Wednesday, Sept 26, 2018

Wednesday, Sept 26, 2018

The Briefing

September 26, 2018

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

It’s Wednesday September 26th 2018. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

As Bill Cosby is sentenced to prison for sexual assault, differences between divine and human justice come to the forefront

Whether we’re talking about the trial of Socrates in Ancient Greece, the trial of the Apostle Paul in the Book of Acts, whether we’re looking to literature, work such as Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment or Franz Kafka’s story The Trial, whether we’re looking at television, we’re talking about here Perry Mason or Law and Order or anything in between. We are looking at the reality that there are few experiences or events in human history so revelatory of the most basic issues of morality and justice than a criminal trial.

Yesterday, in a courtroom in Pennsylvania, one of America’s most famous entertainers was sentenced to at least three years in prison, a state prison, and he was also identified by the court as a sexually violent offender. Bill Cosby was taken away from the sentencing hearing in handcuffs and taken immediately for processing to prison. Earlier this year Cosby had been convicted on three counts of aggravated indecent assault, a conviction that could have amounted to a sentence of 30 years in prison. Instead, he will serve at least three. On Monday, one day before the sentencing announcement, a team of reporters for the New York Times summarized the issue in these words, “The sentencing will cap the precipitous downfall of a man who was for most of his career one of the world’s most beloved entertainers, known widely as America’s dad. At a time,” they wrote, “When the country is coming to terms with a culture of predatory sexual abuse by powerful men, Tuesday’s preceding will also underscore what is the first major conviction of the Me Too era.”

On Monday the prosecutors who had won the conviction pressed the judge for a minimum sentence of between five and ten years, especially pointing to the reality that Cosby has even now shown absolutely no remorse. Furthermore, psychologists hired by the state evaluating Cosby testified to the court on Monday, and the court affirmed yesterday, that Cosby should be considered a sexually violent offender and thus an ongoing threat to others.

The background to this case is not only about the precipitous downfall of one of the world’s most popular entertainers, it is also a background that includes a convoluted history over just the last several years. During those years about 60 women have come forward in public to accuse Cosby of some kind of sexually inappropriate and sometimes sexually violent behavior. There have also been civil settlements in which Cosby has paid millions of dollars to some of these women in order to avoid further tort litigation. Much of this became the background for the criminal trial, in this case Cosby’s second criminal trial, on these kinds of offenses.

The moral issues at stake, even understood from a secular perspective, were well described by yet another team of reporters at the New York Times almost a week ago, anticipating the sentencing hearing that took place yesterday. The reporters wrote, “When Bill Cosby arrives at the Montgomery County Courthouse to be sentenced for sexual assault he will find out whether prison is the final stop on his descent from beloved entertainer to disgraced felon.”

Now as the story describes, this story almost a week earlier in the New York Times, it tells us that the sentencing decision by the judge is to be based on several factors. One of those factors would be an impact statement, which would give the victim in this case an opportunity to press for punishment of the criminal. It would also give opportunity for the defense lawyers to make their case for leniency. It would give the opportunity as we have seen for psychologists and prosecutors also to have their say. But the very interesting thing that appeared in this New York Times article is the statement that shows what was at stake in the decision that had to be made by the judge and the signal that would be set one way or the other.

As the New York Times wrote, “Soon a frail old man will catch a break or a predator will get the lengthy sentence he deserves.” In Gilbert and Sullivan’s operatic work known as The Mikado there is a statement put to words and to music, that the punishment should fit the crime, the punishment should fit the crime. There is a very deep moral logic in that statement. Put to music or otherwise, the fact is that there is an impulse in humanity to achieve the closest approximation of justice, that criminals who are genuinely guilty should be convicted, the innocent should be declared to be not guilty. When there is a conviction of guilty there is then the assumption, the moral impulse, that the punishment should be so arranged as to fit the crime. That was the responsibility that felt to this judge in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

And of course it wasn’t going to be without either controversy or complications. There were mitigating factors, the defense argued, for why Cosby should be given a sentence that would amount to house arrest, not put in prison, carried away in handcuffs. On the other hand, the victim in this case, joined by a chorus of other women who claim to be victims, demanded that Bill Cosby should not be shown leniency and certainly should not be made an exception, and instead should be treated as the sexually violent offender that a court has now convicted him to be.

In the background is not only the nearly universal human impulse that a sentence would be assigned to the respective crime as appropriately identified, but also the background includes the moral and political movement in modern America known as MeToo. In the generalized background all of these forces together put enormous pressure on the court to make certain that Bill Cosby was not given a lenient sentence but was instead sentenced according to what is understood to be the necessity and mandates of justice.

