The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Friday, September 22, 2023

It’s Friday, September 22, 2023.

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

Part I

Will Eastern Oregon Become Part of a Greater Idaho? The Dynamic of Red States and Blue States in the U.S. is Growing More Interesting by the Day

One of the most interesting stories out there these days is the fact that there are a good number of people in Eastern Oregon who want to become a part of greater Idaho. That’s actually a formal proposal, so much so that it’s coming before the voters in one county in Oregon. The bottom line is this, if you take all of that expansive Eastern Oregon, it includes only about 10% of the population of Oregon, even though it contains the vast majority of the space, and that space is largely rural, and rural equals conservative. Meanwhile, the western coast of Oregon, 90% of the people and wow, not conservative.

And so, conservatives in Eastern Oregon have been looking across the border at Idaho, a very red state, and they’ve been seeing what they see as an opportunity. And that opportunity is to enlarge Idaho, reduce Oregon out of the conservative eastern area of Oregon, add it to Idaho, create a new state known as Greater Idaho. And in terms of land, it would be a lot greater. Of course, many people in Eastern Oregon, very conservative, they look over at red state Idaho and they wonder why it could be that they can basically look into Idaho and see a far more conservative government, conservative governor. If you take Oregon on issues of gun laws compared to Idaho, it’s like they’re two different countries almost. If you take the issue of abortion, hard to be more pro-abortion than Oregon. In Idaho, a six-week ban on abortion is in effect. You’re really looking at two alternative universes in political and moral terms.

Now, we looked at this specific proposal before, we’re talking about it now because it has sprung back into national attention. The Washington Post ran a big article looking at this. And of course that has implications for national politics, doesn’t it? It, by the way, has some unusual support, because even as you have conservatives in Eastern Oregon wanting to flee the liberal domination by the coast, the fact is that there are liberals who might just be just about as happy to see the conservatives gone. On the other hand, the liberals are 90% of the votes, so they’re by definition aren’t going to be outvoted by the 10% there in Eastern Oregon. So, so far as they see it, why would you give up the land? Why would you give up the revenue? Why would you give up the tax base so long as you can continue to confiscate?

But this is where there’s another interesting development in the United States, and that is we don’t live where we are assigned. We can decide where we want to live. And so, eventually it’s unlikely that there’s actually going to be a Greater Oregon, that would require both states politically to be cooperative with whatever it would be. The arrangement required the federal government to rearrange an almost countless number of rules, regulations, stipulations, all the rest. Let’s just say that politically it’s unlikely to succeed. But the reason we’re talking about it is that morally and culturally in terms of worldview, boy is this huge. And it’s really pointing to a bigger picture, which is that you have in the United States of America, 50 states, but even within states, you have almost as if it were true, different states.

In Oregon, if you were to color it by, say counties that are conservative, Oregon would look red. The problem is, the populations there on the coast and the coasts are very blue, very very blue, getting bluer. And as you look at this, you recognize, you have patterns of migration in the United States, people are moving from liberal states to conservative states. Some of the states that have been receiving people, well, Idaho has to be at the top of that list, certainly in terms of percentage impact. But you can look at other states like Texas, where people have been moving from the West and in particular from the coast, from California, just to state one of the most important source states. But from Washington, California, Oregon, they’ve been moving eastward largely because of taxation and also just the general more conservative tenor of the landscape and the politics, the culture. And sometimes this is driven also by the understanding that this is tied to theological issues, it’s tied to who is going to church and who’s not, and what society’s more secular and more aggressively secular and which are less so.

Now in the United States, we are nonetheless a nation, and even as we have 50 states and our federal system acknowledges the power and the differences of those states, especially when it comes to an incredible array of legislation, policies and all the rest. The fact is that those states increasingly represent a political divide. That’s why we do talk about red states and blue states. That goes back as far as the 1980s where it was a way of coloring electoral maps when it came to presidential elections. Now we know it’s tangible right on the ground, in turn it’s what’s being taught in the classroom and whether preferred pronouns are being used or not, and whether children and minors have access to transgender treatment and whether or not an unborn child is going to have a life protected or not. We understand it really matters now. These maps are not just political maps adding up to an electoral college win or defeat. They’re massive cultural, moral realities, worldview realities.

