UNSPECIFIED, YEMEN - JANUARY 23: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY MANDATORY CREDIT - ' USCENTCOM / HANDOUT' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) A staff holds the light to pass the military aircrafts as U.S. Central Command forces alongside UK Armed Forces, and with the support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada, and the Netherlands, conducts strikes on 8 Houthi targets in Iranian-backed Houthi areas of Yemen, on January 23, 2024
Photo by CENTCOM / Handout/Anadolu via Getty Images

Monday, February 5, 2024

Monday, February 5, 2024. 

It’s Monday, February 5, 2024. 

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

Part I

Biden Administration (Finally) Sends (Indirect) Message to Iran: The U.S. Responds After Drone Attack Kills 3 of Its Soldiers in Jordan

The big news over the weekend were the American military strikes undertaken against proxies of Iran after a fatal attack upon an American military installation known as Tower 22 in eastern Jordan. The deaths of those three American military personnel pushed America over a very important line, and the Biden administration knew it had to act. There’d been headlines calling for action by the American military because the proxies of Iran, and we’re going to define that a little better in just a moment, Iran’s proxies have been waging war against the United States and our allies and, frankly, creating mayhem throughout much of the Middle East, threatening not only Israel and the United States and our allies, but also international shipping, which as it turns out is a very, very big deal.

Now, the use of the word proxies, as I said earlier, refers to terrorist groups such as the Houthi rebels there in Yemen, Hezbollah, and various other Islamist groups. And what sets them apart from some other groups in the region, including other Muslim groups or groups that are tied to an Islamist agenda, is that of course Iran is famously Shi’ite. The Shia or the Shi’ite Muslims represent a minority as compared with the Sunni Muslims. You could see the Sunni Muslim movement as anchored in states such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the other Gulf states, etc. The Shi’ite Muslims have been in a minority position. They’re more apocalyptic, and that’s why at least in some forms, they have been more on the front lines in terms of Islamic Revolution, War on the West, America, the “Great Satan,” that goes back in particular to the Shi’ite Revolution that took place in Iran during the late 1970s and to the 1980s.

But Iran is now basically operating as a very malignant force there in the Middle East, and that’s not new. It has been for a very long time. And, frankly, by one account it’s been stunningly successful in terms of much of its effort. For example, it really did face an existential threat from its neighbor nation Iraq, back when Saddam Hussein was the dictator of Iraq. But even as there are various Sunni minority groups in Iraq, the reality is that the exit of Western military forces basically means that many of those Shiite groups have pretty much freedom to roam wherever they want within that territory. So you have proxies, or agents of Iran, in places like Lebanon right there on Israel’s northern border, and very importantly in Syria, also again, a border with Israel, and in Iraq, very close, able to threaten Israel. And not only that, the interests of the United States.

So we need to understand that Iran is not subtle about what it wants to bring about. In its view of the world, it wants to eliminate Israel from the face of the Earth. That’s not something we simply have to conjecture. We can just take them at their word. Similarly, going all the way back to the Khomeini era, those Shia leaders who are the head of the government, the mullahs who are ruling, the Ayatollahs there in Iran, they have long designated the United States as the “Great Satan”, the great symbol of Western influence that they want to be not so much out of existence as out of the Middle East, at least outside, say, the horizon, the near horizon, so that Muslims don’t have to deal with the presence of the United States and in particular, so that Iran would have a much freer hand in terms of sowing its agenda and frankly spreading its mayhem throughout much of the Middle East.

But as we understand what took place this weekend, we also need to understand the debate inside the United States. Now, there are several debates, actually. One of them has to do with war powers and the American president. And in this case you have some of the president’s own party members in Congress who are saying they’re not sure about the military power of the President in this case, and the constitutional authority to wage, what is basically, a form of warfare, against Iran or its proxies. This is an old debate and it has basically been overrun by reality. This is one of the problems. If we were just having some kind of academic dispassionate constitutional debate about war powers and the President, if we look at histories such as the War Powers Act that took place in the 1960s, we can have one kind of debate.

But the reality is that the speed of warfare has now sped up so much, the velocity is now so high, that Americans expect, and events require, presidents to respond pretty quickly as commander in chief. And that’s one of the reasons why almost immediately after the report of that very deadly attack upon American interest in Jordan, military installation, you had President Biden coming out and saying that America would respond at a time and in a manner of our own choosing. That’s old American military language, which means watch out, we’re going to do something.

