September 22, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday, September 22, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
We’ll see what becomes evident in controversy over requirement for able-bodied adults to work, we’ll see the ACLU sue Michigan trying to force religious adoption agencies to choose between serving children and surrendering conviction, we’ll look at why a new monument in Moscow raises a huge moral question, and see why a flag is never merely a flag.
Is work a prerequisite for food? For able-bodied people, state of TN says yes, so does the Bible
Sometimes you just know ahead of time that an issue is going to result in controversy; you know it, you expect it, you anticipated it. But at other moments controversy arises from an issue you didn’t expect to be controversial, and often that’s far more revealing. That seems to be the case with an article on the front page of the Nashville Tennessean this week. The banner headline:
“Work Requirements Reinstated.”Show Full Transcript
At face value that doesn’t even sound all that interesting, not to mention controversial, but of course it is; it’s the banner headline in the story above the fold on the front page of the Nashville Tennessean. As the article unfolds, the reporter is Anita Wadhwani, she says,
“Tennessee will reinstate work requirements for food stamp recipients a decade after they were eased during the height of the economic recession, Governor Bill Haslam.”
That was announced by Tennessee’s Governor Bill Haslam. And the reporter goes on to tell us,
“In most Tennessee counties, able-bodied adults without dependents will have to put in at least 20 hours per week on a job, an approved volunteer program or a qualified education or training program [in order] to get benefits.”
We’re also told that the measure doesn’t go into effect until February 1 of next year, and even then those who were covered by the program — some 58 thousand who are considered to be able-bodied adults — they will have 90 days in which to find either employment for some kind of training opportunity that will qualify.
It also becomes apparent that the Tennessee governor is merely, in this case, reinstating rules that are already a part of Tennessee law; the state legislation that regulates and enables the state to participate in the program commonly known as Food Stamps. And you’re looking at the fact that these rules were eased — effectively put on pause — in the light of the economic recession that came at the end of the last decade. Then the great fear was that unemployment would mean that there were no jobs for people who would otherwise be looking for jobs, but now we’re in an almost reverse economic and employment situation, and, thus, the timing seems absolutely right or if anything, a bit late for Tennessee’s governor to reinstate these rules. But, as I said, there is controversy; that’s why the story appeared above the fold on the front page with a banner headline.
By the time you get to the end of the article, it’s clear that to some extent this is a partisan divide, but it’s also clear that there is a divide at a much deeper level, a level of worldview — as we would expect — and so you have Tennessee state officeholders, such as Senator Jim Tracy of Shelbyville, he is very much supportive of the governor’s action, saying the taxpayers,
“should not foot the bill for able-bodied recipients who are not trying to gain employment, which undermines the integrity and stability of the program, [meaning the Food Stamp program].”
On the other hand, there were political leaders in the state who warned the governor to go very carefully and very slowly, but at the end of the article it’s not actually a Tennessee state officeholder who’s quoted at all but rather a United States representative, the representative from Memphis; that is Democratic US representative Steve Cohen. He said,
“Memphians shouldn’t be allowed to go hungry, and while I am awaiting more details about how the Governor’s workforce requirement policy for food stamps will be implemented, I fear that’s what may happen.”
Now, let’s look at that divide that we identified in terms of worldview. It is a divide at the level of this question: Should persons who are able-bodied and otherwise able to work who are not prevented from working because they’re caring for dependents, should they be expected to work in some way, even if it is a volunteer program, or even if at work is classified as involvement in some kind of training program, in order to receive food stamps and other entitlement programs? That worldview divide is evident in the statements from these two lawmakers. On the one hand, the state senator who said that it
“undermines the integrity and stability”
of the entire food stamp program if people who can work simply refuse to work. On the other side, you have this US representative who said that he’s afraid that if the rules are put back into effect someone in Memphis, his district, will be hungry. We remind ourselves that this is a question to which the Scripture gives a direct answer. The apostle Paul, writing in 2 Thessalonians chapter 3 verse 10 writes,
“For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.”
The apostle Paul did not know about the modern welfare state much less anything like what we would call the Food Stamp program, but he did understand the morality of the equation here, and as he stated quite emphatically, if he will not work, let him not eat, either.
