Friday, June 14, 2024

It’s Friday, June 14, 2024.

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

Part I

Poll Shows Americans Don’t Care About Celebrity Political Support: The Shift in Celebrity Culture and the Influence of Celebrity on Political Elections in the U.S.

Does a celebrity have much sway over how you vote? My guess is the answer’s no, and quite frankly, it turns out that’s a big cultural pattern. It seems to surprise USA Today. Just this week, USA Today came out with a front page news story, celebrities or “Celebs Hold Little Sway Over Voters.” It turns out that celebrities hold actually very little sway over voter choices. So having a celebrity endorsement, it doesn’t mean as much as it used to, and sometimes I think it can absolutely backfire as it might well have been the case this week with liberal actor, Robert De Niro showing up at a Biden campaign appearance outside the trial of former President Donald Trump. De Niro looked pretty foolish, frankly, just for being there, and that event is likely to turn out to be something of an embarrassment for the Biden campaign.

Of course, there were big issues going on inside the courtroom, but we’re just looking at a celebrity mess. Robert De Niro didn’t look like he had much personal reason for why television cameras are pointed at him. He’s famous for being famous as Daniel Boorstin, the late former Librarian of Congress said, “The new model of celebrity is not so much you’re famous for doing something, but you’re increasingly famous just for being famous.” And that’s certainly true, some of the people whose pictures are on the front of this edition of USA Today. But the big thing here is that there appears to be, or at least is believed to be, a fall off on the influence of celebrities when it comes to making electoral decisions. And so, it turns out that of all those identified in this massive article as celebrities only Barack and Michelle Obama turned out even to break, say like 30%. When it comes to former Republican President George W. Bush, it’s less than 20%. When it comes to Beyonce, 7%, the entertainer known as Bad Bunny, 1.6%.

The numbers aren’t that much more impressive for anyone else, even those who are kind of difficult to place politically like Joe Rogan, only about 13%. What about Oprah Winfrey? She’s been cited as one of the most influential celebrities. She came in at 15.4%, which means that’s not going to be a big factor in the election. But I think it’s important for us to recognize that celebrity doesn’t function now the way it used to. And as you’re looking at advertising, it used to be that major consumer products and major consumer service companies, they would hire the biggest celebrity they could afford to be the spokesman for their company. They would come out and do television ads. They would appear as a spokesman for the company. Just think of someone like Ronald Reagan during the time he was a Hollywood actor who became the official spokesman for General Electric back in the heyday of America. That was one of the things by the way, that helped to introduce Ronald Reagan to political ideas and Americans to Ronald Reagan.

But these days, frankly, it’s hard to think of a major brand that has tied itself to a celebrity. So ask yourself why. What has happened? Why the celebrity recession? Well, I think it’s interesting to note that I think one of the most important reasons is that celebrities have tended to blow themselves up. What sense does it make to invest millions of dollars in building a brand to be boosted by a celebrity who blows up in some kind of scandal as celebrities increasingly have tended to do? The other thing is that everything’s politicized. In our society, the moral issues are now so contested and the policy issues in the elections now reach so many moral questions that quite honestly, fewer and fewer Americans actually care what celebrities think. And once celebrities are branded on one side of the equation or the other, it’s pretty hard not to be these days given the scale of the issues, just think LGBTQ issues.

Well, then the other side’s just not going to hear you anymore. And so, your usefulness to the brand is significantly discounted. The same thing’s true when it comes to consumer products. It’s again just very hard to imagine right now who is a leading celebrity spokesperson that certainly doesn’t appear to be the wave of the future. But this particular cover story really is about politics. And the bottom line in this is that Americans, when thinking about electing a president, actually decreasingly care what any celebrity thinks or wants them to do. Celebrity endorsements turn out to be these days mostly about vanity, not about affecting political or cultural change. Now, the USA Today article does make clear that celebrities are making a difference politically, but you know how they’re doing it? They’re doing it by hosting fundraisers and in this sense, the Democratic Party’s way ahead because of all that party’s connections to the liberal funding sources in Hollywood, New York, you name it, the cultural creatives, the entertainment class overwhelmingly socially liberal, overwhelmingly economically liberal, overwhelmingly identifying as democratic.

There’s a reason why President Biden keeps flying out to Hollywood for fundraisers. But then again, how many of those people, at those fundraisers, actually want to have their picture taken with the President? And in terms of political value, how much value is there for the president running as the democratic candidate for President of the United States in reelection? To what value is it to him to show up in pictures of some of these celebrities who may blow themselves up momentarily? Now all this gets really complicated with someone like former President Donald Trump who has famously enjoyed hanging around with celebrities but doesn’t have that many celebrities hanging around with him now. But then again, he turned himself into his own celebrity, and that’s a part of his brand. You’re not looking at the possibility of Donald Trump as President of the United States, not just the first time, but now, of course, is the leading candidate as he’s running for election again in 2024.

