briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, September 12, 2019

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

It’s Thursday, September 12, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Pope Francis Acknowledges Potential Schism Coming to Catholic Church — The Liberalizing Pope and His Critics

In one of the strangest comments surely made by any pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis made a statement in recent days saying that he hopes divisions within the Church don’t lead to a schism. As Francis X. Rocca reports for the Wall Street Journal, “The Pope has been criticized by conservative Catholics, many of them Americans, for playing down traditional teachings on marriage, sexuality, and bioethics while focusing on social causes such as climate change and migration.”

According to major sources in the media, the Pope said, “I pray that there will not be schisms, but I am not afraid.” That statement was made, as so many papal statements have been made of a controversial nature, on a plane with reporters either going to or returning from a major papal visit. This time, a papal visit to the continent of Africa.

Just trying to step back and watch what’s going on here, we have to again say this is one of those statements you just don’t expect from a Roman Catholic Pope. You don’t expect the Pope to acknowledge a schism, much less to say that he merely hopes that there isn’t one. The clear implication of the papal statement was that a schism might be better than having to deal with some of the conservative critics that he faces in the church, and in particular from Catholics in North America.

It’s also interesting that in this secular rising age of such low religious literacy, the Wall Street Journal has to define schism even for its relatively well-educated and literate readership. “A schism is the secession of a group of believers, which typically leads to the establishment of a new church.” Rocca then went on to say, “Pope Francis noted that such splits had been a recurring feature in the history of Christianity. ‘There is always a schismatic option in the Church.’” And as the paper says he went on to add, “The path of schism is not Christian.”

If that sounds rather confusing, that’s because so many of the statements of Pope Francis are confusing, not only to non-Catholics but also to Catholics. Here you have a Pope speaking openly of a potential schism, but not so negatively or dismissively as you might expect. What’s behind this? Well, there is a major ideological, theological, and worldview divide now amongst Roman Catholics worldwide. In some sense, that’s always been true given the diversity of Roman Catholicism. But in another sense at this level, it has rarely been true, at least in terms of any kind of sustainable nature.

We’re talking here about the fact that Pope Francis has been on so many issues an unquestionably liberalizing force, and on so many issues that had actually been a primary concern to Roman Catholics in North America. The Roman Catholic leadership in North America, particularly in the United States over the course of the last 30 to 40 years, has been rather stalwartly concerned with the defense of human life, especially unborn human life, and with many other issues that do indeed focus on bioethics and the meaning of life, the dignity of life, human dignity at stake, and of course also the definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

That’s why over the course of the same period, there has been a confluence of interest amongst both American Evangelical Protestants and traditional and conservative Roman Catholics on so many issues of common moral concern: religious liberty, the defense of the life of the unborn, and the definition of marriage and a biblical sexuality. There have also been other issues of common concern, and I mentioned religious liberty, the fact that it is conservative Catholics and evangelical Protestants who are generally on the front line of danger of having those religious liberties conscribed, especially where the issues of the sexual and gender revolution meet issues of Christian and religious conviction.

The Wall Street Journal in a fairly short article documents some of the conservative criticisms of the current Pope. “Conservative Catholic media in the U.S. have aired frequent criticisms of the Pope on various issues.” And the Wall Street Journal goes on also to say that, “The US has been the source of the biggest scandal of the current pontificate, the accusation last year by a former Vatican envoy to the United States that Pope Francis had ignored a history of sexual misconduct by then Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and made him an influential advisor.” As a matter of fact, those are not only charges made by a senior Vatican envoy, but they were also backed up with evidence and documentation.

Jason Horowitz reporting on the same papal plane ride said, “Faced with sustained opposition from Catholic conservatives in the United States who accuse him of driving traditionalists to break with the Church, Pope Francis said on Tuesday that he hopes it doesn’t come to that, but isn’t frightened of it either.”

You could step back just a bit and say that this kind of language hasn’t been this widespread about Roman Catholicism since about the 16th century since the time of the great Protestant Reformation that took place during that crucial 100 years.

