briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, March 9, 2020

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

It’s Monday March 9, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Moral Coercion in a Moral Convulsion: Virginia Bans So-Called Conversion Therapy

Of course, the Coronavirus is now front and center in almost every media conversation, and not just in the media. On Sunday, it was the topic of conversation in many Christian congregations, and it has now reached the point that it is a constant issue of conversation among school leaders, corporate leaders, leaders of other institutions, families, communities, and of course political leaders. Because we’re coming out of the weekend, it would be wise to wait until we have clarification on many issues later today, before seeking to do any in depth analysis, but it has already become clear that this particular epidemic, this particular virus is now leading to some very basic, indeed as the secular world would understand, existential questions for humanity. To those questions, we will appropriately turn.

In recent days, there have been other major stories that should be of Christian concern. For example, last week, the state of Virginia became the first state in the South, so designated, to adopt a legislative ban on so-called conversion therapy. Looking at this issue, we’re going to have to separate it into distinct parts. The first part has to do with the legislation in Virginia and the definition of conversion therapy. The second has to do with a Christian understanding of what is at stake, and the third will have to do with media coverage. All of these very revealing. Thinking of the legislation itself as Ryan W. Miller of USA Today reported, “Virginia became the first state in the South to ban the discredited practice of conversion therapy for LGBTQ children.” We are told that governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat signed the ban into law making Virginia the 20th state plus the District of Columbia to ban the practice.

Governor Northam himself, a pediatric neurologist said last week “Conversion therapy sends the harmful message that there is something wrong with who you are.” Here’s what’s really interesting. Miller reports the definition of conversion therapy according to the legislation as this, “A practice or treatment that aims to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.” We’re also told in this media report that the American Psychiatric Association has denounced the practice for years saying it puts minors at risk. Now we are talking about a psychotherapeutic modality here for the most part, but as we shall see, this kind of ban and certainly in the public imagination will go far further than any kind of specific psychotherapeutic mode of intervention. Thinking of conversion therapy, Christians have to acknowledge the complexity of same sex attraction and at the same time, to understand that our approach has to be biblical and theological. It cannot be primarily or to any significant degree psychotherapeutic.

Now as you look at some of the accusations against so-called conversion therapy in that therapeutic mode, it is clear that it has involved many things with which biblically minded Christians would not want to be associated. We also have to understand something even more basic, and that is that the Christian worldview does not hold out any ultimate hope for anything coming from a therapeutic modality or from any kind of therapeutic approach. Christians do not believe that the ultimate answer to the problem of sin in any form can be therapy or anything therapeutic. Indeed, it is inherently theological. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ. So we understand that. We understand that we’re not looking for any kind of ultimate rescue, much less redemption from any kind of therapy. We understand that many things done in the name of almost any kind of therapy can be found to be wrongful in the minds of Christians, but we also have to understand that when in this context something is labeled conversion therapy, there is more at stake here than a Christian understanding of therapy.

This is the second point, the theological point, which is that even though Christians look for no ultimate rescue from any kind of sin by any kind of therapy, and that includes all of the sin and sins encompassed by the letters LGBTQ. The fact is that we do profoundly believe in conversion and beyond that of course the totality, the comprehensive nature of the power of the gospel as revealed in Scripture. So Christians have no particular stake in the therapeutic aspect of conversion therapy, but we have everything at stake with the category of conversion. It is at this point that we need to look more closely at what the bill in Virginia is actually directed to prohibit, and what that means for Christians.

Back in 2013, the American Psychiatric Association made a statement that the APA, “Does not believe that same sex orientation should or needs to be changed.” My guess is that most Christians have no idea that any statement so extreme has been made by an organization such as the American Psychiatric Association. But what the APA is saying here is not only that it’s making a judgment on conversion therapy, it is making a moral judgment on homosexuality, same sex attraction, everything encompassed with LGBTQ. Let me go back to the statement. It says that it does not believe and notice that this is not limited to so-called conversion therapy. It says that the APA “does not believe that same sex orientation should or needs to be changed.” Now just consider what that means when you are looking at the impact of this kind of legislation, not only when it comes to the therapeutic community, but for that matter to the culture of the state of Virginia. The state of Virginia is now citing the APA as its authority saying that sexual orientation does not need to change. That’s a moral judgment. It’s a very significant moral judgment. One of the things that we have noted is that when a moral revolution takes place, various institutional forms of power begin to coerce alignment with that moral revolution.

