The Briefing 05-24-17

The Briefing 05-24-17

The Briefing

May 24, 2017

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

It’s Wednesday, May 24, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Manchester bombing and the nature of terrorism: How terror assaults a society's stability and security

We now know at least a bit more about the horrifying events that took place in Manchester, England on Monday night. We knew even then that the group targeted was an audience of several thousand girls and young teenagers, and they were there for a musical performance that we now know set the opportunity for a lone wolf assailant who, we now believe, was mobilized by the Islamic State to turn himself into a weapon of warfare, into a suicide bomber. And we now also know that at least 19 people were killed and many others were wounded in the attack.

We know something else that’s important here, and that is that in the immediate aftermath of this kind of attack various groups, sometimes just to propaganda advantage, claim responsibility. Almost immediately after the attack on Monday night the group known as the Islamic State claimed such responsibility, Western intelligence authorities indicated that they were not sure, but as of today, it is becoming increasingly clear that the young man who was believed to have turned himself into the suicide bomber, a 22-year-old young British man by the name of Salman Abedi, whose parents had immigrated to Britain from Libya, it is now believed that he was activated as a lone wolf suicide bomber by the Islamic State and its ideology.

Britain is now in a heightened state of security out of fear that this was not an isolated attack, but might actually be the precursor to others that will follow. Much of Britain is now under this kind of heightened security, and the interesting thing to note here is that the nation, as is the case with the United States and other European nations, was already on a heightened alert. This points to the fact that we are now approaching something like a very sad new normal. In this new normal, a heightened state of security and concern is becoming a day-to-day reality—this due not only to the Islamic State, but to other forces of terrorism around the world today. But there’s no doubt that the Islamic State and Al Qaeda head that list.

But there’s something else that Christians need to ponder here, and that is the very nature of terrorism. Why is it called terrorism and what’s really behind it? What is the deep ideological significance, the deep understanding of what’s taking place here?

What we need to understand is that terror attacks are specifically and strategically undertaken in order to destabilize an entire society. Every society requires a certain level of safety and stability in order for it to flourish. That’s exactly what is being attacked here. This is a direct assault upon stability and security that we simply have to have in an adequate level for society to function. Terror is the great enemy of this kind of security and stability. If inside a society you can instill enough fear, enough terror by this means of attack, then you can effectively shut down a society.

Now shortly after the attacks and continuing into even today, you have the British people indicating that they are not going to be deterred, that they are not going to take terror into their national character and into their heart. That as is so often the case as we heard immediately after 9/11 in the United States; the terrorist cannot be allowed to win. But we also need to note that there is some level in which the terrorists really do begin to win. That is to say, terror really does become so much a part of the landscape that the society is destabilized.

We should be encouraged that Britain, along with so many of its neighboring countries, has refused to give into this terror, but we should also note that society is actually more fragile than we often take for granted. And we also need to note that the very resilience that has been demonstrated by the United Kingdom and so many other nations, including the United States in the aftermath of 9/11 and beyond, this also explains why the terrorists come back again and again and again.

Terrorism is certainly not new on the world scene, acts of terror were known in the ancient world and are well attested in ancient history. You can track the history of terrorism through successive centuries, especially into the 19th and 20th centuries. During the 19th century it was anarchist terrorists who were often at the forefront and in the headlines that continued all the way up to the events precipitating World War I. But as we know in the last several decades, terrorism has taken a very different turn. Right now much of the source of terrorism comes from the Islamic world. And once again, even as the Islamic State is taking responsibility for this attack in Manchester, we are following the very same pattern. A sober analysis requires us to understand that terrorism is a diabolical reality, but there is no way around it. It is in our current headlines a reality.

Part II

Why Christians must uphold together the biblical teaching of chastity and the sanctity of human life

Shifting to the United States, several in the major media picked up a story that to my knowledge they have not noted before. As the New York Times headline tells us,

“Student Embraced by Abortion Foes but Punished by Christian Academy.”

The reporter for the New York Times, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, reports from Boonsboro, Maryland, and I quote,

“Maddi Runkles has never been a disciplinary problem.

“She has a 4.0 average at Heritage Academy, the small private Christian school she attends; played on the soccer team; and served as president of the student council. But when her fellow seniors don blue caps and gowns at graduation early next month, Ms. Runkles, 18, will not be among them.

“The reason? She is pregnant.”

The reporter continues,

“The decision by school officials to bar Ms. Runkles from “walking” at graduation — and to remove her from her student council position — would have remained private, but for her family’s decision to seek help from Students for Life. The anti-abortion group, which took her to a recent rally in Washington, argues that she should be lauded, not punished, for her decision to keep her baby.”

Kristan Hawkins, the Students for Life president said,

“She made the courageous decision to choose life, and she definitely should not be shamed. There has got to be a way to treat a young woman who becomes pregnant in a graceful and loving way.”

The administrator at the Christian school described this as an internal issue about which much prayer and discussion is taking place and refused to make specific comments to the media. But the New York Times summarized the situation with these words,

“Ms. Runkles’s story sheds light on a delicate issue: how Christian schools, which advocate abstinence until marriage, treat pregnant teenagers.”

The story then cites Brad Wilcox, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia. He directs the National Marriage Project, he said,

“You have these two competing values.”

As he explains,

“On the one hand, the school is seeking to maintain some kind of commitment to what has classically been called chastity — or today might be called abstinence. At the same time, there’s an expectation in many Christian circles that we are doing all that we can to honor life.”

The story has engendered a good deal of conversation in the national media, and one of the interesting things to consider here is that those who are operating from a secular worldview are basically left scratching their heads as to why Christians would have such concerns either way in terms of this moral quandary. But Christians thinking about this do understand this is a very interesting question. It’s one that we might dodge until we have to face it, but eventually every single institution, every single Christian congregation in one way or another, is going to have to face this kind of question. How in the world do we balance two different very urgent moral concerns, and especially when it comes to something like a pregnancy that comes outside of marriage, how do we think about this?

Well, actually, the Christian worldview is not starting from ground zero here. We should be thankful that Christians have tried to think carefully about these matters for a very long time. And of course you do have two very clear biblical teachings here. The first is the expectation of what is rightly identified in this article as chastity, the fact that sex is limited only to the covenant of marriage and that every act of sex outside that covenant is actually an act of sin. The other very clear biblical reality here is the sanctity of human life, that human life at every stage of development, under every condition and certainly including not only the born but those not yet born, from the moment of conception until natural death, is to be respected and honored and defended.

So here we also need to think very carefully about the moral status of the young woman and the moral status of the unborn child. One of the most profound insistences of the Christian worldview and something we need to get very clear here, something that really isn’t addressed in terms of the secular media conversation about this at all, is that the nature of the context of the conception has absolutely nothing to do with the moral status of the individual, that is to say of the child. The child is not affected one way or another in terms of that child’s moral reality or status depending upon the circumstances of conception. The child is an individual made in the image of God, a life that was created by the Creator himself and that life is as worthy of protection, indeed as demanding of protection, as any other unborn child.

From a Christian worldview understanding, there are at least two big sins, two major, undeniable sins that are at stake here. The first would be sex outside of marriage, and the second would be the destruction of unborn human life. Both of those clearly identified as sin. From a Christian worldview perspective, the one thing that we must not do is compound sin with an additional sin. So the Christian community, the Christian church, Christianity in pondering this issue, should be very, very careful to say that the response to the sin of sex outside of marriage when it leads to pregnancy should never be the destruction or disrespect of that unborn human life.

