Wednesday, Oct 17, 2018

Wednesday, Oct 17, 2018

The Briefing

October 17, 2018

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

It’s Wednesday, October 17, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Schism: Russian Orthodox Church severs ties with Constantinople, pointing to significant developments in geopolitics and world history

It may be that Monday, October 15, 2018, will be long remembered in church history. Why? It was because on that day, just two days ago, the Russian Orthodox Church announced that it would break off relations with the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople. That might not sound like headline news throughout most of the Christian world, but given the antiquity of the eastern orthodox church, given the millions, the hundreds of millions of those who are the members of those churches, and given the political, geo-political, and theological importance of those churches, what took place on Monday is really huge. And not only that, it points to very significant developments in geo-politics and in world history.

Andrew Roth, reporting from Moscow, and Harriet Sherwood, reporting from London for The Guardian, tell us, “The Russian Orthodox Church has announced it will break off relations with the Patriarchate of Constantinople in a religious schism driven by political friction between Russia and Ukraine.”

The reporters go on to tell us, “The Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church elected on Monday to cut ties with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, which is viewed as the leading authority for the world’s 300 million Orthodox worshipers.”

The very next line in the report from The Guardian, “The split is a show of force by Russia after a Ukrainian church was granted independence.”

In order to understand this story and it’s a far larger story than those words from The Guardian would imply, we have to go back from 2018 to the year 988. That was the year of the formation of what became known as the Metropolitan of Kiev. That was a unit of orthodox Christianity, that means eastern Christianity that was identified for the first time as Russian. And the date, 988, is when Russians point to the Christianization of what was then known as the Kievan Rus Empire and it was signified by the baptism of the Kievan Prince Vladimir.

Now, just hold on, we’re looking back at the year 988. This is when most Russians would identify the beginning of a Russian Christian history and you will note that the name of the prince at the time was Vladimir. And it’s important to recognize that the current Russian president, who plays a very big part in the story right now was named after that Kievan Prince Vladimir.

We go from 988 to 1325, this was the age of the Mongol Invasion and it was the danger posed by the Mongol invaders that led the church to move the metropolitan seat from Kiev, some Americans pronounce it as Kee-ev, to Moscow. That was 1325.

Then in the 1470s, Russian identity as we know it today was largely established by the Grand Duke of Muscovy, or of Moscow, Ivan the third.

In 1589, the first patriarch of what became known as the Russian Orthodox Church, then identified as the first patriarch of Moscow and all the Rus, it became what is known as an autocephalous church.

There’s a huge background to this that should be of importance to all Christians. As you’re looking at eastern Christianity, the church is often referred to as the Churches of Eastern Orthodoxy, their long history reminds us of the fact that so many of those churches have been nationally identified. Even today, you speak of the Greek Orthodox and the Syrian Orthodox and the Russian Orthodox.

But there’s more to it than just a national identity. Those churches have not only been fused with the identity of the nation, but there has been a union of throne and altar, that is to say that the head of government has very often had a direct relationship with the head of the church. A union or a fusion of the church and the state is what has marked so many of these Eastern Orthodox churches and the nations with which they are associated.

This was particularly true of the church that is now known as the Russian Orthodox Church. It became an independent or autocephalous church then in 1589. In 1686, at that time it was recognized that the church in Kiev and the metropolitan of Kiev would answer to the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople. That is the prime of all the patriarchs in Eastern Orthodoxy. If you go back in the history of the Eastern Orthodox church, there are four of the most important and historic of these autocephalous churches. They are headquartered in Constantinople, in Alexandria, in Antioch and in Jerusalem. And that means given the historical logic of the Eastern Orthodox churches, all of the other churches identified with other seats and with other nations, then follow in primacy and in prestige and in importance.

Thus, to try to understand why the word on Monday was so momentous that the Russian Orthodox Church was cutting ties with Constantinople, you have to understand that that was the Russian Orthodox Church cutting ties officially with the oldest, the most prestigious, the most important and the most influential, the most historic of all of the orthodox churches. And it’s patriarch, Patriarch Bartholomew.

But here we have to put this in a larger picture and understand why this is so important, not only as we think of church history, but of contemporary geo-politics, the great struggle of nations and worldviews and ideologies that shape our world and will re-shape our world looking to the future. Here’s where we need to understand that going back to the 16th century, Russian identity became fused with what became known as the Russian Orthodox Church. The Russian Orthodox Church took on the responsibility for the Russian nation of forging a kind of Russian identity, a pan-national Russian identity.

You also have to then fast forward and understand that after 1991, when 90% of the people of Ukraine, just to take one nation, but the most important of the nations in this respect, voted for independence and thus the former Soviet Union fell apart. It was yet another time in history when this Russian identity began to fragment. And not only that, the power and the prestige of Russia as a nation.

So, now we go back in history again. Remember that the 16th century, the most crucial century of which we are speaking, was the century, for example, of the Protestant Reformation in western Europe. But this is in eastern Europe. And furthermore, when you’re talking about Russia, you’re talking about a nation that spans a great land mass, which includes much of both Europe and of Asia. And so, as you’re looking at this we need to recognize that in that 16th century, largely under the rule of Tzar Feodor, there was an effort to create a new Russian identity that would bring together nationalities, tribes, and peoples under the Russian language and under the supervision and the nationalist theology of the Russian Orthodox Church.

In 1589, the Patriarch of Constantinople, that is the most important leader in Eastern Orthodoxy, went to Moscow and order officially to raise the leader of the orthodox church there to being a patriarch, the Patriarchate of Moscow and all the the Russians was established in that year and it became a great engine of Russian national identity. Became one of the most important events in understanding Russia as it became a great empire under the Romanov Dynasty and of course, it in large part helps to explain exactly the tensions that are reflected in the announcement that came on Monday. Because far more is at stake here than whether or not the orthodox church in Ukraine is independent, has its own head as over against the Patriarchate of Moscow.

It’s also really important as to whether or not Vladimir Putin can claim that Ukraine is rightly a part of Russia rather than being a great independent nation. That’s why theology so often under the headlines sometimes blasts right under the front of the headlines. And sometimes in a very, very big way, as on Monday.

Part II

The pursuit of greater glory: What Putin’s quest to strengthen Russian identity has to do with recent headlines

But as we come to understand this story, it’s important to recognize that political intrigue with this union of throne and altar explained why the Russian monarch understood the necessity of this importance of raising the Moscow leader of orthodoxy to being a patriarch and that happened again under Tzar Feodor, but it had a great deal to do with his brother-in-law named Boris Godunov. When the Tzar died, Godunov, the brother-in-law, became Tzar and he was the main theorist behind uniting Russia as a political entity with Russia as a national idea with the Russian language as a common language and with Russian orthodoxy and the primacy of Moscow as the center of that Russian identity. And theologically offering a seal, as it were, upon that idea of Russia.

That was the idea of Russian identity that fueled the expansion of the Russian empire under such leaders important to Russian history as Tzar Peter the Great, who reigned from 1682 to 1725. But here we need to note, it is that same ideology, that same fusion that is built by political intrigue that now marks Russia under Vladimir Putin.

Vladimir Putin, seeking to live up to his name’s sake, all the way back to the year 988, is seeking to make certain that his idea of a greater Russia and a greater Russian glory, is not impeded by the Patriarch of Constantinople recognizing the leader in Kiev as being independent of Moscow.

Here’s where we have to understand that Vladimir Putin has been seeking to justify his autocratic regime by arguing that Russia deserves a greater glory, that in previous history it had a greater glory, that an international conspiracy, especially of the liberal modern west, has sought to divide Russia and to minimize it, robbing it of its national glory. And the Russia of Vladimir Putin is a Russia that still has imperialist ambitions and he looks especially to the breakup of the Soviet Union, especially in the years 1989 and in the early 1990s, as the modern liberal west successfully dismembering greater Russia. Thus he has begun to redefine Russian identity, not just in terms of being a citizen of the nation now called Russia, but speaking the Russian language.

This was Putin’s rationale for invading Crimea and taking it away from Ukraine. This was his rationalization for Russian military incursions into Ukraine. This is why in speech after speech, Putin has increasingly and repeatedly made claim that wherever you find a majority of Russian speaking people, and in some cases even a history of a dominance of Russian speaking people, you are finding territory that should be under Moscow’s direct influence, if not it’s direct rule, that should be a part of Russia’s imperial reality, if not of the modern Russian nation. And of course, should be considered a part of Russia’s prestige, the greater Russia that Vladimir Putin has promised to his people.

We need to understand something else, in 1589, when Patriarch Jeremiah of Constantinople went to Moscow in order to elevate the church there, he used the language of Moscow being a third Rome. The idea here is very important to western, as well as eastern history. It’s the claim that the first capital of the Roman Empire was none other than Rome itself. But it’s a reminder that in the fifth century, Emperor Constantine created a second capital of the Roman Empire in Constantinople.

