The Briefing 08-29-17

The Briefing 08-29-17

The Briefing

August 29, 2017

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

It’s Tuesday, August 29, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Today we’ll try to imagine what 9,000,000,000,000 gallons of water might mean. We’ll go to Australia where a political figure is saying that marriage is just an evolving institution, and it needs to continue to evolve. And we’re going to find out what “X” marks on the new Canadian passport.

Part I

Harvey dumps over 9 trillion (and counting) gallons of water on Texas. What does this mean?

And still the rains come, falling catastrophically upon Houston, Texas, the larger Metropolitan areas and the entire region of the Texas Gulf Coast. The rains have come, and they have come in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. It is expected that the total rainfall in some of these areas may exceed 60 inches unprecedented in modern American history, and the devastation and damage from the flooding is compounded by the fact that it’s almost impossible given the human scale of thinking to come to grips with what is actually happening there.

Writing, just as of Sunday’s rain amount – that’s not the 60 inches anticipated but by that time between 24 and 30 inches – Matthew Cappucci of the Washington Post put some numbers to it that defied the imagination. We’re talking just as of Sunday about 9,000,000,000,000 gallons of water that has fallen from the storm. As he says that 9,000,000,000,000 gallons of water, the total is expected, remember, to top 20,000,000,000,000 gallons of water, just that 9,000,000,000,000 gallons would’ve filled the Great Salt Lake in Salt Lake City twice. He says in order to equal the amount of water already rained on Houston the Mississippi River in its entirety would have to drain into that city for nine days straight. That water if it were to be spread equally over the entire continental United States, all 48 states, would be between an 8 ¼ of an inch of water. That’s a continental moisture we’re talking about here. I’m not sure this particular fact actually helps us to visualize the flood that is going on there in Houston, but it does help to quantify it. The amount of rain that had fallen as of midday on Sunday was enough to occupy 33,906 Empire State buildings from top to bottom.

In terms of insurance the probability of this kind of flood or natural occurrence is often measured in how often such an incident would be expected over how many years. And as Hurricane Harvey was headed toward the coastline, we were told that this might be a one in 100 year storm. Once it accelerated to category three we were told it might be a one in 200 year storm. By the time the rainfall has fallen at least some in the actuarial business for insurance companies are saying that it might be a one in 1 million year flood that is now falling on one of the most highly populated areas of the United States. Remember Houston and its environment, it constitutes the fourth largest Metropolitan area in the entire U.S. and its population.

Usually when this kind of tropical storm or hurricane passes through, it passes through in a matter of just a few discrete hours, and in the aftermath of the storm people are pretty quickly able to start to regroup and to help those who need assistance. One of the problems in Houston is not only the duration of this storm in time but also the thickness of the storm in terms of the flooding. It represents an enormous obstacle in recovering on the other side of the storm actually passing. And furthermore, anyone who has experienced a flood knows that floods bring a unique form of devastation, and that’s why many experts looking at the situation there in the Houston area say that recovery will not be about months or even perhaps just about years but perhaps many years.

And one of the things that is difficult for human beings to take into account is that some storm, some occurrences like this in terms of the weather or incidents such as tsunamis or earthquakes, permanently change the terrain. That’s something perhaps we’re more accustomed to when we think about a massive tidal wave coming up across something like a Pacific island. But when it comes to a highly populated metropolitan area in the United States, we have to recognize that we’re talking about forces here that are so large that even our sophisticated technology, our buildings, and our attempts at civilization are not able to withstand the waters that may come. Of course, the high watermark of civilization is not that it avoids or can prevent this kind of destruction but that a society in a culture begins quickly to rebuild on the other side. And already there are efforts underway towards that recovery. There are now 5000 federal personnel either in the Houston area or nearby awaiting the deployment in the aftermath of the storm. That is in contrast to what we saw in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

That points out another worldview dimension, and that is our ability to learn from previous mistakes. The breakdown of social order and the breakdown of government services in the aftermath of Katrina well that was a lesson that was extremely expensive in human lives and in misery. It was a political lesson, a breakdown at the local level, a breakdown at the state level, and breakdown in services delivered at the federal level. So what we have seen already in Houston is that human beings really can learn from mistakes and government can learn from mistakes. There’s a much stronger coordination evident this time between Metropolitan leaders there in Houston, Texas state leaders, including Governor Greg Abbott, and the federal government with President Donald Trump repeatedly making public statements of concern for and action plans for the people in the area of Houston in the aftermath of the storm.

But as we are trying to understand the scale of the storm and to respond with concern and compassion for those who are experiencing it, it is also a very important issue for Christians to remember that every storm has a particularity about itself as does every terrain that encounters such a storm. Just in contrast, as the Washington Post makes clear of Hurricane Katrina, that so devastated the city of New Orleans in that area had dumped this much water over that area as Hurricane Harvey is now dumping on Houston than the floods in New Orleans that had been tragically about 10 to 20 feet deep, could have been as high as 128 feet. That’s reaching as high as a 12-story office building.

A storm like this just underlines how small we are and how vulnerable we are. And for Christians that’s an important biblical reminder, and of course as Job recognized, it is the Lord God who speaks out of the winds of the storm. It is a reminder of the fact that He has created the cosmos and that the cosmos shows the effects of the fall of human sinfulness, and thus we’re looking at a nature that sometimes can turn very dangerous on us. Right now we continue to be concerned for and to pray for those whose lives are so affected by Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath and we pray that help can come and can come quickly.

Part II

Is marriage just an ‘evolving institution’? One Australian political figure thinks so

Next we shift from Texas to the nation of Australia. And as we have seen, the government there is contemplating the approval, the legalization of same-sex marriage. The current government that is headed by the Liberal party, which ironically enough is actually one of the more conservative parties there in Australia, is taking an unusual method in order to get at this issue. It is asking the people of Australia to vote by means of a plebiscite by mail as to whether or not they approve or disapprove of the proposal to legalize same-sex marriage. As many there within Australia have warned this issue always comes with an inevitable collision with religious liberty, and some have quite bravely spoken to that issue.

We discussed it recently on The Briefing along with the fact that what we see here is a form of international coercion that is being brought upon the continental nation of Australia. That coercion is coming in this form, and it appears numerously in terms of media coverage. It is this: we are told that Australia is the only major English-speaking nation that has not yet legalized same-sex marriage. Again, the moral message, a coercive moral message is this, get with the program or get considered to be backward. And that’s exactly the kind of political pressure that Australia and its government are now facing. But there are always interesting twists and turns in this kind of story. And one of the most interesting has comes from the political leader of that very party. That’s Nick Greiner. He’s identified as the federal president of the Liberal party, and according to an article in the London newspaper the Guardian, Greiner has called upon Australia’s conservatives and liberals to support marriage equality arguing,

“great institutions evolve all the time and marriage is no different.”

Now as I say, you come across some interesting even some innovative arguments and most of the most interesting and most innovative are very bad arguments, and that’s exactly the case here. Greiner at least knows whom to quote. He quotes the great Edmund Burke identified as kind of the Dean of conservative wisdom as actually he deserves to be recognized. He pointed to Burke quoting Burke’s authority as believing that institutions and states must be allowed to evolve because,

“a state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.”

Well that’s one of the reasons why Edmund Burke is indeed the paragon of conservative political philosophy and why we so regularly turn to him. It’s because he was deeply committed to what we would call a Christian worldview and to an understanding of the realities of sin. Edmund Burke understood the necessity of preserving, conserving – that’s the very essence of the word conservative – the institutions, traditions, morals, and habits that would lead to human flourishing. He saw damage to those institutions as deeply injurious and subversive to the very idea of human prospering, human happiness, what we rightly call flourishing. But Edmund Burke in speaking of the necessity of a state or government evolving lest it become so brittle that it simply falls apart, he wasn’t talking about the most basic institutions that are rightly defined as pre-political, most importantly marriage. It’s completely illegitimate to cite Edmund Burke in order to make an argument for what might be called the evolution of marriage especially an argument so bad as this: Nick Greiner said,

“Marriage is not the same as it was a century ago,” Greiner said. “The Marriage Act has been changed 20 times since it was introduced by the Menzies government in 1961. Quite simply, static institutions die.”

Well as I say at times some arguments appear that are so bad they simply have to be taken seriously. This is one of them. The argument here is that marriage has always been an evolving institution. Is that true or false? Well of course it’s true up to a very limited extent. As you look to the history of human engagement with the question of marriage, you will note, well at least this most fundamentally, every single human society has come to the privileging and the respecting of a heterosexual conjugal union of a man and a woman as the most basic relationship necessary for society. That’s the first thing you see in terms of human history even looking at it from a purely, honestly secular perspective.

In terms of changes of marriage, of course, there have been changes in understandings of marriage, understandings of property rights, understanding of authority and marriage, understanding of custody issues, understanding of the appropriate age for marriage, understanding appropriate circumstances for marriage. Yes, all of those things have changed. So has marriage changed? Well, yes, of course, it has. And has marriage changed even in Australia in terms of legislation, the marriage act, 20 times since it was introduced by a government back in 1961. Well I’m simply going to allow that count. Let’s say that it has. What’s interesting? What’s most important is to recognize that what hasn’t changed is that in every one of those occurrences to say the word marriage is to bring up the automatic picture of a husband and a wife, a man and a woman. So to argue that now we can change that picture to a man and a man or woman and a woman and that’s simply the end result or at least the current stage of the evolution of marriage as an institution, that’s absolute nonsense. But it’s the kind of nonsense that seems to gain political and media credibility when you have a moral revolution afoot, which is exactly what’s going on and is now at stake in the nation of Australia.

Interestingly, Nick Greiner also says that religious liberty really isn’t that important a consideration. But he’s speaking out of both sides of his mouth here. He says that the issue of same-sex marriage and religious liberty shouldn’t be conflated. That’s a word that he uses here. But later he speaks out of the other side of his mouth saying that those who are in the current majority government, the liberal party, should make certain that they are on the sponsoring side of the legalization of same-sex marriage so that they can be trusted to enact the appropriate safeguards for religious liberty. Well Mr. Greiner which is it? Are those safeguards needed or not? If they are needed, then guess what the issues are conflated. And of course they actually are. That’s one of the main dangers of same-sex marriage. It’s the inevitable collision between religious liberty and the moral sexual revolution, especially as it comes down to legalizing same-sex marriage.

Part III

‘X’ marks the spot: Canada adds third gender category to passports

Finally we turn to another strange milestone in the moral revolution, this time from Canada. The New York Times reports, the Canadians now,

“have a new way to identify their sex on passports and other government documents: ‘X,’” we are told, “will join the options of male and female.”

The New York Times reports,

“The decision to allow the third category, indicating an “unspecified” sex, is intended to protect the rights of Canadians to identify by the gender of their choice”

that according to Canada’s immigration department in announcing the change. Ahmed Hussen, the minister of immigration refugees and citizenship, released a statement saying,

“that the designation was added to advance ‘equality for all Canadians regardless of gender identity or expression.’”

The New York Times goes on to say this is part of a broader moral agenda on the part of the very liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. But what’s really interesting here is not so much what this says as what it doesn’t say. Just ponder this: here we are told that this is in the name of Canadians who want more options to express their sex identity, their gender identity. Notice that the word sex is actually used in this context in this New York Times article that would at least indicate some tacit acknowledgment of the fact that this isn’t just about gender as a social construct. And that also points to something else, this may be an effort by Canada to try to be once again, inclusive, in terms of the new moral revolution, but the interesting thing to note is that passports are cited here. And passports have a great deal to do not only with the nation that issues them but on the part of any nation that would receive them. And that’s going to be one of the great stumbling blocks to the moral revolution. Canada may have decided that humanity is no longer divided between that old binary of male and female and maybe allowing persons to simply choose “X.” But most of the nations of the world don’t recognize “X.”

It should come as no surprise that this is being attempted elsewhere. In the state of Oregon, last July, residents were authorized to mark the sex on their driver’s licenses as not specified. As I said, this is another strange milestone in this moral revolution, the sexual revolution that is so utterly reshaping Western societies. But it also shows its limitations and ultimately shows its emptiness. Something inherently sad and very empty, something reductive of human dignity to put down an “X” when it comes to one’s sex. This points again to the utter confusion at the very heart of the transgender revolution and the very idea of gender fluidity. But as we understand from the Scripture, it’s not just a confusion. It’s a confusion that will have devastating consequences. You can mark that with an “X.”

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

I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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