The Briefing 05-01-17

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Can a secular West recognize theologically motivated terrorism? Terror suspects arrested in London

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Britain's Prime Minster has called for a snap election: Why it matters and what to watch for

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Tim Farron, religious conviction, and the gatekeepers of secular doctrine

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How one UK divorce law led to an entire generation of women, now in their 50's, who never married

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Transcript

The Briefing

May 1, 2017

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

It’s Monday, May 1, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Can a secular West recognize theologically motivated terrorism? Terror suspects arrested in London

In London last week there was another arrest in what’s described as an attempted terror plot. In this case a man who had been watched by British authorities was found within 300 yards of Number 10 Downing Street, the residence of the British Prime Minister, and in his bag were found a myriad of knives. This is setting London and much of Europe back on the expectation of some major pattern of terror attacks. Scotland Yard yesterday reported that they are tracking at least two possible terror plots that are believed to be under way in the United Kingdom. The arrest at the end of last week of this man who is believed was undertaking a terror attack indicates at least something of the level of surveillance within a major world city such as London known to be an area of terroristic activity. For example, he was arrested after days and weeks of being under surveillance by Scotland Yard and other British and international authorities. As the report in the Daily Telegraph of London tells us,

“The ‘lone wolf’ suspect had been under close surveillance when counter-terrorism officers ordered his immediate detention as he came within 300 yards of the gates of the Prime Minister’s residence.

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“It is understood that the suspect’s family had become concerned about his behaviour and reported him to the authorities several weeks ago. Investigators believe he was about to launch an attack.”

From a worldview perspective, the important thing here to recognize is that this man had also come to the attention of the authorities in recent years because of his participation with activities linked to those who have been behind Islamic terrorism.

As The Times of London reported, Khalid Mohammed Omar Ali, age 27, the man who was arrested so near the Prime Minister’s residence is believed to have previously been a volunteer on an aid convoy to the Palestinian territories in particular to Gaza. All this came just five weeks after another man, Khalif Massoud, was shot and killed just 100 yards from where this man was arrested, that is within the grounds of the Palace of Westminster where the British Parliament meets, having mown down bystanders in a rented car driven over London’s Westminster Bridge.

One of the things that we as Christians need to keep in mind is that even as we have known that we live in a dangerous world, these kinds of headlines point out that there are ideas and worldviews, indeed theological ideas, behind these dangers. Once again, we face a lamentable reality that many among the intellectual elites in the west, those who have disarmed themselves in terms of theological conviction and even theological knowledge find themselves seemingly unable to understand that they do not understand how there are many in the world who are operating out of theological ideas, even some very dangerous theological beliefs.

Britain's Prime Minster has called for a snap election: Why it matters and what to watch for

Next, we’ve been watching the clash of worldviews in terms of the recent elections in France, we’re now looking at a runoff in that nation which will be held on May 7. But here in Great Britain, the Prime Minister Theresa May, representing the Tories of the Conservative Party, has called what is known as a snap election, that means an election of Parliament to be held on June 8. This kind of snap election means it’s going to happen in a hurry. You’re talking about just a matter of a little over a month in terms of organizing a national election.

The calculation behind the calling of this election is indeed political, the Prime Minister Theresa May clearly hopes to enlarge her parliamentary majority to give her an even stronger hand in terms of negotiations both inside and outside the country, outside most importantly to strengthen her hand in terms of negotiations for what is called Brexit, that is of course the exit of Britain from the European Union, a move that was authorized indeed mandated by Britain’s voters in 2016.

There are some really interesting patterns in terms of worldview and the battle of ideas to observe within this upcoming British election. For one thing we’re talking about three major parties, but the two smaller of these parties have become virtually endangered in terms of Britain’s current political moment. Leading in terms of the numbers of those in Parliament and thus having formed the government was Theresa May representing the conservative party. That was a party that was elected largely with David Cameron at the head of the ticket; he was then the Prime Minister and he was reelected. However, having failed to exert leadership in terms of the Brexit crisis, Cameron resigned and the party elected Theresa May, thus she became the nation’s Prime Minister.

The Conservative Party is indeed expected to gain a considerable number of seats in this election, but behind that is a pattern that is really interesting. Over the course of especially the last half of the 20th century until the present, the major political dynamic in the United Kingdom has been in electoral contest between the Labour Party and the Conservative Party. Over the course of those decades, those two parties have not only been locked in something of a permanent contest, but they have also been the expected leadership party, one way or the other, in terms of elections. But in the current situation, the Labour Party has been almost decimated and the leader of that party at present, Jeremy Corbyn, is a man of the left, so far of the left that he has basically cratered the electoral prospects of his party.

But in this situation we notice something very interesting. If we’re looking to compare British politics in this case with American politics, it would be quite easy to see Jeremy Corbyn as someone who might be represented in the United States by Senator Bernie Sanders. The interesting thing to note is this: even as in the United States Bernie Sanders was running for the Democratic presidential nomination last year and had widespread support, it’s really interesting that Jeremy Corbyn is the party leader of the Labour Party, because the elected parliamentary members of that party elected him as their leader. That tells us something. But what we also see is that Jeremy Corbyn is leading his party so far to the left that the party is losing what might have been considered to be moderate members and seats held by those members. That’s a parable, you might think, of what might have happened in the Democratic Party had Bernie Sanders become the presidential nominee.

The difference especially here in the United Kingdom is that socialism is not just an idea, it was the official policy of several British governments. And the important thing to recognize now is that that kind of socialism is now largely and widely discredited in this nation. That’s not the way the intellectual leaders of Britain thought that their nation was going 50 years ago. Fifty years ago today, a group of liberal British intellectuals put out a manifesto that was known as the Mayday Manifesto. As is reported, it was considered to be a cry of the hard, far-left wing intellectuals and what they were hoping for was a leftward lurch on the part of the British government and a lurch from what to what? A lurch from something like socialism to a more hard-core ideological socialism. That didn’t happen. But 50 years later, it is clear that Britain has learned some bitter lessons from the flirtation with socialism that it experienced during the 1960s and 70s.

It’s interesting to note that in recent decades the Labour Party has won only when it is run as a moderate party, but in recent years it has basically eliminated that reputation and the moderates in the party. It’s going to be very interesting to see if the same thing happens in the Democratic Party, but at least even now we can see that it has largely happened. Just take the fact that a generation ago there were a significant number of leaders and officeholders in the Democratic Party who were clearly pro-life. Now as we’ve seen even in recent days that is no longer the case. Not hardly.

So, in terms of worldview and intersection of worldview and politics in the Western world, Europe and North America in particular, it really is interesting to see how the same kinds of questions, the same pressures, and the same kind of political patterns tend to show up on both sides of the Atlantic.

Tim Farron, religious conviction, and the gatekeepers of secular doctrine

But in terms of the British scene, one recent development is worth our attention more than any other. And it has to do with a man who almost assuredly is not going to be the next British Prime Minister. That is Tim Farron, who is a leader of the Liberal Democratic Party. The Liberal Party was a very powerful party in the beginning of the 20th century in Britain, not so much now, but it has had a very important role as a dealmaker in terms of British politics. But the really interesting thing is that its leader Tim Farron has identified as an evangelical Christian. And this has led to some controversy in a party that is identified as both Liberal and Democratic.

What’s the problem? The problem is twofold. In the first place he is believed to believe in the sanctity of human life, not in terms of a policy that in any way would restrict abortion, but it is suspected based upon some of the comments he has made that he just might believe in the sanctity of all human life, including the unborn. Now to just pause for a moment, we have to question just how serious that kind of belief can be when it is stated in such a way that the man clearly in this case is supportive of abortion rights. That leads us to suspect that his pro-life convictions are not very deep convictions, or at least that he doesn’t understand that those convictions, if rightly held, have to be translated into public policy.

But the headline news in recent days isn’t actually about abortion, it’s about homosexuality. And it turns out that Tim Farron got himself into a situation in recent days in which his leadership of the party became untenable until he clarified himself on the question of the sinfulness of homosexuality.

Having identified himself as an evangelical Christian and a member of an evangelical church, he had been asked in times past as to whether or not he believed that homosexual behaviors were sinful. And he was largely evasive; he didn’t exactly say yes, but he certainly didn’t say no, and that led to a complete meltdown to the British political process until Tim Farron clarified his position. He did so just before the end of last week and he did so in such a way that he stated very clearly that he does not believe that homosexual behavior is a sin.

Now this is a really big story. We need to look at it pretty carefully. In the first place, we can’t read this man’s heart. We don’t know what his beliefs actually are. But it is very instructive, although tortuous, to see this man who is trying to negotiate a position in the midst of British politics and his religious conviction is clearly going to be a deep problem, his Christian conviction in particular, and especially when he has, going against the strain of so many in Great Britain, identified himself as an evangelical.

Now what exactly does that mean for Tim Farron? Again, at some point he’s going to have to define that, but at this point what’s really interesting is how quickly he capitulated on the issue of homosexuality. He went in a matter of hours from a calculated non-answer, tortuous enough, to a very definitive answer. He had to give an answer, and we know in advance the answer that he had to give in terms of this current political moment, that is, the answer he had to give under the current political pressures. He had to come out and say, as he did on the floor of the House of Commons, that he does not believe that homosexual behavior is sinful.

Now let’s just pause for a moment to consider that word ‘sinful.’ We’re talking here about a word that seems to be very awkward in the context. We’re talking about a conversation in terms of a secular government in a secular culture that seems to be unable to tolerate the very idea of sin, much less a biblical definition of sin. And what we saw here was the capitulation of a political leader that went all the way down to that leader having to give an answer on theological terms in Britain’s House of Commons. But the only reason theology was important here is because it was suspected that this man, even though he was very politically supportive of the LGBTQ agenda, just might be harboring a deep dark secret. And that is that somewhere in terms of his own religious beliefs was the belief that homosexual behaviors are sinful.

Now on this issue we have to note the so-called Conservative Party isn’t very conservative at all. Under David Cameron, he basically tried to eliminate all social and moral conservatives from the party, or at least from leadership in the party. And other headline news was made just this past week, the very same week that the Tim Farron story broke when the Tory Party made one of its own members of Parliament resign in terms of the upcoming election, simply because he had been found guilty of holding a position and making a public statement about the sinfulness of homosexuality.

But going back to the Liberal Democratic Party the question is, is it actually liberal in terms of being open-minded by their own definition and is it Democratic? That was a question that was openly asked by some observers and some of them raise some very important questions.

One of the most important of these responses came yesterday in the pages of the Sunday Telegraph. The column was by Simon Heffer; he asked the question,

“Who would vote for the Liberal Democrats, a party whose name itself is a lie?”

He says this party in terms of this controversy has shown itself to be neither Liberal, as in open-minded, nor in his words Democratic, even responsive to the people. He says this,

“First, a political class that cannot help grandstanding about minorities pressed the party leader, Tim Farron, about whether he believes homosexuality is a sin. As an atheist, I find the idea irrelevant; but as a genuine liberal, I believe Mr Farron must have complete freedom of conscience, in a supposedly free society, to hold whatever religious views he wishes.”

 

Mr. Heffer then says,

“None of us is compelled to agree with him,” but he says, “I do not wish to live in a country where those with traditional Christian views are bullied out of them.”

Here we need to note we have an atheist who understands exactly what’s going on. We are looking at people who are being bullied out of their traditional Christian beliefs, or at least it’s safe to say they are being bullied into a situation where they publicly repudiate or deny the Christian beliefs that they might otherwise claim to hold. Heffer continued by writing about Mr. Farron that he apparently is also “uneasy about abortion.”

Heffer says he doesn’t blame him and he goes on to mention that abortion has become one of the major means of birth control in this very secular society. But Heffer then says,

“Such subjects were once questions of conscience and cut across party lines. If we are saying that no one with a conscience or with principles based on religion should be in politics, then we’re becoming an offensively illiberal society indeed.”

Another very important response came from Rod Liddle in the pages of the Sunday Times, again a London newspaper, he referred to the controversy about Farron and what he described as Farron recanting his beliefs last week. And as he writes,

“What we’re looking at here is a situation in which a political leader was humbled, cut off at the knees in terms of accusations of religious conviction that corresponded to biblical teaching.”

And then he went on to say that the excruciating picture of watching Tim Farron capitulate indicated that here we are looking at a leader who identified as a Christian, but in Liddle’s words came up “short of the full Cranmer when it came to loyalty and conviction, but it’s saved,” he said, “his political skin.”

What did he mean when he said that Farron came up a bit short of the “full Cranmer”? Well he’s referring there to Thomas Cranmer, a former Archbishop of Canterbury and one of the most ardent and committed convictional reformers in the Church of England during the time of Queen Mary known as Bloody Mary. He was also one of the three famous Oxford martyrs, he died for his Reformation beliefs during the reign of that Queen known as Bloody Mary. Liddle went on to write,

“Drop your beliefs just so the gibbering Twitter monkeys don’t get you. Sell out your God for an extra five seats in the House of Commons. Anyone ever tell you at Bible class about Judas?”

The New Statesman, a left-leaning periodical in Great Britain, openly asked the question last week in an article by Stephen Bush whether or not Tim Farron’s religious views, even newly re-clarified, might repel liberal voters. Bush wrote,

“Farron declined the chance to clarify his views with us in a follow-up phone call, but told the BBC on 25 April: ‘I don’t believe that gay sex is a sin,’ adding, ‘On reflection, it makes sense to actually answer this direct question since it’s become an issue.’”

But then says Bush,

“For his critics, Farron’s faith and politics are intertwined.”

Farron sees it differently, he explains, as he said in an interview in the journal Christian Today in 2015, where he said, “the danger is sometimes that as a Christian in politics you think your job is to impose your morality on other people. It absolutely isn’t.”

Well, what we need to note here is the back in 2015 when Tim Farron made that statement, he was trying to act as if he were living in two different worlds, a religious world in which he identified as an evangelical Christian and a political world in which he said, never mind, don’t worry, those convictions won’t be translated into public policy. But now you’ll notice that that division which might have worked even in 2015 in terms of politics doesn’t work anymore in the current political moment, and we need to note it wouldn’t work in today’s leftward culture in the United States any more than it worked for Tim Farron here in the United Kingdom. It’s not enough to say, here are my religious convictions, but they’re going to stay in church, it is now required that one say I don’t hold those biblical convictions whatsoever. And as we now see, Tim Farron did that in both a BBC interview and on the floor of the House of Commons.

In another article published last week, Liddle, writing for The Spectator, that’s a relatively conservative magazine in the United Kingdom, pointed out that there are millions of people in Britain who actually agree that homosexuality is sinful, and they clearly identify that belief with the clear teachings of Scripture. Liddle points out that it’s not exactly a marginal position even now in post-Christian, overwhelmingly secular Britain. But the important thing to recognize here is that in the current political climate a political leader or, in this case, as we’ve seen in the Conservative Party, even just a member of Parliament cannot hold to this kind of position even in a way that is so meek and mild as Tim Farron had at least presumably held it. Liddle then writes,

“What was interesting to me was the point-blank refusal even to consider that his view might be allowable — a view shared, to a greater or lesser degree, by a great many people.”

The other thing we need to recognize in the midst of this controversy is that even as there have been so many on both sides of the Atlantic who have tried to talk about a clear separation between church and state, between religious conviction in public policy, you will note here that we have a government and political parties that are now stating what is and is not allowable in terms of the doctrine of sin and in interpretation of the holy Scriptures. So in our secular age we’re going to face the fact that there is now in the hands of largely secular authorities an official doctrine of sin and an official interpretation of Scripture to which all are supposedly going to have to bend the knee, at least all those who intend to serve in political office and public influence. To say we’re living in interesting times would be quite clearly to make an understatement.

How one UK divorce law led to an entire generation of women, now in their 50's, who never married

Finally also at the intersection of worldview, ideas, public policy, and headlines, we have this headline also from yesterday’s edition of the Sunday Telegraph,

“Rise in middle-age spinsters as women are scarred by parents split.”

Yes, that’s the headline. The story is by Olivia Rudgard who is the social affairs correspondent for The Telegraph, and she tells us is this,

“There’s been an incredible spike in the number of women who have never married who are now in their 50s in Great Britain. Something of a rise also in terms of men who have never married, now also in their 50s, but the incredibly notable thing is the remarkable rise, a rise beyond all expectation in the number of women in Great Britain who have never married and are now in their 50s which means they were coming to adulthood in the 1970s.”

Now what happened in Britain in the 1970s? Well, as Olivia Rudgard points out, what happened is what is known as the Divorce Reform Act that was passed and at least came into law between 1969 and 1971. What did that law do? It authorized what in the United States is known as no-fault divorce, and that led to an absolute avalanche of divorce in the United Kingdom. What is being pointed to here is the reality that if not in terms of causation, at least in terms of correlation, statistically speaking, we can note a parallel between women who came into adulthood and were in their teenage years during the time that no-fault divorce first became legal in Britain and the fact that they never married.

One of the things that is quite explicit in this article is that there are those who are now saying that a significant number of girls who became young women at this time decided that they “did not see marriage as something they wanted to achieve.”

It should tell us something that this article in a major British newspaper makes an immediate link between the Divorce Reform Act of 1969 and the fact that in 2017 a record number of women now in their 50s have never married. Ideas, as we know, have consequences, and so do laws.

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing