Friday, Apr. 27, 2018

Friday, Apr. 27, 2018

The Briefing

April 27, 2018

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

It’s Friday, April 27, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Why, from a biblical worldview, the arrest of a suspect in the ‘Golden State Killer’ case is deeply satisfying

It was Martin Luther King, Jr. who famously and rightly observed that justice delayed is justice denied. In a temporal sense that is an undeniable truth and there is no excuse for justice being either delayed or denied.

In a fallen world it sometimes appears however that justice can be delayed so long that it is denied and there are those who believe that they have escaped the long arm of justice. From a Christian biblical perspective we understand that that is actually impossible, that justice will not be forever either delayed or denied, that the day of the Lord is coming when there will be a reckoning for all.

Then, even in a temporal frame it seems often that justice can be denied for so long that there is the question as to whether it will ever come, at least in this temporal frame. Then this week there were two news stories reminding us that even in the unfolding of history justice that appears to be denied or delayed can often come with a thunderclap of announcement.

First, in the middle of the week unexpected headlines telling us that law enforcement officials in California had made an unexpected arrest in a case that long ago many had believed had gone cold. This was the Golden State Killer Case, a murder and rape spree, crimes that took place in the 1970s and the 1980s. But the last of those crimes was believed to have taken place about 1986 and since then there was virtually no progress in law enforcement and attempts to identify the killer and then to make an arrest.

Now, when you’re looking at a serial killer and rapist with crimes going back to the seventies and eighties and when you consider the fact that the last of these crimes is believed to have taken place over 30 years ago, the assumption was that this was one of those very tragic cold cases but there were two developments. In the first place, there was a writer in the genre of true crime who had begun to track down the story and a major book that was released just in recent days.

The book was written by Michelle McNamara, a crime writer. She herself died in April of 2016 and the book was only recently completed by her widower, her husband. Then we are told that even as the book entitled, “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” had been published, the police had followed up on new evidence including, and this is very important, DNA evidence that led them not only to a suspect but led them to an evidence trail that police say unquestionably ties the suspect to the crimes.

Thomas Fuller and Christine Houser reporting in the front-page article for the New York Times yesterday said it was a rash of sadistic rapes and murders that spread terror throughout California long before the term was commonly used. The scores of attacks in the 1970s and 1980s went unsolved for more than three decades but on Wednesday law enforcement officials said they had finally arrested the notorious Golden State Killer. He was arrested in what’s described as a tidy suburb of Sacramento.

The man who was arrested on Wednesday, lent by DNA evidence and other evidence trails, was Joseph James D’Angelo. He’s identified as a 72-year-old who was formerly a police officer in two small California cities. A part of the evidence trail is the fact that even as he was serving as a police officer the geographic patterns of the crimes indicated his proximity not just to one but to several of the crimes demonstrated already. But it was the DNA evidence that appears to have been the most important evidence that led police and law enforcement to come to the conclusion that this was indeed the killer.

He was still alive outside of Sacramento and they went on to arrest him on Wednesday. The district attorney and Marie Shubert said, “We found the needle in the haystack and it was right here in Sacramento.” According to the timeline provided by law enforcement officials in California when the last of these crimes was committed, Mr. D’Angelo was 40 years of age, he is now 72. We’re talking about a 32 year span of time, a span of time in which this man must have believed that he had defeated justice, that he had eluded and evaded arrest and prosecution, that justice was never going to come for him.

Of course, again, eternally that justice would certainly come, and it still will. Even short of that justice it’s very important that even a case that had been declared to have gone cold was not allowed simply to recede into the mist of memory. Rather, there were those that doggedly pursued the case in the name of justice and the arrest on Wednesday is deeply satisfying. It doesn’t restore life. It doesn’t restore innocence to the victims. It doesn’t restore peace to those who were traumatized for so long but there is in the human heart because the creator put it there, an impulse towards justice, and that impulse achieves at least partial satisfaction even in a fallen world when an arrest like this is made.

Part II

From family values to felonies: How Bill Cosby helps us understand the entertainment culture as detached from real life

Yesterday there was additional headline news, in this case it was the comedian/actor, Bill Cosby, who was found guilty of drugging and sexually assaulting a woman 14 years ago. Once again, this is a situation in which many believed that justice was both delayed and denied. It may have been delayed by not indefinitely. Mr. Cosby had fought these accusations, he had denied them, he had defended himself in court, this was his second trial after a mistrial in the first case, and he was convicted yesterday of three felony counts judged by a jury of his peers.

Major news reports in papers such as the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post have pointed out that there had been dozens of women who have made these kinds of allegations against Bill Cosby. Younger Americans might not understand the meaning and the weight of this news but older Americans surely will. Bill Cosby was a famous entertainer in the United States going back to the 1960s and ’70s but it was in the period from 1984 to 1992 that he achieved his maximum celebrity and influence playing the part of Dr. Cliff Huxtable on the program simply known as The Cosby Show.

The most important thing to remember about The Cosby Show is that it became a symbolic program representing what during the 1980s were just then beginning to be referred to as family values. The show prized marriage in the relationship between Dr. Huxtable and his wife. The show honored parents and the two parent family, a mother and a father both actively engaged in the lives of their boisterous children.

The story followed family developments, finding both humor and meaning in every day developments and in endearing characters. It’s also important to recognize that The Cosby Show broke racial barriers. There were many people in America who began to understand the entire complex of racial issues differently by watching a family who appeared different than them but appeared to be, in almost every significant way, exactly like them.

It was actually more than that. The Huxtables represented an aspirational family, the kind of family that many people of America of all races and ethnic backgrounds wanted to have and hoped one day to have. At the center of the program was a certain moral world view, a moral world view that was associated not only with Dr. Cliff Huxtable but with Bill Cosby the entertainer.

Bill Cosby is a public figure in America who was known for making moral arguments. He made moral arguments in the middle of much of the tension of the 1960s and ’70s. He made moral arguments about the essential ingredient of character during the time that he was one of the most familiar figures in American entertainment, especially during the peak seasons of The Cosby Show.

Bill Cosby after the end of that show continued to be an iconic representation of American virtue and yet we now know there was far more to the story. It’s almost as if we’re looking at a Jekyll and Hyde kind of situation. We’re looking at someone who on camera was the very paragon of virtue. Off camera, it turns out as a jury of his peers determined yesterday, there was a very different Bill Cosby than the man we saw on television.

Now as we look at this it is sheer tragedy. It’s tragedy for America, it’s tragedy for American entertainment, it’s certainly a tragedy for the women and others who were involved in the story, it’s a tragedy for Bill Cosby and for his family. It’s a moral tragedy but the moral responsibility is abundantly clear. Of course, Christians looking at this understand that what is important is not only the unfolding story of justice, even justice that had appeared to be delayed, but there is also the reality that we have to understand the entertainment culture as separated from real life. That’s something that Americans often have trouble understanding.

Going back to the rise of modern media celebrities, first in radio, then in film, then in television, and of course now in the digital world, it has become abundantly clear that many Americans begin to read actors and actresses and celebrity through the parts that they play on television; the public roles, the entertainment roles but time after time we’ve come to understand that the person behind the role is not the person of the role.

We also understand the inevitable inseparability of the individual playing the part and the part so even as one might go back and watch reruns of The Cosby Show it’s going to be impossible to watch that show as if we don’t know what we do know. This is an important affirmation to moral responsibility for every one of us. In our own way, in our own context, every one of us is tempted to be understood in public as something very different than what we are.

The New York Times coverage by Graham Bowley and Jon Hurdle includes this sentence. “The verdict now marks the bottom of a fall as precipitous as any in show business history and leaves in limbo a large slice of American popular culture for Mr. Cosby’s six decade career as a comedian and actor.” Then, the very next sentence says this. “For the last few years his TV shows, films, and recorded standup performances, one time broadcast staples, have largely been shunned and with the conviction they are likely to remain so.”

That’s fairly amazing language but it appears to be incontrovertably true. This is the bottom of a fall as precipitous as any in show business history, period, and it does leave in limbo a large slice of American popular culture, period. At the very least, Christians must understand that as we discern what we are being told through entertainment and a celebrity culture we also have to remember that we’re not being told all that we may one day be told.

No story stays untold forever, that’s something all of us need to remember and a story like this does not remain untold for long. It’s tragic but true almost in a Shakespearean, almost in a biblical sense isn’t it that we look at this and we understand that the headlines that landed yesterday effectively wiped out decades of reputations earned as a comedian and an entertainer.

Part III

As a new season begins, Handmaid’s Tale reaches the limits of its dystopian appeal

But next as we’re thinking about popular entertainment, one of the aspects of modern entertainment that has become very clear, if very troubling, is the increased popularity of dystopian novels, films, and television programs. We’ve been told that teenagers and young adults have been particularly drawn to this dystopian, that is the opposite of utopian, literature. They are looking to a world that appears to be getting worse and worse and somehow this is being translated into narratives and forms of entertainment that many Americans are finding popular and, here’s the word, entertaining but there appear to be limits to this.

The Hulu series, The Handmaid’s Tale, based upon the novel of the same title by Margaret Atwood, it has not only been very popular being watched by millions, we are told, but it has also won several awards, including an Emmy Award. The series and the novel are unquestionably dystopian. By the way, they are also very much politicized and there’s a theological angle running through the story.

The dystopian dictatorial community that is repressive and depicted in the novel and the show is demonstrated quite clearly to be based on some form of what’s identified in the New York Times as Fundamentalist Christianity. It’s also clear that rather recent political developments in the United States are depicted as the background in the story that is told in the television series, but the novel comes from decades earlier.

Even as the novelist has declared herself to be a part of the resistance, the reality is that when the novel came out she depicted its point as being very different than what is now depicted in the series. The issue of our interest today has to do with the fact that both USA Today and the New York Times yesterday noted the same development. It appears that The Handmaid’s Tale is running out of material.

Now, the first way it’s running out of material is that they have run out of program given the narrative in the novel by Margaret Atwood so they’re going to have to make up a new story because they’ve run out of the story as told in the novel. There’s another sense of which they’re running out of material and it comes down to this. As the article in USA Today declares in its headline, “Handmaid’s Season Two Verges on Misery Porn.”

Kelly Lawler, columnist and critic for USA Today, reports “Gilliad is not an easy place to pay a return visit. When the Handmaid’s Tale premiered in 2017 it presented a patriarchal and theocratic dystopia that for some eerily echo today’s trends and politics, making it a touchstone for the left and a symbol of the resistance. The iconic red and white handmaid costume has been seen at marches, protests, and Hollywood parties often used as a symbol of sexism and oppression. The world it represents is dark and terrible, full of rape, torture, and slavery.”

Kelly Lawler, the critic, warns that if the first season of The Handmaid’s Tale was dark and dystopian, the second is even more so, and remember the second comes after the novel has run out of material. One of the points that Lawler makes in her criticism of the second season is that it is not only dark, it’s just too dark for audiences to bear. She also insinuates it’s too dark to be healthy.

She writes, “Fans often noted that the violence and anguish made the series difficult to watch.” Now remember, that’s about the first season. She went on to say, “And the problem has only increased this time around.” USA Today warns, “The Emmy winning series is better focused on humanity’s will to endure and survive than its ability to torture and maim.” The last paragraph in the USA Today article says this.

“Expanding The Handmaid’s Tale into a multi-season TV series from a single novel by Margaret Atwood was always going to be tricky, and to maintain the core of the series as it moves beyond the book’s road map its characters have to suffer. Still,” she says, “There is only so much trauma audiences can take before it becomes too much. The Handmaid’s Tale,” she warns, “Would do well with a lighter touch.”

