The Briefing 04-09-15

The Briefing 04-09-15

The Briefing


April 9, 2015

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


It’s Thursday, April 9, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Boston Marathon bomber found guilty, drama of determining death penalty begins

In one of the most anticipated criminal verdicts in recent times, a Boston federal jury found Dzhokhar Tsarnaev guilty of all 30 counts alleged against him in connection with the 2013 bombing at the Boston Marathon. 17 of the counts carry the possibility of the death penalty and that is now going to be the big question before the same jury in the second phase of the trial.

According to the Boston Globe’s immediate report after the verdict was handed in,

“The jury of seven women and five men deliberated for just over 11 hours before reaching its verdict.”

That’s a relatively short amount of time for deliberation when it comes to 30 counts of such consequence. But in a startling development at the very beginning of the trial the defense attorney for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev pointed to the defendant and said, ‘It’s him,’ – admitting that his client was guilty of complicity in the murder of three people and the wounding of over 200 others in the bombing. But, arguing that the defendant, the younger the two brothers implicated in the plot, had done so only under the supervision and under the pressure of his older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev who was killed after being run over by a vehicle driven by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as he was fleeing police back in 2013.

The defense acknowledged that the brothers, who are immigrants from Chechnya, had been radicalized by Islam with Tamerlan Tsarnaev actually making at least one trip to the Caucasus region where it is believed that he received training in terms of terrorism and bomb making. The trial testimony also revealed that both brothers had given ample evidence of searches on the Internet for instructions on how to build bombs exactly like the ones that were detonated with such mayhem at the Boston Marathon in the year 2013.

A trial and a verdict such was announced yesterday raises all kinds of worldview issues immediately; not only explicitly but also by implication because in the background to this great pageantry of justice that has been taking place in this trial are basic questions that are answerable only by worldview. Such as, what is the meaning and significance of human life? How much is a life worth? What does murder really represent? What is terrorism in terms of motivation? Just how responsible are human beings, any individual human being, when it comes to moral responsibility and moral agency? These are questions that are inescapable just given the verdict that was declared yesterday. And questions of equal, if not greater significance, will come in the second phase of the trial which has to do with what kind of punishment, what kind of sentence, is appropriate for this kind of crime.

This is one of the most difficult issues in a fallen world, how in the world is justice to be achieved in a situation like this? Over 200 people badly injured, some of them dismembered, three people dead – including an eight-year-old boy and two others. We’re looking at a question that simply is unanswerable in terms of the reach of human justice. Even as this jury, made up of seven women and five men, did their very best even though the actual process of the court was meticulously followed in terms of the demands of the law there is no true restoration no true justice that can take place here. To put the matter bluntly, this court, no matter its secular authority cannot bring these three dead victims back to life. That’s what true justice would demand. Justice would demand that those who have been harmed in this terrorist attack have full restitution and restoration. Physically, emotionally, and in every other way.

One of the most fundamental things in the Christian biblical worldview as we look at this is the impossibility of a human court achieving that kind of justice. That’s what cries out for an eternal court of justice – a final court of justice – a court of justice in which a divine judge will render a truly comprehensively righteous judgment. But that doesn’t mean the human courts and human juries do not have a very important responsibility. In this case the responsibility is very clear. And this is a federal court jury, and the federal government has on the books the death penalty when it comes to not just one but 17 of the counts of which Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was found guilty. Now that raises a host of issues and the Boston Globe was quick to get to those issues.

In the state of Massachusetts there is no death penalty. And at least one editorial writer for the Boston Globe is arguing that the state of Massachusetts is now put at a moral disadvantage because the federal government now in the court meeting there in Boston is going to contemplate applying the death penalty in Massachusetts for a crime that took place in Massachusetts, when the people of Massachusetts of the state level no longer have a death penalty. But the federal government does. Harvey Silverglate, writing for the Boston Globe says that now the verdict is in –  in his words – “the real drama begins.”

As Harvey Silverglate wrote yesterday for the Boston Globe,

“The upcoming sentencing phase of the Boston Marathon bombing trial will be much like the Marathon itself: long, grueling, and immensely consequential. It did not take much ability to predict that the jury would convict Dzhokhar Tsarnaev of various charges growing out of the bombing. Thus the real drama will be in the jury’s forthcoming decision as to whether to sentence the defendant to life in prison or death.”

He goes on to state that had Tsarnaev been tried in a Massachusetts state court he would by now begun serving a sentence of life without parole in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts maximum-security prisons. The entire sentencing phase, he says would be unnecessary. But since, in his words, the feds grabbed custody of Tsarnaev and, under the Constitution, have authority superior to the state’s jurisdiction, the death penalty phase now goes forward.”

Silverglate doesn’t deal with a comprehensive analysis of the death penalty and the morality behind it. But he does make very clear that the people of Massachusetts would not have applied that penalty. But the federal government might. That raises a very interesting question. Why is it that the federal government keeps the death penalty on the books?

One of the main reasons has been that in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks the American people demand at least the possibility of a federal death sentence. We also have the reality that most states still have something like the death penalty on the books and even a state as socially and culturally liberal as California still has the death penalty? We ask the question why? It is increasingly clear that as societies move forward in a direction of secularization they are less likely to keep the death penalty. Indeed, they are more likely to reject it and moved to something like a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

But it is still interesting that the majority of the American people believe that the death penalty is at least in some cases the only appropriate judicial response. That raises a huge question if there are such cases – if the death penalty is ever justified, if it’s ever mandated and called for, would this be the kind of case that would call for that ultimate punishment? That’s why we’re going be watching this phase of the trial with great interest. It is clear that the federal government is going to go ahead and ask for the death penalty. We now have a defendant who’s been found guilty on 17 counts – any one of which could lead to the death penalty. But in the most interesting aspect of this part of the trial; it’s going to get down to the actual nature of the crime in terms of the scale of criminality. And the actual intent of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in terms of what he had intended to do with the actions he undertook with his brother. At this point there is no way to avoid the deepest moral questions, and there is no way to avoid the fact that eventually every single one of these jurors. And by the way if the death penalty is to be applied, the jury must be unanimous – 12 to zero that it is needed.

In that case, every single one of the jurors, the judge involved in the case, and everyone watching this case is going to be tested on worldview issues. What do we really believe about the dignity and sanctity of human life? What do we really believe about murder and terrorist attacks? What do we really believe about human responsibility when it comes to moral action? All these questions are unavoidable now.

2) Norway approach to prisons exposes a misunderstanding of the depth of human evil

In a very interesting occasion of timing these issues were also raised in a very important article that appeared in a recent edition of the New York Times Magazine. The article is by Jessica Benko; it’s entitled “Big Home: the strange and radical humaneness of Norway’s Halden prison.” In this case, the reporter Jessica Benko, went to Norway and went to its Halden prison where some the most hardened criminals in Norway are housed for their sentencing. But Norway has a very unusual prison system. Americans were largely informed about this in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks that took place in that nation. Attacks undertaken by man by the name of Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people and injured hundreds more in 2011. And as became known then, Norway not only does not have a death penalty, it doesn’t have the possibility of life in prison. As this report says,

“Not only is there no death penalty in Norway, there are no life sentences. The maximum term for any crime is 21 years — even for Anders Behring Breivik,  [who the report concedes was responsible for] the deadliest recorded rampage in the world.”

Here again, he killed 77 people, injured hundreds more. And the maximum sentence to which he can be sentenced in the nation of Norway is 21 years. And the prison, the Halden prison described in this article is intended to be a place of rehabilitation. That raises one of the most difficult questions for any worldview. Do we really believe that an individual who has intentionally killed 77 people, who has been found guilty of what is declared to be the deadliest recorded rampage in recent world history – do we really believe that that’s an individual who can be rehabilitated? Who can be morally normalized and returned to civilized society. You it’s interesting that the national and international media there in Norway also indicate the fact that it’s actually unlikely that Anders Behring Breivik will ever stand foot on the sidewalk in Norway. Again, that’s because the government will find some cause, even if it’s a psychological or psychiatric cause to keep them separated from society.

But that appears to me to be grossly dishonest. It would be far more honest to say anyone who has committed that kind of atrocity who is committed mass murder – again 77 people in a premeditated attack – that person would be considered so dangerous to civil society, having committed such unvarnished evil acts that they would never be welcomed back in the civilization itself. But what we’re looking at in Norway is one most highly secularized nations on earth –  that culture is so secularized that many people in Norway have even forgotten the Christian roots of their own civilization. And lost in that great cultural transition is the Christian biblical understanding of evil as a category that is something within us. Not merely something outside of us. There’s no way that you can read the Bible or understand the Christian worldview and come to the conclusion that evil is simply something outside of us.

One of the problems that you see, for instance in the worldview revealed in the Norwegian penal system, is that their understanding stated quite especially this article that no one is inherently evil. No one gives themselves over to evil entirely. But how else do you explain Anders Behring Breivik and the intentional execution of 77 people. How else do you explain Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and the bombings that took place in 2013 in connection with the Boston Marathon. We’re going to find out in terms of the second phase of his trial and were going to find out in terms of the cultural conversation just where Americans are now on questions of good and evil. Of personal responsibility, and eventually of justice and our expectations of the legal system. This is indeed a big test not just for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his defense team, but for the culture as a whole.

3) Stories recounting the viciousness of feticide confront Americans with the reality of abortion

Next, on the issue of the sanctity of human life, two very important articles have appeared in separate issues of the New York Times. Back on Saturday there was a very interesting headline article in the national addition. The headline was this; in Colorado, outcry over a charge not file this has to do with a story that first appeared to be so macabre, so dark, it almost appeared that it couldn’t be real. This was the story that took place when a seven months pregnant woman was enticed into an opportunity in which she was attacked and the baby forcibly removed from her by a woman who intended to claim the child as her own.

Eventually a woman was arrested for the crime but she was arrested on charges of assault and battery against the mother in this case. As Jack Healy the New York Times then wrote,

“But after prosecutors announced that they would not file murder charges in the death of the fetus — a girl who would have been named Aurora — a politically tinged furor erupted over how the legal system draws the boundaries between what is life and what is not when pregnant women are victims of a crime.”

This is one of those very revealing cultural conversations. And it takes place this time with the locus of Colorado, and it takes place because the crime took place there. And the controversy takes his current shape because in the state of Colorado a murder charge cannot be brought if the victim has not breathed a breath on his or her own. That was not the case with his baby who would’ve been named Aurora, a baby girl. You will remember that the woman in this case was seven months pregnant. And you’ll also note that the New York Times and many other media outlets resolutely refer to the unborn child – to the child otherwise known as a baby as merely a fetus.

This is one of the big issues that reveals just how much ground we have lost but also how much question remains on the part of the general public when it comes to the sanctity of human life. Just to state the matter bluntly, most Americans almost assuredly believe that it was wrong for this woman not only to attack a pregnant mother, but also to attack in a way that led to the death of her unborn baby. But what is the status of that unborn child? If the unborn baby at age 7 months is understood to be a baby and murder charges would be the natural response, then what about what takes place in the abortionist chamber just a matter of, perhaps, feet away from where this crime took place? A culture that wants to declare, at least in terms of its legal system, abortion to be a basic right on the part of a woman, how does that culture then explain the moral revulsion that comes from the death of this child, whether intentional or not, at the hands of someone who assaulted the mother?

The fact is that most people know – they have the moral intuition – that this unborn child was a child, indeed a baby. But when you look at the media they can’t possibly refer to this baby as a baby, and in the very next paragraph are on the next page or in the next day’s edition give their hearty support to abortion rights. Because in that case, the life that’s being terminated is also the life not merely of a fetus, but of a baby.

This is where the Christian biblical worldview reminds us that every single human being at every point of development – from conception until natural death is fully deserving of sanctity and fully deserving of respect for life. This is where we understand that every single human life matters. If the life of this baby ripped from its mother’s womb by an attacker at age 7 months of gestation, if this baby is just a fetus, then what about the other babies are being carried in wombs right now? And what about the fact that every single one of us was at some point of baby in our mother’s womb? What is the standing of our life? Are we really believing the legal fiction that everything changes in Colorado when that baby takes a breath on his or her own? The fact that the New York Times – a paper that is resolutely supportive of abortion rights under almost any circumstance – points to this controversy in Colorado, is an indication of the unsettled conscience of America when it comes to the sanctity of human life. A very unsettled conscience even on the issue of abortion, where Americans say at least by a thin majority, that they don’t want Roe v Wade rescinded, but they also say by an even larger majority that they believe that abortion is wrong and that it is the murder of an unborn child.

The state of Colorado right now is having to defend the fact that it doesn’t have a law that calls the killing of this unborn child a murder. And people in Colorado sense that’s a big problem. But of course, the problem is even bigger than that, when it comes to our national culture and the issue, the sanctity of human life.

The second article of interest appeared in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times in the lower quadrant of the front page the article by Erik Eckholm and Frances Roble, the title is: “Kansas limits abortion method, opening a new line of attack.” Kansas, on Tuesday – say the reporters,

“became the first state to sharply restrict or alter the most common technique used for second-trimester abortions, opening a new, emotionally charged line of attack by anti-abortion forces who hope to take it swiftly to other states.”

They go on to explain that,

“A bill signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican and longtime abortion opponent, outlaws what it calls “dismemberment abortion,” defined in part as “knowingly dismembering a living unborn child and extracting such unborn child one piece at a time from the uterus.””

That’s a very important development there in the state of Kansas. Kansas becomes the first day to outlaw what is customarily known as a D and E abortion (for dilation and evacuation). Without going into medical detail what this does mean is the dismemberment of the child in the womb, and then it’s evacuation from the womb. For details on the procedure, you can look at the report in the New York Times or elsewhere, but the bottom line is what’s really achieved in this law is a very clear statement of what’s happening in the womb. Especially in an abortion of the second trimester or later.

This is the brutality, the murderous brutality of abortion laid clear in the language of the law. It is the dismemberment of the child in the womb. Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life, spoke of the Kansas law saying,“this law has the power to transform the landscape of abortion policy in the United States.” According to the Times, similar bills appear to be nearing passage in Oklahoma, others are discussed in Missouri, South Carolina, and South Dakota.

On the other hand, Laura McQuade, the president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Kansas in mid-Missouri said, ““Kansas is now not only the sole state with this atrocious law; it also now has more restrictions on abortion than any state in the U.S.”

That makes Kansas ground zero for the debate over the sanctity of human life. And it makes this new development in Kansas all the more important. It’s really interesting that the New York Times put this article on the front page of yesterday’s edition clearly it sending the signal the pro-abortion advocates that a challenge is now facing Kansas. But there is truth in this article in even the language of this legislation now adopted and signed into law in Kansas. It describes with chilling accuracy what actually takes place in the womb in the killing of the unborn child.

The bottom line is this; the more we can make Americans look at the reality of abortion, the more they’re going to have to either face what that is and turn from it by calling for a revision in the laws to protect unborn life, or this culture will increasingly, individual by individual, as well as state-by-state have to take responsibility for joining by choice the culture of death.

4) White House announces future opposition to conversion therapy for homosexuality

Finally, in very latebreaking news last night at 8:42 Eastern Time, the White House published a blog at its website declaring that President Obama would call for an end the so-called ‘conversion therapy’ when it comes to issues of sexual orientation and gender identity.

We’ll be looking more closely at this issue tomorrow, but for now the most important thing is this: last night at 8:42 PM the President of the United States, through a spokesperson, Valerie Jarrett made very clear that the President is going to call for legislation to make it illegal to try to change the sexual orientation of any individual, but in particular that of minors.

This shows you again just how far the cultural revolution around this is gone, and just how intrusive it now is not only in the issues of therapy – in which Christians have less investment – but issues of theology in which we have infinitely more. This is the president who was for same-sex marriage before he was against it before he was for it again and this is the president to is now put his administration as of 8:42 last night on the record saying that it’s wrong to say the any sexual orientation or gender identity claim is wrong. That in itself since a massive cultural signal about the challenges we now face.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to  Remember we’re taking questions for  Ask Anything: Weekend Edition. Call with your question in your voice to 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058. For more information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For information on Boyce College just go to


I’m speaking to you from Destin, FL and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.


Podcast Transcript

1) Boston Marathon bomber found guilty, drama of determining death penalty begins

Tsarnaev guilty of Marathon bombings, Boston Globe (Milton J. Valencia, Patricia Wen, Kevin Cullen, John R. Ellement and Martin Finucane)

After the Tsarnaev verdict, the real drama begins, Boston Globe (Harvey Silverglate)

2) Norway approach to prisons exposes a misunderstanding of the depth of human evil

The Radical Humaneness of Norway’s Halden Prison, New York Times (Jessica Benko)

3) Stories recounting the viciousness of feticide confront Americans with the reality of abortion

Colorado Furor Erupts Over Charges Filed, and Not Filed, in Grisly Attack on Pregnant Woman, New York Times (Jack Healy)

Kansas Limits Abortion Method, Opening a New Line of Attack, New York Times (Erik Eckholm and Frances Roble)

4) White House announces future opposition to conversion therapy for homosexuality

Response to Your Petition on Conversion Therapy, White House (Valerie Jarrett)



R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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