Thursday, Oct 18, 2018
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Thursday October 18, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
After firing and settlement, it turns out all the Atlanta fire chief was guilty of was believing biblical Christianity
Big news out of Atlanta, Georgia. The headline in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and I quote "Former Atlanta Fire Chief will receive 1.2 million dollar settlement over firing." Now looking at that headline, it might not at first appear that this is a huge story with Christian world view implications. But I assure you it is. And the first sentence of the news article makes that very clear. The writer Zachary Hansen reports, "The City of Atlanta has agreed to a 1.2-million-dollar settlement with an ex-Atlanta Fire Chief over his firing, after he wrote a book that compared homosexuality to bestiality." Now let's look at that lead sentence, we're going to come back to it in a few moments. Lets just say it's powerful and it also points to a far larger problem than just this particular incident in Atlanta, Georgia. But in order to understand it, we have to go back in history about three years.
We have to go back to the year 2015 when then Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed fired Atlanta's Fire Chief, Kelvin Cochran and fired him for writing a book, for publishing a book and it was a book that was intended, we should note, primarily for African American young men that Kelvin Cochran was mentoring and teaching in a local Baptists church, Elizabeth Baptist Church in the Atlanta area. But the book was about growing into manhood and it addressed some of the most serious issues that young people face looking at adulthood, looking at responsibility. The book was largely about a biblical theology of young men growing into manhood, taking responsibility. It included a great deal of very clear biblical content and as a part of that content, the Atlanta Fire Chief, as a Baptist laymen teaching young men in his church wrote about human sexuality, in explicitly biblical terms. He published the book, the book was entitled Who Told You You Were Naked? He distributed at least some copies of the book to members of his team and others in the Atlanta area.
Before long, controversy surrounded the book and Atlanta's Fire Chief and before long, Mayor Kasim Reed, then the Mayor of Atlanta, fired him. And when the Mayor fired him, he said that he was doing so because Atlanta's non-discrimination policy was in the then Mayor's words, "Not negotiable." He went on to say that he had fired the Police Chief because every member of the team, that meant the Fire Chief's team, had to believe that the member was valued and also that the Fire Chief operated on the basis of policies and decisions that represented fairness and respect for all employees and in all employee decisions. Here's what's really notable. There was no charge whatsoever that Atlanta's Fire Chief had acted in any way that was not fair and had not reflected full respect for every member of his team. The reality is that the political structure of the City of Atlanta is absolutely committed to the LGBTQ revolution and the Mayor of Atlanta, Kasim Reed, was far more committed to that revolution than to the man he had hired as the Fire Chief of Atlanta.
Kelvin Cochran we should note, African American himself, had previously served as administrator of the United States Fire Administration. He was very well known in fire fighting circles, and it was for that reason that he had been hired as Atlanta's Fire Chief. But he was fired because he wrote a book. Now the Mayor tried to put a bureaucratic spin of the story, explaining that he had fired the Chief for writing a book and publishing it without receiving prior authorization from city authorities. But no one believed at the time that, that was the real issue and for that reason, Kelvin Cochran, once fired, he began to sue the City of Atlanta for violating his religious liberty. In a decision handed down just very recently, a US district court judge ruled that Atlanta, as an at will employer had the legal right to fire the Fire Chief for any reason or for no reason. But that same federal judge went on to say that the city in firing Kelvin Cochran had likely violated his First Amendment rights. Not so much because of the LGBTQ issues at all, but because of the prior restraint.
The requirement that any city employee receive permission from the city to publish a book. That, according to the federal judge is almost surely a violation of the Fire Chief's First Amendment rights of free speech, and thus the City of Atlanta, as we saw in the headline agreed to pay him a settlement of 1.2 million dollars. He by the way will not receive it all. Some of that will go to his attorneys, but the bottom line is that the City of Atlanta has agreed that the city should settle with his former fire chief over this issue after the decision was handed down and the advice was received from the US Federal District Court Judge. But here's what's really interesting. As the story unfolds, we go back, not just to 2015, the Fire Chief writing the book, the Atlanta Mayor, then Kasim Reed firing him. But we have to turn to another story that ran just in recent days in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The headline of this article, "Atlanta Mayor says court battle with former Fire Chief was too costly." Now the bottom line in this article by reporter Steve Deere is that the current Mayor of Atlanta has had to largely apologize for the fact that the city has agreed to this payout because after all, the LGBTQ revolutionaries are furious that the city would admit any kind of fault in the Fire Chief's firing. But the Mayor of Atlanta was explaining that the city would almost surely face a far larger settlement cost if it did not settle now. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said through a statement and a spokesperson "The comments of Kelvin Cochran were not reflective of who Atlanta is, as a tolerant and inclusive city. While the start of this litigation preceded our administration she said, based upon the findings of the court, that could have resulted in tax payers paying millions of dollars in damages and litigation fees, a negotiated settlement was recommended by legal council."