For Christian schools, institutions, and churches, the question is, how do we contend for the sanctity of human life and make that tangible in terms of advocating against abortion, not only in theory but in specific cases, as in this young woman who is now pregnant, without surrendering to the moral revolution and acting as if sexual behavior and sexual sin is irrelevant? The reality is we cannot enter into that kind of calculation. But at the same time, it is very clear that the New York Times and other major media are onto the predicament. The predicament is this: how do we genuinely show support for a young woman who is pregnant when the context of that pregnancy is sex outside of marriage? How do we adequately support her and the unborn life within her? That’s a crucial question. I don’t think there’s any way that anyone operating from a secular worldview can possibly advise this Christian school as to how it can resolve that predicament. And with all respect, there is no way that anyone of us can read this article in the New York Times and presume that we know enough about all the particulars and indeed the human beings who were here involved to make an informed decision about what we believe this school should have done under the circumstances. But the point is this: now that the New York Times and others have picked up on this story, and now that they have rightly identified the predicament, what are we going to do with it?

In thinking about this, I’m reminded of an observation that was made now about 20 years ago by Peggy Noonan, who even then had just come off a service as a presidential speechwriter to George H.W. Bush and to Ronald Reagan. Having served both presidents, Peggy Noonan, in her rare power of observation of the society around her, spoke of going to a high school graduation ceremony in one of the neighborhoods surrounding Washington, D.C. In the course of that ceremony, a young woman crossed the stage, and she was clearly very close to delivering a child. And what Peggy Noonan noted was that the fact of the pregnancy, so undeniable even in terms of the graduation gown, was something that was responded to by the audience with an absolute celebration. That is to say, the fact that she was pregnant was celebrated by the audience there at the high school graduation. Peggy Noonan very prophetically wrote that at that moment she saw the fall of an entire civilization. What she meant was this: this was a civilization that appeared to be cheering sex outside of marriage, even a teenage girl becoming pregnant. It wasn’t so much, she said, that the young woman was being supported as her pregnancy was actually being celebrated. And as Peggy Noonan also made very clear, it wasn’t that the life within her was being celebrated, but rather that the circumstances of the conception were being celebrated. That’s what Peggy Noonan meant by seeing an entire moral civilization fall in terms of that instant.

Now we need to compare that with what we would hope would happen. Now looking 20 years later after Peggy Noonan wrote that article, I think from a Christian moral standpoint, we would understand this: the one thing we must not do is celebrate any sin under any circumstance at any time. I think one of the things that is important here is that the high school celebration where Peggy Noonan was an observer was clearly not one that took any definable position in terms of sexual morality, certainly not censoring sex outside of marriage. That’s what a Christian congregation, that’s what a Christian institution or school must do, make that teaching very clear, not just as an isolated moral teaching, but as a part of an entire Christian worldview understanding of what it means to be human, of what it means to be sexual, what it means to be man and woman, why God created marriage and the family—all of this of a piece. And it should also be very, very clear that a Christian school needs a code of discipline. A code of discipline would be not only for those who study, but also for those who teach.

In that kind of context and in that kind of context alone, a biblical convictional context, is there then the freedom for Christians to make the distinction that’s necessary here—not offering endorsement for the circumstances of the conception, dealing with those forthrightly in terms of what it means as sin, but at the same time offering an understanding of our natural and rightful response of support for a young woman who is now on the other side of that context making a very brave and a very right decision to carry this child to term, to bring it to life, and to welcome it into the world.

In the life of a local Christian congregation, here’s where we need to note that the absence of biblical church discipline actually leads to a complete weakening of the church’s life and the church’s witness. It leaves a church wondering how in the world do we handle a situation such as this, whereas in a rightly-ordered biblical congregation this kind of situation is rightly handled in the church’s biblical life.

A Christian school or Christian institution, following the example of the congregation but understanding it is not itself a congregation, will try to accomplish the very same thing in terms of holding fast to all that the Scripture teaches, holding fast to the gospel of Jesus Christ, holding fast to a biblical standard of sexual morality, holding fast to the sanctity and dignity of human life. If on the other side of what is biblically defined as an act of sexual sin, the church becomes implicitly or explicitly complicit in creating pressure to destroy that unborn child, the church then sins in itself and so would a Christian institution doing the very same thing. I wouldn’t dare to presume knowledge of enough particulars to make a judgment as to whether or not this school administration has done exactly the right thing. I simply have to take them at their word when the school said this is an internal issue about which much prayer and discussion has taken place.

It’s interesting, by the way, that even the New York Times seems to sympathize with the school and its leadership in trying to struggle with these two very important moral principles of deep biblical conviction, and furthermore it’s really interesting that the New York Times seems rightly to understand the predicament. But of course this isn’t a predicament that those who operate out of a secular worldview given over to the new sexual revolution can really understand the way we must understand as Christians. Every Christian church which understands the responsibility to contend for the sanctity of human life must understand that that means in the concrete not just in the abstract, it means in the particular, not just in the general, and it means that even as we uphold the clear biblical teachings concerning what is right and what is wrong in sexual morality, we also have to make very clear that on the other side of wrong, clearly identifying it unquestionably as wrong in biblical and gospel terms, we make very clear that the right response is still always to choose life. If the New York Times has actually prompted the Christian church to think more biblically and carefully about this question, it will actually have done us a service.

Part III

Confirming a lie: An entire moral revolution in the new term "gender conformation surgery"

Finally, we turn to another story, this also in the United States. In terms of the first level, it’s simply a new and quite interesting statistic in and of itself. That is to say that transgender sex reassignment surgeries are now up about 20% in the United States just over the last couple of years—3,200 surgeries we are told by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons in 2016.

That’s interesting; not the main interest in this story today. From a worldview perspective, the main interest in the story is how it’s being reported and one particular new term that’s being used in this reference, the term “gender confirmation surgery.” Here we simply need to note what happens when a moral world is turned upside down. Inevitably, the language becomes one of the mechanisms for that very revolution. In this case, it’s the word “confirmation” following the word “gender.” In any sane society, the phrase “gender confirmation” would be understood in an almost exactly opposite sense that is implied in this story. Here you’re talking about the claim—and this is itself, we need to understand, the most radical and bizarre claim—that somehow a human individual’s gender can be changed by reconstructive and plastic surgery. Remember, by the way, that another telling factor in this story is that the report in terms of the count of these surgeries is coming from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

This reminds us of Dr. Paul McHugh, who began the gender reassignment surgery program at Johns Hopkins University before deciding that it was morally and medically wrong and terminated that program. He’s the one who made the point that this is merely a plastic surgery, it doesn’t actually change a man into a woman or woman into a man. Certainly at any age, it doesn’t change a female into a male or vice versa. Instead, it is appearance that is involved here, and that tells us a very great deal.

But the bigger issue is the word “confirmation.” Of notice is the fact that when there is this kind of moral revolution, the language begins almost like playdough to be reconfirmed, and in what we need to recognize is a very sinister way. The word “confirmation” here is almost demonic in the sense that it seems to confirm people in what biblically we believe is not the truth, but a lie. Further compounding the issue is that this kind of language becomes routinized and even standardized in terms of professional lexicons. So that is to say that the phrase “gender confirmation surgery” is likely before very long to show up not only in the headlines, but on insurance forms and furthermore, in medical conversation.

What this does is to fossilize, at least to freeze in a moment of time, a deep lie calling it the truth. It’s also significant that this new language has already made its way so much into the mainstream media that this story was reported in Time magazine with a headline that used that phrase, “gender confirmation surgery.” That tells us that this kind of language and the ideology behind it is deeply embedded in our culture, so deep that Time magazine expects that most of its readers will no longer even notice.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. Let me remind you that later today I’m going to be doing another Facebook live “Ask Anything.” It’s going to be at 3:00 P.M. Eastern time, I hope you’ll join us. For more information, go to my website at Join us today at 3 o’clock, at Again, that’s 3 o’clock this afternoon, I’ll hope to meet you then.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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