The Briefing 11-10-17

The Briefing 11-10-17

The Briefing

November 10, 2017

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

It’s Friday, November 10, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

We’ll ask how many lives were lost in Sutherland Springs, Texas, it’s about far more than just a number; we’ll see gender confusion and personal autonomy in Germany; and a vexing question for high school athletics; all these and the 50th anniversary of the Saturn V rocket.

Part I

How many victims actually died in Sutherland Springs massacre? Why this question is about more than just a number

Funeral services begin tomorrow for the victims of the massacre that took place last Sunday morning at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas. An entire series of funerals, and we’re talking here about a grieving community that has experienced one of the most tragic massacres in American history, and it took place at the First Baptist Church during worship, and now course, even as this town and its First Baptist Church turns, as Christians for so many centuries have turned, to a series of funeral services we also have to turn to some very pressing questions. One of the most interesting and urgent of these questions one of the most morally significant of these questions is this: How many victims died in the massacre? According to the news media it was 26; however, as judged by Texas law, the victims numbered 27. As Kimberly Winston of Religion News Service reports,

“The youngest victim of the mass shooting at a church in Texas wasn’t even born yet.”

She then goes on to explain, and I quote,

“A state law passed in 2003 requires that the fetus Crystal Holcombe was carrying when she was fatally shot [on] Sunday along with other worshippers at the First Baptist Church … be counted like the other victims, who authorities say numbered 26 and ranged in age up to 77. Holcombe,”

we are told,

“was in her eighth month of [her] pregnancy.”

The next paragraph in this RNS story states this,

“This and other laws that grant full rights to the unborn form some of the newest terrain in U.S. law and are highly controversial. They frequently divide abortion rights and anti-abortion activists, with the first group saying they can be used to criminalize pregnant women while the second group says they are intended to prevent domestic violence and increase penalties for abuse.”

Now let’s just look at the contours of this story. RNS tells us that most of these laws, laws that are now present in 38 states, most of these laws came in the aftermath of a murder that took place in California in 2002. That was the murder of Lacey Peterson by her husband, Scott Peterson, and Lacey Peterson was also, at the time of the murder, eight months pregnant. The laws in now a majority of states passed after that tragedy point to the fact that the American people understood something that needed to be reflected in law, and that is that there was not just one victim in terms of the Peterson murder, there were two murders and there were two victims; one of those victims and unborn baby. But this points to a basic incongruity, a direct contradiction in the heart and in the thinking of the American people when it comes to the sanctity of human life and the moral status of the unborn. How can the American people, at least in terms of millions and millions of Americans, support abortion on demand on the one hand, and then demand that in the case of a murder, such as the murder of Lacey Peterson, the law recognize not just one victim but two, and that’s the very incongruity, even contradiction, that is pointed to in this article in Religion News Service by Kimberly Winston.

But in response to the article, there likely would be some people who would say that the laws themselves reflect an emotional response, an emotional response that was triggered by the murder of Lacey Peterson when she was also eight months pregnant. But here we simply have to ask the question, we should ask it straightforwardly: If that unborn child is not a person then what in the world is that unborn child? And, of course, legally speaking and morally speaking, even more importantly, there is an immediate response that this must be recognized as a morally significant entity; we’ll go further and say an unborn human being, a person. But then we have to recognize that if it is murder to kill an unborn baby at eight months of gestation in terms of an act of murder, then it is also murder to kill that eight month old baby in gestation, that unborn child, if that murder is called something else, and, furthermore, the moral status of that unborn human being does not change depending on whether or not the baby is wanted. In describing these laws Kimberly Winston pointed out that it is a division in the American people, those who are pro-abortion are against these laws, and, we say, for obvious reasons. Those who are against abortion champion these laws. She writes later in her article, and I quote,

“None of these laws apply to women who have legal abortions. However, opponents of feticide laws say they are more often used to prosecute women whose drug use or other illegal behavior results in the termination of a pregnancy than men who abuse pregnant women.”

The article concludes, and, again, I quote,

“Murder, usually related to domestic violence, is a leading cause of death for pregnant women in the U.S., according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.”

So here’s the question once again: Did the killer in Sutherland Springs, Texas, kill 26 human beings or 27? Morally speaking, in terms of the Christian worldview, the answer is clear: He killed 27 human beings; one of them not yet born. He killed one of those human beings in the womb of the baby’s mother. Here we simply have to note the actual honesty of the pro-abortion movement, at least in terms of many of its members, in arguing against the law that would recognize this unborn child as a life worthy of protection. And so we see the American people who have this deep moral instinct that it must be murder to kill this unborn child in his mother’s womb, we see the fact that that reflects an enormous confusion when you just shift the scene or the context or the attitude from a murderer in a church building to an abortionist in a clinic. Just to state the obvious, it tells us something very sad about the American people that in terms of the moral meaning of the massacre in Sutherland Springs, Texas, there is even a debate, an actual debate, a legal debate, about whether or not it should be recognized that there were 26 victims or 27. It’s a very, very confused people, who are not in agreement, even with how many victims should be counted in a murder.

Part II

The gender revolution faces the reality of anatomy and biology in the pages of the New York Times

Next, a couple of very important stories on the firing lines of gender. The New York Times reports both of them and in the same edition; yesterday’s edition of the paper. First in the front section of the newspaper, a story with the headline,

“Germany is Told to Add Third Category on Gender.”

At first glance this doesn’t appear to be even that newsworthy in terms of our contemporary context. Germany’s highest court is here instructing the German government that it must either come up with a third category, other than male and female, when it comes to gender, even to be assigned on birth certificates, or it must eliminate all references to gender whatsoever. Now let’s just take that last alternative for just a moment. What would it mean if society in terms of birth certificates or, for that matter, all subsequent identification just leaves off gender? Now, that would lead to massive confusion. That massive confusion, we need to recognize, would actually make it almost impossible to operate as a society, that’s the reason why it’s unlikely Germany, even a country like Germany is likely to take that second option. Instead they’re likely to take the option that was also stipulated by the court that would allow Germany to come up with this third category, neither male nor female. Now, we are also looking at a story like this thinking, well, this could be a response to the reality and the increasing understanding of the reality of those persons who are intersex, a very small percentage of human beings, but regardless of the small percentage, a genuinely important question recognizing that there are some persons who were born without the ability to immediately know if they are male or female or somewhere, in terms of biology, in between. But even as this article you would think might be dealing with that issue, and to some extent it does, the opening of the article makes clear it’s a far different issue that is actually front and center. The reporters tell us, and I quote,

“Germany must create a third gender category for people who do not identify as either male or female or were born with ambiguous sexual traits, the country’s constitutional court ruled on Wednesday, finding that binary gender designations violated the right to privacy.”

Now, that’s a very significant set of words there, but the story goes on, and I quote,

“The new decision, by the Federal Constitutional Court [takes a previous decision further] giving lawmakers until the end of 2018 to either allow the introduction of a third gender category or dispense with gender altogether in public documents.”

Then the crucial next sentence, and I quote,

“The ruling arrives as society, medicine and law increasingly recognize the ways in which gender is socially constructed and not necessarily fixed or stable.”

So all the sudden an article that appeared to be about persons who have a biologically ambiguous status as either male or female, that’s a very morally significant reality, it turns out that the article in the New York Times quickly turns to the fact that this decision is really in the context of society coming to the conclusion that gender itself is just a social construct.

The text of the decision from the German court includes these words,

“The assignment to a gender is of paramount importance for individual identity; it typically occupies a key position both in the self-image of a person and how the person is perceived by others.”

Now, with that statement we can wholeheartedly agree, but, of course, it’s not just a statement, it is a significant understatement. But it’s also interesting to note that some advocates for transgender persons don’t believe that the decision goes far enough. One of them, Susan Strykeran associate professor of gender and women’s studies at the University of Arizona, she said,

“I think it’s a really positive development in that it’s basically the state acknowledging that bodies are diverse, and that the shoehorning of bodies into pink or blue can do a kind of violence.”

