The Briefing 01-12-15

The Briefing 01-12-15

The Briefing


January 12, 2015

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

It’s Monday, January 12, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Coverage of Atlanta Fire Chief reveals erotic liberty now more fundamental than religious

At the end of last week we discussed the firing of Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran. This came after the Chief had published a book in which he articulated his Christian convictions concerning homosexuality – a small book with a very small circulation that got this Fire Chief into very big trouble. The news article I cited as the primary source was from the New York Times; last Wednesday’s edition. Then, just some five days later in yesterday’s edition of the paper there appeared an opinion column by Frank Bruni entitled, Your God and My Dignity. In his article Bruni argues that religious liberty is all fine and good so long as it is restricted to “Pews, homes, and hearts,” in other words, far from public consequence.


Remember that the firing of Kevin Cochran as the Fire Chief in Atlanta came after the city’s Mayor Kasim Reed determined that the Chief could not effectively manage the department after he had written a book in which he cited Scripture in defining homosexuality as a sin. Remember that last week in explaining the firing, the Mayor said that the Chiefs personal religious convictions were not the issue – to use his language, personal religious beliefs are not the issue – but as I’ve said, the Mayor’s words don’t form a coherent argument because later he said,


“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.”


He then stated,


“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.”


The clear implication, furthermore not just the implication, the clear statement of the Mayor’s words, is that in publishing the book the Fire Chief had effectively not kept his personal opinions to his personal self. When his Christian convictions became public the convictions themselves became a claim of discrimination – plain and simple.


As I discussed last Friday, this is another example of what happens when erotic liberty triumphs over religious liberty. Liberties don’t exist in a vacuum. In any historical context certain liberties collide with other liberties and what we’re witnessing now is a direct and unavoidable collision between religious liberty and what is rightly defined as erotic liberty – a liberty claimed on the basis of sexual identity or sexual activity. Religious liberty, you’ll remember, is officially recognized in the Bill of Rights, indeed in the very First Amendment. And the framers of the American order, after all, didn’t claim to have established this right but to have respected it and to have stated the intention of the nation – a commitment to respect it as well.


Erotic liberty is new on the scene but we need to recognize it is central to the moral project of modernity; a project that asserts erotic liberty, which the framers never imagined, as an even more fundamental liberty than freedom of religion. The logic of erotic liberties has worked its way from the academic world and law schools into popular culture, entertainment, Hollywood, public policy, and Supreme Court decisions.


In one classic example Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy famously wrote of human dignity in terms of,


“Ones concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life”


And the justice has explicitly tied that to erotic liberty in a series of decisions and opinions. Chief Cochran wrote a book, as a Christian and for his fellow Christians. According to the New York Times article, he gave a copy of the book to three city employees who had not asked for it. In response, he was fired by the city’s mayor. Then yesterday came the opinion piece I referenced, a piece written by Frank Bruni, a well-known openly gay columnist of the New York Times whose articles often appear in the Sunday review section of that paper. His article was entitled, Your God and My Dignity and he made his sexual orientation a central feature of his argument. His argument is the claims of religious liberty for conservative Christians are absurd – that’s his very word. He complains about,


“…religious people getting a pass that isn’t warranted,”


He also suggests that claims of religious liberty are being used as what he calls:


“…a fig leaf for intolerance,”


The legalization of same-sex marriage he says can’t and won’t infringe upon religious liberty because such laws,


“…do not pertain to religious services or what happens in a church, temple or mosque;”


He also assures us that no clergy member or minister will be compelled to preside over a gay wedding ceremony. As I argued in an article published this morning at entitled Religious Liberty vs. Erotic Liberty — Religious Liberty is Losing, the really chilling part of this statement is the restriction of religious liberty to “religious services or what happens in a church temple or mosque;”


This is, we need to note, becoming more and more common. Major political and legal figure speak more and more of what they call “freedom of worship” as a replacement for religious liberty. But freedom of worship isn’t religious liberty. Religious liberty certainly includes freedom of worship, but it is by no means limited to it. It doesn’t stop there.


Furthermore, when the proponents of same-sex marriage and the new sexual revolution promised even to respect what goes on in the church, temple, or mosque, they evidently can’t keep their argument straight. In this very same column – again it appeared yesterday in the New York Times, Frank Bruni complains that religious congregations are given too much liberty to define their own ministry. He laments that quote,


“And churches have been allowed to adopt broad, questionable interpretations of a ‘ministerial exception’ to anti-discrimination laws that allow them to hire and fire clergy as they wish.”


That’s nothing less than breathtaking. The front lines of the battle for religious liberty will be at the door of your congregation very soon if this column is any indication – and of course it is.


While promising to respect freedom of worship, Bruni openly implies that congregations should not have the right to hire and fire ministers or clergy on the basis of their sexual orientation or beliefs. What kind of liberty is that? It’s no liberty at all. The argument spells the end of religious liberty in any meaningful sense. What about the rights of religious schools to hire, admit, and house on the basis of Christian moral judgment? If Bruni complains about churches, about congregations, having the right to hire and fire clergy as they wish, we can only imagine what he would want to see mandated in terms of religious schools, colleges, universities and institutions.


The headline over the print edition of Frank Bruni’s column is Your God and My Dignity. The use the term dignity in this way is explained even this morning in an important article by University of Texas professor Mark Regnerus. His title is The Mission Creep of Dignity. In this article released just this morning Regnerus contrast the traditional view of human dignity rooted in the belief that every human being is made in God’s image and affirmed by natural law theorist, he calls this dignity 1.0. As Regnerus explains, this view of human dignity is defined as a person’s,


“Inherent worth of immeasurable value that is deserving of certain morally appropriate responses.”


He also explains,


“Understood in this way, dignity is an inalienable value. It’s a reality. Human dignity does not become real when you start to believe in it. It remains real even when neglected or violated. It may be discerned differently across eras, but it’s not arbitrary, to be socially constructed in unique ways by collective will or vote.”


Now it’s important to recognize that what Mark Regnerus calls Dignity 1.0 is exactly the understanding of human dignity that is central to the Christian tradition; that is drawn directly from Scripture. And it is also the understanding of human dignity upon which the very rights espoused in the articles of our Constitution are also predicated. It’s that understanding of human dignity; a human dignity that exists merely because we are human beings. But what we’re witnessing now is the ascendancy of what can only be called Dignity 2.0 – that’s Regnerus’s term. As he describes,


“To be sure, Dignity 2.0 exhibits some similarities with its predecessor. Each has to do with inherent worth. Each implies the reality of the good. Each understands that rights flow from dignity. But Dignity 2.0 entrusts individuals to determine their own standards.”


He directly applies that to the contemporary moral revolution about marriage. Professor Regnerus writes,


“Witness, as an example, what is happening to marriage in the West, where the power elite has aligned behind Dignity 2.0 and its novel conclusions about the nature and structure of a timeless institution. The basis for Dignity 2.0 in the West does not rest on external standards, on traditional restraints such as kinship, neighborhood, religion, or nation, which are all stable sources of the self. Rather, it is based upon the dis-integrated, shifting ‘me,’ subject to renegotiation, reinvention, and reconstruction, reinforced by expansive conditions and regulations. It’s exhausting—though profitable to attorneys. And Facebook. [As he argues,]… there are rival forms of dignity, and the version you employ matters a great deal.”


Indeed there are now rival visions of human dignity – that why it’s important to reference this when the title of Frank Bruni’s article was Your God and My Dignity.


So we have two rival visions of human dignity and we also have two conflicting liberties – two competing liberties: religious liberty and the newly invented erotic liberty. And in this conflict over liberties, erotic liberty is triumphing over religious liberty again and again. Don’t miss the final words of Frank Bruni’s column,


“And I support the right of people to believe what they do and say what they wish — in their pews, homes and hearts. But outside of those places? You must put up with me, just as I put up with you.”


You’ll notice that he restricts religious liberty to, again, what we believe in our pews homes and hearts. No public conversation, no public consequence. Well he want to replace freedom of worship for religious liberty, he doesn’t even actually hold fast to that argument as he complains about those churches having a right to hire and fire clergy on the basis of their own theological convictions.


Chief Kelvin Cochran of Atlanta, or that is former Chief, knows exactly what Frank Bruni means. Do you? If not, you soon will. Given the direction of this argument and the velocity of its development, very, very soon all of us will know.

2) As vestiges of Christianity leave Europe, secularism no match for assertive theology of Islam

Yesterday the streets of Paris were filled in a statement of massive solidarity in that nation. The crowd was anticipated to be larger than any recent on Paris streets. French military and intelligence authorities continued to gather information along with allies, including the United States and Britain, and it appears increasingly likely that the assailants in the murderous attack in Paris were connected with Al Qaeda – in particular with Al Qaeda in Yemen formally known as Al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula. Intelligence authorities in France also alerted the nation to the danger of the awakening of so-called terrorist sleeper cells in the nation and the French government indicated that it is now the highest point of alert in the nation’s recent history.


As the New York Times reported yesterday, Prime Minister Manuel Valls had declared war with radical Islam after the harrowing sieges that led to the deaths of three gunmen and four hostages just the day before. The French Prime Minister said,


“It is a war against terrorism, against jihadism, against radical Islam, against everything that is aimed at breaking fraternity, freedom, solidarity,”


The Prime Minister said this in language that is starkly clearer than that offered by the nations President François Hollande. The Prime Minister, declaring that the nation of France is at war with militant Islam, went far further than most other Western leaders have yet gone in been very clear about the nature of the conflict and the deadly challenge.


But in another portion of that very same address the Prime Minister said,


“There needs to be a firm message about the values of the republic and of secularism. Tomorrow, France and the French can be proud. Everyone must come tomorrow.”


He was speaking of the march that took place yesterday. The most interesting portion of the Prime Minister statement, at least in that regard, is his use of the phrase “the values of the Republic and of secularism.” The French government has been committed to secularism for a very long time. Many Americans forget that the French Revolution, a reckless historical experiment that ended in massive tragedy, was explicitly secularist. So much so that the new regime replaced the statue of the Madonna in the Notre Dame Cathedral with a statue that was called “God is reason,” a more-than-symbolic action. It was intended by the revolutionaries to be very clear about the fact that they were breaking with the moral authority of the Roman Catholic Church. But of course they were also referencing the larger Christian tradition. Continuing that tradition, at least in part, the current French government is also assertively secular. Secular in a way that many other governments decidedly are not – including the governments of its closest allies, including in their own way: Germany, United Kingdom, and United States.


But what exactly is secularism against the threat of a militant Islam? One of the things we must see over and over again is that nature abhors a vacuum and so do societies. For that matter, as the Christian tradition is understood, so does the human heart – it abhors a vacuum. Just as that vacuum in nature will be replaced with something, so will the vacuum in a human society or a human heart. There is no way that secularism is a stable project. That’s the basic problem right now, not only in France, but in the larger world – especially the world of Europe and North America – that is secularizing very quickly. Secularism is just no match for an assertive theology. And in this case, the assertive theology of Islam is far more potent than the secularism that it now opposes.


Coverage in the international press from the Washington Post and the Times of London to the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal has indicated that the French are losing control of young Muslims who are drawn to this very assertive theology and are repelled – if not repulsed – by the secularism of the French Republic. Now once again we need to note that in this case the French are just more assertively secular than much of the rest of Europe and North America; but were looking at a very similar kind of development at least in portions of Canada.


This brings to mind a very important front-page article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal in its January 3 and 4 editions of 2015; the headline, Europe’s Empty Churches Go on Sale. The article is by Naftali Bendavid and it is headlined in Arnhem, Netherlands where as it turns out, a major historic Christian church building has been turned into a skateboard park. As Bendavid explains it is now known as the Arnhem skate hall. He explains,


“…an uneasy reincarnation of the Church of St. Joseph, which once rang with the prayers of nearly 1,000 worshipers.”


Bendavid continues,


“It is one of hundreds of churches, closed or threatened by plunging membership, that pose a question for communities, and even governments, across Western Europe: What to do with once-holy, now-empty buildings that increasingly mark the countryside from Britain to Denmark?”


It’s a very interesting question and of course Bendavid backs this up with some very interesting data. He says,


“The closing of Europe’s churches reflects the rapid weakening of the faith in Europe [that is the Christian faith], a phenomenon that is painful to both worshipers and others who see religion as a unifying factor in a disparate society.”


That is a very interesting statement, by the way, and it is one that is increasingly seen. In the aftermath of this project of secularization and in the wake of the ideology of secularism, there are a good many people who have been committed to the secularization project who are now beginning to count the cost; they’re beginning to miss at least the unifying factor of religion even if they no longer believe in any of its doctrinal elements. To that an Orthodox Christian believer simply retorts that without the doctrine you can’t have a vital faith. You can’t have the faith as any kind of a unifying factor, not for long. The collapse of cultural Christianity in United States is now a glaring example and one we’re witnessing right before our eyes.


The Wall Street Journal article is datelined from the Netherlands precisely because according to the paper, that nation is now facing the most imminent collapse of church structures and of church attendance – at least in terms of this crisis. Bendavid writes,


“It is in the Netherlands where the trend appears to be most advanced. [In his words,] The country’s Roman Catholic leaders estimate that two-thirds of their 1,600 churches will be out of commission in a decade, and 700 of Holland’s Protestant churches are expected to close within four years.”


One spokeswoman said and I quote,


“The numbers are so huge that the whole society will be confronted with it,”

She went on to say,


“Everyone will be confronted with big empty buildings in their neighborhoods.”


Just from a Christian perspective, from a Christian worldview perspective, imagine what these buildings are actually saying. Not saying by their presence but saying especially by their emptiness. Their presence does state this some form of historic representation of Christianity was certainly a vital part of those societies, those nations, those communities, at least in times past. But what their emptiness says now is that secularization is having a massive effect. And that massive effect is seen in the fact that church attendance in some these nations is falling off so precipitously that some major churches and denominations are now looking at the fact that they’ll be closing – now note that article – a majority of their congregations over the next decade.


What about the United States? Bendavid writes,


“The U.S. has avoided a similar wave of church closings for now, because American Christians remain more religiously observant than Europeans. But religious researchers say the declining number of American churchgoers suggests the country could face the same problem in coming years.”


Again, from an evangelical perspective the problem with that assessment is the definition of those American Christians as more religiously observant. Well there’s a sense in which that is an encouraging statement. Religiously observant could imply a vital commitment to Christian faith – a vital belief in Christian doctrine, a vital commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ. It could, however, represent something else. It could represent the lingering influence of cultural Christianity and of course it’s false gospel of moralism that says one ought to go to church whatever one may believe.


Vital biblical Christianity is based not just on what one ought to do in going to church but what one ought to believe – indeed must believe – in order to be a Christian on the basis of those truths, not merely intellectually assented but personally believed. The next issue is obedience to Jesus Christ, faith produces that obedience. And that obedience is what should translate into church activity and church attendance. Merely being observant is not nearly enough. Those multiplying empty church buildings in the Netherlands and elsewhere provide ample evidence of the fact that being merely religiously observant turns very quickly into being nonobservant after all.

3) Court of Appeals does not allow morality to be factor in building permits of strip clubs

Finally rightly filed under the category, you needed a study for that? The Palm Beach Post of West Palm Beach, Florida reported, again yesterday,


“The closer a person is to a sexually oriented business in Palm Beach County, the more likely he or she is to be the victim of crime according to the data compiled by a trio of doctoral degree holding researchers. It shows [says the paper] the reverse was also true. The farther a person is from a sexually oriented business, the less likely he or she is to be victimized”


Yes, that very paragraph made its way onto the front page of yesterday’s edition of the Palm Beach Post – as if it’s news, as if we should be surprised, as if it took a study undertaken by “a trio of doctoral degree holding researchers.” We can be thankful, I guess, that this has been documented but did anyone actually need a study to tell us that the closer one gets to this kind of business the more likely one is to be victimized? And, as the paper correctly says, the converse is also true. The farther one gets away from this kind of business, the less likely one is to be victimized and a whole host of crimes.


The point here should certainly be moral, but it’s actually reduced to a matter of mathematics. And as the paper says, that’s mandated by decision of the 11th Circuit US Court of Appeals that ruled that a municipality’s reasons for refusing to grant a permit to what’s described as an adult entertainment business couldn’t be, as the paper says, discretionary. “They must instead be mathematical.” The paper’s article by Wayne Washington says,


“Palm Beach counties code on where adult entertainment businesses can be located is mathematical. No permit for such a business will be granted unless the strip club is not within 2,000 feet of another strip club, not within 1,000 feet of a church or place of worship, not within 1,000 feet of an educational institution, and not within 500 feet of either a residential zoning district or a public park”


In other words says the US Court of Appeals, morality can’t factor into the decision-making of a community. That’s the kind of society we’ve become – you do the math.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at There you’ll find my article published this morning, Religious Liberty vs. Erotic Liberty — Religious Liberty is Losing. 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 tomorrow for The Briefing.

Podcast Transcript

1) Coverage of Atlanta Fire Chief reveals erotic liberty now more fundamental than religious

Your God and My Dignity, New York Times (Frank Bruni)

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

Religious Liberty vs. Erotic Liberty — Religious Liberty is Losing,

The Mission Creep of Dignity, Public Discourse (Mark Regnerus)

2) As vestiges of Christianity leave Europe, secularism no match for assertive theology of Islam

French Premier Declares ‘War’ on Radical Islam as Paris Girds for Rally, New York Times (Dan Bilefsky and Maïa de la Baume)

Europe’s Empty Churches Go on Sale, Wall Street Journal (Naftali Bendavid)

3) Court of Appeals does not allow morality to be factor in building permits of strip clubs

Strip clubs linked to crime, but ban them? The law’s on their side, Palm Beach Post (Wayne Washington)


R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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