Tuesday, May 21, 2024

It’s Tuesday, May 21, 2024.  

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

Part I

A Shot Ricocheting Across the World: ICC Announces War Crime Charges Against Netanyahu and Israel’s Defense Chief Along With Leader of Hamas

Yesterday, the International Criminal Court handed down indictments against the prime minister of Israel and the leader of Hamas on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Now, of course, this is news that ricocheted all over the world almost immediately, and you can understand why. We are talking about Israel, the leader of Israel in this case, and other Israeli high officials being charged with absolutely horrifying crimes in the context of defending the nation against the terrorist group and the terror attack of October 7 undertaken by Hamas. Now, almost immediately there was in the United States a recognition that something was going to have to be clarified here very fast. And I think we need to take the time today on The Briefing to understand what is and is not going on here.

And not only is this a big story in itself, it points to an even bigger story in terms of context. So, before we turn to the announcements made by Karim Khan on behalf of the International Criminal Court yesterday, let’s just consider what in the world we’re talking about. For one thing, we’re talking about a body that has three words in the title: International, Criminal, Court. Now, the two words criminal in court, we can pretty much understand. Most of us have the understanding that in the law there’s a basic division between criminal law and civil law. Civil law’s, for instance, a neighbor suing someone for some kind of problem. When you look at criminal law, you’re talking about at least indicted or charged violations of a law, a law that is a part of the criminal code, and is thus considered a matter of criminal morality.

And as you’re looking at this, the word criminal is right there. This isn’t civil court. This is not about adjudicating border disputes. This is about the most serious moral issues, criminal court. The first word, however, is international, and that is the most problematic part. Now, we often on The Briefing talk about basic Christian worldview principles, and one of them is the principle of subsidiarity. And that is just a reminder because this is the way Genesis starts, with the Creator creating human beings in his image, male and female, telling them to be fruitful and multiply and fill the Earth. And thus, marriage and family become the most basic unit of civilization, of society. The principle of subsidiarity, which is just richly biblical, reminds us that the greatest truth and the greatest authority subsides, that’s where that word comes from, at the most basic or fundamental level.

And that’s to say that if you have a child in need, a government can do something for that child, but the government cannot do for that child what his parents could do for that child, what the family can do for that child. So, in a situation of brokenness, if you take parents and family out of the picture, government’s going to have some kind of role, certainly a larger social unit’s going to have some kind of role, but that role cannot be the equivalent of being a loving parent or loving parents. It cannot be the equivalent of the family. And that’s because once again, subsidiarity says the most basic truth and authority, the most basic virtue, lies in that most fundamental reality. That means every step you take from that, things get a bit fuzzier, things get a bit more complicated.

Now, I believe in the national project, I believe in it, but I believe in the national project on the basis of certain Christian convictions, and I believe in the national project with very clear biblical limitations. As early as the account in Scripture of the Tower of Babel, we have a warning that trying to create something like an international government is doomed to failure. Now, of course, in the case of Babel, it was first and foremost a universal language, but it was really all about the tower and a universal government. Now, the problem with universal government is that it’s simply too far from the most fundamental levels of creation order, and thus, well, just to put it bluntly, you lose credibility the higher you go.

Now, there’s something else going on here, and it is a symptom of the modern age. In the modern age, you’ve had the dream of a global, a cosmopolitan, an international regime and order, an international culture, even an international government. You have even found people who identify themselves as internationalists, that’s particularly the term that was used in the 20th century. More recently, they described themselves and are described as globalists. In other words, what’s the community? They want to point to the globe. Just as in the 20th century there were those who wanted to point to the entire international community as it was called. Of course, you have a problem with those two words, put together “international community.” It is an abstraction, but it’s an abstraction that’s deeply rooted in the modern project and in Enlightenment thought.

Just think of Immanuel Kant, that philosopher is the most influential philosopher of the Enlightenment. He spoke of a dream of perpetual peace, and he meant that not only in the European context, but the larger world context. And you look at that and you can say, “Well, yes, we would all yearn for an age of perpetual peace.” The Scripture tells us, however, that an age of perpetual peace is only going to come under the reign of Christ, and that means specifically not under the reign of the United Nations or the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.

Now, when a lot of people, and I think a lot of Americans, hear the term International Criminal Court, they’re going to assume a couple of things. Number one, all the major nations have bought into this. Not true. For example, two nations that do not recognize the International Criminal Court nor the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court would be, well, two nations pretty important to us, such as the United States of America and the state of Israel. Neither Israel nor the United States recognizes the legal existence, the rightful existence of this court, nor of its jurisdiction. Neither nation is a signatory, nor has adopted the Rome Statute, it’s often referred to as the enabling legislation for the creation of the International Criminal Court, and neither nation recognizes the court itself.

Now, I just want to speak very carefully, but very clearly to the fact that there are a couple of reasons, one in principle and one that’s pragmatic, about why the United States, just to take our own nation as an example, doesn’t recognize the jurisdiction or the authority of this court. It is because the moment it did so, it would become impossible for the United States to defend itself in the international context because the United States would be continually brought before the court for accusations of criminal conduct. And that gets to the fact that when you are looking at a major nation and you’re looking at a deadly world, you are looking at the fact that there are many modern globalists who quite frankly would seize the opportunity, relish the opportunity to try to keep the United States completely hung up in this kind of court process. And quite frankly, to subvert the sovereignty of the United States of America and American interests all over the world.

The other issue has to do with the fact that the United States, when it comes right down to it, and at least until now, this has been pretty clearly a bipartisan understanding, the United States does not believe that it can affirm any international organization as having the authority over the United States of America to determine internal matters in the United States, nor the external activities of the United States. Now, you might look at that and say, “Well, that’s a bit hypocritical. Just look at the United Nations.” But I’ll tell you, the president of the United States at the time, Harry S. Truman was very clear about the fact that the United States would be a member of the United Nations, but the United States would never endanger or subvert its own sovereignty by joining the United Nations.

Quite frankly, Harry S. Truman actually as president, moved the site location choice from Strawberry Point there in California to Turtle Bay in New York City in Manhattan because he didn’t want it too far from the supervision of Washington D.C.. Israel recognizes the very same thing. Other nations, Israel’s enemies, would tie Israel up always, indefinitely, consistently with accusations and indictments from the International Criminal Court. And one of the reasons we need to recognize this in worldview and moral terms is that every nation in the prosecution of war or of actions of self-defense will take some actions that someone will claim are war crimes or have violated some kind of principle or international law. And that’s because this has been the way it has worked consistently throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.

Now, you look at that and you say, well, there are exceptions, right? Well, let’s mention two exceptions, but both of them are recognized in their exceptionalism, even in American law and in American history. So, consider the Nuremberg trials of the Nazi leaders. They had committed genocide against the Jewish people with the murder of millions of persons, or consider the war crimes tribunals that took place in Tokyo where some of the most militarist leaders behind Imperial Japan were also brought up for charges of documented war crimes. And you look at those horrible crimes of the 20th century, and quite frankly, the Holocaust against the Jewish people is exhibit A, of course. And you look at that and you recognize something had to be done. That was exactly the moral impulse among the United States and other Allied nations.


Something had to be done, something that had the legitimacy of law. But the point is there was not put together a permanent tribunal or a permanent court. It was a court for a special purpose, held under the most unusual circumstances and legal authorities in the United States and among the Allies were uncertain of exactly what kind of precedent would be set. But the moral horror undertaken in the Holocaust and also in so many of the genocidal actions of Imperial Japan had led the civilized world, and I don’t apologize for using that term, to demand some form of justice, but those were not permanent tribunals. They were not international criminal courts.

So, that’s the background to all of this. The United States and Israel are not signatories, so what difference does it make? Well, actually, this indicates the danger of having something like the International Criminal Court. Now, I said that those who were the philosophers of the Enlightenment, and many people in the intellectual and political elites in the 20th century and into the 21st century, they want to see something like an international government, and they sometimes meet together to imagine what it might look like. And the International Criminal Court is at least one representation of what many of them would want.

