The Briefing 06-25-15

The Briefing 06-25-15

The Briefing


June 25, 2015

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

It’s Thursday, June 25, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Tsarnaev sentencing stark example of difference between mercy in Christianity and Islam

Once again, an American courtroom became the scene for a major moral drama and one that demands that we look at it closely. And once again, the city was Boston, and again the man at the center was Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, now convicted of 30 counts including several capital counts of murder for his involvement with his late brother in the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013. What happened yesterday in Boston was that for the first time Dzhokhar Tsarnaev spoke and it came as his sentence was announced by the judge in the same court room. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev said,

“I would like to apologize to the victims and the survivors,” he said. “I did do it”

Later he said,

“I am sorry for the lives that I’ve taken, for the suffering that I’ve caused you, for damage that I’ve done.”

He went on also to address the court by saying,

“I am Muslim. My religion is Islam. I pray to Allah to bestow his mercy on those affected in the bombing and their families. I pray for your healing. I ask Allah to have mercy on me, my brother and my family,” he said.

At the end of the hearing, U.S. District Judge George A. O’Toole Junior looked at Tsarnaev and said,

“I sentence you to the penalty of death by execution.”

Time and again we have found ourselves looking very recently at these moral dramas being played out before our eyes in the nation’s court rooms. What we’re looking at here is a moral drama in which the issues of guilt and innocence of right and wrong are unavoidable. Even in a society that has increasingly decided on a whole host of moral issues to embrace a certain relativism, you’ll notice the absolute lack of moral relativism in that courtroom in Boston and the reason for that is quite straightforward, no one can look at these premeditated murders, the murders that took place along with the grievous wounding of so many in the Boston Marathon, the deliberate murder of a Boston police officer in the days afterwards. So what we’re looking at here is an evidence of moral evil that simply doesn’t allow any sane person to find any kind of refuge in a kind of moral relativism. The announcement of the death penalty yesterday was not a surprise, a federal jury had already found that he was guilty of the crimes and in a separate phase had sentenced him to death. But the official declaration of that sentence is what took place in that Boston federal courtroom yesterday and the sentencing of death by the federal judge was a formal declaration of how the society through its own legal mechanisms had afforded this defendant every right of a legal defense and yet found him guilty.

Of course, we also know that in the course of the trial his own attorney on the very first opportunity pointed to his own defendant and said he did it and then Dzhokhar Tsarnaev yesterday said I did it. To use the exact expression, he said “I did do it.” In recent days and in other court rooms most particularly in Charleston, South Carolina, we have confronted some of the most basic Christian questions of forgiveness and in the case of what took place in Boston yesterday there was a marked distinction in terms of the response that was given to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev for those who were the loved ones of those who were his victims.

As the Boston Globe reported yesterday afternoon, Bill and Denise Richard, the parents of eight-year-old Martin Richard who was the youngest victim of the blast denounced Tsarnaev in court for choosing to help his brother Tamerlan wage the attack, which as the Boston Globe says not only killed Martin but inflicted grievous injuries on the rest of the family. The parent said in their statement,

“His attorneys told us the truth of what we already knew. He was guilty. He could have stopped his brother, he could’ve walked away.”

The Richards also pointed to the fact that what we are looking at here is not just the planting of these bombs with the intention to murder and to maim, we’re also looking at the fact that days later, these same two brothers murdered an MIT police officer, a man by the name of Sean Collier, he was murdered in cold blood days after the bombing as the brothers were seeking to evade the police. In an expression of moral clarity, the parents of the dead eight-year-old boy looked to his killer and spoke of him saying,

“He chose to do nothing to prevent all this from happening. He chose hate. He chose destruction. He chose death.”

Jean Rogers, the sister of the murdered MIT police officer said of Tsarnaev,

“He ran his own brother over with a car; he had no issues shooting mine in the head. He spit in the face of the American dream. He is a coward and a liar.”

