The Briefing 04-21-15

The Briefing 04-21-15

The Briefing


April 21, 2015

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

  It’s Tuesday, April 21, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview. 1) Mediterranean boat disaster reveals desperation that drives quest for freedom and security We learn a great deal about human nature and about aspirations for freedom and security by looking at the disaster – the horrifying disaster – that took place on Sunday in the Mediterranean. There, according to the most credible press reports, between 700 and 950 persons are likely to have perished in an effort to migrate from northern Africa – specifically for Libya – to Europe; first probably to Italy and then onward to the northern countries where there might be the hope of employment and security. What we’re looking at here is something that we have seen over and over again: the quest for freedom and security. You have people who crowded themselves onto a boat, reported to have been 66 feet long – a fishing vessel that was intended for just a few human beings and the task of fishing that became a platform for human trafficking. With people enticing those who were desperate for freedom and desperate for the security of themselves and their family to crowd onto a boat that eventually was so overloaded that it capsized in the Mediterranean about 150 miles off of the coast of Libya. As Jim Yardley of the New York Times reports, “Hundreds of people were feared dead on Sunday after a ship crowded with migrants capsized and sank in the Mediterranean, as the authorities described a grisly scene of bodies floating and submerging in the warm waters, with the majority of the dead apparently trapped in the ship at the bottom of the sea.” Yardley went on to report, “The fatal shipwreck may prove to be the Mediterranean’s deadliest migrant disaster ever and is only the latest tragedy in Europe’s migration crisis. Warmer spring weather has unleashed a torrent of smuggler boats, mostly from Libya, bearing migrants and refugees from the Middle East and Africa, often fleeing war and poverty for a foothold in Europe.” Now in order to place this disaster in its moral context we need to consider the fact that we’re not just talking about Libyans fleeing Libya, we’re talking about people from all over the Middle East and North Africa who have gathered in the North African coast because it offers the easiest and most direct access to Europe. Why would so many people from these parts of the world want to get to another part of the world? Why are so many people, especially from the Middle East and Africa, trying to get to North Africa in order to get to Italy in order to get to the larger continent of Europe? The answer is actually simple: Europe offers a promise at least of security – the promise of some notion, the affirmation, of basic human rights, the opportunity to feed oneself and one’s family in a way that is fast disappearing in much of the world. Now from a Christian worldview one of our responsibilities is to imagine ourselves in a situation of such desperation. That’s relatively difficult for middle-class Americans to do. It is hard for us to imagine a situation into which we would throw ourselves, much less our own families and children, putting them into a situation of imminent danger and trusting our lives to human traffickers simply because it is a yet better option than staying where we are. Much of the world is torn by war; much of the world is experiencing radical famine – often associated with that kind of war. In much of Africa there are tribal and ethnic conflicts such as those that have taken place in Somalia and elsewhere. There is almost no hope of feeding one’s family, no hope of an ongoing employment, no hope of the affirmation of human rights. The sinking of the ship on Sunday came just after reports of increased activity of the Islamic state in Libya. No doubt increasing the desperation on the part of many there to flee before the imminent disaster that has now been broadcast in so many videos across the world. But from a Christian worldview perspective the other thing revealed in this horrifying disaster is the difficulty of knowing what is the right and moral thing to do. What is the right thing for the Italian government to do – or for any government? One of the interesting things to watch in the immediate aftermath of this horrifying new story is how many people in politics and otherwise were immediately stating the morally obvious; that is that this is a horrible situation that must be stopped. But how exactly is it to be stopped? Italy had operated over the past months in something known as Mare Nostrum, a policy whereby they had tried to intercept and save as many people as possible who were fleeing North Africa on ships headed for Italy and the rest of Europe. The problem is that even as that was a widely praised program, it might actually have led to the fact that increased numbers of people began in desperation to risk their lives simply out of the hope, largely by that Italian government naval program, of being intercepted by Italy and thus saved. And so it’s a terrifyingly difficult situation; it’s hard to know what is right. The intended and unintended consequences of action often are very difficult to foresee, and in this case the unintended action of trying to save many people over the last several months may actually have incentivized people to risk their lives to human traffickers out of hope that they similarly would be taken into custody by Italy and eventually brought to at least a safer situation with some opportunity of appeal there in Italy. Furthermore we’re looking at another situation that we all need to think about. It is something that often doesn’t come to us. We think of our lives ordered by a context by a society that privileges law and order and where we understand that if difficulty arises we can call 911. We often don’t think about the fact that if you were to take a look at the globe, if you were to take a snapshot of the globe at any single moment, much of the territory on that globe, and especially the territory that is covered by water, would be outside any effective call to anyone – 911 or otherwise. There would be no police force in any range to be able to intervene in any way, there might be no Navy in any ability or any proximity to be able to respond in any way, there may be no legal authority at the end of the day to ensure any kind to safety or even to offer a court of justice. We can only imagine the desperation that led between seven and 950 people to cram themselves on a boat described as being only 66 feet long – just imagine that. We can only imagine the horror that took place as that boat capsized and began to sink. We can only imagine the very difficult decisions now faced by governments, not only in Europe but elsewhere, trying to determine what is right to do in this situation. Obviously it’s right to save people in any circumstance, but there is the danger that announcing a certain policy will lead to even increased numbers of hundreds of people risking their lives under the hope of being similarly apprehended. Europe faces enormous challenges and so does North America, but this much is clear: we need to be reminded with great thankfulness of the fact that we are not facing this kind of desperation, that what we now see taking place in so many parts of the world is not something that we experience – that’s not an accident and it’s not something to be taken lightly. As we remember prayerfully all those around the world who are marked by such desperation and are such easy victims of human trafficking and the kinds of hopes that human traffickers traffic in, we need to remember as we tuck our own children in at night how many blessings or hours by God’s hand and how many people would give almost anything and risk almost anything to note even a day of freedom as we know it. 2) ISIS video announcing specific targeting of Christians driven by theological motivations Next, as we said about that story, the ship that led to such disaster had left the shores of Libya. It is no coincidence that in the same edition of the paper that reported that maritime disasters there’s also a report datelined from Cairo Egypt in which David D. Kirkpatrick of the New York Times tells us, “The Islamic State released a video on Sunday that appears to show fighters from its branches in southern and eastern Libya executing dozens of Ethiopian Christians, some by beheading and others by shooting.” We’ve been watching the rise of extremism and attempts to exterminate Christians in much of the Middle East and North Africa but this story represents a significant development beyond what we knew even a matter of just a few days ago. Kirkpatrick’s story tells us of that Islamic state, especially in Libya but also in other nations of the world, is now announcing a campaign to eradicate Christianity and Christians from its territory. The background for the new story tells us that the Islamic state is claiming that according to Quranic law Christians either must convert or pay a very significant tax. But the national and international media are also reporting that that tax is often set where the Islamic state knows that Christians cannot pay it, effectively leaving only two options: either die or convert to Islam. The new information in this report coming from the attacks by the Islamic state indicates just how Christians in particular are being targeted. Again this comes in the New York Times, yesterday’s edition, David Kirkpatrick reports, “The video released Sunday begins with about 25 minutes of scenes that appeared to have been filmed in Syria and Iraq. After reviewing the portrayal of Jesus in the Quran, a narrator briefly walks through the history of the emergence of Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism.” Let me just interject here, this is an amazingly sophisticated description of Christianity and of the Muslim assessment of Christians. Kirkpatrick goes on to say, “The video intersperses what appear to be scenes from a costume drama depicting rows of medieval Muslim soldiers marching with spears, fighting with bows and arrows, and assaulting a castle. Then it cuts briefly to images of the Islamic State’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, climbing the steps to the minbar, or pulpit, of the Mosul mosque where he proclaimed himself caliph. “A narrator, identified as Sheikh Abu Malik Anas al-Nashwan, says in formal Arabic that the Islamic State requires Christians living under its dominion to convert to Islam or pay jizya — the tax levied on non-Muslims living under Muslim rule in the Middle Ages. He speaks against a backdrop of lush foliage that looks more like northern Syria than anywhere in Libya, and the video shows a building and van used by the Islamic State to handle such payments in a town in the Syrian province of Aleppo.” The details that follow are similarly alarming, “The narrator repeatedly uses a derogatory term for Christians that is something like calling them Nazarenes. Yet much of the video is devoted to testimonials from people speaking Arabic with Syrian or perhaps Iraqi accents who say they are Christians living happily under the Islamic State in Aleppo, Raqqa and elsewhere. All say that they live freely after paying the tax; it is impossible to know how much coercion they may have felt at the time.” Let me just intersperses, that is certainly an incredible understatement. Kirkpatrick’s report then continues, “At one point, the video includes a scene of what appear to be two Islamic State fighters lecturing a schoolroom full of adult Christians on the virtues of Islam. A rifle leans against the wall behind them. “For those who refuse to convert or pay the tax, the narrator promises death and destruction, and scenes of Islamic State fighters desecrating the churches of Mosul illustrate the threat. ‘The Christians in Mosul have chosen their own destiny,’” As the video ends, it ends with the threat that Christians either convert to Islam or pay this tax. And then the words: “…we owed nothing except the edge of the sword,” A similar report that came in yesterday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal says that poking a pistol toward the camera a fighter on the video says, “To the nation of the cross, we are back again…telling you Muslim blood that was shed under the hands of your religion is not cheap.” 3) Legislative support for right to die exposes velocity of moral shift in America Now historically a very interesting aspect of this is that the Islamic state by means of this video appears to be going back to argue that the Crusades of the medieval era are the adequate moral pretext for their extermination of Christians now. This goes back to the language about those who are fighting under the cross; it goes back to the identification of nations of the cross – that’s language that goes back to the Crusades. But what we’re also looking at here is the reality that under Muslim rule, according to the Quran, all the Muslims owe Christians is what is known as “dhimmitude,” said specifically this is what the Quran says that Muslims owe Christians and Jews – identified as people of the book. They owe of them only a subservient status under which, as the Islamic state has now threatened, Christians must either convert to Islam or pay a tax. And often that tax is set at a limit that it is well-known that Christians cannot pay, effectively meaning they have only one choice – either convert or die. Now we have absolute evidence that the Islamic state is framing the extermination of Christians in explicitly theological terms. One of the most interesting developments in the report in the New York Times yesterday is that this video released by the Islamic state includes a recital of Christian history, the development of Catholicism and Eastern orthodoxy and Protestantism, and also deals with the understanding of Jesus that is claimed in the Quran. This is a very interesting development; on the one hand it is almost as if the Islamic state is declaring that it is intending to take the world back to the Middle Ages and to reenter the age of the Crusades, but it’s also true that by its brutality and by its specific targeting of Christians, the Islamic state is announcing its intention in terms of the expansion of its caliphate – that is the territory under its rule – that the options given the Christians will be either convert or pay the tax, and the tax may be set so that there is no opportunity, realistically, for anyone to pay it. Which means convert or lose your lives, and the video that was released on Sunday indicates that the Islamic state fully intends to fulfill that threat. One final issue related to that story. It is unclear exactly what the theological convictions of those who were executed on this video might have been, but what’s most crucial from a Christian worldview is this: they were identified as those who were followers of Christ, they were identified as those who identified with the cross, and they were identified with the derogatory term of being Nazarenes; in other words followers of Jesus of Nazareth. One of the interesting developments in terms of this story is that the Islamic state is now specifically identifying the Christians it intends to target as Eastern Orthodox and Catholics and Protestants; all three under its threat. The Islamic state may or may not be more theologically sophisticated than we knew when it comes to its understanding of Christianity, but this much is abundantly clear: it intends to target anyone who identifies with the cross of Christ, anyone who identifies with the name of Christ, anyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus the Nazarene. 4) Oldest person in world dies, leaving only four people who’ve seen 19th Century Shifting to the United States, on Sunday in USA Today moved a story; the headline is, Half of states plus DC [that is the District of Columbia] look at right-to-die legislation. Malak Monir is reporting for USA Today, “More than a dozen states, plus the District of Columbia, are considering controversial medically assisted death legislation this year. “The laws would allow mentally fit, terminally ill patients age 18 and older, whose doctors say they have six months or less to live, to request lethal drugs.” Now the background to this is a massive moral shift taking place in Western cultures at large, but most particularly right now in the United States. One of things to watch in a great moral seismic shift like this is how quickly what was unimaginable becomes then thinkable, and after becoming thinkable it becomes plausible in terms of policy. When we’re looking at something like assisted suicide we need to recognize that it has not been on the American scene for very long, certainly with any momentum. It was the state of Oregon that was the first day to implement a so-called death with dignity act in 1997 and four other states (Montana, New Mexico, Vermont, and Washington) now allow for medically assisted suicide. But you need to note that is a tiny minority of states. When it comes to assisted suicide and euthanasia in the United States there has been a massive cultural negativity to the very notion and those who have been pressing for it had not gained much momentum until the last several months. And again that tells us that when a moral shift happens there’s often a catalyst that becomes the signal that that moral shift is taking place. And once the moral shift is in movement the velocity is often much quicker than might be imagined. You’ll recall that just a matter of a few months ago a young woman by the name of Brittany Maynard who was then 29 years old died in a very well-publicized case of assisted suicide after she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. She became, by her own intention, a symbol for a nationwide effort to legalize assisted suicide being done in the name of individual autonomy. As Monir reports for USA Today, “As of April 10, at least another 25 states have considered death with dignity bills, according to Compassion & Choices, a Denver-based nonprofit organization that advocates for these laws.” President Barbara Coombs Lee of that group said, “The movement has reached a threshold where it is unstoppable,” Well she might be right or she might be wrong, but there is no doubt that the movement has reached a certain critical velocity as it is moving forward. Now what does that tell Christians? It tells Christians that the very deeply embedded Christian biblical belief in the sanctity of every single human life, and that deep beliefs implanted in the culture by Christianity that the creator and not the autonomous creature gets to determine the length and the understanding of life, that that has evaporated very, very quickly. Now it doesn’t evaporate in an instant, it doesn’t evaporate in all likelihood in a single generation, what this tells us is that the worldview of Americans on the issue of the very nature of human life has been in transition for some time. And then we take a step backward and think, well it certainly must have been because as we go back to 1973 in the Roe V Wade decision and come to understand that Americans evidently, by the millions then and the American Supreme Court as indicative of the nation, were willing to allow for the legalization of abortion, of the intentional targeting of babies in the womb, and that tells us that the ship was already well underway. What this also tells us is that when the sanctity of human life is compromised and redefined at one end of the spectrum, in the earliest stage here when it comes to the beginning of life, thus the issue of abortion, it is inevitably also compromised, subverted, and undermined at the other end of life spectrum now at the end of life. The very fact that we are looking at momentum for assisted suicide and euthanasia in America, the very fact that on Sunday USA Today declared this in a headline story, that tells us that something fundamental had shifted long ago. Even as it was imperceptible, it’s undeniable now and that starkly identifies one of the central challenges we will face in months and years ahead.   Finally, when it comes to the end stages of life I refer to an article that recently appeared on the front page of the Financial Times from London. The headline, World’s oldest person dies at 117. The next part of the headline is what’s perhaps most striking, “leaving only four witnesses to the 19th century.” The article in the Financial Times tells us that the oldest person then in the world, Misao Okawa, who died just a matter of days ago at the age of 117 leave four persons documented to be alive right now on planet earth that was alive in the 1800s. Interviewed on her 116th birthday Ms. Okawa iin Japan said that the secret of her life was, “ tasty food and sleep well,” Speaking of her long life she had said then “it seems short to me” on her 116th birthday. Speaking of 116, according to the Financial Times, the world’s most senior citizen right now is Gertrude Weaver, who at age of 116 lives in Arkansas in the United States. I don’t know about you but I find it striking that according to the Financial Times and its front-page news story there are still four people alive who were alive to welcome the dawn of the 20th century, born with the years ‘18’ in front of their birth. The Bible tells us that man knows not his time. Whether the length of our lives is 117 years or something less, according to the Bible our times are in the hands of God.   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 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.   I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.  

Podcast Transcript

1) Mediterranean boat disaster reveals desperation that drives quest for freedom and security

Hundreds of Migrants Are Feared Dead as Ship Capsizes Off Libyan Coast, New York Times (Jim Yardley)

Europe grapples with deadly flow of migrants, USA Today (Jane Onyanga-Omara)

2) ISIS video announcing specific targeting of Christians driven by theological motivations

ISIS Video Appears to Show Executions of Ethiopian Christians in Libya, New York Times (David D. Kirkpatrick)

3) Legislative support for right to die exposes velocity of moral shift in America

Half the states look at right-to-die legislation, USA Today (Malak Monir)

4) Oldest person in world dies, leaving only four people who’ve seen 19th Century

World’s oldest person Misao Okawa dies aged 117 in Japan, Financial Times (Robin Harding)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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