The Briefing 04-28-16

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In this presidential race we are witnessing an unprecedented redefinition of both political parties

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Ted Cruz announces VP running mate Carly Fiorina hoping to alter Republican race

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Campus collision: NCAA urged to divest from all religious schools with anti-LGBT policies

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A tragic moral lesson: Former Speaker of the House now a convicted felon in sexual abuse case

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Transcript

The Briefing

April 28, 2016

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

It’s Thursday, April 28, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

In this presidential race we are witnessing an unprecedented redefinition of both political parties

Here we are with the month of April coming to an end, and finally there is greater clarity in the 2016 American presidential race. I say finally because in most election cycles, that clarity actually emerges much earlier. But this has been an interesting year, and as on the Republican side the Wall Street Journal reports,

“Donald Trump is coming close to building an insurmountable lead in the 2016 Republican presidential primary that he has dominated from the start.”

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All this has caught the political class by surprise, but now we are looking at the fact that Donald Trump is actually coming close to being able to achieve enough delegate count in order to win a first ballot victory at the Republican National Convention coming up this summer. That was something that just a matter of a couple of weeks ago did not seem likely, although even then it was possible. But now it is moving from possible to probable, and that is largely on the strength of the Republican primaries that he won on Tuesday of this week. The crucial question now on the Republican side shifts to next Tuesday in the state of Indiana. That winner-take-all contest comes down to the fact that if Donald Trump wins it he will be virtually unstoppable. If he does not win, it is going to be very difficult for him to win that first ballot victory. So here we have the unusual occasion of the State of Indiana’s presidential primary on the Republican side being of such crucial importance. Oddly enough, voters in primary states like California may actually have a say this year in a way they have not in previous election cycles. That is to say, the issue has been decided so early in most recent presidential elections that those states have not really mattered in terms of a decisive impact. That could change. And now we’re watching every single vote count in a way that is undeniable. The situation is being clarified on the Republican side by the fact that Donald Trump really is now beginning to look like the presumptive nominee. That is going to reset the Republican political equation and raises a huge question about the identity of the Republican Party and the future of that party in America’s political life.

On the Democratic side, the conclusion of the votes this Tuesday indicates that Hillary Clinton is unstoppable in terms of the Democratic presidential nomination race. The unexpected insurgency of Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders caught, once again, the political class by surprise. And once again, on the Democratic side the delegate count was open until at least the last several days, at least open as a question. But that question is being increasingly, decisively answered on both sides of America’s political divide. But in both cases, what we are witnessing is a redefinition of America’s political parties before our very eyes. On the Republican side, it is a shift from the Reagan consensus that had dominated the party since at least the year 1980—that is, about two generations in political life—into something best described as a nativist populism embodied by Donald Trump. On the Democratic side, it is a massive lurch to the left, with Bernie Sanders obviously representing a great deal of the Democratic Party’s heart—so much so that USA Today ran an article this week indicating that 4 of 10 Bernie Sanders supporters indicate they’re not even sure they would vote for Hillary Clinton if she gains the party’s nomination, as is now almost assured.

So what we’re looking at is a struggle for the definition of both of America’s major political parties. That has not happened in any recent period in American history. That is not to say that one party or the other has not been up for redefinition at a crucial turning point in American politics, it is to say that we are now in the interesting and troubling juncture of having both parties, simultaneously, being redefined before our eyes. From a Christian perspective, one of most important things we need to note is that political parties eventually embody worldviews, and that’s what’s most crucial. There have been defined worldviews that have been attached to the Democratic and Republican parties now for decades, but those two worldviews are clearly breaking down in terms of the consensus that has brought those parties together and held them together. Now you see in both parties basic questions of conviction, of truth, of morality, of justice, of equity, of identity, and of the future of their party translated not only into policies, but into general principles—all this is apparently up for grabs. Increasingly on the Democratic side the question is, just how far left will that political party move? On the Republican side, the question is, just what do Republicans now represent? What do Republicans believe? What vision of government now marks the Republican Party?

A shift from Ronald Reagan to Donald Trump is a massive shift in that regard. Ronald Reagan clearly believed that the government that governs least governs best. Donald Trump clearly advocates a far larger and more activist role for government. That is something that has been anathema in Republican circles for at least several decades now. Indeed you go back to Richard Nixon to find a Republican who would represent that in terms of a winning electoral strategy. Ever since Ronald Reagan, the Republican Party has stood for a lean federal government, at least in theory. But now you have Donald Trump who clearly believes in an activist government, and he would intend to use that government for purposes and ends that Republicans would not have supported as recently as 2012, the last presidential election.

Meanwhile, the shift in the Democratic Party is so remarkable that we not only see the repudiation in effect of the legacy of Pres. Bill Clinton—even as his wife is now running far to his left for the American presidency—but we also see another of the most unexpected developments in American political life, and that is a Democratic Party that is lurching far to the left of the liberal Democratic incumbent President Barack Obama. One of the most interesting things to see is how many of the young Americans providing so much of the energy behind the candidacy of Bernie Sanders will express almost condescendingly and dismissively their exasperation with the current President and his failure to move even further in terms of the liberal agenda they now support.

Ted Cruz announces VP running mate Carly Fiorina hoping to alter Republican race

Meanwhile, the shift in the Democratic Party is so remarkable that we not only see the repudiation in effect of the legacy of Pres. Bill Clinton—even as his wife is now running far to his left for the American presidency—but we also see another of the most unexpected developments in American political life, and that is a Democratic Party that is lurching far to the left of the liberal Democratic incumbent President Barack Obama. One of the most interesting things to see is how many of the young Americans providing so much of the energy behind the candidacy of Bernie Sanders will express almost condescendingly and dismissively their exasperation with the current President and his failure to move even further in terms of the liberal agenda they now support.

Meanwhile, as we are all looking to what’s going to come in upcoming weeks, it’s very interesting to see what happened yesterday. When Christians look at electoral cycle and look at how a campaign actually works, one of the interesting things is to know that when a candidate does something that is totally unexpected, especially coming at the end or a definitive mark of a presidential campaign or nomination race, there is a reason for it. So when yesterday, Texas Senator Ted Cruz announced that if nominated, he would choose Carly Fiorina as his running mate, you immediately had the New York Times say that this was because Senator Cruz is,

“Desperate to alter the course of a presidential primary fight in which Donald J. Trump is closing in on victory.”

Just minutes after Senator Cruz made the announcement, the New York Times editorialized in a news report by saying,

“Mr. Cruz’s decision to rush out a vice-presidential pick before next week’s primary in Indiana, which is becoming make-or-break for his candidacy, was the political equivalent of a student pulling a fire alarm to avoid an exam: It was certain to draw attention and carried the possibility of meeting its immediate goal, but seemed unlikely to forestall the eventual reckoning.”

Now as a criticism, that is clearly an editorial statement inserted in a news report. But also as an acknowledgment, it’s a pretty well-written editorial statement. Longtime observers of the American political process will remember that something very similar to this happen in terms of timing in the 1976 Republican presidential campaign in one of the now footnotes to history, then candidate Ronald Reagan running against the incumbent President Gerald Ford for the Republican nomination in another play to alter what seemed to be the inevitable course of the nomination race chose then Pennsylvania Senator Richard Schweiker announcing that he would be his running mate if he won the nomination. Of course, Ronald Reagan did not win the nomination in 1976, though he carried the fight all the way to that summer’s Republican national convention. But the incongruity of that was that Richard Schweiker was identified as a rather liberal Republican Senator back when Republican senators might be identified as liberal. That stood in contrast to the conservative principles and positions of Ronald Reagan. It was one of those very odd and unexpected developments that clearly did not change the course of the Republican presidential race. Senator Cruz is surely hopeful that in this case, it will make a difference. But as we have to say so many times, time will tell.

Campus collision: NCAA urged to divest from all religious schools with anti-LGBT policies

Next, a story of incredible consequence, in this case it is the cover story in the Sports section from an edition of USA Today this week. The headline:

“Campus Collision.”

The subhead:

“Religious freedom versus LGBT rights puts NCAA in a hot seat.”

Now that’s interesting just from the fact that there are now so many alphabet soup acronyms we’re supposed to understand. In this headline you have NCAA and LGBT and the fact is we do know what the story is about, and we know so immediately. And even before we read the story just in terms of the headline, in the subhead, we pretty much know the dynamic that is set up by the story appearing on the front page of USA Today. This is one of those stories that signals where we are standing now in this culture and where the culture is trending, and trending very, very fast.

