The Briefing 06-01-15

The Briefing 06-01-15

The Briefing


June 1, 2015

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


It’s Monday, June 1, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Senate debate over NSA program exposes tension between security and privacy in dangerous world

We’re watching before our eyes a drama in the United States Senate, having to do with what it means to live in a dangerous world. What kind of information needs to be collected in order to make us safer? What kind of information once collected doesn’t make us safer at all? That is the root of the debate and that debate has been playing out in recent days in the United States Senate. Last night the Senate adjourned at 10 o’clock without passing a new bill that would replace the Patriot Acts provisions for data and surveillance collection that came after the 9/11 attacks on the United States of America. So as of midnight this morning, 12:01 to be precise, those particular provisions of the Patriot Act expired and yet last night, United States Senate was able only to move by a vote to a debate of the issue, not to an actual consideration or a vote on the bill itself.

The original legislationm Americans will remember, is called the Patriot Act. It was signed into law by President George W. Bush, some of the specific provisions of that law enabled national security agencies to collect vast amounts of information on the phone calls made by Americans. The actual content of those phone calls was not available without some sort of judicial order, but the information on the phone calls themselves were allowable under the Patriot Act. That information became known to the world largely through the exposé that was undertaken by Edward Snowden, now basically in exile or asylum in Russia.

Politically this was a test for the United States Senate. The United States House had passed the new bill, known as the USA Freedom Act, by an overwhelming majority and that act also has the support of President Barack Obama. But in the United States Senate, especially among very powerful people who have been involved in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, there has been resistance to the form of the bill that was passed overwhelmingly in the house. Specifically, there are several leading senators who feel that the House version of the bill, the bill supported by the President would leave America vulnerable in terms of lacking certain information that might well prevent a terrorist attack.

We’re looking at a political situation in which one Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky has an outsized influence, as he has been arguing and frankly marshaling support among more libertarian elements in the Senate in order to defeat a stronger version of the bill that was supported by the other Kentucky Senator that is Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell also of Kentucky. The bare political fact is that the house version is likely to be adopted by the Senate with minimal revision by sometime this week, but the reality is that as of 12:01 this morning, at least some provisions of the law will lapse. That is indeed the political drama, but there is a huge moral drama that is going on here and it’s one that is hard for any of us to answer in terms of exactly which course we should take.

There are two very strong arguments, both of which have traction in terms of the Christian worldview. The first argument is in an evil and fallen world, in a very dangerous world, we need to collect every bit of information that might be accessible in order that the government might review that data and prevent some kind of terrorist attack. The other argument, which also has strong support from the Christian moral tradition, is that, that kind of information is never neutral and once it is in the hands of a centralized authority it can be used for evil as well as for good. In the United States, politically this means that there are libertarians who basically want to say that the United States government should have no access to this information without already knowing who might commit a crime and on the other hand you have those who say there is no way to know who might commit a crime until there is a pattern of information that might reveal it.

It’s clear that the American people are themselves inconsistent, perhaps even contradictory on the issue. They want to keep their own personal information private and they want to make sure that the government is not using that information without their knowledge. On the other hand, they want to hold the government accountable to try to detect patterns that might indicate a potential terrorist act before it happens. The same kind of tension is playing out in much of Europe right now in France and Germany, for example, but in the United States, it takes on a special sense because the United States, as the bastion of liberty in the world has long cherished individual liberty and personal privacy as a part of that liberty.

An intelligent Christian looking at the situation and trying to think biblically recognizes that there are arguments to be made on both sides of this equation. There is always a danger when any institution, including a government, begins to collect vast amounts of information on its citizens without any presumption of a criminal act that might be actually in the making. On the other hand, in a fallen and dangerous world, it is the expectation of citizens that a government will do anything within its power in order to prevent some kind of violent or terrorist attack, and of this you can be certain, if indeed a terrorist attack were to happen Americans would ask the question, “Why did the government not prevent it from happening?” On the other hand, Americans have a memory, if not at first hand of the Gestapo in Nazi Germany listening into the phone calls of German citizens and of the communist government in the Soviet Union doing the very same.

It’s fairly easy to predict in terms of the political equation, as Senator Paul acknowledged last night, some version of this bill is going to pass. That’s because when the government look to these two competing issues, it’s going to side with security rather than with privacy. Whatever eventual form the legislation takes that is signed by the President of the United States, it will in one way or another, we can safely presume, allow the government to have some way to collect the data that it believes might prevent a terrorist attack. And American citizens are in the rather awkward, if inconsistent position of believing that the data shouldn’t be collected but that the government should use it very carefully.

Sometimes Christians need to understand there are cases to be made on both sides of an argument and at some point we simply have to decide which side of the argument will prevail even if both arguments have a certain amount of traction to them, even in the Christian worldview. Because the Christian worldview also affirms the fact that those who are plotting evil, almost by definition, have the jump on those who are trying to prevent it.

2) Scandal over former Speaker Hastert remind sin will find you out

Next, when it comes to sin we also need to remember regularly the biblical teaching that we should be certain our sin will find us out. There was a scandal that emerged as we went into the weekend, as the longest-serving Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, was indicted on federal charges having to do with financial irregularities. But as was immediately suspected that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Dennis Hastert, Republican of Illinois served as the speaker the house for 1999 to 2007, again, that’s the longest term held by any Republican in terms of serving as leader of a lower house of Congress. The case against the former speaker was put in blunt form by the New York Times on Saturday with reporters Michael Shear and Michael Schmidt, writing:

“J. Dennis Hastert, who served for eight years as the Speaker of the House of Representatives, was paying a former student hundreds of thousands of dollars to not say publicly that Mr. Hastert had sexually abused him decades ago, according to two people briefed on the evidence uncovered in an FBI investigation. The story continues, federal prosecutors on Thursday announced the indictment of Mr. Hastert, age 73, on allegations that he made cash withdrawals totaling 1.7 million to evade detection by banks. Federal authorities also charged him with lying to them about the purpose of the withdrawals.”

Now here’s what’s really interesting from a Christian worldview perspective, in the first place we have very serious allegations at two levels made against someone who was second in terms of the line of succession away from the presidency of the United States. In the first place, we have financial irregularities that are actually now coming in the form of an official indictment from federal prosecutors. On the second level, we now have information on the reason why those financial irregularities appeared in the first place. By the time the weekend had ended, federal prosecutors had acknowledged that the financial irregularities were tied to a pattern of payments the former Speaker was making to a young man who had been a student in the high school where Mr. Hastert had served not only as a teacher, but also as the wrestling coach. According to federal prosecutors, the young man had addressed the former Speaker in the year 2010, and somehow an agreement was reached whereby Speaker Hastert would pay him $3.5 million to maintain his silence. According to the prosecutors, the former Speaker had paid $1.7 million to the man by the time the indictment was handed down late last week.

In terms of sin, there are a couple of very important lessons here from the Christian biblical worldview. In the first place, we’re talking about something that took place according to the allegations made decades ago and yet it came to light, not just in terms of the federal indictment, it came to light in terms of something that happened in 2010, three years after Mr. Hastert left office. Somewhere in those three years, a young man addressed him with the challenge that led him to promise $3.5 million if the young man would remain quiet. But there’s a first lesson, no matter how deeply in the past something like that may be thought to be left, it is not going to stay there.

The important thing to realize is that there is no doubt that in terms of human justice, even of human knowledge, there are any number of undetected crimes, certainly undetected sins. But the biblical worldview doesn’t assure us that somehow a federal grand jury is going to hand down an indictment one day, but it does assure us that on that Day of Judgment God will reveal every sin. There’s something else here, a fundamental interest to the Christian worldview, and it also is deeply tied to American criminal and criminal justice history. It has to do with the fact that it is not unprecedented at all. In fact, it is all too common in terms of American legal history, for someone to go to jail for some reason other than the underlying and more fundamental crime. Perhaps the most graphic illustration of that is the fact that the gangster, Al Capone, who is credited by virtually all, with multiple murders, all kinds of racketeering, any number of forms organized crime, eventually spent time in a federal prison, not for murder, not for extortion, not for gangsterism, not for all kinds of manifestations of organized crime with incredible violence, but rather for income tax evasion.

When it comes to organized crime in America and when it comes to any number of crimes including many drug crimes, the people who end up in prison are not there for the fundamental crime they have committed, because the evidence may be inadequate to bring that to court or a statute of limitations may have expired, but there is still the lingering issue of the money. As Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee famously said during the Watergate investigations of President Nixon in the early 1970s, “Follow the money.” What first alerted federal prosecutors in this case is that the former Speaker was withdrawing a huge amount of money from his financial accounts. He had the money to withdraw evidently and he was drawing at one time $50,000 multiply. Now one of the things we need to keep in mind is that federal banking law requires that the banks alert the federal government of any cash withdrawal of $10,000 or above. This provision was put in place largely because of the war on crime, including especially, the war on organized crime. Once the banks made an inquiry of the speaker, he began withdrawing smaller amounts of money. Now here again, the Christian worldview tells us that when we come to matters economic, when we come to matters of money, that’s where the intersection of sin and opportunity often shows itself most graphically. And one of the things that we have to keep in mind here is that this is a former speaker of the House of Representatives. This is someone who surely knew the banking laws. He had helped to put those laws into place. It seems almost inconceivable to us that someone who withheld that kind of position of authority would then follow the very pattern that he had to know eventually was likely to draw attention to himself and not only that, according to the indictment, when the speaker was addressed by federal investigators he lied to them about the purpose of the withdrawals.

Any way you look at it, this is a very sad case and one of the most interesting aspects of this is that the colleagues of the former Speaker who served with him in the House of Representatives, those who also knew him from Illinois politics, those who know him now in terms of his hometown there in Illinois, that express almost universal shock at the allegations made against the former Speaker. We also have to be very clear, that at this point these are allegations. This is a criminal indictment handed down by the U.S. Department of Justice. But Mr. Hester deserves his day in court, as does everyone accused of a crime. At this point, however, the federal government has put the indictment out for public view, making very clear, the specific charges it intends to bring against a former Speaker of the House of Representatives. This is indeed a world of sin and stories like this, heartbreaking as they are bring that very much to our attention. Also going back to Watergate, it’s important for all of us to remember that sometimes people go to jail or face criminal penalties not for the underlying crime but for the cover up. As Howard Baker might remind us, “Follow the money” –  all the way to the Day of Judgment.

3) Presidential candidates multiply as middle ground between parties disappear

Next, as we are looking at the future of the United States, the year 2016 looms before us as a presidential election and in this case, there are more candidates than we had expected even a matter of just a few months ago. The most interesting action has taken place in recent days on the Democratic side, where the former Governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley announced that he will run against Hillary Rodham Clinton and against now Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont for the office of President of the United States, specifically for the Democratic Party’s nomination for that office.

The interesting thing about Martin O’Malley, who served as governor of Maryland until last year, fulfilling two full terms, is that he is running to the left of Hillary Clinton, and that’s very interesting, because even in recent months, it’s been clear that the former Secretary of State and New York Senator, the former First Lady of the United States, has been running to her own left in terms of where she ran in the year 2008.  So oddly enough, given the current spectrum of those who are running for the Democratic nomination as announced candidates, you have Senator Bernie Sanders, a socialist by his own declaration on the far left and then you have on the nearer left Martin O’Malley, the former Governor of Maryland, and then you have the former Secretary of State who’s trying to prove to the Democratic grassroots that she’s the liberal after all.

Martin O’Malley’s argument is number one, rather subtle that he is younger than the former Secretary of State, he drew attention to that, but he also especially drew attention to what he believes are his bona fides, the proof that he is actually more liberal than the former Secretary of State, one of the things he offered is that he was for the legalization of same-sex marriage long before she was and he declared he was going to be running against Wall Street declaring that Wall Street really didn’t care if the election were to be won by a Clinton or a Bush, presenting himself as the liberal alternative.

From a worldview perspective it’s going to be really interesting to see how the Democrats fight amongst themselves in the who’s more liberal than whom contest, but the immediate political effect of Martin O’Malley entering the race is that it is likely to draw Hillary Clinton even further to the left, but there’s something else to watch here, and that is the answer to the question, “Why did Martin O’Malley enter the race?” He is way behind the former Secretary of State in terms of name recognition; he is way behind in terms of political apparatus, why did he enter the race? At least one assumption is this; he may well have entered the race in order to position himself as the obvious alternative if there is a major problem that emerges in a Hillary Clinton candidacy. That will be very interesting to watch.

Meanwhile, on the Republican side two new entries into the race for the Republican nomination, in the first place, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum he was in office as United States Senator from Pennsylvania from the years 1995, 2007 and in 2012, he came in second, albeit a rather distant second to Mitt Romney in the race for the Republican nomination. Rick Santorum has been a family values conservative. He has run every single time he has run for election on that very same kind of platform. However, he has been out of office since the year 2007 and he is facing a host of other Republican candidates who are trying to address themselves to the very same voters.

Rick Santorum is resolutely pro-life, that draws immediate contrast with the other man who entered the Republican race in recent days, former New York Governor, George Pataki. Pataki was the Governor of one of the most liberal states in the union as a Republican from 1995 to 2006 and George Pataki is pro-choice, that is going to add an interesting element to the conversation and debates on the Republican side of the presidential election process. This much is clear; the Republican Party really doesn’t have much room for someone who’s going to run against the party’s clear declaration of a pro-life position. One of the interesting observations so often made about American politics today especially the presidential level is that the middle ground, has disappeared or is disappearing. “Where is the ground?” We often hear for a more liberal Republican or a more conservative Democrat. The answer is there isn’t much ground for either. And the reason for it is actually very easy to understand. The issues are now so clarified that it is very difficult to imagine how one would bridge the positions of the two parties in a single individual or for that matter, in any kind of political platform. The Democratic Party is not only for abortion under almost any circumstance in terms of his 2012 national platform, it actually called for government funding of abortion, whereas the Republican Party adopted a pro-life position in terms of its 2012 national party platform. To the extent that it was specific about calling for exactly the kind of legislation that was adopted by the House of Representatives just in recent weeks.

One of the things Christians should recognize very clearly is that fundamental issues really are here at stake. The very fact that when George Pataki entered the race, national journalists immediately leapt on the fact that he is the first major pro-choice candidate or pro-abortion candidate to enter the race on the Republican side tells us that even those who are watching from a very different political standpoint in a very secular understanding notice that this is a very interesting development in the race. And it points to the worldview consequences; not only of the race, but of every vote. 2016 is shaping up to be a major test of the American people. It’s shaping up to be a major debate over issues of very deep and inescapable worldview significance. We’re going to have issues of war and peace, going to have issues of national security and privacy, we’re going to have issues of life and death, and we’re going to have issues in the balance of some states having to do with assisted suicide and euthanasia. One way or another, the issue of marijuana is likely to factor into the 2016 race as well. And of course, even as a major Supreme Court decision on the issue of same-sex marriage is looming before us, we have the great divide that separates Americans over this issue and the fact that in terms of middle ground, as represented by the two political party platforms in 2012.

As we anticipate 2016, it’s hard to imagine how the divide would not be even wider than it was before. Political campaigns, especially when the focus is the office of President of the United States are always unpredictable and they are often messy. But in terms of the worldview consideration, we need to note that it is our responsibility to watch very, very carefully because this is not most fundamentally a battle of personalities, though personality does matter, this is not fundamentally a battle over mere issues, though the issues certainly matter. This is a major struggle and there’s no way around to define what kind of nation we need to be, even what we understand to be the nature and dignity of human life, one way or another, this will be an election that will test our understanding of whether or not there is an established stable morality that is to be honored by all people everywhere, or whether morality is just an ongoing project of human social evolution. Week by week, the pollsters and the survey takers may bring us new data about who’s up and who’s down and what issue was on the front lines in which has been relegated to the inside pages. But know this, by the time we get into the voting booth we’re going to know a great deal more about the candidates and by the time we get out of the voting booth, we’re going to know a great deal more about ourselves.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For 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) Senate debate over NSA program exposes tension between security and privacy in dangerous world

Senate to let NSA spy program lapse, at least temporarily, Reuters (Patricia Zengerle and Warren Strobel)

NSA must end bulk data collection even as Senate moves ahead on NSA bill, CNN (Jeremy Diamond and Ted Barrett)

2) Scandal over former Speaker Hastert remind sin will find you out

Hastert Case Is Said to Be Linked to Decades-Old Sexual Abuse, New York Times (Michael D. Shear and Michael S. Schmidt)

Dennis Hastert Allegedly Made Payments to Conceal Sexual Misconduct, Wall Street Journal (Andrew Grossman, Devlin Barrett and Ben Kesling)

3) Presidential candidates multiply as middle ground between parties disappear

Martin O’Malley’s Star-Spangled, Snafu-Speckled Debut, New York Times (Maggie Haberman)

Bucking Odds, Martin O’Malley Tilts at Hillary Clinton, Wall Street Journal (Laura Meckler and Scott Calvert)

Enter Pataki, Fiorina, and Santorum: Thoughts on 2016, Forbes (John Zogby)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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