But there’s also another debate going on, and that’s a debate which is largely partisan between Republicans in Congress and many in the larger military influence network and the White House over whether what the President is doing, in terms of the actions that have taken place over the last three or four days, whether or not those are strategic and adequate. And the reason why that’s such a hot issue is because the Biden administration appears to have targeted all of these military actions to minimize and warn Iran, but to take no direct action against Iran. Very interesting, not unexpected with the Biden administration. There have been those who have been criticizing the Biden administration from the start, from being, frankly, very soft on Iran, and I think that criticism is extremely legitimate. I think, this president has a very hard time taking the threat of Iran directly, the way others see it.

And so, even as there’s no doubt that Iran was at least acting through proxies and funding them and giving them military support and arms missiles, drones, all the rest, even as that was behind the action undertaken, when America responds simply by, say, trying to warn Iran from the periphery, there’s a very legitimate question as to whether Iran is going to get that message. Now, those close to the Biden administration are going to say, “Now wait just a minute. What we don’t want is a direct military confrontation with Iran. We’ve got a lot on the table right now. Israel’s got a lot on the table. The last thing we need to do is blow up the entire Middle East.” And thus you also have major newspapers running headlines like, “Biden Administration Assumes Iran Will Not Respond to the Attacks and Military Actions that have Taken Place over the Last Few Days.” Is that right or wrong? Well, as we know, time will tell. We don’t know if that’s right or wrong.

But at this point, the main debate is whether the Biden administration’s doing the right thing by avoiding a direct confrontation with Iran, when there’s no question that Iran bears ultimate responsibility here. Now, Iran really does work through proxies, and that means that even as it is stirring this mayhem, and it’s funding these groups, and it has the agenda of eliminating Israel, and pushing the United States out of the region, there is the question as to whether it’s running these proxies directly, but morally, this is where Christians need to understand moral responsibility, that really doesn’t matter.

It is to say this. Let’s say that instead of thinking of war and, say, the responsibility of Iran, let’s think about crime, and the responsibility of some kind of criminal captain or organizer of organized crime. He might not order every particular crime, but he sets up the entire culture, authorizes and rewards the entire system. So ultimate responsibility does go to that criminal boss, even if he doesn’t even know about some of the criminal activities that are undertaken by his authority. That is exactly what’s going on in terms of Iran in its own version of organized crime in the Middle East.

Now, from a Christian worldview perspective, it’s bigger than politics, isn’t it? Because we really have to look at the fact that we are looking at a clash of worldviews in this situation, the clash of worldviews between the worldview of the West, and most importantly typified by the United States, but also represented in the Middle East by Israel, is here meeting a deadly ideological or worldview opponent, which is Islamic extremism, and especially this Shi’ite militarism in the region. And once again, we don’t have to wonder what their aims are because they’ve told us upfront what their aims are. And this is where Christians understand that ideas really have consequences and ideas are really important. And ultimately, every single idea has some kind of rootage in theology one way or the other.

But there’s some other really big issues having to do with the American effort right now, and the Biden administration has said even the military actions that took place on Friday, and Saturday and Sunday, they’re not the end of the story. Some Pentagon officials or analysts are indicating that this might actually last a matter of months and what the Biden administration might be doing, and this is of course in coordination with the Pentagon, is deciding to escalate and deescalate the efforts against Iran based upon the response of the Iranians in coming days and weeks. Now, if that’s true, it’s at least some form of a theory, but those who are critical of the Biden administration right now are simply saying that the failure to address Iran head on now is going to lead to a far greater risk and confrontation in the future.

And that is one of the big worldview questions of Western history, even of the history of the 20th century. What if there had been a military confrontation with Hitler earlier than the invasion of France? Would that have made a difference? And the reality is we’ll never know because you can’t go back and rerun history. But let’s just say, that the argument that Western Europe waited too long to show military force against Hitler, that was hardly an argument that seemed out of step at the very time it was clear that there had been an inability or an unwillingness to face the reality of Hitler and to do something when, frankly, Hitler didn’t yet have the Wehrmacht at its power, or of course, not only that, but also the Luftwaffe. Basically Western dithering gave Nazi Germany the opportunity to build up its army and its military and armaments without any direct confrontation with the nations that would become known as the Allies, including the United States.

Furthermore, I think the Editorial Board of The Wall Street Journal makes a very good point when in an editorial entitled, “Will Biden Finally Deter Iran?,” they make the point that if you are going to have a policy of restraint, and that’s what many people on the left are applauding the Biden administration for, restraint, as evidenced by the fact there’s no direct attack upon Iranian territory or Iranian personnel. But let’s just point out that that kind of restraint is only effective if it turns out to restrain evil, evil intentions and evil actions, by Iran. And right now it looks like the restraint is more on one side than the other.

