The Briefing 01-30-15

The Briefing 01-30-15

The Briefing


January 30, 2015

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


It’s Friday, January 30, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Legal win for Trinity Western Law school dodges choice between religious and erotic liberty

A major victory was won this week by Trinity Western University in Canada. As Toronto’s Globe and Mail reported yesterday,

“Trinity Western University has scored a victory in Nova Scotia, where a Supreme Court judge has ruled that the province’s law society does not have the authority to deny accrediting graduates from its proposed law school.”

The law school is actually in British Columbia but it was the law society there in Nova Scotia that had ruled that it would not accept graduates from that University because of Universities’ moral principle that “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman” is not accepted.

In the ruling that was handed down on Wednesday of this week, Supreme Court Justice Jamie Campbell said that the Nova Scotia Barrister’ Society actually doesn’t even have the authority to require the school to change its policy. In the words of his opinion,

“It could not pass a regulation requiring TWU to change its community covenant any more than it could pass a regulation purporting to dictate what professors should be granted tenure at [any other school of law] or what fees should be charged by the University of Toronto Law School, or the admissions policies of McGill [University],”

In his opinion the Supreme Court Justice also wrote,

“The legislation, quite sensibly, does not contain any mechanism for recognition or enforcement of NSBS regulations purporting to control how university law grads operate because it was never intended that they would be subject to its control.”

He also wrote this, very important words,

“Unless tolerance engages the incomprehensible, the contemptible or the detestable, it is nothing much more than indifference. It isn’t a line. It’s a process. And it’s one that invites and almost requires a level of discomfort.”

Coming from a secular law court in an increasingly secularized society, that is especially when you’re looking at the nation of Canada, that’s a very important paragraph. It’s important though for a couple of reasons. For one thing it tells us that those who uphold a traditional definition of marriage may well be holding ideas that in the view of the larger society around us, especially its elites, are – to use the words of the Supreme Court Justice – detestable, contemptible, or incomprehensible.

So from a Christian worldview perspective the first thing we need to recognize is that the worldview chasm that separates those committed to biblical Christianity and those committed to the new sexual revolution, that chasm is so deep that from one side to the other it is almost incomprehensible. And the views across that divide are increasingly seen as detestable or contemptible. We’re not talking about the possibility of much middle ground here.

The background of this story is of course that Trinity Western University is one the very few evangelical institutions of higher education in the nation of Canada. And it is the only of those universities to offer an accredited law school – the only Christian worldview based law school in the entire nation of Canada. That’s why this particular law school has been the focus of so much attention—that’s why it’s actually the focus of so much opposition. Because [of] the largely secular society in Canada – and remember that Canada here mirrors the secularization of Europe more than it does the pattern of the United States – the Canadian law societies have generally responded with abject horror to the idea that there might be a single law school in that nation that would be based on a Christian worldview; and that regardless of its intellectual achievement will be considered contemptible and detestable because it dares to hold students to a code that actually matches the biblical expectation, the biblical understanding of marriage, the restriction of sexual activity to marriage as exclusively the union of a man and a woman.

American evangelicals, for that matter American Christians, watching this from afar – and it’s not too far; let’s keep in mind, we are only talking about British Columbia, not far across America’s northern border with Washington state – we’re looking at a story that could well be unfolding here in the 50 states of the USA. We’re looking at a story that is now threatened, at least in terms of some academic institutions; just think as we talked earlier this week about the challenge now being faced by Gordon College in suburban Boston, Massachusetts.

In one of the most important sections of the decision handed down by Justice Campbell are included these words,

“People have the right to attend a private religious university that imposes a religiously based code of conduct,”

He went on to write,

“Requiring a person to give up that right in order to get his or her professional education is an infringement of religious freedom,”

That is an exceptionally important series of words. That’s a very important statement, it’s also rather unexpected. And one of the biggest questions now being faced is whether this is the kind of decision that’s going to stand not only the test of time, but the test of other challenges that might come from within the very same nation, within Canada. Because the law society has indicated that even as it is reviewing its options going forward, it isn’t going to happily comply with the Supreme Court Justice’s opinion.

But there are other aspects to that we should also note. I mention there were two huge insights coming from the Justice’s opinion. The first is that we find ourselves as a moral minority. What sociologist call a cognitive minority in the larger secular American culture – increasingly so; especially as that culture is defined by the elites. The second thing we need to understand is that religious liberty here wasn’t defended as staunchly as we might have hoped, as staunchly as mighty have been possible in the United States where at least we claim to stand behind the words of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. There is no exactly equivalent language in terms of the Canadian Constitution.

But this leads to a third aspect of this good news from Canada and that is as attorney Barry Bussey pointed out, the decision isn’t really about whether LGBT equality rights are more or less important than the religious freedoms of evangelical Christians, as the attorney wrote, it’s not a value judgment in that sense at all; it is first about whether the law society had the authority to do what it did. Now that’s a very important point. Sometimes important cases are won or lost on what is basically a technicality. But when you’re talking about technicalities remember the laws is a technical object. The law answers and asks certain questions. And when judges cite the law, it is a very technical argument that often prevails.

In this case what people on both sides might’ve been looking for was either a ringing vindication of religious liberty or a ringing vindication of the rights of those who are defined by sexual orientation in terms of Canadian law. What might have been expected from either side in this debate was that there would be some careful adjudication of the relative balance of those liberties – the liberties I’ve written about recently as being a contest between religious liberty and a newly defined liberty we might call erotic liberty. But that’s not exactly what happened here. Instead, this court decided that the law society – again it was the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society ­– actually didn’t have the authority to make such a ruling in the first place. It didn’t actually say that the ruling was wrong or that the ruling was right, or than in any other legislative context the decision might’ve been right or might’ve been wrong. They simply said the law society had no right to make the policy whatsoever and thus the policy decision was null and void.

Lastly, even though this is good news it’s not comprehensive good news because we still don’t know exactly about the future of the law school at Trinity Western University. As CBC news, that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation News, reported,

“Last month, the British Columbia government revoked its support for the law school, saying the university can’t enroll students in the program because of the ‘uncertainty’ over approval by the B.C. Law Society.”

Meanwhile the University said that it will also take legal action against other law societies that, like the law society in Nova Scotia, ruled against their graduates being recognized. According to the CBC that would include the Law Society of Upper Canada and Ontario, meanwhile law societies in Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, Labrador and Nunavut, have decided to accept Trinity Western graduates.

Every time a decision like this comes along there is the temptation to say this one’s a clear win, that one’s a clear loss, but as is so often the case when you look at the actual decision handed down by the courts it’s not so easy. What’s really required here is to look closely at what’s being said. What’s being said is that in the view of the larger view of the cultural elites, when you look at an institution that is solely based in and committed to fundamental Christian morality, you’re looking at institution that is now so distant from the worldview of the elites that it can be described in terms like incomprehensible, detestable, and contemptible.

But coming from Canada, coming for Nova Scotia, it’s at least very good news that a Supreme Court justice in a decision handed down this week in the year 2015 included the words,

“People have the right to attend a private religious university that imposes a religiously based code of conduct,”

And then to continue,

“Requiring a person to give up that right in order to get his or her professional education is an infringement of religious freedom,”

Of course it is and it should have been recognized. And at least in this case, to some extent, it was.

2) White House shift on Taliban terminology review danger of misleading euphemisms

Next, while we’re talking about legal decisions or even a casual conversation, Christians understand that words matter. Even as being made in the image of God includes, at least in part, that we are linguistic creatures; we are able to form words, to say words, to write words, and understand words, indeed to be addressed by a divinely revealed word. We also understand that language matters in ways that are deeply revealing, deeply revealing in moral terms. After all, as many have pointed out, one of the things we have to note is the substitution in terms of moral language for a euphemism. As has been pointed out during the 20th century for instance, you can trace a moral revolution in the language that is used to describe the same thing. Something for instance that was first called ‘adultery’ then became known as an ‘affair’ and then later simply ‘extramarital sex.’

What we’re talking about here is the fact that sin is often rationalized by the process of using a euphemism, by euphemizing it. If we call it something else we can sometimes even trick ourselves into thinking it is something else. Of course we’re not just talking about sexual sins, this can be done with the sin of pride or the sin of gluttony or any other sin – frankly it can be done with almost any aspect of human living. But when it comes to defining evil that’s where euphemisms become most dangerous and most revealing and that’s where we better pay the most attention.

That’s why an article that appeared in yesterday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal is urgent from the Christian worldview even though most of the people who might be first immediately concerned with the article will be foreign-policy experts and politicians. Here’s the headline, White House Labels Taliban and Armed Insurgency Not Terrorists, it’s by Byron Tau, again writing yesterday at the Wall Street Journal. As Tau writes,

“The White House is drawing a sharp distinction between Afghanistan’s Taliban and the Islamic State — describing the Taliban as an ‘armed insurgency.’”

When the White House spokesman was asked yesterday about a plan by the nation of Jordan to swap a would-be suicide bomber for a Jordanian pilot being held by Islamic state militants, the White House reiterated the long-standing policy, says Tau, of the United States to refuse negotiations with terrorists. Eric Schultz, White House spokesman, said yesterday,

“Our policy is that we don’t pay ransom, that we don’t give concessions to terrorist organizations,”

He went on to say,

“This is a longstanding policy that predates this administration and it’s also one that we communicated to our friends and allies across the world,”

Well that’s one of those statements that means less than first meets the eye because the whole point of the Wall Street Journal article – and the whole point of world attention now to the White House spokesman’s statement – is not so much the statement which was indeed communicated – that the United States does not negotiate nor pay ransom to terrorist – but the fact that it all comes down to how the White House defines a group as a terrorist organization or, as the White House spokesman revealed yesterday when referencing the Taliban, merely an “armed insurgency.”

Now as I said, this gets to be very interesting because last year the White House was involved in a prisoner swap with the Taliban in Afghanistan – you’ll remember that that included US Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. The White House spokesman said yesterday, we do not negotiate with terrorist organizations nor pay ransom to terrorist organizations, but the Taliban isn’t a terrorist organization. The problem is the United States government still says that it is. As a matter fact, even as the US does not list the Taliban on the foreign terrorist organization list run by the State Department, it does list the Taliban as a terrorist organization on its separate “specially designated global terrorism list.” It has done so since 2002. And the National Counterterrorism Center – remember, that’s also the same government otherwise known as the United States government – also lists the Taliban  presence in Afghanistan on a map of global terrorism.

Furthermore, and horrifyingly, let me just remind you that it was the Taliban in Pakistan that murdered 145 people, including mostly young teenage students most of them boys involved in a private high school in the nation of Pakistan just before Christmas of last year. It was universally recognized as one of the worst acts of terrorism in the year 2014. But the White House now says the Taliban isn’t the terrorist group; if it were a terrorist group we couldn’t negotiate with them. Since we are negotiating with them, they must not be a terrorist group.

Now my point in this case is not to suggest that the Obama administration is doing something new when it comes to national politics, national defense, and foreign relations. We can almost be assured that there has been a bipartisan tradition of this kind of labeling and relabeling largely due to the fact that every administration is having to be rather nimble in terms of dealing with a lot of these issues. But there is a deep question of principle here and that deep question of principle is a lot deeper than a partisan question. Is indeed the United States violating our own sense of morality by a selective identification of some groups as terrorist and others as not when they are engaged in the very same horrifying behaviors?

But here we simply return where we began, with the process of euphemization and a classic example. We began with adultery that’s now considered by many just an extramarital affair or a fling, and then we compare that to the statement made by the White House spokesman yesterday when he said when it comes to the Taliban, they’re not actually a terrorist group – merely “an armed insurgency.” Let me point out the obvious moral lesson, if you were killed by an armed insurgency or a terrorist organization it doesn’t matter what someone calls it, it matters what is done; it matters what they do and what they believe and who they are.

And one of the principles of the Christian worldview, regardless of its partisan application, is that we ought to call things what they are. We have to call things by their real name. And that’s especially true for Christians the closer we get to the question of evil; we dare not call evil anything other than what it is.

3) Stunning viewership of Super Bowl represent human desire for spectacle

It seems almost superfluous to suggest to Americans that they should remember that Sunday is Super Bowl Sunday and of course Americans are going be watching that game by the tens of millions – perhaps even over 100 million in the United States watching that game. It is a major cultural development and sad to say, it will get a great deal more attention it’s likely, in terms of our society, on the Lord’s Day than what will actually take place in thousands of evangelical churches where there will actually be far more people attending the worship of the one true and living God on Sunday morning than there will be even watching that game on Sunday afternoon.

The National Football League is going to be looking to this game, at least in part, as a way to overcome a series of moral catastrophes that were largely self-inflicted by the league this year. And yet one of the things we need to watch from a Christian worldview perspective is what the game itself represents. It tells us that human beings, social creatures that we are, are inherently drawn to a spectacle.

Postmodern philosophers have tried to argue largely based in the worldview of Marxism that these spectacles are often used by the powers that be in order to entrance and distract a society that otherwise would be rebelling against those very powers that be. There’s a sense in which the ancient Roman emperors understood this when they opened the Coliseum and said to what people really wanted was, in the words famous to the Roman Empire, “bread and circuses,” – probably an emphasis on circuses. But human nature wasn’t changed during the Roman Empire and it hasn’t changed until now. We are still a society that is drawn to spectacles; we as a species tend to want to go to see what a crowd is looking at, what must be happening, and what we must be seeing in order to know.

The Olympian, a newspaper in Washington state, points out that the evolution of the Super Bowl is itself an indication of the growth of a spectacle. The very first Super Bowl was held in 1967, the ticket sold for $12; 62,000 people attended and about a third of the stadium was empty. The idea for the Super Bowl goes back to Pete Roselle, then head of the NFL, and he thought he had a good idea and in terms of the idea growing to be something really big, he evidently did have an idea that would only grow.

Even as the tickets back at the first Super Bowl cost $12, as Craig Hill and Darrin Beene report for The Olympian, you are hardly going to be able to buy a snack from a concession for that amount in the year 2015. The tickets are now selling at the website Stubhub for about $3,455 – that’s if indeed you are able to get one. Super Bowl XLIX is expected to be the biggest spectacle yet. Parking passes for Super Bowl XLIX are now expected to sell for about $85 – again, if you can find one. Super Bowl XLIX is going to be held in the region of Phoenix, Arizona and it is going to feature the Seattle Seahawks versus the New England Patriots and that’s about what I know about Super Bowl XLIX in terms of the actual sport.

In terms of sports commentary you can find better elsewhere, for that matter you can probably find better anywhere. But my point in bringing up Super Bowl XLIX is to point out, to Christians in particular, that we are a creature drawn to spectacle and perhaps we need to think about the fact that we are known by our spectacles. By their spectacles we might say, using that old adage, we shall know them. There is certainly something in moral terms to be said for the progress whereby we’ve gone from the Coliseum in ancient Rome – which was a matter of life and death, often in the most brutally grotesque terms and often with Christians being the martyrs there on the very floor of the amphitheater – to where we’re now looking at very heavily padded professional athletes who are also very well-paid, laying in a contest that isn’t for life and death and is for something else; included in that something else is a lot of money and no short amount of secular glory.

But one other issue also demands our attention and that is that like so many spectacles, this is a battle for the eyes. Advertisements on the Super Bowl – that’s 30 seconds of air time – are going to sell for $4.5 million. $4.5 million for 30 seconds of an opportunity – just maybe – to capture your eyes for a few moments. Here again there’s nothing inherently great or horrible about that, just very revealing. It tells us that there is a battle for our eyes going on all the time. Not always so blatant and graphic as this, but in this case the battle for our eyes, especially in consumer terms, is considered so valuable that people are going to pay just for the airtime $4.5 million for 30 seconds.

Of course the battle for our eyes goes far beyond the issue of a consumer economy. It touches every aspect of our lives – everything we see, all of our intake. And we need to keep that in mind. There is a battle for our eyes, a battle for the eyes of our children, a battle for the eyes of our soul. The easiest way to be a victim of that battle is not to know there is a battle in the first place.

4) 50th Anniversary of Churchill’s funeral reminder of historic significance of the man

Finally, 50 years ago today Britain observed the state funeral for Sir Winston Spencer Churchill. It’s hard for me to imagine that I was then a five-year-old boy when one of the greatest men of the modern age died and when Britain responded with the state funeral that became the largest state funeral, in terms of attendance, of any in the history of the world.  Those who know me best – in fact those who know me much at all – know that I have a tremendous interest in Winston Churchill and have ever since I was a 13-year-old when assigned to write a paper on a great person from history.

I really don’t have any idea why as a 13-year-old I immediately reported that I would write on Winston Churchill, but write I did. And he has been an influence, something of an historic role model, and of course also a conversation partner of sorts, ever since I was that 13-year-old writing that history paper. But of course to raise Winston Churchill is to raise a couple of questions. One is, is there any validity to the great man theory of history. The second is how should Christians evaluate secular leaders – someone of the scale of Winston Churchill? But I’m out of time for today, so I’ll have to talk about that next week on The Briefing. I’ll meet you then.


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) Legal win for Trinity Western Law school dodges choice between religious and erotic liberty

Nova Scotia’s top court upholds Trinity Western accreditation, The Globe and Mail (Andrea Woo)

Trinity Western law students OK to practise in Nova Scotia, CBC News (Blair Rhodes)

2) White House shift on Taliban terminology review danger of misleading euphemisms

White House Labels Taliban ‘Armed Insurgency,’ Not Terrorists, Wall Street Journal (Byron Tau)

3) Stunning viewership of Super Bowl represent human desire for spectacle

Super Bowl’s evolution “stunning to everybody”, The Olympian (Craig Hill and Darrin Beene)

5 Ways This Year’s Super Bowl Ads Will Be Like No Other, TIME (Brad Tuttle)

4) 50th Anniversary of Churchill’s funeral reminder of historic significance of the man

Winston Churchill, Wikipedia


R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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