Friday, Feb. 15, 2019

Friday, Feb. 15, 2019

The Briefing

February 15, 2019

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

It’s Friday, February 15, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Grandstanding from left in New York scares off Amazon. What does this tell us about capitalism?

There is no way to separate economics from politics. There is no way to separate politics and morality. There is no way to separate economics from morality. Worldview issues are embedded at every dimension of this intersection, and right now the intersection to watch is New York City not because of what happened, but because of what is not now going to happen.

Amazon is not going to put a major portion of its HQ2, its second headquarters, in New York has had been announced, and behind that is a massively important story, and we’ll be looking at what it means in worldview analysis. First of all, the headline, David Goodman of the New York Times reported yesterday the amazing news, “Amazon canceled its plans to build an expansive corporate campus in New York City after facing an unexpectedly fierce backlash from some lawmakers and union leaders who contended that a tech giant did not deserve nearly $3 billion in government incentives.”

The story goes on to tell us that this had been a brewing controversy. We’ve been watching it for weeks now, and there is also just the blunt reality that New York politically as a state is not the same state it was if you go back in early fall 2018, and that’s because of the 2018 elections, and all of that points to an equation that is nothing less than fascinating. The big announcement that Amazon was looking for HQ2, a second headquarters, that was very big news. For a couple of years, you had all kinds of metropolitan areas, governments at the state and local level falling over themselves competing to try to win the eye of Amazon.

Why? Because the economic impact would be huge. We are talking about in New York City, in the proposed Amazon HQ2, 50,000 jobs which were anticipated to have an annual income of $150,000 each. Just think about that. That’s just the payroll. 50,000 jobs at $150,000 each. Then think of the concentric circles of economic enrichment that were going to come, all of the taxes that would be paid, all of the social services that would be funded. Just think of all of the businesses from street carts selling food to of course the real estate industry. In fact, one of the most immediate concerns of many of these metropolitan areas was that their success in winning the biggest corporate bonanza imaginable was going to drive up housing prices.

The question was, “Can we build housing fast enough? Can we build new roads with all of this new money fast enough? Can we find out a way to spend all this money fast enough?” Well, there were huge moral questions, political and economic questions about Amazon’s search a second headquarters. For one thing, when you start looking at the kinds of offers that Amazon was looking for, they were looking for a form of crony capitalism. They were looking for local and state governments to offer all kinds of tax incentives, some of them far beyond reason, and by the time you came to the announcement that Amazon made, you are looking at Alexandria, Virginia and the State of Virginia and New York City and the state of New York having offered billions and billions of dollars of incentives.

This is the kind of question that comes up again and again. When you look at economic development programs, the game is almost always played just this way. A company says we might locate in your state or in your city, but you’re going to have to incentivize it and thus the city, the county, the state, they are asked for tax incentives, all told the New York headquarters was going to require about $6 billion in tax incentives. The argument for this on the basis of government is if we don’t do this, someone else will. If we do not offer these incentives, then the community next door will. The city in the next state will, and so the logic is if we don’t do this, then we’re going to lose all of that economic investment.

We’re going to be left behind in economic history. We’re going to miss out on this corporate headquarters. We’re going to lose all those jobs paying $150,000 a year, but the argument the other way is also compelling. Believing in capitalism is one thing. Believing in a free market is something else. There are forms of capitalism that do not amount to a free market. A free market of course is a system in which the market is actually free, and when you’re looking at the investment made by government and a company like Amazon, effectively, you have government deciding winners and losers.

To be clear, there can be a conservative free market argument against the government enriching certain industries, giving money to certain companies rather than to others, but there is also the recognition that we are currently living in an economy that though capitalist is a qualified capitalist economy and though declared to be a free market is not an entirely free market. We’re looking at the fact that the argument that if it does not happen here, it will happen elsewhere. If we don’t get the jobs, someone else will get the jobs. That is a very powerful economic, moral and political argument. When you look at the state of New York and the city of New York, you are looking at two very liberal democratic leaders.

Bill de Blasio is the mayor of New York City and of course Andrew Cuomo is the governor of New York. You are looking at both of them being men of the left, increasingly of the left. You are looking at both of them already involved in all kinds of liberal ideas and yet they were committed to bring Amazon to New York and specifically to New York City to the borough of Queens, but before even looking at the announcement made yesterday that Amazon is pulling out, we do need to look at what it meant that Amazon looked across the entire country and decided that they would put their second headquarters split between Alexandria, Virginia and New York City, solidly in a very wealthy metropolitan area, the eastern seaboard, all the way from Virginia, coast of Virginia, in this case Alexandria, which is suburban Washington DC, all the way up to New York.

It is in itself an area that is already saturated with population already suffering from extremely high real estate values, but you are looking at political leaders who said, “We are going to break glass if necessary to get these headquarters in New York City,” but of course it didn’t happen. That was some of the biggest news imaginable yesterday, and it came with an explosion. It came with a finality. Amazon simply announced that given the political opposition to its second headquarters in New York, it was going to pull out. The company did not commit to go anywhere else or even to reopening its H2Q search stating simply it was going to go ahead with plans in Alexandria, Virginia and also what had been expected to be a tertiary site in Nashville, Tennessee.

But there was also liberal opposition to Amazon’s announcement that it was going to bring 50,000 jobs to northern Virginia and to New York, but the political opposition was particularly in New York. It was hot. It was heated. It was volatile in New York. For one thing, the opposition came from even more leftward members of the Democratic Party’s leadership in the state, including some newly prominent figures who hadn’t even been named on the political scene before. For instance, you have representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who had made opposition to Amazon a major issue, she celebrated the announcement yesterday as a victory, but here’s where we need to just pause for a moment and recognize that here, you have an elected representative cheering the loss of at least 25,000 jobs paying $150,000 a year from her own constituents.

That takes a certain amount of socialism to pull off. The liberal argument against Amazon, especially in New York, was that the tax subsidies were simply too much, that the state and the city gave away too much trying to lure Amazon. Of course the defense of the state and the city is that if we had not offered these incentives, it would go somewhere else and all of those problems would go with them, but also all of those billions of dollars of income. But the liberal case also came down to the wages to be paid and the entire structure of employment at Amazon because the labor unions believed that they should have more influence, that the workforce should be more unionized. Here too, you see what happens when power structures begin to collide.

The labor unions have been largely losing in the new economy. Bringing Amazon to New York was just like a big exclamation point that announced that fact, even in the heart of political organized labor, the city of New York where organized labor has a huge political footprint and influence. But again, we have to wonder if these labor union leaders must be now looking themselves in the mirror believing themselves to be idiots since what they actually did was to chase away at least 25,000 jobs paying $150,000 a year. They’re going to have to live with that and so will the citizens of New York.

We’re being told over and over again that millennials in the United States are very friendly to socialism. Most of them don’t know what socialism is, but when it comes to a company like Amazon and the criticisms against it, there were many young people who said, “Yes, this is wrong and it should not happen.” Of course, the problem is that the very people who could have competed for these jobs were many of the millennials who are complaining about the deal that was made with Amazon. Many of the millennials to be quite honest want both sides of the equation. They want to have socialism, but they also want to have the goods that come by a free market or capitalist economy.

Make no mistake, even as a company like Amazon is ruthlessly liberal when it comes to social issues, it is also even more ruthlessly capitalist when it comes to its own bottom line. Again, this is where you have many Americans, not just millennials, but other Americans who don’t understand how an economy works. The reality is that Amazon is a publicly traded corporation. People own stock in Amazon. The owners of Amazon are distributed across an entire set of classes of stakeholders and shareholders. One of the realities that many liberals simply don’t understand, including those labor unions, is the fact that the biggest investors in many of these companies rightly identified would be pension funds and retirement accounts, especially massive public and private pension funds.

In the case of some of these labor unions, it is likely that when you look at their pension funds, they were complaining about the benefits given to Amazon that were demanded by the very people who are managing their own pension and retirement funds. A Christian worldview analysis simply reminds us that, again, there is no economic issue. That isn’t a moral issue, but economics turns out to be enormously complex. The issues are not always easy to understand or to unpack, but it is really clear that the grand standing in New York from the left effectively scared off the biggest economic development opportunity that is likely to be faced by the city of New York or the state of New York in the lifetimes of those government leaders currently living.

Over the last several weeks on The Briefing, we have looked again and again at Governor Cuomo, a man who is himself serving his third term as New York’s governor. His father was a three term governor of New York, both of them Democrats. The father was notoriously liberal on abortion, but the son is even more infamously notorious on that issue recently signing legislation to the even legalized late term abortion, but when you are looking at Andrew Cuomo, you are also looking at a governor that represents the parable of the left in America right now. You can’t keep up. You cannot continue to please the liberal wing of your party, which increasingly dominates and threatens to become the majority because it’s moving leftward all the time.

You can be celebrated for getting Amazon in the fall and condemned for getting Amazon, well, in the month of February. Then Amazon can say, “We’ve had enough,” and leave you with an empty hand. The most incredible political analysis of what happened yesterday in New York was made by none other than Governor Cuomo, a man of the left, who blamed Amazon’s leaving on even more leftist, newly elected leaders of his own party who now control the Senate, that is the state Senate, in Albany, the capital of New York state. Here, you have the governor, a man of the left saying that all of his work had been trashed by newly emboldened liberals in the State Senate.

Shane Goldmacher in a column written in the immediate aftermath of the Amazon announcement published in the New York Times. Now, just remember how liberal the New York Times is. He went on to say, “The turn of events on Thursday represented a reordering of New York’s political power structure as one of the world’s biggest companies was driven from the city by a group of rabble rousing activists and elected officials who objected to a suite of corporate sweeteners and tax breaks.” Goldmacher went on to write, “But as this reality settled into New York, the architects of the uprising faced a backlash of their own as 25,000 jobs potentially remaking Long Island City as a high tech hub had vanished in a blink and with them the chance to inject billions of dollars in tax revenues in the coming years.”

Here’s another little worldview footnote to this. One of the things you need to note is the government almost always spends money before it has it. It will be really interesting to see how much of the New York state and the New York City budgeting process had already factored in so much of this new tax revenue from Amazon that’s now not going to come. Here’s a prediction. They won’t cut the budget. They’ll just raise taxes elsewhere, exacerbating their own political and economic situation. We’ll be watching all of this closely in days and weeks to come. It is one of the biggest economic stories, one of the biggest financial and corporate stories in recent American history.

It is also just laden with so many political and moral and economic dimensions that require our analysis, but it is also interesting to do a bit of generational analysis. We are looking at the generation often referred to as the millennials, and we’re looking at the fact that they are the most high tech, almost by definition and experience, of any generation. They complain about Amazon but they use it over and over again. They are simply accustomed, now completely accustomed to clicking here and clicking there. They do not seem to understand that in a unity of experience, a unity of principle, their consumer lives ought to have at least some resemblance to their political lives.

Their economic theory ought to have at least some congruent with their political theory and with their understanding of the world. The way they act on to have something to do with at least matching what they advocate in public. Many of them are now going to complain that the jobs they had wanted are not coming after the company that listened to them complain left. On the left, it’s going to be really interesting to wait and see if there was a realization of at least part of what happened here. The economic incentives given by New York City in New York state were largely in the form of taxes that would not be charged. Those were the crucial issues in the incentives package that was given to Amazon.

You’ll notice that this means that there were taxes that were not going to be charged, that the city and the state accepted that they weren’t going to receive certain taxes because they were going to receive billions and billions and billions of dollars in new taxes they would not have otherwise received. So many people on the left are calling for government to spend billions and billions of new dollars, but when they were actually given the opportunity to have billions and billions of new dollars, they chased it away. There’s another final point to be made here and you’re not likely to see much of this in the secular media. This is just an admission that is too painful.

The admission comes down to this. You are not going to find a capitalist company deciding to make a major investment in a city, in a state that has decided to trend socialist. It’s simply not going to happen, and once again, elections have consequences.

Part II

To be cool or to be a church? A secular culture forces churches to choose when it comes to biblical sexuality

Next, we turn to a very big story that originally came down to a public disagreement between two actors. In this case, the actress Ellen Page and actor Chris Pratt. Ellen Page had tweeted, she had put out on Twitter, “If you are a famous actor and you belong to an organization that hates a certain group of people, don’t be surprised if someone simply wonders why it’s not addressed.”

She went on to say, “Being anti LGBTQ is wrong. There aren’t two sides. The damage it caused is severe. Full stop. Sending love to all.” I guess you could say among at least some, this is the way moral discourse goes in our society. Tweet after tweet, 280 characters at a time, but in this case, we’re not just talking about two celebrities. We’re talking about two rather prominent actors. What you have here is the accusation by, one, Ellen Page that the other, Chris Pratt, is a member of a homophobic church. She’s calling him out. She’s suggesting that if he is going to be a member of this church, then he should expect to be called out and as she said, making her own declaration, “Being anti LGBTQ is wrong. There aren’t two sides. The damage it causes is severe. Full stop.”

Well, that raises a host of questions. What would be that organization that Chris Pratt would belong to that is anti LGBTQ according to Ellen Page? Well, it would turn out that the church is Hillsong. At least most importantly, it’s Los Angeles representation, but it turns out that Chris Pratt is actually not only associated with Hillsong but with a Hillsong like church known as Zoe Church, also associated with Hollywood, but there is no doubt that at the center of the target of the criticism is Hillsong is being called out here and also Hillsong like churches such as Zoe church there in Los Angeles.

Chris Pratt responded to Ellen Page’s criticism with a statement in which he said, “It has recently been suggested that I belonged to a church which hates a certain group of people and is infamously anti LGBTQ. Nothing he said could be further from the truth. I go to a church that opens their doors to absolutely everyone. Despite what the Bible says about my divorce, he said, my church community was there for me every step of the way, never judging, just gracefully accompanying me on my walk. They helped me tremendously offering their love and support. It is what I have seen them do for others on countless occasions, regardless of sexual orientation, race, or gender.”

“My faith, said Chris Pratt, is important to me, but no church defines me or my life, and I’m not a spokesman for any church or any group of people. My values define who I am. We need less hate in this world, not more. I am a man who believes that everyone is entitled to love who they want free from the judgment of their fellow man.” Now, let’s just say that there’s a whole lot there. First of all, you have the actor responding to the criticism by saying that he believes, “That everyone is entitled to love who they want free from the judgment of their fellow man.” He reflects what must be described as the thinnest, most minimal of all ecclesiology or understanding of the church when he claims to be associated with the church, but then goes on to say, “No church defines me or my life.”

Let’s just say that according to Scripture, if you are a member of a church, it does define you. It does define your life or it’s not a church or you’re not a member or you don’t have a clue about what a church is supposed to be, but you also have here the declaration that yes, he is associated with the Hillsong movement and yes, it might hold to some teachings that just might in some way not be fully consonant with the moral revolution and the demands of the LGBTQ entire movement, but he goes on to say that it’s a church that is welcoming, that doesn’t discriminate. “I go to a church that opens their doors to absolutely everyone.”

So what is it? Does the church teach that homosexuality is sinful? Does the church teach that marriage is the union of a man or a woman? What does it mean that the church might teach one thing and yet operate on the basis of its life as if it doesn’t teach that at all? In order to understand this, you have to go back to the year 1983 when Hillsong was born as a charismatic church in New South Wales. It was founded by Pastor Brian Houston and his wife Bobbie, and of course the church and the movement is perhaps most famous around the world, not so much for its preaching, but for its music.

Hillsong music is sung all over the world, and Hillsong as a brand, and make no mistake, it is a brand, is first associated in the minds of most with music, but it is a massive movement. It did begin as a charismatic mega church there in Australia, but now it claims to have over 100,000 people attending weekly services, not only in Australia but in cities like London and New York and yes, Los Angeles. Back in September of 2014, Michael Paulson of the New York Times wrote an article trying to explain Hillsong, then newly prominent in New York City, to the readers of the New York Times. The headline was Megachurch with a Beat Lures a Young Flock.

The article went on to talk about Carl Lentz, the pastor of the Hillsong church there in New York. The article cited those who celebrate the movement and also some who criticize. The paper went on to cite critics who said that the theology of Hillsong is thin. Its enthusiasm for celebrities, Justin Bieber, we are reminded is among his fans, unbecoming and it’s positioned on moral issues opaque. I was cited in the article after granting the paper an extended interview. I said then and I say again now, “It’s a prosperity movement for the millennials in which the polyester and middle class associations of Oral Roberts have given way to ripped jeans and sophisticated rock music. I went on to say what has made Hillsong distinctive is a minimization of the actual content of the Gospel and a far more diffused presentation of spirituality.”

That was an article published in the New York Times in 2014, but if anything over the last five years, the teaching of the church has become only more opaque, its association with Hollywood celebrities only more abundant. So what would be the basis of Ellen Page alleging that the church is anti LGBTQ? Well, back in 2015 in the midst of controversy in Australia, the founder of Hillsong, Brian Houston had said, “We do not affirm a gay lifestyle. And because of this, we do not knowingly have actively gay people in positions of leadership, either paid or unpaid.”

I recognize this one statement alone is upsetting to people on both sides of this discussion, which points to the complexity of the issue for churches all over the world. He went on and said this, “Everyone is welcome at Hillsong church except for known predators, those who are disruptive and those who have adversarial agendas.” He went on to stress that gay people are welcomed at the church but are not welcomed in leadership roles. Back in 2017 with LGBTQ issues boiling all around the culture as the New York Times reminds us, Carl Lentz, he, the pastor of the Hillsong New York congregation, “Passed up two opportunities to express a view on same sex marriage and interviews with Katie Couric and the Huffington Post.”

When confronted by CNN and asked for his answer on the sinfulness or non sinfulness of homosexuality, he went on to give a non answer, but then Carl Lentz’ wife Laura chimed in, “It’s not our place to tell anyone how they should live. That’s their journey.” Well, that’s what you would call an abdication of biblical Christianity, plain and simple. A statement and answer to a plane candid and honest question and the response is a non answer, then the statement that the church doesn’t tell people how they should live. Well, if not, then how is it a church? Because a church is to be composed of disciples, followers, obedient disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

We are to be taught how Jesus Christ expects us to live the way of life that is revealed by God and holy Scripture. Discipleship is about teaching Christians how we are to live holy lives in a fallen world. A church that doesn’t tell people how to live isn’t a church. That’s just fundamental. So Hillsong, which I described years ago as a prosperity theology movement for millennials, a church mostly associated with celebrities and with music, turns out to be a church that isn’t going to tell you how to live your life and isn’t going to take any clear position on the issues of LGBTQ morality, and isn’t going to take positions on any number of issues as well.

If it does take a position, it’s going to be a sort of quasi position in which there is simultaneously going to be a wink and a nod that we don’t mean this position to be instructive upon anyone. At least what we see here is an example of a movement claiming to be a church that doesn’t want to be much of a church. They’re not going to be very specific about what Christianity is. They’re certainly not going to tell you what the Bible says about what the Bible says, but the bigger lesson here isn’t actually about Hillsong at all. It’s not about Ellen Page. It’s not about Chris Pratt. It’s about you. It’s about me. It’s about our churches.

The question is: does anyone have to put a microphone in our face? Does anyone have to call us out in public on CNN? Does anyone have to send a reporter to find out what we believe that someone have to shame us on Twitter in order to evoke from us some answer as to what actually we do believe the Scripture says about human sexuality and gender and marriage? But recognize this, every church and every Christian is soon to be called out on this question. As I’ve said repeatedly, once that happens, there is nowhere to hide, but of course this story coming from Los Angeles reminds us of the grave limitations of being cool and being a biblical Christian simultaneously.

In the final analysis, here, we have two Hollywood celebrities, one accusing the other of trying to be cool while belonging to an uncool church. Meanwhile, it turns out that the movement that wants to be called cool and wants to be called a church is going to have to make a decision about which one it intends to be.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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