The Briefing 09-02-15

The Briefing 09-02-15

The Briefing

September 2, 2015

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

It’s Wednesday, September 2, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian world view.

Part I

Pope's 'Year of Mercy' exemplifies problems of sacramental system, changes nothing

Pope Francis is coming to the United States at the end of this month, and included in his visit will be an address to a joint session of Congress. From an evangelical perspective, there are many issues of concern here. One of them has to do, most centrally, with the papacy itself, and then with what is identified as a state visit by a head of state, but that’s an issue to which we will turn in coming days. The Pope is making headlines right now because of a statement he made and a position released by the Vatican declaring a so-called Year of Mercy. A year in particular in which women who had had abortions could receive from priests a pardon for that sin. Women receiving abortions, according to the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, are automatically excommunicated. During this Year of Mercy, priests are being told that they have the authority to extend pardon, and the assurance of that pardon, to women who had had abortions if they come seeking that pardon. Now, that raises a very interesting question which at least some in the secular media immediately began to ask, and that is, is there anything then unique about this Year of Mercy?

The obvious question is, was the Church denying that pardon to women who had had abortions if they were seeking that pardon? That raises a major issue of Biblical concern. A major issue of the collision between evangelical Christianity and Roman Catholicism. It starts, of course, at the very existence of the papacy, but it then extends to the entire system of sacramental grace. That’s what’s really at stake here. The Roman Catholic Church is a sacramental church. It believes that God’s blessings and salvation eventually come through the manifestation of the work of the sacraments, and that effect comes to those who are participants in those sacraments, which means they have to be allowed to be participants in terms of that sacramental system. Women who had had abortions, according to the teaching of the Catholic Church, are automatically excommunicated. They are cut off from that sacramental grace. The priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church includes the authority to pardon and forgive sin and to provide assurance of that pardon.

That is radically distinct, indeed it is inherently contradictory, to the evangelical understanding that God alone can pardon sin and that He does so, not through a human priesthood, but rather through the accomplished ministry of His own son, whose atonement achieved the forgiveness of sins for those who come to Him by faith and those who repent of those sins. We understand that the assurance of pardon comes from Christ Himself. As the scripture tells us, if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Evangelicals also do not believe in the sacramental system of grace that the Roman Catholic Church holds as central, and that raises a host of theological issues, but right now, from a world view perspective, one of the most interesting aspects of this story is that it is a story. What we’re really looking at here is the fact that the secular media, by and large, want to believe that Pope Francis represents a radical shift or transition in the Roman Catholic Church. A radical new position in contrast to Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II before him and it appears that to a considerable extent, this is the very ambition and intention of Pope Francis, to be seen as a transformative figure within Roman Catholicism.

Yet, we need to note that in all of the announcements made about Pope Francis ever since he assumed that office, not one of them provides any serious argument that Pope Francis intends to teach the actual doctrine and teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. Sarah Pulliam Bailey and Michelle Boorstein writing for the Washington Post said,

“Pope Francis said Tuesday that during a special Year of Mercy he’s designated that all priests would have the right to hear confession for abortion, a statement they wrote that immediately set off debate among theologians and canon lawyers over whether the Pope’s comments were symbolic or reflected an actual change in Roman Catholic practice.”

In a very interesting passage in the article in the Washington Post, the reporters write,

“As has become common with Pope Francis’ moves, the Vatican’s announcement prompted debate about what his real motivation was.”

They went on to say,

“Liberals saw him down playing the sin of abortion by advertising primarily the availability of confession and forgiveness. Later, as the reporters say, church officials tried to clarify what in fact was new. Technically, some said, bishops have to give priests in their community the right to hear all confessions. It wasn’t immediately clear if there are any priests in the world who don’t have this permission.”

His spokesman said,

“The point Francis was making was to emphasize that it is available.”

One of our responsibilities is to understand what’s going on behind the headlines. In this case, the bottom line analysis means not much, if anything at all. Making that point was a liberal Catholic identified as Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice. He said,

“I’m not seeing this as real change we need. However, gestures are really important. Francis is big on gestures. The idea that he’s making a gesture sends a message to us.”

We’re talking about this story today because it led the headlines all over the country and it does point to the underlying theological issues at stake, the basic theological difference between evangelical Christianity and the Roman Catholic Church, but it also points to a very important issue in terms of our analysis of the media. Sometimes the headlines are glaring, but underneath the headlines, there’s actually very little story. In this case, it’s more about style, it appears, than substance. In terms of the real story, it appears it’s very little more than a gesture, but if you are Pope, even your gestures get media attention, and that from an evangelical perspective, is part of the problem.

Part II

Judge awards religious liberty to March for Life on moral, not religious basis

Next, when it comes to the moral confusions of our age, a very important story that appeared in the New York Times. It’s by veteran court observer Adam Liptak, and it has to do with the decision handed down on Monday by Judge Richard J. Leon of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. One of the most controversial issues of our discussion in recent years has been the Obamacare contraception mandate. That is the mandate handed down by the Obama administration that offers very inadequate protection for religious institutions when it comes to the contraception mandate. The mandate that every single qualified insurance coverage and every single employer must include coverage for abortion, including such things as the morning-after pill. The decision handed down by this court on Monday is particularly important because the judge in this case said that when the government extended even those limited recognition of religious liberty rights to religious institutions, it aired in defining the issue as religion. That’s a fascinating argument. It’s very important when we consider the changing landscape, moral landscape, and religious liberty landscape, in America.

As Liptak writes,

“Employers do not need to provide insurance coverage for contraception even if their objections are moral rather than religious according to Judge Leon. The employer in this case is the organization known as March for Life. It identifies itself as “a non-profit, non-religious, pro-life organization,”

And according to the exception language, even the limited exception handed down by the Obama administration, this employer which is explicitly established who oppose abortion and to support the sanctity and dignity of human life was being required to offer a contraceptive coverage, including the morning-after pill, which directly conflicted with its moral conscience. Remember, this is an organization that said it is a non-religious, pro-life organization. Judge Leon in his decision rejected arguments made by the government that the exemption should be extended only to religious groups. The government said that the March for Life should be denied the respect for its convictions because the group,

“Is not religious and is not a church.”

He said that the Obama administration’s position,

“Not only oversimplifies the issue, it misses the point entirely.”

He then went on to make the point that moral judgment is not limited to religious organizations and that moral conviction itself has to be respected. That is a really interesting argument. Whether it stands the scrutiny of appellate courts is very much open to question, but for right now, this decision handed down on Monday is extremely telling. Really interesting from a Christian world view perspective. In this decision handed down on Monday, Judge Leon said,

“Giving religious groups special treatment amounts to ‘regulatory favoritism.’ Moral philosophy, he said, should be accorded the same treatment as religious belief.”

Now that is really, really interesting. Here you have a distinction being made by a federal judge between moral conviction on one hand and religious conviction on the other. Judge Leon explicitly said that these can be two completely separate things.

Now, that raises a host of questions. One of them has to do with this – how long can moral statements exist on their own apart from some kind of religious basis? That’s a continuing issue of our conversation on this program because it’s a question that comes up in the headlines over and over again. That also gets to the argument made by the Obama administration, which at least in principle, is not a stupid argument. They are arguing that a special allowance is given to religion precisely because religious expression and religious exercise is openly acknowledged within the first Amendment to the United States Constitution. That language does not say anything about a moral philosophy. It does explicitly grant specific respect to religious liberty. That raises the obvious point, a very important point now, at the very center of this case. Does the United States Constitution protect moral philosophy as well as religious conviction? In an increasingly secularized age, this kind of distinction is increasingly made. We have people claiming that they’re operating out of a moral conviction that has no basis in any theological truth claim whatsoever.

One of the things we need to note from a Christian worldview perspective, and note very emphatically, is that there is no evidence over human history that there is any possibility that a secular, moral philosophy can continue with any sense of stability for any considerable amount of time. There’s no evidence in other words, that a secular, moral philosophy has any real staying power in terms of consistent argument and consistent conviction. That enduring question gets right to the very important point about this story, having to do with the federal court decision handed down on Monday. The judge in this case asked what appears to be a genuinely new question. A question that will certainly now be considered by even higher courts. It does raise a really interesting question. Can a secular institution or a secular citizen claim a religious liberty right for a moral philosophy? That’s not a small question. It’s a very important question, and it’s a question that won’t be answered finally by this court decision handed down on Monday.

Part III

Professor's syllabus bans use of offensive terms like 'male' and 'female'

Speaking of the continual battle to define the culture, an article that appeared just yesterday in the National Review tells us a great deal about what’s going on in America’s college and university campuses. As is the case so often, it comes in a snapshot, a time capsule from just one school and even from just one professor, but as National Review indicates, it’s a very clear window into exactly what’s going on in American higher education. What we need to note first is that what goes on in American higher education never stays in higher education circles. What happens in academia, especially in elite academia, eventually filters down to the entire culture, and that’s what’s really important. That’s why Katherine Timpf wrote the article that headlined as this,


“University Thwarts Prof’s Attempt to Punish Students for Referring to Men and Women as ‘Male’ and ‘Female.”


You heard it right. Timpf writes,


“In response to a gender-studies professor who wanted to punish her students for referring to men and women as “male” and “female,” Washington State University has announced that it will not allow faculty to ban potentially “offensive” words or punish students for using them.”

Now, once again, what are the potentially offensive words? They are male and female. In order to get at what’s really at stake in this story, I have an actual copy of the syllabus for the class. That is the actual document that establishes the professor’s intention and requirements for the students in the class. The instructor in this case is Selena Lester Breikss, and she is once again teaching a course entitled “Women and Popular Culture” at Washington State University. It is located in, this is telling in itself, the university’s department of “Critical Culture Gender and Race Studies.” On page four of the syllabus, the professor wrote,

“Please be considerate of your peers, the course content, and myself. We all have differing opinions, beliefs, and practices. The course materials may challenge your personal beliefs or opinions, and this is an open space to discuss those disagreements in a civilized, academic manner. Any personal attacks against myself or another student will result in removal from the course for the remainder of the semester.”

Well, that sounds like a very reasonable position, but how does that actually work? She makes that clear later in the syllabus when she writes,

“Use of racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic, classist, or generally offensive language in class or submission of such material will not be tolerated.”

She goes on to give examples of language that will not be tolerated, most of it I’m not about to read on this program, and then she gets to

“Referring to women/men as females or males.”

She continued,

“If I see it or hear it, I will correct it in class since it can be a learning moment for many students. Repeated use of oppressive and hateful language will be handled accordingly, including but not limited to removal from the class without attendance or participation points, failure of the assignment, and in extreme cases, failure for the semester.”

This is an explicit, in-writing warning that the use of the categories male and female can eventually mean you can be rejected from the class.

One of the things immediately to note is that this is not exactly the kind of thing we have seen previously, in which it is disallowed to use male and female for people who do not want to be identified as male and female. What makes this story unique is that the categories of male and female are identified as inherently oppressive, a form of hate speech in and of themselves. As I said, the National Review article indicates that the president of Washington State University said that this professor and others would not be allowed to operate by this policy, and yet the statement made by the university’s president is telling in itself. The statement released by President Daniel Bernardo on the university’s website says,

“Over the weekend, we became aware that some faculty members in the interest of fostering a constructive climate for discussion, included language in class syllabi that has been interpreted as abridging students free speech rights. We are working with these faculty members to clarify and in some cases, modify course policies to ensure that students’ free speech rights are recognized and protected. No student will have points docked merely as a result of using terms that may be deemed offensive to some. Blanket restriction of the use of certain terms is not consistent with the values upon which this university is founded.”

We need to know this is the kind of bureaucratic tangled language with which we are increasingly familiar, perhaps especially in the arenas of higher education and government. You’ll notice that in this case he’s concerned about language that,

“Has been interpreted as.”

And he goes on to suggest that the issue at stake is free speech rights when it comes to students. That’s not an irrelevant consideration, but more important from a Christian worldview perspective is what this reveals about the world view driving so much higher education. There may be those who nonetheless say it’s not fair to take one syllabus and one course by one professor in one university and say this is a sign of what’s going on in higher education, but as anyone who’s watching the field knows, the problem is this kind of story comes virtually every week, if not every day in one form or another. This particular story got attention because the words that are being forbidden to be used in class happen to be as basic as male and female.

I can absolutely promise you that this is not the only professor, and this is not the only classroom where using categories like man and woman or male and female will get you into big trouble and fast. Before leaving this story, however, I want to say I read her entire syllabus, and in that syllabus is this statement:

“If you are seen using your cell phone in class, you will be marked absent and lose all participation points for the day without warning. Keep in mind that seven absences or more is a failure for the semester.”

