The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, December 13, 2021

It’s Monday, December 13th, 2021.

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

Part I

Longing for the New Creation: Responding to the Vast Devastation as Mid-South — Especially Western Kentucky — Is Ravaged by Tornadoes

We open with a tragedy. Over the course of Friday and Saturday, approximately 30 tornadoes were reported, especially in the area of what is called the Mid-South. That would include Southern Illinois, Arkansas, parts of Missouri, but most importantly the state of Kentucky. Because the deadly outbreak of tornadoes was particularly deadly in Western Kentucky. Looking at a straight line, which is now available to us only in retrospect, we can see that a system of tornadoes, which must have included at least one major tornado that stayed on the ground a matter of hours, not minutes, and was approximately one mile wide, at least at some points. That tornadic system of severe weather broke out on Friday night into Saturday, and thus, we see a deadly combination.

We see combination that is rooted in the conflict and collision of weather systems. Now this can be very abstract, and yet we see this particularly in the spring, but also sometimes in the fall. It generally happens like this. As the weather systems travel from the west to the east, the deadliest situation occurs when there is cold air, very cold air, chasing down warm and wet air. The warmer the air and the colder the air in the two opposing systems, the more violent the confrontation. And even as the weather systems were predicted, the forecasters were warning about the potential for severe weather throughout the Mid-South, and that would include just about all the states in this region, including the entire state of Kentucky.

At least one major system, one band, had gone through, but the massive storm still was behind. And thus, we have the combination, not only of these two weather systems, but also of the timing. Tornadoes are particularly deadly as a form of weather. And they are particularly deadly at night, in the dark, when many people are asleep and they are not perhaps able to hear an alarm, the system that would go off in a tornado warning. In that sense, what took place Friday and Saturday was almost the perfect storm. It came in with a perfectly deadly combination of that cold air chasing down that hot and wet air. Those fronts collided, and eventually it did become violent.

And the violence had been forecast, but not on the scale of what actually turned out to be this massive tornadic system that caused so much death and mayhem in the state of Kentucky. For one thing, we are looking at a storm system that is far more likely in the spring than in the fall. Now what makes the spring and the fall alike is that there is this massive change in the weather system. In the spring, you have the warmth of summer coming and you have the cold air of winter finally relinquishing its grip, but you still have successive waves of warm fronts and cold fronts. The spring is generally known for its blustery weather and for the combination that leads to often severe thunderstorms and tornadic activity throughout much of the continental United States, particularly in the areas that are east of the Rocky Mountains and along the major river systems, including the Mississippi and Ohio Valleys.

But if the warm is replacing the cold in the spring, the cold is replacing the warm in the fall, but that has been less volatile throughout weather history. But still there was the expectation that the storm could turn deadly as it did we now know Friday night and Saturday morning, particularly looking at that line that ran throughout Western Kentucky. And one of the most affected communities was the town in Southwest Kentucky, known as Mayfield with a population of about 10,000. The town basically now looks as if it has been destroyed by something akin to a nuclear weapon.

Those who live in this region of the country know that tornadoes can develop. They can develop quickly, but they develop under certain weather conditions. And that collision of fronts with the cold coming, advancing on the warm, that’s what creates the deadly opportunity, and that was known on Friday. There were ample warnings, but still no one expects the scale of devastation, a storm that would remain on the ground. We now know a tornadic path on the ground that goes well over 200 miles and apparently spanned several hours. There are so many immediate thoughts. The most immediate have to do with the preservation of life, and then with recognizing the scale of the loss of life, and then trying to figure out how to help families and communities to rebuild.

It’s very interesting that the conversation switches so fast to those issues because the hypothetical warning of a storm, when it gives way to something like this, brings reality very much to the fore. And the brutal reality is made clear in those photographs, that video, but all of that pales against the reality that is being experienced right now by the people who are living in those devastated communities, who have loved ones who have either been lost or injured, or right now may even be missing. And they are looking at human civilization being torn right down to the level of the community. These are not vast urban areas. This is a part of the heartland of the United States. And you can see very encouraging responses as the communities are pulling together, and as people, neighbors, friends, family are pulling together.

But at the same time, the scale of this devastation reminds us of the fact that weather, natural occurrence, can wipe out an entire community.

Just think of the ancient city of Pompeii after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. But it can be the weather on one hand, any number of different forms of weather that can turn deadly, or it could be something that is a natural occurrence, such as the eruption of a volcano or an earthquake. But the reality is that we as human beings come to understand just how small we are in the span of creation. We understand as Christians, theologically, that what we call here, natural evil. That is to say, this isn’t moral evil in that a moral agent, a human being, caused this. But it is natural evil. Evil in how we experience it. But Christians also understand evil in a different sense. This is an indication of what it means for creation to be groaning under the weight and under the judgment of God against human sin.

We look forward by the redemptive power of Christ to a new heaven and a new earth. We look forward to a day when there will be no more rust or tumors or cancer or illness or yes, tornadoes or earthquakes. We look forward to the day when rust will not corrupt and the moth will not eat. But until that day in this world, as the creation itself is groaning under the weight of human sin, the reality is that what is most important is that we seek to save as many lives as possible. We should be very thankful for modern weather forecasting that at least in the hours before this storm formed over the Mid-South had warned that the potential was there for a deadly storm to erupt.

But this also points to something else, and that is the fact that even though there will be a rightful role for the federal government, and that includes by the way in the warning system. And even as there will need to be resources from outside these communities brought in at the state level and at the national level, the reality is that communities are authentically, organically only built by the people who inhabit them. And thus, the people of Mayfield, Kentucky, who are pulling together in grief and in concern, in sorrow and yet in hope, in Mayfield and in other communities, the reality is that the people there will eventually decide what kind of community they are going to rebuild.

And at the center of the story, Christians understand our local congregations, churches made up of gospel-committed, scripture-driven Christians, who even now are responding as Christians know to respond. And even in the face of this kind of disaster, even as Christians have faced down persecution, plague, and other ills, there were Christians today just a day after the storm in towns like Mayfield, who were already gathering together. If they didn’t have a building, they were gathering together one way or another, because that’s what Christians do on the Lord’s day.

And even as there are huge questions of policy over this kind of tragedy, even though there are inevitable questions of theology that come to us, we also need to recognize there are actions that need to be taken. And right now I am very, very thankful for groups like Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief, who are already on the ground doing good work in the name of Christ. Christians of course know that we should be praying for and thinking about the people who are suffering in that region, who include not only our neighbors defined one way or another, but in many cases, our brothers and sisters in Christ. Law enforcement and other officials have asked people to go to the affected region yet because they need to keep the roads, which are already blocked by so many obstacles from the storm, as open as possible in order to conduct search and rescue operations. We understand that.

But the time will come when Christians will be able to do something, not just pray. But we as Christians also understand that it’s wrong. It’s always wrong to say, just pray. Jesus taught his disciples to pray. And we understand that prayer is one of the most important things we can do. So it is not doing nothing. Christians understand to say our thoughts and our prayers are with the people of Mayfield, Kentucky and other affected communities. And it’s right to say that because our thoughts and our prayers are there with them.

Part II

Objective Truth, Justice, and the Category of ‘Hate Crime’: Evaluating the Guilty Verdicts Against Jussie Smollett

There were some very important events that took place, and there were important issues that were raised in courts across the United States as last week came to an end. One of them took place on Thursday in Cook County, Illinois, where a jury there took a matter of just a few hours in order to bring guilty verdict on five of six felony accusations against actor, Jussie Smollett. That came as something of a surprise in the big picture, but only because back in 2019, when Jussie Smollett reported a hate crime against himself that had been undertaken by people he said wearing MAGA, that is make America great again, hats and using racial and LGBTQ epithets. When that took place, people took Jussie Smollett’s accusation at face value, took this seriously as a hate crime, until his account of the crime began to fall apart. And that happened very early in the investigation.

For one thing, he refused to turn over his cell phone and other information that would’ve helped police to figure out exactly what had taken place. And then his entire story began to fall apart. And then things went for the actor from bad to worse when two men, immigrant brothers, indicated that they had been involved with him in an attempted fraud to bring about what appeared to be a hate crime, which amounted to something like a publicity stunt. But Jussie Smollett, even though originally prosecutors did not intend to bring any criminal charges against him, he held to his story all the way through the investigation, all the way through the media and others figuring out that this story wasn’t holding together, all the way through the two brothers going into detail and testimony about how he had payed them and arranged with them to orchestrate the supposed hate crime, how he had put it together much like a script for a television drama.

All of this took place, and Jussie Smollett held to his story, even to the extent that in recent days during his criminal trial there in Chicago, he took the stand and testified in his own defense, which meant he was also cross-examined, which meant he was confronted with evidence, including video evidence, plenty to demonstrate that not only had he orchestrated this and presented it to police and to the public as a hate crime and as an attack against himself, which included the fact that he had been accosted on a very cold night, in the middle of the night in Chicago, that he had been addressed with and assaulted with racial and LGBTQ epithets, that he had been left wounded with a rope around his neck, all of that it turned out was actually orchestrated.

The two brothers gave testimony and the video was also produced indicating that there had been drive through runs. That is to say, basically practice runs the day before the events and thus Jussie Smollett’s story fell apart and it fell apart on the stand as he was holding to it, which meant that when the jury there in Cook County brought five guilty verdicts in the light of six charges, the jury was saying out loud and directly that they were convinced that Jussie Smollett had boldly lied to them. Now there’s some huge issues here, but first of all, of course, the issue is truth. We understand as Christians, that truth is objective. There is space and time in history. These events either took place or they did not take place. They were either a surprise attack or they were an orchestrated drama. They were either fraud or they were indeed an assault, a criminal assault that is defined according to Illinois law as a hate crime.

The first thing we need to recognize is that the truth matters. The truth always matters. And first and foremost, it matters whether these events ever took place and whether whatever did take place was actually a hate crime or a fraud. The next thing we need to understand is that any kind of violent assault on any single human being is unjustified. It is indeed a crime in most contexts. And in this context, it certainly would’ve been a crime, regardless of whether it was a hate crime. So just bracket the hate crime for a moment. Assault and battery against a human being is a very serious crime, and it must be taken seriously by any society, even as a city, like Chicago’s experiencing a rather significant spike in violent crime. A society that doesn’t take violent crime seriously, doesn’t take good and evil seriously, and doesn’t take human safety, and thus, doesn’t take human dignity seriously. Christians understand just how deadly that can be.

But then we have the category of the hate crime, and this is something that is true, not only in many jurisdictions in the United States, and there are also federal statutes on the books, but worldwide there are various statutes here and there. The first thing we should stipulate is that the logic of hate crimes makes a certain sense. It makes sense that there are certain crimes that are made more heinous. There are certain evil acts that are made even more evil when you know that these were acts…. This was an act of violence. It was an attempted act of violence. It was an act to the injury of a party targeted precisely because of some kind of particular identity. So Christians understand that is not an irrelevant moral consideration, but the question is to what degree should it be a legal consideration?

Because once you enter into something that is defined as a hate crime, well the issue is then that you are going into the psychology, the motivation, of the one who carried out the crime and you are actually adding a new crime. Now again, Christians can understand there’s a logic to that. The problem is that you then have to define what is and is not a hate group, and that comes down to certain groups that are understood to have a particular need of protection. But in the age of identity politics, you’ll notice that there may be any number of new identities, even newly constructed identities, that are added to that kind of list. What Christians have to understand is that any assault upon any human being is categorically wrong. And yet we also understand that we’re living in a world in which the logic of hate crimes is going to be increasingly common.

But that also leads to another aspect, which is the fact that these crimes are particularly susceptible to fraud. Now there’s no reason to believe that this is a widespread problem, but the point is it is a problem. And the verdict against Jussie Smollett, the five guilty verdicts make that issue very, very clear. In this case, you had an individual who claimed that an act had taken place against him as a violent assault, precisely because he is an African American and precisely because he identifies as gay.

Now, one of the accusations made at least in the public square against Jussie Smollett is the fact that he has now made it more difficult for anyone to believe someone who comes forward with one of these accusations or a similar kind of pattern of attack. And of course there are those who are making very clear that this is an abuse of the very idea, the conception of hate crimes legislation. But we are also looking at the fact that politics comes into this in some ways you might not predict. The Los Angeles Times, for example, reported just over the weekend, and that would be Nardine Saad who’s the staff writer, we are told “social justice organization Black Lives Matter is still standing with Jussie Smollett after the actor was convicted Thursday of staging a racist homophobic attack in lying to police about it. The Black Lives Matter movement is committed to abolishment of police, or at least the language about police abolition, also abolition of what they see as the carceral system, that is the prison system.”

And they wrote this with reference to this trial and these five verdicts, “In our commitment to abolition, we can never believe police, especially the Chicago Police Department over Jussie Smollett, a black man who has been courageously present, visible, and vocal in the struggle for black freedom.”

The Black Lives Matter statement continued, “Black Lives Matter will continue to work towards the abolition of police and every unjust system. We will continue to love and protect one another and wrap our arms around those who do the work to usher in black freedom and by extension freedom for everyone else.”

Here’s what’s really, really important. Now just consider all the controversy over CRT. That is critical race theory. There is one issue in particular that comes to the fore right here. And that is the fact that the theorists of critical race theory argue that objectivity should not be the main concern. That is establishing the objective truth of what happened in an accusation like this should not be the primary concern. Instead, they combine ideology with identity politics, and then go on to argue that it’s the power of the narrative that is important, not the truth of what did happen and didn’t happen. Black Lives Matter as a movement, by the way, was born in a Marxist context, and in the context of this kind of critical theory that denies that the objective truth of what and should be the primary concern.

But this is a very tragic turn in this story, and it’s also very revealing. You are basically looking at a movement here, not only calling the Chicago police liars and the prosecution and all those who brought evidence, but also the jury. That’s a very interesting thing because the jury brought a verdict, which means the jury is also telling a story it claims is true. And the jury is saying that Jussie Smollett is guilty of these five felony charges because his crime took place, once again, in space and time, in history, in objective fact.

The city of Chicago, by the way, intends to bring tort action, that is a lawsuit against Jussie Smollett in order to get some funding because of the expenditure that was made by Chicago police and other city investigators for a crime they now believe didn’t happen against Jussie Smollett, but rather was a crime that was undertaken by Jussie Smollett.

Part III

The Battle for Life Goes On: Supreme Court Upholds Texas Abortion Ban — For Now.

But I said there were big court issues elsewhere, and one of the most important of these took place at the Supreme Court of the United States, where on Friday as the nation went into the weekend, justices ruled that the Texas abortion law could remain in effect, even as they also said on certain grounds, certain defendants could bring lawsuits against the law in federal court. This was considered a big loss for the pro-abortion movement, and the activists for that movement were very clear and very vocal in their disappointment.

There are also, of course, indications that the Supreme Court now has a majority of justices who are simply not willing to buy the continued application of the idea of abortion rights as was created by the Supreme Court in the Roe v. Wade decision. It’s impossible at this point, irresponsible at this point, to say this tells us how the Supreme Court will rule in the big Mississippi abortion case coming down the line, but it is at least a very encouraging development.

Now included in the action undertaken by the court was turning back an argument made by the United States Department of Justice, that is the Justice Department of the Biden administration, that the Department of Justice should be able to sue Texas over this law because of what it claimed is the supremacy of federal law.

But here’s what we need to note. The United States Constitution and our federal system does not give the national government the right to nullify legislation adopted by the states. There may be means whereby that legislation could be ruled unconstitutional, but the federal government has no preemptive power to block state legislation. There’s wisdom in our federal system. It’s an essential, constitutional wisdom that prevents the federal government from becoming an autocratic state and the states themselves simply becoming 50 different regions of a federal system.rev

Part IV

Gen Z Group Attempts to ‘Fight Lunacy with Lunacy’ — But the Best Remedy to Untruth is Truth, Not Lunacy

But finally today, as we’re thinking about truth, one of the enemies of truth are conspiracy theories that are not based in reality. But the New York Times ran a very interesting, front page article with the headline, “The Conspiracy That Has Generation Z All Atwitter.” The subhead parody movement says, “Birds Aren’t Real.” Taylor Lorenz is the reporter telling us about an attempt to parody a conspiracy theory undertaken by young adults in the United States who are putting out the message through social media billboards and by other means that birds aren’t real and instead they are really drones that are under the control of the United States government intended to spy on Americans.

Now here’s the rub. The people behind this say they know it’s not true. They are only trying to parody what they see as the viral conspiracy theories of our time. It’s also about their own generation according to the New York Times. “Most birds aren’t real members. Many of whom are part of an on the ground activism network called The Bird Brigade grew up in a world overrun with misinformation. Some have relatives who have fallen victim to conspiracy theories. So for members of Gen Z, the movement has become a way to collectively grapple with those experiences.”

“Birds Aren’t Real is not a shallow satire of conspiracies from the outside as from the deep inside.” One person said, “A lot of people in our generation feel the lunacy in all this and Birds Aren’t Real has been a way for people to process that.”

Listen to the very therapeutic language going on there. The therapeutic language continues where another advocate said, “Allowing people to engage in collaborative world building is therapeutic because it lets them disarm conspiracism and engage in a self-way collaborative world building.”

Wow. This is basically coming from the left, identified as a parody social movement with a purpose, “In a post-truth world, dominated by online conspiracy theories, young people have coalesced around the effort to thumb their nose at, fight and poke fun at misinformation. It’s Generation Z’s attempt to upend the rabbit hole with absurdism.”

One 22 year old organizer said, “My favorite way to describe the organization is fighting lunacy with lunacy.”

I draw attention to this just to respond, you don’t fight lunacy with lunacy. If indeed you’re called to that battle, you fight lunacy with truth. Truth is the only stable foundation for any argument, for any person, for any movement. Lunacy, even lunacy in the name of so-called fighting lunacy, is sheer lunacy, and this is one particular lunacy that, not to put too fine a spin on it, is for the birds.

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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