briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, May 6, 2019

It’s Monday, May 6th, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

White House further protects religious freedom in the medical field as newly invented rights continue to collide with religious liberty

Big news out of Washington DC at the end of last week. It’s a new executive order handed down through the Trump administration. This has to do with the fact that the Department of Health and Human Services has now extended guarantees of conscience protection to religious professionals. The way the story was reported in the mainstream media is almost important, once again, as the story itself. The Wall Street Journal headline, “White House unveils rules to protect health workers religious and moral beliefs.” As the story unfolds, “The Trump administration will require hospitals and health organizations to do more to shield medical workers with religious or moral objections to medical procedures such as abortion, assisted suicide or sterilization.”

As the story unfolds, the new rule was released last Thursday by the Department of Health and Human Services and as the Journal tells us, it “significantly broadens the agency’s enforcement ability and strengthens protections for healthcare workers who say that certain medical procedures violate their beliefs.” The paper goes on to tell us, “Critics say it will curtail access to care for many women as well as gay and transgender patients.”

This sounds like a big story, is it? Yes, it is. How big is it? Well, time will tell, partly because we are looking at an executive order. We’re looking at a policy that has been handed down by the Trump administration. One thing to keep in mind is that this emphasizes two big political realities in our system. First of all, it really does matter who’s president of the United States because executive orders, and the formation of executive branch policy are what an administration does. The second thing to keep in mind is that when you have a succession of presidents, you can have a complete change in the approach to these executive orders.

So for example, President Ronald Reagan signed executive orders protecting human life in at least four different ways. Unborn human life in particular. President George H. W. Bush known as Bush 41 continued those executive orders. President Bill Clinton, the very first day he was in office, he reversed those very executive orders. Shortly after he was elected president, President George W. Bush, Bush 43 went back and reestablished the basic structure of the Reagan era regulations. This is true with the so called Mexico City rule, which has to do with whether family planning funds that are made available through American foreign policy can include any reference whatsoever to abortion. When an administration says no and the next administration says yes, the next administration can say no again. But we should not dismiss the importance of these policies. After all, these are the policies of the government of the United States of America. It does underline how important an election is.

As we’re thinking about the administration announcement that came last Thursday, let’s keep in mind that two words were used. This is a very important part of the story. The two words were “religious” and “moral,” or it might be used in a different way to say religious objections or conscience objections. In either sense, you are looking at a significant broadening of the category. What are we talking about here? Well when you look at abortion or euthanasia or other very controversial dimensions of modern medicine, you are looking at the fact that there have been from the very beginning, certain conscience rights recognized in the United States. Why would that be so? Well, it is because we still have in the US constitution that First Amendment and that means that given the religious beliefs of Americans, those religious beliefs cannot easily be trampled upon by any kind of government or for that matter, other entity.

Hospitals cannot tell doctors that they must perform abortions. Doctors cannot tell nurses that they must assist in an abortion. No one can tell a doctor in the United States that he must practice physician assisted suicide, but we are also looking at the fact that given the moral revolution, those conscience protections are being increasingly curtailed. They certainly were under the Obama administration. That’s a very important issue for us to recognize, and we need to face the fact that this is an urgently important issue for many Americans on the front lines, especially of modern medicine. And we have seen some very dangerous court precedents put in place, some very dangerous moves towards regulation and curtailment, especially when it comes to certain states, rather liberal states, far more committed to abortion than to religious liberty. We’re looking at another one of those collisions with newly invented rights colliding with the religious liberty.

We have seen pharmacists told that they must distribute the so called Morning-After Pill—and keep in mind the only reason that pill exists or is used is to bring about the termination of a pregnancy—and we’ve seen other very ominous moves. We also see a general pattern of tremendous urgency here. We see those who are trying to contend for an expansion of these newly identified rights, these newly constructed rights such as a woman’s right to an abortion. We have seen them particularly target these conscience provisions. Make no mistake. If the culture continues to go in a more liberal direction, those conscience protections will absolutely evaporate, and we need to recognize something else. It’s not just government we have to fear here. It is also the regime of certain professions. What happens when professional association say that doctors or lawyers or others must do X, Y, or Z, or they will not be licensed by the profession?

What happens when you have insurance companies, especially in the medical world, making decisions that basically are coercive of medical personnel, doctors, nurses, pharmacists and others. There are different ways, including economic means and social means to try to bring about the same kind of moral revolution at the expense of conscience. But I use that word “conscience” very intentionally, very strategically because the Trump administration over the last two years has very effectively and intentionally broadened the ground in which medical professionals can make the claim of conscience. Previously that claim had been limited to explicitly religious claims, but the Trump administration has broadened it to moral concerns, which may or may not have a religious basis. Now, why did the administration do that? Well for one thing, you had people on the other side, on the liberal side of the equation, those who want to see the conscience provisions eliminated. They claimed that religious liberty was too narrow a ground, that that did not recognize the rights of others who do not have a religious identity.

And so the Trump administration said, “Okay, then we will take that challenge, and we will extend the conscience provisions to those who have a moral concern, but it may not be explicitly rooted in any specific religious truth claim.” That was a very skillful move on the part of the administration. It is interesting that in the Wall Street Journal article by Stephanie Armor, there is this paragraph: “Anti-abortion activists say, current laws are inadequate to protect nurses and other health professionals who have objections to certain procedures. The rule is needed, supporters say, because many healthcare providers have long felt they had to violate their beliefs and often lack the ability to bring legal action on their own.” She then summarizes, and I quote, “The action as part of a broader White House effort to protect religious liberty, an issue important to many Republicans and conservatives. It has spurred debate over whether upholding the rights of some means discriminating against others.”

The really unusual, actually very alarming part of that paragraph comes down to the words in which we are told that this is part of an effort by the White House to protect religious liberty and religious liberty is identified as “an issue important to many Republicans and conservatives.” But that statement is not untrue. It is true. That’s what makes it so ghastly. We are looking at a very new situation in the United States in which religious liberty is no longer contended for by all. It’s no longer an issue of vast, unquestioned bipartisan consensus. It is no longer commonly understood as the first freedom guaranteed to all Americans as the government must respect it. Instead, what we’re seeing here is the fact that the moral revolution, especially the sexual revolution, has so driven new rights to the center of the culture, especially to the agenda of moral progressives as they styled themselves to liberals in this culture that they are willing to dispense with religious liberty. And they are doing so increasingly right out in the open making their arguments, quite alarmingly with honesty.

Part II

Only theology could explain families turning into units of terror in the Sri Lankan Easter attacks

But next, we have to shift attention to an international story of vast worldview implications. It is also one of those stories in which theology, despite all the efforts of the secular press has to come to the forefront. For example, I’ll go back to the Wall Street Journal, an article that ran in the weekend edition on the front page, “Sri Lankan terrorist spree was a family enterprise.” The sub head: “Islamic State tactic draws wives and children into suicide attacks.” This is by an entire team of talented reporters for the Wall Street Journal, and what is being reported on here is the fact that there is a horrifying innovation now in the terror attempts undertaken by the Islamic State around the world. And it turns out that the deadly attacks in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday just underlined that change. What’s the change? It is no longer primarily lone actors who are the suicide bombers, rather those lone actors are now often involving their wives and their children.

It is now becoming a family affair, organized suicide bombing in terror involving intentionally entire families. This is one of the saddest developments we could contemplate. Now for one thing, we have to note just how insidious this is at every level. Just consider the picture in your mind. If you have a picture of a young man who might not belong where he is, you might have the suspicion that this needs to be looked into, especially if you are in a place of public assembly, say a synagogue or even a mosque or wherever you might be, and there are known to be threats and this person is not known. Well, it simply is a fact of human nature that a singular individual is likely to cause greater concern than adults with children. That’s an insidious issue here. Bringing children into the picture appears to lower the threat level except of course when it doesn’t, when children unwittingly are actually recruited into the terroristic plan.

The second thing we have to recognize is that this reflects a certain form of desperation that can only be explained theologically. You really can’t explain the involvement of family members in this kind of terror attack on the basis of psychology or sociology. That’s all the secular world has, but it’s not enough to explain it. Instead in this article, the Wall Street Journal does what it has to do. It gets the theological. As the Journal tells us, “The emphasis on family differs from previous international terrorist threat such as Al Qaeda, which generally operated with tight groups of men directed by an even more insulated clutch of far way leaders. Security experts say this poses new challenges to law enforcement as Islamic State seeks to internationalize its operations after losing its territory in Syria.”

By the way, just a few years ago when the Islamic State was new on the scene, you had many in the mainstream media who did everything imaginable not to have to use the word Islamic. The argument was that it should go by the name Daesh or some other name in order that it would not insinuate that Islam actually has anything to do with it. But across the mainstream media, it’s very interesting to see that the group is now almost always referred to as the Islamic State and furthermore, as in this Wall Street Journal article, there’s no way to avoid the Islamic part of the Islamic State.

When it comes to the involvement of family, just consider this statement from the article, “This focus is indeed what Islamic State extols as its version of family values is rooted in the group’s founding ideology. The territory it seized was intended as home, not only for fighters, but also for women and their children.” The article goes, “Fully a quarter of the more than 41,000 international citizens with ISIS in Iraq and Syria, were women and children, that according to a report by the International Center for the Study of Radicalization.” The next sentence, “As Islamic State enclave in Syria came under threat, supporters of the group abroad turned their families into highly lethal units.”

The paper points out that that was the case in 2015 in San Bernardino, California, where it was a husband and wife, but now it is increasingly not just husbands and wives, but entire families. That was evident in Sri Lanka. A part of the explicitly theological dimension of this story comes down to the fact that the distinction is made between Islam and the world of unbelievers. The New York Times also ran a major article over the weekend, an investigative report indicating that the group was increasingly targeting Christians specifically.

But the next big theological issue, probably most important here is eschatology. Eschatology is the end of the story. It is how the world and how history comes to an end. Eschatology is the driving energy of Christianity. It drives us to the very last book of the Bible. It tells us to look forward to the end of history. When Jesus will come to claim his church and to establish his kingdom in full, he will come to rule and to judge the nations.

But even as you have a Christian eschatology, you also have a Muslim eschatology and that Islamic eschatology promises paradise to those who become martyrs for Jihad. We know that that was an animating theological drive behind the Al Qaeda terrorists of 9/11, 2001. We also see in this coverage that it is a driving issue, a promise made not only to the husbands and the wives, the mothers and the fathers, but also their children, that if they die in the cause of Jihad, they will be together forever rewarded in paradise. Let’s be clear, there is no sociology or psychology that can explain that. That explanation requires theology and it requires a certain knowledge of theology and it requires one to take theology seriously. What we see over and over again is that the elites in the West seem incapable of taking theology seriously. They’re so committed to a basically secular worldview that they can’t believe that there would be anyone who would be operating from a theological worldview.

And when they look at Islam, they simply want to try to explain it as psychology or history or economics or politics, anything but theology. But as this coverage eventually has to make clear, it is theological at the core, but that means we have to reverse the question, just what kind of theology turns families into units of terror and suicide bombing.

Part III

A new king is crowned in Thailand: Analyzing one of the world’s richest monarchs, King Maha Vajiralongkorn

Next, just a few days ago on The Briefing, we looked at the massive worldview implications of the succession of monarchs on the Chrysanthemum Throne in Japan, something that hadn’t taken place for roughly 40 years. Something that goes back in history to at least 600 AD and Japanese authorities claim back to the sixth or seventh century BC. And we saw that once again it was inherently theological even though most of the mainstream media seem to avoid it. But then of all things, just a few days later and even more historic, monarchial succession, this time in Thailand.

And we’re looking at the fact that just about every major news source in the United States and around the world had to deal with the coronation just over the last few days of the new king of Thailand, who just might be, by the way, the wealthiest monarch on earth. That’s probably something that’s hard to absolutely document, but Forbes Magazine indicates that the king and his family are probably worth something like $30 billion. We’ll just consider that, very wealthy, but it’s been almost 70 years since Thailand has had a new king and a coronation. And the shift over those seven decades is absolutely massive, not only in Thailand but around the world. Events like this tend to point very symbolically to those fundamental changes.

Hannah Beech of the New York Times tells us, “There was gilt and gold, and yet more gold. For the first time in nearly seven decades, the Kingdom of Thailand crowned a new monarch on Saturday, in a coruscant display weighted with centuries of royal pageantry.

I just have to wonder how long it’s been since the New York Times has used the adjective “coruscant.” It basically means glittering and evidently they thought this was the right time to go into the vocabulary cupboard and bring out a word they hadn’t used in a very long time. Maybe the first coronation of a monarch in Thailand in 70 years was adequate reason.

Beech continues, “The ceremony to formally crown King Maha Vajiralongkorn began at 10:09 in the morning, the precise time designated by a royal augur.” That’s basically an astrologer.

“The king, 66, arrived at a gilded hall in Bangkok in a golden-hued car, donned a robe and pantaloon woven with shimmering thread and presided from a glittering, octagonal throne. Shortly after noon, as he was seated under a nine-tiered umbrella, a heavy crown on his head, the king’s transformation was complete.”

Listen to the next words. This is the New York Times. “He was now considered, in Thai tradition, a deity.”

The story continues. “The ceremony included a purification ceremony, with consecrated water drawn from holy sources across the country, then King Maha Vajiralongkorn received the Great Crown of Victory. It weighs 16 pounds, stands more than two feet tall and is studded with diamonds. The royal regalia includes other objects freighted with history — including a fly whisk made of the tail of a yak and a bejeweled sword of victory.”

So let’s just think about some of the worldview dimensions of the story. You’re looking at a very old monarchy. You are looking at the coronation of the 10th monarch in this royal line. You’re looking at his father, King Bhumibol, who died after serving for almost 70 years. He died in 2016. On The Briefing, we covered thoroughly his funeral, which you might remember, was a $70 million funeral in which a massive structure had been built for his royal cremation in which it was claimed theologically that the king who was a deity was going to have his soul liberated from his body in that cremation, that was worth $70 million.

But again, notice how theology is right here. The Christian Biblical worldview does not allow for the idea that the soul which is pure, is trapped in a body which is evil. That is not compatible with Scripture. Instead, we are told in the very opening chapters of Scripture that human beings are what we as Christians call a psychosomatic unity, body and soul together. We spoke a few minutes ago about eschatology. Christian eschatology says that we will as Christians be reunited with our bodies, not liberated from our bodies. And the age to come, we will have glorified bodies even as Christ in his resurrection had a glorified body. So we’re looking at an opposite theology here, but it certainly helps to explain the popularity of cremation in much of the East. If you believe that the soul is trapped in the body and upon death, you have the opportunity to liberate that soul by burning the body. Well, that’s at least a comprehensible idea, but it’s also comprehensible to understand that the people of Thailand look to their king is a deity.

But how exactly does the New York Times handle this? It handles it by rushing over the theology as quickly as possible, in order to get onto the glittering aspects of the coronation right down to the sacred object, including a flyswatter made from a yak’s tail. But I said that the coronation of this king points to massive changes, and in this case, just think about the change between the character of the late king and the new king. The old king was a picture of the Eastern respectability of stability. King Bhumibol was really the national symbol of Thailand for about seven decades. And just consider those seven decades, World War and the aftermath, the Cold War, all the events of the late 20th and even into the early 21st centuries. But his son is a playboy. He’s been known as a playboy ever since he was a young man. He has a new wife that is newly ceremonially married as she was elevated also to monarchial status, but she is this king’s fourth wife.

He had three other wives whom he divorced with whom he had seven children, including a young boy, age 12 who is assumed to be the new crown prince. So in this coronation, we have gone from a king who was a picture of Thai rectitude to a king who by the way, doesn’t even spend most of his time in the country of which he is king. He has a vast estate in Germany and for the last several years he has spent most of his time in Germany, not in Thailand.

By the way, the culmination of the entire coronation process took place at the temple of the Emerald Buddha where the king was designated as the official “royal patron of Buddhism.” Buddhism is the worldview held by the vast majority of Thai citizens, but there is also a representation of Hinduism amongst the Thai people. And so Hindu priests were also involved, although the supreme state religious officer is very clearly Buddhist.

Yesterday the Supreme Patriarch of Buddhism in Thailand gave a sermon in which he addressed what are known as the 10 rules of being king, and evidently those rules don’t include being married to a wife and staying married to her and living in Thailand. It would be very interesting to know what those 10 rules actually are. Thailand by the way has suffered from a bit of political instability in recent decades. There have been military coups and the military is an awesome power. The big question is going to be just what is that power differential between the throne and the military? You would think at least that might have something to do with whether, or not the king is actually physically in Thailand, but time will tell. In accepting the throne, the new king said, “I shall continue, preserve and build upon the royal legacy and shall reign with righteousness for the benefit and happiness of the people forever.”

Now let’s just point out that, that’s the kind of pledge any monarch would make on the day of coronation. The big question is whether or not that happens. The Christian worldview reminds us that the danger of putting this much power in any singular individual such as an actual monarch, even a constitutional monarch with this kind of power and wealth in Thailand, it really does indicate the fact that power tends to corrupt. In the case of this king is going to be very interesting to see if it might have something of the opposite result, but in any event, receiving this kind of power and wealth, there’s the stewardship that would test just about any single human being. But this is going to be an experiment lived out in public. One way or another in fairly short order, we’re going to know exactly who this king is as king and how exactly he will rule.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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