The Briefing 02-13-15

The Briefing 02-13-15

The Briefing


February 13, 2015


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


It’s Friday, February 13, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Obama’s official evolution on same sex marriage reveals velocity of nation’s shift 

One of the most important political memoirs of recent history came out this week; that’s David Axelrod’s book “Believer: My Forty Years in Politics.” Axelrod was a major political advisor to now President Barack Obama, and he was so even when Barack Obama was deciding on whether or not to run for the United States Senate. David Axelrod was very important for the so-called political messaging of Obama’s campaigns, not only for the United States Senate but of course in two runs for the United States presidency – elections that Barack Obama won.

These days, in terms of the American political scene, we often need to understand there can be a difference between the message and the messenger. And sometimes the messenger changes the message. That has been a particular issue with President Barack Obama and the issue of same-sex marriage, and that’s because if you go back to 1996 when he was a candidate for the state Senate in Illinois, he indicated his support for the legalization of same-sex marriage. Later, when he was running for president in 2008, he was not for same-sex marriage; he said, referring to what he called sacred marriage, that it should be restricted to a man and a woman. And then when he ran for President in 2012 for reelection, he came right out and said that his position – which he previously said had been evolving –had evolved to his full support for the legalization of same-sex marriage. In recent months he’s gone to the point of suggesting that the Supreme Court should rule that same-sex marriage should be legal nationwide; coast-to-coast, in all 50 states.

This kind of political evolution is not unprecedented, but it’s particularly notable on the issue of same-sex marriage when it comes to President Obama. And no one has made this clearer than David Axelrod – after all, he was in charge of President Obama’s messaging – in this memoir, again the title is “Believer.” Here’s what he writes, and I’m reading directly from pages 446 and 447 of the book,

“Gay marriage was a particularly nagging issue. For as long as we had been working together, Obama had felt a tug between his personal views and the politics of gay marriage. As a candidate for the state senate in 1996 from liberal Hyde Park, he signed a questionnaire promising his support for legalization. I had no doubt that this was his heartfelt belief. ‘I just don’t feel my marriage is somehow threatened by the gay couple next door,’ he told me. Yet he also knew his view was way out in front of the public’s.”

Axelrod continues,

“Opposition to gay marriage was particularly strong in the black church, and as he ran for higher office, he grudgingly accepted the counsel of more pragmatic folks like me, and modified his position to support civil unions rather than marriage, which he would term a ‘sacred union.’ Having prided himself [says Axelrod] on forthrightness, though, Obama never felt comfortable with his compromise and, no doubt, compromised position. He routinely stumbled over the question when it came up in debates or interviews.”

I have to skip the language in the next line, and then Axelrod writes,

“By 2010 he had told reporters that his position was ‘evolving,’ and in 2011 the administration announced that it would no longer fight in court to uphold the Defense of Marriage Act, a controversial Clinton-era law absolving federal and state governments of their obligation to recognize gay marriages sanctioned in states where they were legal. Yet if Obama’s views were ‘evolving’ publicly, they were fully evolved behind closed doors. The president was champing at the bit to announce his support for the right of gay and lesbian couples to wed — and having watched him struggle with this issue for years, I was ready, too.”

He cites President Obama as saying to his campaign manager Jim Messina,

“I just want you guys to know that if a smart reporter asks me how I would vote on this if I were still in the state legislature, I’m going to tell the truth. I would vote yes.”

Now that predates when the President actually did announce his support for same-sex marriage; and Axelrod makes clear that timing was due in part to the fact that VP Joe Biden had rather jumpstarted the discussion when he appeared on Meet the Press early in the 2012 campaign and announced in his words,

“I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties. And quite frankly, I don’t see much of a distinction– beyond that.”

Now, one of the sad facts of politics in a sinful world is that lies happen; which is to say politicians tell lies. And the handlers of politician tell other lies, and if it’s not outright a lie, sometimes it’s a significant discount off of the truth. But that’s not to absolve any politician on any issue; it’s not to absolve anyone from the responsibility that is made clear in Scripture of telling the truth. But my main point in bringing this issue to light is to point to President Obama self-described evolution on this issue as a signal of just where we are and even recently have been in this culture.

What we’re looking at here is the fact that President Obama made his announcement after, considerably after, he felt it was politically safe to do so. And what Axelrod makes very clear is that when he stated in public that he was opposed to same-sex marriage, even when he said that in 2008, it wasn’t what he personally believed.

Now there are a couple of really important issues we need to look at here. One of them is the fact that President Obama, in response to the controversy that came out after David Axelrod’s book was published earlier this week, came out and said that Axelrod’s account wasn’t exactly right. In an interview given to the website BuzzFeed, he said,

“Well, you know, I think David is mixing up my personal feelings with my position on the issue.”

He went on to say,

“I always felt that same-sex couples should be able to enjoy the same rights, legally, as anybody else, and so it was frustrating to me not to, I think, be able to square that with what were a whole bunch of religious sensitivities out there. So my thinking at the time was that civil unions — which I always supported — was a sufficient way of squaring the circle. That, OK, we won’t call it ‘marriage,’ we’ll call it ‘civil unions,’ same-sex couples will have the same rights as anybody else, but the word ‘marriage’ with its religious connotations historically would be preserved for marriages between men and women.”

Well what we really need to look at there, and the President went on to speak of the issue of same-sex marriage and his support for it in the interview, is the fact that when the President says Axelrod didn’t get the story exactly right, the story he tells is quite basically what Axelrod said. Remember Axelrod’s actual words, he wrote

“Gay marriage was a particularly nagging issue. For as long as we had been working together, Obama had felt a tug between his personal views and the politics of gay marriage”

Then in his response to Axelrod, President Obama said,
“Well, you know, I think David is mixing up my personal feelings with my position on the issue.”

So the President basically said what Axelrod said was exactly true: my personal view is that same-sex couples should have the very same rights, the President was saying, as opposite sex couples, historically defined as marriage. But the nomenclature issue is where President Obama has hung his reputation, at least in terms of any consistent message on the issue. He says he was always for civil unions, but that when he was running for President 2008 he wasn’t yet for same-sex marriage.

But to BuzzFeed’s credit, they went back to 1996 when, as a candidate for the Illinois state Senate, Barack Obama did indicate his support for same-sex marriage. And in his response to BuzzFeed raising that issue, President Obama said this week,

“Well, yeah. The old questionnaire, you know, is an example of struggling with what was a real issue at the time, which is how do you make sure that people’s rights are enjoyed and these religious sensitivities were taken into account?”

That’s an explanation the quite frankly I can’t even decipher. But it does appear to be almost exactly what Axelrod wrote in his book when he said,

“Opposition to gay marriage was particularly strong in the black church, and as he ran for higher office, he grudgingly accepted the counsel of more pragmatic folks like me [again this is Axelrod writing], and modified his position to support civil unions rather than marriage, which he would term a ‘sacred union.’”

Perhaps the most crucial section of Axelrod’s book is where he says,

“Yet if Obama’s views were ‘evolving’ publicly, they were fully evolved behind closed doors.”

This tells us several things. It tells us, first of all, that when President Obama was running for the state Senate from a very liberal district in Hyde Park – that is centered in the area around the University of Chicago – when he was running for that office back in 1996, it was perfectly politically plausible to support same-sex marriage; when he ran for the United States Senate just shortly thereafter, not so much. When he ran for president in 2008, it probably would’ve been a political killer for him to have endorsed same-sex marriage. When he ran for President in 2012, well, as many journals have noted, he did so with at least some sense that there was very little political risk to affirming in 2012 what he denied in 2008, which he had affirmed in 1996.
Secondly, from a moral perspective, a very important question was asked by Paul Waldman writing in the Washington Post. His question? How bad was Obama’s 2008 deception on same-sex marriage? He quotes the character George Costanza, famous of the “Seinfeld” program who said,

“It’s not a lie if you believe it.”

And then Waldman ask,

“But is it a lie if no one else believes it?”

That’s what he says is the real issue here. He says that no one covering President Obama in 2008 believed that he wasn’t for same-sex marriage, and furthermore, there were a lot of winks offered in the campaign to that effect. But in terms of the moral revolution what’s really instructive about Waldman’s article are these lines,

“By 2008, everyone seemed to understand that the position all the major Democratic candidates were taking was a temporary way-station on the path to an eventual embrace of full marriage equality. Nobody really believed that was where the party and its representatives were going to stay. Half of Democrats supported marriage equality in 2008 — up from 40 percent in 2004 — but the public as a whole was not there yet. Support for civil unions was a position that was acceptable both to the party base, who knew it was only a matter of time before their leaders ‘evolved,’ and to the general public, which was undergoing its own evolution.”

Waldman then asks,

“Was all that a spectacle of political cowardice? Absolutely. But it’s hard to say that anyone in either party had many illusions about where it would end up.”

Now on that account, Waldman is absolutely right. Going back to 2008, especially since we had in hand that 1996 questionnaire, nobody really believed that President Obama meant that he wasn’t for same-sex marriage in terms of his personal belief. Then when he ran for President in 2012 a great deal had changed. And of course we’re looking at the span of four years, that’s biggest issue here; to look at a moral revolution that isn’t measured in centuries or decades, but in four years – the same for years between Pres. Obama’s election and his reelection. So one issue here is simply the ethics of truth telling and President Obama finds himself in an especially uneasy position on this because he affirmed in 1996 what he denied in 2008, later said he was evolving on, only to affirm again in 2012.

But the big issue here is simply what it tells us about the evolution of the larger society. What Waldman writes about when he says the evolution of the politicians, it has to be tracked along with the evolution of the general population. This is a moral revolution, once again, that is happening faster than any other that can be documented in human history. The span of time between 2008 and 2012 was just four years, but in moral terms, those should be measured in light years.

2) 50 Shades movie exposes same sinful root of pornography in slightly different form

Well tomorrow’s Valentine’s Day in America, but it also mark something else and that is the release in cinemas of the film “50 Shades of Gray” – the first in a series of films threatened, I won’t say promised, in terms of the films based upon the stories in the 50 Shades series of best-selling books. Even though some cinemas may be showing the film early, it is scheduled to be released on Valentine’s Day and of course not by accident. But the reason I’m bringing up this development today is not so much to talk about the film, which doesn’t deserve that much of our attention, but to the fact that there seems to be an ongoing conversation among many in America as to whether or not this is a film that should be seen – even by Christians – and whether or not it is actually pornography. And this leads us to have to think not only about modern cinema, but about the New Testament and its clear teachings on what is now called pornography.

Given the nature and audience of this program I’m not going to go into any detail at all about the “50 Shades” series, it should suffice to say that it’s not only explicitly sexual and pornographic in terms of its storyline, it also has become something even identified in the secular world as a gateway into what had almost universally been considered sexual perversions in years past. The movie narrowly escaped an NC-17 rating and by some very skillful editing, it was brought down to an R rating – by the way, that’s a commercial decision, if it had been rated NC-17 it’s box office income would’ve been cut significantly – but the reality we’re looking at a film here that is likely to attract millions of Americans as viewers, and of course they know exactly what they’re going to see.

One of the things that is interesting in this is the fact that when we’re looking at the “50 Shades” series, we’re looking at something that has exposed the fact that there is a real problem of female oriented pornography. Even though male pornography is overwhelmingly visual, female pornography – as revealed in the massive sales of the “50 Shades” series – is often narrative in form. In one form it can be found in rather explicit romance novels, but as we’ve seen in the “50 Shades” phenomenon, there is a real market for explicit narrative that is story-based pornography. Which isn’t so much driven by images but by the storyline; and that has revealed the fact that a good number of women also struggle with the temptation of pornography. In many cases, if not most cases, the differences between men and women mean that the struggle with pornography – gender by gender – is actually different, but the sinful root of it is exactly the same.

Just about everyone, including those who are secular observers looking at this phenomena, understand that it is pornography. A.O. Scott reviewing the movie for the New York Times points out that it is pornography. He describes the movie as pornography, even if he says, and I quote,

“Okay, it’s a terrible movie”

But he’s not speaking there in moral terms, he speaking in the terms of cinema criticism, of the evaluation of the film as a film, not as a moral statement. One of the other important issues to face in terms of this movie is the fact that what we’re looking at here is, in its film product, a combination of pornography that is addressed to both men and women. For the overwhelmingly female audience of the “50 Shades” books there is a storyline, but for the males who are expected also to see the movie, sometimes in the company of females, it is the images – for after all, film is a visual product – that will be driving the interest and they hope the box office sales.

So from a biblical or theological perspective what we’re looking at here is the putting together of two very volatile and dangerous, downright sinful and evil, impulses. We’re looking at the basic impulse between male pornography – very visual – and female pornography – very narrative – put together in a film that is released, by no coincidence, on Valentine’s Day.

There should be no debate among Christians as to whether or not this is pornographic.  And for us it’s not a legal description. You may recall the grave confusion that has been faced and frankly produced by many courts trying to define photography. The late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said, ‘I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it,’ that’s not particularly helpful from a legal perspective. But that kind of logic is what open the floodgates to an absolute deluge of pornography and other obscene materials over the last several decades. And of course you add to that the digital revolution, and we’re looking at the fact that pornography is almost ubiquitous – found almost everywhere, just a click away. And what we’re looking at is the reality that there is also ambient pornography, such that even modern-day advertising that you see in shopping malls, in store windows, in magazines, and for that matter even in billboards that can be seen along the highway, is involving images that would’ve been considered explicitly pornographic just a generation or two ago.

But as I say for Christians, there should be no question about seeing this movie or reading the books, there should be no question as to whether or not this is pornography. And for that, we need to turn to a biblical definition, not a legal definition; because if the laws confused, the Scripture is not. The Greek word from which we get the very term pornography is porneia, and what it means is an illegitimate sexual interest, an illegitimate incitement to lust, an illegitimate sexual message that could be – according to the Scripture, because the Scripture would include both – either something that is verbal or something that is visual. So far as the New Testament is concerned, it wouldn’t matter. Porneia means it is a reference to sex that is outside God’s purpose, it’s outside God’s plan, it violates God’s law, and robs God of His glory. That means any reference to sexuality that would lead to any way a thought or interest outside of marriage, outside of marriage as the union of the man and a woman, outside of marriage as that monogamous union, inside which and inside which alone the gift of sex is to be enjoyed.

Now what we’re looking at in terms of pornography, well we’re looking at the fact that the courts have had grave difficulty coming to a conclusion and have basically demonstrated that they are either unwilling or incompetent to keep any flood of pornography outside of the culture. But what we’re looking at in the church is often a confusion for which the church is far more culpable than any court, because if the law may be confusing about how to define photography, the Bible isn’t. Put bluntly, if something creates in any of us a sexual thought that is not fully in keeping with God’s plan for sexuality, than it is – by biblical definition – pornography; and thus it is, by biblical definition, sin. About that there is no lack of clarity in Scripture. So while the cinema is trying to sell you “50 Shades of Gray” and the courts are offering 50 shades of the truth, the Bible offers one very clear message about God’s purpose for sex and sexuality, and the Bible’s definition of sin.

And if not troubled enough, or at least of troubled as you ought to be by this, consider this release that came out yesterday from the Dallas Morning News, 50 shades of inappropriate: Middle-school kids given naughty puzzle. It turns out that in one Pennsylvania eighth grade classroom, students were given a puzzle that had to do with the storyline explicitly of this movie. You can trust me that I can’t read you much more of this story even as it was found in mainstream media. But my point in raising it is this, pornography set loose in the culture will not remain in the cinema, it will not remain to those who supposedly are limited to entry in the cinema by that are r-rating, it very quickly gets to the entire culture and make no mistake, it gets to the young.

One parent cited in this article said,

“I asked my son who passed it out and he said the teacher passed it out. I don’t think [said this parent] this is what they should be doing in the eighth grade level.”

The problem is that’s not what anyone should be doing at any age level, but make no mistake; it will make its way to the entire culture. And make no mistake, it will make its way to the young.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. Remember that tomorrow brings the first installment in the new season of Ask Anything: Weekend Edition, you can find it at or if you’re a subscriber it should be in your feed. And in terms of Ask Anything: Weekend Edition, remember that we want you to call with your question in your voice for future programs. Call us 877-505-2058, that’s 877-505-2058.


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) Obama’s official evolution on same sex marriage reveals velocity of nation’s shift 

Full Transcript Of BuzzFeed News’ Interview With President Barack Obama, Buzzfeed (Ben Smith)

How bad was Obama’s 2008 deception on same-sex marriage?, Washington Post (Paul Waldman)

2) 50 Shades movie exposes same sinful root of pornography in slightly different form

Review: In ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Movie, Sex Is a Knotty Business, New York Times (A.O. Scott)

50 shades of inappropriate: Middle-school kids given naughty puzzle, Dallas Morning News (Amanda Wilkins)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me using the contact form. Follow regular updates on Twitter at @albertmohler.

Subscribe via email for daily Briefings and more (unsubscribe at any time).