June 9, 2015
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, June 9, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
1) New York jailbreak coverage reminder of power entertainment has to confuse moral reality
As the New York Times reported,
“The plot was more “Shawshank Redemption” than “CSI”: two hardened inmates using power tools, handmade decoys and their hands to chisel and crawl their way out of a maximum-security prison in a subterranean escape.”
That’s the lead paragraph from a news story that has gripped Americans ever since Saturday morning. It is not an accident that a prison is often the context of some of the most interesting moral dilemmas and it’s also not an accident that Americans tend, at least in terms of their movie watching habits, to be very interested in prison breakout movies but this isn’t a movie this is real life. And as the reporters Jesse McKinley and David Goodman reported for the New York Times,
“The pursuit of the fugitives from Clinton Correctional Facility may be even more old-fashioned, in large part because of the manner in which the two criminals emerged: onto a camera-less street corner and into a world in which some of the best tracking targets available — cellphones, cars and credit cards — may not apply.”
As one law enforcement official indicated,
“They are basically untraceable.”
This is one of those fascinating human dramas and a very concerning one at that. You’re talking about a breakout from a prison. A breakout of two convicted murderers that in the words of New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo,
“Should be considered extremely dangerous.”
They broke out of prison by using tools and by digging. They broke out of prison the old-fashioned way and they broke out of a very old prison. The correctional facility was begun in 1865, the very last year of the U.S. Civil War.
As the New York Times tells the story the two men David Sweat and Richard Matt were discovered missing during a 5:30 AM bed check on Saturday morning. Further investigation showed the two men had assembled crew dummies to fool guards and had used cutting tools to carve holes in the sides of their adjoining cells before scrambling down into the bowels of the prison into a two foot wide pipe and out under the 30 foot walls. They then emerged from a manhole hundreds of feet from the prison, yet well in sight of the prisons opposing wall and the cellblocks beyond touching off a nationwide alert. The really interesting thing about this is that this prison was put in a place that was very remote in order to separate prisoners from civilization. But they also accomplished separating the prison from civilization in terms of many of the techniques and technologies that are available to law enforcement officials now to track people. These two murderers basically used a very old-fashioned system to breakout of a very old-fashioned prison to go out into the world in which all the newfangled technology appears to be relatively powerless to track them and find them and put them back in the prison where they belong.
From a moral perspective, there are several really interesting elements in this. In the first place, you have the big question that modern humanity finds very difficult to answer, just how bad can a person be? This is the question that is behind much of the conversation about the death penalty, much of the conversation about terrorism and its acts, much of the conversation about what’s going on in the larger culture in the headlines. Just how bad can people be? This is not some kind of esoteric abstract academic conversation. We’re talking about two convicted criminals here, both convicted murderers, all the murders involved being very violent. We’re talking about two men whose escape from prison caused such concern that the Governor of New York State immediately went to the prison facility in order to personally give leadership to the effort to try to recapture the criminals.
This story sounds like something from Hollywood, something from movie land that would’ve originated in the early decades of the 20th century. Moral historians look back to those decades and understand something that should have our attention. Americans during that time, and thereafter developed a very strange fascination with criminals, especially with the leaders of organized crime. The development of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and of the FBI’s now very famous Ten Most Wanted list was very much a part of the American fascination. Americans seem to be absolutely obsessed with details about the lives of famous criminals, ranging from people like Al Capone and John Dillinger to the most interesting case of all, and that was of Bonnie and Clyde.
These criminals and their crime stories provided a great deal of moral drama to Americans living in the early decades of the 20th century and we now know that drama has continued. It has just been transformed into other forms of crime. But it is interesting to note the moral confusion that entered into American public life and into the lives of Americans and their thinking when it came to the entertainment culture, giving so much attention, especially Hollywood in its early ages to these very well-known criminals. It turned out that when the criminals were put on the big screen, when their stories were told either in terms of fiction or nonfiction, the moral sentiments of Americans it turned out could be confused when the headlines intersected with the entertainment culture. And as soon as they became matters of celebrity not just of notoriety it turned out that Americans sometimes ended up pulling for the criminal rather than for the law enforcement officials. Now they didn’t do so when they actually had to confront the moral question but they did so when they were driven by a more emotional and entertainment driven understanding and we should understand that ourselves that that hasn’t gone away. That the mass power of entertainment, the mass power of telling a story on the big screen or for that matter now on the small screen, the ability to tell that story is the ability to manipulate emotions and the ability to confuse the moral reality.
But back to that most basic question raised by this issue - how evil, how dangerous can people be? So dangerous that you to put them into prison. So dangerous that you have to put the prison far, far from civilization. So dangerous that you have to create concentric circles of protection around the prison itself. So dangerous that you have to sentence some persons to life in prison without the opportunity of parole. So dangerous that in this case, the Governor of New York left his office in Albany and went to this site in order to make the point that he was personally leading the effort to recapture these criminals.
Oh and by the way, there are assuredly other moral issues here. For one thing, it turns out, and there’s no surprise here, that they evidently had some help from inside the prison. That would seem to be obvious since most prisoners don’t have the opportunity to take power tools to their cells. But that’s going to raise a host of other issues that points to the fact that even when we do our very best to create a context in which prisoners can be safely kept and kept away from society. It simply doesn’t work the way we plan. But when it comes to the sinful nature of humanity demonstrated very clearly in these two convicted murderers who broke out of this New York prison, you know, once again, the most interesting answer to this question doesn’t come from those who are trying to debate this issue in some law school seminar, or some doctoral class, but rather the people who are locking their doors and loading their guns and locking their windows in upstate New York.
2) Religious coalition urges Obama to allow government to fund abortions by breaking federal law
Next, another headline that should have our attention - this one also from the New York Times. It’s by reporter Michael Shear, the headline,
“Religious Leaders Urge U.S. to Fund Abortions for Rape Victims in Conflicts Abroad”
As is so often the case, the unfolding story is a great deal more interesting than the headline even would have indicated. As Shear reports, a coalition of religious and human rights leaders has called upon the President of the United States to support federal financing of abortions for
“women raped during violent conflicts overseas by members of terrorist groups like the Islamic State and Boko Haram.”
Now here’s why this story is even more interesting than the headline might indicate. It’s because what we’re looking at here is a classic case of political opportunism. The really interesting thing about this story is not so much the occasion that supposedly brought this coalition together in order to make a statement to the President of the United States. It’s the underlying ambition of this group, which is not at all hidden if you go to their own websites.
As Shear reports, the leaders of several Jewish, Christian and Muslim groups accuse the president of talk rather than action in addressing the grim fate of women and girls by refusing to direct the United States government to help pay for abortions in cases of rape in foreign countries. The fact is that no American president since 1973 has believed that he had the authorization to use federal funds to pay for abortions overseas. This is because in that very year, the year of the Roe v. Wade decision, the so-called Helms amendment was passed named for former North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms that bans the use of any federal funds for overseas abortions. But as Shear reports, the religious group said that the Helms amendment mentions only abortions used as a method of family planning and should not be viewed as restricting the use of federal funds to make abortions available in cases of rape or incest. They called on President Obama to issue an executive order making government funds available for that purpose.
As Shear summarizes the case,
“Advocates for the change concede that no administration, Democratic or Republican, has interpreted federal law to allow the use of foreign assistance funds for abortions in rape cases since the Helms amendment went into effect more than four decades ago. But they said they had hoped Mr. Obama’s administration would be different.”
In a really interesting aspect of the article one of the women directing the effort that is Sara Ratcliffe, a director of a group called Catholics for Choice said,
“Advocates had spent six and a half years pleading, prodding and shouting to be heard, but no avail. This administration continues to bend a knee to the religious extremists.”
Well what the Obama administration have actually been doing is bending a knee in terms of federal law. The Helms amendment is very clear on this. But what’s also clear is that the issue that is now presented in this headline is basically a pretext for what these groups really want, which is for the federal government to pay for abortions virtually anywhere, anytime for any reason, for any woman who demands one. Just in case you’re wondering if that’s really the agenda of these groups all you have to do is go to their websites where their policy positions and their histories are rather clear on the subject.
What we’re looking at here is a very clear demonstration of the great theological and moral chasm that separates religious groups in the United States. You’re talking here about the far left, and they have been on the far left for a very long time. They have been so pro-abortion not only since 1973, but even before as they were pushing for what became the Roe v. Wade amendment. These groups are so pro-abortion that they will call in terms of their policy statements for abortion for any reason or for no reason and they will do so in explicitly religious language.
