October 15, 2015
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, October 15, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Swerve leftward of Democrat party away from centrism exposes disappearing middle ground in American politics
Every arena and dimension of human existence eventually gets down to the issue of worldview, but in some of those arenas, the issue of worldview is front and center. That’s especially true when it comes to politics. When thinking back to Tuesday night’s Democratic candidate debate, one of the things we need to watch is what’s really going on at the level of worldview long before we get to the actual policy proposals of politics and the politicians. There are certainly several things to note from a political analysis.
The first is, the former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, was believed to have done a very good job, at least meeting, if not exceeding the expectations for the debate. That is a political equation. There was also the sense that Vermont Senator, Bernie Sanders, had at least scored some points for this base. That’s a base that’s expanding in terms of its influence in a Democratic party. The other three candidates are each polling at less than 1% nationally, and they are basically not relevant factors to the 2016 race for the Democratic presidential nomination.Show Full Transcript
When we are looking at all of these issues, and we’re thinking about how the political equation is being evaluated by so many, we need to look at the worldview issues that are underneath, and yet are even more important. On Tuesday of this week, in anticipation of the debate that took place that very night, The Wall Street Journal had a front page article entitled: “Party Tumult Reflects Changed Face of Politics”. The article is actually even more important than it first appeared. The article is by Gerald F. Seib. He offers political analysis in which he says that the big issue to watch in terms of the 2016 presidential race is how the parties have moved further apart on so many issues.
The explanation for this is highly attributable to the issue of worldview. It is traceable directly to basic differences that are far deeper than merely the differences of political policy. They are differences that are far deeper than that of partisan affiliation. They are differences that get right down to how differently we look at the world, how we define human existence, the sanctity of human life, the reality of human liberty, how we look at the role of government, how we understand the human problem. Those are huge issues that are metapolitical. They are beyond the realm of politics. One’s political understanding, one’s political choices, one’s political policies, they eventually get back to the answers to those fundamental questions.
Gerald Seib, writing for The Wall Street Journal, tells us that there is an explanation for what many people think is the aberrant behavior of the political parties in the 2016 race. Thinking about this aberrant behavior, what’s he talking about? He is talking about the kind of disorganized confusion that is present on the Republican side that is rather unusual. The Republican Party has been known, in terms of its presidential races, for having a pretty predictable understanding of the candidates who will show up and of how exactly they’re going to behave. The arrival of Donald Trump and some others in this race has completely upended that equation.
On the other hand, the Democratic Party side has generally been far more chaotic. If Tuesday night was any illustration, the Democratic trajectory for the 2016 presidential nomination race is actually pretty clear. Unless something big happens, Hillary Clinton will be the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee. Why, indeed, is there such a reversal in terms of this expectation? What’s going on among the Democrats? What’s going on among the Republicans? Political analysts are going to come up with merely political explanations. To his credit, Gerald Seib understands the deeper issues are at stake.
He points to what he calls “the tumult” in the American political system, in the American political parties, the Democrats and the Republicans. He says it is because they see the world in such starkly different terms, and because conservatives in America are more conservative by many measures than they were just a generation ago, and the liberals are more liberal. There are several indicators that the difference is they aren’t exactly parallel. Many have noted that the issues on the Republican side are far more continuous in terms of going back to previous races than would be found among the Democrats.
There is a swerve to the left in the Democratic Party, and that is reflected in the insurgent candidacy of Bernie Sanders, and it’s also reflected in the fact, and this is even far more important, that is yesterday’s edition of USA Today said on its cover, Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party are having the swerve left to keep up with Bernie Sanders. There are some really important and interesting lessons. First, let’s ask the question, “Why would conservatives be, by some measure, more conservative? Why would liberals be more liberal? Why would the Democratic Party be more liberal? Why would the Republican Party be more conservative?”
It’s because with every successive presidential election cycle, the issues get starker. It’s because every time there is a new presidential election cycle, we have new issues to discuss and new issues over which there may be, and almost all likelihood will be, deep disagreement. We are looking at issues that are so basic to the future of this country, that there is disappearing middle ground. It’s because on so many of these issues, we are going to go one direction or the other. That’s when we get to Gerald Seib’s article when he points out that there are some really, really interesting patterns here.
