Thursday, June 21, 2018

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Briefing

June 21, 2018

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

It’s Thursday, June 21, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Without human dignity there are no human rights: The real story behind the U.S. withdrawal from the U.N. Human Rights Council

Almost all major media around the world ran some headline story such as the one that appeared in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. The headline quote, “US Quits UN Human Rights Council.” Now, that sounds like a very interesting headline. What would be the story behind it?

Jessica Donati reporting for the Wall Street Journal tells us, “The US said Tuesday it is withdrawing from the United Nation’s human rights council, delivering on a long running Trump administration threat to leave the panel, unless it adopted major changes. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo and Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN made public the US withdrawal during an appearance at the state department, with secretary Pompeo saying, quote, “The council has failed in its stated objectives.””

Miss Haley, the ambassador from the United States to the United Nations said, quote, “The United States is officially withdrawing from the human rights council.” She went on to call it a ‘hypocritical and self-serving organization.’

Now, looking at the global picture, the United States has been one of the major defenders of human rights. But why would the United States now withdrawal from an organization known as the United Nations human rights council? Now, almost immediately, some pounced on the news, saying that this is an action by the Trump administration that is out of line with other presidential administrations, and with the long tradition of American engagement on human rights issues with similar kinds of councils.

But that’s not the whole story. Behind this is the reality that as you look across the world picture, especially over the last century, many of the most dangerous organizations to human rights have been declared as organizations to defend human rights.

And, you won’t be surprised to know that at the center of many of these organizations is the United Nations, or at least the patronage of the United Nations. As organizations go, the United Nations human rights council is fairly recent. It was established only in the year 2006, and that was made necessary because of the failure of the organization in the United Nations that had preceded it.

It was known as the United Nations human rights commission. As the Wall Street Journal says, quite rightly, “That organization was dissolved for failing to deliver on its mandate to protect rights, and for allowing countries with abysmal human rights records to become members.”

Well, to summarize the story to its essence, this new organization, the United Nations human rights council, is also failing for the very same reason that its predecessor organization also failed. It’s also important to recognize that when this new council was adopted by the United Nations in 2006, the United States was not an initial signatory under the presidency of President George W. Bush, the United States waited actually three full years before joining, and ever since joining, it has found itself often at odds with the council over the very issue of human rights.

As we think about the moral context of the global situation, we come to understand that human rights are and have been, ever since Genesis three, under fire, endangered, and often threatened, but what we also note is that human rights are now often threatened by the organizations that declare themselves the defenders of human rights.

Now, this sells Orwellian, and that points back to George Orwell, who in the middle of the 20th century, understood Totalitarianism so well, and he understood the factor of language. He understood that totalitarian leaders and the enemies of human rights and human dignity would often use the language of freedom, liberty, even democracy in human rights, in order to deny the very same realities.

They would embrace the lie and call it the truth. They would mislabel, and twist language into a double speak. That’s exactly what we see in this case, and what we’ve seen in so many other cases as well. As you look at that global context, you think even of the names of certain countries.

For example, ever since the rise of communism, and remember, that came after the rise of democracy, communist regimes have often found a way to use the word democratic, even in the names of their totalitarian states. Just to give one example, North Korea’s official name, in English is, the people’s democratic republic of Korea.

But, North Korea is anything but democratic. The same thing is true in so many other nations. The former East Germany had the name democratic, and you see this over and over again. Naming something doesn’t make it something.

The real question is whether or not the nation’s government is a form of democracy, and in so many of the nations around the world that have democratic in the name of the nation, it’s anything but. It’s not democracy at all. Similarly, the words human rights are often put in the names of organizations that, in the end, become the enemies of human rights. Subversive of human rights.

That’s the case of this very organization. And American conservatives have noted this for a very long time, but we should also note that American liberals have made many the same charges against the very same organization. Now, remember that this organization, from which the United States has announced its withdrawal, the organization started in 2006, was established because the previous organization, known as the United Nation human rights commission had been, and I go back to the language of the Journal, ‘dissolved for failing to deliver on its mandate, and for allowing countries with abysmal human rights records to become members.’

Well, United Nations ambassador, Nikki Haley, in defending the announcement made by the United States this week, pointed out that the current United Nations human rights council also includes members with similarly abysmal human rights records.

While so much of this conversation is politicized, the Atlantic ran an article by Krishnadev Calamur, which is very clear in establishing the real reason why the United States has withdrawn and why the United Nations human rights council is not worth of American participation.

The membership on the human rights council is established geographically. That means a certain number of seats on the council from different geographic areas. That creates an inherent problem, because in many of those regions, there simply are not nations that defend human rights and represent democracy that could play a helpful role in this kind of council.

So, in other words, the council has representation from nations that should not be on the council. Calamur explained, quote “Although this geographical quota system addresses the disparities in global representation, it is also the council’s most serious flaw. With a few notable exceptions, the overwhelming majority of countries outside Western Europe, and others grouping, have flawed to abysmal human rights records and policies. Many are not democracies. Few have representative governments, fewer still have an incentive to pursue and commit to universal human rights. That these are the countries that criticize Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East is bad enough. That they do it while pursuing their own draconian policies makes the membership laughable.” End quote.

That’s exactly the rationale that was offered by the United States ambassador through the United Nations, when she said that the key problem here is indicated, it’s illustrated by the fact that this council has singled out one nation for its moral judgment, that nation being Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, while members of the council itself failed to recognize Israel’s legitimacy as a nation.

The United States did not say that Israel, or any other nation, including the United States, is beyond moral scrutiny, but it made very clear that, that moral scrutiny has to be credible, and it’s not credible when you look at the makeup and the actions of the United Nations human rights council.

But beyond what you’re likely to find in the media, even trying to look for a fair representation of articles and approaches, I want to add a couple of points. And the first would be this. As you look into these international human rights tribunals and councils, we need to note that many of them actually define human rights in ways very different than the United States and our allies.

Now, this has been true for a very long time, but it’s becoming increasingly true now. We also need to note that many of these human rights councils or commissions, or tribunals, they have taken steps to force nations into moral conformity, with such moral agendas as the LGBTQ revolution, or on the question of abortion.

Just remember the fact that, on the briefing, just days ago, we talked about Northern Ireland coming under the judgment of Britain, claiming that human rights tribunals in Europe and the largest context of the European community should mean that Ireland would have to liberalize its abortion laws.

We see the similar kind of pressure coming from many of these human rights groups on the LGBTQ agenda, but we also see the opposite. We see many repressive regimes who are absolute deniers of human rights, and have an absolutely corrupt record on human rights.

We see many of them now using membership on councils such as this to protect their own abusive behavior. But that leads to a final issue you’re not likely to see discussed in the mainstream media. The most fundamental question is this: Why do we even talk about human rights, and how would we know what human rights are? What do human beings deserve, every single human being, simply for being human?

How would we define or ground human rights? This is where Christians understand that human rights can only be grounded in human dignity, and human dignity is not a reality. It’s not a truth, it’s not an objective fact that can simply be asserted by a secular world view, with any authority or with any comprehensive understanding.

What you see in so many of these tribunals and commission, and councils, what you see in the United Nations, and often even what you see in our current political conversation, is an assertion of human rights, with no understanding of human dignity.

Human rights as if they are merely tacked into the air without any kind of foundation or objective reality. Christians understand the mandate of human rights, but we understand that mandate is precisely driven by the understanding of human dignity, and human dignity is grounded in the fact that we are not mere cosmic accidents, but instead we are the act of a creator.

We are creatures made by a creator for his glory, and also for human flourishing. Now, once you understand that, then human rights become comprehensible. But once you treat human beings as mere cosmic accidents who apparently must be understood to possess certain rights, then you’re not certain what those rights are, and you have no argument for why every single human being possesses those rights, and you have no authority to adjudicate these kinds of cases.

And on this headline story, as on so many others, it is really revealing to see what is discussed and covered in the mainstream media. It’s similarly revealing to understand what’s not even mentioned at all.

Part II

What the dissolution of the American family has to do with the prevalence of fear and despair among American teenagers

Next, I turn to a disturbing report recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, commonly known as the CDC. Jan Hoffman reporting for the New York Times tells us, and I quote, “One in seven high school students reported misusing prescription opioids. One of several disturbing results in a nation-wide survey of teenagers that revealed a growing sense of fear, and a despair among youth in the United States.”

Now, looking at the report from the CDC, there is a lot of disturbing material here, but it’s a mixed bag as she looks statistic by statistic. Compared with previous surveys of teenagers in America, today’s teenagers are less likely to be engaged in overt sexual behavior, that’s good.

