The Briefing 10-26-16

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Which Hillary Clinton? Sanders and Warren vow to hold Hillary's feet to the fire on left-wing policies

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The false promise of "comprehensive sex education": Louisville schools look to standardize sex ed

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The Vatican, cremation, and worldview: What the historic Christian teaching on burial says about faith

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Transcript

The Briefing

October 26, 2016

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

It’s Wednesday, October 26, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events Christian worldview.

Which Hillary Clinton? Sanders and Warren vow to hold Hillary's feet to the fire on left-wing policies

When Americans look at a presidential election we come to understand a necessary conflict of visions, a deep conflict of worldviews generally represented in the contest between the two major parties and the nominees of those parties. But what we often do not recognize is that within these two parties are also constellations of ideologies and positions and interest groups, and sometimes even inside these parties a conflict of ideologies. A closer look from a worldview perspective is made mandatory in headlines that appeared yesterday in the major media. The New York Times ran a story that said,

“Liberals Want Warren to Prod Clinton’s Policy.”

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Meanwhile, the Washington Post ran a headline,

“Sanders is prepared to be a liberal thorn in Clinton’s side.”

Both of these front-page articles in major American newspapers anticipate a Hillary Clinton victory in the election and are looking to a Clinton administration. And both of these articles have one major point: Hillary Clinton will not only face, if she’s elected president, opposition from Republicans in the Congress, but also from members of her own party who are—and mark this very carefully—considerably to her left. When you look at Hillary Clinton, many people would be tempted to believe that’s the left wing of American politics, but she’s not actually representative of the left wing of her own party. That demonstrates just how far left the Democrats have moved in recent years, and it also points to the fact that within the Democratic Party now is generally a division between the liberal, the more liberal, and the even more liberal. And when it comes to the even more liberal, they’ve announced their intention in these two articles and elsewhere that they’re going to be watching Hillary Clinton very, very carefully.

The far Democratic left gained a great deal of encouragement from the surprising popularity of Bernie Sanders in his insurgent campaign against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. And Bernie Sanders, let’s recall, who declared himself a democratic socialist openly, is now announcing that he is not going to be an ally of Hillary Clinton if she does not meet his expectations concerning political and economic liberalism. The article in the Washington Post is by John Wagner who writes,

“Sen. Bernie Sanders, a loyal soldier for Hillary Clinton since he conceded the Democratic presidential nomination in July, plans to push liberal legislation with like-minded senators with or without Clinton’s support if she is elected — and to aggressively oppose appointments that do not pass muster with the party’s left wing.”

Now if you rewind history just a bit you’ll note that the Democratic Party veered far to the left in the late 1960s and especially in the early 1970s. The most representative act by the Democratic Party in that era was the nomination of Sen. George McGovern, far to the nation’s left as the Democratic Party’s nominee in 1972. That was a disastrous electoral experience for the Democratic Party leading to one of the greatest landslide defeats in American presidential history. But as the party then began to reconstitute itself, it eventually centered in a more moderating position represented by the election of then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton as President in 1992. But Bill Clinton is now remembered by the left wing of the Democratic Party as one who was an obstructer of their aims, and they’re afraid that his wife Hillary Clinton just might be the same. They’re afraid that she might follow what they would define as a more centrist political and economic program once elected President.

Now as a footnote, remember that in the WikiLeaks controversy about Hillary Clinton she was reported to have said that a political candidate needs both a public and a private position. She was basically acknowledging a certain form of hypocrisy and that’s what has the liberals in her party worried, because she has given assurances to the Democratic left that she is with them, but then she appeared to be saying to Wall Street bankers that she was with them. The two are not the same and the Democratic left fully understands this.

One of the most interesting revelations in both the New York Times and the Washington Post story is that the Democratic left has centered on one particular cabinet position as the focus of all of its major concern. It is symbolic and substantial, and that position is the Secretary of the Treasury. In a presidential administration, the Secretary of the Treasury has the primary cabinet level responsibility for setting economic policy. And one of the things that is interesting is that in recent presidential administrations, whether Democratic or Republican, the Secretary of the Treasury has generally been someone with extensive Wall Street experience. Now that’s not a surprise really, because after all, those are the very issues and even the people with whom the Secretary of the Treasury will have to deal. But the Democratic left says that’s the past, not the future. They’re not going to settle for yet another person connected with Wall Street. The two people who are presented in these articles as the primary competitors with a President Hillary Clinton for this kind of dominance in the Democratic Party are Senator Sanders himself and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.

