Friday, Sept 28, 2018

Friday, Sept 28, 2018

The Briefing

September 28, 2018

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

It’s Friday, September 28, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

The eyes of a nation turn to Washington DC as Ford, Kavanaugh testify before Senate Judiciary Committee

From 10:00 in the morning until almost 7:00 at night, millions of Americans yesterday were riveted observing events that place in just one city, Washington D.C. In just one room, a committee room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. Considering just two people, the main witnesses, the only two witnesses, in one of the biggest unfolding political stories in the United States.

It was a hearing without true precedent in the entire history of the United States Senate’s responsibility of advice and consent in response to nominations made by the President of the United States to the Federal Judiciary.

And as we were watching those events yesterday, it is likely the case that very few Americans found their minds to be changed. The reason for that is multiple and yesterday on The Briefing we talked about the kind of intellectual context that is always in play.

But we need to note that even as the table was set, there was the very real possibility that yesterday something new could have happened, something new could have been known. Now, as we’re thinking about that, we need understand the human equation. You put 21 United States senators in a room backed up with senior staff as they sit behind the senators. And then you put in the room, not only a crowd and television cameras, but you put in the room two crucial and historical witnesses. First an accuser and then the accused. And then you come to understand that in the human equation that is a part simply what happens, not just when you consider one human being, but put human beings in some number together in a concentrated setting with uncertainty, well there are things that can happen that simply cannot be predicted.

Most of what happened yesterday was fairly well predictable. The testimony of Christine Blasey Ford was pretty predictable given what was already known about the accusations that she was making. But it was still a very important opportunity for Professor Blasey Ford to be able to speak to the American people, as well as speaking to the Senate Judiciary Committee, and to make her personal case for the very morally important accusations that she was making against a man who’s been nominated for a seat on the nation’s highest court.

It was also a very important opportunity for one of the most respected jurists in the United States to be able to defend himself, his character, his behavior, his honor, over against the accusation.

Now, as we have seen in recent days on The Briefing, the background to this is not only exceedingly complex, as we think in worldview analysis, it’s nothing less than fascinating. It raises huge questions, unavoidable questions. Just how well do we remember anything, especially over a span of more than three decades. How in the world do we understand who is credible and who is not credible.

We have to admit, by the way, answering that question that the bottom line is sometimes, if not always, inherently subjective. There are objective criteria, but the judgments that we make about whom we consider to be credible, that turns out to be very subjective. It’s subjective when we think about buying a car from an individual. it’s subjective when we think about calling someone as pastor of a church. It’s subjective when we think about the entire process of courtship and marriage. There are objective realities, but sometimes the most fundamental disposition of the heart is nothing that can be stipulated or measured in objective terms.

That doesn’t mean, however, that it is not important that we face these kinds of questions, even running the risk of that kind of subjective interpretation.

Now, what was the interpretation made by the American people? It’s going to be virtually impossible to come to know that except in general terms. But even in the immediate aftermath of the hearings, it became very clear that to most keen observers looking fairly at the process, both of these individuals came across as credible.

On a recent edition of The Briefing, we made clear the definition of credible as able to be believed. Now that does not mean that there can be a determination of exactly what happened, especially over the span of more than three decades. But what did happen yesterday is that you had two human individuals, each of whom made a case, and both of them made the case credibly.

Now to our disappointment, as we think about cultural moment and the political process, to our disappointment it wasn’t abundantly clear that one was credible and the other was not credible. That would make the situation easier for everyone. But that didn’t happen. Instead the general consensus is that both of these witnesses came across as very credible.

When it comes to Professor Christine Blasey Ford, it is almost certain that any fair-minded person would understand she has experienced a sexual assault that had devastating consequences on her. That seems to be beyond reasonable question. The authenticity of her testimony and the guilelessness with which she presented that testimony, those were very powerful issues in pointing to her credibility. And obviously we’re looking at an extremely serious moral issue here.

But just when the American people probably thought that Professor Ford was credible and thus Judge Kavanaugh would not be credible, in reality, from his very moving opening statement, it was clear that Judge Kavanaugh was also presenting a credible case. This is where we have to step back for a moment and say, well, in virtually in any other situation, what would we look for as a way of understanding, coming to a moral consensus. As close as that kind of consensus would be possible about what did and did not happen. This is where we would look for corroborative evidence. This is where we would look for opportunity. This is where we would look for pattern.

One of the strongest arguments for the credibility of Judge Kavanaugh is that all of those corroborating elements were absent. The Democrats, trying their very best to offer some corroborating evidence, pointed to what they came back to again and again, and that was the picture they tried to present of a generalized recklessness, a testosterone filled kind of adolescent masculinity that just could have presented this kind of opportunity and might have resulted in this kind of crime.

From the beginning, when these charges first began to surface, Judge Kavanaugh responded with the most morally risky response and that was, “I didn’t do it. I 100% deny that I did it.” Here’s where the American people observing the hearings yesterday are likely to be scratching their heads. How can both of these individuals be, in essence, 100% credible?

Now this is where there was a repeated return by the Democrats to demand for an FBI investigation. Judge Kavanaugh responded that even if the FBI were to conduct such an investigation, it would not come to a determination. Instead, it would do what the FBI does in similar kinds of nomination contexts, it would do a background review, a background investigation that would list evidence and witnesses that might have raised alleged behavior that might be relevant.

But there’s something else behind this and you have to understand that in reality, one of the reasons why even Democratic senators having the authority, did not invoke their authority to launch an FBI investigation is that the FBI investigation would likely have dealt not only with the accusations made by Professor Christine Blasey Ford, but also questions about how the issue was handled by Democratic members of the Senate and their staffers.

Both sides in the events yesterday, and here I do not mean Professor Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh, but rather the face-off between Democratic and Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee, that was the real battle. That face-off brought into that room and into that hearing process an awful lot of energy and what you saw yesterday was a moment in the history of the United States Senate when a lack of collegiality and bipartisan consensus broke down into what can only described as exasperated personal ranker.

But it’s also interesting to note here that that ranker was not equal. And so you had Republicans, most memorably South Carolina’s Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, issuing an emotional and apparently very heartfelt indictment of his Democratic colleagues for intellectual dishonesty and for political chicanery at the expense of the reputation of a major Federal Judge.

It was really interesting that in that dynamic, as you observed it, it was not that the Democratic senators had any such similar charge against the Republicans, their main charge was just that the Republicans had not moved for an FBI investigation, but again it’s noteworthy the individual Democratic senators who had such authority did not do so either. Instead, that was an unequal kind of contest.

And most political observers on both sides of the partisan equation understood that the Republican senators actually acquitted themselves quite well in the entire process of the hearing, even Democratic analysts were more critical of the way the Democratic members of the Senate had handled the situation. It was almost as if they Democratic senators as a whole and then individually had hoped that the issue would be settled simply by having the hearing. The hearings themselves were not that good a performance.

But Christians watching all of this and trying to think about all of this through the lens of a Biblical and Gospel worldview must understand that we cannot avoid the fact that there are very serious moral issues here at stake. Because a woman before the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary made a very compelling, credible and believable case that she was indeed the victim of a sexual assault, Christians can never minimize what this means. It’s very important to recognize that even as there are some who clearly had a political agenda, it was not clear in any way that Professor Christine Blasey Ford does have a political agenda.

At the same time, as we watched Judge Kavanaugh in the process of making his opening statement and then responding to others, he did follow that high risk strategy of simply saying, “I didn’t do it.” Now that strategy was high risk because all it would have taken is one piece of what lawyers call dispositive evidence. Just one witness who would corroborate the allegation. Just one witness who would say, “Yes, he was there and I saw this.” Just one pattern that would point to the fact that there were others who could indicate credibly and believably that they had known Judge Kavanaugh as a boy or as a man to act in such a way.

This is where Christians must understand that in a situation like this, we must be the people of the truth. We’re the people, perhaps the last people on earth, to understand that the truth always matters. We’re also the people to understand that as we are talking about truth, we cannot property put before the word truth any pronoun like “my truth,” or “his truth,” or “her truth.” Christians must have an accountability to the truth. If we abandon that, we eventually abandon everything.

A part of the scandal of this entire situation must be understanding that it is all situated in a contentious and ideological political context and there is no way to rescue it from that context. There is no way to rescue this situation from the fact that it is documented, that there were members of the Senate, members of the Committee of the Judiciary, who mishandled this situation and brought it up only at the very end of a process when they had failed to win their political objectives by any other means.

That does not mean that Professor Ford is not credible. It certainly does not mean that she was not wrong. It doesn’t mean that she wasn’t assaulted. It does mean that it is not likely that anything was presented yesterday that would’ve convinced senators who understand this to be a political ploy from the Democratic left to see it in any other such terms.

So where do we stand now? It is likely that the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a vote as early as this morning. As we found out was announced even before the hearings began. But why? Why would the Senate vote come so early? That is the Judiciary Committee. And the answer is that Republicans on the committee have come to the conclusion that the Democratic party will not stop until there is some destruction of this candidate and they do not intend to allow time for that destruction. And what they saw in the hearings and in the process yesterday was a confirmation of the Republican theory that this is a democratic ploy, indeed a Democratic conspiracy. The word was openly used in the hearings yesterday.

They have been careful, very careful not accuse Professor Christine Blasey Ford of being a part of that conspiracy. But when it comes to the Democrats in the Senate, they are quite convinced of the conspiracy and they are absolutely determined to move forward.

