The Briefing 10-16-14

The Briefing 10-16-14

The Briefing


October 16, 2014

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


It’s Thursday, October 16, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Second Ebola infection in US humbling reminder of fallibility of humans

It hardly seems possible, but a second Texas healthcare worker has now tested positive for the Ebola virus and this one is far more troubling and far more complicated than even the first case. Just a matter of a few days ago, we were assured that the risk of transmission of the disease in the United States was virtually nonexistent because of the medical protocols and the sophistication of American medicine. But then last week we discovered that a healthcare worker, who had worked with the Liberian man who had contracted Ebola in West Africa and then came to Dallas Texas, later dying of the disease, we found that that that healthcare worker had contracted the disease from the patient. And yet we were told it would surely end there and that was true until yesterday, when it became apparent that there was a second case. And the complications are incredibly troubling. Because the complications include the fact that the Texas Presbyterian Medical Center where this took place now admits that those healthcare workers who were working with the man, later determined to have Ebola, were not wearing hazmat materials or protection in the early days of that care. That would lead to the fact that there could be not only these two healthcare workers, but any number of others who may also have been exposed to the disease and having been exposed to it may well still develop it.

Furthermore, the healthcare worker – the second one to contract the disease – on the day before she showed up at the hospital with a positive test for Ebola was on an American commercial airliner on a flight from Cleveland to Dallas. And that leads to the realization that there could be people on that airplane who also were now exposed to the Ebola virus – the very thing we were told that could not happen in the United States; that it would not happen.

Thomas R. Frieden, who is the head of the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that the healthcare worker should not have been on a commercial airliner. We’re looking at a long string of ‘should not have been’ and ‘should not have happened’ in both of these cases, and that leads to the obvious question as to whether there will inevitably now be more. And the ‘should not have beens’ and ‘the should not have happeneds’ are exactly what should humble us when we recognize just how much faith and confidence most of us have in so-called modern medicine. Modern medicine is indeed a marvel, it has brought great advances – there’s no question about that – we are thankful for the advances and for the development of modern medicine and for all the increase of human flourishing that it has brought about. But the people who are actually conducting the medicine are the very same species as those who conducted ancient medicine – their human beings; fallible and frail human beings – human beings who, in a Genesis 3 world, make mistakes.

We’re now able to trace some of the strategic, lamentable, mistakes that allowed for these two transmissions: hazmat materials missing. One of the training videos that was used to train the medical personnel actually, according to recent reports by CNN, demonstrates that even in the training video the individual supposedly modeling the right procedures violate them even as they’re doing the training video. Clearly this both demands and has the attention of the White House. President Obama has spoken to the issue and as promised a concerted national federal effort to respond to the Ebola crisis. Operating out of the Christian biblical worldview, there is no reason here for panic. As a matter of fact, it is still rather amazing that given the virility of this virus there have only been two transmissions even among the healthcare workers working with the patient who later died of the disease. But these two cases do remain shocking, and deeply troubling, and also beyond that, very humbling.

So while there is no reason for panic, there is reason for concern. Just think of the people on the airliner and the people who love them and keep in mind that now we know there were many people who were exposed to the disease. Some of them may know it; some of them almost assuredly do not. And we don’t even know how many of them there are. So as Christians pray for the end of this epidemic in West Africa and the end of the death and the suffering there, we also know there are people who were in deep trauma here. Some who know they have been exposed to the disease, two have now contracted the disease, and any number of others who simply do not know and might not even know that they do not know.

2) Texas abortion clinics remain open under Supreme Court’s order while left cries out for more

Headlines across the nation yesterday announced the fact that the Supreme Court of the United States had acted to allow a number of abortion clinics in Texas to remain open; in effect putting a stay on a Texas law that would’ve led to the closure of those abortion clinics. The brief statement that came from the Supreme Court was terse and filled with legalese, but the bottom line is all too evident. And that is the Supreme Court at this point is not allowing the Texas law passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Texas Gov. Rick Perry to go into effect. The court statement did say, in its concluding words, Justice Scalia, Justice Thomas and Justice Alito would deny the application in its entirety; in other words those three justices wanted it said on the line and on the record that they would’ve allowed the law to go forward and the abortion clinics to close.

One of the interesting aspects of this case is found in the arguments made by the attorneys for the abortion clinics in their pleadings before the High Court. They said that if the abortion clinics closed, it was unlikely they would ever reopen – very interesting statement. There is also the realization now that in many of these abortion clinics that will now remain open; they are more unregulated than restaurants in the same city and in the same neighborhood. And so if this law is continued to be put on hold or if it is ruled unconstitutional by some federal court, the abortion clinic situation in Texas will remain as it is now; where it is easier to open and to run an abortion clinic than to open and operate a restaurant.

