic instinct. This has been a tactic from the left and, particularly, amongst those who style themselves as the resistance to President Donald Trump.

Recently, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote this, “These injunctions are beginning to take a toll on the federal court system, preventing legal questions from percolating through the federal courts, encouraging forum shopping, and making every case a national emergency for the courts and for the executive branch.” The justice went on to say, “I am skeptical that district courts have the authority to enter universal injunctions. These injunctions did not emerge until a century and a half after the founding and they appear to be inconsistent with longstanding limits on equitable relieve and the power of Article 3 courts. If their popularity continues, this court must address their legality.” Indeed it must, eventually, this will be a very important issue before the United States Supreme Court.

My guess is, that if the grizzly bears were to somehow understand this judicial decision they’d be all for it. But as for friends of the Constitution, that should be a very different picture. We should note, that when Justice Thomas spoke about forum shopping, he was talking about the now popular technique on the American political left, primarily, once again, the left, of trying to shop for a federal judicial district that they believe will be friendly to their argument and concerns. That’s simply not healthy for our democracy. That’s, in its own way, a subversion of our entire constitutional order. The advocates for the grizzly bears, we should note, didn’t exercise this kind of forum shopping. They went to a court, a federal district court, in Montana, not in Mississippi. But the same can’t be said for those who are advocates and activists on other issues, particularly, issues like immigration and abortion.

Some time ago John Fund, writing for National Review, asked the question in a headline, “Why Should a Single Federal Judge Be Able to Make Law for the Whole Country?” It’s a very good question. It’s the kind of question that eventually the Supreme Court of the United States is going to have to answer.

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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