There are higher reports of coerced sexual behavior, very alarming. There are reports of teenagers whose lives are increasingly distant from their parents and distant from the involvement of any adult.

The study also indicates that one in five students now reports being bullied at school, that’s very alarming. But the biggest alarm in this story is not about any particular activity. The biggest alarm here has to do with the interior lives of America teenagers as reported in this survey.

Words such as fear and despair among American teenagers should grab our attention in a hurry. The official behind the report, Dr. Jonathan Merman of the CDC, gave the bottom line in the research with remarkable clarity. He said, and I quote, “An adolescent’s world can be bleak.” End quote.

So, as a society, that most importantly is Christians, we need to step back and ask the question, why would the lives of so many American teenagers be bleak? Now, most of this is outside the consideration of the report.

The report gives us something of a pathological indication of what’s going on amongst American teenagers. In external behavior and in internal perception. But the CDC report largely lacks any apparatus for saying, this is why this has happened, or this is how the problem might be remedied. Christians can’t be satisfied to look at the numbers, we’re concerned with the people. We’re concerned with the teenagers, we want to know what’s going on here.

Now, this is where Christians understand that in the life span, and the life experience of human beings, adolescence has never been easy. It’s been marked by what the Germans called, “sturm and drang.” It’s a certain amount of struggle and storm.

We get that, and that’s true even in the Scriptures. We understand that adolescence also means that a young person is growing into maturity, between childhood and recognized adulthood is some period of not only physical but intellectual and personal and relational and spiritual transformation, that gets summarized in the word ‘adolescence.’

And in some sense, adolescence has always been a matter of internal struggle. After all, self-identity, and the most basic questions of life, are often being confronted, almost always being confronted, by someone undergoing that process of adolescence.

It’s not to say, however, that the experience of adolescence has been expected to be bleak. It’s just expected to have had bleak moments. Moments of that kind of storm and intensity that, hopefully, help one to grow and to mature towards adulthood.

But then we have to ask the question, what would help and assist? What would support an adolescent in undergoing that crucial process of identification and of development and of relating? The answer to that, to the Christian, has to come back immediately to the very structures of creation.

And in the structures of creation is, at the very center, the family. And at the center of the family, marriage. And in marriage, a father and a mother. And thus, we come to understand, that if you put two sets of statistics side by side, they cannot be merely coincidental.

The secular media, the secular world, does not want to deal with this, but as Christians, we must deal with this. You can look at the skyrocketing rates of children who do not have stable two parent homes, and you can look at the skyrocketing rates of this kind of despair among adolescence along with other pathologies, and just at the statistical level of analysis, you can see a correlation.

You can see a correlation that moves along, sad to say, but impossible to refute, even over periods of time, where one statistic goes up, it turns out, the other goes up as well. But as Christians look at this kind of research, and do a biblical analysis, we’re moved, not merely by a sociological impulse, but by a theological impulse.

We’re concerned for these teenagers. We’re concerned for the society that these teenagers will inhabit. We’re concerned for a kind of society that is evidently turned increasingly toxic, not only to teenagers and adolescents, but to others of us as well.

We come to understand a society that has been subverting the very structures that have supported young people in getting from childhood to adulthood, through the stormy years of adolescence. We come to understand that it’s not just the home, but it begins with the home. It’s not just a marriage, it’s not just a mom and a dad, but it begins there.

But then we also understand that we have turned our school systems into laboratories of social experimentation, and furthermore, we are a society that has been sending decidedly toxic messages to teenagers, now for a matter of generations.

We are talking about a society where the cultural elites believe that teenagers are to be liberated the same way that they believe others are to be liberated by their own definition of sexual liberation and moral liberation.

But then, Christians understand that it’s not just the structures of creation that are very important to helping teenagers to get through these very important years, but it is also the church. This is where we understand, not just the structures of creation, but we understand the very body of redemption, the church.

We come to understand what Christian Smith and others in their massive studies of young people have found, and that is, that those young people that have a healthy, happy, holy experience within their church, they are far more likely to get through adolescence in a healthy way.

And this comes down to even some research that indicates that if an adolescent has one adult who cares about that adolescent in a church setting, outside mom and dad, this is another adult who cares about that teenager, that teenager is far more likely to emerge as a healthy adult, and is far more likely to have a continuing connection to the church and to the Christian faith.