Even as I read that sentence it becomes abundantly clear that the story doesn’t work with a lighter touch. Why? Because once a narrative, even or maybe especially when it takes the shape of a television series, when it begins down the road of a dystopian and dark trajectory there’s really no way to recover. Why? I think this is what’s missing from the secular analysis. The secular world view can understand utopia and it can understand dystopia but it can’t understand how either can be morally resolved.

The secular world view can see the warnings of dystopia, of disaster, of apocalypse ahead, but it appears to have no way of saying, “Here’s how there could be a rescue.” That’s because the secular world view and the cultures behind it have now become exhausted in any confidence of a humanistic kind of recovery. In that USA Today article, even in the headline, the use of the word porn is interesting.

The argument that The Handmaid’s Tale in its second season “verges on misery porn.” Now of course the word porn here, shorthand for pornography, expands the use of the word beyond the corruption of sexuality. That is, the most customary usage of the term. We’re also noticing that a secular society is experiencing a certain famine of vocabulary. A famine of words to use when something has now been so utterly corrupted that there appears to be no means of recovery.

Even this kind of dystopia narrative, warns USA Today, it verges on misery porn, celebrating and corrupting even a sense of misery, and sadness, and tragedy. There’s a final insight to be drawn from all of this and it’s simply something more obvious even than what appears in that headline. It turns out that Americans are willing to be entertained by dystopia but only to a point, and that’s really the point, isn’t it?

How in the world can you continually decide that you’re going to tune into a program in order to be entertained by misery, darkness, despair, disaster, and tragedy? How is it that you can watch that kind of program and say, “I believe exactly what it’s communicating. The world is just beautifully and accurately depicted as exactly this kind of dystopia I see on screen,” and then decide, “Well, maybe I need to go for a snack.”

That too reflects something of a double mindedness common amongst human beings. But it turns out that even human beings, even in our fallen sinful state, have only so much capacity for double mindedness.

Part IV

Should we be surprised when a society that condemns the corruption of sexuality then turns around and demands the corruption of sexuality?

Finally, while we’re thinking about this double mindedness, Americans appear not only to love football but many football teams have dance teams that are often described as being cheerleaders.

You have news coming in major sports sections across the country this week that many of these NFL cheerleaders are now bringing legal action against NFL owners charging them with gender discrimination. Charging them with not treating them well by holding them to a different set of expectations even as related to body size and shape as compared with football players. Now let’s just step back for a moment and say immediately that there is every reason to believe that anyone may misuse any other if given the opportunity.

I’m not taking any stand whatsoever on whether or not these cheerleaders have a legitimate legal charge against the NFL owners. What I am saying is this. It doesn’t make any sense to claim that you have been sexualized when the entire enterprise celebrates sexuality. It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever to say that you are the victim of gender discrimination when the very essence of the job you have taken, and not only that, worked for, and applied for, and tried out for, and then celebrated, it makes no sense that it turns out the job is actually the job.

There’s no excuse for anyone treating anyone badly and any situation like that needs to be rectified, whether through the courts or some other means. The fact is that Americans are so double minded on so many issues that you can look at a story like this and Americans will say, “That’s absolutely wrong. No one should dress like that, act like that, dance like that, and then tune in to make sure they don’t miss exactly what they say they condemn.

It’s at least worth noting that we are a society that condemns the corruption of sexuality and then demands the corruption of sexuality, that wants to sexualize women and then to condemn the sexualization of women. That wants this kind of entertainment and then seems to be entertained by this kind of moral confusion. It makes sense for us to see that kind of double mindedness in entertainment, and in novels, and in popular culture. It makes sense that we see the headlines that we discussed today when it comes to major stories concerning crime and punishment. Make no mistake, the Christian worldview reminds us that actually these same patterns turn up wherever human beings turn up, not     only on the front page but also on the sports page.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information go to my website at You can find 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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