The Briefing 11-13-14

The Briefing 11-13-14

The Briefing


November 13, 2014

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


It’s Thursday, November 13, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Universal 0utcry over S Korean ferry captain’s actions undermines notion of moral relativity 

As one very wise moral philosopher noted some time ago, there are some things we simply cannot not know. There is a moral knowledge that is implanted within us that is virtually universal in terms of human moral revulsion; human moral judgment that actually points to a consensus that must be in something deeper than our cultural agreement, our philosophical complementarity. This has to do of course with the Christian understanding of what it means to be made in the image of God; for our common humanity to be made common by the fact that we are made by a common creator, made a single species, descended indeed from a first primal couple. Most importantly, every single one of us, at every point of development, made in God’s image and a part of that meaning that we are made moral creatures. There is a moral knowledge that is within us, there’s a moral sense that is simply a part of our structure and there are some moral judgments that are virtually universal.

One of these comes to light in the headline that appeared yesterday from South Korea; “Captain Gets 36 Years for Deserting Korean Ferry.” This verdict came as something of a disappointment to the Korean people. South Korea was rocked earlier this year by the horrifying ferry accident in which 304 people drowned; most of them teenagers, almost all of them from a single high school in a small town in South Korea. That devastating loss was made all the more horrific by the fact that there was clearly human wrongdoing involved. There were sins of omission – things that simply should have been done that weren’t done. But there were also sins of commission – there were positive acts that were taken, intentional acts that were deeply sinful.

At the heart of this is the fact that a basic fraud was running through the whole operation. There was twice as much weighted freight upon the ferry as it was registered to carry. Furthermore, there was direct negligence. Those in charge of the ferry when it began to sink did not do everything they could to save those who were on the vessel. To the contrary, they told the vast majority of the teenagers – most of whom died – that they should remain right where they were and not seek to leave the ship. Meanwhile, most horrifying of all, those who were in charge of the vessel saved themselves rather than their passengers. Choe Sang-Hun reporting for the New York Times from Gwangju, South Korea writes,

“The captain of the South Korean ferry that sank in April, killing more than 300 people, was sentenced on Tuesday to 36 years in prison for deserting his ship and its passengers in a fatal crisis. But he was acquitted of murder, infuriating family members of some of the victims in the country’s worst disaster in decades.”

He goes on to report,

“The captain, Lee Jun-seok, ‘abandoned his passengers, knowing that they were waiting for instructions from the crew and that if they were not evacuated, their lives would be at risk,’”

Those words were spoken by the presiding judge in the court bringing a five-month trial to conclusion. The 36 year sentence was infuriating to the family members of many of the victims. Furthermore, the prosecutors had asked that the captain would be charged with first-degree murder and they asked for the death penalty. But the judge in this case indicated that there had been no adequate evidence produced to find the captain guilty of murder; he was found guilty of grotesque and gross negligence.

In one of the most haunting paragraphs in the news article we read,

“Most of the victims died after the crew repeatedly urged them to stay inside the vessel. All of the ship’s 15 navigational and engineering crew members, including the captain and mates, fled on the first Coast Guard rescue boats that arrived at the scene.”

So there you have it. One of Korea’s worst maritime disasters; the death of over 300 people, most of them teenagers on a high school trip from one small school in one small village in South Korea. But what we also have here and should not miss is a unified sense of moral revulsion. Of absolute moral revulsion that the navigational and engineering crew, including the captain and his mates, would save themselves leaving hundreds of young people – teenagers indeed – to drown within the vessel they were abandoning. Furthermore they had given those very teenagers the orders to stay where they were as the captain and his own crew did exactly the opposite. This much is clear, virtually any sane responsible rational person would likewise believe that this captain and his crew had acted not only in a way that was negligent and irresponsible but deeply immoral. In other words, what they did was wrong; it was sinful.

But in today’s confused culture of moral relativism it would seem to be impossible that there could be a unified moral verdict on this kind of action, but there is. It’s hard to imagine that anyone living in any society at any time would come to any other conclusion but that this was deeply wrong; horrifyingly wrong, sinfully wrong. Major media reports, as a matter fact, indicate that not only throughout Korea but throughout the world there has been deep moral revulsion at this action. Furthermore, there’s been a shared deep dissatisfaction with the verdict – even though given the captain’s age, 69, the sentence will almost surely mean life in prison.

