The Briefing 06-19-15

The Briefing 06-19-15

The Briefing


June 19, 2015

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


It’s Friday, June 19, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Charleston church shooting horrifying picture of evil of racism

Once again a terrorist attack is in the headlines, but in this case it’s a case of domestic terrorism. And in this case it appears that Islam has absolutely nothing to do with the equation. Instead one of the most historic and symbolic churches of the African-American experience in America, the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, became the scene for an attack undertaken by a 21-year-old young American. In this case a white young American by the name of Dylann Roof and it now appears rather irrefutable that his motivation was reducible to the grotesque sin of racism, in this case a violent sin. What authorities now tell us is that on Wednesday night Roof entered the church building there, one of the most historic churches in the heart of Charleston South Carolina, one the nation’s most historic cities and sat among the worshipers there for a matter of about an hour. Then he opened fire deliberately and savagely wounding and eventually killing nine people by his gunfire.

Hamil Harris reporting for the Washington Post tells us that this particular church, the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church there in Charleston, is known as the national Cathedral Church of the entire AME denomination. As he explains,

“The AME Church was founded in 1794 by Richard Allen and other blacks in Philadelphia after they were pulled from their knees while praying in an all-white church. In 1816, black members of Charleston’s Methodist Episcopal Church withdrew from what was then the Free African Society because of a dispute over burial ground and they formed a separate congregation.

[We are then told that] “In 1821, Denmark Vesey, one of the Charleston church’s founders, organized a major slave uprising in Charleston. Denmark had purchased his own freedom for $1,500 with money from a winning lottery ticket.”

That’s back, we should recall, in 1821. Late yesterday, the New York Times reported that Dylann Roof, the young suspect in this case was arrested after a 14 hour manhunt. He was arrested in Shelby, North Carolina during a traffic stop and according to the Charleston police chief, Greg Mullen, he was arrested and is being flown back to Charleston to face charges. Reporter

Ishaan Tharoor for the Washington Post tells us that the young man declared,

“You are taking over our country,” before opening fire on Emanuel AME Church’s black congregants.”

He also tells us that,

“Roof’s apparent Facebook profile photo carries a possible indicator of his racist worldview. The picture shows Roof skulking in the woods, wearing a jacket with at least two conspicuous patches. The patches, as the Southern Poverty Law Center quickly noted, are the old flags of racist, white-minority regimes in southern Africa.”

Those flags point back to the fact that there were nations in South Africa, including the nation of South Africa itself along with Rhodesia that were controlled by minority white governments that held to an understanding of an absolute white supremacy. There was a racist ideology that declared that the whites should rule the blacks in Africa and of course that same ideology found its foundation also here in the United States in the expression of Jim Crow laws, and for segregation, not to mention the legacy of slavery. It was out of that very context of the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church had emerged in Charleston, South Carolina. What this tragic story tells us above everything else is that sin is ever more dangerous than we can even imagine. What can explain how a young man can enter into a church building, sit with black parishioners for virtually an hour and then open fire intentionally killing nine, obviously with the intent of going there to murder? We can only ask the question, how can any human heart be given over to this kind of evil?

From time to time on The Briefing we have to come back to the essential biblical truth that human beings in our fallenness can give ourselves over to evil, to an evil that is virtually impossible for most of us to contemplate, but an evil that is all too real as made evident in these headlines. Just imagine being in that church building, just imagine feeling the weight of history, just imagine being gathered together for a prayer meeting, just imagine being African-Americans gathered together in this historic African-American denomination and its church. Just imagine a white young man entering in and appearing to sit down and join in prayer. Then imagine that young man declaring you are taking over the country and then opening fire killing nine of your fellow church members, including your pastor. It’s virtually impossible to imagine what it would have been like to have sat in that congregation. But morally speaking, it’s even more difficult to imagine how a young man can give themselves over to this kind of evil. How could it make any kind of sense, how can it enter into any kind of rationality that a young man would enter into this cold-blooded and diabolical calculation with such clear and sinister intent to murder, and do so even in the face of having sat with the people, the very people he was intending to murder for almost an hour?

It’s hard for us to imagine the depth of depravity demonstrated in the fact that this young man did not even murder in a cold-blooded distance. He sat among the people he intended to murder for almost an hour. It’s virtually impossible for us to come to moral terms with this and that’s where we have to remember that as Christians we don’t have to come to terms with this. In a very real sense, we can’t come to terms with this. We can’t enter into the mind of this young man, nor should we seek to because even to try to enter into that mind is to give ourselves over to some extent to that same kind of hatred. What we have to do in contrast, is understand that in spite of all of the evil of this world, despite all the depravity and demonstrations of violence in this world, Jesus Christ identified with us so as to enter human flesh and to be among us, eventually bearing the violence of the cross not merely as a symbol of divine love but as our substitutionary sacrifice. When we look to those events in Charleston, we have to understand a basic biblical principle which is the irrationality of sin, the fact that sin in its essence really can’t be understood because it isn’t rational, it’s irrational. It isn’t sensical, it’s nonsensical. There are certainly lessons here for law enforcement and for churches looking at the escalation of this kind of attack taking place in the very midst of religious observances in particular in Christian church services. But we also need to look at the fact that law enforcement is never going to be able to read every single human heart and be able to head off a Dylann Roof before he undertakes this kind of horribly violent act.

But right now one of our main responsibilities is to grieve with those who grieve. To understand the deep inexpressible grief that is taking place in one church family, perhaps very far from us, or perhaps rather close, and to understand in a very special way that we need to grieve with our African-American brothers and sisters. For whom this church in this congregation and this attack, well all of that is powerfully symbolic of an entire weight of history. And we need to understand and we need to say honestly to each other to remind ourselves that racism is not dead. And as this tragedy in Charleston reminds us in all too graphic form, not only is racism not dead, it is very, very deadly.

2) Pope’s environmental encyclical clear on responsibility, unclear in implementation

Next shifting to another very important headline from yesterday, the Vatican released Laudato Si, that is the much anticipated encyclical from Pope Francis having to do with the earth, with ecology, with the stewardship of creation and with climate change. As it turns out, it has to do with a great deal more as well. This was as I’ve said a much-anticipated document, the Vatican had been putting out a great deal of anticipation about this new encyclical, and for that matter, a leaked version had emerged earlier this week. I did not discuss that leaked version of the encyclical because after all, we could not be certain that it was the official text. Now we are.

Yesterday the Vatican released Laudato Si or blessed be and it is indeed a very interesting statement. Before looking to the text itself I want to look at the press coverage about the Pope statement because that in itself is very interesting, revealing a great deal of how this statement is being understood. Jim Yardley and Laurie Goodstein reporting for the New York Times tell us,

“Pope Francis on Thursday called for a radical transformation of politics, economics and individual lifestyles to confront environmental degradation and climate change, blending a biting critique of consumerism and irresponsible development with a plea for swift and unified global action.”

The New York Times then tells us that the vision that the Pope outlined in a 184 page encyclical is sweeping in ambition and scope. He described they say,

“A relentless exploitation and destruction of the environment and says apathy, the reckless pursuit of profits, excessive faith in technology and political shortsightedness are to blame.

“The most vulnerable victims, he declares, are the world’s poorest people, who are being dislocated and disregarded.”

Now that was the New York Times. On the other hand, The Economist, one of the most influential magazines in the world had a headline that appeared treading lightly in many directions. The Economist took a very different approach to the Pope statement than did the New York Times. The New York Times leads with it being radical. Meanwhile, The Economist tells us

that even though the Vatican released this statement as a major declaration on many controversial issues, the Pope really didn’t get very specific when it comes to exactly what he would have world governments and other organizations or for that matter individual citizens of the world to do. It’s a very interesting reminder that when you’re looking at a 184 page document. There’s a great deal of interpretation about just what the document represents and even what it says.

After reviewing the statement I was asked to give my own statement to the press I said,

“Laudato Si is a very interesting document, by any measure. Pope Francis is absolutely right to identify our care for creation as a theological issue. As stewards of creation, we are called by the Creator to take care of the world he has made. At the same time, several of the Pope’s central claims about climate change have more to do with the current scientific consensus than with theology. Furthermore, some of his specific proposals are likely to harm those he seeks to help — the poor. While fossil fuels are surely contributing to an increase in carbon emissions, it is hardly helpful to tell the poorest nations among us that they must forego immediate needs for refrigeration, modern medicine, and the advances of the modern age that have so extended and preserved life. At this point, there is no alternative to dependency on fossil fuels, and this is as true for the Vatican as for the United States and other advanced economies. The Pope definitely takes sides on several questions, though it is not clear that the Catholic church is willing to accept all the implications of the arguments asserted in this document. Pope Francis has also tied the credibility of his papacy to scientific arguments that may well change over time, perhaps radically.

It is interesting that fairly little of the encyclical actually references climate change, though this is what the international media have found most interesting. The Pope also rejects contraception and population control and affirms the Catholic Church’s traditional understanding of gender. My guess is that the secular press will make much of the Pope’s statements on climate change and very little of his affirmation of historic Catholic teachings that run contrary to the modern secular worldview.

Evangelical Christians reject the very idea of the papacy and the concept of the Vatican as a political state. We do not issue encyclicals nor do we claim to represent a sovereign state with a foreign policy. The Pope’s encyclical will be much discussed, but time will tell if there is any major policy impact from his arguments. On the day of its release, it looks as if there are sections that will please and displease all sides in our ongoing discussion about climate change and the care of creation.”

It is very interesting and will be of concern to many Catholics even that the Pope has attached his personal credibility to certain scientific claims about climate change and all it would take would be a change in the understanding of the scientific community to leave him stranded on an island of his own making here. It’s also interesting as The Economist pointed out and I’ll simply quote,

“Much of the writing might have come from a secular environmental NGO writing a briefing paper ahead of the summit in Paris at the end of this year which will mark a new attempt to strike a global bargain to restrain carbon emissions.”

I think it’s extremely telling that here you have a secular newspaper saying that much of this encyclical reads like it could’ve been written by a secular NGO. That is to say much of its argument (especially as it relates to the questions about climate change) really aren’t tied to explicit theological arguments or theological data at all. Now to be sure, the Pope is stating many things with which evangelicals would enthusiastically agree. We are responsible as stewards for our care of creation. The biblical notion of stewardship is tied to the biblical assignment of dominion. Dominion is something that seems to make this Pope very, very uncomfortable. That’s rather unusual when you consider the claims of the papacy itself, but ironic as that may be when it comes to the issue of the dominion of the earth on the part of human creatures, he appears to think that this is likely or perhaps likely to lead to a sense of domination over the creation that will be very dangerous and will lead to environmental degradation.

Before leaving that argument we need to recognize it has happened in just that way. People have claimed the biblical assignment of dominion to human creatures and they have misused that assignment but nonetheless it is right there. Look at Genesis 1:28, there is a very clear assignment of dominion which is to say human beings made in God’s image have a divine assignment that we are to undertake the responsible use of the creation God has given us. Even as we are put in a garden we are to till the garden, we are to tend the garden, we are to plow the soil, we are to plant seeds, we are to build houses, we are to use the goods of the world, whether it be timber or minerals or the other things God has given us for the enrichment of human life and for the extension of human flourishing. But at the same time that is balanced with a biblical understanding of stewardship, a theme about which the Scripture is also emphatically clear. It was Jesus himself who repeatedly taught about stewardship, making very clear that even as we are given these gifts we will give an answer to the one who has given us these gifts. Even as we are tending this garden we might say, we will one day give an answer to the owner of the garden that is not only for how we have used what he has given us for its intended purpose, but also how we have cared for what he has given us as an act of love because after all, we did not create this world he did and he gave it to us as our habitation as a gift.

As I said, reading this as an evangelical there are many frustrations. One of the frustrations is that the Pope, who I genuinely believe thinks himself to be helping the poor, is by his very argument consigning some of the poorest nations on earth to being forever without the goods the modern age brings whether that might be considered modern medicine or modern transportation, modern telecommunications or for that matter refrigeration, refrigeration to preserve life and food. As I pointed out in the statement I made yesterday, the Vatican is no less dependent upon fossil fuels than any other government or for that matter any other major institution. It isn’t on an island somewhere with an alternative form of energy. The Pope disseminating this document disseminated by the means that the modern world has provided in terms of technology, but the Pope condemns much of that technology. This does not appear to be a statement that will last very well over time but that’s simply points to an even more fundamental issue for evangelical Christians. We don’t believe in the papacy, and we do not believe in papal encyclicals, we don’t believe that evangelicals should have a foreign-policy. We do believe that we should come to our best understanding of the policy issues at stake in this or any other cultural conversation. But we also come to understand that we are to confess the faith together and we are to affirm everything that Scripture reveals together, but on some of these issues there just isn’t a dogmatic statement for the church to undertake. This is an official papal document and encyclical, it is intended to be a teaching text for the Roman Catholic Church and it will be up to Roman Catholics to decide what to do with this text as the Vatican itself acknowledged it will be up to local bishops in the Roman Catholic Church to decide how they’re going to apply it.

But that gets to another issue. There is no doubt that in making this statement when he made it and as he made it, Pope Francis intends to play a role politically on the world stage on these issues. After all, you have The Economist mentioning the summit coming up in Paris. You also have the Pope’s own state visit to the United States that will include an address to a joint session of Congress this coming September. That’s a huge problem from a theological perspective. Here you have an entity that claims to be a church and a state with a foreign-policy and with a head of state. That is a huge problem as the reformers well understood and as we had better understand today. There is going to be a lot more conversation about Laudato Si to see in coming days. If the Pope intended to start a conversation at the very least we can say he succeeded in that.

