briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

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

It’s Wednesday, October 23, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Fractured Politics in Four Countries in One Week: A Crisis in Government as Sign of the Times

One of the worst disasters to befall a people is for the nation to become a failed state. That is the case in some areas around the world. We have seen regimes fall. We have seen civilizations crumble and societies become basically ungovernable and inoperable. Recently, analysts around the world have spoken of Sudan in recent years, and also Yemen, even in the current as being an example of a failed state. The countries we will consider today are profoundly not failed states. They have operational societies, there’s no question about that. But it raises a different issue and that is a failure of government. Because in at least four countries right now, we are looking at a failed government.

When you consider the nation of Canada, it was on Monday the nation went to the polls in a federal election and we saw a great clash of worldviews, but not exactly the same kind of clash of worldviews we see in the United States. In the Canadian federal election, we saw the Liberal Party headed by the current prime minister, Justin Trudeau, face off over against the Conservative Party headed by Andrew Scheer.

The big surprise in the Canadian electoral picture, was the fact that the conservatives having been displaced in the last Canadian election, had appeared at least to draw even with Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party. Lots of reasons for that — the central reason was the controversial and polarizing figure of Justin Trudeau himself.

He became the youngest prime minister of Canada in the last election, and he won office with a rather massive liberal majority in the Canadian parliament. All of this had a great deal to do with nostalgia concerning his late father, the former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, but a lot of the controversy also had to do with the fact that Justin Trudeau created moral controversy about himself when photographs forced the revelation that even in recent years he had participated in what was described as black face and brown face performance.

He was also mired in political scandal and furthermore, he didn’t deliver on his liberal promises. That would seem to be enough to ensure at least the likelihood of a conservative victory. But when we look at the conservatives, even as they did draw unexpectedly near to Trudeau in the final polling, the reality is that the conservatives spent a good deal of their time trying to promise Canadian voters that they are not conservative in the conservative sense that American conservatives are.

In particular, many analysts pointing to the fact that Justin Trudeau won a plurality of the seats in the parliament in the election Monday — that means his party won more seats than any other party, and thus the Prime Minister will have to establish a minority government.

But the point is that the conservatives, many analysts explain, came up short precisely because they didn’t quite convince liberal Canadian voters that they would not press conservative social issues, in particular, the issue of abortion and beyond that, same sex marriage; and thus that just points to the fact that Canada at large is a far more liberal country than the United States, where the conservatives there are not really analogous to the conservatives here.

But the point is that Justin Trudeau came short. His party won 157 seats in the Canadian parliament, but that is 13 seats short of a majority, which means he’s going to have to form a coalition with another party and the only two parties that are even obvious would include the New Democratic Party to Trudeau’s left, estimated to have won about 24 seats, and the separatist Quebec Party, which was expected to win about 32 seats, which makes the Quebec separatist party, of all things, the most likely party to join with Justin Trudeau’s liberals in order to form a new majority, a rather brittle majority, and not to say a rather odd majority, awkward to say the least with Justin Trudeau’s liberals. If that coalition were to come together in partnership with a party that represents a desire for Quebec to separate from Canada altogether.

Meanwhile, in Great Britain on both Monday and Tuesday, further developments in the Brexit picture even as the deadline for withdrawal at present still remains October the 31st. At least on paper right now, if nothing happens, Britain will exit the European Union the last day of October. But it’s almost certain that something will happen, but it’s not at all clear what might happen. Boris Johnson himself is now prime minister, head of a minority government and he can’t even get his own party, also split between those who are more European and those who are more British in their primary sentiment, and thus it appears to be a massive stalemate.

The frustration is that there are now those who are asking openly if Britain’s governmental system, its unwritten constitution, has become unworkable. There is no obvious way for the government to move forward. A deadline is looming and yet there is no clear sense of any mechanism by which any decision making would actually take place. We have considered the vast worldview issues that are implicated in the Brexit question.

But then we turn to Israel where the big news this week is that the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu — who has headed a government with the largest party being his own party, the Likud Party — Benjamin Netanyahu, the longest serving prime minister in Israeli history, had to concede earlier this week that he was also again unable even to form a government. Netanyahu and his Likud Party and Benny Gantz and his Blue and White Party, polled almost even in a second Israeli election that was made necessary just months after the first election, because after the first election, Netanyahu was unable to form a government, nor was anyone else able to form a government.

So there was a second national election and now Netanyahu again has been unable to form a government. We’ll see if Benny Gantz can actually do so. But most people who observe Israeli politics closely think that Gantz has an even lesser opportunity than Netanyahu to form a government. And if Gantz can’t form a government in a reasonable amount of time, then Israel will be forced into the humiliating position of having a third national election just to try to elect a government.

In several of these situations, what we need to note is that it is not the breakdown of a two party system, but the reality that even greater chaos can happen with multiple parties in play. The existence of multiple parties that are actually involved in the election in gathering a significant number of seats, this makes it all the more unlikely that a majority can form a government that will have lasting power.

If Justin Trudeau is able to form a minority government in Canada, the likelihood is it won’t last long. That’s not a sign of national stability. The same thing would be true in Israel.

Part II

Northern Ireland Legalizes Abortion and Same Sex Marriage . . . Or Did It? How Moral Revolution Came From London

But next, we’re going to turn to Northern Ireland and what we are going to see here in the headlines from this week is the intersection of abortion and governmental breakdown and also the issue of same sex marriage.

The headline that comes, for example, from the Washington Post, “Northern Ireland Legalizes Abortion and Same Sex Marriage.” This is massive news. When you’re talking about Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom, you are talking about one of the most notoriously, some would say, and famously, others would say, morally conservative societies and cultures on earth.

If you’re thinking about a gradation of societies from the most conservative to the most liberal, in the European context, you would put Northern Ireland amongst the most conservative. Before the news that produced this week’s headlines, Northern Ireland had one of the most restrictive, that means pro-life, laws on abortion to be found anywhere in the Western world. And until these same events, Northern Ireland also continue to define marriage as, and only as, the union of a man and a woman.

But now all of that, in one vast revolutionary move, has been cast aside. And now as the headline tells us, Northern Ireland has legalized abortion and same sex marriage, except it really didn’t. And that’s an even, perhaps, more important story.

Amanda Ferguson for the Washington Post tells us, “When the clock struck midnight in Northern Ireland, early Tuesday, abortion and same sex marriage became legal marking a historic shift for this traditionally conservative territory. The changes were all the more controversial,” she writes, “because they were initiated by law makers in London.” That turns out to be a huge story, but we continue the Washington Post report.

“On Monday, there were demonstrations of celebration and defiance.” As I said, at the beginning of this week Northern Island had one of the most pro-life systems of law, the most anti-abortion to be found anywhere in the Western world. All that’s now swept away — also the law defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

So what does this headline mean when it tells us Northern Ireland has legalized abortion and same sex marriage? Well, that’s not actually what the story tells us because even as the Washington Post reported, these moves were controversial, even more so “because they were initiated by lawmakers in London.” So the British parliament acted in order to legalize same sex marriage and also to legalize abortion in Northern Ireland. Why didn’t the vote take place in Northern Ireland? Well, it’s another story of failed government.

Over the course of the last several decades, Britain has undergone a form of so-called devolution. The United Kingdom has recognized in Northern Ireland, and in Scotland, and in Wales, the right of those territories to establish their own parliaments. They don’t have sovereignty, but they do have a huge responsibility for legislation within Northern Ireland, and Scotland, and Wales.

