The Briefing 06-24-14

The Briefing 06-24-14

The Briefing


June 24, 2014

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


It’s Tuesday, June 24, 2014. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Significant Supreme Court decisions to be handed down this week

The United States Supreme Court is set to ends its term this week and that means that in a flurry of decisions at least eight huge cases are going to be handed down by the court on Wednesday and Thursday of this week. That means we’re looking forward to two days in which many issues are going to be settled by the United States Supreme Court. Amongst those issues are big cases concerning presidential powers and the ability of this president, President Barack Obama, to make recess appointments to federal positions with the Senate declaring that it is not actually in recess. You also have big questions coming down concerning greenhouse gases, securities fraud, television broadcast rights, labor unions, and cell phone privacy. But the two biggest cases for our concern are going be cases having to do with abortion clinics and the Hobby Lobby case having to do with the contraceptive mandate of the Obama Administration.


In the case of the abortion clinics, this is a case that comes from Massachusetts and it challenges a Massachusetts law that restricted demonstrators outside abortion clinics and set up 35-foot buffer zones. The challenger in this case is arguing that that is an unconstitutional abridgment of free speech rights.


On the other hand, the Hobby Lobby case is likely to be the most long-lasting and long-remembered of the cases to be handed down precisely because it is at such a turning point in terms of our culture. Hobby Lobby’s a company that charges that it’s conscience is now violated by the fact that the Obama Administration requires it to not only provide, but to pay for contraceptive coverage through its insurance policies and, furthermore, to include in that coverage drugs that at least some of the time are believed to operate as abortifacients.


We’ll be watching all these cases very closely, but just keep in mind that the next two days are likely to bring a flurry of Supreme Court decisions as that court ends its current term, and that means that many of the most important issues of our current time are going to be handed down by the court in fast order.

2) PC(USA) takes clear stance against state of Israel

Shifting to denominational news, we watched last week as the Presbyterian Church USA—that is the liberal mainline Protestant Presbyterian denomination—affirmed in a very imbalanced vote the approval of same-sex marriage and the rites and ceremonies to be recognized by the church for those same-sex marriages. The church also voted by the same margin to allow Presbyterian clergy, that is, PCUSA clergy, to perform same-sex unions in the states where such unions are legal. As I pointed out at the time, the PCUSA has been hemorrhaging members by the thousands, indeed now over a million, and, furthermore, the PCUSA has also been hemorrhaging congregations as conservative congregations have fled the denomination for refuge in more conservative and evangelical Presbyterian groups.


But now you have the news that came out at the very end of the week that the Presbyterian Church USA had voted by a vote of 310 to 303 to divest its holdings from three American corporations that have done business with Israel. This divestment is intended to send a very clear signal of the denomination’s displeasure with Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. As Laurie Goodstein of The New York Times reported:


After passionate debate over how best to help break the deadlock between Israel and the Palestinians, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted on Friday at its general convention to divest from three companies that it says supply Israel with equipment used in the occupation of Palestinian territory.


All of this means that the PCUSA has now placed itself very clearly against Israel as a state. Even though the denomination has tried to say the divestment was simply from three American corporations, the arguments used both in the conversation on the floor debate and in the larger media made very clear that it is displeasure with Israel that is at the center of this denominational action. And furthermore, it’s an extremely imbalanced action. It blames Israel for virtually all of the problem in the Middle East—in particular, the problem with the Palestinian territories—and it also puts this denomination in a very rare left-wing group that calls for what is known as BDS or Boycotts, Divestments, and Sanctions against Israel.


The Reverend Walt Davis of the Israel-Palestine Mission Network, a pro-divestment group within the PCUSA, told Religion News Service, “After a decade of corporate engagement with Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions, these companies have failed to modify their behavior and continue to profit from Israeli human rights abuses and non-peaceful pursuits.” Now let’s look at this just a little further. Caterpillar actually says it does not even sell any equipment to Israel, but it does sell equipment to the United States government and the United States government becomes the conduit for taking Caterpillar’s products, which after all are largely road building and construction equipment, to Israel. But Caterpillar now is on the bad list for the PCUSA and has been the subject of its divestment, along with the other two companies—Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions. Those companies are blamed for being involved in the information network that makes the management of the Palestinian territories by the Israelis possible.


There’s a great deal to be said about this. One of the things that needs to be said is that almost every one of these actions is ineffectual and that’s largely true whether it’s undertaken by a denominational on the left, such as the PCUSA, or, in the case of the Southern Baptist Convention, a denominational the right. Over a decade ago, the Southern Baptist Convention declared a boycott of the Disney Corporation based upon its displeasure with some of the Disney corporate policies. That basically was a very failed project and eventually it went away causing no apparent damage to Disney. But on the moral level, this is a particularly reprehensible decision because it singles out Israel, the only democracy in the entire region, the only clear friend of the United States on democratic terms in the region, and the country that has certainly the greatest record in terms of human rights of the entire region. That’s not to absolve Israel of its responsibility to be very humane in dealing, in so far as it is possible, with the Palestinian question. But it is the recognition that the existence of Israel is in itself a moral fact and that’s what makes the PCUSA’s position even more dangerous than many people now recognize. Writing in yesterday’s edition of The Wall Street Journal, Jonathan Marks reports:


The church signaled its antipathy for Israel earlier this year by hawking a study guide called “Zionism Unsettled” in its online church store. In the 76-page pamphlet, Zionism—the movement to establish a Jewish homeland and nation-state in the historic land of Israel—is characterized as a “a struggle for colonial and racist supremacist privilege.”


So make no mistake in this case, the PCUSA is bearing its teeth at Israel, declaring that the very idea of Israel as a nation, as a Jewish state, is itself, to use their words, “a struggle for colonial and racist supremacist privilege.”


The culture war that divides Americans from each other on so many issues and the culture divide that separates so many American denominations is fully on view in this very issue here. Here the Presbyterian Church USA last Friday put itself very much on the side of those who are calling not only for the divestment of all holdings in Israel, but, as this report makes very clear, for the abolition of the Jewish state. Those words are not present in this report, but the accusation that Israel itself as a Jewish state in that part of the world represents “a struggle for colonial and racist supremacist privilege” is more than a clear signal; it’s an argument for the abolition of Israel.

3) Story of Christian convert in Afghanistan reveals Islam’s divergent view of religious liberty

Shifting to the issue of the disappearance of Christianity in Muslim-dominated lands, The New York Times deserves credit for one of the most important articles of our times. It ran in Sunday’s edition of the paper; Azem Ahmed reporting in an article that was entitled “A Christian on the Run in Afghanistan.” It tells us about a young Christian convert from Islam named Josef. And as Ahmed writes:


For Josef, 32, who asked to be identified only by his Christian name to protect his wife and young child, the path to Christianity was only one segment on a much longer journey, a year of wandering that took him through Turkey, Greece, Italy and Germany, seeking refuge from Afghanistan’s violence.

But at each stop he found misfortune. He was detained in Greece and deported from Germany, and he lived on the streets in Italy before he truly understood that there would be no happy ending in Europe, where his application for asylum has gone nowhere. He voluntarily left Italy for Pakistan to be with his wife and son, but that is no longer an option.


Neither is reverting to Islam. “I inherited my faith, but I saw so many things that made me discard my religious beliefs,” Josef said. “Even if I get killed, I won’t convert back.”


He converted to Christianity during his brief sojourn in Germany. In very moving words, he spoke of his conversion like this:


I think I was impressed by the personality of Jesus himself. The fact that he came here to take all of our sins, that moved me. I admired his character and personality long before I was baptized.


But the fact that he converted from Islam to Christianity made him a target of violence in his native land of Afghanistan where he has now returned. And as Ahmed reports, even though on paper, Afghan law protects freedom of religion, on the ground, it is virtually a guaranteed death sentence. Ahmed writes:


Josef’s brother-in-law Ibrahim arrived in Kabul recently, leaving behind his family and business in Pakistan, to hunt down the apostate and kill him. Reached by telephone—


—and this is very important. Here we’re being told by The New York Times that their reporter actually reached this brother-in-law with deadly intent, and he told them of his intent. Reached by telephone, Ibrahim, who uses only one name, offered a reporter for The New York Times $20,000 to tell him where Josef was hiding. “If I find him, once we are done with him, I will kill his son as well because his son is illegitimate. He is not from a Muslim father.”


The story makes clear that at one point Josef was taken into custody by his own father, knowing that other relatives sought to kill him. The father did not protect him, but rather imprisoned him within his own home, awaiting the decision to be made by the family as to whether he would be killed. In the midst of all this, Josef managed to escape, but now he finds himself and he finds his wife and, as this statement makes very clear, his son in mortal danger.


Repeated headlines and studies have made very clear that Christianity is virtually disappearing from the Middle East and Central Asia, virtually from all Muslim-dominated lands. In so many of those lands, conversion is actually even by law a capital offense and even where in Afghanistan, largely by American and British influence, there is at least on paper a guarantee of religious liberty, as it turns out, that is worth virtually nothing in a society in which your own father will imprison you to await other relatives to kill you and when you have relatives willing to tell The New York Times that they will offer $20,000 for the whereabouts of the Christian convert and then to say when they find him and kill him, they will kill his son as well.


If nothing else, this should remind Christians of the fact that we should be praying for those persecuted brothers and sisters wherever they are found in the world with their lies very much in jeopardy. But it also draws into very sharp relief the basic distinction between Islam and Christianity—and virtually in this case, Islam and the rest of the world—when it comes to the issue of religious liberty and human rights. Even as many people try to say that the current conflict is not between Islam, but only Islamic terrorists, you need to recognize that The New York Times has authoritatively told us here that on the ground in Afghanistan, virtually, in this sense, everyone is a terrorist if the victim is one who has converted to Christianity.


And that brings in to even sharper focus the decision just made last Friday by the Presbyterian Church USA. They voted to divest itself of holdings in three companies for doing business with Israel. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, a Christian is awaiting his execution as soon as his relatives can find him. At the very least, that seems to be a very unbalanced concern for a Christian denomination.

4) Difficulty of dress codes evidences feminist confusion on modesty and sexuality

Last week, there was a really interesting article published in The New York Times opinion page by Peggy Orenstein. It was entitled “The Battle Over Dress Codes.” It’s one of those articles that isn’t at all clear in terms of its essential point. That’s a problem in one sense, but also in this case serves to prove the point that if you’re operating out of a very confused worldview, you have a very difficult time answering questions such as the question what should girls, adolescent girls, be allowed to wear to school? In this case, Peggy Orenstein appears to be arguing both sides of the case. She writes about her own daughter saying that she doesn’t want her daughter to be the subject of male gazing. She doesn’t want boys gazing at her daughter as a sex object and she doesn’t want her daughter to think that she has to dress that way in order to have self-esteem and the attention of other students in the class, particularly boys. Meanwhile, she also doesn’t want her daughter to miss out on what sexualization can promise in terms of popularity and asserting her own feminist identity by means of declaring herself to be female by wearing rather sexualized clothing.


How can a mom have it both ways in this kind of situation? She rails against the fact that many school policies are putting restrictions on what girls can wear, claiming that sexualized outfits on young girls will “distract boys.” She writes, “As if young men cannot control themselves in the presence of a spaghetti strap.” She seems to write with approval the new feminist mantra “Don’t tell us what to wear; teach the boys not to stare.” At one point what you have here is a defiance of human nature and also of an understanding of the fact that modesty is an essential requirement for civilization itself, not to mention for a social context as sensitive as schools for middle schoolers and high schoolers.