3) Unanimous Supreme Court church sign ruling major win for religious liberty

Finally, another profound statement came from a very different source when yesterday the Supreme Court of the United States in a rather unusual 9-0 decision struck down a law in Gilbert, Arizona that had discriminated in terms of content on signage; in particular political signs were allowed to stay up for months and to be quite large. When church signs that offer directions to church services were very small and they were allowed to be up for only 13 hours. That basically made it impossible for any church to put up any sign telling people where to find the church and its services. Now it’s very important to recognize this is a major gain for religious liberty. It’s very important that the Supreme Court of United States all nine justices said that it was ridiculous that a municipality in the United States would dare to discriminate on the basis of the content of the signs. It’s just untenable that they could allow political content but not religious content related to church services.

Back when the oral arguments for the case were held when the attorney for the city tried to explain the policy, Justice Elena Kagan said,

“Gilbert’s law did not pass even “the laugh test” because it lacked reasons for its signage distinctions.”

Now here’s where a close look at what the court did is also important. It’s a civics lesson of sorts. The decision was 9 to 0, striking down the wall. But the new understanding that the court put in place was not a 9-0 decision, it was 6-3. Writing for the majority, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that it was absolutely unfair and unconstitutional for the city to discriminate in this way. And Justice Thomas went on to say that a government organization would have to present what is constitutionally known as a compelling interest in coming up with any discrimination or limitation on signs in terms of the free expression of ideas.

Three other Justices in this case from the court left-wing, Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented in terms of the rationale, stating that they did not believe that the government would have to prove a compelling interest but rather a lesser standard. If that sounds like a bunch of legal minutia, it’s not. It’s not just a technical argument. It’s very important to know what a government must prove in terms of its interest in a law to be able to discriminate against free expression. The law in terms of the majority opinion by the way doesn’t say the government can’t restrict signs it says governments just can’t pick and choose in terms of the signage. They can’t allow a political sign but not a religious sign. That’s very, very important. It is important to recognize that in striking down the law this decision was unanimous. But it’s concerning to know that when it comes to how we move forward in what cities or state governments are allowed to do. There’s a split decision, but it’s still a very clear decision, a 6-3 majority decision for religious liberty. That’s good news and good news for which we should be very thankful.

4) WHO issues regulations against naming diseases after animals or places, leaving few options

At the very end I simply want to say that sometimes we learn a great deal about the fallibilities and foibles of the human race. When we see what others are doing and that simply shows our own capacity for being at times foolish. The Week reports from Geneva,

“The World Health Organization issued new guidelines forbidding the use of place and animal namesakes when naming new diseases under the guidelines monikers like “Lyme Disease” (taken from a Connecticut town), “Ebola” (taken from the Congo River), “mad cow” and “monkeypox” would be discouraged. The World Health Organization said such names can lead to the pointless slaughter of animals, lost tourism and discrimination. Swine flu, for example, isn’t transmitted by pigs and according to the World Health Organization, it’s a slander to pigs to name the disease after them. Middle East, respiratory syndrome has hurt tourism they say to the entire region. Infectious disease specialist by the way are quite skeptical.”

It’s hard enough to come up with names for things. Just look at the roads in your community. How in the world are you going to avoid all places and all animals when it comes to naming diseases? Stating the obvious, John Oxford, a scientist who is a specialist in so-called bird flu said,

“This document is laudable in its intent.”

But then he said,

“But slightly daft.”

That’s a rather British way of saying, albeit condescendingly, that’s nuts.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website at Albert 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 Dallas, Texas and I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.


Podcast Transcript

1) Charleston church shooting horrifying picture of evil of racism

How black church leaders are responding to the shooting in Charleston, Washington Post (Hamil R.  Harris)

In Facebook photo, suspected Charleston shooter wears flags of racist regimes in Africa, Washington Post (Ishaan Tharoor)

2) Pope’s environmental encyclical clear on responsibility, unclear in implementation

Pope Francis, in Sweeping Encyclical, Calls for Swift Action on Climate Change, New York Times (Jim Yardley and Laurie Goodstein)

Treading lightly, in many directions, The Economist

Mohler responds to Pope Francis’ ‘Laudato Si’, Southern News (R. Albert Mohler, Jr)

3) Unanimous Supreme Court church sign ruling major win for religious liberty

Tiny Arizona church wins Supreme Court case on signs, USA Today (Richard Wolf and Brad Heath)

Supreme Court rules for church in case against Arizona town’s sign law, Washington Post (Robert Barnes)

4) WHO issues regulations against naming diseases after animals or places, leaving few options

World Health Organization Best Practices for the Naming of New Human Infectious Diseases, WHO


R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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