The Briefing 04-06-16

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Both 2016 presidential frontrunners handed significant setbacks in Wisconsin primaries

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Mississippi joins states standing for religious liberty, backlash sure to follow

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Invasive government lawmakers propose sexual orientation appear on national census

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Authority of Scripture, not social issues, root of Church of Scotland's decline

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Transcript

April 6, 2016

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

It’s Wednesday, April 6, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Both 2016 presidential frontrunners handed significant setbacks in Wisconsin primaries

The Briefing

The 2016 presidential race in the United States just got more interesting—and on both sides of the political equation. Amongst both Republicans and Democrats yesterday was a very important day, a day that further clouded the picture of the 2016 election. Ground zero for this new energy and this new confusion was the state of Wisconsin, which yesterday held its primary for both parties.

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On the Republican side it was Texas Senator Ted Cruz who won, and won convincingly. He displaced the front-runner in the Republican campaign to date, that is Donald Trump, winning with a very wide margin. And in winning the majority of the 42 delegates to the Republican National Convention at stake in the primary, Ted Cruz has now meant that it is almost impossible for Donald Trump to have the necessary 1237 votes at the Republican National Convention for a first term victory. And that means that when the Republicans meet for the Republican National Convention this summer in Cleveland, Ohio, there will be no nominee chosen on the first ballot. That has not happened in a series of decades on the Republican side or, for that matter, on the Democratic side, and the fact that there will be no nominee on the first ballot means that it will be a contested convention. There is virtually no way now for Donald Trump to get the magic 1237 delegates needed for a clear first ballot victory.

On the Democratic side, Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders largely embarrassed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by winning, and winning sizably, in the state of Wisconsin’s Democratic primary. What that means is that the front-runner for the Republican nomination and the front-runner for the Democratic nomination at this point in the campaign season—and that’s what so crucial—were both handed setbacks yesterday, and very significant setbacks.

The state of Wisconsin was very important for Hillary Clinton; after all, it has been a part of the reliable Clinton-supporting states that have been a part of that coalition going back to 1992. On the other hand, Donald Trump now finds himself in the position of losing ground to Ted Cruz, who has pulled even with him in National Republican polls. All of this is something that wasn’t expected just a matter of a few days ago. But of course the entire 2016 race has been a race of surprises on both sides amongst both parties. On the Democratic side, it is clear that no one, perhaps including Bernie Sanders, understood that there would be a declared Democratic Socialist candidate who would really vie for the heart of the Democratic Party, who would pull Hillary Clinton so far to the left and who would win several primaries, including Wisconsin yesterday. That is a stunning development. In worldview terms, it tells us that an idea as discredited in the 20th century as socialism is making a comeback. It’s making a comeback on the left, and that’s really, really crucial for our understanding.

On the other hand, in terms of worldview, what is taking place on the Republican side is also a genuine shock to the system. The rise of a form of negativistic populism that has been made very clear by Donald Trump is something that also was not expected in the Republican Party. All this points to the fact that ideas still matter, and when it comes to elections, they are in inevitably both about candidates and their characters, on the one hand, and their positions, their ideas, on the other. In the case of all of the candidates now vying for their party’s nomination for president, the question of character and conviction, of personality and policy now remains in the forefront. The results yesterday in Wisconsin make very clear that the unfolding story of the 2016 presidential race is far from over.

Mississippi joins states standing for religious liberty, backlash sure to follow

Next we shift to the state of Mississippi where as the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi reported yesterday,

“Gov. Phil Bryant signed the controversial Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act into law Tuesday morning, saying he did so to protect the rights of people with ‘deeply held religious beliefs.’

“HB 1523, authored by House Speaker Philip Gunn, has drawn state and national attention with groups as varied as the Human Rights Campaign and the Mississippi Manufacturers Association all calling for the governor to veto the bill.”

Now what we’re talking about here is yet another state bill modeled after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed back in the early 1990s. That law was overwhelmingly adopted by Congress and signed into law by then-president Bill Clinton. Now you have a succession of states that are considering, and some have adopted, state parallels to this law. But of course, the action taken by the legislature in Mississippi, and the action taken by the state’s governor in signing the bill into law yesterday, points to the fact that Mississippi and its governor have acted in ways that are directly in contrast, in contradiction to what took place just days ago with the governor of the state of Georgia.