For the last several decades in the United States there’ve been two opposing schools of thought on this question. There have been the structuralists who argue that the problem is essentially structural, the problem of poverty. And they argue that there are structural problems, inequalities, in terms of the economy, the culture, and the society. That means that there are certain persons who are simply going to be structurally oppressed and thus should be the recipients of this kind of entitlement program without any regard to whether they work or not, without any regard to personal choices or lifestyle. The opposing school of thought is known as the culturalists; they argue that morality is the most basic issue, and that morality is the foundation of the culture, and that the culture that has been based upon dependency on federal programs is one that, in essence, actually rewards unemployment rather than employment. And, furthermore, they argue that it has created a culture that rewards all kinds of things that will not lead to human flourishing, but rather are actually the detractions from human flourishing.
Several weeks ago I was called by a reporter from the Washington Post who asked me quite straightforwardly, ‘if I believe that the moral principle revealed by the apostle Paul in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 is still valid and should be applied to public policy?’ Of course I said that it should, and, furthermore, any sane society has to be careful that it doesn’t create incentives for the wrong kind of behaviors, and any sane society has at least some understanding of what the wrong kind of behaviors would be. But I also told the reporter that even as the structuralists and the culturalists had been arguing at each other and to each other for the better part of the last 50 years — ever since the rise of the welfare state in the last part of the 20th century — in reality some corner has been turned and the structuralists and the culturalists are beginning to have a far more constructive conversation.
The structuralists, or at least many of them, are beginning to acknowledge that there is a moral dimension based upon personal choices and personal responsibility to the question of economic inequality and poverty. And on the other side of the equation, you also have culturalists who are, in an entirely new way, recognizing that there are deep structural issues that will have to be addressed if human flourishing is going to be encouraged.
Economic historians and sociologists often look back to the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation, now virtually 500 years ago, and traced to that moment the beginnings of what they call now the Protestant work ethic. But, of course, as we’re thinking through this we need to think about the fact that it’s not the Protestant work ethic that’s so important, but the biblical work ethic, and that work ethic doesn’t begin 500 years ago, it begins in the very first chapter of his first book of the Bible in Genesis chapter 1, where a work ethic already appears, and then it is reinforced again and again in Scripture. For example, in the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, in the profits, and in the parables of Jesus, and then we have that text that distills it down so clearly as the apostle Paul tells us in 2 Thessalonians 3 verse 10, that if one will not work, neither should he eat. The fact that that biblical principle is controversial now says everything about our times in our society, rather than about the apostle Paul.
ACLU targets religious exemptions for adoptions, and in turn the children of Michigan
Next we turn to another headline story, this one in yesterday’s edition of USA Today, the headline:
“ACLU sues Michigan Over Religious Exemptions for Adoptions.”
“Law Allows Agencies to Reject LGBT Parenthood Petitions.”
The reporter: Susan Miller. But before turning to her report, let’s turn back the clock about a decade. Let’s turn back to when the Commonwealth of Massachusetts passed legislation legalizing same-sex marriage. That was quite an innovation at the time, and when it took place the state government there in Massachusetts provided absolutely no exception for religious organizations and agencies involved in child care, foster care, and adoption. That Massachusetts law, then and now, is absolutely total in its demand, and that demand is absolute capitulation on the part of any agency, denomination, or institution in the state involved in child care, foster care, or in adoption. And the clear mandate: The demand was that any institution involved in adoption would have to treat legally married same-sex couples exactly as they would treat legally married husbands and wives. So the state government in Massachusetts knowing exactly what it was doing with premeditation and aforethought, drew a line in the sand, a draconian line, and dared any church, denomination, or religious agency to cross it, and that meant that right in the crosshairs of this new law was Catholic charities. For years, indeed for many decades, the most important adoption agency in the entire state of Massachusetts, and Catholic charities determined that they could not violate their religious convictions, and thus the largest adoption agency in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts had to get out of the adoption ministry, forced to do so by a nearly totalitarian state law.
Susan Miller’s report takes us to Michigan were yesterday she reported,
“The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit Wednesday challenging Michigan’s practice of allowing adoption agencies to spurn potential LGBT parents [for religious reasons].”
She went on to tell us,
“Religious exemption laws let people, churches and sometimes corporations cite religious beliefs as a reason not to enforce a law — such as declining to marry a same-sex couple or letting state-funded foster agencies refuse to place kids with same-sex couples.”
But the ACLU there in Michigan is charging that the Michigan adoption law leads to,
“fewer options for children.”
Well as it turns out, a closer look at the story reveals it’s not fewer options for children it’s fewer options for same-sex couples, or, for that matter, for individual persons regardless of sexual orientation to have equal access to the adoption of children and to serving as foster parents. There appears to be a bit of, well, let’s just contextualizing, in the USA Today report where I read,
“Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed the state’s controversial bill into law in June 2015. The law in essence,”
says USA Today,
“lets faith-based agencies say no to prospective parents if saying yes violates the group’s religious or moral beliefs.”
So let’s just change the context and let’s change the language and let’s look at the story the way USA Today could have written that paragraph. They could’ve written that the Michigan Governor signed the bill into law because he was concerned that if religious organizations were required to either violate their convictions or get out of the foster care and adoption system, many children would be left without care; not only, as the ACLU charges, without options.
In the case of the state of Massachusetts, we now have many years of experience that that state would be quite happy for its leading adoption agency simply no longer to serve children in that way, so long as they can absolutely mandate the sexual revolution, and now this lawsuit means that in the state of Michigan, where at least some common sense and religious liberty had been sustained, there’s the risk that all will be lost in terms of this court challenge.
In another rather stunning portion of the article, Susan Miller cites the Williams Institute, that’s an organization that tracks these kinds of issues largely on behalf of the LGBT community, and she writes,
“Same-sex couples are four times more likely than married opposite-sex couples to raise an adopted child and six times more likely to raise foster children.”
Again, those facts attributed to the Williams Institute. Stunningly left unsaid is the fact that same-sex couples cannot reproduce naturally as opposite-sex couples can. That’s an absolutely stunning omission. But as we see time and time again in story after story, an issue is presented as being first of all about morality, or about rights or even about legislation, when it turns out that the background is something even more basic: biology. Later in the article, by the way, we read this,
“Michigan’s exemption law requires that agencies [that] turn down prospective parents refer families to another agency or to Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services website.”
By the time you get to the end of the article, the issue is clear: There are those who would rather all of these agencies, operating by religious conviction and thus giving so many decades accumulated centuries of service to children, get out of the system entirely if they will not bend the knee and bow down to the sexual revolution.
As U.S. debates monuments, monument to Russian general behind AK-47 comes under fire
Next, even as monuments continue to be the center of controversy in the United States, a monument in Moscow is now also very much in the news. The editorial board of the New York Times commented yesterday on the fact that in Moscow there is a new monument; the monument to Mikhail Kalashnikov. General Kalashnikov is the developer of the automatic weapon known as the AK-47. The Russian culture minister working for President Vladimir Putin and following in the same strange model of Russian patriotism, cited general Kalashnikov as
“a true cultural brand of Russia.”
But as the editors in the New York Times noted, that brand includes the fact that the gun he invented has now been reproduce about 100 million times, and as they wrote it has also now become
“the weapon of choice for guerrilla warfare, crime, terrorism and jihad.”
What’s really interesting is that before his death in his 90s, general Kalashnikov became very morally troubled by this. He wrote to the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church,
“My spiritual pain is unbearable.”
He went on to ask if because he’d invented this weapon he was guilty of people’s deaths, even enemies, but there’s not of that moral concern in this new monument to general Kalashnikov in Moscow. And the AK-47 reproduced, as we have said over 100 million times, has indeed become a major engine of death over the last century. It’s humbling to recognize that general Kalashnikov invented that weapon in order to defend the Russian Motherland over against the Nazis, but it turned out to have far more effect in the decades following the war in the hands of terrorists, criminals, and jihadists,
Worldview book recommendation — Worth Dying for: The Power and Politics of Flag
But that brings me to this week’s worldview book of the week it’s another book by Tim Marshall. This one’s entitled,
“Worth Dying for: The Power and Politics of Flags.”
Seemed like an interesting book given all the flags evident in terms of attention at the United Nations this week. It tells the story of so many the flags of the world, and in some cases, they’re relatively recent inventions. He tells us a for instance of the interesting fact that there are actually very few flags with overt Christian symbolism and the nations most likely to have the Christian symbolism turn out to be the now most secular nations of Europe: the nations of Scandinavia.
You’ll learn a great deal about the culture of these nations and the history, of course, as you come to understand their flags past, present, and future. With this came to my mind, precisely because we were just talking about the AK-47, and of all things an AK-47 shows up in an official national flag: the flag of Mozambique.
I found the book to be incredibly interesting. In his introduction Tim Marshall writes,
“this is the emotion charged emblem that is a flag. It has the power to evoke and embody sentiments so strong that sometimes people even follow their colored cloth into the gunfire and die for what it symbolizes.”
So the bottom line is this: As you read the book, you’re going to come to understand that when you see a flag waving in the wind, you’re not just seeing waiving colors, you are also seeing a waiving worldview.