briefing, Albert Mohler

Friday, April 26, 2019

It’s Friday, April 26, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Joe Biden is officially running for president: Will he be liberal enough to win the nomination of the Democratic party?

Well, here we go. We are joining the giant worldview circus that is otherwise known as the 2020 United States presidential election. All the energy of course right now is on the democratic side, because that’s the party that has the great big question mark hanging over it. Where’s it going to go? Where’s it going to stand? And the biggest question of all, who is going to be the standard bear who will eventually be the Democratic Party’s nominee for president in 2020. Even as that question remains to be answered, it’s getting a lot more interesting. Yesterday, Joe Biden, the former vice president of the United States in a three-and-a-half-minute video, announced what just about everyone in the world already knew, and that is that he is a candidate for the Democratic nomination.

And all of this just becomes more interesting when we remember that this is Biden’s third attempt to run for president. His first attempt was 30 years ago. So, we’re talking about three decades of political history that is now being marked by the candidacy of just one man, age 76, the former vice president of the United States and senator. I took a pretty comprehensive look at Joe Biden on The Briefing on April 8th, and I’m going to move on and simply say that the announcement was something of an absolute expectation. It wasn’t a surprise, but what was interesting in that three-and-a-half-minute video yesterday was how Joe Biden presented himself. He really talked about himself as the candidate who can defeat Donald Trump. That is the promise that he’s making. That is the angle that he’s playing, that’s the role he wants to fulfill in the 2020 presidential election.

Why was that so interesting? Well, it’s because the other candidates have basically been running against one another. They’ve been running as far to the left as they can, as fast as they can. Joe Biden is really saying that he will run as more of a centrist candidate. That has to be put into context. The center and the democratic parties also moved considerably to the left. The reality is the parties moved to the left of Joe Biden. Interesting articles appeared yesterday and the aftermath of his announcement including one that just ask the open question, is the Democratic Party now far too woke to nominate Joe Biden? So in introducing himself the way he did in that video yesterday, the former vice president is basically saying, forget all those policy positions and everything that the other candidates are trying to argue about and just ask yourself the question, who at the end of the day might be able to defeat Donald Trump?

That is going to be the energy of Biden’s campaign. That’s going to be this substance of his case, but here’s where we have to know, that might not be all that persuasive to Democrats. That’s going to be one of the most interesting questions that Democrats will answer in this cycle, which are they more committed to? Are they more committed to trying to make a statement of their increasingly liberal positions on any number of issues or are they trying to make a statement to America? We’ll cut right down the middle and run someone who will run against Donald Trump and when in the crucial Midwestern states. Now my guess is the Democrats are going to choose the first option rather than the second, all the energy in the party, all the money in the party and the youth in the party, they are increasingly headed in that direction in a hurry.

But Joe Biden at least yesterday made the best case he knows to make, but Joe Biden’s going to have to run from an awful lot of history. And the interesting thing even over the next weekend is how Democrats, not Republicans, but how Democrats respond to his newly announced campaign. My guess is you’re going to see an awful lot of Democrats try to cut him off at the pass before he has any real opportunity to gain new ground.

Part II

A look at the candidacy of Mayor Pete Buttigieg: How the young mayor of South Bend, Indiana, became a front-runner for the 2020 Democratic nomination

But next we’re actually going to shift to another candidate in the democratic race, because of the vast worldview implications. We’re going to be looking at a man whose name would have been virtually unknown to the vast majority of Americans just a matter of, you might say a few weeks ago. We’re talking about the Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg, and we’re talking about a man who has all the sudden skyrocketed into acclaim and into the front part of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. There are so many anomalies here, there’s so many questions to be answered.

How in the world would the Mayor of a city like South Bend, Indiana, all of a sudden become what appears to be a real contender for the Democratic presidential nomination. This just doesn’t happen. You don’t have 37-year-old mayors of cities, much less cities the size of south bend, Indiana, all of a sudden become contenders to be president of the United States. And add to that the fact that he is openly gay. So now you have an openly gay 37-year-old Mayor of South Bend, Indiana who is one of the most talked about political commodities in the United States. How in the world did that happen? And add to that the fact that the Democratic cleft now declares that they have found a hero of the Christian faith in none other than mayor Pete Buttigieg. So, let’s look at the story. First of all, you have developments in just the last several days including an appearance by Buttigieg on CNN. You have a variety of media articles and all kinds of press a claim indicating that what Pete Buttigieg brings to the race is youth–he is 37–and experience actually solving problems like fixing potholes.

You’re talking about someone who is incredibly well-educated, a graduate of the University of Notre Dame who also won a First and that is the highest academic honors as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University, graduating with a degree in its much-honored PPE program: politics, philosophy and economics. But you’re also looking at someone who’s a media sensation. Mayor Buttigieg is a very charismatic figure, especially among young Democrats and that’s where so much of the energy for his campaign is coming from. But we need to look more closely at who he is and what this means. First of all, he is being packaged by the media as a progressive who isn’t too progressive, as a Democrat who isn’t crazy, as someone who wants to bring sanity and civility to the public square. As someone who is indeed hip, after all, he’s not only gay, he’s married to a man. You’re talking about someone who appears to be the very picture of the kind of lifestyle diversity that the Democratic Party wants to celebrate.

You’re also looking at someone who appears to be very nice. There’s an American quality of niceness that something missing in many other cultures. We have to ask ourselves what is nice? What does it mean when neighbors say he’s a nice boy or that’s a nice man or woman? What does nice mean? Well nice, we need to know, means generally friendly. It means generally optimistic, it means rather polite and respectful, but one of the interesting things you quickly learn in America is that nice is really a very general word that doesn’t contain much specific content. You can talk about someone being nice even though you wouldn’t want him to date your daughter. You can talk about someone being nice, but they may hold positions, political positions and worldview understandings, that are dramatically at removed from yourself. Nice only gets you so far, but it’s also clear Americans would prefer a nice candidate over a not nice candidate if all other things are equal. But other issues are not equal and that’s what’s going to make the race so very interesting.

Pete Buttigieg is actually very, very progressive. He declares himself to be a more sane alternative to the far left of the Democratic Party, but that’s only because that far left is moving in such crazy directions so quickly. When it comes to moral issues, when it comes to LGBTQ issues, for example, there’s no question that Pete Buttigieg is right where the Democratic Party is aiming. He can become something of a symbol for the party given his own openly gay and now same-sex-married state. When it comes to abortion, make no mistake, we’re not talking about someone here who holds a more pro-life position than the extreme of the Democratic Party and its candidates. We’re talking about someone who himself has affirmed abortion at virtually any point, under virtually any circumstances, for any reason or for no reason. He supports taxpayer funded abortion, which means coercing from the American taxpayer participation in abortion and on issue after issue, he wants to eliminate the electoral college. He wants to reshape the Supreme Court, he really holds very radical political positions, but he holds them in a persona that’s just so nice according to that very superficial American understanding of nice.

Part III

Openly gay Pete Buttigieg is being heralded as a candidate of faith, which raises the question, ‘What does it really mean to be a person of faith?’

But it’s also really interesting to see that in the very earliest days of the popularity of his candidacy, Pete Buttigieg was also declaring himself to be identified as a Christian, as openly Christian, as he is openly gay. He was also presenting himself as a Christian alternative to a more secular Democratic Party. Thus, you had an entire raft of articles in the media early on saying, here you have a candidate of faith, a man of faith running for the Democratic presidential nomination against far more secular alternatives. Just think about Bernie Sanders or others in the Democratic Party, you had here someone who is willing to say, I am a Christian, but what exactly does that mean? What does it mean that he declares himself to be a candidate of faith?

An article by Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post bore the headline, “Faith, not sexual orientation is what’s most interesting about Buttigieg.” An article by Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons at CNN bears the headline, “Buttigieg is a symbol for a rising Christian left.” At The Atlantic, Peter Wehner wrote an article, its headline was, “Pete Buttigieg’s very public faith is challenging assumptions.” And perhaps most importantly, Kirsten Powers, writing at USA Today offers an article that was headlined, “Buttigieg stands out on the Christian left.” The subtitle, “Why America needs mayor Pete now.” This raises a host of issues. First, what does it mean that he’s identified as the rising star of the theological left? What does it mean that he identifies himself as a candidate of faith? What kind of arguments is he making? What kind of theology is represented here and why is it that so many people appear to be deeply confused about even what kinds of questions should be asked in the wake of this kind of candidacy and representation?

The article in the Washington Post by Jennifer Rubin went to the LGBTQ Victory Fund gathering held recently, where we are told Buttigieg made headlines by talking about his coming out and his marriage. Rubin wrote the South Bend, Indiana Mayor spoke eloquently, but this wasn’t the most intriguing part of the speech. What’s intriguing, she says about his sexual orientation is that it’s not such a big to do. Well, hold that thought for a moment. What was fascinating was that he wasn’t talking about faith as a ploy to get religious voters support in that setting. As USA Today reported, “Jack Jacobson an openly gay member of the DC State Board of Education who attended the Victory Fund brunch said Buttigieg openness about his faith is part of what makes him an authentic candidate. He talked about God in a room that’s probably full of atheist, that’s what I am.” That’s what Jacobson said. “He does it unabashedly and in a way that doesn’t come across as threatening, dismissive or negative.”

In a CNN town hall appearance, he was very clear about his sexual orientation, about his theological orientation, and he directed particular statements at the vice president of the United States, Mike Pence. Before going further, let’s just remind ourselves that before becoming vice president of the United States, Mike Pence had been governor of Indiana. Thus, the governor of Indiana and the mayor of South Bend, Indiana knew each other. They had to do political business with each other, but now everything is different. Buttigieg, we are told in the Washington Post article said to the crowd at CNN, “I wish that Mike Pence’s of the world would understand that if you have a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me, your quarrel sir is with my Creator.” Now think about that for just a moment. This is a very interesting argument. First of all, the candidate does invoke the fact that there is a Creator, but he also says that his sexual orientation is basically something that God has created. God created him this way. That’s an argument that’s increasingly common. How do we square that with Scripture? Well, you can’t.

You can’t simply say that something the Scripture forbids is somehow nonetheless represented by an orientation that is now made morally neutral or morally good by the fact that one discovered this and claims it as a birth, as a creation identity. Buttigieg has also spoken of his hope that the vice president would, you know this word is coming, evolve in his understanding of LGBTQ issues and Christianity, that he would basically evolve in his understanding of holy Scripture and his understanding of what the Scripture teaches about marriage and gender identity and sexual orientation. All that’s truly interesting but it’s also interesting that Jennifer Ruben says that it is Buttigieg’s faith, not his sexual orientation. That is what is most interesting about him. So, let’s just observe that when you’re looking at Pete Buttigieg, you are looking at a very skillful, very effective, very winsome new representation of the argument that LGBTQ identity, any variant thereof is just basically normal. It’s real.

It is to be understood as part of creation, the intention of the creator, so just deal with it and if you think that the Scripture forbids any part of it, then you just need to evolve. Pete Buttigieg is calling for Pence to develop, to progress, to evolve. He’s right now on the wrong side of history, but Buttigieg appears to be saying to the vice president publicly rather than privately, if you will just think a little more. If you will just be a little more open minded. If you’ll just read Scripture a little more loosely, you’ll be on the right side of history and all will be well. If you want to see the moral revolution in just a few words, consider an article by Maureen Gropey. It was published at USA Today, the headline, “Buttigieg to Pence, if you have a problem with who I am, your quarrel is with my Creator.”

After repeating that statement, the USA Today article goes on to say, “It’s unusual for Democratic presidential candidates to talk about faith as often as Buttigieg does. It’s groundbreaking that he uses his marriage to another man to illustrate his personal relationship with God.” Well, it’s groundbreaking all right, but it’s also incredibly revealing of a massive theological shift that has to come alongside if not precede a massive political shift. That’s what’s most important as we consider the candidacy of Pete Buttigieg and its apparent popularity and surge. The opinion article by Kirsten Powers at USA Today is probably the most important. Again, the headline, “Buttigieg stands out on the Christian left,” Powers writes. “Does the country need an awakening of the Christian left presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg, think so? Mayor Pete, as he is affectionately called, is having a moment with a first quarter fundraising haul of $7 million in a third place showing in an Iowa poll at 11%.”

We are then told he’s a military veteran who served in Afghanistan, is a Rhodes scholar, and speaks seven languages, but then Powers gets right to the point. “He has also stood out as a devoted Christian who is speaking against the dominance of the religious right in the public square. As Buttigieg told me in an interview, the left is rightly committed to a separation of church and state, but we need to not be afraid to invoke arguments that are convincing on why Christian faith is going to point you in a progressive direction.” We are then told Buttigieg criticized right wing Christians for, “Saying so much about what Christ said so little about, and so little about what he has said so much about.” Kirsten Powers basically agrees with this suggesting in coordination with Pete Buttigieg that the Christian right talks too much about abortion. We’re told Jesus didn’t talk about abortion at all. And of course, you hear the same kind of parallel arguments when it comes to sexual orientation, gender identity, the entire spectrum currently reduced to LGBTQ.

It’s also very revealing that Powers writes, “Non-conservative Christians generally do not receive the same attention as the religious right, because most journalists are secular they can be gullible and looking to the religious right as arbiters of biblical interpretation, especially as it relates to hot button cultural and political issues.” Now that’s really, really important because here you have her statement that the religious right and conservative Christian, she conflates the two. We’ll have to leave that for a moment. She suggests that the media are gullible and thinking that conservative Christians are the arbiters of biblical interpretation. Well, let’s just note that Pete Buttigieg really hasn’t offered any detailed biblical interpretation at all. Rather, he has spoken in generalities, but we understand the argument.

The argument comes down to the fact that Jesus didn’t talk about abortion. Jesus didn’t define marriage, Jesus didn’t talk about sexual orientation, Jesus didn’t talk about being gay, transgender, or you go down the list, therefore, Christian shouldn’t talk about it, and Christians have no business speaking definitively in moral principles about these realities, orientations, behaviors, writ large, but let’s just think about that for a moment. First of all, Jesus did define marriage. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus made very clear that marriage is the union of a man and a woman and it is supposed to be unbroken in covenant fidelity, and Jesus went so far as to say that that was God’s intention from the beginning. Furthermore, Jesus didn’t address abortion specifically, but the Bible makes very clear a comprehensive life ethic that is grounded in the fact that every single life is a gift of God and is to be treasured and preserved.

There’s no way you can contort Scripture to making Jesus an advocate for abortion. On issue by issue, there are people who want to say you don’t have to take the entire Bible as the word of God, you can simply abstract the words of Jesus or what you want to identify is the message of Jesus. You can retain that and be done with all the, thou shalt’s and thou shalt not’s. All of the clear biblical teachings about gender identity, about what it means to be male and female, about the definition of marriage and God’s intention in restricting marriage from the very beginning. You can simply replace, and here we are again as we were just a few days ago. You can replace Christianity with an entirely new religion, but you can call it Christianity, but there’s something else here that’s interesting and it’s not just Pete Buttigieg, and it’s not just the media. It is the cultural mood at the moment that wants to talk about faith. Someone as an individual of faith.

Here’s where Christians need to remind ourselves, when we are talking about faith, we’re talking about faith in Christ. We don’t believe in salvation by faith in faith, it’s faith in Christ. Faith has an object as the reformers said, so let’s think about that for a moment. When you’re talking about people of faith and the media now declare someone like Pete Buttigieg to be an individual of faith, what exactly does it mean? Well, we have to ask ourselves what, who is the object of that faith? It’s extremely amorphous. We do know that Pete Buttigieg has declared himself to be on the liberal side of Christianity, as some of the rightful media analysis has indicated, he is influenced by Liberation Theology in the Roman Catholic tradition. There are various forms of liberation theology, but LGBTQ Liberation Theology is very much a part of that. It replaces the very clear authority of Scripture with the authority of human experience, and it understands the primal send to be the oppression of those who are oppressed by the majority, rather than sin is a transgression against the law and character of God.

So we can understand that the message being preached quite effectively and winsomely by Pete Buttigieg and celebrated by so many others is really one of these new forms of religion that is simply now taking on a Christian identity, but we cannot apologize for asking the question what is the faith? What are the beliefs of this faith? What’s the authority of the faith? What’s the object of the faith that Pete Buttigieg now represents? Pete Buttigieg went to a Catholic high school as a boy, he went to a Catholic university. His father was on the faculty of that university, but he was basically a secular individual who was a Marxist thinker. As Buttigieg speaks in his book, his father was a man of the left. His mother was some kind of Episcopalian, but this does not appear to be a major issue. But Pete Buttigieg as an adult has identified with the Episcopal church.

He and the man identified as his husband were married in the Episcopal church. But here’s where we also have to note that the Episcopal church, just to be honest, has become a major engine of the sexual revolution by for one thing, ordaining an openly gay bishop as long ago as 2003. Changing its church law and doctrine to allow for the normalization of the entire LGBTQ spectrum. It’s gone as such a liberal direction that the worldwide Anglican communion is now just about to split apart. An entire diocese have withdrawn from the Episcopal church because it has abandoned the gospel. Henry Olsen of the ethics and public policy center also in an article for the Washington Post says that religious conservatives should not cast aspersions on Pete Buttigieg’s faith. Cast dispersions, well, that’s right, but it also raises a very interesting moment of clarification for us. We must never apologize for asking about the content and the beliefs and the practices of someone’s faith. We judge faith by its content, not by its sincerity.

He’s right in making the point this way, no one should doubt the sincerity of mayor Buttigieg when he’s making his theological case. Sincerity is something we cannot judge. We cannot judge his heart, but we cannot but judge the theological claims that he’s making, we cannot but analyze the worldview that is operational here. That’s our responsibility. That is not to cast aspersions on his faith. We’re not questioning his sincerity, we are questioning the validity as measured by Christian authority, the holy Scripture of his beliefs and his teachings. One of the big lessons to be observed here is affirmed by Ramesh Ponnuru in an article that he published at it begins, “Pete Buttigieg, the Mayor of South Bend, Indiana is one of the many candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination, but that’s not his only long shot bid. He also wants to claim Christianity for contemporary progressive politics.” Indeed, at that CNN town hall Pete Buttigieg went so far as to argue that Christianity rightly understood, would produce progressive politics.

Well, they’re all kinds of arguments that Christians can have productively about economics and politics and policy. Christians can and they should have the opportunity for robust conversation for respectful engagement, but when it comes to issues that are clearly addressed in Scripture, the question comes down to obedience or disobedience. When it comes to a set of beliefs that are incompatible with biblical Christianity, we really cannot go along with the flow and call it Christianity. In this case, what’s being packaged as progressive Christianity for progressive politics. Well, let’s say the greater danger is theological, not political. The greater danger here is that this is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no evidence whatsoever of any commitment to Christian Orthodoxy in this entire political experiment. It is instead and is being celebrated by many as being an opportunity to basically shift the democratic argument and the Democratic Party away from a non-theological argument, to an argument based in liberal theology.

But finally, as we have to come to an end, I want us to know that there is an enormous amount of cultural pressure to be observed here. The pressure that is now being directed to biblical Christians to say, if you will just meet us halfway, if you’ll just normalize the entire LGBTQ spectrum, if you’ll just back off these issues, if you’ll just be quiet about abortion, if you will just get along and go along, then there will be a better place for you at the table of modern American politics, and there is a lot of energy in some circles to say that’s the methodology that should be chosen. That’s the approach we need to take. We need to just be quiet about these issues and we need to find another way to read the Bible. There are two very different developments here, both of them deserve our attention. Both of them now represented by Mayor Pete Buttigieg. They are this, number one, the approach that is now taken by the Mayor of South Bend as to how he wants to win the Democratic presidential nomination. That’s interesting, that’s important.

But more importantly is the larger context of a culture that is using him as a symbol of how to basically shift the understanding of Christianity and to shift the understanding of Christian teaching on marriage and morality and sex and simply say, “Here’s an alternative, this is a better alternative. This is the way we all should go, and Christians, if they want to be a part of this culture, are going to have to join this kind of Christianity and leave the old orthodox biblical Christianity behind.” The way politics works, it’s going to be interesting to see if Pete Buttigieg begins quickly to drop in the polls even as he ascended so quickly, that’s a pattern recognizable and politics. But let’s not fool ourselves, even as he may or may not drop from the political scene, the society around us is not going to drop this argument. That’s the big lesson we have to keep in mind.

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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