The story begins at Fordham University, a historically Catholic University in New York. It begins with a student by the name of Connor Griffin, who was on the swim team there at the college.

“Connor Griffin wondered if he’d feel like a fish out of water as a gay athlete at a Catholic college. Instead, the freshman swimmer quickly found a home in the chlorinated waters of Fordham University’s pool and the catholic attitude of its student body.

“Catholic, in its lowercase iteration, means broadminded — and Griffin says he found immediate acceptance when he came out to his new teammates on arrival last summer. Then when he came out publicly months later, he garnered online support from many others he’d never met.”

Now what that tells us immediately is that USA Today is signaling morally where they believe an institution should stand. They are signaling that they believe this Catholic college has taken the right policy, even as they admit that that puts this college in contradiction to Catholic teaching. They mention it by stating that it is catholic “in its lowercase iteration.”

So what we have here is a very clear indication that if you are a Baptist institution, you might be acceptable to the moral revolutionaries if it is Baptist with a little “b”—if it is Presbyterian, with a little “p”, Lutheran with a little “l”, or in this case Catholic with a little “c”—that is to say, so long as you claim some historical tie to a religious heritage, but you claim no ongoing commitment to religious conviction.

But the article quickly shifts from Fordham University to those Christian colleges and universities that do not allow for nor normalize homosexual behavior and relationships. Eric Brady and Scott Gleason, writing for USA Today, wrote that it’s a big deal at many religiously affiliated colleges,

“…that see homosexuality as a sin — and that have codes of conduct banning same-sex relations. Freedom of religion allows such schools to operate under their own precepts and beliefs, but gay rights advocates say that doesn’t mean the NCAA must allow membership to schools that enforce these kinds of codes.”

For months and longer now on The Briefing we’ve discussed the fact that sports in general and the NCAA in particular will be a key arena where the moral revolution is going to be fought out. And it is very clear that at the center of the target of the moral revolutionaries are any religious colleges and universities that are members especially of the NCAA that continue to operate by Christian biblical conviction on issues of gender and sexuality, even the definition of marriage and appropriate sexual behavior. The dynamic in this article is really interesting because USA Today points out that the NCAA has criticized the state of North Carolina for recent legislation assigning appropriate bathroom use to the biological sex identified at birth. But the NCAA includes a large number of Christian colleges and universities in its membership that continue to operate by Christian principles, including more than 60 schools that have applied for and received a so-called Title IX exemption. That is, schools that have signaled they intend to continue to operate on the basis of Christian conviction.

As an indication of which direction the NCAA might go, the outgoing Chairman of the Board of Governors, Kansas State President Kirk Schultz, said that the issue of religious liberty and its intersection with LGBT issues, is one in which,

“The NCAA does need to take some stands.”

But he went on to say, and I quote again,

“We can’t just do it without some robust internal discussions.”

What does that tell you? Well, when you read in a news statement like this, what it tells us is that the outgoing Chairman of the Board of Governors of the NCAA has said that the direction the NCAA should go will be eventually to eliminate schools that will not operate by the new rules of the moral revolutionaries. But he sends a very clear signal when he says, and I quote again,

“We can’t just do it without some robust internal discussions.”

Read between the lines. Brace yourselves for those robust internal discussions. USA Today describes the dynamic in these words,

“Freedom of religion is an American value. So is freedom from discrimination. These values clash in so-called religious freedom laws in states such as North Carolina and Mississippi. The same tensions in the broader culture are also found in NCAA core values: One promises “an inclusive culture that fosters equitable participation” for all athletes — and another “respect for institutional and philosophical differences.”

As USA Today right summarizes, the question is “how the NCAA balances these values when they conflict.”

Now this is where Christians also need to look very carefully at this language. Here, religious liberty is reduced to the word “value.” That’s extremely problematic. The United States Constitution which, after all, does not in any way claim to grant rights but merely to respect God-given rights, very clearly establishes religious liberty as a right, not just as a value, indeed as a fundamental right, arguably the most fundamental right. When religious liberty is reduced to a mere value set over against other values, we are already in very big trouble not just in terms of the LGBT revolution, but in the larger subversion and minimization of religious liberty as a fundamental right.

