The Briefing 04-27-15

The Briefing 04-27-15

The Briefing


April 27, 2015

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


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

1) In aftermath of Nepal quake moral evil mixed with natural evil

Sometimes, as we are regularly reminded, nature turns deadly. That was the case over the weekend. The epicenter was the nation of Nepal and it was the epicenter of a very deadly earthquake. According to the Richter scale this earthquake measured about 7.8, placing it among the most powerful and devastating in recent world history and it’s not just the earthquake itself. That original killed at least 2,400 people and injured about 7,000 others. But that is not at all the end of the story.

Nepal and its capital, Kathmandu, have now been shaken by a series of aftershocks, some of which taken by themselves would amount to major earthquakes of devastating potential. But Kathmandu is bracing itself for aftershock after aftershock. And as the Washington Post reports,

“Nepal’s capital became a city of whispers and rumors on Sunday as residents hunkered down outdoors, in tents and cars, and its recurring aftershocks from Saturday’s earthquakes kept everyone on edge fearing another big quake.”

But one of the things we need to note here as we’re praying for the people of Nepal and hoping for the suffering and the casualties to be limited beyond what we know now, one of the things that so often appears is that moral evil gets mixed in with what we theologically define as natural evil. That’s found in the very second paragraph of the Washington Post‘s front page story. I’ll read this description,

“Food and water supplies ran low. Price gouging began. Electricity was intermittent. Rescuers battled to make it to residents of remote villages as well as climbers on Mt. Everest to save those still stranded more than 24 hours after the catastrophe. They continued culling victims out of the rubble sometimes with their bare hands.”

So you’ll note that the origin of this in terms of the immediate catastrophe was a natural disaster. It was an earthquake. No one planned it. No one even saw it coming. And that earthquake, a natural disaster, a form of what is called, natural evil, was followed by another form of evil, moral evil and that comes in that second paragraph with reports that price gouging has already begun and there are opportunists taking advantage even of their fellow victims of the earthquake.

What we look at here from a Christian perspective is the fact that Christianity alone, the biblical worldview alone, ties together what is called natural evil and moral evil. That’s because, according to the Bible, natural evil itself is the result of moral evil. Now here’s where we have to think very, very carefully and speak very, very cautiously. We are not saying that anyone’s sin in Nepal brought about this earthquake. We are saying that the sin of Adam and Eve, according to the Scripture, which was as Adam was our federal head, the sin for all of us, by all of us, that what happened in terms of God’s judgment upon that sin was judgment upon the cosmos and that has come with cosmic moral significance. It has brought about earthquakes and hurricanes. It has brought about tumors and all kinds of calamities and thus the Biblical worldview alone explains that seen in that light all evil, all things that come to us with evil consequence, have their ultimate origin in sin and in God’s judgment upon sin.

But we have to be very careful here. We’re not talking about a tsunami, an earthquake. We’re not talking about a volcanic eruption that is tied to some specific sin by some specific people living in a specific place that brought this kind of natural disaster upon themselves.

The Scripture itself warns us from making any kind of very easy superficial analysis of this kind of disaster. Rather we should understand that what we’re looking at here is a reminder of Genesis 3. What we’re looking at here is a reminder of Romans 8 where we are told that the entire creation is groaning, waiting for the appearance of the sons of God and where we look to the very end of the Bible, the very last book of the Bible for the vision of a new heaven and a new earth that is coming where we will not have to fear earthquake, where we will not have to fear tsunami, where we will not have to fear volcanic eruption. But in this world we do have to fear such things and in some parts of the world they have to fear them even more than in other parts, specifically there are some parts of the world that have to fear monsoon where others do not. There are some parts of the world that have to face the horror of recurrent drought while others do not. There are places that are more endangered by earthquake than others according to the great fault lines of the world.

And in Nepal, now you have ground zero for one of the most crucial human disasters of recent times. A massive earthquake, 7.8 on the Richter scale that, by the way, demonstrates the power of nature in a way that many people might not even have been able to calculate before. That’s because in one of the strangest and most deadly aspects of this story, at least 20 climbers who were climbing Mt. Everest have died because even this earthquake was able to shake what is often identified as the tallest mountain on planet Earth.

In one of the signs of the power of this earthquake the Washington Post reports that its effects were almost immediately felt as far away as New Delhi in India, indicating that on the surface of the earth there is a set of plates in which this kind of tremor can be felt from one end to the other. And that’s an affirmation of the fact that even though we often claim to be standing on solid ground, the earth beneath our feet is not nearly so solid as it looks. We’ll be praying for the people of Nepal even as we are hoping for an international aid effort that will be able to reach people in time.

2) Power of Chile volcano eruption reminder of power and wisdom of Creator

Meanwhile, while we’re speaking of nature in the Biblical worldview, one of the most powerful demonstrations of the power of nature came last week with the eruption of a major volcano in Chile. The volcano is known as Calbuco, and it erupted last week in a way that was totally unexpected after having been rather quiet for almost 40 years. It erupted with spectacular force about the middle of the week and by the end of the week video was getting out to almost all the ends of the earth that was demonstrating what many people had heard about in generations past but had never been able to see, even by means of video, and that was the eruptions of one of the most powerful volcanoes on earth.

We can be thankful that there has been no loss of life thus far from the eruption of Calubco largely because the area around it is so sparsely populated. But if you see that video you will see one of the things that simply baffles the human imagination. How can a mountain, a great mountain with snow on it’s top as Calbuco, erupt with such horrifying force, sending cubic miles of material by some accounts into the atmosphere with a column of smoke that went up about 11 miles disrupting international aviation and with an electronic valance that was so powerful that lighting erupted from within the smoke of the volcano, not because of a thunderstorm but because the volcano itself had created an electronic storm.

All this affirms to Christians that we are awaiting a new heaven and a new earth but it also affirms the power of the Creator and his wisdom and his character as reflected in the creation he has made. As we see in the book of Job 38, as the Lord himself spoke unto Job beginning in verse 22,

“Have you entered the treasury of snow or have you seen the treasury of hail which I have reserved for the time of trouble for the day of battle and war? By what way is light diffused or the east wind scattered over the earth?”

Those are the questions that God asked Job. Those are the questions the creator asked the creature. Where were we when these things happened? We did not yet exist but God did and he made all this to his glory and he is showing his character even in the events of what people around us call the natural world.

3) Oral arguments before Supreme Court great moral event of our age

Speaking of moral issues, tomorrow we now know will be one of the most important days in the constitutional history of the United States of America. It will be one of the most important days in the moral history of our nation as well. That’s because tomorrow before the United States Supreme Court oral arguments will be held on the issue of same sex marriage. The questions, and there are two questions presented to the court, have to do with whether or not the constitution guarantees a right of same sex people to get married in all 50 states.

The second question is whether or not the constitution requires same sex marriages declared to be legal in one state to be recognized in all other states. Tomorrow is going to be a day of history. It will not decide the issue. That’s because the high court is expected to rule on this issue by the last business day of June. The intervening weeks will afford the court the opportunity to consider the arguments made tomorrow and then frame the eventual decision and the opinions on one side and the other that are expected.

Richard Wolf, writing the cover story for USA Today over the weekend tells us that gay marriage is expected to face a court victory by the time the court rules late in June. But the headline of his article was this, Gay Marriage’s Long Road to Court. Wolf offers a very interesting report in which he goes back 45 years to what he calls a decision in the making. As he writes,

“When lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union filed the first federal lawsuit in 1970, seeking same sex marriage rights they were almost laughed out of court.”

James Esseks, who directs the ACLU gay rights project, said,

“That did not work out well.”

When Evan Wolfson submitted his 140 page, 710 footnote, Harvard Law School thesis entitled, Same Sex Marriage and Morality, in 1983, according to Wolf,

“Evan Wolfson was a lonely voice. Unfortunately, the court and particularly the Supreme Court have often lagged far behind the changes of society.”

Now that raises a very interesting point. Where are those changes in society and is indeed the Court lagging behind? Now one of the things we should note right up front is that that isn’t even a constitutional question. The question of whether the Court is behind public opinion isn’t an issue of constitutional interpretation; that’s a matter of pragmatic judgment, that’s a matter of political judgment. But it should tell us just about everything that that’s the question that leads in the very early paragraphs of Richard Wolf’s article having to do with the oral arguments to be held tomorrow.

So Richard Wolf goes back 45 years to 1970. He then writes,

“…when a trial judge in Hawaii delivered the first court victory for same-sex marriage in 1996, lawmakers and voters banned the practice, leading the state Supreme Court to dismiss the case. Nearly 5,000 miles away, Congress and President Bill Clinton felt sufficiently threatened to enact the federal Defense of Marriage Act.”

But, he says now,

“As the Supreme Court prepares to hear oral arguments Tuesday in a case that appears likely to give gays and lesbians a constitutional right to marry, the pace of change may seem like a race to the altar. In truth, it’s been a very long courtship.”

Now we need to step back just a moment. He’s claiming that this is a very long process but even if you go back to 1970 or to 1972, he goes back to both of those years, even if he goes back 43 or 45 years, as has been often noted, in terms of the great moral landscape of world history you’re talking about something like the blink of an eye. It’s not very long at all.

When you measure the revolution over same sex relationships and same sex marriage over against similar moral revolutions – and quite honestly there aren’t that many of that scale in human experience – you’re looking at the fact that this one is operating at lightning speed. And Richard Wolf’s article basically makes that point even as he argues, rather perceptively in this dimension, that most Americans will believe that this is just all of a sudden erupted. He makes a point, it hasn’t. This has been an issue that has been in the formation and in the framing for some time now, in the public opinion and also in the courts.

When it comes to the revolution in the courts and in the larger culture, Richard Wolf writes,

“A patient legal strategy, a savvy public relations campaign, and superior financing and organization have propelled the gay marriage movement past an outgunned and underfunded opposition.”

Now one of the things to note just in terms of that sentence is the fact that so many people who are now behind the momentum for same sex marriage say that there was no organized agenda. They say there’s no such thing as a gay agenda. They say there is no such thing as some kind of political agenda to get same sex marriage legalized and homosexuality normalized.

But in this front page article in USA Today, Richard Wolf says, ‘Oh yes there was.’ And he credits it organizationally to several issues including, let’s go back, “To a patient legal strategy, a savvy public relations campaign, and superior financing, and organization.” He says those things, I repeat again, have propelled the gay marriage movement past a movement he describes as “Opposition that was outgunned and underfunded.” That he says the next words are very crucial,

“…and having the Constitution on its side, according to dozens of state and federal court judges who have struck down same-sex marriage bans over the past 16 months.”

Now no one is arguing with a straight face that same sex marriage is addressed in any direct way in the constitution. Instead, the argument made honestly is that we are now seeing judges interpret the constitution to imply and to include a right of same sex marriage that was never envisioned by the framers of the constitution nor even by the same court just a matter of less than a generation ago.

Wolf makes that very point whether he intends to or not when he cites the ruling that was handed down by Federal District Court Judge Robert Shelby in 2013. He was sitting in Utah when he wrote in his decision,

“It is not the constitution that has changed, but the knowledge of what it means to be gay or lesbian.”

That in itself is an extremely revealing statement. We’re really not talking about the interpretation of the constitution as a text. We’re talking about the interpretation of constitutional law as a servant to one moral agenda or another.

Richard Wolf also makes a similar point by going back to the year 1972 when, as he writes, judges faced a similar question. They dismissed a case brought by two gay men from Minnesota in one sentence,

“For want of a substantial federal question.”

In other words, using the very words of the Supreme Court itself back in 1972 a majority of the justices dismissed the very idea of same sex marriage saying that the federal government didn’t even have an interest in the issue. Now the judges on the United States Supreme Court are likely to say that the federal government not only has an interest but that the constitution now validates same sex marriage and may, according to expectation, require it in all 50 states.

Of course Wolf also goes back to the year 2013 and the Supreme Court’s ruling in the case known as Windsor in which it struck down by a narrow majority the federal government’s Defense of Marriage Act. Wolf credits that decision, just about two years ago, as beginning what he calls the second wave of this moral revolution, the wave that is leading to the oral arguments tomorrow and to the expected decision by June by the very same court.

What has happened in two years? Well, nothing that we weren’t warned would happen. As Wolf also goes to Justice Antonin Scalia, we’ve often quoted him on this, who said back in his dissent in 2013,

“No one should be fooled. It’s just a matter of listening and waiting for the other shoe.”

That other shoe, according to Scalia, is the legalization of same sex marriage. That’s what’s now looming before the Supreme Court tomorrow.

4) Cincinnati’s shift on gay marriage civic example of evaporation of moral traditionalism

And speaking of this moral revolution, you can count on the fact that our cultural conversation this week is going to be dominated by the question of same sex marriage and that’s because the signal event of the oral arguments before the United States Supreme Court, that event will signal to the entire culture that this is now the frontline issue and virtually everyone is going to be talking about it just because of the oral arguments. The way we talk about the issue may be significantly modified in terms of the contemporary challenge by what happens before the court tomorrow morning. Our very conversation about same sex marriage will be informed by what happens before 9 justices of the United States Supreme Court in a matter of less than 24 hours, by the time tomorrow gets underway.

But the moral revolution has its centers of tremendous influence and one of those turns out to be the city of Cincinnati. I went there just a matter of about two weeks ago to participate in a media event in a forum on the issue of marriage with same sex marriage very much at the forefront. The reason Cincinnati was so important is because the lead plaintiff in the case to be held before the Supreme Court tomorrow morning is from Cincinnati. One of the most important issues at stake in the decision has everything to do with the story that begins in Cincinnati.

When I was in Cincinnati I spent some time speaking to Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times and her front page article on the issue appeared dateline Cincinnati of the front page of yesterdays, that is Sunday’s edition of the New York Times and the article is really important because Cincinnati is really important. Behind Cincinnati is a big story and that story tells us a great deal about how this moral revolution has taken place because Cincinnati has been, even until very recent times, one of the most morally conservative major cities in the United States.

Cincinnati has a very long heritage of German Catholicism. It has a very long heritage of moral conservatism and Cincinnati in the 1990’s became one of the most significant centers of controversy over the gay rights movement precisely because it took a very conservative stance outlawing any special rights, as they were then defined, for those who are defined by sexual orientation.

Stolberg writes that Cincinnati’s role in this constitutional and moral drama by saying that Cincinnati has become an illustration of,

“…how far the gay rights movement has come in one of the most traditionally conservative corners of the Midwest.”

She goes on to write,

“As recently as 2004 — the same year Ohio adopted its same-sex marriage ban — Cincinnati was the only city in the nation whose charter expressly barred ordinances related to gay rights; critics called it ‘the most anti-gay city in America.’ Today Cincinnati has its first openly gay city councilman, and leaders market the city as friendly to lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people.

“The city has a domestic partner registry and recently extended ‘transgender inclusive’ health benefits, including hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgery, if a doctor deems it medically necessary, to city employees.”

Cincinnati’s place in the culture war, she points out, dates at least to the 1960’s when it was a local obstetrician by the name of Dr. John C. Willke, that helped found the anti-abortion movement nationally.  Cincinnati was also ground zero for limitations upon pornography, including the fact that Larry Flint, the publisher of Hustler Magazine, was convicted on obscenity charges in Cincinnati in the year 1977.

And as we so often have to remark, that was then, this is now. Now Cincinnati is on the forefront of the moral revolution largely driven by two factors that appear in this story. One of them is the influence of corporate American, in particular the consumer products giant, Proctor & Gamble, headquartered there in Cincinnati. Proctor & Gamble put huge pressure on the city to change its policies in a very gay friendly direction.

The other big change is demographic, as Stolberg tells us, the city itself has undergone significant demographic change. Conservatives, including moral conservatives have increasingly moved out of the city into the suburbs and the city itself, like so many other major metropolitan areas in the United States has trended increasingly libertarian and morally and politically liberal.

For that reason, if you’re looking at the great moral revolution, this great revolution in moral worldview that’s taking place around us, a revolution that began in worldview before it ever reached the crucial issues of morality including same sex relations and same sex marriage. If you’re looking for evidence of how that revolution took place it’s hard to come up with any better civic example than the city of Cincinnati because Stolberg is exactly right. Even as Cincinnati itself is now playing a leading role in this constitutional drama over same sex marriage the really interesting thing is that it began as such a morally conservative city even in the beginning of this revolution but it has been transformed.

As I said, I was asked by the reporter to address this issue when she was in Cincinnati to cover the marriage forum where I spoke and she cites me in this article in which I said, she cites me correctly,

“If this kind of moral change can happen in Cincinnati, it can happen anywhere.”

That’s the real lesson here. Or at least it’s one major lesson. If it can happen in Cincinnati, it can and will happen anywhere. We’re watching a city that had been known as a bastion of moral conservatism transform right before our eyes and what’s really interesting here is the world view point that it reveals because the moral conservatism of the city of Cincinnati had a very great deal to do with its theological and spiritual heritage. With the heritage of the Christian moral tradition is represented in that German tradition of Catholicism that had so dominated Cincinnati’s life for a very, very long time.

Perhaps that is the big lesson here. That kind of moral traditionalism isn’t going to survive without a robust Biblical and theological conviction and commitment behind it. If this can happen in Cincinnati, it can happen anywhere including in places that might pride themselves as being right in the center of the so-called Bible belt. If it’s merely cultural Christianity, if it’s merely moral traditionalism, it will crumble and it will fail. If it’s merely cultural Christianity, if it’s merely moral traditionalism then that will crumble and collapse right before our eyes. It may do so in a very big way tomorrow morning. Even as the date line on those stories will be Washington D.C. we know that Washington is not alone in terms of this revolution. When it reaches cities like Cincinnati it will reach virtually anywhere and everywhere.

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) In aftermath of Nepal quake moral evil mixed with natural evil

Fear of aftershocks has Nepal on edge, Washington Post (Rama Lakshmi and Annie Gowen)

2) Power of Chile volcano eruption reminder of power and wisdom of Creator

Flights canceled as ash cloud pours from Chile volcano, Reuters (Rosalbo O’Brien and Anthony Esposito)

3) Oral arguments before Supreme Court great moral event of our age

Long courtship leads to high court’s altar for gay marriage, USA Today (Richard Wolf)

4) Cincinnati’s shift on gay marriage civic example of evaporation of moral traditionalism

Gay Marriage Case Caps Cincinnati’s Shift From Conservative Past, New York Times (Sheryl Gay Stolberg)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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