Monday, August 17, 2020
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Monday, August 17, 2020. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
So, What Exactly Is an Interfaith Service?
Well, we're less than 80 days from election day in the United States. The general election looms before us, and the final weeks are always frenetic and always fascinating. This week, the Democratic National Convention was to have met in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Originally, by the way, it was to have met in July the 13th through the 16th, but that was delayed because of the pandemic, but it can be delayed no longer, but it's not going to be held with the delegates or with the major political figures actually in Minneapolis.
Even though the 2020 democratic convention is said to be in Minneapolis, in reality, it is mostly in the air, that is, virtual. The same thing is going to be true the next week about the Republican National Convention that was to have been in Charlotte, and then it was announced to have been partially moved to Jacksonville, but now is really going to be held in neither place. The Republicans, and most importantly, the Trump campaign, have not announced where their major events are going to take place, most importantly, the president's acceptance speech.
But when it comes to the Democratic side, everything gets underway today. Given the pandemic and the context of what is now an unprecedented virtual convention, it's basically being turned into something of a cross between a television program and a Zoom meeting. The events are being compressed into the evenings, five nights this week, Monday through Friday. The capstone event of course is the acceptance speech by the 2020 Democratic nominee, Joe Biden.
We're going to be taking a much closer look at the former vice president and days ahead. One way or another, Americans are going to have to hear from Joe Biden over the course of the next several weeks. Again, extremely interesting. But as you think about the Democratic National Convention, you think about the Democratic Party. Just keep in mind that the party conventions on both sides used to mean far more than they mean now. They used to be an actual decision to be made. Sometimes there was enormous mystery, floor fights on big issues, including who would be the nominees. That ended basically in 1972 for the Democrats and 1979 for the Republicans. For the better part of the last, say, 40 to 50 years, very little mystery, really by the time the two party conventions are held. But at the same time, the modern party convention is something between a massive infomercial and a big political party, but you have to have the people in the room for that to make sense.
Americans are accustomed every four years to seeing the two parties, the Democrats with their symbolism of the donkey and the Republicans with their symbolism of the elephants, lots of red, white, and blue, and lots of balloons. But now, everything's going to be virtual. We'll be turning to look at the events that take place, most importantly, the words that are said, the platforms that are adopted. But right now, as we look at the Democrats, one of the important things to note is what happened yesterday on Sunday, 1:00 yesterday, what was built as an interfaith service to kick off the Democratic National Convention.
Now, there's a huge background to this in several different dimensions. One is the fact that the Democratic Party has trended more secular than the Republican Party for the better part of the last 50 to 60 years, but that is a trend that is now even accelerating. If you go back almost a decade, a team of researchers at Harvard University found that the greatest single predictor of how a voter would cast the vote in the presidential election between the Democrat or the Republican was answering the question, "Did the voter attend a church service the Sunday before the Tuesday of the election?" If the answer was yes, the voter overwhelmingly voted Republican. If not, overwhelmingly Democratic. Now, there's some middle ground, but the middle ground is disappearing fast. But as you look at the Democratic Party in 2020, there is a political advantage to appearing not to be absolutely secular, but just more secular or differently religious than the Republican Party. What does that look like? Well, that's exactly what took place yesterday in this interfaith service.
What does interfaith mean? Well, it means you have representatives of different religions, all having a part, having their say, being identified by their religion, but participating together in one service. Jack Jenkins for Religion News Service put it this way, "Democrats plan to kick off their party convention with an interfaith service that officials say is designed to represent diverse faith communities and further the party's theme that its presumptive democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, will restore the soul of America."
Lots to look at here. If you look at the interfaith service, and I watched it yesterday, there were representatives of Islam, Hinduism. You had Jewish representatives. You had those who were identified in one sense as evangelicals. That bears a closer look. One of the most interesting things politically is that there was no prominently identified Roman Catholic participating in the event at all. Given the history of the Democratic Party, that seems almost impossible, but nonetheless, it was true. There were references to the Upanishads and also to other Hindu writings. One of the most interesting aspects of the entire event is that there were words given by Greg Epstein, who is the humanist chaplain at Harvard University, humanist, as in very much not believing in God.
You also have the development of the group known as Believers for Biden. Believer is an interesting word here. The organization is headed as one initiative by Josh Dicksonon of the Biden campaign. He's identified as the director of faith outreach for the Biden campaign. Again, very interesting. We're told that he also worked in a similar capacity for the Obama campaign in 2012. Before looking at the Believers for Biden organization, let's talk just a bit from a Christian worldview perspective about an interfaith service. Now, this is an issue that has caused controversy among Christians and rightly so. I found myself in the midst of that controversy, particularly in the year 2001.
After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, I was invited to participate at the national level in several interfaith events. There were lots of religious leaders who did participate in those events, but I could not, and I did not. And I could not on principle. It is because as a Christian theologian, and in particular as a confessional Protestant evangelical, I do not believe that faith as in interfaith is anything real or for that matter to be encouraged.
Now, in terms of religious freedom, religious liberty, I'm going to speak up on behalf of the liberty of persons to exercise their religion by their constitutional right. But at the same time as a Christian theologian, I cannot act as if I believe that faith is just some kind of general substance that can be directed towards just any object. The great Solas of the Reformation that summarized the gospel, most importantly here, grace alone and faith alone take us back to Ephesians 2:8 and 9, where Paul tells us that we are saved by grace through faith.
But the faith that saves--and this is crucial and central to Christianity--is not some substance that is merely exercised. It's not like a muscle that we just use. Faith is defined by its object, and the faith that saves is, well, here's another of the Solas of the Reformation, faith in Christ. We as Christians actually don't believe there's any merit or any good whatsoever that might be described as faith in faith, but that is increasingly the language and the confusion of the world around us.
You have people described as being people of faith, a man of faith, a woman of faith, when in reality, none of that is really recognized by historic biblical Christianity as anything other than confusion. The interfaith service that began the Democratic National Convention yesterday is an example of exactly what I'm talking about. You had people who appeared as if they are basically about the same thing, and that would include an imam and a rabbi. You just go down the list.
You had representatives of Hinduism and even the humanist chaplain at Harvard who doesn't believe in God at all. In this case, interfaith really doesn't have to mean any defined faith whatsoever, but even when it comes to those defined phase, if you create an interfaith context, it at least presents to the public the fact that these are just the different brands of one big business. The big business is religion. The brands are Hinduism and Islam. You have Judaism. Well, just go down the list, Buddhism, Christianity. That's not something that a biblical Christian can affirm. That's not something that I could participate in, but it actually is part and parcel of what's being presented as the faith approach--yes, it's defined that way--of the Democratic National Convention.
Now, here's what's interesting. That is likely to be attractive to whatever marginal part of our population is interested in some kind of faith in general. But here's one of the most amazing things, if you look at the American people, it is clear that there are very few who are interested any longer in some kind of generic religion. That pseudo-cultural Christianity that used to describe so much of the cultural mainstream in the United States has basically moved in two directions, one of two directions, either towards a basically secular orientation or towards a more theologically defined orientation. Another way of putting it is that if you were to look at the lineup of the speakers, the prayers, the appearers in that interfaith service yesterday before the Democratic National Convention, they would not only be imams and rabbis and others representing different religions. They would be the kind of imams and rabbis and ministers who would participate in such a meeting in the first place.
“Believers for Biden?” The Democrats Try “Faith Outreach”
Looking more specifically at Joe Biden, it is clear that he is being presented by his campaign and by the DNC as a religious man, as a man of faith. CNN ran a story back in July with a headline, "Joe Biden is a Man of Faith." That could help him win over some white evangelicals, the reporter, Sarah Mucha, again, for CNN. It turns out that the language about a battle for the soul of America and about Biden attempting to restore the soul of America is pretty carefully crafted in order to sound adequately religious. The article at CNN actually doesn't hold out much hope that there will be much of an evangelical turnout when it comes to the vote for Joe Biden and the Democratic ticket.
But when you're talking about a national election, it comes down sometimes in some places and some precincts and States to a marginal number of votes, and so both campaigns are going to be going after these voters. The Democrats might hope to pick up a few of these votes, and that few might matter in some circumstances. Michael Wear, who had directed the faith outreach for president Barack Obama's 2012 campaign said, "If Joe Biden gets 23% or higher of the white evangelical vote, he wins the election." Now, I'm not sure exactly how he came up with exactly 23%, but nonetheless, that either expresses his statistical confidence or at least the fact that even if the votes picked up are marginal, they might actually be consequential.
But this is where things get more interesting if we actually think in theological terms, and that's what we do, that's what we're going to do as we think about the claim that Joe Biden is a man of faith. Is he or isn't he? Well, I'll simply let him use his own words that he's a man of faith, but here's where from a Christian worldview perspective, I want to say that in some sense, Christians believe that every single human being made in the image of God is an individual of faith, a man, a woman, a boy, or a girl of faith, which is to say we don't believe that there is any vacuum or spiritual vacuum in the human heart. We believe it's filled by something. The question is what is it?
Now, when it comes to Joe Biden, he very publicly has identified for decades as a practicing Roman Catholic, the very term that is used in this CNN report, "a practicing Roman Catholic." But we're also talking about the same Joe Biden that on crucial issues is directly in opposition to the official and urgent teaching of the Roman Catholic church, so much so that even in the course of the primaries early on, there were questions about whether certain Catholic priests would allow him to come to the mass.
This has been an ongoing issue where so many of the Democratic left claim a Catholic identity, even as they flaunt their opposition to the historic teaching of the Roman Catholic church, most particularly on issues related to gender and sexuality and abortion. This is true not only of Joe Biden, the former vice president, but of the current highest ranking democratic office holder in the United States, Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House. Both of them clearly identify as Roman Catholic.
They identify themselves as practicing Roman Catholics, but they don't practice what the Roman Catholic church teaches when it comes to many crucial moral issues. When it comes to Joe Biden, he's now reached the point in 2020 that he abandoned his own long-standing commitment to support the Hyde amendment, which prevents taxpayer money being used on abortion. You have Joe Biden who tried to have the same kind of argument as the late New York governor, Mario Cuomo, for years saying that he is privately opposed to abortion, but wouldn't publicly inflict his convictions on others, which meant a pro-abortion policy. But you don't even hear that kind of language anymore.
Joe Biden, under the pressure of gaining the 2020 Democratic nomination, just forfeited the decades of his public support for the Hyde Amendment because, well, things are different now. He had to change his position in order to gain the nomination. Kristen Day and Xavier Bisits, writing for the Wall Street Journal an article, "The Democrat's Biden Doesn't Want," point to the fact that even as Joe Biden and the Biden campaign have created this Believers for Biden movement, they aren't reaching out at all to pro-life Democrats, which according to a lot of research, will number more than 20 million potential Democratic votes.
Now, here's something really interesting. If the Democratic Party were not so ardently sold-out to the abortion industry and to abortion rights in any form, by any description, the Democratic Party might actually pick up more votes if it were less ardently pro-abortion than it's going to by some kind of generalized and neutralized approach to believers for Biden. But it's not going to do that, because as I have argued for years, abortion is the sacrament of the political left in this country. If it's theological conviction versus abortion, abortion is going to win in that context every single time. Kristen Day, and Xavier Bisits begin their article in the Wall Street Journal this way, "Joe Biden would be the most pro-abortion president in history. Although he was once a moderate, the Catholic former vice president now describes abortion as essential healthcare cave to the abortion industry on taxpayer funding and has been proudly endorsed by Naral Pro-Choice America, an organization that advocates for the repeal of all regulations on abortion."
The stunning thing, which they point out and others have pointed out before, is that the Democratic Party has decided it will slam the door on pro-life Democrats, and to secure the door against any incursion on abortion whatsoever. The abortion-rights movement and the abortion industry demand 150% support, and that's what the Democratic Party is determined to give them. It's also interesting that Kristen Day and Xavier Bisits don't think much of the group Believers for Biden.
They write, "The much-hyped group Believers for Biden is a bona fide flop: It had only 26 followers on Facebook a week after being created." I just had to look at that again, only 26 followers a week after it had been created and announced. I'll agree, that's a bona fide flop. There will be other religious symbolism as a part of the Democratic National Convention, and there will be a host of other issues we are going to confront and we will address.
It's interesting to note that the Jesuit father, James Martin, is going to deliver an invocation at the DNC. Again, you're talking about someone who is ardently in favor, even demanding, changing the official teaching of the Roman Catholic church on the issue of homosexuality, just about everything described by LGBTQ. When you think about the kind of Catholic that the DNC would invite to pray, well, evidently, that's the kind of Catholic, and it's going to be the same way with anyone identified as evangelical. You can pretty much go down the list. As I say, day by day, we're going to be taking a very interesting look at the unfolding of the Democratic National Convention, not because there could be many surprises per se, but there are going to be some extremely important dimensions that we will need to consider.
Historic Breakthrough in the Middle East: Agreement Announced by the United Arab Emirates, Israel, and the United States
But on the international scene, massively important news when you had the leaders of the United Arab Emirates and the state of Israel along with leaders of the United States announce that the Israelis and the UAE had agreed to establish full diplomatic ties in what is rightly described as a landmark deal.
This is absolutely massive. There have been thus far only two Arab nations that have formerly recognized Israel and extended diplomatic privileges. That would be Egypt under Anwar Sadat in 1979 after the Camp David Peace Accords, and then Jordan in 1994, after the signing of the Oslo Accords, only those two Arab nations. But over the course of the last several decades, there have been some extremely interesting developments.
On The Briefing, from time to time, I talk about that great and violent divide between the Sunni and Shiite Muslims. The majority of the Muslim world is Sunni. The minority is Shiite. The reality is that there are extremists on both sides, and both are absolutely committed to a worldwide conquest for Islam. But they represent two warring factions quite literally in Islam, and they have for centuries.
You're looking at the fact that much of the Arab world right now, which a half century ago would have said that Israel is its main enemy, and they were committed to the absolute destruction of Israel. They now see Israel in very different terms, not so much theologically as geopolitically. They need Israel as an ally against Iran. That is the largest Shiite power, and an expansionist and violent Shiite power. You're talking about an Iran, blamed for attacks on refineries in Saudi Arabia and ongoing efforts to try to subvert the royal houses of most of the Gulf States, and destabilization throughout most of the Arab world.
Now, all of a sudden, the Trump administration is making the historic announcement about this agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Two things to note here, this is a massively important story. The White House isn't hyping this story. It is as important as the headlines indicated and as the White House statements emphatically declared. This is history. This would be only the third majority-Arab nation, an Islamic-dominated nation in every way, in all of the history of Israel since 1948 to formally recognize it. That's massive.
What had to happen in this time? Well, for one thing, you had to have the Palestinian issue enter a very different phase. The Palestinians were displaced by the creation of Israel in 1948, and there had been ongoing warfare for some time. The resistance among the organized Palestinian groups is that they are opposed to the very existence of Israel. In ethical terms, we're talking about two incommensurate claims. The claims of the Palestinians and the claims of the Israelis are not resolvable in plain words, and in plain logic.
Over the course of time, you would think that some kind of negotiated agreement would come out of this, especially since we're talking about 70 years and more, and there have been moments when it appeared that an agreement was close, but just about every single time, the Palestinian leadership refused to go forward with the agreement in one way or another most famously after Oslo. Furthermore, the Palestinian leadership has lost a great deal of the confidence coming from other Arab nations, such as the UAE.
There's reason behind that. The Palestinians are historically beleaguered people and oppressed and deprived people, but the argument can be made that they were more oppressed by other Arab states and even by Israel, which after all was not created just by Israel, but by the United Nations in 1948 as a Jewish state. Furthermore, most of the Christians in that part of the world are actually Palestinians in one sense or another, but nonetheless, you are talking about an intractable problem.
You're also talking about the fact that the Palestinian leadership is basically discredited. Mahmoud Abbas, who is the current head of the Palestinian National Authority, was elected to a four-year term in 2005. There have been no basic elections since then. You might say he's in the 16th year of his four-year term. Furthermore, throughout the Palestinian Territories, the terrorist group Hamas has a great deal of influence.
The other big development has been the threat from Iran, the Shiite nation. That has caused the Gulf States in particular to grow much closer to Israel, first, in terms of sharing military and espionage intelligence. That's turned out to be absolutely crucial, evidently so crucial that there have been substantial backdoor discussions now for a matter of decades. Israel, especially under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has been trying to bring those discussions into the public eye.
But when you're looking at Islamic-dominated states, such as the Gulf States, this would be politically dangerous, or at least it had been, but over the years, there've been hints that these kinds of discussions were going on. Thus, the announcement that came at the end of last week did not come entirely out of the blue, but that doesn't diminish in any sense the fact that it is a massively important historical development. Just to remind ourselves, the United Arab Emirates is the modern representation of the bringing together of seven historic Gulf State Emirates.
We're talking about seven different principalities, historically ruled by an emir or a prince, the most famous among them Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Prince Khalifa, the emir of Abu Dhabi is the current president of the United Arab Emirates. We're talking about a nation that is not so wealthy in land, but it is extremely wealthy and powerful in other industries and assets. The UAE ranked sixth in the entire world amongst nations when it comes to oil reserves, and seventh when it comes to reserves of natural gas. That amounts to billions and eventually trillions of dollars.
A statement released jointly by the United States, the state of Israel and the United Arab Emirates last Thursday stated, "The historic diplomatic breakthrough will advance peace in the middle East region." The statement went on to praise "the courage of the United Arab Emirates and Israel to chart a new path that will unlock the great potential in the region." The Trump White House announced that as a part of the negotiations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel agreed to at least temporarily suspend efforts to try to annex territory on the West bank.
In return, the United Arab Emirates went on to say that it would move towards formal recognition and diplomatic relations with Israel. Diplomacy is however never just a matter of principles. It is also a matter of personalities, and the United States in the form of the Trump administration was actively involved in these negotiations. President Trump himself was very supportive, and it was he who arranged for the announcement of the historic agreement.
He was joined by his advisor and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, along with us ambassador to Israel, David Friedman and Brian Hook, who represents the United States state department special envoy for Iran. It was Mr. Hook who gave perhaps the most interesting statement of the entire event when he explained, "Peace between the Arabs and the Israelis is Iran's worst nightmare." The year 2020 is likely to be remembered for many reasons, but in terms of world history, this ought to be one of those reasons. We need to pray and hope that this will move forward towards the accomplishment of what was announced last week in Washington. For the state of Israel and for the United Arab Emirates, this is a very big development and a very good one.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/AlbertMohler. Today's historic in the life of Southern Seminary and Boyce college. Today, we welcome students and professors back into the classrooms on the Southern Seminary/Boyce College campus. We are so incredibly thankful, and we pray for God's protection as we move through this semester, and especially because what's going on here in the teaching of future Christian leaders and ministers is not only of temporal, but eternal significance. It's history today on this campus, and of course, we have not only the on-campus programs, but all of our online programs. For more information on Southern Seminary, just go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce college, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.