But Christians also need to recognize that even as this is really fascinating with all these counties in Eastern Oregon, at least plotting, perhaps even as a fantasy, becoming a part of a Greater Idaho, the fact is that even in red states and in blue states, you’ve got some anomalies. We talked about Oregon, very blue state, lot of red territory. In fact, more red territory than blue territory, but the blue territory holds about 90% of the people.

But then I mentioned Texas. Texas is an illustration of the other movement we’ve got to watch in terms of worldview and demographics. And that is that Texas is a very red state, but you know it cities are increasingly blue. And those cities are growing in population. And the most graphic example of this is Austin. Austin’s a city that for years has had the motto, “Keep Austin Weird.” It has seen itself even as the capital city of Texas, has seen itself as an alternative to Texas in many ways. Not coincidentally, that’s where the University of Texas at Austin, flagships that university is located, where you have that kind of intellectual elite, you tend to have a more liberal culture, a more secular culture.

And that’s to say that rural Texas, which is accessible just real close to Austin, is very different than Austin. The only thing that may share in common is an affection for barbecue. The big question for a state like Texas is, how long can the state remain red while the cities are becoming so much larger and bluer at the same time? San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth, you just go down so many of the biggest cities, Houston, they’re increasingly blue in terms of the politics surrounded by red. The question is, how long can that last? You look at other areas and you see the same kind of development.

And this is why cultural and Christian conservatives in the United States recognize that the long-term map is not trending conservative, not when you look at red and blue. And it’s because even in red states, the blue dots are getting bigger and they’re often growing at the expense of the more conservative rural areas. There’s no example I know that’s more graphic in revealing that pattern than the state of Georgia. And of course, Georgia flipped in 2020 in terms of the presidential election. And by the way, just about the same time over the course of two years, elected two Democrats replacing two Republicans in the United States Senate. And it’s not because Georgia’s really shifted, it’s because Atlanta is eating Georgia. It’s not that if you go to Valdosta and Core Deal and Tifton that everything’s changed, it’s that everybody’s kids have moved to Atlanta. And for that matter, people from California and Oregon and Washington, New York, New Jersey, and Chicago are moving to Atlanta and they’re bringing their blue votes with them and their blue habits.

So on this Friday, The Briefing, this is a good opportunity for us to think about the fact that the map actually reveals worldview realities as well. Closer you get to a coast, the closer you get to a capital, the closer you get to a campus, well the closer you get to blue. The closer you get to where they’re raising cows and chickens, the closer you’re getting to red. The closer you get to small town America, the more red the map becomes. The closer you get to where food’s being grown, the more red the map becomes.

And I simply want to end by saying, there’s a worldview explanation for that, because if you are involved in the enterprise of agriculture, you really can’t deny certain fixed realities like male and female, because denying that simply doesn’t work. It’s a lot easier to deny the gender binary on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin than it is 20 miles south on a ranch. It’s at least perhaps helpful for Christians on this Friday as we’re thinking about these things on The Briefing to recognize that’s not entirely an accident.

Part II

How Do We Understand the American Revolution in Light of Presbyterian Resistance Theory? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

All right, let’s turn to questions. First question is posed by Madden. And Madden writes from Ball Ground, Georgia. That makes me happy. And here’s the question. He says, “I have a question regarding the American Revolution, Romans 13:1 and Presbyterian Resistance Theory.” Now I’m just going to hold on for just a moment. I’ve often mentioned on The Briefing that in the fall I had this strange experience when I was doing live daily radio that I’d have all these teenagers calling in, eighth graders basically, asking this question in the fall. Turned out it was a homeschool curriculum. But I’m really sure this isn’t coming from the homeschool curriculum because of the last part of this where Madden says he’s interested in the American Revolution, Romans 13:1 and Presbyterian Resistance Theory. Because Presbyterian Resistance Theory wasn’t in the homeschool curriculum that was prompting the previous questions. But the same basic question is there, was the American Revolution legitimate given Romans Chapter 13, where we are told that authorities are given to us by God.

