The Briefing 10-08-15
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Thursday October 8, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Obama apologizes to Doctors Without Borders taking moral responsibility for mistaken hospital strike
A rather remarkable thing happened yesterday when the President of the United States made a phone call. In this case, the President, Barack Obama, made a call to the head of the group known as Doctors Without Borders, and in that phone call, he apologized for what he said was the United States’ mistaken attack upon a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. An attack that led to the death of 12 of the personnel of the medical humanitarian group and 10 patients as well.
As Carol Lee and Felicia Schwartz reported for the Wall Street Journal this morning,
“President Barack Obama personally apologized for the deadly U.S. airstrike on a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders in northern Afghanistan, even though investigations into the incident are incomplete and U.S. officials have said Afghan forces played a key role in calling for the strike.”
According to the story, President Obama yesterday placed a phone call to the group's international president Joanne Liu, “to apologize and express his condolences” for the 12 staff members and 10 patients who were killed, after the US Forces (in the words of the White House spokesman) 'mistakenly struck' the organization's field hospital there in Kunduz.
In moral terms, we need to understand what this represents. The president of the United States was taking personal responsibility as Commander in Chief, and he was also speaking as the head of state of the United States of America, and he was in this case, making an almost unprecedented call early, even before some investigations are fully concluded, in order to take responsibility given the fact that according to the White House, earlier on Wednesday, the president had received word through the United States military authorities, that the United State's military chain of command had been involved in the decision to call the air strike on the field hospital there in Kunduz.
The apology came in the form of that telephone call and thus the call was not accessible to us, but Josh Earnest the White House spokesman said, that this was a decision made by the president,
"Because he believed that it was appropriate for the United States to do what we've done before, which is to acknowledge that a mistake had been made, to offer an apology."
The Wall Street Journal also tells us that Army General John Campbell, the Commander of US and Coalition forces in Afghanistan, had reported that he had directed United States forces to undergo training on military rules of engagement to prevent a similar mistake in the future. The general went on to say the decision to strike was made within the US chain of command, adding that the United States would never intentionally strike a hospital. That's a big issue here. Going all the way back to earliest Christian tradition in terms of trying to understand the morality of war, someone like the great theologian Augustine pointed out the involvement in war though often necessary is never without moral complicity. The very act of violence and death that is involved in war, is itself a matter of the most grave moral significance.
One of the key issues in terms of the Christian understanding of just war, is the combatants and noncombatants are to be separated, and intentional attacks are to be made only upon in the new military forces not upon civilians, much less upon a humanitarian organization, much less upon a hospital. Undoubtedly what took place, and the picture is becoming increasingly clear, is the United States military forces were called in because there were attacks in the region upon both Afghan and United States forces. According to the report, the American military responded to a request from the Afghan military by calling in a C130 strike aircraft that was in the area for a considerable amount of time, and directed much of which deadly attack upon what it believed was on an insurgent force, but in this case, it was actually leveling the attack upon this field hospital.
The Wall Street Journal report indicated that early in this incident, American forces had believed that it was American people on the ground who had called for the airstrike. But it is now apparent that Afghan forces had requested the strike, and the spokesman for the president of Afghanistan confirmed that also yesterday.
In moral terms, we need to note the very important issue of apology. In so many cases, an apology is called for and an apology is called for when moral responsibility is taken. One of the most significant things we need to understand is that this is exceedingly rare when it comes to nations. It's particularly rare when it comes to superpowers, but here you have the most powerful nation in the earth and the most powerful military that is apologizing through it's commander in chief and it's head of state, apologizing for what it acknowledges was a mistake, but even as it acknowledges it as a mistake, it also acknowledges it was a very deadly mistake.
In this sense, the statement made in the phone call from President Obama to the head of the organization Doctors Without Borders, was a very important moral act not only for the fact that an apology took place, but the specific nature of the apology. The president of the United States called to apologize and to express his condolence and to take military responsibility for a strike he acknowledged had been taken on mistaken terms, but what's really interesting here, is what didn't happen. What didn't happen was invasion. The president of the United States acting on behalf of the entire nation and its military forces, took responsibility and acknowledged that the attack took place.
The president had also served here as an agent of sympathy on behalf of the American people. Offering condolence to the group Doctors Without Border, and also condolence to any, in terms of the nation of Afghanistan, who are suffering grief on the other side of this very unfortunate attack. There is also something to note here, the non-evasive nature of this apology is something that is not generally characteristic of heads of state or of political entities, or politicians in general.
You'll note the president did not merely that, "Mistakes were made". That's the kind of moral evasion that has often characterized political apologies, or for that matter, far too many apologies outside the arena of politics. The president didn't put it as if it was simply something that happened. The president acknowledged moral responsibility. That's rare and it's important. It's also important to recognize that the president didn't use the kind of emotional evasion that's also used in some apologies. He didn't say I apologize if you are offended, he acknowledged there is genuine ground for this offense. There is genuine grief.
We are talking about a massive loss of life that took place—of all places—in a hospital. I do not believe for a moment that the United States military intentionally attacked a hospital. There is not even a military reason why the hospital would have been targeted intentionally, but this was an intentional apology. An unevasive apology and it's not worthy for the very fact that it was candid and for the fact that it came early. It came even before three separate investigations undertaken by the United States government had the opportunity fully to understand what has taken place here, but as the White House spokesman said yesterday, the president hand ample information as it developed yesterday to make a statement in terms of this apology and he did so.
President Obama is often criticized for being, the views of his critics, far too apologetic on behalf of the United States of America. That's a separate issue, when it comes to this apology, the president did what was right and he did so straight forwardly and in a timely manner. An apology is only meaningful if it assumes and clearly states moral responsibility. The president did that, and he took responsibility for what he characterized as a mistake, because as his apology indicates, even a mistake can have deep moral significance.
Congress appoints special committee to investigate abortion more broadly
Back to the United States, the Washington Post reported late yesterday that
“House Republicans had voted to create a special committee to investigate a wide range of practices related to abortions and fetal tissue procurement in the latest and perhaps most lasting consequence of an activist campaign targeting Planned Parenthood. “
That's exactly how the lead paragraph read in the article by Mike DeBonis in The Washington Post. As he goes on to say, the new 13 member select committee will continue the work of 3 house panels that have investigated Planned Parenthood since July when as he explains, "Antiabortion activists first released undercover videos depicting some of the groups executives discussing it's handling of tissue harvested from aborted fetuses for search."
Moral victories sometimes come in understated ways. One moral victory for the those who are concerned for the sanctity and dignity of human life, is reflected in the way The Washington Post reported this story. Seeking to be straightforward, the second paragraph of the story acknowledged the fact that Planned Parenthood is now involved in this maelstrom of moral controversy, because as the story explicitly states, of its,
"Handling of tissue harvested from aborted fetuses for research."
That statement is not a perfect description of the controversy, but it does use the word abortion and that in itself is a moral victory.
The far greater moral victory is the fact that the House of Representatives in a largely almost exclusively partisan vote, voted yesterday to authorize a committee—this very special select investigative committee—that will have the power to subpoena witnesses and testimony and now has the responsibility to report back with its report and recommendations to the full House of Representatives.
This is what many of us have been calling for and praying for. Given the divided government in terms of the United States at the present, given the fact that in the White House sits a very staunch defender of Planned Parenthood, given the fact the pro-life forces in the United States Senate do not have the 60 votes necessary to go forward with movement against Planned Parenthood directly, the fact that the House of Representatives has formed and assigned to this committee is very, very important.
Once again the worldview divide is also represented in the political and partisan in divide, as The Washington Post reported, the vote was 242 to 184 and it was,
"Almost entirely along party lines."
According to the Post, two Democrats voted for the committee and 1 Republican voted against forming the committee. What we have here once again is graphic evidence of the fact that the partisan divide is increasingly a worldview divide, especially when it comes to urgent issues such as the sanctity of human life. This kind of partisan worldview divide is almost unprecedented at least in terms of recent American history, but we've been watching the two sides in terms of worldview here also become represented by two-partisan manifestations, in terms of the Republican and Democratic party. There is no reason to believe that there is going to be any lessening of this divide, nor any lessening of the political and partisan character of the divide, especially with the 2016 presidential election now looming before us.
The country and the course of human life will be greatly aided by the fact that the House of Representatives has established this committee, but the committee will only be so good as its work and what really is to be answered now is the question of exactly how this committee is going to do its work, and more importantly whether it will actually fulfill the assignment that has been granted to it. That will only take place if this committee, using all the power that it now has at its disposal, including the power to subpoena, actually lays bare the truth about what's going on at Planned Parenthood. But the importance of this development could be actually far greater, because the action in establishing this committee does not name Planned Parenthood. Instead it names the issue of abortion and the issue of the trafficking in fetal tissues, and because of that, it can look at a far wider range of issues very crucial to the sanctity and dignity of human life. If it fulfills the responsibility invested in it, this committee will serve the nation well. Even more it will serve the course of human life and human dignity.
Ohio effort to aid addicted gamblers example of biological reduction of moral accountability
Next, we turn to gambling another very important moral issue, and it seems that in Ohio, the forces behind the Ohio lottery are starting a new campaign. It has a new website and the message of that website is itself extremely important. Here is the message, "It's not your character, it's your chemistry." It seems that the forces behind the lottery in Ohio have come to the place where they are now arguing that if a citizen of Ohio or where else that's involved in the lottery has a problem with gambling in terms of what might be described as an addiction or a dangerous pattern of gambling, the problem is not an issue of character, it's of chemistry. One of the things we have to not in terms of the moral landscape around us, is the increasing tendency to blame everything on chemistry, particularly on brain chemistry or on some kind of medical reason or rational for bad behavior.
What we have here is another attempt to evade the issue of character. One of the issues behind this is the worldview of biological reductionism. A worldview that's gaining in terms of the academic elites in the United States. A role view that argues that we are basically just a mass of atoms and chemicals, and the chemicals are responsible for our behavior. It's not reducible to a moral issue, it is—to use the statement on this website—a matter of chemistry, not of character. Notice the precise claim that's being made in the motto. I quote it again,
"It's not your character it's your chemistry."
In other words they are saying very straight forwardly it's not character at all, it's all chemistry. This is one of the rarest most pristine forms of this kind of biological reductionism that I've ever seen.
A story that appeared just a while back, at the Columbus Dispatch explains what's going on here. Alan Johnson writing for that leading paper in Ohio's capital said,
"The state will double down on problem gambling with a education campaign that was kicking off just a few months ago. According to the newspaper, the groups behind this new effort include, the Ohio Lottery Commission, the Ohio Casino Control Commission, and a group known as The Drug Free Action Alliance. According to the newspaper, the theme of the campaign is, "Be the 95%."
As the paper explains,
“Ohioans also will share their stories about struggling with gambling addiction. ..The campaign slogan refers to the 95 percent of people who are able to “gamble responsibly without negative consequences,” according to the campaign website.
“The focus of the campaign [now note this language very carefully, it comes directly from the Columbus Dispatch] The focus of the campaign however, is on the estimated 5% of Ohioans for whom gambling is a compulsive addictive problem which can result in financial, family and health issues. They may skip a car payment to gamble, lie to their spouse about missing money and even consider suicide."
Let's step back for just a moment. Morally speaking, this is a horrifying acknowledgement. Let's remember that the theme of the campaign is ‘Be the 95%’ as if that even makes sense, but the 95% betrays the fact that 5% of Ohioans, according to this news release, have a problem with gambling. They are defined as compulsive gamblers and the examples given here indicate that this compulsive gambling, has grave moral consequences not only for themselves but also for their families, and beyond that to the larger society. The paper quotes that 2012 survey that showed an estimated 3.6% of Ohioans who were found to have a gambling addiction problem.
However, the paper says, that was before the opening of several new gambling venues.
“The survey estimated 250,000 Ohioans were at risk of developing a gambling addiction; the number is expected to rise when a scheduled follow up study is done in two years.”
Now wait just a minute. Here you have the government of the state of Ohio represented in terms of this official commission, acknowledging that over 250,000 of the citizens of Ohio already have a compulsive gambling problem. They acknowledge this is a huge problem, but the problem they say is not with the lottery, and further more they now say the problem isn't even an issue of character. The biological reductionism is now trying to argue it's simply chemistry.
Let's go back to that website, "It's not your character it's your chemistry." Just as an experiment, let's assume that we share the worldview that is behind this. That worldview would say, it's chemistry, it's not character, but then how in the world does a state put citizens at risk if in deed the problem is even their chemistry if not their character? After all of this is their chemistry, they can't change their chemistry, so the state of Ohio is seemingly ready to write off about 5% of its citizens because it wants the income coming from legalized gambling. What we see here once again, is a picture of gambling is a moral issue in one state.
We are watching a state playing on its own people, and launching it campaign in order to, "Be the 95%." Is not only ludicrous, it reveals the real truth about gambling. Furthermore, we need to note that the 5% that are identified as having problems with gambling, that 5% is surely not even representative of the real moral injury that comes from gambling. It doesn't deal with the fact that the 95% who supposedly are quite happy with their gambling, may themselves be involved in actions that are very damaging to themselves or to their families. They just haven't admitted it.
But returning back to thinking from the Christian worldview, there is no reason why Christians will deny that chemistry might be an issue. In a fallen world, as Genesis 3 tells us, we should expect that even our body chemistry, the chemicals in our brain will reflect the damage of the fall, but that doesn't relieve us of personal responsibility, it doesn't remove the issue of character.
The biblical worldview always has character right at the front and it never leaves the scene. Just imagine how this kind of logic will be transferred to other areas of moral importance. Just imagine a parent correcting a 5 year old from misbehavior for dishonesty or disobedience, and the 5 year old says, hey mom, hey dad, it's not my character it's my chemistry. Just imagine someone standing before a judge charged with a very serious crime who says, it's not my character it's my chemistry, but wait just a minute, those kind of arguments are already being used, and that shows the moral meltdown of a society.
Once we buy into this kind of biological reductionism, eventually character does disappear, and there is no personal responsibility. That however is a society that gives itself over to moral irresponsibility and moral anarchy, but that's the kind of society that also allows itself to become increasingly dependent upon the kind of tax income that comes from gambling. That issue of character goes all the way to those most responsible for government, elected officials, and they have no right to say, it's not character, it's chemistry. We know the reality. It's character, it's character in the capital, it's character in the court house, and it's character in the casino.
Revived Muppets show's promiscuous characters illustrates extent of sexual revolution
Finally, yesterday we talked about the moral meaning of a cable television network, ABC Family changing it's name to something else because it wants to overcome the family friendly and wholesome branding that had been associated with the ABC Family network. We talked about the fact that it's very, very telling that the word wholesome has now become a brand killer rather than a brand maker. That tells us a great deal about Americans, but so does the return of the Muppets.
A news story that just came at Religion News Service by Brandon Ambrosino, tells us that the Muppets are back and to quote Ambrosino, "They are having a lot of sex." He goes on to say, so much so in fact, that Franklin Gram and One Million Moms (that's an organization) called for, "Responsible viewers everywhere to urge ABC [there it is again] to drop the new series.”
According to the new story, the Muppets are back and they are quite promiscuous and vulgar. The concern about the Muppets, by the way, isn't limited to conservative Christians. Others have also registered their shock and their dismay. One cultural observer from left said that she had found herself embarrassingly forced to explain to her child one of the show’s many sexual innuendos. One of the observers said that they new Muppets, "Aren’t particularly muppety.”
As Ambrosino tells us, although the original Muppet Show had a certain level of mischievousness and grownup humor, there was something in each episode that is of yet missing from the new version; simplicity of heart. But it's not just what's missing is morally important here, it's what's present. And what's present is a great deal of sexual innuendo, direct references to sexual promiscuity, and a very vulgar story line that is of course to be accompanied by a laugh track. The essential issue in this story is that the moral revolution is indeed coming and it's coming with the Muppets. You can't trust Kermit the frog anymore. And in terms of American popular culture, if you can't trust Kermit the frog, who can you trust? Kermit the frog is green, therefore I assume he can't blush but as this story indicates, the late founder of the Muppets, the late creator of that series Jim Henson would surely be embarrassed by the new manifestation of the Muppets and the Muppet Show.
As the news release for Religion News Service says, in terms of the new Muppet show, no topic is going to be off limits, and as the group One Million Moms said in a press release, "
The puppet characters loved by kids in the 1970s and 1980s, are now weighing in on inter-species relationships and the promiscuity."
Once again that tells us a great deal about where we stand. We are a long way from when Kermit the frog was known for singing the song, ‘It's Not Easy Being Green’.
Thanks for listening to the briefing. For more information go to my website in albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to Twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com. I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.