This also means that Christians are concerned with the mass sociological context of this kind of study. After all, we’re talking about the federal government of the United States, we’re talking about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we’re talking about a problem and in all 50 states, we’re talking about a problem that involves millions and millions of teenagers.

There is surely something that could be done and must be done, but we also understand that the most important things that must be done probably won’t be done. There’s not even a cultural consensus to want them done.

But this is where we understand that our most important answer to this kind of research is considering the teenagers closest to us. This begins with the teenagers in our homes. It begins with the children who will be teenagers in our homes. It begins with the teenagers in our church.

We cannot possibly redefine adolescence so that teenagers not undergo stress and strain and also both happiness and pain. We can’t do that, but what we can do is make certain that they never endure an experience, these trials and passages of life alone, or without the support of parents, or without their family, or without the support of the church, and this is where the church has a mission to help those who may not have a home in which they have this kind of support, who may not have even parents from whom they have this kind of support, who may be in environments which are subversive of that very support. This is where churches can be, unto many of those teenagers, not only a way of hearing the gospel and the way of eternal life, but hearing biblical truth, and having the kind of support and relationships that will help to get them through the passage of adolescence.

It is really interesting to see the lead researcher with the Centers for Disease Control come to this conclusion, and I quote, “There is strong data to show that family support and attention by your parents to what you’re doing can make a difference in an adolescent’s life.” End quote.

Now, it tells us something about our society, that evidently we have to be told that, by a research for the Centers for Disease Control. The church of the Lord Jesus Christ understands that truth from a higher authority, and even if the world doesn’t know what to do in the face of this kind of study, the church does know what to do, because it’s what the church has always been assigned to do. It just turns out that in our current cultural context, it’s even more important that we do it.

Part III

Why gang violence overtaking a Maryland middle school is an indictment of the entire nation

But, then, just last week, the Washington Post ran a front-page story with this alarming quote, “Is MS-13 Overtaking a Middle School in Maryland?”

The article is by Michael E. Miller, and the article makes clear that there is the danger that the violent group, MS-13, a gang that was described in a front-page article by News Week magazine, as the world’s most brutal gang, is now threatening to take over a middle school in suburban Maryland.

Later in the article, the reporter tells us, and I quote, “Dozens of schools from Northern Virginia to Long Island to Boston are dealing with the resurgence of MS-13, which has been linked to a string of grizzly killings throughout the country. The gang’s growth has been fueled by a wave of 200 thousand teens, who traveled to the United States alone to escape poverty and gang violence in Central America. The vast majority enroll in school and stay out of trouble, but a small percentage get involved in MS-13 here.” End quote.

MS-13, as it is known, began in El Salvador, but it appeared in the United States in the 1980s, first in Los Angeles. In this new cover story at News Week magazine, dated June 22nd, Michelle R. McFee, the reporter goes on to tell us of the violent roots of this gang.

Quote, “Unlike other gangs, MS-13 didn’t exist purely to make money. Members sold guns and drugs, but life revolved around something else: territory.” She went on to say, “The MS-13 motto, ‘Mata, Viola, Controla’, or ‘kill, rape, control’ to fund its expansion, it forced fellow undocumented immigrants, cab drivers, dishwashers, and housekeepers, to pay protection money at five to 10 dollars a week. Terrified of deportation, most coughed up instead of going to the police. Those who didn’t often faced the end of the blade.” End quote.

But remember that front page article last week in the Washington Post is not about the streets of a major American city, it’s about the hallways and the classrooms of a middle school in Maryland. The saddest part of the article in the post is the despair on the part of so many children.

And, remember here, we are talking about middle school children. So, while we are a nation that seems not to know what to do, some of the biggest questions of national, statistical, demographic, and pathological importance, the reality is, that we’re also becoming a society that doesn’t even know how to run a safe middle school.

This is an indictment of a gang for sure, but in the larger sense, it’s an indictment of the entire nation. So, as we’re thinking about the importance of parents and the family, and the church in the life of America’s teenagers, in light of that story concerning the research from the CDC, we also need to understand the conversations that parents and Christian leaders need to have with young people. That story from the Washington Post just tells us of one more conversation we need to have.

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 informational Boyce college, just go to

I’ll meet you again tomorrow, for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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