This news story in USA Today was prompted at least in part by the fact that over 80 LGBT organizations have recently written a letter to the NCAA demanding that it divest membership of religiously affiliated schools that have asked for and received waivers from the federal government on the issue of LGBT rights. We are seeing, once again, an inevitable head-on collision. And it’s now announced in the cover story on the sports page of USA Today.

One of most interesting things in the story, which is far larger and longer than any usual peace in USA Today, is the fact that the article includes statements from many of the institutions targeted by LGBT groups. And the interesting thing is this: some of these statements don’t sound very resoundingly convictional. They sound at least in part like institutions that are getting ready to change their policies. The juxtaposition of those schools understood to be good schools on the right side of the moral revolution and bad schools that are seen to be on the wrong side of the moral revolution is seen in the juxtaposition in the article between LeTourneau University in Texas and the University of Notre Dame. The article makes very clear that at LeTourneau , a historically evangelical school,

“Athletes can be dismissed from their teams for same-sex relationships.”

The honor code at LeTourneau states,

“All students and student-athletes voluntarily agree to abide by all campus behavioral standards … consistent with our Biblically based theological foundation.”

But in the very next paragraph you have the juxtaposition.

“Gay and lesbian athletes are welcome at Notre Dame, which last year launched an inclusion campaign wrapped in the wider message of Catholicism.”

Now just to note the obvious here, the Catholic Church continues to teach in its catechism that homosexual acts and relationships are intrinsically disordered and in every case sinful. But here you have an historically Catholic institution that has to be defined as the way USA Today here describes it, as Catholic with a little “c”, that is standing in direct opposition to the historic convictions of its own church. But you see exactly the kind of direction that USA Today signals the culture will drag the NCAA.

Also this week, Inside Higher Education has reported on the effort undertaken to force the NCAA to remove schools that will oppose the moral revolution. This article cites Marc Edelman, an associate law professor at the City University of New York considered to be an expert on sports and antitrust laws.

“The NCAA could vote to pass a rule barring institutions from discriminating against LGBT students and that could include institutions that receive title IX waivers.”

But he went on to say that the institutions that would then be excluded could bring a federal Sherman Antitrust Act suit against the NCAA for that action. Edelman said,

“The NCAA could absolutely vote to pass such a rule, but the rule would certainly be subject to challenge.”

But at this point we have to note that from a Christian consideration, the biggest challenge is not that faced by the NCAA, but rather the challenge faced by Christian colleges and universities who are going to have to decide at some point whether they serve God or man, or in this case, whether they serve God or the NCAA.

A tragic moral lesson: Former Speaker of the House now a convicted felon in sexual abuse case

Finally, even as the Scripture reminds us that we must be certain our sin will find us out. Dennis Hastert, the former Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, faced a judge yesterday to be sentenced to 15 months in prison for what was a conviction based in a cover-up financially of sexual misdeeds and misconduct that had taken place when he was a high school wrestling coach back during the 1970s. As CNN reported yesterday,

“Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert on Wednesday was sentenced to 15 months in prison and ordered to pay $250,000 to a victims’ fund in a hush money case that revealed he was being accused of sexually abusing young boys as a teacher in Illinois.”

The federal conviction and sentence did not have to do specifically with the sexual abuse, but rather with an effort to cover it up in terms of financial misdeeds and misreporting that had been undertaken by the former Speaker of the House. Let’s remind ourselves that the Speaker of the House is third in succession to the office of President of the United States. It is the third most important constitutional office in America’s form of government. The Speaker the House, we should remind ourselves, is one of the most important constitutional offices in the United States. The Speaker of the House follows only the Vice President of the United States in terms of presidential succession. Dennis Hastert rose from having no political experience in a matter of less than a generation to becoming Speaker of the House and will still go down in history as the longest-serving Republican Speaker of the House in history. But that is not how history is going to remember him. History will now remember him for the most horrifying disclosures that came at the end of his life, long after he had retired from public office. There’s something deeply biblical about asking yourself the question, what will be the first things said after your name in your obituary? All that changed for Dennis Hastert after these revelations. This is a moral tragedy that should be a lesson to us all.

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing