The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, January 6, 2022

It’s Thursday, January 6th, 2022.

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

Part I

A Violent Riot, the Humiliation of the Capitol, and an Indicator of the Political Volatility of Our Nation: Defining the Capitol Riots One Year Later

We are now at January the 6th of the year 2022, and that means the one year anniversary of what happened in Washington, DC. Most specifically, at the United States Capitol on January the 6th, 2021. In one sense, it seems like a lot more than a year ago, but this is still very much an issue that rightly has an ongoing part in America’s conversation, and criminal investigations and prosecutions are still ongoing, and it is still difficult for Americans to agree on a consensus as to what these events mean. That’s a part of the background of the partisan conflict in the United States. That’s a part of the background in the worldview conflict that we now face, but we do need to look squarely at the events of January the 6th, 2021 and come to understand what happened then and what it means now as best we can as Christians.

The events that took place a year ago today were of a scale that demand our attention and also our urgent concern. The meaning of the events is now part of the maelstrom, a partisan division in the United States, and that division is fueled by both the media and the political class. Even as you talk to your neighbors right now or your friends, or have a random conversation, even the briefest of conversations about January 6th, 2021 reveals that when it comes to these events, there are several different Americas.

Just think of three. In the first America, the events of January the 6th represent nothing less than an attempted coup against the lawful government of the United States. You still hear this language, “insurrection” and “coup,” and the insurrection it was claimed to threaten, to topple over two centuries of constitutional government. That’s the first America, and that is the America predominantly of the media class of many in academia of the democratic party, but it’s a big group in the United States, and they have a basis for making their claims.

In the second America, the chaos of the Capitol was just evidence of something good that had gone bad of a political demonstration that was entirely constitutional and lawful that was nonetheless hijacked by a mob who took it over and went on to commit what were undeniably crimes. That’s the second America that is identified with the conservative media and with many Republicans. It also has a claim to the truth. There’s a third America. That third America represents the mainstream of the nation and it understands the events of January the 6th, 2021 as a national embarrassment. They see the actions, especially of the mob as nothing less than a riot against lawful order, an illegal act, a stark portrait of political violence, and a sobering vision of a crowd out of control.

Now, you have to understand that many Americans… Indeed, it is safe to say in all intellectual honesty that most Americans aren’t thinking about January the 6th, 2021 every day. They’re probably not thinking about it every week. In the truest sense, that is a demonstration evidence of the resiliency of the American experiment in ordered liberty, our constitutional order held. It held so securely that most Americans aren’t even thinking about these events until they erupt regularly in the media. But we also have to understand that that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a close call, a close call for that very ordered liberty that stands at the heart of the American experiment that sets America apart from other constitutional forms of government and certainly sets America apart from other forms of government that make no pretense of ordered liberty. The emphasis there is upon both order and liberty.

As you think about the events of January the 6th, we have to remember the context at that time, context of political division in the United States that had produced one of the most politically intensive presidential elections in recent American history. But we also have to understand that as you look at those who gathered, first of all, on the mall for a legal assembly, and then later at the Capitol for a decidedly illegal act, you’re talking about groups that overlapped or weren’t exactly the same.

There were undoubtedly a range of Americans present. You think about the fact that as you look at the video/pictures, there are many people even inside the Capitol who look like middle America and others look like they’ve escaped from some kind of institution. It was a motley crew, and that becomes a part of the lesson here. When you have that kind of political energy, that kind of political fervor without responsible political leadership, and you create what amounts to a mass, you might well end up with a mob. That’s exactly what happened on January the 6th, and all who participated in the transformation of that group from a mass meeting to a mob bear direct responsibility.

The images from January the 6th of last year were horrifying, bizarre, deeply sobering for America as a nation. We saw mobs march to the United States Capitol. They invaded our greatest architectural symbol of constitutional self-government. The Capitol is not just a building. It is a symbol of the United States, and by the way, in terms of the buildings that represent the United States, including the White House, it is the Capitol that best represents representative democracy, and it was the Capitol that was invaded.

We saw the video. We saw mobs marching to the United States Capitol. We saw them break into the Capitol by force. We were witnesses to them disrupting the government. They halted the certification at least for a time with the 2020 presidential election. At least some of those invading the Capitol building intended to do just that. Only, they didn’t intend to interrupt it on a temporary basis. We saw the lives of elected officials threatened, and that is not an exaggeration. We saw the life of the Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence, threatened, and we saw him taken out of the Capitol complex as a defensive move by the secret service and the Capitol police.

It’s not an accident that the Vice President of the United States who is also, by the constitution, the Presiding Officer of the Senate was there at the Capitol for one of the most important events that takes place every four years, which is the congressional certification of a presidential election. Now, we’ll talk more about that in just a moment, but the point is this was a deliberate interruption and an attempted termination of a lawful act, which is a responsibility of Congress. In our system of representative democracy and constitutional government, willfully seeking to terminate that process by mob act is a radical and horrifying development. As the video images unfolded, we became witnesses to the intentional desecration of the United States Capitol and many of our national symbols. You saw images of people putting their feet on historic furniture, taking items out of the Chamber of the House of Representatives, expressing total disdain for our constitutional order.

The bottom line is this. A nation that tolerates this kind of behavior and lawlessness undermines its own legitimacy, but thankfully the events of January the 6th were not swept under the rug. We are talking about them again today, but how do we define the events of January the 6th, 2021? As I’ve stated, this was not really a coup. The world has had plenty of evidence of what a coup looks like, and it involves some kind of complicity with major sectors of government or the military, but there was no such complicity, and we should be thankful for that.

Looking back to January the 6th of last year, what about an insurrection? Well, that word is being used over and over again, but legally defined in the United States, an insurrection requires a full-on rebellion against the government. There was no such full-on rebellion in this sense, and one of the things that becomes telling here is that virtually, none of the major figures who have the authority to bring legal charges, and there have been hundreds of charges, they’re not bringing the actual will charge of insurrection in the federal sense here.

Even as there have been some political leaders who’ve used the word, the reality is at this point, it’s being used as a descriptor, not as a legal definition. But if it wasn’t a coup, if it wasn’t at least legally an insurrection, what was it? Well, it was at the very least a violent riot. It was at the very least a humiliation of the United States. It was, as we understand it now with the distance of one year, an indication of the vulnerability of our political system when it comes to the political tensions now being experienced by this nation.

As I said a few moments ago, most Americans aren’t thinking about January the 6th of last year every day, and they haven’t been thinking about it every day for the last year. They thought about it when the events were unfolding, and they certainly gave a great deal of thought about it to the days following, but we have to understand that word “resiliency” again. Resiliency points to the basic strength of our constitution and our constitutional system of government because even with the unfolding events of January the 6th, just keep in mind a matter of just a few days later, indeed, you could almost say a few hours later, the presidential election was certified exactly in accordance with the electoral act, and the Vice President of the United States presided over that process.

The 46th president of the United States, Joe Biden, was inaugurated exactly when that inauguration was scheduled to take place, and there was a peaceful if awkward transfer of power in the United States. Awkward because the 45th president of the United States skipped the inauguration of the 46th president. That was itself a violation of political norms, but given the circumstances, that’s less remembered than the events of January the 6th. But as we understand the resiliency of our political system, that extends to our system of justice. That system has been ongoing in its investigation of the events of January the 6th.

Federal authorities have indicated that about 2,500 people may have been involved in the Capitol incursion and the events involved with it that might carry a criminal sanction. Thus far, there have been about 700 arrests, and the interesting thing there are the numbers. About 225 were arrested for attacking or interfering with the police. Another 275 charged with what’s described as a political crime of obstructing Congress’ duty to certify the election of 2020. There have also been charges, at least 300, for various crimes that include crimes against property, the desecration of space, unlawful entry. As you can imagine, all those crimes could amount to hundreds and hundreds, but we also have to think as Christians that it’s really important that the rule of law continue, and that means that everyone who committed a crime should be prosecuted for that crime, and if found guilty should be rightly sentenced for that crime. That’s just a part of the system of law and order upon which our entire society depends.

When you’re thinking about moral responsibility, we can’t avoid the issue of the 45th president of the United States, Donald J. Trump. It’s true that the passions behind the events were incited and inflamed by President Trump. The mob was encouraged by the president, first of all, to gather on the mall, and then he used language that could well be understood to have incited the mob to move on the United States Capitol. The President’s undeniable sins of both commission and omission on that day are going to be debated for generations to come, but let’s also look at those three different Americas. As I said, that third America, representing most American citizens, doesn’t think about this every day, and we should be so thankful that the events turned out in a way that, that larger group of Americans doesn’t have to think about this issue every day, but the political class does, and so does the commentariat and the media.

That’s where primarily we find those other two Americas, the America that points to January the 6th and says, “Look, that that conservatism, the Republican party, it is all basically discredited.” That’s where conservative arguments lead, and then there are those who say, “No, the events of January the 6th belong in the entire maelstrom of political demonstration protests and even riots that took place across the United States, and it is opportunism on the part of the Left to try to claim that this was the intention even of the organizers of that event that took place on the mall.

In that second America, largely a Republican America and conservative media, the reality is that there is deep embarrassment and humiliation about the events of January the 6th, but there is also a political pushback against the use of January the 6th now on the part of the Left to push just about every aspect of their political agenda no matter how unrelated to the actual events that took place on that day at the Capitol.

Let’s understand this fact, the Left now uses the events of January the 6th for in its own political purposes, which generally involves siding January the 6th as opposed to justification for supporting, demanding whatever progressive legislation it’s currently pushing. The Right is now using the passions of January the 6th as energy for a second Trump administration. So think about the two parties. The Democrats can’t stop talking or won’t stop talking about January the 6th in oppose of moral righteousness, but much of that is unvarnished political opportunism. Republicans on the other hand don’t want to talk about January the 6th at all or at least know more than is absolutely necessary because they understand themselves to be stuck between the need to rally the most ardent Trump supporters and the need to look politically responsible. The dominant media class uses January the 6th incessantly in an effort to deny legitimacy to anything conservative.

So let’s step back. An honest look at January the 6th requires a full consideration of the efforts by the Left and the Right in modern America to undermine political norms. Now, let’s understand we have to talk about political norms in a more extended context, but you can’t have politics without political norms. You can’t have government without norms and laws, political structures, and respect for those structures. Let’s face it. The Left is now largely in control of America’s major cultural institutions, but nonetheless, the Left often takes to the streets and riots that are celebrated by the media and the liberal commentariat. The most irresponsible elements of the Right on January the 6th marched to the US Capitol and brought humiliation to the nation.

So we have to ask the question, where is sanity in respect for our constitutional order? Where is that respect to be found?

Part II

Where is Sanity and Respect for Constitutional Order? Addressing the Capitol Riots from a Christian Worldview

That’s where we have to think as Christians.

Given the biblical worldview and our understanding of a rightful response to a government and governmental authority, rightful respect for each other and love of neighbor, as we think about the rule of law, which is honored in scripture, and we think about the achievement of our constitutional system of ordered liberty, well, respect for those virtues must be found, first of all, among American Christians. We must honor the constitutional government precisely because we know the dangers of human sinfulness unleashed.

The images of January the 6th, 2021 are more than enough to awaken Christian citizens in the United States to the fact that we are a nation in political crisis, but we understand as Christians driven by a biblical worldview that that political crisis is not merely political. The political crisis is a moral crisis, and that moral crisis is even more fundamentally a spiritual crisis. In the larger sense, Christians understand January the 6th as a wake-up call for the nation, and on this first anniversary of the event, let’s understand it’s a sobering reminder of the massive challenges facing the United States of America, the American people, our government leaders, and our constitutional order. We will, in the end, find a way to preserve our grand experiment in self-government or we will lose it. It’s just that simple.

By the way, there was one other element we now know on January the 6th, 2021, and we have to address this as Christians. There were Christian symbols invoked as the authority within that movement not only on the mall, but inside the Capitol. We have to understand that was a desecration of a sacred Christian symbol, not just the desecration of a secular political space. Christians above all have to be very clear that we invoke the authority of Christ only where we have the biblical warrant and the authority to do so. Otherwise, we are bearing false witness against God and against Christ.

Part III

‘The Most Remarkable Thing is How Parents Obey Their Children’: The Tragic Inversion of Parental Authority in the United States

But next, I want to look at an article that raises an issue at the end of last year.

Yoree Koh, writing for The Wall Street Journal, offered a report with a headline, “Children Outwit Parental Controls.” The article was supposed to be about how clever children are getting around the policies, and rules, and controls that parents try to put into place to limit and protect their digital lives. But the article inadvertently turns out to be a revelation of a basic weakness in so much American parenting and perhaps a testimony to what we can only describe as the near idolatry of a technological imperative or mandate as if children just have to have these technologies, even if they keep using them to outwit their own parents.

Koh writes this, “For the past three years, Lance Walker has been locked in a cat-and-mouse game with his 11-year-old daughter for control over her iPhone and iPad.” Now, I just want to pause here by saying it is hard for me to understand a father who would admit being locked into a cat-and-mouse game with an 11-year-old girl over an iPhone and an iPad. Take them away. But the article continues as if that’s not even a possibility. We are told, “Initially he considered TikTok a harmless distraction, which Peyton,” that’d be his daughter, “used for watching dance videos.” “When he discovered she was receiving messages from adult men she didn’t know after posting public videos of herself doing silly poses, he quickly went into Apple Incorporated’s parental-control settings to block access to the app. Peyton countered by using a different Apple ID to download new apps including TikTok.”

Again, the article here is supposed to be about the technological challenge, but what does this say about the redefinition of childhood and parenthood in evidently much of the United States? This was a girl, an 11-year-old girl who was found receiving messages from adult men after she posted videos of herself on TikTok. This is not just a problem. This is an emergency. The article goes on to talk about how the parents had changed the ID. She changed the password to block the father’s access to the account. “It continued like that for months. His daughter thwarted every attempt by Mr. Walker, a 43-year-old real estate broker in Johnstown, Colorado,” we’re told, “to block certain apps through Apple’s screen time controls.” The father said, “It was a nightmare,” and he went on to say, according to this report, that he and his wife are still yet working on what was described as a reliable way to keep Peyton off TikTok.

The article then telescopes back, and we’re told this is a widespread problem. Apple and Alphabet Incorporated’s Google are, as the two main software providers for smartphones, touting their parental controls, but evidently, those parental controls are not always effective. We are warned about “tech-savvy children whose online time skyrocketed during the pandemic,” and we’re being told they are finding ways to circumvent the controls meant to protect them.

Now, this is also a very interesting issue in the article. “Parents say the controls aren’t simple enough and there are too many loopholes.” Now, this is where you probably do need, in technological terms, a 15-year-old to beat a 15-year-old, but that’s not really the point. There is no imperative that children or adolescents have these devices. If there is a cat-and-mouse game that continues to go on, shame on the parent as much as the child.

The article also tells us about Parker, a 14-year-old boy, who wants to find a way to get around his allotted 2.5 total hours for video games on the weekend. He’s trying to get around a circle device that connects the home router. He says that he is trying to find a way. He’s trying to write his own code, and he says that when that code is done, “I’m definitely going to post it all over the internet.” It was discovered due to parental controls that he’d been playing video games until past midnight “for two blissful months” when one night, his father caught him red-handed at 2:00 AM. “My dad was not happy.” Nor should he have been. Nor should the boy have been.

We are talking here about an inversion of parental authority and the role and the responsibilities of children. It reminds me of a comment that is attributed to the late British king, Edward VIII, who said about the United States that the most remarkable thing was the way that parents obeyed their children. Now, Edward VIII was hardly a moral exemplar. He, after all, abdicated and married his mistress, but the bottom line is this. He was right about the inversion of parental authority in the United States then and now. It’s one thing for this to be said about Americans, but Christian parents have to understand it is more than a tragedy if this is spoken about us. It represents our abdication of the biblical concept of parenting, and we also just have to think about this technological imperative, the claim that our children and adolescents, our young people have to have this technology or they will die.

It is a very seductive argument, and there is no doubt that this technology presents an almost omnivorous set of demands upon all of us, and adults are susceptible to those demands as our young people, but it’s our responsibility as parents, it’s our responsibility as adults, it’s our responsibility as church leaders to at least stand up and say that the technology cannot rule us. Otherwise, we’re not only abdicating our parental responsibility, we are endangering our souls.

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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