Thursday, May 9, 2024

It’s Thursday, May 9th, 2024. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Can a Christian Be Scotland’s First Minister (Prime Minister)? The Controversy Over Kate Forbes Reveals the Victory of Secularism

Sometimes things happen and all of a sudden you realize, that’s the world we’re now living in. It’s a fundamentally-changed world, and for Christians, it’s at least a baseline truth that if the world has changed, we better know it. It’s a good thing to know. And when it comes to Christians, it’s important that we know where we stand in the midst of this culture. But when I say this culture, there are at least several concentric circles we could be talking about. We could be talking about the United States of America. We could also be talking about a wider circle. And that’s why today we’re going to be talking about Western civilization, and we’re going to be talking about the nation of Scotland in this light. Part of the United Kingdom, Scotland is one of those nations that has radically secularized and quite frankly, it’s done so in a rather remarkably short period of time.

And so, when you think of Scotland, you think about, of course its ancient and medieval history, you think about its ancient universities such as St. Andrews and Aberdeen. You think about the Roman Catholic history of Scotland. And then, you think about the Reformation and its legacy in Scotland. And you think about the rise of Presbyterianism and of course the English-speaking reform tradition. And you start thinking about the importance of Scotland, Scottish preachers, Scottish theology to the Protestant tradition. But then, we also need to recognize that as you look at Scotland today, we are seeing that radically secularized reality. We’re talking about a society that seems just about determined to eliminate any vestige of Christian influence from public life. And that means of course, from government. And all that came to light in recent weeks given political tumult there in Scotland, the fall of one government and the rise of another.

The necessity of the majority party, or at least a coalition that would lead to a parliamentary majority electing a first minister. By the way, virtually the same thing as a prime minister. Just think a prime is first and first is prime, you pretty much have an understanding. Now, you are talking about the United Kingdom, you’re talking about Scotland being a part of that kingdom and you’re talking about necessary links with Scotland and, for example, the British Parliament meeting in London. But Scotland has its own parliament and its parliament has its own prime minister, the first minister as that leader is known, has roughly the same political role as the prime minister in London, just within the setting of the legislative assembly there in Edinburgh.

Now for our consideration today, we’re not going to consider the government passed, the government that fell and the first minister who resigned. We’re going to talk about the fact that Scotland needed a new first minister, and this is a political process that takes place there in the parliament. And almost immediately, the name of Kate Forbes was put forward as a very promising leader to be the first minister and Kate Forbes has a background serving in the cabinet, several ministerial roles. She has been very well-understood. She’s also been rather outspoken. She’s representative of a sizable constituency there in Scotland. And it seemed almost natural that she would be put forward as a potential new first minister.

But by the time the election was held for that leadership post, she wasn’t even in the running. And that leads to a fascinating question. Most importantly, why not? And the reason has everything to do with the secularization of Scotland, and it also comes with lessons that simply underline for us and make very clear for us the kind of contours that secularization in Western societies, the kind of contours that are going to take place, that we’re going to see, that are going to set the parameters of the politically acceptable and the politically unacceptable. And in the case of Kate Forbes, there were open arguments that her version of Christianity and Christian commitment that was very much tied to notions such as biblical standards and sexuality and gender, that it was so far out of step with Scotland, and particularly because her arguments came as a part of her own Christian faith, that was a double-blow.

Number one, Christianity doesn’t belong having any major part in our public life. And number two, you’re representing everything that we have sought to overcome in this secular revolution when it comes to its commitment to a sexual and gender revolution. A columnist by the name of Kenny Farquharson writing for the Times in London makes the issues very clear. As a matter of fact, just the headline of his recent essay makes the issues very clear. “Whoever Leads Scotland Next, it Can’t be Kate Forbes.” Now as we know, it isn’t Kate Forbes who is leading the new government as first minister. It Is John Swinney, but our concern today is not to look at the new first minister, but in particular to look at who is not the new first minister and why that is important to us all.

The article by Kenny Farquharson holds up some as political exemplars that are to be applauded, are to be appreciated, because they were progressivist statements. He mentions Nicola Sturgeon there in Scotland and also Humza Yousaf, who was “the first Muslim to lead a national government in the Western world.” Farquharson goes on to say, “This in itself is an extraordinary badge of honor for Scotland.” But when it comes to Kate Forbes, the threat was that she would be everything people like Kenny Farquharson do not want to see as representative of Scotland and its government.

And it’s because, the argument here is just really, really clear, it is because she’s associated with a form of Christianity that poses a direct threat to the liberationist liberalism of the Scottish culture, now in an extremely secularized form. Farquharson says that what a leader believes is important. “Who our leaders are matters. What they believe matters. What they represent matters.” And Farquharson then asked the question, “What message would a Kate Forbes first ministership send? That single mothers are sinners? That sex outside marriage is wrong? That ghouls should be allowed to stand in the streets outside abortion clinics, muttering incantations? That most of us in secular Scotland are going to hell?”

Now, let me just point out that what we’re talking about here is when it comes to sexual morality, someone who’s conservative. When it comes to abortion, someone who is pro-life. And when it comes to Christianity, someone who actually believes that those who are not believing Christians are going to hell. And you all of a sudden understand when this kind of argument is made, what is so precious to the progressivist secularist left. Listen to this, “What comfort could be drawn from a Forbes first ministership by gay couples, given that this fundamentalist Christian politician has said she would not have voted for equal marriage? How insecure would gay people feel about their hard-won civil rights?”

Speaking of Kate Forbes and her experience as the nation’s finance minister, Farquharson says that she has, “Undoubted skills as a finance minister, but her faith does not reflect the country she wants to lead.” Now, okay, rarely do you see that kind of argument being made with such clarity. And since in this case it took place on the other side of the Atlantic and it comes to us in a very shocking form, it actually is very worthy of our attention because this kind of statement, which might not be common in American politics, is only not common yet. You can brace yourselves for the fact that this is exactly the kind of argument that is going to emerge in the public square. And quite frankly, it’s already the logic being deployed by many on the American left, and many who want to see a far more secular America, and those who want to push progressivist policies.

When they speak of red America versus blue America, they’re basically talking about what they see as the undue influence of evangelical Protestant Christianity. When they talk about flyover country, by and large, they’re talking about that region of the United States more highly-populated by people who are less secular. Kenny Farquharson wants to make the point that Scotland is just overwhelmingly secular. As a matter of fact, it leads to a condition which I often explain to people, comes down to the fact that some nations become so secular they don’t know they are any longer. They’ve lost their Christian memory. They no longer even think of Christianity enough to look back at it and say, “That’s what we’ve overcome.”

But when it comes to the threat of Kate Forbes as the first minister, it turns out there were people who had enough of a memory to say, “We don’t want that.” When it comes to the secularization of the Scottish society, Farquharson says, “I want a Scotland where the only weeping and gnashing of teeth is over the performance of the national football team, where the only fire and brimstone is in high school chemistry classes, where punitive Presbyterianism is taught as history rather than modern studies.”

Now, I want us to pause for a moment and recognize that this does represent a kind of logic and a kind of public case which isn’t yet customarily confronted here on this side of the Atlantic. And I say not yet because there are plenty of people, and I know them well, on the liberal side, the Progressivist side, the side of the American left when it comes to the media, they think this way when it comes to the power centers of society, including academia. Clearly, they think this way. But you really are going to have a very difficult time getting elected, even in a state like New York, let’s just speak of that honestly. Because of the difference between upstate New York, which still has a sizable population, versus say the New York City metropolitan area, it’s not a pathway of success in America yet to take the gloves off in this manner.

But Kenny Farquharson is a journalist, he is speaking as a journalist, as a commentator, not so much as a politician running for public office where even in Scotland it’s likely they would disguise this intention a bit. But that’s what makes it so important for us. This is an undisguised intention. This is an undisguised argument. Kenny Farquharson is actually saying what he thinks, and what he thinks is that there is no room whatsoever for Scotland to be led by someone who holds to such a repressive, outdated, frankly, to him, horrifying worldview.

Now, by the way, you will notice that there is still some Christian memory here, even for the power of a literary allusion because Kenny Farquharson actually does use the language of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Biblical language, but he takes that out of the biblical context saying that the only weeping and gnashing of teeth he finds acceptable is over the nation’s national football team. But it’s also interesting, given his reference here to weeping and gnashing of teeth, that one of the theological beliefs he mentions earlier that he finds so absolutely odious is the idea that “most of us in secular Scotland are going to hell.”

Now, I want to point out two things here of theological significance. Christians need to kind of perk up here and understand a couple of things that are going on. Number one, the doctrine of hell has become what has been referred to even in academic literature as the odium theologicum. It means the odious doctrine. The one thing you can’t say you believe in and fit in in any sense into modern American culture is the belief that God is a holy God who will send sinners to everlasting punishment in hell. If you want to be considered in any sense an intelligent, with it person, you can’t hold to that doctrine. If you hold to that doctrine, odium theologicum, then you basically turn yourself into an odious person holding to that odious doctrine. I’ll simply also point out it is one of the clearest doctrines in all of Scripture.

But the second thing I want to point out is that even as then the secular world, the doctrine of hell has become the odium theologicum, that odious doctrine that every right-minded person has to be done with. Liberal denominations, of course, did that a long time ago. But here’s where we need to point to something really interesting. If indeed this is such an odious doctrine and Scotland got over it a long time ago, it is just basically way back there in the past, along with so-called punitive Presbyterians. If it’s what the nation has overcome and you’re now so sophisticated you don’t have to think in these terms anymore, then where do you get the thought that an audience reading this kind of commentary is going to understand weeping and gnashing of teeth, or even is going to understand what is supposedly so offensive? And that is that Christianity believes that those who do not come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, those whose sins are not forgiven, will indeed go to hell?

And I think this is where Christians need to understand that hell is not just a part of Scotland’s historical heritage and tradition that it’s now proudly without. I think an important thing for Christians to understand here is that the doctrine of hell actually inhabits the human being, at least in some sense, I believe, by the very constitution of our moral conscience, a moral conscience that cries out for the setting of things wrong as right, and the defense of the right over against wrong. I think even the youngest child made in the image of God demonstrates a knowledge that is a part of the Imago Dei, whereby that child knows that wrongdoing must be punished if the world is to make any moral sense.

Now, Kenny Farquharson is at least honest about what he wants. Here’s what he writes. “I want a secular Scotland. I want this century to be the very first in Scotland’s story where religious belief and ecclesiastical power do not routinely dictate the way people were governed or live their day-to-day lives. I want a Scotland,” he writes, “that need not fear any US-style curbs on a woman’s right to choose an abortion.” Okay, there you have it. There you have it. You knew it, eventually is going to get to “a woman’s right to choose an abortion.”

That’s why I often speak of abortion as the sacrament of the modern secular church. The modern, secular, intellectual, ethical worldview establishment has its own sacraments. And at the top of that list of sacraments is abortion. And that’s why the issue of abortion has so much emotional power, far beyond, frankly, what you see on most other issues including sexual and gender issues. And I think it is because it just points back to the image of God, and to the fact that we do have a knowledge that such a thing is either morally meaningless or absolutely reprehensible, breaking the command of God.

It’s also interesting that Farquharson goes on to write this simple sentence. “Modernity is a concept worth defending.” And here’s the shock he continues, “I did not think it would need defending in 2024, but apparently it does.” Now, from time to time we just underline signals sent by the larger culture that this kind of shocking moment still affects many on the left. Now wait just a minute, I thought we were done with this. Now wait just a minute, I thought those pro-lifers had been defeated and gone home. Now wait just a minute, I thought that we won the entire LGBTQ agenda. Now wait just a minute, I thought we were in control of this entire thing.

And when you look at the self-referential politics of a place like Hollywood, or say Manhattan, or where the left inhabits the space in the most clear way, say in higher academia, you just look at this and there is a continual shock among that class and the fact that evidently, there are still people who will not get with the secular program. And as hard as that is for folks to believe, Scotland was faced with the prospect of having Kate Forbes as its first minister, and that apparently was a wake-up call to the fact that, guess what? All that stuff we thought we had put behind us is not as behind us as we thought.