As the article in the New York Times makes clear, the coalition is being led as Shear says, by a group called the Center for Health and Gender Equity, which has been pushing the Obama administration to act for more than a year. The groups include such organizations as the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Shear then says,
“Last year, the Center for Health and Gender Equity and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice helped send a letter to the president on the subject, signed by 33 religious leaders and women’s advocates.”
Showing that great theological chasm, the head of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, his name is the Reverend Harry Knox said,
“We faith leaders are here today to call the moral question.”
According to the New York Times he said,
“Members of the coalition were scheduled to meet with the White House Council on Women and Girls on Thursday afternoon.”
If you go to the website for the group Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, it was founded in 1973 as the religious coalition for abortion rights; you’ll come to understand exactly who is the extremist when it comes to the abortion question. And you’re looking at an organization that for instance, on its own timeline goes back to 1991,
“The Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights opposes mandatory parental consent and notification legislation as coercive and harmful to young women.”
These groups have opposed virtually every single restriction on abortion since Roe v. Wade in 1973 and they push not only for the legalization of abortion under virtually any circumstance but also for federal government funding of abortions themselves.
The website of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice lists member groups such as the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church USA, Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the United Church of Christ, the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church, the General Board of Global Ministries, women’s division of the United Methodist Church, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the American Jewish committee and the American Jewish Congress.
What we’re looking at here in this headline just in recent days in the New York Times is a clear underlining of the basic worldview and theological conflict that now has created such a massive divide. The divide over abortions not a divide over how to define certain issues in what might be proposed as something of the middle ground. There is no middle ground here. You’re talking here about a constellation of far left denominations, churches and organizations calling itself the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice now - remember that it updated its language from its original name, as a religious coalition for abortion rights and then you’re talking about the worldview that understands every single human being at every stage of development as fully made in the image of God and fully deserving of a clear affirmation of the dignity and sanctity of that very life. This new story is one of those periodic alerts of the fact that sometimes the headlines just tell the tiniest part of the story. The big story is often behind the story, certainly behind the headlines and that’s certainly the case in this case.
3) Tony Campolo affirms gay couples in the church, continuing in predictable trajectory
Finally, a lot of headlines were made yesterday by Tony Campolo, a well-known figure on the so-called evangelical left. Tony Campolo released a statement early yesterday morning entitled, “For the Record.” The subtitle, “Tony releases a new statement urging the church to be more welcoming.”
In the statement he says,
“As a young man I surrendered my life to Jesus and trusted in Him for my salvation, and I have been a staunch evangelical ever since. I rely on the doctrines of the Apostles Creed. I believe the Bible to have been written by men inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit. I place my highest priority on the words of Jesus, emphasizing the 25th chapter of Matthew, where Jesus makes clear that on Judgment Day the defining question will be how each of us responded to those he calls “the least of these”.
From this foundation I have done my best to preach the Gospel, care for the poor and oppressed, and earnestly motivate others to do the same. Because of my open concern for social justice, in recent years I have been asked the same question over and over again: Are you ready to fully accept into the Church those gay Christian couples who have made a lifetime commitment to one another?”
Now that’s a very interesting way to put the question. That’s not the only way this question is being put, but it’s a very specific way that Tony Campolo has stated the question that sets him up for the next paragraph. He says,
“While I have always tried to communicate grace and understanding to people on both sides of the issue, my answer to that question has always been somewhat ambiguous. One reason for that ambiguity was that I felt I could do more good for my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters by serving as a bridge person, encouraging the rest of the Church to reach out in love and truly get to know them. The other reason was that, like so many other Christians, I was deeply uncertain about what was right. It has taken countless hours of prayer, study, conversation and emotional turmoil to bring me to the place where I am finally ready to call for the full acceptance of Christian gay couples into the Church.”
Now, leaving the statement for a moment, this is the kind of news that isn’t as big as the news might have been if this had taken place several years ago. Most people, knowing Tony Campolo and following his trajectory, assume that this day would one day inevitably come and indeed it came, it came yesterday.
