The Briefing 08-21-14

The Briefing 08-21-14

The Briefing


August 21, 2014

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


It’s Thursday, August 21, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Murder of James Foley can only and must be described as evil

The images were searing, and have now been removed from most social media sites. The images include a video of an American freelance journalist being beheaded by the forces of the group known as ISIS or ISIL, the Islamic State. And what we’re looking at is the raw, unadulterated, undisguised face of terrorism. The former director of the CIA General Michael Hayden, speaking to FOX News, said this is the very essence of terrorism: the intentional public murder of a human being in order to make a political point. That is indeed the very essence of terrorism, but it also reminds us to look at the spectrum of terrorism, recognizing that other groups that may not be so extreme are actually operating out of the same playbook, but it just happens that right now, the Islamic State is even scaring other terrorist organizations. And from a worldview perspective, that is extremely interesting and pertinent, because what we’re looking at here is the very essence of the thing, and from time to time we need to look that in the face –and that’s exactly what the Islamic State wants us to do with that video. And what we have to do in response to it is to fail to look at the video, but not to fail to look at the facts. Viewing that video actually fulfills the death wish of the Islamic State. It actually extends their terroristic attack upon this American.


The American is a freelance journalist by the name of James Foley, who had been captured along with dozens of other freelance journalists in Syria during the Civil War there, most in the year 2012. As a relatively young man, Foley, who was one of five siblings, went to Syria in order to cover the story. He went without the protection or the assignment of a major media organization, and that added to his vulnerability, a vulnerability shared with others who had been captured and are now being held by the Islamic State. It is not clear when the murder of James Foley took place, what is clear is that the video was posted by the Islamic State – which interestingly enough uses the technology of modernity, including social media, in order to spread its message of hate. The Islamic State posted the video on Tuesday and the 4 minute 40 second video immediately went largely viral on social media sites until most of them, at least the recognized and respectable ones, began to take it down. Twitter has gone so far as to actually delete the accounts of individuals who have sought to post the video – an unusual act of corporate citizenship that itself needs to be respected. The video was titled, “A Message to America”, and as the New York Times reports, it shows the journalist kneeling in a deserted landscape, clad in an orange jumpsuit.


I call on my friends, family and loved ones to rise up against my real killers — the U.S. government —


Said James Foley in a statement that was clearly written by his captors and forced upon him. He said that it is the U.S. government that is responsible for


For what will happen to me is only a result of their complacent criminality.


After the murder of Mr. Foley, which by the way was undertaken by a man with a very fine and recognizable British accent, the video went on to threaten to kill Steven Sotloff, another American national who had previously worked for Time magazine and other American news organizations. The voice on the video then continued with these words


The life of this American citizen, Obama, depends on your next decision,


The message of the video was clear. The leaders of the Islamic State were trying to warn President Obama and the United States, to end the military action against them. In response President Obama rightly condemned the action of the Islamic State and spoke up for the sanctity of life of Americans now being held in Syria and elsewhere. He also made a very interesting statement about the Islamic State, and I quote,


They declared their ambition to commit genocide against an ancient people. So ISIL speaks for no religion. Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim, and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents. No just god would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day. ISIL has no ideology of any value to human beings. Their ideology is bankrupt. They may claim out of expediency that they are at war with the United States or the West, but the fact is they terrorize their neighbors and offer them nothing but an endless slavery to their empty vision and the collapse of any definition of civilized behavior.


The main thrust of the President’s statement was very clear. That particular paragraph is profoundly and unfortunately unclear. The President says that a clear distinction has to be made between actions of the Islamic state and Islam, but it’s actually up to Islamic authorities to make that very clear and it’s actually up to Islamic figures and leaders on the world scene to put an end to the reputation of the Islamic State as having anything to do with Islam. The President of the United States is in a rather difficult political position; he clearly wants to distance himself from the war on the Evil Empire language that was used by his predecessor President George W. Bush. But in avoiding the word “evil,” the President actually largely dodges the central issue at stake here. That was recognized by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida who said,


I remain deeply concerned that, despite the preponderance of evidence that proves ISIL is a fundamentally evil and dangerous terrorist threat to the United States, President Obama continues to appear unwilling to do what is necessary to confront ISIL, and to communicate clearly to the American people about the threat ISIL poses to our country and to our way of life.


