The Briefing 09-30-16

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Checks and Balances: Congress overrides Pres. Obama's veto for the first time in his presidency

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Electoral accountability: Elected state judges less supportive of LGBT rights than appointed ones

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Today marks 40th anniversary of the Hyde amendment, which protects taxpayers from paying for abortions

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New Ligonier and LifeWay study shows widespread theological confusion in America, even in our churches

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Transcript

The Briefing

September 30, 2016

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

It’s Friday, September 30, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Checks and Balances: Congress overrides Pres. Obama's veto for the first time in his presidency

The headline in almost every major American newspaper late this week trumpeted the single veto thus far of the Obama administration, the first time that Congress had over written a presidential veto under this administration. That’s big news, and the news had to do in particular with Congress overriding a veto from the President on a bill that would authorize legal action taken by United States citizens, in particular citizens who are relatives of victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks, against the nation of Saudi Arabia.

The background of that is the fact that many Americans claim credible evidence that at least agents or authorities in Saudi Arabia were backing Al Qaeda at the very time that Al Qaeda was planning and conducting this attack on the United States of America. At the same time the United States government did not find Saudi Arabia guilty, they did not find the nation a state sponsor of terrorism. And thus this pitted the Obama administration and administrations before it in a battle with Congress over a very politically volatile piece of legislation.

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After the veto, the President called the decision by Congress a political decision. But that’s something of a non-issue. You should expect that Congress will make a political decision, just as you will expect a President of the United States to make a political decision. Political as an adjective or a modifier in this sense doesn’t tell us a very great deal. It’s just a matter of logic that a political body will make political decisions. What the President actually implied was that members of Congress and Senators were facing political pressure to vote against what they thought was actually right. That’s a far larger and more audacious claim.

Presidents take veto overrides very seriously, and this is the first one experienced by President Obama. No modern American president has had every single one of his vetoes upheld. Every modern president has had the experience, indeed the bitter experience, of having his veto overridden by super majorities in both the House and the Senate. From a Christian worldview perspective, that’s actually the big issue here. It’s debatable as to whether or not this legislation was right. There’s a huge debate between the administration and Congress on the issue, and it has to do not only with whether or not it is right to allow American citizens to sue the nation of Saudi Arabia, but whether or not that then opens the United States to similar action undertaken by others. Presidents and their administrations tend to defend settled principles in American foreign-policy such as the principle that has not allowed American citizens to sue Saudi Arabia until this week, until Congress overrode the veto.

From a Christian worldview perspective, it’s the constitutional issue that is the paramount interest here. It tells us something important that the founders of this nation, the framers of the U.S. Constitution, both allowed for a presidential veto and for the overriding of that veto by means of super majorities in both houses of Congress. What’s the big worldview issue there? It is the founders’ understanding, the framers of the Constitution’s understanding, that the moment you centralize authority in one branch of government, you provide the opportunity for imbalance, injustice, and autocracy.

The big danger here, specifically, is an autocrat in the White House, that is an autocratic president. The Constitution creates three separate but co-equal branches of government. At the same time we are an Executive led government. One of the founders put it this way, calling for “energy in the Executive,” and most of the nation’s chief executives have demonstrated energy in office. But that must not be an unchecked energy. The veto is one of the most powerful tools of the presidency. It allows the president to veto, that is to nullify legislative action, even if both houses of Congress approve it. But allowing for the override in the Constitution meant that even eventually super majorities in the House and in the Senate can even be more powerful than a president. That’s of crucial importance. You don’t want the President to be robbed of the veto power, you do not want Congress to be displaced in terms of originating that kind of legislation. You do want super majorities to be both necessary and allowable in order to override a presidential veto.

Vetoes themselves should be relatively rare, but not all that uncommon. It’s very important that the President, regardless of party, regardless of era, use the power of veto in order to keep congressional interest in check. But the veto must not be the last word, and President Obama’s bitter experience of having his veto overridden the first time and now so late in his presidency, is actually evidence of the fact that our constitutional order is rightly arranged, rightly balanced, and furthermore, utterly important.

Electoral accountability: Elected state judges less supportive of LGBT rights than appointed ones

Next from London comes a story about judges in the United States. Ciara McCarthy, writing for The Guardian tells us,

“Judges who are elected to state supreme courts are generally less supportive of LGBT rights claims than judges who are appointed, according to new research commissioned by a nonprofit law group.”

By the way, the nonprofit law group—notice that’s how it’s described in the lead paragraph—is actually none other than Lambda Legal. That’s not just a nonprofit law group, that’s one of the significant legal activist organizations of the LGBT revolution. The Guardian reports,

“The study, produced by Lambda Legal, found that judges chosen through partisan elections are least supportive of LGBT rights claims compared to their peers around the country who are selected through other methods.”

One of the Lambda Legal authorities said,

“If you want to get a fair hearing in court you need to make sure that judges are free to make decisions, that they have the independence to rule on the law without fear of retaliation.”