Part II

No, Religious Belief and Political Beliefs Cannot Be Separated: Secularists Demand Impossible Task of Casting Theological Beliefs From the Public Square

There’s another argument that’s also important that appears in the Farquharson article, and it’s where he says, “The problem isn’t religion. It’s a certain form of religion. The problem isn’t Christianity, the problem is a certain form of Christianity.” This is what he writes about Kate Forbes. “The problem is not faith per se. The problem is the way her particular faith intersects with our public policy.” He goes on to say, “The problem is not her beliefs. The problem is her opinions.” Now, the earlier sentences at least makes sense, the twinning of these sentences. “The problem is not her beliefs, the problem is her opinions.” The problem with that is that the distinction between beliefs and opinions here is entirely artificial. And when it comes to a Christian, say, in the public square, well, here’s just the truth. Our so-called opinions on issues of sexuality, gender, marriage, morality, abortion, these, yes, someone may call them our opinions, but we don’t believe them really opinions. They are indeed those beliefs.

There seems to be an understanding here, and this is really, really crucial, there seems to be an understanding here that there’s certain categories of issues of belief that belong in church. There are others that belong in the public square. And if it comes to say any form of orthodox biblical Christianity, that’s going to be categorized as beliefs, keep those at home. Whereas when it comes to political opinions, that’s a very different thing. Unless your political opinion is tied to a theological conviction, in which case you don’t belong here. This reminds me of an argument made years ago by Frank Bruni, then columnist for the New York Times when he said that, “The problem is not that you,” speaking of conservative Christians, “hold to these religious convictions. The problem is when you bring them into the public square.” And speaking particularly of opposition to the LGBTQ revolution, he said to Christians, “You have the right to believe what you believe, but only if you keep those beliefs inside your hearts, your homes and your churches.”

So long as you make them private affairs of no public consequence, well, I guess you could believe whatever you want to believe, but once you believe that your religious convictions, your Christian convictions are to be translated into public policy, your position on issues of public policy, well, then you’ve broken the rule. You need to go home and be quiet.

Farquharson ended his article by saying, “In the third decade of the 21st century, Kate Forbes is unfit to be first minister of Scotland.” At the end of the day, opposition probably explains why Kate Forbes was not even on the final ballot when it comes to being first minister. And as I said, instead, you have Scotland heading in a very different direction. But this is the kind of development that is so important, even if it’s across the Atlantic in a much smaller nation than the United States of America, developments there are often pointers to developments here. And what just happened in Scotland is a warning to what may soon, indeed probably will soon happen, all too quickly here in the United States of America.

Part III

‘I Had No Idea Within Less Than 3 Minutes I Would Be in Handcuffs’: Faculty Backing Campus Protests Face Reality … a Bit Too Late

But next for today, it’s also interesting just to look at happenings around us and say, there is something that folks aren’t talking about here, something big that people really aren’t talking about. Maybe we need to talk about it. Now, I want to give the media a bit of credit for at least picking up on the fact that one of the interesting dimensions of the story of what’s happening on America’s prestigious college campus is not what the kids are doing, it’s what the faculty are doing. It turns out that is really important. I think they’ve been missing this for a long time, and that’s a part of the story too. But it is really interesting to look at the news coverage of these aging faculty members who are all of a sudden showing up at the barricades talking about how brave their students are and how much they want to side with their students in their activism for those identified as the Palestinians and then their opposition, quite frankly, to the existence of the state of Israel.

And so, you ask a question, is this an entirely new thing? And the answer is no, it’s not. For one thing, when you’re talking about many of these faculty members, you’re talking about either the generation that did participate in the massive student uprisings of 1968, and there’s something very important to think about along those lines. But I want to say the other group are the people who were too young and felt like they missed out on those noble days of rebellion that took place in the 1960s and the early 1970s. So, most of these faculty are in their 60s or even more in their 70s in terms of having this participation. And you know what? They see the opportunity to go to the barricades one more time, one more time to stick it to the man, one more time to hold up a sign and side with the oppressed.

And they’re categorizing their generally very wealthy and coddled students as being the ones with whom they’re claiming solidarity. But of course, they’re claiming solidarity with the Palestinians as they define the issue. And so, you understand how all of a sudden in mass psychology, and in fairly predictable ways, some of these faculty members are now showing up. Some of them, by the way, are not only showing up, they’re being arrested. And you know what? Being arrested when you’re 19 is very different than being arrested when you’re 69. And so, it is interesting that a lot of these faculty members are thinking, “Wait, just a minute, maybe I really can’t afford to be arrested.” And by the way, the employment law context has changed when it comes to many faculty, and such that there’s a distinction between what they do in the classroom, where frankly they can get away with almost anything, and what they do and what’s categorized as their academic work, where again, they can get away with almost anything.

But there are still some rules when it comes to this basic employment that may actually, if even more liberal now, are more clarified now. Because going back to the 1960s, most employers didn’t have policies to deal with such things. But right now, most employers do. To put it another way, as even say, the early Marxists would’ve understood, it’s one thing to pick up a protest sign and to risk arrest if you’re a part-time barista down at the coffee shop, not to mention an unemployed student. It’s a very different thing if you are supposedly on a salary and you’re concerned with your retirement accounts. That’s an entirely different sociological socioeconomic condition.

Almost by definition, most of these students when it comes to their own capital don’t have much to lose, they’re paid for by someone else. But when it comes to faculty, especially faculty at these elite institutions, it turns out that they actually do have a lot at stake. That may explain why most faculty are not in these protest lines, but some of them are. Headline recently in the Washington Post, “College Faculty Faced Discipline for Supporting Pro-Palestinian Student Protesters.” One of the persons cited here is Annelise Orleck. We are told that she’s been teaching US and Jewish history for more than three decades at Dartmouth, “but during a protest on campus last week, the 65-year-old feared she might become a key figure in future textbooks.”

Later in the article, “Orleck is one of many faculty members across the country who consider themselves to have added job responsibility since pro-Palestinian protests emerged on college campuses last fall, and particularly in the past month.” Continuing, “She and others who spoke to the Washington Post said they felt a duty to support their students and stand up for their own ideological convictions, often against college administrators who have called law enforcement on protesters.”

Okay, now here’s where things get a bit complicated, if we admit also a bit hilarious, and so in this case, this faculty member, remember she’s 65-years-old. She wanted to decide who these students, so she decided to go on the protest with them. It turns out she was also arrested with them. She had zip-tied wrists behind her back. She was put on the ground, she was arrested. This is the way arrests are done. She was escorted to a van and she was charged with criminal trespass. Now, here’s the thing. She is now, having been accused of criminal trespass, she is now banned from certain facilities on the campus where she is a faculty member, and it just might include the parts of the campus where she is paid to teach. It’s also interesting that when you’re looking at many of these college and university presidents who after all are overwhelmingly liberal and progressivist in themselves, they do actually have to administer, to some extent, these campuses, they have to have some kind of order, and so they’re taking some action.

In the context of the arrest of this faculty member the paper says, “Dartmouth president, Sian Leah Beilock, said in a statement that the protestors, ‘Actions have consequences.'” Well, to think of that, isn’t that pretty much what two-year-olds have to learn? Now, I have to tell you, there’s a section in this Washington Post article that is just irresistible. I want to share it with you. “Orleck said she does not know what the repercussions on her job will be, if any, but said they were worth standing with her students. She said her right wrist and left shoulder still hurt, and she struggled to sleep since May 1st, the day of the protest.” She said later, “It never occurred to me that I, as an older woman, Dartmouth professor, would be arrested.” And you just have to ask, what did you think when you decided to participate in an illegal protest? Did you think they would say, “Okay, all of you under age 65, you’re going to be arrested. If you’re over age 65, you’re cool”?

Another faculty member, also arrested, is basically claiming to have no knowledge of how the world works. “I thought the presence of faculty outside the encampment would help de-escalate the situation. I had no idea within less than three minutes I would be in handcuffs.” Another faculty member seems to think this is a grand opportunity to go relive the ’60s. He said, “I’d be back on the field with the students in a heartbeat.” Well, maybe you will, but maybe in a heartbeat you’ll also be wearing zip ties. It’s one thing you might say to want to go back to the ’60s, that’s sad enough. 

But it’s even sadder to want to go back to the ’60s when, well, let’s just state it honestly, you’re in your 60s.

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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