One of them is essentially demographic and geographic. He points out the fact that the Republican Party now basically dominates in the inland states of the United States, whereas the Democratic Party basically now dominates on the two coasts. When you look at the East Coast and the West Coast, as many people will say, “The East Coast and the Left Coast,” what you are looking at is an increasingly cosmopolitan liberal population. You are looking at states that are more regularly now colored blue in terms of voting Democrat in presidential elections. And yet you look at the heartland of the country, they are mostly deep red. This difference isn’t well illustrated just by a map, because the population distinctives are really, really important. Those states on the coast that are now more regularly colored blue have a higher population by and large than the states in the inland, which are now customarily colored red, more likely to vote Republican.
As Gerald Seib points out, even though the trajectory in this direction has been present for several decades now, it’s noticeably different than even in 1992. That year is significant, because it was that year that a Democratic Governor of the State of Arkansas was elected president of the United States, running as a Democrat and as centrist, as a moderate. Bill Clinton, the very husband of Hillary Clinton, was running for president successfully in 1992 by running as new kind of Democrat that was not as liberal as previous Democratic nominees, especially going back to Lyndon Johnson and to George McGovern in particular, in 1972. Bill Clinton won the Democratic nomination by convincing Democrats that the way to the future and the way to electoral success was running to the center, and not to the left.
What we have now with the candidacy of President Clinton’s wife, that is Hillary Clinton, what we have is a Democratic Party that is reversing the very logic that elected her husband. We are looking in one generation at a dramatic reversal in American politics. As Seib writes,
“A Democratic Party that has grown younger and more liberal isn’t just likely to embrace a Hillary Clinton as it was her centrist, Southern Governor husband, Bill.”
The cover story in yesterday’s USA Today says that this explains two very interesting phenomena. On the first hand, it explains why Hillary Clinton is running against many of the policies that were central to the candidacy of her husband. It also explains something else, however, that over the period of time might be even more shocking.
She is now running against the very policies that she defended and supported when she was Secretary of State to current President of the United States, Barack Obama. That’s how fast this political and worldview shift is taking place in the Democratic Party. She is now against the policies she was for, and in some cases, for the policies she was against when she was Secretary of State. Here we’re talking about very recent history. We’re talking about this presidential administration. In terms of worldview and what this means as we look to the nation’s future, one of the most interesting aspects of this took place in the Tuesday night debate when Secretary Clinton was asked the question, “Are you a progressive or are you a moderate?” The former Secretary of State said, “I am a progressive, but a progressive that likes to get things done.”
In other words, she was saying, ‘If you are a radical left supporter of Bernie Sanders, you can be happy with me, but I’m the kind of leader who actually gets things done,’ implying that Senator Sanders is probably both unelectable and would not be able to get those things done under any political circumstances. It’s also interesting that in the Tuesday night debate, Secretary Clinton said, “I have been very consistent over the course of my entire life. I do absorb new information. I do look at what’s happening in the world.” As USA Today said, she wasn’t doing so defending herself against accusation. She’s changed positions on trade, energy, and immigration. What makes this really interesting is her claim to consistency.
In this case, there is an odd angle that is attached to the question. Has she actually been consistent? If so, if as she claims, her positions as articulated now are basically continuous with where they were in the beginnings of her political career, then how does she explain the positions that she took when she was the Secretary of State of the United of States serving President Barack Obama? These are going to be really interesting questions. Those who have known Hillary Clinton throughout her political career actually argue that there is a consistency in terms of the fact that she was from the beginning far more liberal than her husband.
From a worldview perspective, what’s going to be really, really interesting is how the issues are more and more defined, and how they become more and more basic as the campaign goes forward. What do the candidates believe about the nature of liberty? What do they believe about the responsibilities of citizenship? What do they think about the role and size of government? What do they believe are the most important human questions? What kind of personal responsibility do they believe that citizens should demonstrate and be accountable for? How do they define human life and the sanctity of human life? Where do they stand on issues related to anything, from marriage and abortion to issues of climate change and other issues that are the headline controversies of the day? Those are, to be sure, political questions, but they are far more than political questions.
When you see an answer to that kind of political question, you can draw a direct line back to the worldview that makes that answer plausible. As we keep this worldview issues in mind as the campaign goes forward, we need to understand that the issues are going to become far more important with every passing day with this campaign. We are nearing the point and this debate service evidence of the fact that eventually these candidates are going to have to answer more questions. Those answers are going to be very revealing, and it will be up to us to watch those answers very carefully, and to think for ourselves about what’s behind the answer.
Election of gay married priest, Christmas parishes expose confusion of gospel mission in Church of England
Next, while we’re watching important moral development in churches and in the society, a headline comes from England. The Telegraph yesterday reports of a married gay priest elected to the Church of England Senate. Here is why the story is important. The Church of England has been trying to find some kind of middle way on the most basic issues of morality, and in particular, on issues of sexual morality. The Church of England makes an historic claim to what is called comprehensiveness. It claims to be able to embrace a multitude of theological positions in the beginning that included wings of the church that were more puritan and that were more high church, and were more Anglo-Catholic, but today, that claim of comprehensiveness is extended to a range of theological positions that go from positions that are classically Christian to positions that are radically post-Christian.
Two bishops and leaders of the church who have declared themselves to be, for all extents and purposes, atheists. The obvious question is how a church or denomination can hold itself together in any sense while trying to be comprehensive by encompassing all of those theological positions. On its face, it’s a very dubious proposition. The headline that comes in yesterday’s Telegraph tells us that in trying to create a middle way, the left almost always wins. With recent developments in England on the issue of same sex marriage, the Church of England has tried not to be too counter-cultural and stand out from the increasing liberalization and secularization of British culture. It has at the same time not embraced same sex marriage to the point of allowing its ministers to marry someone of the same gender.
As a matter of fact, very clearly, right now that violates the law and discipline of the Church of England. That’s why the story that made the headlines yesterday is really, really interesting. John Bingham, who was the Religious Affairs Editor for The Telegraph, tells us that one of the first priests to openly defy the Church of England’s ban on gay clergy marrying has been elected to its ruling General Synod, and that he adds to the fury of traditionalists. When I point out that middle ground never stays middle ground, what I mean to say is that the attempt to create some kind of middle ground eventually collapses into movement towards the left. That seems to be almost inevitable and almost always true. The nature of that equation becomes more clear to us when we recognize that to accept the compromise is, from the position of Christian orthodoxy, to accept some kind of doctrinal error, some kind of moral error, some kind of heterodoxy at what might be an acceptable level for now.
As any observer of church history understands, that middle ground never stays middle ground. It collapses. What for about a century has been defined as an attempt at mediating positions, these positions collapse. They collapse because the moral revolutionaries and the theological revolutionaries never stop pushing their agenda. That’s exactly what’s taking place here. Here you see that one of the first priests to openly defy the Church of England’s ban on gay clergy marrying has now been elected to the ruling General Synod of the church. What we are seeing is the fact that here you have a rebellious priest. There is no other way to put it. Here you have a man who is ordained to the Church of England, and is under its discipline and laws. Here you have a man who has defied the rules of the Church of England by marrying someone, publicly now, someone of the same gender.
That, you would think, would be headline news enough, and you would think that a church in that situation would move to sanction and to discipline a minister that was so openly and publicly defiant of its moral rules, and yet that’s not why the story is important. The story is important because exactly the opposite has taken place. The Church of England has not moved to discipline this minister, but rather, he has been elected to the ruling General Synod of the church. Now you can understand why those identified as traditionalists are so upset.
Secondly on this theme and also related to the Church of England, a second story comes to us in yesterday’s edition of The Telegraph. This one is also very revealing. It has to do with the inevitable results of the secularization of a society and of a church losing its distinctive theological identity, more specifically, losing its grasp of the gospel. Now you have the headline that comes telling us that the Church of England is considering parishes that are defined as “Christmas Only.” As the same reporter, John Bingham, reports, historic village churches across England could be closed down except on holidays such as Christmas and Easter under radical plans being considered by the Church of England to cope with decline.
He goes on to say a major report on the future of the 16,000 Anglican places of worship in England acknowledges that parts of the centuries old parish system may soon no longer be sustainable as existing congregations age, and overall, numbers dwindle. The word “dwindle” there is actually something of a very significant understatement. There has been a membership and an attendance collapse in the Church of England over the last four decades. A panel of the church, chaired by the Bishop of Worcester, the Right Reverend John Inge pointed out this decline, saying that since the 1980s, the average age of Church of England membership has increased very significantly. That means the church is getting significantly older, especially since the 1980s. The report went on to say, “Even with significant recruitment at the younger age levels over the next couple of decades, the overall level of church membership is likely to go on declining at least for a while, given the current age profile.”
From a worldview perspective, the saddest part of this article is not what we have read thus far, it’s how the article concludes. Bishop Inge told The Telegraph,
“Our 16,000 church buildings are a visible sign of ongoing Christian faith in communities throughout England as well as being an unparalleled part of our country’s heritage.”
He went on to say,
“This report looks at how we can best support the thousands of local volunteers who care deeply for and about churches, and offer wonderful service to their communities using their churches.”
He went on to say,
“We believe that apart from growing the church, there is no single solution to the challenges posed by our extensive responsibility for part of the nation’s heritage.”
Why is that statement so important? First of all, let’s note that little statement that said, “A apart from growing the church,” that would seem to be absolutely obvious. The actually more significant part of the article, I believe, is where this bishop, the chairman of the committee that brought about this report, where he states that one of the reasons why these buildings need to be maintained is because they represent an important part of Britain’s religious heritage. Here is a very important issue. If buildings or for that matter, anything else, are supposedly most valuable because they remind us merely of heritage, then that’s not going to last, no church is going to last, no family is going to maintain its commitments, no movement of the Christian gospel is going to advance and continue, unless it’s far more than heritage.
It has to be a living faith in which it is understood that nothing less than life and death for eternity are at stake. As a lover of Anglican Church architecture and the beauty of so many of these churches, I understand what it means to say that they do represent a very important heritage. As a theologian, I simply had to come back and point out that heritage will never be enough. A community heritage may explain why buildings are preserved, but a commitment to heritage alone will never keep a church alive. Museums are about heritage. Churches are about living faith and living witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Gallup no longer polling 2016 election, as predicting voters considered too unreliable
Finally, while thinking about how intelligent Christians should look to the news, one of the big things we are watching in terms of the news right now is all the attention to the 2016 presidential race. Much of that attention is focused on polls and surveys, and especially tracking polls that are supposedly telling us, on an almost day by day basis, who’s up, who’s down, and by how much. Then comes very important news that was released by the Gallup Organization over the weekend, indicating that it would no longer offer this kind of tracking poll, because it doesn’t believe they are credible. The organization known as Gallup was founded by George Gallup. It is one of the most credible polling institutions on the planet. That’s what makes this story so important.
Gallup is here telling us that they do not believe they can maintain their credibility while trying to do this kind of polling, and it’s because there are several factors at work here. For one thing, it’s very difficult to determine who is actually a likely voter. For another thing, many of the people who are being polled are likely never to have the opportunity to vote at all in terms of the national polls, because while we’re looking at how candidates are chosen as political party nominees, it goes by caucuses and primaries. There is not a national primary. Also you have the fact that many of these polling institutions are facing the reality that people aren’t using the landlines that are so central to the identification of actual people who can be traced to a likelihood in terms of the polling predictability.
The bottom line in the Gallup decision is that it believes polling can only adequately be done over a considerable period of time, and certainly not with anything that amounts to a day to day tracking poll, so they’re not going to do it anymore. What does that tell us? What you tell intelligent Christians then when you’re looking at many of these polls and when you see the claims that are being made, someone up, someone down this day, then the next, when we look at something even over the period of a few days or a week, the polls may be telling us absolutely nothing. Polls these days are driving the headlines, and are driving a great deal of media attention, but Gallup, of all organizations, getting out of this business, should tell us they don’t believe it’s really credible. In their release, they even said why.
While we are focused on the issues that really are important to the race, we need to remember that the polls, though often interesting, are after that. They are just polls. They are only as good as the questions asked. They are only as good as the mechanism used, and oftentimes, they are no good at all in making actual predictions about how voters will vote. At the same time, don’t count on the media to be any less interested in the polls, because they drive interest, and they drive headlines. That’s really the point.