The Briefing 03-25-16

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Time will tell whether Obama's visit to Cuba will usher in a new era or affirm an old one

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Advances in food technology cause for celebration as global undernourishment diminishes

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Statistics show that marriage is best for children, but some look elsewhere for solutions

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He is risen! Christians worldwide ready to celebrate the central truth claim of our faith

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Transcript

The Briefing

March 25, 2016

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

It’s Friday, March 25, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Time will tell whether Obama's visit to Cuba will usher in a new era or affirm an old one

This is has been a momentous week in terms of headlines, but before leaving the week we need to go back to Cuba. That island nation that was visited for the first time in 88 years by an incumbent President of the United States. It was an historic week in those terms, but we also need to note that here we see the intersection of morality and foreign policy in a way that Christians must look to very carefully.

The President stated when he was in Cuba that “change is going to happen.” As the Financial Times of London reports, the President said those words even as he began his historic trip to Cuba. But the big question is, will that change happen? What kind of change will happen, and does the visit of the President of the United States to a repressive Communist regime actually mean that the right kind of change is then likely to happen now, with the nation having been given the authority of a presidential visit? This is huge by any estimation.

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The way that statecraft works is that symbolism is exceedingly important. It was important that the Cuban people saw Air Force One land there in Havana. It was important to recognize that the incumbent President of Cuba did not meet the President of the United States when he landed at the airport. It was very important to watch the symbolism during the joint appearance between President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro, the brother of the Communist dictator who led the Communist Revolution back in 1959. The two presidents stood there in what was an accustomed press conference for an American president, but a press conference that made the Communist President very, very nervous.

But that nervousness was expanded when the Cuban President took the arm of the American President in what was first apparently a handshake but then was turned by the Cuban President into an arm-raised salute that led the President of the United States to make his arm go limp into something that apparently meant nothing but absolute awkwardness. That’s one of those situations in which even to see it causes pain—pain for an American, pain for anyone looking at that and recognizing that here you have not only two governments, but you have two worldviews that came into a collision, a collision in which everything then takes on a different meaning. A handshake means one thing in one place; it means something else in another context. And an arm raised in Havana means something very different than an arm raised elsewhere.

President Obama seemed to recognize that too late as his arm was being commanded by the Cuban President. To his credit, the American President made a priority of talking about human rights even as he was in Cuba. But to his discredit, he did so even after coming to Cuba as the nation was cracking down on dissidents in the immediate hours prior to his arrival. What we’re looking at here is one of those big symbolic actions undertaken by a political leader that will be judged by history far more effectively then it can be judged by us now. That’s to say that if indeed there is a giant opening for liberty in Cuba, then it will prove President Obama to have been prophetic and right in undertaking this trip to Cuba saying that it was the right time for a thaw in the relationship.

On the other hand, if there is no opening to liberty for the Cuban people, then the American President, including those awkward photographs, will have been shown to have given validity to a Communist regime that stated, even in the hours prior to his arrival, that it was not interested in any way in internal changes under American pressure.

There is another aspect of this trip that has been given very little attention by the national media, and that was another incongruous image. That was the image of the President of the United States with the image of Che Guevara, the revolutionary, in the background. That raises another very interesting issue, and that’s this: The image of someone like Che Guevara is not a value-neutral image. As Álvaro Vargas Llosa wrote back in 2005, Che Guevara was one of the most blood thirsty revolutionaries in world history. It was indeed Che Guevara that became a symbol for radicals in the American Left during the 1960’s and the 1970’s. Going to universities such as the University of California at Berkeley, you would see students and others wearing the image of Che Guevara without any open acknowledgement of his blood thirsty nature.

Instead the American left has been drawn to so many figures that have taken on a romanticized image and, as revolutionaries, they have become symbols of the political change many leftists are calling for. But this is where a bit of honesty is necessary. Che Guevara was a revolutionary, but when you look at his actual biography and his deeds, it is clear that he was a man who was blood thirsty by any definition. When those on the left champion many of these symbolic causes, they do so with a sanitized view of history that simply is very costly in moral terms. When you see an image such as the President of the United States with Che Guevara in the background, we ought at least understand what is happening here.

