The Briefing 12-10-14

The Briefing 12-10-14

The Briefing


December 10, 2014

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


It’s Wednesday, December 10, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) CIA torture report fails to provide recommendations in response to brutalities

A long anticipated and already controversial report was released yesterday by a Senate committee and the report is controversial not only because of what it contains but of how it originated and why and when it was released. The report is being described in the media as a partisan report because the report was undertaken in terms of an investigation by the Democratic majority in the Senate intelligence committee. It was prepared by this same majority and released by that majority. And so we’re looking at a report that originated in a partisan controversy but is pointing to some genuinely serious moral issues that no American would hope to evade.

The front page story in the Washington Post reads, “Senate Report on CIA Program Details Brutality and Dishonesty.” Greg Miller, Adam Goldman, and Julie Tate writing for the Post tell us,

“An exhaustive five-year Senate investigation of the CIA’s secret interrogations of terrorism suspects renders a strikingly bleak verdict on a program launched in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, describing levels of brutality, dishonesty and seemingly arbitrary violence that at times brought even agency employees to moments of anguish.”

The controversy over the report preceded its release yesterday. It has to do with what are described as ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ used in the war on terror; particularly by American defense and intelligence agencies singled out in this report, the Central Intelligence Agency or the CIA. And yet the report as it was released yesterday tells us that what was taking place on the war on terror, in terms of these enhanced interrogation techniques, and were techniques and approaches that are well described as torture. And this is led to the greatest controversy over the report. Were these actions undertaken in the name of the American people and were they necessary? Were they in any sense moral? Does any civilized nation employ these kinds of enhanced interrogation techniques no matter what is at stake?

The reality is that this report that was released yesterday is only part of the larger report, most of which is still considered highly classified. As a matter fact the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report is over 6,000 pages long – only about 500 pages were released yesterday. These are highly redacted, that is to say chosen pages, and they were chosen by the Democratic majority on the committee because the Republicans on the committee distance themselves from the process and from the report because they saw it as an attempt to libel the CIA from the very beginning. And one of the chief criticisms being made about this report is that it simply isn’t fair in terms of how it came about or how the study was conducted. For instance, the most controversial element of all in this has to do with the fact that the report, the entire investigation, is drawn entirely from documentary evidence provided by the CIA – there was no conversation, no interview, there was no testimony from any living person in the course of this investigation. Senate authorities themselves have suggested that this is unprecedented. In other words what we had was a Senate Intelligence Committee, Democratic majority, deciding to interrogate the CIA without any conversation or any testimony, without any explanation from a human being, about what the documentary evidence meant – or now means.

From a Christian worldview perspective it’s hard to separate the issues out in terms of this massive issue. There is no doubt that the most significant issue that faces us is the issue of the techniques themselves; well described in terms of some of the material in this report as torture. Were these things undertaken on behalf of the American people? The answer from the documentary evidence is, it appears almost assuredly so. Were at least some of the techniques employed here actually torture? For that definition I simply turn to someone who has the most credibility of any member the United States Senate in dealing with that issue and I would suggest that that is Republican Senator John McCain. He was himself a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War, he was imprisoned in the notorious Hanoi Hilton, and he was himself tortured.

Senator McCain who took to the Senate floor yesterday afternoon shortly after the release of the report distance himself from the report but even more importantly he said that what took place in terms of at least some of these techniques was torture. And he made the very direct argument that the American government and the American people should never put up with any kind of torture technique being employed by American personnel and in the name of the American people. McCain’s point, and again I would simply argue that he has the credibility – if not the solitary credibility in the United States Senate to speak most effectively to this – Senator McCain said the problem with torture is that first of all it is immoral. Secondly, it doesn’t work.

But at least some even in the Democratic majority and in the Senate staff of that majority indicated that even as this kind of enhanced interrogation technique was sometimes slipping into torture and even though it is both wrong and unproductive in terms of intelligence, according to the report, there are times at which virtually everyone at the time agreed that it was necessary and at the time agreed that it was at least in some sense productive.

Michael Gerson, a columnist for the Washington Post with experience within the Bush administration – he was on the chief speechwriter for former President George W. Bush –  he described the release of the report as, “an act of exceptional recklessness.” Gerson, very well known as an evangelical Christian who has written about his experience as a Christian in government in the midst of this crisis, Gerson writes about the fact that the American people and the American military have been involved in the war on terror in terms of new ground, in terms of military experience. Fighting in what has been described as asymmetrical warfare in which the need for this intelligence was often dramatic and immediate. Furthermore, he writes,

“The U.S. response in the war against terrorism has been dramatically more selective and focused on combatants. Even so, the CIA is often forced to operate at the edge of the United States’ acceptable response — currently with drone strikes and a variety of activities to degrade and dismantle the Islamic State. The avoidance of ‘boots on the ground’ in the Middle East has placed an additional burden on intelligence services to work with (often flawed) allies, target enemies and strike from afar. Political leaders, once again, urge intelligence officials to do what is necessary.”

In this sense, Christians should pay particular attention to Michael Gerson’s argument. He is arguing that the politicians, in a fallen world such as ours, facing the kind of asymmetrical warfare represented by the war on terror, often turn to intelligence agencies and defense forces and say, ‘do whatever is necessary, just get the job done,’ them in the aftermath they turn back and launch an investigation in order to distance themselves in the very actions they precipitated and approved of at the time. Writing about Senator Dianne Feinstein, the outgoing chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee who is behind the report and its release yesterday, Gerson writes,

“Dianne Feinstein, the outgoing chair of the committee, was thought to be more responsible. But her legacy is a massive dump of intelligence details useful to the enemy in a time of war. And she knows the likely results. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed the concerns of allies about increased violence. A National Intelligence Council report warned of threats to embassies, installations and individuals, and explored how partners would react to the disclosure.

He then writes,

“Tension with the CIA? Simple stubbornness? The main reason, I suspect, is different. Democrats who approved of enhanced interrogation at the time (such as Feinstein) must now construct an elaborate fantasy world in which they were not knowledgeable and supportive. They postulate a new reality in which they were innocent and deceived — requiring a conspiracy from three former CIA directors, three former deputy directors and hundreds of others.”

Perhaps the most authoritative word against the report came from a former Democratic senator and a former member of the same committee who has now openly questioned the motives and the actions of his former Democratic colleagues.

Writing for USA Today Senator Bob Kerrey, that is former Senator Bob Kerrey, says that this is a partisan report that fails America. He begins his article writing,

“I regret having to write a piece that is critical of the Democratic members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Most of them are former colleagues and friends. I hope they will remain friends after reading this.”

He also writes about the war on terror that the United States now faces and says,

“I also do not have to wait to know we are fighting a war that is different than any in our country’s past. The enemy does not have an easy to identify and analyze military. In the war against global jihadism, human intelligence and interrogation have become more important, and I worry that the partisan nature of this report could make this kind of collection more difficult.”

He then writes, and this is very important,

“I do not need to read the report to know that the Democratic staff alone wrote it. The Republicans checked out early when they determined that their counterparts started out with the premise that the CIA was guilty and then worked to prove it”

Senator Kerrey, again remember a former Democratic member not only of the Senate but of this select committee, then wrote,

“When Congress created the intelligence committees in the 1970’s, the purpose was for people’s representatives to stand above the fray and render balanced judgments about this most sensitive aspect of national security. This committee departed from that high road and slipped into the same partisan mode that marks most of what happens on Capitol Hill these days.”

One of Senator Kerrey’s main concerns in this report is that the fact that the committee did not talk to anyone from the CIA, they didn’t garner no testimony, had no conversation with anyone, conducted no interviews, means that they were simply drawing inferences from documentary material; documenting material that was supplied by the CIA for an investigation about the CIA, often dealing with materials that can only be interpreted and understood by the CIA.

Furthermore, the report that was released yesterday to the public represent something like 10 to 15% of a report that is thousands of pages long. So the American people are being sent a report that is highly redacted, highly chosen, and highly partisan. Does that mean therefore that we should reject everything that it addresses? From the Christian worldview perspective, assuredly not. It is very important we place this report in the partisan context out of which it has emerged. It is even more importantly that we place the support within the Christian worldview context that is our primary consideration and that raises the ultimate moral question. Is torture ever justified? And the answer to that must be almost assuredly no. No policy should ever justify the use of torture under any circumstance for any reason. But as Augustine, that great church father of the fifth century helped us to understand, in a fallen world even policies often fall apart in light of horrifying challenges. Sometimes that which is not policy, in which no policy should ever allow, happens because it simply is required by the circumstances in terms of an even more horrifying evil.

The worst part, in terms of the release of the report yesterday in the name of the American people, is that the American people, even after the release of this report, are simply unable to draw any rational conclusions about what actually took place in Afghanistan and Iraq and even more dangerously, we are unable to draw any policy recommendations about what should be done in the future. And that Senator Kerrey says, is the ultimate failure of this report. If it indeed documented everything it claims to have documented, why are there no recommendations? It is sheer cowardice for United States Senate Committee to release a report it says is this important that includes absolutely no policy recommendations about what to do in response. It has to make you wonder once again just how much credibility and confidence the committee itself has in its own report.

This is not the main issue I intended to discuss on The Briefing today and it is a horrifying issue, it simply staggers the Christian moral imagination sometimes to come to a realization in a fallen world of the things that are done on our behalf by those who are acting for our aid. But from a Christian worldview perspective we must understand there is no Christian rationale for the use of torture under any circumstances imaginable. But Christians must also be very candid and honest to say that we can conceive that there just might be circumstances in something like the war on terror in which one horrifyingly, even immoral thing, may be outweighed by an even more horrifying more immoral reality and that leads us to the final consideration which is it is very dangerous for any of us to either wash our hands as if we have no responsibility in this that is done in our name, nor to pose as if we do not know, as even the Democratic majority that released this report from that Senate committee yesterday must know and even will privately concede, these things happened in our name and at the time even some of the people who are now releasing this report in trying to distance himself from these procedures approved of them at the time.

Let’s remember that it was a Republican member of the Senate, Sen. John McCain, who nonetheless took to the floor yesterday in the Senate in order to clear in unequivocal terms with the credibility that only he possesses that the use of torture under any circumstances is immoral and wrong. That requires no partisan analysis and simply affirms what Christians must always understand; that is, when we pray that prayer ‘Even so Lord, come quickly,’ it’s because we know and we cannot not know that horrifying things are done in our name for our protection even by our own country.

2) Article notes rising denial of liberty by same sex marriage advocates

Next, a major British newsmagazine, the Spectator has run an important article with the headline “Gay Marriage and the Death of Freedom.” The subtitle of the article; “Rather than striking a blow for individual liberties, the dogma of gay marriage is stifling them.” It’s written by journalist Brendan O’Neill. He speaks about the theme of at least some in the effort to promote same-sex marriage under the banner of freedom to marry. He then writes,

“I hate to rain on this fabulous parade, but there’s a massive problem with this happy-clappy rallying cry. And it’s this: everywhere gay marriage has been introduced it has battered freedom, not boosted it. Debate has been chilled, dissenters harried, critics tear-gassed. Love and marriage might go together like horse and carriage, but freedom and gay marriage certainly do not. The double-thinking ‘freedom to marry’ has done more to power the elbow of the state than it has to expand the liberty of men and women.
There are awkward questions the ‘freedom to marry’ folks just can’t answer. Like: if gay marriage is a liberal cause, how come it’s been attended by authoritarianism wherever it’s been introduced?”

This is a pretty straightforward article. Its language is rather unusually candid and it’s right to the point. O’Neill writes,

“Consider France. Hundreds of thousands of French people — or ‘bigots’, as the gay-marriage lobby brands anyone who disagrees with it — marched against the legalisation of gay marriage in 2013. And they were beaten and tear-gassed by riot cops. Parisians in t-shirts celebrating traditional marriage were arrested for holding ‘unauthorised protests’. In the words of Parisian writer John Laughland, critics of gay marriage were turned into ‘ideological enemies’ of the French state. It’s a funny expansion of freedom that so violently pummels the right to protest.”

Or, he says, consider America (and rumor this is written by an Australian writing for a British newsmagazine).

“Consider America. The authorities there haven’t had to whip out their truncheons because non-state mobs have policed the opponents of gay marriage on their behalf. In the words of the author Damon Linker, a supporter of gay marriage, Americans who raise even a peep of criticism of gay marriage face ‘ostracism from public life’. We saw this with the medieval hounding of Brendan Eich out of his job at Mozilla after it was revealed that — oh, the humanity! — he isn’t a massive fan of gays getting married. Linker says the gay-marriage brigade has created a menacing climate, where the aim seems to be to ‘stamp out rival visions’. Americans who fail to bow at the altar of same-sex hitching, from wedding photographers to cake-makers, are harassed and boycotted and sometimes put out of business. The ‘freedom to marry’ clearly trumps the freedom of conscience.”

O’Neill then considers similar situations in Great Britain and elsewhere. Then he writes,

“Twenty-five years ago, American thinker Christopher Lasch argued that ‘progressive rhetoric has the effect of concealing social crisis and moral breakdown by presenting them as the birth pangs of a new order’.”

That’s a profoundly important sentence from a profoundly important thinker, Christopher Lasch. O’Neill then says,

“Bingo! There’s no better description of gay marriage.”

Let me repeat Christopher Lasch’s words; he said that’ progressive rhetoric has the effect of concealing social crisis and moral breakdown by presenting them as the birth pangs of a new order.’ In this case a new moral order represented most importantly by the legalization of same-sex marriage. O’Neill then writes,

“There’s no better description of gay marriage. Here, too, progressive-sounding rhetoric is really the dolling-up of our atomised, risk-averse societies’ growing disdain for those deep relationships in which families and communities traditionally socialised the next generation, mostly away from the prying eyes of the state. This is why the gay-marriage campaign is so contradictorily illiberal, so hostile to dissent, and so attractive to petty-authoritarian politicians: because it isn’t about expanding liberty at all; it’s about unilaterally overhauling the moral outlook of the traditionalist sections of society and elevating the commitment-phobic, passion-lite, short-termist values of the chattering classes instead.”

It’s simply important at this point to say that Brendan O’Neill has the situation clearly in view. This is not a movement towards greater human liberty but less human liberty, and it is because of something Brendan O’Neill does not actually acknowledge – perhaps because he doesn’t know it. That is something that is known to Christians operating out of the Christian worldview, and that is this: there can be no true liberty at the expense of a genuine morality. There can be no expansion of liberty at the cost of the destruction of the institutions that make human society possible. The intentional, willful destruction of marriage – of the traditional patterns and institutions of child rearing, indeed of the family – the marginalization of these very important institutions at the heart and center of human existence will come not with an expansion of true human liberty but with the loss of so most important and precious liberties known to us.

The Christian worldview affirms not only that it will happen, but why that must happen. And it is simply because if you reject the very structures of creation that God is given, you cannot possibly expand true liberty in any honest sense.

2) Article notes rising denial of liberty by same sex marriage advocates

But finally we turn to the same issue as it is continuing to illuminate the deep theological and worldview divisions in American religion. The Kentucky Baptist Convention here in the state recently earned sneering headlines in the secular press for having dis-fellowshipped –  that is withdrawn fellowship – from a local congregation here in Louisville. The church with the Crescent Hill Baptist Church very close here to Southern Seminary and in previous times close in more ways than mere proximity. The action undertaken by the Kentucky Baptist Convention was in light of its convictions upholding the biblical understanding of human sexuality. And yet it came at the expense of an enormous outrage from the secular press, and from even at least one government agency here in Kentucky. But it came after the Crescent Hill congregation had determined that it was going to be ‘open and affirming’ of those in homosexual behaviors and homosexual relationships.

Sunday’s edition of the Louisville newspaper, the Courier-Journal included a major article by Tina Ward-Pugh. It’s identified as a special to the Courier-Journal. She spent 12 years as an elected official in the Louisville Metro Council and yet the article in the newspaper doesn’t have to do with her role as a public official, but rather with the fact that she and her partner Laura Hodges-Ryan were married in a ceremony Crescent Hill Baptist Church on November 29. A close look at the article indicates that they were legally married in the state of Maryland some time ago. They were legally married there because Kentucky did not then nor now have legal same-sex marriage.

Tina Ward-Pugh then writes,

“Considering the fact, however, that it took centuries for the church, and in particular Baptists, to even begin acknowledging that the love between two people of the same sex is to be embraced, how wonderfully radical is it then that a Baptist church would actually fully bless that love through the ceremony of marriage.”

And that took place, she says, on November 29. Later in her article she writes,

“As we were growing to understand ourselves and our love, our community, our world and our church were also growing in their understanding that we are all God’s people. And make no mistake, during that time of growth, the church, by its not progressing in more fully understanding God, has alienated many of its own believers and countless more who wouldn’t even give her consideration because the pain of rejection was simply too great to bear. We were two of those people. And there were others at Crescent Hill Baptist Church on Saturday who continue to feel alienated by the church’s infantile understanding of God. It is our hope that the church’s embrace of our relationship will serve as a measure of hope for others.”

Tina Ward-Pugh writes of what she calls her own awakening to the legitimacy of same-sex behaviors and same-sex relationships. She writes,

“I regard my “awakening” during grad school as life-saving in a number of ways. And while I came to more fully understand God’s love for me regarding my sexuality, it was the revelation of how the world — and the church — treated girls and women as second-class citizens that has shaped my life since then,”

The woman who officiated at the ceremony was the Rev. Dr. Johanna W.H. van Wijk-Bos, identified as a longtime professor at the Louisville Presbyterian Seminary and a friend of the couple.

There are some stories it very close to home, and in this case this one’s exceedingly close to home, because this church is very close to the campus of Southern Seminary and for many years had one of the closest relationships between the school and a congregation imaginable. Bob Allen writes about this in particular about Tina Ward-Pugh in an article for Baptist News Global that appeared yesterday, in which he writes,

“A Southern Baptist Theological Seminary alumna who went on to become the first openly gay elected official in Louisville, Ky., walked the aisle Nov. 29 with her partner of more than 15 years in a wedding ceremony at Crescent Hill Baptist Church, a congregation recently kicked out of the Kentucky Baptist Convention for welcoming and affirming LGBT members.”

Tina Ward-Pugh is identified in the article correctly is a 1991 Master of Social Work graduate of Southern Seminary. She says, according to the article to her awakening a better sexuality occurred after she graduated from Belmont University and came to Southern Seminary, where she says she enrolled and graduated in the period she identifies as ‘BF.’ That means ‘Before the Fall,’ that is, before the conservative realignment of this institution.

In a video testimonial from 2012, according to Baptist News Global she said,

“What I quickly understood about God in the professors that I had and their relationship with God and understanding was radically different from what one typically hears, especially now, in Southern Baptist circles and other more conservative circles about issues of sexuality,”

As I said, this new story hits very close to home – after all the description here of ‘Before the Fall’ relates to my personal leadership here at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and of the conservative redirection of the school over the last now 22 years. And there can be no doubt that people on opposite sides of this controversy will see what took place here at Southern Seminary as either the best or the worst thing imaginable. But those who supported the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention and the conservative recovery of Southern Seminary did so precisely out of the fear that what was being taught here back then would result in exactly what we read about in the headlines now. There’s is a particular responsibility that falls to evangelicals in general, to Southern Baptists specifically, and in this case most importantly, to The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to be very honest about the fact that the issues at stake are just this stark and just this urgent.

To follow the logic of what was taught back then is to result in the headlines we read even now. And the only way to avoid that was to change fundamentally what was being taught within the institution’s life. Once again, if you’re the other side of this controversy you see that entire process as the fall of the institution. Thus the language of Tina Ward-Pugh. On the other hand, those who believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, and in the importance of upholding the faith once for all delivered to the saints understand that avoiding those headlines in our own churches and in our schools now was worth whatever price had to be paid for the recovery of these institutions a generation ago.

But these headlines also remind us of the issues are not over, the controversy has not ended and the challenge continues. So when evangelical Christians, Southern Baptists and others in this generation wonder what’s at stake, well just look at headlines like this to remind us all too painfully what’s at stake.

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 tomorrow for The Briefing.

Podcast Transcript

1) CIA torture report fails to provide recommendations in response to brutalities

Senate report on CIA program details brutality, dishonesty, Washington Post (Greg Miller, Adam Goldman, and Julie Tate)

Releasing the Feinstein report is an act of exceptional recklessness, Washington Post (Michael Gerson)

Partisan torture report fails America, USA Today (Bob Kerrey)

2) Article notes rising denial of liberty by same sex marriage advocates

Gay marriage and the death of freedom, The Spectator (Brendan O’Neill)

3) Former SBC church performs same sex ceremony; revealing importance of theology

Wedding marks a journey for couple, church, Louisville Courier-Journal (Tine Ward-Pugh)

Baptist church holds same-sex wedding, Baptist News-Global (Bob Allen)


R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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