The Briefing 08-12-14

The Briefing 08-12-14

The Briefing


August 12, 2014

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


It’s Tuesday, August 12, 2014. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Response to Robin Williams’s death reveals how closely Americans identify with entertainers

The entire nation last night seemed to be talking about the death suspected to be by suicide of comedian and actor Robin Williams. He was found dead in his home in Marin County, California at age 63. And immediately as news broke across the nation, it became abundantly clear that the death of Robin Williams came especially suspected as a suicide to be a tremendous shock to the American people. Several things come immediately to mind in terms of this tragedy. First of all the announcement of any suicide comes as a great human tragedy. The suicide of any individual, young or old, famous or unknown to the public, it’s still an enormous tragedy, and one that immediately affects our hearts as well as our moral instincts.

The second thing we need to note is that the fact that Robin Williams’s death skyrocketed across the nation’s media, social media, and attention, tells us something about the role of popular culture in American life. When it comes to the role of the media Hollywood entertainment, the entire complex of popular culture it becomes increasingly clear that Americans in this digital age are perhaps even more associated with those they watch on television and the big screen — more identified with those who are the major figures, producers, and entertainers in popular culture than ever before. We have virtually constant 24/7 access to entertainment and that means also the personalities involved in that entertainment. And that breeds a sense of intimacy of immediacy that is actually false but nonetheless is a very powerful cultural phenomenon. When we think about the role of popular culture we think about Robin Williams as an enormously gifted actor and comedian. He is one of those whose talents seem to be almost protean, able to transform itself into different forms of talent such that Robin Williams could be considered simultaneously both a comedian and a very serious actor. He became a major figure in American pop culture and entertainment in the 1970s with the sitcom Mork and Mindy in which he played a benign alien. He also had made one appearance on the Happy Days sitcom and later he starred in very serious movies as well as many popular forms of entertainment. Many movies that were issued by companies such as the Disney Corporation. He was the voice of the genie in Disney’s Aladdin but he also starred in movies including Goodwill Hunting, The Fisher King, Dead Poets Society and Good Morning Vietnam.

As the Los Angeles Times reported last night:

At certain points during his career Robin Williams had to fight to be seen by the public as something more than just a funny guy.

Back in 1991 he told the Los Angeles Times:

It’s hard because people want to know you are a certain thing. They still say “that’s the little manic guy — he’s a little adrenaline guy.”

But also as the Los Angeles Times notes:

Robin Williams’ talent for ad libing functions both a gift and a shield.

Several people in the entertainment industry quoted in the LA Times coverage indicated that Robin Williams was on camera and off, always in character. Jenny Masada, Founder and Chief Executive of The Laugh Factory said:

He was always in character. You never saw the real Robin. I knew him 35 years and I never knew him.

Jenny Masada also said:

The Robin Williams, along with many others in Hollywood, “sold their privacy to the public.”

Masada went on to say:

They could be in the middle the street talking and someone would come up for an autograph. Robin didn’t realize how much he sold his privacy to people.

A final thought comes immediately to mind when thinking about the death of Robin Williams. This tragedy reminds us of the fact that comedy isn’t the same thing as happiness. Being funny does not necessarily translate into being happy. Robin Williams acknowledged that he fought with substance abuse problems including treatment this summer and no one knows exactly what took place in his mind and in his heart that led to the suicide that eventually took his life yesterday. And even as a recent biography of comedian Johnny Carson made very clear; the difference between being funny and being happy can be infinite.

And that’s an important thing for Christians to remember.

2) St Louis erupts in race conflict over death of teenager Michael Brown

Another American city erupted in racial tension in recent days as The Chicago Tribune reports. Hundreds of protesters gathered at a suburban St. Louis police station Monday night demanding murder charges against an officer who shot to death an unarmed black teenager over the weekend. The paper went on to say the largely peaceful protests monitored by about 50 police officers in riot gear took place after a night of rioting when demonstrations took place over the death of Michael Brown, age 18, when those demonstrations turned violent.

Ferguson Police Chief, Tom Jackson told reporters on Monday:

It breaks my heart. Last night was the worst night of my life.

As many Americans know by now there are conflicting accounts and there is a great deal of confusion about what actually happened but somehow an 18-year-old young man, an African-American young man, was killed by police in an altercation that at least some police claim was originating in the fact that they were struggling over a gun in a police car. But at the end of the day the 18-year-old young man was dead and police officials acknowledged he died of multiple gunshot wounds, even though he was unarmed.

This kind of situation immediately prompts the kinds of demonstrations that are now expected and it also leads many Americans, regardless of their knowledge or lack of knowledge of the situation, immediately to jump to conclusions. But this is one of those situations that as the Attorney General of the United States made clear:

Requires virtually everyone to stand back and let law enforcement do its work.

And in this case, it is not just the law enforcement agency and officials who were involved in the situation locally, but yesterday the Federal Bureau of Investigation said that it was also launching an investigation. As US Attorney General Eric Holder said:

Aggressively pursuing investigations such as this is critical for preserving trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

And at this point we just need to follow the Attorney General’s advice and stand back and let the law enforcement officials, especially now at the federal level do their job.