When it comes to that point, I am emphatically in this professor’s corner. Her policy on language may be nonsensical and ridiculous, but her policy on cell phones in class, I say for that policy it’s right on.

Part IV

Opposition to child-bearing reflects reduction to children to a mere 'want'

Finally, I make note of an article that appeared yesterday at The Guardian. That’s the most liberal of the daily major London newspapers, but it’s also the British newspaper that is most read in the United States of America. That’s what makes this story really interesting. Lilit Marcus is writing a piece for The Guardian explaining why she doesn’t have children and she will never have children. She declares herself a part of the group known as “child-free,” those who declare that they want adulthood, and frankly, they want sexual relationships, but they don’t want children, not under any circumstances. Lilit Marcus writes,

“Thanks to developments in medicine and hygiene, it’s safer than ever to be pregnant and give birth in the developed world, but that still doesn’t mean bringing new life into the world comes without risks.”

She goes on cite a new study from Arizona State University that reports that when fetal cells are introduced into an expectant mother’s body, the results can be helpful, but they can also cause harm.

“Some of the cells can remain in the body after the baby is born.”

You’ve not heard about this horrible medical problem because it isn’t a real medical problem. As a matter of fact, this author acknowledges the fact that this isn’t the reason she’s not having a baby, and as a matter of fact, a threat to her life, real or perceived, is not the reason she’s not having a baby. She doesn’t want to have a baby because she doesn’t want to have a baby. She writes about studies indicating that pregnancy is no cake walk for expectant mothers, and she writes about the fact that there are heath implications for mothers having babies and she wants nothing of it. She wants nothing of pregnancy, and she doesn’t want the baby either.

Writing about the research she cites, she acknowledges this is very important and honest,

“This could all be a case of confirmation bias since I’ve already made up my mind on the no kids front.”

She goes on to list some of the many reasons why she doesn’t have kids and doesn’t plan to have kids, and the bottom line, she doesn’t want to be a mom and she doesn’t want the responsibility of having children. Later in the article, she writes,

“The idea of committing to something I feel at best lukewarm about on a good day isn’t worth surrendering 18-plus years of my life for.”

This gets to one of the major moral confusions of our day, and it’s a language that even Christians can find themselves expressing without recognizing what they’re saying. There is a mantra in the pro-abortion crowd about the fact that every single child should be wanted and an unwanted child, therefore, should not be imposed upon an expectant mother. Of course, here you have an author saying,

“It’s not something explicitly that can be returned to the store. It’s something you’re stuck with for 18 plus years.”

Of course, the reduction of a child to a something is symptomatic of the problem, but beyond that, what we have here is the redefinition of a child is something that must be wanted. Now, the Biblical worldview is very clear that children should be wanted. The Biblical worldview excludes the very idea of this kind of chosen childlessness as something that God intended or that God would bless. The very idea that human beings would have the self-determination to say,

“I simply don’t want to have kids because I don’t want to be troubled with them,”

is something that is completely foreign from the Biblical worldview, which puts our existence, being made in God’s image as male and female, in the context of the arena of marriage or the reception of all of its gifts, including the gift of children.

The most important issue for Christians is understanding that wanting is simply not enough. The Christian worldview doesn’t assert that every child should be wanted. As a matter of fact, some pregnancies and thus some children are sometimes unexpected surprises. The very idea that the will must want a child is extraneous from the Biblical worldview, which does say we should want children but doesn’t say children should only be wanted when they are wanted. The key issue for the Christian worldview is that every child is to be welcomed. Fully welcomed within the human community and fully welcomed within the family. Fully welcomed and celebrated within the church. The very fact that children here are described as a want one can have or not is a huge problem. How many of us would be alive today if we had only been wanted? The big issue from the Christian worldview is that every single child is an unmitigated, unqualified gift. A gift to be welcomed, not an it, but a he or a she. Once again, this article tells us a very great deal about where we stand and where civilization indeed may fall.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter at For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to Theological training is so important to gospel ministry and where you receive training is also urgently important. If you’ve considered God’s call on your life, we want to give you the opportunity to experience Southern Seminary at Preview Day on October 16. For just $25, we’ll cover your 2 nights of lodging as well as all of you meals on Preview Day. For more information, go to I’m looking forward to meeting you then. For information on Boyce College, just go to

I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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