The Briefing 06-24-16

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Political drama in the House of Representatives as Democrats stage sit-in on gun control

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SCOTUS checks Obama's executive overreach on immigration, upholds UT's affirmative action

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Correlation between religious affiliation and abortion highlights why theology matters

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The stories of two 90-year-old men allow us to reflect on the debt we owe to history

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Transcript

The Briefing

June 24, 2016

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

It’s Friday, June 24, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Political drama in the House of Representatives as Democrats stage sit-in on gun control

The most important issue today will be the official announcement of the Brexit vote in Great Britain, the vote that will determine whether or not the British people will have decided, by referendum, to stay in or to leave the European Union. But we’ll discuss that more on Monday once the official results are in. Meanwhile in the United States, the big political news had to do with a dramatic sit-in in the House of Representatives. As CNN reported,

“Democrats decided to end their day-long sit-in protest on the House floor over gun control Thursday.

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Rep. John Lewis, who launched the sit-in Wednesday morning that eventually drew 170 lawmakers, lit up social media, and infuriated House Republicans — but spurred no legislative action — said the fight was not over.”

Congressman Lewis said,

“We must come back here on July 5th [when Congress returns to session] more determined than ever before.”

Now what’s going on here? It’s a very interesting piece of political drama and dramatics is basically what it was. You had up to 170 members of the House of Representatives, all Democrats, in a sit-in because the House of Representatives would not vote on legislation they demanded having to do with the issue of gun control. Similar legislation also met defeat in the United States Senate in recent days, and the controversy has to do most of all with the timing of all these votes or non-votes in the aftermath of the horrifying terror attack that took place in Orlando in which a lone shooter shot so many people, killing 49 and wounding over 50. In the immediate aftermath there have been demands of some kind of gun control legislation. The big question that Christians need to consider is how we should think about this question in the first place. This is where we have to understand that we must cut through the dramatics of the situation and even through the fog of this controversy and understand that more is at stake here than might first appear. It would seem to be evident at face value that any rational person, not to mention any biblically minded Christian, would want to do anything appropriate to keep weapons out of the hands of anyone who would intend to do evil with those weapons. But that runs up against some very huge questions, how would we actually know and what kind of legal mechanisms would truly make a difference?

I raise that because most of what’s being discussed in recent days concerning gun control is not really an issue over serious legislation, but rather it is a political controversy that is a matter of political opportunism and for that matter, one that is not particularly honest. For example, the House of Representatives’ issues centered in a so-called no-fly no-buy proposal, that persons who were on the FBI’s no-fly list would not be allowed to buy guns; no-fly, no-buy. But the problem with that is due process guaranteed by the United States Constitution and, at this point, having nothing directly to do with the issue of gun control. That due process clause of the United States Constitution that says that citizens cannot be denied the due process of law. Now why is that important? It is important because that no-fly list is not a matter of criminal conviction. It is simply a matter of the alert to law enforcement. There’s a categorical distinction between being put on a no-fly zone and being convicted of some crime. Now what you have in Congress right now in both houses, the Senate and the House of Representatives, is a debate about how indeed it might be possible to come up with legislation that would keep the guns, in particular, semi-automatic weapons out of the hands of those who would be on the no-fly list without compromising America’s basic constitutional freedoms.

Now just to make the issue very poetically clear, it turns out that that no-fly list is admitted by law enforcement, perhaps, to include about 50 percent of those who actually don’t deserve to be on the list. Now you can understand why law enforcement would want a very big list because they don’t want to leave anyone out. But that doesn’t require any kind of evidence; it doesn’t require any kind of judicial process, it doesn’t require any kind of criminal conviction. Now if the United States is still committed to due process that means that people cannot be treated as criminals who are not criminals. The poetic irony is found in the fact that many people who clearly don’t belong on the list have been there, including the late Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, and also perhaps even more poetically, Representative John Lewis, the Congressman who actually lead the dramatic sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives in recent days.