Now let me go back to the statement that was made by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as he spoke for the first time in any meaningful way in the courtroom in which he was sentenced to death. You’ll recall his words were,

“I would like to apologize to the victims and the survivors. I did do it. I am sorry for the lies I have taken, for the suffering I have caused and for the terrible damage I have done.”

Now we can look at those words and certainly they are morally significant. Here you do have Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to some extent taking some responsibility for what he did. But you’ll notice he spoke in no detail of the rather detailed murders he had undertaken with his brother. He did not speak in terms of taking full moral responsibility. The word apologize here is a very weak moral word. He did not ask for the forgiveness of those who were the loved ones and relatives of those he maimed and murdered. It’s also very, very important for Christians looking at this statement to understand the extension of what Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had to say. He said,

“I am Muslim. My religion is Islam. I pray to Allah to bestow his mercy on those affected in the bombing and their families. I pray for your healing.” He then went on, “I ask Allah to have mercy on me, my brother and my family.”

Now Christians looking at that need to remember that there is a massive theological chasm between Christianity and Islam on this very issue. One of the central understandings of Christianity as taught by Christ and revealed in the New Testament is that we have the assurance of the forgiveness of sins that is based upon the atonement that was accomplished by Jesus Christ in his death, burial and resurrection. As a matter of fact, in the New Testament John reminds us if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. You’ll notice that that is a divine promise of the extension of mercy and forgiveness to those who confess their sins and of course that letter was written to Christians. Those who find their identity in Christ, who have confessed Christ as Savior and have repented of their sins, we are promised that if we do confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. These things are written says the New Testament, in order that we may know that we have the gift of everlasting life.

But in contrast and this is central for our Christian understanding, the Muslim understanding of Allah does not promise any mercy or any forgiveness to any specific person. That is very, very important for us to understand. Here Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is praying as an informed Muslim, he is asking that Allah will have mercy on the loved ones of those whom he has killed and hurt and that God will have mercy on himself and his brother and his family. That is a very characteristic Muslim prayer. But there is no doctrine of atonement in Islam, there is no understanding of the personality of God, of his moral character in which he will extend mercy to any sinner at any specific time. In contrast, according to Muslim theology Allah is a force of sheer will. He is not obligated to extend mercy or forgiveness to anyone, at any time, under any circumstances. As he wills, he wills. So as we see that moral drama that was played out in that Boston courtroom yesterday, it was also a theological drama and it’s very important that Christians understanding the gospel of Jesus Christ understand the difference, the difference that was displayed in that courtroom yesterday.

2) Time limit on religious liberty for education institutions evident cause of culture shift

While we’re talking about court rooms next, as we know, the big decision still remaining before the United States Supreme court are to be handed down today, tomorrow or Monday or Tuesday of next week at the latest. These include decisions related to ObamaCare and most centrally and certainly central to our concern, the looming decision of the legalization of same-sex marriage. Late yesterday, the New York Times moved a story by Laurie Goodstein and Adam Liptak entitled,

“Schools Fear Gay Marriage Ruling Could End Tax Exemptions.”

This gets right to the heart of what we’ve been discussing on this program and I’ve written about in terms of the threat to religious liberty. It will be represented by a decision that legalizes same-sex marriage in all 50 states. Something very important we need to notice here, we who have been talking about this for some time had been told repeatedly from the secular left that it is alarmism to raise these issues. But now you have the New York Times raising the very issue with the very same arguments coming just days, perhaps even hours before the Supreme Court rules. Goodstein and Liptak write,

“Conservative religious schools all over the country forbid same-sex relationships, from dating to couples’ living in married-student housing, and they fear they will soon be forced to make a wrenching choice.”

Here is exactly how these two reporters phrase that choice,

“If the Supreme Court this month finds a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, the schools say they will have to abandon their policies that prohibit gay relationships or eventually risk losing their tax-exempt status.”

Well, indeed, that’s what we have been saying for a matter of not just weeks and months, but years now. But as the decision looms before us, these issues are becoming far more acute and we need to remember that back in April when oral arguments were held in this case before the very court, the Supreme Court of United States, one associate justice, Samuel Alito and the Chief Justice of the United States, John G Roberts Jr., both address these very issues as they were asking questions of the attorneys pressing for the legalization of same-sex marriage.

In the most important of these exchanges the Chief Justice turned to the solicitor general of the United States, representing the Obama Administration for same-sex marriage in that court, the Chief Justice asking pointedly if a religious institution tries to operate by its religious principles in terms of married student housing will they be forced to choose between their tax-exempt status and that married student housing on their convictions? And you’ll recall the solicitor general said it will be an issue. The reporters for the New York Times yesterday get to the other issues that are involved,

“Married housing is one concern identified in the letter. Dating policies prohibiting same-sex contact are another, along with questions about whether religious institutions would have to extend benefits to same-sex spouses of employees.”

This article is pointing to a letter signed by 70 Christian college, university and seminary presidents, I am among them, registering these very concerns about the impact of this kind of decision on the religious liberty of our own institutions. To put the matter bluntly, the liberty of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to reflect and operate by and to teach the convictions of Southern Baptist Churches drawn from Scripture in agreement with the church and its definition of marriage throughout thousands of years. That is exactly what is at stake.

You recall as I said, the solicitor general of the United States said in response to the Chief Justice, it will be an issue. The New York Times quotes Douglas Laycock, a very respected law Professor at the University of Virginia who said the solicitor general’s response to Justice Alito was ill considered,

“Church leaders are worried about this because there is a certain obvious logic to Justice Alito’s question.”

Well, of course there. But then the reporters write this,

“He”, meaning Mr. Laycock, “added that it was unimaginable that any administration of either party would try to deny a tax exemption anytime soon to a religious institution based on its views on homosexuality. “When gay rights looks like race does today, where you have a handful of crackpots still resisting,” he said, “you might see an administration picking a fight.”

Well that’s extremely revealing, far more revealing than Professor Laycock certainly understood or intended himself to be. First of all he says here that no administration of either party would politically pay the price of denying a tax exemption, then look at the words “anytime soon.” Those words “anytime soon” are extremely important. How soon is anytime soon? How long does anytime soon last? Given the moral revolution we’re experiencing, I can imagine anytime soon might expire before this year does, before it reaches the month of December.

Another law professor, this one Richard Garnett at the University of Notre Dame’s Law School, said that sort of analysis doesn’t do much. That is, Professor Laycock’s analysis doesn’t do much to calm religious schools concerns. Professor Garnett said,

“Although many people insist that this will not happen,” he said, “they tend to rely on political predictions — which are probably accurate, in the short term — and not on in-principle arguments or distinctions.”

Well, notice again. Here you have another law professor saying this probably isn’t going to happen “in the short term.” Again, I ask how long is the short term? Or how short is the short term? In the final analysis, these words of assurance from these two law professors turn out to be anything but. They turn out to be an announcement that there is a time limit on religious liberty for Christian institutions. They will not bend the knee to Caesar on this issue and at least some secular observers get it. Eugene Volokh, a law professor at University of California, Los Angeles, is one of the most respected constitutional scholars in this country, said that religious schools are concerned for good reason. He said,

“If I were a conservative Christian (which I most certainly am not),” he added, “I would be very reasonably fearful, not just as to tax exemptions but as to a wide range of other programs — fearful that within a generation or so, my religious beliefs would be treated the same way as racist religious beliefs are.”

That is the logic we are seeing. But my response to Professor Volokh is this; it will not take a generation, not even close. I don’t even think it will take a decade. I don’t think will take a half a decade. There is every realistic expectation that those who are pushing this revolution will push it fast and faster still. As a matter of fact, many of the legal architects of these arguments have been telling us all along that this is precisely what they will do. I’m going to keep this article on file and I’m going to keep it close at hand, just to remind those who wrote it and those who are quoted in the article of just how short the short-term turns out to be.

3) Marijuana stigma declines as actual danger of marijuana consumption increases

Next, we need to talk for a moment about how societies work and how moral issues begin to shape or to reshape a society. Every single society includes a moral judgment that is rightly described as stigma. Every society decides that certain acts, certain behaviors are outside the bounds and if they are outside the bounds, then they are stigmatized. To do such a thing is to bring about the moral judgment, the negative moral judgment of the society. It’s easy to look around us and see some of the things that society stigmatizes right now. Just to take one obvious example, society stigmatizes any abuse of an animal or a child and rightly so. And that is the kind of stigma that is required for a society to operate on any kind of consistent or sane moral principles. You can’t have a culture; you certainly can’t have a civilization without an understanding of what kind behaviors are to be stigmatized. What kind of behaviors are to bring a negative moral judgment as a consensus of the entire society?

But one of the things we need to note is that in this great moral revolution we are experiencing, one of the shifts is a shift in stigma and is not only related to sexual behaviors and romantic issues, it’s also related to the issue of marijuana. That’s an issue that came quite clearly to the fore, in an article in the Los Angeles Times written by William J. Bennett and Seth Leibsohn. Williams J. Bennett is the former United States Secretary of Education and he was the first drug Czar, the first director of national drug policy in the United States. Leibsohn is chairman of Arizonans for responsible drug policy. Secretary Bennett served as Secretary of Education under President Ronald Reagan and President George H.W. Bush appointed in the nation’s first national drug control officer, the so-called drug czar. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Bennett writing along with Leibsohn gets right to the question of stigma. He says this,

“Twenty years ago, drug dealers were seen for what they were — criminal and dangerous elements in our society. People who sold marijuana were considered losers, in the business of harming our children. Parents warned their kids to stay away from those known to use drugs.

“But thanks to the marijuana lobby, what was once scorned is hyped and celebrated — even as the drug has become more potent, with THC, the intoxicating chemical, present at much higher levels than in the 1990s. Dealers run state-sanctioned dispensaries, lobby to further legalize their product and receive positive media coverage when doing so. The dangers have gone up and the stigma has gone down.”

That is a very, very interesting moral statement. That’s one of those statements that leads us to think for a moment. How is it that in a sane society you can have the moral danger go up at the same time that the stigma goes down? Bennett and Leibsohn point back that if you go back a generation there is bipartisan support for intentionally stigmatizing drug use, in this case including marijuana. As a matter of fact, marijuana has been well-documented as the so-called entry drug, whereby people who go on to even more dangerous drugs will trace their original use of drugs back to marijuana. And as Bennett and Leibsohn point out, the marijuana that is being celebrated and sold today is considerably more potent even than the marijuana that was stigmatized in the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s, until more recently.

Tracing some of the effects of this aspect of the moral revolution, the authors point to the fact that in Colorado, where marijuana became legal in 2012, adolescent use is 56% higher than the national average. They go on to write furthermore, the science is overwhelmingly clear that marijuana use is harmful to human health, particularly among children and young adults. They go to a study publicly released by the American Medical Association in 2013, let’s just note that’s not ancient history, when it came out against the legalization of marijuana with the AMA writing,

“Current evidence supports, at minimum, a strong association of cannabis use with the onset of psychiatric disorders. Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to harm.”

It is so interesting that at this moment in the moral revolution two of the most interesting fronts two of the most important fronts are marriage and marijuana. Who would’ve expected this just a generation ago? But the key question is the one raised by Bennett and Leibsohn in this article, how can it be in a sane society that the danger is going up in the moral stigma is going down? That’s a question that every American should face and face clearly.

4) Anne Gaylor’s death sad comparison to Christian hope in death

Today I close with yet another obituary, this for Anne Gaylor, who died at age 88. The headline in the obituary by Sam Roberts,

“Anne Gaylor, Battler for freedom from religion.”