Why in the world would the governor of the state of Georgia veto legislation that had been adopted by both chambers in the Georgia legislature, a religious liberty bill modeled after the very successful federal statute? Well, the answer is that the reason that the Georgia governor vetoed the bill, and what makes the action by the Mississippi governor signing the bill so significant, is that all this is taking place on the other side of that great moral divide represented by the Obergefell decision handed down in June 2015 just last year by the United States Supreme Court, legalizing same-sex marriage.

As we said at the time, and as several justices of the Supreme Court acknowledged at the time, this is going to present very real and inevitable challenges for religious liberty. This was made very clear in the oral arguments before the Court in questions and assertions that were made and presented by the Chief Justice John Roberts and also by Associate Justice Samuel Alito. Similarly, both of those justices joined by the late Justice Antonin Scalia and then Clarence Thomas made very clear in their dissents to the decision that religious liberty now faces a clear and present danger. During the oral arguments before the Court, Justice Alito and Chief Justice Roberts pointed to such examples as a religious college that will be confronted with demands that it accept same-sex married couples into married student housing. You’ll recall that the Solicitor General of the United States, Donald Verrilli, representing the Obama Administration calling for the legalization of same-sex marriage, when presented with that question said it will be an issue. In other words, we are put on notice. That’s why the state of Mississippi has adopted and its governor has now signed what is declared to be the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act, and we should be very happy that the state of Mississippi now sets a contrary example to the state of Georgia, at least in terms of the two state’s governors by the fact that the Mississippi Governor signed this law.

What can we now expect? Well, we can fully expect that the state of Mississippi will face the kind of backlash and political pressure that we’ve seen both before and after the Georgia Governor’s veto, the same kind of pressure we now see being brought on the state of North Carolina. It’s pressure being brought by major corporations.

In the aftermath of North Carolina’s law signed into effect by its governor just days ago, designating bathrooms to be used by individuals as assigned by the gender with which the individuals identified at birth—that is biological gender—that has now become an issue in which the company PayPal has announced that it is not going to be moving a major operation to North Carolina, bringing additional corporate pressure, additional economic pressure against the state.

We have also seen that the federal government, in particular the Obama Administration, has declared that it is going to bring any states like North Carolina in this case under scrutiny, threatening the loss of massive federal funding if that state has the temerity, the courage, to stand in the face of this moral revolution. We’ll be watching Mississippi closely, and we should be encouraged by the fact that at least this state legislature and this state’s governor understood that religious liberty is indeed in peril. And the kind of pressure that will now be experienced by the state of Mississippi was made clear in this article that appeared yesterday in the state’s major newspaper in which Chad Griffin, the head of the Human Rights Campaign, a pro-LGBT organization said,

“Just as we’re doing elsewhere, we will continue to rally fair-minded voters, businesses, and civil rights advocates to repeal.”

In other words, the state of Mississippi has now been put on notice. This is a story that is now sure to involve just about every state at some level, and the states are taking up sides, every state one-by-one, and all of us need to be watching very carefully how this story unfolds and how the pattern is revealed. But we also see the pattern we talked about earlier this week on The Briefing in which the Obama administration is bringing massive federal pressure against these states as well.

Finally, in a matter of disclosure, this bill in Mississippi, HB 1523, the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act passed by the legislature, signed by the governor on Tuesday, was authored by the Speaker of the House in Mississippi, Philip Gunn. Speaker Gunn, we proudly note, is Chairman of the Board of Trustees of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Invasive government lawmakers propose sexual orientation appear on national census

Next, a major new story comes from Washington, DC, the nation’s capital, and the political insider newspaper known as The Hill. Here’s the headline,

“Lawmakers call for gay headcount in census.”

Tim Devaney tells us,

“The federal government should measure the population of gay people within the country, lawmakers say.

“The U.S. Census Bureau is facing pressure to survey respondents about their sexual orientation and gender identity.”

According to this report released yesterday,

“A bipartisan group of lawmakers say the information would help the government identify the size, location, and circumstances in which lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people live.”

The lawmakers wrote a letter Tuesday to the Census Bureau in which they said,

“The Census Bureau should advance plans to expand LGBT data collection in future national surveys,” the lawmakers wrote Tuesday in a letter to the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the bureau.”

According to the report by Devaney, the letter was signed by 78 members of Congress,

“Currently, the census only identifies same-sex couples who are married,” according to the report.

“The expanded data collection would help lawmakers better serve the LGBT community.”

The lawmakers wrote in a letter,

“‘LGBT Americans — like every American — deserve to be counted and recognized,’ the lawmakers wrote.

