The Briefing 06-05-15

The Briefing 06-05-15

The Briefing

June 5, 2015

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


It’s Friday, June 5, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Accidental shipping of live anthrax by U.S. labs parable of living in fallen modern world

One of the most enduring moral lessons learned by humanity is that that was taught in the old Greek story; indeed it’s ancient of Pandora. You’ll recall the fact that when humanity opens the lid on Pandora’s box, it is impossible to get all the evils that come out back into the box. In one sense, in our age that is a particularly powerful parable when it comes to issues of technology and of information. Once something is known, it cannot be not known; when something gets out in terms of information it is impossible to eradicate that information or knowledge.

One classic example of that from the 20th century was the development of nuclear weapons, even though every single nuclear weapon might theoretically be destroyed by some kind of international treaty, the knowledge of how to create that atomic weapon would not disappear, which means the danger would never be over. And when you’re looking at issues of ideology, so many ideas once loosed in the culture simply are impossible to get back into some kind of controlled environment. And we also know that when it comes to that kind of danger – sometimes it’s even more literal, sometimes it actually takes the form of something that is actually viral. That’s why we should pay note to a very important series of articles important news coverage coming first of all, from USA Today and then from other major international media as well.

It has to do with the fact that the United States government in its official capacity is acknowledging that it’s owned, funded and supervised labs were very lax when it came to the control of biological infectious agents. Indeed as the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday,

“Pentagon officials said Wednesday the inadvertent shipment of live anthrax to laboratories nationwide stretched back a decade and that the scope of the mishap was likely to expand in coming days.”

So what does that tell us? It tells us that the people who are in charge of trying to prevent infectious agents and getting loose set those agents loose. The very people who are in charge of making certain that these kinds of infectious agents can’t get out. They sent them out and not only that – it’s not an isolated single occasion, they are now acknowledging as the Pentagon released on Wednesday, that this is a problem that has stretched back at least a decade and the spokesperson for the Pentagon said, just wait, there will likely be more bad news in the coming week.

Later in the story by Julian Barnes, we read,

“Four batches of the pathogen sent from the U.S. military laboratory at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah—which were thought to have been irradiated and inactivated—have been identified as containing live anthrax, officials said. Samples from those batches were sent to 51 sites in the U.S. and overseas over the past 10 years.”

Anthrax is one of the most dangerous infectious agents on earth – one of the most deadly. And those who have been concerned about terrorism have for decades been worried that that particular infectious agent might be used by terrorists trying to bring about mass infection and the death that would follow.

As I said, USA Today deserves credit for extensive coverage of this issue. Allison Young and Nick Penzenstadler writing for USA Today tell us that vials of bioterror bacteria gone missing, lab mice infected with deadly viruses have escaped and wild rodents have been found making nests with research waste. Cattle infected in a university’s vaccine experiments were repeatedly sent to slaughter and their meat sold for human consumption. Gear meant to protect lab workers from lethal viruses such as Ebola and bird flu has failed repeatedly. USA Today then reported an investigation that revealed that hundreds of lab mistakes, safety violations and near miss incidents have occurred in biological laboratories coast-to-coast in recent years, putting scientists, their colleagues and even the public at risk.

Reading this extensive news coverage, one of the most important things we can realize is how thankful we are that thus far, none of these accidents or incidents has produced an outbreak of this kind of infectious disease among human beings. But as USA Today and other media are reporting, some of the technicians and scientists who been working with these pathological elements have indeed not only been infected, but have died from those infections that largely outside the site of the American people.

Christians looking at the headlines here need to recognize that the Bible is quite specific about the fact that disease, illness, this kind of contagion is exactly one of the signs of a fallen world that is explicitly identified in the Bible. We are told that pestilence and plague are indeed some of the most ancient enemies of mankind and they are symptoms of what it means to live in a world that shows all of the signs we would expect of what it means to be infected with sin long before there is the opportunity to be infected with the biological element. But even as the parable of Pandora ’s Box was so powerful in the ancient world, these kinds of headline should be very powerful in our own thinking. Reminding us of the limitations of human beings when it comes to creating limits to this kind of contagion. And what we see here is a fact that becomes a pattern we can see elsewhere. Sometimes very close to home, where the people who are assigned responsibility to prevent something from happening, actually either by inattention or by simple negligence, become the agents for how the very thing that was to be avoided actually happens.

