August 11, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday, August 11, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Today we’ll look at a pastor’s provocative statement concerning President Donald Trump and the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un, we’ll look at the riches of the Christian worldview as demonstrated in what’s known as just war theory and apply that to contemporary headlines and this conflict, and finally we’ll look at the increase of the use of forbidden words, swearwords in American culture, particularly American literature and then we’ll consider where this comes from and that answer will come from Jesus.
Jeffress’ North Korea comments prompt debate about moral authority of President
There have been no shortage of headlines on North Korea in recent weeks, and escalation just in the last several days. But within the evangelical world a new conversation has begun; it was prompted by a statement made by a prominent Dallas pastor who is a supporter of President Donald J Trump. Dr. Robert Jeffress pastor the First Baptist Church of Dallas made a comment just a couple of days ago saying,
“that God has given President Trump authority to take out North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un.”Show Full Transcript
The statement by Dr. Jeffress has engendered a great deal of conversation and no shortage of controversy, both inside and outside of evangelical circles, and of course it touches on a good many issues that are extremely important in terms of the Christian worldview. But it touches on them, we need to look a little bit deeper, indeed, we may need to look a lot deeper.
As we step back for just a moment to gain some perspective, we are reminded that the United States and North Korea have been in a situation of conflict now for well over half a century. The two nations were at war between the years 1950 and 1953. That action is almost universally called the Korean War and it was a war, but it was an undeclared war — actually the first major military action undertaken by the United States without a declaration of war; instead, it was called the police action. That war was undertaken in the early eras of the Cold War, particularly in an effort by the United States and its allies to prevent the entire Korean Peninsula from being turned into a communist enclave with North Korea invading the South. If we fast-forward to today, we come to understand that the intervening decades have seen North Korea and the United States continue in conflicts even though an armistice was arranged along with a very substantial demilitarized zone in 1953. Technically, the United States and North Korea continue to be in a state of military hostility if not a declared war.
In recent years, the particular controversy and the escalation of the conflict has come because of North Korea’s determination to develop what began as a nuclear capability, but is very clearly now a weaponized nuclear reality. All throughout the period of the last half-century and more, North Korea has kept up extremely warlike language toward the West, but particularly toward the United States. It has threatened war, attacks, and any number of other atrocities, and it has made very clear that it supports itself — in terms of internal support for the regime — by painting the United States as the great enemy seeking to annihilate North Korea and then presenting the Kim dynasty is the military salvation of the nation; it’s very soul and spirit, now with nuclear weapons. And it is the contemporary threat by the North Korean regime and its leader, dictator Kim Jong-Un, to use those nuclear weapons in a strike against the United States that is led to the escalation of what can now only be described as a war of words just short of an absolute military conflict.
The comments made by Dr. Robert Jeffress have engendered a lot of conversation. But without just looking at those comments let’s look at the larger questions and how Christians have fought through these issues consistent with Scripture throughout the centuries. In the first place we need to understand that the Bible is clear about the role of government. In Romans chapter 13, government, as established by God, is one of God’s gift to humanity in order to establish order in uphold justice and righteousness. is given what is described as the power of the sword. Inspired by the Holy Spirit the apostle Paul makes clear in Romans chapter 13 that the state, the government,
“does not hold the sword in vain.”
It has a purpose. It has a legitimate purpose. And among those purposes is the establishment and maintenance of justice and righteousness and the protection of human life. The most important responsibility of any government is the protection of the lives of its own citizens.
So the Scripture, not only in Romans 13, but in other passages — as we think of this in terms of biblical theology — makes clear that God has established government and given government rightful authority; not authority that’s a blank check, but a rightful, legitimate authority that must be exercised in accordance with right principles of justice and righteousness. When the pastor said that,
“God has given President Trump the authority to take out Kim Jong-Un,”
at this point what we need to consider is that indeed God has invested government with authority, the power of the sword is part of that authority, but it’s not an authority that comes with a blank check, it comes in a moral context. And, furthermore, it’s a question we have to answer by making clear that our constitutional order of government identifies the president of the United States as the commander-in-chief. Now, again, that’s not an unchecked authority. Only Congress has the right actually to declare war, but in our contemporary context, our constitutional order, the president of the United States as commander-in-chief of all US Armed Forces has the authority to initiate military action and to do so even when there is not time for Congress to act in terms of a declaration of war. This is, again, not without checks and balances because any continuing military action is of course also reviewable by Congress and any long-term action requires congressional funding and thus approval. In the nuclear age with the advent of nuclear weapons the president of the United States is now recognized to have in this nation near unilateral authority to launch nuclear weapons upon necessary use.
Just War theory and North Korea: Military engagement justified only when it is the least worst option
Christians trying to think through issues of war and peace have come to a general consensus that’s defined as just war theory. This goes all the way back to figures such as Augustine in the early church and went through centuries of development. It comes in two parts, answering two questions. The first, if a war is just and then secondly, how a just war can be justly fought.
This Christian just war theory has agreed that every military action, if justified, must be a matter of last resort, it must be declared by a legitimate authority, and it must be inherently defensive. The goal of any military action, according to the Christian worldview, must be to protect human life and furthermore to establish the conditions of peace. Sometimes the very theory of just war acknowledges that does require military action in order to prevent something that would otherwise be even worse. In terms of how the war is to be fought, the most important issue is that it is defensive rather than offensive, its aims are to establish peace rather than to disturb it, and furthermore noncombatants are not to be targeted.
Now all of this comes in to question with something that happened in the 20th century at the midpoint of the century; two things. First of all, the development of massive aerial bombardment. I’m speaking now from Germany and was recently in the city of Dresden, which in February of 1945 was almost utterly destroyed, not by nuclear weapons, but by a massive aerial bombardment in terms of conventional bombs; 2,900 tons of those bombs, over 200,000 incendiary devices. Of course the ultimate development came with the use of nuclear weapons by the United States against Japan on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the case of both massive aerial bombardment by conventional means, and the use of nuclear weapons, the issue is that it became impossible not to include noncombatants, that is to say civilians, in terms of the death and destruction. The general consensus of Christians after the development of these weapons is that the use of such weapons could only be justified if they follow the same principles. That is they are inherently used in defense rather than offense, to establish peace rather than to destroy it, and, furthermore, to seek to uphold that which is right and just, and ultimately the greatest increase of the protection of human life, rather than its destruction.
What now makes North Korea different than the standoff between United States and the Soviet Union and China is that evidently there are no external constraints and no internal constraints that would prevent North Korea from using a nuclear weapon in a very reckless manner. The North Korean regime seems to have no interest beyond the self-preservation of its own ruling dynasty that would serve as any kind of constraint, and it, of course is an atheistic regime, does not feel any sense of obligation toward the Christian understanding of just war. When it comes to the language about taking out the ruler of a rogue regime, that’s a situation that Christians really didn’t appear to give much attention to until, once again, fairly recent times; sometimes, in retrospect. One of the most morally significant moments in terms of the European theater in World War II, came when a group of Germans, aided by others, sought to assassinate Adolf Hitler in order to bring World War II to a speedier conclusion. The circle of those involved in the most famous attempt to assassinate Hitler included theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose tortured conscience led them to conclude that it was more morally right to seek to kill Hitler in order to bring the war to a speedier conclusion than to allow Hitler to continue his reign of horror and evil.
In the decades since most Christians have come to the conclusion that Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his associates were right in seeking to kill Adolf Hitler. And it was understood basically to fall within the principles of just war theory, it would’ve been a defense of rather than offense of action, it would have been in the name of protecting human rights and dignity in life rather than robbing them, it would also have been a situation that would’ve brought peace about more quickly and that itself is a very important issue of the Christian worldview. In terms of targeting individuals like this we need to remember that we are also in the age of the aerial drone, and in the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama drones were used in a targeted way to take out individuals with the moral justification being that they were a military threat to the United States — and that means they had already taken part in military actions or terrorist actions against the United States — and the argument was and now is that it was more morally right to target an individual rather than to risk a larger casualty rate by using other kinds of military devices that might bring civilian casualties. Unless a Christian is absolutely committed to unconditional pacifism, and that means the use of no military force in any situation any time, then Christians have to struggle with these deep questions, understanding that on the basis of the biblical worldview Christians have been struggling with them for centuries and the principles that are summarized as just war theory continue to inform us even now, and rightfully so.
Just war theory can sometimes come down to this, summarized as,
“taking the action that is the least worst action imaginable in a situation of excruciating moral conflict.”
Put even more succinctly, that means that war is sometimes horrifyingly enough justified when doing anything else is an even worse option. As the last more than 12 minutes of clearly demonstrated, this is an issue they cannot responsibly be reduced to warring soundbites. With heavy hearts thoughtful and biblical Christians recognize that military action is sometimes absolutely called for, but it’s never called for for Christians to be bellicose, that is in any way to celebrate war. These are clearly very dangerous times and it calls forth the most careful Christian thinking. We can hope and pray that some years hence we’ll look back and just have to be reminded of the fact that this kind of moment had existed between United States and North Korea. We can hope that it comes down to that, rather than the alternative, which is almost too horrible to contemplate.
Why the increase in profanity in American literature is an indicative barometer of culture
Finally, no, it’s not your imagination, a recent research study that was published in the Daily Telegraph in Wednesday’s edition of the British newspaper tells us that, American popular culture — here we’re talking about film media, television, you name it, but in particular American literature — is becoming filled with swearwords. Alison Flood reports for the telegraph telling us quote,
“sifting through text from almost 1,000,000 books, academics have found that,” well they mention a word, I won’t say it, but it’s one of the seven dirty words forbidden by the Federal Communications Commission, “the academics found that just one of those words was used 678 times more often in the mid-2000s that in the early 1950s. Another word multiplied 69 times. One of the most offensive words of all increased in its use by multiplication of 168 times.”
Remember we’re talking about the period from the 1950s through the 2000s. The researcher summarized their findings by saying,
“American culture increasingly values individual self-expression and weaker social taboos and these trends are manifested in the increasing use of swearwords.”
Jean Twenge, one of the researchers, said this,
“The increase happened at the same time that the culture increasingly promoted self-expression and individualism. Individualism is a cultural system,” she said, “that emphasizes the self more and social rules less so as social rules fell by the wayside and people were told to express themselves, swearing became more common.”
But Twenge then concludes,
“I think this cultural lenses is the best way to view it rather than as good or bad.”
Well, I’ll simply say, I think that’s a bigger issue than just the rise of modern individualism, which is indeed very significant. It’s the desire not to frame things as good or bad that I think place the larger part into this, the use of language being one very crucial test, a very indicative barometer, of the moral condition of a people and what they understand about right and wrong, good and bad, even when it comes down to words, maybe especially when it comes down to words.
In Matthew chapter 15 beginning in verse 18 Jesus said,
“But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.”
In other words, Jesus made very clear, in contrast to this latest interpretation of this research study, that words really matter, not only in terms of telling us about the culture, but telling us about the speaker, and, furthermore, about the speaker’s heart.