December 16, 2015
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, December 16, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
TIME person of the year shortlist and final selection summarize cultural moments in 2015
Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany since 2005, is Time magazine’s Person of the Year. Since 1927 Time has featured a cover story at the end of every year, recognizing what it declares to be the most important person of the previous year. “Most important” is very crucial here, because this is not always an article that celebrates the individual who was chosen. Adolf Hitler was actually Times Man of the Year during the time of his rise to power, and at various points some of the most evil persons in the world have been recognized with the significance of their impact in this cover story. Time magazine this year turned to Angela Merkel. As I said, since 2005 she has been the Chancellor of Germany, and in many ways she is due this recognition because she has in one way or another, at various points over the last several years, almost individually held Europe together, especially when you consider the contemporary European experiment as is reflected in the European Union.
One of the big questions still facing Europe is whether it can survive in this sense. The European Union came together over the last two decades in an effort to unite Europe, in much the way that the 50 states of the United States had come together to form a nation. It hasn’t come anything close to that in Europe, and the entire European Union experiment threatens to unravel itself at virtually every point. But Time magazine is absolutely right, the fact that it has not unraveled to this point is almost entirely due to Angela Merkel, and it’s not just to Chancellor Merkel, but to the power of Germany within Europe. It is Germany that is not only the most populous of the democracies in the area, it is also the richest. It has the most stable economy, and Germany has an outsized political influence throughout all of Europe. But it’s one of those questions that simply can’t be answered: Is it Angela Merkel who was made such an important Chancellor by the Times in Germany, or has Germany reached this kind of prominence largely because it was led by a Chancellor of her kind of political skill?Show Full Transcript
In any event, there’s no great cultural signal sent that Angela Merkel was recognized as Times Person of the Year. But it is really important for us to recognize that when you look at an announcement like this, there’s often both less and more than meets the eye. There’s more than meets the eye here in the sense that Angela Merkel’s really not on the cover of Time magazine because over the last several years she has politically held Europe together. She is on the front cover of Time magazine most especially because of the positions she has taken just in recent days and weeks on the issue of the refugee and migrant crisis facing much of Europe, and in this sense, Time magazine indeed celebrates and honors her for what it considers to be her political courage in encouraging Germany to take on so many of these migrants and refugees. But at the same time, the Washington Post–almost the very same day that Time magazine releases this cover story–the Washington Post reveals the fact that Angela Merkel is very clear-eyed about what she is asking Germany to do. As a matter of fact, she is rejecting the liberal ideal of what has been called multiculturalism because in her words she says,
It “is a sham.”
Rick Noack, reporting for the Washington Post says that the German chancellor’s refugee policy, which has attracted praise from all over the world, nonetheless has been followed by her clarifications that multiculturalism remains a sham. She has said that the idea that these migrants and immigrants, especially from the Muslim world, would be melding into something like a melting pot of Germany. She said that experiment had,
Back in 2010, the Chancellor had said,
“…of course the tendency had been to say, ‘Let’s adopt the multicultural concept and live happily side by side, and be happy to be living with each other.”
But she went on to say,
“…but this concept has failed, and failed utterly.”
In making recent comments along the same lines, the German chancellor has made clear she is not going to allow the formation of clusters of communities, such as many of the neighborhoods around Paris and some of the neighborhoods in London that are overwhelmingly Muslim. It is her view of how Germany must move forward even in accepting these migrants and refugees that they must learn German and begin to contribute as active members of the larger community, but they simply shouldn’t be encouraged to form their own societies that are separate from the German mainstream. It is going to be very interesting to see how this works in Germany, but in any event, Time magazine’s announcement of the cover story of Angela Merkel is important–but there’s always more to the cover story as well. Because Time magazine reveals the others who were considered for the Time Person of the Year designation this year, and among them is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who is the head of ISIS or the Islamic State. Now why would he have been considered? Well, just from a news headline perspective, if you’re looking at a person who has had the greatest impact in the world over the past year, an argument can certainly be made that the evil head of that evil empire known as the Islamic State could well deserve, in a very sad and tragic way, that designation, much as Adolf Hitler did back in the late 1930s as he was ascending to power there in Germany.
But that’s not all–there are others–and one of the most significant of those considered by Time magazine and featured in a sub article within this cover story is Bruce Jenner, now known as Caitlyn Jenner. The article about Caitlyn Jenner as she is now known being on the shortlist for Time’s Person of the Year is an indication of where the culture is going, and where major cultural influences like Time magazine believe that the culture should and must go. But embedded in this article are some very interesting issues we should not miss. For example, embedded in this article is the suggestion that Caitlyn Jenner is not exactly the kind of transgender model that many are celebrating her to be. That’s really important because even as Jenner is now starring in a “reality” TV program–put quotation marks around the word “reality” there–known as I am Cait, many in the transgender community are pushing back saying that she is a bad poster person for the transgender movement, because in her supposed transformation from male to female, from a man to a woman, she is being presented as an overly-glamorized and overly-feminine model of transgender identity.
The turning point in the culture is marked by what Time magazine calls Jenner’s rebirth as Caitlyn–it describes as,
“The most visible high point of a banner year for the transgender community.”
But one of the things Christians must always understand in looking at an article like this is how it reveals that very deep confusion that is at the very foundation of the LGBT movement, and the transgender movement in particular. Embedded in this article are some of the strangest words and phrases that could have appeared at any point in human history. For example, there is the criticism of Caitlyn Jenner in this article in which she is now being accused of being,
“a clueless rich white woman,”
by some on the left. Also revealed in this article is the fact that Time magazine, which is falling all over itself in this article to try to show that it has joined the transgender revolution, it tries repeatedly to say that the magazine is confident, really confident, that Jenner is now a woman. Embedded in the article is a very deep confusion revealed in the article itself about exactly how anyone is supposed to think about this. For instance, the article cites Jenner as saying,
“I think it’s much easier for a trans woman or a trans man who authentically kind of looks and plays the role. I want to dress well. I want to look good.”
That has actually led to criticism from other transgender women as they identify themselves and to other women who understand that if Bruce Jenner can become a woman, then modern feminism falls at the very basic claim that women are different than men.
LGBT magazines choose SCOTUS, Obama as persons of the year, signaling massive cultural shift
Next, it’s important to note that not only Time magazine but other major magazines and news media also now follow Time’s lead in designating men, women, or persons of the year. The Advocate, which is the nation’s most influential newsmagazine of the LGBT community, put Justice Anthony Kennedy and the Supreme Court on the cover of its magazine, designating the Court as a whole as People of the Year. And, of course, the reason for this is the June 2015 Supreme Court decision known as Obergefell in which the Court ruled for the legalization of same-sex marriage in all 50 states. The Advocate is not shy to say that this was an enormous cultural revolution brought about by five justices–that is a bare majority of the United States Supreme Court. They described that decision at the Supreme Court as the great success story of 2015. Matthew Breen, editor-in-chief of The Advocate, said,
“We selected the Supreme Court as 2015’s People of the Year because their decision in June had the most wide-ranging impact on the lives of LGBT people in this country.”
In the lead paragraph of the article they make their claim clear. They write,
“At 10:02 a.m. Eastern on June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court changed America forever.”
Now here’s where we need to note how the LGBT community has made two contradictory claims about the legalization of same-sex marriage. Embedded within the explicit arguments of the advocates of same-sex marriage was that this is no big deal, that this does not really represent a total transformation of marriage, and that it will not utterly change the culture. But now that we’re on the other side of the Supreme Court’s decision, when they got what they demanded, they are now saying, at multiple points just in this one article, this has changed America forever. And of course, they are right in that, and they’re being honest on this side of that Supreme Court decision. It has changed America forever. In fact, looking back at 2015, it’s going to be very, very difficult for any intellectually honest person to overestimate just what that Supreme Court decision will mean to America and already means even now. Marriage has been totally redefined in America. And that’s becoming increasingly clear as bureaucracies and systems of law are now being required, indeed coerced, to come into compliance with that Supreme Court decision. It has utterly changed the nation. It has utterly changed the moral landscape of the nation, because if you can redefine marriage, which the Supreme Court majority did in this case, you do change the entire moral landscape of a nation, and that’s something that we not only see now, but will see even more demonstrably as we move every month into the future.
But the most significant cultural signal sent along these lines was not The Advocate, but rather Out magazine, which is the largest circulated LGBT magazine. It released in its current issue,
“It’s out 100,”
and on its cover for the first time ever is a sitting president of the United States. As the magazine makes clear, this is the very first time in American history that a sitting president has sat for a photograph for the cover of an LGBT magazine. That would’ve been inconceivable not only back in 2008 when Barack Obama ran for President the first time, it would’ve been really inconceivable even in 2012 when he ran for reelection. You’ll recall that back in 2008 the President was against the legalization of same-sex marriage; he was for it just in time to run for reelection in 2012. The larger story is he was for it, before he was against it, before he was for it once again. This is an absolutely huge cultural signal, and one we need to note as the year heads toward the end. Aaron Hicklin, reporting for Out magazine says,
“President Obama’s evolution on marriage equality has been something to behold. He came to office reiterating that marriage was an institution reserved for a man and a woman, and continued to hold that line throughout most of his first term, even while advancing other important legislation.”
Hicklin then wrote,
“Yet even as polls suggested that a growing majority of Americans supported same-sex unions, many of us were losing faith that the president would join their ranks. His public conversion, when it came on May 9, 2012, telegraphed just how far the country had moved.”
That is why this news story deserves so much attention. The cover story of Out magazine, where Barack Obama sat for the photograph to be taken, this is a major cultural development, and the magazine is at least honest to point to Obama and say that his evolution, well to use their words,
“has been something to behold”
on the issue of LGBT rights in general, and of same-sex marriage in particular, and also here in this article is an acknowledgement that the very position that this magazine would condemn as being entirely retrograde, backward, intolerant, patriarchal, out of date, oppressive–that was the position that Barack Obama held when he was elected president of the United States. We’re not talking about a generation ago, we’re not talking about a century ago, we’re talking about 2008. As a matter fact, he held that very same position until May 9, 2012. We’re talking about just barely over three years ago. That tells you how fast this cultural revolution has happened, and it tells us that just in two terms of one president, indeed just in the last term plus a few months, we are looking at a near total transformation on the issue of marriage as defined in the laws of the United States of America. To explain why Out magazine sees this is as so important, just consider this paragraph from their cover story,
“When he was sworn in on January 20, 2009, there were two states where same-sex marriage was legal. Today it is a right nationwide.”
They go on to write,
“Many share credit for what has transpired, but there’s no question that without the active engagement of the 44th president of the United States, who has made securing the rights of LGBT Americans a fundamental part of his legacy, we’d still be working to fulfill that dream.”
Evangelical professor says Christians and Muslims worship same God, contrary to Scripture
Next, there has been a great deal of controversy in some evangelical circles ever since a professor at a leading evangelical college announced that she will be wearing the hijab over the holiday season in order to establish and to identify with solidarity with Muslims. The important part of the article, the part that deserves urgent attention in terms of this controversy, actually has to do with clearly theological content. It’s where the professor here wrote on her Facebook posting,
“I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”
Now that raises a very important issue that is now impossible to avoid. It is the statement about Muslims and Christians worshiping the same God. As a matter of fact, Pope Francis has said similar things, as have previous popes, and there is every reason for the Catholic Church to say that, consistent with the other teachings of the Catholic Church–even as on The Briefing in recent days, we’ve talked about a very recent statement released by a Vatican commission having to do with the relationship between Catholics and the Jewish people. The Catholic Church is now, and basically has been since Vatican II in the 1960s, committed to a theological position that is known as inclusivism. Inclusivism holds that there will be people in heaven for eternity who have not on earth come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Nonetheless, they will be included in what the Catholic Church calls the economy of salvation, because the God in whom they have believed will be after their death discovered to have been the God who was the father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now the problem with that proposal is that it has absolutely no grounding in Scripture. It is indeed corrected by Scripture, in particular in the classic text of Romans chapter 10, where we are told that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. Actually Romans chapter 10 is very specific that salvation comes to those who confess with the lips that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in their hearts that God has raised him from the dead.
Now getting back to the more immediate controversy, the issue is really not any news when it comes to what the Catholic Church teaches about this, but the question as to what evangelicals should understand about the relationship between Christianity and Islam. And in particular how it is stated here that Christians and Muslims,
“Worship the same God.”
Now there is a deep, deep problem embedded in that assertion, and yet it’s something that we hear rather commonly amongst those who probably don’t understand fully what they are saying. The Roman Catholic Church and Protestant liberals back in the early decades of the 20th century began speaking of the so-called three Abrahamic religions. There are some in the field known as the History of Religions who had spoken about that even in the 19th century, but the popularity of that expression, “the three Abrahamic religions,” actually goes back especially to the early 20th century. And yet we have to raise the question, if there are supposedly three Abrahamic religions–and that would be Judaism, Christianity and Islam chronologically–which is actually the faith of Abraham? And that gets into very sensitive territory, but it gets right to the point that Jesus made himself in the gospel of John in chapter 8.
If we are going to ask the question if Christians and Muslims worship the same God, we have to understand that even before we get to Muslims, Jesus addressed the question of whether or not anyone can know the Father if they deny the Son. Back in John chapter 8, Jesus spoke directly to some of the Jewish leaders who confronted him, and amongst the confrontation the Jewish leaders said that they were the sons of Abraham. And Jesus said to them, absolutely directly, if they were indeed the sons of Abraham they would believe in him. They said in John 8:41,
“We have one Father – even God.”
Jesus responded in verse 42,
“If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God, and I am here.”
They had said earlier in verse 39,
“Abraham is our father.”
And Jesus responded,
“If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did.”
Jesus, in verse 47 of John chapter 8, says,
“Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
Now that is incredibly clarifying language, and that language is not the language of some creedal or confessional understanding of the Christian church–those are the words that John tells us Jesus himself said, answering the very question that is being ask here long before the issue of Islam could ever have arisen. Jesus here is saying some of those who were literally, biologically the sons of Abraham, that if they really were of Abraham theologically, they would believe in him. But, Jesus says, having denied him they really do not know the Father. That is an astounding statement, but it’s a statement made by Jesus himself. When we come to Islam the issues are even more clear. One of the most basic principles of Islam is that God is one and that he has no son. That is one of the most important statements of Islam. Islam denies the most essential teachings concerning Christ: that he was fully divine and fully human, our Savior and Redeemer, who died on the cross for our sins in our place and was raised by the power of God on the third day. There are points in the Quran and in Islamic thought in which many right things are said about Jesus, but the most right and necessary things of all are explicitly denied by the Islamic faith. When it comes to monotheism, and even further beyond that, there are common doctrines to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. But it’s not those common doctrines that are most important; it is the central doctrines of Christianity, the very heart of the gospel that Islam denies, beginning with the fact that Jesus is indeed the eternal Son of God.
So to raise these questions means that we’re actually asking, can someone truly know the Father who denies the Son? Because denying the Son is one of the central beliefs of Islam, and the answer to that, I believe on biblical terms, has to be “No.” One cannot genuinely, much less savingly, know the Father unless one also comes to know the Son, because as Jesus also said in the gospel of John, if we know the Father, it is because we have come to him through the Son. The truth Jesus stated in John chapter 8, which is repeated elsewhere in Scripture in different ways, is that to deny the Son is effectively to deny the Father. If we keep anything straight, we as evangelicals must keep that very straight.