“‘We know little else about the social and economic circumstances of the LGBT population at large,’ they added.”

So what’s really going on here? Well, there’s a huge back story. Do you recognize that the United States census cannot ask questions about religious belief? The court’s interpretation of the separation of church and state, as it is been called, has informed the Census Bureau that it is unable to ask questions about the religious beliefs that mark Americans. Thus our information about the religious beliefs of our fellow citizens isn’t drawn from the Census Bureau, but rather from other sources of data such as the National Opinion Research Center or the Pew Research Center, very reliable organizations, we should note. But what’s important here is that the Census Bureau isn’t even allowed to ask those questions. Now you have a group of lawmakers who as they say are driven by the fact that every American deserves to be counted, and that includes LGBT Americans, they say. Now they are arguing that the Census Bureau should ask questions about sexual orientation and gender identity. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine a more invasive action taken by our federal government than the Census Bureau demanding to know not only our name and our address and other particulars about those who live in a house, but now we are being told we are to disclose sexual orientation and gender identity.

Just imagine what that’s going to look like when the Census Bureau demands this kind of information. There’s a political agenda behind this, of course, and that’s the agenda to try to make the gay and lesbian community look as large as possible and to use this data in order to bring political leverage. That’s openly what is behind this letter. But just imagine the moral insanity and the invasion of personal privacy that is going to be reflected if indeed the Census Bureau were to undertake asking this question. There are other considerations as well in terms of the moral confusion. How in the world, given the pluralism of America and given the diversity of sexual orientations we are told we are now to celebrate, how in the world can it be limited to a set of boxes and questions the Census Bureau might put together? Why just LGBT? Why not other permutations that might be represented by other consonants as well? The moral revolutionaries continue to preach their message that human gender and sexual orientation is endlessly fluid; furthermore, when you go to American college and university campuses, in many cases, you’ll find gay and lesbian advocacy offices that have an entire alphabet soup of possible options. How is the Census Bureau going to decide even how it is going to frame these questions? What about polygamists? My guess is these lawmakers haven’t asked the Census Bureau to question whether or not there are polygamists in the house.

But we’re also looking at a massive invasion of privacy. What’s going to happen when people have to report about the sexual orientation of those within a household? That’s how the Census Bureau data is collected. Furthermore, is everyone in the household now to be consulted? Is everyone, every man, woman, boy and girl—now wait just a minute that’s too restrictive as a set of categories—is every individual in the house going to have to identify in terms of sexual orientation and gender identity? What we’re looking at here is a complete meltdown. It’s a meltdown of any kind of moral sanity. And it should really alarm us that when we’re looking at this proposal, we’re looking at a letter that was signed by 78 different members of Congress. Lawmakers haven’t acted on this, of course; after all, this is a letter that is, most importantly, addressed by legislators to the House appropriations subcommittee. But what’s really important is that the proposal was made, that the letter was sent, that this insane proposal, morally speaking, is now going to be received by a congressional committee. And remember, of course, that this letter has already been signed by 78 members of Congress. That tells us that this is not a marginal idea when it comes to our elected representatives.

Just imagine the scenario when someone from the Census Bureau comes and knocks on your family’s door and asks how many people are inside; how many male or female, or what’s the gender identity of all who live in this home and what is their sexual orientation. If these legislators get their way, these are questions that will inevitably be asked.

Authority of Scripture, not social issues, root of Church of Scotland's decline

Shifting to the nation of Scotland, yesterday Religion News Service released a story by Trevor Grundy that begins,

“More than half of the 5.4 million people living in Scotland have no religion, according to a survey published by Scottish Social Attitudes.”

Grundy reports,

“The 52 percent of unaffiliated Scots represents a 12 percent jump from 16 years ago, when 40 percent of survey respondents said they had no religious affiliation.”

He goes on to report that,

“The proportion of people who say they belong to the Church of Scotland — the Presbyterian Church that for so long dominated almost every aspect of life in that country — has fallen dramatically, to just 20 percent, down from 39 percent of the population in 1999.”

As one researcher made very clear in the article released yesterday,

“This change doesn’t appear to be affecting all religions equally,” he added. “Affiliation with the Church of Scotland is in decline while levels of identification with other religions remains relatively unchanged.”

He also said,

“The survey’s findings show that Scottish commitment to religion, both in terms of our willingness to say we belong to a religion and to attend religious services, is in decline.

“After the Church of Scotland,” says Grundy, “the largest Christian group is the Roman Catholic Church. Its numbers have recently been boosted by an influx of people from the European Union, particularly Poland.”

Sinclair, quoted in the article and cited in the article as convener of the Church of Scotland’s Mission and Discipleship Council, said,

“We are developing fresh expressions of church alongside traditional forms in order to engage with people. We have contacted those who have stopped attending church but want to hang on to their Christian faith. We want to hear their stories and understand the lessons we can learn from them.”

Well, to state the matter as simply as possible, when a church leader begins to explain a drop of this nature in the percentage of the population going to his church, when he uses this kind of language, there you have a pretty significant clue as to why people are leaving that church.

When he says, “We are developing fresh expressions of church alongside traditional forms,” and when he says the church is doing this “in order to engage with people,” the obvious background of the fact is they’re not engaging with people. Maybe it’s because of their “fresh expressions of church,”

He goes on to describe what many are now trying to point to in nations like Scotland in which we’re being told that, even though people aren’t going to church, they claim no religious affiliation, they still somehow are still to be considered as Christians. Colin Sinclair, again of the Church of Scotland, said,

“We want to hear their stories.”

These are people who stopped attending church but “want to hang onto their Christian faith.”

“We want to hear their stories,” he said, “and understand the lessons we can learn from them.”

Perhaps a primary place to learn would be looking to church history. The Church of Scotland has indeed dominated the life of that country since the 16th century. In 1560, you can go back and recount the Reformation there that took place in Scotland first and most famously under the leadership of John Knox, and you can come to understand that that was a church that was solidly identified with not only the Protestant Reformation as an historical movement, but more importantly with the Protestant Reformation as a set of theological convictions, theological convictions thunderously preached by preachers such as John Knox. But the Church of Scotland has fallen into very different times. Like so many other denominations, it has progressively followed a route into Protestant liberalism.

In 2009, the Church of Scotland refused to decertify the appointment of an openly gay, that is homosexual, minister. In the year 2011, the Church of Scotland decided to undertake an official study of the question of homosexual ordination. And in the year 2013, the church’s General Assembly voted to allow gay ministers. In a statement found just yesterday on the Church of Scotland’s own website, Colin Sinclair, again identified as convener of the Church of Scotland’s Mission and Discipleship Council of the church, used language such as this:

“We do not minimize the challenges we face, yet what the statistics actually show is that one in five people in Scotland do feel connected to the Kirk”—the “kirk” meaning the Church of Scotland.

Of course, what we’re looking at there is an abject disaster. But it’s a disaster that is being met with a rather smiley face from the Church of Scotland. But what isn’t being told in terms of the international media reporting on this story is what has happened in the Church of Scotland since that decision by its General Assembly in 2013. A number of the church’s most historic congregations have left the denomination, and that is a pattern that continues. In a very important book published by Banner of Truth Trust there in Scotland just last year, David J. Randall, a former minister in the Church of Scotland, in a book entitled A Sad Departure, points out that the underlying issue is and always remains the authority of Scripture. He says,

“It is this question of the position and authority of the Bible in the church that is at the heart of this present controversy. The secular press,” he writes, “often represents the dispute as a struggle over whether the church should be pro-gay or anti-gay. But the basic issue is that of the relationship of the church to the Bible.”

Pastor Randall went on to describe a parable of a multi-story office building in which cracks appeared in the wall of the 42nd floor. He went on to explain that when an architectural and engineering study was taken, it was discovered that the problem actually wasn’t on the 42nd floor at all. It was at the foundation of the building itself. Randall then writes,

“The story illustrates what has been happening in the Church of Scotland for a number of years. The crack on the 42nd floor is the crisis that has been occasioned by the question of the rightness or wrongness of inducting practicing homosexual people to the Christian ministry. But the real problem,” he says, “is down in the foundations, where liberally minded people have been chiseling away at the biblical foundations of the church for a long time.”

Pastor Randall is exactly right, and his book A Sad Departure is hauntingly important, important for any Christian or church leader, because it tells the story of congregations and pastors who came to the conclusion that faithfulness to the Scripture, theological fidelity, required that they leave the denomination they had loved and served for so long. Of course, we need to note that the argument made by liberals is that biblical faith must be accommodated to modern realities if we expect people to keep coming to church. But note the headline in the story yesterday. Even after the Church of Scotland accommodated itself and defied biblical truth, people aren’t coming. As a matter of fact, they’re not coming in increasing numbers. There is a parable there as well.

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing