Thursday, March 25, 2021
It's Thursday, March 25, 2021.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
10 People Killed in Murderous Attack in Boulder, Colorado: How Should Christians Think about Such a Terrible, Moral Evil?
Here we are again, a nation broken-hearted, a community grieving. In this case, the community is Boulder, Colorado. The murderous rampage took place on Monday when a lone assailant inside and outside a supermarket killed 10 people. He's now been charged with 10 counts of murder. Once again, we are looking at the fact that a young male driven by whatever impulses may yet be revealed and many that will never be fully known, in a murderous sinful rage with murderous intent, he went into a supermarket. We now know he began the attack outside the supermarket, and then moved inside the supermarket. The questions came almost immediately. Who is the shooter, who were the victims? In this case of the identity of the 10 victims includes the fact that one of them was a police officer who was the father to seven children.
We're looking at victims that range in age from 20 to just over 60. We're talking about the context of a placid supermarket in a suburban community that became the context for a murderous attack, what is rightly described as an intentional killing spree. Again and again, on The Briefing, we've had to come back to the fact that what we are looking at is a murderous impulse that lurks in the human heart. We are looking at the fact that only God's common grace, His restraining grace, keeps back even more individuals from giving into even more murderous impulses.
But, we're also looking at the fact that this is one of those events that demands a moral explanation, underlining again that we are moral creatures. Christians understand that to be entirely answerable to the fact that we are made in God's image. We are moral creatures. We understand intuitively as soon as we hear about harm to another human being, much less the murder of 10 fellow human beings, we come to understand that this is a moral evil of unspeakable calculation.
We come to understand that it requires a moral explanation, a merely psychiatric, a merely political, a merely economic or sociological explanation won't work. We understand that there's something that is inherently theological, that is required in this explanation. There is something that is irreducibly moral.
Law enforcement officials in Boulder, Colorado identified the suspect as Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa. He's identified as a resident of Aurora, Colorado. Again, 20 years old. We are told that he was shot in the leg during the attack and he was later filmed being taken into custody. The charge so far? 10 counts of murder in the first degree, one count of attempted first degree murder. Interesting and important moral statement made by the district attorney there in Boulder County, Michael Doherty, he said, "Nothing can replace. Nothing can fill the void of the victims and their loved ones, but I promise you, we will hold him accountable."
Now here's something very, very interesting. That's the language that we hear used in issues of relatively minor moral importance, or in this case, an issue of incalculable moral importance. "We're going to hold someone accountable." Now there is a natural and right moral impulse behind that. That's why we have a system of justice. That's why we have police who make arrests. That's why we have district attorneys and other prosecutors who make the case against the crime in court. This is why we have judges and juries. This is why we have our entire legal system. It's an attempt to try to hold morally accountable human beings accountable in a human context. But here's where we understand the limitations of saying that, "I promise you, we will hold him accountable."
I understand the rightful impulse behind the district attorney's statement, but the problem is there is no human court. There is no human system of justice that can actually ever hold any human being truthfully and totally accountable for a crime of this magnitude. Indeed understood in a theological sense, there's no human authority that can successfully hold any human being accountable for even one day sin. But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't have police, and we shouldn't have prosecutors, we shouldn't have court systems, no. Moral sanity requires it. And those systems are a part of the common grace that God has given us, even in creation.
That's why, wherever you go, and whatever society on whatever continent, you're going to find someone responsible for law enforcement. You're going to find someone with the ability to make an arrest. You're going to find some system for trying to ascertain criminal responsibility and handout criminal punishments. But from the biblical worldview, once again, what we see here is not the fact that it's wrong for human beings and human structures and systems to try to hold a human being accountable, it is the fact that ultimately only the creator himself can hold us fully accountable. And that's really what the day of judgment is.
The day of judgment, which will come for every single human being, that day of judgment comes as the ultimate actual display of moral accountability. We will give an answer not only for every evil deed, but for every evil thought. Just to state the obvious those evil thoughts are beyond any adequate human investigation. If this 20 year old young man is indeed responsible for these crimes as is now credibly believed, Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, and if he is given say, 10 death sentences, that will not bring one human being back to life. Nor would that even be an adequate payment for that sin and that wrong. He could serve 10 consecutive life sentences, and that of course is a logical impossibility, but it's a judicial option when it comes to punishment.
The reality is that even if he could live 10 lifetimes and serve all of those lifetimes and every day of his life in prison, that would not be an adequate punishment. It's just the limitation of human justice. There are other big Christian worldview, biblical worldview dimensions of this. We have an inherent moral need to try to explain a crime of this enormity as best we can. We want to understand the one who carried out the crime. We want to understand what might have motivated him or her in any given case. And most of these murderous assailants turn out to be young men, but as was the case with the young man charged with the murderous rampage in the Atlanta area, just days before, the fact is that even as we come to understand some facts about the individual, maybe even some comments, some language, some signals, some explanation, the reality is that the full explanation will never be fully understood.
It's not wrong to ask the question, but it is wrong to believe that we have a totally comprehensive answer. The Bible tells us itself that sin as a mystery, and we are a mystery to ourselves. That by the way, does not reduce in the slightest, the moral accountability or the moral weight of our behavior. It is to say there is no adequate human explanation. Once again, this requires to some extent, if we are actually honest, some theological explanation.
Another aspect of the biblical worldview that comes into play here is this. If indeed the human court of justice is the only court of justice in the entire cosmos forever, then you will have evil basically win in many cases, if not all. Many horrible crime go unsolved. The perpetrator is never known or arrested. Perpetrator or perpetrators. The reality is that in many cases, the true nature of the crime is never adequately known. And furthermore, we do not know what crimes and wrongful deeds anyone may be plotting at any time that will never actually be carried out. God says we'll be accountable for those as well, but no human court can take action against those thoughts. It requires some kind of external expression.
We pray for those in Boulder, Colorado, especially grieving families. And of course, in Boulder and beyond, we understand that with every one of these horrific crimes, there is a process of cultural and community shock that is followed by communal grief that is followed by a righteous indignation and anger. We want to affirm and encourage all those in law enforcement and in the judicial operation to continue their work and press it on to the most faithful and truthful completion possible in human terms.
The Grocery Store as a Symbol of American Life: Understanding the Role of the Economy of Trust in America
But, I want to end on this issue by considering something that hasn't come up very often in these considerations, and that has to do with the fact that this was a murderous rampage that took place in the context of an American supermarket. In one sense, I grew up in a supermarket. My father was in the grocery business. Much of my family is still in the grocery business. There is something quintessentially human about that business, delivering food to people. There is something in the supermarket that is also quintessentially American.
The rise of the American grocery store as we know it today, the American supermarket, goes back to the early decades of the 20th century, but it was in the last half of the 20th century that the supermarket became a basic institution of American community life. If a community is large enough, it has not only a grocery store or a few grocery stores, it has some supermarket. And, the American supermarket during the Cold War became one of the visible evidences of the distinction between communism and capitalism.
In capitalism, you had supermarkets, you had people driving their cars up to supermarkets, parking their cars, going in, filling their carts, making their choices of consumer interest, buying food, bread, soup, you name it, fresh milk, fresh eggs, fresh meat, and taking it back to their cars and driving to their house. During the Cold War, that was in stark contrast to the fact that the shelves in many Soviet and other communist markets were basically empty. If they had anything, it was that which was provided by state farms, branded as a state product, with the banality and the plainness and the scarcity that not only reduced choice, but actually quantity in so many cases.
The point I want to make is not so much the wonder of the supermarket, though it is a wonder, and we have to consider how privileged this generation of Americans is to have access almost by just reflex to such a store with such goods, with so much food at so much abundance delivered to us. That is a wonder for which we should be thankful. But, we need to understand something else, and that is the economy of trust that is necessary for our entire civilization to operate.
The grocery store, in this case the supermarket, becomes a symbol of that economy of trust. If you cannot trust that you can go into a supermarket safely and make your choices and take your children and buy your food and then put it into your vehicle and take it home safely. If indeed Americans ever reached the point where there is a generalized fear or anxiety about going to the store, going to the supermarket, going to the school, going to church, going anywhere, then the civilization that we know will no longer be possible.
Now, our civilization is not based upon the total erasure of violence. That would be irrational. It's not based upon the disappearance of sin, that also would be unbiblical and irrational, but it is based upon an adequate level of trust that enables us to trust that when we go into the grocery store, we're going in with friends and neighbors and people we might not even know, whom we can trust. We are going into a context that is safe, where the biggest decisions we may have to make are about our food choices and about the dietary impact.
Going in, at the threat of one's life, is unthinkable. Such an economy doesn't operate. Without the economy of trust, the economy of currency doesn't matter. There will be legislative proposals, already you have President Biden and others talking about executive actions and legislation proposed concerning gun control, it's going to be very interesting to see if those actually take any executive form. If they take any form of legislative action, it's going to be very interesting. Of course, that will be debated. There are basic constitutional rights in the Second Amendment that are at stake, and even in a state like Colorado, there is no assurance of how such a legislative proposal might go forward.
Boulder as a community is actually quite liberal, but Colorado is a state is not uniformly so liberal. Not at all. But even then, we're looking at a federal system, we're looking at 50 states. The Governor of Colorado pointed to the fact that even as you have certain gun laws in his state, when you go just across the border to Wyoming, it's a completely different set of laws. There will be arguments for a federal system. There will be arguments about gun rights. You can count on a lot of that coming to the fore, but here's what I want to point out.
Regardless of how those discussions go forward, and we'll talk about them when they come, the reality is the human beings have an impulse that requires safety and trust first, before freedom and liberty become possible. Now, one insight from that comes down to this. Those who destroy that trust are also out to destroy our liberties. It's going to be very interesting and informative to see how these conversations unfold, and unfold they will, and we'll be watching them with you.
They’re Coming for Oral Roberts University, And That Means They’re Coming for You Too
But next, a hugely important development that comes in sports coverage in USA Today. We've noted before the liberal direction of USA Today, when it comes to many of the sports stories, in which the sports section of USA Today, like much of the newspaper, but in particular the sports section, has turned into an engine for the LGBTQ revolution, and in a very big way. But there has been no article that matches in significance what appeared just in recent days by columnist Hemal Jhaveri. The headline is this, "Oral Roberts University isn't the feel good March Madness story we need."
Now folks, this is a huge development. Let's pay attention to what's going on here. Hemal Jhaveri in this case has written an article about the unexpected development that the men's basketball team of Oral Roberts University has found itself not only in the NCAA men's basketball national tournament, but now in the Sweet Sixteen. It's a big news story and of course it's a big development in the life of Oral Roberts University, a Tulsa based Christian university that almost assuredly did not expect to find itself in the men's NCAA national tournament, not to mention the Sweet Sixteen.
But even as the story is something of a Cinderella tale, the fact is that Hemal Jhaveri is out to say it's not what it appears to be, because if you look under the surface, Oral Roberts University, shouldn't be in the tournament in the first place, and her argument has nothing to do with the basketball ability of its team. It has everything to do with the fact that she accuses Oral Roberts University of being bigoted, out of date, homophobic, prejudicial. You go down the list. What we're seeing here is not only a secular indictment of one institution, but rather an indictment of any Christian college, any Christian university, any institution, any chartered organization, any church and denomination that would dare to stand against, or even against the tide of the moral revolution. LGBTQ+, don't forget the plus.
As you're looking at the article, the actual language of it becomes very important. She writes, "And yet as the spotlight grows on Oral Roberts and it reaps the goodwill, publicity, and revenue of a national title run, the University's deeply bigoted anti-LGBTQ+ policies can't and shouldn't be ignored."
This story goes on to tell us about the founding of the university in 1963. We are told that it upholds values and beliefs of its fundamentalist namesake, that would be the evangelist Oral Roberts, "Making it not just a relic of the past, but wholly incompatible with the NCAA's own stated values of equality and inclusion."
Now, by the time the article ends, Hemal Jhaveri has gone so far as to say that the NCAA should not have allowed Oral Roberts into the tournament, and by extension should not allow Oral Roberts University or religious colleges like it to be participants in the NCAA at all.
She writes with condescension about the standards of behavior at Oral Roberts, the student code of conduct that does ban profanity, social dancing, shorts in the classroom. She also writes about the school's "discriminatory and hateful anti-LGBTQ+ policy that fan should protest as the Golden Eagles advance in the tournament."
She then writes this, and we're supposed to be absolutely shocked and appalled. "Twice in their student handbook Oral Roberts specifically prohibits homosexuality. In their student conduct section, under the heading of personal behavior, the school expressly condemns homosexuality mentioning it in the same breath as "occult practices"." Now, that's a quotation mark, "occult practices", and this is written in such a way that the casual reader of USA Today would think that the authorities at Oral Roberts University have classified homosexuality, the entire ray, LGBTQ+, as being akin to a cultic practices.
That's not fair, it's not honest, it's not true. Here's the relevant section of the student handbook. "Students are expected to maintain the highest standards of integrity, honesty, modesty, and morality. Certain behaviors are expressly prohibited in scripture and therefore should be avoided by members of the University community. They include theft, lying dishonesty, gossip, slander, backbiting, profanity, vulgarity including crude language, sexual promiscuity including adultery, any homosexual behavior, premarital sex, drunkenness, immodesty of dress, and occult practices."
So, if it's fair to say that in their policies, they list homosexual activity along with occult practices, the fact is that they would also have to say that they list homosexual activity alongside slander, gossip, and backbiting. But then, thta wouldn't serve their purposes very well.
The student honor code also explicitly bans any homosexual activity, any sexual intercourse with one who is not my spouse, any unscriptural or illicit sexual act, "I will not be united in marriage other than the marriage between one man and one woman."
So again, what are we looking at there? We're looking at biblical Christianity. This is the same code that is held here at Southern Seminary and Boyce College. This is exactly the kind of student conduct statement, the kind of student honor code that you should expect in any legitimately Christian organization. You're likely to find a similar policy statement in an institution committed to, say, Orthodox Judaism, or any traditional Roman Catholicism, or for that matter, an Islamic institution. You're likely to find a very similar honor code.
But the article by Hemal Jhaveri uses language that goes beyond, honestly, anything I've yet seen. And this tells us something of how the world is organizing itself around us. The school's policy is described as discriminatory and hateful. We are told that its belief system, its fundamentalist Christian beliefs, that those beliefs are "wildly out of line with modern society and the basic values of human decency."
Notice what's happened. USA Today has run this article, at this point online, stating that Oral Roberts University is outside the basic values of human decency, and that's by holding to what would be noncontroversial amongst biblical Christians. Period. It goes on to describe the school's prejudice teachings, moral regressiveness, toxic notions of fundamentalism that fetishize chastity, abstinence, and absurd hemlines. We are told, "What is not up for debate however, is their anti-LGBTQ+ stance, which is nothing short of discriminatory and should expressly be condemned by the NCAA."
She goes on to argue that the NCAA has given what she describes, basically as "window dressing" to diversity and inclusion. She implicitly challenges the NCAA to live up to its own promises by eliminating schools such as Oral Roberts. Oral Roberts is described as "anti-LGBTQ," as "steeped in bigotry," as "practicing an exclusionary fundamentalism." These are all direct quotes.
The article condemns the NCAA for allowing Oral Roberts to play. "Fans and media eager to embrace a Cinderella story helped to push that narrative along either without knowing the facts or willingly bearing them as irrelevant." She ends with these words. "However accomplished its young student athletes are, the school is a hotbed of institutional transphobia, homophobia, with regressive sexist policies. There is no way to separate their men's basketball team from the dangers of their religious dogma, no matter how many top seeds they defeat."
The challenge couldn't be any more clear. This is language beyond anything we've yet seen, although the logic has been there all the time. I've mentioned on the briefing before, and I've said many times in public that I think the most dangerous letters when it comes to the continuation of Christian higher education are the letters NCAA, because the NCAA is indeed adopting policies and pointing in directions that will make it impossible for Christian institutions that hold to a biblical standard of morality, or even a biblical definition of male and female, to continue in participation.
We're about to find out just how many Christian schools are going to be willing to stand on biblical standards, and those who are determined they have to be members of the NCAA, no matter what. In other words, we're about to find out just how many schools are actually serving the cause of sports, and how many are going to serve the cause of Christ.
Let's just take a little bit of background here because it is interesting. Who was Oral Roberts? He lived from 1918 to 2009, and he was probably more responsible than any other single individual for the mainstreaming of charismatic, indeed even Pentecostal Christianity, into American popular culture. He was an evangelist who began on the old sawdust trail, preaching in tents, a mixture of holiness and Pentecostal theology. He, of course, became famous on television. As many Americans will remember for his Oral Roberts television specials, and he was one of the first to decide to put on some mixture of teaching and entertainment in television prime time.
Oral Roberts University was established with an expansive vision in 1963. At one point it contained a medical school and even a large teaching hospital, known as the City of Faith. Oral Roberts became known for his evermore outlandish fundraising appeals, including the fact that he once claimed to have a vision of a 900-foot Jesus who spoke to him. To put the matter bluntly, Oral Roberts and I come from very different theological worlds, but this story is important, not because of the unique theology, that mixture of Pentecostal charismatic and holiness Christianity, that was Oral Roberts and now is the University that bears his name.
No, the point is that the outrage directed at Oral Roberts University is based upon what it shares in common with other Christian colleges and schools and institutions, a commitment to a biblical standard of holiness and sexual morality in the definition of marriage and the definition of gender. That is the outrage. They're not mad at Oral Roberts University for its charismatic founder or it's Pentecostal practices. The fury at Oral Roberts University is directed at the basic biblical convictions about gender and sexuality and sexual morality.
But the point we have to note here, and this is urgent. At this point in the year of Our Lord, 2021, the gauntlet has been thrown down. The challenge has been given, and the issues are now increasingly, if vehemently, described in this article. This article bears the masthead of USA Today. USA Today owns it, this was on their own website. It's a part of their information ecosystem, and this reporter is an editor at USA Today Sports.
Just imagine the language that was used in this article that I read aloud on the program today, and recognize if it's said about Oral Roberts University today, it will be said about you, your school, your church, your organization, your Christian congregation, tomorrow. Count on it.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
Speaking of a Christian college commitment, I want to tell you that Boyce College is absolutely committed to a biblical worldview, absolutely committed to excellence in Christian biblical higher education. We're going to have a virtual preview day for Boyce College. I hope you'll join us. It's going to be this Friday, March the 26th at 4:00PM Eastern Time. This couldn't be more timely. Why is Boyce College so important? Why should you care about such issues, as you were thinking about college or you're thinking about college for someone you love? The event will include an ask anything live with me, with the students, live faculty discussions, a live virtual campus tour. You can register by going to www.boycecollege.com/preview. Boycecollege.com/preview.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.