Monday, Aug 27, 2018

Monday, Aug 27, 2018

The Briefing

August 27, 2018

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

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

Part I

John McCain, the importance of the US Senate, his legacy of military service, and concept of honor

When Americans think of our national history, especially our political history, the historical imagination tends to go to Presidents of the United States. We tend to think of iconic Presidents such as those memorialized on Mount Rushmore. We tend to think of American Presidents of being the most decisive and important historical leaders in the nation’s legacy. There is truth in that of course. No one elected to be President of the United States fails to be an important part of American history in one way or another.

But we also need to remember that America’s long-term political and historical legacy has been built upon long-term political or national leadership in offices other than that of President of the United States. Secondarily, there are two other offices that are of greatest importance. One would be those who sit on the United States Supreme Court. But the second would be members of the United States Senate. The upper house in our Constitutional order of the legislature. But in the United States Senate, there have been only a handful of individuals who have single-handedly helped to define the role of a Senator in their lifetime and have made a particularly and lengthy contribution and impact to America’s political order.

John McCain, who died on Saturday, was one of those rare historic individuals in the United States Senate. If we’re looking at recent Senatorial history, we would have to go back to the late Ted Kennedy, Democratic Senator from Massachusetts, the famous liberal icon often referred to as the lion of the Senate, as a matter of historical comparison. After Kennedy, it was McCain who stood out from all of his Senatorial peers, regardless of party, as central to America’s political identity, particularly as demonstrated through long tenure and influence in the United States Senate.

Of course, if you mentioned Kennedy and then McCain, we remind ourselves of the fact that there had been long and enduring political arguments in this country. And in now institution in American life, other than the Supreme Court of the United States, had those arguments continued with such a long form and continuous debate as in the United States Senate.

But to understand John McCain is also to remember the 20th Century in American history. When John McCain was born on August the 29th of 1936, he was born as the son and the grandson of American Naval icons. Both McCain’s grandfather and father would be four-star Navy Admirals, the only father-son team of Admirals in United States history. Both his grandfather and his father have Naval vessels named for them. John McCain was thus born into American Naval history with a great deal of expectation. In line with that expectation as a young man, McCain enrolled in the United States Naval Academy/

But during his years there, he was not particularly distinguished, either in academics or in the behavior code. Later, McCain would go famously to serve as a Naval aviator in the Vietnam conflict. And it was in the midst of that conflict in the year 1967 that on a bombing mission over Hanoi, having already been injured in a previous incident, McCain was shot down and later take as a prisoner of war by the North Vietnamese.

He spent five and a half years as a POW in North Vietnamese captivity. And during much of that time, two full years, he served in solitary confinement. It is well-documented that even as he was taken into captivity by the North Vietnamese, he was abused, stabbed, and otherwise assaulted. And during the time that he was a prisoner of war, he was routinely interrogated and tortured and otherwise abused.

But just when you might think that things can’t get worse, they actually did get worse for John McCain when it was discovered by the North Vietnamese that he was the son of a prominent officer in the United States Navy. It got all the more complicated the year after he was taken captive in 1968 when McCain’s father became the Pacific Commander of the United States Navy in charge, most directly, of the effort in Vietnam.

The Communist regime in North Vietnam, following the model of other Communist governments, directly employed propaganda as a major tool of intellectual and political warfare. They understood that having John McCain as a captive offered them an incredible propaganda opportunity. Trying to seize that, they went to John McCain, and since he was the son of such a prominent Navy Admiral, they offered to release him early. McCain famously refused the offer. He refused to leave until POWs, who had been held in captivity longer than he, were first released.

Now, that was not just a matter of McCain’s personal honor, that is actually the stipulation of the United States Navy Code of Conduct. That code precludes American Naval personnel from accepting early release as a POW if other Americans still in captivity have been held longer. McCain held himself to that Code of Conduct and was eventually released as the most famous of American POWs at the end of the Vietnam War.

McCain then turned not so much to the Navy, largely due to his physical disabilities from confined and the crash, but instead he turned to American politics. Going back to Arizona and eventually being elected to the United States Congress. Just four years later, he took office as a United States Senator in 1987. And he served in the United States Senate until his death on Saturday.

McCain ran for the office of President of the United States twice, in 2000 and in 2008. In 2000, he ran for the Republican Presidential nomination and lost in a rather bitter contest with a man who was elected President, George W. Bush. In 2008, he ran again for the Republican nomination and gained it. Only to run rather unexpectedly against Barack Obama, a young Senator who had seized the Democratic nomination over against the front-runner at that time, Hillary Rodham Clinton. And Barack Obama was eventually elected President instead of John McCain.

But, in one of the interesting twists in McCain’s own life and in recent American political history, it’s noteworthy that both of those former Presidents of the United States, both of whom in one way or another defeated John McCain for the office. Both of them will deliver eulogies at McCain’s formal funeral in Washington, D.C.

McCain liked to refer to himself as a maverick. That became something of a branding issue with McCain. And in political terms, he often was a maverick. Furthermore, he had an extremely strong personality. That personality sometimes was translated in unusual political ways. Some in Washington said that it was easier to be John McCain’s enemy and be his friend than be his friend and be his friend.

McCain’s reputation in the Senate was famously framed mostly in foreign policy and national defense. He was known as a hawk. That was rooted in his personal experience. He was convinced that America’s effort in Vietnam had ended in what he and others understood as failure. Not because it was not winnable in military effort, but rather because America’s political class was hopelessly compromised and did not understand the important stewardship of America’s military might.

Furthermore, McCain, perhaps rooted in his own family history … Especially having four-star Admirals as father and grandfather … Had a very high, largely singular understanding of America’s role in the world. He was not one who believed in any sense in isolation, and instead, he believed in aggressive American national interest leadership all over the world. He saw America as the necessary decisive actor on the world scene. And he was concerned that America maintain its reputation as the defender of liberty and freedom. McCain firmly believed that if America did not fulfill that role, there was no other nation on Earth that could step into America’s shoes.

On domestic policy issues, McCain was more of a centrist, often to the frustration of either his Republican or his Democratic colleagues. Sometimes he was offensive to both. In person, he was sometimes abrasive. Sometimes he used crude language. He had an outsized personality deeply rooted in his biography and his experience. He often took on the role of someone who had had a military culture as formation and that was demonstrated throughout his life. McCain saw himself as part of a great bipartisan effort in the United States Senate to look across the long view of American history and toward America’s future. He was often in the decisive role of a bipartisan majority. Again, often to the frustration of his Republican colleagues in the Senate.

Furthermore, during the years that Barack Obama was President of the United States, McCain’s role became so singular … Not so much by office as by influence in the United States Senate that if President Obama had John McCain’s vote on a major policy issue before the Senate, by definition, it would almost always win. But if he did not have John McCain’s support, given the mathematics of the partisan equation in the United States Senate at the time, it was almost impossible for any proposal that the President supported to be passed in the United States Senate.

Christians, understanding the historical importance of figures who hold political office, understand that their is courage and honor in the legacy of John McCain. This does not mean that I or other Christians would always be pleased with his political positions, nor that we would have been comfortable with his personality. But understanding the long view of America’s political history, there is simply no way to discount either his personal courage nor the historic role he played in the United States Senate.

As is the case with almost all major historical figures, it is virtually impossible and certainly irresponsible, to try to believe that we can take their historical measure in the days just after a historical figure’s death. It takes a much longer perspective. And that longer perspective means that it may be some years, decades or longer, before the full impact and importance of John McCain’s tenure in the Senate will become known.

That’s another issue which should be important to Christians as we think about history. We often don’t know the impact, the ultimate result of decisions we make. In the Senate, that would include legislation that we either propose or help to pass. Or for that matter, that we block. Long-term effects often take, by definition, a very long time to reveal themselves.

But finally, as we’re thinking about John McCain, one word that was definitional, a driving word for John McCain was the word “honor.” Certainly it drove him during his childhood and youth, it drove him in his Naval career. It especially came to define him in his own self-conception as he was a prisoner of war. And it became, once again, a definitional concept for John McCain as he considered public office and public responsibility. His own responsibility in the United States Congress and in the Senate.

But where do we find that concept of order? Where do we ground it? For Christians, it certainly has to be grounded in a Biblical reality. It has to be grounded in the very moral structure of Creation. It has to be grounded in what it means for human beings to be made in God’s image. But for Christians, it also has to be grounded in something deeper than just our human moral assertions or understanding. It must be rooted in the goodness of God. Even in the honor of God.

This is where when we see someone like John McCain, we can understand that even as he defined himself by honor, it is interesting that that concept of honor was a largely secular, largely historically-rooted understanding of honor. That’s not unimportant. An absence of that kind of honor is disastrous for a society. It’s disastrous for a political system. It’s disastrous over time for any organization or for that matter congregation. But Christians do understand that there must be more to our understanding of honor than a mere even military or historic or secular understanding of honor. It must be grounded in something objective revealed in God’s Word. A larger moral order to which we are comprehensively obligated.

Just over a year ago, Senator McCain was diagnosed with a particularly deadly form of brain cancer, glioblastoma. He pressed on, even though he had not made an appearance in the United States Senate since February of this year. His death on Saturday at age 81 marks the end of a very significant tenure in the United States Senate and on the American political scene. It’s one of those moments that American Christians should not let pass without reflection.