Well, let’s decode that for just a moment. What does “without fear of retaliation” mean? It means never having to face the voters. This is now a major political divide in the United States showing up not in the Legislative branch and not in the Executive branch, but in the Judicial branch. In many American states, supreme court justices are elected rather than appointed. In other states of course they are appointed, as would be justices of the United States Supreme Court. But the interesting thing to note here is that there is now an enormous pushback from moral revolutionaries against the idea that judges in general, and in particular state supreme court justices, should be elected. But one of the things we need to recognize very clearly in this pushback against elected supreme courts is that the framers of those state constitutions specifically wanted to limit the judicial overreach that could come from those very courts. They wanted to make certain that eventually even those justices would have to face the voters. And here we have a very important moral insight piggybacking on the constitutional insight, thee constitutional insights made clear in this study. Justices who have to face the voters are far less liberal than their peers who are appointed.

One of the things we need to note here is that many of the most liberal and revolutionary ideas in this culture that have been translated into policy were not made policy by legislation for which legislators had to take responsibility and a governor or a president either signed into law or veto. Instead, we have seen so much of the authority in this country usurped by the courts and, in the cowardice of politicians, deferred to the courts, and the courts have usurped the Democratic process. If you look at the abortion issue, it was the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade. If you look at the issue of same-sex marriage, it was again the Supreme Court in the Obergefell decision. And in the case of U.S. Supreme Court, why has that court trended in such liberal directions on these issues? It is arguably precisely because those justices never have to fear the voters.

Finally, when you look at this article in The Guardian, it indicates that even the sexual and moral revolutionaries of our age, having made so much progress for their cause, are not yet satisfied; not until they have control of every court and, in particular, not only the Supreme Court of the United States, but the state supreme courts in all 50 of the states. Also, behind this story is the fact that there are efforts of constitutional revision and amendment in many of these states calling for justices to be appointed rather than elected. Here’s hoping that the voters in those states will not vote themselves out of a vote.

Today marks 40th anniversary of the Hyde amendment, which protects taxpayers from paying for abortions

Next, today marks the 40th anniversary of one of the most important landmark laws in American history, certainly in modern American history. It was on September 30, 1976 that the Hyde amendment went into effect in the United States. 40 years ago Congress responded to the conscience and moral concerns of the American people by making certain that federal Medicaid money, that is federal taxpayer money through Medicaid, was not translated into abortion. The government funding of abortion was understood to be a bridge too far, even three years after Roe v. Wade.

Just three years after Roe v. Wade, Congress acted to make sure that the American taxpayer was not coerced into paying for abortion against conscience. Now ever since 1976 there have been efforts to try to undermine and subvert [the Hyde amendment].

Back in 1976, it was adopted in the House of Representatives by a vote of 207-167. It’s a piece of legislation that actually modifies the federal budget and has been made necessary every single year since 1976. But now we need to recognize that the Hyde amendment is right in the center of our nation’s bull’s-eye, put there because the Democratic Party in its official 2016 platform has called for revoking the Hyde amendment and for requiring the American taxpayer to pay for abortion on demand by means of Medicaid.

The moral stakes in this issue could not be higher. We’re looking at the fact that the big issue here is not only whether abortion would be legal in America, the Supreme Court spoke to that in 1973 in the Roe v. Wade decision, but whether American taxpayers, millions of whom arguably—at least a thin majority of whom—do not want to pay for abortion, nevertheless to be required to do so through the government’s power to confiscate tax money and then to allocate it against the taxpayers conscience.

One interesting point of agreement on this between both pro-choice and pro-life Americans is the fact that the Hyde amendment has made a difference. It is estimated that the reduction in the number of abortions in America because of the Hyde amendment could be as high as 2 million in the last 40 years. It is probably impossible to come up with an absolute number of abortions that have been avoided by means of the Hyde amendment, but both sides we should note agree that the Hyde amendment has been decisive in many, many cases.

In recent years, President Barack Obama, running for the Democratic nomination, made clear his opposition to the Hyde amendment. But when we look at the 2016 Democratic presidential race, both independent Senator Bernie Sanders from Vermont and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton running for that nomination, try to outdo each other in calling for the end of the Hyde amendment and for federal taxpayer funding of abortion on demand.

It’s often the case that landmark legislation like this avoids public notice, even on an important anniversary. But the threat to the Hyde amendment in 2016 means that we need to take very careful note to understand why it was necessary in 1976 and why arguably it is even more necessary now. The conscience protections that were enacted into law by Congress in 1976 are now threatened by at least one of the two major political parties that has put the Hyde amendment high on its agenda for repeal. The 40th anniversary of the Hyde amendment should remind Christians in this country that the sanctity and dignity of human life must be at the very forefront of the Christian conscience. Therefore a threat to repeal the Hyde amendment should be at the forefront of our political concern as well. We now face the very real threat that at least one of America’s two political parties will do everything within its power to force the American taxpayer to pay for abortion.

New Ligonier and LifeWay study shows widespread theological confusion in America, even in our churches

Next, a massive study of the theological beliefs of the American people was undertaken by LifeWay Research and sponsored by Ligonier ministries. And the result of the study is proof positive of the theological confusion of the American people, a theological confusion that is not only pervasive and alarming, but also explainable in terms of the contours of this report. First some of the key findings. According to the survey about,

“Two-thirds of Americans believe God is perfect, and more than 6 in 10 accept the deity, humanity, and resurrection of Jesus.”

But as the study says,

“Half of Americans deny that Jesus has always existed and a similar number relegate the Holy Spirit to being a force rather than a personal being.”

The data points in this include the fact that,

“Six in 10 Americans agree with the doctrine that says ‘Jesus is truly God and has a divine nature, and Jesus is truly man and has a human nature.’”

At the same time, you can turn every one of these numbers around. If that orthodox view of Jesus Christ is held by 61% in the survey, that means that fully 39% chose some other option. Perhaps it’s to be expected that more Americans have a generally orthodox understanding of the person of Christ than the person of the Holy Spirit. But that’s also one of the most alarming statistics in this study in which,

“56% of Americans agree ‘The Holy Spirit is a force but is not a personal being.’”

One of the things that Christians must always keep foremost in mind is that the doctrine of the Trinity is not merely a doctrine, it is a description of the one true and living God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To confuse a question as basic as the Trinity is actually to risk idolatry. A part of the confusion represented in this study is reflected in the fact that, as we just said, “56% of Americans think the Holy Spirit is a force rather than a personal being,” is seen in the fact that at the same time we are told that,

“Almost 7 in 10 Americans (69%) agree ‘There is one true God in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.’”

It is abundantly clear, if unsurprising, that a majority of Americans are deeply confused about, if not openly rejecting, a biblical understanding of human beings and the doctrine of sin. 65% agreed with the statement,

“Everyone sins a little, but most people are good by nature.

“More than half (52%) agree “By the good deeds that I do, I partly contribute to earning my place in heaven.”

Now that demonstrates the fact that a failure to have an orthodox, biblical understanding of humanity and of sin also leads to a fundamentally un-biblical understanding of salvation, justification, and the gospel itself. An overly optimistic and unbiblical positive view of humanity also points to something else, and that is that such a view of humanity is only possible if the holiness of God is itself eclipsed. And that’s made clear in the fact that according to the study, only 19% of Americans agreed,

“Even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation.”

That confusion over God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness is reflected in the fact that 69% of Americans agree,

“A person obtains peace with God by first taking the initiative to seek God, and then God responds with grace.”

Replicating previous studies, a vast majority of Americans agree that,

“Heaven is a place where all people will ultimately be reunited with their loved ones.

“4 in 10 Americans (40%) agree ‘Hell is an eternal place of judgment where God sends all people who do not personally trust in Jesus Christ.’”

I say that’s an affirmation of previous studies because study after study has actually indicated that far more Americans believe in Heaven than in Hell, and most Americans are quite convinced that they belong in Heaven rather than in Hell. Historians of American religious life points to the fact that positive, overly positive distorted understandings of the goodness of humanity seem to have an inordinate place and foothold in the United States even before other nations. Americans tend to have a very high evaluation of themselves as well as the rest of humanity.

As long ago as the 18th century, preachers who were very clear about the nature of sin and the danger of divine wrath were sidelined, marginalized, and often made fun of. In American high schools today, students often read Jonathan Edwards famed sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” And yet it is primarily held up as an example of a certain kind of American preaching that no one believes has a place in American culture today. Furthermore, we need to recognize that Jonathan Edwards was rejected in terms of his message by many, even in the 18th century, who found his biblical message simply too much to bear. But that sermon by Jonathan Edwards, like all of his messages, were infused with Scripture and represented orthodox Christianity. What we’re looking at here is the doctrinal and theological superficiality of the American people, a superficiality that results in a very toxic stew of theological confusion.

Scott McConnell, the executive director of LifeWay research, said,

“Contradictory and incompatible beliefs are okay for most people.”

By that he means that evidently a large number of Americans, if not the majority, are quite happily ready to live with contradictory beliefs and even to answer in terms of those contradictions when taking a survey of this importance. But at this point, Christians have to be very clear that contradictory beliefs are not okay, and theological and doctrinal confusion is not okay, but is rather a grave danger to the integrity and faithfulness of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Many other questions were asked and many other doctrinal issues were considered along with many moral questions as well. But perhaps the biggest lesson in all of this is the documented pattern that is revealed in the fact that the more often persons attend a church, the more orthodox they tend to be. The more often they fear biblical preaching, the less likely it is that they’re going to evidence this kind of theological superficiality and confusion.

There again, evangelical Christians should be hardly surprised. After all in Scripture itself we are told that the ordinary means of grace, in particular the preaching of the Word of God, is the main means by which the people of God are armed against error and grounded in the truth. But it also points to the fact that Jesus established his Church. We should not be surprised that the Church and its functioning stands at the very center of whether or not theology and doctrine are clarified and consistently taught generation to generation.

And that leads to a final observation, it’s one thing, a very horrifying thing, to find this kind of theological compromising confusion in the public at large. It’s a far more humiliating reality, and a far greater danger that Christians should keep in mind, that this kind of confusion can be found inside our own churches. The only remedy to that is the constant, faithful preaching of the Word of God; parents who raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; and churches and Christians who take very seriously the conscious strategic transmission of the faith once for all delivered to the saints from generation to generation.

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing