The Briefing 09-15-14

The Briefing 09-15-14

The Briefing


September 15, 2014

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


It’s Monday, September 15, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Domestic abuse and health issues of NFL expose tendency towards a gladiatorial morality

Football may be the American sport, but it is also a very troubled American enterprise. Just over the last several days several crises have rocked the world of the National Football League. In the first place, controversy arose over Baltimore Ravens running back, Ray Rice. Cut by the team and placed on indefinite suspension by the National Football League, but only after a video had been released showing Rice assaulting his then fiancée, Janay Palmer back in February of this year in a casino in Atlantic City. Soon after that assault became known, the NFL Commissioner placed Rice on a two-game suspension – leading almost immediately to claims the NFL wasn’t taking domestic violence seriously. But the video that was released just in recent days has gone viral, and as David Kocieniewski of the New York Times reports,


Rice punched his fiancée, Janay Palmer, with such force that she was knocked unconscious after her head appeared to hit a railing, and he then calmly dragged her body out of the elevator. Yet prosecutors allowed him to enter a pretrial intervention program that will spare him jail time, probation and even a criminal record if he does not commit another offense. It was an outcome that made many suspect that Rice, a wealthy athlete and a sports legend in New Jersey, was given preferential treatment.


The outrage against Roger Goodell, the NFL Commissioner, has been hot and it is building – and appears to be building for very good reason. Goodell has steadfastly insisted that neither he, nor the NFL, had access to the incriminating video – and yet they did have access to a video showing the results of his assault upon Palmer. And a two-game suspension? It turns out that that is less significant than what would’ve been meted out if Rice had merely admitted to using the drug Adderall.


The controversy now shaking the National Football League has made the cover story of Sports Illustrated in an article by Phil Taylor. Taylor, a veteran journalist covering the National Football League writes about the video saying that it was so shocking, so brutal, and so repulsive, that the NFL and the Ravens had to take action. As he writes, within hours of the clip’s release, Baltimore had terminated Rice’s contract and Goodell had suspended from the league indefinitely. He continued,


The suddenly and appropriately harsh justice underscored after Rice’s brutality, the other major problem with this saga: the NFL’s tendency to face problems head-on only after they’ve become threats to its carefully polished public relations machine.


As he goes on to report, neither the Ravens, nor the NFL, had felt such steps were necessary back in February, even after Rice had been arrested for aggravated assault charges, those charges were later dropped, and after video has surfaced of him dragging Janay Palmer out of the casino elevator. He then writes,


In fact, over the summer the team engaged in a campaign to rehabilitate Rice’s image.


As journalist David Von Drehle writes at Time magazine,


Only some combination of arrogance and willful ignorance could explain commissioner Roger Goodell’s decision in July to impose a mere two-game suspension on running back Ray Rice, who knocked his fiancée Janay Palmer unconscious in February at a New Jersey casino. When the wrist slap drew harsh criticism, Goodell pledged to take domestic violence more seriously in the future–again [say Von Drehle], not exactly a model of accountability but seemingly enough to satisfy the fans of the Baltimore Ravens who cheered Rice at training camp.



But, as he says, that was before the surveillance video became public. After the video hit the public consciousness, everything was changed. From a Christian worldview perspective, this tells us a couple of very important things. First of all, it tells us that we are highly visual in making our moral assessments, that’s sometimes a strength and sometimes a weakness, because even as our eyes sometimes tells us the truth, our eyes can also lie to us. This is one of the reasons why we have to be so careful about how we adjudicate and judge what we appear to see. This video appears to be real, and not only does it appear to be real – no one, who is in a position to say otherwise, is saying that it is anything other than what it straightforwardly appears to be – a horrifying assault by a man upon a woman. Once the vision is in our eyes, we can’t escape it, we can no longer erase it, and it becomes indelibly imprinted in our moral consciousness. That’s part of what it means to be made in God’s image as moral creature – there are certain things that as human beings we simply cannot not know, no one can look at that video and not know that what it depicts is horrifyingly wrong, immoral, sinful, evil.


