Monday, Jan. 21, 2019
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Monday, January 21, 2019. I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
With a history of supporting border barriers, why is the political left now so opposed to such a measure?
We are entering week five of what is known as the limited government shut down in the United States. The big news over the weekend was a speech given by the president of the United States on Saturday afternoon. As the New York Times' Annie Karni and Sheryl Gay Stolberg and reported, "President Trump shifted course on Saturday and offered democrats a deal, temporary protections for roughly 700000 young undocumented immigrants, in exchange for 5.7 billion in funding for a wall along the southern border.” The article continues, "But the proposal, which Mr. Trump unveiled in a 13 minute address from the White House appeared dead on arrival in the capital. Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected it even before Mr. Trump spoke, and Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, denounced the offer as "not a compromise but more hostage taking." Now we need to step back a bit from the political firefight and remember that when you are looking at this kind of government shutdown, frankly there's no precedence for one lasting this long.
You are looking at what I have described as an elongated, very public game of political chicken. The main players in the game at this point are president Donald Trump and the democratic leadership and the House now with the majority and in the Senate, which is going to have to be involved in the equation eventually. At the very center of the impasse going back all the way before Christmas is president Trump's insistence that any budget deal include funding of 5.7 billion dollars for what he has described variously as a wall, or a barrier along the nation's southern border. In his address on Saturday, president Trump made very clear he is not talking about a continuous physical border or boundary wall all the way from sea to shining sea, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean, the entirety of the United States Mexico border. The president has made clear that his non negotiable in this debate is going to be the full 5.7 billion dollars of funding in order to extend and to strengthen the physical barriers where it might be most useful in securing the nation's border.
It is interesting to take the political measure of what happened on Saturday, the democratic speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi foreclosed any deal from the president that would include any barrier or wall whatsoever. She has previously referred to the wall as being amoral. Here's where we have to look at the fact that the president's argument is strengthened by history, as even the fact checker column at the Washington Post pointed out, as recently as 2013, many democrats were for constructing new barriers on the southern border. JM Rieger reporting for the Washington Post said, "On Saturday president Trump again made the case for his wall by pointing out Democrats once supported new fencing and barriers along the southern border." The president said, "Many of these security ideas have been proposed by Democrats themselves, and all of them have been supported by Democrats in the past, including a physical barrier, wall or fence."
The Washington Post summarized, "On this point, president Trump is right, many Democrats have historically supported new border barriers." The Post went on to document that in 2006, that's just less than 13 years ago, 90 Democrats voted to authorize 1.4 billion dollars for 700 miles of fencing along the US Mexico border. The Post went on, "Every Democrat in the United States Senate voted to authorize 7.5 billion dollars for an additional 700 miles of fencing in 2013." Now the story goes on in the Post documenting Democrats' previous support for a barrier, a wall, a fence whatever it might be called. The political equation analyzed from some distance reveals that on the Republican side, president Trump has simply dug in his heels, he has made this non negotiable, and it is an idea that is clearly popular with his base. On the other hand, the political base of the democratic party has been moving to the left, and that must go a long way in explaining why the Democrats who were for the wall before at even higher levels of funding are adamantly against it now.
One of the issues that we should note in the press is that with the exception for instance of that Washington Post analysis, most in the mainstream media do not remind the Democrats, especially those in leadership who have been there for a very long time, that at some point they and their party have supported what they now denounce and call amoral. There is blame on the side of president Trump as well, especially as he has often tried to make the case for the wall or the barrier appearing to move the goal post, and he has used language that has made his support far more complex and difficult. The reality is that every nation that intends to be a nation must have definable and defensible borders. The reality is that over the last 30 years or so, multiple millions of undocumented persons have crossed the border illegally. We are looking at a genuine issues, and we're also looking at an issue that is increasingly lopsided.
President Trump if anything has a rather defined policy when it comes to immigration and border security, at least he has a start on that policy. On the Democratic side, there is a decided avoidance with coming to terms with the immigration issue, and coming down with any specific policies. Democrats are clear in their demand for a long term solution to the problem of the so called "Dreamers", those are the young people who are covered by a bill which is known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The interesting twist in president Trump's proposal on Saturday is that he offered a 3 year extension of protected status. The interesting thing there is that that three year period would come to a conclusion into the next presidential term, which means there will be a presidential election between now and when that period would come to an end. That upon analysis is a very interesting proposal, and it should at least in theory make it far more difficult for the democrats to dismiss it out of hand.
This means that the American people would have yet another opportunity by a presidential election to make their own position clear. What is not at all clear is how this political controversy, this game of political chicken will end, but at this point, the president's proposal on Saturday is an authentic proposal, offering protection for three years not only to the young dreamers covered by the DACA policy, but also to about another 300,000 immigrants who are in the United States right now under what is called TPS, or temporary protected status. What is becoming clear is that this limited government shutdown is beginning to fray at the edges, this can't continue indefinitely. For one thing, we are looking at hundreds of thousands of federal employees who are now ordered to work, some of them now for what will be at the very least over a month without any paycheck. You can count on the fact that over the next week, the political pressure is going to continue to build.
President Trump in his address on Saturday intended to shift the pressure primarily to the leaders of the Democratic party. Time will tell whether or not that was a successful strategy, but the reality is undeniable, as even the mainstream media have had to note that the president on Saturday offered a genuine proposal. At the very least, eventually you would think the Democrats are going to have to respond to it specifically not just in generalities. Immigration, migration, amnesty, all of these are inherently moral categories, but they are also unavoidably tied to politics and policy, national interest and national identity. I believe the Christians supported by a Biblical worldview should press for a generous policy of legal immigration, that's in the nation's interest, it's in the nation's economic interest, it is in the nation's long term defense interest, and of course there are deep moral issues and imperatives that are tied to this as well.
One thing is abundantly clear, no nation can have a generous legal immigration policy if it does not deal seriously with illegal immigration. The American Congress, you could generalize that to the American government has been derelict in this duty, with a certain bipartisan responsibility for the better part of the last 30 years. One of the most pressing tests of the American political system in the present is whether or not this government and in particular Congress can come up with some kind of coherent policy that has moral credibility and legal traction. As we look at the weeks and months and potentially years ahead, one thing is certain, there is no time to waste.
After controversy surrounding Women’s March, crowds dwindle and fractures are exposed
As we went into the weekend, we talked about the Women's March that was held on Saturday, and it started out in 2017 following the inauguration of president Trump as a massive protest in Washington and other major American cities. As it turned out, the third march was much smaller than the first. As The New York Times summarized the issue, "Whether it was stormy weather, reports of controversy or simple waning of interests over time, the third annual women's march events on Saturday attracted much smaller crowds than in years past." Last week we discussed the fact that intersectionality which is becoming one of the main ideological doctrines of the Democratic Party and the cultural left is one of the most subversive issues when you are thinking about the Women's March. That became very clear when it turns out that there had been tensions from the start as you think about the leadership and composition and the messaging of the Women's March.
For example, we have looked at the fact that anti-Semitism has reared its head, so much so that there had been withdrawals from major leaders of the Women's March. One of the key leaders even in a television appearance over the past week refused to separate from Louis Farrakhan, infamously anti-Semitic, the leader of the Nation of Islam. Not coincidentally but without comment, the Democratic National Committee actually withdrew its sponsorship from the National Women's March, and it turned out that the intersectionality concern so much behind this dynamic had reached the point that at least some of the national organizers were accusing white Jewish women of being primarily white, and thus more a part of the problem than the solution. The headline on the front page of USA Today was simply this, "Women March as movement fractures." As Gracy Olmstead of The Washington Post reminds us, "Some of these tensions were visible very, very early. For example, we are reminded that at the original march in 2017, the organizing group known as The Women's March Alliance removed a group known as New Wave Feminists because Emma Green of the Atlantic had reported that the group is anti abortion.
The Alliance said that its platform was pro choice from day one. As Olmstead rightly comments, "From that point forward, the March seemed clearly defined, not as a women's march, but as a march for abortion advocates." Well since 2017, the picture has just become more complicated, the tensions have become even more heightened, and the Women's March or marches or whatever, they have become a parable of what happens when the agenda boils down to intersectionality and identity politics, eventually it becomes something like a circular firing squad.
The battle over language in the March for Life: Why ‘pro-life’ is buried in a news story but ‘antiabortion’ screams from the headlines
Of course, it's important to note that there was another major march in Washington DC also over the weekend, this was the 2019 March for Life. The first march came in 1974, in outrage, heartbreak and protest of the Roe V. Wade decision legalizing abortion on demand, which was handed down in 1973.
At the 2019 march, there was an appearance not on the agenda by vice president Mike Pence and his wife, and there was also a videotape statement from president Donald Trump. As the Washington Post team of Julie Zauzmer, Marisa Lati and Michelle Boorstein reported, president Donald Trump and vice president Mike Pence surprised thousands of protesters demonstrating against abortion on the National Mall by making unannounced speeches at Friday's March for Life. Now one of the interesting things to look at here is the headlines. The headline in this case was originally from the Washington Post but published in the Orlando Sentinel in Florida. The headline was, "Trump, Pence speak at anti abortion rally." The big issue is the language chosen as anti abortion, that's one of the issues that we have to confront over and over again, when we look at the mainstream media covers the pro-life cause. There is an enormous reluctance, that is to say the very least on the part of most in the mainstream media to use the designation pro-life.
Instead, there is a constant if not consistent refrain of referring to the pro-life movement as anti abortion. Is it right that the pro-life movement is anti abortion? Yes, but one of the interesting things to note is how often the mainstream media give the pro abortion side their preferred language of pro choice, or increasingly as we have seen lately, reproductive health, while on the other hand, pro-life may be buried in a story if used at all, but anti abortion screams from the headlines. That team of reporters from the Washington Post also made an interesting observation, it's interesting that it happened, it's interesting that The Washington Post reported it in this way. We are told that both president Trump and vice president Pence "spoke with religious overtones." What are we to make of that? Now any fair analysis of the pro-life movement and the March for Life would indicate that it is likely to say the least that the vast majority of those involved in the march have and hold to a worldview that is indeed religious, specifically tied to some form of the Christian tradition.
History would record the pro-life movement in the United States was primarily in the beginning driven by Roman Catholic energy, but that was joined by evangelical protestant energy in the late 1970s, especially growing throughout the 1980s, and the 1990s. The other interesting dimension of this is to note that when The Washington Post speaks of the president and the vice president giving messages, one recorded, one in person to the March for Life, it is newsworthy The Post insinuates that they both spoke again, "with religious overtones." Now worldview matters, it always matters, and it especially matters on an issue as important as the dignity and sanctity of human life. There is another interesting press report that enters into our consideration here. Ashley Fetters reporting for The Atlantic ran a story with a headline, "What it's like for secular liberal pro-lifers at the March for Life", the subhead of the article, "though some describe themselves as the counterculture within the movement, many members of non religious and left leaning pro-life groups feel welcome at the largely Christian conservative event."
The most interesting aspect of this article is how pro-life conviction from a secular worldview is explained. In the article we are told, "Secular pro-life groups tend to put special emphasis on scientific evidence to support the idea that a human life begins at conception." Now pro-life Christians operating from a Biblical worldview will welcome support and the affirmation of the fact a human life begins at conception. We also see here the limitations of an entirely or solely scientific kind of argument. It's not that Christians don't believe there is a scientific argument, and we would go further and argue that given common grace, it actually takes an enormous act of the will to deny what should be a prima facie, plain and simple, scientific analysis that human life begins at conception. We do have concerns of course that if you are going to use a purely scientific argument, then you're going to be on a much less substantial ground than arguing from divine revelation.
This is why Christians can always appropriately point to scientific evidence and make scientific arguments, but at the end of the day, the main reason, the most fundamental reason that we believe that every single human life is sacred, from the moment of conception until natural death is biblical authority, it's because the Creator God who made the universe and who made every single human being is also the one true and living God who has revealed himself in his word and told us who we are as his creatures, and who has defined human dignity because we are made in his image.
Even when we want to, we can’t believe our eyes: Lessons learned after viral video leads to widespread rush to judgement
Before leaving the March for Life, we have to look at a different new story, and this tells us a tremendous amount about the media and about the speed in which moral judgment is made, often wrongly made in an age of social media. Yesterday the new broke, here's the New York Times headline, "Boys in make America great again hats mob native elder at indigenous peoples march."
The teenage boys in this case were amongst dozens of boys from a boys Catholic high school in Covington Kentucky, who were participating in the March for Life. A short video went viral on Saturday in which it was claimed that the clear message is that these boys were mobbing native Americans and were taunting them. Of course, this lead to immediate outrage from all the predictable sources which included political leaders and beyond that, Catholic leaders, leaders of the diocese there in Covington, leaders of the school. Just about 24 hours later, the New York Times ran a different headline. The next headline published yesterday was this, "Fuller picture emerges of viral video between native American man and Catholic students." As much longer videos became available showing more context, the New York Times and other major media had to revise the story. We now know and can say rather conclusively that on Friday there was an unfortunate confluence of different groups near the Lincoln memorial, this included black men who identified as Hebrew Israelites, that is they claim a Jewish identity from the so called, "lost tribes of Israel."
There was also a group of indigenous or Native Americans who were protesting, and there was the group of teenage boys from Covington Catholic High School. Some of the boys from the high school were wearing red MAGA or make America great again hats and political paraphernalia, and the stage was set for a confrontation. The Times also tells us that the Hebrew Israelites some of them were quote, "Preaching their beliefs and shouting racially combative comments at the Native Americans and the students." The Times then tells us, "soon a Native American man Nathan Phillips aged 64 was encircled by an animated group of high school boys. He beat a ceremonial drum as a boy wearing a red make America great again hat stood inches away." The times continues, "It was a provocative image that rocketed across social media leading many including the students' own school to condemn the boy's behavior as disrespectful." On Sunday, Mr. Phillips clarified that it was he who had approached the crowd, and he had intervened because racial tensions primarily between the white students and the black men were "coming to a boiling point."
The American Indian leader said, "I stepped in between to pray." He also stated that he felt the boys were blocking his means of retreat, that does not appear obvious from the video. In any event, he was beating a drum, and he was chanting what's identified as a traditional Indigenous American song. There are several quick lessons from all of this, and the story will probably continue to unfold, but that's the point. What we saw was an immediate social media and even mainstream media mischaracterization of the event, leading several major media sources to have to revise or reverse their stories. We also come to understand the danger of video. A short video appearing to show something may actually become a very different story when a longer, larger video or even video from a different perspective is demonstrated. There may be even more videos to appear that would even clarify or extend this story further.
From a Christian worldview perspective, and from a simple matter of understanding humanity, one of the dimensions that becomes very obvious is the limitations of the judgment of a group of teenage boys together in such a place confronted with something they almost assuredly did not understand. This by no means excuses if there turns out to have been any kind of rude or disrespectful behavior, there probably was at least some of that behavior in the context of that kind of crowd of adolescent boys. The bigger question is, where were the chaperones? Where were the adults? Responsibility surely falls to the adults who took these teenagers to the March for Life, but evidently weren't there or did not assert themselves and clearly weren't in charge when something like this happened with their students. If anything, this story also reminds us that we can't simply believe our eyes even as much as we might want to.
We have to understand that it takes some time, more time than social media will often allow for the truth to come out, and the real story even to be known. It's not even fair to we know the whole story as of Monday morning. We do know that the story as of Saturday was not the real story.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we are reminded of the need to return to explicitly biblical categories when it comes to debates over human dignity
Finally, across the nation today is of course a national holiday named in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the most famous of the civil rights activists in American history. We are also looking at the fact that even as the national holiday was signed into law by president Regan in 1983 taking effect in 1986, it wasn't until the year 2000 that the day was recognized as a holiday in all 50 states. Dr. King of course was assassinated in 1968 now more than a half century ago. The distance of time has made very clear the central role he played in the civil rights movement, but it also makes very clear that a half century later, America still has a lot of unresolved business, especially on the issue of race.
An example of this is to look at how many different arguments are invoked with the name and authority of Dr. Martin Luther King. Arguments throughout the mainstream media over the last several days coming from several different directions are saying "This is what Dr. King said, this is what Dr. King meant", but even more dangerously trying to argue that if Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., were alive today, this is a position that he would certainly hold, this is an argument he would certainly make. Christians understand the danger of making those kinds of arguments given our understanding of history, but we also understand that we do go back to the words that an individual actually did speak. Thus we go back to Dr. King's famous, "I have a dream" speech in which he spoke of a dream "that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood."
He pressed his case with these words, "I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I have a dream today" Dr. King said. Like so many of the great figures in the tapestry of human history, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a very complex character. There are moral questions and theological questions to be asked here, there is evidence to be weighed. There is also a Christian category based upon the biblical worldview deeply rooted in an Augustinian theology that reminds us that Christians have a category for historical greatness and for the rightness the truthfulness of a message that resounds through history. We need to remind ourselves, and we need to remind the nation perhaps particularly in these fraught times of the fact that Dr. King's argument for universal human dignity, the dignity of every single human being simply by being human it was deeply rooted in a biblical worldview, it was deeply rooted in the texts of scripture itself.
Perhaps as we close, we should consider that Christians in this age should remind ourselves and remind the world that in today's context of highly secularized increasingly ideological debates about race, Christians should at least should have the sanity to return to biblical arguments, making the argument for human dignity in explicitly biblical and Christian terms. We cannot stop the secular world from dangerously and disastrously grounding its arguments in a secular world view, it doesn't have anything else. As Christians, we understand we can't follow that same path, we do not operate from that same world view, we can't even reduce our understanding to the categories of contemporary debate. It's not that Christians have less to say about human dignity, it is that Christians operating from a biblical worldview have infinitely more to say, and it's up to us to say it.
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.
I'm speaking to you today from Orlando Florida, and I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.