Wednesday, Oct 24, 2018

Wednesday, Oct 24, 2018

The Briefing

October 24, 2018

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

It’s Wednesday, October 24, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Claims and counterclaims abound as migrant caravan moves north through Mexico

One of the biggest issues in the headlines these days has to do with the large group of refugees or immigrants seeking to go from Honduras to the United States or at least very near to the United States border.

As Juan Montes, of The Wall Street Journal, reported yesterday, an estimated 5,000 Honduran migrants, some on foot carrying children and some hitching rides on trucks, set out Monday from southern Mexico on what’s described as, I quote, “a grueling journey toward the US border, as President Trump threatened to end or cut foreign aid to Central American countries for failing to stop the caravan. Montes went on to report the caravan’s 10-day march through Honduras and Guatemala and into Mexico has fueled a fresh political rift between Mr. Trump and those countries’ leaders two weeks before the US mid-term elections.”

As you might expect, this is a fairly complex story, although what you see in the media is often an attempt to try to reduce everything to an absurd argument, and in one sense, you are looking at multiple absurd arguments related to this headline news story. On both sides, you might say on either side of this controversy, you will hear virtually equal and opposite absurdities, but there are some basic issues here because facts are facts, and moral issues are moral issues. We’re going to need to look at them quite squarely as Christians.

Let’s take first the kind of claims that are being made. You have claims that are being made by President Trump. President Trump has made this kind of issue, particularly immigration and the control of America’s southern border, a very top administration priority, but even as he was running for election in 2016, repeatedly, he made clear his concerns about the issue of immigration.

Political scientists and other veteran election observers will credit the issue of immigration as having a major role in President Trump’s campaign and in his election as President in November 2016, but, now, we are in October of 2018, and we are looking at a story that was not invented by the White House. We are looking at a story that emerged because of historical occurrences, first of all, most specifically, in Honduras, but also generalized throughout much of Latin America.

There have been caravans somewhat like this in the past, but none yet of this magnitude, and this magnitude suggests that something is going on beyond what might be termed a spontaneous development.

Amongst the charges made by President Trump, thus far in the controversy, is that at least some in the caravan are not of Latin American origin, but, instead, have originated from the Middle East. The very clear implication there is that they might be terrorists.

Then, on the other side, there are fairly absurd arguments, as a counterbalance, in which there come assurances that there could not be and we know that there are no such persons from the Middle East who might have some kind of terrorist ambition.

The reality is that when we don’t know, we really don’t know. We do not know that there are, and it is not honest to say that we know that, but, equally, we do not know that there are not any coming from the Middle East, and it’s absurd and dishonest to claim that we know the negative.

The reality is that it is almost certain that the vast majority of those in this caravan are from Latin America, specifically, most of them from Honduras, although we are told that the caravan that began on October the 12th has also picked up several persons, and by several here, we mean several hundred, if not more, from other nations between Honduras and Mexico, but we’re also looking at the fact that we are in the middle of the American mid-term elections, and, thus, everything is highly politicized. The issue of immigration has been politicized for a very long time.

What we are looking at in the United States is a broken set of policies and a broken system of enforcement, so you have President Trump and others saying that we have a southern border that is far too open, and there have been unprecedented levels of immigration, illegal immigration, into the United States that the Democratic party, in particular, has aided and abetted.

President Trump has gone further and has accused Democrats of breaking the nation’s immigration policy and being unwilling to come to any kind of compromise agreement. He has also gone further and asserted that at least some Democrats, particularly leading Democrats, hold to what amounts to an open borders policy or theory, in which they do not even want to secure the nation’s southern border and are actively encouraging people to enter the country illegally.

The current context also includes several cities, almost all of them under Democratic municipal leadership, that have declared themselves to be sanctuary cities, effectively opposing as cities the nation’s immigration policy and refusing to cooperate with federal officials in any kind of immigration enforcement, so you are looking at multiple levels of political involvement. Everything here is complicated. Everything is partisan, but this is where Christians also understand we’re dealing with real, live human beings. They are human lives and human liberties that are at stake.

As we’re looking at this, we need, as Christians, to make certain we actually know what’s going on, and then we need to ask the question, how should we think about this?

Well, as I said, the caravan began on October the 12th. It began with about 200. It quickly grew to several hundred, and before the week was out, it had grown not only to several hundred, but to several thousand. As of early this morning, there are reports that the caravan currently includes not only about 5,000, but perhaps as many as 7,000 individuals. All of them are aiming to come close to the United States and eventually to be able to enter the United States. That’s made explicitly clear.

The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, other major news media, including The Washington Post, understand and have conceded that the effort of those in this caravan will be to enter the United States and presumably to claim asylum.

Here, we have to understand that in the nation’s immigration policies, we have an allowance not only for legal immigration that comes by application and goes through an immigration and naturalization process, but there is also an American immigration law, the provision or the possibility of asylum, but that is based upon the fact that someone would present himself or herself or a family, say, at the nation’s border and claim, make a verifiable, credible claim, that they will face the loss of life or liberty if indeed they were forced to remain in their home country and not be allowed to enter the United States.

The United States is also a signatory or at least has offered national agreement to some international policies that also govern this kind of migrant movement and asylum, but this is exactly where you see so many of the worldview issues intersecting because we would understand that any moral nation has to have a sane and responsible set of immigration policies. A nation like the United States, which is, by definition, a nation established in its history by immigration, is a nation that also has to understand we are currently dependent upon a considerable level of immigration in order for our economy to perform. This is something also extremely important.

Part II

Why any sane nation must have an immigration policy that protects its borders and defines its own citizenship

Any kind of responsible, moral immigration policy would have a provision for claiming asylum, but that would have to be an exception rather than the rule, and what we are looking at here is a concentrated, concerted effort to try to present thousands of persons at the American border to overwhelm the immigration and the asylum process. That’s made abundantly clear in an editorial published in The Wall Street Journal yesterday. The headline of the editorial, “The Caravan to Nowhere.”

Here’s where we need to think for just a moment. There are all kinds of claims and counterclaims being made by those who hold political office. We understand that. That’s what politicians do, but when you’re looking at a newspaper with a responsible reputation, like The Wall Street Journal, you’re understanding an editorial statement that the editors intend to be taken seriously, and they intend seriously to stand behind their argument.

What makes this editorial in The Wall Street Journal so interesting is that The Wall Street Journal holds to a rather positive view of legal immigration, and it also holds to a moral necessity of asylum, but it grants considerable credibility to the claims made by the Trump administration that this is a manufactured caravan intended to subvert the immigration laws of the United States of America. The editors begin by writing, “These columns favor generous immigration and asylum for refugees, but when migration becomes a political weapon to foment border chaos, leaders have no choice other than to step in and protect the national security. Exhibit A,” said the editors, “are the 4,000 or so Central Americans.” That was the number available at the time the editorial was written. “Those Central Americans moving on foot through Mexico to the United States.”

The editors continue. “Waves of humanity, marching in lock step, don’t materialize spontaneously, and neither has this ‘caravan.'” The term caravan put in quotation marks by the editors. “This march is organized and not necessarily for the benefit of the migrants. Mr. Trump,” says the editors, “has good reason to turn it back.”

Then the editors write this. “Not since the 1980, Mariel boatlift, from Cuba, has there been a similar attempt to overwhelm US immigration law on the pretext of celebrating American freedom. Thousands of Cubans,” they remind us, “made their way to Florida when Fidel Castro temporarily lifted his Havana curtain and American boats of every shape and size sailed into the Caribbean to collect them, but the sheer magnitude,” remind the editors, “made it impossible to process the newcomers in an orderly fashion. Castro saw to it that criminals and the mentally ill also climbed aboard the boats. No one doubted the Cuban hunger to escape, but the unintended consequences of the mayhem were costly.”