And there are horrible things done around the world, and there is a sense that there must be some form of justice. But the problem is that in this action, even this week, the International Criminal Court in indicting both the leaders of Hamas and Israel, they demonstrate the politicization and moral confusion that’s just endemic to this context. And indeed, they create a moral equivalence that is morally insane and needs to be called such. Now, predictably, you’ve got a lot of people who are very much for this kind of globalist, cosmopolitan, internationalist agenda, and they’re saying, “Look, this is exactly the way it’s supposed to work.”

And even as the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been singled out, now, he’s not the only one, but I mean it’s not Israel that’s been indicted, it is particular leaders in Israel, starting with the prime minister, who have been indicted. And the point is that there are real consequences to this in terms of the fact that the nations that did sign this Statute of Rome, they’re in the position where they’re supposed to arrest Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, if he were to land in their jurisdiction. And so, we really are looking at a major step here and we need to recognize that before we move on.

Part II

The ICC Misses the Bomber Pilot for the Death Squad: The False Moral Equivalence of the ICC and the Undercutting of Just War Theory

And I just want to point out that it is only out of fear of frankly the absolute loss of legitimacy of that court that they haven’t brought action against a president of the United States. And certainly, this precedent indicates that someday they will.

Now, I want to cite a comparison that I think was really brilliantly brought forward by the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal in answer to this announcement by the International Criminal Court. Here’s what they had to say. They said that the ICC “has lost sight of the crucial distinction between the death squad and the bomber pilot.” They go on to say “on which the possibility of just war depends.” That means the very possibility of a war fought in just terms requires a very clear distinction between a death squad, committed purposefully to carry out genocide, and a bomber pilot. Now, that’s a brilliant comparison. It takes a moment for us to think about it.

The reason that the bomber pilot is cited here is because during World War II, in particular, bombing campaigns undertaken by the Allies to break Nazi Germany and its industrial might and its war machine undoubtedly did things that would violate the code of war. Now, that’s not to say they did it intentionally. That’s one of the problems with widespread aerial bombing. But you’ll notice that the American military does not apologize for undertaking those missions because the defeat of Nazi Germany was absolutely necessary for the very survival of humanity. But the editors of the journal have actually pointed to an incredibly helpful comparison and contrast. When you look at the people involved in a death squad, they exist to kill people. When you talk about the bomber pilot, yes, there was death, yes, there was destruction, but it was undertaken in a defensive move to end a war, not to start one.

There’s more going on here. For example, as I said, the prosecutor in this case, Karim Khan, who announced the impending indictments and indicated that indictments or warrants would be issued when it comes to Yahya Sinwar, the military leader of Hamas, and also Israeli figures, including Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Prime Minister Netanyahu. When Karim Khan made that announcement, it was presented as something of a moral achievement for the world. I’m going to suggest it was not that at all. As a matter of fact, even though the prosecutor went on to say, “This doesn’t mean that we’re claiming a moral equivalence,” that’s exactly what is implied by the fact that those indictments are handed down in that way.

Now, let’s ask the question, has Israel done things that are unjust in defending itself against Hamas, in conducting the military operation in Gaza? The answer to that is yes, and that answer yes has been given by Israel itself. Israel is a democracy. It is an island of democracy in the middle of a sea of undemocratic nations. And Israel is open, that is to say that especially when it comes to say the American press, there is an amazing candor in terms of what’s gone on. And Israel’s Defense Forces have had to admit that mistakes were made, that things happen that should not have happened, that policies were broken. In a time of war, We expect that. The difference is Israel is a legitimate nation, more than that. But let’s just say the very base point is it’s a legitimate nation. It’s a democratically-elected government. It is acting constitutionally as a nation and as a responsible political actor. Hamas is an Islamist terrorist organization. It uses violence, including the violence unleashed on Israel in October 7th of 2023, as a tool of its purposes. And we have seen what has happened with Islamic terrorism for the last half century and more.

Part III

The U.S. Can Never Join the ICC or Recognize Its Jurisdiction: The Sanity and Morality Behind the U.S. Rejection of ICC’s Jurisdiction and War Crime Charges Against Israel

Drawing that equivalence is moral insanity, and that’s one of the reasons why we can be very thankful that there has existed, at least until now, a bipartisan consensus that the United States is not a signatory to this statute and does not recognize the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, nor does Israel. But here’s the point, you have other nations that do, and that means that the leader of Israel, the prime minister of Israel, will not be able to land even in an emergency, he can’t land his plane in many nations without risking the fact that he would be arrested if he were to land.

