Wednesday, March 27, 2019
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Wednesday, March 27, 2019. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Why would the United Kingdom reject an asylum claim on the grounds of biblical evidence? How this denial demonstrates the absurdity of governments making theological judgments
Word has come that the government of the United Kingdom, the British government, has turned down a request for asylum, citing verses from the Bible. If that sounds like an interesting story, well, you would be right. The New York Times ran a headline. That stated, "UK quotes Bible verses in rejecting asylum claim." Similarly, another headline, this time in Christianity Today, quote, "Britain uses violent Bible verses to deny Iranian convert asylum." What in the world could be going on here? Why in the world would the British government be pointing to supposedly violent verses from the Holy Scriptures? What difference would it make? Why does this have significance for the Home Office of the British government? The Home Office, as it is known in Great Britain, is the historic and traditional government department that has to do with domestic affairs.
Amongst those domestic affairs would be border security, what here in the United States we would call the Department of Homeland Security, but as you're looking at this story, the odd thing about it is the presence of the Bible in the headline, specifically Bible verses, identified as Violent Bible verses. Why would this have anything to do with the news? Why would their British Home Office have any concern with this matter? As Anna Chevron reports for the New York Times, Britain's immigration department has been condemned for citing violent Bible passages as the basis to reject an asylum claim made by an Iranian national, who said he had converted to Christianity because it was a peaceful religion. The story goes on, the Home Office, which is responsible for handling immigration security, and law and order, used verses from the books of Leviticus, Exodus, and Revelation in an attempt to argue that Christianity was hardly peaceful. The asylum seeker's application was denied last week in Britain according to the man's legal representatives who also shared details on social media.
The story continues, "The case drew a rebuke from the Church of England and immigration advocates denounced the decision as yet another example of the Home Office's harsh methods.” How do we explain this story? The background to it has to do with the British government seeking to prevent the entry into the country of anyone who might be identified with Islamic extremism. That's fairly easy to understand. Great Britain in general and London in particular has been specifically targeted, and furthermore, the Home Office has been embarrassed by its laxity, and admitting many people to the country who, as history would later reveal, should not have been admitted to the country. In this case, the man who was seeking asylum coming from Iran claimed to have converted to Christianity, and when the Home Office interrogated him, he said that he had converted to Christianity because Christianity, unlike Islam, is a peaceful religion. The word peaceful, throughout this New York Times article, is put in quotation marks as if it's some kind of term of art.
But we understand what is meant here. Editorially, it means that the New York Times is taking no position on whether or not Christianity or Islam is or is not a peaceful religion. It's a way of reporting the story while trying to gain some distance from the issues involved, but there's no way that the British government can now distance itself from these issues, because the government is the cause of these issues. What made the news in Great Britain and in the United States, and now around the world, is the fact that the Home Office of the British government actually argued with the man who had claimed to have converted to Christianity, because Christianity is a peaceful religion, by the British government arguing that Christianity is not a peaceful religion, and thus his asylum claim was based upon a false premise. There's so much unusual here. For one thing, you had the British government making theological distinctions.
As you compare the British government to the United States system of government, one thing that becomes clear is that Britain, unlike the United States, has a state church. After all, the State Church of England is none other than the Church of England. The monarch of the nation is also, at least symbolically, the head of the church. The Church of England is inseparable from British identity. It is ultimately inseparable from the British government. You'll notice that one of the issues raised early in the article is that the Church of England has protested the Home Office's use of the Bible in such a way, but as you're looking at the story, at least for one thing, it reminds us why it is crucially important in the United States that we not put our government, that we not allow our government, to be in the position of making theological distinctions or adopting theological definitions. That is, to put it in common language, beyond the pay scale of any human government.
No human government has the right to make these kinds of distinctions. That's been an issue that has recurringly come up in American constitutional and legal history, especially over the last century. There have been those who, for example, have claimed to be conscientious objectors based upon religious principle when it comes to the draft or conscription into mandatory military service, and government agencies have had to decide whether or not this is a legitimate religious body, if this is a legitimate religious argument, but the thing that has held forth in the United States is that the government is trying its very best not to be in the position of making theological judgments, but simply deciding whether a judgment is theogical. That's a categorical distinction. There is no way the United States can avoid recognizing what is and is not a religion, especially when it comes to the constitutional guarantee of the freedom of religion, but it does not make distinctions about which religion teaches the right doctrine.
It does not make distinctions between congregations or denominations. It doesn't have any official definition theologically, but of course in the present, the United Kingdom, Great Britain, is significantly more secular than the United States of America. Church attendance in Great Britain has been plummeting in decades to where it is now estimated that only about 5%, or less than 5% of the British population is in any way a regular attender at church. Regular meaning two times a year or more. In the span of a single century, the last 100 years, Britain has been utterly transformed in a secular direction. One of the anomalies or awkwardnesses in that light is the fact that the nation still has an established church, the Church of England. It still has an established role and its bishops still sit in the House of Lords. But here we have the Home Office of the British government actually daring to make theological assessments. The secular arm of the British government is now arguing that Christianity is a violent religion.
That conversion to Christianity because Islam is violent and Christianity is not, is a theological misreading, and the Home Office of all things had the audacity to cite Bible verses in order to buttress this claim. Once again, the Bible verses are from Exodus, and Leviticus, and the book of Revelation. The Home Office seeking to refute this asylum seekers claims went through the Bible trying to find versus to indicate that Christianity, like Islam, is inherently violent. Yesterday on The Briefing I talked about the Islamic state, and I made the argument that secular Europe's having a very hard time coming to terms with the reality and the forcefulness of a theological argument, but the main theological argument threatening secular Europe is not Christianity. It is Islam. The terrorism that Europe and elsewhere in the world has been experiencing has been disproportionately undertaken by those who at least say they are acting in the name of Islam.
We pointed to the fact that Islam separates the world between the world of Islam, under Islamic rule, and the world at war, which is to be brought under Islamic rule. We have noted also that Christianity has no similar logic. We can also point to the fact that Jesus Christ as compared to Mohammed is an entirely different truth claim. Mohammed, of course, is not claimed to be divine, but rather to have been divinely chosen as the prophet through whom all are revealed, the Quran. Jesus Christ as known by Christians is not merely a prophet. He is prophet, priest, and King. He is the son of God in human flesh. He is the king of kings and Lord of Lords, but another distinction between Mohammed and Christ is that Mohammed was a man of war. He was a general of armies. He is celebrated for the blood he shed in the territorial conquest of Islam, and his followers, men and boys in particular, are called to join that war.
In contrast, one of the titles of Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace. He told Peter famously to put away his sword, even on the night of his arrest. He did not call his followers to war. He explicitly, in the sermon on the mount, argued that his followers following his example should be peaceful, agents of peace. Furthermore, Christianity has never been defined by a Christian caliphate. It has never been rightly theologically defined by territory. Christianity is concerned with individuals, with the conversion of individuals to faith in Christ. It's an entirely different logic, so where did the Home Office come up with these verses? Of course, some of the verses, the verses from Exodus and Leviticus, are from the Old Testament. Actually, the Home Office didn't read very far into the Old Testament. It could have found hundreds of similar verses. That is because Israel, as God's covenant people, was called to the conquest of the land of promise, and that conquest was undeniably a military conquest.
But it's also interesting that as they shift to the New Testament, they had to go to the book of Revelation. Why did they have to go all the way to the book of Revelation? It is because Christ followers are defined as the followers of the Prince of Peace, the disciples of a peaceful savior, a savior whose point is evangelism, and missions, and eternal life in marshaling his armies, until the very end of time when in the battle of Armageddon, and in the end of all things, Christ will come with indeed the heavenly host with a heavenly army. But the distinction here is that that is for Christians an eschatological event. It is part of the end times. Christians are not called to take up arms. Indeed again, Christ told Peter to put his sword away, but the method of Biblical interpretation demonstrated by Britain's Home Office is illegitimate, and what can only be described as ignorant. As you're looking at this, there is no recognition that there was any particular knowledge of the scripture behind the Home Office's argument.
The British government stated this, after stating that the man's claim of conversion to Christianity as a religion of peace was illegitimate. "These examples, meaning the Bible verses cited, are inconsistent with your claim that you converted to Christianity after discovering it is a peaceful religion as opposed to Islam, which contains violence, rage, and revenge." That according to the rejection letter sent to the asylum seeker. After the story broke and the Church of England registered it's outrage, the Home Office released a statement saying, "This letter is not in accordance with our policy approach to claims based on religious persecution, including conversions to a particular faith.” Thus, the Home Office, after outrage was expressed by the Church of England, began to distance itself from its own letter, but it did not do so in a way that satisfied the church, nor satisfies any kind of logical argument. I do want to note that given the tepidness of the Church of England, it's sometimes difficult to think of using the word outrage in any way associated with the leadership of the church.
One of its bishops, Paul Butler, the Bishop of Durham, said in a statement, "I am extremely concerned that a government department would determine the future of another human being based upon such a profound misunderstanding of the texts and practices of faith communities.” You do have to recognize how tepid this outrage is with the bishop complaining about the misuse of the scripture as merely a misunderstanding of the texts and practices of faith communities. He did get a little stronger when he said, 'To use extracts from the book of Revelation to argue that Christianity's a violent religion is like arguing that a government report on the impact of climate change is advocating drought and flooding." We should also note that the Church of England called upon Britain's Home Office to develop greater religious literacy, but from this side of the Atlantic, it becomes clear that a lack of religious literacy is not the most important issue here.
It is the Home Office's claim, implicit in this letter denying asylum, to be able to make theological distinctions on behalf of the British government. It is for that reason that citizens of the United States should look to our government, and be very clear that the responsibility of the state is not to make theological distinctions. It is not to choose sides in theological debates. It is to defend and to advocate for religious liberty here in the United States and around the world. One footnote as we end here, this story just comes to underlined a basic American principle and instinct. A state that has a state church is not necessarily any more theologically competent than a state without a state church.
Secretary of State Pompeo reduces funds used to advocate for abortion internationally: What this reveals about the massive cultural change over the past 30 years and the importance of elections
But next, speaking of the United States and our government, looking specifically at the State Department of the United States, an important headline yesterday from the Washington Post tells us that US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has cut funds from the United States to the organization known as the OAS, the Organization of American States, over advocacy of abortion.
Carol Morella reports, "Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday that he is reducing the US contribution to the OAS, an ally in the pressure campaign on Venezuela, because of its advocacy of abortion. The Secretary of State's decision to cut over $200,000 in funding comes after nine senators sent him a letter last month pointing out the two organization of American states organs, the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights and the Interamerican Commission of Women, are campaigning for legalized abortion across the Americas. The Secretary of State ordered the full enforcement of a law passed in 1981, known as the Siljander Amendment. That law prohibits the use of United States funds to lobby either for or against abortion." Let's go back to when that law was passed. 1981. President Ronald Reagan had just assumed office as the 40th president of the United States. He had Democratic majorities at that point in both the house and the Senate. What does it tell us that this became law?
This amendment was passed. It tells us that there was vast bipartisan agreement back in 1981 that taxpayer money, specifically money that came through the United States government, should not be used to fund abortion. That's most importantly the Hyde Amendment, here domestically, or to advocate for, or for that matter, against abortion. That becomes the Siljander Amendment, passed in 1981, but notice how America has changed since then, how the American political landscape is utterly transformed since 1981. The Democratic Party now officially in its platform calls for the elimination of the Hyde Amendment. It calls for the coerced taxpayer funding of abortion, and of course it argues for abortion as a woman's right at any time, for any reason, or for no reason. We're looking at the transformation of the American political landscape on just this one issue, and for Christians, one of the issues that should be underlined here is the importance of elections.
It was important back in 1981. It was important in the passage of this amendment in the first place. It is important right now because the Secretary of State, and the leading officials in the administration, are appointed by the individual elected as the nation's chief executive, as President of the United States. Understand that elections have consequences, when you look back to 1981. Elections have consequences right now. It matters tremendously that Mike Pompeo is Secretary of State, enforcing this amendment. Some other Secretary of State serving a different party might well not, indeed, almost assuredly, would not enforce this amendment. You're looking at the fact that as we look to the future, a change in the partisan control of Congress. Right now, the Democrats control the House. The Republicans could block such an effort to undo this legislation in the Senate, but if there's a change in control of the Senate, all of that would change.
The election of a pro-abortion president would also change everything, and that just points to the fact that there are no easy or inconsequential elections any longer in American history. In reality, there never were, but even as you will have political analysts saying this election is more important than any election that has come before, it's almost assuredly true, because the stakes keep getting higher, and the partisan divide keeps getting wider. The Washington Post article makes clear that the Secretary of State found that some of the funds going to the Organization for American States were actually being used covertly in order to argue for, or lobby for, legalized abortion in Central and South American nations. Thus, the plug was pulled on that funding and again, it makes a huge difference.
There is no longer a single pro-abortion Republican in the House of Representatives: What this tells us about a Congress that is even more divided than the American people
But next, as we're thinking about that partisan divide in the United States, that's growing ever deeper and ever wider, a very important article ran just recently in the Wall Street Journal. It's by Kristina Peterson. The headline, House GOP, that is Republicans, unanimous on abortion knell. Why would that be headline news? It is simply largely taken for granted that the Republican Party is overwhelmingly pro-life and the Democratic Party, especially at the national level, overwhelmingly pro-abortion, so what's the news? The news is that as of the 2018 midterm elections, there is not a single pro-choice or pro-abortion Republican in the United States House of Representatives. Understand when you see a headline like this, it is likely that those who are behind the news story, and behind the analysis, are not particularly pleased about this development. Kristina Peterson writes, "The start of a new Democratic led house this year also marked the end of an era, as the House Republican caucus now doesn't have a single lawmaker considered a supporter of abortion rights. The unanimity on opposing abortion rights followed,” she argues, "the retirements of centrist Republicans, representative Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania and Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey.”
"Their ranks,” she says, “could continue to diminish in the Senate where senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine are the only Republicans to back abortion rights." We've had cause in recent months and years to look at how the issue of abortion is now being reshaped, and is also at the same time reshaping America's political reality. It's practically impossible right now, indeed impossible is exactly the right word to use, to imagine any national democratic figure who is not now ardently and unconditionally committed to abortion rights, period. Simultaneously, as this article makes clear, it is almost impossible to imagine anyone having any influence at the national level of the Republican Party who is not pro-life. When you add all of the Republicans in the House of Representatives, and you add the Republican majority in the Senate, there are only two Republican figures in Congress who are considered to be pro-abortion, only two, but oddly enough, all of that that we've already discussed is not the main reason why I chose to talk about this article on The Briefing today.
Rather, the reason is found at the end of the article. Listen carefully. "The partisan divide on Capitol Hill over abortion is starker than among voters of either party." The Wall Street Journal goes on, among Republicans nationwide, 59% believe abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, compared with 36% who believe it should be legal. That according to the Pew Research Center in a survey released in October. By contrast, in Congress, Senators Collins and Murkowski now represent the fewer than 1% of Republican lawmakers considered abortion rights supporters." Why turn to this paragraph? We are told that Congress is now more divided than the American people on the issue of abortion. We are told here, looking to Republicans, that Republican lawmakers are actually more pro-life than Republican voters, and the implication is that if you look at the democratic side, the same thing would be true, that Democratic lawmakers are actually more pro-abortion than Democratic voters, if you're able to undertake some kind of scientific survey.
What's the problem? The problem is believing that a survey can be translated into politics. It doesn't work. Why? Because surveys are often multiple choice. People are asked a question. Are you for this or are you against this? How for this are you? How against this are you? Are you for abortion under these circumstances? Are you against abortion under other circumstances? The survey could be taken one day, and the very same people might answer the very same questions in a different way just 24 hours later. The political class is very concerned with polling data, but polling data is very different than this survey data. They do not have the same political impact. Polling data says, are you likely to vote for candidate A or candidate B? The survey data says, what is your position on issue C or issue D?
They are not dealing with the same reality. It also comes down to the fact that members of Congress have to vote for or against specific legislation. They don't merely get to stake out positions on issue A or issue B. Americans often think about the fact that their politicians are at least at times inconsistent, but the politician should turn around and look to the American people, and point out that the American people, even more than the politicians, are inconsistent. Clarity for politicians comes when they regularly have to register in public a vote, something most American voters never have to do.
A mayor in Massachusetts was simultaneously ousted from office and re-elected on the same ballot . . . democracy can be a strange system sometimes
Finally, Winston Churchill is often quoted to the effect that democracy is the worst form of government, except for every other form of government previously tried. The foibles of democracy come to mind in a story that just recently ran in the New York Times by Max Fisher. Fisher begin saying, "This is the story of a strange election in a small Massachusetts city called Fall River.”
What happened? Fisher tells us that Fall River's saga began last October, when it's then 26-year-old mayor, Jasiel Correia, was arrested on charges of defrauding investors and falsifying tax returns. He had raised funding to develop a marketing app, but instead, prosecutors said he spent $230,000 of investor’s money on jewelry, clothes, a Mercedes, and his successful mayoral campaign. We're then told the mayor contested the charges and refuse to step down, so some citizens of Fall River got enough signatures to force a recall election, which was held just a few days ago. The recall election, we are told, was an absolute walloping for the mayor. About 61% voted to remove him from office. Only 4,911 people, or 38%, voted to keep him in office. It was a clear, popular mandate, so this would appear to be a story of a small city in Massachusetts that removed its mayor for accusations of criminal activity, and did so very clearly in a recall election.
But why is this news? It's because there was an interesting twist. "The ballot had two questions, one on whether to recall the mayor and another on whom to replace him with. Five people ran for the mayor seat. One of them, the mayor. It might seem like the height of hubris for a mayor under federal indictment to run for reelection even as he is being recalled, but whether he knew it or not, he was onto something. The mayor received 4,808 votes in the balloting, on who should be the next mayor, so simultaneously he was removed from office and accidentally elected back to office." Fisher then summarizes, "Yes, that's right. The same election that removed the mayor by a nearly two to one margin also returned him to office. Democracy," he states, "can be a strange system sometimes." Indeed, sometimes it can.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
I'm happy to tell you that this Fall I'm going to be leading a teaching tour of the Christian heritage of Great Britain. On this tour, we're going to visit locations such as London, Oxford, Cambridge, and Edinburgh. We're going to visit historic cathedrals, churches, abbeys, and universities. If you're a student of history, particularly church history, I invite you to learn more about this unique opportunity. Just go to albertmohler.com/tour. That's albertmohler.com/tour.
For more information, go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can find 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 today at Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio, and I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.