The Briefing 02-20-15

The Briefing 02-20-15

The Briefing


February 20, 2015

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


It’s Friday, February 20, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Ruling against WA florist introduces distinction between religious opinion and conduct

The headlines out of Washington state on Wednesday tell us that a judge there has ruled that a florist who refused to sell flower arrangements for a gay couple’s wedding indeed violated state antidiscrimination laws. We’ve seen this case coming for some time and we’ve discussed it on The Briefing. It is similar to other cases in states like Arizona and Oregon in which there were professional charges brought against those who were cake bakers or photographers or florist for refusing to serve a gay wedding. And of course a similar case in Colorado led to a very similar verdict. But in that case not only was it a verdict against a baker, but also a requirement that he and his employees undergo special sensitivity training; which is one of the new enforcement mechanisms of the moral revolutionaries.

But one of the things we need to look at in any situation like this is the actual wording of the statements made by the judge in the case. In this respect, Sarah Kaplan’s article in this morning’s edition of the Washington Post is very interesting. As she writes,

“A Washington state florist who refused to provide flower arrangements for a gay wedding ‘because of [her] relationship with Jesus’ [that was the wording that she used in the case, that is the florist] violated the state’s anti-discrimination and consumer protection laws, a judge ruled Wednesday.”

The judge, Benton County Superior Court Judge Alexander C Ekstrom said in a 60 page opinion, it took 60 pages to answer this question,

“Religious motivation does not excuse compliance with the law,”

He went on to say,

“In trade and commerce, and more particularly when seeking to prevent discrimination in public accommodations, the courts have confirmed the power of the legislative branch to prohibit conduct it deems discriminatory, even where the motivation for that conduct is grounded in religious belief.”

One of the things we are noting is the narrowing of that ground of respect for religious belief. And in this case there’s a very important and troubling legal distinction that is made by the judge. It is a distinction between religious opinion and religious conduct. We might note that that is not a distinction that is found in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution; which instead speaks of the free exercise of religion, it doesn’t speak merely of the free opinion of religion but the free exercise of religion.

In ruling against the florist Baronelle Stutzman, Judge Ekstrom also wrote that while religious beliefs are protected, religiously motivated actions are not.

“Stutzman cannot comply with both the law and her faith if she continues to provide flowers for weddings as part of her duly licensed business,”

So the judge clearly ruled it is the religious opinions that have to give way. And in this case the distinction the judge made between religious opinion and religious conduct just demonstrates very clearly the narrowing of the ground of religious liberty in this country. Because if religious liberty doesn’t include the conduct that goes with the so-called opinion, than to what degree is the opinion actually free in and of itself? It would be the freedom to believe something but not the freedom to act upon that belief.

In this case Baronelle Stutzman said that she was not refusing to serve homosexual or gay customers but rather she was refusing to participate in a gay wedding. Now here’s a point at which Christians need to think very clearly. Those who have been at the forefront of so many of these cases have been primarily bakers who make wedding cakes, photographers who render their services for weddings, and florist. There are other professionals who will face similar issues but those three have been on the front lines precisely because the leading edge of the moral revolution is same-sex marriage and the formal ceremony of the same-sex marriage is a wedding.

And the reason why there is a distinctive argument on behalf of these Christian florists and bakers and photographers is that their particular professions require an expressive performance. The photographer has to be artistically engaged, so also does the cake maker – in terms of the decoration of the cake – have to express not only an act, but also a message. Similarly the florist is involved in an expressive profession, not only in terms of the flowers but the other things that go often with floral arrangements; including banners with wording and all the rest.

So what we’re looking at here is consistent. We’re now looking at a consistent narrowing of the ground of religious liberty. We are now looking at religious liberty in the case of this judge’s decision indicating a distinction between so-called religious opinion and religious conduct, and we’re seeing the kind of argument we are likely to be confronting elsewhere. This case is not only important in of itself, and important it is, it is also a signal of the kind of challenge that will be coming to Christians in any number professions, in virtually every conceivable community. There are going be any number of very difficult issues faced by Christians in the public square, even in the marketplace, in coming days. And as we see from this case, some already are.

But even as these issues right now are very urgent for photographers and florists and cake bakers, they’re likely to be increasingly urgent for nurses and public school teachers; increasingly urgent for insurance agents and any number of others. One of the things we’re going to have to face is the fact that we are now in a nearly completely changed moral terrain. This moral revolution will be re-shifting every area of the society, and right now one of those major areas is the law. And as the law changes, the law is making a new moral statement. And make no mistake about the new moral statement the law is now making, this moral statement says very clearly that the issue of sexual orientation is more important than the issue of religious conviction. And the separation of what is called religious opinion from religious conduct here is a sign of the kind of severing that’s going to become more and more routine we can fear in a society that is now pushing this new morality quite relentlessly.

One of the interesting comments made by some on the other side of this judgment in Washington state is that very little was at stake. Those who were suing the florist sued for only $7.91 and Baronelle Stutzman also faces, according to reports, a fine of up to $2,000. But even if the financial judgment at stake only amounts to something like $2,007, the reality is the states are far higher; in terms of religious liberty, infinitely higher.

2) Scientists present possibilities of world’s end, showing even secularists have an apocalypse

Earlier this week on The Briefing we covered that very important 30 page article by Graeme Wood that appears in an upcoming issue of the Atlantic monthly having to do with the inherently Islamic nature of the challenge we now face and the inherently theological nature of Islamic terrorism. But even as we discuss that, one of the major points that Graeme Wood made is that there is an apocalyptic vision that is driving the Islamic state and others. One of the points I made is that every single worldview has to explain how the world is likely to end; how history is likely to conclude.

And a very important testimony to that appeared in the weekend edition of the Financial Times, dated February 15. The article is entitled A Dozen Ways the World Could End, science writer Clive Cookson reports for the Financial Times on “a report assessing the gravest risk we face.” It’s an important article, one that’s hard to take with a straight face at times but, as I said, it’s an important article. It demonstrates the fact that everyone, even those who operate out of the most supposedly secular worldview, have to have some explicit belief and where they believe history is headed and how they believe the entire project is going to end.

Cookson writes about a team from Oxford University’s Institute known as the Future of Humanity Institute and also about the group known as the Global Challenges Foundation, they have come up with what he describes as the first serious scientific assessment of the gravest risk we face. Now what might those risk be? Well as Cookson says, although civilization has ended many times in popular fiction, the issue has been almost entirely ignored by governments. Dennis Pamlin of the Global Challenges Foundation said,

“We were surprised to find that no one else had compiled a list of global risks with impacts that, for all practical purposes, can be called infinite. We don’t want to be accused of scaremongering but we want to get policy makers talking.”

Well, whether or not they want to be accused of fear mongering, just consider the kinds of risk they’re talking about, and their rather laughable effort to try to come up with a percentage risk for every one of these catastrophic possibilities. Now in this case we might point out that the scientist covered every base by offering as their first of 12 gravest risks – and folks I’m not making this up – I quote, “unknown consequences.” So the very first thing this group list in terms of saying they are going to list things that no government has been brave enough the list is something they call unknown consequences. And not only that, they write about this being:

“A catch-all category to cover the unknown unknowns — an amalgamation of all the risks that we have not thought of or that seem ridiculously unlikely in isolation”

And then they write in parentheses,

“(such as sending signals to extraterrestrial civilisations that attract deadly alien attention). Together they represent a significant apocalyptic threat.”

And remember, we’re not talking about some Post Office Box school here, we’re talking about Oxford University, one of the most ancient and respected universities on planet Earth, even though they’re not quite certain how long planet earth is going to survive. Here are the other 11 of the 12 risk they say we are likely to face in terms of how the world is likely to end: asteroid impact, artificial intelligence, super volcano, ecological collapse, bad global governance, global system collapse, extreme climate change, nuclear war, global pandemic, synthetic biology, and nanotechnology.

One of the interesting things Clive Cookson points out is this,

“Most emerge from human economic and technological development. Three (synthetic biology, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence) result from dual-use technologies, which promise great benefits for society, including reducing other risks such as climate change and pandemics — but could go horribly wrong.”

Well the obvious response to that is a lot of things we have created, we have developed in terms of technology, already have gone horribly wrong. That is not an insane preoccupation. But even as these groups have garnered headlines in newspapers as illustrious and respected as the Financial Times of London, when it comes once again to listing what they claim are the 12 grave threats faced by humanity, the 12 most likely ways the world is going to end, and even as – again, I’m not making this up – the first one they offer is “unknown consequences,” they suggest that it would be responsible to offer some probability for every one of these. And yet when you look beside ecological collapse the probability is ‘no answer,’ it is not known. When it comes to a super volcano they explain it would be interruption ejecting thousands of cubic kilometers of material into the atmosphere far larger than anything experienced in human history, it could lead to a volcanic winter they say with effects similar to an asteroid impact or nuclear war; such events they say are known from the geological record to have caused mass extinctions. And with today’s technology, here’s the really scary thing they want us to see, there’s not much we can do to prevent its effects. What’s the probability? Now do the math; 0.00003%.

It is really interesting as Cookson notes that almost all of the major threats that they fear when it comes to the ones that are most likely, their tied to technologies that human beings have invented or are now inventing. So when it comes to the kind of naturalistic disasters of the grave ecological collapse or something like a super volcano, they rate those probabilities as either unknown or fairly remote. But when it comes to nanotechnology and synthetic biology, and when it comes artificial intelligence, they say the danger may be very high.

Here’s what’s really insane about all of this: first of all these are things that we have developed and conceivably these are things over which we would have control. But the acknowledgment of this article is when it comes many technologies, when we create them we lose control over them. But my main reason in bringing up the article is simply to point out that everybody has an apocalypse; everybody has an understanding of the end of history. For secular scientists and the larger secular world it seems to come down to either something included on this list of 12 or something that is even more remote, or more unbelievable. When it comes to a secular society in terms of the nonscientific worldview, it’s amazing how many people simply resort to some kind of literary story; something they’ve read about which brings an apocalypse, which is white movies such as the hunger games series seem to have so much interest. We hunger for knowledge of where history is headed.

But this is where Christians must situate ourselves and our worldview in the flow of the Bible, in the great narrative of the Bible; a narrative that goes from creation and fall to redemption and new creation, that points to a consummation of all things not according to some kind of naturalistic apocalypse but rather says there is a judgment day coming. And not only that, but for those who are in Christ is the promise of a new heaven and a new earth. The last book of the Bible is where most Christians know instinctively to go in order to get a grounding in history, not just in terms of the future but of the present, because we understand the present only in terms of both the past and the future; that’s a very important biblical theme. And as the chapel speaker yesterday morning at Southern Seminary made very clear, Tommy Nelson from Dallas, the reality is every Christian would do well to read the book of Revelation more often. This headline from the Financial Times helps us to understand just how important for Christians that will be.

3) Shortcomings of Chinese recruits and American college students reveal dangers of coddling parenting

Finally parents, a couple of stories for you. Here is a headline from Wednesday’s edition of the New York Times; Coddled Recruits are Hindering China’s Army. This is another one of those stories you just can’t make up. The reporter is Jane Perlez and she writes,

“Many armies have trouble molding capable soldiers from fresh-out-of-school 18-year-olds. China is no exception and, it turns out, has a particular problem with soft recruits.”

There is huge worldview significance in this article. Just listen to the continuation,

“Senior officers in the People’s Liberation Army recognize that many of their volunteers and conscripts have been raised as spoiled children and that as products of the one-child policy, many of them need toughening up, says a lengthy report by the RAND Corporation on the modernization of the army.”

Here is a direct quote,

“After 30 years of the one-child policy, kids come into the army who are used to being coddled and the apple of their parents’ eyes,”

Now the worldview significance of this has to do with many dimensions. One is the absolute evil of a government trying to establish how many children a family may have. This one-child only policy is something with which the American government was even at least partly complicit because of pressure placed upon China during the 1970s to adopt a population reduction policy. And this is a population reduction policy. And the second dimension is that it has led to infanticide, it has led to gender selection abortion, and it has led to widespread abortion including coerced abortion, now documented and even admitted by Chinese authorities. This one-child only policy, in terms of the 20th and 21st centuries, is one of the most evil things we can imagine. But one of the truths that Christian worldview affirms is that when you tamper with a moral structure you end up with unexpected moral results. And one of the unexpected results, for of all things the Chinese Communist Party’s army, the red Army, is that they’re ending up with 18-year-olds who have been – and by the way, with the one-child only policy an inordinate number of these children are boys because there is a far greater likelihood that a female baby is going to be aborted in the womb or killed even after birth with widespread infanticide – the prejudice for sons in Chinese society is such that there are now estimated to be hundreds of thousands of missing girls and young women. And so you have these young men, if you can call them young men at age 18, who are going into the People’s Liberation Army as it’s called and you’re going to love the next paragraph,

“Newspapers published by the People’s Liberation Army have carried reports about half the young men in a unit crying, and many wanting to wash out, he said. Some were reported to have violated discipline by sending texts to their girlfriends. ‘While this is a weakness, it is not clear how much of a weakness,’ he added.”

Well here is at least one suggestion: if you’re conscripts into the People’s liberation Army, half of them according to this report, are breaking down in tears, there’s probably a problem. Furthermore the RAND report also points out, as the Time states,

“[China’s] Army has not fought a war since 1979, when it performed miserably against its neighbor Vietnam in a short, extremely bloody battle.”

Now the evidence comes from RAND that the People’s Liberation Army, as it calls itself, may be in even greater danger of similar humiliation. Not so much because they don’t have enough soldiers, numbers turn out not to be the problem, but because as it turns out, when you one-child only policy everyone those children turns out to be a ‘pampered little Emperor’ – that is the Chinese expression – and it turns out that pampered little Emperor’s don’t make good soldiers.

But before American parents let themselves off too easily, because we’re in a very different situation here, consider Frank Bruni’s column that appeared also in the New York Times on the same day on Wednesday entitled, College Poetry and Purpose. He writes about the fact that so many universities are dropping any kind of emphasis on the humanities and he cites a respected professor known as Anne Hall who writes about the fact that in the postmodern academy the humanities are taking a backseat to more political concerns. As she says, you can’t teach Chaucer anymore, you have to teach what she calls, “Chaucer and.” As she says,

“Chaucer and Women in the Middle Ages. Chaucer and Animals in the Middle Ages. Shakespeare has become Shakespeare and Film, which in my cranky opinion becomes Film, not Shakespeare.”

That’s a very important quote. But for parents here’s the more important quote, a lot of the pressure is not only coming from ideological sources, but from – well here again we have the issue of these 18-year-olds showing up on America’s college and University campuses, being trained by a consumer society that they are first of all consumers, and that in a consumer society the consumer is King. She says there are still young men and women who desperately want to learn but she says the problem is “the student became the customer who is always right.”

Well here we again return to the fact that our worldview is inescapably tied to how we parent and our worldview inevitably produces, at least in part, the worldview of the generation to come. And the worldview of the young recruits and conscripts in the People’s liberation Army is mirrored perhaps more than we would like to think; by those were showing up in college and University campuses today who are not just indictments of their own worldview, but indictments of the kind of coddled parenting that now marks far too many homes. It turns out you don’t have to have the evil one-child only policy to end up with little Emperor’s and empresses even in our own homes.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

Remember the release tomorrow of the next installment of Ask Anything: Weekend Edition. We want to receive your questions also in your voice. Just call 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) Ruling against WA florist introduces distinction between religious opinion and conduct

‘Relationship with Jesus’ doesn’t justify florist’s refusal to serve gay couple, judge rules, Washington Post (Sarah Kaplan)

Washington state judge rules against florist who refused gay wedding, Reuters

2) Scientists present possibilities of world’s end, showing even secularists have an apocalypse

Twelve ways the world could end, Financial Times (Clive Cookson)

3) Shortcomings of Chinese recruits and American college students reveal dangers of coddling parenting

Soft Recruits Hinder China’s Military Modernization, New York Times (Jane Perlez)

College, Poetry and Purpose, New York Times (Frank Bruni)

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).