The Briefing 10-31-17

The Briefing 10-31-17

The Briefing

October 31, 2017

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

It’s Tuesday, October 31, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

We’ll see why criminal charges often come down to money. We’ll see a Hollywood controversy reveal the instability of modern morality, and we’ll come to understand why an argument started 500 years ago today by a young monk in Germany, well it explains how we hear the gospel of Jesus Christ and preach that gospel today.

Part I

First round of indictments focused on age-old intersection of money and human sinfulness

Sometimes the headlines appear to be so absolutely contemporary that it becomes clear that a previous generation wouldn’t have a clue what the story is even about, but sometimes a look beneath the surface indicates this really is one of those tales as old as time, a tale about a pattern of human sin and human misbehavior that goes all the way back to the fall and to the earliest records of how human beings have sinned. When you look at the headline story that consumes so much of the media attention yesterday, the announcement that was made, the special counsel Robert Mueller has now handed down the first indictments in his investigation having to do with Russian influence and other issues. What we’re looking at here is the fact that those who were indicted are basically, most importantly united by one single factor, and that has to do with money, sin involving money, which means sin involving financial transactions, which means sin that eventually involves records.

The indictments released on Monday and the arrest that followed had mostly to do in terms of attention with Paul Manafort, a political operative who’s been involved in international business and was most importantly by a political consideration the director of the Trump presidential campaign in strategic months during the 2016 presidential election. Also indicted along with Manafort was Richard Gates, one of his own associates, and it was also announced that not only an indictment and charges but a guilty plea had been entered for George Papadopoulos. He pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and other federal investigators about his own relationships with Russians in the course of the campaign. We are reminded at this point that lying to a federal agent in this kind of circumstance is itself a crime, a crime that has eventually entangled many people originally investigated for a very different suspected crime. But in the case of Paul Manafort and Richard Gates, Manafort in particular, as it turns out the particular charges that were handed down yesterday leading to Manafort’s arrest actually might not have had much to do directly with the precipitating cause of Robert Mueller’s investigation in the first place. But what we also see here is another very revealing story. Often times sins even crimes are revealed in the course of investigating something else.

The particular crimes alleged against Paul Manafort, and remember at this point we are talking legally about an indictment, which is a formal set of charges. These are charges. These are not yet issues of the criminal conviction. But Paul Manafort is here openly accused by the United States federal government of having obtained multiple, tens of millions of dollars illegally by acting as a political operative for foreign nations, and then hiding the money offshore as it’s called, and then nonetheless seeking to live off some of those millions of dollars – that in terms of a temptation is understandable – by laundering the money as it is known and then bringing it back on shore in the United States. But all of that requires multiple levels of duplicity and dishonesty, false reporting and well just the term money laundering tells you something about the illegal process whereby money that is ill-gotten in terms of illegal endeavors is supposedly washed in order later to be brought back on. The problem is it’s very difficult. Indeed it’s sometimes absolutely impossible to explain how multiple millions of dollars appeared in your bank account from what can only be described as nowhere.

One of the most important patterns to observe here, a pattern fully visible in terms of yesterday’s news conversation, even visible before that after CNN broke the story of the fact that the original indictments were likely to be forthcoming. A part of what you see is the intense politicization of the conversation, so if you’re just looking at the cable news networks, MSNBC is presenting this as one story, whereas Fox News is reporting it as yet a different story. CNN is reporting it constantly in a political context, but from a worldly perspective, the politics is not irrelevant those issues are just not clear yet. What is clear is the fact that one of the most enduring motivations for human misbehavior is financial. And so there will be attention given to exactly how this money was obtained by Paul Manafort, or at least allegedly as accusations now come from the federal government. But the bigger story here is the one that we’ve seen over and over again. One pattern of misdeeds, the bigger pattern of misdeeds in terms of why someone might go to prison is often revealed after another allegation of misdeeds or misbehavior leads to the discovery of a previous, and for that matter, previously unknown pattern of illegal or immoral behavior.