One of the confusions of that paragraph I read from the President’s statement is that he does indeed attempt to say that the Islamic State’s agenda is a war against humanity, with no particular focus. But that is clearly not true. Even though it is true, as the President said, that most of the victims thus far of the Islamic State have been fellow Muslims, we need to note very carefully that the fact that those fellow Muslims that have been targeted is due to the fact that the Islamic State claims they’re not Islamic enough – they are not adequately opposed to the West. Remember that just a few days ago our intelligence authorities revealed that the main goal of the Islamic State is nothing other than a direct attack upon the United States of America and other Western nations.


In the final analysis, the situation revealed in this video and murder demonstrates the indispensability of a short four letter word in English language – and that word is ‘evil.’ The avoidance of that word leads to all kinds of moral confusions and ethical evasions. The fact is that some acts, some acts both in their intention and their execution, are so evil that no other word – even a word like despicable, which actually refers to the response to the act, rather than the act itself – will do. The word evil, even if you don’t want to talk about an Evil Empire, is indispensable. And make no mistake, it is an empire. But the other thing to recognize is that the very use of the word evil is inherently theological – that is one of the great lessons of the 20th century. Philosophers who sought to speak about the moral realities of the 20th century found themselves over and over again using the word evil, for instance in response to the Holocaust to the Jews by the Nazi regime in World War II. But as many of them also recognized, the word evil – rather uncomfortably for many and certainly awkwardly for those who are many of the leading atheist and agnostics of the 20th century – at the end of the day seems inflexibly theological. And that too is a testimony to what we understand when we hear as Christians of these horrifying events in the Middle East.


One other thing does have to be mention, I spoke of that important editorial that appeared a few days ago in the Wall Street Journal in which the question was raised, where are the voices of Muslim outrage? Well, as a matter of credibility, at least one needs to be mentioned and he is the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia. The Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh, who is the highest religious authority in that nation, said on Tuesday that the militant group, the Islamic state, and he also mentioned Al Qaeda, were in his words,


“Enemy number one of Islam” [and he went on to say] and not in any way part of the faith.


One of the very interesting things about that statement is that any statement made by the Grand Mufti is associated also with a political power of the House of Saud, the ruling family in Saudi Arabia – which means, if nothing else, that the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is very concerned about the Islamic State, and if anyone ought to know what the danger really is, it should be the Wahhabi leaders of Saudi Arabia.

2) Leading with empathy must be Christians’ first response to Ferguson

Here in the United States attention continues to be devoted, if not primarily, at least largely, to the city of St. Louis and to the outbreak of violence and protests in its suburb of Ferguson after the shooting on August 9 of an 18-year-old unarmed African-American man by police. That particular issue is an excruciating reminder that the racial issues in America continue, and that if anything, every one of these issues seems to raise so many of the same questions. But it also raises a host of other temptations we need to think about.


I first addressed the issue back on August 12, which was than the first opportunity I had to speak to the issue, since then I have not addressed the question because I wanted to stand by what I said back on August 12. We should not speak to the facts on the ground until we know what those facts are. The facts we know now are pretty much the facts we knew then. That there was an 18-year-old African-American young man who was shot six times, twice in the head and four times in the forearm, by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. We know that also, there was an immediate backlash in terms of controversy, cries of racism, and then moral protests that led to over 10 days of successive riots and protests – some of them breaking out into violence, some of them to which police responded with military tactics. We also know that now the Attorney General of the United States and the FBI are involved in an independent investigation to find out what exactly took place. We also know that yesterday in Clayton, Missouri, a suburb in the west of St. Louis, a local grand jury was convened with the very same aim – to try to determine exactly what happened.


We need to recognize that this is a testimony to the way the American justice system works. In attempts first to try to determine the facts with multiple levels of accountability, many Americans failed understand the importance of grand juries in our system of justice. Grand juries are important because they are panels of local citizens who hear evidence presented by prosecutors and determine if there was criminal intent, a criminal act, and if there is sufficient evidence to bring criminal charges. The grand jury can then hand down what is known as an indictment, and the indictment leads to an arrest. The grand jury’s not the only avenue to an arrest. Police, if they are faced with adequate evidence upfront, can immediately arrest an individual. But after that, there has to be another authority to release the indictment. In any event, this is the way justice is supposed to work. And all persons, regardless of race, should be thankful for the fact that the Attorney General of the United States has gone to St. Louis to guarantee to the citizens there and elsewhere, that justice will be done. That is the main role of the Attorney General of the United States. It is rare for an Attorney General to intervene in local situation, but if any kind of local situation justifies that kind of intervention, this surely is at – because the main question being raised by this protest is whether or not justice is possible in Ferguson, Missouri. And the reality is that justice must not only possible, but must be achieved, and that’s going to require independent analysis of the evidence and what exactly took place. Because the one thing that Christians, committed to a biblical worldview, have to understand is that the facts never cease to be important. We simply cannot move to judgment until we know exactly what took place and why. Thus we have to resist the very real temptation to say too much, and that is what is worried me in terms of my own responsibility on The Briefing. Actually, my point here was very well made by President Obama himself. Because in statements made earlier this week responding to the situation in Ferguson, the President said,


I have to be very careful about not prejudging these events before investigations are completed, [the President continued] I’ve got to make sure that I don’t look like I’m putting my thumb on the scales one way or the other.


That’s a very good and important statement from the President of the United States, and quite frankly is a statement all of us should take to heart.


We do know this much, it is an unmitigated tragedy; it’s a tragedy that an 18-year-old young man is dead. We also know that the tragedy is complicated by the fact that this was an unarmed African-American teenager. We know that there are any number of other complications as well, to be revealed in the investigation, which we are now assured of the undertaken, not only by local authorities but also by federal authorities. And after all Eric Holder is the first African-American Attorney General of the United States and one who has spent his life as an activist and an advocate in the civil rights movement. In this case, he is uniquely equipped and qualified to deal directly with the questions on the ground in Ferguson, Missouri. The rest of us need to hold back and allow the justice system to do its work. That doesn’t mean that we suspend judgment on these questions indefinitely; it means the time for judgment is after the facts are determined. And even if they are competing facts, at least the facts need to be set out as they are claimed in order that we can have an understanding, each to ourselves and commonly as citizens, of what the situation really is: how it happened and what it means. Once we have those facts, we need to move to the kind of moral judgment that justice requires. But a part of the biblical worldview that is made abundantly clear, even in the Old Testament law, is the evidence, in other words the determination of the facts, never ceases to be the first and most important question.


But there is another dimension to this, and that was made very clear in an opinion piece that was run by St. Louis Public Radio by a man by the name of Jim Santel, an African-American who grew up in this very community, Mr. Santel made a very important point, and he made so calmly, and he made so very clearly. As he said, Americans of all races, Americans no matter where they live, when faced with a story like this need to “lead with empathy.” That too is something important to the Christian worldview. We need to lead with empathy, understanding that the ability to empathize is an ability to understand every single human being around us as our neighbor. Love of neighbor, one of the most important commands of Christ – after all, he said it was the second most important commandment after love of God. Love of neighbor should lead us to lead with empathy, a very good and important phrase. And in this case, that means we empathize with those in the African-American community who are outraged at what they see as racial injustice. It means we empathize with those who look at the situation and see it as part of a larger pattern of inequity and injustice against young African-American males. We certainly empathize with those who look at the situation and understand it is a part of the very tragic pathology that affects far too many African-American young people, and especially young men and boys. We empathize with the community now reeling from all of these protests, trying to understand how to reestablish order and to protect human life and human dignity in the process. We need to lead with empathy, but that empathy needs to be expressed in ways that do not prejudge the facts on the ground and lead to an immediate and premature understanding of exactly what happened. Sometimes, as every parent knows, you need to put an arm around someone and let them cry before you asked them what happened. Even when we see people expressing outrage, in clearly inappropriate, violent, and illegal ways, we need to understand behind them are many people who are not violent, who are equally offended. We’re not protesting for equally hurt. And we need to realize that empathy, indeed leading with empathy, is a very important first act.


There’s a double problem in so many of these crises. There’s the immediate temptation to say too much and then on the other side of them, once those facts are determined or at least once a situation is clarified, there is often the reality of saying too little. Christian responsibility in a situation like this, and we are all inadequate to the task, is to say just enough of the right time. And until the facts are more clarified, something that is the responsibility of our justice system at every level, that’s about the most we should now say.

3) Quest for personal fulfillment now understood to trump even the family

Finally, a testimony to just how radically the family is being redefined was given an awkward testimony in Sunday’s edition of the New York Times. And it came in the atrocious column entitled, Unhitched. It’s an atrocity because here’s a column in the New York Times, repeatedly devoted to stories about how people got unhitched rather than hitched – and almost all of them are emphatic to present just how happy these people are in their unhitched state. Oddly enough, it’s often published right alongside the marriage announcements in the very same paper – which is a very awkward reality – but it points to the fact that there is so much moral confusion that it even shows up in the formatting of America’s most influential newspaper.


We need to keep in mind the arguments of the so-called gay conservatives, who have been arguing that conservatives should support the legalization of same-sex marriage because of the supposed civilizing effects it will have on the homosexual community. This argument is made straightforwardly by gay writer such as Jonathan Rauch, Bruce Bawer, Andrew Sullivan and William Estrich of Yale University. Their argument is that same-sex marriage is essentially a conservative movement. They actually undermine their argument by going so far as to suggest that same-sex marriage would in inevitably transform marriage into something else. They say that even as the legalization of same-sex marriage would create a civilizing context for homosexual relationships, they also acknowledge that the very reality that homosexual persons be married will transform marriage. Many of them have argued that it will open marriage to a new, less restrictive, understanding that it had in the past. Several have gone so far as to suggest that the legalization of same-sex marriage will lead to the marginalization of monogamy, as an expectation of marriage.


Well this particular article in the unhitched column of the New York Times seems to be a strange testimony to what’s happening to the family and to the radical redefinition of the family that is happening in our times. The two people identified are Clark and Valerie. We are told that they got married in 2000 and in then they unhitched, to use this word, in 2007. But even as the unhitched, it becomes clear they didn’t actually divorce. They haven’t divorced because they’ve come up with a new arrangement whereby there basically cohabitating. The woman in this relationship, who had been the wife of the man, is still legally his wife, but she now has had a relationship with another woman and she’s open to relationships with other men. The man in the situation also has other relationships, but they have stayed together to co-parent their child in what they acknowledges as a very nontraditional home. As Louise Rafkin, the columnist explains,


In 2007, Valerie began a relationship with a woman, but she and Clark decided to remain primary partners in parenting. He moved to a separate bedroom in their home.


He then said, and I quote:


People’s hearts change. It was the most difficult thing in my life to watch her fall in love with someone else.


And remember, they’re still married. Valerie is then quoted in the column as saying,


We’re a really happy family and we both have grown up and become responsible for our own fulfillment.


That might go down as one of statements that reveals the very essence of this moral revolution we are now experiencing – a revolution that is now redefining the family right before our eyes. Here you have a couple, living with their biological child, who remain legally married, but married in no other sense. They intend to live together, at least for now – having unhitched, to use their words – in order to share co-parenting responsibilities. Each has romantic attachments to others outside the marriage, and their frankly not romantically interested in one another anymore. But in perhaps the most emphatically important portion of that statement made by Valerie, she said that each of these two people has:


Become responsible for our own fulfillment.


That’s evidently the only goal. The quest for personal fulfillment means that everything else has to dissolve in its wake, including the reality of marriage, including monogamy, including any rational understanding of what it means to be a family.


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) Murder of James Foley can only and must be described as evil

James Foley and the Last Journalists in Syria, The Atlantic (Uri Friedman)

Militant Groups Says It Killed American Journalist in Syria, New York Times (Rukmini Callimachi)

World ‘Appalled’ by James Foley Beheading, Obama says, ABC News (Erin Dooley)

Obama Transcript and Video: World ‘Appalled’ by Foley Murder; ISIS ‘Cancer’ Must Be Extracted, Wall Street Journal

Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti denounces Iraq’s Islamic State group, (Reuters)

2) Leading with empathy must be Christians’ first response to Ferguson

Attorney General Eric Holder pens open letter to Ferguson, Washington Post (Nia-Malika Henderson)

Holder Arrives in Ferguson as Grand Jury Convenes in Police Shooting, Wall Street Journal (Devlin Barrett)

Obama would much rather talk about Iraq than Ferguson, Washington Post (Phillip Bump)

3) Quest for personal fulfillment now understood to trump even the family

Together on the Road to Divorce, New York Times (Louise Rafkin)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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