briefing, Albert Mohler

Friday, June 14, 2019

It’s Friday, June 14, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Human Rights Under Fire in Hong Kong: What’s Really Behind the Massive Protests

International developments demand our attention. First, we turn to Hong Kong, officially defined as semi-autonomous, a special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China. Right now it’s the scene of protests that are growing day by day. Estimates are that over the several days, protests in Hong Kong have approached crowds of over a million people. Why the protest? The bottom line is that increasingly over the last several years, communist China has been tightening its grip on what was promised to be, at least, a semi-autonomous unit, that special administrative region of the country. The history of that has to go back to about 1842 at the end of the First Opium War when the United Kingdom, the British Empire, took possession of Hong Kong from the Chinese government, and it later added the Kowloon Peninsula.

Hong Kong, situated there on the eastern side of the Pearl River estuary, is one of the prime pieces of real estate on the entire planet of earth. It is incredibly valuable, not only for the inherent real estate and the ground that it controls, but even more so, because over the centuries, Hong Kong has emerged as a vital financial center, and it is so even today. But even as the United Kingdom gained possession of Hong Kong as a territory in 1842, in 1898 the United Kingdom entered into a treaty with China that established a 99 year lease for Hong Kong. The British Empire had Hong Kong as a part of the empire for 99 years, beginning in 1898. Of course, at the end of the 19th century no-one foresaw that China would become a communist nation, but nonetheless, Britain turned Hong Kong back to the Chinese in 1997. And again, China agreed as a part of the treaty of the transfer of Hong Kong back to China, that Hong Kong would become a special administrative region.

Now, before we turn to the current protests, let’s just consider the history here, especially in worldview analysis. Consider what happened over the course of just over 100 years. Hong Kong went from being a part of traditional pre-modern China, to becoming a part, at least by extension, of the British Empire. It thus exchanged one worldview for another. The governing authorities in Hong Kong, during the era of Britain’s rule of Hong Kong, were basically established by the norms of Western democracy, and thus you had Western values, Western understandings of human rights, Western understandings of citizenship, Western understandings of morality and the limitations of government. All that began to shape the culture of Hong Kong, you could state, from the middle of the 19th century all the way to the end of the 20th century. But then the world looked with trepidation as Britain handed Hong Kong, already one of the major financial centers of the world, back to China.

China was then communist. The communist party in China made assurances about the continuation of Hong Kong, basically as at least a semi-autonomous unit of China. China is the sovereignty, but they agreed that western norms of human rights and human dignity, most importantly, western structures of law in the courts, would continue in Hong Kong. Basic freedoms that Hong Kong residents had experienced were to be continued. But no-one really believed that was going to happen, and there was great push back in Britain about turning Hong Kong back over to China, now under communist rule.

And now some of the most dire predictions about what would happen when China regained sovereignty over Hong Kong, they’ve come to pass. As the Wall Street Journal reporters Natasha Khan, John Lyons and Mike Bird reported, the protests that followed mass demonstrations by as many as a million people on Sunday “is the biggest outbreak of public unrest in years and comes as the administration of President Xi Jinping of China moves to bring the former British colony closer to the mainland. At issue is a widely unpopular bill that would allow extradition of alleged criminals to China from Hong Kong, which critics fear will be abused by Beijing for political ends.”

Keith Bradsher of the New York Times reported the story this way: “An attempt by Beijing’s hand-selected chief executive in Hong Kong to push through a bill seen as a threat to civil liberties. A defiant crowd of hundreds of thousands marching against it. The deployment of the police to keep demonstrators out of the legislature.”

He summarizes, “It has been a tumultuous few days for Hong Kong.” He continues talking about the legislation that is “being championed by Hong Kong’s current leader, Carrie Lam, a long-time civil servant chosen two years ago by Beijing to head the territory.”

Now what’s important here to note is that she was hand-picked by the communist party in Beijing. So here you have Beijing’s hand-picked executive over Hong Kong, trying to push through legislation that is desired by the communist party in Beijing that would allow Beijing to extradite those who are charged with criminal offenses in Hong Kong, removing them from the Western system of courts and the legal defenses of Hong Kong, and being able to treat them quite differently, in accordance with the judicial patterns of communist China.

So here we see that clash of worldviews, worldviews represented by two different systems of justice, two different structures of courts. Here’s where it’s important for Christians to understand that the basic worldview, one way or another, the understanding of reality, the understanding of authority, the understanding of law, the understanding of the rule of law, and the limitations of government, those will eventually establish different patterns of criminal law and different patterns of courts, different understandings of the rights of the accused, and of the process by which courts should adjudicate. The legislation demanded by Beijing, could basically threaten to turn 7.4 million inhabitants of Hong Kong into, what would be in effect, political prisoners, threatened at any point with extradition to China to be tried in Chinese courts, not in Hong Kong.

At several points over the last couple of decades, China has pressed for this kind of legislation, or a similar kind crack-down, only to back off after demonstrations. Why? Well, that’s because, even as China, in its insatiable appetite, the appetite of the communist party, wants total control in Hong Kong and wants to remove any opportunity for political dissidence there in Hong Kong, it also needs the revenue coming from Hong Kong as one of the most important financial centers on the globe. And thus, the Chinese communist party continually has to balance two different desires. The desire of absolute political control, and the desire to have that continuing financial revenue.

There’s another issue here. The Chinese communist party is after all, communist. But Hong Kong, as an international center of finance and business, is decidedly not communist. It is one of the most graphic demonstrations of global capitalism imaginable. But here we also see a demonstration of political repression, for which China is now quite infamous under communist party rule. And we’re also looking at the fact that when you have a totalitarian regime, it is totalitarian because it wants total control. As we noted just days ago on The Briefing, we are even now observing the 30th anniversary of the Chinese communist party, cracking down on protestors in Tiananmen Square, leading to what is now infamously known as, the Tiananmen Massacre. But it’s also interesting to think about the fact that, that took place, that massacre, 30 years ago when the shots rang, and the tanks rolled. That was before the revolution in social media.

There’s a huge question here, not only politically, not only in the clash of worldviews, but even in terms of social technology. Will the Chinese communist party dare now to move with such repression and such a crackdown in the age of social media? The frightening thing is, that there really is no reason to believe that it would not.

Part II

The Looming Threat of Iran: Will a Worldview Clash Become a Shooting War?

The other big story on the international scene is increasing tension between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. The question is whether those tensions will now lead to an open confrontation, and perhaps even war. All of this became very clear yesterday with the images that came of two ships burning in the Persian Gulf, very close to the Straits of Hormuz. The reason for that is that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pointed the finger directly at Iran for either conducting or sponsoring the attacks on international shipping. Again, there’s a big story in the background here, a huge conflict of worldviews.

We have to consider the fact that when we talk about Iran, we’re really talking about ancient Persia. It is one of the most ancient civilizations on Earth, and now continue, at least in modern form, in the nation of Iran. It includes 81 million people. And since the Islamic Revolution of 1978 through 1979, led most importantly by Ayatollah Khomeini, it is now the Islamic Republic of Iran. And what makes that very important, is not only the fact that it is an Islamic Republic representing the leading edge of revolutionary Islam in the late 20th century, but the other thing important to note here is that Iran is a Shiite civilization. That is, it is based upon, not just Islam, but the Shiite variant of Islam. Islam is divided between two different main variance, Sunni Islam and Shia Islam, or Shiite Islam.

Sunni Muslims represent the vast majority of Muslims on the planet now, and throughout Islamic history beginning in the 8th century. But it’s also important to recognize that there is a very fundamental theological distinction between the Sunnis and the Shia. Most importantly, the Sunnis consider the Shias to be heretics, and thus there has been an ancient rivalry that has often erupted into graphic war between the Sunnis and the Shiites within Islam. It’s important to note here, that even you fast forward from ancient history to the present, you are looking at the fact that right now, there’s a very strange alliance in the Middle East against Iran.