Part II

‘Atomic bomb’ dropped on papacy: Former Vatican ambassador to US testifies that Pope Francis knew about specific sexual abuse in Roman Catholic Churc

Next we have to turn to one of the biggest stories in international religious life over the course of our lifetimes. It was the story that broke on Saturday that he former papal nuncio to the United States, that’s the ambassador from the Vatican to the United States of America, had released a lengthy written personal testimony indicating that the highest leadership in the Vatican had known about much of the sexual corruption in America. And had known specifically about the allegations against the former Cardinal Archbishop of Washington, D.C., Theodore McCarrick, as far back as the year 2000.

But even as that was a bomb, the bigger bomb was that the former papal nuncio, again, the former Vatican ambassador to the United States of America, stated that he personally had discussed this corruption, the corruption that was attached to Cardinal McCarrick to the current Pope, Pope Francis, and had done so years ago–years before the story broke that led to the action of the Vatican requiring McCarrick to resign as Cardinal and, of course, the legal proceedings that are now unfolding around him.

What makes this development so important is the fact that even as the horrifying headlines of child sexual abuse in the hands of priests and cover-up at the hands of Catholic Bishops and Archbishops, even Cardinals, has unfolded, this is a development that was not expected. And the source of this statement is of such a high stature that it cannot be ignored. Again, this isn’t someone who’s merely an authority in the Church, this is an individual that the Vatican had entrusted with the relationship between the Vatican State and the United States of American.

It’s hard to overestimate the importance of this individual, the former nuncio. He is none other than Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano. He served as the nuncio in the United States from 2011 to 2016. In the words of Rod Dreher, The American Conservative, Vigano has, quote, “Dropped an atomic bomb on Francis’ papacy, charging that corruption has reached the very top of the Church’s hierarchy.” Dreher summarizes this bombshell hopefully. He writes, quote, “In a lengthy statement, Vigano says that Francis has known for years about Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s sexual abuse, but brought him into the Pontifical inner circle anyway and sent him around the world on papal missions.”

I interject here to say that Archbishop Vigano goes so far as to say that after the misconduct of Cardinal McCarrick was known, Francis actually reversed sanctions against McCarrick put in place by his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, and drew McCarrick even further into the circles of papal influence.

Back to Dreher’s statement. Quote, “‘In fact’, says Vigano, ‘The Roman Curia has known about McCarrick since the year 2000. But McCarrick was protected by gay supporters honeycombed throughout the Vatican. Pope Benedict XVI ordered McCarrick out of public ministry in 2009 or 2010, but McCarrick, abetted by powerful gay allies in the Curia defied Benedict.'”

Now all of this is already unprecedented, but Archbishop Vigano went further and directly called for the resignation of Pope Francis as Pope. Vigano cited a statement on August the 12th, 2018, by Pope Francis when the Pope said, quote, “Everyone is guilty for the good he could have done and did not do. If we do not oppose evil we tacitly feed it. We need to intervene where evil is spreading, for evil spreads where daring Christians who oppose evil with good are lacking.”

Archbishop Vigano then directly pointed at the Pope and claimed that the Pope was failing to fulfill his own exhortation, and disastrously so, misleading the church. Vigano concluded, and I quote, “In this extremely dramatic moment for the Universal Church, he must acknowledge his mistakes. And in keeping with the proclaimed principle of zero tolerance, Pope Francis must be the first to set a good example for Cardinals and Bishops who covered up McCarrick’s abuses and resign along with all of them.”

Dreher was a very well-placed and well-respected religious journalist in the United States who was a Roman Catholic. And he has stated publicly that he left the Roman Catholic Church over what he understood to be a coverup of the child sexual abuse crisis that broke about 20 years ago. Speaking of Archbishop Vigano’s statement, Dreher said, quote, “I’ve read it twice now. And I’m telling you, this story is as big as it gets.”

Ross Douthat, prominent columnist for The New York Times, himself Roman Catholic, wrote quote, “This is either an extraordinary and vicious slander, or an act of revelation that should be the undoing of just about every figure mentioned in its pages.” Douthat ended by saying, “It has an apocalyptic feel either way.” Indeed, it does. In my lifetime, nothing like this has happened within the Roman Catholic Church. But this is a story that continues to unfold.

And the Archbishop’s charges go far beyond calling for Pope Francis to resign. He has indicated in his statement that there is an organized effort by Cardinals in the Roman Catholic Church, and specifically by a Priest, Father James Martin, to change Catholic teaching on homosexuality. That’s something that is not unknown to anyone who has been observing the Roman Catholic Church, but it is interesting that here is an Archbishop of the Church making that point emphatically. But as Dreher also writes, quote, “Vigano’s testimony gives weight to the theory that Pope Benedict XVI resigned because he knew the Lavender Mafia and the Curia held all the cards and that he couldn’t do anything.”

In previous editions of The Briefing over the last couple of weeks, I have dealt with this issue extensively. And I have addressed specific theological issues. The problem of the Catholic understanding of the Sacrament of Orders, of the nature of Ordination and in Eternal Priesthood. Of the Sacramental System that lends itself towards the abuses that are the reinforcement of this entire scandal but, of course, even have much larger theological impact. And of course, the role of the hierarchy and the Magisterium and the papacy. But what we are witnessing right now are Earth-shaking developments within the Roman Catholic Church. And that should be of interest not only to Roman Catholics. The issues at stake, theologically and morally, are far larger than just the headlines related to the Priests and Bishops. Or even the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church.

But then yesterday, if all of these headlines were not sufficiently troubling, the Vatican News Agency announced that Pope Francis, returning to Rome from his papal visit to Ireland, had told reporters that he would answer not a word in relation to Archbishop Vigano’s claims. As the Vatican News Agency reports, quote, “Asked whether it was true that Archbishop Carlo Vigano, the statement’s author, had informed him in 2013 about Cardinal McCarrick’s alleged sexual misconduct with Priests and Seminarians and if it was true that Benedict XVI had previously imposed sanctions on the former Cardinal, the Pope said he was distracted by the previous question and would have preferred to talk about the trip. The Pope’s statement, quote, ‘I read the statement this morning. And I must tell you sincerely that I must say this, to you and all those who are interested, read the statement carefully and make your own judgment.’ He continued, ‘I will not say a single word on this.'”

The most important dimension of this development yesterday is that in response to the credible and extensive written claims made by a former senior Vatican official and Archbishop, the Pope did not say the one thing he might have said that would have been clear. That would have been this, “It didn’t happen. I didn’t know. That is not true. The Cardinal is wrong.” He didn’t say that. And in one sense, not saying that seems to say in this context almost everything.

I think Ross Douthat of the New York Times about as succinctly as possible got to the bottom line of what’s going on here. If the Archbishop is telling a lie, then it needs to be exposed immediately and there should be plenty of evidence to demonstrate the lie. But if he’s telling the truth, then this is the most explosive development imaginable in the recent history of Roman Catholicism. This is an Archbishop, former papal nuncio to the United States of America openly demanding that the current Pope of the Roman Catholic Church resign because he is a part of the coverup of priestly child sex abuse.

Part III

As LGBT activists seek judicial redefinition of decades-old legislation, media avoid dealing honestly with the real issue

But finally we come back to the United States. We come to the State of Kentucky, where Kate Talerico of the Courier-Journal in Louisville reports, quote, “Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin has joined officials from 16 states in urging the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender do not have special protections against discrimination on the job.” Talerico goes on to say, “The states are appealing a ruling by a lower court that said that a Michigan funeral home violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act when it fired a transgender worker that according … It is cited in the paper to Bloomberg News. Bevin’s spokeswoman Elizabeth Kuhn said the Governor signed onto the brief to support state’s rights to determine employment protections.”

Kuhn said, and I quote, “The State’s authority to create employment protections outside Title VII was established when the law was enacted in 1964 and should not change as a result of modern day judicial activism.” So what in the world is going on here? Well, this lead in the article would indicate that Governor Bevin is standing over against any kind of policy that would offer protection to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons in the face of job discrimination. Or even claims of job discrimination.

Well, that’s not really the issue here. That might be true, that is, that there would be principled opposition to that kind of legislation. But the point is that what we’re talking about is a text. A text of a law. The 1964 Civil Rights Act. And the fact that no one can honestly in his or her right mind claim that when Congress passed that legislation and then President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed it into law they had anything along the lines of LGBTQ issues in mind whatsoever. What this is really about more than anything else is whether or not unelected judges have the right to offer themselves as the effective legislature for the United States of America.

Let’s put the matter simply. The United States Congress could pass legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It would have the political power to adopt such new legislation to issues along the LGBT continuum. It would have that legislative authority, but it can’t possibly muster the legislative momentum to do so. So instead, activists have turned to the courts since they can’t get their way in the United States Congress. But what is really insidious here is the fact that you have judges, including a U.S. Circuit Appeals, you have judges on an Appeals Court Circuit claiming that even though no one can offer the argument that those who adopted the legislation could admit any such thing, we know live in an era when a law which didn’t mean it in the past supposedly does mean something else now. That’s disastrous. It’s disastrous for common sense, it’s disastrous for intellectual integrity, and it’s disastrous for a Constitutional experiment in Democratic self-government.

The other big lesson from this kind of news story is that so often the mainstream media tells you what the issue is about without getting to what the issue is really about. But it’s not just that. It’s really while so many in the media avoid dealing honestly with what the issue is really all about.

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 to to

I’m speaking to you from West Palm Beach, Florida. And I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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