The Briefing 09-04-15

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KY County Clerk jailed over refusal to issue marriage licenses in display of judicial arrogance

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Larry King's fixation on death exposes a desperate desire for hope beyond death

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Labor Day a reminder of dignity and value of all work

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Transcript

The Briefing

September 4, 2015

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It’s Friday, September 4, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

KY County Clerk jailed over refusal to issue marriage licenses in display of judicial arrogance

The Commonwealth of Kentucky is now the setting for a dramatic display of judicial arrogance, even as the larger story points to the sweeping moral change that is transforming the nation’s landscape. Yesterday, U.S. District Judge David Bunning ordered Kim Davis, County Clerk of Rowan County, to go to jail for refusing to obey an order of his court requiring Mrs. Davis to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Actually, Mrs. Davis has refused to issue any marriage licenses since the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its Obergefell decision legalizing same-sex marriage back in June. She stated that her Christian convictions would not allow her to issue a license for a marriage she did not believe was legitimate. Over the last several weeks, the County Clerk found herself summoned before judges, including the judge who sent her to jail. She had appealed her cause to the U.S. Supreme Court, which denied her request for a stay of the District Court’s order.

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In court yesterday, Judge Bunning told Davis: “The court cannot condone the willful disobedience of its lawfully issued order.” The judge went on to say that, “if you give people the opportunity to choose which orders they follow, that’s what potentially causes problems.”

 

Well, Judge Bunning has now caused a real problem of his own. With lesser sanctions at his disposal, he sent a county clerk to jail and put her right in the center of the nation’s attention. He explained that he did not think that fines alone would change her mind. We simply at this point have to ask the question: does he really think sending her to jail is more likely to convince her?

As Mrs. Davis and her attorneys have made clear, she has been willing for her name to be removed from marriage licenses in Rowan County, but she is not willing to put her name on those licenses so long as that would require her approval of same-sex marriages. But Judge Bunning made clear that he would be satisfied only when Mrs. Davis either issues marriage licenses in compliance with the Obergefell decision or resigns her office and lets others sign those very licenses.

 

Yesterday, Kim Davis surrendered to the U.S. Marshall Service after Judge Bunning handed down his order. Her place of confinement has not yet been announced.

 

This story, now far larger than would have been imagined just a few weeks ago, points to some of the hardest questions faced by Christians who are determined, simultaneously, to be faithful to Christ and to fulfill their responsibilities as citizens. Many of these questions defy a simplistic answer. How are Christians who hold elective office to fulfill that office when the nation’s highest court or those holding higher office rule and legislate contrary to Christian conviction? The same question is quickly extended to those serving in the military, holding appointive office, or even merely working for the government.

Furthermore, though the most pressing challenges in this case are centered in a political office, the same pressures and demands for moral coercion are found in higher education, in the world of business, and even among the Boy Scouts. There is virtually no Christian who will not face these questions at some point, in some way.

 

The Bible is abundantly cleara Christian cannot act in violation of conscience without committing sin. Kim Davis has been clear, even as her own marital background has been discussed, that her conversion and Christian beliefs do not allow her to sanction what the Bible declares to be sin.

At the same time, the Christian church has long struggled to understand how Christian faithfulness is translated into faithful decisions in any number of political and legal situations. How would a faithful congregation advise Mrs. Davis to fulfill her Christian commitment? Should she remain in office and refuse to issue marriage licenses? Should she resign her office? Exhausting appeals to a higher court, should she now obey Judge Bunning’s order? Should she defy that order and go to jail?

There is no automatically right answer to these questions. Each can be rooted in Christian moral argument, and any one of these options might be argued as right under the circumstances.

Kim Davis was within her rights as a citizen of the United States and as an official who had pledged to uphold the U.S. Constitution to appeal her case and make her argument all the way to the Supreme Court. The hardest questions come now that her appeal was turned back.

The Bible clearly commands that Christians respect the rightful authority of civil governments, understanding that the institution of human government is itself a part of God’s design. At the same time, the rightful power of government is not absolute. The Apostle Paul tells us to obey the government but Daniel and his friends were right to refuse to bow the knee to King Nebuchadnezzar. When is the Christian to obey and when must the Christian not obey government?

