The Briefing 09-25-15

The Briefing 09-25-15

The Briefing

September 25, 2015

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

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

Part I

Pope's Congress address fails to mention Jesus, affirms leftward leading of Roman Church

One of the largest questions hanging over the Pope’s visit to the United States this week is the question, would he lean left? And that question has been decidedly answered, answered by the Pope himself in yesterday’s address to a joint session of Congress, when as the New York Times reports,

“Taking a rostrum never before occupied by the bishop of Rome, Francis issued a vigorous call to action [on issues largely favored by liberals including], a passionate defense of immigration, an endorsement of environmental legislation, a blistering condemnation of the arms trade and a plea to abolish the death penalty.”

Actually the Pope leaned left on many issues and yet what is most noticeable about the Pope’s address to Congress is not at all what he said but what he didn’t say. In many ways, the Pope’s appearance before Congress yesterday must send a very clear signal to conservative Catholics that they have faced exactly what they feared, a Pope who is not only leaning left, but is going to take the Roman Catholic Church to the left with him. And yet the most amazing aspect of the pope’s appearance before Congress is that he never even mentioned Jesus Christ. The Federalist put out an article subsequent to the Pope’s appearance in which they wrote,

“Although he referenced multiple hot-button political issues in his speech to Congress, Pope Francis didn’t mention Jesus Christ even a single time.”

The staff at The Federalist went on to say,

“During his remarks, which were regularly interrupted by rounds of applause from the assembled lawmakers, Pope Francis condemned the death penalty, called for better environmental stewardship, and even talked about the ills of political polarization. He did not, however, mention Jesus Christ, whose life, death, and resurrection form the very foundation of the Christian faith.”

That’s an amazing development. For the first time the pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church appeared before a joint session of Congress, as I discussed that’s a troubling development in and of itself, and yet when he did so he didn’t even mention the name of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, among the things he didn’t mention were specifically the Catholic Church’s concern about abortion and its definition of marriage as exclusively the union of a man and a woman. Instead what the Pope referenced in terms of those issues was a very fuzzy and evasive approach that left many people wondering if he was actually talking about either abortion or marriage at all. Certainly at no point did he issue any kind of support for unborn human life, and at no point did he define marriage in any way, instead referring to the fact that the family is important. The only reference that came anywhere close to the issue of marriage, much less the Catholic Church’s teaching against same-sex marriage was when the Pope said,

“I will end my visit to your country in Philadelphia, where I will take part in the world meeting of families. It is my wish that to hope and visit, and see that the family, should be a reoccurring thing. How essential the family has been to the building of this country.

“And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement, yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.”

So as you see in that very brief statement the Pope mentions marriage, but he never defined it and he certainly didn’t draw attention to the fact that the Roman Catholic Church identifies marriage as and only as the union of a man and a woman. Instead he offered a statement that can be interpreted by virtually anyone as that individual may wish to interpret it, mentioning marriage and the family without defining either. And speaking of the future of marriage in such a way that virtually no one regardless of their position on the moral revolution can disagree with him. Furthermore, even though the sanctity of human life is a fundamental teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, it was virtually missing from the Pope’s statement; explicitly missing was any reference to abortion and to the fact that abortion is now one of the most controversial frontline issues in America today.

The headline at the Huffington Post after the Pope’s address was this,

“Pope Francis’ Speech To Congress Didn’t Mention Abortion, Gay Marriage By Name.”

Jaweed Kaleem reporting for the Huffington Post went on to say,

“In a 3,404-word address, he used only 75 words on the two topics.”

And again he never actually mentioned same-sex marriage at all, nor did he define marriage, nor did he really mention abortion. Only 75 words out of the 3400 words had anything to do with anything even close. So at the end of the day, the signal has been clearly sent this is a Pope that’s going to lean left. He has been leaning left with so many symbolic acts and with so many gestures and statements, but there is no question that in this unprecedented opportunity for the Pope to address a joint session of the United States Congress, he let his priorities be clearly known and those priorities are the ones that in terms of the political spectrum undeniably lean left, but far more significant for evangelical Christians is the understanding that theologically, this represents a lean left as well. And that raises the most crucial issue of evangelical concern, looking at this Pope, looking at the papacy, looking at this visit to the United States, what are the lessons that we should learn? Well, here’s a very clear lesson, there is no doubt that to send signals of leaning left will eventually either require a correction or the substance of actually leaning left and that’s what we’re seeing now in the Roman Catholic Church early on in his pontificate, Francis sends signals of leaning left, of moving in a more liberal direction of relaxing the teachings and the pastoral practice of the Roman Catholic Church and now even though there has been no fundamental change in the actual teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, it’s clear that in terms of its pastoral processes and application this Pope is not only steering in a more liberal direction, but now he has sent signals of his priorities and those priorities are those that will take the church in a further more liberal direction.

Some of the most interesting conversation about the Pope and his visit has come among evangelicals. For instance, at Christianity Today, an article appeared by Chris Castaldo in which he was writing about why evangelicals like Francis and what they like about him. He went on to quote several evangelicals who said very positive things about what they have learned from Francis. He made reference to the fact that several evangelicals have made pilgrimages to see Francis and then he writes this statement, which is really, really interesting,

“Evangelicals are flocking to Pope Francis because they resonate with his approach to theology, which is more pietistic than doctrinal.”

That is a really interesting and important insight. The point this author is making is that more than a direct change in Catholic teaching, what Francis represents is a minimization of doctrine itself and a theological redirection of the Catholic Church in a more pietistic direction. Now let’s note what that really represents. It represents an opportunity to avoid having to get to the hard edges of Christian truth. It is an intentional effort to avoid a direct confrontation with the secularizing culture. It is an effort to try to get along in terms of this moral revolution, not so much at this point by changing the teachings of his church, but by soft peddling them or in the case of his address to Congress not even mentioning them. Not even daring to define marriage which is so central to the Catholic Church that it is actually one of the sacraments recognized by the church, but the Pope didn’t reference marriage and he didn’t define it and that is incredibly telling. That is why so many people are attracted the Pope Francis, who would otherwise be repelled by the teachings of his church and would oppose them publicly. It’s because evidently you can like Pope Francis, because he doesn’t particularly represent any kind of defense of those teachings that cause such offense.

Castaldo actually quotes Pope Francis from something that is less known among many when he said,

“Let us put theologians on an island to discuss among themselves and we’ll just get on with things.”

That is one of the most interesting and revealing statements from any religious leader. What he is basically saying is something that is echoed now in many evangelical circles,

“Let’s just let the theologians argue among themselves and we’ll get on with things.”

But what does “we’ll get on with things” mean? It means we’ll get on with things without the necessity of any kind of theological foundation, of any kind of confessional fidelity, of any kind of confrontation with the secular world that opposes us primarily because of our theology. It also means that our personal practice, our social morality can be severed from any kind of theological truth. It means that we don’t have to deny theological truth. All we have to do is ignore it, is sublimate it, marginalize it, just bury it underneath an entire universe of symbolic gestures.

Finally on this topic, one of the most interesting aspects of all of this is demonstrated once again by columnist Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, who wrote in anticipation of the Pope’s appearance before Congress that he is,

“A Pope for All Species.”

Kristof has written some very interesting articles over the years, including an article in which he laments the fact that so many Americans believe in the virgin birth, he comes back in this article to say that he likes Pope Francis and he agrees with Pope Francis and this is something cited in his article that,

“Animals are going to be in heaven.”

If this appeared anywhere other than the New York Times it would be less significant, but it does. Kristof writes,

“I share his conviction that dogs go to heaven — indeed, heaven would be diminished if there were no dogs. And it’s exhilarating to see a spiritual leader whose empathy goes beyond the widow and orphan to, say, the parrot (Francis once blessed a parrot belonging to a former male stripper).”

Now I’ll admit as an evangelical Christian, I have no idea what to do with anyone who blesses a parrot that once belonged to a male stripper. I’m not even sure why all that belongs together, but nonetheless, it leads to the next statement made by Nicholas Kristof in the editorial pages of yesterday’s edition of the New York Times. He writes,

“Indeed, here’s the delicious irony: Pope Francis is revered even by many atheists.”

Well, let’s just note something that troubles many Roman Catholics, as well as evangelicals. When Pope Francis appeared before Congress, he didn’t mention the name of Jesus Christ. That’s one reason why he can be so beloved by atheists, Kristof argues that,

“The Christian “brand” [and he puts the word brand in quotation marks] has suffered from culture wars, [and what he calls] hypocritical televangelist blowhards and the sense that Christian leaders have spent more time condemning gays (whom Jesus never mentions) than helping the needy (Jesus’ passion). Some young people have gone so far as to avoid the label “Christian,” calling themselves followers of Jesus instead. It carries less baggage.”

Thus, he sees Pope Francis as a very encouraging sign of the future. He also says there are many Protestant leaders, including evangelical leaders, he says, who are following the same kind of mode. Kristof quotes Debra Fikes of the world evangelical alliance who said,

“As a U.S. evangelical who has been so disappointed in how leaders from my own faith tradition have lost sight of what an authentic Christian witness really looks like, Pope Francis is nailing it, and this is resonating with Catholics and Protestants, including evangelicals.”

Now I’m in general puzzled by a statement like that, including the very use of a phrase like faith tradition. But what really gets me is how here you have someone representing what’s identified as an evangelical alliance who says that what she really appreciates in Pope Francis is his model of,

“What an authentic Christian witness really looks like.”

