The Briefing 12-03-14

The Briefing 12-03-14

The Briefing


December 3, 2014

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


It’s Wednesday, December 3, 2014, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Decline in divorce rates result of overall decline in marriage 

The issue of marriage and divorce has been in the headlines for decades now but never more importantly than in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times. The article appeared right inside the front page of the newspaper on page 3; the headline, “The Divorce Surge Is Over, but the Myth Lives On.” With this article the New York Times is pointing to something that conservative scholars of marriage and others have been pointing to for some time and that is this: the rate of divorce in the United States is not going up, it’s actually going down and it has been for some time.

This is not to argue in any way that divorce is not a problem in American culture, it is profoundly a problem. As a matter fact, it is a more important problem than the problem of same-sex marriage in terms of the impact on families and especially on children. Far more damage will have been done to the institution of marriage by divorce than by the creation of so-called same-sex marriage. But the divorce culture in terms of American life is not what people think it is, and many in the Christian side of the equation have been pointing to this for a matter of years now. The reality is that the press, the national press in particular, has been following a narrative it simply has refused to let go of. And that narrative is that marriage is a very tenuous institution and that divorce is more the expectation than the exception.

But is Claire Cain Miller reports for the New York Times yesterday,

“It is no longer true that the divorce rate is rising, or that half of all marriages end in divorce. It has not been for some time. Even though social scientists have tried to debunk those myths, somehow the conventional wisdom has held.”

Now, she recounted an earlier paragraphs in the article how the national media and the national culture in general have been reporting the ‘half of all marriages end in divorce’ or even worse, that ‘more than half of all marriages end in divorce’ even though that hasn’t been true for a very long time. She writes,

“About 70 percent of marriages that began in the 1990s reached their 15th anniversary (excluding those in which a spouse died), up from about 65 percent of those that began in the 1970s and 1980s. Those who married in the 2000s are so far divorcing at even lower rates. If current trends continue, nearly two-thirds of marriages will never involve a divorce, according to data from Justin Wolfers, a University of Michigan economist (who also contributes to The [New York Times]).”

Now Miller goes on to suggest the many reasons for the drop in divorce; including later marriage, birth control, and the rise of so-called love marriages. She explains,

“These same forces have helped reduce the divorce rate in parts of Europe, too. Much of the trend has to do with changing gender roles,”

Before looking at some of the deeper issues, it is important to track some of the data that in this case Claire Cain Miller’s bringing to the article. For instance, two thirds of all divorces are initiated by women. That’s something that most people probably don’t know. When marriages break up, two thirds of them are the result of a divorce that was initiated by the wife not by the husband. Furthermore, as Miller writes,

“The marriage trends aren’t entirely happy ones. They also happen to be a force behind rising economic and social inequality, because the decline in divorce is concentrated among people with college degrees. For the less educated, divorce rates are closer to those of the peak divorce years.”

That’s a very important paragraph but it gets back to a basic question that is fundamentally unanswerable. And that is, which is the chicken and which is the egg? What caused this equation? Is economic inequality a result of marital breakdown or the absence of marriage or is it the result of it? There are good reasons to argue that it’s the result of the breakdown and marginalization of marriage, not because of it.

But it is a cultural achievement, it’s a moral achievement of sorts, to have the New York Times look at data like this and bring such an honest evaluation – even clarifying, in this case, is a genuine cultural and public service. Christians reading this article are going to read it with very different eyes because we look at marriage not just as a sociological institution but as a theological institution; as a spiritual institution. And in so doing we understand that marriage is not merely the product of some kind of human construction or social development, it is to the contrary one of God’s gifts – an institution given to humanity for God’s glory and for human flourishing and given to all humanity in God’s act of creation. Marriage, as you’ll recall, appears even at the conclusion of Genesis chapter 2.

Christians looking at this article are likely to see questions that weren’t asked and answers that weren’t contemplated. But what’s here is really powerful. And it’s powerful both because it’s printed in the New York Times and because it arrives with this kind of clarification – suggesting that the national culture simply has it wrong and the national media is often complicit in getting it wrong, in suggesting that divorce rates are rising or that they are even now at the rates they were back in the 1970s and 80s. But one of the questions that isn’t adequately addressed in this article is the question of ‘why?’ and even as the New York Times here tries to make the argument that the ‘why?’ is related to a different conception of marriage – what they call love marriage – and a changed gender roles between men and women, the bigger issue is actually addressed later in the article when Miller writes,

“Some of the decline in divorce clearly stems from the fact that fewer people are getting married — and some of the biggest declines in marriage have come among groups at risk of divorce. But it also seems to be the case that marriages have gotten more stable, as people are marrying later.”

Well let’s look at that for just a moment. First of all, the first part of that statement ‘some of the decline in divorce clearly stems from fewer people getting married,’ that is so true it should be earlier in the article. Looking at the marriage picture statistically there is no question that the main reason that there are fewer divorces is that there are fewer marriages in the first place. If you never marry, you’re obviously not at risk of divorce. This shouldn’t be buried lower in the article and as late as it arrives in this piece. It should be far closer to the very front of the article when the question ‘why?’ first appears but at least it is here and the New York Times deserves credit for allowing it to be here in such clear form. The fact is that the marginalization of marriage has had a devastating effect on marriage, upon human lives, especially upon children born outside of wedlock, and even as we certainly celebrate lower divorce rates and the fact that divorce rates are lower even just in terms of the aggregate number of marriage, still the fact that people are getting married is even a bigger problem.

The second part of that paragraph is found when Miller writes,

“…it also seems to be the case that marriages have gotten more stable, as people are marrying later.”

It also seems to be the case that marriages have grown more stable as people are marrying later. That’s an inference from the data that’s not clearly revealed in the data at all because there is also the argument available in the data to argue that marrying later has precisely the opposite effect because people who are not getting married earlier may not actually gain the social traction to marry at all.

The other major portion of this article dealing with marriage and how it has changed deals with what the New York Times calls the development of love marriage. Now this is termed in sociology, companionate marriage, it means a shift from marriage that is basically understood as a social institution with an economic function to being a romantic institution. And as a matter fact that’s not a particularly late development; it comes in the period of the Renaissance when all of a sudden you had the idea of romantic love eclipsing the idea of a family or clan relationship or an economic institution in terms of the definition of marriage. But what is absolutely appropriate in terms of the timeliness of this article is the understanding that many people marry today solely for what they understand to be romantic reasons.

The New York Times seems to celebrate that but it also seems to understand that there are implications of that development. One of them is that marriage now often doesn’t come, even in the view of those who are getting married, with all the parts, with all the components, with all the responsibilities that seem to be included in marriage in its original form – not to mention its biblical form. In one of the oddest paragraphs in the article Miller writes,

“The people who married soon before the feminist movement were caught in the upheaval. They had married someone who was a good match for the postwar culture but the wrong partner after times changed. Modern marriage is more stable because people are again marrying people suitable to the world in which we live.”

Now the first question in addressing that paragraph is asking the basic question, what could she possibly mean to say there? In her next paragraph she quotes Professor Wolfers who said quote,

“It’s just love now. We marry to find our soul mate, rather than a good homemaker or a good earner.”

Now what makes that so remarkable is that the very same newspaper has been running not just one but a series of articles in recent months suggesting that the reason many women are getting married is because they’re having a hard time finding a man who’s earning a decent wage. Now once again, one of the questions you should ask of a newspaper is whether the people who write it and edit it, read it, because if they did, this article would have to be considerably different.

There’s another matter addressed in the article that the article gets basically downright wrong, a fact that is also provable by other articles that have appeared in the same newspaper just in the last year. Miller writes,

“Perhaps surprisingly, more permissive attitudes may also play a role. The fact that most people live together before marrying means that more ill-fated relationships end in breakups instead of divorce. And the growing acceptance of single-parent families has reduced the number of shotgun marriages, which were never the most stable of unions,”

Now, in this case she’s quoting, you won’t be surprised here, Stephanie Coontz, a professor at Evergreen State University, one of the nation’s leading exponents of marriage and family revisionism. The part in this article that is thus absolutely wrong is suggesting that cohabitation before marriage is actually somehow a defense of marriage itself. The recent reports coming out from the United States Census Bureau, and there’s been numerous news articles dealing with this, has to do with the fact that cohabitation is not serving now as a preparation for marriage but rather as a substitute for marriage, with most young Americans cohabitating without marriage even actually even being on the horizon.

To its credit the article does get to the effects of the marginalization and subversion of marriage in terms of the last paragraph where we read,

“And the effects could last for decades, as the children of stable marriages grow up with both the immediate benefits and the role models for successful future relationships — while at the same time, record numbers of children grow up in one-parent households.”

In this article the New York Times does perform a public service of clarification and truth telling. It also doesn’t get the story just quite right. This puts the secular press and the larger secular culture in a remarkably awkward position trying to say these developments are to be celebrated while pointing to the pathologies that indicate very serious negative results. But at least, and for this the New York Times deserves credit, it tells both sides of the story – in these days, that’s quite an achievement.

2) Muslim prayer in National Cathedral example of secularized religion in America

Next, a news story that is rooted in something that took place a couple of weeks ago is growing in importance as people begin to understand what took place in the Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul – otherwise known as the National Cathedral in Washington DC. As Carol Kuruvilla of the Huffington Post reports,

“On Friday [that would be November 14], the Washington National Cathedral was filled with the sounds of Muslim prayers. Muslims and people of other religious traditions have participated in Christian or Interfaith services at the Cathedral in the past. However, the November 14 event marks the first time American Muslims have been invited to lead their own traditional Jummah prayer inside the same sacred space that has hosted presidential funerals and other national religious services.”

Just prior to the event, Michelle Boorstein of the Washington Post reported,

“The cathedral, part of the Episcopal Church, has long held high-profile interfaith events, and some mosques hold services in synagogues or churches if they need overflow space. But organizers said Monday that they are seeking to make a statement by having Muslim leaders come and hold their midday service in such a visible Christian house of worship.”

If they were attending to make a statement, I would argue they succeeded – wildly succeeded – in making a statement. But what is the statement? Boorstein also explains that the service developed out of a relationship between the Cathedral’s director of liturgy, the Rev. Gina Campbell, and the South African ambassador to the United States, Ebrahim Rasool who is Muslim. The two, she says, worked together on a moral service for Nelson Mandela.

“This is a dramatic moment in the world and in Muslim-Christian relations,”

That was said by Ambassador Rasool in a prepared statement,

“This needs to be a world in which all are free to believe and practice and in which we avoid bigotry, Islamaphobia, racism, anti-Semitism, and anti-Christianity and to embrace our humanity and to embrace faith.”

The story gets only more interesting as it is looked at more closely. For instance, the Muslim participants, estimated about 100, brought their prayer rugs into the national Cathedral in order to hold the Muslim service and as they did so they faced the portion of the Cathedral in which they could most easily avoid all Christian symbolism – all crosses or stained-glass or anything that would have Christian symbolism within it. They of course had to face toward Mecca in order to fulfill Muslim tradition and teaching.

The Huffington Post reported that the Cathedral removed some chairs in the north transept in order to place carpeting on the floor. The north transept also has limited Christian iconography, said the Post, which the Cathedral said provided “an ideal space almost mosque-like with the appropriate orientation for Muslim prayers.” Now keep in mind this is being said by a spokesman for a supposedly Christian church. Ambassador Rasool said that the National Cathedral’s ornate carvings arches and long central aisle reminded him of what he described as ancient mosques. Meanwhile, the Cathedral’s director of liturgy said,

“What struck me was how he could look at our building and see his mosque. That was a powerful moment to realize we could be standing in the same spot in the same building and see our own prayer traditions.”

After the service the Very Rev. Gary Hall, identified as Dean of the National Cathedral, spoke of St. Benedict who he said believed equally in the importance of prayer and hospitality. According to the Washington Post,

“Marveling at the sounds of Arabic prayers [which he called ‘a beautiful sacred language in a beautiful sacred space’] Hall said he hoped the service would serve as the start of more efforts to work together for good”

Now as I said, those who are holding the service, those who were sponsoring it at the National Cathedral, indicated that they wanted to make a statement. And as I said, they fully succeeded in making a statement but the statement they made is this: when you have a group of Christians and Muslims gather together with this kind of confusion what you need to recognize is that you have Christians holding onto a very tenuous understanding of historic Christianity and you have Muslims who are not representative of worldwide Islam. And that’s exactly what you had with reference to both partners in this prayer service held in the nation’s National Cathedral. What you had was a very liberal Protestant church, in this case more liberal than Protestant, and you had a very liberal group of Muslims who actually weren’t very representative of Islam either in the United States or around the world.

To take just one example, if you were actually dealing with Islam in the Islamic world you would not have women present with the men in these prayer services. Men alone would be in the main area of the mosque. Furthermore, if you understand historic Christianity, biblical Christianity, you would understand that it would be impossible to welcome within the communion of the Christian church prayers to be offered in which the entire presupposition is that Allah has no son – in other words, it is a direct repudiation of Jesus Christ in His incarnation and in His deity. It also says a very great deal that this kind of service can only take place in a highly secularized nation with highly secularized versions of both Christianity and Islam. This kind of thing could not take place elsewhere and you can be absolutely assured that no major Islamic mosque of any stature whatsoever would allow a Christian service to be held within it and for the Christian gospel to be declared within its walls. That is absolutely incomprehensible and would be considered an entire abdication of Islamic responsibility by faithful Muslims.

But when thinking about the fate of authentic biblical Christianity in a highly secularized world, you have to look at the fact that this is exactly what the watching culture wants to take place. The culture around us, representing a very highly secularized worldview and especially as that worldview is representative of the cultural political and intellectual elites, this is exactly what they’re looking for – people who claim to be Christian but have very little hold upon historic Christianity, and those who claim to the Muslim but are not representative of Islam worldwide, gathering together in a beautiful space of remarkable so-called sacred architecture in order to make a point that a secular world would find reassuring and nonthreatening.

At least some in the national media pointed honestly to the fact that the South African ambassador in this case is also known to have connections to the Islamic Brotherhood – something that surely wasn’t mentioned in terms of the major presentation and explanation of the service offered by officials of the national Cathedral. There’s another point to be made here as well and that’s the point with which I began. The actual name of the National Cathedral chartered by Congress early in the 20th century is that it is the Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul. You can only imagine what the actual St. Peter and St. Paul would make of this; taking place in the Cathedral that, at least formally, is known by their names. But as I said just a couple days ago on The Briefing, I must say again, churches and denominations do not die by homicide, they died by theological suicide and here’s yet another example of what that suicide looks like.

3) Real Madrid removes cross from apparel to appease Arab partner

It is said that Vladimir Lenin said that the capitalists would compete to sell the rope when the time came to hang the capitalists. It’s not actually known whether he said that or not, but if he didn’t say it, he probably should have, because it reflected both his worldview and the way at least certain capitalist work. The example of that came in the articles that appeared in the international press in recent days over the Spanish football club, known in the United States as a soccer club, known as Real Madrid. In this case, one of are the world’s winningest soccer teams is also one of the most valuable sport franchises and it has a new partner; and that partner is in Abu Dhabi.

As The Telegraph in London reports,

“Real Madrid [has] removed the cross from their club crest as part of a lucrative three-year deal with the National Bank of Abu Dhabi. It is believed the European champions’ new crest, minus the Christian cross, was created so as not to offend Muslim sensibilities in the United Arab Emirates, where a marketing drive will take place.”

The President of the club, Florentino Perez, labeled the deal as,

“…a strategic alliance with one of the most prestigious institutions in the world.”

And by that he means the national Bank of Abu Dhabi. But as The Telegraph reports, the redesigning of the famous club badge shows, and this is reported by the Spanish newspaper Marca, how far the world’s top sport teams are now willing to go “including sacrificing part of their famous identity to generate new revenue streams.”

In this case the team is partnering with the bank and products that will include a cosponsor credit card, and the credit card is going to have the newly designed crest upon it which will be without the Spanish crown’s historic Christian cross.

The Guardian, another London newspaper, reported,

“The crest, which was originally designed in 1931, usually contains a cross on top of a crown but that has been removed for use in the Middle East in order not to offend Muslim sensibilities in the region. The original design will continue to be used in Europe.”

Also according to The Guardian this move could be,

“The first of several designed to appease Arab backers.”

Well as I said, Lenin may or may not have said that when the time comes to hang the capitalists the capitalists will compete to sell the rope but this much is clear. This is a team that was ready to sell out the Spanish crown and its Christian symbolism, historically rooted in the tradition of Spain, in order to have a deal that would also allow them not to offend Muslim sensibilities in accomplishing that deal. And that should simply underline what the apostle Paul made very clear in 1 Corinthian 1, the cross itself is offensive. But it’s one thing to understand that offense in the context of a marketing deal in the Middle East; it’s another thing altogether to understand that offence when people are trying to face away from the cross in national Cathedral.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For information on Boyce College just go to I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.




Podcast Transcript

1) Decline in divorce rates result of overall decline in marriage 

 The Divorce Surge Is Over, but the Myth Lives On, New York Times (Claire Cain Miller)

2) Muslim prayer in National Cathedral example of secularized religion in America

Washington National Cathedral Hosts First Muslim Prayer Service, Huffington Post (Carol Kuruvilla)

In a first, Washington National Cathedral to host Friday Muslim prayer service, Washington Post (Michelle Boorstein)

Muslim Friday Services (Jumu’ah), National Cathedral

3) Real Madrid removes cross from apparel to appease Arab partner

Real Madrid lose Christian cross from club crest to appease Abu Dhabi bank, The Telegraph

Real Madrid drop Christian cross from club crest in Middle East, 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).