It is very revealing that many of those who are celebrating Judge Bunning’s decision to send Kim Davis to jail and who are now asserting their absolute commitment to the rule of law are the very same people who made the opposite argument when it served their purposes. That argument, taken at face value, would have meant no civil rights movement — and no gay rights movement.

Furthermore, once again, taken at face value it would have meant no American Revolution. If the Christian responsibility to obey government is extended without the support of other Christian duties, all that is left is tyranny and obeisance to the stateThe Apostles Peter and John told the Sanhedrin, “We must obey God rather than men” [Acts 5:29]. Martin Luther testified before the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire as he was on trial for his life: “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe, God help me.”

During the Reformation, both Martin Luther and John Calvin affirmed what was later defined as the “doctrine of lesser magistrates” which held that the tyrannical dictates of a higher authority could be defied by a lesser government authority who acted on conscience in defense of what is right. Lutheranism even added this doctrine to its confessional basis in the Magdeburg Confession (1550). Many Anabaptists went even further, arguing that no Christian could faithfully hold government office.

There is no easy way out of these questions. Add democratic self-government to the mix and the questions only get more difficult and perplexing.

In the case of Kim Davis, the hardest questions for the Christian conscience come after she had lost her appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. At this point, she has few options. Judge Bunning had his own options, and he opted to send Kim Davis to jail. That, at the very least, is an act of judicial overreach that is more of a political statement than a judicial act.

 

What are Christian government officials now to do? This story centers on a County Clerk in Kentucky, but the questions will eventually extend to any office holder, anyone wearing the uniform of the United States military, and virtually any government employee. The same pressures will come on anyone teaching on a secular college campus and anyone working for a Fortune 500 corporationBut the hardest question in this case has to do with the fact that Kim Davis holds a constitutional office that now requires her, according to the federal courts, to do what she believes she cannot do in good conscience. Anyone who sees this case in simplistic terms simply doesn’t understand the issues. Christians of good conscience may answer these questions in different ways. In a fallen world, some questions seem to grow only more vexing.

Without doubt, the legalization of same-sex marriage will mean especially hard questions for Christians who hold government office — and especially those offices that deal most regularly with marriage.

How this story ends is still unclear. Will Kim Davis remain in jail? Will the Kentucky legislature eventually remove her from office? Will some other accommodation be found?

What this story reveals beyond the headlines is that the moral revolution on marriage and human sexuality will leave nothing as it was before. No area of life will be untouched, and no address will be far removed from the front lines of the revolution. This story comes from Rowan County, Kentucky. A County Clerk is headed for jail. A legion of Christians struggles to be faithful in their own situations, responsibilities, and callings.

Jesus told his disciples: “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). Welcome to Rowan County.

Larry King's fixation on death exposes a desperate desire for hope beyond death

Next, an absolutely amazing and frankly bizarre article on television personality Larry King appeared in last weekend’s edition of the New York Times magazine. Reporter Mark Leibovich writes an article entitled “Off the Air: Larry King prepares himself for that final cancellation.”And the final cancellation here has nothing to do with any end of his television series, even with his new television series now on cable. It  has to the end of his life. It has to do with Larry King facing the reality of his death.

 

Leibovich tells us that Larry King, now age 81, is not only fixated about death, he’s fixated by the death of others as well. He regularly checks the obituaries, and then as Leibovich writes,

 

“King is fixated on dying. Everyone is, to some degree, but not like him. Shawn King, his seventh wife, told me that Larry talks so much about his demise that he started to upset their teenage sons, and she had to tell him to knock it off.”

 

Larry King is best known to Americans and many around the world for hosting the Larry King show on CNN. It was a nightly fixture of American culture. I had the opportunity to appear on the show many times and came to know Larry King not only as a television personality but as a person. That’s what makes me particularly interested in this article.

 

It tells us a Larry King having moved from CNN a cable network known as Ora TV has exchanged Larry King Live for Larry King Now, and he still at it in terms of his talk format very familiar to anyone who watched his program even 25 years ago. It also tells us a Larry King had been born Lawrence Harvey Zeiger, a poor kid from Brooklyn. He changed his name because it had be considered too ethnic. At the peak of Larry King Live he was reaching about 1.5 million people a night. Right now his ratings are considerably smaller, but he’s still at it and that says something about a man who began in show business and in the news media well over 30 years ago. He’s still at it, even at age 81. But as he’s at it, according to this article, he’s very obsessed with not the cancellation of his next program, but of the end of his life. He’s very obsessed with the idea of death.