We’re going to be returning to some very interesting and troubling arguments on abortion that a recently appeared, but one of them comes on the heels of this announcement by the Supreme Court and it comes from the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times, like the New York Times the Los Angeles Times is one of those newspapers that seems never to have considered an abortion it would not support. And the extremism of the position taken by the Los Angeles Times editorial board is made very clear in this editorial dated October 15, 2014; the headline of the editorial is “Supreme Court should put a stop to the relentless attacks on abortion.” Now, the great divide, the great worldview divide on the sanctity of human life and on the issue of abortion in America even comes down to how one would describe the legislation, for instance, adopted in Texas. Because those who are behind it argued for the legislation not only in light of the attacks upon human life represented by abortion but the insult on the dignity of human life demonstrated by the fact that abortion clinics are so unregulated. On the other hand, the opponents of the law and the opponents of very similar laws – including the law against partial-birth abortions – they’ve argued that if there’s any limitation on the legal access to abortion of any woman at any time, for any reason, it’s unconstitutional and morally wrong. That’s why on this issue you’re looking at a conflict of moralities that simply has no real middle ground. And that’s made very clear in this editorial. The editorial board of the Los Angeles Times says that what the Supreme Court must do is put a stop to what they call again the relentless attacks on abortion. But keep a couple things in mind; first of all the Roe v. Wade decision, the infamous decision handed down by the Supreme Court in 1973 legalizing abortion on demand, allowed many of the very restrictions that are here at stake in these cases. It was Roe v. Wade that allowed for a state government explicitly to make all abortion in the third trimester pregnancy illegal and unavailable. You would think that the LA Times editorial board and similar editorial boards of other newspapers that celebrate the Roe v. Wade decision would actually be honest about what is in it –but that would require them to read it.

Just consider the closing paragraph of this editorial, I read it and I quote,

“These relentless attacks on abortion are destined to continue until the Supreme Court steps in and rules definitively. It should take up these challenges to its authority and put a stop to this growing patchwork of bad, restrictive laws.”

Now you’ll notice what is really revealed here is a worldview that says that abortion must be available and fully legal in any context, in any point of pregnancy, if any woman wants it, for any reason or for no reason – at any time and any place. And any restriction on abortion is, to use the language of this editorial, a patchwork of bad restrictive laws.

But you’ll also note that they’re calling for the Supreme Court to step in and rule definitively and that’s an incredibly, explosively revealing statement because that means they’re not even satisfied with Roe v. Wade. Roe v. Wade, the decision that made abortion on demand legal in the first trimester of pregnancy –  conditionally in the second trimester pregnancy – that’s simply not enough, not for those for whom abortion is the solitary issue of their creed and where any restriction on abortion whatsoever is simply, in their view, unthinkable.

3) City of Houston subpoenas pastors’ sermons an immoral power grab

Next, a massively important new story came out of Houston, Texas – and to be honest it’s one of those stories that I required to be sourced a little more diligently before I would address it – and yet the story is real. As Sarah Pulliam Bailey reports,

“Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who drew headlines for becoming the first openly lesbian mayor of a major American city, led support for the ordinance. The measure bans anti-gay discrimination among businesses that serve the public, private employers, in housing and in city employment and city contracting.”

The report says,

“[under] the ordinance, transgender people barred access to a restroom would be able to file a discrimination complaint [one of the hotly contested parts of the ordinance].”

Well there’s an interesting political background to this; the ordinance exempted religious institutions, it was passed in June, but there was overwhelming opposition and then there was an effort by opponents of the ordinance to try to repeal it by an initiative. They claim the city’s attorney determined wrongly, they hadn’t gathered enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, and that led to a political and to a legal controversy. Thus Bailey reports,

“City attorneys issued subpoenas to five local pastors during the case’s discovery phase. [Seeking] all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession,”

And that was sent to Christian pastors. Five of the pastors, backed by the Alliance Defending Freedom, have issued a motion to stop the subpoenas; claiming they are,

“…overbroad, unduly burdensome, harassing, and vexatious.”

Well there are a host of incredibly alarming issues that come to the fore here. In the first place, would it be legal, is a constitutional, for a pastor’s sermons to be subpoenaed? Answering the question for the Washington Post, one of the keenest legal minds, Professor Eugene Volokh said that it is likely that under some circumstances it would be constitutional for certain sermons to be subpoenaed. He gave some illustrations as to how and why that might happen. The point of this subpoena issued on behalf of the city of Houston and its Mayor, he said that it is clearly overbroad and overreaching. There are a host of excruciating urgent constitutional issues here, but the first issue in my mind is this: I would not turn over any sermon that came as a demand of a subpoena; that is something I simply would not do. If there’s a legal price to be paid for it, I would pay that price. I would not render unto the government a sermon that was rendered unto God and God’s people. Even in America were there so many people who do not recognize the religious liberty challenges we face, this must be a significant wake-up call. We’re talking about pastors who receive subpoenas explicitly identifying their sermons as the material to be subpoenaed. And you’ll note, even as there was reference to any conversation about the ordinance, there was also a reference to any conversation about the mayor, there was also reference to any conversation about sexual orientation or gender identity.

As you would expect, the political controversy over this was hot, it was heated, and it was immediate – as it should have been. And the evidence of this comes late yesterday when a spokesperson for the Houston mayor said,

“Mayor Parker agrees with those who are concerned about the city legal department’s subpoenas for pastor’s sermons.  The subpoenas [according to the spokesperson’s statement] were issued by pro bono attorneys helping the city prepare for the trial regarding the petition to repeal the new Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) in January.  Neither the mayor nor City Attorney David Feldman were aware the subpoenas had been issued until yesterday.  Both agree the original documents were overly broad.  The city will move to narrow the scope during an upcoming court hearing.  [Its city attorney] says the focus should be only on communications related to the HERO petition process.”

Is that a good response? It is a start, it is not a good response; because this still does not rescind the subpoena extending to sermons, but rather merely restricts the subject content of the sermons that are now to be subpoenaed. We will likely have to wait until the actual pleading that would come from the mayor’s office arrives and is able to be read, but at this point there is simply not enough of an apology here. There simply is not enough of a recognition of not only the constitutional overreach, but the immoral power grab that is reflected in the demand of the Christian pastors having preached sermons and Christian churches turn over their sermons to the government for legal review.

Quite honestly this is the kind of headline that first you might expect would either be untrue or datelined somewhere in secular Europe or beyond. This is the kind of thing that you might think might’ve happened in the former Soviet Union or perhaps somewhere behind the Iron Curtain, but we’re not even talking here about a city located in the secular Northeast or Northwest – we’re talking about a city, the fourth-largest city in the United States, located in the heart of Texas. And that gets right to the heart of the issue, there is no place that is safe – not even Houston, Texas. And furthermore, it also points to the fact that one of the major demographic changes in America, one of the great distinctions to be found in terms of many of the moral issues, is whether or not you’re located in a sufficiently large city.

America’s largest cities are actually morally and culturally and socially more like one another than are the states in which they are located. So when you’re looking at a city like Houston, Texas after all, it did elect the first openly gay mayor, in this case a woman mayor, what you have a situation in which Houston in this case is probably more like Boston and Manhattan and Los Angeles than the rest of Texas. But make no mistake, every single pastor in America, and every single Congregational leader – be it imam or Rabbi or pastor or priest – must know that when someone from the government comes to subpoena their sermons, they claim the power to subpoena yours as well. And even if this case goes away because the mayor of Houston under the heat says that the subpoenas are no longer going to be in effect, the warning shot has been sent and the alarm has been sounded and woe onto the one who tries to forget this alarm.

4) Commodification of human beings evident in controversies over artificial fertilization

Well while you’re thinking about worldview issues, in the daily headlines it’s hard to top the headline that appeared recently in the Washington Post. The headline is simply this, “White Woman Sues Sperm Bank After She Mistakenly Gets Black Donors Sperm.” I wanted to read that headline just as it is, in order to make the profound point of just how unnatural the situation is that we’re talking about. The headline story here is pointing to the fact that a lesbian couple sought to have one of the partners become inseminated by donor sperm. They went to a sperm bank, they went to the process of going through catalogs to determine the kind of sperm they wanted to obtain, and yet when the baby was born it was clear that a mistaken had been made because the baby clearly has a black father.

This leads to the fact that, as Lindsey Bever of the Washington Post reports,

“an Ohio mom and her same-sex partners suing the Chicago area fertility clinic for sending sperm from a black donor instead of the white donor sperm that she had ordered.”

A couple of things to consider here; first of all just imagine any other generation of human beings living – they could not imagine, no pun intended they couldn’t conceive of what is being discussed here. This would be so far outside the imagination that not even science fiction would dare to go into this territory. To state the obvious, this is a problem – if it is a problem – that is simply unprecedented in human history. And if there is a problem for the Christian worldview perspective we have to recognize of the problem isn’t the mix-up of the cells here, the problem is the mix-up of the morality.

And the fact that what we’re talking about here is actually a redefinition in the first place of what it means to have a child. And that leads to a second point, an emphatically important point, and the point is this: if children come through what would rightly be defined as a natural reproductive process, there would be not only little danger this happening, there would be an impossibility the anything like this could happen. Because what we’re actually talking about here is the artificiality of these advanced reproductive technologies that actually change not only the physical process by which a child is conceived, but radically change the moral context, the objective relational context in which a child comes to be.

We’re talking here about the commodification of the human being, where human reproductive cells are now sold as a consumer product. They are marketed by commercial corporations and they are marketed by means of sorting through catalogs in which a designer baby can be ordered according to the reproductive cells that are chosen. And as is the case in any other consumer product, sometimes there are customers who are not satisfied and sometimes there are there are services that are wrongly rendered. And that’s the case here. You have a dissatisfied customer, but its a dissatisfied customer that from a biblical worldview shouldn’t have been a customer in the first place. And you also have a clear mistake being made by the corporation, but this is a corporation that shouldn’t be in this business in the first place.

As a matter fact, the only reason why this kind of problem has now appeared is because a same-sex couple unable to reproduce by any natural means of reproduction sought to overcome that with the use of this advanced reproductive technology, which meant going to a corporation that makes its existence by the commodification of human cells, and then by ordering the cells in the hopes of overcoming the fact that there is no natural means to have the child by gaining the pregnancy within one of these women by means of the donor cells. And when the baby that was produced was not the baby that was desired, the inevitable response in a consumer culture with a litigious context is exactly what happened here; they sued. To put the matter bluntly, if you have a husband and a wife married to each other and faithful to one another the baby they have can’t possibly be in baby other than the one that came from them. But once you alienate the active reproduction from the conjugal relationship of the husband and the wife, once you to redefine marriage, once you redefine what it means to, here again, have a child, then you’ve redefined not only a biological process in a medical technology you redefined with the most basic moral realities that human beings have known and counted upon ever since Adam and Eve.

Finally, another story with a similar kind of warning, Claire Cohen reporting for the Telegraph tells us that two companies in Silicon Valley –  well-known by their names – are now going to pay for their female employees to freeze their eggs in order later than would normally be possible for them to have a child. As Cohen reports,

“On the list of perks you’d like your employer to pay for, freezing your eggs probably isn’t at the top.

But that’s exactly what female employees at Apple and Facebook are being offered.

The Silicon Valley companies are offering up to $20,000 … to help cover the cost of putting their fertility on ice.”

The key sentence is this; “The idea is to ensure that women who want to focus on their careers aren’t sacrificing their chance to have a family.”

So now you have the ‘have a baby’ and ‘have a family’ redefined, but redefined only by access to advanced reproductive technologies. One of the political problems that is addressed in this article, at least in the background, is the fact the Silicon Valley’s having a hard time coming up with enough female employees to meet diversity standards. And one of the reasons why; many women say the Silicon Valley isn’t too employer friendly to them is the fact that the hours in the work culture to be make very difficult to have a baby while what is also trying to have a job in Silicon Valley. But now you have Facebook and Apple responding to it by saying, ‘no worries, we’ll simply pay to freeze your eggs. You can put motherhood on hold; those eggs always be there.’

But this is just further evidence that we are as a society in a headlong ambition to try to redefine what it means to have a child and to have a family, and we’re doing so in order to try to make having a child and having a family meet the new moral decisions and lifestyle choices we’ve decided to make. As even the doctors behind reproductive technologies will tell us there are some natural limits to this, beutyou can also count on this the try to overcome every natural limit imaginable. And that’s really the point, those natural limits aren’t there by nature – they were put there by the One who created us, and they are tell us something. But what those limits are trying to tell us is what so many modern and postmodern people in this post-Christian age simply don’t want to hear.

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) Second Ebola infection in US humbling reminder of fallibility of humans

Ebola-Infected Health Worker Took Flight From Cleveland to Dallas, New York Times (Timothy Williams)

Obama Cancels Campaign Trip to Meet With Cabinet on Ebola, New York Times (Michael D. Shear)

2) Texas abortion clinics remain open under Supreme Court’s order while left cries out for more

Supreme Court Allows Texas Abortion Clinics to Stay Open, New York Times, (Adam Liptak)

Order in Pending Case, Supreme Court

Supreme Court should put a stop to the relentless attacks on abortion, Los Angeles Times (Editorial)

3) City of Houston subpoenas pastors’ sermons an immoral power grab

Houston subpoenas pastors’ sermons in gay rights ordinance case, Religion News Service (Sarah Pulliam Bailey)

Is it constitutional for a court to enforce a subpoena of ministers’ sermons?, Washington Post (Eugene Volokh)

4) Commodification of human beings evident in controversies over artificial fertilization

White woman sues sperm bank after she mistakenly gets black donor’s sperm, Washington Post (Lindsey Bever)

Apple and Facebook will pay for female employees to freeze their eggs, The Telegraph (Claire Cohen)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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