The Briefing 05-11-15

The Briefing 05-11-15

The Briefing


May 11, 2015

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


It’s Monday, May 11, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) British elections bring into question the union of the United Kingdom

Looking all across the Atlantic Ocean many Americans may wonder why we should care about the British elections, but we should and there are so many issues at stake. Very quickly, the most important issue is this: unexpectedly, in terms of at least the middle of last week, the British conservative party won an outright majority. That’s with 331 seats; all they needed was 326 to get a majority in Britain’s parliamentary system. But that after all turns out to be not really the big news; the big news is that in Scotland 56 of 59 seats were won by the Scottish national party. And that leads to the most important worldview analysis when it comes to the British election. Why? Because now the very future of the United Kingdom is itself in doubt. Sometimes an election can bring a nation together; in this case it has driven the nation apart.

There was certainly good news or Britain’s conservative party in this election. Headed by David Cameron, the Tories, as they are known, won an outright majority for the first time since 1992. David Cameron had led a party that was expected to do less well in this election than it had five years ago. Instead it did significantly better. The Liberal Democratic Party was absolutely decimated and the party that has traditionally vied with conservatives for dominance in British politics for the better part of the last century, the Labour Party, was also nearly destroyed politically. It certainly was destroyed in Scotland, which had been one of his major areas of influence.

As I said last week on The Briefing one of the things to keep in mind is that British elections often give an indication of where American elections may also go in a kind of parallel pattern. The editors of the Wall Street Journal certainly hope that that is the case. In an editorial that ran after the election entitled, The Tory Lesson For America, the editors of the Wall Street Journal point out that British voters chose growth over income redistribution.

The Labour Party has historically been a socialist party since World War II – some form of socialism. And there is no doubt that British people rejected the Labour Party and they did so outright. And this comes just five years after the labor government was in power under then Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The near destruction of the Liberal Democratic Party meant that it lost 49 seats – it won only eight seats in the selection. It had been the junior partner in the coalition government until last week, now it’s simply going to largely disappear from British political life.

But seen in the longer view of British history it was the losses suffered by the Labour Party that were most significant. But those losses also translated into gains for another party, and that party was the Scottish National Party and the worldview significance of that is this: the Scottish national party is committed to undoing the United Kingdom itself. That party is committed to the secession of Scotland from the United Kingdom; defined as England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Writing in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times columnist Ross Douthat warned that what we are seeing is what he called the suicide of Britain. He quoted Alex Massie, a pro-union Scottish writer, who said last week,

“Nationalism is our new secular religion,”

And he said it now, “defeats all comers.” That’s a very interesting insight in terms of the highly secular culture of the United Kingdom. When it comes to Scotland, it turns out that that’s a pretty apt description. Nationalism, then that translates into secession, is now the Scottish national religion.

The point made by Ross Douthat is that this calls into question the survival of the United Kingdom and that raises the stakes hugely for the United States in terms of one of our most important allies. But it also points to something else, which is of deeper significance from a biblical worldview. We shouldn’t take the union in United Kingdom for granted. Furthermore, we shouldn’t take the union in the United States of America for granted. This kind of political union is a grand political achievement. It is something that has been seen relatively rarely in history. The United States of America has stood as a nation since 1776 in terms of our Declaration of Independence, and since 1789 in terms of our current constitutional order.

Anyone now alive looking at a map seeing the United Kingdom has assumed that the United Kingdom is an ongoing political fact; it’s right there on the map for everyone to see. England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland – one nation, one United Kingdom. But that is now very much in question because let’s keep in mind that in the elections last Thursday the Scottish National Party – committed to dissolving the union – won 56 of 59 seats in Scotland. And this comes just months after the Scottish people had turned back a referendum to secede from the United Kingdom and that means that the referendum was probably not an accurate vote. That is because what we’re looking at, in terms of the election last week, is a district by district election when it comes to members of Parliament. And the Scottish National Party, officially running on a platform of seceding, won 56 and 59 votes.

Now exact parallels in history almost never occur, and drawing historical parallels is inherently perilous – but let’s remember that there was a point in which no one would have doubted that United States of America would continue as one nation and then there was a moment when that was very much in question. There was a time when the southern states tried to secede from the union and there was a period of bloody national travail known as the Civil War in which that question was eventually decided in favor of the union, and thus 1865 forward anyone looking at a map has seen the United States of America as a fact.

But the election in Great Britain now very much calls into question whether anything like the United Kingdom will continue to exist. And the thing we need to note very carefully is that there is a vast worldview chasm when it comes to political ideology and national identity that is developing between the north of the United Kingdom – most especially Scotland – and the South – particularly England. It is now abundantly clear that the United Kingdom is beginning to separate between the North and the South; two different visions of government, two different visions of national identity, and two different understandings of how the United Kingdom or the components of the United Kingdom should relate to the European experiment.

From a Christian worldview perspective the most important thing for us to understand from the British elections when we look all the way across the ocean is the fact that anything that is a political union is a political achievement; it is a massive civilizational achievement. It requires a common understanding of what the nation is about. The United States went through the horrors of the Civil War and over 200 years of history in order to make that point emphatically clear. Now, looking all the way across the Atlantic Ocean it appears that the word United in the United Kingdom is about to evaporate before our eyes.

The big warning for all of us is this, when you have a nation that has regions that are increasingly moving apart when it comes to political ideology and their understanding of the very nature of the nation, you have a recipe for a disaster or a disunion of the union. And the thing to keep in mind is this, no one really saw this coming; not even last week, much less a half-century ago. When you see a nation like United Kingdom on a map, recognize it’s not there is a fact of nature. It is there as a political achievement, an achievement that can be undone even as it was done.

2) Presumption of ability to distinguish free speech from hate speech raised after Texas tragedy

Next, in the aftermath of a shooting that left two Muslim gunmen dead outside of a Garland, Texas, cultural center there are new issues that have come to light and some new questions we need to confront. One of the most important of these questions is brought about by an editorial that appeared last week in the New York Times entitled Free Speech Versus Hate Speech. The editorial came in the same edition of the paper in which had a front-page story on the background to the controversy that took place as there was a group that had sponsored this event in Garland, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, deliberately trying to court controversy by focusing an exhibition on cartoons and depictions of the prophet Mohammed, which Muslims consider to be blasphemous.

As you’ll remember, two Muslim men who had opened fire there were eventually killed by law enforcement officials, leading to the fact that we came to understand that the FBI and national security had been watching one of the individuals and now we know had even earlier that day issued a warning concerning the fact that he might be not only radicalized but intending to do something in terms of that radicalization. But the point of this front-page story in the New York Times and the point of the editorial is what the paper tries to draw as a distinction between free speech and hate speech.

And there’s something to be looked at here very closely, in the first place there is no doubt that the central fact, claimed by the editors of the New York Times, is true. The group that had sponsored this exhibition in the Dallas area intended to provoke – there is no question about that. As we have pointed out many times on The Briefing, a key distinction between Christianity and Islam is that Islam follows an honor code, Christianity does not. Jesus Christ after all told Peter to put his sword away rather than to defend his honor. Millions of Muslims around the world think it is their sacred duty to defend the honor of Muhammad. That led to the tragic events that gained headlines in the Dallas area just a matter of a few days ago.

As I said, the central fact claimed by the editors of the New York Times is that this was an exhibit intended to provoke, but that’s where the editors then tried to draw a distinction between what they call free speech versus hate speech. In the words of the editors it is clear that the exhibit,

“…was not really about free speech, it was an exercise in bigotry and hatred posing as a blow for freedom,”

The concluding sentence of the editorial reads and I quote,

“As for the Garland event, to pretend that it was motivated by anything other than hate is simply hogwash.”

In the middle of the editorial the New York Times tries to draw a distinction between the publication Charlie Hebdo – remember all the people that were wearing those ‘I am Charlie’ T-shirts and buttons? The editors tried to draw a distinction between that magazine in Paris, that had featured satirical cartoons of Mohammed, and the event that took place in Texas. And they try to draw the distinction by arguing that Charlie Hebdo,

“…is a publication whose stock in trade has always been graphic satires of politicians and religions, whether Catholic, Jewish or Muslim.”