And of course, the obvious question then is so then what? But the fact is, if you have any political leader who is honest, then if that nation is ever in a time of war, or for that matter, in a time of international controversy, that leader’s going to have to know that the possibility of some kind of charge or investigation by the International Criminal Court is a possibility. And at least some of those who are pushing this agenda want every national leader to look over his or her shoulder at this kind of international jurisdiction, and ultimately, some kind of international police. But I’m going to end today’s consideration of this issue by saying that’s exactly the point, and that’s exactly why neither Israel nor the United States has signed this statute or will recognize this court. And thus, both the United States and Israel have a lot at stake here. Frankly, we all do. We can’t join the illusion of the International Criminal Court, nor can we presume it’s moral and legal credibility.

And I want to simply say, as I conclude, that at least we can be thankful that President Biden and the White House recognized that much in very quick public statements yesterday. And you have to understand why. Whether it is the last Republican president, Donald Trump, or it’s the current Democratic president, Joe Biden, they have to know that if the jurisdiction of this court is ever recognized, they will never have an untroubled night for the rest of their lives.

Part IV

Absolute Banality, a Rejection of Roman Catholic Doctrine, and Abandonment of the Gospel: Pope Francis’s Interview on 60 Minutes

Somehow, it doesn’t seem all that strange to transition from the International Criminal Court to talking about the Vatican, in this case, talking about the current pope, Pope Francis. And it hasn’t made so much headlines around the world. It should, but it didn’t. But it has certainly sent shockwaves through many theological circles. And many Evangelical Protestants have just been awakened to a reality, and they were awakened to it in the interview that Pope Francis gave to the CBS news program, 60 Minutes that was broadcast on Sunday night.

And quite frankly, I think for some Evangelical Protestants, it was the first real introduction to the absolute theological vacuum that is represented by the current incumbent of the Vatican, the current pope of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis. The interview demonstrated what many of us have known for a very long time. We’re talking about an unbiblical office. We’re talking about a man who now inhabits that office who is the contradiction of at least many of the claims made by the Roman Catholic Church. He’s not the defender of even those Roman Catholic doctrines. Well, he relativizes them. He emotionalizes them. He is, in so many ways, the repudiation of the two Popes who came before him, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who were known for their doctrinal precision, and also, for their brave defense of, for instance, the sanctity of human life.

So, there were even many Evangelical Protestants who recognized that the cause of defending the sanctity of human life was assisted by the clarity of the Vatican, of the Roman Catholic Church, and the pope. But ever since Pope Francis became the pope, it has been confusion rather than clarity. Quite frankly, it has been something that we as Evangelical Protestants need to recognize, not because we recognize the papacy, but because we recognize the problem. And here’s the problem, Pope Francis represents the absolute worst of theological irresponsibility. And he often does so not so much by what he says, but well, just honestly, what he doesn’t say. And what he doesn’t say is in so many cases, even the defense of the classical Christian doctrines that the Roman Catholic Church still officially holds when it comes to such issues as, for instance, the person of Christ, when it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity. You’re just not going to hear things like that, not to mention on the moral issues related to human sexuality and abortion.

Now, every once in a while, the pope will make headlines, as he did recently for coming out against surrogacy. And he’s right, by the way, he’s right. But it’s very hard even to recognize that he’s right in that case because he disconnects it from so many other issues. The very strong pro-life witness that came out from John Paul II and Benedict is just horribly confused coming from Pope Francis. And when it comes to the sexuality issues, very early in his pontificate, he infamously asked the question about say, two gay men, “Who am I to judge?” Well, the obvious answer to that is, well, you think you’re the pope, you would think that that meant, that’s exactly why you hold that office, to judge. After all, by the way, the historic paintings of the papacy of the pope show a pope holding some keys, and those are supposed to represent the keys of the kingdom. That goes back to Matthew chapter 16.

Now, we as Evangelical Protestants don’t believe that the pope holds the keys of the kingdom, we believe the church does. But nonetheless, the Roman Catholic Church believes that the pope does. But this pope appears to have little interest in holding the keys of doctrinal accountability or even of moral clarity. But the religious world, the theological world, was pretty much set abuzz on Sunday night because the interview that Pope Francis did with 60 Minutes, the venerable CBS program. And the last two responses to questions asked by the correspondent, Norah O’Donnell and deservedly attract the most attention. Now, the first of these Norah O’Donnell said, “That’s why so many people found hope with you, because you’ve been more open and accepting perhaps than other previous leaders of the church.”

Pope Francis responded that by saying, “You have to be open to everything. The church is like that. Everyone, everyone, everyone. That so-and-so is a sinner, me too. I am a sinner. Everyone. The Gospel is for everyone. If the church places a customs officer at the door, that is no longer the Church of Christ. Everyone.” Well, that’s very similar to what he said in the past. Everyone is in the church? Now, I’ll just state that that is outside even the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, or it represents an absolute relativization, and it just is claiming that every single human being is right now a part of the Roman Catholic Church, and that is just sheer nonsense. And because, by the way, the Roman Catholic Church to find salvation through the church, not in the reformation affirmation of Christ alone. But my point is that in this case, Pope Francis isn’t even honestly reflecting Roman Catholic teaching. He mentions the Church of Christ. That’s the element of Christ. In that answer, he says, “I’m a sinner.” Well, that’s certainly true, but there’s nothing about how a sinner is made right with God. That’s just a foreign concept here.

But then, the next question, this is the most infamous. “When you look at the world, what gives you hope?” So, this is 60 Minutes, one of the most watched programs on television historically, and in this historic interview with the pope, they get to the last question, “What gives you hope?” And here’s what he says, “Everything you see, tragedies, but you also see so many beautiful things. You see heroic mothers, heroic men, men who have hopes and dreams, women who look to the future. That gives me a lot of hope. People want to live. People forge ahead and people are fundamentally good. We are all fundamentally good. Yes, there are some rogues and sinners, but the heart itself is good.” Now, in that case, not only did the Pope utter absolute banalities and empty words, he directly repeatedly refuted the direct teachings of Scripture.

Not only that, the historic teachings of the Roman Catholic Church is just a footnote here. He says, “But the heart itself is good.” The Bible says that the heart is desperately wicked, and that’s clear language, as clear as it gets. And furthermore, you have this statement that is completely devoid of Christ, that you don’t even find Christ here. The pope claims to be and has claimed to be the vicar of Christ, but this is Christless. Now, I want to be very clear here. I’m talking about the abandonment of the Gospel, and the Pope is not alone in this. And the Roman Catholic Church, let’s remember in its official doctrine, contradicts the Protestant understanding of the Gospel as revealed in Scripture. That’s just a very honest statement.

We have Catholic friends, and when it comes to many theological and ethical issues, we actually stand in the common defense, for example, the unborn, and common defense of marriage, and the family. But in this case, the pope is really on the side of the Protestant liberals who abandoned the faith, and that’s the point. And as you look at the Protestant side, we have a distinction between the Protestant liberals who have abandoned every single Christian doctrine, undermined the authority of Scripture, and quite frankly, created a new religion. Pope Francis, on the Catholic side, is pretty much just doing the same thing. One lesson here is that theological liberalism ends up as the same mush, whether it’s Catholic mush or Protestant mush. It’s mush.

But I’ll just wrap up with a final thought here. It did not appear to me at all that the folks at CBS recognized that this was something far less than Christian orthodoxy, and frankly, a shocking absence of responsibility, even in Catholic terms by a Catholic pope. But what he said is basically what I’m sure CBS is glad that he said, what the secular world finds absolutely unthreatening. And that, of course is the danger.

Part V

The Woke Pope: Liberal Pope Francis Continues to Divide the Catholic Church — And Its By His Own Intention

By the way, Newsweek Magazine on April the 19th, came out with a cover story, with Pope Francis on the front, rainbow colors behind, the cover story, “Woke Pope: How the Culture Wars are Dividing the Catholic Church.” I guess I’m simply going to end with the observation that you don’t end up on the cover of Newsweek Magazine with a rainbow flag behind you unless you’ve been working hard to get there.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. 

For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter or X 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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