There have been schisms in the history of the Roman Catholic Church. Most importantly, going back to the year 1050, the schism between the Western Church and the Eastern Churches, and then the 16th century, the break with the Protestant churches. Even since then, there have been other schisms. But what you’re talking about in this case is a sizable percentage of Roman Catholics in the United States of America who are included amongst those critics, or at least Catholics concerned about this Pope. When the Pope basically says, “I hope it doesn’t come to that, but schism isn’t,” he implies, “the worst thing imaginable.”

Now, in order to understand at stake here, we have to look at a crucial distinction between a Protestant ecclesiology or doctrine of the church and a Roman Catholic ecclesiology. Roman Catholic ecclesiology is based more than anything else, you just might summarize with the word “catholic.” And that’s the claim by the Roman Catholic Church that it is the one indivisible international global church, and that is essential to the identity of Roman Catholicism. In the 20th century, especially in the conference known as Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church officially modified its position, but only slightly to the extent that even though there are true Christians, true believers, the Roman Catholic Church recognizes, outside of Catholicism, there really are no true churches.

By the time the great century of the Reformation, the 16th century, had come to an end, between Protestants and Roman Catholics there were mutual anathemas. That is to say, both said of the other, “That is not a true church. Its doctrine is not true doctrine.” But it is that unitary claim of the Roman Catholic Church that makes it the Roman Catholic Church. That unity being centered on the Pope himself, historically, that sets it off in distinction from any form of Protestantism and especially from the Protestant biblical insistence that the Church is defined first by the Gospel and the Word of God before anything else, and that the true unity is in the preaching of the Gospel, the preaching of the Word of God, the preaching of Christ, not in any kind of ecclesiastical structure.

So if you follow this logic, you understand that among Protestant, among Reformation churches, there can be schisms of a structural or organizational kind, which don’t threaten the very definition of the Church. But you can’t say that about Roman Catholicism, and what makes this stunning news is that the statement wasn’t made merely about Roman Catholicism. It was made by the Pope, who is himself supposed to be the great symbol of what Roman Catholics claim is papal unity.

But here we look at a basic worldview reality, which is that even within Roman Catholicism, making those claims of unity, we do now see the great divergence of worldview that is ultimately irreconcilable. We see that elsewhere. We see it in the great worldview divide between modern secular America and those Americans who hold to a biblical worldview.

Part II

In Poverty and in Wealth? The Reality Many Will Not Admit

But when you look at Catholicism, you are looking at a very, very interesting dynamic, and that takes us to Africa where the Pope went. Why did the Pope go to Africa? Because Africa unquestionably in terms of demography and numbers, well, Africa is the future of world Christianity. Again, Jason Horowitz, the New York Times reporter on the papal trip, offered a report with the headline, “Coming Face to Face with His Church’s Future.” In Horowitz’s summary, “The continent has already become the globe’s most fertile ground for the faithful and priests who are disappearing from Catholicism’s historic centers in Europe. The Roman Catholic Church continues to expand in Africa even as it faces competition from increasingly popular Pentecostal and Evangelical movements.”

Horowitz then wrote, “The Pope’s six day visit to Africa with stops in Mozambique, Madagascar, and Mauritius is an opportunity for him to come face to face with the future of his church.” Fascinating documentation far beyond the issue of Catholicism in Africa is offered in this New York Times article. The article cites the Pew Research Center and a study published in 2017 that estimates that 40% of all who identify as Christian, again, 40%, four out of 10, of all human beings on the planet who claim a Christian identity, will live in Africa by 2060. That’s within the anticipated lifetime of at least many young people listening now to The Briefing.

Africans also tend to be very, very active, far more active than North Americans, not to mention Europeans, in the churches to which they belong. One of the reasons for this massive growth in Africa is the fact that Africa has still a rapidly expanding population. That places in remarkable distinction over against Europe, but also against much of Asia and now North America, as well. At this point, Protestantism vastly outnumbers Catholicism in Africa. As Horowitz says, “Since 1970, the percentage of African Protestants has doubled to nearly 30% of the population or about 340 million people, but that is to be compared with about 170 million Catholics in Sub-Saharan Africa.”

Speaking theologically, any Evangelical Protestant committed to the Gospel would have to note that much of what is counted here as Protestantism is closely associated with the prosperity gospel and other forms of charismatic theology. The New York Times cites Paul Gifford, author of the book Christianity, Development and Modernity in Africa, who the paper says, “Attributed that sharp rise in Protestants in part to Pentecostals adapting better to African cultures and addressing the need for explicitly spiritual rituals.”

“The Roman Catholic Church,” says Gifford, “frowns on such adaptation and has a habit of emphasizing aid over transcendence.” That’s fascinating. This was the first time I have seen that kind of argument made in the international media. According to Gifford, the Roman Catholic Church has turned the Catholic Church in Africa, “into a massive NGO.” That means nongovernmental organization, like an aid organization. That’s also extremely interesting. Again, it runs against what you would expect as the argument made both by and about Roman Catholicism anywhere, much less in Africa.

Both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times also remind their readers that there have been very prominent conservative critics of Pope Francis from within the leadership of Roman Catholicism in Africa, and that raises a different issue. Ross Douthat, columnist for the New York Times years ago wrote that the real dividing line for the Roman Catholic Church is not going to be the River Tiber, that is in Rome, but rather it is the Zambezi River in Africa.

And there you’re looking at that massive worldview conflict. You have Pope Francis who has a very liberal social worldview on so many different issues, and that’s running counter to the expectations of those who live in Africa. African Christianity is not liberal Christianity. African views of sexual mores are not liberal western views of sexual morality. Africa is not confused on many issues that western liberals have been confused about for a very long time. Pope Francis seems to be hedging his bets here. He seems to believe that he needs the money from wealthy and far more liberal Catholics in Europe and North America, but he needs the growth in Africa. But that sets up a head on collision.

But next that takes us to yet another issue. This one also triggered by the papal visit to Africa, in this case, statements that he made in Madagascar. As the Wall Street Journal reported with the headline, “Pope Says Poverty Is Not Inevitable.” The Wall Street Journal reported Pope Francis said poverty isn’t inevitable and that the poor deserve the dignity of work as he visited a rock quarry in Madagascar where hundreds of people toil rather than scavenge in the capital’s biggest dump.

According to the Journal, Pope Francis appealed for new development strategies. Now again, that sounds very haunting considering what the New York Times reported as Roman Catholicism in Africa turning itself into a giant aid agency and having minimized theology and spirituality. But the issue in this segment of The Briefing is to look at the intersection between the Christian worldview and economics. Over the course of the next several weeks, we’re going to look at several dimensions of that issue. Some of it will no doubt be triggered tonight in the major Democratic candidate debate for the 2020 presidential election.

Pope Francis became Pope in 2013. Just two years later in 2015, he released a major papal statement on matters of economics and climate change. But what was revealed in that particular document, Laudato Si’, is that the Pope actually favors, if any form of capitalism, a kind of corporatist capitalism that is a largely government controlled market. And this is also rooted in the fact that Pope Francis is the first Pope coming from the South American continent, in particular from Argentina.

But the statement made by the Pope in Madagascar reveals a major problem. It comes down to a huge question that has massive Christian and theological worldview significance. What is the natural state of fallen humanity? Is it poverty or is it wealth? Which has to be explained? And this is where we come to the basic understanding that seems to be missing amongst so many. It is wealth that must be explained. Poverty needs no explanation. Poverty is the natural state of what happens in a fallen world when nothing happens. Wealth has to be explained by something happening, by someone doing something, selling something, valuing something. It is wealth that requires an explanation, not poverty.

