The Briefing 04-30-15

The Briefing 04-30-15

The Briefing


April 30, 2015

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


It’s Thursday, April 30, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Tragedy of Baltimore points to breakdown of trust and family in society

President Obama pointed to the streets of Baltimore declaring that the nation now faces what he called a ‘slow rolling crisis.’ The streets of Baltimore, Maryland are a bit calmer and quieter than they were earlier this week. Violence erupted on the street, including serious injuries to several Baltimore police officers, and as late as yesterday evening firefighters in the city were saying that they were reluctant to answer fire calls because of the threat of violence against themselves on the central core streets of Baltimore.

One of the things that looms in the background of this is yet another unexplained arrest and a death after that arrest. In this case the 25-year-old young man who was arrested, an African-American young man, was Freddy Gray and somewhere after his arrest he suffered an injury to his spinal column that led to his death. That led to controversy, immediate protests, and even violence on the streets of Baltimore – a violent pattern that is highly revealing of where we now stand as a nation.

There were riveting scenes that came from the streets of Baltimore earlier this week. One of those scenes was a burning of a CVS drugstore after it had been looted by protesters on the street, it was then set fire. And as the Wall Street Journal reported,

“Hundreds of people gathered at a West Baltimore corner Tuesday where a CVS pharmacy stood empty and charred from Monday’s riots. In a building next door, a dozen senior citizens watched the news and wondered where they would now buy their groceries and prescriptions.”

One of the aspects that is most depressing about this is that the people who were doing the protesting and the looting, in this case also the arson, were basically doing damage to their own community. They were burning down a CVS store that was a vital asset in their own community. That leads to some of the most revealing insights that come out of the situation there in Baltimore.

President Obama in his statements directed towards the situation in Baltimore said what you would expect a President of the United States to say: he condemned the protesting in the streets and especially the violence and the looting. But he also referred to again what he called the nation’s slow rolling crisis, going all the way back to the incident in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. Now, the President said, the nation is going to have to confront the serious issues that underlie the violence in the streets of Baltimore. But the most immediate concern is ending the violence that is taking place in that Maryland city.

The President said that his thoughts were with the police officers who had been injured in the violence on Monday night. He also pointed to what he called,

“…too many instances of what appears to be police officers interacting with individuals, primarily African-American, often poor, in ways that raise troubling questions.”

That’s when the president said,

“…this has been a slow-rolling crisis.  This has been going on for a long time.  This is not new, and we shouldn’t pretend that it’s new.”

I have defended President Obama’s responses in so many of these very tragic incidents because he is speaking as virtually any President of the United States would be required to speak. But even as the President has said these words and even as he said the nation needs to address these issues, not even the President has offered a plan for how exactly these issues are to be addressed. And that points to one of the most basic insights the Christian worldview should bring to the situation.

We’ve often discussed the fact that politics and economics require a certain level of trust, society itself – civilization – is an achievement and it requires a certain level of trust. What you see, in terms of the pathologies that are being played out before the nation’s eyes in Baltimore, is a breakdown of that basic structure and order that depends on trust. And the trust is broken down not only in the streets of Baltimore, but elsewhere.

But the New York Times yesterday ran a very instructive graphic showing pattern of economic poverty and of shortened life expectancy block by block and neighborhood by neighborhood in Baltimore. And one of the things the New York Times shows is that there is a very clear concentration of those two pathologies – of low life expectancy and of increased unemployment and poverty – in the very areas where the violence has been breaking out in that city, and the very neighborhood were Freddy Gray was arrested.

The violence has come with a very high toll. Just in terms of the report that came in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, city officials said that fires had consumed 19 buildings and 144 vehicles while at least 20 police officers had been injured and 235 people had been arrested. As the Wall Street Journal said on Tuesday,

“…shop owners covered storefronts with plywood, and many residents swept debris from streets. The acrid smell of charred vehicles and buildings hung in the air.”

That’s the kind of picture that we would hope would never characterize any city or any neighborhood in America, but it has and it has repeatedly so in recent months.

The editorial board of the New York Times on Wednesday suggested that the problem was at least twofold. They also went to President Obama’s comments. The editors wrote,

“President Obama has condemned as inexcusable the looting and arson that spread across the face of the city after of Mr. Gray’s funeral. But he also implied that the Baltimore Police Department had ‘to do some soul-searching.’ Indeed it does: A well-documented history of extreme brutality and misconduct set the stage for just this kind of unrest.”

The editors also pointed to the President when they said, that the response would,

“…require not only new police tactics but new policies aimed at helping communities where jobs have disappeared, improving education and helping ex-offenders find jobs”

That was the editorial board of the New York Times. The editors of that paper have been pressing an urban agenda identified with the term progressivism for the better part of the last half-century. And the editors now say that in response, the same kind of combination of government action and of reforms of the law will need to take place. As if in response, the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal pointed to the violence on the streets of Baltimore and called it a severe indictment on that very progressivist vision of America’s urban cities.

The editors of the Journal pointed to the progressivists and said,

“This model, with its reliance on government and public unions, has dominated urban America as once-vibrant cities such as Baltimore became shells of their former selves. In 1960 Baltimore was America’s sixth largest city with 940,000 people. It has since shed nearly a third of its population and today isn’t in the top 25.”

The editors go on to describe the dysfunctions of the ‘blue-city model’ as they call it,

“The dysfunctions of the blue-city model are many, but the main failures are three: high crime, low economic growth and failing public schools that serve primarily as jobs programs for teachers and administrators rather than places of learning.”

The same charts that the New York Times showed when it comes to low life expectancy and high poverty it can be correlated also with something else that is very important from the Christian worldview and that is the breakdown of the family.

Now this leads to another very interesting exchange when it comes to the question of the relationship between the absence of fathers and the violence that took place on the streets of Baltimore. Philip Bump writing for the Washington Post pointed to comments that had been made by Sen. Rand Paul, a declared candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, when he pointed to what he called,

“The breakdown of family structure, the lack of fathers, the lack of sort of a moral code in our society.”

Paul went on to say,

“This isn’t just a racial thing; it goes across racial boundaries.”

That is profoundly true. This isn’t just a racial thing. Even as the high rate of babies born out of wedlock and fatherlessness began, especially in terms of pathologies, in the African-American family in the 1960s, the reality is that the skyrocketing rates of babies born out of wedlock and children being raised without fathers is no longer a racial issue. It has spread across all ethnic and racial groups in America.

Sen. Paul’s reference to a lack of fathers was criticized by many on the left while others pointed to the fact that another major American politician in response to the same kind of urban unrest in the aftermath of Ferguson, Missouri had made a similar statement. That American politician said,

“In communities where there are no fathers who can provide guidance to young men; communities where there’s no investment, and manufacturing has been stripped away; and drugs have flooded the community, and the drug industry ends up being the primary employer for a whole lot of folks — in those environments, if we think that we’re just going to send the police to do the dirty work of containing the problems that arise there without as a nation and as a society saying what can we do to change those communities, to help lift up those communities and give those kids opportunity, then we’re not going to solve this problem.”

Again, that American politician pointed in the first place to the communities in which there are no fathers, especially who can provide guidance to young men. That politician was the President of the United States.

Christians looking at this situation and praying for peace, not only on the streets of Baltimore but elsewhere as well, must pray for the restoration of social trust and they must pray for the restoration of a moral order. That is a basic requirement of civilization. And we’re watching the breakdown of trust and the picture of the CVS burning was just one of those pictures. Perhaps one of the most significant parables in picture before us was the fact that the Baltimore Orioles and the Chicago White Sox played to what had never happened before, an empty baseball stadium, simply out of fear of the fact that the violence would spread to the baseball game as well.

Christians operating out of a biblical worldview have to be very, very careful lest we just give superficial answers to what are very deep problems. But the fact is that Christians alone, operating out of a biblical worldview, understand just how deep, how intractable, those problems really are, and how impossible it is – even following the logic of the President of the United States – to rebuild a society, to rebuild a moral order on the streets of the city like Baltimore without rebuilding the community itself. And what central to the biblical worldview is the understanding that it is impossible to rebuild the community without rebuilding the family.

The President of the United States made reference to that but Christians have to do more than make reference to that fact. We have to point to the reality that the recovery of the family is prior and primary to the recovery of community at any other level and the breakdown of the family will inevitably lead to the breakdown of the civilization.

Finally, in the aftermath of the national controversy over Ferguson, Missouri one of the things that was pointed out is the difficulty of rebuilding that trust when you have elected officials who are overwhelmingly white and a community that is increasingly African-American. We can certainly understand the fact that the logic of democracy is weakened when the government doesn’t look like the people the government is called upon to serve. But one of the things to note in Baltimore is that fixing that picture doesn’t necessarily fix the larger problem because in Baltimore the city has an African-American mayor and an African-American police Commissioner and neither one is the first African-American in that position. The legitimacy of democracy does require that an elected leadership look like the community that it represents, but it also points to the fact that even that’s not enough; without trust, without the family, without rebuilding society, without – as the President said – rebuilding the community and the family has to come first, there will be no long-term recovery, no long-term answers, to what happened in Baltimore.

2) Abercrombie brand ultimately damaged by highly sexualized advertising strategy

The Supreme Court’s oral arguments in a same-sex marriage case tended to crowd out other worthy headline, one of them occurred over the weekend. It came in the business pages of the Wall Street Journal, Saturday Sunday edition of the weekend. The headline was this: Abercrombie is Dialing Back the Sex. It’s a really interesting article. The company known as Abercrombie and Fitch, the revival of a rather legacy American brand in a highly sexualized form in the 1990s and beyond, well this article says that Abercrombie – due to its own need to survive as a Corporation – is dialing back the overt sexuality.

But as you might expect, there’s a lot more to this story than the headline might even imply. This is a story that is laden with worldview importance even as it was buried within the business pages of America’s most influential business newspaper. The article is by reporter Suzanne Kapner and Joann S. Lublin. As they report,

“Teen retailer Abercrombie & Fitch Co. is putting an end to the beefcake. The question is: what’s next?

“In a set of personnel policies announced Friday, the company said it would stop hiring sales staff on ‘body type or physical attractiveness’ and will relax its infamous ‘look policy’ so that employees can dress in a more individualistic way. Brand Representative will replace Model as the title for sales staff.”

They go on to report,

“Store openings and events will no longer be decorated with shirtless models, and the company’s sex-tinged marketing is being dialed back as well.”

Abercrombie said in a news release,

“By the end of July, there will no longer be sexualized marketing used in marketing materials, including in-store photos, gift cards and shopping bags,”

Oh, and there is one exception the company allows, it says, for this cease-fire it declares in terms of sexuality. It says that its fragrances will continue to advertise in a very sexualized way because they say the fragrance industry itself is so highly sexualized – write that down as a note. The print edition of the Wall Street Journal over the weekend has a paragraph that reads like this,

“The changes—many of which were championed by the new heads of the Abercrombie and Hollister brands—amount to a broad repudiation of the highly sexual tone set by former Chief Executive Mike Jeffries. He created a cult following with teens, who clamored for Abercrombie’s logo-emblazoned T-shirts and sweatshirts, and willingly paid full price for tattered jeans.”

But they say,

“…that formula started to falter in recent years as teen shoppers gravitated to cheaper fast-fashion competitors.”

What’s interesting is to compare the print edition of this article with the online edition that preceded it in terms of the Wall Street Journal’s website. That online edition had included a statement about former chief executive Mike Jeffries that read like this:

“He also courted controversy. Comments in a 2006 interview with online publication Salon in which he said the company’s target market was ‘quote good-looking people’ sparked a backlash and fueled animosity among many teens. The approach turned into a liability then worsening pressure on the company’s sales coming out of the recession.”

It should be very interesting that paragraph that appeared Friday on the online edition disappeared Saturday and Sunday in the print edition.

The Abercrombie story comes as parable to those who operate out of a biblical worldview. One of the realities we come to see here is that the highly sexualized marketing approach undertaken by Abercrombie simply can’t fulfill on its promises. You can adopt a highly sexualized approach like this but eventually it’s, almost like the case with pornography, very revealing in terms of the pattern of sin. There’s no way to keep dialing up the sexuality and remain in a mall, and at some point even the teenagers and the young adults to whom Abercrombie had been marketing these highly sexualized images, at some point they are no longer interested in seeing the same old thing even from Abercrombie.

But in that online edition of the Wall Street Journal, going back to the former CEO, there is more here than may meet the eye. There is actually more here than meets the eye in the print edition of the same newspaper. That’s where the former CEO had acknowledged in 2006 that not only was the company hiring on the basis of what they describe as physical attractiveness and sexuality, they were also selling to a marketing group that they describe as “good looking people.”

This gets back to the Christian worldview affirmation that truth and goodness and beauty are always united. The Christian worldview tells us that we can never separate those things without creating a sinful fissure that will eventually crack apart. And the crackup has now reached Abercrombie and Fitch. Choosing this highly sexualized marketing technique, putting out what amounted to soft core pornography in advertising for many years, trying to entice teenagers and young adults to come into its doors with a highly sexualized aesthetic, all this began to break apart when it became immediately clear that putting on Abercrombie’s clothes did not make one physically attractive. And it became an absolutely repulsive marketing technique when the CEO of the company admitted that they were actually trying to sell to good-looking people by the definition of this company and they were trying to use good-looking people in terms of physical and sexual attractiveness in terms of their advertising. It should tell us a great deal that for Abercrombie and Fitch that eventually became a losing strategy. But you can read that right out of the book of Genesis.

Those who live by a code of physical attractiveness will die by a code of physical attractiveness, those who try to build a marketing empire and a public relations momentum when it comes to highly sexualized images will eventually die by those highly sexualized images; trying to separate the good the beautiful and the true as pornography always does, including marketing that amounts to soft core pornography eventually, it is a project that falls apart on its face.

Oh, and by the way having taken an approach that eventually failed observers of Abercrombie and Fitch have grave doubts the company can recover. It’s because losing that story doesn’t mean they gain any other story and having built an empire on this highly sexualized idea of personal attractiveness, having been repudiated by teenagers and young adults who decided to take their business elsewhere, there’s no good reason for anyone to come back. And that’s why even in the view of the Wall Street Journal, not looking at this from a moral angle but merely from a financial angle, this new approach by Abercrombie and Fitch is by no means destined to succeed.

3) In midst media reportage of Baltimore, remember those serving and loving their community

Finally, a lesson to learn by looking at the media telling the story. Trillia Newbell of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention ran an article yesterday in the Washington Post pointing out that even in Baltimore, maybe we should say especially in Baltimore, there is good news to be seen and she called for the media to give attention to that good news. What’s the good news? Well the cameras are looking at the burning buildings – they are drawn to that kind of image – they are drawn to the burning cars and the protesters on the street, we can understand why, but the cameras are largely absent showing the people from the same neighborhoods who go out to sweep the glass up and try to rebuild the community.

The cameras are rarely there when you see a parent parenting, doing what it takes to keep a child off the streets. The cameras are rarely there when you see a pastor and when you see others in the community ministering together to show what it means to call people to righteousness even as they call a community to justice. It is very important to those of us who are outside a city like Baltimore to understand that what we are seeing in terms of the media are the images the media finds interesting. It’s actually even more profound than that, what we’re watching are the images that the national media believe we will find interesting.

That tells us a great deal not only about the media but about ourselves. And Trillia Newbell is exactly right, the cameras simply aren’t they are far too often to tell the story of the people who are healing their communities rather than destroying them: the people who are standing in the breach rather than destroying the bridges, the people who are building and sustaining their families even under very difficult circumstances. We need to make very certain that as we pray for the people of Baltimore we pray not only for the end of violence, we pray not only for righteousness and justice to prevail, we pray for the sustenance of that community and for the encouragement of everything good that can and is taking place there.

One woman from that neighborhood, a mom, became an instant national celebrity when she was seen physically pulling her 16-year-old boy off the streets – pulling her son out of danger – and chastising him for every having been involved in what was taking place on the streets. That mother explained what she was doing even as she became something of an instant national heroine when she said that she didn’t want her 16-year-old son to become another Freddie Gray. We certainly understand her concern; we understand the urgency behind her intervention.

But what we also need to remember is that there are thousands of similar mothers and there are many, many fathers who are doing the very same thing in their own way – not caught by camera – simply doing what mothers and fathers do, keeping their children off the streets; doing what churches do, offering hope in the gospel, doing what Christians do, seeking to be salt and light. Most of that is far off camera.


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 tomorrow for The Briefing.


Podcast Transcript

1) Tragedy of Baltimore points to breakdown of trust and family in society

Baltimore Residents At a Loss After Riots Close Some CVS Stores, Wall Street Journal (Josh Mitchell and Gary Fields)

Baltimore Enlists National Guard and a Curfew to Fight Riots and Looting, New York Times (Sheryl Gay Stolberg)

As Baltimore Residents Clean Up, National Guard Steps In, Wall Street Journal (Scott Calvert)

Mapping the Clashes Between Baltimore Police and Protesters, New York Times

What Came Before Baltimore’s Riots, New York Times (Editorial Board)

The Blue-City Model, Wall Street Journal (Editorial Board)

Rand Paul cites a ‘lack of fathers’ in Baltimore. Here’s what the data actually show., The Washington Post, (Philip Bump)

2) Abercrombie brand ultimately damaged by highly sexualized advertising strategy

Abercrombie & Fitch Dials Back The Sex, Wall Street Journal (Suzanne Kapner and Joann S. Lublin)

3) In midst media reportage of Baltimore, remember those serving and loving their community

Can we please start sharing the good news of Baltimore?, Washington Post (Trillia Newbell)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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