You cannot separate that from the fact that President Trump was transformed into a major celebrity figure in the United States. He is, you might say, the leading spokesman for himself. Now, another thing we need to consider is that this very switch in celebrity influence is frustrating some celebrities because they like to think of themselves as highly influential. Take Kim Kardashian as an example. I don’t know exactly why Kim Kardashian is famous. I think she’s kind of the epitome of being famous for being famous, but on the other hand, she knows how to build a personal brand and she has tried to translate that into political action. We are told that she is, “committed to prison reform, a major stakeholder in the Armenia Fund, which builds schools, hospitals, and infrastructure in Armenia and works with the Dream Foundation, which grants wishes to terminally ill adults and their families.” The next sentence, “But nearly 90% of voters said that Kardashian will not affect their choice for president.”

You have to wonder about that other 10% as well. The author of a recent book on celebrities and politics said of Kardashian, “Her appeal and all of her millions of social media followers are non-transferable to voters who don’t see this. And perception is reality in their minds.” “She may get a lot of likes and clicks, but that doesn’t seem to translate into votes.” Well, that’s interesting just in and of itself, but I think it’s more interesting when you put it in the historical context in which America was actually operating in very different terms a generation or two ago. Celebrity influence had a lot more power a generation or two ago. The endorsement by some prominent celebrities can make a big difference in the politics of the past. So what’s changed? Is it just an eclipse in the power of celebrity? I don’t think so. I might be tempted to want to think so, but I don’t think so.

No, I think the bigger issue is that the issues are far too basic right now for anyone much to care about what celebrities think, and that includes even someone as politically active and intentionally political as Oprah. Pretty much by now, there are people who have figured out they vote with Oprah and they vote against her, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon. Oprah is not now about changing minds. She might be about raising a little celebrity profile and she might be about raising some money. But in terms of changing minds, no, that’s the old days now, not so much. I’ll simply transition to questions by saying that we’re living in a society in which is very hard to make a moral distinction between being famous and infamous and that points to big trouble in any society.

Part II

My Brother with Down Syndrome Passed Away Recently. What Hope Is There That He is in Heaven? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

But all right, let’s turn to questions. A question I just want to begin with comes from Brian and he writes that just over two weeks ago, his brother with down syndrome passed away.

And Brian writes, “The gospel was shared with him, but it was hard to tell how much he understood as he was nonverbal. What hope is there that he’s in heaven?” And Brian, I am very much declared on this issue and I have written about it and preached about it, and I want to share from the heart with you what I believe about it right now. And it really helps in this sense to believe in the absolutely unmitigated and unconditional grace and the sovereignty of God, which is to say God does all things to his glory. His glory is the proper end of all that he does. And he created your brother for his glory. He created your brother in a way that we characterize as diagnosable as down syndrome, and he created your brother for his glory. 

The Christian tradition struggling with some of these questions has come up with a category of those who are infants. And by the way, infant doesn’t just mean like you carry in your arms, it means very young children and those who have down syndrome or other mental impairment and has put them in the category of those who are gifts to all of us given to us by God and that God will do all things right. So that is to say, I do not believe that God would not send your brother to heaven, and bring him home based upon the fact that your brother could not do intellectually or verbally what some would’ve, of course, longed for him to do. And so, in this case, I will simply say that I believe that God is absolutely just. And so, when King David cries out about his dead son saying that he is sure he will see his young son in heaven, I believe that’s a proper Christian biblical confidence that when we have children who die in infancy, really young children who die, those who are mentally unable to respond to the gospel, even as the gospel has preached to them, I am just going to say I believe that God will do what is right.

And what he does that is always right is that which brings him greatest glory. And in that sense, I think that that’s a promise to you and to your family, that God’s intention for your brother in his earthly life and even more in the span of eternity is for him to display the glory of God, not only in creation but in a new creation. And I want to thank you for sending the question, and I pray God’s grace and mercy and comfort to you and your family. Even as you miss your brother, and in a way that many people in the world could not understand, you are thankful to God for him.

Part III

Is There a Difference Between Proverbs and Promises? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

I want to next shift to another very sweet question, this one from a mom and she writes, “I’m a homeschooling mom of three and an army wife” and she’s writing about a child that has made terrible choices and there are many Christian families who have children, who make terrible choices.

