The Briefing 02-27-15

The Briefing 02-27-15

The Briefing


February 27, 2015

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


It’s Friday, February 27, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Progression behind legalization of pot result of moral ‘progression’

Well, in one sense, yesterday I was where history happened when in Washington, DC marijuana became legal. As the Washington Post reported,

“Washington will not be Amsterdam, or even Denver. There will be no pot shops, no open-air smoking, but at least for the moment, the District — for once in its decades-long struggle for the right to govern itself — has gotten its way, and a green rush is on.”

And that green rush is the rush of marijuana. As the Post recounts, in November of last year 70% of voters in the District of Columbia voted to approve what was known as initiative 71 to legalize marijuana. Ever since that vote, there have been efforts in Congress to try to prevent the district from going forward with the proposal. But even as the Republican-led House of Representatives passed legislation they thought would prevent the district from moving ahead, a technicality in the way that legislation was written prevented the law from having much apparent effect; and yesterday, marijuana became legal in the District of Columbia. Which is another way of saying, yesterday marijuana became legal in the nation’s capital.

Now there are some really interesting dynamics to this, as in other places where marijuana has been declared legal (particularly in four states); we have the realization that it is still against federal law, and since the District of Columbia includes so much territory under federal control, if you’re going to smoke marijuana in the District of Columbia, the district may say it’s legal, but the federal government may say it clearly is not. And when it comes to the actual way that marijuana became legalized in the District of Columbia, from a Christian worldview perspective, there are a number of lessons here.

The really interesting moral point in the article that made the front page of yesterday’s paper – the article was written by Marc Fisher, Aaron Davis, and Perry Stein – the really interesting point was that legalization didn’t come out of the blue. There was a legal progression that indicates a moral progression on this issue. First marijuana was illegal, then it was – note this word very carefully – decriminalized, then it was legalized.

Many Americans don’t pay much attention to the distinction between those last two words. The first was the decriminalization and the second was legalization. As we have noted before in passing, those are not the same thing – those two words do not refer to the same act. Decriminalization doesn’t mean that an act is legal; it merely means that the society no longer has the will to declare the act to be criminal and to take any kind of prosecutorial action against it. The next word, legalization, is quite different. That means that at least in some way that may be regulated, in some at least limited sense, the act is now defined as being legal under the protection of the law. So what we’re looking at here is a moral progression, it’s a legal progression. But note it very carefully, something that was criminalized is then decriminalized, after being decriminalized it is legalized. There you have a rather complete moral shift. In all likelihood you wouldn’t have had that 70% of voters voting for the legalization of marijuana had there not been a progressive effort to try to destigmatize marijuana use. If there hadn’t been the kind of argument that is now being found coast-to-coast in which it is argued that the efforts to criminalize marijuana have actually lead to more serious ill effects in society than to any kind of benefit.

Now, one of the things we should note is that there are arguments on both sides of this issue and even when you look at something like the Republican Party it’s clear, at least in terms of the kind of will to confront the issue, there is no unified front. But before we draw the generational line too hastily, we need to note the support for the legalization and the normalization of marijuana is not confined to younger Americans. As a matter fact the great moral shift on the issue of marijuana emerged with the baby boomers who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s. They were far in advance of today’s younger Americans in pushing for the normalization of marijuana. In one sense, they’ve been biding their time looking for the political opportunity.

What we have here is the combination of two generations. In particular, those who are now in their 50s 60s and 70s, and those who are in their teens and 20s and 30s. And you have those two generations who have come together in something of a moral perfect storm for the normalization of marijuana. But I want to underline again that the kind of moral change we’re looking at here doesn’t come out of the blue, it comes in a process that is now quite traceable and detectable. We’ve noted that that kind of moral change often shows up in vocabulary, where there’s a shift in terminology or nomenclature. There is a change in the word from a word that had been recognized as implying a very negative moral judgment to a euphemism, and that euphemism was just a stepping stone in the moral revolution towards legitimization and normalization.

But when it comes to the issue of marijuana we also have this legal pattern that should be of great interest to us. Christians understand that the law, among its purposes, has the purpose of instructing us, instructing us in what will lead to greater human flourishing. And when the law is changed, there is a moral change the inevitable results, and when the law is changed, even in a shift from criminalization to decriminalization, what you have is a society saying ‘we are no longer certain this act is wrong, we are no longer certainly we want to bring any strong moral judgment, much less prosecutorial action, against this act.’

And then we should note that rarely is there a position in which decriminalization last for very long. It is a stage toward something else, and the something else happened in Washington, DC yesterday with the legalization of marijuana. Those three reporters for the Washington Post understood it exactly when they wrote,

“On the streets of the city, the big change actually took place in July, when the District decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, meaning that someone caught with a joint or two faced a ticket rather than an arrest, handcuffs and a trip to court.”

That’s a massively important paragraph; because what the reporters are telling us is that if you’re looking at this moral change, don’t look at yesterday. Look back at July, look at the decriminalization of marijuana, when something that had been a criminal act that would get you handcuffed booked and taken to jail, now gets you a traffic ticket. And of course as of yesterday, not even a traffic ticket.

But the reporters tell us something else, they tell us that one of the moral signals that should’ve been noticed was that the police were arresting fewer people for marijuana use and possession even when it was still a criminal offense. There’s a lot more in this article in the Washington Post in yesterday’s edition. One of the most important issues in it is how it tells us that the companies that are ready to sell marijuana have been preparing to do so openly rather than covertly. They talk to shop owners who’ve been selling the paraphernalia for growing and using marijuana, who have been explaining that they had to call themselves shops about hydroponic plants and similar. Now, they say, if indeed the law remains in effect, they’ll be able to go open with the fact that they’ve really been about marijuana all along. Therein is another moral lesson.

But before I leave the issue of marijuana I need to turn to another very important article, this one appeared this past week at Bloomberg News, which is after all a business site. This article by Leonid Bershidsky for Bloomberg News is about big tobacco companies and about their rosy financial future, not so much because of tobacco but because of marijuana. Again this was published this week at Bloomberg News. He writes,

“The industry’s future seems especially bright. As marijuana gradually becomes a legal drug, Big Tobacco is poised to dominate the market.”

The big lesson here for Christians is the fact that where there is something like marijuana, there is a market for it; and where there is the opportunity to profit by that market, it’s not just going to be the little shops on the corner that will take advantage, eventually the big corporations – seeing the opportunity for big profits – will move in to dominate the market. And that’s another one of the lessons of this article in Bloomberg News, because one of the things that Bershidsky points out is the fact that even as right now the marijuana business is really represented by a lot of small businesses and small growers and there kept that way, at least partly right now, because of the laws and regulations in effect. But no one expects those laws and regulations to be lasting. There is every expectation that the opportunity for big marijuana is going to follow the legalization of the use and possession and eventually the sale of marijuana. And when that opportunity comes, big tobacco, we’re being told, is already ready. Have they been rushing to get ready for it over the past couple of years? Well here’s a really interesting thing. The answer to that question is, no. According to a 2014 paper entitled, “Waiting for the Opportune Moment: The Tobacco Industry and Marijuana Legalization”, political scientist Rachel Ann Barry and her colleagues, according to Bloomberg News, quoted internal documents from Phillip Morris expressing an interest in marijuana as a tobacco competitor.

Listen to the next sentence,

“These letters and memos date back to 1969,”

Yes, that’s right. Back in the year when Neil Armstrong became the first human being to set foot on the moon, according to this report in Bloomberg News, based upon academic research published years ago, one big tobacco company was already planning to get into the marijuana business in a big way back when the Beatles were still a new thing. I’ll simply end this discussion of marijuana while looking at the issue of the great moral changes taking place around us by noting what the apostle Paul says about sin seizing the opportunity. Well evidently, as far back in 1969, at least one company was already ready to seize this opportunity.

2) Supreme Court voices support for religious liberty during Abercrombie case oral arguments 

Next, oral arguments before the United States Supreme Court are almost always important. And even as their important, they’re almost always interesting. Such was the case this week with a major case on religious liberty before the justices in terms of oral arguments. And the oral arguments were very interesting in this case because according to almost every major press account there was a clear consensus amongst at least eight of the nine justices on one side of the case. And in this case, that’s good news for religious liberty.

I really appreciate the way Adam Liptak of the New York Times reported the story. he begins his article this way,

“Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. on Wednesday warned that “this is going to sound like a joke,” and then posed an unusual question about four hypothetical job applicants. If a Sikh man wears a turban, a Hasidic man wears a hat, a Muslim woman wears a hijab and a Catholic nun wears a habit, must employers recognize that their garb connotes faith — or should they assume, Justice Alito asked, that it is “a fashion statement”?”

As Liptak wrote,

“The question arose in a vigorous Supreme Court argument that explored religious stereotypes, employment discrimination and the symbolism of the Muslim head scarf known as the hijab, all arising from a 2008 encounter at Woodland Hills Mall in Tulsa, Okla.”

That’s when Samantha Elauf, then a 17-year-old young woman, sought a job in a children’s clothing store that was owned by the firm Abercrombie & Fitch. When she applied for the job she wore a black headscarf but she didn’t say why. She didn’t get the job, and Samantha later found out that she didn’t get the job because she was wearing the black headscarf. And she didn’t get the job – she claimed – because of religious discrimination, even when the firm didn’t cite religion in terms of making their decision. And she didn’t cite religion as the reason she wore the black headscarf.

At least eight of the nine Justices seem very intent to point, out no one would’ve missed the point of wearing this black headscarf. No one in modern America would be unaware any more than any knowledgeable person would be unaware of the meaning of a yarmulke worn on a Jewish man’s head. Justice Alito understood that his question might sound like the setup for familiar joke, but this is no joke. This has to do with religious liberty.

But as Christians look at this news story and understand the oral arguments this week before the Supreme Court we need to affirm over and over again that we understand that religious liberty for us means religious liberty for all. And in this case religious liberty for this Muslim young woman.

Even though she is now gainfully employed in another company she brought this case against Abercrombie & Fitch because the company’s policy made no reasonable accommodation of her religious faith. And, as we’ve seen, as religious liberty is being eroded in so many areas by law and regulation, it really is important that at least in this case it appears that eight of the nine Justices understood that a religious accommodation certainly should have been made here.

There are other interesting aspects of a Christian worldview perspective here when it comes to the company Abercrombie & Fitch, because one of the defenses offered by the company was that the black headscarf violated what it calls – and I put this in quotation marks because the company did – ‘the look.’ This is a company that is been quite salacious and sexualized in its advertising toward teenagers and young Americans. It’s a company that has tried to brand itself according to ‘the look.’ A look that is certainly questionable in terms of racial and ethnic diversity. A look that from a Christian worldview perspective is understood to be entirely cosmetic, often sexualized, and in every way devoid of any moral context or character.

The company made headlines over a decade ago with a scandalous catalog that was basically pornography. And it clearly found itself on the legal defensive yesterday when in the oral arguments it appeared that only one of the justices openly sided in any way with the argument being made by the company’s attorneys. And that justice was Justice Antonin Scalia who said that at least in this case the company had an argument to make that the woman had never cited a religious concern, a religious reason for wearing a scarf.

But Justice Scalia seemed to be quite outnumbered in terms of oral arguments, and even as it is dangerous to listen to the oral arguments and believe that we can pre-count the court on a case such as this, there was every indication that from the right and from the left the Justices said there was no reasonable accommodation made here. And that’s a very important legal principle for all of us.

But even before the issue of this Muslim young woman and her headscarf appeared, Abercrombie & Fitch should already be understood as being morally suspect for what can only be described as a very sexualized and cosmeticized understanding of human beauty –  something the Christian worldview cannot accommodate. For our understanding of human beauty is rooted in truth and in goodness, not merely in that which appears to meet the qualifications for ‘the look’ at Abercrombie & Fitch.

3) Parents concerned about children consuming pornography described as ‘overprotective’

Moving along, the New York Times yesterday had another very interesting article – not so much for what the headline conveys, not even the main point of the article, but something it’s embedded within it. The article is by Nick Bilton in the “Disruptions” column that has to do mostly with social trends in technology. He writes about Snapchat, the Internet app that now includes what he calls ‘undercover strippers.’ And he’s writing about the fact that Snapchat has now become a commercialized form of pornography, and that’s because Snapchat has allowed a mechanism whereby users can pay each other for photographs and services. And as the article points out that is just a recipe – as if anyone could be surprised – for pornography. And as the article makes clear in ways that I will not, that kind of photography is customized for the individual user. And it is almost invisible technologically because the use of pornography on Snapchat does not involve an Internet history. It doesn’t involve many of the things that have allowed previous forms of even digital pornography to be traceable and blockable and preventable.

Much as in the case of Big Tobacco trying to get into Big Marijuana looking for the opportunity, you can now look at this digital app deciding that there’s a big commercial opportunity in trying to act like it doesn’t know that it has now sold itself as a platform for pornography.

But as important as that is that’s not why I bring the article to our attention. Rather, I want you to hear this paragraph:

“Moreover, Snapchat doesn’t leave anything in your search history. There’s no trace of it to be found by a snooping significant other or an overprotective parent.”

What I want you to hear are those last two words; ‘overprotective parent.’ What’s being implied here is that a parent who would have any moral concern about this and try to do anything to prevent the young person within the parent’s own home from having access to this kind of customized pornography –  that  kind of parent is somehow overprotective – that tells us a great deal about the new moral age in which we’re living. An age in which a parent who would act in a way that we would think any parent at least ought to act, operating out of the concern we would believe almost any parent at least ought to have, that parent is now being described in this article dealing with modern society and technology as an ‘overprotective parent.’

Now at this point is simply want to understand that the New York Times can’t keep it story straight on this kind of moral issue. Because even that newspaper, representing in many ways the most elite secular opinion in a major newspaper in America, has been running articles in recent months indicating moral concerns about young people and pornography. But when it comes to this article – even though there is some moral concern expressed having any do with the opportunity for exploitation in terms of this new pornographic outlet – the moral concern of parents as being dismissed as indicative of being overprotective.

Sometimes when you read an article like this the most important issue isn’t the point being made by the reporter or the columnist. It’s not even what you find in the headline. It’s what’s embedded in the simple senates you find somewhere in the middle the story, when a parent who might have some concern about pornography – that even the newspaper article demonstrates is going beyond even previous forms of digital pornography – when that parents describe as overprotective.

That simple word indicates something of the massive moral shift we’ve experienced in modern times.

4) Eugenie Clark reminder of value of encouraging children to read through their interests

Finally I want to note the death of Eugenia Clark in order to make a point about children and reading. Eugenie Clark died in recent days at age 92. She was one of most famous ichthyologists and oceanologists of the 20th century. And I can guarantee you she had my attention when I was in junior high school, and she had it in a big way.

I was as a boy fascinated with sharks (also with snakes and basically anything that wanted to kill me). I was very interested in sharks to the extent that every time I had an opportunity to do a science project I tried my very best to do it on sharks, and the greatest living shark expert of the last half of the 20th century was none other than Eugenie Clark who died in recent days at age 92.

In 1949 she was already known as a scientist and the United States Navy sent her to the South Pacific to study poisonous fish (as if that’s not interesting enough), but she developed a lifelong interest in sharks that became something of a professional obsession, and anyone who knew just about anything about sharks in the last seven the 20 century had to deal with Eugenie Clark. I was introduced to her in the pages of National Geographic magazine, and I’ll never forget it. And when I was doing projects on sharks back in my junior high years, Eugenie Clark was the authority I cited so often.

Why do I bring this to our attention now? Not so much because of sharks, but because of reading. Because I just want to encourage parents, because when I was that junior high boys so interested in sharks I wanted to read everything I could get my hands on about sharks. And I just want to the word of tribute my parents who made sure I got to the library to check out every book on sharks I could get my hands on. And they let me read and read and read on sharks. And when I finished one but they let me turn it into get another book.

I’m often asked by parents how to help children learn to love reading. And the point I want to make is this; if they’re interested, they’ll read. If they have access to what really interests them, they will learn to read. And when it comes to something like this and a child expresses an interest in sharks to make sure that kid is the opportunity to read everything she or he can get hands on regarding sharks. Everything safe and proper and good and beautiful and true. Everything scary and wet and toothy, as befits something that tells a child more and more about sharks.

It may be snakes, and it may be sharks, it may be bears, it may be mountains, it may be just about anything – whatever it is, if it’s good and wholesome and true and that child expresses an interest, surround them with books. Books with pictures and words, and let them read because I believe they will.

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


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I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.


Podcast Transcript

1) Progression behind legalization of pot result of moral ‘progression’

With marijuana legalization, green rush is on in D.C., Washington Post (Marc Fisher, Aaron C. Davis, and Perry Stein)

Big Tobacco’s Future: Big Pot, Bloomberg BusinessWeek (Leonid Bershidsky)

2) Supreme Court voices support for religious liberty during Abercrombie case oral arguments 

In a Case of Religious Dress, Justices Explore the Obligations of Employers, New York Times (Adam Liptak)

3) Parents concerned about children consuming pornography described as ‘overprotective’

Strippers Go Undercover on Snapchat, New York Times (Nick Bilton)

4) Eugenie Clark reminder of value of encouraging children to read through their interests

Eugenie Clark, Scholar of the Life Aquatic, Dies at 92, New York Times (Robert D. McFadden)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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