Part II

Why Christians, above all others, must understand that the truth always matters

So if this unfolds as we expect today, the Republican majority, the Senate Judiciary Committee will move the nomination to the floor United States Senate, where we know that a vote could possibly come as early as Saturday. But is actually more likely to come on Monday.

But another assured outcome of whatever happens today or tomorrow or Monday or thereafter is this nomination battle, the reality is that there has been a real wound inflicted upon Democratic experiment in self-government and our Constitutional system of government. This wound is partisan but it’s more than partisan, it’s ideological. But it’s even more than ideological, it points to the fact that the United States Supreme Court is now the arena. An arena far beyond the vision of America’s Constitution framers. An arena for the adjudication of so many of the most urgent moral issues confronted by this nation.

But as Christians observing the hearing process yesterday, we must remind ourselves that we heard not just from two witnesses, but from two human beings made in God’s image. And two human beings that by any moral account were deeply wounded by the process yesterday. Both of these two human beings, made in God’s image, were in a political context where before millions of people and recorded for time immemorial going forward in human history, they had to talk about issues that were deeply painful, deeply personal and should have been adjudicated otherwise.

So this also means that both of these two individuals will have to go through the rest of their lives, for Judge Kavanaugh that means on the Court or off of the Court, with the memories of these issues and these hearings seared in America’s imagination and memory. And when it comes to Professor Christine Blasey Ford, the wound in all of this is the knowledge that the issue for which she is now known by millions of Americans is certainly, under any circumstances, is not what any sane individual would have chosen, and certainly not what she would have chosen.

Now this is where Christians have to understand something else, something awful, something genuinely horrible. It’s this, so far as the political process is considered, this will all be over in just a matter of hours and days, and I can assure you the politicians will move on. The Senate Committee on the Judiciary will be debating something else in very short order and frankly, almost every member of Congress, including members of the United States Senate, will be hitting the campaign trail and beating up on one another as they look to the mid-term elections and all of them look to elections in the future.

But at this point, Christians have to understand it must be different in the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. It must be different. We have a far higher standard when it comes to understanding how we have to deal with these issues than just the Constitution of the United States or even a legal or judicial process. Or even this kind of Congressional hearing. And we, as Christians, also have to understand that given the importance of the issues here at stake, for the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, when we deal with these issues, it’s not over when there’s a vote or just a decision. We’re dealing with human beings with whom we must have a response of ongoing concern, love, and we hope, redemptive ministry.

In other words, let’s put it this way, the political class, I assure you, just can’t wait to move beyond this to the next thing, even if the next thing includes echoes of this thing. The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ cannot act so. Cannot believe so. Cannot minister so.

Part III

Is neutrality possible? How the biblical worldview teaches us that even our bias is biased

Next, I want to turn to an article that appeared in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times. The headline is this, “Sometimes the news media is biased, sometimes it’s the reader.” The article is by Jonathan Rothwell, it’s in the Upshot column of the New York Times. And you might just say, with a little tinge of cynicism, “Well, it’s easy for the New York Times to say that the news media is sometimes biased but then to blame the reader for bias when it comes to readers or listeners.” But the reality is that Christians understand that there’s real truth in this. Why? Because we understand, given our notions, our Biblical conceptions of sin, that there is no one who is genuinely unbiased. We understand that given the effects of sin, there’s bias everywhere you look.

Rothwell writes, “Gallop survey data indicates that Americans are increasingly distrustful about potentially biased news. But they should also worry about the partiality of their own judgment as well as how their news consumption habits may affect it. The bias,” he writes, “consumers bring with them distorts their rating of news content, new research shows, and those who are most distrustful of the news media tend to be the most biased readers.”

Now that might be the most self-serving sentence in this report considering that it appears in the New York Times. The New York Times, the so-called Gray Lady of American Journalism, is not only the most influential newspaper, it’s a very liberal newspaper. I have often pointed to the fact there is a great deal of bias that is behind the news coverage and especially what appears honestly on the opinion pages. But as I’ve also pointed out, the New York Times is the mostly widely sourced authoritative newspaper of daily publication that you can find virtually anywhere in the world. The New York Times, when it’s honest, knows that it exhibits bias, and as I’ve often pointed out at worldview analysis, the bias is sometimes part of the story.

But what the New York Times is pointing to in this column is that bias is everywhere in the equation. That’s not the way they put it, but that’s the point. Bias is in the writing of the articles, bias is the assignment of reporters, bias is in the reporter, bias is thus in the report. Bias is in the editors, even editors who edit other editors. Bias is in the publisher, who is the main corporate executive behind any form of major media such as a newspaper like the New York Times.

But bias is elsewhere as well. Bias is in the eyes of the reader or when it comes to television media, in the ears as well the eyes of the media. Why? Well, here’s where Christians understand that sin is so pervasive that there is no position of neutrality. And when it comes to knowledge, truth claims, or something even like telling a story, providing a narrative, the reality is we can’t tell the story without bias, we can’t hear the story without bias. We can’t evaluate a truth claim without understanding that there are truth claims we want to be true, there are truth claims we don’t want to be true.

There’s a bias toward believing what we want to be true and disbelieving what we don’t want to be true and the most insidious part of bias is that it is often blind to us. We don’t recognize our own bias. It’s easy to see bias in others, it’s far more difficult to see bias in ourselves. And then it’s even more difficult to understand once we understand a bias in ourselves, how we are then to think in order to correct that bias. We can’t get out of our own skin. We can’t get out from behind our own eyes or between our own ears, it’s impossible. But nonetheless, it is a part of our intellectual responsibility. And this is where Christians, operating out of a Biblical worldview, have a far more profoundly comprehensive and accurate understanding of what’s going on. That doesn’t mean we’re without bias, it does mean that we know that even our bias is biased.

It’s a sad commentary on our current situation that we now have media who market to bias. They are driven by bias. They want to build a viewership or listenership, a market on the basis of exploiting that bias. They then invite guests and they also hire hosts. And then they run stories and they give coverage according to that bias. The argument found here in this article in the New York Times is that we basically dig ourselves into a hole of bias and then we tend to dig ourselves ever more deeply into that hole.

As I pointed out repeatedly on The Briefing, the only rescue from this is divine revelation. This is why we’re so dependent upon scripture because only the Word of God can cut through all of our intellectual defenses, all of our sinful impulses, and reach us with a corrective truth that grabs us and simply speaks to us in a way that goes beyond our bias.

The admonitions found in this article in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times seemed to be aimed mostly at those who are least likely to read the New York Times. Those in this article who are really the subject of the most ardent critique are conservatives who tend to look for conservative media outlets. Media outlets, the New York Times identifies, as being very biased and catering to bias.

In the article you find the assertion that those with the more extreme political or ideological views tend to be the most biased. That’s certainly true on the right, it’s also equally true on the left. But the left has been in control of most of the major media for most of the last several decades. Only more recent times have there been alternatives and thus the equation is being mixed up a great deal. And the picture is very different than when the New York Times and a handful of other newspapers and prestige television networks controlled the news media.

But Christians also understand that it’s one thing to admit bias, it’s still another thing assert or to accuse of bias, it’s even more dangerous to suggest that we can be unbiased. Or that any media source or any human being truly is.

Part IV

Has sports replaced faith in American life? In a secularizing age, many turn to their favorite teams

Finally, Religion News Service this week ran with a story by Elizabeth Evans. The headline is this, “As faith fades, it’s the couple that cheers together that stays together.” It’s a pretty remarkable story telling us that we now can find an argument that organized sports, team sports particularly, has replaced organized religion, and Christianity specifically.

The article begins with a couple identified as including a doctoral candidate in religion at Temple University and the other a life skills and healthy living coach for the Philadelphia nonprofit, Snider Hockey. It turns out that neither of them is affiliated with any kind of institutional religion or as it says here, “affiliated with a religious institution.” But they both consider themselves spiritual, but their spiritual identity and their community and their belonging, well it has much more to do with team sports than with anything that is distinctively theological or even religious.

The Religion News Service article cites a study done by Fathead, a company that sells oversize wall decorations of sports stars and other pop culture. You can’t make this stuff up. The study that was done by a marketing firm for this company revealed, “For a sizable number of Americans, agreeing with their partner about sports is more important than agreeing about religion.”

Now, we could simply cite the fact that other recent studies have indicated that agreement on politics is even more important than agreement on religion for many American couples. That’s not all that surprising in a secular rising age, this is what we might be looking for as evidence of how secular people redirect their interests.

One of the most interesting aspects of this article was a religion professor at Temple University cited, Rebecca Alpert, she’s identified as having written extensively on the intersection of sports and faith. She said that this phenomenon points to “how sports has replaced faith in some ways.” In her words, “we see ourselves as spiritual, but we have a broad definition of spirituality.”

That really helps to explain the world around us, that statement, “a broad definition of spirituality.” Well, let’s just say that apparently it’s getting more and more broad all the time.

Alpert went on to explain that fewer Americans are now affiliated with organized religion, but she says, “we’re a religious people and those impulses have to go somewhere.” Indeed they do, but we’re not just a religious people. We’re human beings made in God’s image and there is within us a knowledge of God that cries out for a worship. It demands worship and that’s why Christians have understood that Biblically defined, there is not a human being who is not a worshiper. The only question is, who or what is any human being truly worshiping?

It’s probably not a surprise, not even news to Americans, that team sports is taking on this kind of prominence in the society and even now being relabeled as spirituality. As I said, you probably knew that already, but it’s important for Christians to ponder what this means. And you also probably didn’t need a marketing survey from Fathead to tell you that this is reality.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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