The editors then continue. “A Mariel replay now seems to be coming from Honduras.” The next words in the editorial are what might be most important. The editors write, and I quote, “Though the details are murky, we do know that former Honduran Congressman, Bartolo Fuentes, of the left wing, Libre party, has admitted to organizing this caravan.” The editors go on to explain that Libre is the party of former President Manuel Zelaya, an ally of Venezuela and Cuba, who, in 2009, tried to override the Honduran Constitution to remain in office despite a term limit. They point out that Mr. Fuentes has a documented animosity to the United States, and as the editors said, “Mr. Fuentes, who was detained in Guatemala last week and returned to Honduras, has said he did not expect the caravan to grow so large, which raises,” say the editors of The Wall Street Journal, “the question of where the financing for the marchers is coming from. Criminal organizations and governments like Venezuela would benefit from chaos at the US border that embarrasses the Trump administration before the election. Many nongovernmental organizations on the left,” say the editors, “also support the migrants’ ‘right’ to the American dream.”

Let’s understand what’s going on in this editorial. Here you have an editorial board of the responsibility of The Wall Street Journal, an editorial board that has been historically and is now pro-immigration and pro-asylum, saying that we need to call this caravan what it is, making very clear that it is not spontaneous. That defies all imagination, but rather it is somehow orchestrated. What makes The Wall Street Journal editors’ statements so interesting is that the editors put their own moral credibility on the line by pointing to political bad actors and also pointing to nongovernmental organizations on the left that support the migrants’ “right” to the American dream.

Here’s where we do have to understand that there are certain actors, nongovernmental actors, such as the Open Society Foundation, funded by George Soros, that have openly declared that borders should be eradicated, that the free movement of peoples between nations should be basically be allowed and recognized by all civilized societies, but, of course, that means the very undermining of the very notion of a nation. No nation, no legitimate country, can fail to protect its borders and to define its own citizenship.

Christians looking at this understand that we have a very important investment, given our understanding of human dignity. We understand that there must be provision in the United States for an orderly and legal immigration, but we also have to understand that subverting that legal immigration by allowing, much less encouraging illegal immigration, leads to a distortion field that corrupts the very idea of having an immigration policy.

We also have to understand that public support for legal emigration depends, it very clearly depends, upon a nation’s responsibility to avoid illegal immigration. Americans are going to have to decide what we are responsible to do with those who are undocumented currently in the United States. But President Trump and others are now pointing to the immediate issue of whether or not there will be any control over America’s southern border in the present, looking also to the future. And Christians must certainly understand the moral imperative of the kind of asylum that should be allowed and recognized, understanding that human life and human dignity often are very much threatened by other nations, and a responsible, moral people will have a provision in those exceptional cases to allow persons into the United States under asylum who might not qualify for any other category of legal immigration. But what we’re looking at here is not an effort to make that point. It is an effort to subvert that point. It is an effort by overwhelming the authorities on the United States border and by involving other nations in complicity to undermine the credibility of America’s very notion of citizenship.

That’s essential for our understanding, and, thus, it’s really important for us to recognize that we have here another of what we’ve discussed, even yesterday on The Briefing, another pseudo event. We’re looking at an invented event. We’re looking at an orchestrated development. We are looking at a caravan that did not spontaneously develop.

We’re also looking at interesting questions, such as, how in the world is this entire movement being funded? Who’s behind it? This is where Christians also have to understand that the Christian worldview affirms the moral responsibility of both positive and negative acts, that is doing something or not doing it. Either one is a moral decision.

Here’s where we have to understand that we should not enter into any situation in which we encourage persons to break the law, nor should we enter into any kind of situation in which we would encourage persons to risk their lives and their livelihoods in a vain hope of somehow gaining entry into the United States when we know that isn’t going to happen.

What we’re looking at here is a question that requires us to look at motivations, to look at the reality, to face the facts, to understand absurd arguments when they come from any direction, to understand that our moral mandate is to understand and affirm human dignity and to seek to protect human life, but that does not mean recognizing a general right to enter the United States simply as a matter of economic opportunity or even enjoying the fruits and the benefits of living in the United States and operating within the culture of the United States of America.