That dichotomy identified by the New York Times a week ago, whether Bill Cosby is a frail old man who deserves a break or a predator who gets the lengthy sentence he deserves, well that dilemma was an answered question by the judge on Tuesday when Cosby was sentenced to at least three years in prison. Cosby is now 81 years old, and according to reporting he is one of the oldest individuals in the history of Pennsylvania to be convicted of this kind of sexual assault.

CNN reporting on the announcement of the sentence yesterday used these words, “Bill Cosby, once known as America’s dad, was sentenced to three to ten years in a state prison for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand at his home 14 years ago. Cosby’s bail was revoked and he was escorted from the courthouse in handcuffs.”

Montgomery County, Pennsylvania judge Stephen O’Neill, the sentencing judge, said, “This was a serious crime. Mr. Cosby, this has all circled back to you. The day has come, the time has come. You can count on the fact that over the next several weeks and months, actually predictably you can count on the fact that for the next several years there will be a continuing conversation in America about whether or not the sentence that Bill Cosby received yesterday was appropriate. Was it just? Did indeed the punishment fit the crime? Some will argue that a sentence which is a minimum of three years in prison is simply too lenient, it’s inadequate for a crime of this sexual and violent nature, and indeed the background to this includes also all the complicating factors that involves so many other women. But others will argue this is a matter of a simple legal conviction on three counts, it is unfair to sentence a man to prison based upon claims made by others that have not yet been adjudicated in court.”

Some others are denying the Bill Cosby even committed the crimes and yet even those who do accept that he committed the crimes include some who argue that he should be given leniency, he should be understood as an 81-year-old man who is in failing health and certainly has problems with his eyesight. They will argue that he should have been given, because of his cultural status perhaps, a sentence of home incarceration rather than time in prison, with its humiliations as well.

But Christians need to understand, beyond this trial but looking squarely at this trial, that human beings do not have the capacity for absolute nor perfect justice. Absolute and perfect justice, total justice, belongs to God alone, and that justice will be determined on the great Day of Judgment, described in Scripture as the Day of the Lord. But this does not mean that human beings and human societies do not have the responsibility to do our very best in an honest and just way, to approximate justice as best we can. In a fallen world there is no way that our justice can be complete, can always be accurate, can always be fair. It’s impossible that in this age a human court can always get the matter right, especially when it comes to deciding what kind of sentence is appropriate for a respective crime.

But Christians must also remember in a case like this the fact that there is a fundamental distinction beyond this, between human and divine judgment. Human judgment can only deal with the aftermath of a crime, it cannot restore to the situation or the condition before the crime. But God’s justice is not only perfect in crime and punishment, consequence and verdict, it is also perfect in God’s ability to bring about restoration. This is the promise that you find in the book of Revelation to believers, that on God’s great Day of Judgment every eye will be dry and every tear will be wiped away. That’s for those whose advocate by faith is Jesus Christ.

Another way to put it in conclusion for this story, is that human courts may do, must do, should do, their very best to achieve what is honest and fair. But only God’s court, only God the Judge, can do and can rule in a way that is genuinely just.

Part II

Why Protestants, not just Catholics, stand to suffer from the Vatican’s new deal with Chinese government

But next, we turn from Pennsylvania to China. We discussed yesterday on The Briefing the deal that the Vatican had made with the Communist Party in China, which would concede to that atheistic Communist Party ultimate authority in the determination of who would be bishops of the Roman Catholic Church. But the front page article in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times, one of the most decidedly secular newspapers in the world, actually gets to the bottom line in a way that few others have yet achieved. The headline in yesterday’s New York Times, “China’s aim in Vatican deal, a vice on Christians.”

Ian Johnson reporting for the Times tells us this, “Over the last two years China’s estimated 60 million Christians have felt the power of a newly assertive government eager to bring their faith to heal. The authorities have demolished hundreds of Protestant churches, knocking crosses of steeples and evicting congregations. Roman Catholic have faced similar measures but the government took a different approach this past weekend, striking a diplomatic deal that Vatican officials said was an historic breakthrough.”

But the importance of this article by Ian Johnson in the New York Times is that it gets to exactly what should be identified as the Chinese Communist Party’s ambition. Johnson writes, “Beijing’s goal in the agreement however appears to be the same as with the church demolitions, gaining more control over the rapid spread of Christianity, the only foreign faith to gain a permanent foothold in China since the arrival of Buddhism two millenniums ago.”

That’s one of those paragraph that should lead us to pause for a moment. That transitional line at the end of the paragraph tells us something very important of historical and theological consequence. We are told that over the last 2000 years, over the last two millennia, only Christianity has gained a foothold in China. No other world religion has. It was Buddhism that arrived before Christianity, but over the last 2000 years Christianity is the only newcomer. The problem for the Communist Party, officially atheistic, is that Christianity has been so tenacious. Even under the conditions of outright persecution, perhaps even because of the conditions of outright persecution, Christianity has continued to grow. It has grown by the multiple millions such that even a decade ago was recognized that there are likely more believing Christians in China then there are members of the Communist Party itself.

But Ian Johnson’s point in that paragraph is that it is not difficult to understand what Beijing is attempting, even in this deal with the Vatican. It wants to hold Christianity in the vice grip of its own political and social power. The simplest barest fact is that Beijing, the Chinese Communist Party, would not have entered into this agreement unless it saw the agreement as in its own interests, profoundly unquestionably in its own interest. It appears, as the major media around the world have indicated, even statements from the Vatican have indicated, that the Vatican came to the conclusion that this was the best deal that it would get. But it is a devil’s bargain, and it’s really telling that even the New York Times can recognize it as such.

Thompson details with these words, “The ruling Communist Party sees the compromise with the Vatican as a step toward eliminating the underground churches were Chinese Catholics who refused to recognize the party’s authority have worshiped for generations. With the Pope now recognizing all bishops and clergy members in the official Catholic churches approved and controlled by the party, the underground church may have no reason to exist.” Very importantly Thompson continues, “The move is part of a broader push by the government to clamp down on all aspects of society, since Xi Jinping took power as the party’s leader in 2012. Mr. Xi has presided over a far-reaching crackdown on corruption, civil organizations, and independent journalism, but the approach toward religion has been even more selective.”

A professor of divinity at the University of Hong Kong pointed to the fact that the Chinese Communist Party is simply trying to become the totality of the society. By the way, let’s just remind ourselves, that’s what makes a totalitarian government totalitarian. It is total authority throughout the totality of the society. And this professor, pointing to the implications for Protestant churches, including the even more numerous underground Protestant churches, he said, “The message is that they can’t be independent. The question is control.”

Now the baleful reality here is the truth that this agreement reached between the Communist Party and the Vatican will actually be of consequence, of evil consequence, not only for Catholics in China but also for Protestants. And make no mistake, there are far more Protestant churches and Protestant Christians in China than Catholics. And that’s likely the real aim here. We should keep that very much in mind.

Part III

The disappearance of mediating institutions in China: How the Communist Party has eradicated charities from society

But while we’re looking at China, a really important article appeared in recent days in The Economist. That’s a major magazine that covers economics and politics from London. The headline in this article, “Lucky for some,” the subhead from Beijing, “People in China give little the charity. The communist is to blame.” Once again we go back to the very nature of a totalitarian regime. And here you have The Economist pointing out that in China there is very little charitable giving. Why? Because going back to the Chinese Communist revolution in the late 1940s, going back to chairman Mao, there was an effort by the Chinese government to disallow the possibility of private charity or charitable organizations.

Why? Well, as The Economist makes clear there were two reasons. Number one, the Communist Party believed that if there were any allowable private charity it would indicate a problem with communism, and thus a problem with the Chinese Communist Party. Well that should be obvious. But the second issue was, and this is also important given our prior story about the agreement between the Vatican and the Chinese, the Chinese Communist Party demanded totalitarian control, control over the totality of society.

Now this is a hallmark figure of the difference between free societies and totalitarian societies. In free societies there is the recognition of a necessary level of what are called mediating institutions between the individual or even the family and the government. In free and democratic societies there’s a recognition of the fact that between the individual and the family on the one hand, and the government the state on the other, there should be room for these mediating institutions. They include organizations, they include charitable work, they include private colleges and universities, private schools including private Christian schools. A society that is run by a totalitarian regime will allow none of these, and will crackdown on all of these, will render them illegal and seek to eradicate them from every level of the society.

Furthermore, as The Economist recognizes, communist regimes have been particularly messianic regimes. As The Economist explains of the party under Mao, “It did not want do-gooding groups to show up the state’s failings, people were told that the party was their only savior.” And that tells us that this is not only a matter of Chinese atheistic communist intolerance or furthermore of incompetence, it’s a matter of nothing less than idolatry.

Part IV

A sense of the future takes shape in Canada: Exploring the historical, political, and religious differences between the United States and Canada

But finally, we turn from China to Canada, where I have been speaking for the last several days. And in Canada, America’s northern neighbor, we see a sense of the future beginning to take shape. Canada as we have pointed out has a different history than the United States, though there is also a good bit of shared history. But that shared history has led to societies that have a great deal in common but are also notable for what is not in common, what is distinct.

By any measure Canada, tracking with Western Europe, is a far more secular, far more post Christian culture. Part of this goes back to history, the United States was born in a revolutionary spirit, a revolution against the British Empire and the British crown. The reigning British monarch is still constitutionally Canada’s head of state, although now represented by a governor general. But Canada’s form of government is a parliamentary democracy. Now that again mirrors not only the United Kingdom but also much of Western Europe. It is a parliamentary democracy where the prime minister is head of government.

In the United States markedly anti-monarchial by revolution, the head of state and the head of government, they are combined in the president of the United States as the nations chief executive. We’re looking at two nations that share the upper part of a continent, a massive land mass, both are committed to democracy, both are part of Western civilization, both have roots in the British Empire and the British tradition, both have European foundations as well, but the two nations have differing cultures, based at least in part upon those differing histories. You have the United States founded in a revolution, you have Canada as the refuge eventually for the loyalists to the British crown who had been part of the American colonies.

But Canada’s history, even considering patterns of European influence, did not begin only with the British but also with the French, and the French were in control of what is now known as most of Canada or most of Canada known then between 1534 and 1763. Only with the British defeat of the French in 1763 did the British Empire take control, and of course that continued under direct British rule until 1931. America as a nation came into existence we would say in 1776. Canada came into existence as a confederation in 1867, almost a century later. It wasn’t until the statement of Westminster in 1931 that Britain recognized Canada as a fully independent nation, now linked in a commonwealth.

The religious dimension of the two nations is also very different. In Canada the picture is complicated by the fact that when the French settled much of the nation, especially what is now known as the province of Quebec, the French brought with them not only French culture and the French language but also the dominant influence of state-sponsored Roman Catholicism. Even now in Canada Roman Catholicism amounts to almost 40% of the total population, but that 40% will be concentrated overwhelmingly inside Quebec. But over the last several decades Roman Catholicism has collapsed in moral and theological authority and impact on the culture in Quebec. We mentioned on the briefing that cities such as Montreal are now becoming some of the most secular metropolitan areas on the entire planet.

Considering the British influence, it should not be surprising that the early influence was the established church, the Church of England. But since then there has also been the rise of other major religious groups in Canada, most importantly what is now known as the United Church of Canada, which came about as the merger of four historic more liberal Protestant denominations in 1925. But the United Church of Canada is not only now what would be called a mainline liberal Protestant denomination, it is such a theological big tent by its own claims that it includes adherents who consider themselves to be atheists.

Seymour Martin Lipset, one of the most insightful sociologists looking at religion both in the United States and in Canada, pointed out that the relatively small percentage of Canadians who are evangelical Christians is explained in part by the market dominance of the United Church of Canada and the Anglican Church, and a course in Quebec the Roman Catholic Church, such that there never was much of an opportunity for evangelical Christianity to be represented in any wide scale way within the culture.

In the United States, by contrast the Revolution plus the Constitution and the forbidding of Congress establishing a church, meant that there was no such cultural dominance that could last without market competition, and thus in the United States new groups including free churches and independent churches and resurgent denominations outside the colonial mainstream could gain a great deal of market share and a very clear foothold in the society. Evangelical Christianity in America exploded in the 19th and 20th centuries, something that Canada never experienced.

And furthermore, the European perspective of Canada so long linked to the United Kingdom and thus more genetically to Europe, meant that the secular rising trends in Europe arrived in Canada relatively early and very powerfully. Canada is now commonly referred to, like much of Europe, as a post-Christian culture, a post-Christian civilization. Given that orientation to a secular rising and liberalizing Europe, there is no surprise that in Canada you find a society that is decidedly more progressive by self description, and more liberal on many social issues as compared to the United States.

So on issues ranging from sexuality to marijuana, to questions of marriage, to the issue of abortion, Canada has prided itself, also you would have to add lately the issue of euthanasia, on being decidedly more liberal. This is not to say that the United States is conservative and Canada liberal, it is to say that liberalism has advanced more quickly in Canada along with secularism. But we also note that in Canada, perhaps given the differences in the political and constitutional cultures, there is a greater tendency for government to bring coercive power against citizens. Thus you do not find in Canada the kind of voluntary sector, especially in the Christian community, that you find in the United States. Just consider the relative absence in much of Canada of anything like the Christian colleges and universities that dot the American landscape and continue to shape the American culture.

But if you visit a major Canadian city like Vancouver or Toronto or Montreal you are seeing the future of our global civilization you’re looking at international cities. Of course the same thing is true of Chicago or Los Angeles or New York City, but there are still cultural differences, and this global and international perspective, like in the United States, is increasingly represented in the heartland as well, in cities such as Calgary and the province of Alberta. I have been really encouraged by my time here amongst gospel believers in Canada, and as an American I have to say, when I have been here I believe I am saying something of what gospel centered Christianity may look like in an increasingly post-Christian America.

And of course as Christians in the United States and Canada should recognize, we share not only the northern part of a continent, we share more importantly a faith and allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For information on Boyce College just go to

I’m speaking to you from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.


R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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