As she ends her article, she writes:


After a flurry of parental feedback, my daughter’s school is making two changes for next fall. First, the staff is developing lesson plans for students, faculty members and parents about the impact of sexualization on boys as well as girls. They are also revising the definition of “distracting” apparel. Clothing must allow students a full range of motion — sitting, bending, reaching, running — without requiring perpetual readjustment. It cannot, in other words, pose a “distraction.”


But Peggy Orenstein’s article is actually, as I said, more interesting for the confusion it represents than for the clarity. For one thing, it’s amazing in a secular culture that you have so many people who seem to believe that sexualizing children of either gender at any age is appropriate in any sense. Furthermore, what we have in this article is at least to some degree an affirmation of the feminist argument that the sexualization of young girls and of teenagers is actually a statement of their own self-esteem and their own understanding of themselves embracing the full power of femininity. As I said earlier, there’s also a basic denial of human nature here with the kind of statement that is affirmed here: “Don’t tell us what to wear; teach the boys not to stare.” This is not at all to absolve boys and men of their responsibility for lust and leering, but it is to recognize that something basic to human nature that has been respected by virtually all previous generations is being rejected here and dismissed out of hand.


But I bring up this article at least in part for the letters to the editor that appeared in subsequent editions of the paper that brought a great deal of clarity. For example, you have one writer, Kate Levine Markel, writing from Ann Arbor, Michigan, who points out that many of the moms arguing to have no rules over what their daughters wear to school, follow very careful rules when it comes to what they wear to work. In other words, she raises the obvious question of why would it be appropriate for a daughter to wear to school what a mother wouldn’t wear to work?


The controversy also brought forth a letter to the editor from Linda Slezak of Hampton Bays, New York, who said this is the best argument yet for school uniforms. She doesn’t exactly put it this way, but this is the point she makes. When parents can’t make commonsensical decisions, someone else has to make them and the easiest way to make them is to mandate a school uniform. And that little controversy tells us a very great deal about the moral confusions of our age and this is one of the situations in the culture were Christian parents simply have to press back and press back firmly. We cannot accept the wisdom of the age that even allows for a moment that modesty is something other than a moral mandate. This isn’t a call for cloaking our daughters from head to toe in a burka, such as the Islamic world, but it is a recognition that parents and daughters have a responsibility to dress in such a way that they are seen to be genuinely feminine and yet not sexually explicit.


And furthermore, of course, this comes down to boys and young men as well. Christian boys and young men—for that matter, men of all ages—have the responsibility to learn how to train their eyes, but this is a recognition that for all of us, male and female, modesty is not respected in the Scripture for no reason, but for the very important reason that in a fallen world, our Creator recognizes the need for modesty, even as He fashioned for Adam and Eve aprons to cover them after the fall. And it’s after the fall that we now live.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. 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 Remember that right now we’re taking questions for Ask Anything: Weekend Edition’s new season to being in late summer. Just call with your question in your voice to 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058. I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

Podcast Transcript

1) Significant Supreme Court decisions to be handed down this week

Eight big cases await Supreme Court rulings, USA Today (Richard Wolf)

2) PC(USA) takes clear stance against state of Israel

Presbyterians Vote to Divest Holdings to Pressure Israel, New York Times (Laurie Goodstein)

Presbyterians narrowly vote to divest from 3 companies involved in Israeli/Palestinian conflict, Religion News Service (Lauren Markoe)

Presbyterians Join the Anti-Israel Choir, Wall Street Journal (Jonathan Marks)

3) Story of Christian convert in Afghanistan reveals Islam’s divergent view of religious liberty

A Christian Convert, on the Run in Afghanistan, New York Times (Azem Ahmed)

4) Difficulty of dress codes evidences feminist confusion on modesty and sexuality

The Battle Over Dress Codes, New York Times (Peggy Orenstein)

You’re Not Really Wearing That to School?, New York Times (To the Editor)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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