The history of the Cuban Revolution is one of incredible bloodshed and repression and it didn’t end with the Revolution. It has continued with the claim of a continued revolution by the governments of Fidel Castro and his successor, his brother Raúl Castro. As authors Hayes Hunt and Tom Littered made clear in the Wall Street Journal this week, there are Cuban casualties that have escaped President Obama’s notice. There are political prisoners in Cuban jails right now being imprisoned, and we now know tortured, simply because of demands for liberty and freedom.

And finally on this issue we need to note to the obvious and that is this: There are still people trying to escape the Communist tyranny in Cuba by coming at great risk to their lives to the United States of America. The traffic for liberty does not go in the other direction.

Advances in food technology cause for celebration as global undernourishment diminishes

And next, even though we just said many revolutions do not get the attention and scrutiny they deserve, a revolution for good sometimes also escapes our attention. Speaking at the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Outlook Forum in Arlington, Virginia on February the 25th, former Indiana Governor and current Purdue University President Mitchell E. Daniels, Jr. gave a remarkable address in which he said this, and I quote:

“I know you enjoyed your meal, that was quite excellent, but did you stop to consider how astounding an event that was? Because aside from the youngest person in the room, you should all remember that two to three decades ago we were all told that we would have starved by now; that the world was going to run out of food; hat there wasn’t anything anyone could do about it.”

Daniels then continued,

“Everyone in this room knows that instead, the intervening decades has seen the greatest upward surge for the good of humanity in the history of planet Earth; that the combination of greater freedom in important countries and technology has brought down the number of undernourished, our undernourished brothers and sisters by hundreds of millions, even as the population grew by billions. And now, of course, having climbed a mountain that people said was insurmountable, we all face the next one: nine billion people,” he says, “in an historical blink from now maybe, three decades.”

What the former Indiana Governor was pointing to is that many people don’t go back and understand that during the 1970’s, the population control people were telling us that human extinction was likely and that human starvation by the millions was impossible to avoid. And yet of course, it didn’t happen. To the contrary, not only did mass starvation not happen, but over the past two decades there has been more advance in terms of defeating undernourishment as a problem then has ever happened in human history. More people are now eating better and healthier than at any point in the history of the world, even as the world’s population has grown by billions over the same time.

As Mitch Daniels indicates, yes, there is another threshold is coming when the world population will exceed nine billion. But there is every indication that advances in technology and in freedom can allow further advances in terms of feeding every mouth in the world.

But we should note with attention that the Wall Street Journal editors decided to publish an excerpt of former Governor Daniels’ address in order to make a point. Sometimes we simply don’t note when good news happens. We simply don’t note that bad things, as predicted, don’t happen. In this case, mass starvation that was bing predicted by the enemies of human reproduction—that didn’t happen. What did happen is we actually made advances in feeding people even as the population of the world has grown.

You have to understand that in the background to this is something the editors of the Wall Street Journal didn’t even note. The worldview behind those population control experts was one that sees human beings as a blight on the planet. They see every additional human being as a problem rather than as a blessing. The Christian biblical worldview comes back to remind us that every single human being is made in the image of God, and that in Genesis 1 verse 28, God commands his human creatures to reproduce, to multiply and fill the earth with His image. And every human life, every human being, is to be welcomed within the family of humanity—not only welcomed, but fed.

The other thing that we need to note is the greeting that the former Governor gave to those who were hearing him speak at the Department of Agriculture. He asked them, “Did you enjoy your meal?” and then he said, “Did you stop to consider how astounding an event that was?” He didn’t mean the quality of the menu; he meant the fact that we are accustomed to sitting down and eating. Just imagine how many people in the history of the world have not had that privilege. They’ve had to wonder if they will eat today or perhaps even tomorrow or when they might eat again. We should wake up every morning and go to bed every night thankful that we have food to eat. That provision has been made for us, lest we take that food for granted.

Statistics show that marriage is best for children, but some look elsewhere for solutions

Next, an enormous clash of worldviews that appeared in Wednesday’s edition of the New York Times. The article’s by Edwardo Porter; its headline,

“Politicians push marriage, but that’s not what would help children.”

Now wait just a minute. What in the world is going on here? Porter writes,

“Should the government push poor people to marry? The urge to do so has a long pedigree dating perhaps as far back as 1965. When serving as a Labor Department official in the Johnson Administration, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who was later top advisor to President Richard M. Nixon and ultimately one of the most influential democrats in Congress as a Senator from New York, argued that the surge in African American families headed by single mothers was condemning many black children to fail in school and in life.”