Just looking there in the Middle East region, consider this alliance: Saudi Arabia, the UAE, which is the United Arab Emirates, and Israel. What kind of alliance, at least in practical terms, would include Saudi Arabia and Israel? Well, the answer is, an alliance against Iran. That would explain the situation, and that’s what we’re looking at here. Iran is, politically speaking, an existential threat, not only to Israel, upon which it has declared an ambition to annihilate the Jewish state, but also it is a threat to Saudi Arabia and to the United Arab Emirates, and the other Gulf states. Why? Because the revolutionary fervor of Islam that brought about the Islamic revolution in Iran, sees the established monarchies of the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia as decadent, and also un-Islamic.

But there’s another very important issue in the background, even as the Islamic Republic of Iran largely defined itself geopolitically against the United States, infamously taking American hostages in the American Embassy during the Iranian Revolution, it has also established its ambitions to be a nuclear state. It learned lessons over the course of the last several decades, and that is that if you are going to be a state that will set itself against the West in general, and particularly against the United States, then you hedge your bets, so to speak, by developing an independent nuclear arsenal. And yet, when you think about that alliance I spoke about, it’s not the United States that doesn’t want Iran to become a nuclear power, it is decidedly Israel. But not only Israel, it’s also the Arab states including Saudi Arabia, and it’s also Europe.

But once again you see a distinction of worldview between Europe and the United States. The United States far more willing to look at the world in terms that require analysis of who’s a friend and who’s a foe. Europe is far more accommodating to a kind of middle ground. Furthermore, Europe is dependent, as are many other states, on Iranian oil, or at least on a world oil market that depends upon the free flow of Iranian oil, and that brings us to the sanctions against Iran, brought by the United States.

Those sanctions were not begun by President Donald Trump, but they were dramatically increased. And the Trump administration is holding Iran increasingly in a financial vice, and it’s beginning to show. Iran is now looking at a crippled economy, and it’s lashing out. And the lashing out is at least what we believe we are seeing, in those burning ships in the Persian Gulf. The Secretary of State of the United States of America went so far yesterday as to state officially, openly and publicly, that Iran is either conducting the attacks or behind the attacks.

There’s something else here that’s also important in history. As you look at the Persian Gulf, and you consider the flow of commerce, and you think of the old Silk Road on land, that is the ancient trade route that connected the East and the West, the variant of the Silk Road on water, must go through the Persian Gulf. And if you’re going to go through the Persian Gulf, you have to go through very narrow Straits of Hormuz. And on one side of the Straits is the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Iran has even in years past, used it’s naval power to try to shut down, or at least to slow down, international traffic through the Persian Gulf, especially through the Straits. And that’s exactly what’s going on now.

In May, four different ships were attacked. Again, the United States pointed to Iran as the culprit, and as we saw yesterday, over the course of Tuesday and Wednesday, two ships were attacked in a brazen manner, in what are believed to have been equivalent to torpedo attacks, and what’s really brazen, is that they took place in the light of day. One of the two ships attacked and burning on Wednesday was Japanese. And what’s even more brazen about that, is that the attack took place even as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was on a state visit to Iran. What kind of message was that supposed to send? Well, it basically comes down to a show of force and intimidation, with Iran trying to demonstrate to Japan, dependent on Iranian oil throughout much of its history, that its own financial future is at stake if this financial sanctions against Iran are not alleviated. And that means, Japan putting pressure on the United States or perhaps pressure on Europe to bring pressure upon the United States to relieve the sanctions against Iran.

But why are those sanctions there in the first place? It is because, Iran has violated international law and the norms of international diplomacy, by continuing its illegal and state-sponsored effort to develop an independent nuclear arsenal, and given the revolutionary insanity of the Iranian regime, no-one really doubts that if Iran had nuclear weapons, it would hesitate to use them, including against Israel. The United States has stated it will not let that happen. Israel has also stated it will not let that happen. Several years ago an international agreement was put in place, and Iran signed the international agreement, largely brought about by European pressure, in which Iran promised to halt its nuclear experimentation and advance. But it is well known, both in Europe and in the United States, that Iran has been breaking that policy.

Indeed, in one sense it was some form of insanity to believe that Iran would ever comply, but Europe nonetheless, has called for the maintenance of the agreement. But President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the agreement. We are now looking at the real possibility of confrontation, including military action, between the United States and Iran. And the big question is whether it will come and when?

But Christians need to look at this, and even as we look to the region with deep concern, we also understand that we are looking here at what many refuse to acknowledge, and that is a fundamental collision of worldviews between the worldviews of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States of America. They are two incompatible worldviews. Right now, the flash point is whether or not Iran will become a nuclear power. In worldview analysis, the question comes down to this: will a war of worldviews become a shooting war? Those burning ships in the Persian Gulf, if anything at least, indicate that it’s a real possibility.

Part III

Ideas Have Consequences: Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality in the News from the Southern Baptist Convention

But next, we turn back to the United States. Earlier this week thousands of messengers arrived in Birmingham, Alabama, for the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. In the course of the business conducted by America’s largest protestant denomination, there were several actions taken, including significant actions including constitutional revisions in answer to the sex abuse issue. This included provisions whereby a new standing committee would be established to review charges against churches, and then the convention went on to state that it would not allow churches that discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity or in any way condone or protect sex abuse as churches in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention. That’s old constitutional language, but what it means is that the Southern Baptist Convention will not allow churches that violate those norms on sex abuse and on racial discrimination to continue as churches recognized as participating in the Southern Baptist Convention. They would remove them from the convention.

This follows an earlier constitutional action taken years ago in which the Convention established a similar norm when it came to churches that would condone in any way, homosexuality. for instance, in conducting or allowing a same sex marriage.

Addressing the issue of sex abuse was the most important business before the Convention in its annual meeting this year. And the actions taken, which were adopted by vast majorities, are a very significant step forward for the denomination in dealing with this issue. As a fellowship of gospel churches, the denomination had to make very, very clear that it will not tolerate sexual abuse or racial discrimination. Those two issues were of paramount importance as the messengers met in Birmingham, and it was very important that the denomination move forward with that structural change that will allow it to deal with the situation in which a church might be accused of acting or responding inadequately in the event of sexual abuse.

The Convention recognized its responsibility, the responsibility of our churches to protect the vulnerable and also to take decisive action, the right action, when there would be any accusation of sexual abuse in any form. But the convention also gained attention for several of the resolutions that it adopted. Every year the SBC adopts resolutions, statements of conviction, and a judgment, and expressions made public by the convention every year. This year the convention adopted several resolutions, but the most controversial in floor debate was resolution number nine on critical race theory and intersectionality. The resolution presented by the committee, and eventually adopted by the convention states, “Critical race theory is a set of analytical tools that explain how race has and continues to function in society, and intersectionality is the study of how different personal characteristics overlap and informs one experience, and critical race theory and intersectionality had been appropriated by individuals with worldviews that are contrary to the Christian faith, resulting in ideologies and methods that contradict Scripture.”

Later the resolution called upon Southern Baptist to “affirm Scripture as the first, last, and sufficient authority with regard to how the church seeks to redress social ills, and to reject any conduct, creeds or religious opinions, which contradict Scripture.” The resolution also states that “critical race theory and intersectionality should only be employed as analytical tools subordinate to Scripture, not as transcendent ideological frameworks.”

It is not fundamentally wrong to say that intersectionality and critical race theory are analytical tools. What does that mean? It means that they are tools of analysis. Of course they are. They emerged as analytical tools, but they were never merely analytical tools, and in the common discourse in the United States, and especially in public argument, and in higher education, both critical race theory and intersectionality are far more than analytical tools.

Christians should understand as we do worldview analysis that we can deploy certain ideas or certain tools analytically, without adopting the entire worldview. For example, Christians can look with interest at Marxist economic analysis of a consumer society, and just to take one dimension, how a consumer society addresses itself to the seduction of children as consumers. There’s some very interesting analysis that’s done there, and Christians, Christian parents in particular, can look at that and understand, “Yeah, that’s exactly how my children are subjected to advertising and all kinds of messaging coming from a consumer society, wanting to look to my children basically as consumers.”

But at the same time, we cannot possibly separate that from understanding that that very analysis is rooted in a worldview, the worldview of Marxism, a worldview that understands the basic evil in the world, as the oppression of the worker by those who hold capital. And thus, the answer to that is a revolution that would eliminate capitalism, that would eliminate a free market, a free market economy, and would instead, put the state in the position of creating an economically just society, and by coercion, and by state ownership, and by confiscation, in the promise that eventually there would be a communist utopia, which of course never comes.

And we also understand that Marxism emerged as a direct response, a refutation to the biblical worldview, and the doctrine of creation was replaced with materialism, and original sin was replaced with Marxist analysis of economic oppression, and the doctrine of redemption was replaced with the promise of political revolution. You could go on and on. The Christianist eschatology, the kingdom of God, was replaced with a Marxist utopia of the perfect communist society.

When we turn to the resolution adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention, we should be thankful that it establishes very clearly, the supremacy of Christ and the gospel, and the supreme authority of Scripture. We should be thankful that the chairman of the committee stated clearly that, “Critical race theory and intersectionality should only be employed as analytical tools subordinate to Scripture, not as transcendent ideological frameworks.”

But when the resolution stated that critical race theory and intersectionality have been appropriated by individuals with worldviews that are contrary to the Christian faith, the reality is that both intersectionality and critical race theory emerged from worldviews, and from thinkers who were directly contrary to the Christian faith. Indeed, you can draw an intellectual line from Marxist theory to the transformation of Marxism, especially in the middle of the 20th century in European thought, and then you can fast forward to critical legal studies as they emerged in law schools, applying the same kinds of analysis, indeed even denying rationality and objective truth and subjecting legal texts, such as laws and constitutions to that kind of analysis. We can look from critical legal studies to critical race theory, emerging especially from thinkers such as Derek Bell, at the Harvard Law School, during the 1970s.

In critical race theory, Derek Bell argued that the fundamental problem is white supremacy. Whereas, Marx and Ingels pointed to economic oppression, he pointed to white supremacy, which he argued is embedded throughout all of western civilization in its institution and laws. And even as the traditional Marxist, especially in their representation as communists, called for a communist revolution in order to overcome that oppression, so also, even in rejecting the central logic of the civil rights movement, the critical race theorist argued for a revolutionary approach in which they called for a complete transformation of society. And it’s important to note that out of critical race theory, came intersectionality, also in the context of a law school, especially through Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, a professor of law at both UCLA and Columbia.

The argument of intersectionality is that humanity is marked by oppression that is revealed in a pattern of intersecting social identities. This is a very foundational thought to identity politics. The point of intersectionality is the more complex the intersection, the greater the oppression. In other words, an African-American lesbian is less politically powerful and thus more oppressed than even a black male. You can quickly see how all of this has been appropriated by the moral revolution, and it has become an essential tool of the sexual revolutionaries. You also have to understand that critical race theory and intersectionality are now basic fundamentals of thought in higher academia in the United States and in much of Europe.

Both critical race theory and intersectionality are a part of the continuing transformative Marxism, that is now so dominant in higher education and increasingly in policy. And you see this even right now in the debates among the candidates for the 2020 Democratic Presidential nomination. Much of the structure of what they’re actually arguing about comes from critical race theory and intersectionality, and behind that, the critical theory or critical thought that is basically fundamental to the political left in the United States.

I did not want the resolution to say less than it said. I wanted it to say more than it said. I wanted it to acknowledge more clearly the origins of critical race theory and intersectionality. I wanted it to state more clearly that embedded in both of those analytical tools is a praxis, that is a political extension. That’s abundantly clear in the original of both intersectionality and critical race theory, it is also abundantly clear in how they function in higher education and public debate. It is true that both can be deployed as analytical tools. The problem is, as Christians understand, that analytical tools very rarely remain merely analytical tools.

Ideas, as we know, do have consequences, and one of the most lamentable consequences, but the main consequence of critical race theory and intersectionality is identity politics, and identity politics can only rightly be described, as antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have to see identity politics as disastrous for the culture and nothing less than devastating for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thanks to listening to The Briefing.

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I’m speaking to you from Atlanta, Georgia, and I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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