The Briefing 01-23-15

The Briefing 01-23-15

The Briefing


January 23, 2015

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


It’s Friday, January 23, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Congress drops abortion bill, providing lesson in pervasive sinfulness of humanity

An important lesson in the political world came late on Wednesday afternoon when it was announced that the United States House of Representatives would drop consideration of a bill that would have outlawed abortion after 20 weeks of gestation. The important lesson here has to do with the fact that Republicans won an overwhelming majority of House seats back in the election of November 2014. They were elected on the promise of and with the expectation of the fact that they would support pro-life legislation – including this very bill. And then, of all things, on the very eve of the 42nd anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, the Republican leadership announced that cold feet had prevailed and that the bill would not be going forward.

As Ed O’Keefe of the Washington Post reported,

“House Republican leaders abruptly dropped plans late Wednesday to vote on an anti-abortion bill amid a revolt by female GOP lawmakers concerned that the legislation’s restrictive language would once again spoil the party’s chances of broadening its appeal to women and younger voters.”

A couple of first considerations here; when it comes to winning the votes of women, Republicans are already winning the votes of women when it comes to married women. There is no doubt when you look at the statistics, indeed after the 2012 and 2014 elections the Republican candidates have done very well among married women. Republican candidates are doing not so well among unmarried women – especially those women who have never married.

It’s a very interesting phenomenon. The most significant data of which I’m aware has to do with the aftermath of the Virginia gubernatorial election in 2012. The immediate aftermath of that election said that Republicans lost the women’s vote and that Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican candidate, had gone down because he just didn’t get enough votes from women. But as it turned out, and later consideration of the data on both sides affirmed, it was not that Ken Cuccinelli didn’t get enough women’s votes, he didn’t get the votes of single women; married women voted overwhelmingly for him. One thing that indicates is the fact that one’s marital situation affects one’s worldview. You could turn that around; one’s worldview often affects one’s marital situation. They are however, just to use the words of statistics, highly correlated.

But getting back to what we learn from this political development, about the very nature of politics, is that the Republican Party elected on a pro-life platform, elected overwhelmingly in terms of the election this past November, is a party leadership that decided it wasn’t going to go forward with the most expected piece of pro-life legislation going back to the campaign itself. And of all things, once again, they made that decision even as thousands and thousands of pro-life Americans were gathering in Washington, DC for the annual March on Life and of course the commemoration of the infamous anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

But what makes this really interesting is not just the timing but what it tells us about politics. Politics is dirty business at is very best, it’s also necessary business. One of the things that biblical worldview helps us to understand is that in a fallen world every aspect is falling. That means our economic life is falling, that means every aspect of humanity in terms of education, commerce, culture, art, everything shows evidence of the fall. And that’s also true in politics. Perhaps it’s especially true in politics. Why? Because by its very nature the democratic political system – that is small ‘d’ – the republican system of government – that is small ‘r’ – if you’re in a republic that operates by a democratic process, there is inevitably a trade-off of goods; a trade-off of principles.

In a fallen world you certainly hope for the very best of those trade-offs; the very best of those compromises. But the evidence that came in on Wednesday afternoon is very sad. It’s sad indeed because it shows a lack of conviction on the part of the very people who promised conviction. It shows a lack of principle on the part of the very people who were elected to defend that principle.

Getting back to Ed O’Keefe’s report in the Washington Post, and I quote,

“The abortion bill pulled Wednesday night was strongly opposed by Democrats and women’s rights groups. But a similar version of the bill easily passed the GOP-controlled House in 2013 and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had vowed to bring it up for a vote.”

That just adds tragedy to the tragedy. You had the Senate poised to act on this bill if only the house sent it to them. And now you have the house leadership losing confidence in its own pro-life convictions out of fear of the political ramifications. Now you look at that and you say, that just might be relevant at least from a pragmatic perspective if this was a party headed into an election in coming days. But it isn’t heading into one; it’s heading out of one. And one that it won overwhelmingly on this very pledge and principle.

As Bill Chappell of National Public Radio reported yesterday, the house did approve a bill that would prohibit using federal money to pay for any abortion or for health benefits coverage that includes coverage of abortion. That bill passed by a vote of 242 to 179. It was called the ‘No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2015.’ Yes, no kidding, that’s the title of the bill. It stipulates and I quote,

“No funds authorized or appropriated by Federal law, and none of the funds in any trust fund to which funds are authorized or appropriated by Federal law, shall be expended for any abortion.”

That becomes a very necessary bill. It’s a bill made necessary by some government action subsequent even to the so-called Hyde amendment that supposedly prevented any taxpayer money going to abortion. The federal bureaucracy has found some ways to try nonetheless to cover some abortion coverage both in the United States and, in complicated ways, on American military bases overseas, and in some foreign aid funding. But this bill is important as it is a small comfort over against the larger and more important bill that never saw the light of day and never hit the floor of the house.

Writing about this in the Atlantic monthly David A Graham wrote an article entitled, Yesterday the Republican Party’s Abortion Bind. He began by writing,

“Mario Cuomo, who was one of America’s most prominent pro-choice politicians, liked to say that one campaigned in poetry and governed in prose. The Republican Party came face to face with this reality Wednesday—and on the issue of abortion, no less.”

He then wrote,

“It’s one thing to campaign on stopping abortion—it has been a largely successful GOP plank since Roe v. Wade, and one that helped create a juggernaut connection between evangelical Christians and the Republican Party. (Yes, there have been occasional hiccups.) But it’s a different and more complicated matter to actually institute sweeping restrictions successfully.”

Well, I would simply respond that it is of course different and more complicated, but it still comes down to a matter of principle and a matter of conviction. If indeed they believed the principles on which they ran, if they genuinely held the convictions they declared to voters in November, we would not be having this discussion; the bill would have hit the floor of the house, we would’ve found out through the democratic process how indeed that bill would’ve fared. The fact that the bill was withdrawn before it ever met the House of Representatives for a vote is full indication of the fact that in a sinful world, the sinfulness of humanity shows up often first in politics; disappointingly so. And with this we should note in this case, with nothing less than life-and-death hanging in the balance.

2) ISIS hostage situation presents Japan with issue demanding the wisdom of God

Next, many people around the world saw the ominous headline; it came in the New York Times with this headline, Online Video Shows Japanese Hostages Threatened by ISIS. You probably by now know the story. The Islamic State has captured, or has claimed to capture, two Japanese citizens it claims it will execute unless the Japanese government contributes two hundred million dollars to its cause; indeed to its coffers.

As Martin Fackler and Alan Cowell reported,

“A video posted online Tuesday showing a masked militant threatening to kill two kneeling Japanese men has confronted Japan with the same sort of hostage nightmare already faced by the United States and other nations. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to try to save the men, while also saying he would not give in to intimidation.”

The two reporters went on to say that the video was posted by extremists of the Islamic State,

“…showed the two Japanese men, identified as Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa, kneeling on a rocky hillside with the knife-wielding militant standing between them. The militant appeared to be reading a prepared statement, demanding that Tokyo pay a ransom of $200 million within 72 hours”

This leads to one of those excruciatingly difficult moral choices. Its more than a moral choice, it’s political, it’s economic, and it is also criminological; even as a crime is being promised or threatened, after a crime has already taken place in terms of the kidnapping of these two men. But more than anything else it’s irreducibly moral. And this presents the nation of Japan with an excruciatingly difficult decision; Does it pay the ransom and supposedly save these two men or does it refuse to pay, leading often to the execution of those the Islamic state has kidnapped?

From a Christian worldview perspective we have to recognize that a great deal is at stake here. And more than perhaps first meets the eye. Because from a simple viewpoint, looking at it superficially, all you would look at is the fact that it appears there’s an equation being offered here. On the one hand, the lives of two men, on the other, $200 million. Now given the Christian understanding of the dignity and humanity of the infinite value of human life – because it is indeed that which is given to us by an infinitely good and malevolent Creator who made every single human being in His image – we would be very quick to say, ‘look, in terms of the value of human life what’s $200 million for two lives?’ But it’s at that point that the realization of what we’re dealing with really comes.

American defense and security officials do not pay this kind of ransom. That’s the official position of the United States government. Why? Because as it turns out, paying this kind of ransom – here is the important moral lesson – actually incentivizes further kidnapping; it actually creates an enterprise, an economic incentive, for the kidnappings to take place. This is a major point of debate between the United States and some European nations including Italy and France. Those nations have paid ransoms and at least some of their citizens have been released. But the issue also points to the fact that even as some of their citizens have been released, every single one of their citizens now has an increased likelihood of being kidnapped. And there is a virtual kidnapping industry now – not only related to the Islamic state but is some other similar groups – when it comes to the citizens of those nations.

The moral stance of the United States is not that human life counts for less, but that paying people not to murder people is in the end a self-defeating moral proposal. Who is right in this? Are the French and the Italians right? Is America wrong? Or is America right? Are the French and the Italians wrong? That’s not a simple question to answer. This is one of those very difficult issues that points from the Christian worldview to the fact that in a fallen world there are some horrifyingly difficult questions to answer; horrifyingly difficult political, economic, moral questions. This is one of those questions.

One of the particular aspects of this news story is that the two citizens taken, kidnapped in this case, are Japanese citizens. Japan in the past has paid ransoms and there is a very real question now as to whether or not the fact that the Japanese have previously paid ransoms is why these two men are now being held by this group and their executions threatened if the ransom is not paid. So the current quandary that is faced by the Japanese government is, at least in part, as to whether or not they incentivized this new kidnapping. And furthermore, if they did pay this $200 million, it would actually lead to an expansion of the danger against every Japanese citizen who might be a target of being kidnapped by a group like the Islamic State.

In a world so affected by sin and its affects, the kinds of political decisions that are often demanded of political leaders and governments are not only excruciating, they’re almost impossible actually to know how to answer. Perhaps what comes to mind to Christians is 1 Kings 3, where King Solomon is presented with what seems to be an insoluble problem, and he responded, as you’ll recall, with an unusual and indeed legendary wisdom. It’s a humbling realization for Christians and others to recognize that in this world so affected by sin there are some dilemmas that seem to be virtually insoluble. That doesn’t mean a government doesn’t have to make a decision. It doesn’t mean that sometimes a parent doesn’t have to make a decision. It doesn’t mean that sometimes a leader isn’t forced into a situation where decision must be made. Perhaps the greatest example drawn from Solomon is the fact that what we need is wisdom; a wisdom not drawn from Solomon but as Solomon himself understood, a wisdom that can come only from God.

3) Hypocrisy of Davos forum evident in 1700 private jets used to discuss climate change

The World Economic Forum continues through the weekend in Davos, Switzerland and it does become something of a parable of our times; a parable of the elites doing their very best to act like elites. One of the things that was demonstrated in terms of even the onset of the World Economic Forum in Davos was the hypocrisy that is written into the very movement and the meeting. And it’s important sometimes to recognize that hypocrisy. But less the hypocrisy be expanded, let’s stipulate something upfront. Every single one of us is tempted to hypocrisy, and furthermore every single one of us at times falls into certain hypocrisy where we fall short of our own moral expectations. The worst form of hypocrisy is not the one you see in others, but the one you do not see in your selves. But sometimes it takes looking at hypocrisy writ large to understand just how close a danger it is.

How is this for headline? As Amelia Smith reports for Newsweek, 1,700 private jets descended on davos for the world economic forum, bringing members of the cultural, intellectual, political, and economic elites to a meeting where they would condemn using fossil fuels and such things as private jets. Whereas at least one media outlet suggested, that as many as 50 jets could’ve carried everyone coming to the meeting together along with their attendance. And even beyond that, just even a handful of jumbo jets could’ve covered the entire group. As it was 1,700 private jets descended on this small Swiss village; so many jets as a matter of fact that as Newsweek reported the Swiss Armed Forces opened up one of their military air bases for the very first time to try to accommodate the increase in jet traffic.

Even beyond the private jets this was a group that met to talk about the problem of income inequality; presumably believing that inequality is the problem. And yet they represent the top one percent, perhaps maybe the 1 to 2 to 3% of the top one percent of all the wealthiest people in the world. And as the event end this weekend there will be about as many private jets arriving to take people home as arrived to bring them there in the first place; taking them home from their very elite discussion about why people shouldn’t do what they just did.

4) Reading aloud to children decisive influence in child’s likelihood to read

Finally as we head into the weekend I want to share with you an article that appeared recently in the New York Times by Motoko Rich. The title is, Study Finds Reading to Children of All Ages Grooms Them to Read More on Their Own. This is actually what I would even call a sweet story because it tells us something that as families and as parents we certainly need to take to heart. It tells us what we already knew: that reading to our children is really important. But it backs up that argument with some very interesting statistics that might catch our attention.

First the bad news, Rich writes,

“Cue the hand-wringing about digital distraction: Fewer children are reading books frequently for fun, according to a new report released Thursday by Scholastic, the children’s book publisher.”

They are pointing back to a 2014 survey of children age 6 to 17; only 31% said they read a book for fun almost daily – down from 37% four years ago. So what is the good news? Well this article includes some very good news for parents and that is that parents often have a decisive role in whether or not children read. To put it more positively, when parents encourage their children to read, give their children time to read, model reading, and even more importantly, read aloud to their children, the children are far more likely also to read on their own and independently. As Motoko Rich writes,

“The finding about reading aloud to children long after toddlerhood may come as a surprise to some parents who read books to children at bedtime when they were very young but then tapered off.”

This article and the study behind it points to something really important and fundamentally interesting I would think to parents. And that is that children older than you would think both enjoy and benefit from being read to by parents. It turns out that when many parents stop reading aloud to their children it’s because they think their children can read on their own; because they can. But the fact that they can doesn’t mean that they will.

Furthermore, hearing a parent’s voice read a book aloud turns out to have an effect upon children that is just good in almost every way you can imagine it. And one of most interesting aspect of this study is one that many parents will find surprising – even older siblings will gather together to listen in when parents read to younger brothers and sisters. It turns out that we have a hunger to have things read to us. And there’s such an importance to story and hearing a parent’s voice reading a story that when it comes down to it you’ll even have older children, middle school children, who will be gathering together perhaps even a little surreptitiously to listen in as the parent is reading to a younger brother or sister. There’s something really sweet about that; something very affirming about the importance of parenthood and the relationship between parents and children. Some important about the reading of books and the fact that it is something passed down from one generation to the next. Something very important even about a mother or father’s voice reading a book aloud, modeling not only the capacity to read but the enjoyment of reading. Seducing in a very real sense children into the wonder of the word and the wonder of those words gathered between the covers of a book.

An interest comment that came from Maggie McGuire, she is the vice president at Scholastic, she said,

“A lot of parents assume that once kids begin to read independently, that now that is the best thing for them to do,”

It turns out evidently not, at least not on its own. It turns out that children want to hear a parent read aloud. From a biblical worldview perspective there is every bit of good news in that and every bit of affirmation of the importance, not only of the word, but more importantly the relationship between parents and children. Let that be an encouragement to us all; parents, grandparents, and furthermore those who one day maybe parents, reading aloud to our children, perhaps even our grandchildren really does matter. And it matters even to those you think could read on their own, because there is still something about your voice reading the book.


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

Podcast Transcript

1) Congress drops abortion bill, providing lesson in pervasive sinfulness of humanity

 Abortion bill dropped amid concerns of female GOP lawmakers, Washington Post (Ed O’Keefe)

House Approves Bill That Would Bar Federal Funding For Abortions, NPR (Bill Chappell)

The Republican Party’s Abortion Bind, The Atlantic (David A. Graham)

2) ISIS hostage situation presents Japan with issue demanding the wisdom of God

Hostage Crisis Challenges Pacifist Japanese Public, New York Times (Martin Fackler and Alan Cowell)

3) Hypocrisy of Davos forum evident in 1700 private jets used to discuss climate change

1,700 Private Jets Descend on Davos For World Economic Forum, Newsweek (Amelia Smith)

4) Reading aloud to children decisive influence in child’s likelihood to read

Study Finds Reading to Children of All Ages Grooms Them to Read More on Their Own, New York Times (Motoko Rich)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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