Madden went on to write, “My family and I are incredibly patriotic, with my father, grandfather and many other relatives serving in the military. However, I recently was answering an essay question asking whether the Declaration of Independence gave just reasons for leaving the monarchy in the context of following God’s word, specifically in Romans 13.” Madden says, “I’m inclined to believe that the founding fathers were not right to break from England because they acted in opposition to the authorities in a non-faith related matter, but that the general population was right to follow the founding fathers.” Continues, “But I am also swayed by my patriotic ideals in Scottish Presbyterian Resistance Theory. Were the founding fathers right and how does this apply today?”

Okay, Madden, thank you so much for this question. And I realize you say you were answering an essay question, so maybe the educational context was closer than I thought. But in any event, the question is just good, it’s germane. It’s come up in different form. You throw in Presbyterian Resistance Theory and we got a whole new thing to talk about here. So, it’s fun. Let’s take this on. Let’s take it apart.

First of all, given Romans 13, was the American Revolution legitimate, was the Declaration of Independence legitimate? And here I’ll simply have to say, I think most Americans are unaware of what the actual debate among the colonists came down to at the time. And you may have heard me say before, on my desk right now, as a matter of fact, I have two volumes of sermons by revolutionary preachers in the United States during the period leading up to the revolution and immediately thereafter. They were not arguing against Romans 13. And by the way, you just follow the sequence of events that led up to the Declaration of Independence.

And remember that previous to that, the American colonists had reached out to King George III, asking King George III, imploring him to recognize them as his subjects and give them relief against parliament. Now, in the background of that is, British subjects had the right to appeal to the King to gain relief from parliament. The American colonists did just that, in official actions undertaken and sent to the British Crown. They made their argument for independence after the British Crown refused to acknowledge them. And so, it was pretty smart, I just want to say, this is often missing from what people think they know of American history. The American colonists reached out to King George III asking to be treated with the dignity accorded to British subjects, and the king did not respond.

So it was only after that that the colonists came to the conclusion that as seen even in Romans 13, King George III was not the king over them, he was not even acting as the king over them. He was merely taxing them and establishing rules for them and inhibiting them without kinging them, so to speak, of accepting his role as king.

And so, look, in the founding fathers, among them, you would find people who be far less theologically driven, but I think you just know by the evangelical tenor of so many the pulpits of that day, you would not have had support for the American Revolution if those preachers and their Christian church members had believed that it was contrary to God’s word.

Now, it’s interesting you say you believe the Declaration was illegitimate. I’m challenging you on that, just because I think a lot of this isn’t well known. By the way, one of the best sources to consider in this, is actually a defense of King George III. It’s a brilliant biography by Andrew Roberts of King George III. Andrew W. Roberts, I’ve mentioned him before in terms of his biography of Churchill and others. And his biography of King George III, I did a Thinking in Public with him, which you can find at the website. And he really tracks this very, very well. He’s serially seeking to defend King George III, but I think he follows this narrative very, very helpfully. So anyway, that’s the first part.

But then you throw in Presbyterian resistance theory and you say that you believe, and I realize you’re just presenting this as a hypothesis, you’re saying you believe that the Declaration may have been wrong, but that Americans were right, the colonists were right to follow their political leaders once the independence had been declared. And then you say, “I’m swayed by my patriotic ideals in Scottish Presbyterian Resistance Theory…” This is sometimes referred to as the theory of the lesser magistrate. So let’s just jump in the deep end of the pool here, we can’t stay here in the deep end of the pool for long. But my guess is, that the number of listeners to The Briefing who are familiar with Presbyterian Resistance Theory or the theory or the Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrate is fairly low percentage. And let’s see if we can increase that for just a few moments here because this is important stuff.

So during the period of the Scottish Reformation, and remember that’s very complicated, we don’t have time to go into all the history, but all I need to say is Mary Queen of Scots, just to remind you that for the Scottish Protestants and the Covenanters as they became known, this was a very dangerous time. And if Romans 13 meant that a Catholic king had the last word in terms of what would happen or not happen in the preaching in the churches of Scotland, well then the Protestant Reformers in Scotland had a big problem. However, that was also a time of incredible theological and intellectual fertility in terms of the development of Western political thought as well as theology.