Oh and don’t miss one other aspect of this story. When it comes down to the bottom line in many of these crimes, one of the most important of the crimes involved is the simple failure to be able or willing to claim this income in terms of federal taxes. That leads to the crime of tax evasion. It’s often the case that there were no taxes paid on that income, and as was the case with Al Capone, one the most famous gangsters of the early 20th century, the mob boss of Chicago, he ended up in federal prison not for all the murders he had committed and ordered, but rather for the simple crime of income tax evasion. Morally speaking, there’s no question that tax evasion was far from being the most serious of the crimes committed by Al Capone, crimes for which he was already notorious, but in our fallen world sometimes a faulty human verdict of justice comes down in a way that falls a lot short of the kind of justice we long for, but was nonetheless able to keep Al Capone off the streets and in federal prison almost to the end of his life. Another reminder that human justice at our very best still falls woefully short of true justice.

Finally, on this issue a very interesting question, a question that is being considered by many, articulated in his column this morning in the New York Times in the headline, Nicholas Kristof asks,

“Will Manafort Sing?”

Now what you actually see here is an open question, but it points to another pattern of human behavior and misbehavior, the way human nature works in a fallen world. One of the reasons for the timing of this kind of indictment is because even as the pool of potential fishes to be indicted is large when you see an indictment like this come early it’s usually and customarily the way of prosecutors seeking to bring charges against one person or at least a few persons upfront who will then turn evidence against others, smaller fish effectively ratting out bigger fish. That too points to the limitations of human justice. There are people who equally deserve to be in prison who are not because they were considered useful in order to obtain evidence to be brought against even bigger criminals or least those who are perceived to be so. As we’ve said on this issue, the politics is going to be settling out. It’s is going to be controverted and debated, well almost unceasingly. You can count on that. But it’s also really interesting that from a Christian worldview perspective, the politics of the question, though certainly not unimportant, doesn’t even come close to being the most important part of the story.

Part II

Hollywood cries foul as Kevin Spacey attempts to camouflage claims of sexual misconduct

Next, turning to another of the stories that was discussed so pervasively yesterday, a story difficult to discuss but given its importance vital to discuss. As the Washington Post headline said yesterday,

“‘Kevin Spacey has set gay rights back’:” after the colon the headline says “Actor blasted for response to sexual misconduct claim”

The BBC asked this question,

“Why are people angry about Kevin Spacey coming out?”

For the last several years, Kevin Spacey has been something of a major Hollywood figure. He has been known in film, but even more importantly, known for his acting in terms of House of Cards, the blockbuster television series. In the unfolding aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein revelations in Hollywood, there have been fingers pointed at many others. People who said that they now want to be clear about the sexual advances or sexual assaults they had received previously. And what changed the story utterly yesterday was the fact that the accusation was made against Kevin Spacey, in this case an accusation by a young man about behavior from Spacey when the actor was just a 14-year-old boy. The reporters for the Washington Post put the issue this way,

“For a few hours after a bombshell BuzzFeed interview in which actor Anthony Rapp alleged Kevin Spacey had made a sexual advance toward him more than 30 years ago, when Rapp was just 14, Spacey remained silent. Then, at precisely midnight, the veteran actor posted a two-paragraph statement on Twitter.”

Now let’s just interject that if at this point all we had was the allegation it would be a big story in Hollywood and elsewhere, but the actor’s statement made it a much more pressing story. As the Washington Post reporters say,

“In the first, Spacey said he was ‘beyond horrified’ to hear Rapp’s story but did not remember the encounter, which would have taken place when Spacey was 26. However, he apologized ‘if I did behave then as [Rapp] describes . . . for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior.’”

That’s not what’s getting the biggest headlines, however. Those headlines are coming from what Kevin Spacey wrote next. As the Washington Post reports,

“Then, in the second paragraph, Spacey came out as gay. ‘This story has encouraged me to address other things about my life,” he wrote. “I have loved and had romantic encounters with men throughout my life, and I choose now to live as a gay man. I want to deal with this honestly and openly and that starts with examining my own behavior.’”

Now that leads to why people to answer the BBC’s headline question are angry about Kevin Spacey coming out. In Hollywood, let’s be clear, it is now officially okay to be gay. It is not only okay to be gay in some circumstances it is now a competitive advantage in terms of casting and social status in Hollywood, and not only in Hollywood but in other places where the morality is shaped by the moral revolution and by the cultural elites. But the reason Kevin Spacey finds himself now in a very difficult position is because as many gay rights activists have accused him, very openly yesterday, he is transparently using his coming out of the closet in order to cloud and evade responsibility for the allegations against him of sexual misconduct against a minor.

The BBC’s Stephen McIntosh rights it this way, he’s,

“been criticised for choosing this moment to come out – and some have accused him of using his sexuality as a shield to deflect the negative publicity the allegations have sparked.”

The reporter cited Josh Rivers, the newly appointed editor of the newspaper Gay Times, who said,

“He doesn’t get a pass just because he’s gay.”

Rivers went on to say, and I quote,

“Alleged predatory behaviour is bad behaviour regardless of your sexuality. Kevin Spacey has chosen the incorrect moment to assert his sexuality, particularly in this situation where he’s being accused of something quite egregious.”

The Washington Post went on to report,

“For years, the actor has danced around rumors he had relationships with other men…. His late-night statement outraged many, particularly in the LGBT community, who accused Spacey of trying to deflect from a serious accusation — making a sexual advance on a minor — by coming out and implying that it was his choice to be gay.”

One of the statements cited in the Washington Post piece came from an LGBT activist who said,

“‘Kevin Spacey has set gay rights back fifty years by a) conflating homosexuality with’ Rapp’s allegations, one Twitter user said, ‘and b) Saying that being gay is a ‘‘choice.’’”

Now in terms of the Christian worldview, what you see here is a very revealing pattern of confusion, but it also shows that when you have a major shift in morality, it’s not stable. On the other side of this sexual revolution, there is no stable sexual morality, and so what you see in the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein revelations are the fact that there are many who now say we’re going to change human nature, we’re going to change the way Hollywood and other aspects of the entertainment industry do business. Furthermore, this is now being extended not only from Hollywood, but to other sectors including the news media and for that matter corporate behavior as well. But the lack of stability in terms of this new artificial morality in the wake of the moral revolution leads to people now coming to a very different kind of moral judgment than to speak in the most literal terms would have even been possible in previous generations. Now you have a moral accusation made against an individual for coming out of the closet as gay with very bad timing and with very bad intentions.

So on the one hand you have a moral revolution that says it is now not a problem to be gay and that one should speak openly of one sexual orientation, even perhaps a duty to do so, it was the gay-rights community that especially outed members of that community in order to make it a public issue. But now you have the moral flipping of the entire house, so to speak, in which it is now immoral not to make the revelation about one’s sexuality in terms of gay identity, but it is now immoral to use that as a way of confusing perhaps even camouflaging or deflecting from what is now recognized and should be of course recognized as bad behavior.

One final insight is that what you have here is what happens when the acids of this sexual revolution wash away every understood moral principle and sexuality, except consent. The Christian worldview would absolutely emphasize the fact that any kind of sexual abuse against a minor is always and in every case wrong. The Christian worldview would go on to say that any sexual abuse against anyone is categorically sinful and wrong, but the Christian worldview would also go on to say that the entire pattern of rightful relatedness in terms of sexuality for human beings comes down to the covenant of marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The modern revolutionaries don’t want to go there. They have been doing everything to tear that basic context down, but they find themselves now facing the kind of ugliness and mess that was all too evident in the headlines yesterday. News stories like this are often very difficult to discuss, but this is the kind of news story that actually demands our consideration and our discussion. It simply reveals far too much about our present moment for us to dare miss it.

Part III

How an argument, started 500 years ago today, led to the recovery of the gospel

But speaking of the present moment, the most important issue in terms of this date, October 31, 2017, is that this very day marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Dated to that date, the last day of October in the 16th century year of 1517, when an Augustinian monk by the name of Martin Luther nailed a document including 95 arguments, 95 propositions or theses to the door the castle church there in Wittenberg, Germany. This was exactly the customary way that an academic disputation or debate would’ve been started. And as we know Martin Luther was a very troubled Augustinian monk. He was troubled in terms of the abuses of the church, the abuses of medieval Catholicism through the sale of indulgences. Martin Luther saw this as the church having bad practices, preying on its own people, but at the same time Martin Luther came to understand that those bad practices were actually very revelatory of a bad theology. A theology that Martin Luther had already come to understand did not include the gospel of Jesus Christ not only confused that gospel but in many ways out rightly denied that gospel.

Martin Luther’s primary concern was how that he, and he knew himself to be a sinner, could in his words find a gracious God. He was tormented in terms of the knowledge of his own sinfulness and the simultaneous knowledge of God’s holiness. He asked the most basic question a sinner can ask. How could it possibly be true that I could be saved? He meant by that, how can it possibly be true that God in accordance with his own righteousness could ever find me righteous? Martin Luther found in the very words of Scripture, most particularly in Romans Chapter 1 and in Romans Chapter 3, what it meant that the just will live by his faith. He discovered the gospel of Jesus Christ. He discovered what it means for the grace of God to come to the center by the sheer mercy of God and through his saving acts through Jesus Christ our Lord. He came to understand that salvation comes to the one who believes and that justification is nothing that the sinner can either earn or even contribute to, but that the only righteousness that would save is as Luther said an alien righteousness. He meant by that the righteousness of another, the righteousness of the only righteous one, the righteousness of God himself, the righteousness of God’s own son.

Then Luther came to understand, particularly from a text like Romans Chapter 3 verses 21 to 26, what it means that now God is declared salvation in Christ for those who believe. All of this led, of course, to what we now know as the Reformation. It led first to a dispute to a debate between Luther and the Catholic authorities all the way up to the Pope in Rome. It led eventually to Luther’s excommunication by the Roman Catholic Church. It led to the emergence of what we now know as confessional Protestantism, the Protestant churches. It led to the recovery of the gospel and the recovery of the preaching of God’s word. It is rightly summarized in the five historic solas of the Reformation: salvation by faith alone, through grace alone, by Christ alone, on the authority of Scripture alone and to the glory of God, finally, alone. As we will see as we continue through this week, what happened most importantly 500 years ago today was that Martin Luther was used by God to begin an argument, an argument that continues to this day.

The next three days on the campus of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, we are going to be holding a very important conference along with co-sponsorship from Reformed Theological Seminary and Ligonier Ministries. The conference is known as Here We Stand. We’re going to have seven big plenary sessions, helping to explain the meaning and significance of the Reformation for today. You can join us by going to, and these messages we hope will be extremely helpful in explaining the meaning and significance of the Reformation. A Reformation that is, of course, of historical interest, but even far more than that is of the most relevant contemporary importance.

We’re going to be asking questions like: was the Reformation necessary? Was the Reformation a mistake? Is the Reformation over? Those are huge questions that emerged in the 16th century. They’re questions that continue until this day. The relevance of those questions in our contemporary context is virtually impossible to exaggerate. But the historical consequence we celebrate today, the anniversary we commemorate today is simply massive in its importance. We’re talking about the fact that human history takes place in space and time in historical sequence. We’re talking about the fact that God moves in history in ways that are unpredictable to us but ways that now bring profound gratitude. Gratitude for the fact that God raised up a man who would otherwise be unknown to history, a young Augustinian monk in the little town of Wittenberg, Germany, to begin an argument, an argument on which the entire gospel of Jesus Christ as we now know depends.

Given the short span of human existence, we really don’t get to celebrate very many of these specific anniversaries on anything like this scale. But those human beings who are alive today, most importantly those evangelical Christians who are alive today, we have the opportunity to celebrate what took place 500 years ago on this date. We rightly describe the human being as Homo sapiens, the thinking being. But we are also Homo memribilus, the creature with the memory. That’s a memory that must be fed, a memory that must be taught, a memory that must be true. And it is also a memory that humbles us to recognize how God has moved in the past in ways that explain why we hear and preach the gospel even now.

But of course that serves to underline the most important question for this generation. That question is not, do we really understand what Luther believed and Luther did 500 years ago today? But do we still hold fast to the gospel to faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone, Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone? That’s the real question, and one way or another this generation of Christians is going to answer it.

Thanks for listening to the Briefing. For more information, go to my website at For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to And remember that the big plenary addresses for this conference, Here We Stand, today tomorrow and Thursday, will be available live at  You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on Boyce College, just go to

I hope today you celebrate and commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. And I’ll join you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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