The professions are one of those issues of alignment. You see that in medicine. Look at how many medical societies are now endorsing just about everything in LGBT, even arguing that children and teenagers must be recognized as identifying somewhere other than the gender binary, and even going without their parents’ permission or knowledge through at least some of the steps towards a gender reassignment or re-identification. We’re also looking at the fact that it’s not just the professions, it is also the institutions such as higher education in the public schools. In this case, you’re also looking at the health community. All of these different sources of power and authority in the community being marshaled together. Make no mistake, they’re making a moral judgment. They are cloaking this as if it is some kind of health or therapeutic statement, but the language they are using should and needs to be is moral language.

There were some clear religious authorities within the state of Virginia who spoke out during the legislative process about what will amount to infringements upon religious liberty. But here we just have to note that the state of Virginia, when it comes at least to the children and young people in that state, is making a statement that the state itself as a government—and let’s just remind ourselves government is by nature coercive—the government is now placing itself in the moral position that will put it into conflict with parents and pastors and many others within the state of Virginia, and the state has awesome power.

The governor of the state in signing the legislation last week also made similar moral statements. “No one should be made to feel wrong for who they are, especially not a child.” Now that’s the kind of language that we come to expect these days, but it’s stacked the deck so to speak. It establishes a context in which there can be no fair or honest conversation. Of course, Christians believe that no wrong should ever be done to a child, but we have a radical disagreement here about what constitutes a wrong. Christians will believe that the state of Virginia is now making a wrongful moral judgment about LGBTQ issues that will of course have a wrongful impact upon the state’s children and teenagers. It will also be an infringement upon parental rights and it will also be an infringement upon religious liberty. It will further be an extension of the coercive power of government making a moral statement, now in keeping with the LGBTQ revolution.

Now of course during the legislative process, there were all kinds of assurances that there would be no infringement of religious liberty, but that’s manifest nonsense. Just consider the plight of someone who is a licensed counselor within the state of Virginia. They are now being told that they must accept the entire category of sexual orientation as being morally good, and that they cannot argue for or even work with a teenager who may want to express a biblical understanding of sexuality, but is nonetheless according to this new legislation only to be encouraged in any kind of LGBTQ direction, never discouraged.

But I also want us to look closely at an article that ran in the New York Times about Virginia passing this legislation. This article is by Sandra E. Garcia and it is really interesting, extremely telling to look at one particular paragraph in this article. Garcia speaks of conversion therapy, the kind of therapy that will be banned by this legislation and she includes this sentence: “It can also have religious elements with patients being told that their God doesn’t want them to be LGBTQ.”

Now just consider this for a moment. Here there is an acknowledgement that the state of Virginia has a theological stake, not only a moral stake, but a theological stake in this argument such that the ban on conversion therapy at least implies that it is wrong to tell someone based upon biblical and theological Christian conviction that LGBTQ is wrong. This is a very profound statement. It is extremely interesting that the New York Times put this sentence in the article exactly as they did. I want you to hear this sentence again. “It can also have religious elements with patients being told that their God doesn’t want them to be LGBTQ.” Now of course there will be those who will say well, at this point, all this legislation covers are licensed counselors and other mental health professionals in the state of Virginia. That may be so when it comes to this particular legislation, but not to the effect of this legislation nor to the intent of this legislation.

Make no mistake, the effort here is to try to bring adequate cultural pressure, if not yet coercion against pastors who stand in the pulpit, Christian parents speaking to their own children and teenagers, anyone speaking from a Christian conviction invoking of course biblical authority where God has made very clear his intention for human beings, his intention for human sexuality, his commandments and laws concerning how that sexuality is to be expressed, his definition of marriage, which is exclusively the union of a man and a woman, and his understanding as revealed in Scripture of what it means that he made men and women in his image as male and female.

The final dimension I mentioned is the media coverage, and as you look at virtually all of the coverage in the mainstream media, you will see that the kind of language is employed by which the media source makes very clear its own moral judgment in this issue. Not just a political judgment, but a moral judgment.

Now we as Christians understand that we’re dealing with moral issues and so inevitably, there will be some kind of moral judgment. We’re also dealing with many in the media who want to act as if there is no legitimate moral position other than the moral position that they stake out, and the mainstream media along with so many of the other power and influence centers in our society is now completely sold out to the new morality of the LGBTQ revolution. As we see here, any other position is simply discarded as discredited, out of date or to use the kind of language that we’re seeing over and over again, harmful. Here we see one of the main pressure points that will be brought against Christians, Christian schools, Christian congregations, Christian colleges and universities. It is the accusation that to hold to a biblical understanding of human sexuality, gender and marriage is inherently harmful. All this is just another example on how moral coercion and pressure is found in a society in the midst of this kind of moral convulsion, a revolution in morality.

Part II

The Redefinition of the Practice of Medicine: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Pushes Extreme Pro-Abortion Agenda

But then this takes us to another article and a different issue. This time the issue is abortion. It’s an opinion piece that was published on Wednesday, March the 4th. That’s last Wednesday in the Wall Street Journal. It is written by a Board Certified Obstetrician Gynecologist named Dr. Christina Francis and the headline is this, “The OB-GYNs Who Play Politics With Women’s Lives.” The important thing to recognize here is that we’re talking about the power of the professions to coerce a new moral judgment. In this case, the moral judgment concerns abortion.

Dr. Francis writes about the Supreme Court’s oral arguments at an important abortion case last week, and she makes clear that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has put itself on the line, the pro-abortion line, in making arguments before the court. She says, “ACOG routinely puts politics ahead of medicine by adopting the most extreme positions on abortion. It has lobbied and briefed against parental notification of minors and informed consent laws, and in favor of tax payer funded abortion. It has advocated for laws restricting speech around clinics and compelling pro-life pregnancy centers to tell women where they can go to obtain state subsidized abortions. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists work has gotten so political,” she writes “that in 2008, it added a lobbying arm.” She goes on to write, “I was refused when I asked if I could direct our dues only to the organization’s non lobbying arm.” She then goes on to tell us other important information. “86% of OB-GYNs don’t perform abortions.” Let’s stop there for a moment.

“86% of OB-GYNs, that is doctors with a specialization in obstetrics and gynecology don’t perform abortions.” Now that number is not just important as a statistical fact, it’s a moral fact. The reality is that doctors in the overwhelming majority do not go to medical school and then specialize in what it means for a woman to be healthy, and for a pregnancy to be healthy and for babies to be healthy, only to deploy that medical education to destroying life in the womb. At least some doctors do, and we can see this by inverting the numbers. If 86% of OB-GYNs don’t perform abortions, then only a maximum of 14% do.

But nonetheless, Dr. Francis speaks of the position of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists saying that the position “is that you either support the most extreme abortion lobbying or you’re off the Island.” In her article, Dr. Francis also offers support for the Louisiana legislation that is now before the Supreme Court, legislation requiring that doctors performing abortions would have admitting privileges to a local hospital. Something that Dr. Francis says is important just from a health perspective, out of concern for the life and health of women even as they may be seeking an abortion.

She talks about the abortion extremism of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists that opposes this legislation simply in the light of that extremism. Now, it’s horrifying enough that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has such a position, it’s more horrifying that they put millions of dollars into public lobbying behind it. It’s even more horrifying that they use the moral authority of this medical profession in order to push what this doctor rightly describes as an extreme abortion position. Even though 86% of the doctors in this specialty don’t perform abortions.

Now I want to say in one sense that 86% number tells us that those OB-GYNs are making a moral judgment, and thanks be to God they’re making a moral judgment not to perform abortions. We have also seen the fact that pro-abortion advocates try to argue endlessly that there is no stigma to abortion, and if there is understood to be some stigma in our society, it is the society that should be stigmatized and not abortion. Notice that medical doctors don’t want to be stigmatized by being identified as abortion doctors. Only a very small percentage of doctors are willing to take on that moral identity, but on behalf of this extreme abortion position, their professional society, the Academy, goes to the wall in defending the most extreme understanding of abortion rights. Abortion under almost any circumstances and the organization as Dr. Francis says, officially calls for taxpayer subsidy of abortion.

One final thought on this issue” All of this plays into the attempted redefinition of abortion as a form of a woman’s so-called “reproductive health” or “comprehensive reproductive health services.” Again, this is Orwellian. It reminds us of George Orwell, and it reminds us that language matters. If you can redefine the killing of an unborn baby in the womb as a woman’s reproductive health, then you can redefine almost anything including the practice of medicine.

Part III

What Should We Do with Human Bodies When We Die? One Editorial Board Suggests Human Composting

Finally, an issue that turns out to be an even more pressing issue, Rivka Galchen writing for the New Yorker writes in favor of composting as at least a partial answer to the ecological crisis. The headline of her article, “Complete Trash.” The subhead: “Composting could get us out of the mess we’ve made.” Now it is an interesting article. It deals with the fact that in a city like New York for example, there are tons and tons of biodegradable indeed biological matter, food scraps and all the rest that could be composted rather than buried in landfills. The landfills take up space, they have all kinds of environmental problems and of course, they seem to take forever to decompose and as they do so they release methane. That’s just a part of the cycle, but we also come to understand that modern sanitation in this sense is a human achievement.

