The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, February 15, 2021

It’s Monday, February 15, 2021.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

The Impeachment Trial Comes to an End: What Does the Acquittal Vote Actually Mean?

The verdict came down on Saturday afternoon, the United States Senate acquitted Donald J. Trump, the former president of the United States of the one article of impeachment that had been sent to the Senate by the United States House of Representatives, but the impeachment acquittal does not end the debate, nor did the process for that matter end up being a shining example of American democracy and American government at its best.

As we have discussed, impeachment as the founders and framers of our constitution understood would have to be very rarely employed under the most unusual of circumstances and frankly, there should be bipartisan agreement that what took place in Washington D.C. on January the 6th qualifies as some of the most unusual of circumstances, but at the same time, the framers also understood that impeachment would necessarily be a political act, and the political nature of the impeachment process became especially clear when this was a trial of a former president of the United States, something unprecedented at an American history.

Not the post-office impeachment trial, but the post-office impeachment trial of an American president. And of course, there have been only four presidential impeachment trials in the history of the United States, Andrew Johnson in the 1860s, Bill Clinton in the 1990s, and Donald Trump going back to two different impeachments in the course of his 4-year administration.

The last coming at the very point that the House of Representatives knew that his term would expire before the Senate could possibly consider in any responsible way, the article of impeachment for trial, but at the same time, as you think about the course of the trial, the House manager set out their case on that singular article of impeachment in which they accused the president of the United States, now former president, Donald Trump, of inciting an insurrection.

Now there are many interesting dimensions of this, but one thing is that almost all of the United States Senate, both Republicans and Democrats, blamed President Trump for having at least something to do with inciting the insurrection that took place against the United States capital, against the United States Congress on January the 6th, the very day that the United States Congress was to fulfill its constitutional responsibility to officially count the electoral college votes, votes that would, in the end, as everyone at that point did understand, mean the election of Joseph Biden as the new president of the United States.

That counting of the electoral college votes did happen, but it happened only after the insurrection, which will go down in history as a dark day, but it’s a very interesting question that has to be raised as to how exactly history will consider all of this. Now, there are some other dimensions, worldview dimensions for us to keep in mind. As Christians, we understand that God has given us government as one of his greatest gifts that government is responsible for the establishment of rightful order. It’s not just to be ordered by power, but order by justice. We understand that every government, every human government falls short of perfect justice and righteousness, but at the same time, we understand that it is a very important responsibility.

Christians understand that anarchy and disorder aren’t to be avoided at all costs. As a matter of fact, they represent God’s judgment on those who reject his law, his pattern in civilization, his pattern in creation. All of that becomes very, very clear. The Bible indicates disorder as a curse rightful order, including rightful government as a divine blessing. Of course, rightful government means that the rightful processes of government and the rightful institutions of government are to be honored. That’s what was really at stake on January the 6th, that was really what was under assault in the insurrection that we saw unfold chillingly and surprisingly enough in the course of that day.

Images we saw that we never expected to see as Americans, but in a Christian worldview perspective, we also have to recognize that the biblical truth is that sin always brings consequences and those consequences will come, even if those consequences are we’re not fully experienced or even fully visible in our own lifetimes. If nothing else, then eventually before the judgment of God, every single sin will be confronted with its ultimate and unchanging consequences, the full consequences.

Then again for Christians, that’s where we understand that our only hope, but our sufficient hope is the atonement for sin that was accomplished by our Lord, Jesus Christ made ours by faith, but there are some really huge issues here because we remember that a process of justice is to bring together as much as can be entrusted to a human institution or court, action and consequence, sin or wrongdoing, criminality and its consequence, a rightful proportional consequence. When it comes to the final verdict about what happened on January the 6th, 2021, there will be a lot of verdicts that will be handed down. Some of them will be actually criminal verdicts one way or another.

There are more than 100 individuals charged with some kind of crime as connected to the January 6th insurrection, or the planning of that insurrection. How that turns out, it’s too early to tell, but again, there will be criminal verdicts. There may be criminal verdicts beyond what we even know now, as authorities at various government levels may bring additional charges. Of course, what we saw very interesting in the presentation that was made by the House impeachment managers, Democrats, to be sure we saw was not only a factual case that they sought to lay out, but an extremely emotional case as well. Now we’re going to think about that just a bit.

Now, as you think about what took place, we think about actions and consequences. The very process of impeachment is intended to present a sitting president with the potential consequence of most importantly, being removed from office. Now it’s clear there weren’t enough votes to remove Donald Trump from office, not in his first impeachment trial, nor in his second impeachment trial. By the way, no sitting president has ever been removed from office by the impeachment process. That was true of Andrew Johnson in the 1860s. It was true of Bill Clinton in the 1990s.

Actually, let’s be honest, there are very real questions about what exactly it would take, or might take for the United States Senate to bring a conviction, what actions might then present the United States Senate with the absolute necessity of a conviction and then removal from office. Let’s just say, we hope as a nation, we never face that reality. We never face presidential wrongdoing on such a scale that the United States Senate agrees with the charges that are brought by the House of Representatives and actually removes the president. We’ve never seen that. Let’s hope we never see that, but at the same time, it has to be there as a potential consequence, but the United States constitution allows for a second consequence, and this was the one that the Democrats were really aiming for.

After all, they can’t remove Donald Trump from office. He’s not in office. Their goal was to seek a conviction, at least their close goal. Their proximate goal was to achieve a conviction, and then to have the Senate render judgment according to the constitution that Donald J. Trump would never be qualified again to hold public office or trust. In other words, he could never run for public office again. That didn’t happen. First of all, the conviction didn’t happen, so that sentence or punishment did not happen.

Part II

Weighing the Verdict of History in Saturday’s Impeachment Vote: The Moral Judgments of History Can’t Be Made Quickly

But because we are talking about a politician, we’re talking about politicians everywhere you look in this process, you can’t remove the politics from the process, and that means partisan politics. There is no surprise that what we see here as in the first Trump impeachment trial is an extremely clear partisan breakdown. Just about all the Democrats are supportive of conviction, the vast majority of Republicans resist the conviction. That’s the way it was in the first trial. That’s the way it was in the second trial, but the numbers are not the same. The verdict that was handed down on Saturday was 57/43. Now that means seven Republicans voted with all 50 Democrats for the conviction of Donald Trump, the former president. That’s very significant. The seven represents the largest number of senators of the president’s party, or in this case, the former president’s party ever to vote for conviction.

Back in president Trump’s first impeachment trial, there was one and only one Republican Senator who voted for conviction, that was Senator Mitt Romney of Utah. He voted similarly for again, but he was joined by six of his colleagues, but in order to reach the two thirds that would have been constitutionally necessary for conviction, there would have had to be 17 Republicans vote for conviction. Even though seven did, the vote came up 10 short, and that meant that president Trump was acquitted of the charges. Does that mean he was innocent?

Now that’s another really interesting aspect of American jurisprudence, our system of law and the Christian worldview understanding of guilt and innocence, because actually, courts in the United States do not find defendants innocent. They find them not guilty of this specific alleged crime. Now that’s massive because let’s think biblically, who is innocent? No one. As a matter of fact, innocence is a categorical reality. It means absolutely innocent of transgression. In this case, of any specific transgression, but courts don’t find individuals innocent. Innocent is a category beyond the court’s jurisdiction. Instead, courts, whether a judge or a jury or whatever is the judicatory body, it might find a defendant guilty.

It might find the defendant not guilty. It doesn’t find the defendant innocent and beyond that, even when it finds the defendant not guilty and thus the legal term there that’s often used is acquittal, it is acquittal on these charges. Now, one of the issues here Christians have to recognize is that there is no one who is without sin, no, not one. There is none righteous, no, not one. We are not as sinners guilty of every single sin, but we’re guilty of our own sin and furthermore, the Christian biblical worldview reminds us that we bring our sinfulness into everything. What does this mean for President Trump? Does it mean that he was found innocent? No, he was not found innocent.

That’s not the power of the United States Senate effectively acting as something of a jury here. That’s beyond their competence and furthermore, that’s not even a claim that was actually made by the president’s defenders and attorneys. Indeed, most members of the United States Senate, if not all have indicated in some sense that they believe that President Trump was guilty of something having to do with the events, the very tragic events of January the 6th, 2021. The question is guilty of what, to what extent and of course, not only that. Guilty in such a way that it justifies an impeachment process for a president who was already going to be removed from office raising legitimate constitutional issues.

I’ve stated my judgment already that the constitutional issues were not sufficient to avoid the trial in themselves. That is to say, the constitution does allow for a trial of a president or an office holder after the individual leaves the office. There’s ample precedent in this from American history and the language of the impeachment clause in the constitution, but that’s a completely separate from whether or not this was a justified or needed action on the part of the United States House of Representatives. It goes back to the politics. There’s politics everywhere.

The Democrats saw the opportunity to make political gain and even in the way the House impeachment managers presented their case, it is clear they were really trying to speak to the American people, not so much to the United States Senate and here’s where there’s some other worldview dimensions. What about the video? What about the video testimony that the House impeachment managers brought? It was a very moving, very chilling, very, very sad video. Not only that, it appears to have been documented in such a way that almost no one, including Republican supporters of the president said that the video wasn’t authentic, or it wasn’t real.

What you’re looking at there and that dark day in American history and in that video was also a huge amount of emotion, so much so that members of the House impeachment management that would be the prosecutors in this case, all of them Democrats actually showed an amazing amount of emotion in making their case. Now let’s just think about that from a Christian worldview perspective, emotions are part of how God made us. It’s a part of our composition, but in a legal process, it is often a dangerous solvent to add and it was quite intentionally added by the House impeachment managers. To what effect? Well, time will tell. That’s what’s going to be very interesting. Time will tell.

An article by New York Times’s columnist Michelle Goldberg, quite liberal and predictably so in this column as well. It’s interesting because of a statement she makes later in her article. She writes this, “Republican senators are being given the opportunity to get on the right side of history, to distance themselves from a disgrace. They must know their descendants will someday read about. They’re being given a chance to rewrite the shameful history of how the Republican party has behaved for the last four years.”

Now, one thing to keep in mind here if you read columnists like Michelle Goldberg and understand where the media ecology lays out, one of the things to recognize is that she probably would have said something about the Republican party along the same lines long before anyone imagined that Donald Trump might be the Republican nominee, much less a Republican president. In other words, you have seen the cultural and political left, the ideological left in the United States trying to remove legitimacy from any kind of conservative movement, or a conservative party in the United States for a matter of decades now, especially the last two or three decades.

You have to discount what she said here, but the other interesting thing is that language, getting on the right side of history. She says that the Republican senators had an opportunity to get on the right side of history. Well, seven voted for conviction. Were they doing so because they were uniquely, morally outraged in the events of January the 6th? Maybe, but it’s also conceivable that the seven were actually joined by most Republican senators and having a rather similar judgment about the moral issues that were at stake, the differences in the political issues. In order to understand that, you also need another footnote.

The vast majority of the seven represented either senators who have announced they’re not running for office again, or those who in their own circumstances might’ve been recently elected so that they are not going to face the voters again very soon, or it might be that they’ve decided that they just want their vote to show that in the end, they were on the right side of history. Now that raises all kinds of questions. Do we, should we want to be on the right side of history? How many times on The Briefing do we have to point out how dangerous that argument is? The LGBTQ activists are always telling us indeed the cultural left is always telling us that we’re on the wrong side of history and that history, particularly in the form of our own descendants and generations coming will repudiate us.

We’re going to be an embarrassment for holding to a biblical understanding of marriage, to a biblical pattern of gender and sexuality. We notice how dangerous that argument is. At the same time, there is something to it. We understand that the ultimate judgment, the only judgment that will matter eternally is the judgment of God. An absolutely right, absolutely infinitely just and righteous judgment, but we do understand that history renders judgments. In coming days on The Briefing, not talking about the impeachment trial, but looking at some larger issues, we’re going to be thinking about how history works, how historical verdicts are made, but here’s a very interesting point.

Whatever you think about history, history is not written between say February of 2021 after January of 2021. That’s not how it works. A columnist to talk about being on the right side of history in February about events that took place in January is not speaking let’s just be clear as an historian. Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky was very clear about indicating what he saw as the moral responsibility born by former President Trump and the events of January the 6th. “There’s no question, none that President Trump,” he said, “is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day.”

The senator from Kentucky went on making a statement, but he also voted for acquittal because he said he thought the process was not faithful to the intention of the constitutional impeachment clause. I raised that statement from Senator McConnell because I think it’s accurate. At least at this point, it’s a fairly safe assumption to say that as we look to how the history of these days will be reflected upon by historians in the future, let’s just put it this way. January the 6th, 2021 is going to be a huge embarrassment, if not worse and all of those who bear responsibility for that day and even for the political context that produced that day. Yes, I believe that includes the former president of the United States.

I think it includes many, many others, especially those who were involved in the insurrection itself, or in the planning of the insurrection, but here’s what’s really, really important to recognize. We do not ultimately place our trust in the judgment made by historians past, present, or future. We do understand that future generations will be making moral judgments about our own times, our own actions, our own words, but it’s very, very difficult to predict, to prophesize, much less to determine where historical judgment is going to fall. Even in just the course of the last several years, massive historical judgments and historical consensus have been changed.

In the human expansive history, books get written, theories get rewritten, statues go up and don’t we know it, statues come down. As Christians, we must recognize we will not escape the verdict of history, but far more importantly, the only judgment of eternal consequence is the judgment and justice of God. At that point, we’re going to have to trust the righteous judgment of God. We’ll have to leave the judgment of the historians to the historians, but after all, their verdict is only good for time, not for eternity.

Part III

Deep Spiritual Truths Reflected on Valentine’s Day: Recognizing the Shadows of a Culture Longing for Something More Than Romantic Love

But finally, yesterday was Valentine’s Day in the United States, precisely St. Valentine’s Day, long-term in the United States associated with romantic love and with couples celebrating the day.

It fell on Sunday this year on the Lord’s day. Most Americans didn’t recognize it as having anything to do with the Lord’s day, but rather on Sunday, it came in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot of the media attention was given to the fact that there would be fewer opportunities for dinner out, or for a lot of the commercial aspects of the Valentine’s Day commemoration, but of course, behind all of that, it’s a lot more. You have the consumer culture that produces all these holidays and continues to amplify them. A consumer economy has every reason to amplify holidays because holidays are big dynamos for the economy itself for consumer spending.

First of all, look at the fact that Halloween has been catapulted in the last several decades from being a fairly obscure holiday in the United States associated with children trick or treating into one of the two or three biggest holiday spending opportunities for the year, especially with costumes, paraphernalia, decorations, and all the rest. Valentine’s Day has also catapulted into the top tier of consumer holidays in the United States, but as you’re thinking about it, cards, flowers, all the rest, just think about something else and that is this. Profoundly, what is reflected in the Valentine’s Day event in the United States is the longing for something, the longing for something that is beyond romantic love.

Now romantic love is as old as human beings, at least we can hope, that is the love that brings together a man and a woman. Eventually, we hope in holy matrimony and in the fullness of marriage, having children, a family, and all the rest. That would be a rightful kind of societal celebration, the fact that here are young people, especially young men and young women who are getting together in the appropriate relationship of marriage. They are courting, they’re headed towards marriage, and also as a society to celebrate those who have long been married and are themselves testimonies to the beauty of marital love and romantic love, but here’s one of the huge problems.

A split took place in Western civilization just more recently than you might think. This split really came into phases. The first phase came late in the middle ages with the rise of the cult of romantic love, and that meant that even as most marriages were still arranged, there was this quarterly culture of romance that emerged and romantic love became a cultural fascination. Now, just to give one example, let me mention one of the most famous fictional couples in all of world history, William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” and understand what’s going on there. What you have is a clash in history of two different understandings of love and marriage. There’s the understanding of the parents of the young couple.

Actually the big dynamic in the play is that the parents are representing a traditional medieval and I would say just about all previous centuries of human experience as well, and understanding of marriage as belonging to society and love as that which should emerge from the context of marriage, but the young people, Romeo and Juliet tragically enough, let’s note also represent a very different understanding of love. They are arguing for the primacy of romantic love, a love that breaks other social boundaries and transgresses if necessary because the young lovers are so committed to one another. Now, the interesting thing is that Romeo and Juliet is indeed a Shakespearian tragedy.

It ends in tragedy, but the second wave of this romantic love as the predominant cultural interest came in the 19th and particularly in the 20th centuries, where social conventions and older understandings of love as being rooted primarily in marriage and growing out of marriage, or growing out of courtship in that sense, leading to marriage. The reality is that romantic love became decoupled, not only from the societal structures of marriage, but for that matter, for marriage at all. It’s been really interesting to see how a society bent on increasing moral rebellion has any kind of common understanding of anything like love that would be celebrated on Valentine’s Day.

For one thing, that love that was behind the association of St. Valentine’s Day with the reality of love and an annual commemoration. It was clearly heterosexual, and it was clearly contextualized within a marriage centric culture, but in the aftermath of the LGBTQ revolution and before that the heterosexual revolution that decoupled sex from marriage and marriage from sex, what you have is actually something that amounts to a cultural tragedy, but as I began in talking about Valentine’s Day on The Briefing today, you do see the shadows of longing. You see a deep cultural longing for something beyond the ephemeral romance that often actually is celebrated by the culture that is manipulated by Hollywood and for that matter, now a consumer society.

The reality is there is a longing for something more real, for something more lasting, for something more pure, for something more love. Sometimes, we as Christians have an opportunity to speak into that longing, this kind of longing we see not only in the culture at large, but in the individuals of that culture, some of whom we know and love. The reality is when we get to speak into that longing and speak to it in a way that reflects gospel, biblical Christianity, we ought to do it. We need to make very clear to the world around us that we do not believe less than they believe in love. We believe infinitely more than they believe in love.

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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