The claim that Moscow is a third Rome, is a claim that Moscow deserves an imperial and a theological significance in the eyes of the world that would be behind only Constantinople and Rome. But of course, the Roman Empire has ceased to exist, Rome itself is no longer the head of any kind of empire, and Constantinople is of course no longer even called Constantinople, it is now called Istanbul, because of the victory of the Muslim invaders, the Ottomans over the Christians in the Roman Empire in the year 1453. Once again what appears to be ancient or Medieval history comes back right under the front pages of the headlines today.

If you are following the historical logic, then just consider that Rome, according to this logic, is no more. Constantinople has been marginalized. The break announced by the Russian Orthodox Church with Constantinople on Monday is one way of saying who even cares about Constantinople? Moscow, the third Rome should now be recognized as the seat, the primary seat of Orthodox Christianity everywhere around the world. And all of those churches should basically look now to Russia for their influence.

And when you consider the claims of the Russian Orthodox Church, you need to remember that as soon as it became a national church, an autocephalous church, that is an independent church with its own patriarch, it instantly became the most powerful and the richest of all the orthodox churches throughout the entire history of eastern orthodoxy.

In order to understand today’s headlines, I take you to Serhii Plokhy, he’s the author of a recent book entitled, “Lost Kingdom, The Quest for Empire and the Making of the Russian Nation.”

He wrote this, “In the early 1490s, the Russian religious elite embraced several notions that the Muscovite Tsars were heirs of the Byzantine Emperors, that Moscow was the second Constantinople, and that Muscovy or Moscow and the Russian land were successors to the Byzantine Empire.”

Now consider that that’s the 1490s and fast forward to 2018 and understand Vladimir Putin has been using the very same arguments in the 21st century to make the very same point, in order to claim power for himself and to buttress that power with the authority of the Russian Orthodox Church. And make no mistake, there is a near universal acknowledgement that it is Putin who has influenced the Russian Orthodox Church to take this step.

For example, if you are looking at major press coverage of what has just taken place in recent days and in anticipation of it, consider this article by Gabby Deutch from the Atlantic. The headline, “Ukraine’s Spiritual Split From Russia Could Trigger a Global Schism.”

Now, the point of this article that ran on October the 11th, is that it was Putin’s idea of this greater Russia. In particularly, his seizing of Crimea and his incursions into Ukraine, the enormous political pressure that Putin has tried to bring upon Ukraine and others, this is what has largely driven the Ukrainians to seek the independence of their church. Claiming its historical primacy and making very clear that they see Kiev, or Kiev, as a far more important city in the history of eastern Christianity than Moscow itself.

The president of Ukraine, President Petro Poroshenko, described the announcement of the independence of the church in Kiev as, “A victory of good over evil, light over darkness.” Ukraine’s president referred to the announcement as an historic event.

And then he went to make the politics clear from his perspective when he said that the continued dependence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church upon the Russian Orthodox Church was, in his words, “a direct threat to the national security of Ukraine”

Now, just keep in mind that western intellectuals have been telling us for the greater part of a century and a half now that we are entering a secular age in which theology will be dead and religious faith will not matter, that religious and theological conviction will disappear, that the church as an institution, however it is defined, wherever it is found, will become absolutely irrelevant. And just consider the fact that history tends to bring bad arguments back with a vengeance. And just consider how powerfully church history has just emerged back into the headlines of our supposedly secular age.

And then remember the way this story is told in Russia and keep in mind what is missing. What is missing are all those years between 1917 and say 1991. All those years of the USSR. Those years from the Bolshevik Revolution all the way to the break up of the Soviet Union. Remember that the Soviet Union, driven by a Marxist communist ideology, was absolutely committed to expunge Christianity, not only from all of its territory, but eventually through ideological competition throughout the entire world. Let’s just state the obvious, that has not happened.

Even now, by the way, Vladimir Putin is claiming that the liberal west, and in particular the United States, is behind this effort for Ukrainian theological independence, but that’s why I wanted to go back and look at history and recognize we’re talking about centuries of Russia making the very same argument to the very same end. And furthermore, what we are seeing is just the recapitulation of the very same arguments coming from just the latest edition of a Russian strongman.

And just to bring this discussion to a close, remember that eastern and western Christianity split in 1054 over an important theological issue. And the eastern churches have gone off in their own direction, largely untouched by anything close to the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. But notice how often history tends to turn on a common hinge. Just think of the 16th century for just a moment. The century, yes, of the Protestant Reformation and the century of the establishment of the Russian church, what we now call the Russian Orthodox Church, exactly as was meant to establish a new Russian identity. The identity of the greater Russia.

