briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

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

It’s Tuesday, February 25, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Harvey Weinstein Found Guilty of Two Felony Sex Crimes: How Weinstein’s Trial Serves as a Testament to the Rule of Law

It often seems that criminal trials in the United States take a very long time. Just consider the fact that just yesterday, guilty verdicts on two major felony counts came against infamous Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. In this case, the trials were held in New York. The charges were multiple, but the two felony charges on which Weinstein was convicted are very serious charges. However, not the class A felony, most serious charge of being a sexual predator. There’s a lot to the background of all this and the major media, of course, are giving it front-page attention, deservedly so. We are looking at what are the most infamous criminal trials in recent American history and it is not going to be the last major criminal trial faced by Harvey Weinstein.

Weinstein, though well known in Hollywood for decades, leaped to the nation’s consciousness with the Me Too movement, which gained major impetus precisely because of the dozens and dozens of accusations made against him. He is soon to face additional criminal charges in a trial in California. Those might turn out to be the tip of the iceberg.

Harvey Weinstein leaped to the nation’s consciousness with what became known as the Me Too movement because there were so many accusations against him, dozens of accusations coming from dozens of individuals, women who claimed that they had been assaulted, sexually abused, and preyed upon by Harvey Weinstein. The accusations themselves and the context into which those accusations were made revealed to much of America that Hollywood was just about as immoral when it came to many issues as Americans might have imagined. The so-called casting couch that had been referred to for decades in Hollywood turned out to be a rather routine instrument or metaphor of the sexual abuse of women. Powerful men, who had after all the power to begin or to end the careers of many women in Hollywood, used that as leverage to gain sexual advantage.

Now, Christians looking at this understand that every form of sexual misbehavior is identified as sin. The problem is that in Hollywood, there’s a decidedly mixed message. Even on the other side of the beginnings of this Me Too movement, it’s fair to ask the question, what exactly is Hollywood’s posture on the morality of the sexual assault of women or the abuse of women or how this is to be portrayed or, for that matter, even commercialized in their products? Because, after all, Hollywood is driven by sex in a very real sense, and it has driven a sexual agenda in the United States throughout the larger culture.

But Harvey Weinstein, we now know, had fairly well acknowledged for a matter of years as someone who was criminally or not a sexual predator. As Jan Ransom reports for The New York Times, “Sexual misconduct complaints about Mr. Weinstein, an Oscar-winning producer of films like Shakespeare in Love, had circulated for years, but the exposes published by The New York Times and The New Yorker opened the flood Gates in late 2017.”

The trial just concluded in New York City had to do with only the accusations of two women. The convictions are extremely serious. He is now found guilty of two criminal charges, one of rape and one of a criminal sexual act. The trial has also represented something of a crisis for others beyond Weinstein not only in Hollywood, but also in New York, including the Manhattan District attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., who had after all declined to bring criminal charges of sexual assault against Harvey Weinstein in 2015 even though the district attorney had been faced with a woman who had made a direct charge.

The distinction between the Christian worldview based in Scripture when it comes to sexual morality and the modern extremely thin and inadequate sexual morality of consent is made very clear in these criminal charges and in the two convictions against Harvey Weinstein. Christians looking at the evidence and considering the trial understand the crucial issue in the trial was morally insufficient. That crucial issue was consent, and prosecutors, we found out in the course of the trial, were having difficulty proving that Harvey Weinstein had on all the charges violated consent. That he had failed to engage in consensual sexual behavior.

But, of course, for Christians that would have been consensual sexual misbehavior. But not even, not when it comes to sexual assault. The Christian worldview also understands the distinction between a predator and prey, but when it comes to sexual activity outside of marriage, as the union of a man and a woman, the Christian worldview is just very clear, consent is not adequate to make the act moral. That’s impossible. But in the eyes of the law these days and in the eyes of American popular culture, having denied the possibility of sexual sin, all it’s left with is the possibility of sexual crimes.

The trial of Harvey Weinstein has demonstrated just how hard it is in the current moral and legal environment to bring charges even against a man so notorious as Harvey Weinstein.

One final issue: I began by talking about the incredibly long period of time between the accusations and the verdict. We are looking from the period of 2017 to 2020. Why so long? Well, that’s actually a testament to the kind of criminal process that is required in the United States. This is not a totalitarian government where someone in power can just decide to eliminate someone or to put them in jail or to find them guilty in a show trial. Harvey Weinstein was tried by a jury of his peers. He and his attorneys had access to every form of legal defense imaginable, and given his financial resources, he could afford them.

