The Briefing 05-13-14

The Briefing 05-13-14

The Briefing


 May 13, 2014

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


It’s Tuesday, May 13, 2014. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.


The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines blasphemy as the active insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for God; secondarily, the active claiming the attributes of deity. Either one of these definitions is enough to make very clear that blasphemy is a grave issue according to the Christian worldview. The Bible takes a very hard line on blasphemy and, of course, it roots it in the first and second commandments. Jesus Himself spoke against blasphemy. He said, “I tell you,” in Matthew 12:31, “every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven, but the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” There is that infamous unforgivable sin found in the New Testament.


So Christians must take blasphemy with great seriousness. That dictionary definition tells us why. If blasphemy is, as the dictionary says, any word or deed that insults or shows contempt or lack of reverence for God, we understand that this can only be understood with grave significance. We’d understand that when Jesus says there is one sin that cannot be forgiven and that is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, He Himself points to that kind of contempt and identifies it as the one sin that cannot be forgiven. But when blasphemy is discussed in a Christian context, we are discussing it explicitly in theological terms. We’re discussing why it is a sin; indeed, why Jesus says it is such a grave sin. Should it therefore be a crime? In many parts of the world today blasphemy is a crime. Throughout much of Western history, blasphemy was a crime. It is no longer a crime in Western societies. It is still a crime in many places around the world, but should it be?


News from Pakistan demonstrates the problem when blasphemy becomes a crime. For instance, a report from Islamabad tells us that a 26-year-old Christian was convicted in March of insulting the prophet Mohammed. He is one of four Pakistanis sentenced to death for the crime this year under the country’s draconian blasphemy laws, which increasingly target religious minorities in the mostly Muslim country. According to Annabel Symmington of The Wall Street Journal:


More people have been convicted under [these blasphemy laws] in the past seven years than in the first two decades since death penalty for blasphemy was enacted by conservative dictator Zia-ul-Haq in 1986. The four convictions this year are up from two in 2013.


But as this report makes very clear, the judicial actions against blasphemy are only the tip of the iceberg. Far more common are direct actions taken by villagers throughout Pakistan and much of the Muslim world, where people who are accused of blasphemy, now primarily Christians, are not actually charged with a crime. They’re merely accused of having blasphemed and they are murdered before they can ever get to a trial. But the death penalty is a penalty that is now routinely given to those who are accused and convicted of blasphemy in the nation of Pakistan. Human rights groups are pointing out that the law is now increasingly used without any kind of religious justification whatsoever. It’s being used to settle property disputes where, in the majority Muslim nation, Christians who find themselves on the wrong side of any kind of an argument can find themselves accused of blasphemy and then their lives in danger. Many have to flee their villages or if they do not flee quickly enough, they find themselves in grave danger. And according to human rights activists around the world, as reported by The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal and others, there are almost assuredly hundreds if not thousands of persons who are murdered for blasphemy within the Muslim world in the course of any given year. Ramona Bashir, director of the Christian Study Center in Pakistan, said, “Christians who have lived side-by-side with Muslims for years are now worried that if they have an argument with their Muslim neighbor that they will find themselves accused.”


Similar news comes from The New York Times. Waqar Gillani, reporting from Lahore in Pakistan, tells us that a Pakistani activist has been shot dead simply because that activist aided suspects who were accused of blasphemy. Rashid Rehman, a veteran Pakistani human rights activist who had received threats for defending people charged under the country’s blasphemy laws, was shot dead this past Wednesday night in his office in the southern city of Multan. Mr. Rehman’s office assistant and a visitor were seriously wounded and taken to a hospital. In an interview with the BBC’s Urdu Service last month, Mr. Rehman, who was in his mid-40s, said that defending someone accused of blasphemy was akin to walking into the jaws of death. And that’s exactly what it turned out he had done. He said:


There is fanaticism and intolerance in society, and such people never consider whether their accusation is right or wrong. People kill for 50 rupees. So why should anyone hesitate to kill in a blasphemy case?


You can see why human rights activists are so alarmed about the rise of blasphemy accusations in the Muslim world and in Pakistan in particular. And there’s a political agenda to this as well. The political agenda is Pakistani nationalism, and not only the kind of nationalism that is centered in national pride, but the kind of nationalism that is centered in the national faith, that is, Islam. Because you can’t have anti-blasphemy laws without something like the imposition of a state religion, and that’s exactly what Pakistan has had from the very beginning. And it has been accentuated in recent decades rather than mitigated. Pakistan is a far more explicitly Islamic state now than it was when it was created in the division between India and Pakistan in the late 1940s.


The report from Waqar Gillani also includes this paragraph:


In Mr. Rehman’s case, three men made death threats against him in the courtroom where he was defending Junaid Hafeez, a Muslim university lecturer accused of blasphemy. “You will not come to court next time because you will not exist anymore,” one of the men shouted. [He] described the trial as a “charade.”


As the headline makes clear, they made good on their threats and Mr. Raymond was killed before he could once again appear in court.


While just about everyone in the West is outraged at this kind of human rights abuse, Christians should be particularly concerned because even as we weigh the importance of blasphemy as a sin, we also must understand the limitations of putting blasphemy into the law. Indeed, it’s not just a limitation; it is a refutation of religious liberty. And furthermore, it is also a refutation, at least in terms of the way blasphemy laws are generally applied, to the logic of the gospel of Jesus Christ. You’ll recall that Jesus used that word blasphemy. He said, “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven, but not the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.” So what was that blasphemy? Well as the Christian tradition has understood from the beginning, the unforgivable sin is the sin of refusing the gospel, of refusing the good news of what God has done for us in Christ, of refusing the acknowledgment that one is a sinner and of the need for a Savior—that Savior Jesus Christ. And thus, even as Jesus used the term blasphemy, after all He took it with gave seriousness, He made very clear that God is not a God who takes blasphemy as the final word unless that blasphemy is the final word, and in that case, it is the unforgivable sin. It is the one sin that will not be forgiven. In other words, from the Christian worldview perspective, one who has committed grotesque blasphemy, one who has said the worst and most vile things about God can still be forgiven that sin because the only blasphemy that is not forgiven is the final blasphemy of refusing the gospel, of refusing the grace of God demonstrated to us in Jesus Christ. And so from a Christian perspective, blasphemy laws are a problem because they refute the gospel. And secondarily, they are a problem because they refute human rights.


Furthermore, one final point. Christianity is not an honor religion; Islam is. Those who kill in the name of Islam do so because they are believing themselves to be upholding the honor of the Koran, of Allah, or, more precisely, usually of Mohammed the prophet. But Christians follow a Savior who was despised and rejected of men, who turned the other cheek, who would not return insult for insult, and who forfeited His own honor for our salvation. He has called His own disciples to do the same. He makes that very clear in the Sermon on the Mount. The problem with blasphemy laws is that they are a blasphemy against the gospel of Jesus Christ. And even as they are correctly identified as human rights abuses, they are also deep theological abuses, and Christians should understand first of all the blasphemy of anti-blasphemy laws.


Back in the United States, we continue to learn a great deal about our nation as a mission field, and perhaps nothing is more interesting in that regard than a recent report—a massive research report—issued last week by the Pew Research Centers on Hispanics and Latinos and their spiritual direction here in the United States. Now in the background of this, of course, is the fact that the Hispanic population is now the second largest population in the United States. So even as the US turns towards a no majority nation and an all minority nation, at this point the largest minority following those who are white Americans are Hispanics, and they represent a growing sector of the American population and they have tended to be overwhelmingly Roman Catholic.