The theological differences between the western churches and the eastern churches are absolutely profound. The theological difference between the eastern orthodox churches and the protestant churches on issues as fundamental as the gospel, those differences are absolutely massive. And those historical debates continue.

But the politics are the big story as reflected in the international media and the bottom line in this development is that Vladimir Putin as lost face. He’ll be fighting back, you can be sure. Which means that these headlines, one way or another, are almost sure to continue.

Part III

Hero or villain? The dramatic and horrific story of an abortion doula

But next we shift in the year 2018, from Moscow instead to New York City. Report from the BBC, the British Broadcasting Corporation, the headline, “I’ve been an ‘abortion doula’ 2,000 times.”

The reporter is Kirstie Brewer, she begins by telling us about Vicki Bloom, whom we are told has been in the room as an abortion doula for more than 2,000 procedures since joining what is known as the non-profit Doula Project in the year 2010.

Now, just do the math real quickly, that is just eight years, at the most, a little bit more than eight years and 2,000 abortions.

As the story unfolds, we are told that Bloom, the abortion doula, is there in her hospital scrubs when an abortion takes place. And we are told that she is intending to bring comfort to the woman who is seeking an abortion. “The time they spend together is normally shorter than for a birth, but in many ways the support Bloom provides,” we are told by the BBC is the same. She says, “I will stand up by their head and be looking into that person’s eyes, ready for whatever they need while the doctor is doing the procedure.” She continued, “Even in clinics where staff are amazing, having someone in that dedicated role can be so valuable.”

The story continues, “For later stage abortions which require women to go under general anesthetic, Doula Project volunteers will offer to be there, not just before but also while the woman is unconscious.”

Bloom said, “Witnessing is a big part of what doulas do. Some people find it a great comfort to know someone they know and someone who they are connected with will be there during the procedure, even if they’re asleep.”

Now, let’s just go back for a moment and define some terms. What in the world is a doula? Well, in the United States, as well as in many European nations, a doula is a woman, almost always a woman, that helps other women undergoing childbirth. In the United States it has been largely a service that has been called upon by wealthy white women in metropolitan areas.

But you’ll notice here we are told about an abortion doula. What’s going on here? Miriam Webster defines a doula as a person “trained to provide advice, information, and physical comfort to the mother before, during, and just after childbirth.” The Oxford dictionary says that a doula is an assistant offering the same kind of services “for a pregnant woman during labor.”

In this sense, a doula is something of an assistant, a counselor, a coach for a woman undergoing childbirth, anticipating childbirth, just after childbirth. But notice the whole point, it’s about birth. But in the case of an abortion doula, we’re talking about death.

The word doula is a Greek word, it’s feminine in its very character, that refers to a female servant or a female slave. But in this case, the word has been brought forward from the Greek in order to indicate a woman who serves this kind of coaching function for another woman during childbirth.

The compound, abortion doula, is evil in its very construction, the very idea is horrifying. Taking the idea of this kind of coach out of the context of offering comfort during childbirth, it now becomes a process of offering comfort during the murder of an unborn child.

The story as it unfolds is absolutely heartbreaking and for that matter, it should be the object of outrage. We are told that Bloom “will never ask why a woman is there, but often they want to volunteer their story during the procedure,” we are told, “a lot of women will come out and say things like, ‘I really wanted this baby, but I don’t have enough money,’ or ‘I feel so sad about this, but taking care of my two kids right now is enough.'”

“Then there are others,” we are told, “for whom the procedure is not traumatic or difficult at all.” Now, just consider that. The killing of unborn child not traumatic or difficult at all. That then leads to the question, why would that individual even need an abortion doula.

The most chilling paragraph is this and these are her words, “Occasionally a client who feels bad about what is going on with themselves might lash out a bit, ‘How can you live with yourself, knowing that you wake up in the morning and choose to be part of this?’ But,” she says, “I know they’re coming from a place of internal conflict and pain, and I actually don’t feel conflicted at all about what I do, so I can respond to them with compassion.”

Now, there’s the chilling realization. She says she is not conflicted at all with what she does. The story at the BBC is celebrating the fact that this so-called abortion doula has assisted in 2,000 abortions in New York City just since the year 2010.