The New York Times article again is about Elizabeth Warren, suggesting that she intends to be the Scrutinizer in Chief of the new president if Hillary Clinton is elected. Writing for the New York Times, Amy Chozick and Matt Flegenheimer report,

“With polls and early voting data signaling that Mrs. Clinton is likely to prevail against Mr. Trump in two weeks, liberal Democrats are already looking past Election Day — and relying on Ms. Warren to become the thorn in chief in Mrs. Clinton’s side, scrutinizing her appointments and agenda.”

The Times writes that the Democratic left is not waiting even until Election Day to bring this kind of pressure on Hillary Clinton. Robert B. Reich who was the Secretary of Labor in the Bill Clinton administration said that,

“Personnel is policy,” he said. “As far I can tell, those discussions have already begun,” signaling the fact that there is already a war within the Democratic Party, or at least a major pitched battle taking shape concerning the major appointments that a president makes. Most important, the appointments to the cabinet and the central issue, once again in terms of the cabinet for the Democratic left, is the person who will be the Secretary of the Treasury.

Writing for the Washington Post, John Wagner warns that if Hillary Clinton is elected,

She “may have to contend not only with Republicans who oppose her agenda but also with liberals in her party who were not excited by her campaign and have long feared that she plans to govern as a centrist.”

So what’s the most important issue from the Christian worldview? It’s the understanding that politics is always a contest of ideas. But it’s too easy to reduce that to a contest of ideas between two political candidates or even between two political parties. In reality, the contest of ideas is even broader than that. It involves battles over ideas and policies and nominations within both of the two parties, and of course outside of them as well. This is a signal to us that Christians understanding that politics is inevitably about worldview and ideas have to understand that that doesn’t end with an election. What the Democratic left is signaling here is their understanding that once the election is over, their challenge may actually have just begun, even if according to all the headlines their candidate has won. It’s because when it comes to their candidate, that’s the candidate of the Democratic Party, but the Democrat’s left wing is far to the left even of this nominee, as big of a concern as that should be to all of us.

The other reality that Christians should note in all of this is that the parameters of acceptable political discourse in this country have shifted considerably to the left. Ideas that would have been written off as far outside the boundaries even of the Democratic Party in recent years are now becoming mainstream positions. Someone like Bernie Sanders can devote himself to being a socialist and announce that to the public, and now you have a story in the Washington Post saying that even if Hillary Clinton is elected, she will have to battle for the policies of her own party with those who are on the Democratic left, including not only Bernie Sanders, but also Senator Elizabeth Warren. The election to be held on November 8 is indeed a battle of ideas, every single election at every single level always is. But here’s a good reminder to us that the battle of ideas isn’t over, even when all the ballots have been counted.

The false promise of "comprehensive sex education": Louisville schools look to standardize sex ed

Next, looking at the issue of sex education across America, it’s interesting that this is an issue that so often garners headlines, and we can understand why. When you’re talking about sex education, especially as will be taught in the public schools, you immediately have the attention of the public because the big question is this: what is going to be labeled sex education? What kind of education is this going to be? How will sex be defined? And of course, Christians understand this is inescapably, irreducibly a moral question. That’s what makes this so very interesting.

Yesterday’s edition of the Courier-Journal, that’s the major newspaper here in Louisville, Kentucky, ran a headline in an article by Allison Ross that tells us that the local school board in Jefferson County, Kentucky, is to address sex education. She writes,

“The board is expected to discuss how to better ensure that all students are getting equal access to information about healthy relationships even as decisions on sex education curriculum are left up to individual schools and teachers.”

Now here we need to note something that’s quite subtle. We need to note a change in the vocabulary that tells us how this issue is being transformed before our eyes. Differences in approaches to sex education are here documented between schools, and of course you get outside one school district and it’s clear that community by community, as well as school by school, not to say state by state, there are going to be very significant differences in the way sex education is conceived and taught. The key issue there for our attention is where you hear the reporters saying that the board is going to discuss “how to better ensure that all students are getting equal access to information.”

That phrase “equal access” is one of those very clever turns of a phrase that is supposed to lead all of us to say that’s the way it should be. After all, who would be for unequal access? But the subtlety is down to this, what is really being communicated here is a mandated uniformity in sex education. And that is something that the left has been pushing for for a very long time.

One of the key issues in the left’s push concerning sex education is what is defined as comprehensive sex education. That word comprehensive, again, sounds pretty good. After all, who would want an education that would be anything less than comprehensive? But let’s understand. That phrase “comprehensive sex education” involves teaching things that would be outside what most parents, especially Christian parents, would want taught to their children under the guise of sex education.

Here in Jefferson County there is decision-making invested in local school councils and, again, that’s presented as, if not just a challenge, then an outright problem in terms of sex education, even in this single, countywide school district. The presumption here is that students in one school, say a high school, may be receiving sex education that will be different than what students in another high school in the same county school system may be receiving. And the reason is that there are these local decision-making councils.

But this points to part of the genius of the American school system, but something that has been subverted and now is outright attacked by many on the left and that is that local decision-making. Because guess who is often involved in that local decision-making? Well, it is the enemies of the kind of progress that these moral revolutionaries are pushing for, the enemies otherwise known as parents.

Just in order to make clear where this argument is often coming from, the reporter tells us,

“A 2013 white paper from the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky detailed disjointed sex education curricula in JCPS. It said that ‘nearly every public high school in Jefferson County is teaching their students something different,’ and that what students are learning can at times even differ depending on which teacher they get within a school.

“The ACLU,” we are told, “found that, at that time, ‘many schools are not teaching about all sexually transmitted infections (and) most schools take the abstinence-only approach and rarely discuss other methods of birth control.’”

Well now you understand what’s behind this push for what’s labeled as comprehensive sex education. Comprehensive sex education in this sense means teaching a morality that includes what has been sold to the American people now for over a generation as the promise of so-called safe sex. The Courier-Journal article also cited two high school students, one of them a 17-year-old girl who said,

“While she said she thought she received a pretty good sex education, ‘when you don’t have comprehensive sex ed, you have kids who don’t realize there are things they don’t know about sex.’”

Now that’s another interesting statement coming from a 17-year-old, that there are things students don’t know in some schools that they don’t know about sex. How in the world would you actually promise anything that would be a comprehensive sex education? How in the world could you teach anyone at any level everything that might be known about human sexuality? That’s a false promise in the first place, but it also reveals the agenda behind this, the agenda that everything that could be known must be known. The other student cited in the article, a 16-year-old boy said,

“It’s better to have a teacher instead of the internet (telling you about sex and relationships).”

He went on to say,

“The internet is where so many people get myths from.”

Well, there can be no doubt that the internet is indeed where many people get myths from, and far worse than myths, but the big question is this: can we actually entrust to the public schools, those taxpayer-funded schools in this country, the responsibility to teach children and adolescents about sex, much less what will be billed as comprehensive sex education? There can be no doubt that the schools have to face certain realities in terms of teaching biology and human reproduction and something about human sexuality. But we also have to face the fact that anything that touches upon human sexuality and now even questions of gender is laden with worldview significance and infused with morality from beginning to end.

An official identified as a practical living specialist with the school system concluded the article by saying,

“There’s a political spectrum, there’s a religious spectrum, there’s the spectrum of family values, of families who want to teach this and those that want us to teach this.”

She concludes,

“It’s a difficult avenue to navigate.”

What’s presented as comprehensive sex education in the contemporary context includes virtually always a full endorsement of the LGBT revolution and a full acceptance of the claims of the transgender revolutionaries. And it also includes in many cases teaching teenagers not only about sex, but actually how to have sex and under the rubric of what is claimed to be safe sex.

In some school systems this has gone so far as to include so-called school-based comprehensive clinics, which involves passing out to teenagers, especially high school students, birth control devices and medications, even without the knowledge of their own physician, much less of their parents.

I think it’s probably safe to say that previous generations knew nothing of anyone who would be an official with the school board who would be called a practical living specialist, but that too is a symptom of the day. That practical living specialist’s closing statement is indeed true—of course there is a political spectrum, of course there is a religious spectrum. But the most important spectrum she got to was that between families. As she said, “families who want to teach this and [families] that want us to teach this.”

The bottom line in this is that if there is something that is presented as comprehensive sex education, it will mean the institutionalization of someone’s morality. The big question is, whose morality? The answer to that question is really troubling.

The Vatican, cremation, and worldview: What the historic Christian teaching on burial says about faith

Shifting now to an entirely different location and a very different issue, the Vatican yesterday released a statement that in the Latin is known as “Instruction Ad resurgendum cum Christo.” It is a document about cremation and the Christian faith. In particular, it is about the disposition of cremains, that is the human remains left behind after cremation. The headline that was found at National Public Radio is simply this, the Vatican says,

“Don’t Scatter Cremation Ashes, And Don’t Keep Them At Home.”

The article at NPR was by Rebecca Hersher and she got the story right, as she says,

“The Vatican has issued new guidelines recommending that the cremated remains of Catholics be buried in cemeteries, rather than scattered or kept at home.”

She explains that,

“The guidelines do not represent a change the church’s overall policy on burial and cremation, but rather underline ‘the doctrinal and pastoral reasons for the preference of the burial of the remains of the faithful and to set out norms pertaining to the conservation of ashes in the case of cremation.’”

This was said that this was,

“In light of the increasing popularity of cremation in many countries.”

In releasing the statement yesterday the Vatican was speaking to Roman Catholics, but it was articulating a position that has been generally held by Christians throughout the centuries, that is a very clear Christian preference for the burial of the dead rather than cremation. The background to this is that in the ancient world, cremation was almost always associated with pagan religious worldviews and rituals, and there was a clear distinction between the paganism and Christianity in terms of the body. Many ancient paganisms and worldviews held that the body is that from which the spirit had to escape at the moment of death and the cremation of the body was a symbolic way of freeing the spirit from the body. This is still the teaching in some Asian religions. And the interesting thing is that in the specifics of its teaching, the Roman Catholic Vatican declares exactly what it means in terms of worldview. As NPR reports,

“The newly articulated ash norms include not storing human cremains in the home and refraining from scattering ashes ‘in the air, on land, at sea or in some other way … in order that every appearance of pantheism, naturalism or nihilism be avoided.’”

Now it’s probably true that most people thinking about burial don’t even think in terms of words like pantheism, naturalism, or nihilism. But all three of those are rival worldviews to historic Christianity. Pantheism is a worldview that worships the creation rather than the Creator, that’s a confusion the Bible simply does not allow. Naturalism is the argument that there is nothing supernatural that is real and that the natural material world is all that exists. That’s certainly behind much of the modern worldview. And then of course nihilism is the argument all the more popular since the late 19th and early 20th centuries that there is no meaning to life at all and that there is actually nothing beyond the grave. If you put all this together, you come to understand why the Vatican teaching Roman Catholics says that cremation is not the preferred Christian approach to burial, and that’s something that historic Protestant Christians have clearly understood throughout the centuries as well.

The specificity I’ve said about this Vatican instruction is really important. It says that there is something contradictory to biblical teaching about holding on to human remains that are to be treated with respect, hopefully not cremated at all, but if cremated are to be buried, not to be kept as some kind of residue of a previous life.

The most explicitly theological section of this Vatican statement was not repeated by NPR, but it is nonetheless this:

“In memory of the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord, the mystery that illumines the Christian meaning of death, burial is above all the most fitting way to express faith and hope in the resurrection of the body.”

To that segment evangelical Christians can offer a hearty amen, and this is a point in which Protestant Christianity and Roman Catholicism have been in agreement, at least until recently.

The existence of this statement coming from the Vatican addressed to Roman Catholics should also serve as something of a catalyst for evangelical Christians to consider the relative silence of so many of our own churches and so many of her own pulpits on an issue of such direct relevance to the lives of Christians. At the very least, perhaps this should serve as a catalyst remind Christian churches and Christian pastors of our responsibility to talk about what the Bible would have to say about reverence for the body in the hope of the resurrection, and what that would mean translated into the question of burial or cremation. The secular world is absolutely stunned that the Vatican would have so much to say about the question of burial and cremation. In contrast, the situation for evangelical Christians is quite different. The big question is, why have we said so little?

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing