The Briefing 10-17-14

The Briefing 10-17-14

The Briefing


October 17, 2014

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


It’s Friday, October 17, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Houston mayor and attorney clearly threaten religious liberty in responses to subpoena controversy

Officials in Houston, especially the mayor, are doing their very best to distance themselves from a controversy over the fact that attorneys operating on behalf of the city issued subpoenas to five Christian pastors in Houston, demanding access to their sermons having to do with a recent effort to try to rescind an ordinance there in the city of Houston that would require all bathrooms to be made accessible to persons, regardless of their gender identity and would give transgendered persons the right to sue if they are denied that access. Houston residents upset with that ordinance had done their best to try to reverse it by means of an initiative that involve petitions, and yet attorneys for the city said that they were not enough petitions to lead to a successful review of the policy; this led to a lawsuit, the lawsuit led to the subpoenas, and now it is led to a controversy that the mayor of Houston – the first openly gay mayor of a major American city –  is trying to put behind her, but it’s not going to work.

I discussed this issue rather thoroughly on The Briefing yesterday, and as we look at this issue it appears as you know more the situation looks worse. And even yesterday it was reported that the mayor of Houston and the city attorney were backtracking somewhat and were rescinding the subpoena for the sermons. But now it appears, 24 hours later, that that withdrawal was not the backtracking it first appeared to be. On Wednesday the city attorney and the mayor both tried to distance themselves from the controversy and from the subpoenas. The city attorney said the city would clarify its request in response to the pastor’s motion. As the Houston Chronicle reports the mayor said,

“There’s no question the wording was overly broad. But I also think there was some deliberate misinterpretation on the other side.”

Now let’s watch that statement for just a moment because here you have the mayor saying, ‘yes, the language of the subpoena was – to use her phrase – overly broad.’ She doesn’t say it was wrong to issue the subpoena, merely that the wording was overly broad. But she also says here that there was – to use her words – some deliberate misinterpretation on the other side. That argument has also been taken up by some would be defenders of the mayor; including Katie Zavadski of New York Magazine, who wrote an article entitled “Is Houston’s Lesbian Mayor Really Out To Get Conservative Preachers?” And the answer of the article is, ‘no of course the mayor doing no such thing.’

Now recall the fact that the subpoena asked the pastors to turnover – this is the wording from the subpoenas –

“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.”

Let’s just state that even the most simple and straightforward terms the words overly broad when it comes to that kind of demand are hardly fitting. Zavadski tries to cover the mayor, to politically protect her, with the language in her article that reads like this,

“But here’s the thing: The upset pastors and their defenders may in fact be right about the subpoenas being overbroad. (The mayor agrees, if only they’d asked her.) But their complaints make it sound like the pastors are about to be tried for hate speech using the new law, which is far from the case.”

Well it doesn’t look, at least upon second look, a closer look, that it actually is very far from the case. Zavadski article also says,

“Parker, who says she hadn’t heard about the subpoenas until yesterday [that would have been Wednesday], doesn’t care if pastors called her a dirty sinner or advocated for overturning the Equal Rights Ordinance. It turns out the subpoenas were sent by outside attorneys working for the city pro bono.”

I simply insert here, that doesn’t matter at all. The attorneys were working for the city, therefore they were acting for the city, they were speaking for the city and the mayor was behind the effort. She cannot hide behind the fact that she didn’t see the subpoena beforehand. How many subpoenas does any mayor of a major city see beforehand? That’s not an excuse. Zavadski then gives a longer quote from mayor in which she said that words you’ve already heard,

“There’s no question, the wording was overly broad. But I also think there was some deliberate misinterpretation on the other side. [She went on to say] The goal is to find out if there were specific instructions given on how the petitions should be accurately filled out. It’s not about, ‘What did you preach on last Sunday?’”

Well that’s a distinction without a difference. The mayor in effect says she has every right to issue a subpoena for sermons from these pastors, so long as she’s not asking ‘what did you preach on last Sunday?’ but rather ‘Did you give instructions on how petitions should be accurately filled out?’ Well let’s admit just for matter of clarification that there is a narrowing of the demand from ‘What did you preach on last Sunday?’ to ‘Did you, in your sermons, discuss the petition and how it might be accurately filled out?’ That is a narrowing; but morally, constitutionally, in terms of religious liberty, it isn’t the difference.

