November 3, 2015
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, November 3, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Refugee flood threatens to overwhelm Germany, with displacement that rivals World Wars
The migrant crisis in Europe fueled by tens of thousands of migrants coming virtually every day from the Middle East and largely North Africa. It has now reached the point that it’s back in the headlines in a big way and back in a particular way that points to an even bigger story. Sunday’s New York Times included the news that takes us to a small village known as Sumte, Germany. Andrew Higgins reports,Show Full Transcript
“This bucolic, one-street settlement of handsome redbrick farmhouses may for the moment have many more cows than people, but next week it will become one of the fastest growing places in Europe. Not that anyone in Sumte is very excited about it.”
The subhead in this headline tells us a great deal about the migrant crisis and its effect on the ground in Europe and that points to some really big issues. The subhead is this,
“102 villagers, 750 migrants,”
That’s the problem, as the New York Times says ‘in a nutshell. You’re looking at a tiny little German village with only 102 inhabitants that is now being called to take care of 750 migrants that’s a microcosm of the problem. But as the New York Times reports in the very same edition, the bigger looming issue is that the migrant rate at present, maybe just a hint of what is to come. Rod Nordland writing for the New York Times says that even as they have been arriving
“In an unceasing stream, 10,000 a day at the height.”
It now appears that the total number of those who may be seeking to immigrate to Europe from the Middle East and North Africa may soon total over 1 million and behind them could be millions more. As Nordland says,
“There are between six million and eight million people displaced in Syria, along with more than four million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.
“Egypt’s five million or more Copts, the Middle East’s last remaining major Christian sect,”
Are also looking at the possibility of immigration and then Nordland asked the question,
“What if Islamic State militants are not beaten back but continue to extend their brutal writ across Iraq and Syria? What if the Taliban continue to increase their territorial gains in Afghanistan, prompting even more people to flee? A quarter of Afghans told a Gallup Poll that they want to leave, and more than 100,000 are expected to try to flee to Europe this year.”
Now just to state the abundant facts in all other numerical clarity, this is an impossible situation. It is a situation that is impossible on its face. As with the picture in this little microcosm from a village in Germany of 102 villagers being asked to receive and take care of 750 migrants, especially when that might just be a hint of what is to come. We’re looking at a social, cultural, political and economic breakdown in much of the world. The key category is fairly new, that is the category of a failed state. A failed state is a state that can no longer hold onto its territory, can no longer maintain decent order, can no longer have a functioning economy and can no longer offer any even official protection and recognition of human rights. By that definition, there have been failed states throughout history, but it’s hard to imagine any one moment, at least in recent history when there have been more failed states. As a matter of fact, the number of migrants and the percentage of migrants over against the larger population involved in the human desperation in this portrait can be really paralleled only by World War II and similar developments in the 20th century. In other words, it would take a world war to even come close to the kind of migration we’re looking at now with displaced people and failed states.
If you’re looking for graphic parabolic evidence of Genesis 3, of what might look like in a fallen world, it’s hard to imagine a more dystopian, that’s the opposite of utopia, a more dystopian understanding of the world as it is than what we’re looking at in this crisis and there are multiple issues here. Even a society as economically enriched and as technologically advanced as Europe, even a society like Europe that has been so dedicated to the project of human rights for the last century, even a culture like Europe is actually going to have to admit that it is unable to receive all of these millions of migrants who may wish to come. You can add to that North America, especially the United States and Canada. It’s not a matter of space, it’s a matter of the ability to absorb and take care of migrants and one of the big issues we’ve been looking at here is the fact that the more migrants who are received and the better they are treated, the more others in the world are incentivized to try to leave their homeland and also to risk all the abundant risk involved in migration, including the risk of human trafficking, the risk of death on the high seas. Look at how many have drowned in terms of capsized boats and drowning people who been trying to reach the shores of Europe. This is a tragic situation that simply baffles the moral imagination and is beyond even our ability to describe. Even more tragic, it may be beyond the ability of even wealthy welcoming nations like Europe to receive all the migrants who will come or if they did come to take care of them.
German church says no need to evangelize Muslims, redefining gospel and missions
But that leads to another story of great importance that also appeared in recent days that is tied to the migrant crisis. But this is not so much about meeting the human physical needs of those who will come, but about their spiritual needs and it reflects a great divide in the German church, and that divide is over the very issue of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Tom Heneghan, reporting for Religion News Service tells us,
“One of Germany’s largest Protestant regional churches has come under fire from other Christians for speaking out against efforts to convert Muslims just as tens of thousands of refugees from the Islamic world are streaming into the country.”
He tells us that the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland in a new position paper adopted in early October says that the passage in the gospel of Matthew knows the great commission does not mean Christians must try to convert others to their faith. Now before even going further in the article, this is another one of these illustrations of the logic of liberal theology and of liberal Protestantism. Germany in so many ways was as a nation and as a culture the very seedbed of Protestant liberalism. As a matter of fact, it was in German universities and in German churches that Protestant liberalism, liberal theology, first gained a major influence and as we see now it has a great deal of influence in this church, the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland. The document that was adopted translated into English with the title, “Pilgrim Fellowship and Witness in Dialogue with Muslims” says and I quote,
“A strategic mission to Islam or meeting Muslims to convert them threatens social peace and contradicts the spirit and mandate of Jesus Christ and is therefore to be firmly rejected.”
Now in that one sentence what we see is the effort that is so often undertaken to separate Jesus as a conception from his words. What we see here is an abstraction of a concept of Jesus apart from the New Testament and in many ways, in direct contradiction to the New Testament and that’s exactly what is undertaken in terms of the project of liberal theology. It is to rescue Jesus from the New Testament and from the truth claims that are clearly made within the New Testament canon. As Heneghan reminds us,
“Germany expects to receive 800,000 to 1 million asylum seekers this year, mostly Muslims from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Thus, he says, the document coming from this church could hardly have come at a more sensitive time. He then tells us that,
“The country’s Islamic minority could soon overtake France’s 5 million to become Europe’s largest. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s warm welcome to all refugees fleeing war and oppression has led to major political controversies at home and abroad.”
We now know to a theological controversy as well. Now you have this major mainline Protestant church in Germany, the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland saying that it is not necessary to try to convert Muslims to Christianity. But actually the document is even worse. It says that it might be wrong to try to convert Muslims to faith in Jesus Christ. In response, Hartmut Steeb, Secretary-General of the German evangelical alliance declared,
“We declare firmly that the fundamental missionary task of Christians, namely to preach the Gospel of Jesus to others and invite them to follow it, cannot be given up.”
Now also in this article from RNS is a very bracing statistic. The mainline Protestant, more liberal churches, according to this document, in Germany constitute,
“About 30 percent of the population and its evangelical churches that account for only about 1 percent.”
Now when you think about Germany as being the cradle of the Reformation in the 16th century, it is a reminder of just how secularized that nation has become and one of the engines of that secularization is the very liberal theology that is reflected in this statement coming from the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland. The other thing to note is that the word evangelical is used here in different senses and that is acknowledged even in the RNS article. In much of Germany, evangelische simply refers to Protestant, that is to say, it is rooted in the Reformation. That doesn’t mean any contemporary affirmation of the gospel in Reformation terms. As RNS tells us, virtually all non-Catholic Christian denominations in Germany refer to themselves as evangelische, when the more evangelically defined churches call themselves often evangelikanisch, in order to differentiate themselves from the more liberal Protestants in the country.
The story actually grows even more interesting as it develops. A woman who is identified as the head of mission work for that mainline liberal church in the Rhineland said that the position paper had been understood this was her retort,
“This is not about ending our missionary work.”
But as you look more closely at her statement and at the document it is clear that the word missionary here is also being redefined right before our eyes. With missionary in this sense, being redefined more in terms of social action and philanthropy rather than in terms of conversion of witnessing to the gospel of Jesus Christ in order that others may hear that gospel and believe and be saved. Interesting also is the fact that Barbara Rudolph that is, again, the head of mission work for the mainline Evangelical Church in the Rhineland cited as authority,
“In 2011, she noted, the World Council of Churches, the Vatican and the World Evangelical Alliance issued a joint code of conduct entitled “Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World”
Many of us back in 2011 looking at the document pointed out the contradiction of seeking to have a common statement on this issue from groups that would supposedly include the most liberal churches on the planet and some of the most evangelical. Clearly, even back in 2011, the liberals and the evangelicals at the very least were using the same vocabulary without the same dictionary. That’s always dangerous, often times it’s even disingenuous. But in this story we see that great divide between liberal theology and evangelical theology and here in this case it’s the migrant crisis in Germany that makes that point very clearly and now we’re looking at a statement made by a church, representing in terms of that church and its fellow denominations about 30 percent of the German population, which means the rest of the population really isn’t identifying as Protestant Christians at all and evangelicals theologically defined in Germany now down to about one percent and there you see the great challenge. So it turns out, this is a story not just about 100 into villagers and 750 migrants it’s also about one percent of Germany that is made up of evangelicals and 99 percent who those evangelicals understand are now the object of their work and their witness, a witness they hope will lead to belief in the Lord Jesus Christ and a demonstration of the power of his gospel.
Bernie Sanders' embarrassment over past positions on gay marriage illustrates moral revolution
Next, here in the United States we’ve been watching the unfolding of a moral revolution and at the center of that revolution is the legalization of same-sex marriage, and there is also at the center of this discussion a very interesting narrative that tells us a great deal about moral change and how that is tied to political change. One of the facts of our contemporary political life in the United States is the division between Democrats and Republicans and when it comes to that division the issue of same-sex marriage is often paramount or at least very transparent. For example, it is impossible at present to imagine that anyone could get anything close to the Democratic presidential nomination without an open affirmation of same-sex marriage, an eager and celebrative affirmation of same-sex marriage and the entire LGBT agenda. On the other hand, it’s almost equally inconceivable to believe that anyone who was a proponent of legalization of same-sex marriage could gain the Republican presidential nomination. And now we’re looking at a division between the two parties as we have seen is very deep all the way to the issue of worldview.
But that’s where the narrative gets really interesting, especially on the left, especially right now in the Democratic Party. Because the narrative has to include the fact that President Barack Obama was against the legalization of same-sex marriage, even when he ran for President in 2008 and then he was for it, of course, when he ran for reelection in 2012. That’s an enormous moral change that took place in four years. Of course, we also found that he had been for it as a state senator in Illinois, before he was against it as a candidate for president before he was for it running for reelection. But then you have former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who wasn’t for the legalization of same-sex marriage until 2013. Back in the 1990s, she supported her husband, former President Bill Clinton when he was in office signing into law the Defense of Marriage Act. And now you have a clear set of evolving positions and the very word evolve is exactly how President Obama described himself. But even in recent weeks it has become common among Democrats to say that there was Bernie Sanders holding on the right side of history all along. Except it turns out he really wasn’t.
Time magazine deserves credit for the fact that as it turns out, Bernie Sanders really wasn’t for the legalization of same-sex marriage for his entire political career. As a matter of fact, his evolution, maybe a little less dramatic but it’s also very revealing of how a moral revolution works. One thing is clear; you’re not going to hear this story from Bernie Sanders himself. As Sam Frizell reports for Time from Iowa, Bernie Sanders said,
“Today, some are trying to rewrite history by saying they voted for one anti-gay law to stop something worse.”
That’s a reference of course to Hillary Clinton. He then went on to say,
“That’s not the case! There was a small minority opposed to discriminating against our gay brothers and sisters, and I am proud that I was one of those members!”
But as Frizell says, he wasn’t exactly what he here presents himself to have been. Frizell writes,
“By all measures, Sanders was ahead of his time in supporting gay rights. In 1983, as mayor of Burlington, he signed a Gay Pride Day proclamation calling it a civil rights issue. He was one of just 67 members in the House of Representatives to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act.”
Now remember, it was President Bill Clinton who signed it into law. Earlier this year, Bernie Sanders told the New York Times,
“I’m not evolving when it comes to gay rights. I was there.”
This is where Frizell says,
“But his record on gay marriage is more complicated than he now makes it sound.”
“While Sanders generally opposed measures to ban gay marriage, he did not speak out in favor of it until 2009.”
Now to give him credit, Frizell says,
“That’s still ahead of Clinton, who released a YouTube video announcing her support in 2013, as well as most other Democratic Senators, but not as early as he’s now casting it.”
In addition, he says,
“In addition, his reasoning for opposing efforts to restrict gay marriage was much narrower and legalistic than he now makes it seem.”
The important part of the story is that Frizell goes back and documents the fact that Bernie Sanders wasn’t publicly for same-sex marriage and was publicly known to be not publicly for same-sex marriage, His Chief of Staff who was also his wife said that the reason why he was not for same-sex marriage was on a narrow legal grounds. But as Frizell says, that’s not the whole story.
From a Christian worldview perspective, the big issue for us is that those on the Democratic left are doing their very best to say they were there all along. But notice that Bernie Sanders wasn’t publicly for the legalization of same-sex marriage until 2009. Now to put the matter bluntly, that’s not even 10 years ago. So what we’re looking at here is further testimony of the velocity of the moral revolution on the issue of same-sex marriage. And now you have many who are trying to show themselves on the right side of history and they’re also rewriting history to try to tell us they were there all along. But it just wasn’t so. What’s interesting is not so much Bernie Sanders trying to tell the story and to present himself as being always for same-sex marriage. What’s interesting from a worldview perspective is the fact that he feels that he needs to. That’s what’s really powerful as an insight. Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, you go through the list the Democratic political leaders; they are embarrassed that they had ever held a contrary position. They’re on the defensive trying to explain how it ever was that they weren’t in public support of same-sex marriage. But the reality is, it wasn’t politically possible.
Regardless of what Bill Clinton really thought about same-sex marriage, politics demanded that he sign the Defense of Marriage Act into law and he did, even if under cover of darkness without any public signing ceremony. It was political expediency that explains why Barack Obama was publicly against same-sex marriage in 2008, and that’s now documented by his political strategist David Axelrod in his own memoir. Again, this is not so much about the Democratic Party as it is about moral change. And what it tells us in a moral revolution of this scale and this velocity is that on the other side of that revolution or a certain tipping point in that revolution, those who want to be seen as on the right side of history have to actually rewrite history in order to paint themselves on the right side.
American parents tending to outsource parenting to library, mobile devices
Finally, yesterday’s edition of the New York Times had a front-page story about the library and about children. Here’s the headline of the article by Winnie Hu,
“Long Line at the Library? It’s Story Time Again.”
“Forty strollers were double- and triple-parked on the main floor of the Fort Washington Library in Upper Manhattan. As another one came through the door, Velda Asbury waved toward a spot beside a book stack.
“Officially, Ms. Asbury is a library clerk, checking books in and out. But every Wednesday she doubles as a parking attendant during one of the New York Public Library’s most popular programs: story time.”
The article is really interesting. It tells us that at New York’s public libraries branches the biggest growth is an explosion in parents bringing young children for story time. It also tells us that even as a book is at the center a story time, the library has branched out into other forms of education and enrichment during the story time program and it turns out that parents are by hordes trying to get their children into the story times in order that they can experience the reading of a book and the hearing of the story. The story again made the front page of yesterday’s edition of the New York Times. That’s rare media real estate and it tells us that this is supposed to be important and I think it probably is. Here we’re looking at a generation of young Manhattan parents who are in a frenzy to make sure that their own toddlers and young children don’t miss out on story time at the New York public library. That’s encouraging about the continued vitality of a library and about the power of the book, but it’s sad in another sense because the most important story time a child can have is actually at home with a parent. And that gets to another story that also ran in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times and one wonders how many parents noted the irony.
The headline in this article by Catherine Saint Louis is this,
“Many Children Under 5 Are Left to Their Mobile Devices, Survey Finds.”
That’s a truly haunting development and set that over against the crowds trying to get into story time in the New York public library. St. Louis writes about a study based in Philadelphia that indicated that three quarters, that’s 75 percent of children were reported by their parents as having been given tablets, smart phones and iPods of their own, those are crucial words, by the age of four and that they were using the devices, without supervision. As Saint Louis says,
“According to a nationwide survey by Common Sense Media, 72 percent of children 8 or younger used a mobile device in 2013, for example, compared with 38 percent in 2011.”
One of the most troubling aspects of this news survey is that it indicated how many of these young children were using these mobile devices, without the supervision of a parent. In one sense as the article makes clear, a considerable portion of their time is being parented, if that’s even the right verb to use, by these mobile devices. Clearly, this is not really parenting. One third of the parents of three and four-year-olds said their children like to use even more than one digital device at the same time.
“A quarter of the parents said they left children with devices at bedtime, although bright screens disrupt sleep.”
One pediatrician said,
“They are putting their child to sleep in an environment that keeps them from going to sleep.”
According to the parents, nearly half the children younger than one, that’s younger than one year of age, used a mobile device daily to play games watch videos or use apps. Now at this point it’s hard to imagine how that’s even possible. But these are parents reporting on their own parenting and on their own children and yet as troubling as the article is it’s worth reading it and citing it, if only for a comment that came from Dr. Dimitri A. Christakis, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington who said,
“It can’t be overstated: Children need laps more than apps.”
That is a statement that no previous generation of human parents could have understood. But we must understand it clearly; there is simply no substitute for parents parenting their children. As this pediatrician said,
“It can’t be overstated: Children need laps more than apps.”