Monday, Oct 15, 2018
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Monday, October 15, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
A theology of stuff: How should we think about earthly possessions after Hurricane Michael’s widespread destruction?
As human beings, we are linguistic creatures. Part of what it means to be made in God's image. As linguistic creatures, we have to rely upon certain common components of language. One of the most necessary components of language is the metaphor. We find ourselves continually having to explain that this is understandable because it's like that. This is even bigger than that, this is smaller than that, this is better than that, this is more disastrous than that.
So when we are thinking about Hurricane Michael and in retrospect, trying to understand both physically and morally the scale of this hurricane, one of the most common metaphors is the metaphor of a bomb. The governor of Florida, Rick Scott, and others almost immediately after the impact of the hurricane was understood, looking at cities, communities such as Mexico Beach, Florida, came to understand that what was left in the aftermath looked almost exactly like a war zone. The winds that are now clocked at over 150 miles per hours sustained in much of the Florida panhandle, the tidal surge that we now know reached a height of about 14 feet plus the associated waves, all of that devastation has to be compared to something. And about the only something to which we know to compare it is what it looks like after a massive bomb has gone off and that changes the face of civilization. And that is exactly what residents in Florida and elsewhere are now facing.
The death toll from the hurricane will almost assuredly rise and as we saw on Friday's edition of The Briefing, the most important measure, of course, and here Christians have to be emphatic, is the measure of human life. But we also understand that human living is expressed in other dimensions and that includes the economic dimension. And here is where many people thinking about the impact of these hurricanes, especially on a state, first of all, like Florida, we might make a mistake.
So, we understand and have previously discussed on The Briefing the fact that so much of the American population is moving to the coastlines. Beach front property is some of the most expensive property. Coastal property is some of the most desirable property. And so, wherever you find a coastline where someone can build a building, and especially a house or some kind of residence, human beings are prone to do that. The value of that home is going to be far more expensive than the same home inland. So, when we think about people moving to the coast, we think about those very expensive properties right along the coastline.
But when you're looking at the impact of a hurricane like Hurricane Michael, we also have to remember that just inside the coastline, things can change very rapidly. The Florida panhandle is a great example of this. Even though the coastal area itself is very expensive real estate, once you are just a few miles into the interior, just everything changes.
Much of the devastation that thus follows a hurricane like Michael is not devastation that adds up into the billions and billions of dollars, looking at multi-million dollar residences, rather it adds up to the billions and billions of dollars of multiplied misery with people who do not live right on the coast, who nonetheless felt much of the full force of something like Hurricane Michael.
So, when we are thinking about the devastation, we need to understand that there are many, many people throughout the Florida panhandle and beyond who have lost their homes, and for some time they have lost their livelihoods because this hurricane was so large that even miles inland it continued to be a storm of major devastation. As a matter of fact, when the death toll began to go up on Thursday and Friday, it was very interesting to note how much of that devastation, and on Friday, how many of those deaths were actually in states far from Florida. We're looking all the way into North and South Carolina and even into Virginia.
But then this also raises a very interesting question from the Christian worldview. Why is it that we as human beings care so much about our stuff? Why does stuff matter? Why does the material world matter to us at all?
We understand that the most important reality is spiritual. We come to understand that we are to value the life of the spirit over the life of the flesh. We come to understand that everything we see in the material world, a part of a fallen world, is eventually going to rust, to decay, to perhaps be stolen, or to burn, or simply to be forgotten. Well, for that matter, even misplaced.
Here is where we must understand that in both the Old Testament and New Testament, the Biblical worldview actually explains why we value stuff. It is because stuff isn't itself an accident. The stuff that we tend to accumulate is stuff that has meaning to us because we might make that stuff or someone gave us that stuff or we know a need for that stuff or a use for that stuff.
The Christian worldview doesn't allow the worship of that stuff. The Christian worldview doesn't allow us to hold too tightly to that stuff. But the Christian worldview, the Biblical worldview, does explain why we as human beings tend to surround ourselves with stuff and why that stuff matters to us.
Stuff, the object of the material world, are often catalysts for memory. We might know exactly when that item came into our lives, who gave it to us, why it matters. We sometimes in our homes stuff which we know once belonged to our ancestors, to grandparents, maybe even great grandparents. That kind of stuff is more than just stuff. It is important to us because it represents human beings whose lives have been channeled into our own.
Sometimes the stuff is more than meaningful or memorable. Sometimes it's of material usefulness. We, simply as human beings, invent, we develop, we make, and we sell, and we distribute stuff that helps to make life possible. And so that stuff can be something as simple as a utensil in the kitchen or something as sophisticated as the cat scan machine in your local hospital.
In both the Old Testament and the New, there is a grave warning against materialism, against valuing stuff too much. But there is also a validation of stuff and owning stuff and giving stuff and receiving stuff. That's a very important issue as well. Even think in the New Testament of the birth of Jesus. How did those Wise Men, those Magi from the east, how did they come to honor the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ? They brought gifts, they brought stuff.
Jesus, when he sent his disciples out on the first evangelistic mission, told them to carry very little stuff. Not to be hindered by stuff, that's another part of the Christian worldview. It not only validates stuff, it really warns us against allowing stuff to get out of proportion.
We face the danger of materialism, of greed and of covetousness. Let's just say the Bible is real clear about the sinfulness of those sins. We also know the sin of stealing. It is against God's law to take someone else's stuff.
The early Christians demonstrated their love for one another by sharing their stuff, by taking care of one another. But as we read the Scripture, we also come to understand that in the flow of Biblical history and the unfolding of the Biblical story from creation to the fall to redemption to consummation, even in the promise of a new Jerusalem, a new heaven and a new earth, well look at the final chapters of the book of Revelation. There will be stuff in the new heaven and the new earth. The new Jerusalem is defined at least in part by the glory of the stuff, the glory of the material reality of the new Jerusalem.
And as Christians, we also come to understand that we tend to put stuff in our homes, in both the Old and the New Testament there is the understanding of the home as being a place of tremendous importance. It can be important because of its presence in the reality of the home as a place of safety and nurture, where the family is located and honored.
It can also be in the Biblical worldview, a symbol of loss, of what is absent. Such as the Prodigal Son who left his father and left his home. Salvation itself is then described as coming home.
So in this fallen age and in this fallen world, in the already of the appearing of the kingdom of Christ, but the not yet of the appearing of Christ's kingdom in its fullness, we as Christians understand we still need homes. Everybody needs a home. And the homes, even the material structure of the home, becomes very important to us. Thus we understand the grief and loss on the part of so many thousands who have lost their homes.
For Christians, all of this will serve to help us to understand how best to pray, how best to serve, how best to assist others in the aftermath of this kind of disaster. And this means that Christians have to think and analyze all of these things according to the Christian Biblical worldview.
Pastor Andrew Brunson returns to United States after being detained for two years in Turkey
But next, we shift from Florida to Turkey as The New York Times reported on Friday, "A Turkish court ordered the release of the American Pastor Andrew Brunson from house arrest, a move that will end his 24-month imprisonment and allow him to fly home and that signaled a truce of sorts in a heated diplomatic dispute between Turkey and the United States."
And indeed, it has been a heated diplomatic dispute. But there's more than just a diplomatic dispute here. The pastor at the center of this story, Andrew Brunson, is an evangelical Christian who had been serving a church there in Turkey for some time. But the generalized background in Turkey has been an increased Islamic identity, which has been turned into a political platform by President Erdoğan of Turkey, using it to try to help to justify his newly defined Turkish nationalism in Islamic terms and his autocratic rule as necessary in order protect Turkish identity and pride.
In the aftermath of the attempted coup and in the crack down that followed, President Erdoğan and Turkish forces arrested this pastor, Andrew Brunson, charging him with aiding and abetting terrorism. There was never justification for the charges. As a matter of fact, by every indication, Pastor Brunson has been held as something of a political prisoner ever since he was arrested in 2016.
But even as relations between the United States and Turkey began to deteriorate and even as Pastor Brunson become something of a political pawn in international relations, the Trump administration did make a very clear concerted effort to increase the priority of demanding the release of Pastor Brunson as a prerequisite to any warming of relations between the United States and Turkey.
President Trump, months ago, thought that he had arranged a personal agreement with President Erdoğan whereby Brunson would be released. But instead of being released, he was simply allowed out of prison and put under house arrest. This led to an escalation of tensions between the United States and Turkey and eventually the United States responded with increased economic sanctions.
The Turkish economy has been shaky in recent months and Turkey clearly needed these American sanctions to be removed, but as you might expect, there's also more to the story. Almost as if this was taken out of a James Bond novel or something similar, the situation related to Pastor Brunson is also tied to the disappearance of Saudi Arabian journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, and the charge by the Turkish government that Khashoggi was held, interrogated, tortured, eventually murdered and dismembered within the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul also just in recent days.
The Turkish government made these charges against Saudi Arabia, the American government has entered into the international concern about Khashoggi's disappearance. This has turned into a massive international scandal and it has created an opportunity for Turkey to try to alleviate its economic situation by warming relations with the United States, but that could not happen, as the Trump administration had made clear, without Pastor Andrew Brunson's release. And so, in the very same time period that the Khashoggi scandal is beginning to unfold, President Erdoğan pulled another lever and Pastor Andrew Brunson is allowed now to come home.
But we can't leave this story without understanding that the politics incriminating Turkey is still very much present. How so if they are letting the pastor go? Well, in the first place, they arrested him. In the second place, they detained him. The charges were always implausible on their face. They then continued to hold him as a pawn in international relations.
But then, even the good news of Pastor Brunson's release on Friday came with an interesting twist. The Washington Post's first sentence in its report makes that very clear. Erin Cunningham reporting, "A Turkish court on Friday convicted American Pastor Andrew Brunson of aiding terrorism, but sentenced him to time served and ordered his immediate release."
What you see there is probably best explained as face saving on the part of the Turkish autocratic regime. Rather than admit that they had falsely arrested, falsely detained, falsely imprisoned, and were even falsely holding Andrew Brunson all this time, the court instead convicted him. But then very conveniently ruled that he would simply be convicted and allowed to go on the basis of time already served.
Brunson's Turkish defense attorney, Ismail Cem Halavurt, said it almost perfectly, "The verdict was the best of a bad situation." Sometimes the Christian Biblical worldview reminds us in a fallen world the best we can expect is the best of a bad situation.
A victory for religious liberty as Britain’s Supreme Court rules speech that violates Christian beliefs cannot be compelled
But next, we shift from Turkey to the United Kingdom, a very important headline having to do also with religious liberty, The New Times headline was this, "Belfast Bakery was free to refuse baking gay marriage cake, court rules." CNBC reported this way, "Christian bakery wins gay cake ruling from United Kingdom Supreme Court."
So, what's going here? Well, this is eerily familiar to Americans who will remember the Masterpiece Cake Shop decision handed down just recently by the United States Supreme Court. You will recall that that was a situation not in Northern Ireland, but in Colorado where a Christian baker had been found guilty by the state's human rights commission of violating the civil rights of a same-sex couple by not making a wedding cake that would have required him to use his artistic expression to celebrate a same-sex wedding.
That case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, that tells you something, where the Supreme Court, in a very clear ruling, said that the owner of the cake shop, Jack Phillips, had had his own religious liberty rights violated by the civil rights action against him.
It's also not only interesting, but really important for us to recognize that the Supreme Court in Great Britain actually cited that recent decision by the United States Supreme Court in ruling along similar lines.
The New York Times article by Ed O'Loughlin begins this way, "Britain's Supreme Court supported the right of a Belfast bakery to refuse to bake a cake with a message supporting same-sex marriage, finding that its Christian owners could not be compelled to reproduce a message contrary to their beliefs."
Now, I want to give credit to The York Times, to the reporter and to the editors for the way they offered the lead to that story because it's extremely accurate and it is extremely fair. Why do I say that? It is because in other press reports, what you will see is that we are told that the United Kingdom Supreme Court had upheld the right of a baker to deny a cake for a same-sex couple. That is not what happened and that is not the ruling of the United Kingdom's highest court. Rather, the ruling is, that the baker could not be compelled to use artistic expression in order to signal his agreement with same-sex marriage. That is a very, very important distinction and it's a distinction that is under sustained attack on both sides of the Atlantic.
The next paragraph in The New York Times article continues the explanation, "Although the person who requested the cake was gay, a five judge panel found that the bakery owner's refusal was based not on the customer's sexual orientation, but on rather their own Protestant faith's opposition to gay marriage." The judgment included these words, "There was no discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation."
Later in the article, predictably, you see the other argument, you see those who contend for religious liberty in both the United Kingdom and in the United States, citing their agreement with this decision and their relief that it came down the way it did, both in the United States and in Great Britain. But you also see in the major press reports, including in this New York Times report, the fact that those on the other side of the argument are not going to let the argument go. Their demand, in the name of LGBTQ rights, in the name of what they define as civil rights, their demand is that all photographers, florists, cake bakers, and others would have to use their artistic expressive ability, not only to offer services to same-sex couples, but to indicate by their artistic expression their agreement with same-sex marriage or with the larger array of LGBTQ relationships and messages.
I want to go to where the court in Great Britain went on to cite the Masterpiece Cake decision of the United States Supreme Court. The British court's decision included these words, "The important message from the Masterpiece Cake Shop case is that there is a clear distinction between refusing to produce a cake conveying a particular message for any customer who wants such a cake, and refusing to produce a cake for the particular customer who wants it because of that customer's characteristics."
The decision went on to add that the the Belfast Bakery "would have refused to supply this particular cake to anyone, whatever their personal characteristics." Now, that's an amazing display of judicial clarity. It's a very rare display for which we should be very, very thankful.
But we shouldn't be thankful on either side of the Atlantic as if either of these courts have somehow extended a courtesy to Christians to be now allowed to live and to work according to our convictions. That is not a courtesy extended by a court. It is a constitutional right, most importantly, in the written Constitution of the United States of America.
But there's an even more fundamental issue, that is that it is a God-given right. It is a right, as the Declaration of Independence indicates, which is given by the Creator, endowed by the Creator in the human beings made in his image. The government is not called upon to create that right. It is called upon to respect that right.
Why a court ruling about a war memorial in Maryland is about a great deal more than one monument
But then finally, we come back to the United States, indeed back to a city very close to the nation's capital. In this case, it is Bladensburg, Maryland where we are reminded that there is a very important religious liberty case that has to do with a war memorial in that city. And that war memorial doesn't go back just a few years, it goes back a century. It goes all the way back to 1918 and the end of the war that was then known as The Great War, the war that is now known in historical perspective as World War I.
Jeremy Dys, he is deputy general counsel of the First Liberty Institute, he represents the American Legion in the case now known as American Legion vs. American Humanist Association. In the Houses of Worship column in Friday's edition of The Wall Street Journal, he begins by telling this important story, "As a lowly corporal, Milton Edward Hartman's death shouldn't have drawn much attention. But on a summer day in 1919, it seemed as if half the town of Forestville, Maryland came to his memorial service. His commanding officer attended, as did the Bishop of Washington. As The Churchman Periodical reported on July 19, 1919, 'The whole countryside came to the memorial service. Thronged to the church and filled the churchyard ten feet deep around the church, listening and participating through the open doors and windows.'"
Yet, as Dys explains, Corporal Hartman's body wasn't there. He was killed in France on October 10, 1918. Like too many US Army infantrymen, he writes, who fell in World War I, he was buried in an American cemetery on European soil. Military records, he explains, indicate that Hartman was buried with his identification tags, one of which was attached to the the cross shaped marker hovering over his grave.
Most men, he explains, killed in the Great War were buried in this way. Now, he goes on to reflect upon the fact that too few today remember the names of those who gave their lives in this war. As Dys rightfully explains, far too few living today remember those who gave their lives in World War I, but ever since the 1920s, citizens in Bladensburg, Maryland or anyone driving by, has seen a war memorial, a giant memorial in the shape of a cross memorializing those who died in the nation's service in war. Particularly, historically speaking in World War I.
But then, in his column, Dys reminds us of an occurrence we talked about on The Briefing earlier this year. He writes, "Yet, after years of litigation, a three judge panel of the Fourth US Circuit Court of Appeals determined this year that the memorial is unlawful. According to the court, the memorial's cross shape violates the Constitution. The chief judge of the court dissented from the decision to deny a review of the case before the appeals court at the Fourth Circuit." He wrote this, "Nearly a century ago, Maryland citizens, out of deep respect and gratitude, took on the daunting task of erecting a monument to mirror the measure of individual devotion and sacrifice these heroes had so nobly advanced. The panel majority says their effort violates the Constitution the soldiers fought to defend. I respectfully think otherwise."
Other judges also spoke of their dissent. Judge J. Harvey Wilkinson, III stated, "The dead cannot speak for themselves, but may the living hear their silence." Judge Paul K. Niemeyer wrote that the Fourth Circuit's decision "offends the monument's commemoration of those soldiers' sacrifice. Moreover," he said, "it puts at risk hundreds and perhaps thousands of similar monuments."
So, that's how the court decision went from a district court to the Fourth US Circuit Court of Appeals and as Attorney Dys now indicates, the situation is this, the decision of this panel puts as risk hundreds, perhaps even thousands of memorials to the dead of American wars, all over the United States.
Dys rightly goes from Bladensburg, Maryland, a cross I went to observe when this was at the center of the Fourth Circuit's deliberation, he goes from there to Arlington National Cemetery, where, as he points out, there are crosses and symbols related to Christianity throughout the nation's most historic and most famous military cemetery.
Furthermore, if you go to American cemeteries, not just in the United States but where American war dead are buried in Europe, most famously the American cemetery most important to Americans because of the dead in France and in Belgium during World War II, you come to understand that all those crosses are just the very same shape as that cross in Bladensburg, Maryland that a federal court and now a federal appeals court has ruled violates the Constitution of the United States.
So, even though you might say this is just about a monument or a memorial, it's actually about a great deal more than that. It's about the question as to whether there can be even an explicitly Christian symbol on federal or on government property without violating the Constitution.
Let's just state the obvious, no one in the 1920s believed that that cross violated the Constitution of the United States. Nor did the framers and founders of our constitutional order, who also surrounded themselves with other references clearly identified with the Christian faith.
But I must finally take us back to the name of the case, again it is American Legion, that's the organization speaking on behalf of the monument there in Maryland, vs. the American Humanist Association. And once again, we see the teeth bared by a secularist organization. An organization that dares to speak for the US Constitution and yet actually is indicating that it will not rest until every single symbol related to theism in any form is expunged from anything close to federal or government property.
What's being demanded here is not responsible constitutional interpretation. What's being demanded here is a form of religious cleansing of the nation's history. The eventual disposition of this issue, this case about a cross shaped war memorial in Maryland, won't just end there. It won't even just end at Arlington National Cemetery. It will eventually reach virtually every American community, or for that matter, every American cemetery no matter where it is found around the world.
That's what the secularists in America now demand. This case makes that fact painfully clear.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For more information on Southern Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'm speaking to you from São Paulo, Brazil and I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.