They then point to the organizer of the event in Dallas and say that she,

“…has a long history of declarations and actions motivated purely by hatred for Muslims.”

So what’s my point in raising this editorial? The editorial itself is deeply problematic. Even if you grant the magazine the facts that it claims, it is the interpretation that follows the facts that is genuinely problematic. How do they draw the distinction they try to draw between Charlie Hebdo in Paris and the exhibition there in Dallas? They are trying to draw a distinction that they claim will defend free speech while not defending hate speech. But the problem is when you look at the magazine Charlie Hebdo it’s hard to imagine that the editors are driven by anything but a virulent anti-religious attitude and secularism.

An argument can be made that the exhibition in Dallas was in bad taste, and certainly when it comes to Christians driven by the gospel that is not the approach that we would want to take. But we should be deeply concerned when you have the editors of the New York Times trying to argue that they can make a distinction between Charlie Hebdo on the one hand and the Garland, Texas, exhibition on the other. They can declare that one is an exhibition of free speech, and the other of hate speech. The very logic of hate speech is the problem here because this is a logic that can be turned on any argument that anyone doesn’t want to be injected into the public square. And we can quickly see how this logic can be extended even to a theological critique of Islam, or for that matter any other worldview. And when it comes to the current moral revolution over the issue of gay rights, it’s very easy to understand where the logic of this hate speech argument can go.

Here in this essay the editorial board of the New York Times is clearly arguing that it can infer what motivation is behind certain speech, or in this case a certain exhibit. The problem, seen from a biblical worldview, is not found in the two words hate and speech. We can understand, from a biblical worldview, how often hate and speech can actually come together. It’s the distinction that is claimed here between free speech and hate speech that is very much at stake because someone is going to have to make the judgment, and here the New York Times editorial board is rather bold to make the judgment, that it knows the distinction between free speech and hate speech. That is a truly ominous development and there are some, even in the present, who are arguing that the Christian gospel, biblically defined, is itself a form of hate speech.

How long will it be before we are told that the understanding of the exclusivity of the Christian gospel, that is that only those who come to a conscious saving knowledge of Jesus Christ will be saved, is itself a form of hate speech? But wait a minute, we don’t have to wait. That argument is already in some quarters being made.

3) FBI head warns ISIS outpacing national security abilities through social media

Next, in terms of another ominous development, USA Today reports over the weekend that the head of the FBI is now warning that American intelligence and law enforcement authorities can’t keep up with the Islamic state’s efforts to recruit here within the United States. As Kevin Johnson reports,

“In a dramatic assessment of the domestic threat posed by the Islamic State, FBI Director James Comey said Thursday there are ‘hundreds, maybe thousands’ of people across the country who are receiving recruitment overtures from the terrorist group or directives to attack the U.S.”

The paper went on to say that the FBI director said that the Islamic state is leveraging social media in unprecedented ways through Twitter and other platforms directing messages to the smart phones of what the director called ‘disturbed people’ who could be pushed to launch assaults on US targets. The head of the FBI said,

“It’s like the devil sitting on the shoulder saying ‘kill, kill, kill,’”

Now just to state the obvious, what’s really concerning about that is that that isn’t being said by some columnist in a newspaper, that is not even being said by some kind of national security analyst, that was said by the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in on record comments made to reporters last week.

USA Today went on to quote Bruce Hoffman, director of Georgetown University Center for Peace and Security Studies who said that the Islamic states,

“…multifaceted outreach and leveraging of social media is threatening to ‘outpace the government’s capabilities across the intelligence community.’”

As if to extend and amplify those comments the director of the FBI, speaking of one of the men who’d been shot in Dallas, said,

“There are Elton Simpsons out there that I have not found and I cannot see.’”

It’s extremely revealing that the Islamic state was just a few months ago understood to be a danger way out there somewhere, a danger to people who had gone to other nations and had found themselves in the grip of Islamic state. But now we understand that the Islamic state, according to the director of the FBI, is posing a threat right here.

4) Depth of ingrained racial bias affirms pervasiveness of sin and need for gospel

Finally, going back to the New York Times just a few days ago columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote a column entitled Our Biased Brain. He begins his essay by writing,

“To better understand the roots of racial division in America, think about this:

“The human brain seems to be wired so that it categorizes people by race in the first one-fifth of a second after seeing a face. Brain scans show that even when people are told to sort people by gender, the brain still groups people by race.”

As he writes also,

“Racial bias also begins astonishingly early: Even infants often show a preference for their own racial group. In one study, 3-month-old white infants were shown photos of faces of white adults and black adults; they preferred the faces of whites. For 3-month-old black infants living in Africa, it was the reverse.”

This is a truly humbling arguments, it’s a very humbling column. And you probably won’t be surprised that Nicholas Kristof tries to root this pattern, detected in the studies, in evolution. He writes and I quote,

“Scholars suggest that in evolutionary times we became hard-wired to make instantaneous judgments about whether someone is in our ‘in group’ or not — because that could be lifesaving. A child who didn’t prefer his or her own group might have been at risk of being clubbed to death.”

He quotes Mahzarin Banaji, a Harvard psychology professor, who says quote,

“It’s a feature of evolution,”

Kristof then says,

“These suggest that people turn out to have subterranean racial and gender biases that they are unaware of and even disapprove of.

This is where the Christian worldview becomes vitally and urgently important. In the first place it humbles us by telling us that racial discrimination and racial bias are more deeply embedded in ourselves tham we would like to think.

One of the interesting things that Nicholas Kristof does in this article is to invite his readers to take the test, in terms of this kind of subconscious pattern, and it’s his confidence that most of his readers will demonstrate that they are more affected by racial bias than they themselves believe themselves to be – or even that they are affected by racial bias of which they don’t even morally approve. And furthermore, the Christian worldview doesn’t allow is the escape of blaming this on evolution. And I won’t even go into a full critique of evolution here. I’ll simply state that evolution becomes an escape hatch here. It becomes something we can blame outside of ourselves when the biblical worldview tells us that we are ourselves the problem.

This kind of study reported on by Nicholas Kristof tells us the ugly truth that racism is even deeper in our hearts and minds than we would want to believe. And so deep in our hearts and minds that it operates in what he calls a subterranean level – even we are unaware of it and even when we would morally disapprove of it. Now what does the biblical worldview then offer as the real answer to this? It is the Christian biblical doctrine of sin. And the biblical worldview tells us of that the problem of sin is so intractable and it’s so insidious that it has effects even when we claim that we disapprove in terms of moral judgment of what we do.

Just think of the apostle Paul in Romans 7, who says in verse 15, ‘for I do not understand my own actions, for I do not do what I want but the very thing I hate.’ The secular worldview is adamantly committed to evolution as a central part of its worldview, but there is no way – even by its own argument – to undo the effects of evolution here. No, the only answer to human racism is the gospel of Jesus Christ. And the reason that it is the only answer to racism is because the gospel of Jesus Christ is the only remedy for sin. But it is important we recognize that what the old Puritans used to call the exceeding sinfulness of sin is affirmed in this sense, even in a column in the New York Times.


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 Call with your questions for Ask Anything: Weekend Edition in your voice at 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058.

I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.


Podcast Transcript

1) British elections bring into question the union of the United Kingdom

The Tory Lesson for America, Wall Street Journal (Editorial Board)

The Suicide of Britain, New York Times (Ross Douthat)

2) Presumption of ability to distinguish free speech from hate speech raised after Texas tragedy

Free Speech vs. Hate Speech, New York Times (Editorial Board)

Shooting Clouds Life as Both Muslim and Texan, New York Times (Manny Fernandez and Laurie Goodstein)

3) FBI head warns ISIS outpacing national security abilities through social media

FBI director says Islamic State influence growing in U.S., USA Today (Kevin Johnson)

4) Depth of ingrained racial bias affirms pervasiveness of sin and need for gospel

Our Biased Brains, New York Times (Nicholas Kristof)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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