briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, March 30, 2020

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

It’s Monday, March 30, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

A “Soul Mate” Model of Marriage Isn’t Enough: Quite Different Visions of Marriage and Family Revealed in a Pandemic

It is clear at this point that we are looking at a major dividing line in history, in the history of the United States and the history of the world. By the time we take account of the coronavirus crisis of 2020, which undoubtedly will continue into 2021, we are looking at the most massive challenge that human beings singularly and corporately have faced, and this goes back at least to the pandemic known as the Spanish Flu in 1918-1919. But when you look at the economic, political, sociological, even theological dimensions of what we are facing right now, it appears that the coronavirus crisis is going to be a far larger world experience even than the Spanish Flu at the end of World War One.

It’s almost as if several different kinds of issues have come together. An economic crisis, yes. A political crisis, no doubt. A crisis in trust in public institutions, just about everywhere you look. At the same time, a new understanding of the necessity of public institutions, the invaluable nature of institutions that can deliver services and offer leadership, provide some protection and common action. But we’re also looking at the fact that we face an undeniable biological challenge. Humanity hasn’t faced this kind of biological challenge on a global basis for a century, and there have been rumors and warnings that such would come, but to be honest, most Americans and most people quite at home in the modern world believe that if there were to be a biological crisis, it would be limited to somewhere else, but it’s clearly not.

Just over the last several days the headlines have come with such frequency they are almost overwhelming. The who has the coronavirus, not only in the United States but in Britain. Just consider the Prince of Wales, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, the Health Minister of Great Britain.

And of course we’re looking at nation by nation reporting its numbers with the reality that even as we have been primarily looking at the most advanced nations dealing with this crisis, largely because of the patterns of economic activity and international travel, it’s not going to be limited to those most advanced nations. But by definition the most advanced economies are those that have the most to shut down, and that shutdown continues to defy our imagination. Just about everywhere you look, spaces that are supposed to be full are actually empty. Cities that had seen as one of their greatest challenges congested traffic are now looking at very different challenges. What a difference a tiny little invisible virus can make, and in a hurry.

The politicians find themselves understandably overwhelmed and bewildered. Just consider the fact that President Trump in the Rose Garden yesterday made the announcement that the national policy of a shutdown with restricted activity would continue through the end of April. That’s at least two weeks after the president had hoped the policy would be alleviated. But in all likelihood the end of April is not going to be the last day, that is if the trajectories of the expansion of the virus spread have any basis in reality whatsoever.

We’re having to learn new patterns of life, we’re having to learn new patterns of trust, and we are also seeing as Christians some of the most basic assumptions and presuppositions of the Christian worldview being demonstrated, and we need to note what is happening right before our eyes. Over the weekend, the review section of the Wall Street Journal ran a multi-page section of articles asking the overarching question, “How will the pandemic change our world?” Now you might say it’s a bit early to ask those questions. Indeed, the articles don’t answer the question so much as they make suggestions about how the pandemic is going to change the world.

But the most important of all of these articles was written by W. Bradford Wilcox, who’s director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. He’s also a senior fellow of the Institute for Family Studies. I have cited him often on The Briefing. His article is the headline “Marriage With Family at its Center.” The subhead: “In trying times, we realize the meaning of commitment.” Now he acknowledges many of the challenges that families, the strongest families, are facing during this kind of crisis. He mentions his own challenge with his wife of managing to homeschool six children, work two jobs, and run a big household on lockdown.

As Wilcox acknowledges, “Scenarios like ours and ones much, much harder with millions of parents losing jobs heading to the front lines to battle the virus or grieving the loss of loved ones are playing out in homes across America.” He then makes this statement, There is no doubt that the fallout of this pandemic will exact a toll on marriage in America.” But here is where he very insightfully points to the fact that there are at least two different visions of marriage, and this crisis is going to be far more damaging to one than to the other. He mentions what he calls the “soul mate” model of marriage. He says that this is trumpeted in books like Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love. He goes on to say it is also the stuff of romantic comedies and countless songs. He defines this as, “The idea that marriage is primarily about an intense emotional and romantic connection between two people, and should last only as long as that connection remains happy and fulfilling for both parties.”