If we make that argument, we basically subvert the very idea of the nation’s state, and we need to face it, there are some on the left who explicitly want to make that argument, but, as Christians, we also understand that real, live human beings, every single one of them made in God’s image. In a fallen world, we come to understand it is not right, under any circumstances, to treat human beings as pawns in a great political equation.

The final point I want to make about this issue on The Briefing today is actually the last argument made by The Wall Street Journal editorial board in that piece that ran yesterday. They write, and I quote, “The reality is that bowing to this migration blackmail would produce an American political backlash that would damage the cause of legal immigration and a humane refugee policy.”

That is exactly right. The fastest and most effective way to destroy American confidence in a generous immigration and asylum policy is to encourage the corruption of that policy, which is exactly what is taking place in this very non-spontaneous, so-called caravan coming from Honduras and headed towards the United States of America.

Part III

Underneath political divide over transgender identity is a worldview divide over what it means to be male and female

Yesterday, we talked about the draft policy leaked from the Trump administration concerning the definition of gender. We talked about that at length, making the point that the proposed policy from the Trump administration, it basically affirms what all human beings have assumed and thought, the assumptions upon which every sane society has been governed throughout human history, and, furthermore, the official policy of the United States government until 2016 when, under the Obama administration’s leadership, some of the terms were changed and arguments were made that LGBTQ persons, the T, in particular, in this case, should be included in the 1972 Education Amendments to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, even though everyone would have to admit intellectually, with honesty, that those issues were never even conceived by the legislature as those bills came into effect and were signed into law by presidents in 1964 and 1972, but we return to this story today because the unfolding controversy in the public square is just too important for us to miss.

Take, for example, almost full page in the print edition coverage about this issue in The New York Times yesterday, two articles, one above the fold, one under the fold. Both of them are important. The second one, as we shall see, more important.

The first article’s by Sarah Mervosh and Christine Hauser. It begins by telling us, “LGBT activists mobilized a fast and fierce campaign that included a protest outside the White House on Monday to say transgender people cannot be expunged from society, in response to an unreleased Trump administration memo that proposes a strict definition of gender based on a person’s genitalia at birth.” Hashtags, such as #wontbeerased and #wewillnotbeerased emerged almost immediately.

Sarah Kate Ellis is quoted in the article. She’s the president and chief executive at Glaad, identified as a media advocacy group for LGBT people. She said, “You saw such a massive response because this attack on the trans community is essentially trying to erase the trans community from the face of this country, and we’re not going to stand for that,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and chief executive of Glaad, a media advocacy group for L.G.B.T. people. She said, “You saw such a massive response because this attack on the trans community is essentially trying to erase the trans community from the face of this country, and we’re not going to stand for that.”

That’s the kind of argument that yesterday we said would assuredly come, the idea of erasing or expunging or eliminating because the claim is transgender identity is who we are, you deny that identity on our terms, then you are erasing us. That’s the kind of of argument, as I said, from which no sane society can ever recover, but later, in this first article, we also read this. “The American republic is divided over whether it is possible for someone’s gender to differ from the sex that that person was assigned at birth,” this according to the Pew Research Center. The center released a massive survey last year in the midst of controversy over who should use which bathroom, but then The New York Times writes this. “The divide was evident along political lines with eight in ten Republicans and Republican-leaning independents saying that whether someone is a man or a woman is determined by the sex that the person was assigned at birth. About 64% of Democrats, we are told, or those who hold their views say, ‘A person’s gender can be different from the sex the person was assigned at birth.'”

Let’s just make the very simple observation here that if you are looking at a America’s political history, you really can’t imagine in any previous era of American politics that somehow you would have a partisan divide over whether or not a male is defined by, well, let’s just say male biology and a woman, likewise, by female biology, but now this is a partisan issue.

The New York Times actually reports as if we should be interested in the fact that Republicans and Democrats have different views as to whether gender can actually differ from biological sex, but this is where Christians have to step back and say, “Well, I guess we shouldn’t be so surprised by that,” because that basic worldview divide over, for instance, the increasing secularization of the Democratic party versus the more clearly religious identity of those who vote Republican, well, maybe that has a difference that’s indicated here. Maybe it really does indicate that this divide is not really over the question of transgender identity. It’s over far more basic questions of human identity.

Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, a group that was very much involved in the bathroom controversy, she pointed out that the Trump administration’s definition is “critical in this confused world to define those terms as Congress intended them when federal programs such as Title 9 were passed.”

Again, that’s just a matter of moral, but also of legal or textual sanity, but the second article is far more important, and the headline to that article tells us just about everything we need to know. The headline in this article by Denise Grady is this. “Anatomy Does Not Determine Gender Experts Say.” The most important thing to recognize here are those two words, “Experts say.” This is where Americans, according to the mentality of this news article and this newspaper are supposed to say, “Well, evidently, they’re experts on this. It really doesn’t matter what I think. It doesn’t matter what my neighbors think. It doesn’t matter what my church teaches. There are experts to educate us on exactly what we are to believe here.”

Who would these experts be? Well, the very first expert quoted in the article is Dr. Joshua D. Safer, identified as an endocrinologist and executive director of the Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery at Mount Sinai Health System in New York. “He is also,” we are told, “the president of the United States Professional Association of Transgender Health.”

Well, at this point, you’ve already leaned that there is a United States Professional Association of Transgender Health, and, thus, this individual does not value neutral. He has a big stake in the argument. He said, and I quote, “The idea that a person’s sex is determined by their anatomy at birth is not true, and we’ve known that it’s not true for decades.”

Really? We’ve known that? Who’s known that? How exactly have we known that? The argument that biological sex is not gender is countered by what argument? Well, listen to this.

The very next paragraph in The New York Times article, “But exactly what does determine gender identity, a person’s powerful core knowledge of who they are, is not so clear.”

Wait just a minute. We were just told that it’s really clear that what human beings have believed for so long is wrong, but what exactly is right? Well, there is no clear theory, even in this article, of what is right except that humanity has been very wrong.

Quoting Dr. Safer again, the article says, “As far as we and the mainstream biological medical community understand it in 2018, it,” meaning this gender identity, ” is hard-wired, it is biological, it is not entirely hormonal, and we do not have identified genes, so we cannot specifically say it is genetic.”

The other thing to recognize is that, on an issue like this, it’s never merely about the morality, it’s not merely about the medicine, it’s also about the money, and, oddly enough, that was conceded indirectly in this article.

Listen to these words. “Last year, the Endocrine Society, the professional group for experts in the glands and organs that produce hormones, issued guidelines for treating transgender people.” Listen to these words. “They said, ‘Gender identity was biologically based and urged federal and private insurers to cover medical needs related to it for transgender people.'” In other words, the article gets to money rather quickly.

From a Christian worldview perspective, a couple of mandatory concerns here, first of all, the alarm that should be raised in our minds every time we see a headline making a claim such as, again, Anatomy Does Not Determine Gender Experts Say. When we see those words, “Experts Say,” we need to ask immediate questions. Who in the world are these experts? What is their expertise? Why are we being told that experts say this? Who chose the experts who are cited? What do we believe about their credibility? What is the worldview and what is the motivation behind the expression of their expertise?

We should note the moral revolutions and vast changes in worldview in a society are often driven by the authority of experts. Christians need to be expert in determining who we do and do not recognize as experts. We also need to understand this is mandatory, that every single person included in this controversy is a human being made in the image of God and intended by creation to display the glory of God. We believe that demonstrating displaying the glory of God in the order of creation is what also leads to human flourishing, but we must never talk about an issue like this as if it’s just an issue. We’re talking about human beings, and we have to understand there is every reason to believe they are in a very deep struggle. The question is, how do we, as Christians, respond in genuine love and concern to that struggle?

Well, at this point, we simply have to understand that accepting what experts say on the basis of the claims of an ideological moral revolution, that is not we believe on biblical authority and on the ground of the gospel, the way actually to help persons or even to tell them the truth.

No one said, “These times are going to be easy,” and thinking faithfully, as Christians, in these times is sometimes downright difficult, but failing to think as Christians is absolutely devastating.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’m speaking to you from Asheville, North Carolina, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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