The Briefing 11-25-14

The Briefing 11-25-14

The Briefing


November 25, 2014


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

It’s Tuesday, November 25, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Response to Ferguson grand jury’s decision a moral test for all America 

The grand jury decision that Americans have been waiting for and bracing for came last night in the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri. As the Washington Post reports,

“A grand jury on Monday declined to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager, resolving a secretive, months-long legal saga and reigniting powerful frustrations about America’s policing of African Americans.”

The lead article on the issue in the New York Times offered a similar view of the facts.

“A St. Louis County grand jury has brought no criminal charges against Darren Wilson, a white police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager, more than three months ago in nearby Ferguson.”

The Times, through reporters Monica Davey and Julie Bosman, goes on to say,

“The decision by the grand jury of nine whites and three blacks was announced Monday night by the St. Louis County prosecutor, Robert P. McCulloch, at a news conference packed with reporters from around the world.”

The paragraph goes on to state,

“The killing, on a residential street in Ferguson, set off weeks of civil unrest — and a national debate — fueled by protesters’ outrage over what they called a pattern of police brutality against young black men. Mr. McCulloch said Officer Wilson had faced charges ranging from first-degree murder to involuntary manslaughter.”

But as the news reports uniformly indicate, the grand jury found no probable cause to bring an indictment on any one of these crimes against Officer Wilson.

For the most part, the announcement is exactly what legal analysts would’ve expected. It’s very difficult to bring a charge against a police officer who was involved in this kind of shooting in the line of duty. In almost any jurisdiction this kind of police shooting would’ve led to an internal affairs investigation – probably not to a grand jury consideration. But the political stakes in Ferguson, Missouri were always high. High after the images of Michael Brown shot and dead on the ground in a residential street in that city spread not only throughout St. Louis but throughout the world. But as big a story as the announcement from the grand jury was in itself, the aftermath has become an even larger story and exactly the kind of larger story that was feared. For what happened in the aftermath of the announcement from the grand jury was an outbreak of violent protests that set at least some parts of the neighborhood of Ferguson, Missouri on fire.

Furthermore, the protests there in the St. Louis area turned violent with police reporting widespread automatic gunfire in the city, even as Americans saw a constant video stream of arsonists, protesters, and looters rampaging through some St. Louis neighborhoods. As the night wore on, the Federal Aviation Administration stopped all incoming flights into St. Louis’ major airports, citing automatic gunfire in the immediate area of the airport. As the evening wore on, protest spread to other major American cities as well. In the aftermath of the grand jury’s announcement, the family of Michael Brown, including his parents, called for protests to be peaceful but their own admonition was not heeded.

Furthermore, as the evening continued, President Obama spoke to the nation from the White House about the decision of the grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri. Christians trying to understand what is at stake in this very sad spectacle should pay particular attention to President Obama’s comments. As the president began, he said,

“As you know, a few moments ago, the grand jury deliberating the death of Michael Brown issued its decision. It’s an outcome that, either way, was going to be subject of intense disagreement not only in Ferguson, but across America. So I want to just say a few words suggesting how we might move forward.”

In one of his most important public statements to date, President Obama continued saying,

“First and foremost, we are a nation built on the rule of law.  And so we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make. There are Americans who agree with it, and there are Americans who are deeply disappointed, even angry.  It’s an understandable reaction.  But I join Michael’s parents in asking anyone who protests this decision to do so peacefully. Let me repeat Michael’s father’s words:  ‘Hurting others or destroying property is not the answer.  No matter what the grand jury decides, I do not want my son’s death to be in vain. I want it to lead to incredible change, positive change, change that makes the St. Louis region better for everyone.’  [The President then said,]Michael Brown’s parents have lost more than anyone. We should be honoring their wishes.”