But as this Pew study makes very clear, the binding authority of Catholicism in America’s Hispanic population is decreasing and it is decreasing fast. As Miriam Jordan reports for The Wall Street Journal, Hispanics in the United States are going from Catholic to evangelical Christian and from Catholic to religiously unaffiliated, according to this new Pew Research Center study. Since the 1960s, the Roman Catholic Church in the United States has seen Hispanics, many of them arrivals in a massive immigration wave, help bolster its shrinking ranks. But last week Pew reported that there is a religious churning in the fastest-growing population group, which is now the second largest population in the US. The share of Hispanics who are Catholic likely has been in decline for at least the past few decades, according to Pew.


Now what’s really interesting in this report is where those who are following this kind of research indicate that Hispanics are going. You’ll notice two things were said in that Wall Street Journal article. The first is that there is a significant shift in terms of Hispanics in the United States away from Catholicism and towards evangelicalism, but when you look at the data more closely, it is clear that it’s not evangelicalism in general. That is the target where so many of these Hispanics are going. It is rather in particular charismatic evangelicalism, and precisely it is often the health and wealth gospel, the prosperity gospel, that is attracting many Hispanics in the United States and drawing them away from Catholicism.


The second thing that has become clear is that secularization is impacting the Hispanic population in the United States because, as the Pew study also makes clear, what is happening amongst many Catholics, especially younger Catholics, is that they no longer believe the truth claims of the Christian faith in general or of the Catholic Church in particular and they’re beginning to fall away from them; beliefs including the virgin birth, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, the Trinity—you go down the list. Secularization is clearly having an impact in younger Hispanics in the United States. This was noted by Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the United States conference of Catholic Bishops. She told The New York Times:


Everyone, including Hispanics and especially young ones, can fall prey to what has become a new American problem: religious relativism, where perhaps inspired by exciting music or arousing preacher, you move from your parents’ church to another to no church at all. It’s scary to consider that religious relativism may be the greatest threat that exists to the increasingly important Hispanic Catholic community.


Now I go to her statement because it’s actually more revealing than may first appear because this spokeswoman for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops says that it’s secularization that’s behind this, a view of the relativity of truth, and yet she says the first thing that this leads to is people leaving the church of their parentage and going to another church, a church of their choice. But that’s actually a contradictory statement because secularization would not lead persons to leave their church to go to another church; it would lead persons to leave their church and go to no church at all. Instead, what she’s talking about here is the fact that in the United States, many Hispanics for the very first time are in the context of religious pluralism and they are also in the context of religious liberty, and for the first time, it is a matter of choice. It’s a matter of choice to identify with one faith or another faith or no faith at all. And the significant response of many younger Hispanics is to choose something other than the faith of their parents. That’s not exactly an indication of secularization. It is an indication of modernity, of the possibility of choice.


The second thing we need to note in her comment is that when she says the relativistic understanding of truth leads persons eventually to no faith at all, well that’s absolutely true and that leads to the question: where are they getting this? Other research has indicated that one of the main reasons that Hispanics leave Catholicism for evangelicalism is that they want more, not less understanding of truth. In other words, it is a relativistic application of the doctrine of the church in the Catholic context that often leads many Hispanics to want to know more clearly what the Bible says and then to understand exactly what God would have them to do and how God would have them to live.


This is a very interesting phenomenon. The danger of secularization and the presence of the modern context of consumer choice: it’s all around us. It affects every single church or denomination. But the response is not to oppose that larger culture—after all it is the culture—but rather to stand out as an alternative to that culture, as an alternative of the people of truth. And in that sense, this major report on the spiritual direction of Hispanics in America tells us not only about the mission field that North America’s becoming, but about the theological imperative that evangelicals, first of all, had better always remember.


Still in the United States, over the weekend, the Boy Scouts of America found themselves back in the headlines again and in the headlines of The New York Times. Front-page story: “Compromise on Gays Pleases No One, Scouts Are Learning.” Now we’ve been talking about this for a matter of years now. The Boy Scouts of America, when they made their massive shift back last year on the issue of homosexuality, took a halfway position. They took what’s basically described as a don’t-ask-don’t-tell position when it comes to boys involved in scouting, but they took an absolute position against gay men serving as scoutmasters, gay adults serving as leaders in the scouting organization. So as they succumbed and bowed to cultural pressure on the issue of including gay scouts, they refused to do so when it came to gay scout leaders, and many in the media have noted that this largely is because of legal complications if not moral concerns.


But where are the scouts now? Well they find themselves in no man’s land. And as I said when they changed their position and were even contemplating it, their compromise would please no one. And as we’ve pointed out in recent weeks with recent developments, this compromise pleases no one. And now the headline in the New York Times: “Compromise on Gays Pleases No One, Scouts Are Learning.” Well if they’re learning, it’s a very late lesson. They should have known this from the beginning. They were warned at the beginning, and from the beginning, their compromised position has been in trouble. As Kirk Johnson of The New York Times reports:


After long, anxious debate, the Boy Scouts’ national board voted a year ago to allow openly gay youths to participate in scouting, while continuing to exclude gay leaders age 18 and over. It was promoted as a compromise intended to offer the organization time to figure out how to proceed. Instead, it has brought the Scouts only more ire from all directions and produced a house divided.


The awkwardness of the compromise — don’t-ask-don’t-tell silence on the one hand, and a supposedly welcoming embrace on the other, with an 18th birthday dividing the two — has emboldened gay scouts like Pascal to step forward with passionate editorials and online petitions.


The policy has also divided the parents of scouts with the majority of parents, as the Boy Scouts of America has acknowledged, indicating that they preferred the previous policy, the policy that excluded openly gay individuals, whether as scouts or scout leaders. But there are also parents on the other side who are now calling upon gifts and financial support to come to local troops rather than the Boy Scouts of America because they did not take the full step of including gay scouting leaders as well. The current policy related to all persons involved in Boy Scouts is that they must not “deliberately inject homosexuality into scouting.” But as The New York Times article says, “What it means to ‘deliberately inject’ homosexuality into scouting is another question opened by the new policy.” But as this article makes very clear, at least some gay scouts want to be far more out in terms of their gay identity than the Boy Scouts of America current policy appears to allow for.


One section of this article in The New York Times makes the problem abundantly clear:


What hangs over the Boy Scouts in all its discussions about leaders — how to pick, train and monitor them — is the specter of the past, when some sexual predators were able to use scouting to gain access to victims. Mr. Smith, the Scouts spokesman, said the organization makes “no connection between the sexual abuse, or victimization of a child, and homosexuality.” Still, there is no question that scouting’s detailed rules on “youth protection” are mostly about heading off inappropriate sexual behavior.


And you’ll notice the only people involved in this are men and boys; therefore, the sexual activity in question is by definition homosexual or same-sex behavior. The article goes on—and this is really interesting:


But the new approach since last year’s vote, with what amounts to essentially a code of silence about homosexuality, with little to no guidance in the training materials on how to incorporate gay scouts into a troop or to discourage bullying of a gay scout, sends the wrong message.


That was said by the mother of one gay scout. This mother said, “If you connect the dots, it’s still saying that being gay is unacceptable.” Well that makes very clear the other side of the policy. If this policy says that being gay is unacceptable, then the policy they demand is one that officially says homosexuality is acceptable.


The lesson for all of us is something that the Christian worldview affirms very clearly. There is no compromise on matters of this importance, and those who attempt to compromise find themselves pleasing no one. And in the case of the Boy Scouts of America, if they didn’t hear it from the rest of us, perhaps they now can’t avoid it when it’s in the headline of The New York Times.


Also of interest from a Christian worldview perspective is a major report that was out in The Financial Times over the weekend. It’s an article by Christopher Caldwell, a well-known analyst. He writes, “No One Trusts Washington on Climate Change.” Now my interest in this is really not about climate change. We can talk about that in a different context. My interest in this article is the point that Christopher Caldwell makes, and that is about the fact that on an issue of this complexity, we’re simply left having to trust people who supposedly know what they’re talking about regardless of the position we take. Caldwell writes about the fact that this past week the United States government released what is called the National Climate Assessment. It’s an 841-page document. It’s filled with all kinds of data, with technology, with scientific analysis, and with policy recommendations as well. The Obama Administration’s been making a big deal out of this report, thumping its 841 pages down as supposedly the conclusive argument about what must be done, what climate change is, who is causing it, and what now must be our policy answer.


But as Caldwell says, it’s met with a great deal of silence from the American people. As a matter fact, he cites numerous polls in which Americans rate climate change as extremely low, often coming in effectively last in their list of moral and political concerns. So Caldwell asked a very interesting question: If the White House, if the president of the United States, and if leading scientists can produce an 841-page report supposedly saying, “This is the truth, deal with it,” why is it that so many Americans—and not only Americans, but people around the world, and not only citizens, but government’s as well—basically say, “Yes, it might be true,” and then they move onto the next subject. How can that be possible? Christopher Caldwell has it exactly right when he writes that many in the policy elites assume the argument about global warming is over science. He says that’s true in the academy; it’s false among the public at large where probably 99% of those urged to form an opinion on global warming cannot verify the science independently.


Now let’s think about that. Ninety-nine percent, he says, of Americans can’t verify the science independently. Now is that an exaggeration? No, it’s a significant understatement because 99% of the American population would leave over 300,000 people who supposedly could independently verify the science. As a matter of fact, that’s the exaggeration. The reality is that for most of us there is no way independently to verify the science. We have no apparatus, no technology, no access whereby we can prove the case one way or another. We are dependent upon others. Caldwell acknowledges this when he writes that those included within this 99% include almost all the politicians, and let’s be clear, he says, reporters and columnists too. Their only choice—and that means our only choice—is to find a trustworthy authority on whom they can rely. He concludes by saying the evidence is clear; most Americans just don’t take any report by the federal government as the last word on a subject of this complexity. They’re willing to trust the government on some things, but not on this. After all, what does the government know? Well, this just points to an issue of what Christians would call epistemological humility. In other words, there are things we can’t know. There are things that are beyond our ability independently to verify. In this case, Christopher Caldwell says most Americans have to trust some authority. The reality is in most issues of life, the same is true for all of us.


The Christian worldview affirms that and that’s why one of the central mottos of the Reformation was sola Scriptura. At the end of the day, the most important issues of life can only be answered by the authority of God, and on His authority we are completely dependent. But as Christopher Caldwell makes clear, in so many other issues of life, we’re dependent upon someone else. That’s true for all of us virtually all the time. The issue is: Are we trusting the right authority? That’s the key question for all of us, especially for Christians.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. Remember the release every weekend of Ask Anything: Weekend Edition. Call with your question in your voice to 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058. For more information, go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

Podcast Transcript

1) Blasphemy laws like those in Pakistan are an offense to God

Increasing Violence in Pakistan Surrounding Blasphemy Cases Deters Opposition, Wall Street Journal (Annabel Symmington)

Pakistani Activist Shot Dead; Aided Blasphemy Suspects, New York Times (Waqar Gillani)

2) Decline of Roman Catholicism among Latino community effect of religious pluralism

The Shifting Religious Identity of Latinos in the United States, Pew Research Center

Growing Number of Hispanics in U.S. Leave Catholic Church, Wall Street Journal (Miriam Jordan)

Even as U.S. Hispanics Lift Catholicism, Many Are Leaving the Church Behind, New York Times (Michael Paulson)

3)  Boy Scouts slow to learn that compromise position on gays pleases no one

Compromise on Gays Pleases No One, Scouts Are Learning, New York Times (Kirk Johnson)

4) Suspicion of authority undermines Washington on climate change study

No one trusts Washington on climate change, Financial Times (Christopher Caldwell)


R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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