And she asks about how that’s reconciled with Proverbs 22:6. Just to remind you of that passage we read, “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old, he will not depart from it.” And this particular mom, and my heart goes out to her. She’s asking the question, so is that not a promise? And she said that one of her Christian friends told her that that’s a proverb and not a promise, and that she’s very concerned about that saying, is this true? Are there differences between Proverbs and the rest of the Bible? Well, let me just speak parent to parent here, heart-to-heart, to this mom. Number one, as you look at Proverbs, we are looking at lists of sayings and that’s what we are told in the beginning of the book it is. And just think about Proverbs 22, the very chapter in which, of course, you find verse 6, you also find verse 16, “Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth or gives to the rich will only come to poverty.”

Well, that’s a general principle and that is a proverb, but I’ve known of unjust people who have died rich rather than poor. That doesn’t mean that God’s word isn’t true, it just means that this is the way the principle works out. At times, there are those who in this life appear to cheat the Proverbs, and yet on the day of judgment, that will not be so. Verse 4, just two verses ahead of verse 6, we read, “The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life.” And I think as soon as you hear that, you’re going to recognize there’s so much truth in that that is a proverb. It most often works out that way, but not always. There are people who are humble and show fear of the Lord and they’re poor, or they die of disease. So this is just to say, this is what the Proverbs are.

This is called wisdom literature in the scripture. And so, we’re going to start out by saying that every word of the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit. And every word is perfectly inspired. Every word is true, there is no error in scripture. But Proverbs operate like Proverbs and promises operate like promises. Now, here’s the thing, and I say this again, heart-to-heart, parent to parent. When you look at Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he’s old, he will not depart from it.” That is a general principle. I think you and I would recognize as true, and that’s certainly true if you work it the other way. If you do not train up a child in the way of the Lord or train him up in the way he should go, then guess what? He’s not going to go in that way because he hasn’t been taught it.

But we do face the fact that there are Christian families, Christian parents, Christian homes where sometimes there’s outright rebellion, there’s rejection of the faith, there’s rejection of the parents. There is a giving oneself to sin. And so, I just want to tell you, I want to speak to this mom and say, don’t question the veracity of the Word of God. Just understand that this is a general principle. It’s presented as a general principle, and yet there are exceptions to these general principles. That’s true in terms of the unjust man who nonetheless dies wealthy, and of the child who’s raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord trained up in the way he should go, and yet he departs from it. So there is a big lesson to be learned here. We are to raise our children in the nurtured admonition of the Lord. We are to train them up in the way they should go. Otherwise, they’re not going to do that.

At the same time, there are going to be some who will deny that word and will depart from the path. And I also want to say to this mom, you did the right thing raising this child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. You did the right thing raising this child according to the law of God. You did the right thing. You’re doing the right thing with all your children. And you know what? The Lord blesses that. He doesn’t always bless that in the way we may as parents think we’re counting on. But even then, we have to have a long perspective because the Bible’s also very clear about many children who walked away who nonetheless have come home. So hang on to the parable of the prodigal son, and your prayer that that will be the story of your own child as well.

Part IV

Where Was Jesus Before He Was Born? — Dr. Mohler Responds to a Letter from an 8-Year-Old Listener of The Briefing

But all right, I’m going to turn next to a question from an eight-year-old boy. It’s a natural question of natural childhood curiosity, and I just want to go on and say they’re many adults who have the very same question. So I want to thank this eight-year-old boy for sending in the question. The question is this, “Could you help me understand where Jesus was before He was born?” And so, I want to say to my young friend, Jesus was with the Father in heaven. He was with the Father in glory. There never was a time when he has not been with the Father, he is with the Father right now, but we are talking about Jesus who came as a baby in Bethlehem. That’s why we celebrate Christmas. And the Bible tells us number one, that he came, that meant he came from one place to another.

He came from heaven to be with us here. From heaven, he came down is the right way to put it. So he was with the Father in heaven and he obeyed the Father by coming to earth and being born as a baby and obeying the Father all the way to the cross. And he was raised by the power of God and then he was taken home by the Father back into heaven where he is with the Father in glory. And even right now as we are his, we will one day be with him. It’s a sweet question. It’s a natural question and I’m very thankful it’s one the Bible answers really clearly and very simply. He was with the Father, he came down to be with us, and after he had completed his work, he went back to be with the Father, to prepare a place for us. And as I say so often, I say again, one of the greatest honors of my life is to have children trust me with such questions. I never take that privilege for granted.

Part V

How Should Christians View Near Death Experiences? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Okay, another question came in. This question is about NDEs or near-death experiences, and this Christian man says he’s been delving into the topic of near-death experiences. He says, “I’ve been surprised by the percentage of people claiming to have had an NDE and the amount of evidence for the validity of this phenomenon. What is your theological opinion about how Christians should view NDEs?” Don’t hear this as rebuke, but rather as a friendly word of exhortation. I would say the first thing is not to be fascinated by them, and it is because we hold to the authority of Scripture, the singular authority of Scripture to convey to us all the promises of God, and that includes the promises of the life after this life by the power of the resurrected Christ.

