Monday, Dec. 17, 2018

Monday, Dec. 17, 2018

The Briefing

December 17, 2018

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

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

Part I

When the biggest event is not the biggest news: Why Cardinal Pell’s child sex abuse conviction goes unreported by many news outlets

There can be absolutely no doubt what was the biggest news story of last week. But a further big news story is the fact that that news story didn’t make news in much of the world and still hasn’t. The news event itself was the conviction last week of the man who was the highest ranking yet member of the Roman Catholic hierarchy to be convicted criminally of child sexual abuse.

In this case it is the former Cardinal in Australia, George Pell. He was also the former Archbishop of Melbourne. And as it turns out, he was convicted last week of multiple counts of child sexual abuse dating back to the 1990s when he was the Archbishop of Melbourne.

But as I said, the big news story, perhaps even the bigger news story, is the fact that that wasn’t the news story in much of the world, but most importantly in Australia itself. That has to do with the fact that a Victoria court has put an order, a gag order, on the entire case, meaning that the Australian media have not been able to report on the story, nor have many in the international media that might have bureaus there in Australia.

The unfolding story is reported with the gag order in greatest detail reported by The New York Times, but the story itself in greatest detail reported in this country by The Washington Post.

Last Friday in its print edition, The New York Times ran a story with the headline, “Australian Cardinal found guilty of abusing boys in 1996.” But that was in the print edition and the print edition wasn’t sent to Australia. The New York Times did not put this story on their online edition. The Washington Post did put the story on their online edition. By the way, they made note of the fact that The New York Times did not.

It’s also very interesting that breaking with the newspaper’s practice, no reporters were identified on the story from Australia. The story nonetheless began, “An Australian cardinal, who was once an advisor to Pope Francis, has been convicted of molesting choir boys more than 20 years ago, making him the highest ranking Roman Catholic leader ever found guilty of sexual abuse. The jury verdict against the cardinal,” it is reported, “was delivered Tuesday in the county court of Victoria where a suppression order has prevented news media outlets from sharing any information about the case that could be viewed in Australia.”

Now, the paper goes on to talk about the significance of the conviction and the trial, and especially the conviction of a cardinal of the Catholic church who had been a very close associate of Pope Francis. By the way, when it says recently, it means extremely recently serving as an advisor to the Pope.

But later in the article, The New York Times explains the gag order, which is “intended in part to prevent prejudicing a jury in that case. The order is scheduled to be lifted after a verdict in a second trial. But since the verdict on Tuesday of last week,” says the Times, “the news has been published by several international news outlets, news organizations in Australia have been testing the boundaries of what is permissible while pressing the court to lift the order.” This again is a quotation from The New York Times.

One tabloid, The Daily Telegraph, published a front page article on Thursday declaring it’s the nation’s biggest story that it was not allowed to publish. “A high profile Australian with a worldwide reputation has been convicted of an awful crime, but The Daily Telegraph and other Australian media are prohibited from telling you about it.”

It is interesting that some of the international outlets reporting on the story are associated with the Catholic church, of course this is huge news in the Catholic church. There are some conservatives, traditionalist Roman Catholics who are claiming that the Cardinal was framed because of his conservative influence in the church. Others are arguing that the suppression of the story is just playing into the general problem in the Roman Catholic church of suppressing this kind of news. But in this case, it isn’t a church gag order, it is a court gag order in Australia.

On Saturday in the print edition, The New York Times ran an article, the reporter in this case is identified, Damien Cave. The headline, “Do gag orders protect rights or curtail them?” Cave reports, “There is a criminal case unfolding in Australia that shall not be named. The defendant is a figure with a global reputation, someone of great influence in the country and the world. The charges are serious and of significant public interest. But publishing news about this case is illegal.”

Cave goes on to say, “Judges in Australia and some other countries, including Britain, often issue gag orders that temporarily restrict the publication of information related to a criminal proceeding on the grounds that it might sway jurors or potential jurors. Sometimes,” Cave reports, “judges even require the existence of these orders to be kept secret.”

“In this case,” the Times reports, “something unusual is happening, the sweep of the restrictions is so all-encompassing that the conflict between the public’s right to know and the defendant’s right to a fair trial is rippling across the internet and the world, touching news outlets and institutions in distant countries.” The next sentence, “If you’re not in Australia, you may have already read recent coverage of the case.”

This story in The New York Times appeared both in the print edition and online, but you’ll notice it follows the same kind of evasions, the same kind of approximations that some of the Australian newspapers tried. Other Australian newspapers were a bit more blunt, several newspapers published front page editorials this weeks and The Times reports that one of them simply ran a large font headline that said, “Censored.”

At least part of what we should note here is the fact that even though Australia, the United States, Great Britain, we are all part with other nations of what’s often and rightly described as the English speaking world, even though we share so many common legal traditions, on this case, there is a huge difference between Australia and the United States. To put the matter as bluntly as possible, in Australia there is no first amendment as we have to the United States Constitution where in enumerated rights the freedom of the press is explicitly articulated and respected.

There have, of course, been controversies throughout American history, but nothing like this. Nothing like this except in the case of something that might be taking place in the context of war, but even then there is no real opportunity for what in the United States is called prior restraint, except under the most incredibly rare circumstances. To put the matter again very plainly, you would not have in any case in the United States a trial like this that would be hidden from the American people.

Now, by the way, we also have to point out that even though there are Constitutional and thus worldview issues at stake, there is also the simple acknowledgement that with modern digital technology, a gag order is going to be particularly difficult to enforce. Even in Australia, those who have been looking to international sources would have been able to find sufficient information to know in general terms what had happened. But they’re not going to be able to hear it or to read it or to know it from the Australian media. At least not now and according to this gag order, not for quite a while.

In the United States, where the press are guaranteed this freedom and an absence of prior restraint, you do have juries that are often sequestered. And once they are empaneled, kept away during the trial process for as long as a judge may order. And kept out of contact with the media and with news reports during that period.

In the analysis in The New York Times, there was also the interesting observation that the number of these gag orders, these suppression orders, varies in Australia rather significantly from state to state. But in some states, such as in the state of Victoria, these are orders are actually very common. That is something that is likely to shock many Americans, but of course, far fewer Australians who at least know that some of the news is the fact that they’re not getting the news about the news that is in truth originating in Australia.

Damien Cave is also right when he says that the battle “reaches beyond one particular case. It’s a contest of competing democratic values.” The next sentence, “The core debate is an old one, pitting the right of the accused to a fair trial against the right of free speech, and of the public to know what’s going on in the courtroom. These poles,” says Cave, “are not mutually exclusive: Trials in Australia, as in the United States, are usually both open and fair.” But you’re looking here at a case which really isn’t an exception, though it is exceptionally important.

The Times is right to describe this situation as a “contest of competing democratic values.” We do see that over and over again in the modern world. You have value A that runs into a collision with value B, but rarely do you see that kind of collision adjudicated in this way, with this kind of rather radical gag order, that is not only unprecedented in the United States, but virtually beyond the understanding of most Americans trying to figure out this news story and why in so much of the world it isn’t yet news.

We’ve seen repeatedly here in the United States how that competition of democratic values comes again and again. We’ve seen it most excruciatingly in that inevitable collision between religious liberty and the newly invented court ordered rights that are now subsumed under the category of sexual rights or sexual liberty.

So you have in the United States and in other western nations this continuing collision, the competition between religious liberty, which is an enumerated right in that same first amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and the invented sexual liberty rights that are so much a part of the sexual revolution. In Australia, you’re seeing a different collision of values and rights. The right of the press versus what in Australia is construed as the right of the accused to a fair trial.

But this is where you also see a competition of values between two nations that share so much in common as the United States and Australia because in the United States it really is virtually inconceivable that a fair trial is, in actuality in circumstances like this, a secret trial.

Part II

Crackdown on religion in China: Pastor’s arrest for ‘inciting subversion’ reveals the coercive power of the Communist Party

But next, as we’re speaking of religious liberty, another very ominous headline, this one by Ian Johnson in the Times, “Pastor accused of inciting subversion as China cracks down on churches.”

Johnson reports, “An outspoken Chinese pastor and his wife face up to 15 years in prison after being charged with inciting to subvert state power, a sign that Chinese authorities are intensifying a crackdown on religious groups, one of the most serious in recent decades.”

In this case, the pastor is Wang Yi, he’s a 45 year old. His church is the Early Rain Covenant Church, which is in the southwestern town of Chengdu. He was detained last weekend, we are told, along with 100 other leaders of the church. But as you’re looking at this case, you’re not looking at, if you can even use this kind of language, a rather ordinary case of the violation of religious liberty in China. In this case, you are looking at a charge that is tantamount to treason.

Johnson describes it this way, saying that the charge against Mr. Wang and his wife is far more severe than what other leaders have faced, “Inciting subversion of state power is a catchall charge most often used against dissidents and political activists who speak out against the government.”

You are talking here about a very serious charge, but more than that, you are talking about the Chinese Communist Party bearing its teeth again and what we see over and over again in China is the fact that Marxism, communism, shows its face, it shows its fist in the repression of human liberties and human rights, the denial of human dignity, and that happens in so many different arenas, many of them outside the attention even of Christians in the United States.

But this kind of arrest of a prominent pastor on this kind of charge, serves as a warning that religious liberty is not only largely evaporated in China, but it is coming with a draconian crackdown on all forms of religion. Here’s what’s most important from a worldview perspective, it’s a crackdown on any form of thought which is a competition to the cult of personality and the absolutely ideology of the Communist Party in China.

Now there are some very interesting aspects to what’s going on in China, this cult of personality around President Xi, you are looking at the fact that his own thought is now being celebrated, as was the thought of Chairman Mao, the infamous founder, at least in major terms, of the Chinese Communist Party and the communist regime in Beijing. You are also talking about the fact that it is dangerous right now, for instance, if you’re on a major university campus in China, to believe in pure, ideological Marxism. Why? Because the Chinese Communist Party really doesn’t. It is more communist than Marxist. That would take a bit of time to unpack, but let’s just say that you can find yourself in a lot of trouble in China for being an actual Marxist, because in China you have to be the kind of Marxist that is Marxist as defined by the Communist Party. And most importantly right now by the man at the top of that party.

But as you’re looking at threats to the ideological hegemony of the communist regime, there’s no doubt that Christianity is the major competing worldview. There’s also no question that the fears of the Chinese Communist Party about the subversive nature of Christianity are real. Just ask other atheistic empires which have tried to stamp out Christianity.

The background on this pastor, Pastor Wang, is also extremely interesting. The Times reports that before converting to Christianity in 2005, Wang was named one of the 50 most prominent public intellectuals in China. It was in 2008 that he formed this church, known as the Early Rain Church, and its sermons, according to The Times, “Were often extremely topical, touching on what he saw as rampant materialism in Chinese society and the political compromises made by the government-run church.”

The next sentence should have our attention. “He also opposed the common use of abortion in China, a practice pushed by the government as it sought to control the country’s population.” The next sentence, “And he staunchly opposed female pastors, expelling one couple from his church because the wife had studied theology and wanted to preach.”

Now, on these issues and many others, it turns out that this pastor has found himself on the wrong side of the ideology and now of the coercive power of the Communist Party in China. Given the fact that the pastor was rather deliberately and directly challenging the ideology of the Communist Party, he probably expected his eventual arrest. Indeed, he had issued a statement to be released in the case that he had been arrested, which now he has.

But now you also have the news that members of this church are trying to decide how they are going to respond. They have met outdoors at least once and with Christmas coming, The Times says, they are considering meeting, gathering for worship outdoors again, in defiance of the Chinese Communist Party.

Fredrik Fällman, a professor at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, he is an expert on Chinese Christianity. He said, “We’ve had crackdowns before, but not on this scale or with this brutality. They,” meaning the Chinese Communist Party, “want to show they’re in control and you can’t do what you like.”

The paper also rightly notes that there has been a crackdown on Islam. What you are looking at here is the fact that the Chinese Communist Party, committed to communist atheism, dialectical materialism, understands that any teaching concerning theism, any acknowledgement of a Creator God, who created human beings, who created the cosmos, who made human beings in his image, any acknowledgement of a sovereign God who rules and reigns is absolutely incompatible with the ultimate claims made by the Chinese Communist Party for its own leadership.

It’s far too easy for Christians in the United States to allow the threats to religious liberty elsewhere to escape our consciousness, our ongoing attention. But this headline reminds us that there are people right now who claim the name of Christ who are facing imprisonment, legal sanction, criminal charges and worse, simply for confessing the name of Christ and daring to confront the regime publicly.

Part III

Is there a link between moral behavior and public health? How individuality led to an epidemic of loneliness for millions of baby boomers

Next, just a few days ago there was a front page article in The Wall Street Journal, here’s the headline, “More than ever, Americans age alone.” Here’s the sub-head, “Baby boomers are feeling the impact of loneliness which is linked to early mortality.”

The article is by Janet Adamy and Paul Overberg and we have looked at similar stories before, reports that continue to come out linking moral behavior and health outcomes. Many of these stories are actually prompted by reports on public health. That seems to be the case in this story.

It begins by describing a man, who is a retired chemical plant supervisor, who spends most days alone in his Utah apartment. He watches Gunsmoke and sits by a phone that rarely rings. We are told that old age wasn’t supposed to feel this lonely. We are told that this man has been married five times, “each bride bringing the promise of lifelong companionship.” We are then told three unions ended in divorce, two wives died. Now his legs ache and his balance if faulty and he stopped going to church or meeting friends at the Marine Corp League, a group for former marines.

