Thursday, Aug 16, 2018

Thursday, Aug 16, 2018

The Briefing

August 16, 2018

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

It’s Thursday, August 16, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Colorado once again targets cake baker Jack Phillips, falling for trap set by sexual revolutionaries

Back in the year 2013, Jonathan Rauch, who was an early advocate for the legalization of same-sex marriage–he himself openly identifies with the LGBT community–but, back in that year in his book entitled Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought, Rauch looked to the future with the legalization of same-sex marriage coming and, furthermore, the generalized victory of the LGBT activists on so many other demands. And he spoke back in 2013 of his concern that his side, once it was the winning side, will then choose to turn and discriminate against Christians.

He wrote, “Today I fear that many people on my side of the gay equality question are forgetting our debt to the system that freed us. Some gay people,” he wrote, “not all, not even most, but quite a few want to expunge discriminatory views. Discrimination is discrimination and bigotry is bigotry, they say and they are intolerable whether or not they happen to be someone’s religion or moral creed.” I cited Rauch’s statement in my 2017 book, We Cannot Be Silent, because already by then it was clear that what Rauch feared had come to pass. By then it was already very much apparent that there was an inevitable collision, a direct collision between religious liberty and the newly-styled erotic liberty. And of course, that full collision is now before us in the larger culture in so many professions and even before the United States Supreme Court.

Earlier this year, as a matter of fact, just a matter of weeks ago, the nation’s highest court handed down to decision in the case of Jack Phillips, a baker from Colorado who had been found guilty by the state’s Civil Rights Commission of having violated the rights of LGBT persons by refusing to create cakes, given his own artistic expression, that would be supportive or celebrative. For example, of a gay wedding. The decision was on Jack Phillips’s behalf by the Supreme Court. It was a seven–two decision, which means at least several of the courts’ more liberal members had to have decided in his favor.

But it was also what’s called a narrow ruling. That means that the ruling, though in his favor, was basically over grounds that had to do with the fact that the Colorado Human Rights Commission had demonstrably trampled Jack Phillips’s religious liberty. They had spoken disparagingly of his faith. They had dismissed to the ground all together. That’s why it was a seven–two decision, and it’s also why the decision that was handed down earlier this year was not one that was a sweeping defense of religious liberty nor any kind of comprehensive protection for cake bakers and florists and wedding photographers who might find themselves in a similar position.

But what’s also interesting is that even then, just a few weeks ago, after Jack Phillips had won a seven–two decision by the US Supreme Court, it was already feared that the very same folks would come back for him again. And as of yesterday, we know that that is exactly what has happened.

Amy Wang reporter for The Washington Post tells the story this way in this morning’s paper, “Add another layer to the legal drama surrounding the Colorado Baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple and took his case all the way to the Supreme Court.” Wang’s story goes on, “Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cake Shop in Lakewood, Colorado on Tuesday filed another federal lawsuit against the state alleging religious discrimination.” This time The Post tells us, the cake at the center of the controversy was not for a wedding. In June of 2017, we are told that a Colorado lawyer called Masterpiece Cake Shop to request a custom cake that was blue on the outside and pink on the inside. The lawyer identified now as Autumn Scardina told the bakery’s employees that the cake was to celebrate her birthday, as well as “the seventh anniversary of the day she had come out as transgender.”

The Post then says that Masterpiece Cake Shop ultimately refused Scardina’s order on religious grounds. We then find out in the Washington Post article that back on June the 28th of this year, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had again found Jack Phillips had discriminated against an LGBT person. But in this case, the commission went further and said that this customer had been denied and discriminated against because of two grounds, both LGBT identity, in this case the T or transgender, but then also the gender discrimination issue. Now you’ll have to figure that out, but this is the new legal logic.

Aubrey Elenis, identified as Director of the Colorado Civil Rights Division, said that in refusing to make the cake pink on the inside and blue on the outside expressing transgender identity, Phillips had “denied her,” and that means the customers, the transgender customers, “equal enjoyment of a place of public accommodation.” Yesterday we found out also that the Alliance Defending Freedom that had successfully defended Jack Phillips all the way to the Supreme Court in that decision handed down this year is representing him again as he has gone to the federal courts for relief once again from the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. But there’s actually much more to the story.

You wouldn’t know that by reading The Washington Post. That becomes part of the story. Why would The Washington Post, such an authoritative newspaper, the major newspaper of the nation’s capital city, a newspaper with plenty of reporters and depth of staff to cover this kind of story comprehensively, why, we have to ask, did The Washington Post not tell the rest of the story? The rest of the story is even more interesting than the story. But in order to get the rest of the story, we’re going to have to go to other media sources. And one of the most important of these in this case, is the more conservative newspaper in Washington D. C., The Washington Times. Reporter Alex Swoyer tells us, “The Christian baker who fought in the Supreme Court to preserve his right to refuse to make cakes for same-sex weddings says he is now the target of harassment by Colorado and some of its more mischievous residents who have made a crusade out of trying to force him to bake cakes offensive to him.”

Now notice the distinction in the leads between The Washington Post and The Washington Times. There’s no hint whatsoever in The Washington Post account that there might be something rather sinister behind even the charges made against Jack Phillips. But there’s something sinister indeed. And I’m going to have to be careful even as I tell this story out of the reporting of The Washington Times and also of National Review. But Swoyer’s story goes on to say, “One requester demanded that Jack Phillips bake a cake for Satan complete with a working sex toy.” The actual description of the requests that was made for this cake in honor of Satan that would include blatant sexuality–I’ll just say that the language of what was requested is not repeatable on this program. That should be sufficient to make the point.

But the story is even more interesting than already appears because, as it turns out, there had been repeated requests to Jack Phillips to make repeatedly deeply-offensive cakes. We’re talking about things that are clearly expressive of a worldview directly in conflict with that of the baker, and it turns out that this very same transgender lawyer is behind at least several, if not virtually most, of these requests being made. The Washington Times article then goes on to tell us, “Since his case reached the High Court, Mr. Phillips has faced ‘venomous harassment’ including death threats and ‘countless hateful phone calls’. He has,” according to The Washington Times, “lost 40% of his income and had to cut more than half of his workforce.” But then listen to the next sentence, “He said a Colorado lawyer August Scardina,” and the name is sometimes August, sometimes Autumn–I presume that has something to do with the transgender transition–”has made a crusade out of pestering him with outrageous cake requests and then complaining to state officials when he refuses.”

So what we’re talking about here is in effect, a scam. A scam that has now placed the Colorado Civil Rights Commission as again, finding this cake baker to have discriminated. But we now know it’s on the basis of these outrageous and outlandish repeated requests coming from one lawyer whose entire point appears to put Jack Phillips, once again, on the wrong side of a Colorado Civil Rights Commission and ultimately to put him out of business. This is where David French writing at National Review gets to the point in a more expansive way.

“Lest anyone wonder whether this request was made in good faith, consider that the same person apparently made a number of requests to Masterpiece Cake Shop. In September of 2017, a caller asked Phillips to design a birthday cake for Satan that would feature an image of Satan smoking marijuana. The name Scardina appeared on the caller identification.” Remember, that’s the same name as the lawyer who has brought these repeated charges. “A few days later, a person had emailed Jack asking for a cake with a similar thing except featuring ‘an upside down cross under the head of Lucifer.'” The same e-mailer reminded Philips that “religion is a protected class.” In this case, presumably meaning that religion as a protected class was Satanism.

The biggest issue in all of this for most of us is to understand what’s at stake. To understand that we now are looking at this collision between religious liberty and the new erotic liberty as it is style. And we are watching the fact that there are so many forces complicit on the side of overthrowing and reducing religious liberty. Religious liberty is now going to be routinely trampled upon by such complicit agents as government commissions. That’s what we see in Colorado. We also see that what you now have are traps being set by ill-intended persons, traps for Christians and others, who simply cannot, by Christian conviction, bend the knee to the sexual revolution.

We have seen these kinds of traps which have been placed in the way of pharmacists and doctors and school teachers and college professors. We now see this kind of trap laid apparently before a cake baker in Colorado. A cake baker whose name is now nationally known precisely because the same kind of trap was placed before him before. But that points to another issue of our necessary reflection. Why would the same forces go back to the same baker just after he won that seven–two decision from the Supreme Court? But this is yet another case of asking the question only to realize that in asking it you just answered it. The answer has to be this: those who are the absolute revolutionaries for the LGBTQ agenda could not possibly let Jack Phillips seven–two victory before the Supreme Court stand. Not even when it came to a single baker in the state of Colorado.

I take us back where I began with Jonathan Rauch warning those on his own side, that is the side of the activists for LGBTQ issues, warning that if not careful, those who won that victory–as they did in the Supreme Court decision of Obergefell legalizing same sex marriage in 2015–that if they were not careful, they would then turn from being discriminated against by their own reasoning to arguing for discrimination against others, which is exactly what has now been realized.

As this unfolding story, including the rest of the story makes clear, this is not just about a cake baker in Colorado. It’s about every conviction of Christian wherever that Christian may be found. In the case of The Washington Post, it is also an example of the mainstream media telling the American people only the part of the story they want the people to hear. But as we have seen, the story that they didn’t tell is a far bigger story than the one they did. And the fact that they didn’t tell it, well, that’s a big story too.

Part II

How abolishing the death penalty undermines justice and leads to a further devaluing of human life

Next, we talked extensively on The Briefing just a few days ago about the announcement that came from the Vatican that Pope Francis had ordered a change in the catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, effectively reversing over 2,000 years of Catholic teaching–that’s their claim of antiquity–and finding the death penalty is now in admissible in all circumstances. Now, there are several dimensions to this to which we must return. But one of the reasons we’re going back to the story is because of an article by Joseph M. Bessette. He’s a professor of government and ethics at Claremont McKenna College. His article entitled “The Pope Makes A Fatal Error,” appeared in the August 8 edition of The Wall Street Journal.

Bessette goes back to the announcement made by the Vatican and to the Vatican’s argument amongst other things that the death penalty does not serve a deterrent function. But Bessette points out, it does. It has. It will. Bessette co-authored a book on the death penalty and a Catholic defensive capital punishment with Edward Feser. He cites this part of the book, “At a professional conference, a criminologist reported that two burglars had broken into his mother’s apartment and tied her up as they search for valuables. As they were about to leave one said, ‘She has seen us and can identify us. Should we kill her?’ ‘No,’ answered the other, ‘we don’t want to risk the death penalty.’”

Bessette then says, “They let her live. One can hardly imagine a clear example of deterrence.” But then he goes on and this is really interesting, “Another example comes from Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California. In the 1960s Feinstein served on the California Women’s Parole Board. At one hearing, Mrs. Feinstein ask an armed robber seeking release from prison why she never used a loaded gun. The criminal said, ‘So I would not panic, kill somebody and get the death penalty.’” As Bessette says, “That convinced Mrs. Feinstein at least then that in her words, ‘The death penalty in place in California in the 60s was in fact a deterrent.’”

Bessette continues, “A third example is recounted by law professor Robert Blecker who had spent years interviewing prisoners. A veteran criminal told Mr. Blecker that the reason he had spared the life of a drug dealer in Virginia whom he had tied up and robbed was because Virginia had the electric chair. In a similar situation, in the District of Columbia which had abolished the death penalty, the criminal had killed the victim. ‘I just couldn’t tolerate what they had waiting for me in Virginia.’” Bessette summarizes that the examples are powerful illustrations that the death penalty can and does deter some would-be murderers.

But in an even more important section of his article, Bessette argues this, “There is also a deeper kind of deterrence largely overlooked in discussions of the death penalty, which doesn’t require rational calculation.” He says, “When a society imposes the ultimate punishment for the most heinous murders, it powerfully teaches that murder is a great wrong. Children growing up in such a society internalize this message with the result that most people wouldn’t even consider killing another person. Here the principle of justice, which demands that malefactors receive a punishment proportionate to their offense and deterrence of this deeper sort meet.” He then goes on, “If we abolish the death penalty for even the most heinous and cold-blooded murderers, we fatally undermine the idea of justice as the cornerstone of our criminal justice system. Over time,” he says, “justice will be replaced by a therapeutic or technocratic model that treats human beings as cases to be managed and socially engineered rather than as morally-responsible persons.”

That’s one of the most important paragraphs I’ve read anywhere in the mainstream media in a long time, and Bessette is exactly right. There is a deeper moral dimension. And if we deny the moral responsibility of human beings and treat every single criminal, even the murderers of the most heinous crimes as being lacking in personal responsibility, then we have already turned to that therapeutic and technocratic alternative to real human responsibility, which by the way, is also required for an affirmation of genuine human dignity.

But I also want to pull up a report that came in the middle of June of this year. That was weeks before the papal announcement. It’s very interesting and based upon yet another survey undertaken by the Pew Research Center. That study indicated that in 2018, 54% of Americans express a favorable understanding of capital punishment for people convicted of murder. But what’s really interesting is that that represents a significant increase in just two years. As Pew says, that is an increase to 54% from 49% in just the last two years.

Now a closer look at the data indicate something even more interesting. Democrats haven’t moved much, and Republicans haven’t moved much. But political independents have moved significantly. Pew tells us that in the last two years, support for the death penalty for murder has gone up from 44% to 52% amongst those independents. But then the Pew Center also tells us that when you have now 54% of Americans supporting capital punishment for murder, that doesn’t mean that 46% oppose. The opposing percentage is just 39%. So it’s a difference between 39% opposed to the death penalty and 54% for the death penalty.

As I have often mentioned on The Briefing, the Christian worldview understanding of the death penalty is based upon the intentional destruction of a human being made in the image of God. That is affirmed by God himself in the Noahic covenant in Genesis 9. Where we are told that if a human being sheds another human beings blood in murder by human beings hands, the murderer’s life is also to be taken.

Part III

Who has the ultimate authority? USA Today gets right to the real issue behind the death penalty debate

But this takes us to another interesting article on the death penalty this time on the front page of USA Today. The title the article is “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” And then we are told, “Christians shared faith splits on the death penalty.”

Holly Meyer is the reporter for USA Today reporting from Nashville, Tennessee. She writes, “Christians despite their shared core beliefs, do not agree on the answers that is to the death penalty. Just as the death penalty divides the nation, views among the religious on state-sanctioned execution splinter along denominational lines and from pew to pew.” Now if this story sounds interesting, I assure you it is. Consider how it continues, “Those perspectives are shaped by how they view scripture and how much weight they give to church leadership,” said Graham Reside, an ethics and society professor at Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville. The professor said, “It’s a question of authority. Where do you place your authority?” The Vanderbilt Divinity School professor then explains that evangelical Christians understand the ultimate authority to be Scripture. Whereas, as he continues and accurately, Roman Catholics understand authority to be Scripture and the teaching authority of the Catholic Church. More specifically, it’s Scripture, according to Catholic doctrine, that is interpreted or as interpreted by the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, the church’s magisterium.

This is where USA Today sites other research by the Pew Research Center on the death penalty that breaks these issues down, denomination by denomination, religious identification by identification. This goes back to 2015 when Pew reported that 71% of white evangelical Protestants support the death penalty, only 25% oppose it. Whereas 53% of Catholics support it, 42% oppose it. Now, back in 2015, even among the Roman Catholics, that’s a pretty clear divide: 53% to 42%. But there’s a very interesting little footnote to this amongst white mainline Protestants–that’s more liberal Protestant–66% approved, only 27% opposed the death penalty.

Now, that’s pretty shocking. It tells us that even when you go to more liberal mainline Protestant churches, the majority of people in the Pews clearly support the death penalty even if the majority of the clergy in those denominations do not. I think is tremendously helpful that USA Today itself on the front page of its national edition gets right to the fact that ultimately the issue is authority. The ultimate question is, what’s the authority of Scripture? Does any authority trump Scripture?

One of the more interesting dimensions of this report in USA Today is that even amongst more liberal denominations that have a more liberal understanding of Scripture, there is at least enough understanding of Scripture to produce support for the death penalty for murder. Now, it’s not too often that you look at the front page of a major American newspaper like USA Today and find explicit, on the front page of the print edition of the paper, that the dividing issue turns out to be the biblical authority. That’s clarifying. It’s helpful. It’s honest. It’s real.

I go back to that statement by the professor at Vanderbilt Divinity School. It’s not clear in this article where he stands on the question. It is clear that he understands the question. He said, “It’s a question of authority.” As we always see, whatever we’re talking about, essentially, eventually, fundamentally, the question is theological. And at the center of that theological question is exactly what we see here on the front page of USA Today: what or who has the ultimate authority? That’s the question here. It’s the question about the death penalty and what Christians should think about the death penalty. It’s not only the question here, it’s the question everywhere.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’m speaking to you from Memphis, Tennessee, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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