The Briefing 01-14-15

The Briefing 01-14-15

The Briefing


January 14, 2015

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

  It’s Wednesday, January 14, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview. 1) NYT Editorial board declares new rules; belief alone is evidence enough for disqualification We’ve been following the case and the controversy concerning the firing of Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran. Not unexpectedly, yesterday’s edition of the New York Times features an editorial by the editorial board entitled God, Gays and the Fire Department. In this particular piece the editors of the New York Times make abundantly clear that they do not accept any version of religious liberty that would protect Chief Cochran or even relate to his case. As they wrote, “Until last week, Kelvin Cochran was the chief of the Atlanta fire department, where he oversaw a work force of more than 1,000 firefighters and staff.” They went on to describe Chief Cochran by saying he was “…a veteran firefighter, is also a deeply religious man, and he was eager to bring his Christian faith into the daily functioning of his department — or, as he put it in a book he authored in 2013 [the book you will note that got him fired], to ‘cultivate its culture to the glory of God.’” But then the editors went on to criticize Chief Cochran’s views explaining, “…as the book revealed, his religious beliefs also include virulent anti-gay views.” In terms of the firing the editor say that Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed “…did the right thing and dismissed Mr. Cochran for what he called poor judgment: specifically [says the editors], for failing to get approval for the book’s publication, for commenting publicly on his suspension after being told not to, and for exposing the city to possible discrimination lawsuits.” That’s a convoluted paragraph but the bottom line is the editors do not agree with Chief Cochran’s views and they don’t believe that his views ever should have been made public. If they were made public the argument is very clear, the editors believe he should’ve been fired, as he was. They go on to say, “Cue up the outraged claims that Mr. Cochran’s rights to free speech and religious freedom have been violated — an assertion that is as wrong as it was predictable.” The Chief did say that he was fired, “…for no reason other than my Christian faith.” But then the editors write that “…he and his sudden coterie of supporters have it backward. This case is not about free speech or religious freedom. It is, [quoting the Mayor] … about ‘making sure that we have an environment in government where everyone, no matter who they love, can come to work from 8 to 5:30 and do their job and then go home without fear of being discriminated against.’” Now one of the most amazing parts of this editorial is that the editorial board actually seems to affirm that the Chief is never to have been believed or to have been documented as acting in any discriminatory way toward any employee. The editors then write this stunning sentence, “It should not matter that the investigation found no evidence that Mr. Cochran had mistreated gays or lesbians. His position as a high-level public servant makes his remarks especially problematic, and requires that he be held to a different standard.” The editors make the very predictable parallel argument that the Chief’s position is tantamount to racism. Then they end with this paragraph, and I quote, “The First Amendment already protects religious freedom. Nobody can tell Mr. Cochran what he can or cannot believe. If he wants to work as a public official, however, he may not foist his religious views on other city employees who have the right to a boss who does not speak of them as second-class citizens.” Now let’s be very clear, Chief Cochran did speak of those who engage in same-sex activities as those who are sinners but as his book also made clear, and as the Chief has made clear in his public statements, he believes that all of us are sinners. He does believe in the Bible’s condemnation of same-sex acts as being sinful but when you have the editors respond in this way, they are clearly sending the signal that anyone who aspires to serve in public service better keep these kinds of convictions to themselves. Indeed if they are ever discovered to hold these convictions then they’re out the door – as was Mr. Cochran. Remember that their words are explicit, ‘If he wants to work as a public official however he may not foist his religious views on other city employees.’ Now let’s just hold on for a moment, how supposedly did the Chief foist his views on others? According to the public data on this case he gave about three copies of the book to three different city employees he believed to be Christians. That isn’t exactly foisting his beliefs upon others. The insinuation of the article, though the editors don’t make it clear, is that just holding these positions and publishing them in any public venue is a form of “foisting beliefs upon others.” But remember also that the editors concluded their editorial by saying that other city employees “have the right to a boss who does not speak of them as second-class citizens.” To state the obvious, Chief Cochran never spoke in those terms. He did speak of those who engage in same-sex activities based upon scriptural teaching, writing as a Christian to fellow Christians, as being deeply wrong. He affirmed what the Bible says. These, he made clear, are his Christian convictions. But let’s keep in mind the most stunning sentence in this editorial in which the editors of the New York Times declare, and I quote again, “It should not matter that the investigation found no evidence that Mr. Cochran had mistreated gays or lesbians.” It shouldn’t matter? It shouldn’t matter that the investigation found no evidence at all that Mr. Cochran had mistreated gays or lesbians? No, the editors make clear, the beliefs are sufficient for the Chief to be fired and they celebrate his firing. So according to the new rules as espoused by the editorial board of the New York Times, you don’t have to discriminate, you don’t have to be involved in any act of discrimination against anyone – simply holding to these beliefs in any public way is evidence enough for disqualification. This raises, finally, another very interesting question. What if the chief had never published this book? What if it had never gone in the print and it had never been distributed to anyone? What if the Fire Chief – now the former Fire Chief – was simply discovered to be a member of a Christian congregation that teaches, preaches, and believes such things? Would that not, according to the clear logic of this editorial, mean that just on that basis alone the Chief should also have been fired? That’s the question that should have our attention as this editorial appeared in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times. Just how much of historic Christianity, especially in terms of its moral teaching concerning sexuality, must someone disbelieve in order to be qualified according to this new standard for public service or public influence? You don’t have to have a very vivid imagination to see right where this logic leads. 2) Arizona sign ordinance case before Supreme Court significant religious liberty issue Many evangelical Christians are unaware that some of the major fronts in religious liberty in this country come down to such things as sign ordinances and zoning laws. This becomes particularly interesting when on Monday before the United States Supreme Court, one of the sign ordinances – one specifically directed at churches – came before the justices. As Mark Sherman of the Associated Press reports, “A small church in a Phoenix suburb appeared likely Monday to win its Supreme Court dispute over a local ordinance that puts limits on roadside signs that direct people to Sunday services.” Sherman goes on to say, “Liberal and conservative justices alike expressed misgivings with the Gilbert, Arizona, sign ordinance because it places more restrictions on the churches' temporary signs than those erected by political candidates, real estate agents and others.” The church that brought the dispute is the Good News Community Church in Gilbert, Arizona. Its pastor, Clyde Reed, and the church sued over the ordinance of the city that limits signs to 6 square feet. According to the ordinance they must be placed in public areas no more than 12 hours before an event and removed within an hour of its end. The problem is the law is specifically addressed to religious congregations. It was later extended to some other nonprofits but it specifically excludes other signs such as real estate signs and, most importantly, political signs that can be up virtually without limit – or at least according to this law, for many months. The legal argument employed by the church and its attorneys is that the city is engaged in content specific discrimination; their privileging one form of content – in this case political content and commercial content – over any kind of religious content. Churches in particular were the only institutions targeted by the law originally, even as the law was later expanded in a very minor way to include other nonprofits and their meetings. The most interesting coverage of the Supreme Court deliberations was found by Adam Liptak of the New York Times, a veteran reporter of the nation’s highest court. He describes the facts of the case in these words, “Political signs, concerning candidates and elections, are permitted to be as large as 32 square feet, are allowed to stay in place for months, and are generally unlimited in number. Ideological signs, about issues more generally, are not permitted to be larger than 20 square feet, are allowed to stay in place indefinitely and are unlimited in number. But signs [he writes] announcing church services and similar events are limited to six square feet, may be displayed only just before and after an event, and must be limited to four per property.” The coverage in the New York Times includes some pretty stunning dialogue from the High Court’s oral arguments. As Liptak reports that several justices seem to find the distinction of the city of absurd. “So they could put up a quote-unquote ideological sign that says, ‘Come to our service on Sunday morning,’ but no arrow, and then they put up another sign that says, ‘This is the arrow’?” Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. asked. ‘Or maybe they put up on the first sign: ‘Come to our service on Sunday morning. We can’t tell you now where it will be because the town won’t let us, but you drive by here tomorrow morning at a certain time, you will see an arrow.’ ” Liptak then reports, “Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who is not a First Amendment firebrand, asked Mr. Savrin [the attorney for the city] whether he really meant to say that ideological messages were fine unless they were accompanied by directions like ‘three blocks right and two blocks left.’ ‘That’s what this argument is about?’ Justice Breyer asked. ‘That is what it comes down to.’ [Said the attorney] ‘Well, my goodness,’ Justice Breyer said. ‘It does sound as if the town is being a little unreasonable, doesn’t it?’” Justice Elena Kagan, who as a law professor had written about the difficulty of governments in establishing any kind of content-based discrimination, she argued that in most cases this would have to be ruled wrong. When she heard the attorney for the city make his argument she said, “O.K., so that is a content-based rationale. And, you know, on one theory, you lose regardless of what the standard of review is.” The good news is that almost every observer of the court’s deliberations on Monday believes that the church is going to win its case – of course that’s never actually clear until the decision is handed down. But the truly frightening thing in this case is that the case got to the Supreme Court or that it had to because the church lost two previous rounds in the federal district court and in the US circuit Court of Appeals. As I said in beginning of this particular issue, many Christians – evangelicals in particular – are unaware of the fact that some of the most pressing religious liberty issues aren’t those that make the headlines, they are indeed those that are on the docket of local zoning commissions and city commissions counties and others involved in this kind of sign ordinance. Here to Christians must be very, very alert and aware of the fact that efforts to limit religious speech don’t just arrive on the college campus or on the editorial pages of our major newspapers; they can arrive right at City Hall or right before the zoning commission. 3) Unprecedented Boko Haram attacks largely unnoticed by Western world From time to time we need to take notice of what the world notices and what the world doesn’t – particularly here in the West and particularly in the media; but not only the media, also in terms of public opinion. The world has been rightly outraged, or at least much of the world – the Western world in particular – about the horrendous attacks that took place last week in Paris. Something upwards of 16 people died in those attacks; victims of Islamic extremism, of Islamic terrorism. But what the world failed to notice with any kind of equal or proportional basis was the fact that Boko Haram, a radical Islamic group in Africa, killed approximately 2,000 – that’s right, 2,000 – people in Nigeria and neighboring nations. Two thousand. Now what we notice here is that the world took a little account of those deaths in Africa. They did make headlines in terms of news stories, mostly within the front sections of the newspapers, but they hardly made the front pages. They haven’t resulted in massive political declarations and they certainly haven’t resulted in mass demonstrations on the streets of Western cities. But the news coming out of Africa, the news about these attacks by Boko Haram, are almost unprecedented in terms of scale – that has been noted by many in the Western media. But that scale seems to be missing when it comes to the attention of the Western world and Christians must be very aware of that. We need to be turning our attention to Africa where Islamic terrorism is now taking victims, not by the tens or the dozens – not even by the hundreds – but now by the thousands in a single week. We also need to note an important article that appeared in the New York Times by Adam Nossiter. As he writes, “A girl perhaps no more than 10 years old detonated powerful explosives concealed under her veil at a crowded northern Nigeria market on Saturday [that is Saturday of last week], killing as many as 20 people and wounding many more. The blast [he says] inflicted devastating damage on shoppers at the Monday Market in [the Nigerian city], the shopping hub in a city that is at the heart of the Boko Haram insurgency.” Nossiter then writes, “The explosion, witnessed by dozens of people, represented a new tactic in the Islamists’ campaign with their decision to use perhaps their youngest-ever suicide bomber.” One hospital official said, “It’s a little girl. The body is beyond recognition, but from the face you can see it’s a young person. A young pretty girl.” Some portions of the article are virtually too graphic for me to recite, but you certainly can understand what we’re talking about when it comes down to Islamist using a 10-year-old girl, hiding a bomb underneath her veil – by the way the reporters indicate she may not even have known she was carrying a bomb – only to have the bomb detonated, destroying her and killing 20 others. We’re looking at a level of evil and depravity that is almost inconceivable: terrorists using a 10-year-old girl as the carrier of a bomb. In this case we really can’t say that she was a suicide bomber because it is unclear that she even knew she was carrying the bomb. No, the homicide was on the part of those who sent her into the market carrying the bomb. Just imagine a 10-year-old girl and imagine the situation. Imagine the horror that we’re facing in terms of this new development. But we have to step back and ask the question, what conceivable worldview would justify and animate this kind of horrible ambition; much less the actual plot and the execution of it? What worldview could justify sending a girl into a market in order to carry a bomb that would kill not only herself but many others? What kind of murderous worldview could make this kind of act even conceivable, much less actual? One of the things we need to face is that the people who did this were operating out of their own rationality. They were not acting in a way that did not fit their own rational worldview. It is a twisted, deeply evil, worldview. But that’s exactly what Christians need to pay attention to here. We’re looking at the fact that some worldviews are inherently murderous – toxic. So destructive of human dignity and human life that we would see a 10-year-old girl sent as a bomber. What worldview would send this girl into the marketplace not only as a bomber but as a bomb? 4) Persecution of Christians continues to increase around the globe Finally, we need to take note of the plight of Christians in some places in the world. Headlines yesterday indicated that the group known as the Islamic State has taken at least 21 Egyptian Christians hostage in Libya and that they have announced that to the world media. Meanwhile, Gerald Seib writing in yesterday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal points to the plight of Christians elsewhere in the world. As he writes, “At the same time, Christians are being widely persecuted simply for being Christians, and not just in land controlled by Islamic State fanatics. Open Doors, an organization that aids persecuted Christians, says 2014 brought ‘the highest level of global persecution of Christians in the modern era,’ but [the group] warns that this year could be worse.” Seib then writes, “More than 70% of Iraq’s Christians have fled since 2003, Open Doors estimates. More than 700,000 Christians have left Syria since the civil war there began in 2011. Africa has become equally hostile terrain for Christians. In North Korea, an estimated 70,000 Christians are in prison because of their faith.” Looking at the actual report from Open Doors, a very interesting pattern emerges. Of the top 10 nations identified as being hostile to Christianity, nine of them have majority Muslim populations – nine. The 10th is at the very top of the list and it’s North Korea. You put those 10 together and add to them about 40 other nations identify as being hostile to Christianity and you can understand what some fellow believers in the world are now facing. Not as a hypothetical threat, not as a threat to religious liberty that ends up on the editorial pages of the paper, or even arguments before the Supreme Court, millions of fellow believers – millions of those who claim the name of Jesus Christ – are now being persecuted merely because they are Christians. And as this report makes clear, the pattern reveals that it is no accident. It is often downright dangerous, if not deadly, to be a Christian in many of the nations in the world that have a majority Muslim population. We are told over and over again by our political leaders that we are not at war with Islam. But these kinds of reports – and let me remind you this was published in yesterday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal – make very clear that there is a pattern that is undeniable and the math adds up. The numbers of persecuted Christians, the lands where Christians are virtually being evacuated, the lands where it can be a capital offense merely to confess the name of Jesus Christ as Lord, these lands are increasing not decreasing and the level of danger faced by Christians is likewise increasing, not decreasing.   A final word of correction, on yesterday’s edition of The Briefing I discussed the charges against a suffragan Episcopal bishop for having been involved in a car accident while driving under the influence and leaving the scene of the accident, an accident in which a cyclist was killed. In my discussion I said that the Bishop was Bishop of a diocese in Massachusetts; that was an error. She is the suffragan Bishop of a diocese in Maryland. 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 tomorrow for The Briefing.

Podcast Transcript

1) NYT Editorial board declares new rules; belief alone is evidence enough for disqualification

God, Gays and the Atlanta Fire Department, New York Times (Editorial Board)

2) Arizona sign ordinance case before Supreme Court significant religious liberty issue

Arizona Church Poised to Win High Court Fight Over Signs, Associated Press (Mark Sherman)

Justices Seem Unsettled by Ordinance Restricting Arizona Town’s Signs, New York Times (Adam Liptak)

3) Unprecedented Boko Haram attacks largely unnoticed by Western world

In Nigeria, New Boko Haram Suicide Bomber Tactic: ‘It’s a Little Girl’, New York Times (Adam Nossiter)

4) Persecution of Christians continues to increase around the globe

Thirteen Egyptian Christians kidnapped in Libya, Reuters

Isis claims abduction of 21 Christians in Libya, The Guardian (AFP)

Can Paris’ Tragedy Slow Global Tide of Intolerance?, Wall Street Journal (Gerald F. Seib)



R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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