briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

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

It’s Tuesday, October 29, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

The Caliphate without the Caliph? ISIS Leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Dead as a Result of U.S. Operation

The whole world took notice on Sunday morning as the President of the United States, Donald Trump, announced that on Saturday evening forces of the United States military had undertaken a commando raid in Syria that led to the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The president’s announcement began with the words “Last night, the United States brought the world’s number one terrorist leader to justice. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is dead.” In language unusual, but not unprecedented for a President of the United States, the President went on to describe exactly what had happened.

As a team of reporters for the New York Times summarized, “Mr. Trump said Mr. al-Baghdadi was chased to the end of a tunnel whimpering, and crying, and screaming all the way as he was pursued by American military dogs. Accompanied by three children, Mr. al-Baghdadi then detonated a suicide vest, blowing up himself and the children.” As the Times continues, “Mr. al-Baghdadi’s body was mutilated by the blast, but the president said a test had confirmed his identity.”

As the report continues. “Mr. Trump said American forces ferried by eight helicopters through airspace controlled by Russia, with Moscow’s permission, were met by hostile fire when they landed and entered the target building by blowing a hole through the wall rather than to take a chance on a booby-trapped main entrance. No Americans,” we are told, “were killed in the operation, though the president said one of the military dogs was injured.”

This is one of those stories that immediately captures global attention and rightly so, because the Islamic State claimed to be the reestablishment of an Islamic caliphate under the rule of the Quran right in the middle of some of the most contested land anywhere on earth. And of course under al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State earned a reputation for ruthlessness and bloodthirstiness that exceeded almost anything known in the modern world. Many people living in a modern world believed that al-Baghdadi and the Islamic State hearkened back to a pre-modern era when this kind of bloody warfare and this kind of terrorism was more normal and natural. Modern people thought this could not have a place in the modern world, we have to be more sophisticated than this.

But the entire story of the Islamic State and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the story of his demise, all of this brings to light something that Christians must never forget. After Genesis 3, we lived in a violent world, and in some places of the world, at virtually any time, there is a violence that defies human imagination. But of course, the Islamic State under the leadership of al-Baghdadi established a reputation for terrorist acts that shockingly enough, went even beyond previously horrifying terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda, we remember, was responsible for the terrorist attacks in Washington and in New York City on September 11, 2001. But the Islamic State took the argument of Al-Qaeda several steps further than Al-Qaeda. For example, the Islamic State even justified the killing of Muslims were necessary if it would advance the larger Muslim cause.

But most horrifyingly, and of course memorably, the Islamic State, under Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, took the use of media beyond anything imagined by Al-Qaeda, particularly the newly developing social media and of course, the use of video. Some of those videos showing those horrible images of western figures being beheaded or otherwise executed by the Islamic State, clearly intended to send a message of terror, not only there in the Middle East, but throughout the entire world.

The threat undertaken by the Islamic State was that its tentacles could reach just about anywhere and also, unlike Al-Qaeda, it was not isolated into cells that might be identified and isolated, but rather it went to the worldwide Islamic movement inviting young people, particularly young men all over the world, to take up arms and explosives and any form of weapon and to undertake terror attacks even without the authorization or planning of a central command.

The other thing to keep in mind of the Islamic State is that it did claim to be, and at least for some time, was a caliphate claiming to be a defined state. That is a government that would control territory. Al-Qaeda made no such claims, nor did most previous Islamic groups that were identified with the pattern of Islamic terrorism. The Islamic State was a new thing on the scene, and most Americans and Europeans came to know about it in the year 2014.

We now know that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi gained control of the group that would be known as the Islamic State almost a year earlier in 2013, and he remained the most visible expression and the most influential leader of the Islamic State until the American commando raid on Saturday night.

There are so many levels of worldview importance that are revealed in this kind of story. First of all, you have the fact that virtually everyone around the world, though ready to debate whether or not evil actually exists, seems to put that argument on hold in order to identify the fact that whatever Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was, he was evil. The modern mind in the West is now so disarmed when it comes to intellectual combat that many people, particularly in the intellectual elites and amongst the academics and the analyst class, they are hard pressed to explain how anyone can actually act in this way and they try to find some explanation outside the human heart in abstract cosmic forces or more likely, even in sociological or historical arguments. Christians understand that sociology and history is always a part of the equation, but the problem isn’t going to be found in history and the problem isn’t going to be found in sociology. The problem is going to be founded in the human heart.

And those who watched those videos or had any impression of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during the last several years, they came to understand that he understood his acts to be justified for a greater good. The greater good to be the establishment and the expansion of the Islamic State. And he also openly threatened the United States saying that one day the flag of the Islamic State would fly over the White House. And there’s every reason to believe that Al Baghdadi had confidence that his vision would become true. That is because as we tried to explain the evil represented in this kind of personality, we come to understand that he was driven by religious impulses by very clear theological convictions. This was not merely a terrorist state. It was declared to be the Islamic State.

Now, this put a lot of Islamic-dominated countries, and even other Islamist movements, on the spot as they tried to define how they were and were not like the Islamic State. But the fact is that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was making a very clear claim, not only to the establishment of a caliphate, he was also making the claim that all of those other nations identified as Islamic or governments ruling over Islamic people, they were all illegitimate because they fell short of the Quranic definition of an Islamic State and the rule of a Caliph, a leader establishing a caliphate.

How does the secular mind explain an Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi? Well, a team of reporters for the New York Times with the headline story entitled “World’s Most Wanted Terrorist Built ISIS into a Global Threat,” it goes back to his background — and by the way, that’s good journalism, go back to the background and explain how this individual emerged in history. But listen to this, “The son of a pious Sunni family from the Iraqi district of Samarra, al-Baghdadi parlayed religious fervor, hatred of nonbelievers, and the power of the internet into the path that catapulted him onto the global stage. Furthermore,” as The Times points out, “he at one point controlled a territory the size of Britain, and from that territory he tried to direct a worldwide system of terror and terror attacks.”

The point I want to make is that The New York Times described him as coming from a pious Sunni Muslim family. What exactly does that mean? Well, it means, of course, that he came from a family that was very clearly Islamic in identity and he was raised as a boy, not only being raised in an Islamic family, but being sent to an Islamic school and there as a boy he studied the Quran. So when you look at Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, you are looking at an individual raised within the context of Sunni Islam, sent to Islamic schools where he learned the Quran and thus, his worldview was established by the teachings of the Quran — teachings that still, of course, come down to the fact that it is the responsibility of Muslims, in particular Muslim men and boys, to participate in an effort to bring the entire globe and all the peoples of the earth under the Islamic rule, Sharia law.

Here’s where we face another of the major confusions within the Western world. There are so many who want to say that the issue here is not Islam, rather it is merely Islamic terrorism, but we are talking about Islamic terrorism because it is particularly and genetically, Islamic. And furthermore, because those who are making the argument for Islamic terrorism are actually claiming to read word for word and to obey line by line the teachings of the Quran, thus they represent not only a terrorist threat to the West, they also represented a theological challenge to other Islamic cultures and nations.

Al-Baghdadi was clearly driven by the conviction that Islam had been seriously weakened by a loss of its fervor, and furthermore, the loss of territory that was officially ruled as was the caliphate that he established under the name of the Islamic State.

Part II

Intellectual Confusion in the Coverage of al-Baghdadi’s Death: Islamic Terror Presents a Challenge to Secularists

But understanding the inability of many in the West to take Islam seriously, consider the fact that controversy emerged over the changing headline of the story about the attack that was published at the website of the Washington Post. As Jeanine Santucci of USA Today reported with the story headlined, “The Washington Post Faces Backlash For Headline Calling ISIS Terrorist ‘Austere Religious Scholar.’”

