The Briefing 04-12-16

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Constitutionality trumps historicity: Christian mission's cross removed from LA county seal

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Do tax assessors get to decide what is "necessary" for religious worship and instruction?

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A Republic, if you can keep it: primaries have voters confused on nature of America's democracy

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In Hollywood, the political choice is between liberal or even more liberal

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Oxford theology students no longer required to study theology—Christian theology, that is.

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Transcript

The Briefing

April 12, 2016

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

It’s Tuesday, April 12, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Constitutionality trumps historicity: Christian mission's cross removed from LA county seal

Now here’s a sign of the times: Abby Sewell, reporting for the Los Angeles Times tells us,

“In a long-awaited ruling, a federal judge has sided with plaintiffs who argued it was unconstitutional for Los Angeles County supervisors to place a Christian cross on the county seal.”

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Now what in the world is going on here? Sewell reports,

“A divided Board of Supervisors voted in 2014 to reinstate the cross on top of a depiction of the San Gabriel Mission, which appears on the seal among other symbols of county history.”

Now let’s just back up for a moment. The San Gabriel Mission explains, in large part, why there is a city of Los Angeles. And, of course, this Mission Church was identified with Christianity. That was simply too much. It turns out that at one point, the Los Angeles County seal had removed the cross, but the cross was put back on in order to make it historically accurate, which of course is mandated by historical accuracy. But that’s simply too much Christianity when it comes this federal judge. He argued that it was unconstitutional for the seal of the county of Los Angeles to have a depiction of the mission that explains why the city of the county is there in the first place, because even acknowledging that it was a church, identified with Christianity, is going to privilege Christianity unconstitutionally.

The County Board of Supervisors was sued “by the American Civil Liberties Union [there’s a shock!] and a group of religious leaders, who said placement of the cross on the seal unconstitutionally favored Christianity over other religions.”

Now let’s just get an historic fact clear. It was not in Islamic mission; it was not a Buddhist mission; it was not a Hindu mission. It was a Roman Catholic mission established before there was a county of Los Angeles, to say the least, before there was a city of Los Angeles. And it is integral to explaining how the city and the county ever came to be. But you see here that this federal judge has said that even an historically accurate depiction that acknowledges the history of the county is unconstitutional because, after all, there is a cross on the top of that building.

“In a 55-page ruling released Thursday, U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder wrote that the addition of the cross “carries with it an aura of prestige, authority, and approval. By singling out the cross for addition to the seal, the county necessarily lends its prestige and approval to a depiction of one faith’s sectarian imagery.”

Now let’s just consider the insanity in this judge’s decision. The judge says that the county supervisors had singled out the cross for the seal and then necessarily lent its prestige and approval to a depiction of one faith sectarian imagery. Again, that is what the building looks like. It has a cross atop it as it did when it was established and as it did when the county supervisors put the cross back on the building in 2014. In her ruling, the judge also wrote,

“The county also provides a platform for broadcasting that imagery on county buildings, vehicles, flags, and stationary.… Permitting such a change and the associated expenditure of public funds places the county’s power, prestige, and purse behind a single religion, Christianity, without making any such benefit available on an equal basis to those with secular objectives or alternative sectarian views.”

Once again, this is a complete meltdown of rationality. You have a judge saying that it was historically accidental that this church happened to be a Catholic mission. You have a judge saying that the fact that there is a cross atop this building is prejudicial, even if it was required by historical accuracy, because it is prejudicial towards those of other faiths or as she says no faith at all.

As she says, it was without making “any such benefit available on an equal basis to those with secular objectives or alternative sectarian views.”

Just to state the matter again clearly: The establishment of that mission was not undertaken by those with secular objectives nor by those representing some other world faith. As you would expect, the ACLU was jubilant they wrote,

“We are heartened by the court’s ruling because it recognizes that Los Angeles is a diverse County, comprised of adherence of hundreds of faiths, as well as nonbelievers, all of whom are entitled to be treated with equal dignity by their government. The placement of the cross on the county official seal promotes one religious sect above others, and denies the principal that government represents all the people, not just those who follow a particular faith.”

Well, here you have the great liberal conceit right here for all of us to see. This remind us of what happened in the European Union several years ago when the union decided it would not acknowledge in the history of Europe that was a part of its identity the fact that Christianity had been the belief system that shaped Western civilization, Europe in particular. The reason they didn’t acknowledge it was because they said that would be too sectarian and yet no sane historian questions whether or not it was Christianity that gave Europe its shape. To state the matter again, very clearly, it was not Islam, it was not Buddhism, it was not Hinduism, nor was it any form of secularism.

So here you see just how allergic our secular society is becoming even to a symbolism that is acknowledged as being historically accurate that explains the history of even how a county came to be. Because putting a cross on top of that building is simply an unconstitutional mixture of church and state, an unconstitutional privileging of Christianity, it’s claimed, and you’ll note the secular elites are now ready to deny history and virtually to rewrite history, to whitewash history, in order to remove not only the cross from the seal of the county of Los Angeles, but even from historical memory. But here you see the absolute imbecility of the situation because if indeed it’s unconstitutional to have a cross even in a very small form on the county seal of Los Angeles, what about the name referring to the angels? Historically, there is no question, those were not Hindu Angels.

Do tax assessors get to decide what is "necessary" for religious worship and instruction?

A similar challenge comes on the opposite coast. Jeff Jacoby, writing for the Boston Globe, tells us about a Catholic shrine in Attleboro, Massachusetts that has now been assessed for taxes for the portions of its property that the tax assessor says is not integrally tied to the teaching of religion. The reason this is important for all of us is because here you have the kind of encroachment upon religious liberty that is now becoming routine, and we need to note that in this case, even though the tax assessor has come for a Catholic shrine, it could just as easily come for your local evangelical church.

Jacoby tells us that in 2012 the tax assessors for Attleboro, Massachusetts “broke with past practice, and declared that much of the LaSalette property was taxable.”

Specifically the tax assessor said that the acreage and the square footage related to the unit’s welcome center, cafeteria, bookstore, and conference rooms—all of these were taxable property. The reason this is important to all of us is because we are seeing here the subversion of religious liberty in the form of pressure coming from tax authorities, in this case, municipal tax authorities. Jacoby gets right to the point when he writes,

“The much deeper issue is this: Do religious organizations decide for themselves what they require for their devotional and educational missions, or do municipal tax authorities decide for them?”

That’s what makes this story so relevant to all of us. How long is it before the tax assessor from your local community shows up at your church and says, well this is an area in which religious teaching clearly takes place? Well, just say, that’s the sanctuary or the worship center. You might even be able to extend that to your Bible study rooms or similar kinds of facilities. But churches that have other facilities, they are forewarned in this news story that the tax assessor might come and say, that’s not necessary for your religious purpose. Jeff Jacoby is exactly right. The big issue is whether or not religious organizations and churches decide for themselves what is necessary in order to accomplish their mission.

What we see here is the slippage on religious liberty that is taking place not only on both coasts, but seemingly day by day. You would think this issue women settled by the United States Supreme Court. After all, in a landmark 1970 case, the justices declared that few concepts are more deeply embedded in our constitutional history going back even to prerevolutionary times than the fact that government must not tax churches, indeed, the decision from the court said that churches and religious institutions must be sheltered from “the dangers inherent in the imposition of property taxes.”

As one justice said in that case, the power to tax is the power to control, and that’s exactly what’s at stake here. As history reveals over and over again, eternal vigilance is the price required for liberty, and we see it in these two stories from two opposite coasts coming virtually within days, even hours of each other.

A Republic, if you can keep it: primaries have voters confused on nature of America's democracy

Next, Christians looking at the 2016 presidential race have plenty to think about, but a front-page story in the New York Times just over the weekend says that the primary process has many voters feeling sidelined. Jeremy W. Peters, reporting for the New York Times says,

“When it comes to nominating presidential candidates, it turns out the world’s foremost democracy is not so purely democratic.”

As he explains,

“For decades, both major parties have used a somewhat convoluted process for picking their nominees, one that involves ordinary voters in only an indirect way. As Americans flock this year to outsider candidates, the kind most hindered by these rules, they are suddenly waking up to this reality. And their confusion and anger are adding another volatile element to an election being waged over questions of fairness and equality.”

Now this gets to an issue that at the first level is merely political, and that is the fact that indeed what we’re talking about here is two political parties. They are entities unto themselves. They get to set their own rules whereby they nominate candidates and this is where an historical element is also very, very important. The historical moment is this: If you go back to the early decades of our Republic, it was Congress who decided who the nominees would be; there were no presidential primaries back during that time and the process of choosing nominees for the parties was something undertaken by party insiders. All that began to change in the early decades of the 20th century, and the man probably most responsible for forcing that change was Pres. Theodore Roosevelt, who pushed through the idea of presidential primaries as a way of expanding democratic influence. But even if the first issue was political, and perhaps the second is historical, the Christian worldview reminds us that more is at stake in this story than any political scientist is likely to recognize. Jeremy Peters, you’ll recall, began the story by saying that,

“When it comes to nominating presidential candidates, it turns out the world’s foremost democracy is not so purely democratic.”

That is actually true. It has always been true, and unless the Constitution is revolutionized and replaced by some other form of government it will continue to be true. A democracy is government by the people in a pure sense. That is, you wouldn’t have Congress, you wouldn’t have a president for that matter, you would simply find some way of gauging what the public or majority of the public would demand at any given time and you would make that happen. That is a recipe for mobocracy. The Christian worldview explains why we would not want that kind of pure democracy. If you’re wondering about why we would have this concern, just consider the pure democracy of leaving a room of kindergartners to themselves.

Our constitutional form of government is a Republic, as Benjamin Franklin famously said to the woman who asked how the constitutional deliberations had concluded. Benjamin Franklin said,

“Dear lady, you have a Republic if you can keep it.”

A Republic calls for a representative democracy. That is, people vote for those who will represent them in a legislative body. We vote for those who will represent us as President of the United States and we entrust to those elected leaders the responsibility to enact laws. We do not put every issue up for mere public sentiment. The Christian worldview reminds us that this is a necessary break on the passions that can be set loose in a society that turns very quickly into a mob. Here you have the New York Times trying to explain even to its secular readers why the presidential nomination process isn’t a pure democracy. This is where Christians need to understand it is the Christian biblical worldview that explains why we should not want a pure democracy and why our founders, guided in the main by the Christian worldview, came to understand the proper form of government is a representative democracy. As Franklin said and we must always remember,

“A Republic if we can keep it”.

In Hollywood, the political choice is between liberal or even more liberal

Next, while looking at the intersection of worldview and politics, the style section of Sunday’s New York Times had a really interesting headline,

“In Hollywood, it’s Hillary versus Bernie.”

Now, we’ve looked at how a moral revolution takes place, how cultural change takes place in a society, and we’ve noted how it is driven by the elites and, furthermore, we specified how one of the most important segments of that elite is the entertainment industrial complex, in particular, you can simply use just one word to summarize what we’re talking about: Hollywood. And here you have the New York Times pointing out that in terms of the politics of Hollywood: Republicans aren’t even on the map. The question is between liberal and even more liberal. Jacob Bernstein, writing for the Times tells us,

“Bernie Sanders makes a point of saying that he is not running his campaign for the “millionaires and billionaires,” but an event for his presidential campaign at the Flash Factory on West 28th Street Monday night did cordon off celebrities in a V.I.P. area.”

That in itself is hilarious. So it turns out that at this event, Bernie Sanders had collected as many Hollywood celebrities as he could in order to show massive public support for his candidacy, and it turns out that there’s a major divide in Hollywood. And as we said, it’s not a liberal-conservative divide—Hollywood is decidedly on the left—and it’s instead a liberal and even more liberal divide as symbolized now between the candidacies of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. But there’s another part of Hollywood that comes out very clearly in this article, and that is the fact that what they talk about is not generally how they live. Quoted in the article is a woman by the name of Winnie Wong, a former organizer of Occupy Wall Street, held court with bands like the Onyx Collective—remember, that was supposed to be against capitalist power and against a consumer society and yet she is described in this article as having a Bob haircut, a septum piercing, and was wearing a floral print coat over a pair of fitted black jeans from Acne. It turns out that Winnie Wong is the New York organizer for celebrities for Bernie Sanders. Remember he’s running as a socialist. The reporter then asked the question,

“How would her preferred candidate react if he knew his New York emissary had on a pair of $200 jeans?”