And we just aren’t given biblical evidence about these near-death experiences. I think it’s really clear that some of it is explained by brain experience, because they’re very clear ties to trauma in the brain, loss of oxygen, other things. I’m not saying these things aren’t real. I’m just saying that these real experiences as remembered by people, and I’ll simply put it that way, they’re certainly remembered as real experiences. They can’t come to us with any content telling us about the promises of God that aren’t actually told us first and foremost and authoritatively in the Word of God itself. And so, I’ll simply say, I think it falls into the realm of a lot of things. And by the way, I understand the interest. It’s very easy to get interested in these things, and I’ll simply say there’s no reason to deny that these near-death experiences exist or that the persons who are telling us what they think they saw, there’s no reason to deny that they think they saw those things.

I’ll simply say that that’s not how God intends for us to gain information about the gospel in his kingdom, and for that he gives us his word and that word ought to be our fascination. So thanks for sending the question.

Part VI

Should Christians Ever Abstain from Voting? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Next, I want to take a question from an 18-year-old listener in South Africa, and I’m so honored that you listen from South Africa. The question is about global elections in this cycle and the listener asked, “In light of the numerous global elections happening this year, should Christians ever abstain from voting if no party represents biblical values or should they always choose the lesser two evils to bring it closer?” She says to the USA, “What if in a few years time even Republicans get swayed by the godless society and choose to become pro-abortion should Christians abstain from voting or would they vote for the party they deem the lesser or two evils even though it will mean promoting liberal policy such as the slaughtering of babies in the womb?”

Wow, very intelligent question. Very urgent question tied as this listener says, to world events including an election cycle, by the way, in South Africa as well as in the United States of America. And it probably is a bigger question than we can take in full here, but let me just say at least a part of what we have to do is say what a political party is. A political party is an organized form of a political argument. And so, in the United States, we’re quite used to that being two arguments. I will predict, that if the Republican Party strays and abandons its commitment to the sanctity of human life, and so many other issues that are absolutely crucial to conservative Christians, I believe inevitably there will be some other party that will emerge as well as a very protracted battle for the future of the Republican Party. I will say that it is not an easy answer that is called for by your question, and that’s because political situations change.

We’re going to have to act in ways that are consistent with Christian conscience, but we’re also going to have to recognize that that conscience is exercised within a limited ballot possibility. And so, in a fallen world, a part of what we have to recognize is that we have moral responsibility for the consequences of our vote, even if those consequences are secondary. So let’s put it this way. Let’s say you vote for a third party candidate, but that almost assures the victory of another candidate. You didn’t vote for that candidate, but the net effect in the math is that you might as well have done just that. And so, there’s no innocence here. That’s the hard thing for Christians. We take moral responsibility in a political equation, in a sinful world, we’re going to face all kinds of challenges, and there is a sense at which sometimes Christians honestly have to pick the lesser of two evils, and it’s probably healthy for us to recognize that even in situations that are say more comfortably clear to us. In any event, we are electing a sinner that is to say a sinful human being. 

And I will say at this stage in my political life, one of the very sobering realizations is that even the candidates we support rather wholeheartedly at some point seem to let us down. So I think the best way I can answer this very intelligent question from an 18-year-old is to say, I think in every election, in every political context, we have to maximize righteousness and minimize unrighteousness. We have to uphold honor and to seek to avoid dishonor, we have to do what is right to the greatest extent possible. And sometimes we have to admit we don’t claim any infallible wisdom and knowing exactly what that is, but we do have to take into consideration the consequences of our vote. It’s not just a voting for, or sometimes a voting against.

Sometimes it’s more complicated than that, and oddly enough have to take moral responsibility for that as well, which is to say not voting is another way of inflating the vote of others. I want to say this listener one other thing, and that is that in this sense, let’s just think about this for a moment. Our political life is very much like our consumer life. In other words, we sometimes don’t think about great big moral questions that are attached to our consumer life, but quite frankly, if we looked into many corporations, we looked into the history of how this product got to the shelf. We look into the rivalries between companies, and the history of corporate behavior, and we understand some of the policy positions undertaken by businesses. I mean, you can get so wrapped up in that you’ll never be able to buy a bottle of milk.

On the other hand, the kids need milk, and so you just want to do that which is the greatest demonstration of Christian faithfulness in the exercise of stewardship, whether you’re buying a bottle of milk or voting for a candidate, these things need to be done with humility and with an amount of fear and trembling. But I have to tell you, as I look for hope at all of this, I want to tell you as I close that one reason I have hope is that the church of the Lord Jesus Christ has 18-year-olds like you asking questions like this. I don’t think there were that many 18-year-olds in my generation who are yet asking the question. So God bless you. We need you right on time.

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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