February 4, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, February 4, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
In historic mosque visit, Obama attempts to reduce teaching of Islam to moralism
A powerful symbolic action took place yesterday as the President of the United States went to an Islamic mosque in suburban Baltimore. As Tamara Audi of the Wall Street Journal reported,
“The president on Wednesday made his first visit to a United States mosque since taking office. A moment,” she wrote, “that is being hailed as a milestone by some American Muslims, but that also underscores their complex relationship with the White House.”Show Full Transcript
–beyond that we could extend her words to a complex relationship with the United States. As the Wall Street Journal reports,
“The president visited the Islamic Society of Baltimore yesterday, a congregation of 3,000 with a school and a health clinic, about 13 miles west of Baltimore.”
The report then says,
“The trip comes late in Mr. Obama’s final term and after years of lobbying for such an appearance by Muslim Americans.”
President George W. Bush visited an Islamic mosque soon after the September 11, 2001 attacks, but this is the first visit by President Obama and the first visit by any president, of course, in recent years, and it comes at a very delicate moment. In the transcript of the President’s remarks released by the White House, the President said,
“Now, we do have another fact that we have to acknowledge. Even as the overwhelming majority — and I repeat, the overwhelming majority — of the world’s Muslims embrace Islam as a source of peace, it is undeniable that a small fraction of Muslims propagate a perverted interpretation of Islam. This is the truth.”
Now what we need to note here is that in that statement, the President actually sought to define and to interpret Islam. He says it is undeniable that a small fraction of Muslims propagate what he called a perverted interpretation of Islam. That means the President of the United States implies that there is some other interpretation of Islam, one that is proper. That is an interesting and largely unnoticed theological statement of theological analysis offered by the President of the United States. The other thing we need to note is that even as it is true–and we should be extremely thankful that it is true–that only a minority, indeed only a fraction of Muslims around the world, are involved in Islamic terrorism, that still amounts to multiple millions of people, multiple millions of people who either are involved in or are supportive of Islamic terrorism.
After stating that it is undeniable that a small fraction of Muslims, in the President’s words,
“…propagate a perverted interpretation of Islam.”
He went on to say,
“This is the truth.”
“Groups like al Qaeda and ISIL, they’re not the first extremists in history to misuse God’s name. We’ve seen it before, across faiths. But right now, there is a organized extremist element that draws selectively from Islamic texts, twists them in an attempt to justify their killing and their terror. They combine it with false claims that America and the West are at war with Islam. And this warped thinking that has found adherents around the world — including, as we saw, tragically, in Boston and Chattanooga and San Bernardino — is real. It’s there. And it creates tensions and pressure that disproportionately burden the overwhelming majority of law-abiding Muslim citizens.”
No doubt in making that statement the President was not only speaking to the Muslim citizens who were no doubt glad to have the President speak this way, but he was attempting to speak to non-Muslim Americans as well. This was a speech by the President of the United States to a mosque that was not intended to be heard only in the mosque.
The President continued to make a theological statement and to offer theological analysis. He said,
“At a time when others are trying to divide us along lines of religion or sect, we have to reaffirm that most fundamental of truths: We are all God’s children. We’re all born equal, with inherent dignity.”
In this case, the President doing the speaking was President Obama, but we need to know this has been a bipartisan pattern. President George W. Bush also sought to interpret what he believed, or at least what he hoped, was the proper interpretation of Islam, a peaceful interpretation. But there’s actually more here than meets the eye. That’s made clear in an academic analysis of recent presidential figures that is offered in the book, Faith in the New Millennium: The Future of Religion and American Politics edited by Matthew Avery Sutton and Darren Dochuck. In a chapter in the book by Elon University Professor of History, Charles F. Irons, the professor makes the point that several recent American political figures–he cites in particular John Kerry, Mitt, and Barack Obama–he says,
“Each man has encouraged Americans to limit the public expression of their distinctive religious commitments to the lowest common denominator of the Golden Rule.”
Now keep that in mind when you think to the statements made yesterday by President Obama in that mosque outside of Baltimore. That is an apt analysis of exactly what the President did. He reduced theological claims to a common humanity and to the moral obligations we then have to one another. The first problem with that is that any sustained religious vision isn’t limited to something that can be reduced to the Golden Rule. That’s true of Christianity; it’s true of Islam, even as every major world faith has significant moral teachings. The reality is the theological claims of Christianity and Islam go far beyond matters of mere morality. They cannot be reduced to any single moral principle, much less being reduced simply to the Golden Rule.
In influential mosques across the globe, demise of the West a common theme preached
Next, along the same lines, even as yesterday the President appeared in that mosque outside of Baltimore, an article on what goes on in many mosques sight-unseen appeared in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. In a very important article, Steven Stalinsky wrote,
“President Obama on Wednesday will visit a U.S. mosque for the first time in his presidency. According to the White House, during this visit he will ‘celebrate the contributions Muslim Americans make to our nation and reaffirm the importance of religious freedom to our way of life.’”
Stalinsky then wrote,
“Over the past two years, in the president’s efforts to counter violent extremism, he has emphasized the responsibility of Muslim ‘scholars and clerics’ to help ensure that mosques are not used as a platform to preach Islamist extremism.”
Stalinsky then writes,
“Such extremism isn’t limited to out-of-the-way mosques where radical clerics operate in the shadows. It is occurring in mainstream and leading mosques world-wide, including at one of the most important religious institutions in Islam, the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.”
Stalinsky then goes on to cite many sermons that have been given in this site in Jerusalem, the Al Aqsa Mosque right there at the Temple Mount, one of the holiest sites in Islam, the holiest site in Islam outside the nation of Saudi Arabia. As Stalinsky makes clear, it’s not as if these messages are hidden; many of them have been posted to YouTube and are available elsewhere on the Internet. But of course most Americans do not have the language skills to understand what is being said. So what is being said? As Stalinsky writes,
“Calls for the destruction of the U.S. and the West, including promises that Islam will take over the world, are other common themes. On July 24 last year, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Dweik—a frequent lecturer at the mosque and Palestinian cleric, like the other religious leaders quoted here—said: ‘The caliphate will come to be, and the nuclear bomb will be produced,’ adding that this future Islamic caliphate—will ‘fight the U.S. and will bring it down’ and ‘eliminate the West in its entirety.’”
Stalinsky then offers a vast catalog of what is being taught in one of the most significant mosques in the world. He says,
“In an Oct. 27 address at Al Aqsa, Sheikh Khaled Al-Maghrabi called for the annihilation of the Jews all over the world, providing justification by quoting the well-known hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) of the stone and the tree: ‘Oh Muslim there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’ Earlier at the mosque, on May 29, Sheikh Al-Maghrabi explained why Jews were killed in the Holocaust. ‘On Passover,’ he said, the Jews ‘would knead the dough for these matzos with children’s blood. When this was discovered, the Israelites were expelled across Europe . . . It got to the point where they were burned in Germany.’”
At that point we’re not even halfway through the article and Stalinsky’s catalog of the kinds of extremist messages that are being preached in the Al Aqsa Mosque there in Jerusalem. Once again, we should be happy, as President Obama said, and we should be honest that most of the millions of Muslims around the world are not involved in Islamic terrorism. But the President sought yesterday to say that some are. He intended to reduce the numbers to something that was imaginable, and he intended also to reduce Islam to a theology that would not be consistent with what we now know is preached routinely in the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. The question for Muslims around the world is which theological vision of Islam is legitimate and what is the future of Islam? Is it the theological vision that was set out by the President of the United States in a suburban American mosque yesterday? Or is it the version of Islam that we now know is routinely preached in the most significant Muslim mosque outside of Saudi Arabia, right there on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Statement for religious freedom signed in country that does not recognize Christian faith
Next, looking at the issue of the intersection of Islam and religious liberty, something the President directly addressed during his visit to the mosque there outside of Baltimore. The New York Times reported this week from Marrakesh, Morocco,
“The gathering here of about 300 muftis, theologians and scholars last month responded far more broadly by issuing the Marrakesh Declaration, which calls for Muslim countries to tolerate and protect religious minorities living within their borders — among them Christians, Jews, Hindus and Bahais as well as Yazidis and Sabians.”
As the report goes on to tell us,
“They cited the Charter of Medina, established by the Prophet Muhammad after he fled to Medina, in what is now Saudi Arabia, from Mecca in the seventh century to escape an assassination plot.”
Sheikh Abdallah bin Bayyah, identified as Mauritanian religious scholar and a professor of Islamic Studies in Saudi Arabia, he said,
“The Medina Charter established the idea of common citizenship regardless of religious belief.
“‘Enough bloodshed,’ he said. ‘We are heading to annihilation. It is time for cooperation.’”
The New York Times then reported that,
“Since it was issued last Wednesday, the declaration has been welcomed by many, though with some skepticism, and it is only now beginning to gain wider circulation.”
The reporter went on to say,
“Some experts said they doubted that the meeting would have lasting impact because it did not include representatives of more extremist movements, like the Muslim Brotherhood. They also said the groups that did attend do not have great sway over young people.”
One of the most significant authority cited in the article was Shadi Hamid, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington and the author of Islamic Exceptionalism: How the Struggle Over Islam is Reshaping the World. He did not attend the conference, but he said,
“These efforts are compromised from the get-go because of their association with states that don’t have legitimacy among young, angry, frustrated Muslim youths in the Arab world.”
He then made the statement,
“It’s something that appeals to Western governments, but what’s the follow-up?”
There’s actually a prior question to that. Not only, where’s the follow-up? Where is the actual agreement? What has actually been pledged in this document? And that’s where a closer look reveals that some of the people who were present, and some of the nations represented, at present already fundamentally do not respect religious liberty.
Responding to the news out of this conference in Marrakesh and responding to the document itself, Professor Ayman S. Ibrahim, Assistant Professor of Islamic studies of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and head of the Bill and Connie Jenkins Center for the Christian understanding of Islam, said that the document, according to participants,
“…provides details for treating non-Muslims and calls for accepting a plural religious state.”
Professor Ibrahim went on to write,
“The summit called on predominantly Muslim-majority communities to apply Muhammad’s Charter of Medina and grant non-Muslim minorities ‘freedom of movement, property ownership, mutual solidarity and defense.’”
He went on to say,
“There is no doubt the declaration the summit produced is remarkable. The significant question is: Will it lead to real action? One can only hope it brings real fruits and that religious freedom for minorities will become a reality.”
But Professor Ibrahim says he is not optimistic. He is,
“…a Coptic Christian who lived for decades in an Arab majority-Muslim country.”
He then asks the question?
“Can we hope the Moroccan underground church will be recognized?”
“The country recognizes only Muslims and Jews. Despite all the facts, the government claims that there are no Moroccan Christians.”
So even as the conference was held in Marrakesh, Morocco, and even as it is called the Marrakesh declaration, the government doesn’t even admit that there are any Christians that might constitute a religious minority within the very nation of Morocco. Professor Ibrahim then asked the questions,
“Will Mauritania, Tunisia, Algeria and Libya recognize Christians and allow anyone to convert?”
That is a huge question. Some of the nations represented even within this document are nations from which it is a capital crime to convert from Islam to anything. Professor Ibrahim then presses the point on a key United States ally, Saudi Arabia, when he asks,
“Will Christianity be recognized in Saudi Arabia? Will churches be built in Mecca, like mosques are being built in the West?”
That is a fascinating question made all the more urgent by the President of the United States’ visit to a mosque outside of Baltimore, Maryland in the USA just yesterday. To state the matter bluntly, it is inconceivable that the King of Saudi Arabia would attend a Christian church in Saudi Arabia, even if one were legally allowed to exist. There are Christians in Saudi Arabia, but they cannot publicly worship, nor can they publicly declare their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and it remains a capital crime to convert from Islam to Christianity.
Later in his article, Professor Ibrahim writes,
“Minorities in Muslim-majority lands are tired of talking about religious equality. They are in desperate need of action.
“The bad news is that this very Charter of Medina, upon which the Marrakesh Declaration is based, did not actually help religious minorities, particularly Jews, during Muhammad’s time. Religious minorities during Muhammad’s time were seized, expelled from their homes and often massacred.”
“We should hope, and keep hoping for a better day.”
Indeed, we should not only keep hoping, but praying for a better day, even as we pray for our brothers and sisters around the world who are persecuted because of their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. There’s a lot behind this, including the distinction between religious toleration and religious liberty. They are not the same thing, and yet we need to note something else. Even when people say they’re promising merely religious toleration, the reality is without true religious liberty, religious toleration never exists or lasts long.
Death of militarized fourth-grader in Afghanistan exposes horror story of child combatants
Next, along these lines, a news story on the front page of yesterday’s New York Times that simply has to be read in order to be believed. The article is by Mujib Mashal and Taimoor Shah, the dateline on this one is Kabul, Afghanistan. Here’s the article and its lead,
“The Afghan government declared Wasil Ahmad a hero for leading a militia’s defense against a Taliban siege last year, parading him in front of cameras in a borrowed police uniform too big for him. On Monday, the Taliban triumphantly announced that they had assassinated him with two bullets to the head.
“Wasil Ahmad was 10 years old.”
The reporters tell us he was gunned down just a few months after leaving militia life and enrolling in a school as a fourth-grader. The heartbreaking story continues,
“Wasil’s story is a painful example of how child combatants continue to be a part of life in Afghanistan, both in the ranks of pro-government forces and among the Taliban insurgents.”
“When the Taliban laid siege to his home village and when the local militia commander was incapacitated, the 10-year-old took over command of the brigade. The incapacitated commander said, ‘He fought like a miracle. He was successfully leading my men on my behalf for 44 days until I recovered.’”
The reporters give us a great deal more in terms of detail and background, but the article concludes,
“On Monday, as Wasil walked out of the house to buy vegetables, an armed man on a motorcycle shot him twice in the head and escaped, his uncle said. The boy was buried in Tirin Kot, in the Shahidano graveyard. He left behind two younger brothers.
“The Taliban claimed responsibility on their website, saying they had killed a stooge militiaman.”
As we are thinking about some of the evil things that happen around the world and how dangerous it is for so many around the world, including children, keep that in mind, dear Christian parent, as you tuck your children in bed tonight. Wasil Ahmad was 10 years old, a fourth-grader.
Proponent of forcing bakers to bake gay cakes changes mind, champions freedom of conscience
Finally, similarly on the issue of religious liberty, a really interesting article datelined from London that came yesterday. It’s written by Peter Tatchell, a very well-known gay-rights activist there in Great Britain. The title of the article:
“I’ve changed my mind on the gay cake row. Here’s why.”
That is the controversy over whether or not cake bakers should be legally coerced and obligated to make cakes celebrating same-sex marriages. Until just recently, Peter Tatchell had been on the side of the fact that society should compel people, and in this case, believing Christians, to violate their convictions in order to make a wedding cake that would express something that is contrary to their own biblical convictions. But Peter Tatchell has changed his mind and in this article he says why.
“Like most gay and equality campaigners, I initially condemned the Christian-run Ashers Bakery in Belfast over its refusal to produce a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan for a gay customer, Gareth Lee. I supported his legal claim against Ashers and the subsequent verdict – the bakery was found guilty of discrimination last year. Now, two days before the case goes to appeal, I have changed my mind.”
“Much as I wish to defend the gay community, I also want to defend freedom of conscience, expression and religion.”
It’s a very interesting change of mind, and it’s a very interesting, honest assessment of why this gay activist has changed his mind on this question; and it is actually tied to everything on The Briefing that has come before in this edition. It has to do with whether or not there is the reality of religious liberty. That’s not exactly the language Peter Tatchell uses in his argument, but it well describes his argument. He describes the case,
“Gareth Lee’s legal case against Ashers was backed by the Equality Commission of Northern Ireland. It argued that the bakery’s actions breached Northern Ireland’s Equality Act and Fair Employment and Treatment Order, which prohibit discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services on the respective grounds of sexual orientation and political opinion. Last May a Belfast court found Ashers guilty of discrimination on both grounds, ordering it to pay Lee £500 compensation.”
Mr. Tatchell conclusion, and I quote,
“I profoundly disagree with Ashers’ opposition to same-sex love and marriage, and support protests against them. They claim to be Christians, yet Jesus never once condemned homosexuality, and discrimination is not a Christian value.”
Again, that is the argument by Peter Tatchell. He goes on to say,
“Ashers’ religious justifications are, to my mind, theologically unsound. Nevertheless, on reflection the court was wrong to penalise Ashers [that is the bakers] and I was wrong to endorse its decision.”
So what’s behind the change of mind? Very interestingly, you’ll notice Peter Tatchell is not backing off his argument for same-sex marriage. He’s not even backing off his argument that Christians should support same-sex marriage; but he is backing off his argument that Christians should be penalized if they are unwilling in a work environment to affirm a same-sex message or same-sex marriage, and this does reflect a change in his mind. The key goes back to understanding were Peter Tatchell put together what he called,
“…respective grounds of sexual orientation and political opinion.”
Here’s where I think Peter Tatchell came to change his mind, and that’s why this is really important. If as a matter of fact it is illegal, or in the United States unconstitutional, to refuse to participate in making a statement, for instance by baking a cake and then in icing writing the statement, then we are in big trouble. Not only are conservative Christians operating out of biblical conviction in trouble, but just about anyone else is in trouble, unless everyone intends to be coerced into making virtually any and every kind of statement simply upon demand.
Tatchell now understands that finding these bakers guilty of political discrimination is really problematic, because on these grounds anyone could be coerced given their job into affirming a political statement with which they are in profound disagreement. And as Peter Tatchell now understands, that cuts both ways, not only would relate for example, to a Christian couple who might own a bakery who do not want to be required to celebrate same-sex marriage by making a cake for that kind of marriage, along with the expressions that would be on the cake, you can turn that around and say, what about a gay couple who own a bakery and it is now required that they are supposed to make a cake with which they would not agree with the expression? Tatchell says the logic behind so much of the coercion raises the question, these are his words,
“Should Muslim printers be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed? Or Jewish ones publish the words of a Holocaust denier? Or gay bakers accept orders for cakes with homophobic slurs?”
“If the Ashers verdict stands it could, for example, encourage far-right extremists to demand that bakeries and other service providers facilitate the promotion of anti-migrant and anti-Muslim opinions. It would leave businesses unable to refuse to decorate cakes or print posters with bigoted messages.”
The point here is that there is enormous common sense in Peter Tatchell’s change of mind. He has adopted a policy of moral coercion for a policy of understanding that liberty really does mean liberty and freedom of expression really does mean freedom of expression. He concludes,
“In my view, it is an infringement of freedom to require businesses to aid the promotion of ideas to which they conscientiously object. Discrimination against people should be unlawful, but not against ideas.”
That is rare common sense and we should be glad that it has arrived. The big question is, has it arrived in time? And will it convince others in time?