The USA Today reporter tells us, “The Washington post is facing backlash after a headline, characterized the Islamic State leader who was killed in a U.S. raid over the weekend as an ‘austere religious scholar.’ The headline was quickly changed, but critics say it sugarcoated the terror inflicted by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.” In another paragraph, USA Today tells us, “The Washington Post article says that when al-Baghdadi first rose as a leader of ISIS, he was a relatively unheard of ‘austere religious scholar’ with wire framed glasses and no known aptitude for fighting and killing’.”

The point is that we need to see two very dangerous responses, two patterns seen very much in the West. The first is the fact that there are so many in the West, especially in the class reporting on these kinds of events and analyzing them, from academics to media figures and beyond, they are so secularized in their own worldview that they really can’t believe that anyone could be driven as al-Baghdadi was driven by this kind of theological agenda.

The second pattern is that the same people seem to demonstrate an intellectual dishonesty when dealing with figures such as those involved in Islamic terrorism. They tried to say, “Yes, this person was a terrorist, no denying that. He acted in evil ways, no denying that. But he isn’t representative of Islam, which is a religion of peace. Rather, they are the exception rather than the rule.”

The New York Times does document the terror in no uncertain terms, “Acting under the orders of a delegated committee headed by al-Baghdadi, the group variously known as ISIS, ISIL, and Daesh imposed its violent interpretation of Islam in these territories. Women accused of adultery were stoned to death, thieves had their hands hacked off, and men who defied the militants were beheaded. While some of those medieval punishments are also meted out in places like Saudi Arabia, the Islamic State shocked people around the world by televising its executions. It also offended Muslims by inventing horrific punishments that are not mentioned in Islamic scripture. A Jordanian pilot was burned alive in a scene filmed by overhead drones. Men accused of being spies were drowned in cages as underwater cameras captured their last tortured gasp. Others were crushed under the treads of a T-55 tank or strung up by their feet inside a slaughterhouse and butchered like animals.”

But then The New York Times goes on to document how under al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State mobilized people far outside of the caliphate. “In this fashion, ISIS was responsible for the deaths of thousands of people around the world,” and The New York Times goes on to document many of those attacks, including some in the United States, including an infamous attack that killed many in San Bernardino, California.

Christians looking at this kind of story must recognize that we, as others, see the Islamic State as evil, but we have to go beyond that. We have to have an account of evil. It isn’t some force that is just set loose in the cosmos. We have to explain what evil is and how we would recognize evil, defined in biblical terms as in absolute opposition to God himself, to his glory, and to his sovereignty.

We would also have to point to the fact that everyone operates out of a theological worldview. Thankfully, few operate out of a worldview so consistently violent as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. But we do have to point to the fact that when you are looking at Islam, you are looking at a direct challenge to Western civilization and not just to Christianity.

But when we look at the president’s announcement on Sunday morning, Christians understand that this is good news — sobering good news — but it is good news that the number one identified terrorist on planet earth has now had his terrorist career ended. And of course, you have the macabre reality that this terrorist leader was willing not only to kill himself with a suicide vest, but three of his own children.

But Christians understand that this does not mean the end of the Islamic State, it doesn’t mean the end of the challenge of Islam, it doesn’t mean the end of Islamic terrorism, and certainly we understand it doesn’t mean the end of evil. Christians affirm that evil will exist until that time when Christ comes to establish his kingdom in full, and, until then, we will face a fight with evil. Christians understand that until that day, all the way up to that day, we struggle with evil that will often now take the form of the face of someone like Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

But at the same time, Christians must remember what the Apostle Paul by the Holy Spirit wrote to the Ephesians, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” And this means that even if a secular world denies this and isn’t even capable of understanding this, we are not merely in a great military struggle, we are also in a spiritual battle.

Part III

The Rights and Responsibilities of Religious Schools: Convictional Belief Is at Stake in Every Decision an Institution Makes

But next, we turn from the news concerning the Islamic State to look at a report from NBC News coming from Indianapolis, Indiana. The headline: “Third Indiana Catholic School Employee Fired in Growing Scandal Over LGBTQ Staff.” Tim Fitzsimons reports, “A former social worker at an Indianapolis Catholic high school says she was fired for making public statements in support of LGBTQ colleagues who were terminated.” Kelly Fisher told the Indianapolis Star, “If you publicly support, you know, being against discrimination, you too can be a victim of losing your job.”

The storyline is this, “Fisher, who is straight, and had been assigned to Roncalli High School, thinks that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis moved to have her fired because of two Facebook posts she shared in support of two lesbian guidance counselors who had worked at Roncalli for years before they were fired.” We discussed that development thoroughly on The Briefing some weeks ago.

The story at NBC continues, “The Archdiocese of Indianapolis had previously said in a statement that the Supreme Court ‘has repeatedly recognized that religious schools have a constitutional right to hire leaders who support the school’s religious mission.'” NBC News then cites Kelly Fisher, the now fired, we are told, former social worker as saying that the Indianapolis Archdiocese is, “Trying to say anyone who works for a Catholic school, that we are ministerial employees and yet I have no training in it. I’m not a priest, I’m not a minister, and they have tried to say, I’ve had training and I am a minister.” She said, instead, she is a trained counselor. “I meet you where you’re at and value judgments don’t come into our session because that’s not what counseling and social work is.”

Huge worldview issues here that Christians should notice and notice very carefully. First of all, you have not only the right, but the responsibility of a religious school to be as religious as the religious movement that started it. You’re looking at the fact that a Catholic high school has every right and responsibility to be Catholic, and of course that’s extended by the logic that an evangelical school has every right and every responsibility to be genuinely evangelical, a Jewish school has the responsibility to be genuinely Jewish. The modern world with this progressive impulses, its liberalizing and secularizing tendencies, wants to make every Jewish school less Jewish, every Catholic school less Catholic, and, of course, every Christian school less Christian. The kind of press coverage you have here is one example of how those pressures are brought.

But let’s look at the story. We’re looking at the fact that the Catholic school system and the Archdiocese has identified the fact that the Supreme Court of the United States, in a decision handed down just a few years ago, ruled that teachers and others with responsibility for the spiritual wellbeing of students in religious schools, they can be considered by extension as ministerial in their responsibility. That doesn’t mean that they have to be priests or pastors or rabbis. It simply means that they are undertaking on behalf of the religious body that has established the school, a ministerial function.

What’s really interesting is that here you have a social worker who was a counselor in this Roman Catholic school system in Indianapolis who said she wasn’t in a ministerial function, that she had no training in it, and furthermore, she repudiates it. She instead identifies herself as a trained counselor and she identifies herself as a social worker and she explicitly says she is not and never was going to undertake a ministerial function. That’s what she’s saying when she says about those students with whom she would meet, “I meet you where you’re at and value judgments don’t come into our session because that’s not what counseling and social work is.”

So speaking as an evangelical, looking at this story about a Catholic school and a fired employee in Indianapolis, it is really clear that based upon this, that if this school was taking its Catholic identity seriously, it never should have hired this individual in the first place. And what would it mean for a Catholic school to have counselors who say upfront that they’re not going to make any value judgements in counseling students that have anything to do with, for example, Catholic teaching? This however is my primary concern, not as addressed to Catholics, but to Christian school leaders and to Christian parents and to those who are serving evangelical institutions. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are fulfilling your mission if your own employees do not consider themselves as agents of that mission.

This also lays bare the mentality, the worldview, of so many who are in the counseling community within the therapeutic universe and in particular, identified with the profession of social work who establish right up front that value judgment neutrality is essential to their own professional identity and work. To put the matter bluntly, that is a head on collision with the kind of Christian conviction that is necessary in order to have an authentically Christian school.

I have no idea how this story is going to unfold now with multiple lawsuits in Indianapolis, but taking this story at face value, it is clear that there is at the very least a good deal of confusion about just how Catholic the school system intends to be. It is clear that the Archdiocese has been willing to go to the public point of terminating employees who refuse to acknowledge and to support, or to live by, the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic church. But it is also clear that this story serves as a warning that if you allow your institution to reach this point and appear to be surprised when you reach this point, then you’re not taking seriously your own mission and your own responsibility.

And this is hardly going to be limited to Lutheran schools, that was the case that went all the way to the Supreme Court, or to Roman Catholic schools or to Jewish schools or any other. We have another headline at NBC News, “’It Was Traumatic’: After Being Outed, Lesbian Teacher Is Fired From Christian School.” And this story is not about a Catholic school in Indianapolis. It’s about an evangelical Christian school in Palm Bay, Florida.

We’re told about a woman who had been the director of a show, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” scheduled to take place in February, at Covenant Christian School there in Palm Bay, she was, “fired for being gay earlier this month. The woman,” we are told, “was fired from a Christian school after the administration discovered she’s gay.”

We’re told, “The director, Monica Toro Lisciandro, a theater teacher, arrived at the school and began prepping for rehearsal on October 2nd as she did every Wednesday when she was unexpectedly called into a meeting with school administrators. ‘They told me that someone called the school with allegations against me and said I was in a relationship with another woman, that I attend Pride events, and that I host homosexual activities at the studio.’”

She continued, “I spent 35 years of my life in the closet and I’m not going back. What was I going to say? I told them, yes, it’s true.” The school later announced that she was no longer teaching for personal reasons and the school released a statement that says, “Covenant Christian School also requires that all employees must agree to and model our position on human sexuality, which is based on the biblical teaching that asked all Christ followers to abstain from any sexual activities outside of a one man, one woman marriage. Teachers,” as the statement continues, “are asked to believe, model, and instruct students in all matters of faith, including its doctrines.”

The clash of worldviews was made very evident when the now former theater teacher said, “For me, the biggest thing is the kids. I want them to know it’s okay to be gay and that God loves you”. Once again, we have to ask the basic question, how could it have come to this? How could this be discovered so suddenly because it doesn’t appear that the woman was living in the closet, to use her own category, for some time? But there’s also the basic confusion about what it means to be employed by a Christian school as a teacher or anyone who has the opportunity to influence the hearts and minds and souls of children.

These stories from Indianapolis and from Palm Bay, Florida, well, they’ll unfold in their own way, but right now they should explode as a reminder to Christians of what is at stake when we establish any Christian school, any Christian college, or Christian organization, ministry or institution for that matter. The time to clarify these issues is when you establish the school, and when you admit every single student, and when you hire every single teacher, when you employ every single counselor, and hire every single administrator. You can’t fail to clarify these issues at any one of those points at any time or, quite tragically, this is the kind of headline that could be about your school next.



One final thought, yesterday on The Briefing, I discussed the headline news about Rachel McKinnon, as the individual’s now known, who won the women’s cycling championship worldwide for a second time and the controversy concerning Rachel McKinnon, as the individual’s now known, and the fact that traditional feminists were complaining that a trans gender individual, that is someone who was born male and now presents as female, was allowed to win the world’s cycling championship and that for a second time, a classic collision, and of course, the delusion of our society that you can actually have someone who is biologically male who is now to be considered a female, a man now to be considered a woman. In dealing with stories like this, I turn to the media reports and I read them as they are written, making very clear where that’s the case.

But in yesterday’s edition of The Briefing, as I was continuing this story and honestly, in a rush to make a flight, I actually discovered that I used the wrong personal pronouns in extending the argument that had been made in the media, even in correcting that argument. To me, it’s just another sign of the world we live in, that even trying to discuss this kind of issue coherently means that you are stretched to the limit by trying to avoid using the pronouns, but instead referring to the person by name. But even that’s not without complications in a transgender issue. But at least we need to make this very clear, no one who is born male can actually be a female, nor can anyone born female actually be a male, and we must be careful with the pronouns all the time. In a confusing world, suffering under this mass delusion that just becomes more and more complicated, and more and more necessary.

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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