And those Scottish Protestants came to the conclusion, and yes, we would call them Presbyterian, that’s not wrong, came to the conclusion that it was not just the king who was given a biblical authority, but also lesser magistrates. And lesser magistrates had delegated authorities that were, though delegated, real. And those real authorities gave them responsibility such that a lesser magistrate could interpose between the people, an aggrieved people and a tyrannical, say monarch, king or queen. And that interposition by the lesser magistrate was justified in biblical terms because the lesser magistrate was also a magistrate, which is the very word that was often used in English translations of Romans Chapter 13.

I love talking about this, simply because it simply reminds us of the issues at stake. And I think those Scottish Presbyterians were thinking through these issues very helpfully. And I think it’s probably safe to say I’m one of the few Baptists who’s eager to talk about Presbyterian Resistance Theory and the Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrate, I think there’s a lot to it. I think there are a couple of things that had to be said. Number one, the lesser magistrate acting under the authority that he believed was given to him by God, had to take ultimate responsibility for those actions. And so, it was often a very painful experience, just to state the obvious.

However, where courage and conviction requires, that’s exactly what the lesser magistrate should do. In other words, success is not the criterion for faithfulness, that’s a very different standard. And I think there’s one thing that’s missing from this. And so, you really make it more difficult by saying, “What’s the relevance of this today?” So I’m going to tell you what the relevance of this is today. And I think it’s exactly what the more evangelical and biblically minded colonists understood in the late 18th century in what became the United States of America. And that is, the only way that this resistance theory works, I mean in terms of conviction, and the only way it operationally makes sense in terms of the Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrate, is if there is a justified declaration that the larger or greater power is illegitimate.

So in other words, if you have a Catholic monarch who’s tyrannical suppressing the preaching of the gospel and killing believers. Then in other words, you’re not saying, “I disagree with the fiscal policy. I disagree with the foreign policy. I disagree with the state craft. I disagree with taxation.” You’re saying, “This regime is illegitimate.” And that’s a very consequential statement and all kinds of actions flow. And the Scottish Covenanters clearly understood that and their history reveals it. So in the United States, could we get to that point? As a Protestant I’d have to say we could get to that point, but we’re only at that point if we’re declaring the regime to be evil and illegitimate and beyond correction. And that’s a thought we ought to think about. What would that look like? But I think most Christians would’ve to say right now, so long as there is the opportunity to bring reform and correction, I don’t think most Christians are ready to say, “We are going to declare this regime itself to be beyond reform or salvage.”

And as for all the rest of the listeners to The Briefing, at least you can go to dinner with your family and say, “Have any of you thought lately about Presbyterian Resistance Theory or the Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrate?”, it might lead to an interesting conversation. Then again, you might be asked to pass the butter.

Part III

Are Christians to Forgive Someone Even If There is No Repentance From That Person? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Next, Lori asks a really hard question, “Are Christians to forgive someone even if there’s no repentance from that person to be forgiven?” I think I have to answer that with a simple answer, yes. But it does remind us that forgiveness and the actions and responses consequent to forgiveness are two different things, and that’s what this question makes pretty clear. In other words, when we are to forgive, even as we have been forgiven, that means that our disposition and our moral stance should be that we forgive those who have sinned against us. In the Lord’s prayer, we pray for the forgiveness of our debts, even as we forgive those who are our debtors. We pray for the forgiveness of sins even as we pray for those who have sinned against us. And we’re not putting conditions on that.

But the action subsequent to forgiveness, those are two different things. In other words, I think we all know that when someone’s committed a certain kind of sin, if there’s no repentance, we’re not going to put them in the situation of trust to repeat that sin. Forgiveness of sin does not mean giving the sinner increased opportunity to continue in that sin. So, I want to be careful, Lori. What a sweet question. Yes, I do believe we are called to forgive even when there is not repentance for that sin from the one who needs to be forgiven. And by the way, it’s not because of the fact we owe it to the sinner, it’s because we owe it to Christ. But the actions that are subsequent to forgiveness, they do sometimes depend upon whether there’s repentance or not. And separating those two things is why we need the wisdom, by the way, of other Christians sometimes, and certainly the wisdom of the local church and trying to figure some of these things out through church discipline.