Part II

The Ripple of the Disruption in Three Seas: How World Conflict is Affecting the Global Economy and Freedom of Navigation

But now let’s just consider what’s at stake in terms of where Americans might begin to feel the impact of this action, because what we’re looking at now is a far larger conflict than I think most Americans are imagining. And so I want to document that a little bit. I want to make it tangible. Let’s just remember that the Houthi rebels really came to our mind because of attacks upon shipping there in the Red Sea. And even as they said, that was primarily addressed towards Israel and Israel’s allies. The reality is that it has upset international shipping all the way to the Suez Canal, that very crucial transit from the Pacific and the Indian Ocean through the Red Sea into the Mediterranean, that is now utterly disrupted. That’s not to say there are no ships getting through, but quite frankly, we’re looking at a scale of interruption that’s just massive.

But this is where we need to understand some basic facts that Americans don’t think about. We go to Walmart, we go down to the local grocery store, we go and buy a car, we go and buy an iPhone. And what we don’t often think about is that about 80%, by most economic estimates, of everything we buy and everything we use has some parts, if not the whole, that are absolutely dependent upon international shipping. So that 80% is, if anything, by the time you look at tracing all the parts and the rest, that is an understatement because over time, you just look at the places where the manufacturing label indicates something’s made. It’s been moving further and further and further away from the United States.

Now at this point, a front page article in The Wall Street Journal really does help to sharpen the focus, and this headline was, “Ship Attacks Threaten a Pillar of Global Trade.” Now, the pillar they’re talking about is the freedom of the seas. We’ll get to that in just a moment. I just want to deal with the mechanics of what’s going on, even just thinking about it on a map. So let’s just take three seas, three seas right now where the freedom of navigation is very much under threat. And long before we were talking about the Red Sea and the Houthi rebels, we were talking about the Black Sea, and the war between Russia and Ukraine.

And so the Black Sea is very, very important, of course, far to the north of the Red Sea. Interesting how we label these seas, isn’t it? The Black Sea, the Red Sea. The Black Sea, has a very long history in Western civilization, and the war between Russia and Ukraine has basically upset and disrupted all the shipping that has gone through that region. You add to that now, the Red Sea. But to the Black Sea and the Red Sea, you then have to add the South China Sea because that’s where China’s military ambitions, and its massive naval buildup, and its claim to territorial waters that quite frankly are unprecedented in human history, and the military actions and threats that are undertaken by the Chinese Navy, you’re really looking at shipping. And by the way, in the South China Sea, the shipping lanes are more narrow than you would think, and more of what you buy, and even in some sense, what you eat, at least it passes through, or is built upon something else passing through the South China Sea, those massive tankers that now traverse the oceans.

And so you’re looking at the Black Sea, you’re looking at the Red Sea, and you’re looking at the South China Sea, but that’s not even the limitation of the problems when it comes to shipping because we’re looking at increased military conflict also in the polar regions to the north. And that’s where Russia and the buildup of the Russian Navy, which quite frankly is way, way ahead of us when it comes to icebreakers and figuring out much of that technology, and Russia’s also expansionist there in the Arctic and intending to claim, if not to manipulate much of that trade and the trade roots for itself. But it’s not just that. It’s also nature because the lowering of the water levels, especially Lake Gatun in Panama, means that there’s insufficient water in the Panama Canal for regular traffic through that transit, between the Pacific and the Atlantic.

Now, where will that affect Americans? Well, we need to note that the first populations and markets to be affected here are those in Europe and in particular in the Mediterranean basin, but really all of Europe because much of the flow of goods, consumer goods and other things, including food, going to Europe passes through the Red Sea, through the Suez Canal, into the Mediterranean, and then to European ports. If that traffic has to go around the Horn of Africa, it becomes far more expensive. By some estimates, at least 50% more expensive, by other estimates, three or four times as expensive. Now, that means that the banana that may be traveling from, say, Africa intended for purchase in Ireland, it’s going to end up being far more expensive than it was in the past.

Now, Americans have been somewhat insulated from that, because much of the same traffic coming to us doesn’t go through the Red Sea, doesn’t go through the Suez Canal is not currently threatened, but that’s where we need to recognize a ricochet effect in our economy, because this is where shipping comes down to capacity and schedule. And so if you have these big container ships that get stopped or slowed down over here, they’re not going to be where they need to be a week from now, and thus, eventually Americans are going to begin to feel the pinch. But this is where we also need to recognize that we just take for granted, at least many Americans in particular do, freedom of navigation, or the freedom of the seas. And most Americans simply don’t think about it. That includes a lot of Christians just don’t think about it. That’s why we’re thinking about it today. It is because this is a massive issue, with direct effect upon the lives of people all over the world.