But she went on to say,

“I don’t necessarily see this ruling as something that’s a huge victory in the battle for gender liberation. It’s still very much about medicalization.”

She said,

“It’s all moving in the same direction, but not fast enough.”

So that really interesting statement in this advocate is that the German court’s decision is still basically about medicalization. What does she mean by that? It’s still about anatomy and biology. The effort of those who were pushing the gender revolution is to completely liberate human beings from the very notions of anatomy and biology and reproduction and all the rest. Of course, from a Christian worldview perspective, we not only see that as wrong, we simply also have to think, ‘well good luck with that.’ That’s going to run not only into resistance from the moral instincts of basic human nature, it is also going to be just in operable, impossible actually, to carry out comprehensively throughout society. But what’s also really interesting is that the modern state of Germany has an understanding of human rights that it has attempted to ground in something other than historic Christianity, even the inherited Christianity that formed Europe. There is an attempt here for an almost entirely, virtually entirely, secular understanding of human rights, and in the course of such a statement, it comes very close to declaring that human beings have the absolute ability to invent themselves.

The German Civil Code recognizes, what is called in that country, a right to personality. A German high court also ruled a few years ago, and I quote,

“the general right to personality has been recognized as the case law, [there in Germany,] since 1954.”

It’s identified as another right protected and civil law.

“It guarantees as against all the world the protection of human dignity and the right to free development of the personality.”

Now, as we have noted, one of the hallmarks of the modern secular age is a virtual worship of the idea of personal autonomy, but it’s hard to find a statement of personal autonomy that’s more radical than this. Germany’s Federal High Court has at least recognized that the roots of this kind of conception of personal autonomy are found in the Enlightenment, such as the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, and are found within strains of humanism. That’s at least an honest acknowledgment of where this kind of idea came from.

Now, the second article appears in the sports section of the New York Times. It has the headline,

“A High School Predicament: How to Define Transgender.”

Malika Andrews is the reporter on this story and it begins,

“The calls to high school sports officials from athletic directors and administrators began several years ago and have only become more frequent and difficult: How are you handling transgender students who want to play sports?”

It’s increasingly apparent that this is not a question that’s coming to just a handful school districts, it’s eventually coming to every school district. It’s also apparent in terms of this news article that there is an absolute absence of consensus or even generally accepted practices and policies when it comes to answering this particular question. As one official said,

“Quite frankly, I don’t think anyone has it exactly right because if they did, everyone else would just do that.”

There was controversy of all things in 2012 when the governing body of high school sports in Texas ruled that males must compete on boys teams and females must compete on girls teams, but it turns out that that policy that would have been unneeded and unthinkable just a matter of a generation ago was also not clear enough because the rule didn’t actually define beyond the words like male and boy, female and girl what it actually means to be male or female. It’s a very tragic sign of our contemporary confusion that those words, those very basic words to human identity and human history, now have no consensual meaning in our culture. One of most complicated questions as addressed in this article is what to do with a student when the student is announced to be transitioning, that’s the word that is now used from one gender identity to another. And it’s also clear that this is an issue that comes right down to, as we saw in the previous story, the very immovable and unarguable reality of anatomy and biology.

As this article makes clear, in some ways rather awkwardly clear, there is a difference between the male body and the female body, and there is a difference in terms of the amount of testosterone in a teenage male body as compared to a teenage female body. And even as there may be hormonal therapies, you have the confusion that exists in at least some states in which those who are born biologically male may compete on a male team but not on a female team, but those who are born anatomically female, but have transitioned to male may play on male teams. Why? It is because there is perceived to be an advantage in terms of strength and other athletic markers when it comes to someone who is born with a male body, regardless of how that individual currently identifies. The article goes into more anatomical detail, actually, than we will discuss on The Briefing, but it does get to the fact that when it comes even to the hormonal measurement of testosterone just about everyone agrees that it makes a big difference, but there is no agreement upon which level actually makes the crucial difference.

Furthermore, even the arguments that persons who are, let’s just use their word, transitioning should be recognized in terms of the gender to which they are transitioning, it turns out that transgender advocates don’t even want there to be the requirement of hormonal therapy. In other words, they’re simply saying that a person, a teenager in this case, ought to have the absolute autonomy, there it is again, to simply say, ‘I’m a boy,’ or ‘I’m a girl,’ and be recognized as such, even in an athletic competition. This is no longer just an abstract debate, it’s a matter that’s coming down to issues and policies that are being faced by school districts. It’s inevitable. It’s a part of the fallout, a part of the collateral damage to the culture that has been brought about by this enormous confusion that has been injected into the entire society and the moral revolution, when it comes to sex and gender that is unwinding itself day by day all around us.

Finally, in this article, there is the continued acknowledgment that geography still matters when it comes to moral worldview. One of the authorities cited in the article said this,

“Having a single gender policy for all state associations would be very difficult. … I think it would be difficult because of what people believe in California is not necessarily what people believe in Iowa. Our country is diverse.”

Well that’s certainly true, our country is diverse, but on this issue and so many others, we also have to recognize our country is confused.

Part III

A rocket unlike anything humans had ever seen: Marking the 50th anniversary of the Saturn V

Finally, I want to recognize a very significant milestone for the American people that took place 50 years ago yesterday, that was the launch of the first Saturn V rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and even as we look back over 50 years we have to recognize, even today, how absolutely significant that milestone was. President John F. Kennedy had announced in 1961 the intention that the United States would send a man to the moon and return him safely. Now, that appeared to be a most remote goal, and by the time you got even to the mid-1960s, it wasn’t clear that the United States even knew how to regularly and safely launch single-stage rockets over and over again into Earth orbit, much less to the moon. But going to the moon would require not just a single-stage rocket but, by the technological standards of the 1960s, it would require a massive three-stage rocket; a rocket unlike anything human beings had ever seen, and we have to note 50 years later, a rocket unlike anything that human beings have seen even sense.

The rocket went from the planning stages to actuality in just six years; 13 different Saturn V rockets were launched in the Kennedy Space Center, every single one of those launches successful. That’s an amazing fact, especially when you go back to the technology available 50 years ago. You’re talking about rocket power that is almost impossible for us to understand. The Saturn V in its first mainstage had five different F1 engines, those five engines each produced 7.5 million pounds of thrust. In just one second, maybe, it is estimated, in just 1/10 of a second, the Saturn V used more fuel than Charles Lindbergh used in his entire crossing of the Atlantic in 1927. The rocket stood 363 feet tall, and when the rocket took off it weighed 6.2 million pounds when loaded with fuel and propellant. In order to construct the rocket, NASA had to construct what was then the largest and tallest single story building ever built by human beings. It remains so today, the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center.

The first Saturn V rocket in all of its stages blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center 50 years ago yesterday, successfully, and then you can draw a direct line to 1969 when the first Americans, the first human beings, set their foot on the moon. That, of course, made possible by the Saturn V rocket.

NASA is now working on what is known as the Space Launch System, it is to debut in 2019. That vehicle is expected to be slightly shorter than the Saturn V but even more powerful by just a few million pounds of thrust. The important thing to recognize is just how incredibly unprecedented this technology was and how unexpected it was not only that the Saturn V would work in its first launching, but that it would never fail in 13 launches including 10 manned missions. So in the midst of all the troubling news, even all the developing news, all the news that challenges us in terms of worldview, it’s important to recognize this kind of milestone, a milestone in American history, a milestone worth bringing up in terms of the video you can find online and watching it as a family; a memory, thereby of what happened 50 years ago and ever since 1972 hasn’t happened since.

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 on Monday for The Briefing.


R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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