But there’s something else here that simply has to be noted. There is, in almost every culture, the understanding that a captain is not to leave his passengers; that the one who is in charge of the safety of others is not to save himself or herself – abandoning those within his or her charge to their own deaths. Where does that shared moral understanding come from? Where does that judgmental consensus originate? It has to be in something deeper than culture. It has to reach something deeper than moral formation and education. Indeed Christians understand, based upon the revelation of God in the Scripture, that what makes this a universal and unanimous human response is the fact that we are commonly made in the image of God. And that a part of that image bearing is a moral knowledge, a moral knowledge we simply do know, a moral knowledge we cannot not know.

But then there’s a deeper point, isn’t there? And that is that that knowledge we cannot not know is hardly limited to the fact that it is immoral for a captain to abandon the ship in the very first opportunity leaving his passengers to die. No, if there is that kind of deep moral knowledge, a knowledge implanted in us by the fact that we are created by God and made in his image, then it reaches to a host of other issues as well. There is actually a vast universe of shared moral knowledge that we actually do know and cannot not know. So why is there such deep moral confusion and often controversy in our midst? Well Paul answers that in the book of Romans 1:18 where we are told that humanity, after the fall, suppresses the truth in unrighteousness. That’s we see around us, that’s what’s really evident in so many controversies, that’s what Christians should see on so many issues and in so many arguments; it is the suppression of truth in unrighteousness. The moral controversies of our age come into clearer view when we understand that it’s really not a matter of argument over moral knowledge, but about whether or not that knowledge is going to be suppressed in unrighteousness.

2) Studies indicate demise of intact families negatively impacts economic success of children

Next, speaking of the suppression of truth in unrighteousness there is a profound act of moral rebellion in our times in denying the importance of the family, of the natural family, and beyond even that denial, the subversion of the family, sometimes by national policy. The marginalization and minimization of the family in our times has not happened by accident. Though vast social demographic and economic forces have been at work, there have also been intellectual and moral issues at work; a cognitive elite made up of intellectuals and policymakers who have been actively driving the marginalization of the family – the redefinition of the family in some cases – in our times.

I want to draw attention to a couple of pieces of evidence of the importance of the family and the persistence of that importance in our contemporary age. The first comes in the form of research recently released by the American Enterprise Institute. Two professors, Brad Wilcox and Robert Lerman have written a very important piece of research published first at National Review Online. In the piece published at the American Enterprise Institute by Natalie Scholl, there are four charts that are reproduced from the research offered by Brad Wilcox and Robert Lerman; these four charts tells us a great deal about the impact that is made by family structure and how an intact family effects kids economic futures. The concern of the studies is to demonstrate how intact family assist kids in that family to achieve the so-called American Dream.

There are four charts, four main points.

Point one. Children raised in intact families are more likely to acquire the human capital they need to live the American dream. As the researchers write,

“Having two parents in the picture typically increases the amount of time, attention, encouragement, and money that can be devoted to a child’s education.”

The intact family also protects children from the household moves and emotional stress associated with family instability. But as the chart indicates, there has been a decline in the number of intact families; families where kids are growing up with both parents married to each other residing in the home. Back in 1980, 78% of all children and teenagers were in such a home. Now, according to the data from 2012, it’s only 66%. That maybe a shift of only 12% but it hides the fact that it’s a massive shift disproportionately found within certain sectors of the population; those very sectors of the population that are falling further and further behind when it comes to economic progress in what is called here the American Dream.

Point two is this: Children raised in intact families are less likely to fall afoul of detours on the road to the American dream. Those detours include not finishing high school, getting in trouble with the law, or having a non-marital birth. All of these so-called detours, the report makes very clear, happen much more often – and that’s an understatement – in the lives of children not being raised in intact families.

Point three brings out an item of research not often reported.

“Young men raised in intact families make more money,”

Now money is not the end all of these concerns but when it comes to accomplishing family stability, getting married, and reaching the point of independence in life, money has a great deal to do with it. And the earnings that eventually come to young men who were raised as boys in intact families, that income is remarkably larger than the income of boys when they reach adulthood who were raised in non-intact families. When they reach adulthood, boys raised in intact families earned an average of $6,534 per year more than boys raised in non-intact families, When it came to total family income, boys in those families who are now men, as families earned an additional $16,000 over those who were not raised in intact families,

Point four:

“Young women raised in intact families earn more. [And furthermore,] young adults [both men and women] raised in intact families work more hours.”

As the researchers write,

“On average, the more hours you work, the more experience you gain in the labor force and the more money you make.”

Now for most working Americans that simply makes sense. But it does make sense in a moral context, not just pragmatic experience. And one of the things that this report makes very clear is that there is a certain work ethic that tends to be very highly correlated with the fact that young people grow up in intact families. That very much stronger work ethic produces a stronger work experience, and furthermore, the very kind of differential in income that was reported under point 3.

All these points in the research demonstrated within them point to the importance of the intact family. And this is coming from a rather conservative sociological and economic analysis. The full report from Professors Wilcox and Lerman is found at the American Enterprise Institute entitled “For Richer, For Poorer: How Family Structures Economic Success in America.” Now that came from the right, but what about from the left? That’s where the second item looms even larger in importance. It’s found in an article published recently in the Washington Post by Robert J. Samuelson, a columnist and economist. He writes about what he calls the ‘family deficit.’ He said,

“We Americans believe in progress, and yet progress is often a double-edged sword. The benefits and adventures of change often vie with the shortcomings and disruptions, leaving us in a twilight zone of ambiguity and doubt about the ultimate outcome. Few subjects [he says,] better illustrate this than the decline of marriage,”

He cites, again a more liberal source, Isabel Sawhill and her recent book, ‘Generation Unbound: Drifting into Sex and Parenthood without Marriage.’ He then writes this,

“Even those who know marriage is on the skids — presumably, most of us — may be surprised by the extent of its decline… [He goes on to say] Americans coming of age in the 1950s, the expectation was that most would marry. It was part of society’s belief structure. And most did. Now these powerful social pressures have faded and, for many, disappeared.”

In 1960 he cites only 12 % of adults ages 25 to 34 had never married. So that’s 1965, only 12% of relatively young adults had not married. By the time they were 45 to 54, the never-married share of that generation was only 5%. That was just 1960, fast forward Samuelson says, to 2010 and 47 % of Americans aged 25 to 34 had never married. Based on present trends he says, this will still be 25% in 2030 when they’re aged 45 to 54.

Now in terms of worldview, consider the importance of the admission he makes in the next paragraph; and I quote,

“The stranglehold that marriage had on middle-class thinking and behavior began to weaken in the 1960s with birth control pills, publication of Betty Friedan’s ‘The Feminine Mystique’ — an assault on women’s traditional housecleaning and child-rearing roles — and the gradual liberalization of divorce laws.”

Now note quite carefully that those very three things – the sexual revolution, feminism, and the gradual liberalization of divorce laws – those have been the very three things that many Christian conservatives, and furthermore social conservatives from a secular arena, have pointed to as the fountainhead of much of the breakdown of the family and the marginalization of marriage. But that paragraph was not written by a conservative Christian or otherwise, it was written by a mainstream liberal – a rather influential columnist – and published of all places in the Washington Post on its opinion page.

But the most shocking paragraph in Samuelson’s column comes later. It reads and I quote,

“But the biggest social cost of less marriage involves children. ‘New choices for adults,’ Sawhill writes, ‘have not generally been helpful to the well-being of children.’ [Samuelson then writes,] Single-parent families have exploded. In 1950, they were 7 percent of families with children under 18; by 2013, they were 31 percent. Nor was the shift isolated. The share was 27 percent for whites, 34 percent for Hispanics and 62 percent for African Americans.”

Then follows this absolutely blockbuster sentence,

“By harming children’s emotional and intellectual development, the expansion of adult choices may have reduced society’s collective welfare.”

That is indeed a stunning sentence. It’s an absolutely true crystallizing clear sentence. It’s a sentence that rightly describes what has been happening in America over the last 4 to 5 decades. There has been a radical expansion of adult choice and it has been at the tremendous now documented undeniable expense of America’s children. That’s the kind of thing the conservatives have been talking about for decades now. But it tells us something, something very important when that message comes from now one of the most influential syndicated columnist in one of the most influential liberal newspapers in the United States.

Now to be quite honest, in terms of Samuelson’s argument, he is not suggesting any kind of moral reversal. He seems to be just as committed now to the kind of moral individual expressive that created this kind of liberalizing trend. But he does at least have the honesty to document the problem and to trace it to its roots and to point out that this radical expansion of choices for adults, this great moral revolution, has come at the direct and now documented expense of America’s children. We should pause and note that the documented decline in the family unit, the documented marginalization of marriage itself, and the documented impact on children, the fact that this is now documented in the pages of the Washington Post, well that’s a remarkable cultural achievement; a moral achievement that should not pass without our notice.

3) Scarcity of conservative characters on TV points to worldview Hollywood promotes

Finally on another note of the importance of moral documentation, Patricia Phalen writes a very important article in yesterday’s edition of USA Today; the title of her article, “Know Any Republican TV Heroes?” As she writes,

“The fall television network schedule includes two political dramas that feature women in powerful roles, fueling speculation that the motive is to boost former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s prospective 2016 presidential run. The assumption is that any powerful female protagonist in a political drama is essentially a stand-in for Clinton.”

She points to the fact the back in 2005 ABC aired a program known as Commander-in-Chief starring Gina Davis as U.S. President. Even back then there was speculation in Hollywood and beyond that the show was something of an advertisement for Hillary Clinton’s later run for president in 2008. Before going any further, let me note that Patricia Phalen is associate professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University. She is, according to USA Today, a recognized expert on the American TV industry and she defends that industry – at least in part – suggesting that these programs are not only perhaps offering something of a political advertisement for Hillary Clinton, they are serving the purpose of reflecting America’s culture where women are taking on these kinds of important roles.

She then writes this however,

“On the other hand, it is true that Hollywood is not just shaped by but also shapes our culture. Television programs present value-laden treatments of what is good or acceptable vs. what is bad or unacceptable. And, on a more superficial level [she says], programs communicate what is hip or popular among the Hollywood elite”

She goes on to make a couple of interesting statements. In the first place, she writes, that the writers of television programs generally write about that which they know. And so what is reflected is their own context and their social location. Most of them happen to be in very liberal Hollywood, their peers structure is made up of other very liberal people in Hollywood. The cultural creatives, according to demographers and sociologist, are among the most socially liberal classes in America. But there’s more going on here as she makes clear:

“Nevertheless, external pressures tend to impose limits on writers’ freedom of political expression and condition the kinds of characters they create. It’s no secret [she writes,] that liberal viewpoints are the ‘gold standard’ in Hollywood, or that careers can rise and fall according to one’s political beliefs. In this environment, writers are understandably reluctant to promote ideas on the screen that could ruin their careers. Consequently [this is what is important, she writes], the heroines of political dramas are overwhelmingly liberal. Few, if any, producers on the cocktail-party circuit [she writes,] would dare boast about creating a show with a heroine who is strong, smart, savvy — and conservative — a major defect in the otherwise creative community of Hollywood.”

Phalen’s piece is particularly fair and evenhanded. But from her insider perspective in Hollywood, she tells us something of how the political culture of that community and the demographics of the social class shape the kinds of products, entertainment products that become such an important part of our culture. But there’s something else she also makes emphatically clear. We are shaped by the entertainment we consume and watch. We are shaped by the very culture we’re here discussing. It is true, as she says, that the society shapes Hollywood. But far more powerfully, she acknowledges, Hollywood shapes the society.

Therefore, it should tell us something important when we contemplate what she says; that it’s virtually impossible to imagine a cocktail party in Hollywood where anproducer brags about the fact that he’s producing a heroine for a program that is smart, savvy, powerful, and conservative. That last word in liberal Hollywood is simply inconceivable. Honesty also compels us to acknowledge that even as Hollywood shapes the larger society, in so far as we consume it – we watch it, we listen to it, it also shapes us as well; inevitably so – at one level or another and we need to know it.

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 Fort Worth, Texas and I’ll meet you tomorrow for The Briefing.




Podcast Transcript

1) Universal 0utcry over S Korean ferry captain’s actions undermines notion of moral relativity 

Captain Gets 36 Years for Deserting Korean Ferry, New York Times (Choe Sang-Hun)

2) Studies indicate demise of intact families negatively impacts economic success of children

4 charts that show how an intact family affects kids’ economic futures, American Enterprise Institute (Natalie Scholl)

For Richer, For Poorer?, American Enterprise Institute (Robert I. Lerman and W. Bradford Wilcox)

The family deficit, Washington Post (Robert J. Samuelson)

3) Scarcity of conservative characters on TV points to worldview Hollywood promotes

Conservatives rarer than women on TV, USA Today (Patricia F. Phalen)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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