Now, at this point, let’s just think carefully and recognize the basic worldview conflict we’re looking at here. It is over the meaning of that unborn life, it is over the reality of that unborn life. You’ll notice the unborn child doesn’t even factor into this discussion by the BBC of this abortion doula. It’s as if there’s only one person present when genetically any woman seeking an abortion brings another human being with her. A live human being in her womb. The intention, of course, is that only one of them leaves alive.

This great worldview conflict is between those who would see an abortion doula as a mistress of death and those who would understand such a person as merely someone to be culturally celebrated, as this article would indicate, for being so self-giving as to volunteer for this non-profit as an abortion doula 2,000 times over the last several years.

That fundamental distinction became very clear on Twitter when on October the 15th, that’s just two days ago, the National Abortion Rights Action League or NARAL, as it is known now, tweeted this story from the BBC with a heart emoji and the words, “Abortion doulas are heroes.”

Now, just think about that for a moment. You’re going to define this person who is profiled in this story either as a heroine on the one hand or as an ambassador of death on the other. There is really no middle ground and that tells you exactly what’s at stake in the abortion debate in the United States. What’s at stake is not a mere debate, it’s not just a set of laws and policies and political platforms. What is at stake is human dignity and that’s what Christians must understand with genuine heartbreak, looking at an article like this. An article that celebrates, let’s be clear about that, that celebrates an abortion doula in New York City, an article by the BBC.

Part IV

One more step in the transgender revolution: Influential conservative transitions, is embraced by conservative community

One final article that is no doubt taking much of conservative Washington by storm, it’s by Josh Rogin in The Washington Post. The headline is this, “Giselle Donnelly can finally be herself.” As Rogin tells us, “Giselle Donnelly is a renowned national security expert, author and conservative think-tank scholar and even though she’s 65 years old, she was ‘born’ only this year. That’s because Giselle has just recently transitioned to living openly as a trans woman. She is now re-introducing herself to the Washington community she has been a part of her entire adult life.”

And Rogin then goes on to remind us, “Giselle came into the world as Thomas Donnelly, the name most of Washington’s foreign policy establishment has known her by over her long career in media, policy, and politics. She,” and you’ll notice how The Washington Post, following the modern ideology, just immediately changes the pronouns and the identity. She, we are told, “has now changed her name and crossed genders.” That according to an interview that Donnelly gave to The Washington Post.

Now, as you follow you’ll discover a typical kind of story where Giselle Donnelly, as she is now known, tells us that she has lived a double life for a long time. What’s really interesting in this article is that the American Enterprise Institute, which is the agency for whom Donnelly works, is standing by their employee. Arthur Brooks, the president of AEI, and it’s vice president for public policy released a statement saying, “We are proud that she is part of the AEI family.”

Now, as you look at the story, it’s very typical in one sense, it’s not exactly typical in another. The big worldview significance of this story is yet one more step in the transgender revolution. But in this case, it concerns someone known to so many prominent American conservatives. And that would include conservative Christians. Thomas Donnelly was one of the most often cited experts in national security and foreign policy in conservative circles. The American Enterprise Institute has been one of the hallmark institutions of conservative intellectual life for decades now.

But there’s something else of tremendous worldview importance in this article, it’s not just the coming out story of a transgender individual. It’s the story with all the specificity in the background, and a part of that specificity is the fact that Giselle, as the individual is named in this story, has a new spouse who is a woman with whom there is a shared loved of national security, wine, gender fluidity, and in the very words of this article, a sexual fetish which I will not name.

That’s also what’s so interesting. So, what you have in this article is a demonstration that a sexual revolution, a gender revolution, the LGBTQ revolution can’t stop just with those initials, those consonants. It can’t stop with those letters. It cannot stop with those particular distortions and corruptions of human sexuality. What you are seeing here is one of those sexual issues that hardly ever imaginably would make its way into the coverage of even a newspaper like The Washing Post, much less conservative political circles, and it’s just dropped in this story and I will not name it. It is just dropped in this story as if it’s just a part of the colorful background of the coming out story of this transgender individual.

The sexual revolution eventually comes down to this, but won’t stop at this. And the reporter in this story makes his judgment extremely clear. “One would hope that in 2018, even in Washington, most people understand it’s not abnormal that a person’s mental, emotional, and spiritual being don’t align with their physical body. It happens all the time,” says the reporter, “and society will eventually evolve to a place where it’s not a big deal.”

Just realize, as we close, that the sexual revolutionaries are absolutely convinced that that’s right. And they’re absolutely convinced that they must convince you that they’re right.

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 Águas de Lindoia in Brazil, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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