 

In a conversation at Washington’s Newseum (that is a museum of the news media), Larry King talked about his anticipation of his own death and the fact that he’s trying to hold it off as long as possible. As Leibovich writes,

 

“ The Newseum conversation eventually veered to the specter of King’s final episode, his death. How can a story end well if he winds up in the ground? He is planning to avoid that [he said at the Newseum]. King takes four human growth hormone pills every day. People think H.G.H. is illegal because athletes are suspended for using it. It is not, King says, and he feels great. But in case of death, King wants the Ted Williams treatment. He has arranged to have his body frozen and then thawed out when researchers discover a cure for whatever killed him.”

 

But that conversation with Larry King, as interesting as it is, just got more interesting than Leibovich ask him about the very idea that he was to be frozen when he dies in hopes of being thawed out at some point and returned to life. The so-called science or technology behind this ideas known as cryonics. As Leibovich says,

 

“ King told me later that the people behind cryonics are ‘‘all nuts,’’ but at least if he knows he will be frozen he will die with a shred of hope. ‘‘Other people have no hope,’’ King said.”

 

Now as the article continues it tells us a great deal more about Larry King. It tells us about his marital life, it tells us about his personal life, it tells us about many things that a lot of Americans never knew about Larry King. But the most important issue here from the Christian worldview is what Larry King reveals about his obsession with his own death, and about the fact that the only shred of hope he holds is to have his body frozen in the very thin hope (he acknowledges) that one day there may be the opportunity for his body to be thawed out in order that he could be returned to life.

 

I guess the thing the most of me about this article is Larry King’s acknowledgment that this isn’t much of a hope. He acknowledges the people behind the technology into which he’s entrusting his body are “all knots.” And yet he says he would rather die with even just this shred of hope of the fact that death isn’t the end. He wants to hold on to cling to a very vain hope – a hope in the freezing of his body – because as he sees it that’s the only hope he has. And then speaking of others who can’t afford the same technology he says, “Other people have no hope.”

 

Sometimes it is as if an article appears in the secular media such as this major article on Larry King by Mark Leibovich in the New York Times magazine and what immediately comes to mind is a specific text of Scripture. Keep in mind Larry King’s statement that he is entrusting his hope, although he knows it is a very slender hope, to the freezing of his body after his death in the hope that one day he can be thawed out and returned to life. Remember what he said about others when he said other people have no hope. Compare that to what the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 15 when he wrote,

“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…[ later in that very text he says] If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

 

The apostle Paul contrasts Christians who have the sure and certain hope of a resurrection in Jesus Christ and those who have no hope. And then he makes the explicit statement that without the physical bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, we are also those who have no hope. But then you’ll recall his argument immediately turns where he says ‘but in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who a fallen asleep.’

 

So keep those two texts in mind: the article on Larry King in the New York Times on the one hand and Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians on the other hand. But then keep this in mind. From a Christian worldview perspective the most important analysis may be this: when we look at Larry King, and when we look at his vain and frankly very sad hope -the only hope he has – that somehow the freezing of his body might lead at some point to the regaining of his life we need to contrast that not so much as with Christians who have the sure and certain hope of the resurrection and eternal life that is promised to us in the accomplished atonement of Jesus Christ, but we need to keep in mind that as odd and eccentric as frankly bizarre as Larry King looks here at least he’s honest. Larry King who has heard the gospel many times identifies himself as an unbeliever, and that’s the issue.

 

In this article he actually dismisses rather derisively and condescendingly anyone who believes in God. He does not believe in God. He does not believe in Christ. He does not believe in the afterlife. He does not believe in the resurrection of the body. He also really doesn’t believe in cryonics. He really doesn’t believe that when day he’s likely to be thawed out, and to be Larry King alive once again.

 

One of the most important realities of the Christian worldview is the profound dichotomy that it presents between the hope that is ours in Christ Jesus, and the fact that there is no other hope. There is no other hope.

 

Frankly outside the gospel of Jesus Christ, everything is bizarre, everything is hopeless, everything is empty. Frankly there are people outside the gospel who would think that having one’s body frozen is ridiculous, but their own understanding of whatever hope they may have after their death is just as ridiculous, just as empty.

