briefing, Albert Mohler

Friday, May 29, 2020

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

It’s Friday, May 29, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Truth and Justice in the Age of the Video: The Death of George Floyd, a False Accusation in Central Park, and the Responsibility of the Rule of Law

In one sense it is as if we live in the age of the video, not just video as a technology, the video—the video that goes viral and instantly captures national and international attention. This week, there is no question what that viral video is. It is the video of George Floyd, a man in Minneapolis, a black man being held down by a police officer in an arrest with his knee on the back of George Floyd’s neck. The end result we now know is that George Floyd died as a result of those injuries.

Minneapolis authorities say that they were told in the beginning that George Floyd had been arrested after there had been a call about some kind of attempted forgery. And we were told that George Floyd had resisted arrest, but the video seems to tell a very different story. And as the events have unfolded tragically on the streets of Minneapolis and beyond, this case turns out to be different than some other cases. For one thing, there has been near universal condemnation of the actions by the one police officer in general and the three Minneapolis police officers who are with him. All four have now been fired from the police department and the Minneapolis mayor has called for a federal civil rights investigation.

The difference in this case from some previous cases is that this almost universal condemnation has included police authorities. Not only from associations of Chiefs of Police, such as the Major Cities Chiefs Association, but also by some of the associations representing the men and women in blue on the front lines. And this would include the National Association of Police Organizations. William Johnson, Executive Director of that organization that represents almost a quarter of a million police officers across the country, speaking of the video and have the now deadly hold of the officer on George Floyd said, “It’s so egregious and it goes on for so long.” Art Acevedo, who is the Police Chief in Houston and is also head of the Major Cities Chiefs Association said, “I haven’t heard anybody justify this.”

But this video also came out within the same several days as the nation watched a video taken by an African-American man, as a white woman threatened to call the police and to accuse him of assault. And the entire thing once again was on video. We are in the age of the video. The video from Central Park, the video for Minneapolis, and now an avalanche of videos about this and about that. But the most important thing to recognize is that the video has now become a technology that creates a catalyst of public interest and also a public judgment. When you’re looking at these videos, the last two in particular, you can’t help but to understand that there is something horribly wrong here. There’s something horrible now recorded on video. And it’s not a natural disaster, it is a human disaster.

In the case of the video from Central Park, you see a man accused of doing something he patently did not do. And now no one accuses him of doing. He acted in no way that was wrong, much less violent, and he was met with the claim that the woman would call the police, which she did. And what you have is a 911 call that demonstrates the danger of this kind of false accusation. If one just listened to the audio of the woman’s 911 call, it would sound very real, very urgent and very credible. But all of a sudden, when you add the video to the audio, it seems exactly the opposite in every respect.

Now, in a fallen world Christians understand that there is the very real danger of video misrepresentation, even as there is always the danger of literary or audio misrepresentation. But those have not been alleged in either of these cases. In both of these cases, there has been now a widespread acceptance of the fact that the video is credible. Now obviously this raises huge issues about justice and race in America. That’s now indisputable. Those discussions are unavoidable. These videos represent two different visions and two different dimensions of the intractable problem of race in America. But the one man falsely accused in New York City is very much alive. The man who was arrested in Minneapolis is very much not. He is now dead. And America basically saw him die on that video. Even as he was crying out that he was struggling for breath, he cried out for help. There was no help forthcoming.

The inevitable question that comes watching these videos is if the situation would have been imaginable if the man accused or arrested were not African-American. That’s the inevitable question. And the judgment has come so quickly from many including the mayor of Minneapolis and including thousands of persons who went on the streets of Minneapolis, and have led to a form of anarchy on the streets, including looting and other demonstrations that has led the city’s mayor to consider calling in the help of the National Guard.

It’s an ugly picture everywhere you look. But there is an obvious sense of protest and injustice on the streets of Minneapolis. But it’s being combined with a form of protest that is taking the shape of injustice and lawlessness. Now, it is not fair to blame any particular community or any portion of a community at large for this kind of action. But it is very important for Christians to understand as we look at the videos or we look at the news coverage of what is taking place in Minneapolis right now, that we are observing a parable that is being played out right before our eyes—a parable on the streets, a parable in the police department, a parable when it comes to politics. All of this will become a part of the American story. The question is, what kind of part of the American story and where does this story lead?

But one of the things we need to consider is one of the issues that sadly, we have to come back to again and again, and that is the importance of the rule of law. There is no alternative really, unless it’s going to be the rule of one, as in a dictatorship, or the rule of the mob, as in anarchy. The Bible makes very clear and neither of those is an appropriate alternative. The rule of law is what must stand as the only structure and the only means of rescue. The most approximate means of finding justice in a fallen world.

I say approximate because proximate justice is the most that fragile, sinful human beings can achieve. But we are called to achieve it. It is a major theme of Scripture. We are to seek justice, we are to seek to establish justice. We need just laws. We need a just society that is ruled by just people who implement and exercise just policies. But the policies are going to be no better than the people, and the people are sinners. After all, that’s why we need the rule of law. The rule of law is what the protesters call for when they rightly say, there needs to be an investigation, there needs to be an accountability. The rule of law is why there is a rightful appeal to the mayor of Minneapolis to the police authorities and beyond that, to the legal authorities rightly in place in the state of Minneapolis, and in the federal government of the United States of America. This is why the federal government has a Department of Justice. This is why we have an attorney general. This is why there are United States attorneys all across the map of the United States. This is why we understand the importance of the rule of law. This is especially important to Christians who understand that in a fallen world, it’s the rule of law or it is anarchy and violence. And it is danger for everyone. If the rule of law breaks down, there is no rescue.

But when you look at the City of Minneapolis and you look particularly at the looting and the other lawlessness going on the streets, you have to say, there is no way to achieve the rule of law, which is what you actually demand if you destroy the rule of law right on the streets. The rule of law requires that those who bear responsibility, who hold office, who are the judges and governors and mayors and police chiefs and others, they have the responsibility for the rule of law, but so do the people of any jurisdiction. Together we bear responsibility for the rule of law, and it can be subverted from the top by corruption or by violence. It can be corrupted from the average citizenry, also by violence and lawlessness.

In the age of the video, we have now incontrovertibly proof, and it’s very emotionally laden truth, seeing injustice documented before our eyes, and injustice calls out for justice, but justice calls out for the rule of law. But as Christians right now in the United States, Christians need to be praying for our African-American brothers and sisters, particularly those in Minneapolis and in the larger state of Minnesota. We need to pray for those who bear responsibility. I’m praying particularly for the pastors, the evangelical gospel African-American pastors who bear a remarkable responsibility right now in the city of Minneapolis, and for that matter, all over our nation. In the age of the video, their ministry has changed also.

Christians understand there are also two other issues that have to be weighed. One is the responsibility to be patient and to wait for the rule of law to run its course. The other is that which was articulated by Martin Luther King, Jr. when he said that “justice delayed is justice denied.” In reality, there is truth in both of those statements, and a just society has to find some way of balancing those two imperatives. But today, and as we go into the weekend, we’re going to be praying particularly as gospel Christians for those who bear responsibility in Minneapolis and even more so for those who bear responsibly for the gospel in Minneapolis.

There and beyond, in all places and in all times until Jesus comes, it is our responsibility to preach the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ—the only truly good news human beings will ever hear about a means of rescue from sin in all of its forms.

Part II

The Biggest Political Struggle in California? It’s Democrats v. Democrats

But next, as we’re thinking about trying to understand our nation, particularly politically, as we’re doing worldview analysis these days, we have to look at the fact that over and over again, our vocabulary tends to repeat, including the categories of conservative and liberal. The reason for that is that we have to have some way of giving a name to the deep political divisions in this country and what amounts to the continuation of two very long political arguments.

The terms aren’t perfect. Some of those who are on the right aren’t as conservative as other conservatives. They really are not animated by an effort to try to conserve the structures of society, and the habits of mind and thought that lead to adjust society, but they’re instead just on the right. And similarly on the liberal side there are some who are actually on the left. They don’t hold to any kind of traditional liberalism in terms of a Western conception of liberty. They’re instead on the more revolutionary left. But in the main, when we talk about conservative and liberal in the United States, we have a pretty good idea what we’re talking about. And in general terms, those labels are accurate rather than inaccurate. And that leads us to a story from California.

And the story there, the big story is that in the nation’s most populous state, the most urgent political dynamic right now is not between liberalism and conservatism, or between liberals and conservatives. But as we’re going to see elsewhere in the country is true as well, between liberals and liberals, or perhaps more accurately, liberals and those who are to their left.

This came out in a recent article published at Politico with the headline, “The Liberal/Moderate Rift Among Democrats Has Blown Open in California.” Now again, we are talking about California. So the word “moderate” here is actually the least accurate word. You’re talking about those who are rather liberal as Democratic politicians and office holders in California, and those who are more liberal, and in some cases, strikingly more liberal. But the point of this article is that the political dynamic in California, really at this point isn’t liberal/conservative, it’s liberal and more liberal. And that also comes down to a partisan distinction. It’s really not, for the most part, a Democrat versus Republican, increasingly it’s one Democrat versus another Democrat.

As Politico reports, “In an earlier era of California politics, Mike Eng would have been a safe bet to win a solidly blue state senate seat. A dedicated liberal, Eng enjoyed the name recognition of having served in the state assembly. He drew support from assembly speaker Anthony Rendon, a former protégé who rose to become one of the state’s most powerful figures. Eng had the states for formidable organized labor movement in his corner. Democratic voters outnumbered Republicans three to one in that Los Angeles district, making a Democratic win a foregone conclusion.”

The next paragraph is really crucial: “But in modern California politics, the critical fault line isn’t between Democrats and Republicans. It’s between Democrats, thanks to an election system that allows two Democrats to advance out of primaries and collide in the general election. Eng learned this lesson the hard way.”

But the story then unfolds that in this case, Eng was toppled by another Democrat. The Politico report then states, “There is no other state where Democrats wield the absolute power the party enjoys in California. Democrats occupy every statewide office and command two-thirds majorities in both houses. Former GOP strongholds like Orange County have shaded blue. Republicans don’t just lag behind Democrats, there are also fewer registered Republicans than no party preference voters in California.”

Now, the unique electoral system that’s referred to here, it points to the fact that in California, the primary system puts out the top two vote getters, regardless of whether they have a party identification as Democrat or Republican. So that means that in a state that is now so overwhelmingly Democratic in registration and in voting patterns, the two biggest vote getters in many primaries are both Democrats. That means that when voters get to a statewide election, they are often looking at Democrat versus Democrat rather than Democrat versus Republican. That’s a fairly new innovation in the long story of American politics, but it is a fundamental game changer. That means that Republicans can be basically wiped off the entire general election map, and that happens in some parts of California now. You can’t find a Republican holding statewide office anywhere in the state. You could also continue much of that trend up the entire American West Coast.

Later in the Politico article we read, “In the new political world of California, progressives tend to define themselves by their ideals. A Green New Deal, single payer healthcare, policing reforms for victims of racial discrimination, while moderates practice a more complicated equation of balancing goals and practical effects. There’s no formal moderate Democrat designation,” says the article. “The bloc tends to track with California’s geography, drawing its members from the inland agricultural and oil producing districts that can feel like different states than San Francisco or Los Angeles.”

Well, that’s absolutely true. In much of the agriculturally dominated portions of the interior of California, the state can seem more like Texas than like Los Angeles or much less, San Francisco. But the reality is that statewide, the rules have been set by those who live in the cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, San Diego, and Sacramento. It’s not an accident that California’s politics is trending more towards those who live in the big cities and particularly along the California Pacific coastline.

But this article is very interesting in pointing to the fact that there is a split amongst the Democrats that is not just what they call liberal/moderate, because the moderates really aren’t very moderate at all. But between those who are more ideological on the left and those who might be a bit more pragmatic. Just being pragmatic these days as in math can get you labeled a moderate in the Democratic Party. One of the most graphic illustrations of that is that California former four-term governor, Jerry Brown. He was governor in the ‘70s. He was governor again just a few years ago. The point is that he was considered so far left in his early political life that he was dismissed as “Governor Moonbeam.” But by the time he left office, he was considered something of a conservative within his own party—a conservative partly because he believed in some form of budget restraint.

One or the other issues that is coming up in a big way in California has to do with law and order with the election of some as district attorneys who actually argue against the implementation of some of the laws that California’s legislature has adopted, a very different understanding of the rule of law and the role of law. In this case, you see the rule of law being subverted by those who are elected as the prosecutorial authorities in the state. They’re simply saying they are not going to apply many of the laws that are actually on the books in California. That also subverts the rule of law.

Another major tension point in California is the battle between those who style themselves as educational reformers and the teacher unions. The teacher unions in California, as elsewhere, have incredible political power. And they use much of that power and multiple millions of dollars of leverage in order to try to prevent any form of a major change in the way the schools are run and teachers are hired or evaluated or retained or not evaluated and retained anyway. There are other battles that have to do with those who are trying to legislate the diets of people in California and those who are trying to sell food or to grow food, or for that matter to manufacture food that might be sold elsewhere in the country. This is a perpetual kind of battle.

It’s also in California extremely interesting to watch the associations of say, doctors and nurses, because they’re now taking positions on all kinds of issues that do not seem to apply, first of all, mostly to doctors and nurses. But just about everything right now is politicized, and particularly so in California. The big import of this story is that what happens in California doesn’t stay in California.

But as we reach the end of the week, and we are always trying to understand what is going on around us, well, the Democrat versus Democrat, liberal versus more liberal dynamic in California really ought to have our attention. And in the coming week, we’re going to be looking at another dynamic and that is the older left versus the younger left. Again, the energy is amongst the young, but the political power has been amongst the old. How is that story going to turn out? Well, we will look more closely at that dynamic next week.

Part III

An Article with No Calories: Sometimes a News Item Isn’t Really News At All

But even as I mentioned those who are trying to legislate the diets of people in a state like California, I’m going to end with a story that ran just in recent days by Marlene Cimons at the Washington Post. The headline: “Safety of Sugar Substitutes Remains Inconclusive After Years of Research.” That’s an interesting headline telling us that the safety of sugar substitutes—they are so widespread in our culture—well, that safety remains, we’re told, inconclusive.

So I read the entire article, and it ran on the 22nd of May. It ran just days ago in the Washington Post. The Washington Post is one of the nation’s most influential newspapers, and a newspaper supposed to be primarily about news. This story was presented as a news story. I read every word of it. You know what I found? No news.

The article begins going back to 1878, and the largely accidental creation of an artificial sweetener. It follows through the development of others of these sweeteners. And then it goes on to say in recent years studies have questioned the safety of sugar substitutes. But it points out that other studies have demonstrated that there is no necessary health linkage at all. At the end of the day, there is an inconclusive status.

But the point is, that’s not news. There’s not even any news in this article about a new study that’s being cited or a new authority that’s being quoted. Here’s something as we end the week to think about as we are consumers and readers and viewers of the news: Sometimes we just need to know this isn’t news at all. Sometimes this is basically clickbait, just hoping that there will be some activity, someone’s going to bite on this story. Sometimes in the old age of the dominance of print, it was basically a way of filling out a story when there was a space that was awkward, just put something in as filler. But even in today’s fast paced digital world, there is still filler. This is an example of that kind of filler. It’s an example of the fact that when you look at a news article, one of the things you always need to ask is whether or not there’s actually any news here.

Something else to watch in this kind of article is the fact that when you see a study cited, a study, another study, an expert, another expert, if those persons are not particularly well cited, and there’s no particular documentation, you’re being told nothing in particular. And when almost all of the sentences are written with conditionality such as, “Sugar substitutes might be useful for weight loss when used in an overall weight loss plan.” Well, just look at that sentence and realize there is not so much writing on “might” at all on either side of the argument. You read the entire article about substances with few or zero calories, you reach the end of the article and you realize this article had no calories.

Sometimes that’s just the way it is, a reminder of the fact that not everything that someone claims to be news is news at all. And for Christians, that should be no news to us.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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