The Briefing 09-03-14

The Briefing 09-03-14

The Briefing


September 3, 2014

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


It’s Wednesday, September 3, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Letter from clergy decrying U.S. military response to Islamic State underestimates human sinfulness

Forces aligned with the group known as the Islamic State claimed yesterday to have beheaded a second American journalists, in this case Steven Sotloff, an American freelance journalist who has done work for Time magazine and other international publications. What makes this particularly striking is that it came after Sotloff’s mother made a very emotional appeal to the one who identifies as the caliphate of the entire group known as the Islamic State, but now the Islamic State has responded with a video that presents itself as his execution. I raise that today to throw into stark relief an article that appeared over the weekend in Religion News Service. David Gibson writes that a group of Christian leaders has called for an end to US strikes in Iraq, that’s strikes in particular on the Islamic State, and is said to focus on peaceful resolution. Gibson writes,


Even as some prominent Christians are calling on the U.S. to take more forceful military action against Islamic extremists in Iraq and Syria, more than 50 mainly Catholic and Protestant leaders are telling President Obama to halt American airstrikes and pursue solely peaceful means to resolve the conflict.


53 members of the clergy – including theologians, pastors and religious sisters, nuns – wrote,


While the dire plight of Iraqi civilians should compel the international community to respond in some way, U.S. military action is not the answer.


I raise this because of the obvious question, if United States military action is not the answer, what is the answer? In looking at the graphic violence of the Islamic State, in looking at the fact that they have beheaded now hundreds and hundreds of people, looking at the fact that they’re using terror as the main instrument of their political purposes, looking at the fact that they have threatened to kill Yazidis and Christians by the tens, perhaps even hundreds of thousands, what exactly would be the proper response if not military action? This raises one of the most persistent questions of the 20th century, a question that vexed many Christians and Christian churches over the period of what historians call the long bloody 20th century – a century that tested just about every theory imaginable of how to confront dramatic institutional political evil.


This consideration for example takes us back to the dawn of American involvement in World War II, when two famous theologian brothers – the brothers known as the Niebuhr brothers, H. Richard Niebuhr and Reinhold Niebuhr – were involved in a very public debate over the morality of military action. H. Richard Niebuhr, who taught at Yale, insisted that it was ever and always wrong for any military force to be used by a Christian. In response, Reinhold Niebuhr – his more famous brother who taught at New York’s Union Theological Seminary and was declared by Time magazine to be the dominant American theologian of the 20 century – Reinhold Niebuhr simply responded back by saying, if the challenge of Adolf Hitler does not call forth and justify a military response, then nothing does. And furthermore, the refusal to meet the deadly ambitions of Adolf Hitler with military force would consign millions, not only to enslavement but to potential death – and as we know, it wasn’t just potential we know that in the genocide at least 6 million Jews were killed and untold millions of others. This reporter of Religion News Service points back to that debate between H Richard and Reinhold Niebuhr, and it points to the fact that that is a persistent conversation even now. And you look back to this letter and it says and I quote,


Lethal weapons and airstrikes will not remove the threat to a just peace in Iraq. As difficult as it might be, in the face of this great challenge, we believe that the way to address the crisis is through long-term investments in supporting inclusive governance and diplomacy, nonviolent resistance, sustainable development, and community-level peace and reconciliation processes.


At this point, this letter almost ceases to be a serious communication. It fails at the point of making a serious argument. Juxtapose two images in your mind; on the one hand, the image of a video – now repeated videos – with members of the Islamic State beheading American journalists and others, and then on the other side of the juxtaposition, just feature the picture, of say, 53 Catholic and Protestant theologians sending a letter to the White House, saying that this isn’t the time for military action, and that instead –  as hard as they can see it might be – the West, led by the United States, should respond with – and I am going to use their list exactly as it is stated in the article –


Long-term investments in supporting inclusive governance and diplomacy, nonviolent resistance, sustainable development, and community-level peace and reconciliation processes.