The alternative, having garbage on the streets and sewage running on the sidewalks is exactly what modern civilization sought to eradicate, and that has led to massive human good. But human beings as we eat, as we live and as we work, we produce a lot of trash. The question is where are we going to put all that trash, particularly garbage? In this case, an argument can be made that some form of composting might be at least part of the answer. Now this article though it is published in the prestigious magazine, the New Yorker is unlikely to make much of a dent in the conscience or in the culture of New York City. It is not likely to lead to any radical realignment of how organic waste is dealt with in the city, but nonetheless, it’s an interesting argument.

I actually thought of that article when I saw another. This one, an editorial published last week in the Los Angeles Times. It’s the lead editorial dated March 4, and the title of the editorial is “Why Not Compost Bodies?” The subhead of this article: “The need to cut carbon emissions requires us to rethink our arrangements for life and death.” The editors of the Los Angeles Times write, “Addressing climate change doesn’t mean just taking cars off the roads and shutting down coal burning plants. It requires rethinking everything human beings do that contributes in ways, large and small to our carbon footprint. That includes how we travel to work, what we buy for dinner, what household products we buy, and even what’s done with our bodies after we shuffle off this mortal coil. That’s right,” said the editors, “death too comes with environmental consequences that can continue to effect the Earth’s livability for years to come.”

There is then a critique of burial practices, which, as we are told, “often means injecting toxic chemicals into the body before it is placed in a casket made of hardwood harvested through deforestation. We’re also told that cemeteries use water to keep the grounds green and may use pesticides and chemical fertilizers.”

Now some of that of course is absolutely true. All of it’s true in some cases, but one of the things that we need to note is that when you’re looking at an argument like this, there is a stacking of the argument, a definition of terms without an acknowledgement there’s an argument on the other side. The article then turns to cremation, which is increasingly popular in the United States. A slight majority of deaths in the United States now lead to cremation rather than burial. That itself is a cultural and moral transformation.

At various times on The Briefing, I have addressed the historic fact that wherever you have found the Christian Church throughout its history, you have found an affirmation of burial and distinctive Christian practices about burial that have to do with respect for the body and of course, the expectation of the resurrection and what it means to be embodied in the first place. Now that doesn’t mean that Christians can’t have a conversation about these things, and that there should be no moral consideration or reconsideration of some of our traditional American burial practices. But it does mean that Christians have an understanding that more is at stake here than merely what one does with the biological and organic matter that is left behind when we die.

But the editors then ask the question, so what are environmentally minded people to do with their bodies once they no longer need them? That again is a phrase laden with all kinds of worldview implications, but let’s just consider the question that the editors are asking. Then what would be according to an environmental logic a preferable way of dealing with human bodies? Well, the argument comes that one option should be composting of human bodies. That is above ground composting of human bodies. I’m not going to go into graphic detail about how exactly that is proposed, but you can use your imagination to understand that it is something that is at variance with a Christian understanding of the dignity of the human body.

I want us to look finally the very last sentences of this article, this editorial, because we are told that there will be those who will have religious, theological objections to composting human bodies. The editors then write this, “But for those who don’t have religious or philosophical objections and who care about how their afterlife may impact the ongoing lives of those they leave behind, human composting should be an option.” They call thus for a change in the official legal policy of the state of California to allow for human composting.

The point I want to make is this: even this secular newspaper making an argument that is completely consistent with a secular worldview, understands that there are those who will disagree, but notice that they go immediately to theological distinctives, theological arguments rather than other secular arguments. There is in this article a strange and powerful acknowledgement of the fact that we really do have two rival worldviews in the society: a worldview based in historic Christianity and a worldview based in a newly aggressive secularism.

As this article also reminds us, those worldviews have consequences not only in how we live, but in how we intend to deal with our bodies or to have our bodies dealt with once we die. Of course, Christians understand that the consequences go far beyond the question of what to do with our bodies. The consequences are not only timely, they are eternal. It tells us a lot that the Editorial Board of the Los Angeles times knows at least who is likely to disagree when they argue for human composting. The editors note to making their argument, “Death too comes with environmental consequences.” Yes, with consequences that go far beyond the environmental.

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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