But in Northern Ireland, that parliament hasn’t been able to meet for roughly three years because it is torn asunder by rival factions, the Unionists and the Republicans. They differ about their intended future for Ireland, and so they are not even meeting as a government. That created a vacuum, it gave the British parliament an opportunity, and under pressure — this takes us back to the Brexit issue — under pressure from other Western nations and the international court of justice, well, the British parliament moved to liberalize abortion law and marriage law in one fell sweep and thus in just a matter of hours in Northern Ireland, supposedly one of the most conservative societies in Europe, same sex marriage and liberalized abortion laws, well, they just came and they came in a big way in the early hours of Tuesday morning of this week.

But if you look at just the last couple of years, and you consider the Republic of Ireland to the South and then Northern Ireland, part of Great Britain to the North, you will see that in both of these societies, both traditionally very conservative in moral terms, there has been another form of revolution and that leads to the receding moral authority of religion, in particular, historic Christianity in those realms.

If you go to Ireland, just remember the fact that Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, had a very conservative abortion law and it also had laws defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. But there was a massive moral shift in the Republic of Ireland that is the major Irish nation to the South, and in the Irish Republic, voters voted themselves to legalize same sex marriage.

In fact, the Irish voters were the very first people in any nation to legalizing same sex marriage by vote, and then even more recently, they voted as a people in a national referendum to liberalize, and radically so, the abortion laws in Ireland. One of the things we noted is that it was the receding authority of the Roman Catholic Church and historic Christian morality, the definition of marriage and the understanding of the sanctity of human life, a radical secularization that took place in the span of one generation that explains how that moral U-turn could be taken. But now the moral U-turn has happened in Northern Ireland. Again, part of great Britain, but it didn’t happen, as the headlines would imply, because legislators in Northern Ireland decided this, rather it was the British parliament in London seizing the opportunity by the political breakdown there in Northern Ireland.

It’s also apparent that Northern Ireland is liberalizing and secularizing to a certain degree, like the Irish Republic, it now counts about 41% of the population as Catholic, 19% as Presbyterian, 14% as the Church of Ireland. That together is about 74 to 75%. That leaves 25% other. But here again, you see this increasing secularization and you also see the fact that continuing in Northern Ireland, there are many who identify with these religious affiliations, but it really doesn’t mean much about their own worldview. But make no mistake, this headline news about Northern Ireland is a very big story. It’s a signal event in the moral shifts we are watching all over the world.

Part III

Municipal Virtue Signaling in the War Upon the Unborn: San Francisco Bans Travel Contracts with Twenty-Two States Because of Pro-Life Laws

But next, we come back to the United States, and in an odd way, we ask the question, is it better to have a government that doesn’t work or a government that does work? When you look at the city government in San Francisco, that’s actually a very interesting question.

The fact is that in Canada and in Britain, in Israel and in Northern Ireland, we’re looking at the failure of a government, and factionalism is at least one of the causes. There’s really not much factionalism in the city government of San Francisco. It’s so overwhelmingly Democratic and overwhelmingly, we need to point out, of the most liberal variety of Democrats, that another kind of headline make sense. “City to Restrict Travel Contracts with States That Have Anti-Abortion Policies.” This is coming from the San Francisco Chronicle and it really tells us something not only about San Francisco, but about what the people there want to see as America’s moral future.

The Chronicle story tells us, “The city of San Francisco will no longer do business with at least 22 U.S. States over their anti-abortion policies, Mayor London Breed announced Wednesday,” that would be last Wednesday. “The ordinance, first introduced by supervisor Vallie Brown back in July, bars city employees from traveling on city-funded trips to those states and prohibits the city from contracting with companies whose headquarters are located in those states. Of the twenty-two states, nine were already in a city-banned list due to their anti-LGBT laws.

Speaking of the decision, the mayor of San Francisco said proudly, “Everyday in the country women’s reproductive rights are threatened and we have to fight back. Just as we restricted spending with states that have laws that discriminate against LGBTQ people, we are standing up against states that put women’s health at risk and that are actively working to limit reproductive freedoms.” The mayor continued, “By limiting travel and contracting with certain states, we are sending a clear message to states that disregard the right to abortion.”

Now as we think about the very deep moral divide in the United States, the massive divide over worldview and an issue like abortion at the center of that divide, let’s do step back for a moment and recognize that what we are observing is a major United States city say that it’s not going to do business with companies that are headquartered or with organizations that might require travel to twenty-two states of the United States of America.

There are only, I remind you, fifty states. This means twenty-two of them, more than 40% of the states. San Francisco says it is now taking a brave moral action to protect what it defines as women’s reproductive health. It’s not going to do business with or allow state travel to, “Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.”

The States of Alabama, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and South Dakota, and Texas were already on the banned list in San Francisco because of what was described as anti-LGBTQ legislation or policies. Put that all together and the people of San Francisco are making a very extensive, let’s just say, statement about with whom they will and will not do business.

Vallie Brown, the supervisor who initiated this new legislation said, “At a time when reproductive rights are being attacked from Washington and state houses across the country, it is imperative that San Francisco step up and fight back.” She continued, “By restricting travel to states with restrictive abortion laws and that limit access to reproductive health, we are showing our commitment to women, trans men, and nonbinary people in San Francisco and across the country.”

Now, wait just a minute. I had to read that over again. That’s a very odd list. She speaks a commitment to women, trans men, and nonbinary people. Who’s on that list? Well women, trans men, and non-binary people. Who’s not on that list? Well trans women, but it’s not clear that they’re not on the list because we are talking about a supervisor in the city of San Francisco and she wouldn’t possibly leave trans women out, so she must be putting trans women in with women, but she’s not putting trans men in with men. And as for men — that is men men, those who are born men and identify as men — they are certainly not on the list of those about whom there is any concern. The city government isn’t speaking up for them. But the twenty-two states that are now on the naughty list, in the view of San Francisco and abortion, it also includes at least one huge surprise and that is that in the middle of the list is the state of Massachusetts.

Wait just a minute. How did Massachusetts get on this list? In Massachusetts, you have very liberal abortion laws. In Massachusetts, you have a state that extends its Medicaid funding to pay for abortions for indigent women. But when you consider the fact that California as a state just recently in the last few days adopted legislation signed by the governor that requires the public universities in the state to pay for and to distribute the abortion pills on campus, even a very liberal state like Massachusetts can find itself on the naughty list of the city of San Francisco.

But of course in moral terms, the most important issue here is that San Francisco is effectively declaring war upon the unborn to the extent that it’s even going to forbid city-organized and sponsored travel to states that have virtually any restrictions on abortion, even Massachusetts, and they’re also of course targeting those states that in their view — and that would be in the view of San Francisco — have restricted laws or policies considering those identified as LGBTQ.

Now, another interesting dimension to note about this news story is that the city council there, the city government in San Francisco seems to have focused on two and precisely two issues, with this kind of restrictive policy. The issues would be, those arrayed LGBTQ and the issue of abortion.

Now, remember that so many in the media keep turning to conservative evangelicals and those others who hold to a traditional morality and saying, “Why are you so focused on these two issues?” But so far as I know, there’s not a single city anywhere in the Bible belt or in the states that are listed here, any of the twenty-two states that forbids, for instance, doing city business with the city of San Francisco or the state of California, even though those states are notoriously liberal and in many ways, contradictory to the morality and the legislation of those cities or states.

This tactic of restriction-ism seems to be a new tactic of the cultural left, the political left in this country. In adopting this kind of policy, the city of San Francisco is trying to signal not only to its employees and its citizens, but to the massively influential corporations that are in San Francisco and depend upon San Francisco, you better get in line with this kind of policy. We need to punish those states that will not join the moral revolution. We’re going to punish them culturally. We’re going to isolate them politically. We are going to try to shame them by this kind of legislation and then we will hit them where it hurts — in the economy.

But that’s when we need to raise a final issue related to this news story from San Francisco. Is it, for instance, true that the city of San Francisco would adopt this kind of policy and take this kind of hard line, this kind of very clear moral messaging over against for, well, let’s just consider China, a repressive government or totalitarian regime that crushes human freedom and denies human dignity? You would think that if the city of San Francisco is going to come up with a naughty list, that certainly China would be on that list. China that had for so long its notorious one child policy, forced sterilization, forced abortion. You go down the list. You would think that China would be on such a list, but then again, no you wouldn’t because San Francisco is not about to risk its economic future in doing business with China, nor is neighboring Silicon Valley. You can absolutely count on that.

This kind of city virtue signaling is addressed to states like Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana. You remember the list, but not, we should note very carefully to China.

Part IV

Late Night Television Gets Political: The News Isn’t Enough for Americans Anymore — We Now Need Political Entertainment Too?

But finally also thinking in observation about the United States, Monday’s edition of the New York Times came with an interesting headline, “As News Drives Late Night, Anchors Join A-list.”

It really is an interesting story by John Koblin reporting. He writes, “The formula for success on the big late night network television shows used to be simple: keep it light, keep it moving, and book a major star, preferably one in the news. But now,” he writes, “with impeachment in the air and the 2020 presidential campaign underway, the shows that do best are the ones that don’t shy away from politics and the guests who deliver big ratings are political figures and news commentators.”

The report then documents by giving the example of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert — that show is on CBS — and Colbert is now the most viewed late night host and has been since 2017. And he and his program have been doing very well in this age of political disruption and political mania, but one of the most interesting aspects of this news story is that one of the most viewed recent episodes of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert featured the appearance of another newscaster, in this case someone who is supposed to be a more serious newscaster than Mr. Colbert, that would be Rachel Maddow of MSNBC.

According to the New York Times, 4.6 million people watched that episode of Late Night. Their article goes on to tell us that these late night programs that had been about entertainment and light comedy and celebrity, they are now becoming overtly political. And the ones that are growing the most are the ones that are most political and every single one of them political pointed to the political left.

Late night television emerged in the golden age of black and white television and then grew thereafter with programs like the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, previously with Jack Paar, later by Jay Leno. That program and many other stayed studiously away from politics. If a political figure did appear, it wasn’t about politics and wasn’t allowed to become political. The shows stayed away from divisive issues, and the audience of so many of those programs tended towards the older section of the adult population. They were the ones who were up that late.

But increasingly in recent decades, the programs have become far less focused upon lighthearted comedy, far more focused upon satire and political commentary and far more directed towards the racier end of the entertainment spectrum and towards younger viewers who are the gold standard for advertisers.

But the big issue of worldview analysis in this particular article is the fact that those who talk about the news are now appearing as guests on other supposed news programs because we are becoming increasingly a nation that not only watches people giving the news and commenting on the news, but now interviewing other people who aren’t making the news but are themselves commenting on the news.

Rob Burnett, who had been an executive producer for the Late Show with David Letterman, he said, “We usually booked politicians and pundits every few months when there was something newsworthy.” He said, “Now there’s something newsworthy eleven times a day.” He also spoke quite candidly of the fact that when he and others in that program booked a politician or someone to talk about the news or a newscaster, it was because they were “desperation moves.”

But this kind of report isn’t just about changes and transitions in late night television entertainment. It reveals something even more basic about changes in the American heart, changes in American humor patterns, changes in American politics. We are becoming so consumed about politics that we will watch news programs and we will pay attention to competing talking heads as we choose network by network and then to entertain ourselves, we see some of those very same people entertain us by interviewing each other.

And furthermore, we have to note that on virtually none of those programs is there any real debate about the real issues in which there is real concern to have a thoughtful, insightful, and honest conversation.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at You can find me on Twitter by going to For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, please go to

I’m speaking to you from Raleigh, North Carolina, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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