The Briefing 11-19-14

The Briefing 11-19-14

The Briefing


November 19, 2014

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


It’s Wednesday, November 19, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Pending Ferguson verdict from Grand Jury reminder of important check in American system

Erik Eckholm and Julie Bosman report the story this way,

“After hearing testimony for nearly three months in the death of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old unarmed African-American who was shot by Officer Darren Wilson on a Ferguson, Mo., street on Aug. 9, a St. Louis County grand jury is nearing a decision on whether to bring criminal charges.”

That is likely to be the biggest new story this week – unless it’s displaced by some unforeseen eventuality. But the one thing that is foreseen is the fact that the grand jury in Missouri is expected to hand down its decision. And this, though certainly leading to a massive controversy in America, is likely be focused on a part of the American legal system that is most opaque and confusing to the average American. As Eckholm and Bosman explain,

“Routinely, grand juries are virtual rubber stamps for prosecutors, approving the proposed indictments after hearing from a few witnesses and getting the bare outlines of the incriminating evidence.”

But that’s not what is taking place in Missouri. Given the volatility of the case; given the fact that involves the death of a young African-American man, and given the fact that the shooter in this case was a uniformed police officer on duty – this has raised the stakes considerably. For this reason the Missouri grand jury has been going through a very lengthy investigative process, subpoenaing witnesses, gathering information, and even talking (in an unusual development) to the man at the center the controversy; and that is the police officer.

Given the rules by which a grand jury operates, Officer Darren Wilson appeared before the grand jury without his own attorney. The volatility of the situation was made clear in yesterday’s edition of USA Today, when Yamiche Alcindor’s front-page story began with these words,

“ Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon activated the state’s National Guard and declared a state of emergency Monday, his first move to prepare for possible backlash to a grand jury decision in the case of a white police officer who shot and killed a black teenager.

The emergency order… [signed by the governor of Missouri] instructs St. Louis County Police Department, Missouri State Highway Patrol and St. Louis Metro Police to work together in a unified command,”

Backed up by the National Guard there in Missouri, in the event there should be a violent response to the grand jury’s decision.

Why so much attention to this decision? Because it is the grand jury, given our system of government, that will decide whether or not criminal charges are to be brought against the officer in the shooting. According to legal analysts familiar with the grand jury situation there in Missouri, the prosecutors there, though advising the grand jury, did not ask the grand jury to indict any specific count; rather; they have offered the grand jury four different criminal charges that could be brought against the police officer. Of course, the grand jury also has the option of bringing no criminal charges against the officer at all. And that’s exactly what Governor Nixon in Missouri is concerned about.

Because if the grand jury fails to bring a criminal indictment against the officer, there is the very real possibility of a violent backlash of protests there on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri and beyond, much like what took place in the immediate aftermath of the shooting itself, when the streets were taken over by violent protesters, and days of protests stretched into weeks. The expectation is that the grand jury will hand down its decision in coming days, almost assuredly this week. And that’s why there is so much discussion about this event and why there’s so much speculation on what will happen if the grand jury rules one way or the other. But what many Americans are simply unaware of is the actual way the grand jury functions, and the importance of a grand jury in our legal system. And furthermore, why from a Christian worldview perspective the very existence of a grand jury is a reminder of just how difficult it can be to achieve justice – even proximate justice – in terms of a human legal and judicial system.

The grand jury has a venerable history in the United States. And before that in Great Britain, where in English common law they were similar forms of juries formed in order to determine whether criminal charges should be brought against an individual. Many Americans simply make the jump from what they see on television in the arrest of someone to the subsequent trial. But in the American legal system there is a middle step, and that middle step is extremely important. Indeed, it’s legally necessary. That middle step, in terms of any serious charge, is the action taken and the deliberations that are considered by a grand jury.

The importance of this can be summarized with this simple statement: If it is simply the police bringing charges against an individual, then the trial would represent simply a contest between the police and prosecutors on one side and the defendant and his legal counsel on the other. But that’s not the way it works. When an American citizen faces a serious criminal charge, that charge doesn’t come in the name of the police, it doesn’t come in the name of the prosecutor; it comes in the name of the people. And the people function in this way in the form of a grand jury.

In the case in Missouri, the grand jury is made up of 12 individuals. In this case nine white persons and three black persons. Together, the 12 consider not just this case but other cases where police have arrested an individual for some suspicion of a crime, and prosecutors then determine they want to bring this person the court charged with a crime. But only the grand jury in terms of serious crimes can make that determination. And they can do so with wide authority, and they do so in the name of the people.

This is a very important protection for American citizens. The police and prosecutors simply can’t bring someone before a judge or jury for trial. It takes some intermediary determination, either coming in most cases by a grand jury or, if the defendant requests, by a preliminary hearing before a judge. In either event there is simply no one-to-one equation between an arrest and a subsequent trial. That’s what makes the grand jury so important. It is a jury made up of the people of the very community in which the grand jury is seated. It is called a grand jury because in an actual criminal court, the jury that is impaneled, the one seen on television by so many millions of Americans, is actually called a petit jury. That is a small jury, acting only in the case of this trial – not on behalf of the entire community in terms of the legal system for a duration of time.

To its credit, the Los Angeles Times yesterday ran an important story by Michael Muskal explaining the work of the grand jury to its own readers. As Muskal reported,

“A grand jury is the body that examines an incident and decides whether to bring charges. It can use its subpoena power to demand that documents be produced, can hear witnesses and weigh the evidence. It can return a “true bill,” or indictment, and the defendant is then arraigned on the charges and guilt or innocence is determined by petit jury. If the grand jury finds that no charges are merited, it can choose not to indict.”

Many Americans likewise do not know that grand jury’s operate in secret. As Muskal states,

“Proceedings by grand juries and deliberations of petit juries are secret, held behind closed doors to protect the jurors and give them the privacy to speak freely. But, [Muskal reminds us] it doesn’t mean the deliberations are forever unknown. Defense attorneys often poll jurors after a verdict…and will often interview them afterward.”

One additional issue is of importance here, and that has to do with the standard of evidence required of a grand jury. Remember that in a criminal trial, in almost every American jurisdiction, the standard of proof is beyond a reasonable doubt. The jury has to find that the charge made against the defendant is proved beyond any reasonable doubt about the charge. When it comes to a grand jury, it’s simply ‘probable cause.’ The jury simply has to decide it is more likely that the individual is guilty than unlikely in order to bring the charge. But the reverse is also true, and given the standard of probable cause the grand jury can decide there simply isn’t enough evidence to find that there has been any crime committed or that this individual in any realistic sense has committed a crime.

As Americans brace themselves and wait for the decision to be handed down by this Missouri grand jury, Christians would do well to be informed about how a grand jury operates and why it matters. Because what we’re looking at here is yet another one of the checks and balances in the American political and legal system. The grand jury exists in order to protect Americans from being wantonly accused (and then charged and tried) for flimsy crimes on inadequate evidence. But the grand jury also has another equally important function: when there is probable cause when there is the cause in the minds of the jury to bring a charge against an American citizen, it is done so not in the name of the police, not in the name of the prosecutor, but in the name of the people. And that is one of the most important protections we have is a nation on both sides of our adversarial legal system.

2) Church of England’s approval of women bishops furthers divide in global Anglican Communion

Yesterday I discussed Monday’s day of decision in the Church of England when in Great Britain that church overturned the centuries of tradition, indeed millennia of tradition in terms of the larger church, and decided to vote to approve the service of women as bishops. I mentioned yesterday that this came after Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron had chided the church for failing to make this decision previously, explicitly telling the church to – in the Prime Minister’s words –  ‘get with the program.’ The issue of external pressure upon the church and its function within this controversy was made clear in an article that appeared in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times by Katrin Benhold. She dealt in particular with some statements made by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in the aftermath of the decision.

He said,

“Today we can begin to embrace a new way of being the church and moving forward together”

But as Benhold makes clear, the Archbishop also acknowledged that moving forward together is going to be something of an insurmountable challenge. She writes,

“On Monday… he acknowledged that a split in the worldwide Anglican community was now a serious possibility.”

In the archbishop’s words,

“Without prayer and repentance, it is hard to see how we can avoid some serious fractures”

If anything, that is a significant understatement. Churches in the Anglican Communion outside Europe and North America have made very clear that they’re not going along with this new innovation. Furthermore, this adds to a long list of things with which these churches of announced they’re not going along with the liberal direction of the Church of England. This has to do also with the Episcopal Church in the United States, the American branch of the Anglican Communion. The African and South American churches in particular, joined by bishops and churches in Asia, have made very clear that they are not moving in the direction of liberalizing the question of biblical authority, the church’s historic biblical understanding of sexuality, the definition of marriage, or the ordination of women to the ministry. And now of course the elevation of women to the episcopate, to serve as bishops.

It’s hard to imagine how a major religious leader could speak of a vote that took place this week as something that will enable the church to move forward together while the same time acknowledging that it’s almost impossible to avoid fractures. That’s an interesting redefinition of the word ‘together.’ But in terms of keeping his church and the Anglican Communion together, Archbishop Welby probably faces an insurmountable challenge even before this particular issue. And that’s because the Church of England and the Anglican Communion have been split between liberal and conservative wings on a number of issues for a number of decades. And that split is only growing wider and more radical, especially on issues related to gender, marriage, and human sexuality.

But returning once again to the issue of the external pressure, there’s something really interesting in terms of the last two days of reporting in both the secular and the religious media. Almost uniformly there has been no mention whatsoever of any biblical argument on this issue. Rather, the external pressures been all that has been cited.

For instance in Katrin Benhold’s article the New York Times she writes,

“Archbishop Welby, the spiritual leader of the church and the global Anglican Communion, who supported the vote from the start, had warned fellow church leaders this year that the public would find the exclusion of women [as bishops] ‘almost incomprehensible.’”

That statement by the Archbishop, we might note, might certainly be true. It almost certainly is. But it should not be the determining issue (to say the very least) in terms of how the church deals with the doctrinal issue. On such a question, it should be what the Bible teaches it to be the issue of biblical authority that is paramount and decisive. Furthermore we just have to look at the Archbishop’s two words here, that is ‘almost incomprehensible,’ and realize that we should expect as a believing church that a radically secularizing culture will find every item, issue, and doctrine of Christian teaching to be (if truly grounded in the Scripture) utterly incomprehensible. A church determined to hold only those doctrines that a secular world find adequately comprehensible is a church that will hold to no central vital Christian teaching whatsoever.

Remember simply what the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians in the first chapter of 1 Corinthians when he wrote that the gospel – the word of the cross –is foolishness to Greeks and a stumbling block to Jews. The gospel has always been foolishness to the intellectually sophisticated and in our own context, to the increasingly secular. Any attempt to make the gospel otherwise turns it into something other than the gospel.

3) Effects of marijuana legalization on minors reflects difficulty of stopping moral revolution

Thinking of cultural and moral change in America, we return to the issue of marijuana mostly because the Washington Post has run a major article declaring “It’s official: marijuana has gone mainstream.” The reporter is Christopher Ingraham and he writes,

“Voters in Alaska, Oregon and the District [of Columbia] approved marijuana legalization measures by comfortable margins on Tuesday. The votes signal that Americans are ready to expand upon the legalization experiments already ongoing in Colorado and Washington state, which opened up recreational marijuana markets this year.”

He went on to explain,

“The victories are significant because they come despite a midterm election holding huge structural advantages for Republicans.”

Indeed, one of the things that Ingraham points to is the fact that even though Democratic candidates fared very poorly, efforts to legalize marijuana, indeed recreational marijuana, did very well at the polls. From a Christian worldview perspective, the really interesting aspect of Ingraham’s article is his claim that marijuana simply going mainstream in American culture. He argues that perhaps the vote was taken earlier this month in Alaska is most indicative, it’s most revealing. Because Alaska, he says, is a red state – an overwhelmingly Republican state certainly in this election – his argument is that when Alaska follows Oregon and California and Washington state, and also the more libertarian state of Colorado something’s happening in terms of mainstream American culture. And that something, he says, is that marijuana itself is going mainstream.

But before we concede too much to his argument let’s consider the fact that both Colorado and Alaska, though often painted red, are actually purple states when it comes the fact that the basic worldview that is seemingly held by most of the citizens is more reflective of libertarianism rather than conservatism. Ingraham’s larger point however is that even Republicans, many Republicans are now swinging over to the pro-marijuana side, indicating that in state after state there might be the increasing liberalization of marijuana laws virtually coast-to-coast and in fairly short order. As we’ve discussed on The Briefing before the issue of marijuana is to some extent serving as a parallel to the issue of same-sex marriage in terms of the moral revolution that we are now experiencing. In both of these issues, what is called same-sex marriage and the legalization of marijuana, both of these it happened as moral changes in a remarkably short amount of time. The velocity of the moral change has been breathtaking, and noted by both sides of the issue – both by proponents of marijuana legalization and by those who are seeking to oppose it.

One last interesting note from Ingraham’s article, he argues that Democrats may find it to their advantage to try to put marijuana on the ballot in any close election, to serve as something of a swing momentum for Democratic candidates.

But a similarly, if not more, revealing article appeared recently in the New York Times; an article by Jessica Bennett entitled “Clean with notes of citrus.” A day, she writes, in the life of the nation’s first pot critic. It involves, she says, sampling the goods and distilling the essence of the high. The pot critic in this case is Jake Browne, he’s the pot critic for the Denver Post – hired officially by the paper in order to sample and write reviews of legal marijuana in the state of Colorado. If the article had not appeared in the pages of the New York Times you can be forgiven for believing that the article must be a hoax.

Bennett writes that Browne,

“is also the first pot critic for The Denver Post, Colorado’s oldest and largest daily newspaper. Which means that, every week, Mr. Browne takes a city bus from his home in Denver’s Highland neighborhood, crosses a street called Green Court and lands at one of the city’s downtown marijuana dispensaries to choose his product. Yes, he is paid to smoke it — and then write about the high.”

Mr. Browne said,

“The thing people say to me most often is, ‘Dude, you must have the best job ever,’…It’s either that, or, if they’re from out of state, ‘Can you send me pot?’ ”

Bennett then writes, surprisingly enough,

“The Post has had two pot critics on its roster since it created a spinoff site, The Cannabist, in December. (The newspaper is searching for a third, as well as a sex columnist to write about pot and intimacy.)”

Before going any further just remind yourself that this is the New York Times writing about the Denver Post. After the pot critic described how he does his work (in some detail we might add) he then concluded with this,

“I feel lucky to be this person in the middle of a historical moment, and I don’t think we’ll see anything really comparable to it…And, you know, I like pot, I think it’s a fun topic. Somebody has to cover it. So why can’t I be that guy?”

Well, I guess the obvious point of the article is, he is that guy.

But back in the reality-based world Kristen Wyatt of the Associated Press reported just this past Monday, just two days ago, that legal authorities in Denver are trying to come up with a way to protect the young people in that state from eating dangerous levels of marijuana in so-called ‘edibles.’

As she writes,

“Saying they’re still worried that edible pot sweets are too attractive to kids, Colorado health authorities plan to ask Monday for a new panel to decide which marijuana foods and drinks look too much like regular snacks.”

Buckle your seatbelts for the rest of the story.

Wyatt writes,

“The recommendation comes a month after the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment suggested banning the sale of most kinds of edible pot. That suggestion was quickly retracted after it went public.”

She then explains,

“Marijuana-infused foods and drinks have been a booming sector in Colorado’s new recreational marijuana market. But lawmakers feared the products are too easy to confuse with regular foods and drinks and ordered marijuana regulators to require a new look for marijuana edibles.”

That’s simply too much for the marijuana industry. Elyse Gordon owner of Better Baked, a Denver company identified as a maker of edible pot products, said,

“We’re governed to death, and people need to take responsibility for themselves.”

Conceivably meaning children as well. In recent weeks Colorado’s governor has been warning fellow governors not to get into the marijuana business certainly not hastily – he even referred to the action in his own state as reckless, only have to apologize to voters for an action they actually voted into effect. In Colorado there is grave concern about the effects of marijuana ingestion on children and teenagers, with scientific evidence building up that there is a uniquely damaging aspect to the effect of marijuana in the brains of children and adolescents. Proponents of legalizing marijuana predictably said that they would be able to keep marijuana out of the hands of those who were young. Even more predictably that promise has been shown to have been ineffective. And analysts on all sides of the equation acknowledge that in the state of Colorado, and likely in some other states as well, the first cigarette smoked by most teenagers isn’t made of tobacco but rather of marijuana.

The great worldview lesson in all this is quite simple and straightforward: once you start a moral revolution it takes on a momentum and set a course for its own. And when it does so, it’s very difficult to put the brakes on much less to reverse it. To put the matter is essentially it’s a lot easier to start a moral revolution than to end one.

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 San Diego, California and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.




Podcast Transcript

1) Pending Ferguson verdict from Grand Jury reminder of important check in American system

For Ferguson Grand Jury, Details and Responsibilities Are Abundant, New York Times (Erik Eckholm and Julie Bosman)

Mo. governor declares ‘emergency’ before jury ruling, USA Today (Yamiche Alcindor)

What the Ferguson grand jury is secretly trying to decide, Los Angeles (Michael Muskal)

2) Church of England’s approval of women bishops furthers divide in global Anglican Communion

Church of England Approves Plan Allowing Female Bishops, New York Times (Katrin Bennhold)

3) Effects of marijuana legalization on minors reflects difficulty of stopping moral revolution

It’s official: Marijuana has gone mainstream, Washington Post (Christopher Ingraham)

The Life of a Pot Critic: Clean, With Citrus Notes, New York Times (Jessica Bennett)

Pot treats may face Colorado scrutiny, Associated Press (Kristen Wyatt)

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).