The freedom of navigation basically didn’t exist. It was a theory, but it really didn’t exist until the end of World War II, and the defeat of Nazi Germany, and Imperial Japan, and the new world order put into place largely under the influence of the United States, but also with our allies. It instigated an age of the freedom of navigation so that ships from virtually any nation can traverse the seas safely, that’s the theory, and also have the freedom of transit unless there’s due cause, why they should be denied that transit. So that means, that regardless of the flag flying on a ship, it should be able to get through the Suez Canal or the Panama Canal or to make transit around the Horn of Africa, or you just follow along the Cape of Good Hope, regardless of where it is in the Arctic, in the Atlantic, in the Pacific, in the South China Sea, there should be freedom of navigation.

Now, again, that’s not absolute, that is, unless there is some due cause. So if there is, say, a rogue state, or there is some transit of criminal materials, or something that’s embargoed, or violates international law, there can be limitations. But quite frankly, the big rule has been the freedom of navigation. And that’s really set the stage for the explosion in economic terms and in particular the explosion of the consumer economy in the last 50, to 60, to 70 years. And that freedom of navigation has been largely policed by the United States Navy, along with our allies, and it has been in the interest of most other countries to at least cooperate with that freedom of navigation. But increasingly, it’s clear that cooperation’s breaking down, and that’s the big problem. We have nations that have other agendas. We have pirates on the seas, once again, and of course we have rogue countries, that are violating all the most basic rules. You also have China with its threat, now you have the Houthi rebels, you have Russia invading Ukraine, the Black Sea at stake.

All of this means that the United States Navy, is now facing much of the burden of protecting the freedom of navigation by itself. The British Navy is a shadow of what it was in the past, but I think most Americans don’t know the American Navy is also a shadow of what it was in the past. At the end of World War II, the US Navy had 7,000 vessels. Now, no doubt that included an awful lot of clunkers by the end of World War II and a lot of damage to vessels and all the rest. But just consider the numbers. The United States Navy numbers less than 300 vessels. Now we have new technology, we have all kinds of new systems, we have forward projection. But you know what, at the end of the day, it takes a ship to be there for the Navy to be effective, either as a threat, or as a force. And this is the result of accumulated decisions that include both the Democrats and Republicans.

But in particular, Democrats have wanted to shrink military spending, and one of the biggest ways to cut the spending is the biggest items that come with the biggest price tags and, well, ships and bombers tend to be the most expensive things on the military agenda. And that’s why over the course of the last several decades, it’s been pretty hard to get some of these programs through. But it’s also clear, and by the way, this was a mistake made by some before World War II. The assumption was, that you can do without this, and just depend upon that. You can do without the Navy, depend upon the Air Force, or you can do without the Air Force and depend upon the Navy. The reality is that in this age, you had better be very powerful in both, and that’s especially true for the United States, given our interests around the world.

Here’s some more bad news for you on this front. You can’t just snap your fingers and produce a modern naval vessel. It not only requires billions of dollars, it also requires an awful lot of technology, and an incredible amount of time. And the development of the administrative state has not sped this up, let’s just say, but it slowed all of this down. Now, my purpose in considering these things today was simply to understand these are big headline news issues, and most Americans frankly have little idea of what is at stake, either when you’re looking at Iran, the Houthi rebels, the Black Sea, the Red Sea, the South China Sea, or when it comes to something like the freedom of navigation, which most Americans probably have heard of at some point, but never think about, and would be very hard-pressed to describe or to define.

Part III

A Parable of the Hermeneutical Line From Evangelical Feminism to the LGBTQ Revolution: Letha Dawson Scanzoni Dies at 88

But finally, once again, the New York Times has published an obituary that demands our attention. We shouldn’t be surprised by that. In Britain, it’s the Times of London that offers very, very fascinating historic and really important obituaries in the United States. The newspaper of record for obituaries is the New York Times. And the New York Times this past Friday offered almost a half page in the print edition, an obituary on Letha Dawson Scanzoni who died at age 88 of congestive heart failure. The headline said that she was a “Pioneer of Evangelical Feminism.” And indeed she was. There’s more to it than that, but she certainly was. And Letha Dawson Scanzoni was a writer for Eternity Magazine at one point, and also an editor, and that was a major evangelical magazine, had a lot of influence during the period of the 1960s, ’70s into the 1980s. And she became very interested in what later became known as evangelical feminism.

And she paired up with another writer by the name of Nancy Hardesty to write a book that became rather famous or infamous in the evangelical world. It was published in 1974 and was entitled, “All We’re Meant to Be: a Biblical Approach to Women’s Liberation.” So 1974, by the way, of course, the year of the Roe v. Wade decision from the US Supreme Court and the push for the Equal Rights Amendment, many other things were just swirling about at that time. And what makes this really interesting is that Eternity Magazine was not at that time, a magazine of the Evangelical left. It ceased publication some years ago. And that really did become kind of part of the story because many of these issues and these debates really emerged from unexpected places.

But Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Nancy Hardesty did write this book entitled, “All We’re Meant to Be.” And the subtitle, once again, was straightforward, “a Biblical Approach to Women’s Liberation.” And it really did approach the reading of the New Testament in particular, but the Bible as a whole, from a hermeneutic of a feminist lens, there’s just no doubt about it. And it called forth a response. And by the way, that’s mentioned in the obituary where kind of predictably Professor Kristin DuMez there at Calvin University has cited, she’s very critical of conservative evangelicals on the issue of, say, a response to feminism, but she’s absolutely right. And the New York Times is absolutely right in this sense to say that it was this kind of argument that brought forth a very strong response from conservative evangelicals, eventually in a group like Christians for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

And Letha Dawson Scanzoni did indeed become very influential in, I would have to say, left wing evangelical circles, and many of those have now moved way outside of Evangelicalism. But she was a founder of what was known as the Evangelical and Ecumenical Women’s Caucus, the New York Times says now called Christian Feminism Today. I think the organization is now called Christians for Biblical Equality. But nonetheless, you are talking about a major shift in the argument. So this is what’s important for Christians in worldview analysis. The issues were very much debated in the world, ERA, Equal Rights Amendment, Roe v. Wade, all the rest, abortion, marriage, divorce, all these issues were very much out there in women’s roles in home and in the church, and in society. And so this is where it emerged. The discussion was in the world, now it’s in the church. And that brings a response from more conservative, and I think in this case, more biblically accurate evangelicals correcting this ideology of feminism, particularly in bringing the secular idea of feminist oppression as a major hermeneutic within the Evangelical movement.

Thus, there’s also another lesson to be learned here, and that is that in the next season of her life, Letha Dawson Scanzoni had paired up with Virginia Mollenkott. And the thing that was important there is that Virginia Mollenkott, who by the way, became a very radical theological force well outside of Evangelicalism and frankly outside of institutional Christianity and far beyond Christian orthodoxy, but the important thing here is that she came out of the closet, so to speak, as a lesbian to Letha Dawson Scanzoni, and eventually they paired up to write a book. And the book’s title was a question, “Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?” Now, the answer to that of course is yes, according to Jesus, we’re not going to meet a human being who in some sense is not defined as our neighbor.

But what this book really represented was taking the very hermeneutic that was used in the earlier book to relativize biblical texts on gender, on the roles of men and women, and then to use that towards the texts in scripture that are very clear about the sinfulness of homosexuality. And the New York Times makes reference to the book and, of course, the Times loves it, saying that it “showed through meticulous scholarly detail how the Bible, which had long been used as a cudgel to bash gay people and women, did not support the credo that homosexuality was a sin.” Well, of course, it was not successful in doing any such thing, which is why even as you look at evangelical Christianity today, it’s nowhere near, and in that sense, I’m very happy to say where Scanzoni and Mollenkott proposed that it should be back in the year 1978.

Now, I just want to use those two years, 1974 and 1978. The first is the book she did with Nancy Hardesty entitled, “All We’re Meant to Be: a Biblical Approach to Women’s Liberation.” The second was, “Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?” I just want to point out, they’re separated by only four years. And what is the unitary thing here is not just the role of Letha Scanzoni, but it’s the hermeneutic. And the same hermeneutic that was applied for feminism, was four years later applied for what became known later as the LGBTQ Revolution.

The final point I want to make about this article, this obituary, is that the sourcing is entirely in one direction. There’s no conservative evangelical, no representative of conservative evangelicalism or even, say, mainstream institutional evangelicalism that shows up in this article. Once again, you had the mainstream media going to someone to the left, in order to explain supposedly, the problems on the right. And that’s a pattern we see over and over again in the mainstream media. Don’t talk to an evangelical, talk to someone about evangelicals.

But I have to end by quoting the very final section of the obituary. The Times tells us, “In 2006, the magazine, Christianity Today, included All We’re Meant to Be in its roundup of 50 books that have shaped evangelicals,” along with touchstones, like when other books are mentioned, but the editors wrote, “For better or for worse, no evangelical marriage or institution has been able to ignore the ideas in this book.” I just want to say that is actually true, and these ideas should not be ignored. They should be confronted and understood, and of course, most importantly, they need to be tested by scripture.

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. For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com. I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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