He goes on to define this as a self-centered model, which he says has been gaining in popularity for many Americans starting in the 1970s, the Me Decade. He then goes on to make a statement that should be obvious, but sadly isn’t. He says, “Feelings are a fragile foundation for marriage.” Indeed, this model of marriage he’s talking about, the “soul mate” model, is what I would define as an extension of the kind of autonomous individualism that defines relationships, if indeed the individual is to acknowledge any relationships, simply in terms of the emotional or economic value. And of course in our romanticized age, this is simply transferred into the most fragile and flimsy understanding of romance. And as Bradford Wilcox points out, this model of marriage suggests that marriage isn’t a covenant, it is simply a mutual satisfaction agreement that should continue so long as both parties are mutually satisfied.

I think that Wilcox is exactly right. I think that that model of marriage will not fare very well under the pressures of a pandemic. Wilcox argues that the other model of marriage is a concept that has family at its center, and as he defines this he goes on to say that there’s a silver lining here. He says, “In the face of so much trauma and economic dislocation, most marriages will not collapse, and many will instead emerge stronger and more stable as husbands and wives develop a new appreciation for how much they love and depend on their spouse, and how much they, their kids, and their kin depend on them keeping their marriage together.” He suggests quite hopefully, “In post COVID-19 America, I’m confident that the family first model of marriage will gain ground against the ‘soul mate’ model.”

Now, I am not so confident as he, I wish I were as confident. I’m not as confident because I think this ideal of autonomous individualism is so deeply driven into American culture that it is difficult to see how even a pandemic can lead America to be honest about the whirlwind that it is now reaping after it has sowed the wind of this radical autonomy and individualism. But there’s something else I have to say in response to Bradford Wilcox’s very insightful article, and that is that as Christians, we know we have to say more than this. It is not just that there is a better sociological understanding of marriage, there’s a theologically and biblically superior form of marriage. I understand full well that Bradford Wilcox is writing for the Wall Street Journal. I understand that context. But as a Christian theologian, I have to come back and say that our understanding of the goodness of marriage is not first of all based in a utilitarian formulation. We don’t come to the conclusion that marriage works, therefore it must be good. We start with a biblical affirmation that marriage is good, and that’s how we understand that marriage will have so many benefits.

In the biblical worldview, marriage and family are not good because they bring so many benefits, they bring those benefits precisely because they are good. And they are good because God created them, gave them to humanity, and declared them to be good, and furthermore indicated that marriage and family were given to us and in that order precisely so that human beings would have the lives of greatest flourishing and the Creator would receive the greatest glory.

Everything Professor Wilcox says as a criticism of the “soul mate” model of marriage is not only legitimate, it is necessary and incredibly timely. Given the fact that so many Americans seem to have so much time they’re now devoting to entertainment, you have to wonder how much of the entertainment that they are now consuming and watching is actually subversive of the very kinds of moral virtues that they now depend on, not only in the larger society but in their own households.

But as important as Wilcox’s article is, I just want to remind Christians that we have to go further and ground the goodness of marriage not only in God’s creation, but in the reality of covenant. A husband and a wife stay together precisely because of covenant. The marriage vows that are so historic to Protestant Christianity affirm that so eloquently. Just consider the most familiar language from the Book of Common Prayer, where the husband and the wife pledge to each other, “To have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish till death us do part.”

Part II

Expanded Abortion Access During the COVID-19 Crisis? Pro-Abortion Opportunism in a Pandemic

Next, we’re going to turn to a headline of monumental worldview significance. This one appeared as an almost full page editorial in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times. You’ll understand almost immediately why it demands our sustained attention. The headline’s title: “The Right to Choose is Essential.” Now in The Briefing in recent days, we have talked about the fact that state by state there’s been controversy about whether or not abortion is to be allowed to continue under normal circumstances, as if it is a surgical necessity or an essential. The term “essential” has taken on a dramatic meaning in the medical sphere and in the economic sphere, where businesses are allowed to be open if they are essential, and surgeries are to continue if they are defined as essential. This of course raises the question of what is a non-essential surgery? And it would certainly seem in any sane world that elective abortion would be defined as a nonessential surgery.

For that reason, the state of Ohio, under the leadership of its attorney general in this case, ordered abortion clinics to cease performing abortions because abortions are nonessential, and the legal order was an end in Ohio to nonessential medical procedures. But of course we saw the furious response of the pro-abortion movement. State Senator Nickie Antonio said, “Every woman who seeks an abortion knows it’s an essential time-sensitive procedure, especially in states like Ohio, which has drastically limited the window when abortions are allowed. It is inexcusable,” said the state senator, “that our state’s attorney general would play politics with a global pandemic.” Now, the ironies here are just so incredibly visible. Just consider the fact that abortion is the intentional killing of an unborn child. Just how much clearer is that as a moral reality, even in the context of a pandemic, which is by definition a matter of life and death?

But the radical commitment of the pro-abortion movement continues even in, and as we shall see in that New York Times editorial, even more so in the context of a pandemic. Spokespersons and leaders for Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio and Planned Parenthood of the Southwest Ohio Region responded, “Abortion is an essential time-sensitive medical procedure, as medical experts like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology have recognized.” They continued insisting that abortion is an essential health service.

Well at this point, we’re looking at the intersection of two diabolical arguments. One of them is the attempted redefinition of abortion from the intentional killing of an unborn child to a woman’s reproductive healthcare. That’s the first diabolical argument. The second is that in the middle of a pandemic, the most important issue is to continue access to abortion, defining it as essential. Then you’d have to ask the question essential as defined by what? And there can only be one honest answer, and that is essential because of the determination of so many people in the United States of America to maintain access to an acclaimed right to kill unborn children in the womb. That is the essential.

Now they may come up with other kinds of arguments. One of the most common of the arguments is either an argument based in personal autonomy or economic challenges, but that just points to once again the utilitarian definition of human life. But just remember that the abortion rights movement in the United States began in an explicit effort to try to redefine individual rights in the United States as an equal right not to be pregnant at any time, even if that condition of not being pregnant is brought about by the intentional destruction of the unborn child within. The pro-abortion movement in groups such as Planned Parenthood and NARAL have been making the case that a woman has the right to an abortion under any and all circumstances, for any reason or for no reason, and now they are arguing that that is an essential surgical procedure even in the midst of a pandemic.

The situation is similar in Mississippi and in Texas. In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott signed an executive order last Sunday delaying all elective medical and dental procedures. The following day, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a warning to abortion providers in Texas that they were included in the prohibition. The pro-abortion movement there, of course, is pressing back just as hard. Amy Hagstrom Miller identified as president of Whole Woman’s Health said, “Patients cannot wait until this pandemic is over to receive safe abortion care.”

State by state you also see the distinction on the issue of abortion and the underlying worldview in the United States. We’ve talked about pro-life efforts, efforts to restrict abortion in Ohio and Mississippi and Texas. In contrast, the states of Maryland, Massachusetts, and Washington state have as the Washington Post reported, “Advised against delaying abortions during the pandemic.” And The Post went on to say, “This is setting up a potential fight over the reach of emergency powers to define what is medically necessary.” Now, as I said when this story broke earlier, what we are witnessing here is the culture of death insisting even in the midst of a deadly pandemic that the one thing to which it is most committed is the culture of abortion, abortion rights, the celebration of abortion, and redefining abortion as essential health care. In the midst of this pandemic, it’s hard to imagine a more revealing and more horrifying statement than this, and it’s not just a statement, it’s an argument. And it’s an argument that will have consequences, not only in states like Texas and Mississippi and Ohio, but in all 50 states.

Meera Shah, she was identified as Chief Medical Officer for Planned Parenthood in the New York City suburbs of Long Island, Westchester, and Rockland said, “Everyone is still showing up, you know, because somebody wanting an abortion is still going to want an abortion despite there being a viral outbreak.” She said it, not me.

But that editorial, that massive editorial, a statement by the entire editorial board of the New York Times yesterday, takes the argument even further into the embrace of the culture of death. It goes further than even what I might have imagined coming in this context even just a few days ago.

Again, the editors of the New York Times leave no room for confusion. Their headline: “The Right to Choose is Essential.” They use the word “essential” strategically. The editors pushed back on the kinds of actions taken in Ohio and in Mississippi and Texas, also contemplated by the attorney general in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. In Kentucky, by the way, it will be up to the general assembly to assign that responsibility to the attorney general, who holds to a pro-life position and will act accordingly if he is given the authority. Now, the editorial ran in yesterday’s paper, the day before the New York Times ran an article predicting that in the wake of the coronavirus challenge and the restricted stay at home orders, it could be that months later there will be a large number of “corona-babies.”

But the very next day you come to understand a deeper meaning to that article when the editors wrote, “In the coming weeks, unintended pregnancies could rise as a result of people being stuck in their homes, potentially without consistent access to birth control. Among those who would choose to have an abortion,” said the editors, “There were about 860,000 abortions in America in 2017, an increasing number might not be able to get those services either because of the dangers of traveling for patients and abortion providers alike, a growing inability to afford the procedure, or the need to take care of homebound children and other family members.” Note the sense of panic there— a sense of panic not about the coronavirus, a sense of panic about any restriction upon the availability of access to abortion. Thus the agenda of the editorial becomes very clear when just a few sentences later, the editors argue that in the light of the pandemic, abortion access should now be extended by making abortion pills available by mail.

The FDA has wisely restricted the use of these medications to the context of a doctor prescribing them to a patient in person. The drugs are then dispensed either in the office or by a pharmacy, not by mail. But you see where this insidious logic is headed. Taking advantage of the pandemic, the argument is now that abortion is so important, not only so essential, but again it is the central sacramental concern of the secular left, it must be expanded in access during the pandemic. And make no mistake, they’re not going to argue it should ever go otherwise because they have argued for this very same availability before the pandemic. Then they say that women should also not face legal consequences for seeking abortions internationally, and that means buying abortifacient drugs illegally from international sources.

But then leaping completely into the chasm of moral insanity, the editors make two more points. One, make birth control available for all. The editors say, “The federal government and states need to pump money back into Title X family planning programs, states ought to allow people to get a full year of contraception at a time, and physicians,” they say, “would do well to refill birth control prescription without an annual exam.” They argue for telemedicine, but notice this is an argument for telemedicine not only for birth control, but also for abortion.

But then, and we dare not miss this, the final paragraph of the editorial says this, “Finally, it’s long past time to end America’s bans on government funding for abortions, like the federal Hyde Amendment and similar state measures. These bans,” say the editors, “mean that poor women already struggled to afford reproductive healthcare, an issue that’s sure to be exacerbated during the coronavirus crisis and the economic fallout from it.”

The last sentence, “With so much about the future uncertain for countless Americans, it’s more important than ever that everyone has control over their reproductive choices, at least.” Just notice the argument here. It is taking advantage of the pandemic to say, “Let’s just, in light of the pandemic, take the argument for abortion to its logical conclusion and make it available to all people, under any circumstance, without charge, taxpayer supported if necessary.”

Part III

Sexual Assault Accusations Brought Against Joe Biden: Will the Democratic Frontrunner Follow His Own Standards Made Clear During the Kavanaugh Hearing?

But finally, we are continuing in a political season. The 2020 presidential election still looms before us, and the Democratic Party and the political left are about to face a huge test of integrity. Reports have broken out in the British press, including the London newspaper The Guardian. Newsweek magazine has written an article about the fact that a former staffer for former Vice President Joe Biden has now accused him of a direct act of sexual assault. The Guardian, which is after all a paper of the left in London, asked the question, “Why has the media ignored sexual assault allegations against Joe Biden?” Arwa Mahdawi of The Guardian makes the statement, “The accusations against the former vice president are serious. Why aren’t they being taken seriously?”

Robby Soave writing for Reason Magazine raises the question that Joe Biden, in the midst of the Kavanaugh accusations, said that the rule should be that all women should be believed. “Believe all women.” Well, what about the woman who’s now making the accusation against him? Writing at National Review, David Harsanyi offers an article, the headline asking, “Will Biden Live Up to His Own Principles?” The first line is very important, “According to Joe Biden, Joe Biden should step down under sexual assault allegations.” Harsanyi goes back to many of the arguments made by the left, in particular Democrats and media figures during the Kavanaugh hearings with the allegations made by Christine Blasey Ford, and using the very same statements asks, credibly, why they are not being applied to Joe Biden.

Christians understand that we are already not in a good place on these issues in the United States. We’re looking at a genuine crisis of sexual abuse, and the abuse of women and children and others. We are looking at the fact that in 2016 this played out in the presidential election, with accusations made against President Trump, then candidate Trump. But in previous decades in his own books, Donald Trump had bragged of his promiscuity. My point here is not partisan, this is a bipartisan problem, but that’s actually the point because this kind of allegation made against Joe Biden, who had already faced different kinds of allegations, demonstrates the fact that the arguments used by the Democrats and by many in the media during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, are now not being applied to Joe Biden.

There has been a pattern of very bad and abusive behavior on the part of many powerful people for the course of human history, but in particular, in our context we now know, in the United States amongst Hollywood figures, economic titans, and of course politicians as well. All of this is at the very least a reminder to Christians that the one thing we know is that any of these charges cannot be unimportant. But it’s going to be interesting to see how Democratic leaders and others who are their colleagues respond to this challenge, when in this case the accusation is made against the likely 2020 Democratic nominee for the office of President of the United States.

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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