At 12:21 AM on 15 October, the mayor tweeted

“Always amazed at how little fact checking is done by folks who like to hit the retweet button.”

But if you actually check the facts, it turns out that it is the mayor who is profoundly in trouble here. She’s in violation of the facts, she’s in violation of the truth, and she’s in violation of her own words. Recall that that tweet I cited earlier was issued on 15 October at 12:21 AM. Less than an hour later – on that same Twitter feed – the official Twitter feed, personally supervised by the mayor, the mayor herself tweeted at 1:12 AM, on the very same day,

“If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game.”

Well there you have it. Their sermons are fair game. Who determines whether their fair game? The mayor says she does.

When this story broke earlier this week, it appeared that it would almost surely be a short-lived story because after all, the city’s elected officials would run as fast as possible from the actions of the attorneys; arguing that there had been some kind of misunderstanding, that the issuing of the subpoenas was a horrifying political mistake from which they would run and repent. And as late as yesterday, it appeared that the mayor and the city attorney were doing their best to distance themselves from the actions they themselves had taken – or at least the actions that had been taken on their behalf. But in just a matter of hours it appeared that they were not backtracking at all, that when they talked about narrowing the language, they were not apologizing for issuing subpoenas for sermons from pastors, they were merely narrowing the language of the subpoena itself.

The mayor said she was shocked that so many people were retweeting without looking at the facts, when later she made her own fact by tweeting “If the 5 pastors use pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game.” The use of that language, ‘fair game’ that is some of the most ominous unconstitutional language subversive of religious liberty to be said by any elected American official, not only in years but in decades and maybe even in centuries. As a matter of fact, when you have an elected mayor of a major American city saying that the sermons of pastors are – to use her words – ‘fair game’ that’s language that may be impossible to find anywhere in American history until 1:12 AM on 15 October from the mayor of Houston, Texas.


But it’s not just the mayor who is being tripped up in her words, it’s also Houston city attorney David Feldman. Because on Wednesday he told reporters that the sole purpose of the subpoenas was to request materials that were related to the petition gathering and exactly how that had been done. But on Tuesday, just the day previous, the same city attorney had told reporters that if the pastors had preached sermons on what he determined were political issues, their sermons were – to use the mayor’s language – fair game. He said,

“If someone is speaking from the pulpit and it’s political speech, then it’s not going to be protected,”

So there you have the mayor saying the sermons are fair game and the city attorney saying, ‘if it’s political speech then it’s not going to be protected,’ and clearly the city attorney and this mayor feel that they are constitutionally competent to determine what is a sermon and what is political speech.

As the founders of this country well understood, liberties that are hard-won can be easily and quickly lost. In the United States of America as we’ve been talking about, the undermining and subversion of religious liberty in our times, the constriction of religious liberty, even to what the Obama Administration repeatedly calls ‘freedom of worship,’ this is a violation of the even what anyone could define as freedom of worship. In the process of just less than a decade, we have gone from an affirmation of religious liberty to the claim that that should be reduced to freedom of worship, to the mayor of one of America’s largest cities saying that the sermons of preachers are ‘fair game.’ But this is a threat to religious liberty for every single American, not just for these five Houston pastors. If their sermons are fair game, then so are the sermons of every other preacher, rabbi, imam, and religious leader in America and so is the speech of every single Christian believer. The mayor Houston says that what’s needed in this situation is for Americans to do some fact checking. I can only hope that Americans do just that, and check these facts.

2) Young Catholics’ differing with official doctrine reveals failure to teach binding ethics

Yesterday the Pew Research Center issued a critically important new report. The headline of the report by Michael Lipka is this, “Young US Catholics overwhelmingly accepting of homosexuality.” As Lipka tells us,

“Fully 85% of self-identified Catholics ages 18-29 said in a 2014 Pew Research Center survey that homosexuality should be accepted by society, compared with just 13% who said it should be discouraged.”

Very interesting language used here. It’s important that we look at exactly what is being reported. First of all the numbers are startling – 85%. Now remember, that as of today, consistent with the last 2000 years, the Roman Catholic Church teaches that homosexuality is – to use the words of the catechism – intrinsically disordered and in every context and situation sin. Regardless of the teaching of their church, indeed in defiance of the teaching of their church, you’re not talking about just a significant number of young Catholics, you’re not talking about just a majority of young Catholics – you’re talking about 85% of young Catholics aged 18 to 29. And here again the language has to be looked at carefully, they said that homosexuality should be accepted by society. That’s a very interesting way of putting it; in other words, this is the complete moral normalization of homosexuality. That’s what 85% of young Catholics said should happen. Compared to just 13% of those young Catholics who said it should be discouraged; which again, discouraged here is a very mild word of moral judgment. They didn’t even want to say that – only 13% would say that much.


“Older age groups [says Pew] are less likely to favor acceptance. But even among Catholics ages 65 and older, 57% say that homosexuality should be accepted.”

Those are devastating numbers. And from an evangelical perspective, there are a couple of issues that come immediately to mind. How can it be that a church that purports to teach that homosexual acts are in every situation immoral and that they are to – use the language of the church’s catechism – intrinsically disordered? How can that church reach the point that 85% of its own young people believe exactly the opposite of what the church teaches? Well, if nothing else, this demonstrated that this church was incompetent and unable to teach its own young people anything binding when it came to the moral judgment that the Christian churches taught for 2000 years on sexuality in general and same-sex acts and relationships in particular.

Now my purpose in raising this is not so much to throw stones at the Roman Catholic Church as to hold out what they have clearly failed to do as a word of warning to evangelicals about our churches and our own young people. It is certainly easy to look at this and say what ever the Roman Catholic Church failed to do, it failed to teach its own young people anything consistent, strong, binding, anything authoritative, anything that would bind their thinking and their consciences, when it comes to the issues of sexuality. And we know that the conflict with the church over issues of sexuality among Catholics in general, and young Catholics in particular, is absolutely comprehensive; ranging all across the fields of sexual controversies. But this is the issue of the most intense current controversy, this is the issue that’s at the very crux of our current cultural conflict; it is the issue of same-sex acts and same-sex relationships that focus the question asked by Pew that led to this very startling number – 85% of young Catholics saying that they reject, reject overwhelmingly, the official teaching of their own church.

Evangelicals looking at this should have a very significant warning; it’s not just that the Roman Catholic Church failed to teach its young people; it failed to teach them in any way that ended up being binding. That’s a crucial distinction and one that evangelicals should pay a lot of attention to right now. One of the things this kind of report should warn us about is this: this is a significant signal that it’s not enough to tell children, adolescents, teenagers, young people, young adults, what the church teaches – there must be a comprehensive theological and moral answer. There must be the outworking of a worldview, there must be a consistent biblical theology, there must be a presentation of this issue of sexual morality within the larger context of the total morality taught by the Christian church revealed in Scripture. It must be more than what the Pope says, that clearly isn’t even binding on Catholics. It must be more than just what the church says, that’s not binding upon Catholics. It must be what God says, and that’s why evangelicals have to remember that all we have is biblical authority. That’s all we have, and fundamentally that’s all that binds. Because these recent actions in the Roman Catholic Church, including the deliberations in their current synod, point to the fact that nothing but Scripture will bind – and that’s why the Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura is not just a matter of historical affirmation, it is as current as the headlines in this pew study. If evangelicals for a moment believe that anything other than Scripture will bind us and our children to a biblical understanding of morality, then we fool ourselves. And if we are not diving deep with our own young people into the totality of all that God has revealed in Scripture, if it is not premised upon the absolute confidence in the total truthfulness and trustworthiness of Scripture, if we are not living it out and teaching it out comprehensively, then we should not be surprised if in short order a report from the same kind of research organization comes out telling us that 85% of evangelical young people are defying and denying and distancing themselves from the teaching of their own churches. In so far as that can be traced, a failure on our part to give more than assertion and to move to a biblical argument, then the guilt will be upon us and the shame as well – richly deserved shame.

3) Egg-freezing perk attempt by companies to own even a woman’s reproductive future

Yesterday we talked about the news coming from the brave new world of egg freezing and the fact that at least two Silicon Valley companies have moved to cover egg freezing in terms of benefits for women employees; those companies were Apple on Facebook. We talked about the worldview implications of that and it’s very significant that our Christian worldview concerns about this policy are now being matched by some secular concerns coming not from the right but from the left. In this case from the editorial board of the Financial Times in London; the headline of their editorial is, “Egg freezing is a perk too far in Silicon Valley’s war.” Now what are they writing about? They’re writing about this: they’re arguing that it can be no question about the rather sinister design behind Apple and Facebook’s decision to pay up to $20,000 to freeze the eggs of their female employees – it’s because they want those employees to prioritize work. They want them to be more or less owned by Apple and Facebook, even to the point that they will delay motherhood and put at risk their own fertility.

These companies, according to the Financial Times are now intruding too far into women’s personal choices. As the editors write,

“Companies are always looking at ways to attract and retain talented employees. Nowhere more so than in Silicon Valley, where America’s leading technology businesses live or die by the brain cell. Now, two of the district’s most influential residents, Apple and Facebook, have taken this so-called ‘perk arms race’ to a new pitch.”

As the editors say,

“[it is]… part of a drive among traditionally male-dominated Valley firms to attract more female talent, both are offering benefits to women who devote more of their childbearing years to building their careers.”

That is an emphatically important statement. The editors of the Financial Times in London get right to the heart of the issue. Apple and Facebook, under the guise of extending a new benefit to their female employees, are actually saying ‘we want to own even more of you. We want you to put your motherhood and your fertility on hold. And we will even pay for you to freeze your eggs.’ Just imagine what this means in this brave new world; now you have modern corporations in Silicon Valley saying to female employees, ‘We want to own your reproductive future. We will buy it with a $20,000 perk.’

The editors get right to the heart of the issue when they write,

“This is financially generous and may be a perk that some women will welcome. But if it is open to all female employees and not just to those experiencing fertility problems, there are doubts about the wider message that it sends. Benefits are social indicators [write the editors]. When companies offer entitlements such as paternity leave and assistance with childcare, they reflect what we value as a culture. The offer to assist with egg freezing sends just such a signal. It implies that women should consider deferring childbirth if they want to do well in their jobs.”

And evidently, at least some women are getting the message. The Guardian in Great Britain says that for the first time in British history more babies born in Great Britain are being born to women age 30 and over rather than to 29 and under. This has never happened in history of Britain and it evidently passed this marker in just recent weeks and months. More than half of the babies born in England and Wales are born to women aged at least 30 according to the latest statistics from Britain’s Office for National Statistics – that’s the first time since records began. As The Guardian reports, this indicates the fact that more and more women are putting off childbearing and child rearing until much later ages. And as many other reports make clear, this also explains why so many women are experiencing fertility difficulties. A great percentage of the fertility problems in America today, we are told by medical authorities, is due to the fact that so many people are putting off having children such that they are delaying them beyond the normal time of peak fertility and prime childbearing capacity.

From a biblical worldview perspective, this just points to the fact that we are not machines. We are embodied creatures and as embodied creatures, our bodies actually tell us something. There is no question that God is telling us, even through our bodies, that there are problems and consequences with delaying adulthood, marriage, and childbearing, so far into the adult years. But as the actions by Apple and Facebook, and as this editorial in the Financial Times makes very clear, one of the reasons behind this is commercial. It has to do with the fact that for many people in America today and certainly for the companies trying to keep and secure talent, it comes down to career over everything. And from a Christian perspective, that statement in itself is problem enough.

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 on Monday for The Briefing.



Podcast Transcript

1) Houston mayor and attorney clearly threaten religious liberty in responses to subpoena controversy

City officials try to distance themselves from sermon subpoenas, Houston Chronicle (Katherine Driessen)

Is Houston’s Lesbian Mayor Really Out to Get Conservative Preachers?, New York Magazine (Katie Zavadski)

City subpoenas sermons in equal rights case, Houston Chronicle (Katherine Driessen)

2) Young Catholics’ differing with official doctrine reveals failure to teach binding ethics

Young U.S. Catholics overwhelmingly accepting of homosexuality, Pew Research Center (Michael Lipka)

3) Egg-freezing perk attempt by companies to own even a woman’s reproductive future

Egg freezing is a perk too far in Silicon Valley’s war, Financial Times (Editorial Board)

More than half of babies born to women over 30 for first time, figures show, The Guardian



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).