But even as NFL was reeling from that controversy, just even in more recent days, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was arrested on felony charges of child endangerment after he admitted giving his four-year-old son what he called a ‘whooping’ with a stick, in this case something like a switch. Photographic evidence, that was obtained by law enforcement authorities and later leaked to at least someone in the media, demonstrate that this was a very dangerous attack upon a very small child. What we’re looking at here is something that goes far beyond the biblical notion of the discipline of a child. What we’re looking at here is not an effort to train up a child by the use of mere hurt, but this extended to what is now unquestionably harm. And what we’re looking at here is a man, who is presented to us as a well-intended father, who nonetheless lost his temper, or at least used horrifyingly bad judgment, in causing deep cuts in his son’s legs and back side by the use of this switch.


Christians informed by Scripture understand that corporal punishment, the use of the rod, is indeed not only allowed by Scripture, but mandated by Scripture – in the sense that Scripture says that is the parents responsibility to use the rod of correction. The Bible certainly supports a parent disciplining a child by the use of a normal kind of spanking, something that is intended to cause temporary pain, but never to cause any degree of real harm. That’s why when you look at something like the charges now made against Adrian Peterson, you come to understand that this very easily plays into those who will try to argue that all corporal punishment is inherently abusive – this hardly helps. But what we’re also looking at is further evidence of the fact that the NFL has a huge problem, a huge problem in terms of men – and not just these two men – who appear to wantonly to use violence in ways that are injurious even to their loved ones, out of control.


Finally, the NFL has yet another problem that also emerged just in recent days – at least in terms of documentation. As Maryclaire Dale reported for the Associated Press on this past Saturday,


The NFL estimates that nearly three in 10 former players will develop debilitating brain conditions, and that they will be stricken earlier and at least twice as often as the general population.


That disclosure came out this past Friday – it was reported in the national media on Saturday. The headline in Saturday’s front page article in the New York Times put the issue bluntly, “NFL agrees, Brain Trauma in One in Three Players.” As Ken Belson reports,


The National Football League, which for years disputed evidence that its players had a high rate of severe brain damage, has stated in federal court documents that it expects nearly a third of retired players to develop long-term cognitive problems and that the conditions are likely to emerge at “notably younger ages” than in the general population.


Let’s try to put all this together in something that makes sense according to the Christian worldview. Early in the experience of Christians, Christians and the Christian church had to face the challenge of the morality of certain kinds of sport – in particular, the sport, or what was at least in a very dangerous age called a sport, the gladiatorial games in Rome. But of course those went far beyond anything that can be legitimately or morally called sport. And yet in the entertainment context of the ancient Roman Empire, the gladiatorial games, which most often led to either the maiming or the actual execution of one of the combatants, this was actually considered a central sport – a celebrated sport; part of what made Rome Rome – and the bloodthirstiness and the violence of the gladiatorial games offended Christians who understood that these two elements, the violence and of course the barbarity – not to mention the murderous outcome of the games – were a direct violation of what it meant for every single human being to me made an image of God. And that means, of course, every single human being, being an embodied person, has a body that is itself to be respected as a part of the goodness of God’s creation and a part of the identity of the human being made in God’s image. So the early Christians came to a nearly unanimous, and very clear and comprehensive, rejection of the gladiatorial games and the gladiator culture.


You have to wonder if we should keep this in mind in terms of the current debate over the NFL. You add together the situation regarding these two assaults, especially the assault by Ray Rice upon his former fiancée – now his wife; you add to that the evidence that is now coming in that the NFL is actually agreeing to – that is the evidence that one out of three, let’s think about that again – one out of three of its veteran players will be expected to experience significant cognitive difficulties in the future; experiencing those difficulties at a rate at least twice that of the general population, and with very early onset. There is no way that this can be squared and made consistent with the biblical and Christian worldview. This does not mean that football simply has to be eradicated, it does mean that something significant has to take place for this sport to be reformed; because seen in light of these recent headlines, and now with behaviors and with injuries admitted by the NFL itself, it’s very clear that the tending direction of the NFL at present is not away from the morality of those gladiatorial games in ancient Rome, but toward that very morality, posing once again the direct conflict between that morality and the morality held by Christians revealed in holy Scripture. That biblical worldview certainly understands that sports and athletic endeavors can be a very important part of human existence, indeed even to the glory of God. But the defining issue is this, the kind of sporting event or athletic event that brings glory to God and is consistent with the worldview is one that enhances and magnifies human dignity, not that which compromises and subvert it. That’s a very important issue for every Christian to consider when you look at the current controversies over the NFL.

2) Opposition to need to justify abortion represents further radicalization of abortion movement

And on the topic of human dignity, an article that appeared in Saturday’s edition of the New York Times is simply and essentially shocking. The article appeared on the op-ed page of the Saturday edition and the author is Merritt Tierce, identified as the author of the novel Love Me Back. The title of her article is, “This Is What An Abortion Looks Like.” She writes about Wendy Davis, the Texas State Senator now running as the Democratic candidate for the governor of Texas. In a recent book released even during the campaign, Wendy Davis has written about the fact that she has experienced two abortions. The abortions that she details in her book were, Wendy Davis argues, justified by medical and other considerations. But the main point of Tierce’s column had very little to do with the actual explanations offered by Wendy Davis and more by the fact that she believes that the explanations should not have been even necessary, and that Wendy Davis, in offering what she argued would be explanations for her abortions, actually compromises what she claims as a woman’s right to choose. She writes,


By repeating only the gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, terrifying abortion stories, we protect a lie: that abortion isn’t normal. We have learned to think of abortion with shame and fear. We have accepted the damaging idea that a person who wants an abortion must grovel before the consciences of others.


From time to time we come across an article that is simply almost breathtakingly shocking in terms of its candor and, as is so often the case, that article is on the issue of abortion. And this is still one of the most shocking yet to come. Merritt Tierce writes about the fact that she has had multiple abortions. She says,


I have been pregnant five times. I had a son, then a daughter, and my third pregnancy ended in abortion at a Planned Parenthood clinic, at a gestation of about six weeks.


She continues writing,


I had an abortion because we were poor and I was depressed and I didn’t know who the father was. I had been having an affair. My kids were 2 and 3, and the debilitating morning sickness, which I experienced early in each of my pregnancies, made it difficult to work or care for two toddlers. I got pregnant again [she writes] soon after, but miscarried. A few years later I had another abortion because the man I was seeing was emotionally abusive. [She continued writing,] I had no control in that relationship, so I sabotaged my birth control to get some back. The whole situation was a complete abscess. In spite of my awareness of our miserable present and inevitably doomed future, I didn’t really want to have an abortion. I wanted the man to love me or at least be forced to publicly acknowledge our relationship existed. But he didn’t want to have a baby with me, and I knew that having that baby would have been a terrible thing for my children. And for me.


Well to state the obvious, whether Merritt Tierce recognizes it or not, what she has described in those excessive paragraphs is a complete moral breakdown – a moral breakdown from beginning to end. Of the fact that she was having an affair with someone to whom she was not married, she then had the abortion, and then she had another abortion after she set up a pregnancy in order to try to manipulate a romantic situation with a man she says was abusive. She then writes, and I quote,


This is how it really is, abortion: You do things you regret or don’t understand and then you make other choices because life keeps going forward. Or you do something out of love and then, through biology or accident, it goes inexplicably wrong, and you do what you can to cope. Or you do whatever you do, however you do it, for whatever reason, because that’s your experience.


Now we have moved from a complete moral breakdown to a complete breakdown in meaning and truth. In effect, Merritt Tierce is arguing for complete moral nihilism. She’s arguing that there is no real right or wrong. That in her words, you simply


Do whatever you do, however you do it, for whatever reason, because that’s your experience


What you hear there is the complete collapse of a civilization of moral meaning. But she goes on and then writes this,


We have to stop categorizing abortions as justified or unjustified. The best thing you can do if you support reproductive rights is to force people to realize that abortion is common, and the most common abortion is a five-to-15-minute procedure elected early in the first trimester by someone who doesn’t want to be pregnant or have a child. It’s our job to say it’s O.K. if that’s the end of the story. It’s O.K. if it’s boring or not traumatic or if you don’t even know what it was.


So now the New York Times runs this article, and that’s a fact is perhaps more morally significant than the article itself. This is published in the nation’s most influential daily newspaper, and this represents a new radicalization of the abortion argument – pushing the argument beyond those who have been arguing for the justification of abortions, now arguing that there need be no justification of abortion. Going back to her moral code, it’s just;


Do whatever you do, however you do it, for whatever reason, because that’s your experience


Perhaps we need to step back just a bit and recognize that the scariest aspect of this article is not just that it was written, nor also that it found its way into publication in the New York Times but that those two facts put together mean that a significant number of Americans, indeed a frightening percentage of Americans, evidently agree with this very argument and its logic. And even as that scares us, and it must, it also reveals to us just what our challenge now really is – the challenge of defending human dignity in a radically post-Christian and secularizing age. An age in which the moral code, written about by Merritt Tierce, is one that perhaps she just more honestly and straightforwardly presents that many others who live by the same code. Let me repeat her arguments again, as she says, you


Do whatever you do, however you do it, for whatever reason, because that’s your experience


That’s not just the language of the culture of death, that’s a language of the death of all moral meaning,

3) Moral segmentation of US population evident in shopping habits

Finally, given the importance of worldview, Christians really shouldn’t be surprised by the number of research reports and the increasing amount of data pointing to the fact that Americans are now rather morally segregated. We are clustering in terms of moral communities, where we not only worship alongside those who share our moral worldview, but we also tend to live in neighborhoods that share overwhelmingly that same moral understanding. And in terms of state-by-state analysis, we even live in states that are more predominantly according to our own moral worldview. Now it turns out, we also shop according to our worldview – as the market segmentation also reveals a moral segmentation. The Public Religion Research Institute in recent days came out with a study indicating a significant moral divide just on the question of same-sex marriage between those who tend to shop at Target and those who tend to shop at Walmart. According to the research indicated last week, 62% of those who tend to shop at Target favor same-sex marriage; only 40% of those who tend to shop at Walmart did the same.


A host of other issues is also tracked in terms of the segmentation between Target shoppers and Walmart shoppers. Walmart shoppers tend, overwhelmingly over target shoppers, to identify as conservative; 44% for Walmart only 29% for Target. Liberals outnumber conservatives at Target; 30% said they were liberal and only 16% of those shopping at Walmart identify themselves as liberal. In terms of religion, 23% of Target shoppers indicated that there religiously unaffiliated, only 14% of Walmart shoppers said the same. So what does all this tell us? Well it isn’t trying to tell us that we should shop at one of these stores rather than the other, nor is that the point to the Public Religion Research Institute, rather they are looking at correlations and patterns – patterns that reveals far more than preference for one store over another. They also reveal the importance of worldview, and the fact that worldview implications turn out, not only in terms of survey answers on questions of moral or political nature, but also in terms of decisions in the marketplace – even in the distinction between shoppers who tend to be at Target and those who tend to be at Walmart. As for worldview, it more than tends at all times to be important.


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’m speaking to you from Little Rock, Arkansas. Tomorrow night I’ll be speaking at the 6:30pm session of the Truth Revealed conference at the Central Baptist Church in Conway, Arkansas. Perhaps I’ll have the chance to see you there. In any event, I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing


Podcast Transcript

1) Domestic abuse and health issues of NFL expose tendency towards a gladiatorial morality

Ray Rice Case Draws Attention to a Crime Often Obscured, New York Times (David Kocieniewski)

The Ray Rice video and what it exposes about the NFL, Sports Illustrated (Phil Taylor)

Brutal Ray Rice Video Exposes Failures of a National Obsession, TIME (David Von Drehle)

Adrian Peterson released on bond in child-abuse case, but NFL’s problems continue, Washington Post (Cindy Boren)

NFL: 3 in 10 Ex-Players Face Alzheimer’s, Dementia, Associated Press (MaryClaire Dale)

Brain Trauma to Affect One in Three Players, N.F.L. Agrees, New York Times (Ken Belson)

2) Opposition to need to justify abortion represents further radicalization of abortion movement

This Is What an Abortion Looks Like, New York Times (Merritt Tierce)

3) Moral segmentation of US population evident in shopping habits

Target’s Support for Same-sex Marriage Mirrors Customers’ Views, Public Religion Research Institute (Daniel Cox)

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).