 

In the article, told that someone had defined death is being like sleep, Larry King said,

 

‘‘I don’t know what I’m doing when I’m sleeping. I’m not anything.’’

 

This leads to a very important observation known by many Christians throughout the ages. Christian such as Augustine, one of the most important fathers of the early church. Such as Luther, one of the great reformers of the 16th century. They remembered that Jesus had also defined death for those who are in him and have come to him by faith as sleep. These great and faithful Christian thinkers in times past also understood that they do not know what they’re doing when they’re sleeping, but they would not say as Larry King here said when he sleeping, “ I’m not anything.” Because as Augustine reminded us in his writings, as Christians our confidence is not that we can keep ourselves but that we are kept by Christ. That’s one of most important assurances a Scripture and one of most important affirmations of the Christian worldview. And it reminds us of the utter simplicity of that child’s prayer: “Now I lay me down to sleep// pray the Lord my soul to keep.”

 

Well, the Lord is the only one who can keep our soul. And he does. Our identity and our existence is not dependent upon our consciousness, much less on our ability to keep ourselves. Our hope and assurance of eternal life is not grounded in anything we can do but only what God has done for us in Christ. And that hope is sure even when we’re sleeping. Even when we’re not thinking about that hope, because we do not hope and ourselves but in Christ.

 

I appreciate the fact that Larry King invited me on his program so many times, and that I got to know him, and to know him especially on the air. But now as I read this article, I realize that Larry King has once again given us something important to think  about. In this case, thoughts about death, and about our hope for life after death. And As much as I still hold out hope that Larry King will one day respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ in faith and know that peace that passes all understanding and know himself the gift of everlasting life, this article and Larry King’s testimony in its own way reminds us once again of the inexpressible gift, the infinite gift of God’s grace to us, in the promise of everlasting life, and in the fact that we do have a whole and our hope is in Christ.

Labor Day a reminder of dignity and value of all work

As we go into the weekend and think of Monday we are reminded that for over 100 years we’ve had the holiday of Labor Day. We need to be reminded historically that that emerged in the great labor movement in the United States. That’s a very important movement and it played a very important role in American history. But what we’re looking at right now with Labor Day is the fact that most Americans simply see it as a holiday. They’re really not thinking about the dignity of labor, whether that’s tied to an historic movement in America or to labor just in terms of the general human activity of work. This is where Christians would rightly look at Labor Day as an opportunity to remember that labor is a reflection of the fact that we are made in God’s image. That the imago Dei, as the Scripture defines it, is the image of God in us and that God made us in his image, and that one crucial dimension of that image is the fact that we are made to work. Thus, for Christians work is never merely work. We come to understand that every Christian indeed has a vocation, which in its essence means a calling. That every one of us has the opportunity by the calling that God gives to us to show God’s glory in a fallen world in a way that could only be shown by the fact that made in his image, we work. Work can be exhausting, work can be tedious, work can be tiring, but work always has an inherent dignity.

 

One of the things it is clear from the Christian worldview is that even as Francis Schaeffer once said, there are no little people and there are no little places, there also no little jobs. Every job that makes a contribution to human civilization is a job that has dignity. And every worker should know the dignity of that work.

 

In terms of the biblical worldview work is not itself a symptom of the Fall. The fact that work is so difficult, now that’s a symptom of the Fall. Adam is not told that as a result of his said he would have to work he was just told that his work was going to be far harder. The Bible affirms that in the truest possible since we were made to work. And our work is a reflection of the fact we’re made in God’s image, and thus are faithfulness and work should be seen as the fulfillment of a vocation, a calling, that is given to every one of us.

 

We also as Christians been need to remember that a job is not always tied to a paycheck. It’s not always tied to a job title. We come to understand that being a mother is also a vocation. That there are dimensions of human labor to the glory of God that will never have a job description and will never have a title. And for Christians, Labor Day should afford us the opportunity of a reflection on the biblical command that in all things we are to do all things to the glory of God.

So as you gather together with friends and family for Labor Day you might have a picnic. But just remember, life wasn’t supposed to be a picnic. We were made for work and until Christ comes that work is to his glory.

 

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing