The Briefing 03-13-15

The Briefing 03-13-15

The Briefing


March 13, 2015

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


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

1) Two Ferguson officers shot as breakdown of trust in Ferguson continues

Once again Ferguson, Missouri is front and center in the nation’s headlines. Once again it’s because of tragedy and controversy. Yesterday in the wee hours of the morning two police officers in Ferguson were shot; they were shot during what had been described as a peaceful protest up until the officer shooting. They were shot as they were guarding the police station there in Ferguson and they were shot, police authorities now say, from a distance of about 125 yards. That distance, as law enforcement authorities have made very clear, means that the shooting was not an impulsive act. It was, as one official said, an assassination attempt – a carefully planned and premeditated assault upon the two police officers.

Both of the officers received nonfatal wounds. And as news was breaking late yesterday, police had swarmed at least one house believing that they may have identified some suspects. As Kate Munsch of Reuters reports,

“Long-simmering tensions between African-Americans and Ferguson’s mostly white police force came to a boil in August when a white policeman killed an unarmed black teenager. The shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown led to a coast-to-coast wave of demonstrations last year.”

Now Reuters is right about that, but even the way such a sentence is written can be a matter of controversy unto itself. Additional background, in terms of what happened yesterday in Ferguson, has to do with the fact that a grand jury did not indict the police officer involved in that shooting. Eventually the Justice Department, though having announced it was launching a major investigation, also announced that it was not bringing any charges against the police officer. But those protests heretofore described as being peaceful took on a rather un-peaceful reality yesterday.

I think one of most important responses to what took place yesterday in Ferguson and the controversy that will now ensue, has been brought by Rod Dreher at The American Conservative. He writes, and I quote,

“This is likely the end of Ferguson, Missouri,”

As he writes,

“They shoot cops in the face in Ferguson. For many in what is left of the middle class there, this will be read as a signal to get out. There is no future there.”

He goes on to say,

“Let us recall that this all began with a white Ferguson police officer shooting an unarmed black man. That officer was exonerated by at least two official investigations, one by the US Justice Department, which found, as the state investigation did, that witnesses who said Michael Brown had his hands up were lying, either consciously or unconsciously.”

Now that’s a very important issue because in the immediate aftermath of the shooting of Michael Brown there was an investigation launched and announced by the Atty. Gen. of the United States, Eric holder, who seemed to insinuate that the officer was guilty of some kind of crime. And yet in the last several weeks it has become abundantly clear that the Justice Department is not going to charge the officer with any crime; not only not with a crime directly related to the shooting, but not with a crime that is related to some form of pattern of discrimination in terms of African-Americans. But that has led not to increase peace in Ferguson, Missouri, but increased unrest.

The shooting of the two police officers also comes after Department of Justice investigation demonstrated what it did call systemic injustice on the part of police authorities there in Ferguson, Missouri. Furthermore, they made very clear the fact that they were accusing not only the police but the entire justice system in that city and County of being complicit in a pattern of unjust actions toward African-Americans. It was a revelation that was hugely embarrassing to local officials there; leading to the fact that at least a few have resigned their posts subsequent to the release of the report.

Rod Dreher writing from a conservative perspective go so far as to suggest that the Ferguson city government seems to have been run as a kind of shakedown operation and he writes about what that represents as a failure of an entire system of justice. He writes,

“As for the rest, it is hard to know from the outside to what extent the overwhelming number of police stops of African Americans reflects systemic racial bias (as distinct from anecdotal instances of racial bias), and to what extent they reflect the unpleasant fact that young black males commit a vastly disproportionate number of crimes in this country. Whatever the truth, news that a small-town city government abuses its police powers to get more revenue is appalling, but hardly the Symbol Of Race Relations In America that the media narrative has it. The reality is more complicated.”

That’s a responsible approach to the situation. The reality is certainly very complicated. I, speaking to you today, I do not know enough about this situation to draw any firm moral judgment about any of the individuals involved. There is no reason for me to believe that the Justice Department has released something that it believes to be untrue. And that means that there must have been at least the suspicion that African-Americans are being treated differently than other Americans in Ferguson, Missouri. But as Rod Dreher argues, we simply don’t know enough to know exactly what’s going on in Ferguson. We do know this: what’s going on, just in terms of the facts on the ground with the shooting of these two police officers and the resignation of some city justice officials, is that what we’re witnessing is the total breakdown of a civilization there.

With great perception Rod Dreher writes,

“My sense is that the reality of Ferguson doesn’t fit either the progressive [he means by that the liberal] or the conservative narrative. I have been reluctant to comment on the DOJ report because frankly, I have lacked the interest to parse it, and to separate what’s true from what’s spin. That’s the frustrating thing about ‘Ferguson’: it long ago ceased being a real place, except for the people who live and work there, and instead became a pseudo-place through which our competing narratives about race in America are vindicated. I think it is entirely possible that black people have been unfairly treated by the police and city government of Ferguson, but that bias does not tell the whole story about race and crime in Ferguson.”

But the point that Rod Dreher makes here, and the one we need to consider very carefully, is that Ferguson (in terms of national symbolism) has ceased to be a place. It has now become a symbol; it’s become a symbol to be argued by either liberals or conservatives in America depending upon what lesson they want to draw from this largely symbolic characterization. But for the people who live and work there, Ferguson is a very real place. It’s a real place in space and time, and it is increasingly a very sad and dangerous place.

Now I want to step back from Rod Dreher’s article to say that from a Christian worldview perspective one of the big issues we confront here is the necessity in civilization of trust. If you eliminate trust the very idea of civilization becomes untenable. You can’t have a working society when you have working police officers shot at the distance of 125 yards in a premeditated assassination attempt in the middle of a protest. You can’t have civilization if the people on the ground living in those homes and working in those shops don’t have confidence that the justice system is, if imperfect, at least committed to justice. You can’t have civilization if people don’t trust their neighbors. You can’t have civilization when your town becomes a national symbol and ceases to be a real place and instead becomes a battering ram for social and political arguments.

Those on the left have to learn the hard lesson over and over again that you can’t have civilization without law and order. You simply can’t have a functioning civilization in a fallen world without a police force and without prosecutors and offenders and judges and the entire justice system. But conservatives need also to be reminded that we often do face systemic injustice in the United States of America. And when you look at the facts on the ground there in Ferguson, Missouri, even imperfectly and at a distance, it’s clear that what we’re looking at is a breakdown of trust. A breakdown of trust not only between white Americans and African Americans, not only a breakdown of trust between the police and many people in the community, we’re looking at a breakdown of trust that threatens whether there can be a community there in Ferguson, Missouri. And one of the things that I believe very fervently is that there will not be a community there, there won’t be a healthy community, so long as Ferguson is treated as a political football and as a symbol – not as the community of real people.

The biblical worldview would have us look at the people there as being made in the image of God; people who are owed the basic reality of justice, people who are also called to live in accountability under law and order. And people who right now don’t need to be treated as a national controversy, but rather as people. People in need of a functioning government, people in need of functioning families, people in need of functioning neighborhoods, people who need what every society requires – trust. And that trust is going to have to be rebuilt and it’s probably going to take some time, time away from the national glare controversy.

2) Contraception discussion exposes need to understand immorality of eugenics movement

Next, I point to an article that appeared Wednesday at Christianity Today. It’s written by Rachel Marie Stone who writes, at least in part, based upon her experience as a doula in Malawi. What she’s writing about is contraception and this is an article that sparked a major controversy Wednesday night on Twitter. I was a part of that conversation and I draw attention to this article now because of its fundamental importance in raising some of the most important issues when we’re dealing with contraception, abortion, birth control, and the issue of eugenics – not to mention the name of Margaret Sanger.

Stone writes,

“The young nurse was one of eleven living children — one of eighteen, if you count the ones that didn’t make it. Eighteen pregnancies, seven ending in death, in twenty-two years. That’s what the young nurse’s mother endured, before dying of tuberculosis at age 49.”

She goes on to say,

“Seeing her mother suffer and die was what inspired the young woman to become a nurse, and, specifically, to care for pregnant women.”

The nurse she’s writing about is none other than Margaret Sanger. As Stone writes,

“And that’s what [Sanger] did. As she worked among the largely immigrant working poor in New York City, she saw unspeakable suffering. Later, she would tell the story of the moment her vocation took a fateful turn.

She writes about Margaret Sanger’s visit to the apartment of Sadie Sachs, a poor woman extremely ill, after, says Stone, attempting to perform an abortion on herself. Sadie had begged the doctor to tell her how she might avoid future pregnancies. The doctor, says Stone, simply told the young woman to abstain from sex entirely. But not long after this Margaret Sanger found herself back at Sadie Sachs apartment, the same scenario was again unfolding. But this time the young woman died from her attempt to abort her unborn child. Stone then writes about Margaret Sanger saying that she,

“Threw her medical bag across the room in fury and vowed that she could not go on nursing until she had helped to make effective birth control widely available to working class and poor women.”

Stone then writes about her tour at the Zomba Central Hospital in Malawi. She says she lived there from 2012 to 2014 and she came to know an older nurse midwife named Lena who told her that she had visited New York City to study at the Margaret Sanger Center in lower Manhattan. Lena said of Margaret Sanger,

“A great woman, Margaret Sanger!”

Stone then said she wasn’t sure how to reply. That’s because Sanger had founded Planned Parenthood, which is now the largest provider of abortions in the United States. Stone argues that Sanger had not intended for her organization to perform abortions and that she had oppose abortion herself saying,

“…no matter how early is performed it was taking a life,”

But the article takes this most ominous turn when Stone writes,

“But Sanger, like many medical professionals in her day, did hold eugenicist ideas. Eugenics were enshrined into compulsory sterilization laws in many U.S. states and supported by organizations like the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. I do not mean to excuse Sanger for holding these views, but I do want to give the charge of ‘eugenicist’ a more complete background.”

I want you to hold that sentence in mind because as Stone continues she writes that Lena’s world, that is that older midwife in Malawi, her world is much closer to Margaret Sanger’s than to Stone’s own. In Malawi Stone says, women are more likely to bear more children than they want to and they are many more times likely to die from complications of childbearing than in modern America. Stone goes on to say that the pattern now known in Malawi would be far more similar to that in urbanized New York City during the time of Margaret Sanger.

It seems that the major point of Stones article is to argue for the more widespread availability of birth control – in particular, artificial birth control that would come in the form of contraceptives. She argues that the more widespread availability of birth control would save millions of lives. She suggests a greater access to birth control would actually prevent abortions. She writes,

“A single leading cause of maternal mortality globally is complication from unsafe abortion.”

Now that’s a very interesting argument just on its own, arguing that birth control prevents abortion. Well logically the use of a contraceptive would indeed make it impossible to have an abortion. But what the problem is here is that when you’re looking at the actual claim – when you look at correlation – the rise of abortions has often been correlated positively with access to birth control. It simply isn’t arguable that greater access to birth control will mean lower rates of abortion. Just look at the skyrocketing rates of legal abortion in the United States since Roe v. Wade which came just a few years after the invention of the pill and the availability of the very birth control that Stone is calling for.

She cites a study that says if every woman one of birth control was able to obtain it there would be 25 million fewer abortions. But I would simply point out that that’s impossible actually to prove. And the correlated data indicates that it simply isn’t true that abortion always goes down or will necessarily go down if birth control is widely available. The United States is certainly not a good test case for that argument, though some will argue that some European nations do show the kind of pattern she is suggesting. Trying to convince evangelicals that we need to support widespread availability of birth control she writes,

“What we do know, with a high degree of certainty, is that wider access to birth control — domestically and globally — has the potential to prevent millions of abortions, millions of maternal and infant deaths, and to drastically improve the lives of women and children in the most vulnerable areas in the world.”

Now time will prevent me from actually taking on the issue of birth control in this context. That’s the central issue she writes about, that is her major point. It’s not the major point of my concern. I have written about birth control, I will continue to write about it, but my major concern with this article is how she treats Margaret Sanger and how she puts the issue of eugenics and the charge of being a eugenicist in what she calls “a more complete background.” I just want to suggest that if you are operating from a biblical worldview, certainly as an evangelical Christian, we ought to avoid at all costs any attempt to try to put eugenics in any better moral light because it deserves all the moral outrage that it brings about.

If you look back to the history of eugenics you come to understand that what it means is, well, good genes; meaning good verse, meaning that somehow social policy would encourage more birth from people who seem to be genetically superior and less births from those who seem to be genetically inferior. There is simply no way to rescue eugenicism out of any kind of racial context; it is deeply racialist to the very core. Its very essence is the argument that certain people ought to have babies and others ought not to. Certain people ought to be encouraged to have children and other people ought to be discouraged from having children.

Now morally speaking you might say that there are thick and thin or hard and soft forms of eugenics. There is positive eugenics in which it’s a question of who is encouraged to have children, but there’s also negative eugenics in which sometimes even coercion and sterilization have been used to prevent people seen as genetically inferior or even sociologically disadvantaged from having children. The issue of eugenics in the United States has a horrifying and embarrassing history. It is humiliating when we understand that there were those at the very highest echelons of the American government and the American intellectual elites who supported the use of eugenics – either positive or negative eugenics or both – in an attempt to have more children born from those seen to be fit and less from those seen to be unfit.

This article at Christianity Today actually quotes this woman in Malawi as saying,

“A great woman, Margaret Sanger!”

And the author of this article, Rachel Marie Stone, though not arguing for eugenics in any sense, tries to argue that there is a wider background to the fact that Margaret Sanger was a proponent of eugenics and that there is a wider background to the eugenics movement. Well of course there is a wider background, but that doesn’t make the situation any more morally palatable. It simply can’t rescue eugenics from the fact that it is, on its face, deeply racist and horrifyingly insulting to the image of God that marks every single human being at every stage of development – born and unborn.

Margaret Sanger herself had a very complicated worldview that included socialism and some flirtation with the free sex movement before she became primarily known as a feminist and as a major pioneer of the birth control movement. She was indeed opposed to abortion, but she was an ardent eugenicist. It was Margaret Sanger herself, who arguing for birth control, said,

“Birth control is nothing more than a weeding out of the unfit,”

One of the mottos of the eugenics movement supported by Sanger is that the movement sought,

“…to assist the race toward the elimination of the unfit,”

Now when you start separating human beings between the fit and the unfit, and when you tie it to the issue of genetics, there is no way that this cannot become a targeted effort to reduce certain racial populations. That is the very essence of the eugenics movement. And negative eugenics didn’t target people merely on the matter of race, but also of intelligence; specifically targeting through negative eugenics those who are defined as the feeble minded.
When I was in California just last week one of the headlines had to do with the fact that California was having to deal with the long-term legal and moral consequences of the fact that early in the 20th century some who were regarded as feebleminded experienced forced sterilizations by the mandate of the state. The issue of birth control, the main point of Rachel Marie Stone’s article, will simply have to wait a different conversation. When she raises the name of Margaret Sanger and when she raises the very issue of eugenics and then writes that sentence in which she says,

“I do not mean to excuse Sanger for holding these views but I do want to give the charge of eugenicist a more complete background,”

what we’re looking at is the implicit, if not the explicit, argument that somehow putting the issue of eugenics into a larger more complex background can put it in a different light. Well there certainly is a more complex background and it will put it in a different light, but not a better light. The more you look at eugenics movement and the closer you look at the character of Margaret Sanger, the more tragic and immoral the moral context clearly becomes.

Evangelicals may and will disagree on some issues of birth control; we’ll have to talk about a different time. We’re talking about Margaret Sanger and eugenics movement because this article ensures that we cannot, morally, not talk about them. Not talking about them is what allows the culture of death to march forward unmolested and undeterred. Talking about them is a major Christian responsibility in our times and biblically minded Christians have better know exactly what we’re talking about when we talk about Margaret Sanger and eugenics movement.

There are several other issues I wanted to talk about this week, even today, but these two new stories seemingly just swept all those aside; by their importance and by their urgency. That’s just the way it works some days, indeed that’s how it works most weeks. But the culture of death marches forth on silence, we as Christians are responsible not only to confront the culture of death but to celebrate the culture of life. That’s part of the great good news of the gospel and one of the central affirmations of Scripture. But there’s no way to celebrate the culture of life without looking at the real and present dangers posed by the culture of death. And some days Christians find themselves talking about these issues simply because we have to.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to  For more 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) Two Ferguson officers shot as breakdown of trust in Ferguson continues

Police seek suspects in Ferguson, Missouri, police ‘ambush’, Reuters (Kate Munsch)

The Death of Ferguson, The American Conservative (Rod Dreher)

2) Contraception discussion exposes need to understand immorality of eugenics movement

Contraception Saves Lives, Christianity Today (Rachel Marie Stone)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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