Christians and any others of goodwill would want for everyone, that is every single human being, to have some degree of wealth and for no one to be in poverty. But in a fallen world even Jesus reminds us that the poor will always be with us. That’s not an excuse for Christians not taking care of anyone. It is a statement that until his kingdom comes in fullness, poverty is going to be a reality. It needs no explanation.

It is how anyone develops wealth or comes to wealth or how wealth comes into existence that requires an explanation. That goes back to some of the most important debates in the early church, most importantly in the fourth century. And the church came to the understanding then that wealth was not only that which needed to be explained, but the church and Christians and all concerned with the goodwill of society needed to encourage the things that would lead to the development of value and wealth, and discourage the things that would detract from it.

The Economist of London made the point that the Pope did not find a very receptive audience on matters of economics in Africa. One of the reasons for that is that just about anyone can look around the world and see that government-controlled markets are not doing better than others. They are not creating wealth. They are largely destroying wealth. Evangelical Christians watching what’s going on, not only in Africa but in the larger conversation of the Roman Catholic Church, recognize that many of the same issues divide liberal Protestants from evangelical Christians who hold to a very different understanding in general, not only of issues related to theology, but inevitably what flows out of that, including how it is that wealth is created and what exactly justice would look like or a just economic order.

Part III

Rent Control Coming to California? The Mess Made by Government “Solutions”

So next, this leads us to an apparently unrelated headline, this one in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times. The headline on the front page of the Business Section is this: “Rent Control Legislation Gains Steam in California.”

The reporters tell us, “California’s escalating housing costs have yielded epic commutes and a rising tide of homelessness. Now they are close to producing a political milestone, a vast expansion of tenant protection laws that would cap rents statewide.” Looking to this week in the California Assembly, it turns out that the state senate has already voted to advance a bill that would limit rent increases to 5% a year plus a cost of living adjustment.

The politicians justifying this proposed legislation say that California is facing a housing crisis, and of course, it is. This points to an awkward fact for the political and economic left, which is that the most ardent opponents of what they identify as income inequality tend to live in and even be concentrated in the areas of the country that produce the most income inequality. There is no more graphic example of this than Silicon Valley and San Francisco.

But without looking further at the article, the point here is that the California legislature, in the name of what it would say is justice and helping people, is looking at doing what the governor has called for and that is capping by government authority rent increases. It really doesn’t matter at this point what that cap would be. The point is that government would try to cap it.

Now what could be the problem with that? Let’s just ask the question. If we do want more people to have more, then why wouldn’t we support this kind of government rent control? Why wouldn’t it be good for everyone if we just said, “Look, these rents are going up too fast. The rents are too high. Therefore government will say that rent can’t be $4,000 a month. It’s going to have to be $3,000 a month.” Why doesn’t that help everyone?

Well, the answer is actually quite straightforward. If you want to help someone, you have to do what is genuinely helpful. That might appear to be helpful and even in the short term might help some people, but it wouldn’t help everyone, and it wouldn’t help for long, and it will actually cause great harm. Why is that the case? Well, it is because the underlying issue, once again, what has to be explained is wealth or value. Why would anyone be able to charge $4,000, just to come up with a figure, for an apartment rent? Why?

Well, it will be because it comes down to value. You couldn’t charge that if people weren’t willing to pay it. The fact that people are willing to pay it indicates that that really is a value. So many people want to live in that particular apartment building that they’re willing to pay $4,000 for that apartment. You can by government fiat say it’s only $3,000, but the reality is the value was $4,000, and next year is likely to be more.

Here’s where it gets even more complicated. You can deny that value for a time, but you can’t deny it forever. Eventually the value will present itself. So if you say you can’t raise the rents now in 2019, you’re going to have to deal with what happens when that apartment comes open. You’re going to have to deal with what happens when that building is sold. You’re going to have to deal with what happens when the tax base is artificially low because the value of the property is actually lowered only by government action, not by the reality of the market.

But then it’s even more complicated. Who actually owns that building? Well, you might look at any number of situations and say it’s Mr. A or Mrs. B, but in terms of the larger economy, that building just might be owned as an investment by, for example, the California Teacher’s Pension Fund. It just might be that the suppression of that value and the denial of that income is not something that’s going to affect some nameless, faceless investor in Switzerland. It just might affect the retired teacher next door.

In a fallen world, we expect the financial system to demonstrate sin and fallibility, and not only that, sometimes venality or active evil. We expect there to be all kinds of problems because after all, in a fallen world, there are all kinds of problems. But we need to look to an economic system that will encourage and incentivize the things that lead to wealth, not those actions and those patterns that lead to poverty.

And we have to recognize that when government turns interventionist like this, it rarely, if ever, makes anything better. It almost always, if not always, makes things worse. There is no society in which the economic system is totally free of some kind of government restraints, and for that matter even government action. But the reality is, the more government action, the less economic activity.

Part IV

The Lethal Obsession of the Pro-Abortion Movement: California Expected to Provide Abortion Pills on Public University Campuses

But next we’re going to stay in California as National Public Radio’s reported, California is again considering making abortion pills available at public colleges. April Demboski is the reporter in this story. The bottom line of it is this: You have the California legislature attempting now to adopt legislation that would require the health clinics on California state university campuses to make medical abortion, as it’s called, that means the abortion pills, available without costs, with easy access to the students enrolled in those systems.

But here’s where it really gets bizarre when you notice the lethal intensity and determination of the abortion rights movement in the United States. One study that was cited by the legislature indicates that without this provision, students might have to go as far as six miles in order to find a government-funded clinic that would make the same pills available.

Let’s just consider what’s going on here. You have an abortion rights regime absolutely determined to make abortion so widely available and government funded that no woman, they would argue, should have to go even six miles in order to obtain that kind of lethal medication for the baby. That very determination, this monomaniacal determination, is made clear by NPR when it reports, “Insurers are already required to cover abortion under California law, and state tax dollars do go toward abortions provided through Medi-Cal, the state version of Medicaid for low income patients.”

At least some in the pro-abortion movement were honest enough to say that this is a largely symbolic action because they want to push the abortion agenda and to normalize it and to create political momentum not only in California, where that momentum is monumental, but also nationwide. Phoebe Abramowitz, identified as part of the student team that launched the campus campaign for medication abortion, said, “Now that we’re doing statewide advocacy, we’re hoping to set a national precedent that we can, even in these really hostile times to women and queer people, move access to abortion forward. It’s more important now,” she said, “than it even was a year ago.”

And a final thought upon which we will expand as we look further at the engagement of the Christian worldview with matters of economics, when you look at abortion and economic growth, you are not looking at unrelated issues. The campaign to destroy human life in the womb has also been a campaign to reduce the number of economic citizens, to reduce economic growth.

The biblical worldview makes very, very clear that human flourishing and the glory of God go together, and they go together beginning in Genesis 1 with being fruitful and multiply, and filling the earth, and recognizing human dignity and that a part of human dignity is the dignity of work, giving birth to additional image bearers, human beings who will work and make a contribution and increase wealth and decrease poverty. For about 200 years now, the left has been arguing that more babies means more poverty. But as we shall see, the reality is that fewer babies means more poverty. We’ll take a closer look at that truth in days to come.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

Speaking of the Christian worldview, this is a very exciting time to be a student at Boyce College, and I want to invite you or someone you know to attend Preview Day on Friday, October 11th. On Preview Day, we’ll invite you to tour the campus to meet our nationally recognized faculty and learn about our 19 academic undergraduate programs. We’ll provide hotel lodging and meals. Listeners to The Briefing can register for free by using the code “The Briefing.” Again, you can attend Boyce College’s Preview Day on October 11th at no cost by registering at and using the code “The Briefing.”

Boyce College is an institution, I’m proud to say as President, that is absolutely determined to raise up a new generation grounded without compromise in the totality of the Christian biblical worldview. I’ll hope to see you there.

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’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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