This comes over 15 years after Tony Campolo’s wife had taken a similar position and they have been involved in something of a rather public conversation about the issue. One that gained a great deal of evangelical attention. Tony Campolo says that he’s identified his entire life, since his conversion that is, as an evangelical and that he has in terms of the label, but he’s also identified himself very much on the evangelical left and he’s been involved in controversies with other evangelicals for most of that time as well. Controversies over the inerrancy of Scripture, controversies over the exclusivity of the gospel, controversies over any number of issues. Tony Campolo, I think it’s fair to say has often played the role of a provocateur and perhaps he intended to do that yesterday, but it’s too late.
Many others have already declared their understanding of this position in their affirmation of same-sex couples in same-sex activities and same-sex marriage and in this sense, Tony Campolo is arriving rather late to the game and once again it was fully understandable in terms of his trajectory that one day he would get here. The question was why not sooner rather than later? In the statement he cites what he describes as, “countless hours of prayer, study, conversation and emotional turmoil.” There’s no reason to doubt that those things took place. But what’s not found in his article is any serious engagement with Scripture whatsoever. A couple of interesting things here - he basically dismisses the scriptural issue by saying that Christians of goodwill can disagree over the interpretation of the crucial biblical texts. But on this matter of biblical interpretation, Tony Campolo was certainly by no means so unclear in times past. In 1999, he gave an interview to Sojourners magazine in which he said,
“Romans 1:26-27 makes it clear that any homosexual sexual activity is contrary to what the Bible allows. We can argue over this interpretation or that interpretation, but we must take the church very seriously. The fellowship of believers called the church of Jesus Christ has stood from the time of Christ to the present day, and I believe it speaks with authority. For almost 2,000 years, the church has read Romans 1 in a particular way. People who knew the Apostle Paul personally have written about what Paul meant when he wrote those verses.”
In an appearance at Calvin College in that same year 1999, the news report from his appearance quoted as saying,
“I believe that the first chapter of Romans is where I rest my case, and that is that the Bible does not allow for same-sex marriages and same-sex eroticism.”
The article from Calvin College also says,
“He also based his argument upon the tradition maintained by the Christian church for 2,000 years, which univocally opposed erotic homosexual acts. On no other issue — not slavery or women in church leadership — has the Christian church ever spoken with one voice throughout history, Campolo said.”
To put the matter bluntly, Tony Campolo was right then and he’s wrong now. But you’ll notice that he speaks very differently about Scripture now. He doesn’t say that he believes Scripture to be very clear in authorizing same-sex marriage. Rather, whereas in 1999 he said that Romans 1 very clearly says that all homosexual sexual acts are sin and that same-sex marriage would not then been be legitimate in the eyes of the church. In the year 2015 he says that the Scripture can be interpreted in different ways.
The statement he released yesterday has no serious engagement with Scripture at all. The other really interesting thing to note from his statement is that he limits his affirmation here to monogamous, same-sex couples in a lifelong commitment. That’s very interesting in and of itself. It’s really interesting on the eve of the Supreme Court decision that’s coming in June. It’s really interesting in terms of asking the question, what about other homosexual acts and other homosexual relationships? You see, even as this evolution of Tony Campolo reached this crucial moment yesterday in terms of the statement. This is not where the issue really is found in terms of the lives of most churches or the lives of most homosexuals.
Tony Campolo may honestly think that his statement will rest from yesterday for the rest of his days. He may intend for that to be his last word on the subject. But even those who are celebrating his statement almost assuredly will not be satisfied with it. There’s also no doubt that from the worldview of Tony Campolo what he is done here is an act of compassion. But this is where biblical Christians who are committed to the inerrancy of Scripture and are committed to that steadfast moral tradition based upon that Scripture must understand that compassion will never actually take the form of denying anything that Scripture clearly says. It will never take the form of in any way subverting what Scripture reveals. And in this case we have to be very clear as in every case that even though something may be claimed to be compassion, if it confuses the gospel, and if it confuses sin, if it confuses the Bible then it really isn’t compassion.
Tony Campolo and I have clashed on issues in the public square for any number of years now, but in private conversations he’s been very gracious and always engaging. I grieve yesterday’s statement by Tony Campolo most because I believe it comes as a direct cost of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And I also fear that his statement will be most dangerous to those he has just sought to be most compassionate.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College just go to BoyceCollege.com.
I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.