From a biblical perspective, we need to keep in mind that there is a danger, a deadly danger in our ever assuming that we can control something this dangerous and this contagious. That is simply not really possible. I for one am very thankful that there are people who put their lives on the line to try to come up with vaccines against these infections, who try to control the outbreak of this kind of contagion, the very people who put their lives on the line for medical research and yet we now come to understand that when it comes to the most infectious agents on earth, the people who are supposed to have the highest expertise in making sure these things never get out, actually sent them out inadvertently over the course of the past decade.

It turns out that just as Pandora’s Box was dangerous, and the ancients understood it, so also is the modern research laboratory. That’s yet another parable of paradox of what it means to live in our modern world still so affected by sin. It seems that sometimes the only people who might be able to limit a problem are the very people who expanded it. This is one of those headlines that humbles us all because we recognize that human beings face real enemies, sometimes microscopic, infectious bacterial or viral enemies. We come to understand how thankful we are that mechanisms have been put in place to limit the damage of these enemies of humankind. And yet, we also come to understand that none of these defenses is sure. We come to understand that the four ancient enemies of mankind represented by the four horsemen of the apocalypse that is war, famine, plague and death. They will be with us in one form or another, until Jesus comes.

2) Democratic candidacy debates made more interesting  by entry of RI governor Lincoln Chafee

Next, the United States presidential race just gets more interesting. As we pointed out and as we will see on so many occasions between now and the presidential election, this is a test of the candidates, it’s a test of the citizenry. It’s also a test of our curiosity. Because as it turns out, in the last week at least three new candidates have tossed their hats into the ring as it is said. On the Republican side, former Texas Governor, Rick Perry announced that he will be running for president. And also on the Republican side, South Carolina Republican Senator, Lindsey Graham announced that he will seek the Republican nomination for President of the United States. For Lindsey Graham this is the first time in which he would run for the nomination, when it comes to Rick Perry, of course, it is the second as he ran four years ago in the Republican primaries as well. But the additions on the Republican side are by no means as interesting as the addition on the Democratic side.

Just a matter of a month ago, it looked like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was going to run unopposed for the Democratic nomination and yet that was unlikely. And even as we are looking at the fact that she is still very clearly the front runner by any estimation, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-avowed socialist is now in the race. Martin O’Malley, the former Democratic Governor of Maryland is now in the race, both attempting to run to the left of Hillary Clinton. Then we have this week, the announcement that the Governor of Rhode Island, Lincoln Chafee would also be running for the Democratic nomination for the Office of President of the United States. And this is a lot more interesting than virtually anything that’s happened on the Democratic side thus far.

In the first place, if you were to go back in time 20 years and you were to say the name Chafee, you wouldn’t think Democrat, you might think a liberal, but you wouldn’t think Democrat. You also wouldn’t think Lincoln. You’ll be thinking of John Chafee, who was the Rhode Island Senator who was a declared Republican for so many years, serving in the United States Senate as a part of the left wing as it was then of the Republican Party. But then his son Lincoln took that Senate seat and held it for some time until losing office. He later ran for Governor of Rhode Island and he now holds that position. But in his political evolution, Lincoln Chafee has moved considerably to the left. He was originally a Republican Senator, and then he became an independent, then he became a Democrat, and now is running for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. He’s not much of a threat to former Secretary of State Clinton, after all, he doesn’t even have the support of the Democratic Party in his own state.

As the New York Times reported,

“Joseph M. McNamara, the chairman of the Rhode Island Democratic Party, said that Mrs. Clinton had laid substantial groundwork when she won the state’s presidential primary in 2008.”

Speaking of his own Governor and supposedly the head of the party in the state of Rhode Island, the party chairman said,

“I certainly wish him the best. He’s a very gracious individual, but most of the leadership in the Democratic Party in Rhode Island is supporting Hillary.”

There are any number of politicians in America who have carved out rather eccentric personalities, but it’s hard to top Lincoln Chafee. Even as he was announcing why he was running to be President of the United States, the Governor of Rhode Island announced that one of his concerns was to internationalize the United States and to make the United States more integrated in the world economy. And the way he was going to try to accomplish that was to require the nation to join the metric system, giving up America’s historic understanding of measurements, whether it comes to inches and miles being changed to centimeters in kilometers or when it comes to exchanging Fahrenheit for Celsius on the thermometer. The New York Times, which is about as internationalist a major newspaper as we can imagine in the United States even thought this was odd. The reporter Alan Rappeport wrote,

“Mr. Chafee’s presidential announcement lacked the festive atmosphere that some other candidates have sought to create.” Speaking of the idea of shifting to the metric system, Rappaport reports, “Mr. Chafee struggled to make the case that switching measurement systems would eventually be good for the economy.”

I will simply have to note that about the time I was in middle school in the 1970s the United States made an attempt to switch to the metric system. It simply did not work. It was a colossal cultural failure. Americans it turns out are committed to inches and miles and to degrees in Fahrenheit. They buy gallons of milk. They don’t buy milk buy the liter and it also turns out that as America considered trying to change to the metric system, as did the rest of the world in the last half of the 20th century, it turns out that the habits of American measurement are just too ingrained to change. After all, just consider this; you wouldn’t just have to change all the units of measure in terms of things that are sold, you wouldn’t have to change just all the signs on the freeway when it comes to miles, you wouldn’t just have to change all those units of measure, you also have to change every single recipe in terms of shifting from the traditional units of measure to the metric system. It turned out decades ago that Americans in the kitchen were about as resolutely against the metric system, as those in the board room.

But even as until this week, Bernie Sanders was almost assuredly the most secular candidate running for any major party nomination, it can be argued that Lincoln Chafee is going to give them a run for the money. He is by self-identification an Episcopalian, and yet he believes in his own version of church and state separation, that is so interesting, that as Kimberly Winston reported for Religion News Service,

“Lincoln Chafee skipped church on the day of his inauguration as Governor of Rhode Island out of respect for the separation of church and state.”

Now that’s one of the most interesting understandings of church and state I’ve ever heard. Not only does he believe in some kind of strict separation of church and state, he evidently believes that that means he can’t go to church on the day he is inaugurated as governor. The governor also tried to give something of an encouragement to unbelievers perceived also as a slap at believers, when he declared May 1 in his state, as RNS reported, to be a day of reason, rather than the National Day of Prayer. His proclamation said that,

“His proclamation said reason has “proven to offer hope for human survival upon Earth by cultivating intelligent, moral, and ethical interaction among people.”

The governor also refused to identify the annual Christmas tree and the capital of Rhode Island as a Christmas tree. Referring to it instead as a holiday tree, explaining,

“I’m representing all of Rhode Island,”

that evidently believes in both holidays and trees, but might not believe in a Christmas tree. It might be tempting just to write them off as a fringe figure, but he is the governor of one of the 50 states of the United States of America. There isn’t much chance that he is going to get the Democratic nomination for president, much less become president. But there is a good chance that his entry into the race is going to make these issues all the more interesting. But as the governor might himself know there are many kilometers for us to go before this race is over.

3) Attempt to replace motherhood with institutional care a rebellion against creation order

Next, The Boston Globe ran an article in recent days that demands our attention. It’s by Kathleen McCartney, who is the President of Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. That’s one of the historic women’s colleges of America going back to the 19th century. Writing in The Boston Globe, her headline,

“Time to rethink our social construct of motherhood.”

It’s one of those truly radical articles to appear in a major American newspaper in recent months. McCartney says that what America needs is a revised understanding of motherhood. She writes,

“Motherhood is a cultural invention. It reflects a belief adopted by society that is passed down from one generation to the next. In U.S. culture, we hold to the idea that young children are better off when cared for exclusively by their mothers. Mothers are bombarded by this message in the media, especially in programming directed to them.”

Then, in an odd cultural reference she says,

“Only after five seasons does Claire Dunphy, the iconic mother of “Modern Family,” return to the workplace.”

Before turning to her comments, let me extend them. She says,

“Anthropologists have attempted to disavow us of this view. Specifically they have demonstrated that child-rearing patterns are driven by economic considerations. In foraging societies, mothers stay in close proximity with their babies, while in agricultural societies mothers share child-rearing responsibilities with those less able to be productive in the fields, like grandmothers and young girls. Shared child-rearing has been and continues to be the norm across cultures. In contemporary society, child care is our form of shared child-rearing.”

Now one of the most important arguments that McCartney makes is where she says that “Motherhood is a cultural invention.” Now let’s just step back for a moment. There is no doubt that certain ideas about motherhood are determined by our culture. They are expanded by our culture. No one looking at motherhood should say it is merely a biological fact. But it is sheer insanity to argue that it isn’t a biological fact. That’s the most amazing thing about this article. The Boston Globe has written a major opinion piece, by a woman who is the President of Smith College, one of the most well-known educational institutions in the United States and she declares motherhood is a cultural invention. That’s the kind of statement that simply staggers the moral imagination when we look at something like this and realize she fully intends to be taken seriously. She then goes on to say, as I read,

“It reflects a belief adopted by society that is passed down from one generation to the next.” She then says, but she doesn’t actually explain, “In U.S. culture, we hold to the idea that young children are better off when cared for exclusively by their mothers.”

That raises a question which is raised by her very own argument as to, if so, why that would be so in the United States and for so long a time. After all, she’s arguing that these ideas are passed down from generation to generation. But the other thing we need to note immediately is that she acts as if this is somehow unique to the United States. That somehow a focus on motherhood tied to child-rearing is something that is unique to the United States, something that is fairly recent in terms of becoming a problem and something that is nonetheless going to be very difficult to eradicate as a cultural idea. Well, she’s right about that last part. But even as she cites anthropologists, she certainly has to have enough anthropological self-awareness to know that the link between mothers and their offspring is a constant in terms of human society as long as human society has existed.

There is a legitimate portion to her argument when she talks about shared child rearing in terms of the extended family. Of course that has been the norm throughout human history and the problem is that we have so severed the extended family in terms of grandparents and other kin that many American families are feeling isolated and no doubt many mothers, some of them even single mothers are feeling increasingly isolated as well. The radical nature of her argument is extended when she writes,

“Our culture’s ambivalence about maternal employment spurred research on whether child care was a risk factor for young children. In time, social scientists demonstrated definitively that infant care did not disrupt the mother-child bond and that children thrived in quality child care. I conducted some of this research, as one of the principal investigators of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s 20-year, longitudinal study of early child care.”

I simply want to ask the question, does anyone with full intellectual honesty believe that institutionalized childcare, no matter how excellent as defined in these supposedly scientific terms, is an actual replacement for mothers and in the lives of children comes with no appreciable loss? It turns out, however, that even as she and her colleagues conducted this scientific research that they published they were unable to get the culture to move towards the policies that they believed were right. She said,

“Earlier in my career, I believed solid research findings, like my own, would lead to policy change. I was wrong. Culture trumps data every time. Our romanticized views about motherhood continue to sow division and guilt, undermining our energies to organize for the policies that employed mothers and fathers deserve.”

We don’t have time to look at the actual policy she was proposing, but suffice it to say it was more government funding for what she would define as higher quality childcare across the board for children. But the most important thing to recognize is that she is straightforwardly without any embarrassment, making the argument that institutionalized childcare, a form of what she calls shared child rearing, would be preferable to an understanding that children are better off being cared for by their own mothers.

This form of worldview represents a rebellion not only against the current political reality, but against the created order. Because what we’re looking at here is a denial of something that is deeply rooted in biology. No doubt there are cultural aspects of motherhood, but very clearly, there is a biological aspect of motherhood. We also see in this article, a kind of ideology that is just laid before us in all of its candor. As deeply shocking as these ideas are they are also illuminating to us, when we recognize that there are an incredible number of people who evidently think just as this president of Smith College thinks.

Even as it’s interesting to note that she herself concedes, she and her colleagues haven’t been able to convince the culture of the rightness of their understanding. But Christians looking at an article like this also need to celebrate and recognize that we are not as human creatures left to our own, trying to imagine what it might be to be a father and a mother, or whether a father and a mother are necessary, or whether a child could be raised just as well in an institutional setting as in a family.

The Christian worldview makes clear that the family is not an accident and the roles of mothers and fathers in the family and the existence of mothers and fathers of children is also not an accident. You know, finally, I just have to recognize that this article wasn’t written for children, it was written for adults. But just consider this – try arguing to a child held securely in his mother’s arms that his social construct of motherhood is going to have to change. Or for that matter, try telling his mother.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to Every year I put out a summer reading list of books that I suggest for summer reading. You’ll find that in an article posted right now at Albert entitled “Books for Summer Time or Any Time.” For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College just go to Remember we’re taking questions for Ask Anything Weekend Edition. Call with your question, in your voice to 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058.


I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.


 Podcast Transcript

1) Accidental shipping of live anthrax by U.S. labs parable of living in fallen modern world

Up to 18 labs in U.S. got live anthrax shipments, USA Today (Alison Young and Nick Penzenstadler)

More Labs Received Live Anthrax, Pentagon Says, Wall Street Journal (Julian E. Barnes)

2) Democratic candidacy debates made more interesting  by entry of RI governor Lincoln Chafee

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry to Run for President, Wall Street Journal (Nathan Koppel)

Lincoln Chafee Takes Winding Road Into Democratic Race, New York Times (Alan Rappeport)

5 faith facts about Lincoln Chafee: ‘I have to be respectful of everyone’, Religion News Service (Kimberly Winston)

3) Attempt to replace motherhood with institutional care a rebellion against creation order

Time to rethink our social construct of motherhood, The Boston Globe (Kathleen McCartney)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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