June 8, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, June 8, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Big news day: Comey to testify before Senate Intelligence Committee & Britain to vote in snap election
It’s going to be a very big news day today on both sides of the Atlantic: In the United States a great deal of expectation and interest already invested in what’s going to take place before the Senate’s intelligence committee. There today, the former FBI Director, James Comey, is going to be offering testimony and answering questions. Yesterday, the former FBI Director released a written statement, and over the course of yesterday and into last night and this morning that was basically the center of interest in terms of the cable news networks in the general media conversation. But all of that might shift today when in the actual course of answering questions from senators, it might be that what was discussed last night and this morning is superseded by what takes place in terms of that live testimony, and so we’re going to have to wait until later today in order to understand what the big import actually is in terms of that event.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the British people are going to the polls in a so-called snap election. It’s a general election, a national election, and it’s called a snap election because the British Prime Minister Theresa May called it in terms of a very short time span, and she also called it ahead of the constitutional requirement. The effort there by the British Prime Minister was to try to add to her majority in the British Parliament in order to strengthen her position, especially in terms of negotiations with Europe over the Brexit vote. But there’s more to it, of course. As is the case in the United States, a major national election in Great Britain is a clash of worldviews. It’s a massive clash of political philosophies.Show Full Transcript
You’ve got Theresa May in the conservative party on one side, currently the majority parties, and then you have Britain’s historic liberal party known as the Labour Party. And at this point it is headed by Jeremy Corbyn, and it holds only an unprecedented few number of seats in the British Parliament. But over against all expectations, just a few months ago, at least according to the polls, the Labour Party is resurgent in some sense. Heading into the election, there is a great deal of chatter about what might happen if the British Prime Minister doesn’t gain seats in the parliament, but rather loses them. On the other hand, polls as we know are not only sometimes prone to error in the last several election cycles on both sides of the Atlantic, the polls have been widely off, and so once again we know that something very big indeed is happening today in Great Britain. We just don’t know what it is yet. By the time we reach the fairly early evening hours in the United States, we are likely to know just how this clash of worldviews has turned out with respect to one of America’s most important and historic allies.
Religious test for office? Sen. Sanders vehemently opposes nominee's defense of biblical Christianity
Next, although predominant public attention is directed toward the Senate testimony before the intelligence committee today, it was testimony before the Senate budget committee yesterday that should also have our attention, especially when we are looking at the challenges that Christians face in this newly and increasingly secular age. Yesterday what took place was an encounter between Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, who caucuses with the Democratic Party and of course ran last year for the Democratic presidential nomination, and Russell T. Vought, who was President Trump’s nominee to be his assistant budget director. As Andrew Taylor reported for the Associated Press late yesterday,
“Sen. Bernie Sanders said Wednesday that he’ll oppose Donald Trump’s pick to be deputy White House budget director over a blog post last year that says Muslims ‘stand condemned’ because they have rejected Jesus Christ.”
Now you’ll notice, it is “Jesus Christ” that ends this lead sentence in an article from the Associated Press that was published late yesterday by the Washington Post. We’re talking about a lead sentence that includes the name of Christ. We’re talking about an explicitly theological argument. Now as the story continues, Taylor tells us the Vermont independent—we’ll insert there who caucuses with the Democratic Party and of course ran as a liberal alternative to Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential nomination race last year—according to the Associated Press the Vermont Senator said that the nominee Russell Vought should not be confirmed because of comments, those comments concerning Christ which he said were Islamaphobic. Senator Sanders concluded his remarks, quite agitated remarks, yesterday by saying that Vought “is not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about.”
What in the world could be behind that? Well it turns out that last year at the blog site Resurgent Vought had written the post in which he defended his alma mater, Wheaton College. You’ll recall that the controversy then was about Wheaton severing its relationship with a professor who had made statements concerning Islam that were considered to be outside the institution’s confession of faith. Writing in defense of Wheaton College’s historic confession of faith, Vought had defended the college’s judgment, and furthermore, we simply have to note that in so doing this particular nominee as deputy budget director in terms of the White House was actually articulating was nothing other than historic Orthodox Biblical Christianity. Trying to put the controversy at Wheaton into context, Vought had written,
“Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.”
Now that’s bracing language certainly in terms of the judgment of the Associated Press and also the Washington Post, not to mention Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. But that is, as I’ve just said, biblical theology. Vought was here affirming the very essential teaching of Jesus himself concerning the exclusivity of the gospel. It was Jesus himself who said,
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me.”
It was Christ who spoke to those who rejected him saying that they do not know the Father. Senator Sanders, responding to Vought’s article and argument said that it was “indefensible. It is hateful. It is Islamaphobic. And it is an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world.”
Vought in response to Senator Sanders said,
“I’m a Christian and I believe in a Christian set of principles.”
He defended his post by explaining that it was his effort as a Christian to identify with the Christian beliefs of his alma mater, but Senator Sanders kept coming back again and again and again. At what point he asked Vought,
“Do you believe that people in the Muslim religion stand condemned?”
“Again, Senator, I’m a Christian, and I wrote that piece…”
The Senator interjected,
“I understand that. I don’t know how many Muslims there are in America. … Are you suggesting that all of those people stand condemned? What about Jews? They stand condemned too?”
Vought again began to explain where his convictions are grounded in historic Christianity when the Senator simply said,
“I understand that you are a Christian!”
Actually, it would be an understatement to say that the Senator merely raised his voice. As the Huffington Post reported, he shouted. The Senator said,
“There are other people of different religions in this country and around the world. In your judgment, do you think that people who are not Christians are going to be condemned?”
Now let’s pause. We’re talking about Senator Bernie Sanders asking a man who is a presidential nominee for a White House position if indeed he believes that persons who do not come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ stand condemned. Now this isn’t exactly the Diet of Worms, and this isn’t exactly Martin Luther, but it is a similar moment. This is what we’re looking at in terms of a parable of the Christian predicament in these very strange times. The reformer Martin Luther going to the Diet of Worms at least understood that he was going to be addressing theological questions. There was no reason to suspect that Russell Vought would be confronting theological questions coming from the United States Senate’s Budget Committee, much less from Senator Bernie Sanders, who though having a Jewish background has not identified in terms of any specific religious beliefs.
Now remember that Senator Sanders abruptly brought his engagement with Russell Vought to an end by stating to Vought and to the larger panel that he would vote against his nomination. Stating that Vought “is really not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about.”
Now let’s look at this and ask ourselves what the alternatives are here. Well there’s one alternative that comes down to the fact that Senator Bernie Sanders, an agnostic individual of Jewish background, really doesn’t have much of an idea of what biblical Christianity is and might be actually absolutely shocked to find out that orthodox Christianity holds to the exclusivity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, thinking along the lines of this alternative, it might be that Senator Sanders knows very, very little about Jesus Christ and would have absolutely no knowledge of the fact that Christ himself claimed that very exclusivity. There’s another alternative, and that is that Senator Sanders was basically not so much theologically offended as he was seizing a political opportunity. It’s a bit odd to say the very least that here you have an agnostic Senator from Vermont who all of a sudden shows up with an article that was published on a website defending Wheaton College in a controversy from back in 2016. I don’t think that this is a website that Senator Sanders frequents or was likely merely to have come across. We’re talking about the fact that someone on his staff no doubt set him up in order to have this exchange with Russell Vought.
But the important thing for us to recognize is that regardless of those alternatives, here you had Bernie Sanders directly addressing the exclusivity of the Gospel and rejecting it, but not just rejecting a very clear theological teaching that is essential in central to historic Christianity, but going on to reject a candidate—that is to say a nominee for a presidentially appointed position—simply on the basis of the fact that he had the temerity to write an article defending his alma mater and in so doing to defend that historic Christian doctrine. According to Senator Bernie Sanders, that kind of belief is simply out of bounds. Again to quote the senator, he said anyone who holds those beliefs “is really not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about.”
So let’s not miss what took place yesterday. You had a sitting Senator who was stating to a presidential nominee that he would be voted against by that Senator simply because of his theological beliefs. There is no other way around it. You’re talking about a Senator who no doubt would say that he’s a staunch defender of the separation of church and state, and yet what he did here was nothing less than an absolute violation of religious liberty.
But furthermore, it is also an unconstitutional religious test. The Constitution says there can be no religious test for public office. That is exactly what Senator Bernie Sanders explicitly applied yesterday.
But beyond the actuality of what happened yesterday, beyond the legal and constitutional issues that are involved, what this signals to Christians in America is that we really are living in a very different time it’s almost impossible to imagine that this exchange could’ve taken place even just say a half decade ago. This is something that is very new, and not only is it new, it’s very ominous. And it’s not just directed to Russell Vought. It is directed to any Christian who would in any sense in public articulate the historic Christian understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, including the exclusivity of the Gospel.
Decades ago it was the novelist Aldous Huxley who entitled one of his books “Brave New World” because even back in the midpoint of the 20th century Americans and Britons seemed to understand on both sides of the Atlantic that we were indeed entering a new world. But when it comes to what took place yesterday in the budget committee of the United States Senate, it’s not a brave new world. It’s a radically secular new world, and you’ll notice the incompatibility that secular worldview with Christianity in particular with biblical Christianity. There is every reason to expect that the exchange that took place yesterday between Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Russell Vought, one of President Trump’s nominees is a sign of the future. It’s not just Russell Vought. Pretty soon it will be any Christian who is involved in public life in any way who eventually is asked the angry question, do you really believe that Jesus Christ is the only Savior and the salvation is found only in his name? Just understand what took place yesterday, an elected member of the United States Senate said that historic biblical Christianity is incompatible with the American way of life. To quote him exactly he said that is not “what this country is supposed to be about.” What we saw yesterday is the new secular dictate that was handed down, we should note, with bitter anger.
New legislation in Ontario gives state power to seize children from parents who oppose LGBTQ agenda
Next staying on a similar issue, but shifting across to America’s northern neighbor to Canada and specifically to the province of Ontario, in recent days the parliament there adopted what is known as Bill 89. On the official title page of the formal legislation, we read this,
“An Act to enact the Child, Youth and Family Services Act, 2017, to amend and repeal the Child and Family Services Act and to make related amendments to other Acts.”
Now that might sound rather bureaucratic and innocuous, but one signal here and one we should increasingly learn to notice is that the word child is used over and over again. And where that word is used in legislation, where a child is involved, you can almost count on the fact that important worldview issues will be involved as well. This might sound like an innocuous piece of legislation, but it isn’t. As a matter of fact in terms of worldview, the impact might be nothing less than momentous. It’s a very clear signal being sent to us from the province of Ontario, and this act, you’ll recall, is one that replaces a previous act, and thus there are differences. In the legislative explanation in the beginning of the document we read of these differences,
“Differences include: the current Act includes the child’s cultural background in this list while the new Act includes the child’s cultural and linguistic heritage; the current Act includes the religious faith in which the child is being raised while the new Act includes the child’s race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, family diversity, disability, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.”
Now at this point you’ll notice that landmines are going off just about everywhere. Observers in Canada have noticed by now that this gives the provincial government in Ontario the supposed power to decide on the welfare of children, including the welfare in terms of the evaluation of the responsibility of their parents on the basis of entirely new criteria, an amongst these new criteria, as you heard, are gender identity, sexual orientation, and gender expression—add to that family diversity. So here you have something very similar to what we saw coming in the state of Illinois in terms of foster care and adoption just a matter of a few days ago. And once again, this is centered first of all in terms of government action in foster care, custodial questions, and adoption. But the legislation is by no means limited to those issues. It could apply to any government intervention or a call for government intervention in terms of where someone says a child is being misserved or malparented by parents who hold to some religious conviction that would not be consistent with the LGBTQ revolution.
But there’s something even more going on here. In the old act it said that the government had to take into consideration the religious faith in which the child is being raised. But in the new act all that language absolutely disappears. As a matter of fact, the family in which the child is being raised absolutely disappears. What is left is the word creed that is now assigned to the child rather than to the family. Now reading the actual legislation, and again it was overwhelmingly adopted in terms of the Ontario government in recent days, in terms of the actual legislation it makes clear that the word creed here is by no means necessarily even religious. But if the child does have some kind of religious belief that would be summarized in terms of a creed, it is also to be taken into consideration. So what’s the big difference? Parents disappear, and the religious faith of the family in which the child is being raised absolutely, strategically, very intentionally, simply disappears. The religious convictions of parents are now no longer an official consideration of the Ontario government when it comes to these questions of child welfare and child custody.
Now remember that the name on the front of the legislation is the Honorable Michael Coteau, identified as Minister of Children and Youth Services. He made his own views on this known quite well when in comments in the public he did identify the fact that so far as he is concerned children and teenagers are potentially abused if there LGBTQI status is not respected by the adults who have custodial responsibility. And speaking further he said,
“If it’s abuse and if it’s written in the definition, a child can be removed from that environment and placed into protection where the abuse stops.”
Now it’s already been stated that it might be abuse if a custodial adult is something less than enthusiastic about a minor’s decisions or expressions concerning sexuality, sexual behavior, sexual orientation, or gender expression. Looking at a story like this, it’s really hard to know which in the end might be more important. The first reference that many people looking at this bill is what’s included and that means the gender expression and the gender identity, the sexual orientation, the whole LGBTQ spectrum, including in terms of this criteria list, family diversity. But the other thing to note is that it might in the long-term be even more significant that we’re talking about what’s taken out and not what’s present.
In this case what’s taken out, and that is official respect for the religion of the family in which the child is being raised, that being taken out is absolutely massive in terms of importance. And there is no mistake that in this legislation there is an absolute transfer in terms of any concern for religious conviction from the family, in particular from the parents, and now only to the child. This is not just something that might happen. It already has happened. Bill 89, according to the legislative record, has been enacted as chapter 14 of the statutes of Ontario of the year 2017. According to media reports, the vote in favor of the bill was 63 to 23. Some persons hearing this report may say, well, that’s Canada and it’s only one province. But remember just in recent days, we were talking about the state of Illinois in a very similar kind of regulatory action.
So let’s just take stock of what we’re looking at here. Yesterday a man went before the budget committee of the United States Senate as the president’s nominee to be the deputy director of the White House office of management and budget. That’s not the kind of position in which you would have any expectation that there would be any remotely theological issue that would be germane to the testimony in the hearings that would take place. But theology emerged. As a matter of fact, it absolutely blew out, and we had one of the most well-known United States Senators saying that a man who holds to Orthodox Christianity is not what this country is supposed to be about.
And right across our northern border in the province of Ontario, the government there overwhelmingly has adopted new legislation that effectively announces to the parents in that province that their religious beliefs really don’t matter when it comes to custodial issues concerning their own children, and furthermore, it is announced that that government will now consider potential abuse anything less than enthusiasm concerning the entire spectrum of issues that are included but not exclusively limited to the LGBTQ revolution. Both of these developments just in the last few days send us a very clear signal. We can only wonder how many Americans and even how many American Christians are getting the signal.