The Briefing 06-17-15

The Briefing 06-17-15

The Briefing

June 17, 2015

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


It’s Wednesday, June 17, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) CA physician-assisted suicide bill passes after medical association drops opposition, redefining physicians’ role

Just last week the California Senate moved forward on a bill that would legalize physician assisted suicide as it is called. The passage of the bill is troubling enough but the reason why the bill moved through the Senate after having being stalled is even more troubling. One of the major issues that moved the legislation forward is that the California Medical Association dropped its opposition to the bill. This was indeed a very troubling development announced in late May by the California Association of Physicians. And the California Medical Association in dropping its opposition understood the political context that dropping of opposition was almost surely to lead to the eventual passage of the bill.

What we’re looking at here is a major moral shift and it’s one that bodes very ominously for the rest of the nation, even more than that for our very value of the sanctity of human life. The reason for that is straightforward, what we have here is a major medical association of physicians, a physician association that acknowledged the first line of the Hippocratic Oath being that the physician should first do no harm. The physicians association decided to drop opposition to the bill because as one of its spokesman very clearly identified, public opinion on the issue had shifted. The medical association insisted that it had not changed its position due to the change in public opinion, but it’s noteworthy that the spokesperson for the association made very clear by his own words that it was a shift in the public opinion that led to the occasion. He made those statements and comments to National Public Radio.

A couple of moral realities are very telling here. In the first place, we have the moral authority of physicians. You have senators there in California who felt morally and politically and able to support physician-assisted suicide only when the physicians themselves dropped moral opposition to the bill. We also need to note that when we look to the specific date, the press release from the California Medical Association is the 20th of May, you look to that specific day in the specific year 2015, and we have to ask the question – what happened in effect between May 19 and May 20th? What happened that would occasion a change in the moral perception of physicians in which on one day the majority of these physicians as represented by their professional association believe that is morally wrong for a physician to cooperate in assisted suicide. What changed to the next day when the medical association dropped its opposition?

We should note by the way that this moral change is something of a half measure. The California association dropped its opposition to physician-assisted suicide, but given the political context – this is not really a halfway step. This removed all opposition on the part of the largest representative body of doctors in California to the legalization of physician-assisted suicide. That’s huge. The other thing we need to note is just how significant this shift is in the medical profession. We have a profession that had been steadfastly and by this we don’t refer to decades, but rather to centuries, steadfastly against the role of any honorable physician in the active assisting suicide, to the position now at least undertaken by the CMA, that there is no basic moral opposition to the practice and thus the medical association would take no action against any physician who would be compliant with the law in California when assisted suicide is made legal.

So putting these two moral realities together, operating out of a Christian worldview we come with deep concern to the redefinition of the morality of the medical profession, in this instance when it comes to assisted suicide. And we also look to the fact, when we observe larger moral change in the culture, the role of specific professions becomes very outsized, it’s exaggerated. The moral authority of physicians on an issue like this is very, very important. And when you have the dropping of opposition on the part of a group like the CMA you effectively have a great deal of moral momentum added to the side which is now pushing for the legalization of assisted suicide.

An interesting and also troubling editorial appeared in yesterday’s edition of The Columbus Dispatch in Ohio. The commentary is by John M. Crisp identified as teaching in the English department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas. Crisp writes in support of physician-assisted suicide and he celebrates the action taken by the California Senate. But from a worldview perspective, the most interesting aspect of Crisp’s editorial is how he ends it making what he believes is the case for assisted suicide. He writes about those who tell their stories of desperation at the end of life, those who are seeking for physician-assisted suicide and he says maybe these stories,

“Will also provoke us to begin a conversation about the quality of life as opposed to its length. We’re a nation that believes in personal freedom. But the ultimate freedom is exercising some control over when and how we die. That privilege could eliminate a great deal of unnecessary suffering and, perhaps, even alleviate some of our inherent fear of death.”

Now as I said that’s extremely revealing. The case that John Crisp is making for the legalization of physician-assisted suicide comes down to personal autonomy and personal freedom. In that paragraph I read you he makes the audacious claim,

“The ultimate freedom is exercising some control over when and how we die.”

We’ve remarked from time to time looking at issues ranging from sexuality and marriage to now physician-assisted suicide, any number of issues, noting that the fundamental worldview change is a change among so many in modern Western societies from a theistic worldview that had been grounded in Scripture and in the Christian truth claim to a secularized worldview. But the secularized worldview has as its driving dynamic the highest ideal of personal autonomy that is its greatest good. But personal autonomy, detached from any understanding of the Christian worldview leads to a personal autonomy that is ultimately idolatrous and dangerous. In this case, it’s clearly idolatrous because here human beings are demanding the right that belongs only to God, to God alone. That is the right to decide when we will be born and the right to decide when we will die. But it’s also dangerous because it seeks to invest in human beings, in each one of us, the decision as to when and how we will die or at least as John Crisp argues considerable control over both of those questions.

We should be extremely sympathetic with those who are facing very difficult issues at the end of life and there is no doubt that as the Bible explains death is our enemy, and death is not beautiful. That’s another lie of the modern secular age that somehow a death can be disguised as something that is beautiful. That is deeply rooted in the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche and that philosophy, of course, as Nietzsche acknowledged amounts to pure nihilism. There is no meaning in the universe, there is no God there is no truth, there is no good, there is no beauty, there is no meaning to life. Ultimately, when we claim or protect the claim of control over our lives to this extent, we attempt to take the place of God and we become idolaters, and not merely idolaters, we become very dangerous idolaters and dangerous not only to our own human dignity, but to the human dignity of every single human being on the planet.

2) Expected Supreme Court approval of gay marriage will raise parenting questions of law

Next, there is a great deal of anticipation, of course, as the United States Supreme Court is set to rule on any number of major cases and central among them from a moral perspective is the case that will put the issue of same-sex marriage before the nation in a whole new way. The likelihood is that the case known formally as Obergefell versus Hodges, the likelihood is that it will lead to the legalization of same-sex marriage in all 50 states. And making that point yesterday was the New York Times. Adam Liptak, veteran observer of the court referred back first to something that took place three years ago when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had criticized the news media for trying to look ahead and determine by so-called reading the tea leaves on how the court is going to rule. She said, speaking of justices and those who surround them such as clerks,

“Those who know don’t talk, and those who talk don’t know.”

Speaking of how the court will rule. However, as Liptak says, even Justice Ginsburg herself has given some pretty good indications in times past, and perhaps quite recently as to how the court is going to rule. As Liptak notes, back then Justice Ginsburg had spoken to a liberal legal group known as the American Constitution Society back then she said,

“This term has been more than usually taxing,” she said in that speech at the American Constitution Society, a liberal legal group. Two weeks later, the Supreme Court upheld the heart of the health care law on a surprising ground — as an exercise of Congress’s power to impose taxes.”

Well he reports Justice Ginsburg was back before the same liberal legal group last week, indeed on Saturday, speaking to the American Constitution Society and at this point she was if anything, very clear. When it comes to the issue of gay rights, she said that change is becoming very quickly,

“People looked around,” she said, “and it was my next-door neighbor, of whom I was very fond, my child’s best friend, even my child.

“They are people we know and we love and we respect, and they are part of us,” she added. “Discrimination began to break down very rapidly once they no longer hid in a corner or in a closet.”


“The climate of the era,” she said, is “part of the explanation of why the gay rights movement has advanced to where it is today.”

Speaking again of the climate of the era she means a climate of moral change. Now as Liptak says, Justice Ginsburg did not directly address the pending same-sex marriage case, Obergefell v. Hodges, but Liptak then says,

“Hers were not the words of a woman whose court was about to deal the gay rights movement a devastating setback when it issues its decision in the coming weeks on whether there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.”

In other words, Liptak says it was pretty clear that Ruth Bader Ginsburg was signaling that the court is going to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states. He then went on,


“The court’s more conservative justices seem to be bracing for a loss. In a February dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Antonin Scalia, said the court’s failure to halt same-sex marriages in Alabama “may well be seen as a signal of the court’s intended resolution of that question.”

Now looking at the way the United States Supreme Court operates, these are rather unusual precedents, but what Adam Liptak didn’t actually acknowledge in this article is that when it comes to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and she’s not alone among the liberal justices in this regard, it’s not just what Justice Ginsburg has said it’s what she has done. She has performed more than one same-sex marriage ceremony. Actions as we are told as children speak louder than words. In this case her words are pretty interesting and revealing in themselves, her actions actually far more so.

The same-sex marriage decision is not the only major Supreme Court decision looming before us, although it’s the most important when it comes to moral issues this term. There’s another major decision pending on the ObamaCare legislation and there are huge other issues as well but when it comes to the signals about these future decisions, well the signals are especially clear on the issue of same-sex marriage, especially clear and especially concerning.

And speaking of this looming decision when the Supreme Court rules and it will rule by the end of this term, usually by the last day of June, when the court rules some issues are certainly going to be clarified. We expect that one thing to be clarified is the fact that the court will rule one way or the other. And how it rules is also important that same-sex marriage will be legal in all 50 states. But as the New York Times acknowledged in an article that ran in Monday’s edition of the paper, that won’t settle all the issues and in a very telling article reporter Tara Siegel Bernard says that one of the issues that will be less clarified is going to be the role and the rights of so-called same-sex parents. She begins by telling the story of one same-sex couple that has gone through significant legal turmoil with their four children and she writes about the fact that in one sense, the legalization of same-sex marriage may clarify to some extent, the right to same-sex parents. But as the reporter makes clear and her article verifies, this is not going to be as clarified as some people may think. The reason for that, however, is something that really isn’t acknowledged in this article at all. The reason for it is deeply theological. However, it’s addressed in this article as merely legal. Bernard writes,

“If same-sex marriage is legalized nationwide as part of the monumental case before the Supreme Court — a decision is expected this month — married couples living in states that do not acknowledge their unions will gain significant financial and legal benefits. But as sweeping as the changes will be, one aspect of marriage may not always be automatically guaranteed: parental rights.”

She cites Emily Hecht-McGowan, director of public policy at the Family Equality Council, who says,

“Marriage does not solve all. It provides innumerable protections, rights and responsibilities to married couples and parents raising children in a marriage. But it doesn’t come close to solving all of the legal and recognition issues that same-sex couples and their children face.”

Bernard goes into a rather lengthy consideration, in some cases citing specific states in which the legal complexities will continue. She then writes,

“National marriage status could also provide another way to create legal ties to children, although it may be more tenuous in some states. Traditionally, children born to a married woman are generally presumed to be the legal children of her husband.”

Now note that the word used there specifically is husband, not merely spouse or partner, and that’s because the expectation of the law deeply rooted not only in terms of a biblical picture but also just of human experience throughout millennia. The expectation is that we’re talking about a man and a woman in marriage, thus the word wife and husband, and that they are a pair involved in procreation. Thus the children have come from their biological bond. When you begin to break that, when you begin to come up with artificial ways by which children might be conceived and even implanted in the womb and then even born, when you come up with all the permutations that are involved in coming up with what can be called same-sex marriage and then same-sex parenting, the obvious fact is that same-sex couples are not a biological pair able to procreate. At that point, the question of to whom the children belong? That becomes a very urgent question. It’s not simple. It’s not simple legally; it’s not going to be resolved even by the Supreme Court ruling on the legalization of same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

Now there’s more to parenthood, of course, and in the world of marriage throughout the centuries there have been innovation such as adoption and other means, including assisted reproductive technologies for a couple to conceive and then also to gain a child, one way or the other. But these have been understood to have been meaningful within the context of marriage as the union of a man and woman as a conjugal union, a conjugal pair in which the promise of procreation is real, at least by the bonding of the man and the woman. But when you come to same-sex marriage, you have a complete abstraction from that moral context, or for that matter, from that biological context and upon that question there then follows the very urgent issue to whom does this child or these children belong?

You know it’s been noted for a very long time that that is one of the most urgent human questions. That’s the question we all ask, to whom do I belong? The advent of same-sex marriage in its legal form or what’s called same-sex marriage puts us in the position of confusing that question in a whole new way and ultimately in a devastating way. That’s one of the reasons why, but only one of the reasons why we point out that the Supreme Court decision, no matter how massive it is when it is handed down, won’t be the end of the story, for that matter not even close.

3) Conflict over revisionist AP history standards shows significance of worldview to interpretation of history

Finally, the Wall Street Journal has an important article that appeared over the weekend entitled,

“Bye, Bye, American History.”

The author is Daniel Henninger, it’s the Wonderland column of the Wall Street Journal. When he is saying goodbye to American history, he’s talking about the fact that history, especially as it is taught in colleges and universities and now even in high schools and elementary schools, history has become a very controversial subject and from a Christian worldview perspective we need to understand why. If you tell the story of the history you are defining terms and that’s exactly why history has always been so controversial, especially in the modern age, especially at the intersection of the secularized worldview and the traditional understanding of history.

The new issue is the AP curriculum. That’s advanced placement and that’s very important because the AP curriculum sets the standards that will be followed by many high schools in particular, and the AP standards also signal what’s expected in terms of historical knowledge, or in this case historical interpretation, by the mainstream of America’s academic historians operating at universities. As Henninger writes,

“Last week, 56 professors and historians published a petition on the website of the National Association of Scholars, urging opposition to the College Board’s framework.”

So as you look more closely at the situation, you have a group such as the National Association of Scholars that group includes a good many conservative historians amongst its numbers and then you have the very liberal American Historical Association. Now predictably, the two groups are in a face-off over these new AP standards and the new standards by any measure represent what’s called a revisionist understanding of American history. And that revisionist understanding we should note is driven by a very leftist ideological bias that also comes through in the materials for the new AP standards.

But from the Christian worldview perspective the important issue is to understand that history matters, if we understand what happened and we have the right understanding of how to tell the story we’ll know the truth. This is not to say that history is just a collection of facts. History always requires interpretation. But we need to note that interpretation will happen according to some ideological grid, according to some worldview. And the worldview that dignifies history the most is the Christian worldview because Christianity we should note is an historical faith, not just the fact that it’s a very old faith, it’s an historical faith in that its truth claims are deeply rooted in time and space and history. The same is true of biblical Judaism, but Christianity in particular makes very clear claims about events that took place in history. Events that are documented and revealed to us in the Holy Scriptures, events that are understood to have taken place and time and space and history, events that are for our knowledge and that knowledge for our salvation and for our maturity as Christians. And furthermore, we have to understand that if you deny that historical basis, you are undercutting the very central truth claims of Christianity.

The Christian worldview doesn’t insist that history is easy or simple to understand. Instead, it tells us that we are dependent upon divine Revelation to know not only the who, the what and the when, but also the why. The Bible’s unfolding story which we call the gospel and the metanarrative of Scripture, that story is central to Christianity itself. Take away or diminish in any way the historical claims and you have redefined Christianity, you have redefined the gospel. And if you redefine the gospel according to the New Testament itself, you lose it. It is interesting that secular historians understand that history is important. Of course what’s more important for us is to understand that for Christians, history is less important than it is for secular historians, it is far more important.


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’m speaking to you from Columbus, Ohio, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.


Podcast Transcript

1) CA physician-assisted suicide bill passes after medical association drops opposition, redefining physicians’ role

Physician-Assisted Death Legislation Moves Forward In California, NPR

California Medical Association removes opposition to physician aid in dying bill, California Medical Association

America needs to talk about physician-assisted suicide, Columbus Dispatch (John M. Crisp)

2) Expected Supreme Court approval of gay marriage will raise parenting questions of law

Justices’ Words Are Combed for Clues as Major Decisions Loom at Court, New York Times (Adam Liptak)

The Same-Sex Marriage Decision: What’s at Stake for Couples, New York Times (Tara Siegel Bernard)

3) Conflict over revisionist AP history standards shows significance of worldview to interpretation of history

Bye, Bye, American History, Wall Street Journal (Daniel Henninger)


R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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