Now before we go any further, we need to note that here you have someone asking the question as to whether government should push poor people to marry. That’s really raising the larger issue: should government encourage anyone to marry? And then, this particular reporter says the urge to do this can be traced back to 1965.

The first thing we need to note is that’s absolutely ridiculous. Virtually every government in history has encouraged its people to marry, to stay married, to have children, and to raise their children. That did not suddenly emerge as a political interest in the year 1965. No, what happened is that in 1965 it emerged as a matter of controversy, because that’s in the very opening years of the sexual revolution when to make an argument that had been obvious to human beings throughout history all of the sudden became an issue of controversy. Porter writes,

“Today, when almost 40% of new mothers are unmarried, when 1 in 5 white children, 1 in 4 hispanics, and 1 in 2 blacks live without a father at home, fixing the American family has again acquired urgency across the political spectrum.”

Now Porter goes on to detail how people on the left and the right, Republicans and Democrats, over time have made similar arguments that the state of children would be improved if their parents are married. But then the whole point of this article is to argue that’s not really the case. It’s a very important article because Porter writes,

“There’s no question that children generally do worse in single parent families. They engage in more risky behavior. They drop out of high school and are more likely to end up in the criminal justice system. Research by Raj Chetty of Stanford and others have found that boys living in poor single mother homes are particularly disadvantaged later in life.”

So you would expect this article to answer the question “Should government encourage poor people to marry?” with an emphatic “yes!” But that’s not where he’s headed. The worldview significance of this article is that this reporter answers the question not “yes” but “no.” He says,

“And yet despite years of research to identify how changes in family structure hurt children, there is much less agreement on the why.”

Now this is one of the most important worldview insights we should gain from this article. Here you have someone who isn’t willing to accept a fact until he understands why. He’s not willing to accept that even as the data points to the fact that children do better when a mother and father married to each other are in the same house, he is not willing to accept that at face value until he knows why that is the case.

This is where the Christian worldview comes back to say that the “why” is because God made us that way, and God gave us the gifts of marriage and family. And God gave, even in common grace, every civilization over time the recognition of that very value. But now on the other side of the sexual revolution, nothing is taken for granted, and this article is basically arguing that the problem isn’t that people aren’t married, it’s that they are poor or otherwise disadvantaged. And being unmarried is arguably here just not all that significant a factor.

Now at this point, Christians also need to recognize that when you’re looking at a situation like this, it is more complicated then merely saying that marriage is the issue. The background of this gets to the fact that there are systemic injustices in society that have made marriage more difficult for many people coming form different backgrounds. It is also true that vast economic changes in this society have made it more difficult for people to have a predictably married life in terms of a job over a lifetime, the kind of blue collar jobs that once were the backbone of the American economy.

But the thing that we need to note is the thing that is defied in this article is the simple common sense that is very clear in the biblical worldview that you can’t solve any of these problems, as genuine as they are, as urgent as they are, if you will not fix the problem of family and marriage. Because there is nothing, there is no institution on earth, the Christian worldview helps us to understand, that can replace the family.

There is no government that can replace a mother, no government that can replace a father. There’s no government that can replace the stability of the home. There is no government on earth that can print money fast enough to try to come up with an economic solution to what is fundamentally a moral problem—not most fundamentally an economic problem. The moral problem is extend to the entire society. It’s not just that individuals aren’t getting married before they have children; it is also that as a society we have subverted marriage in any number of ways. Everyone in this society is guilty to some extent in complicity in this problem.

But the absolutely remarkable thing about this article is the fact that the problem staring us in the face—even the problem as so well defined by this reporter in this article pointing to the very statistic that make the absence of the father in the home and the absence of two parents in the house so obvious—the answer isn’t obvious at all to folks. They look at this and they say, “There must be some other explanation than turning to marriage as the solution.” Which takes us back to something described in the Scriptures in very clear terms. It’s one thing to be unable to see, it’s another thing to be unwilling to see.

 

He is risen! Christians worldwide ready to celebrate the central truth claim of our faith

Next, in recent days the Wall Street Journal ran an article that helps us to see more clearly the issues that stand at the intersection between popular culture Hollywood and worldview. The article by Erich Schwartzel of the Wall Street Journal, its title is:

“Hollywood’s Holy Season.”

It’s about the fact that during the seasons of Christmas and Easter, Hollywood tends to turn out products that are marketed towards Christian and religious audiences. As Schwartzel writes,

“Hollywood has gotten religion.”

In case you wonder what he means, he continues.

“A pack of movies with religious themes is hitting theaters this Easter season after years of the genre being relegated to DVD shelves at big box stores. Producers,” he says, “are hoping their migration to the multiplex will be helped by religious enthusiasm, especially during the seasons of Lent and Easter” he says, and by what he describes as, “guerrilla marketing by church leaders.”

Now what’s really interesting about this article is not so much that Hollywood has supposedly gotten religion; headlines like this tend to come just about every couple of years when Hollywood gets religion and then loses it again. But what’s really important is what a mild case of religion Hollywood seems always to get when it supposedly gets religion. That’s actually made very clear in this article. It’s pointing to several movies coming out including, “Risen,” “The Young Messiah,” and the movie known as, “Miracles from Heaven.” Now the marketing for that last movie is documented in this article. Schwartzel writes,

“‘It’s not a coincidence that ‘Miracles from Heaven’ is being advertised during the GOP Presidential debate,’ says Rich Peluso, Senior Vice President of Affirm Films”—listen to how that’s described—”A Sony Pictures entertainment division specializing in faith inspired features.”

Affirm has released “Risen” and “Miracles from Heaven” so far this year. According to the Wall Street Journal, Affirm’s marketing team often targets voters in particular parts of the country or through television stations that draw more conservative or religious audiences. Affirm and other studios also market their movies directly to churches and their congregations. They buy billboards near churches and, “back channel with pastors across the country to incorporate the movie’s theme into Sunday sermons.”

According to this article they also hope the Pastors will, “suggest a congregation outing to the theater.”

Most of this article’s devoted to looking at the movie entitled “Miracles from Heaven.” I won’t go into any details about the movie, but what is in this article about the background to the movie is really important.

Schwartzel writes,

“‘Miracles from Heaven’ doesn’t shy away from the faith of its characters. The Beam family is in church within ten minutes of the movie starting, singing along with the Christian rock band, Third Day. As one character grapples with her crisis of faith, Christy Beam looks to the sky and asks, ‘Are you there?'”

But then listen to the following words very closely.

“But the movie’s director Patricia Riggen wanted to avoid dogma and heightened a theme of everyday gestures of kindness that can be interpreted as their own ‘miracles.’ ‘I wanted to be more inclusive,’ she said.”

So that tells you what happens so often when Hollywood popular entertainment intersects with what is supposedly the Christian Faith.

What you have here is a director in a movie that is entitled, “Miracles from Heaven,” who is backing off from any coherent idea of what a miracle might be. As according to the Wall Street Journal, she’s trying to “avoid dogma and heighten the theme of everyday gestures of kindness that can be interpreted as their own ‘miracles.'” In the director’s own words,

“I wanted to be more inclusive.”

That’s what you generally have to expect from Hollywood putting out a motion picture, because Hollywood is going to make the gamble that there aren’t enough people who believe in real miracles as defined in Scripture to make a movie worthwhile. Instead, Hollywood is going to have to present the movie about miracles that ends up being not about miracles that are miraculous.

Christians at least should be informed by the candor of this director speaking about her own movie. But the larger pattern is not just about this movie; it’s about what happens all too often at the intersection of Hollywood, popular culture, and worldview.

Finally as even Hollywood understands, this coming Sunday is Easter Sunday—more appropriately referred to as the Celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The Christian Faith is predicated on the fact that Christ was bodily raised from the dead. As the Apostle Paul wrote so clearly, what is a first priority is to know that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures; and that the Father raised him from the dead, according to the Scriptures. As Paul understood, Christianity stands or falls on the fact of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. But as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, the good news is that Christ has been raised from the dead, and those that are in him will be also.

Throughout the history of the Christian church, every single Lord’s Day has been understood as a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead on the first day of the week. But it isn’t wrong for Christians on one very special Lord’s Day to remember in a very special way what it means that Christ is raised from the dead. So on this day we dare to call Good Friday, may you receive with joy the news that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures. And this coming Sunday and on every day of your life, may you exult in the fact that God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, according to the Scriptures. This is why one of the first worship affirmations of historic Christianity is and must remain, “Christ is risen, He is risen indeed!”

 

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing