briefing, Albert Mohler

Friday, October 4, 2019

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

It’s Friday, October 4, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

The Parable of Justin Trudeau: Canada’s Great Liberal Hope Faces His Troubling Past as Federal Election Approaches

The United States is already fixated on the 2020 presidential election, but across our northern border, Canadians are also getting ready to vote and over a year earlier. There will be a Canadian federal election on October the 21st of this year. That’s just a matter of days away, and for Canadians, the political intensity is getting rather hot. The incumbent prime minister leading the incumbent liberal party is Justin Trudeau, the son of a former prime minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who, but for a matter of months was Prime Minister of Canada between 1968 and 1984.

But the reason we’re looking at Canada today is not only because we want to take a friendly look across our northern border, but also because there are huge issues of worldview consequence revealed in Canada, in the distinctions between Canada and America, and particularly in the 2019 federal election, which is just coming up.

The election is not turning out like the prime minister or his party had expected. Just consider the fact that a recent headline in the New York Times says this on the front page: “Face Darkening Erodes Image of Trudeau as Liberal Warrior.” Or take the current edition, at least the international edition, of Time Magazine with the cover: “The Reckoning: Justin Trudeau Confronts His Past and a Change to World Order.” That cover story is by Ian Bremmer. The immediate controversy isn’t data conflagration about the young prime minister. He has been faced with embarrassing photographs raised from his past that include what are described in the Canadian and the international media as both blackface and brownface representations. The prime minister has apologized, but the most embarrassing aspect of this very embarrassing situation for Trudeau is the fact that those photographs go back not only to the time when he was a student, but to the time when he was already a very liberal or progressive school teacher in British Columbia.

The photographs offer abundant evidence that has led many Canadians to ask the question, do we really know our prime minister? And as that headline in the New York Times indicates, it has been particularly difficult for Justin Trudeau’s image as a liberal warrior. The situation grew even more embarrassing when the prime minister had to admit that he wasn’t sure there would not be more photographs of similar kinds of racist representations. One young man confronted the prime minister with a question about the number of these embarrassing occasions, asking if the prime minister could round the number to the nearest five. The prime minister didn’t respond. He apparently couldn’t respond.

But even before this most immediate controversy, the prime minister heading the liberal party there in Canada had already faced huge embarrassments, charge of political corruption, and charges that the prime minister had abusively acted towards a woman who was an official in his government.

This is all one of the big issues we now consider when we understand the political landscape, but we also come to understand that in this landscape, these kinds of charges are particularly wounding to one who ran as a feminist, a progressive, a liberal, and as a sign of a very liberal future. That is the essence of that front page article in the New York Times by Dan Bilefsky and Ian Austen. They wrote, “Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada has long cast himself as a spokesman for the world’s liberals, standing up to President Trump, supporting women’s and indigenous rights, welcoming immigrants and fighting climate change and racism. But,” they wrote, “that calibrated image suffered a major blow this week when photos and a video emerged of the prime minister dressing up in blackface and brownface in the early 1990s and in 2001.”

The article then quotes Jean-Marc Léger, identified as chief executive of a leading polling company in Montreal who said, “Justin Trudeau has carefully crafted an image of what Canadians aspire to: hope, openness to the world and youth. The blackface episode,” he says, “shatters that perfect image and cast questions on his authenticity.”

The New York Times gives him credit for what it describes as a very diverse administration. “Women constitute nearly half of his cabinet. It also includes four Sikhs and a Somali-born immigration minister, reflecting the multiculturalism and inclusiveness on which Canada prides itself. But,” the article continues, “in Canada, he,” meaning Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, “is a deeply polarizing figure.” The article cites some Canadians, especially in the Western parts of the country, as in the United States in one sense, especially in the center of the nation, more conservative than the two coasts. The article cites those Canadians as believing that Trudeau is “an elitist do-gooder who was never up to the job.” That gets to another part of the issues surrounding Justin Trudeau. He hasn’t been very politically effective.

Now, this hearkens back to his father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who again was Canadian Prime Minister from 1968 to 1984. Trudeau was much like a Kennedy figure, analogous in Canada to John F. Kennedy and the other Kennedys in the United States, but especially John F. Kennedy. Pierre Elliott Trudeau was presented as the figure of the new Canada. He was sharply dressed. He was considered a sexy figure, and by the way, like other political figures to whom he has been compared, he became very well known for his romantic life and his womanizing. The elder Trudeau entered office in 1968 in a liberal wave, and he promised a new Canada, but he didn’t exactly deliver on those promises. But he did become both a catalyst for and a symbol of rather significant moral change to the left in Canada during those years. Describing the upcoming election, the Time Magazine cover story says, “Trudeau now finds himself defending not just the record of his four years in office, but also his personal sincerity, all while fending off a conservative challenger who is smart, likable, polished, and even younger than he is.”

Bremmer then asked the question, “How seriously can anyone take his impassioned speeches about diversity now?” But Bremmer contrasted that with the image that Justin Trudeau had when he came into office as prime minister in 2015: “Four years ago, the firstborn son of Pierre Trudeau, the cosmopolitan leftist who served nearly 16 years as prime minister, burst onto the global stage looking every inch the scion a resurgent liberalism. Trudeau’s party entered the campaign in third place, but when the votes were counted, the liberals had moved in one election from 36 to 184 seats in Parliament, the largest surge in Canada’s federal history.” But then just a few sentences later, Bremmer goes on to write, “That’s all history.”

But we do need to think back to 2015 when the younger Trudeau entered office in Canada and remember how many Americans on our left saw Justin Trudeau as the image of exactly the kind of president of the United States they had been hoping for. When instead, in 2016 Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, there was an outpouring of Canada envy. For example, an article by Melissa Gismondi published at the New York times reminds us of “The Downfall of Canada’s Dreamy Boyfriend.”

This article tells us, “It all started back in 2015 when Mr. Trudeau won a surprising majority victory over the long time conservative prime minister, Stephen Harper. He cozied up to then president Barack Obama and the two young charismatic world leaders had what the press affectionately called a bromance.” But then looking at some of the comments made after the 2016 American presidential election, the article points us to the fact that Rolling Stone put Justin Trudeau on its cover, and “Vogue did a sultry photo shoot with him and his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau.”

Then the article tells us, “Talk of Canadian exceptionalism made the rounds, the idea that while the United States was imploding, Canada was a beacon of hope in a world gone mad. It was a sentiment,” the New York Times tells us, “echoed by pundits on both sides of the border.” Alan Gopnik wrote an essay in The New Yorker reminding Americans, “We could have been Canada.” While Steven March, writing in the Toronto based publication, The Walrus, called Canada, “the last country on earth to believe in multiculturalism.”

So Justin Trudeau entered office as prime minister in 2015 as the symbol of the great liberal hope, and then after the 2016 election, many on the American left began dreaming, in Gopnik’s words, “We could have been Canada.” But here’s where the worldview issues get really interesting. The United States is not Canada. Even though the Canadian continental landmass is larger than the land mass of the United States of America, its population is much smaller. The current Canadian population just over 37 million. Compare that to the fact that the state of California has 39 million residents, and consider the fact that Canada has a very different history.

As we’re thinking about the development of worldviews, let’s just remind ourselves that history really matters. In one sense, there is a unique commonality between the United States and Canada. That very long border between the two nations has been effectively the longest, least militarized, most peaceful border in any recent centuries of human history. For that, we should be extremely thankful. Americans famously consider Canadians to be good neighbors, and the two nations do share a lot in common. The Canadian economy is very closely tied to the American economy, and Canadians very closely watch American politics. It doesn’t go so much the other way around, especially when it comes to politics. But Canadians have to watch American politics very closely, and that’s because the vast majority of Canadians will live within 200 miles of the American border. That’s a very important issue to consider.

The commonalities that link the United States and Canada also have to do with a great deal of history. We share a common history, especially when it comes to that English speaking tradition, that British tradition from which we are both born. But that took two different forms. Canada remained under the British crown during the American Revolution, particularly during the American Revolution. One of the issues that was at stake in the War of 1812 was the future of Canada. Had the United States been more militarily successful in 1812, the United States might have gained control of most of territorial Canada, at least English-speaking Canada. But that didn’t happen, and instead Canada continued a different history than the United States. By the way, many of the Tories, that is the sympathizers with the British who had been in the colonies, once the revolution was announced, they fled across the Northern border to Canada. Thus we have the same history, but we have a different history.

And, during the last two centuries, most of that time, Canada has existed as a dominion of the United Kingdom of Great Britain under the rule of the British Parliament and the British Monarch. It is no longer under that kind of rule. It is now in the British Commonwealth of Nations, but Queen Elizabeth II continues as the head of state of Canada. If nothing else, that has meant that when it comes to issues, theological, sociological, historical, political and especially moral, Canada has tended to track the European pattern to a far greater degree than the United States of America. In one sense, going across America’s northern border is at least coming close to going to Europe. Canada is a representative democracy and it operates under a charter of freedoms, but it is not just like the United States. It’s legal tradition is more like the British tradition. Its politics and its moral trajectory more clearly track that of Western Europe. Just consider issues like abortion and same sex marriage and homosexuality, but beyond that, an entire arena of moral issues.

Looking to the contrast between the United States and Canada in this light, The Economist of London recently ran an entire inside section entitled, “The Liberal North: A Special Report on Canada.” In this report, The Economist declared, “Despite their shared roots and culture, the two countries,” meaning the U.S. and Canada, “have always been distinctive and never more so than today. Just as the first rumbles of the Trump earthquake were being felt in America, in 2015 Canada, after ten years of rule by the Conservative Party elected the Liberal Party led by Mr. Trudeau, a telegenic former snowboard instructor who has set about implementing one of the most liberal social, economic and environmental agendas in the Western world. He has promised,” said The Economist,” to restore Canadian values that he said his conservative predecessor, Stephen Harper, had abandoned. To Canadians who feared that the country had ‘lost its compassionate and constructive voice in the world,’ the victorious Mr. Trudeau proclaimed, ‘We’re back.'” The next sentence is this: “As Canada turned leftwards, much of the rest of the rich world was turning the other way.”

When it comes, for example, to LGBTQ issues, Canada is aggressively more progressive than at least most regions of the United States, at least thus far. An example is given in article included in this special report in The Economist in which we are told about Bill Whatcott, identified as a conservative activist who was ordered to pay a transgender citizen in Canada $55,000 Canadian dollars for inflicting on her and other trans people what was declared to be by the British Columbia government “detestation and vilification based on their gender identity.” Canada, following the lead of many European nations, has redefined basic issues of rights leading to an expansive secular understanding of rights that comes into direct conflict, as we’ve already seen, with religious liberty, freedom of association and freedom of speech.

Canada has a Charter of Rights and Freedoms adopted in 1982, but as the article tells us, “Charter rights are not absolute. Tribunals can limit some rights, such as freedom of speech and religion, to enforce others like protecting transgender people from discrimination.” Now just connect this to the issue we discussed yesterday on The Briefing concerning the doctor who had a run in with the law here in the United Kingdom. The reality is that you see a very clear parallel, and it’s a very ominous sign of what could happen right here in the United States and what those who are the LGBT activists are demanding to take place in this country. The article cites a prominent Canadian critic of this kind of trajectory. That’s Jordan Peterson, a major Canadian public intellectual. He had told, in the midst of the debate over legislation, that authoritarianism is “started by people’s attempts to control the ideological and linguistic territory.” That is exactly what we are seeing here. What Jordan Peterson warned is exactly what has happened in Canada, and it’s a virus that is spreading elsewhere, particularly ominously, southward.

The specific issue to watch here is the fact that in the United States, no court can declare itself empowered to revise the U.S. Constitution or the Bill of Rights. That’s not to say they don’t do it, but they at least can’t admit they’re doing it. It’s actually quite different over the border in Canada where tribunals can even declare that what they are doing is renegotiating that Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Part II

Canada’s Progressive Trajectory of Secularization: Why Political Issues Always Reveal Morality and Theology

But next, we’re going to turn to another dimension that should concern us and interest us as we look to Canada. Two articles that I will point to, one in The National Post, a major Canadian newspaper with the headline, “Liberals are the only ones trying to reopen abortion debate, Andrew Sheer says.” The second is an article that appeared telling us that Canada has only a marginal Christian right. The reporter in that case is Jonathan Malloy.

Looking to the article about abortion, here’s the big issue: Andrew Sheer is leading the conservative party in Canada. He’s even younger than Justin Trudeau, and there really is at least the possibility that he will become the prime minister of Canada. He’s leading a Conservative Party, the Conservative Party identified as much too conservative by Justin Trudeau when he won that victory over the conservatives just back in 2015.

But what does it mean when we have the conservative leader complaining that it is the liberals who are trying to reopen the abortion debate? Well, it’s because the Conservative Party under this leader’s direction does not want to reopen the abortion debate. It doesn’t want to push or to even admit to wanting to push any kind of pro-life agenda.

The Conservative Party leader is on the defensive because he is identified in this article as a practicing Catholic who voted in favor of anti-abortion bills in the past and drew support from social conservatives in the party leadership race in 2017 by pointing to that record. What’s the issue here? He’s not pointing to it now. Wanting now to win not a parliamentary race for a seat, but rather a parliamentary victory for his entire party in a federal election nationwide, it’s clear that the conservative leader doesn’t want his party to appear very conservative. When a pro-life candidate for a parliamentary seat within his party was caught red-handed making a pro-life assertion, well, you had the Canadian Conservative Party leader backtracking and saying, “Wait just a minute. It’s just the liberals complaining about this. It’s only the liberals who want to reopen the abortion debate.”

That in itself indicates something of that vast divide between the United States and Canada, because the more conservative party in the United States, the Republican Party, has taken ever more consistent stands affirming a pro-life understanding, affirming the sanctity and dignity of unborn human life. That has been translated into everything from nominations to the United States Supreme Court, to support for states and legislation, and also in very significant executive orders and regulatory policies driven through the American governmental system.

The other article I mentioned points to the fact that there is only a marginal Christian right. There’s only a marginal influence from traditional Christians and conservative Christians in Canada. Malloy writes, “The political power of the American Christian right naturally leads to interest in speculation about the influence of similar groups in Canada, but social conservatives and evangelical Christians are a marginal force in Canadian politics, even in the Conservative Party, and research finds their dynamics here are quite different than in the United States.” He then asked the question, “Is there a Canadian Christian right at all?” He answers yes and no.

Malloy goes on to remind us that evangelical Christians, generously defined, amount to only about 10-15% of the Canadian population, but that is generously defined and it covers an awful lot of territory, including some who would be described on, if this makes any sense, the evangelical left. One indication of this is that it’s not only the current leader of the Conservative Party who takes this kind of posture, but it was the last leader, the former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who during his ten years of leadership also resisted any efforts by members of his party “to introduce abortion related bills and motions.”

So, it turns out that worldview matters, and behind that, history matters, language matters, moral traditions matter, and of course secularization matters. Perhaps the most fundamental issue for us to note is that Canada is far further along the trajectory of secularization and the loss of any kind of overt Christianity than is the United States of America, even in 2019. This reminds Christians of the fact that when we are dealing with issues of right and wrong, not to mention life and death, inevitably the issue turns to theology.

Part III

Updating the Race for the 2020 Democratic Nomination for President: Big News and Major Developments

But finally, as the week comes to a close, let’s consider some of the developments this week in the American 2020 presidential election picture. Especially on the Democratic side, the big headline news was reported internationally in The Financial Times, “Heart Scare Forces Bernie Sanders to Halt Push for U.S. Presidency.” Sanders is the independent Senator who’s running for the Democratic presidential nomination. The 78-year-old openly identified as a Democratic Socialist. In the 2016 race, he ran a surprisingly strong contest against Hillary Clinton, eventually losing the nomination, but we now know winning the argument, winning the hearts of the Democratic Party, and helping that party to lurch far to the left, so much so that he really set the ideological, moral and political terms for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination race.

But he is 78 years old. He underwent an emergency heart procedure. No doubt the process of running for a presidential nomination is grueling for anyone. Even though he has not announced the end of his presidential campaign, but only the cessation or pause in campaign activities, it is really unlikely that he’s going to be able to rejoin the race in any meaningful way, if not for his health then for the fact that this particular health scare is going to remind Democratic voters that they had better support someone who is going to be able to see their aspirations through.

Of course, the other big development has to do with the fact that even as most of the headlines are about the impeachment inquiry started in the House of Representatives concerning the President of the United States, Donald Trump, the reality is that they already big loser in this is the former Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden, whose story along with that of his son, Hunter Biden, has now become an embarrassment to the campaign and just might be a political impediment that’s too great to overcome. So in the course of just a couple of weeks, we could have the Democratic race clarified tremendously. We’ll know that more over the next several days, but it is unlikely that Joe Biden, running as something of the more moderate candidate of the left in 2020, is going to be able to gain support from those who had supported Bernie Sanders.

The big winner is likely to be Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic Senator whose policies are so close to those of Bernie Sanders. She is not young herself. She is 70 years old. That might become more of an issue after the Sander’s health scare. But in any event, at this point, she has already been gaining in the polls. She is significantly to the left of Joe Biden. She’s running far to the left of where Hillary Clinton ran in 2016. In just four years, we have seen the political transformation of one of the two major political parties in the United States, and we just might see, in the next few days, that process clarified and amplified.

Just as we saw looking across our Northern border, when you talk about politics, eventually you’re talking about theology because politics, when it is most meaningful, really is dealing with the biggest questions of truth and righteousness and justice, freedom and liberty. Those questions can’t be dealt with apart from a basic understanding of what it means to be human, an understanding of why human beings have rights, why human life is to be recognized as possessing dignity, what that means. As I said in reference to Canada, the same holds true in the United States. When you are talking honestly about politics, eventually you’ll find yourself talking about theology. Christians understand why.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

I want to speak to you about Southern Seminary’s Preview Day on October the 18th. In our secular age, there’s an increasing need for ministers of the gospel, who will receive the highest level of biblical and theological training for a lifetime of faithfulness in the pulpit, in the church, and in the world. Today’s pastors and ministers don’t need less theology, they need more. They don’t need less apologetics, they need more. They don’t need less Bible, they need far more. It is to that, that Southern Seminary is committed. Come to Preview Day on October the 18th and you’ll have the chance to see Southern Seminary for yourself. Meet our faculty and learn why Southern Seminary is trusted for truth and for theological education for ministry.

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I’m speaking to you from the ancient Roman city of York in England, and I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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