The Christian understanding that has been distilled through the centuries as Just War Theory reminds us that military action that risks the taking of human life should never be deployed until it is the last option available; in the parlance of Christian ethics, until it is the last worst thing to do, at that point it simply becomes unconscionable not to use military action. And one of the lessons of human history, especially clear in the 20th century – but quite honestly, seen throughout almost all the centuries of human existence – is that there are some who will not be deterred from their evil intentions with anything short of deadly military force. It’s hard to believe that anyone alive in the 20th century, and morally aware to any extent, could fail to see the point that if you rewrite the 20th century and you insert only nonviolent resistance, you end up with a disaster that not only points to further loss of life – perhaps by the tens of millions – but you also point to the enslavement of entire continents. Operating out of the Christian worldview, any seriously minded Christian would understand that these are very difficult issues; that there is no absolute clear mandate or manifesto for how to gain victory over a group such as the Islamic State, and how to do so in a way that best honors human dignity and human rights. But the reality is that the American people, and people increasingly around the world, have the basic sense of moral gravity that something has to be done. And that something is going to be more than economic development, inclusive governance and diplomacy, and community level peace and reconciliation processes.


The letter sent to the White House by these Catholic and Protestant theologians demonstrates one very important theological issue – they simply underestimate the reality of human sinfulness and the reality of the fact that people who give themselves over to evil, in terms of evil intent and have the ability to carry out those evil intentions, they are not likely to be stopped by anything short of deadly force. And in the case of the Islamic State, they’ve already made that point abundantly clear.

2) Stolen and leaked nude celebrity pictures symptom of sexually explicit culture

The BBC has a major story out on the intersection of morality in the new digital culture and it’s actually, upon closer observation, an even more interesting story than first appears. Actually there are two different kinds of stories coming into a convergence here. The first are these new stories coming over the weekend in which you have Hollywood actresses claiming that nude photographs of themselves have been stolen from their iCloud accounts and posted on the Internet. They’re declaring this to be a gross violation of the personal privacy; and of course it is. They’re also claiming that there should be someone who would answer for these things – the theft of intellectual property and the gross violation of their privacy by posting these naked images that they intended to keep unto themselves.


The other story that leads into this has been out there for recent weeks, even months now, as some political leaders have been calling for legislation to outlaw so-called revenge porn. It’s a very similar story in one respect. When it comes to revenge porn you have sexually explicit pictures, generally taken with smart phones, that were taken by people who were in a romantic relationship, generally speaking a couple. When the relationship ends, one party of that couple decides to punish the other one – perhaps even to blackmail – by threatening to or actually posting those sexually explicit photographs as an act of revenge; thus the title, revenge porn.


And of course we need to stipulate right up front that both of these things are wrong, the theft of intellectual property is wrong, the violation of personal privacy is wrong, revenge porn – or furthermore any kind of porn – is wrong. But the society seems, in its moral confusion, to believe that that’s the end of the moral issue. Without recognizing the fact that in this new digital age, with all kinds of new digital possibilities, there are also new digital possibilities for misbehavior – including sexual misbehavior, including photographic misbehavior. Here’s a bottom line point that no one seems to be willing to say with any conviction or clarity out there in the public debates over these two huge stories, and that’s this: if you don’t have naked photographs of yourself taken, no one can use revenge porn against you and no one can steal photographs that don’t exist in order to post them on the Internet.


By now anyone who understands the Internet world must recognize, for sure, that eventually, if a naked photograph of yourself exist, it is likely one day to end up somewhere you do not want it to go. And that means, just to be intellectually honest, that taking that kind of photograph is the intentional decision to take that kind of risk. And furthermore, it’s just a symptom of how sexually explicit the entire culture has become. We’re living in such a pornographic culture that the use of the term revenge porn actually makes sense, and that’s scary enough in itself. But in this morally confused age we’ve reached a point that many people think that the only moral issues involved are the misuse of such images or the theft of such intellectual property.


So let’s remind ourselves of something fundamental when it comes to the theft of these kinds of images and posting them on the Internet – that’s wrong. When it comes to anything called revenge porn, or for that matter, any kind of porn – that’s wrong. But to say that that’s all that’s wrong is actually wrong. It confuses the issue, and it does so in such a way that we recognize that not only in this digitally confused age, but in this sinfully confused age, sometimes the obvious just is missing from the story.

3) Sexual confusion now evident in admission policies of historic women’s colleges

And speaking of confusion, two stories that have appeared in the national media over the last several days underline perhaps better than anything we can imagine the kind of confusion that is now being embraced as normal, and furthermore as policy, on the part of many Americans.


For instance USA Today’s Khorri Atkinson reports that Mills College, that’s an historic women’s college in the area of San Francisco, has changed its policy to allow transgender women to enroll. As Atkinson reports,


In an unprecedented move, Mills College changed its admissions policy and has become the first of the 119 single-sex colleges in the country to consider enrollment applications from “self-identified women” to its undergraduate program. The revised policy at the San Francisco-area college was recommend by the college’s Gender Identity and Expression Committee and was unanimously approved by the board of trustees’ enrollment committee in May. It will go into effect for the first time on September 1 [and classes were to begin on that date].


Though as you might imagine, this level of confusion is going to result in a very confusing policy. So, let me read to you from the coverage of the policy itself,


The policy states that the college will not consider female-born students, who have undergone a legal change of gender to male prior to the point of application. But female students who become male after enrollment may stay and graduate.


Now, just try to unpack that sentence, or that paragraph, in terms of any previous century of human existence and you see the problem. What in the world could this possibly mean? This is an historic women’s colleges as it identifies itself, and that means that it limits its enrollment to women. But in this sexually confused age, not only sexually confused but gender confused age, they have simply now surrendered to the transgender agenda, at least in part, so that they’re willing to go this far. A woman who has transitioned to become a man prior to entering the colleges admission process will not be admitted; but one who is admitted as a woman and later transitions to being a man during the time the individual is a student at Mills College, will be allowed to graduate. Still following me? I go back to cite from the policy,


Students who self-identify as female are eligible to apply for undergraduate admission. This includes students who were not assigned to the female sex at birth but live and identify as women at the time of application. It also includes students who are legally assigned to the female sex, but who identify as transgender or gender fluid.


You know, looking at this policy the question is then, who wouldn’t be included in this policy? Who would be denied admission?  Trying to use the imagination to come up with this list, we would say: well anyone who actually identifies as a man or as male without regard for the fact that they were assigned as either male or female at birth in terms of biology and anatomy. The other persons who might not be accepted here are those who are born as males at birth, but have not clearly declared just how female they might be at the point of the application to Mills College.


One of the controversies in the background of this is that there is no definition, no set definition on the part of most people, including most people who have joined this revolution, as to just how female or just how male a transitioning individual would be to be recognized as a legitimate applicant for something like a same-sex college. But of course this just throws into absolute insanity the whole idea that this is a same-sex college; because this new policy acknowledge the fact that there will people were born male and born female who were there. And, as the opening statement makes very clear, there could be those were born women who are transitioning to men such that they will allow only women to apply and be admitted, but they’re now going to allow those they consider as both women and men to graduate.


Now just a few months ago on The Briefing we discussed the fact that major media were giving attention to the reality that these historically women’s colleges were going to be in a very tight space because here you have a trap they set for themselves. They had so adopted the feminist mentality, and joined the gender revolution in that respect, that they were defenseless against the arguments being made by the transgender advocates. And yet, there are those who still steadfastly in the feminist movement want nothing to do with this. As we saw just a matter of a few weeks ago, you had major feminist authorities saying that it still is an exercise of, in their terms, of male privilege for a man or for a male to decide to transition to being a woman. In so far as many feminist are concerned, this is not a woman at all. It’s going to be really interesting to see how the alumni of Mills College respond to this new announcement.


Then just yesterday it was reported that Mount Holyoke College, one of the so-called seven sisters of the women’s college movement – they were called the seven sisters because they were originally intended as the female analogs to the then male Ivy League universities and colleges – but as Kate Winick reports for culture news at Elle,


It seems transgender rights have never been more visible in media and pop culture than they are right now. Today [that is yesterday], in a gesture of support for the trans community (and an acknowledgement of reality), Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA, announced that it will admit “any qualified student who is female or identifies as a woman.”


College president Lynn Pasquerella, according to the report, announced the newly defined policy yesterday at convocation – the ceremony that begins the academic year. And, in answer to the question of whether or not this affects their fundamental mission of educating women, the college responded in what is described in the report as “no uncertain terms.” Anyone interested in what’s happening in our culture in this confused age needs to listen very carefully to how the college explains this change. And I quote,


Traditional binaries around who counts as a man or woman are being challenged by those whose gender identity does not conform to their biology. Those bringing forth these challenges recognize that such categorization is not independent of political and social ideologies. Just as early feminists argued that the reduction of women to their biological functions was a foundation for women’s oppression, we must acknowledge that gender identity is not reducible to the body. Instead, we must look at identity in terms of the external context in which the individual is situated. It is this positionality that biological and transwomen share, and it is this positionality that is relevant when women’s colleges open their gates for those aspiring to live, learn, and thrive within a community of women.


But perhaps at this point you’re wondering, like evidently some students at Mount Holyoke College, what does it mean to say “Who is female or identifies as a woman,” then there comes this list in the official policy statement from the college announced yesterday,


The following academically qualified students can apply for admission consideration [listen carefully to this list]: [1] Biologically born female; identifies as a woman, [2]Biologically born female; identifies as a man, [3] Biologically born female; identifies as other/they/etc,[4]Biologically born female; does not identify as either woman or man, [5]Biologically born male; identifies as woman, [6]Biologically born male; identifies as other/they/ze and when “other/they” identity includes woman, [Last,]Biologically born with both male and female anatomy (Intersex); identifies as a woman.


Then there is simply one, there is a list of one that then follows this heading,


The following academically qualified students cannot apply for admission consideration: [One list, one item] biologically born male; identifies as man



And if you’re ready to ask the question everyone must be just ready to ask, what happens to a student who, accepted under one of those very diverse characteristics, then decides to transition, given the ideology of this movement, to the opposite or to a different gender identity while a student. Turns out, that’s not a problem. The only way you can’t gain admission, in terms of your gender or sexual identity according this policy, is if you are – let me quote it again,


Biologically born male; identifies as man



In other words, any individual on the planet – academically qualified – who wasn’t born biologically male and doesn’t now identify as a male can be counted in some sense as a female for the purposes of applying for admission to Mount Holyoke College. And if nothing else, the fact that they had to come up with a list of almost 10 different permutations demonstrates the insanity of this moral revolution.


At the end of the day, the fact that these two stories have come out in the wake of the controversy over how in the world women’s colleges are going to handle the transgender question; the fact that they came out in such close proximity to one another and the fact that they’ve come out in such equally confused ways, is proof positive of the fact that this transgender revolution – isn’t just a great challenge – it simply can’t work. The inner logic of these statements is so confused it’s impossible to imagine that these policies can survive, even for a very short amount of time, without adding to the confusion. And the list that you see here, of all the permutations that might now be allowable, that list can’t possibly stop where it stops today. This revolution is forever unfolding, and it gets right down to the most basic issues of personal identity. Even the fact as to whether or not an individual is a man or a woman. And even as it demonstrates the worldview collision between modern feminism and the transgender revolution, it also points to an even deeper worldview collision. Between the reality that is based upon the Scriptural worldview that tells us that gender is a part of the goodness of God’s creation, indeed God’s gift to every single human being, and the fact that gender – in so far as it is known today – is nothing more than a socially constructed binary that oppresses people, that we have somehow got to overcome. But that’s the point isn’t it? These policies demonstrate one thing with profound clarity – try as they may, they can’t overcome it.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information to my website 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


Keep this always in mind, a call to ministry is also a call to prepare for that ministry. And we look forward to discussing that with you at Preview Day of Southern Seminary, coming up on October 17. For just $25, we will cover two nights of lodging, as well as your meals on preview day. For more information visit us as I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.



Podcast Transcript

1) Letter from clergy decrying U.S. military response to Islamic State underestimates human sinfulness

Islamic State issues video of beheading of U.S. hostage, Reuters (William MacLean)

Christian leaders call for end to US strikes in Iraq, focus on peaceful resolution, Religion News Service (David Gibson)

2) Stolen and leaked nude celebrity pictures symptom of sexually explicit culture

Apple confirms accounts compromised but denies security breach>, BBC

Reps respond to Jennifer Lawrence nude photo leak, USA Today (Alison Maxwell)

3) Sexual confusion now evident in admission policies of historic women’s colleges

Mills College changes policy to allow transgender women to enroll, USA Today (Khorri Atkinson)

Historic Women’s College Will Admit Transgender Students, Elle Magazine (Kate Winick)

Admission of Transgender Students, Mount Holyoke

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me using the contact form. Follow regular updates on Twitter at @albertmohler.

Subscribe via email for daily Briefings and more (unsubscribe at any time).