There are actually now two lists that are in play, at least two, one is the so-called terror watch list and the other is the TSA’s no-fly list. Seen and reported back in 2004 that John Lewis, then a nine term Democratic Congressman, famous for his leadership in the civil rights movement, had been put on this list and he was having difficulty getting his name off the list then. According to CNN, Representative Lewis,

“Contacted the Department of Transportation, the Department of Homeland Security and executives at various airlines in a so-far fruitless effort to get his name off the list,”

That according to the Congressman’s spokeswoman oat the time Brenda Jones. One of our responsibilities as Christian citizens is to look through the controversies at the actual issues that are at stake. Again, just about any rational person, not to mention anyone committed to a biblical worldview, would want to do anything practical and real that would prevent a terrorist, such as Omar Mateen, from gaining access to the kind of gun that he used in the murderous attack. But the question is how one can do that without reading the human mind and the human heart. In reality, even law enforcement officials admit that these lists are themselves inadequate. Furthermore, neither one of them is the result of any judicial action, both of them if misused would actually violate the due process clause of the Constitution and Christians have to be very concerned about that because our commitment to the due process of law is based upon our understanding of human dignity and human rights, and by the fact that a government that is not bound to the constraints and restraints of due process would actually turn into an autocratic government that would trample upon the rights of its citizens.

Poll after poll demonstrates that there is a wide consensus in America on the issue of the fact that virtually everyone would want to keep these kinds of weapons out of the hands of those who would intend murder, whether it is individually or on a broad scale. But in a fallen world, our finite knowledge means that we cannot read hearts and minds and that is exactly the problem. The reality is that any law that might actually be constructed would probably deny rights to Americans who do not intend any kind of murderous activity. Furthermore, we can anticipate the argument that those constitutional rights are of less moral significance than the mandate of protecting human life, but that then leads to one of the hardest questions and, that is, what gun control legislation, constitutional issues aside, would actually even prevent someone like Omar Mateen from gaining access to this kind of weapon.

To state the obvious, some of the most restrictive gun control laws on the planet did not prevent the terrorists in Brussels and in Paris from gaining access to murderous weapons. There is indeed we must recognize a moral urgency to this conversation, but there is also a moral urgency to clarifying these issues and speaking honestly about them. That means that the kind of dramatics or theatrics that have taken place in American politics in recent days are not fundamentally helpful. Now at this point I have to recognize that John Lewis, who led the effort in the House of Representatives, is on the civil rights issue a genuinely heroic figure. The question is, does that issue, that is the civil rights movement, translate into the same kind of moral action and moral argument that is being called for by those who held the sit-in on the floor of the House this past week?

The United States Supreme Court has made very clear that the second amendment to the United States Constitution assures citizens the right to bear arms. That same court recognized that that is not an absolute right. That’s why people across the political spectrum have been able to agree upon certain understandings that those who are, for instance, convicted felons should not have access, that is legal access, to buying some weapons. But the reality is there is no one who believes that even those laws actually prevent felons determined to gain access to weapons from doing so.

All of this also points to the fact that, especially in an election year in which Americans are electing a president, it isn’t likely that there will be any way to minimize the fog of controversy nor the political advantage of theatrics, regardless of political party in position, on this kind of issue. As I have said if we are committed to the sanctity of human life we have to take these issues seriously. And that’s why we would have to take seriously any proposal that would be legally, constitutionally, and otherwise effective and would actually accomplish its purpose without denying basic American liberties. Many of the same people involved in this sit-in this past week, however, even when their party controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress were unable to come up with actual legislation that would accomplish the purpose. That said Christians have to long for the day when maybe there will be a serious consideration of these issues, we’re not at that day yet, we have to hope one day soon we may yet be.

SCOTUS checks Obama's executive overreach on immigration, upholds UT's affirmative action

Meanwhile, here in the United States, big news having to do with the United States Supreme Court, underlining the importance of the court in America’s public life, yesterday the court handed down decisions long anticipated on the issues of affirmative action and immigration. Still pending is the big abortion case from Texas, it is expected to be handed down by the court by the end of next week, which will bring to an end the 2015-2016 term of the Supreme Court. Yesterday’s decisions had to do with affirmative action and immigration. The immigration question was more important in constitutional terms, because the court actually faced two huge issues, one has to do with the President’s immigration policy, but the other had to do with the power of the presidency.

The accusation against the president was not just concerning his policy, but was rather that he had violated the constitutional limitations upon the presidency by trying to reform American immigration law or to revise it unilaterally by means of Executive Order. That decision yesterday, a 4-4 decision on immigration effectively leaves in place a lower court ruling that President Obama is blocked from continuing to move forward in revising immigration law by means of Executive Order. In the long-term that constitutional issue of executive authority is even more important than the issue of immigration. In the 2016 race, you can count on immigration continuing to be a factor, and the reality is that like the issue of gun control, America still has not had a reasoned, honest argument about immigration, that still we have to hope may come.

Meanwhile, on the affirmative action front and another split decision in this case a 4-3 decision, the Supreme Court upheld the right of the University of Texas to apply affirmative action, but without race as the sole criterion. The issue of affirmative action is also a continuing matter of American controversy, Justice Elena Kagan, having previously dealt with this case when she was serving as U.S. Solicitor General had to recuse herself, that’s why there wasn’t a 5-4 decision or even a 4-4 decision, but a 4-3 decision on this question. That sets up the fact that affirmative action like gun control and immigration is likely to be an issue that returns to the Supreme Court. But in any event, the headlines yesterday point to the importance of the court in America’s public life and the fact that inevitably the Supreme Court will be a major issue in the 2016 presidential race.

Correlation between religious affiliation and abortion highlights why theology matters

Meanwhile, on the issue of abortion here in the United States, a very interesting analysis that was drawn from the Pew Research Center’s 2014 religious landscape study. Writing at the website opposingviews.com, Nicholas Roberts points to the fact that the divide on abortion actually points to a deeper religious divide, that is to say, as we would speak, a theological divide. Here’s the issue, it turns out that there are religious groups that support abortion and those that oppose it. On the opposing side are groups such as the Southern Baptist Convention and the Roman Catholic Church. Promoting and supporting abortion rights are more liberal denominations in particular, the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Association, and some branches of Judaism, in particular, the more liberal branch of Reform Judaism. Meanwhile the study shows there are some groups that are somewhere in the muddled middle, generally supporting abortion rights, but with at least some proposed restrictions. This would include the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church USA and the United Methodist Church, all according to this analysis,

“Support a woman’s right to have an abortion but call for certain time limits on when a woman may be able to terminate her pregnancy.”

So what do we take him from this? In a worldview analysis, this tells us that how one understands the sanctity of human life and the definition and basis of human dignity determines where you are going to end up on the question of abortion. That shouldn’t be a surprise to us, but this is important affirmation in this analysis. This analysis, underlines the fact that one’s theological worldview, one’s most basic theological convictions inevitably produce where one stands on moral questions, including the question of abortion. If you believe that the Bible is the authoritative, inerrant, and infallible word of God, and if you see that the Bible affirms the fact that every single human life is made in the image of God, then you’ll understand the necessity of protecting that human life at every stage of development under every condition. If you believe, however, that the Bible is merely an ancient record of religious beliefs, then you can deny the clear biblical teaching that every single human life is made in the image of God, and thus is to be protected under every situation at every stage of life and you can move towards defining human life in terms of human autonomy claiming that that actually trumps even the sanctity of human life.

This analysis showing this deep divide over abortion affirms the fact that there’s an even deeper theological divide. And this is what Christians always have to keep very much in mind. When we’re looking at the importance of worldview, it is one’s basic understanding of God and of authority, of what it means to be human that will in inevitably determine where one stands on questions, for example, of the definition of marriage or how sexual morality is to be structured or yes, even the question of abortion. If you peel back the onion and you get back to the most fundamental issue, it is never abortion, it’s never sexuality, it’s never merely marriage, it’s whether or not you believe that God has revealed himself in Scripture, and that God alone has the right to define the sanctity and dignity of human life and whether or not human autonomy is an idol at which human beings can worship.

The stories of two 90-year-old men allow us to reflect on the debt we owe to history

Next and finally, a couple stories that point to the importance of history and to the fact that sometimes history is closer to us than we might imagine. The first article is in the New York Times by William Grimes. It has to do with an elderly German man who wasn’t a convicted war criminal, but quite the opposite. Edgar Feuchtwanger was a little boy when Adolf Hitler moved into his Munich neighborhood in 1929. In that year, Adolf Hitler moved into this Munich neighborhood and established his headquarters in a luxurious nine room apartment that was just about 100 yards from the bedroom of young Edgar Feuchtwanger. The young boy could see Adolf Hitler’s apartment, and knew something important was happening. He knew it because of the passage of all the Mercedes and other limousines that came day by day. He actually, as a young boy, had the opportunity, as a young Jewish boy, to watch Adolf Hitler as a neighbor.

In a recently published memoir, Mr. Feuchtwanger said,

“Even as a small boy I could sense the tremendous, hot tension there was around. That public events could produce such tension, that gripped one’s throat, almost took one’s breath away, is now practically unknown to the present generation.”

It turns out that the Jewish boy’s first memorable encounter with Adolf Hitler occurred when he was eight years old, the boy and his nanny out for a stroll began walking down the road,

“Just as we passed his front door, Hitler came out, wearing a mackintosh and a trilby hat. There were some people in the street who shouted ‘Heil Hitler.’ Then he looked at me and my nanny, quite benevolently.”

As the boy later recalled if Hitler had known who the boy was it wouldn’t have turned out that way. He didn’t know that what was Jewish, much less that his uncle was a famous critic of the Nazi regime and someone who was wanted by Nazi authorities. The New York Times is particularly interesting because it was clear that this young boy did not understand what he was seeing. But it wasn’t just this boy, others did not understand it as well. They didn’t see the full threat of Adolf Hitler, even as it was developing before their eyes. That too is a humbling warning to us about our own inability sometimes to understand what is happening, even as history is unfolding around us. But that history did unfold and eventually Mr. Feuchtwanger’s father was sent to the Dachau concentration camps and the young boy at age 14 was sent to England where he eventually earned a doctorate and became a prominent scholar.

The New York Times cites,

“Today, at 91, he [Feuchtwanger] could well be the last German Jew alive who grew up within arm’s reach of Hitler and observed him day to day, if only in fleeting glimpses.”

Just imagine being one of the last Jewish people on earth to have seen Adolf Hitler alive even as he was assuming power.

Meanwhile, also on the passage of history, an obituary in the New York Times, this one for a man whose name was David Thatcher. He was a corporal in the so-called Doolittle Raid on Japan of April 1942. This is one of the most amazing stories of American history. Just less than five months after the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, General Jimmy Doolittle invented a way whereby several bombers would take off and could only take off, they could not land, from a United States aircraft carrier in the Pacific. They shot the Japanese nation and shattered the idea that Japan could not be attacked that had been promised them by their Emperor. These are some of the bravest young Americans and American military history. They were willing to take off from these aircraft carriers, knowing that their bombers would never be able to return to the safety of those carriers. Instead, most of these bombers later crashed into the South China Sea, David Thatcher was a survivor of his crash into the water, and he later earned a decoration from the American military for his bravery in helping himself and some of his other fellow airmen to survive even under territory that was occupied by the Japanese.

Stories like this, indeed, this recent obituary appearing just yesterday in the New York Times remind us of a debt we owe to so many, including individuals such as a 20-year-old young man by the name of David Thatcher, later decorated for his bravery and being one of many who took off on those bombers from the flat top of an American aircraft carrier in the Pacific, knowing that they would never be able to come back and land. Thinking of these two 90-year-old men, one now living, one now dead, reminds us of the debt we owe to history and of the fact that our understanding of the past is very urgently important for our understanding of the present.

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing