The Briefing 04-20-15

The Briefing 04-20-15

The Briefing


April 20, 2015

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


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

1) 100th anniversary of Armenian Genocide reveals challenge of mists of history to human judgment

The German philosopher Georg Lessing, well over a hundred years ago, talked about what he called history’s ugly ditch. He said it was an ugly ditch, speaking of a metaphor, because he said we can’t pass from the present to the past and make actual judgments on what happened in reality in times past. Now Christians actually cannot affirm that reality of the ugly ditch, we do believe that we can have real knowledge of past events; most importantly we believe we can have real and certain knowledge of past events based upon divine revelation in Scripture. It is the claim of divine revelation that crosses that ugly ditch between the present and the past. But when it comes to the more recent past and when it comes to knowledge outside of Revelation, there is a great deal of controversy and that occurred over the weekend.

Several things very much in view, most importantly it was 100 years ago that the first genocide of the 20th Century took place and it was a genocide that took place by the Turks against the Armenians. And the very fact that I used the word genocide is itself quite controversial in terms of world history for the last century. This is because the Turks insist that the use the word genocide is illegitimate, meanwhile the Armenians insist that it was a genocide. And as the New York Times reported on Friday, the facts are absolutely incontrovertible in the fact that about 1.5 million Armenians died, mostly at the hands of the Turks.

The why’s and the wherefores are in much as a part of the early history of the 20th century. Specifically it has to do with what took place in the period that would include the fall of the Ottoman Empire – that is the great Muslim Empire that existed for centuries right up to the end of World War I – and the rise of what is now the modern secular state, or at least the presumably secular state when it comes to its government, of Turkey. One of the things that happened in the transition there in Anatolia, or what is now called Turkey, is that the Armenians were accused of siding with Russia.

Now you’ll also recall that just a matter of decades before World War I was the Crimean war in which Russia was involved, along with other great European powers. You’re talking about a part of the world that has seen warfare and contested battles over territory going back to the most ancient records of history. But as New York Times reporter Tim Arango reported as we went into the weekend and I quote,

“Worried that the Christian Armenian population was planning to align with Russia, a primary enemy of the Ottoman Turks, officials embarked on what historians have called the first genocide of the 20th century: Nearly 1.5 million Armenians were killed, some in massacres like the one [that took place in Cungus] here, others in forced marches to the Syrian desert that left them starved to death.”

The Times went on to report,

“The genocide was the greatest atrocity of the Great War. It also remains that conflict’s most bitterly contested legacy, having been met by the Turkish authorities with 100 years of silence and denial. For surviving Armenians and their descendants, the genocide became a central marker of their identity, the psychic wounds passed through generations.”

From a Christian or biblical worldview perspective the interesting thing is that we’re talking about it – the fact that the world’s talking about it, that almost every major newspaper in terms of the Western world was dealing with this controversy on the 100th anniversary of the facts that took place on the ground in the year 1915. That tells us something, it tells us that long-term history doesn’t settle a lot of issues the way we might hope that history would; the scholarly view of history and the politicized context of history, as it is known by different peoples.

The Armenians in the church remember these events very differently. The Turkish government says right down to the present that it is ethnic discrimination against the Turks to claim that the genocide took place or even to use that word. The Armenians say that it is immoral and it is a sin against history not to recognize that nearly 1.5 million Armenians died at the hands of the Turks.

Unraveling the knots of history is notoriously difficult, especially when you’re looking at the distance of 100 years. The facts on the ground about the deaths, they are very well attested. And the responsibility for those deaths, well it’s very well assigned in terms of history. But the details behind the events that took place a hundred years ago; they are shrouded in what was called the mists of history. It is difficult to go back and determine all the particulars. But we do know this: history cries out for moral verdict that often time’s history simply can’t deliver. That’s one of the lessons of the biblical worldview. If all we’re left with in terms of moral judgment is history, then we’re not left with enough. There is no restitution, there is no redemption, and there is no true justice here.

Once again we find ourselves waiting for that judgment which is yet to come. A judgment that will not depend upon reportage from the New York Times or any of the newspaper, a judgment that will not depend upon any human court or any human tribunal, a judgment will come from God in which the vocabulary will be his alone, and the justice will be perfectly righteous.

2) OKC bomber exposes pride of human assumption that we are masters of own fate

But closer to home we also need to remember that yesterday, that is Sunday, marks the 20th anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – one of the first major incidents of homegrown terror in the United States over the course of the last several decades; a turning point in so many ways in American history. Those who are old enough to remember that event that took place 20 years ago yesterday, we probably remember where we were standing and with whom we were accompanied when we heard the news about this horrible terrorist attack.

The first thought of course was that it was some kind of external attack, even years before what would eventuate in terms of the September 11, 2001 attacks, even back in 1995 there was the assumption that some foreign power, some foreign influence, some foreign threat, must be behind this. Only later did we discover it was a homegrown threat. That the entire conspiracy and the bombing of this federal building and eventually the killing of 168 people and the wounding many others was undertaken by a homegrown threat by Timothy McVeigh and his accomplice, his co-conspirator Terry Nichols.

Based upon information they were able to assemble from public sources, they were able to create and then to detonate a 4,800 pounds fertilizer bomb outside the federal building there in Oklahoma City. Included in the carnage was a large federally subsidized preschool program, mostly for the children of those who were working in the facility. And now when you go to Oklahoma City you can see the stones that mark every single individual life lost on that day – April 19, 1995. Again, looking back across the record of history it is hard for us to come to a moral accounting of certain individuals and their moral thought process – or the lack of the moral thought process.

McVeigh, who was executed in the year 2001 for the crime, never showed even one second of remorse, even when he was granted multiple opportunities. McVeigh had intended to kill as many people as possible and his only regret seem to be that he did not kill even more than he accomplished in 168 deaths just 20 years ago yesterday.

Kevin Johnson, a reporter for USA Today remembered the opportunity he had to interview Timothy McVeigh and as he writes,

“His self-absorption, against the backdrop of such enormous loss, was particularly striking. It remained a constant theme throughout the session.”

McVeigh said,

“…that authorities placed him at undue risk on the evening he was formally charged with the attack. It was the moment the world got its first glimpse of the accused bomber, being led in shackles from a small courthouse in Perry, Okla., as some in an angry crowd yelled, ‘Baby killer!’’”

McVeigh told Johnson,

“‘I was a perfect target,’ he said, adding that without a bulletproof vest he was vulnerable to an attack,”

Now remember this was a man who claimed credit for having just days before killed 168 people, including children, then he had the audacity in his immense self-centeredness to claim that it had been his life was put at risk by the law enforcement authorities when they arrested him. He had the audacity to complain that he wasn’t giving a bulletproof vest when there was no attack was made against him even as he had admitted and even bragged about killing 168 people. Johnson then writes,

“The unvarnished selfishness would shadow my future encounters with him, from his subsequent 1997 appearances in a Denver federal courtroom where I saw him convicted, to his 2001 execution where I was one of 10 reporters to witness his lethal injection.”

Johnson reports at the end of his article and I quote,

“Offered the chance to speak final words, he said nothing.”

“Instead, he provided the warden a copy of the poem Invictus, copied in his own slanted handwriting:

‘My head is bloody, but unbowed. … I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.’”

As Johnson said, he was selfish to the end. I would simply add that selfish is hardly the right word here. There is not really a word in terms of our moral vocabulary that adequately describes the situation of Timothy McVeigh. No word, no moral vocabulary, is adequate to this and that’s one of the most important points we can understand.

But it is interesting that the statement that he left behind was the quotation from that famous poem Invectives, which is one of the most classic literary expressions of unvarnished self-assertion and idolatrous pagan self-assertion. And it’s almost, in every case, whether one reads it in middle school or reads it in the pages of USA Today in this context, it almost obviously makes fun of itself even in terms of its words.

Remember that when it comes to Timothy McVeigh, he died strapped to a gurney executed by the federal government for the callous killing of 168 people including many children and his only regret was that he could not kill more. And he dares to leave a statement saying “I am the master of my fate I am the captain of my soul.” Not even close. But as easy as that is to see when we look at Timothy McVeigh in his final moments, we need to recognize the same is true for every one of us. Not one of us is the master of our fate, not one of us is the captain of our own soul. We can say those words but those words judge us by the very fact that we can’t deliver on them for even a moment. Timothy McVeigh couldn’t deliver on them on the day of his execution and not one of us will deliver on those words on the date of our judgment.

3) Canadian Supreme Court rules for neutrality’s sake town council cannot open with prayer 

Next, shifting to Canada, our northern neighbor, a very important court decision was handed down last week that did not get adequate attention. As Religion News Service reports,

“Canada’s Supreme Court has ruled that a small town in Quebec may not open its council meetings with prayer.”

That’s the opening sentence, and that should immediately bring to our mind the fact that in the last Supreme Court session, the court handed down a decision in a case known as the town of Greece. And in that case, the Supreme Court by a rather narrow majority ruled that city commission meetings and similar kinds of governmental sessions can begin with prayer. And that pastors, rabbis, imams, and others may show up along with ordinary citizens to pray according to their own convictions. That is a very crucial affirmation of American religious liberty. It is a very crucial affirmation of the fact that if one is involved in something like prayer before even a city assembly, there is no responsibility to try to pray some kind of nonsectarian prayer, as if that were even possible. From a biblical worldview, it isn’t impossible. There is no biblical possibility of anything like a generic prayer. Just look at 1 Kings 18 if you need any textual affirmation of that.

But this decision handed down last week by the Canadian Supreme Court demonstrates just how much cultural and legal distance there is when you compare the American constitutional system to the legal system and culture just across our northern border in Canada. As Religion News Service reported, in a unanimous ruling that was handed down last Wednesday,

“Canada’s highest court ruled that the town of Saguenay can no longer publicly recite a Catholic prayer because it infringes on freedom of conscience and religion.”

According to RNS the case goes back to 2007, when a resident of that town – a very small town in Québec – complained about public prayer at City Hall. RNS goes on to say that the Canadian High Court ruled that the country’s social mores have,

“given rise to a concept of neutrality according to which the state must not interfere in religion and beliefs. The state must instead remain neutral in this regard. This neutrality requires that the state neither favor nor hinder any particular belief, and the same holds true for non belief.”

But notice what’s actually happening here. Because in stating that the state must be neutral (in this case the state is the Québec government, or the government of this little town, or the Canadian government writ large) is stating that the Canadian Constitution and Canadian law requires that the state be absolutely neutral. Here’s the point we need to make; no state as well as no individual is actually neutral. Neutrality is actually an impossible condition in this sense to achieve. It’s impossible because now you’ll note the bottom line is there can be no prayer when it comes the opening of the city session in this little town, nor in Québec writ large, as we shall come to understand nor in Canada writ large. Why? Because the state claims neutrality. But this neutrality means now that there is no prayer.

Neutrality means on its face now that there can be constitutionally no prayer. Who can actually call that neutrality? It means that citizens in Canada are now no longer free to pray in public at the opening of the city council meeting, even in a town that is overwhelmingly representative of their own convictions. Even when others of a different conviction would be also allowed and invited to pray. And even, as the Canadian Supreme Court has ruled, if the prayer were to be even by its definition non-sectarian. Why? Because the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that any prayer effectively implies a deity, which infringes upon the religious liberty of people who believe in no deity at all.

As RNS reports,

“The court said a nondenominational prayer is still religious in nature and would exclude nonbelievers.”

So there is the modern ideal of neutrality. It really isn’t neutrality at all. And it’s not the fault of this court that it was unable to achieve neutrality. No court can. No government can. A government that allows any prayer, according to this Canadian court is actually siding with a religion over against nonbelief. But now the court sides with nonbelief in order not to infringe upon the religious liberty of nonbelievers. But now the people who are disenfranchised when it comes to prayer before civic occasions there in Canada (at least in terms of government meetings), the people disenfranchised are believers.

The great lesson from all of this were Christian worldview is that there actually is no possible condition of neutrality when it comes to religion. There can be fairness. There can be accommodation. There can be openness. There can be an invitation to any and to all to pray, but the elimination of prayer altogether is a hardly a position of neutrality. And it tells us something that right across our northern border this decision was handed down by a unanimous court.

4) Conservative Anglicans gather to consider schism from Canterbury for sake of gospel

Last week, we discussed the article that appeared in the Guardian by Andrew Brown in which he pointed out that the Church of England was disappearing even faster than the rest of British culture which – as he said – is also disappearing. He pointed to the distinction between cultural and countercultural religion, as you may remember, explaining that in order to take the countercultural stance, deeper conviction is required. So when you find what he called ‘countercultural religion,’ you find a religious faith that is undergirded by specific doctrines and deep theological content. Cultural religion requires no such content, and generally, the closer one gets to the heart of cultural Christianity or cultural religion in any form – what you find is a minimal theology disappearing or evaporating in almost no theology at all. Now you’ll remember that Andrew Brown was specifically talking about the Church of England, which gets to a major story that moved over the weekend when it comes the Church of England. The headline in the Independent was this; “Evangelical critics of gay marriage and women bishops meet in London to plot schism.” And as Jamie Merrill and Emily Dugan of the Independent reported, the Church of England is now

“…at risk of an unprecedented schism as conservative Anglican leaders gather to discuss forming a “parallel” church in protest against women bishops and gay marriage.”

They go on to report,

“Evangelical leaders from the US and across Africa are meeting in London this week to consider a revolutionary plan to turn their backs on the Archbishop of Canterbury. The meeting [according to the group known as GAFCON – that is the global Anglican futures conference] will “chart the future of global Anglicanism” and could back the creation of a new evangelical church opposed to the liberal direction of the Church of England, which would cater [not only for the global church, but also] for conservative Anglicans in Britain.”

Now the threat of a breakup of the Anglican Communion is hardly new. We’ve been tracing these development all the way back to changes that took place, most importantly, in the church of England and the Episcopal Church US – both of those churches moved in a very liberal direction, especially when it comes to controversial issues of sexuality. And at the center of that of course is homosexuality; the question of homosexual clergy and the question of same-sex marriage. Behind that is also the issue of gender, especially when it comes to the ordination of women not only as priest but now also in terms of the Episcopal Church and the Church of England, of bishops as well. And it also points to much more fundamental differences when it comes to biblical authority and theological integrity and doctrinal continuity.

Now one thing should be made clear, within the Church of England and within the Episcopal Church there are still evangelicals. But what also must be made clear is that they are vastly outnumber, especially in terms of the Episcopal leadership of those denominations by those who are headed in a very different direction and have been so for a very long time.

The development of GAFCON, or the Global Anglican Futures Conference, several years ago was brought about in order to bring together evangelical conservatives within the Anglican communion – that’s the worldwide communion of Christians that is tied to the Archbishop of Canterbury and to historic origins in the Church of England – GAFCON was established in order to bring together representatives of these conservative churches in the so-called global South; particularly in South America, South East Asia, and also perhaps most importantly in sub-Saharan Africa.

But GAFCON originally came together with the possibility of a breakaway from the Church of England and from the Anglican Communion, but not with the intention. They had hoped for some kind of theological and biblical correction within the Church of England and the larger Anglican communion, but that suffice it to say has not happened. Indeed the Church of England and the Episcopal Church US have moved in even more liberal directions and when it comes in particular to the African churches they have apparently had enough.

And that means not only Africa, but bishops and archbishops from elsewhere in the global South as well – that includes GAFCON’s general secretary, the most Rev. Peter Jensen, the former Archbishop of Sydney in Australia. He said, and this well summarizes the development over the weekend, and I quote,

“I think we will have churches in place which will be regarded by most of the Anglican Communion as Anglican but not be Church of England Churches,”

Jensen, a very well identified evangelical in terms of the larger Anglican Communion and in GAFCON, he said very interestingly,

“Things have happened in the last decades which have been truly astonishing; we are looking at a totally new age from the point of view of the cultural milieu around us. Christians are having to work things out which worked out for millennia. This might be the beginning of something as big as Wesley.”

Well what remains to be seen is just how big this movement might be, just how large the schism might be within the Church of England and the Anglican communion, but this much is clear: it tells us a very great deal that in the year 2015, given all that is developed in these churches in the decades just behind us, the time has now comes says these leaders to start something new – something separate from the Church of England. And it’s timely that this comes just days after Andrew Brown declared that the Church of England was disappearing right before his eyes.

And we end with a reminder to pray for the faithful to keep the faith wherever they are found.


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’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.


Podcast Transcript

1) 100th anniversary of Armenian Genocide reveals challenge of mists of history to human judgment

A Century After Armenian Genocide, Turkey’s Denial Only Deepens, New York Times (Tim Arango)

2) OKC bomber exposes pride of human assumption that we are masters of own fate

Meeting McVeigh, USA Today (Kevin Johnson)

3) Canadian Supreme Court rules for neutrality’s sake town council cannot open with prayer 

Canadian Supreme Court rules against prayer at city council meetings, Religion News Service (Ron Csillag)

4) Conservative Anglicans gather to consider schism from Canterbury for sake of gospel

Evangelical critics of gay marriage and women bishops meet in London to plot schism, The Independent (Jamie Merrill and Emily Dugan)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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