As the President continued his remarks he turned to address law enforcement officials saying,

“I also appeal to the law enforcement officials in Ferguson and the region to show care and restraint in managing peaceful protests that may occur. Understand, our police officers put their lives on the line for us every single day.  They’ve got a tough job to do to maintain public safety and hold accountable those who break the law. As they do their jobs in the coming days, they need to work with the community, not against the community, to distinguish the handful of people who may use the grand jury’s decision as an excuse for violence — distinguish them from the vast majority who just want their voices heard around legitimate issues in terms of how communities and law enforcement interact.”

Finally, the President said,

“…we need to recognize that the situation in Ferguson speaks to broader challenges that we still face as a nation.”

The President’s comments were restrained and responsible. As a matter of fact, it’s hard to imagine a more suitable and responsible set of comments for a President to make – much less the nation’s first elected African-American President.

The President went on to say that the cooperation needed between the police and the community means,

“…working with law enforcement officials to make sure their ranks are representative of the communities they serve. We know [says the President,] that makes a difference. It means working to train officials so that law enforcement conducts itself in a way that is fair to everybody.”

Well that’s one of the most fundamental statements that virtually everyone would agree with. The difficulty is pulling that off in the context of heightened tensions. The President said it means enlisting the community actively on what should be everybody’s goal and that is to prevent crime. But in a truly tragic juxtaposition, even as the President was speaking such judicious words, the images coming on the video stream from Missouri were images of burning buildings, of protesters with violent actions in the street, of looting and vandalism. The President’s statement included these very important words. He said,

“But what is also true is that there are still problems and communities of color aren’t just making these problems up.”

When you think about how President Obama should address the issue, once again it’s hard to imagine how a statement could be more judicious and responsible than that. He went on to say,

“Separating that from this particular decision, there are issues in which the law too often feels as if it is being applied in discriminatory fashion. I don’t think that’s the norm. I don’t think that’s true for the majority of communities or the vast majority of law enforcement officials. But these are real issues.  And we have to lift them up and not deny them or try to tamp them down. What we need to do is to understand them and figure out how do we make more progress.  And that can be done.”

But then the President said, even as the images of violence were behind him on many television screens,

“That won’t be done by throwing bottles. That won’t be done by smashing car windows. That won’t be done by using this as an excuse to vandalize property. And it certainly won’t be done by hurting anybody. So, to those in Ferguson, there are ways of channeling your concerns constructively and there are ways of channeling your concerns destructively. Michael Brown’s parents understand what it means to be constructive. The vast majority of peaceful protesters, they understand it as well.”

Well that last point made by the President seems to be refuted by the images on the television screen. But that’s one of the points we need to consider. In making his comments last night, the prosecutor pointed to what he called the 24 hour news cycle and to a rush to judgment in terms of the press. But it’s very easy to understand that rush to judgment – even as it is impossible to excuse it. That rush to judgment can also happen to the viewers of those looking at these video streams because even as appropriately the news media were covering the violence, the arson, and the vandalism, the reality is what the cameras weren’t covering was a large number of protesters who were not involved in this kind of violent activity. By the very nature of the fact that they were not, they did not draw the camera attention.

What we see on the screen, whether it’s on the television or any other form of video screen, is only a micro picture – it’s only a very small fraction of what is actually taking place. It’s very dangerous for us to look at images and imagine that we actually know the totality, certainly the larger context, of what is going on. But at the same time, the camera doesn’t lie. What we’re looking at last night was a vast exercise in what can only be described as the near meltdown of civilization. One of the most important things the President said last night is that Americans believe in the rule of law. Speaking of the grand jury, he made very clear the decision was the grand jury’s to make. What the president did not say, probably for sake of time and clarity, was that the very existence of the grand jury is one of the great civil rights protections Americans have by virtue of the United States Constitution. Grand jury’s, made up of ordinary citizens in the community, exist as a buffer between the police and the prosecutors and the people so that the police and prosecutors are prevented from bringing frivolous charges – or very flimsy charges – on inadequate evidence against an individual; certainly when it comes to a major criminal charge. That’s a very important protection that is granted to us in the United States Constitution.

The grand jury their Missouri looking at this incident considered between 60 and 70 hours of testimony, including the rather unusual opportunity to have face-to-face testimony from the man who would’ve been the defendant – the police officer, Darren Wilson. In keeping with the rules of the grand jury, the officer had agreed to meet before the panel without the benefit of his own attorney. The grand jury was charged with a very serious responsibility. It had to look at the evidence, indeed it had to sift through the evidence, using its own authority to subpoena witnesses and to compel testimony from them. At the end of the day the grand jury found that there was no adequate evidence to find probable cause to charge Officer Wilson with any of the available criminal counts against him; ranging from counts of murder all the way down to manslaughter.

And the reason legal analysts expected this very result is that when a police officer is involved in this kind of shooting – even a fatal shooting –  in the line of duty, certainly in the process of making an arrest, the burden of proof is exceedingly high for anyone to demonstrate the misuse of that force – much less any deliberate criminal intent. When the President spoke of the importance of the rule of law he pointed to the importance of civilization.

One of the things that Christians should think about very seriously in this matter is the fact that this kind of justice system, the very existence of the grand jury and its privilege of responsibly deliberating these issues on behalf of the people, this is a testimony to the rule of law as an achievement of civilization. This requires community trust and cohesion; it requires the furnishing and the nourishing of institutions – including the judiciary, the police, and an entire system of customs and patterns of laws and statutes that make order within the society, within the civilization possible. But what we saw on video feed last night was a subversion of those very structures that makes civilization possible, of the morality and the rule of law that make our society actually operate – protecting the civil rights of all.

Now several things need to be noted here. There are many people who are saying the system is broken. Well in one sense, Christians understand that every system is only as good as the human beings fragile frail and sometimes downright faulty involved in the process. There is no perfect system, not humanly speaking, because human beings are involved in it. And this means that some of the accusations and concerns coming from the African-American community have to be taken very seriously. Christians should be at the forefront of demanding that these concerns be thoroughly vetted, heard, and considered, because after all we do know that as important as these systems are, every system indeed breaks down at the very fallibility of human beings. It is no insult to the system, it is no insult to the society, to make very clear that we have to watch continually that we’re living up to our ideals – including the ideal of equal standing, equal justice, before the law.

Furthermore, we know there is a heritage, there is a history here, and African-Americans can document many miscarriages of justice in which the police and law enforcement officials were very clearly using the rule of law as a weapon rather than as a protection for African-Americans. Christians operating out of the biblical worldview understand the importance of law and furthermore we come to understand the importance of the maintenance of the institutions of social stability in order to protect the human flourishing of all involved. But we also remind ourselves of our understanding of human sinfulness and we should add of the fact that justice is an achievement, an achievement that must be true for the entirety of the society, for every single individual within it. We have to come to the understanding that if any within our society are on the underside of the rule of law, not because they have broken the law but because the law is being wrongly applied or it is being selectively enforced, then we have to act on behalf of the entirety because injustice to one ends up being, eventually, injustice to all.

But the images coming out of Ferguson, Missouri also serve as a powerful reminder of the fact that the kind of reform, the kind of improvement in justice that is needed in our society cannot be brought about by flaunting that form of justice with the kind of injustice that was seen on the streets. The rule of law cannot be improved, nor corrected – much less reformed – by lawlessness. And the subversion of the rule of law on the streets of Missouri last night is a refutation of the claim that this is being done in the name of justice. It will take some time for the dust to settle on this case and there may be further legal issues yet in the future. But this much is clear, the people in St. Louis, Missouri and that community have a great deal of rebuilding to do; the rebuilding of trust, the rebuilding of social institutions, the rebuilding of cohesion, the rebuilding of the relationship between the police and the people. Those are very high responsibilities.

But the nation as a whole still faces the responsibility to look at the questions of race and the law, of law enforcement injustice, of righteousness and mercy, and the rule of law and to consider a new what must be done in order to make our system of justice even more fair and fair for all. But that process would require a form of truth telling that was notably absent from almost every dimension and every phase of the controversy over the incident there in Missouri. We can be almost a sure that after some period of protest things will calm down there in Missouri, they always do. But that doesn’t mean that the problem goes away. Christians are those who know that the responsibility is ours to make certain that problems are not merely swept under the rug – that we do not look for a false peace.

President Obama’s words last night were a very good start. This might be an opportunity for his own personal presidential leadership to be demonstrated in a way that could lead to a significant gain for the entire nation. In the final analysis, Christians looking at the events and the images coming from Ferguson, Missouri should be prompted to remember just how urgently we need to pray for our nation, for our communities. We need to pray for the Brown family grieving the death of a son. In any event, no matter what the facts were the facts that may have been considered by the grand jury, facts perhaps known only to God. The reality is they had a son who is now dead whom they loved. At the very least, Christians should understand the imperative to pray for that family suffering this grief – a grief compounded by the events of recent days and hours; even as their own call for peaceful protest was flaunted by so many protesters.

We also need to remember to pray for those who are also involved in this in ways that others might not remember. We need to pray for the police, we need to pray for those in legal authority, we need to pray not only for the Brown family but for the Wilson family, praying that all will be protected from harm. And we need to pray for peace in all of our communities, understanding the reality that the Bible makes very clear and that is that peace is the product of righteousness. Where there is no righteousness, there is no peace.

In the immediate aftermath of the events last night and early this morning in Ferguson, Missouri the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal made this statement,

“One measure—perhaps the measure—of a civilized society is the respect it shows for the rule of law. The decision by a grand jury not to indict Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson for shooting unarmed black teenager Michael Brown is such a test for America.”

That is a profoundly important sentence. Yes, indeed. The events of these past months, the larger context of conflict between African-American communities and the police, the continuing scar of racial division in America, the immediate aftermath of the decision by the grand jury they in Missouri – all of these things point profoundly to the fact that they are a test for America. One of the most encouraging aspects of Pres. Obama’s comments last night, to me at least, was the fact that the President spoke very carefully – even hopefully – citing improvements in terms of race relations in America and his hope that these kinds of challenges can be met by responsible Americans. We must pray and work so that the images of broken so apparent last night can be transformed into images of wholeness.

Last night is all these events were unfolding my wife Mary and I found ourselves in a long-delayed transcontinental flight coming from the West Coast back to our home in Louisville, Kentucky. That is to say, as these events are going on we were flying over the vast heartland of the continental United States. At one point even as images were coming across video screens within the airplane cabin of the violence in St. Louis, we recognized we were flying even then right over that troubled city. That led us to pray in a whole new way for the communities we saw below us; represented by the sparkling lights we could see on the Earth’s surface.

From time to time every nation, every people, every community, faces a series of tests – moral tests, economic test, political and social tests – this is a huge moral test for America. Ground zero of that test is a community of St. Louis, Missouri – especially the neighborhood of Ferguson. But intelligent Christians operating out of a biblical worldview know that this is not just the problem of Ferguson, Missouri, it’s the problem of the human heart and we understand that the Bible and the Bible alone gives us an adequate understanding of where these problems reside, where they come from, and how in the final analysis they can only be solved. But these tests can bring out the best or the worst in a people, a community or nation. As we look at the situation in America this morning, let’s pray – fervently – that this test will bring out the best and not the worst of all the American people. All the other issues I had planned to talk about today on The Briefing got swept away, that’s sometimes just the way it is. As morning breaks across America this is enough for us to think about today.

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 tomorrow for The Briefing.




Podcast Transcript

1) Response to Ferguson grand jury’s decision a moral test for all America 

Ferguson police officer won’t be charged in fatal shooting, Washington Post (Chico Harlan, Wesley Lowery, and Kimberly Kindy)

Protests Flare After Ferguson Officer Is Not Indicted, New York Times (Monica Davey and Julie Bosman)

Amid Missouri unrest, FAA closes air space over Ferguson, Los Angeles Times (Matt Pearce)

President Obama Delivers a Statement On the Ferguson Grand Jury’s Decision, White House (Pres. Barack Obama)

The Ferguson Decision, Wall Street Journal (Editorial Board)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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