The Briefing 01-09-15

The Briefing 01-09-15

The Briefing


January 9, 2015

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


It’s Friday, January 9, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.


The world continued to be transfixed by the events that took place this week in Paris and in the aftermath. A massive manhunt has now shifted in France to the north of that nation where two Islamic brothers – both French nationals –are still hiding from the police; one age 34, the other age 32. A third suspect, a teenager believed to have driven the getaway car, turned himself into French authorities late on Wednesday. Meanwhile, French intelligence and law enforcement officials released more about the two suspects, the two brothers. One of whom is now known to have spent several months in prison on a terrorism charge and was on virtually every watch list of Western nations.


Early this morning the New York Times reported that the brothers are now expected to have been trained by Al Qaeda; a very interesting development not completely unexpected. But the most frightening aspect of this news is that there is seemingly now some form of bitter rivalry in terms of extremism between Islamic terrorism groups; in particular between the group known as Al Qaeda in Yemen and the group known as the Islamic State.


Several Western authorities suggested that this may be at least one sign of two different things. On the one hand, the setting loose of a kind of lone wolf pattern that has shown up in Australia and in Canada and other nations and secondly this may be an indication of an increase rivalry amongst extremist groups connected to Islam in which groups such as Al Qaeda, in particular Al Qaeda in Yemen, are trying to prove that they have not lost the murderous agenda to groups such as the Islamic State. It’s a truly frightening development to think that we might be now seeing a form of public competition between Islamic terrorism groups and their cells as to who can kill the most; most brutally and most publicly.


In terms of the worldview dimension of the terrorism threat we now face, a very important article appeared yesterday in the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal. The article is by Daniel Henninger and it appears in the Wonderland column. As he writes and I quote,


“Terrorist attacks like Charlie Hebdo come and go. Mostly they go.”


He continues,


“For all the grief, pain and outrage of the past 24 hours—from as always President Barack Obama down to the streets of Paris—does any serious person doubt that by this time next week life in the West will be back to normal?”


Henninger asked a very important question because it relates to the fact that these terrorist attacks are now coming with such brutality and with such frequency that both outrage and public attention are gaining a shorter and shorter shelf life. He writes this,


“After each major terrorist act that catches the world’s attention—the four-day attack in 2008 in Mumbai…the 2013 assault on a Nairobi shopping center… the eruption of the Islamic State beheaders in Iraq this year—one thinks that this will be the event that causes the West’s political leadership to get serious about the global threat of Islamic fundamentalism, whose primary political instrument is homicide.”


He continues,


“But it’s hard to focus. Terrorist bombs set off in crowded places obliterate not only what were once people but obliterate awareness of what has occurred. One way or another, it’s mostly blood-soaked debris.”


Henninger’s making a point very similar to the one that I made on The Briefing yesterday: Western elites just will not, perhaps cannot, take the threat of Islamic terrorism with sufficient seriousness. They actually find themselves expressing outrage – the same outrage – over and over again without acknowledging the fundamental problem.


Daniel Henninger points back very prophetically to the end of 2014 on December 16 when, as he writes,


“Seven heavily armed men from the Pakistan Taliban entered the Army Public School in Peshawar, a city with a half-million more people than Chicago. Once inside, the gunmen killed 132 school children by shooting them in the head or chest.”


By pointing to the incident that took place still less than a month ago in Peshawar, Pakistan, Henninger’s pointing to the very short shelf life of moral outrage and indignation in the world today; especially in the West, especially in light of repeated terrorist attacks. What took place in Paris with the killing of 10 journalists and two policeman at the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo is truly horrifying, absolutely horrifying, but Daniel Henninger openly asks just how horrifying our horror really is. And he points back once again to Peshawar writing this,


“The Peshawar massacre in December was different and more difficult to let drop from memory.”


He explains why when he writes,


“One can imagine seven adult men walking from one classroom to another, methodically executing boys and girls in white shirts and blouses at their desks.”


He then goes on to say,


“Rather than the act of a random insane person, Peshawar, in the minds of the Taliban, was a rational, well-planned military atrocity. A success. Just like every other terrorist act dating back to 9/11 and before.”


Daniel Henninger is actually onto something of incredible importance here. Not only are we witnessing a shorter and shorter shelf life to moral indignation and outrage, we’re also noticing the fact that the West is still obstinately refusing to acknowledge the war we find ourselves in. He points to the fact that many people in the West – including thousands of people in Paris, professional American athletes and others – have been wearing signs and shirts with the statement “I am Charlie” in various languages. But Henninger points out, those shirt are not likely to stay on for long. The same attention will spread to something else.


And furthermore he says, just remember the photos of all those people being held up with signs that said “bring back our girls” in the aftermath of the Nigerian Islamic Jihad group Boko Haram kidnapping 276 girls from a rural school. Well months later, the girls have not returned but the signs are down and so is the social media attention. The world has moved on, the outrage has been shifted to something else, and Henninger says this will simply happen again. And it will happen in part because the West, in shifting this kind of outrage and indignation, in shortening the shelf life of this kind of moral awareness, is actually demonstrating again an obstinacy – a refusal – to deal with the war in which we now find ourselves; a war that is truly a war of theological dimensions, a war that is being fought on the terms of Islamic extremists, not on terms of Western rationality.


That leads me to point to a very different article that also appeared yesterday, this time in USA Today. And the headline is actually even worse than the article. The article’s byline by Rick Hampson, it appears on page 2 of yesterday’s print edition of USA Today. And here’s the headline: “World Reacts with Universal Outrage, Universal Values.” Well let’s just state the obvious, the world has not responded with universal outrage and certainly not with universal values. The problem with that second part – universal values – is that they clearly do not exist. The problem with the first part – universal outrage – is that his own paper contradicts that headline claim. After all, also in the same edition of the paper – as we discussed yesterday – the paper actually runs an op-ed piece by a radical Muslim cleric in London supporting the actions undertaken by the murderers in Paris.


Furthermore, almost immediately after the attacks in Paris there was celebration on Islamic websites tied to terrorist groups worldwide. There is no way one can, with a straight face, say that the world has responded with universal outrage. Once again we see the kind of willful blindness that the Western elites simply seem to be addicted to; they simply can’t pull themselves away from the claim that the world is actually being run by a universal morality based upon a universal rationality that all right minded persons everywhere accept. That is clearly fundamentally not the case. And it demonstrates the fact, once again, that the modern Western secular worldview just can’t handle this kind of reality.


As I said, the headline is actually worse than the article but the articles bad enough. Hampson begins his article,


“This time, the terrorist target was not a state or a politician, not a commuter train, a subway station or a pair of giant office towers. The target was freedom of expression, a value [he says] so fundamental it’s recognized in the English Bill of Rights (1689), the French Declaration of the Rights of Man (1789), the U.S. Bill of Rights (1791) and the U.N. Universal Declaration of Rights (1948).”


His next sentence,


“And the world reacted commensurately, with a unity that was fierce, angry and rare.”


Well in the aftermath of this tragedy, of this horrible execution style murder in Paris, there was a great deal of common outrage. That’s both right and true. The problem is it certainly wasn’t universal. The United Nations may have ambitiously called it’s declaration of rights the universal declaration of rights but these rights are not universally respected.


As a matter fact, just to point to the obvious once again, this very same newspaper ran an op-ed piece by a radical cleric from London in the very same edition stating that so far as the Muslim world was concerned, in his explanation, Muslim responsibility trumps freedom of expression – therefore in terms of at least many millions of people in the world, this is not a universal value.


From a Christian worldview perspective looking at this very carefully we need to understand that every culture is embedded with a moral logic, every worldview has its own moral principles. We can certainly wish that there was a universal respect for human dignity, human rights, and such things as the freedom of expression, but this just isn’t the case. It’s fundamentally not the case. Freedom of expression simply doesn’t exist in many societies. And fundamentally it doesn’t exist in the Muslim world where blasphemy is often a crime, sometimes a capital crime. We’re speaking in terms of even a word of Christian witness can also be a capital crime.


We’re talking about a world in which there are so many different worldviews and a real, even if tragic, lack of common consensus on so many moral issues. But then again, just think of the American context where on issues as fundamental as the sanctity of human life there isn’t any basic universal agreement even within this culture on something that is so morally basic.


When it comes to something like universal outrage and universal values as found in this headline from USA Today, I simply remember what my grandmother told me many years ago – wishing it so doesn’t make it so. To that I would simply state, printing it so also doesn’t make it so. We are engaged in a deadly battle of worldviews, a deadly battle of ideas. Failing to recognize this, much less denying it, is not only dishonest, it’s downright dangerous.


Shifting to the United States where we have our own battle of worldviews, we also face a battle over religious liberty and that’s inevitably so. Anyone doubting that, and there are some who still openly deny it, need only look at a headline that appeared in Wednesday’s edition of the New York Times. Here it is, “Atlanta Ousts Fire Chief Who Has Antigay Views.” Richard Fausset reports,


“Mayor Kasim Reed announced Tuesday that he had fired the chief of the city’s Fire Rescue Department, Kelvin Cochran, after Mr. Cochran gave workers a religious book he wrote containing passages that condemn homosexuality.”


A closer look at the article is actually quite urgent. As Mr. Fausset writes,


“Mr. Reed had suspended Mr. Cochran for a month without pay in November, opening an investigation into whether Mr. Cochran’s authorship and distribution of the book to workers violated the city’s nondiscrimination policies. That move sparked a debate about religious liberty and freedom of expression,”


Chief Cochran, fired by Atlanta’s mayor for having written and published a book and having distributed to a handful of fire department employees, is a member of a Southern Baptist church in the Atlanta area. He had written a book entitled, “Who Told You That You Were Naked?” As Fausset reports,


“[it] counts homosexual acts among a number of ‘vile, vulgar and inappropriate’ activities that serve to ‘dishonor God,’ [that] according to excerpts obtained by the local gay news media and activists.”


They didn’t evidently have a copy of the book. As the New York Times also reports,


“Mr. Cochran held his own news conference Tuesday. He said that the city’s investigation found that he had not acted in a discriminatory way toward gay people, and said that he had asked for, and received, permission from the proper bureaucratic channels to write the book — an assertion [the Mayor’s] office disputes.”


So gay advocates are cheering the mayors decision, the mayor finds himself in something of a political controversy, but the fire chief is out. He’s out of a job for having written a book that was basically privately published and very narrowly distributed in which he stated something that is fundamental to evangelical moral conviction – something that basically amounts to nothing more, or least a little more, than actually quoting the Bible, quoting the Scriptures.


The mayor described the book, or at least this portion of the book, as having inflammatory content. But once again, looking at the material supplied by the media, the inflammatory content is what is drawn directly from Scripture – especially from very specific biblical verses dealing with homosexuality. So what we’re looking at here is an undeniable case in which religious conviction actually got the Fire Chief of Atlanta fired; fired simply because he dared to write a book in which he stated his Christian convictions.


This raises a host of very interesting and complex, not to say troubling, questions. Can anyone now be an evangelical Christian and serve as a Fire Chief or even in the fire department? This raises the question as to whether one can believe that homosexuality is a sin without discriminating against homosexuals. The clear implication of the Mayor’s decision is that the Fire Chief is out, not because he acted in any way, in any discriminatory fashion toward any gay member of the fire department staff or anyone else for that matter, but simply because he expressed his biblical conviction that homosexuality is a sin.


Now once again, this raises a host of very interesting questions the mayor and furthermore our culture is not going to be able to avoid. Is the Bible itself now going to be defined as hate speech because by any measure the language that the Fire Chief used is drawn, if not immediately from Scripture, then with language that is tantamount to it? Can anyone who holds to a biblical understanding of sexuality, anyone who is a member of an evangelical congregation serve in this kind of political and public role? Or does that moral conviction absolutely mean, in a categorical sense, that discrimination is the obvious outcome? Or is holding the belief itself, is holding that biblical conviction itself a form of discrimination; even if no discriminatory act ever follows?


Let’s just jump to the next understanding, is it possible that any Orthodox or traditional Roman Catholic can serve in such a position? Furthermore, could Pope Francis the first serve in such a position because after all, Francis the first is the head of a church that officially holds that all same-sex sexual activity is – to use the words of the Roman Catholic Church – intrinsically disordered; always and in every case a sin. You can almost be guaranteed that the mayor of Atlanta would fall over backwards to try to arrange a papal visit. How can he then arrange that kind of visit and celebrate the Pope when the Pope holds, at least in terms of the teaching of his church which he still affirms, that all same-sex acts and same-sex relationships are inherently disordered and always and in every case same-sex activity is a sin?


Or are we just looking at discrimination against an evangelical Christian? Is it the case that this would be overlooked in terms of Roman Catholic? Well in terms of consistency, we can only assume that the mayor’s going to have to determine in very short order just how secular, how much of an unbeliever anyone must be to be a candidate to be the head of the Fire Rescue Department of the city of Atlanta.


Let’s look at exactly how the mayor describe his decision as the New York Times reports and I quote,


“Despite my respect for Chief Cochran’s service, I believe his actions and decision-making undermine his ability to effectively manage a large, diverse work force. Every single employee under the fire chief’s command deserves the certainty that he or she is a valued member of the team and that fairness and respect guide employment decisions.”


Well let’s just look at that statement and imagine what the Mayor has now not only implied but openly stated by firing the chief. One can’t hold that all persons are of value, one can’t operate in terms of neutrality, in terms of personnel decisions, if one holds to traditional biblical Christianity. Some may argue that it isn’t the problem that the chief held these positions and convictions but it’s a problem that he published them, that he put them in print.


But as the world is supposedly universally affirming the importance of freedom of expression, are we now to be told that evangelical Christians – or for that matter Orthodox Jews and traditional Catholics – simply must hold their tongue and hold their peace? Never putting their biblical convictions into print or into some form of public statement? The action in Atlanta is not only ominous, it’s absolutely frightening. The religious liberty implications of the normalization of homosexuality and the legalization of same-sex marriage are massive, they are unavoidable, and they are now inevitable. And they’re showing up in this case not in New York City or Seattle but in Atlanta, Georgia – right in the heart of the South, in a city that the New York Times acknowledges includes millions of evangelical Christians and others who would also hold to the Chief’s conviction.


No matter how lavishly people may claim to believe in freedom of expression and no matter how much they may argue this isn’t an issue of religious liberty, the bare facts are simply unavoidable. The Fire Chief of Atlanta has been fired. Not because he acted in any way that was discriminatory, not because any employee brought any grievance against him for acting in a discriminatory manner, but merely for having stated, for having articulated in print, his biblical convictions on issues of morality. The book wasn’t even primarily about sexuality or about homosexuality – at least as reported in the media – but it did contain those sections that evidently were so offensive that the mayor of Atlanta had to say the chief is out. And the Mayor did so – let me remind you of his words – while saying,


“Despite my respect for Chief Cochran’s service, I believe his actions and decision-making undermine his ability to effectively manage a large, diverse work force.”


What were his actions? What was his decision-making? As even the New York Times has acknowledged, it was putting his Christian convictions into print and then giving the book to three – that’s right, count them, three – city employees the chief said he had come to know as fellow Christians. That was simply over the line. And the mayor of Atlanta has fired the chief.


This probably isn’t the end of the story, but it’s a tragedy already. And it’s a tragedy of epic proportions because this demonstrates not just what has happened in Atlanta, in the case of its Fire Chief, but what is already happening in far too many places by multiplying effect which will not get the kind of publicity that Atlanta got in firing its Fire Chief.


As I’ve warned again and again, what we are facing in this country is not only a conflict of worldviews but a conflict of liberties with the newly defined version of erotic liberty trumping religious liberty over and over again. We see that now in Atlanta, we’ve seen it in Arizona, we have seen it in Oregon, we’ve seen in California, we’ve seen it in terms of the contraception mandate of the ObamaCare legislation, we’ve seen it in terms of the California State University system casting InterVarsity Christian fellowship off-campus. These cases are multiplying and wherever you live, they’re getting closer to home – just ask the folks who live in Atlanta.


The public firing of Atlanta’s Fire Chief now makes abundantly clear that the alarm has been sounded and erotic liberty is now on the ascent and religious liberty is everywhere in danger.


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 West Palm Beach, Florida and I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

Podcast Transcript

1) Aftermath of Paris carnage continues to show secular elites inability to fathom religious war

Terror Come and Goes, Again, The Wall Street Journal (Daniel Henninger)

Paris attack: Universal values, universal outrage, USA Today (Rick Hampson)


2) Firing of ATL Fire Chief for Christian conviction pits erotic liberty over religious liberty

Atlanta Ousts Fire Chief Who Has Antigay Views, New York Times (Richard Fausset)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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