Now in the political world, that is what is called covering your tracks. The current Atlanta Mayor wants to have peace with the LGBTQ community who supported her in her recent election. But she also wants to be clear that the City of Atlanta faces a greater threat if it does not settle with Kelvin Cochran now. But in Christian world view analysis, we need to understand what we're looking at here. There is no question. The statements by former Mayor Kasim Reed and the statement by current Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, both of these statements make clear, the bottom line is that the Fire Chief of Atlanta was fired for holding to a biblical understanding of human sexuality. And further more for daring to teach it, even in a local class in his church. And then even daring to speak those biblical truths outside the context and the confines of that local church. So when you look at Mayor Bottoms statements about Atlanta as a tolerant and inclusive city, she went on to say we need to note, just in recent days, "The comments of Kelvin Cochran were not reflective of who Atlanta is, as the tolerant and inclusive city," she describes.
Similarly we go back to the statements made by the former mayor, Kasim Reed. It's clear that he zeroed in on the specific concerns of the LGBTQ community using the code language of discrimination and fairness and respect, without even seriously making the charge that the Atlanta Fire Chief had violated any of those norms at all. He had simply published a book that was woefully out of step with the political correctness of the City of Atlanta's political power structure. But here's where we need to also look further. What exactly did the Atlanta Fire Chief write in this book? Let's go back to the lead sentence in that Atlanta Journal-Constitution article by Zachary Hansen that was updated on October the 15th. "The City of Atlanta has agreed to a 1.2 million dollar settlement with a ex-Atlanta Fire Chief over his firing after he wrote a book that compared homosexuality to bestiality." Now that's a very interesting summary of a book. Is this really what the book is about? Does the book really consist of an argument that homosexuality is to be compared to bestiality? How exactly does an author or a book earn that kind of condemnation in that kind of summary line in the lead sentence of an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution?
Well I happen to have the book and I have read the book, and by and large the book is just a distillation of biblical teaching, especially coming from a senior Christian man to younger Christian men. But in one relatively very short section of the book, entitled The Lust of the Flesh, he deals with the issue of sexual temptation, he deals with the reality of the sex drive and the sexual nature of human beings. He deals specifically with the kind of concerns that young men should have and he addresses those concerns in biblical terms. In one extremely short section, he defines some of the terms that young Christian men should need to know. Terms such as 'adultery' and 'fornication' and 'lasciviousness' and 'hatred'. Even 'witchcraft' and 'idolatry'. But in one simple statement of just a few words, entitled “Uncleanness,” he defines uncleanness in biblical terms with these words, "Whatever is the opposite of purity, including sodomy, homosexuality, lesbianism, pederasty, bestiality and all other forms of sexual perversion."
Now if you lift out that little section from this book, it is far less than a single percentage of the total text. But this is where everyone has zeroed in and you have to understand as we're thinking in world view analysis, what we are looking at here is an absolute revulsion at a simple biblical understanding of human sexuality. Now you will notice that the former Atlanta Fire Chief put this in the context of the biblical category of uncleanness. Is that right or wrong?
Well as you read The Old Testament, it is a major category and also in explicitly New Testament terms particularly in a text such as Romans 1, Kelvin Cochran made very clear that all sin dishonors God. That sin by it's essence dishonors God and using the category of dishonoring God, he talked about the sex acts condemned in Scripture that also dishonor God. And if you were just trying to come up with a list–as by the way, we do find in Scripture–if you're just trying to come up with a list of all the behaviors, the sexual behaviors that the Bible does not allow, even condemns, even describes as unclean and describes as dishonoring God. Well, at least in that list would be what you find in this statement of Kelvin Cochran's book. You will notice that there is no comparison here. That's an absolute distortion of his argument. There's not a comparison other than the fact that they all fall under the category of uncleanness. There is simply a listing. Again, “Whatever is opposite of purity, including sodomy, homosexuality, lesbianism, pederasty, bestiality, and all other forms of sexual perversion.” But, wait just a minute, you do understand why this is the hydrogen bomb of the current cultural moment.
First of all, using the term uncleanness related to any human sexuality. We're a society that increasingly wants to argue that, that's not even a meaningful category. Then, of course, uncleanness in this sense refers to an explicitly theistic worldview. It makes sense, because it is the creator who's determined the distinction between clean and unclean, between what honors and what dishonors, and even as you look at the difference between the Old Testament presentation of sexual morality, and the New Testament presentation of a biblical sexual morality, you will notice that the continuity is the fact that human beings are made to honor God, and God as the Creator, has the right to tell us how we are rightly to honor him with our sexual lives, with our sexual identity, with our sexual behavior.
You also note that all of the issues, all of the sins that Kelvin Cochran listed in this statement are clearly condemned in Scripture, but notice as we're thinking about the explosive nature of this issue, that at the very end of the definition, Kelvin Cochran described, “All other forms of sexual perversion.” Now, that's the kind of language that I used to hear more in the past than in the present. The word perversion is simply a word that is so politically incorrect that there is an allergic reaction on the part of most people to using the word.
If most Christians even writing about these issues or seeking to write with a similar equal biblical fidelity, it just might be that they would avoid using the word sexual perversion. But let's understand what's at stake here is the argument that some sexual relationships, some sexual acts actually are a perversion, a distortion, a corruption of God's creative intention, and of his moral law. Let's just state emphatically, there is no way around that understanding if we honestly read Scripture.
If we can somehow find a way as many liberal scholars have apparently tried to find a way around reading the Scripture in those very terms, then there is no reason to condemn homosexuality. There's no reason to condemn adultery, or fornication. There's no biblical basis to condemn anything if the Scripture cannot be trusted when it tells us what God intended, and ordered, even commanded as creator, and how human beings, and our sinfulness have distorted, corrupted, and denied that very divine intention, and command.
Well, you could say this is just one case, which has now been settled by the city of Atlanta and it's former fire chief, but, of course it's a lot more than that. The media coverage just reminds us that if any Christian is found guilty at any time of holding to any degree to a biblical notion of sexuality, and dares to actually put it in print, well the wrath of the entire culture is likely to come down upon that Christian, and, furthermore, as you're thinking about the case itself, it is important to note that the judge in this case avoided any reference to religious liberty, but instead simply said that the former fire chief, First Amendment, free speech rights had likely been compromised by the former mayor's decision to fire him.
But finally, before leaving the story, just consider the dateline in Atlanta, Georgia. What does it tell us that in the United States of America, between 2015 and 2018, this story could unfold in Atlanta, Georgia? That is right in the center of what we had known as the Bible Belt in the United States. It will be far less shocking, we might think of this story been datelined in Seattle, or in New York City, or in Boston, or even Los Angeles, but it wasn't. It's Atlanta, Georgia. This is the new America. You have been warned.
How changes in Brazil’s cultural and religious landscape have led to a political very dramatic political choice
But, next we shift from the United States to the nation of Brazil. For the last several days, I have been in Brazil, and I've had the honor of speaking at Fiel, that's a major conference of evangelical gospel Christians that is held here in Brazil, and as I am here, it gives me the opportunity in a very historic moment in this nation to look to Brazil as something of a test case of the huge changes, the huge shifts that are taking place in human civilization today.
In one sense, Brazil is in so many ways the epicenter of many of those changes. Changes in the religious landscape of this nation, and of Western civilization, and also, changes in the political landscape as well. As I am here in Brazil, I am between one election, and the final election for the president of the nation, and looking at the 2018 Brazilian Presidential Election, let's just say we're looking at a huge decision.
The polarization we have seen in the United States is a polarization seen right now in Brazil. We'll turn to that more in just a moment. What we need to note that in Brazil right now, we are also looking over the last several decades at a massive shift in the religious landscape of the world's fifth most populous nation. In order to understand that, we need to remind ourselves a bit of Brazilian history.
Now, Brazil as a nation first came upon the European imagination in the year 1500. It was on the 9th of March in 1500 that ships from Portugal first landed on what we now know as Brazil, and the name Brazil was attached to this territory by the Europeans in the year 1503. Now, just remember what we're looking at here. 1503, that's just a few years before the Protestant Reformation began in 1517. This is during the time of a massive change taking place in Europe. It was on the front end of a massive period of transatlantic exploration, it was one of the most important turning points into the entire age of empire, but as you're looking at Brazil, there is of course a unique story.
Brazil gains its name by the way from a tree, because it was the tree known as the brazil tree, is what first caught the economic interest of Europeans. They had crossed to the Atlantic looking for sources of gold, and spices, and, of course, as just about every American knows, the Europeans were also looking for a faster way to get to the east to avoid having to go around the Horn of Africa, but instead, of course, Brazil has become a huge nation in and of itself with a very interesting history.
Even though the brazil tree from which the nation gets its name, has largely disappeared, Brazil has emerged even in the last several decades as an even more important player on the world scene. One of the so called BRIC nations, recently rapidly, industrializing nations, those would include Brazil, and Russia, and India, and China. B-R-I-C, the BRIC nations.
Brazil was first among them, as I said, it is the fifth largest population of any nation on earth. In successive generations, Brazil has been a colony, it has been a monarchy, even an empire. It's been a republic, it has been an autocracy, it has been a military dictatorship, and it has emerged as its own form of a modern democracy, as a federal republic, with a presidential system. It's also really interesting in off the historical memory of most Americans to understand that, of course, Brazil was an extension of the Portuguese Empire, and it came in the early 16th century when the Portuguese were amongst the most avid, and energetic of all of the European explorers, and expansionist.
The Portuguese exploration explains why the language of Brazil is Portuguese, and it's really interesting to note that even though Brazil has a massive population, the current population of Portugal is only about 10.32 million people. The largest Portuguese speaking nation on earth, of course, is not Portugal, it is Brazil, and furthermore, if you take what is known as the macro metropolis of Sao Paolo, you are looking at a population of over 30 million people. That's just about three times the population of the entire nation of Portugal. It's one of those ironies of history. It's one of those twists and turns of the age of empire. Brazil it turned out would be a far larger, and more powerful nation than Portugal.
One other event off the historical imagination of most Americans is the fact that the entire Portuguese throne during the challenge, during the threat of Napoleon in the early 19th century, relocated to the city Americans Call Rio, that is known here Rio de Janeiro. Eventually Brazil would gain its independence from Portugal, and, of course, eventually the Portuguese throne would move back to Portugal, and eventually disappear as a major political reality, but it would be Brazil that would continue to expand, and Brazil, of course, is not only one of the world's largest to nations by population, but it is also one of the world's largest nations by land mass.
How big is the land mass? We'll just consider the fact that Brazil shares a border with every other South American nation with the exceptions of Ecuador, and Chile. Its population of 190 million is spread over a land mass that is slightly larger than the continent of the United States, and, furthermore, it offers an extreme range of territory all the way from the Amazon down to the southeast. Just as it gets larger city Sao Paolo, you have to understand that it is the largest city, not only in the western hemisphere, it is the largest city in the world, in the southern hemisphere.
With the Portuguese, we should note as we think about Brazil's religious landscape, with the Portuguese came the Roman Catholic Church, and in particular very quickly the Jesuits. Ever since the 16th century therefore, Brazil has been considered an overwhelmingly Catholic country, and it still is today. As a matter of fact, Brazil has the largest population of Catholics of any nation on earth, but it is not becoming a more Catholic nation either as you think about population, or national influence.
Arguably, it's becoming a significantly less Catholic nation, and that is because over the last several decades, there has been an explosion in the number, and percentage of Brazilians who identify as Protestant and Evangelical, but there's another dimension to this story. For instance, consider the fact that according to the Pew Research Center, the total percentage of the Brazilian population that is evangelical is approaching 30%.
But, also note that there's a very interesting statistic telling us that about a quarter of the entire population of Brazil identifies as Pentecostal. How do you look at that? Well, it's very interesting, because according to the Pew Research Center, Pentecostals would include some who identify as evangelicals, and some who identify as Roman Catholics. That points to something else. Roman Catholicism in Brazil, as Roman Catholicism in so many areas especially affected by the Age of Empire, was from the very beginning syncretistic. And so in much of Brazil, Roman Catholicism has included elements from local folk religion, even animism and that has continued.
And by the way, it's not just a Roman Catholic issue. As we think about syncretism, we also have to understand the beginning, especially in the 1960s and 70s, the growth of prosperity theology largely fueled in so-called Protestant churches began also to demonstrate a certain form of syncretism and that's very, very significant. It's significant that in Brazil over the recent decades it hasn't been a Roman Catholic liberation theology that has been most influential in church attendance, it has rather been another form of a false gospel, in this case, prosperity theology.
But I'm glad to tell you that as I am here in Brazil, the number of gospel Christians in Brazil and the number of gospel committed churches has been expanding tremendously just over the last several decades. There is evidence of an evangelical surge in Brazil that should be incredibly encouraging to Christians wherever Christians are found. So Brazil turns out to be one of the most interesting test cases for a changing religious landscape under the conditions of modernity.
But then what about the secular population of Brazil? With the modern age is supposed to come secularization, has it come in Brazil? Well, to some extent, but not a very considerable extent. Most researchers believe that the total secular population in Brazil is still well under 10%.
In upcoming presidential election, Brazil represents far more than Brazil, and far more than Latin America
So, we're going to be looking at a very interesting landscape in Brazil religiously as we look to the future, but also politically. Right now one of the most interesting places in the world politically is Brazil. As I said, I am in the days in between an election and the run-off election for the nation's president and at the same time two-thirds of the Brazilian senate seats are up for re-election and all 513 seats in the chamber of deputies.
Now, Brazil's a very interesting test case politically, precisely because in a very real sense it's a young democracy. Brazil has been through so many twists and turns in its history. As I said, it was a colony, it was a part of the empire, it's been a monarchy. But it has also been an autocracy, it has lived under a military dictatorship. Its modern democracy is only a few decades old.
Brazil indicates a very interesting phenomenon in the modern world and that is at times a radical swing from the left to the right or from the right to the left. But right now in 2018, in the current Brazilian presidential election choice, it's a very stark alternative. And hereto we find parallels, not only with developments all over the world, but particularly in the United States.
The more conservative candidate for president, there are now two main candidates, the more conservative of the candidates is clearly appealing to Brazilian Christians. He is doing so openly and he is doing so in ways that are very similar to the political approach of the current American president, Donald Trump.
The conservative candidate, Jair Bolsonaro, is running under the theme, "Brazil Above Everything, God Above Everyone." Those first words, "Brazil Above Everything," are very similar to "Make America Great Again" in a Brazilian form. There is no coincidence here. We are looking at a populous resurgence throughout much of the world and we are looking at electoral choices that in nation by nation are becoming very indicative of a deep worldview polarization within these nations.
That's true in Brazil right now between Jair Bolsonaro and Fernando Haddad, the more liberal candidate. How much more liberal is he? He's a lot more liberal. And so, as we are likely to see in the 2020 American presidential election, voters here in Brazil, and by the way, voting here is mandatory for all Brazilian citizens 18 and older, those citizens are going to be facing a very dramatic, very clear choice. There is very little question of a middle vote, there is very little question of a swing vote.
It is also very likely that Jair Bolsonaro is going to be the next president of Brazil according to just about all of the polling. And that's understandable given so many of the issues that Brazilian voters are facing and it's very clear given the fact that Bolsonaro has represented himself and has appealed to Christians here within Brazil in a way that Fernando Haddad has not. As a matter of fact, the local Brazilian press, just in the last couple of days has been giving attention to the fact that Haddad, who had run as an ardently secular candidate until the weeks just before this final election on October 28th, he has all of the sudden decided that he should appeal to religious voters as well.
Some final thoughts about the Brazilian presidential election, what we are watching in Brazil, as in the United States, is a tremendous and unexpected shift. It's a shift of populous energy away from the more liberal movement party and candidates towards the more conservative movement party and candidates.
What does that tell us? It tells us that many workers and others who had traditionally voted for the more liberal candidate, now understand their moral values to be more important than what the liberals tell them are their own economic interests. That's very interesting.
But of course you can't ultimately separate, totally, economics from morality and the reality is that the liberals have been largely running out of economic ideas in more recent days and that's one of the reasons why you see the left increasingly devoted to identity politics rather than to very clear economic arguments. That's also why the middle class and so many voters that had traditionally in the United States voted democratic are now voting republican.
And in the United States, we understand that the distinctions between the parties have increasingly become even theological, explicitly theological, with the Democratic party becoming far more predictably secular. And the Republican party identifying far more consistently with not only Christians, but more conservative Christians.
As we have seen in recent studies, for instance from Harvard University, looking at people like Robert Putnam as researchers, the most effective predictor of voting patterns in presidential elections in the United States is whether or not one frequently attends church. Over the next several days with the final election coming on October the 28th, we're going to find out if that same kind of pattern prevails in the nation of Brazil.
But here's where we also need to understand that we are watching one another as nations. We are looking at a nation like Brazil, recognizing that Brazil represents far more than Brazil. It actually represents far more than Latin America or South America. It represents, even with those other nations in the BRIC nations, it represents much of the world emerging in the modern age. So Americans, as it turns out, and American Christians in particular, have a great deal invested and much to watch in the Brazilian developments, not only on October the 28th, but far beyond.
The happiest thing I can tell you, however, is that for the last several days I've been in the company of about 2,000 evangelical gospel loving Christians in the city of Águas de Lindoia. That was worth the trip, as watching Brazil is important for all of us.
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 information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College just go to boycecollege.com.
Today, I'm in Águas de Lindoia and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, and I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.