It turns out that Anne Gaylor, who almost reached the age of 90, was a very prominent nonbeliever. She became a principal founder in the 1970s of the group known as the Freedom from Religion Foundation, which as Roberts says,

“Bills itself as the nation’s largest group of atheists and agnostics.”

Roberts goes on to say, and from a worldview perspective and from a Christian understanding, this is really important. He writes,

“Even in death, she held to her principles. Having already arranged to be cremated, she left a handwritten list of instructions with her family that explicitly ordered “No memorial,” and specified that a small tombstone be inscribed “Feminist — Activist — Freethinker.”

Roberts says,

“No one could dispute those characterizations, not even the adversaries whose vitriolic passions she provoked, first by advocating abortion rights and raising money for poor women unable to afford to terminate their pregnancies, and then by singling out religion as “the root cause of women’s oppression.”

Roberts writes about Anne Gaylor that she,

“Never minced words, beginning with the provocative name of her group.”

She said,

“I’ve never liked euphemisms. If you have something to say, say it.”

And she did say what was on her mind. She said,

“More people have been killed in the name of religion than for any other reason,” Ms. Gaylor said. She branded the Bible “a grim fairy tale” and preached that “nothing fails like prayer.” She wrote a book titled “Abortion Is a Blessing” and declared unabashedly that “in the kind of world I want to live in, all children would be wanted.”

Let’s just point out in the world she said she wanted to live in, and by the way that’s the world we now live in, millions of these children are aborted, murdered in the womb, even before they are born.

In forming this organization the Freedom from Religion Foundation, Roberts says that,

“The group invoked the 19th-century term freethinker to describe someone who forms an opinion about religion on the basis of reason, rather than faith, tradition or authority. The Gaylors formally described the organization’s goals as educating the public about “nontheism” and protecting the constitutional principle of separation of church and state. The foundation now claims more than 20,000 members.”

But listen to the sadness in the last paragraph of this obituary,

“Ms. Gaylor’s final instructions to her family were far more personal. After dictating the text of her tombstone, she wrote, “Please plant something flowering when weather permits.” Then she told them: “Take care of each other.”

There’s something horrifyingly sad about those words, there’s something horrifyingly sad about this entire obituary. Here you have a woman who hated the Bible by her own words and loved abortion so much she called abortion a blessing. But at the end of her life after she had ordered her own cremation and that simple and very straightforward tombstone, she says to her family “take care of each other.”

Just a couple of days ago I made reference on The Briefing to the New York Times obituary of Elizabeth Elliott, the widow of the missionary martyr, Jim Elliott and of the story of her life that was so saturated by the gospel. In a span of just a few days, her obituary appeared and this obituary appeared. Now I’m not the only person who reads the obituaries in the New York Times. I can only wonder how many people reading those obituaries, those two in particular, understood the difference, the infinite and eternal difference between the obituaries written about these two women who died at almost the same age, at almost the same time.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For information on Boyce College just go to

I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.


Podcast Transcript

1) Tsarnaev sentencing stark example of difference between mercy in Christianity and Islam

Tsarnaev apologizes for Boston Marathon bombing, Boston Globe (Patricia Wen, Kevin Cullen, Milton J. Valencia, John R. Ellement and Martin Finucane)

Boston Marathon Bomber Says He’s Sorry for the First Time, New York Times (AP)

2) Time limit on religious liberty for education institutions evident cause of culture shift

Schools Fear Impact of Gay Marriage Ruling on Tax Status, New York Times (Laurie Goodstein and Adam Liptak)

3) Marijuana stigma declines as actual danger of marijuana consumption increases

What happened to the marijuana stigma?, Los Angeles Times (William J. Bennett and Seth Leibsohn)

4) Anne Gaylor’s death sad in comparison to Christian hope in death

Anne Gaylor, 88, Dies; Guarded Wall Between Church and State, New York Times (Sam Roberts)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me using the contact form. Follow regular updates on Twitter at @albertmohler.

Subscribe via email for daily Briefings and more (unsubscribe at any time).