“I get a little depressed from time to time,” he says. But then The Wall Street Journal tells us, “Baby boomers are aging alone more than any generation in U.S. history and the resulting loneliness is a looming public health threat. About one in eleven Americans age 50 and older lacks a spouse, a partner, or a living child, that according to census figures and other research.” As The Wall Street Journal says, “That amounts to about eight million people in the U.S. without close kin, the main source of companionship in old age and their share of the population is projected to grow.”

Now here we have a story that upon reflection turns out to be bigger than we might have thought at first. This isn’t just a public health story, it’s not just a story that gives sociological analysis. There are huge issues here that Christians above all should understand. For one thing, we remember that it was our Creator who said that it is not good for man to be alone. We do understand that of course there will be negative health outcomes to an epidemic of loneliness. But loneliness, we also understand, is not the fulfillment of God’s purposes. Something is broken for an individual, much less eight million individuals in this country, to be experiencing this kind of dangerous and sometimes even deadly loneliness.

But you’ll also note, even embedded in that anecdote at the beginning of this article, is an understanding that there is a breakdown before this breakdown. And this is where Christians understand that’s almost always the case. You have to track one pathology to a previous pathology, and in this case, it’s very easy to understand that it is the breakdown of the family and the breakdown of marriage and it is the breakdown of the relationships between parents and children. Perhaps that most acutely when you think about the generational dynamic that becomes the pathology before the pathology of loneliness.

You will also note that the baby boom generation is particularly identified as experiencing this epidemic of loneliness. But then consider this paragraph embedded inside the story, “The baby boomers prized individuality and generally had fewer children and ended marriages in greater numbers than previous generations. More than one in four boomers is divorced or never married according to census figures. About one in six lives alone.”

Now just consider that for a moment. That is one of the most revealing, if tragic, paragraphs that has appeared in the mainstream media in a long time. Here we have the acknowledgement that baby boomers prized individuality. Well, now maybe we have a problem here and Christians should understand this, individuality is in itself not wrong, so long as it does not become the defining issue. But in so many cases amongst the baby boomers, it became the definitional good.

Let’s just consider the reality that if you prize individuality above all, you are likely to be left to your individual self. Individuality becomes isolation. It becomes loneliness.

But you’ll then notice immediately that there is evidence here of what happens when you abandon that biblical picture of what it means for human beings to live in communion, first of all in the covenant of marriage, and then within the thriving, flourishing context of the family, and you come to understand what this kind of breakdown looks like. Not just for individuals, but for millions of baby boomers. It’s astounding to recognize that figure, 25% right now of baby boomers who are either divorced or never married. That is absolutely incredible. But it also goes a very long way in explaining the very problem that this article addresses on the front page of The Wall Street Journal.

There are some other very significant aspects to this story. For example, there will be a far greater number of baby boom women who are experiencing this kind of toxic loneliness, but that has a great deal to with the fact that women live longer than men. They will live longer to be lonely longer.

One health expert cited in the article says this, “The affect of isolation is extraordinarily powerful.” Christians understand that. The affect the of isolation is extraordinarily powerful. We need social networks, that’s just a blunt sociological and psychological fact. But social networks are themselves very fragile. That’s why we come to understand that God created marriage as the first of those networks, the first institution. And out of marriage and out of the healthy, faithful, monogamous marriage, which is God’s plan and his command, and with the gift of children, there then comes a natural network that is not only reinforced by the community, but is actually deeply and substantially enriched by the outgoing, ongoing life of the family.

And this is where Christians also have to understand that there is no way that a network of relationships outside of the family can have the commitment or the tenacity of the family. And furthermore, there is no way that kind of network can have the generational transfer that comes automatically, biologically, by design in the family. The profiles in this story will absolutely break your heart and also make you appreciate the gift of family and marriage as God gave them to us even more.

Part IV

Why the loss of the Weekly Standard does not make us stronger, but makes us weaker

But finally, in the United States there was big media news over the weekend with the announcement that The Weekly Standard, one of the most important conservative thought journals in the United States, would cease publication. For that matter, it would effectively, almost immediately, cease to exist.

I’m not going to go into the politics of this story, but I’ll simply say that this nation and its conservative movement are not strengthened by having a less vigorous debate than any political movement should have. The Weekly Standard was an important part of that debate. I was an original subscriber going back in 1993.

I would say this of any major thought journal in the United States, its demise and its absence does not make us stronger, it makes us weaker. These are perilous times for virtually any magazine. They turned out to be particularly perilous for The Weekly Standard.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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