But here’s another big lesson about the rule of law, and this is encouraging, even a man with the financial ability of a Harvey Weinstein eventually had to face the court of justice. That criminal process of investigation and indictment and eventual trial. That’s a very long process, but that long process is a testament to how the rule of law works. The rule of law, Christians must recognize, doesn’t stand on its own. It requires certain cultural and moral antecedents. There are certain prerequisites that are required, including an understanding of the reality of truth and the mandate of justice and an affirmation of the fact that a criminal trial is undertaken in the name of the people. Not in the name merely of the state or of the government, and certainly not of a ruler, not even, eventually, in the name of the district attorney of Manhattan in New York City.

Part II

BYU Changes Honor Code to Allow Same Sex Behavior . . . Or Does It? BYU’s Intentional Ambiguity Is a Warning for Evangelical Institutions

But next, we shift from Manhattan to the state of Utah as The Washington Post headline tells us, “BYU,” that is Brigham Young University, “removed it’s long time ban on homosexual behavior, but many students still have questions.” That’s just the headline.

Now, this is a very big story and we’ve had reason on The Briefing in recent weeks and months to talk about Brigham Young University as a particularly important test case when it comes to a religiously-identified institution of higher education in the United States, especially in a head-on collision with the moral revolutionaries. In this case, of course, it is not an evangelical Christian institution, it’s the flagship school of what calls itself the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That is, it is the flagship institution of Mormonism.

Mormonism is not orthodox biblical Christianity. It is however, a belief system that has certain moral requirements that Mormons claim are based on divine revelation. This is where you see this collision between religious liberty and the sexual revolutionaries. Just over the course of the last several weeks, we’ve looked at stories such as Brigham Young University suspending or redefining in some sense it’s honor code in order to allow a national competition of those who are involved in competing for ballroom dancing. You might not have known there was such a competition, but now you know. It was at least a wedge that was used in order to require Brigham Young University to make a choice. Either give up hosting the event or give up, or at least accommodate quietly in some sense, in its honor code. An honor code that has until recently explicitly identified every form of same-sex affection and sexual activity as wrong, as a violation of the honor code and as a basis for student discipline.

Marissa Iati reporting for The Washington Post tells us, “When LGBTQ students at Brigham Young University caught wind of the change, they ran to the statue of the university’s namesake to celebrate. Women kissed women and men kissed men last Wednesday, extolling the school’s removal of a longtime ban on homosexual behavior and the honor code that had left some students afraid even to hug or hold hands with friends of the same gender.”

Then, The Washington Post tells us, the university took to Twitter to issue a clarification that made many overjoyed students suddenly skeptical of whether the revision meant anything at all. In the tweet, the university stated, “Even though we have removed the more prescriptive language, the principles of the honor code remain the same. The honor code office will handle questions that arise on a case-by-case basis.” Well, this sounds a little bit like pandemonium on the campus of Brigham Young University, and the policy change has to do not only with Brigham Young University’s main campus in Provo, but with its other campuses as well.

The question raised on campus and in the national media is whether or not Brigham Young University’s policy actually has changed, or has the language just changed? But as Christians should understand, if you change the language, you actually have changed the policy. This demands a much closer look and it should have the intense interest of all Christians who care about religious liberty and sexual morality as revealed in Scripture.

Brigham Young University is a Mormon institution, but this is a lesson for all of us and perhaps, especially, particularly, for evangelical institutions. The Salt Lake Tribune and many other newspapers ran with the story that Brigham Young had changed its honor code. Furthermore, we were told that the reason it did so, according to university authorities, is because the Mormon Church itself has issued a new general handbook, which as we were told by Peggy Fletcher Stack and David Noyce of the Salt Lake Tribune, is the document that spells out the faith’s mission and goals “as well as to govern its policies, practices and procedures.” It’s now available, we are reminded, online for all to read.

But it turns out that in this new handbook’s 38 chapters, there are nine that had been completely rewritten. One that was updated and, as the paper tells us, “One major change is the language used to describe church actions to help members repent who have committed serious sins.” We are also told in the newspaper report that the biggest addition to the handbook “is the extensive section regarding members or potential members who are transgender.” Now, the handbook basically affirms the position taken by Dallin Oaks, one of the members of the first presidency of the church, and his statement it defined gender as “biological sex at birth.”

The Mormons also continue to define marriage as, and only as, the marriage of a man and a woman, by no means recognizing same-sex marriage. But over the course of the last 24 months or so the church has made, along with its own institutions, various announcements or at least acknowledgements of changes in nomenclature and approach explained by some as an attempt to be more pastoral. But let’s look more closely at the BYU issue because when BYU changed its honor code in order to remove explicit language indicating that all homosexual behavior and forms of public affection are violations of the honor code, even as it came back and said it had not changed the moral structure of the honor code, it did.

If you have language that is explicit and you remove it, then, let’s just state the obvious, you have intentionally removed explicit language. Why would Brigham Young University have done so? Well, there is no doubt that it has been under sustained pressure. Pressure from the culture at large, we all understand that. Pressure from groups such as the NCAA, opposition when they tried to join a major athletic conference. But most importantly, there has been opposition and criticism from right there on the campus and at that point there’s a huge lesson for evangelical institutions and churches.

Once you allow sexual orientation to be identified as an issue of identity politics and once you allow LGBTQ students as they identify themselves to organize in a recognized student group on campus, then you are basically just taking a step towards demolishing your own convictions. Because, here’s what you are doing, you are offering official recognition to a group on campus that is going to openly advocate against the convictions upon which your institution has been established. Going back to the lead sentence in that Washington Post article, we were told the LGBTQ students had caught wind of the change in language and they ran to the statue of the university’s namesake to celebrate. There you had the open behavior, women kissing women, men kissing men, and then came the statement from the university that was claimed to be a clarification but might not have clarified much at all.

The language issue is just really important as well. Explicit language existing in an honor code or in any kind of statement of moral principles and expectations is extremely important. Removing that statement, removing that language, is not a morally innocuous act. It’s not morally neutral, it is actually doing something very significant. Now, at this point, the Mormon authorities don’t want to acknowledge that it was anything momentous, that there is any major change. That clarification, as they called it, that came after the announcement led to this kind of student activity, that clarification or that statement was intended to say nothing has changed, but of course, it has changed to the extent that there was that celebration by LGBTQ students. Furthermore, there is at present no language in the Brigham Young University honor code that explicitly states that homosexual acts of affection, homosexual relationships and homosexual behaviors are in themselves violations of the honor code.

Now, let’s just also think about something else. Removing that language means that Brigham Young might now think itself in a position that it can say to a critical world, “We do not have any explicit language saying that homosexual acts of affection, homosexual relationships and same-sex sexual activity is a violation of the honor code.” While at the same time they seem to be telling themselves and, at least in some sense, telling their students who are understandably confused that they are not really acknowledging or accepting homosexual acts of affection, homosexual relationships, or same-sex sexual activity.

Well, which is it? Well, let’s just remind ourselves that we’re only talking about this because of the explicit language that was removed. In one sense, we are told removed from the church’s handbook but now removed from the explicit language of the honor code. But this raises an issue to which I just have to return over and over again. In our culture, in this cultural crisis of a sexual and moral revolution, there’s no place to hide. You can’t hide by removing this language if you do not at the same time mean to remove the policy and the moral judgment. If you are going to apply the moral judgment, if you are going to maintain the convictions, then you can’t take out the language. You can’t leave it up to an individual case-by-case basis. That is, just to state the matter clearly, nonsensical. That’s not going to work. It’s not going to happen. There will not be thousands of students at Brigham Young University in a long line outside of dean of students or an honor code office asking for some kind of adjudication of their particular situation. No, that’s not going to happen.

Instead, the reality is that it appears that Brigham Young University is moving into some kind of position of intentional ambiguity. But, again, there won’t be any place to hide. That ambiguity will not be ambiguous for long.

Part III

George Coyne, Former Director of Vatican Observatory, Dies at 87: The Incompatibility of a Materialistic, Scientific Worldview and Biblical Christianity

But next, let’s shift to an entirely different issue. Sam Roberts ran a major obituary as a news story in The New York Times in recent days. The headline, “George Coyne, 87, a Vatican astronomer and defender of Darwin is dead.” Interesting headline. The story, the obituary is a lot more interesting. Roberts tells us, “The Reverend George C. Coyne, a Jesuit astrophysicist who as the longtime director of the Vatican Observatory defended Galileo and Darwin against doctrinaire Roman Catholics and challenged atheists too by insisting that science and religion could coexist, died last Tuesday in Syracuse, New York at age 87.”

Now, that’s a very interestingly paragraph. We’re told about a man who at one point as a Jesuit astrophysicist was the director of the Vatican Observatory there in Rome. That’s not a small position. Let’s just state the matter clearly. We are looking at a man who was the central figure in leading the Vatican Observatory. In that very first paragraph we are told that he had argued, controversially, for Galileo and Darwin against those identified as doctrinaire Roman Catholics. We’re also told that he offended some atheists by arguing that science and religion can coexist.

Now, let’s just state something emphatically, the worlds of science and religion are two all-encompassing and generalized to be of much help here. The question for Christians is, can biblical Christianity and science coexist? The answer is, yes. But we have to clarify immediately that a naturalistic materialistic science, which is the dominant frame and form of what is called science today, is not compatible with biblical Christianity. Actually, this new story about the death of George Coyne makes that abundantly clear.

As The New York Times goes on to report, he had stated very clearly his belief in evolution. The article also makes clear he believed in evolution to the point that he denied any form of divine activity in guiding the entire cosmological process. Now, that’s comprehensive. He allowed for no form of divine activity in the entire cosmological process. Now, you would think that would be, well, let’s just state the matter as contradictory with someone who was the head of the Vatican Observatory, but this is where The New York times both clarifies and confuses. Father Coyne, a Jesuit, was very clear in stating his position when it came to a basically materialistic and naturalistic understanding of the Universe. But he also claimed the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, that there was no inherit conflict between Darwinism and Christianity.

Well, is there or isn’t there? Well, the answer is, there is no conflict between Darwin or the contemporary version of evolution that is now as constant in higher academia and a form of accommodated Christianity, a Christianity that abandons the Scripture. There’s no conflict there. That’s exactly what Protestant liberalism has done for years and there are forms of Roman Catholicism that have attempted to do the same. Now, what about the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church? As interested as we were and learning from the Mormon example with BYU, we ought also to be very interested in learning from what is now taking place in the Roman Catholic Church. Especially, as is reflected in this obituary for the former director of the Vatican Observatory.

In a paper he wrote just a few years ago and entitled “Cosmology, Evolution, and Christian Faith,” written in his capacity as a Jesuit priest, a former director of the Vatican Observatory and a professor at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York, he cited a statement by Pope Pius XII in 1950 that acknowledged the doctrine of evolution as a theory, a serious hypothesis, and then the clarification and extension in a statement made by Pope John Paul II in October of 1996 in which he stated, “Today, almost a half century after the publication of the encyclical Humani Generis, new knowledge has led to the recognition that the theory of evolution is no longer a mere hypothesis.”

Now, what exactly does that mean? Did Pope John Paul II affirm the theory of evolution as it is taught in major colleges and universities today? Well, the answer is, no. In a very interesting move, the Pope then declared that the theory of evolution was no longer just a hypothesis and that it was consistent with the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church so long as certain conditions pertained. What were those conditions? Well, for one thing, the divine direction of creation. For a second thing, the divine special creation of human beings. Well, for another thing, the common descent of all human beings from Adam and Eve.

Now, here’s the point. There isn’t a major department of science to be found anywhere in mainstream higher education that holds to the doctrine of evolution with those qualifications. So back in 1996 Pope John Paul II basically said that there is no essential conflict between evolution and Roman Catholic teaching so long as evolution is understood to be consistent with Roman Catholic teaching on three issues. The basic fact is that there is no major evolutionary scientist who holds to a theory of evolution with those qualifications that were indicated by the Roman Catholic Church.

But here’s what happened. With that particular language the Roman Catholic Church was heard by the larger society to say, “There’s no inherent conflict between the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and evolution.” That gets thrown around in public all the time, and it shows up in a very powerful way in the obituaries for the late astrophysicist and former director of the Vatican Observatory, George Coyne. But consider where, for instance, this obituary in The New York Times goes, or where an obituary that appeared in yesterday’s edition of USA Today also goes.

Just listen to how they described the worldview of the former director of the Vatican Observatory. “Coyne had criticized creationists and even those who advocate for intelligent design.” He said, “If they respect the results of modern science and indeed the best of modern biblical research,” he wrote, “religious believers must move away from the notion of a dictator God or a designer God, a Newtonian God who made the universe as a watch that ticks along regularly.” He went on to say, “Perhaps God should be seen more as a parent or as one who speaks encouraging and sustaining words.”

Now, let’s just note something where he speaks of science and the best of modern biblical research, he means modern higher criticism. That is, the liberal approach to Scripture that begins with the thesis that Scripture is nothing more than a human religious artifact. You’ll see how he stacks the deck here. But you’ll also note that the God he acknowledges, he is left with in his worldview, is not a creator, is not a sustainer, is not a designer, has nothing fundamentally to do with the shape of the cosmos in the beginning or the middle or the end, but perhaps should be seen, as he says, more as just “a parent or as one who speaks encouraging and sustaining words.”

Let’s shift to the obituary in USA Today that ran yesterday. It’s by John D’Anna. This particular obituary ends with a similar kind of statement. After addressing several different issues, he concludes, “My personal life is built on the following. I am a scientist. I try to understand the universe. My understanding of the universe does not need God.” Well, there’s the very definition of a materialist or naturalistic worldview. There’s the very definition of a worldview that is by the very acknowledgement of these words, absolutely godless when it comes to the cosmos. It is not so shocking that someone representing modern astrophysics anymore would hold to such a worldview. But what is absolutely shocking, and I guess what makes this story worth a half page in the print edition of yesterday’s USA Today, is that this was not just an astrophysicist or an astronomer. This is an astronomer priest, a Jesuit, who was the former director of the Vatican Observatory.

All of this simply affirms what biblically-minded Christians have to understand, there is a basic incompatibility, a direct contradiction, between the modern materialistic scientific worldview and the biblical worldview. What a haunting, godless statement we are left with from the former director of the Vatican Observatory, “My understanding of the universe does not need God.” I guess the best way to end The Briefing today is simply to ask, does yours?

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’m speaking to you from Los Angeles, California, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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