Part IV

Is It Right for Christians to Practice Self-defense? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Okay, then a fascinating question from Kelsey. I love questions I haven’t been asked before. Kelsey is taking Taekwondo in order to fulfill PE credits for high school. Well, God bless you, Kelsey. “However, the deeper I get into it, the more I feel conflicted. Is it right for Christians to practice self-defense? If so, how does that tie in to turn the other cheek, the teaching of Jesus? So often I prayed, ‘Lord, use my hands for your glory.’, even though it’d be used for self-defense, it doesn’t seem that punching people is a way to use my hands for God’s glory. Lastly, does the issue of whether or not you’ve been persecuted for your faith impact your response?”

Oh Kelsey, thanks for the question. And that really does point to, I think a common misreading of scripture, which would mean that Christians can’t practice any form of self-defense. Jesus, there in the Sermon on the Mount is clearly saying that if we’ve been insulted, you turn the other cheek. In other words, and I come back to this, this is one of the main distinctions between Christianity and other world religions, most pointedly Islam. Christianity is an honor religion. So, it is not a matter of some kind of code of chivalry or code of the wild, wild west or code of the elementary school playground, that you hit me, I hit you. You insult me, I insult you. Turning the other cheek in that context in the first century was not saying we’re going to line up to be shot. I realize that’s an anachronism, there were no guns, but you know what I mean. Or line up to be stoned. It is saying that we’re not going to live as an honor religion. We’re not going to defend ourselves in terms of honor.

But there’s something that is also a part of this equation. Jesus also never told us not to defend the defenseless. And so, a part of the use of force, and the Christian faith, faithful, convictional, biblical Christians have struggled for centuries with questions about the legitimate use of force. In fact, when it comes to war, an entire series of doctrinal considerations known as Just War Theory, you may use Taekwondo not just to defend yourself, but to defend someone else, to defend a person who’s helpless. And I don’t think there’s anything in the Bible that would do anything but honor that.

The New Testament is pretty clear about a legitimate use of force. The word legitimate is really key here. So you’re asking the question, Kelsey, is it legitimate to take Taekwondo lessons to fulfill PE credits for high school? I’d say, I think that sounds like a good use of your time, and it may be of assistance to you later in life, either in defending yourself or someone else. I do not think this means that a person is to give in to a physical assault, I don’t think it means that. And some of those assaults can be absolutely horrifying. I don’t think it certainly means that we do not defend the defenseless. Because I think biblical Christian wisdom has been that we are called to defend the defenseless. I’m pretty sure, by the way you’re asking your question, you’re not taking Taekwondo for reasons of aggression, but one thing you got a curriculum to fulfill. And yet my guess is, that you should be able to take this class and learn these skills without any concern that you’re compromising your Christian convictions.

It is interesting. I thought you might be asking a different question, so I’ll simply end with this. When it comes to some of these more Eastern influenced forms of whether it’s training or exercise, yoga, to be honest, I don’t know the extent to which this is invoked with Taekwondo. The one thing you have to avoid, I thought you might be asking about also is, any kind of theological entanglement. That’s one thing, Christians, that’s an entirely different issue like, “You shall no other gods before me.” We should not invoke Eastern religion as a Christian. So, you didn’t ask that, maybe it’s not even involved in Taekwondo or as it’s being presented to you. But when it comes to some form of yoga and some forms of self-defense traditions, it has been an issue. But in any event, thank you for trusting us to ask the question, and my guess is there’s going to be a lot of people out there who are going to be glad you asked the question as well.

That’s the case with all your questions, I wish I could get to, there’s multitudes of them every time, I do hope you find this helpful. Your questions help me to understand what you’re thinking about the issues you’re confronting. It is interesting that so many of these questions are confronted in a school context. I don’t think either one of us is surprised by that, that tells us something.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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