I’ll just be honest. How in the world is she going to square that with the Pope appearing before the United States Congress without we should note even mentioning Jesus Christ?

Well, as I’ve said there are many conservative Catholics who will be very troubled by the Pope’s visit and as evangelical Christians we can understand why. But we also have to understand that what we’re being presented here in terms of the affirmation of the secular media and of the theological left is a mode of religious leadership, which is exactly what they are looking for and calling for, what they have been longing for. An example of leadership that does not define the issues, an example of leadership that moves from theology to piety, an example of leadership that doesn’t bring up the awkward questions and doesn’t lean into the heart issues where the truth has to be defined and defended. There are of course lessons for us to learn here. A part of the success of Pope Francis has been his personality and his open mode of engagement. That’s something that should be emulated by any leader, but at the same time we have to notice the limits of that kind of openness and the limits of that kind of gesture. At the end of the day leadership doesn’t happen, and from a Christian perspective, this is emphatically and centrally true. Leadership doesn’t happen if the truth is not defended, if the truth is not defined and if, let’s state the very obvious, Jesus Christ isn’t even mentioned.

But from an evangelical perspective, the big issue here isn’t and has never been the Pope in that sense; it is what we’re looking for in our own leaders and what we expect in terms of the evangelical future. Because there are some evangelicals, just as the one cited in Nicholas Kristof’s article, who are saying this is the direction we need to take. One final note in terms of how Christians ought to engage this kind of conversation that there is no reason, no reason at all why we should not state our agreement with everything the Pope said with which we agree. There is no compromise there. But the big issue is that we be honest about where we disagree and where we state quite emphatically that the biggest problem in terms of this address is not with what the Pope said but with what he didn’t say.

Part II

Abortion videos expose divide over abortion as either murder or morally insignificant

Next on the worldview front, an editorial that appeared at the New York Times that demands our attention and the headline is,

“The G.O.P.’s Obsession with Planned Parenthood.”

Now once again, we’re looking at the basic worldview divide when it comes to something as basic as the sanctity of human life and what we have noted over and again is how the current conversation is making the great fundamental difference in worldview ever more clear on this issue and it comes up, once again, this time in this editorial in the New York Times yesterday’s edition, the editors say,

“Congressional Republicans are again playing brinkmanship with the budget — some are even threatening to shut down the government.”

And here again, they’re talking about the fact that Republicans in both the House and the Senate are threatening to shut down the government in terms of its current funding refusing to pass a so-called continuing resolution if it includes continued federal funding for Planned Parenthood. It’s not at all evident by the way; where this is going politically but it is evident where it’s going in terms of worldview. The editors of the New York Times write this,

“The latest phase of this campaign began in July with deceptive videos by anti-abortion activists. The videos showed Planned Parenthood officials discussing fetal-tissue donation, which is legal and critical for medical research. Republicans say the videos are evidence that Planned Parenthood illegally profits by selling aborted fetuses and should therefore be stripped of federal money.”

Well, let’s just get right away to the sentence, they claim that the videos released about Planned Parenthood are deceptive. Well, are they? Well the reality is Planned Parenthood has admitted to the fact that these are Planned Parenthood personnel; they’re not denying that babies are aborted in the womb and their bodies are torn apart and that Planned Parenthood is involved in the financial transfer of those tissues as they call them for medical research and other purposes. They are macabre, horrifying, absolutely revealing and undeniable videos, but the big issue is this – where is the New York Times calling for an investigation into just how supposedly deceptive these videos are? If the New York Times really cared about the truth of the matter, and let’s be honest, they know the truth of the matter, then they would be calling for an adequate investigation to find out exactly what’s going on. But they’re not calling to that kind of investigation, they are opposed to it. They then go on to define what they describe as,

“Fetal tissue donation.”

Now one of the worldview issues we always need to watch is the use of euphemism. A euphemism is a term that avoids the real moral impact of what’s going on. So when you have a euphemism you refer to something like adultery as an extramarital affair. It’s a way of getting around the moral reality, let’s state it emphatically, the sin of adultery. So adultery becomes an extramarital affair, it becomes a fling. But what we’re really looking at here is the undeniable sinfulness that it is indeed adultery. Premarital sex was redefined from fornication to hooking up, you’re looking at the use of euphemism in so many different ways and of course when you’re looking at the issue of abortion and when you’re looking at the fact that unborn babies are being dismembered and their tissues and organs sold, it is reduced in this editorial to

“Fetal tissue donation.”

In a strange portion of this editorial they cite Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey who,

“Said this week that Planned Parenthood, with President Obama’s support, is engaged in the “systematic murder of children in the womb” in order to sell body parts.”

Well, you’ll note that the editors cite a statement that is actually true. What Governor Christie said about Planned Parenthood is true and what’s really interesting is the editors of the New York Times don’t go on to deny it. That’s what so chilling about this editorial and that’s why it demands our attention because the next words from the editors are these,

“Abortions are a small part of Planned Parenthood’s services and tissue donation a very small part.”

So let’s just ask the obvious worldview question, the great moral question, just how small a part would the killing of babies and the ripping apart of their babies be in terms of funding equation morally understood by the editors of the New York Times. The reality is whether it’s a small part or a big part, morally speaking, it really doesn’t matter. If the unborn child doesn’t matter and if it doesn’t matter that their so-called tissues are now being distributed for medical research. The continuation of this controversy becomes more revealing day by day and even hour by hour. Yesterday, we looked at a statement by the woman that started the shout your abortion movement and now we are looking at the editors of the New York Times and we’re seeing a consistent lightning of the divide. We are seeing the disappearance of what was previously claimed as middle ground. We’re seeing the reality that abortion is either murder or it is relatively speaking, morally insignificant. It’s hard to argue that it’s a little bit significant or even largely significant. What we are seeing in terms of this controversy is a worldview collision between those two positions. It would be far more honest if people were clear about what those positions really represent.


Part III

Pagan Pride Day reveals inherent spiritual identity and needs even in hyper-modern age

Finally, as October is coming and the fall is upon us, Religion News Service ran an article with the headline,

“Pagan Pride Day: Earth-based religions celebrate unique identity.”

Well, unique identity is something of an understatement here. The article is actually datelined from Louisville, Kentucky. The reporter is Lauren Pond and she writes,

“Founded in the 1990s, the Pagan Pride Project aims to “foster pride in Pagan identity,” according to the organization’s website. One manifestation of this is Pagan Pride Day, an event that neo-pagans in cities around the world celebrate every autumn, around the time of the equinox. Practitioners of a variety of pagan backgrounds gather for a day of workshops, public rituals, charity and entertainment.”

One dimension of this was, according to Religion News Service,

“Held in Waterfront Park along the Ohio River, the 2015 Pagan Pride Day event in Louisville drew about 650 people.”

And according to the article,

“It is difficult to estimate the size of the American neo-pagan community, which includes adherents to Wicca, Druidism and Asatru, among other polytheistic and Earth-based religions. Fearing reprisal for their beliefs, many people do not publicly identify as pagan. They remain, as some like to say, “In the broom closet.”

Well, taking the issue out of the closet let’s face what we’re looking at here. This represents the kind of spiritual confusion that is inevitable with the collapse of Christian influence in this country. And of course what we’re looking at is that the fact that you have study after study claiming that Americans are becoming more and more secular, the rise of the nones, those with no religious affiliation that is now multiplying, and yet you’ll notice that there is a spiritual dimension that simply calls for some kind of response. There is a spiritual dimension that can’t be denied and if it is not taking the form of biblical Christianity, it’s going to take the form of something else. This is, we know, because we are made in God’s image as spiritual creatures and that spiritual identity and spiritual need cannot be denied, but it is often said fed by paganism and what we’re seeing here is that in a supposedly hypermodern America there is amongst a growing number of people a reversion to ancient paganisms. Having rejected Christianity, they can’t reject a spiritual need and so they try to find it satisfied even in resuscitating and reviving ancient paganisms that have been thought by many to have passed away. But now as this article says, the movements are out of the broom closet, even if many of the pagan adherents are not yet.

But from a Christian worldview perspective, it is really interesting, it’s very illuminating that in this hypermodern age you have people who are going back to the most primitive forms of ancient religion. They’re going back to the worship of pagan deities. They’re going back as this article says to polytheism and they’re going back to pantheism and panentheism that is the worship of the earth or the belief that God is at least present in the artifacts of the earth in a way that should lead to worship and a religious ritual. One of the most fundamental confusions that is evidence of the fall is the confusion between the creator and creation. And now we see that being celebrated in ancient paganisms being brought to new life. And so in an ironic way, Pagan Pride Day becomes a picture of our times. With 650 people gathered on the banks of the Ohio River in a park in Louisville, Kentucky, to celebrate what they call Pagan Pride Day to foster pride in pagan identity. They no doubt thought their meeting was important, but from a Christian worldview perspective, it’s actually more important and more revealing than even they knew.

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 Are you preparing for college or do you know someone who is? I want to tell you more about Boyce College at our Preview Day which will take place in just a few days on October 23, here on the campus of Boyce College and Southern Seminary. Come learn how we are preparing the next generation of Christian men and women to serve the church and engage the culture. Learn more by going to our website at Boyce That’s www.Boyce


I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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