3) Voting trends reveal fertility has everything to do with worldview

Back in July of 2005, James Taranto of The Wall Street Journal ran a very important article entitled “The Roe Effect.” The subtitle of the article, “The right to abortion has diminished the number of Democratic voters.” With that language he meant voters of the Democratic Party. As he made clear in the assessment, the ratio of abortions amongst those who vote Republican and vote Democrat is not equal. And the fact that there is a market increase in the number of those who vote Democratic seeking in supporting abortion, there should be no surprise that those babies who were not born will not vote Democratic. “The Roe Effect” became a shorthand in political science for the fact that when it comes to an issue like abortion it turns out that even as liberal voters tend to have fewer children they also tend to have more abortions. And that has reduced the transference of their own pro-abortion commitments to the successive generation to follow. As Taranto made clear his article, in this assessment he wasn’t even making a moral judgment, just a statement of fact. And the fact is that there is a decreasing number in every generation of those who might vote Democratic and thus also pro-abortion, simply because after Roe v. Wade in 1973, access to abortion is meant that many of those future voters aren’t born. Taranto dealt with the fact that not only are there more children born to those who are pro-life —  that’s a no-brainer  — but also that pro-life parents tend to be rather successful in communicating those pro-life values and commitments to their own children. Backing up Taranto’s assessment is the fact that successive generations after Roe, generation by generation, have been generally more pro-life than the generation before. A remarkable contrary trend to other moral trajectories in the same period.

Now almost a decade later in the paper to be released on the 14th of this month, two professors at Northwestern University, Alex Kevern and Jeremy Freese, have published research entitled, “Differential Fertility as a Determinative of Trends in Public Opinion About Abortion in the United States.” That academic title betrays a very interesting moral assessment and these two sociologists have pointed out that the so-called “Roe Effect” mentioned by James Taranto back in 2005 can now be substantiated in terms of sociological analysis. In their very large academic paper, they come to conclude, and I quote:

Abortion attitudes serve as a useful candidate for studying the possible effects of fertility on an attitudinal outcome due to their strong correlation with fertility and they’re fairly high parent-child correlation. Based on the evidence we present, we argue that the fertility difference between pro-choice and pro-life individuals has caused a more conservative trend in abortion attitudes over the last 34 years of data.

In other words this massive study indicates that the “Roe Effect” is real.

But there is another interesting twist to this report. In the conclusion they also point out that they measured gay rights support in terms of the same generational analysis and they wrote:

The rapid increase in supportive attitudes toward gay rights has been reflected both in adults changing their mind on issues and a large generational divide in which younger Americans are substantially more supportive on gay rights issues than older Americans.

They conclude:

As a result the upward movement in support for gay rights is occurring much more quickly than what countervailing affects differential fertility may have.

To translate that from the academic jargon what they’re saying is this: When it comes to issues of support for gay rights, what you’re looking at is not a “Roe Effect.” When it comes to a massive society wide moral change such as the normalization of homosexuality, the differentials and abortion rates between conservatives and liberals or Republicans and Democrats really doesn’t come into effect.
Furthermore, these researchers ask a very important question: If pro-life parents have been relatively effective in communicating and continuing those pro-life commitments in her own children it seems to be a very different picture when it comes to convictions on the normalization of homosexuality. And so we now end up with a very interesting and sometimes baffling situation. A generational survey in which younger Americans are more pro-life than their parents but also more pro-gay rights. That’s an interesting conundrum and one that reveals the fact that the worldview of many Americans is profoundly conflicted and often confused.

By the way, while we were talking about so-called differential fertility rates, we also need to keep a couple of other issues in mind. One of them is that more religious Americans, and in particular, more Christian or more Jewishly committed Americans, conservatives on that religious theological polarity, have a much higher fertility rate or birth rate than those on the more progressive or liberal ends of the same spectrum. And also when you look back to the 2012 election, fertility rates amongst more conservative and more liberal Americans are also markedly different.

As a matter fact, one study released after the 2012 election indicated that one of the surest predictors of how a state would vote in the election, whether we would vote read and that is for the Republican candidate Mitt Romney or blue for the Democratic candidate Barack Obama, was the fertility rate. As Lauren Sandler wrote at New York Magazine:

Tell me a state’s fertility rate and I’ll tell you how it voted.

The 10 states with the lowest fertility rates went for Barack Obama. The states with the highest fertility rates voted for Mitt Romney. That also tells us something. It tells us something that we should already know — that fertility indeed has everything to do with worldview.

4) China announcement warning of danger of Christianity being co-opted by political regime

A very interesting and ominous story has appeared over the weekend from the BBC with continuing coverage this week. As the BBC reports:

The nation of China and its Communist Party plan to develop its own Christian theology.

As the BBC reports:

China says it may try to create a theology based on Christianity that integrates the religion with Chinese culture and is compatible with the country’s socialist beliefs.

Wayne Zuan, a senior official for religious affairs told the BBC that:

China supports the development of Christianity within the country but with a very important reservation: the Christianity that the country supports is “the construction of Chinese Christian theology that should adapt to China’s national condition.”

In other words to the aims and worldview of China’s Communist Party. This was also reported by the state-backed China Daily website there in Beijing. And a similar report in Hindustan Times said that China’s government and Central committee will “continue to promote correct Christian theology with a range of publications, exchanges, discussions and evangelism.”

Throughout the 2000+ years of the Christian church, Christians have always had to be on guard lest they be co-opted by a political regime. But rarely, if ever, do you have a political regime announced quite this candidly and crudely that it intends to co-opt Christian theology for its own purposes. This comes also after the Chinese government has been cracking down on churches in China, even on the state registered churches. As The Washington Post correctly observed in an editorial published on July 29:

From repressing Muslims to bulldozing churches and tearing down crosses, Chinese officials have been denying the internationally guaranteed right to believe or not believe. The simple proposition the editors wrote the individuals have the right to live out their beliefs openly and peacefully without fear or intimidation clearly frightens Chinese authorities as evidenced by the repressive persecution of numerous faith communities.

On the world scene, China is one of the most abusive countries. One of the most repressive when it comes to religious liberty. That’s what prompted the editorial in The Washington Post. As the editors noted:

In one province where Christianity has grown dramatically, the government has targeted more than 100 churches; it has demolished dozens of them and forced others to make major alterations including the removal of steeples and crosses.

In April of this year, Chinese government authorities bulldozed one major church which housed a congregation numbering in the thousands, and that was a registered church. The newsmagazine The Week reported that at least some Chinese Christian authorities suggested what the government is going to try to do with it state-sponsored hybrid theology is take moral teachings out of Christianity, leaving all the rest. Which is to say, leaving all the supernatural elements, the theological heart of Christianity, the gospel.

It is thought that there now between 25 and 40 million Protestant Christians in the nation of China. And the number in terms of nonregistered churches, so-called house churches, is likely to be additional millions. Perhaps even hundreds of millions. The fact is that the Chinese government rightly fears Christianity and it’s now explosive growth in the nation. And you have to give the Chinese authorities credit. Rarely do you have a government so audacious as to announce that it intends to co-opt Christianity. In that sense, the announcement coming to the Chinese press should serve as ample warning. But a warning not only to Christians in China, but to Christians everywhere. A warning about the perpetual danger of Christianity being co-opted by a political regime any regime.

5) Controversial California textbook reminder that sexual revolutionaries are aiming at children

Finally, even in an age in which it’s difficult to be shocked, a report published this morning in The Los Angeles Times should shock us all. According to the news report by Veronica Rocha:

Fremont Unified School District Superintendent has temporarily shelved the controversial ninth-grade health textbook after roughly 2,200 parents and residents took issue with its sexual bondage topics and other material and demanded to be kept out of the classroom. Superintendent of Schools, Jim Morris, said that he will ask all board members on Wednesday of this week to place the book entitled, Your Health Today on hold until it’s fully vetted, following concerns from the community, that it would expose teenagers in this case ninth graders to a range a sexual topics that is too explicit for me to mention on The Briefing. Even after the controversy that brought out at least 2,200 parents and complaint, even after the acknowledgment of the sexually explicit material that goes far beyond what any kind of sex education should ever envisioned for teenagers of any age, the school Superintendent said:

Our administration and staff believes this textbook will be an asset to our health curriculum in that it provides current, accurate, factual, and relevant information our students need to make responsible decisions about their health.

We can only shudder to imagine the teenagers that are making decisions about the kinds of things that are mentioned very explicitly in this textbook. Keep in mind that the Superintendent has agreed only to shelve this book temporarily while it’s on hold to be fully vetted, even though they’re confident it will be of use to students in the classroom. This makes clear that in all too many school districts, it is not just a book like this the might be on hold, its sanity that’s clearly on hold. Just in case you needed a reminder, the moral revolutionaries are coming for your children.

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 I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.


Podcast Transcript

1) Response to Robin Williams’s death reveals how closely Americans identify with entertainers

Robin Williams dies in apparent suicide; actor, comic was 63, Los Angeles Times (Ryan Parker, Steven Zeitchik, and Lauren Raab)

2) St Louis erupts in race conflict over death of teenager Michael Brown

Riot erupts near St. Louis over police shooting of teen, Chicago Tribune

3) Voting trends reveal fertility has everything to do with worldview

Big pro-life families are shifting the abortion debate, Boston Globe (Kevin Lewis)

Differential Fertility as a Determinant of Trends in Public Opinion about Abortion in the United States, (J. Alex Kevern and Jeremy Freese)

The Roe Effect, Wall Street Journal (James Taranto)

Tell Me a State’s Fertility Rate, and I’ll Tell You How It Voted, New York Magazine (Lauren Sandler)

4) China announcement warning of danger of Christianity being co-opted by political regime

China plans its own ‘Christian theology’, BBC News

China plans establishment of Christian theology, China Daily

China’s grim religious freedom problem, Washington Post (Katrina Lantos Swett And M. Zuhdi Jasser)

5) Controversial California textbook reminder that sexual revolutionaries are aiming at children

Textbook shelved after sex toy, bondage topics spark protest, Los Angeles Times (Veronica Rocha)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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