Wearing her $200 jeans, this supporter of a socialist presidential candidate is charged to line up as many Hollywood celebrities as possible to get on the Bernie Sanders bandwagon. It tells you something of the incongruities of it that Bernie Sanders, the socialist candidate, has a celebrity VIP section at his fundraiser. But it tells us even more that when it comes to Hollywood, once again we recognize it’s decidedly on the liberal side pushing hard. The big divide in Hollywood is between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, between the left and the even further left.

Oxford theology students no longer required to study theology—Christian theology, that is.

Next, in yet another sign of the times, The Telegraph of London tells us that,

“Oxford theology students can skip Christianity lessons.”

Javier Espinoza, the education editor for The Telegraph writes,

“Theology students at Oxford will no longer be required to study Christianity throughout the course for the first time in 800 years after undergraduates complained about lack of diversity.”

Oxford University is one of the oldest universities in the entire world. It is one of those institutions that has defined the very identity of a university, and it was explicitly established as an institution for the teaching of the Christian faith. Oxford University now finds that something of an historical embarrassment. But the university is also very much tied to tradition, and that’s why even in the face of the modern age it has continued to require that its theology students take classes in Christianity.

Now one of the first things we need to note here is that an understanding of Christianity, at least, even in historical terms, is necessary for understanding why there is an Oxford University, why there is an England, why there is a Europe. And yet, now you see the subversion of the modern age in denying the obvious. We find in the story,

“Changes are being made to the degree to mirror shifts in religious beliefs and culture in the wider British society, according to academics.”

The Times Higher Education magazine says that students beginning in the second year of the theology major will no longer be required to take classes on Christianity. They can opt instead for classes on subjects such as “feminist approaches to religion and theology.”

Johannes Zachhuber, professor of historical and systematic theology and the theology faculty’s board chairman, said that in his view,

“Students could avoid studying Christianity altogether and instead favour subject such as ‘Buddhism in space and time.’”

And yet, he said,

“It was unlikely that many would choose to ignore all Christian elements of the degree.”

Now until very recent times, the use of the word theology would not have required any specification that it’s Christian theology at Oxford University. As a matter of fact, so many of the most prestigious endowed chairs within that University are explicitly for the propagation of the Christian faith and the training of Christian ministers. But in the larger view, what we also see here is just how consumer oriented higher education has become. The bottom line is that students are demanding something other than the study of Christianity, and even Oxford University evidently feels the need that it has to respond to the demands of its students.

You see that explicitly in the statement from Professor Zachhuber who said,

“The dominance of the Church of England has been receding but at the same time religion hasn’t disappeared. We want to offer to potential students what is interesting for them and that has changed a lot in the last 30 years.”

Now what’s really interesting is how this is related to a theology faculty, but it would be insane to relate it to virtually any other discipline. Who would say that in terms of biology—the faculty simply wants to give students what’s interesting to them in the training of medical doctors? What if the medical schools simply said, we only want to teach students what is interesting to them? Here you see Oxford University’s abandoning theology in terms of a coherent academic discipline, and simply turning into a smorgasbord of whatever any generation of students might demand.

You know it really is big news that at an institution like Oxford University, theology has been dethroned as the so-called Queen of the sciences—that was the unifying discipline that held the University together in terms of its establishment—and now Christianity is being dethroned in terms of the theology department. It is certainly true that Britain is becoming an increasingly secular society, but that secularization has been aided and abetted by professors at places like Oxford University who now turn around to disestablish Christianity even within Oxford University saying that that is now what students demand.

During the Reformation, theology was so important that some of the most famous martyrs of the English Protestant church died right there on the street at Oxford University, burned because of their faith. Now theology student don’t even have to continue the study of Christianity. That perhaps in one news story, tells us just how much this society has changed and is changing right before our eyes.

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing