August 14, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Monday, August 14, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Today we’ll talk about why Charlottesville, Virginia became a global topic of conversation. We’ll consider why Christians must especially learn the lessons of history and the lessons of heresy, and we’ll find out what it means when a prominent gay activist says that he’s going to punish the wicked.
Tragedy in Charlottesville as alt-right, white supremacist protesters clash with counter-protesters
Little did we know or suspect just a few days ago that bucolic Charlottesville, Virginia, would become at least for some time the center of international attention and conversation. And that happened, of course, because of a clash between two very different groups of demonstrators.
A matter of weeks ago, a group had announced that it would be holding a public protest in Charlottesville this past weekend beginning on Friday night. The group was identified with what’s known as the alt-right. It chose as its theme unite the right. And its purpose, according to the organizers at least originally, was to protest the decision that had been made by the local government there in Charlottesville to move a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. That would’ve been controversial to be sure, but it wouldn’t have gained global attention. That happened because of the clash between two different groups of demonstrators, one those declared to be identified with the alt-right and the other a group from the left that was opposing them.Show Full Transcript
On Saturday morning the two groups came together, and the result was not only a matter of intense protest energy, it also became tragic as a 2010 Dodge Challenger driven by a young man identified by at least some of his friends and teachers as having Nazi sympathies, drove the car into the crowd of counter protesters, killing one woman and injuring 19 others. Within a matter of hours, it was also reported that two state police officers in Virginia had been killed in a helicopter crash after their helicopter had been involved in crown surveillance during the protests. It may be revealed that the two lines of protesters, the two different demonstrations, were basically populated by persons who would be fairly predictable on both the far right and the left. The far right in this sense, the so-called now called alt-right that at least includes some who openly identify as white supremacists. Those who were identifying themselves as the counter protesters focused on that issue in a protest they declared was against white supremacy.
By the time Saturday came to an end, there had not only been the death of one woman and the injury of others and add to that the connected deaths of two Virginia state police officers, the state’s governor had ordered protesters to leave and the protest canceled and at least some National Guard personnel were called out to restore order. Almost instantaneously, it seemed, images from the Charlottesville melee had been spread around the world through media, including social media, and some of those images included pictures of men who were involved in Nazi salutes. It is also now indisputable that even though not all who participated in the march were white supremacists. It was also clear that many were and that white supremacist groups had claimed the opportunity for publicity. Citizens of Europe, for example, woke up on Sunday morning to find those images and the bylines of news stories from Charlottesville. Leading many to wonder, was this really America?
The lessons of history and the heresy of racial superiority
The news from the United States was not only deeply disconcerting it was downright troubling. From Berlin I wrote a letter entitled,
“Letter from Berlin: The Lessons of History and the Heresy of Racial Superiority”
I addressed it to the Christians of the United States. I wrote,
“As I write, I am looking at the modern city of Berlin on a beautiful Sunday. The parks and streets are filled with people, the churches far less so. Berlin is now a hyper-modern metropolis, with relatively few older buildings in the central city. Modernity is celebrated here, and Berlin is now the capital of a united and democratic Germany.
As its citizens will proudly tell you, Berlin’s federal buildings advertise modernity and openness. Even the old Reichstag building, now home to the Bundestag, Germany’s elected parliament, features a giant glass dome, glistening in its modern lines. The message is clear — this is a new Germany.
The destruction of World War II explains the relative lack of older buildings in Berlin. Much of the city was flattened by Allied bombing raids once Nazi Germany made clear that no surrender would come until the city was taken. The relatively few buildings in central Berlin that survived the Allied bombs had to face Soviet tanks. The evidence can still be seen.
Berlin is a city of ghosts. Outside my window now I see the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church; its famous steeple tower left broken and merely the ruins of the massive church remaining. There is a new modernist church building there now, sitting alongside the ruins of the old. There has been no king or emperor in Germany since Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated at the end of World War I, bringing an end to the Hohenzollern dynasty, but the ghosts of Prussian militarism still haunt the German memory.
Nazi ghosts also haunt the city, and will so long as human beings retain memory. This was the city of Nazi parades, thousands upon thousands of Nazi flags, Nazi salutes and the idolatrous ideologies of genocide and national destiny.
Most infamously, this was the city of Adolf Hitler and his demonic dreams. This city was to be the eternal capital of the Third Reich, with Hitler’s architect drawing plans for Welthauptstadt Germania, featuring a Volkshalle that was to be crowned by a dome sixteen times the size of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Instead, Berlin has done everything possible to sweep Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime from its visible memory. This is not done dishonestly. The motivation is to prevent any possible celebration of Hitler or Naziism. Just last week, some foreign tourists were arrested for posing in a Nazi salute in Berlin. This is a city that advertises its tolerance of just about any lifestyle. But for the Nazi salute — no tolerance. Berlin is determined that the ghosts of the Nazis do not reappear in neo-Nazis.
Imagine, then, how the news from Charlottesville, Virginia breaks in Berlin. A demonstration billed as an effort to ‘Unite the Right’ leads to counter protests and violence. Among those who attended the demonstration on Friday night were self-identified neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Photos quickly appeared in Berlin, showing protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia — in the United States of America — offering the raised arm of the Nazi salute.
Germany is all too aware of where claims of racial superiority lead. Just today, in the service of the Kaiser Wilhelm Church, a martyr of the Confessing Church was remembered. Pastor Werner Sylton was a Lutheran pastor, but he was from a Jewish family. He is believed to have saved more than 1,000 Jewish converts to Christianity by helping them escape to other nations. He was arrested by the Gestapo, sent to Dachau, and eventually murdered by gas in 1942.
As Berlin awoke this morning to photos of Hitler salutes in Virginia, there was news of a car driven into a crowd protesting against white supremacy, of one woman killed in the attack, and of two law enforcement officers killed in a helicopter crash. This is America?
America has its own ghosts. The ghosts of American claims of racial superiority–specifically of white superiority–reach all the way to Berlin. Adolf Hitler and his race theorist, Alfred Rosenberg, took part of their inspiration from British and American race theorists. The American eugenicists, including those now celebrated by groups such as Planned Parenthood, offered ideological cover for the Nazi doctrines of racial superiority.
Those claims of racial superiority led straight to the extermination camps. Just days ago I passed the shores of beautiful Wannsee Lake outside of Berlin. It was at an estate there on the shores of this peaceful lake that the Nazi regime committed itself to the ‘Final Solution of the Jewish Problem’ on January 20, 1942. Millions of human beings, the vast majority of them Jews, would vanish into the gas chambers and crematoria of the death camps.
Just remember names like Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Sobibor. The list goes on. The ghosts of history are never far. It was belief in racial superiority–the superiority of an Aryan race–that drove the Nazis to adopt the ‘Final Solution.’ Just ask a resident of today’s Berlin. They know. They cannot not know.
Even a secular observer can see the lessons of history from Berlin. The evidence is pervasive, irrefutable, terrifying, and still visible.
But Christians must see much more than the lessons of history, though we dare not miss them. We must see claims of racial superiority–and mainly that means claims of white superiority–as heresy.
That is not a word we use casually. Heresy leads to a denial of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the eclipse of the living God as revealed in the Bible. A claim of white superiority is not merely wrong, and not merely deadly. It is a denial of the glory of God in creating humanity—every single human being–in his own image. It is a rejection of God’s glory in creating a humanity of different skin pigmentation. It is a misconstrual of God’s judgment and glory in creating different ethnicities.
Most urgently, it is a rejection of the gospel of Christ–the great good news of God’s saving purpose in the atonement accomplished by Christ. A claim of racial superiority denies our common humanity, our common sinfulness, our common salvation through faith in Christ, and God’s purpose to create a common new humanity in Christ.
You cannot preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and hold to any notion of racial superiority. It is impossible.
Berlin is filled with its ghosts. Just 56 years ago today–today–the Berlin Wall went up. The broken tower of the Kaiser Wilhelm Church stares me in the face. The lessons of history are everywhere.
America has yet to deal with the lessons of our own history. We have never been utterly conquered so that we had to. The lessons of slavery and Jim Crow segregation–all predicated on claims of white supremacy–have yet to be fully learned or even fully acknowledged. Our walls are not made of concrete and barbed wire, but they remain walls. Our churches have sometimes defended those walls, to our everlasting shame.
American Christians are fully accountable to the lessons of history, and we have our own hard reckoning to do. But we are far more accountable to the gospel of Jesus Christ. In Ephesians 2:13-15, Paul tells us: ‘But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace.’
Paul does not merely admit this to be true–that God is creating ‘one new man’ as a new humanity in Christ–he celebrates this truth as central to Christ’s gospel. If we do not celebrate this truth, we have not tasted the salvation accomplished by Christ.
Seen from Berlin, the news from Charlottesville is alarming. Seen as a Christian, the images are heartbreaking. The ideology of racial superiority is an evil anti-gospel that leads to eternal death.
The lessons of history are warning enough. The lessons of heresy are even more pressing. Brothers and sisters in Christ, we dare not miss the lessons of history and heresy. God will judge us. This we know.”
Clash of moralities: Prominent gay activist Tim Gill threatens to ‘punish the wicked’
Next, as we’ve been looking at the clash between religious liberty and the newly defined sexual liberties in the United States, a collision that as I’ve argued is inevitable, we’re seeing some very interesting and alarming arguments arise from some unexpected quarters. One of these came in the form of a feature article published in June this summer in Rolling Stone Magazine, a magazine that has long prided itself in being the magazine of the alternative culture of the left and in particular of rock music and its followers. Bre Payton, writing at the Federalist in the month of July, noted that the article had appeared, and as she wrote,
“In a recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine, tech millionaire turned LGBTQ activist Tim Gill said he’s aiming to punish Christians who don’t want to participate in same-sex weddings.”
She went on to report in July that the article that had appeared in Rolling Stone in the form of the interview had revealed,
“For more than two decades, the software programmer has poured an estimated $422 million,” of his own fortune we note, “into various gay rights causes. After the Supreme Court ruled gay marriage legal in all 50 states in 2015, Gill turned his attention and resources to targeting Christians.”
Payton then one particular paragraph from the Rolling Stone piece that included these lines,
“Gill refuses to go on the defense. ‘We’re going into the hardest states in the country,’ he says. ‘We’re going to punish the wicked.’”
Soon after the essay appeared at the Federalist, Andy Kroll, the original author of the feature piece on Gill, suggested that Payton had badly mangled the words attributed to the millionaire. Kroll wrote,
“Not once in my profile does Gill talk about ‘targeting’ Christians. Not once does Gill so much as hint at singling out Christians or adherents of any other religion. Not once does the word ‘Christian’ appear. The authors of these cookie-cutter stories sprouting up across the conservative blogosphere either didn’t bother to read the actual piece or were blinded by their own biases.”
Now I took that as a serious challenge and decided that I would look at the original article a second time just to make sure it had not been misconstrued or misunderstood. I assure you it was not. Kroll is absolutely right that Gill doesn’t use the word Christians. He doesn’t have to. In the original Rolling Stone, Kroll had written this,
“More broadly, for Gill and his allies, nondiscrimination is the new front of the movement: a campaign that pits LGBTQ advocates against a religious right that responded to marriage equality by redoubling its efforts.”
This is when he points to states that had been most resistant to same-sex marriage when he said,
“We’re going into the hardest states in the country. We’re going to punish the wicked.”
Now Kroll is absolutely right. The word Christian doesn’t appear there, but that’s disingenuous because Kroll himself refers to the religious right. And in his response to the Federalist, he made the same point over again in explaining Gill’s comment. In his response Kroll wrote,
“First, some background. Gill has used the phrase ‘punish the wicked’ as a rallying cry for years. ‘The wicked’ is anyone who stands in the way of progress on equal rights for LGBTQ people: politicians, activists, lawyers, some people of faith, and plenty more with no religious affiliation whatsoever.”
Now notice after all that evasion, he himself lists some people of faith. This is after in the original article there was reference to the religious right just before Gill said he was going to punish the wicked. Now to be sure, there are many Christians who hold to an understanding, a biblical understanding of marriage, that identifies marriage as exclusively the union of a man and a woman who haven’t identified with any movement including the religious right. But that’s not to matter because it is clear that Gill and Kroll identify any Christian who stands in the way of the total normalization of the LGBTQ agenda as being part of the religious right. And thus fair for targeting, you’ll recall his phrase, he’s out to punish the wicked. Well there you’ll see the clash of moralities and of course the clash of liberties as well. And you see the language used, the unabashed language about targeting those who have held to a biblical understanding of sexuality and marriage with the agenda now that this movement believes it has the upper hand to target the wicked.