The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

It’s Tuesday, September 28, 2021.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.


Part I

An Historic Federal Election in Germany: Why Should it Matter in America? What Is at Stake?

We often look at the layout, the landscape of American politics and understand what that tells us about our culture. History is a part of that, of course. Ideology is a part of that, and the contemporary political moment often sets the stage for that discussion. But that’s not true just of the United States, it’s true also of other nations. And most importantly, we need to take a look at Germany.

On Sunday, Germany’s voters went to the polls in an election that will have a great deal to do with the future of Germany, that great nation at the very center of Europe, and will inevitably have ricochet effects, cultural influence elsewhere as well. Let’s look at what happened.

Well, the setup for this election was that for the first time in 16 years, Germany will have a new chancellor. Germany follows a parliamentary system of government. The chancellor, a title going all the way back to the medieval era, the chancellor functions as the head of government. Germany also has a federal president who is the head of state. So, if you compare it with Britain, Britain has a parliament, Britain has a prime minister. The Prime Minister is in roughly a similar capacity to Germany’s chancellor. Germany has an elected president like some other parliamentary nations, whereas Britain has a monarchy, but you understand you’re looking at a pretty traditional parliamentary system of government.

But as is the case in most modern parliamentary systems of government, you often have periods of the kind of rule that comes only by coalitions. You have to form a winning coalition in order to gain enough seats to control the government, and therefore to have your party at the head, as the head of government.

In the case of Angela Merkel, who has been Chancellor of Germany for 16 years, you really have a great deal of modern European history represented in one political life. For most of Angela Merkel’s life, Germany was not one nation, it was two nations. A legacy of the period of the Cold War and the aftermath of World War II. Germany was cut in two, and that was not just a matter of East/West divisions with the Soviet Union being the patron to, and indeed the totalitarian protector of what was known as the German Democratic Republic, which by the way, was German, but wasn’t democratic and wasn’t a republic.

You had basically a Soviet vassal state there in the Eastern portion of Germany. And then in the West, you had the Federal Republic of Germany. And it was, after 1945 when the federal Republic of Germany began to be established, it was a democratic nation that basically understood its allies to be the United States, Great Britain, France, other Western democracies.

For most of Angela Merkel’s life, those two Germanys were understood as rivals. And for at least most of Angela Merkel’s life, the other great powers really didn’t want a reunified Germany. One of the lessons of the 19th and 20th centuries, according to most of the nations of Europe, would be a danger of a unified Germany.

Now, you think about this, and most Americans don’t know, or at least don’t reflect upon the fact, that Germany as a modern state, a unified state, a federal union, really only goes back to the 1870s. It was Bismark, known as the Iron Chancellor, during the monarchial age, during the age of what became the German empire, who created this modern unified Germany.

But this takes us to the reality of great power politics. And here we need to understand that worldview issues are very, very, very close at hand. In great power politics, you have the question, especially in the cramped quarters of Europe, as to how all these different nations with their different languages and their different ambitions and their different geography, how they are going to live together.

For the better part of the last several centuries, they have rarely lived together in peace. And the catalyst for so much of that armed conflict in European history is what is now known as Germany. It is the region known as central Europe. Why would that be such a tumultuous area? Why would it so often be the catalyst for massive warfare, including what we now know as two horrifying World Wars in the 20th century?

The reason is that if you are going to control Europe, you have to control the center of Europe. Or just think of the center of Europe as being between massive empires. On the one hand in the West, just think most importantly of the English or the British and the French empires, and then think in the east of Russia. And understand the in-between the Russian empire and in the West, what would have been the Austrian-Hungarian empire before World War I, and you had the British empire and the French empire. Between those great adversarial empires was the middle of Europe, what is often referred to as Mitteleuropa.

That middle of Europe is an area of so many different ethnicities, so many different languages. Many of these countries, very small. Many of these ethnicities outnumbered by hostile neighbors that encircled them. The reality is that Europe came to understand that it couldn’t live without a unified Germany, and then it found out again and again, it couldn’t live with a unified Germany.

One way to read European history, and by the way, the history of the United States is far more intertwined with this German and European history than you might think, all the way up until the Second World War. Until even that period, just about every major nation had to wonder what Germany’s ambitions were.

A weak Germany was considered a danger because that meant that from the West, the French and the British would have too much influence. And if a weak Germany was a problem to the West, it was also a problem even more often to the East, because Russia was always looking for a buffer in its West to protect it from invasion, from incursion, and also to protect its own political interest and political sphere.

Now you say, what are the great worldview issues here? Well, they are all over the place. For one thing, you have a Genesis 3 understanding of the world that tells us that sin operates everywhere, all the time, and that sin often represents itself in a toxic form of national aggression, and that national aggression can move in so many different directions. Just look at all the wars, just to give an example, of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries in Europe. If you draw the arrows of marching armies, those arrows are going to be all over the map almost all the time.

During the period of the cold war, when you had Germany divided, that division was actually something of a tacit agreement between the forces representing the Soviet union and the allies in the democracies of the West. Why would they have basically, tacitly, quietly agreed upon this division of Germany?

Well, it’s because early on you had Britain and France, twice driven to the point of near national extinction by world war with Germany. They were determined that, that would not happen again. If that meant that Germany had to be partitioned between the East and the West, then so be it. You have these two massive superpowers left in the aftermath of World War II. You have the Soviet Union and its very aggressive sphere of influence for Marxism and Communism, worldwide communist revolution. And then you had the United States, NATO, the Western allies, very much concerned with preserving not only their liberties and dignities, but the liberties and dignities of people elsewhere in the world.

And so, everyone understood that there was the very real possibility of an armed conflict between the USSR and the United States. And thus, Germany played that very crucial role right down to just one city, the city of Berlin, right down to the city of Berlin that had an infamous wall running right through that city. Berlin was partitioned as a smaller symbol of the entire partition of the nation of Germany into two different national parts.

When it became clear towards the end of the 20th century, and in particular in the late 1980s, that the Soviet union was going to collapse. What was first to collapse was its sphere of influence. The nations that had been in what was called The Warsaw Pact. And when you saw that kind of collapse taking place, there was a yearning for liberty, there was also an absolute economic breakdown. If you had been able, during the period of the Cold War, to traverse, to go back and forth between East Berlin and West Berlin, here’s what you would have seen. Two dramatically different worlds.

The language would have been the same, but the reality would have been incredibly different. And you would have seen it in the fact that the distinction between the East where market scarcity was common, where you had the Soviet architecture in all of its banality and brutalism, where you had repression and censorship. Right across the wall, visible to many people in the East was actually the cornucopia of what became Berlin and the West, representing West Germany, representing modern freedom, modern democratic liberty, representing a modern consumer economy.

You had massive stores in West Berlin, such as the very famous KaDeWe. And you had the markets full of produce and you had the streets filled with cars, including very, very expensive modern German vehicles. Whereas in the East, you had the Trabant, a communist car, which was just as beautiful and just as efficient and just as faithful as your imagination tells you.

But here’s something that many modern people really might not think about, and that is the fact that after the fall of Soviet totalitarianism, first outside of the Soviet union in those satellite states, for one thing, East Germany or the German Democratic Republic was functionally bankrupt, and not even the Soviet Union could protect it from an inevitable economic failure, and here’s the issue. That absolute economic failure was right next door, right within sight of a massive economic miracle that represented the democracy in the West, West Germany.

Part II

The Ghosts of History and the Future of Germany: Great Power Politics and Looming Worldview Issues

But here’s what you might not have known. You might not have noticed, even during the period when the Soviet Union was growing weak and breaking apart, many in the West weren’t certain that they even wanted a unified Germany. France is pretty sure that it didn’t want a unified Germany. Britain, under Margaret Thatcher, had to come to a begrudging understanding that it would allow a unified Germany. The United States of America, early on, was for a unified Germany, because Americans understood a unified Germany to be a picture of the disaster of communism. And also, the Americans understood a unified Germany to be a permanent check upon the territorial ambitions of whatever would be the future of the USSR.

The political architect of the reunification of Germany was the late chancellor Helmut Kohl. Helmut Kohl, from the West, basically put together the plan that brought the two Germanys together and did so basically at lightning speed. And furthermore, he led the West German government to make decisions, for instance about the economic integration of the East that turned out to be absolutely courageous. In retrospect, those were the decisions that made the reunification of Germany possible.

But here’s something that many Americans don’t recognize. Angela Merkel has been the Chancellor of Germany for the last 16 years, but Angela Merkel isn’t from the West. She is from the East. So in so many ways, Angela Merkel, who is known as something of a mother figure in modern unified Germany, she also represents that modern history of Germany, that post-war, post-USSR history of Germany in one person. And I simply want to raise that in order for you to understand that many Germans alive today can’t really imagine Germany without Angela Merkel as Chancellor.

Angela Merkel has been an anchor in Germany for the last 16 years, sometimes to the irritation of the United States, because one of her ambitions has been for Germany to have a distinctive role in the world. By the way, Germany has the fourth largest economy in the world. It’s one of the reasons why so many neighbors thought of Germany is always so dangerous. It is because of its geography, because of its central location, because of its history, because of its industry, Germany is going to be strong, very strong.

Angela Merkel understood that Germany after World War II was not going to be a great military power. It was not going to be an imperial power, a nation with an empire. But she understood that Germany could have massive political and cultural power. She wanted Germany, at times, to have a role very distinct from that of the United States. And as I said, sometimes that irritated leaders in the United States. But at the same time, she achieved a tremendous stability for Germany that everyone appreciated, not only inside Germany, but outside Germany as well. There was great respect for Angela Merkel in the United States, even when she irritated American presidents.

That is to say that a stable Germany, a stable, peaceful Germany, is a great gift not only to Germans, not only to the immediate nations neighboring Germany, not only to Europe, but to the entire world. And in that sense, Germany is a very important partner to the United States and other Western allies as you think about the total global picture.

But there’s something else Christians need to think about. And that is that if you take nations and you look at their political systems and you say in Britain, for example, there are the two major parties now. There’s the Labor Party, which was officially Socialist and is still the party of the left. And you have the Tory Party, the Conservatives, which is at least, if nothing else, far more conservative than the Labor Party and has that continuous Tory history and the history of the Conservative Party. You understand how political debates end up in great Britain, and you understand why there are parallels here in the United States. Harder to come up with exact parallels when you look at the German political system.

The German political system is a system of the middle. Now that’s not so much the case in Britain necessarily, not always the case in the United States. But in Germany, and by the way, modern Germans think this is a very good thing and so do most of Germany’s neighbors. You are looking at the necessity of a coalition government and that government, traditionally, has been a government of the center. That means either the center left, the Social Democratic Party, or the center right, the Christian Democratic Party.

Angela Merkel has been the leader of the Christian Democratic Party. And her party was expected to win in Sunday’s plebiscite but it didn’t. Instead, it was the Social Democratic Party that gained a larger percentage of the vote, and yet not a large enough percentage to avoid the necessity of making a coalition, and that coalition process may take months. So the world may have to watch for months to see who actually comes out ahead in terms of the German political system, who will be the head of government, and whether it will be a center right coalition or a center left coalition.

Emotionally for Germany, we need to understand that they are at a moment that is somewhat similar to where Americans felt during the 1940s when Franklin Delano Roosevelt died. He died shortly after being elected to his fourth term. He didn’t serve 16 years in office, but he was elected to terms that would have meant 16 years in office. But the point is that many people in the United States, in 1945, had really not known a president other than Franklin Delano Roosevelt, or at least they hadn’t known a time when FDR didn’t dominate the political scene. Similarly, after 16 years, there are so many in Germany who really don’t know what Germany looks like, feels like, how it acts without Angela Merkel as its Chancellor.

But there’s something else for us to understand, just before we leave Germany, I talked about those two parties; center left, the Social Democratic Party, and then on the right, the Christian Democratic Party. There’s something very interesting there. Did you notice the word “Christian?” Now maybe you thought that word is just incidental, it’s just labeling. Not necessarily so. The Christian Democratic Party in Germany has represented a party that has been far more tied to the Protestant Church in Germany than would be the case in most other major political parties in the West. The Social Democratic Party, more liberal, that’s why it’s center left rather than center right, is generally a more secular party than the Christian Democrats.

But that also points to something else when you think about the Christian Democratic Party in Germany. If you look at German Protestantism, you could say German Catholicism as well, right now where so many of the most liberal ideas in the Catholic Church are coming from Germany, that German Protestantism ended up being a very liberal Protestantism, in general theological terms, and that explains also a great deal. But it also tells you something that the Christian Democratic Party is still more conservative than the Social Democratic Party in Germany.

Which party comes out ahead in the vote? That’s clear. It’s the Social Democratic Party. Which party is able to put together a governing coalition? It may take months for us to find out.

Which also tells you another reason why the founders of the United States did not choose a parliamentary system, because they wanted a very clear separation of powers, they wanted a constitutional system of government under a written constitution, and they wanted a president, and they wanted to know who that president is.

Part III

Sorry, Liz, You Were Right the First Time — Rep. Liz Cheney Says She is “Sorry” for Opposing Same-Sex Marriage

But next, yesterday, headline news came that Washington Post article by Amy Wang used these words in the headline, “Rep. Liz Cheney says ‘I was wrong’ to have opposed same-sex before.” Now, notice the careful way that headline was written. Reading it backwards, she means that the position against same-sex marriage she held before she now believes to be wrong. And yes, that’s headline news.

We’re talking about Liz Cheney, the sole member of the house from the state of Wyoming. We’re talking about Liz Cheney, who is the daughter of the former vice-president of the United States, Richard Cheney, Dick Cheney, as he is primarily known. We’re talking about Liz Cheney, United States representative, who is the sister of Mary Cheney, who in 2012, married another woman. In 2013, Liz Cheney, publicly condemned the same-sex marriage. That would have been the year after her sister married a woman. It caused a split in the family. The parents apparently sided with Mary Cheney and her marriage to another woman rather than Liz Cheney. But the family dynasty nonetheless gave enthusiastic support to Liz Cheney and her political ambitions. And those political ambitions have taken her places.

Liz Cheney, back in that 2013 comment, was running for a United States Senate seat. She would later give up that race and instead later run for Wyoming’s singular house seat. She would hold that seat. She holds it now. She would then become the third ranking woman in the House Republican leadership, until she wasn’t. And she wasn’t after she had voted for the impeachment of Donald Trump. She was removed by her own party from that leadership position. She has become something of a pariah in the Republican party. But she is also someone who is, respective of her political skills, but she is still now moving ever towards the periphery of the Republican Party in a way that makes any kind of long-term Republican future for Liz Cheney extremely dubious.

The statement that she made, as was reported yesterday, now basically repenting of ever having condemned same-sex marriage. Well, that may be consistent with her basic libertarian worldview, but it puts her, again, far outside mainstream conservative Republican understanding. But I mentioned that basic libertarian principle, and this is where we need to spend just a little bit of time in this final part of our conversation today on The Briefing. That libertarian worldview.

Now, as you’re thinking about conservatism in the United States, we need to think, at least in part, about conservatism geographically. The further West you go, American conservatism turns increasingly libertarian. Now, that has something to do with the expansiveness of the West, something to do with the culture and personality of the American West, but it’s not just the American West. Even if you go to Canada, Western Canada is more conservative than Eastern Canada. The further West you go in Canada, at least until you get to British Columbia, when you look at those Western provinces that include the inner mountain area, you’re looking at an increasingly libertarian culture.

What does libertarian mean? Well, it can mean many things, but this kind of moral libertarianism means that there should be as few moral laws as possible, and that government should very rarely, if ever, legislate morality. Now when it comes to the modern conservative movement, you can think of that movement as basically a stool with three legs. One of those legs is the free market leg. That’s easy to understand. It’s an economic leg of that party, a stool with three legs. The first is economic. The second is conservative morality. Social conservatives, moral conservatives. That’s where Christian conservatives come in, as one of the three legs of the Republican Party, of the conservative movement as we know it now.

But there’s a third leg, and that third leg is a libertarian leg and it is the most awkwardly situated sometimes with the other two legs that hold up the conservative stool, because abortion will one way or another make its way into law. There will be a law that allows it, or there will be a law that forbids it. There will be a law that says it can be this, but not that. Abortion is such a major unavoidable issue that one way or another, it will be in the law.

So that is to say that in order to join the modern conservative movement, libertarians basically had to be pro-life libertarians, which means they put a limit on their libertarian argument against legislating moral issues. They basically create an exception for abortion. Some other moral issues as well, but actually a very small list of other moral issues. And increasingly, it is clear that there are many who are more libertarian than conservative who have simply said, “We need to go along with the revolution,” the LGBTQ revolution, the same-sex marriage revolution, “and just get on with it.”

That libertarian movement can simply say, “Look, it’s an individual matter of choice. It’s a matter of individual freedom.” And here’s where we also have to understand that every single society is going to legislate marriage. Every society is. It’s going to have to say, “This is marriage and that’s not.” “Here’s a protected relationship, and there’s one without those protections.” “Here’s how the tax law will reflect a definition of marriage.” Just like on the question of abortion, every society will legislate it one way or the other. The same thing is true with marriage. Every society is going to legislate it one way or another.

And that simply should serve to remind us that there is no conservative, with any legitimate claim to a conservative understanding of the world, that is to conserve the things that are necessary for human society, human civilization, and human flourishing, there is no way for a conservative who actually understands what we are seeking to conserve who can support same-sex marriage, much less come out years later and basically apologize for one day in the past having gotten it right. And so the bottom line is this, my response to the headline that Liz Cheney says she was wrong to have opposed same-sex marriage before is simply this. No, she wasn’t wrong before. She’s wrong now.

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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