The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, February 24, 2022

It’s Thursday, February 24th, 2022.

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

Part I

‘A Success Only Because They Were Not An Abject Failure’: Cheating, Totalitarianism, and the Compromised Morality of 2022 Beijing Games

So much going on in the world these days. We’ll continue to track in days ahead. What is going on in Ukraine? Full coverage was offered yesterday. We need to look at some other big stories even as the headlines seem to be coming at us so fast and furiously. For one thing, we can’t let the Olympics go. The recent Winter Olympics that were concluded with much fanfare and with much frustration in Beijing.

We can’t let the issue go. The intersection of tyranny, autocracy on the one hand, and what is supposed to be the display of athleticism and international amity on the other side. What we’re looking at is the fact that the Olympics in the beginning and now, in the modern Olympic period, especially going back to the beginning of that movement, particularly in the 20th century, what we have seen is the continual refutation of the Olympic ideal. What we have continuously seen is corruption that raises its hand at virtually every single Olympic event.

What we are looking at is the fact that this must be. If the Olympics are to mean anything going into the future, this must be a picture that simply doesn’t repeat itself over and over again. The picture of a totalitarian government attempting to use the Olympics for its own political and nationalistic purposes. We can’t have, again, a picture of a 15-year-old Russian girl involved in a doping scandal, collapsing on the ice and crying and only receiving a cold shoulder from her own coach. We just can’t have this over and over again. But that’s exactly what we do have, the scandal, the same scandals by enlarge over and over again.

Take doping. The Russian team was not officially competing under the Russian flag. It was not officially representing the Nation of Russia, because Russia has already been caught so many times as a serial offender when it comes to using banned medications and other forms of doping or drugging. You are looking at the fact that 15-year-old girl, who is rightly understood as a victim of this entire evil structure, found herself collapsing out there on the ice in a way that should ultimately have surprised no one watching Russia.

Or, of course, the Russian team that’s not supposed to be the Russian team, even though Beijing warmly welcomed Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, to sit there for the opening ceremonies with the cameras pointed on him as if it were the official Russian Olympic team. Not to mention the fact that at least one of the Russian medalists wore the Russian flag in contravention of the agreement with the Olympics, and it just went on because Russia gets away with it over and over and over again. There are other issues related to the Olympics. It’s very, very interesting to see a clash that’s observable merely say at the stratospheric level.

You can look from a high altitude down at the Olympics, and you can see that there are some people there, there are some nations there, and this is overweighted when it comes to the International Olympic Committee who are actually doing their dead-level best to buy into the DEI, the diversity, equity and inclusion agenda. But on the other hand, many of the nations of the world that do have teams there aren’t buying into that at all. How’s that going to work out over time? Of course, you also have the fact that the Olympics still don’t really know, on an ongoing basis, what nature reveals so plainly, and that is who is a male and who is a female.

That was not the major issue of controversy at the winter games, but trust me, it will come up again and again and again, and especially when you’re looking at the next Summer Olympic Games. But the reality is that when you add up the formula, Beijing plus all the controversy coming in about doping, plus all the totalitarianism that China represents, when you’re looking at the human rights abuses that China has historically inflicted on its own people, and even more recently, is well documented before the entire world, what can only be described as genocide against a Muslim group known as the Uighurs, you’re looking at the fact that nonetheless China comes out of this having hosted, not just one, but two Olympic major events, and it is coming out basically gaining what it wanted all along.

There are some very interesting dramas to watch in the midst of all of this, and the dramas that make the Olympics most compelling are the human dramas of human performance, and not just individuals, but teams. You’re looking at this spectacle that does indeed hold so much promise with athletes from all over of the world, from nations that otherwise might not share anything in common, sharing the Olympic ideal as at least it is presented in common. But that Olympic ideal is a moral ideal and it doesn’t work if the International Olympic Committee pulls the rug out from under its own morality. It’s shown again and again either to be involved directly in corruption, or at the very least, to turn a blind eye when corrupt regimes are acting corruptly, corrupting the Olympics.

Then there is also of the issue of the media coverage. NBC paid an unbelievable amount of money and had to sign that contract years ago in anticipation of what would be a massive television audience. Didn’t turn out that way, as a matter of fact, either in the United States or in most parts of the world. Evidently, television viewing for the Winter Olympics in Beijing hit record levels in a nation like Norway, and Norway has to be counted as one of the big winners in the recent Beijing Olympia precisely because it performs so well given its past history. But the world is not Norway and Norway is not the world. Much of the world simply ignored the Winter Olympics. Furthermore, NBC, the network that paid all that money, was in a very interesting moral predicament.

A part of the news coverage simply had to involve the charges about human rights abuses made in China, and the very policies that China had put in place, but there was the danger that if they gave much coverage to those issues, that they just might find themselves shut off from some of the venues they had paid so many hundreds of millions of dollars to cover. Then you heard the spectacle of the United States government, our own State Department, telling American athletes and others going to Beijing that they should leave their laptops and their cell phones at home and buy burner phones like they were going into a region dominated by organized crime. But then again, that’s what a totalitarian state is.

Christine Brennan at USA Today referred to the recent Beijing games as the non-Olympic Olympics. She had early referred to the Olympic Games in Beijing as the strangest, most controversial, most unwelcoming Olympic Games of our lifetimes. “Walled off from the outside world in order to succeed, accompanied every step of the way by questions about Chinese human rights abuses, the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games ended their bizarre 17-day run with a frigid Sunday night observance at the Bird’s Nest, China’s National Stadium.” “We have never seen anything quite like these Olympics. They will be deemed a success only because they were not an abject failure.” I rarely agree with Columnist Nancy Armour of USA Today.

That’s an understatement, but I agree with her coverage of the Olympics in her summary article, when she said, “The disgust was compounded once the Olympics were underway. A 15-year-old was left to twist in the wind, a victim of the incompetence and cowardice of IOC, that’s International Olympic Committee, President Thomas Bach, and all the other Olympic leaders who long ago decided that protecting the riches the Olympics affords them is worth more than protecting the Olympics themselves.” At this point, I simply have to say there is a link between Russian behavior in Ukraine and Russian behavior at the Olympics.

Again, we’re looking at a pattern that just happens over and over again, even in the living memory of so many who are now in charge of policy. There are no surprises here. Russia is acting like Russia. But in reference to Ukraine, I mentioned one observer who said that according to the way that the Russian government thinks, if there’s an opportunity to cheat that it doesn’t take, that’s the embarrassment. Getting caught or not taking an opportunity to cheat is the only embarrassment. Cheating is no longer an embarrassment. It’s business as usual.

There were some great moments in these Olympic Games, no doubt. There were some incredible Olympic and athletic achievements, no doubt. There was pride among many national teams, no doubt. Deservedly. There were moments of great victory and as the adage often reminds us, there were moments of great defeat. That’s to be expected at Olympic Games. But what is not to be tolerated and what simply undercuts the very ideal or even the concept of the Olympics is to have cheating just a matter of policy, to have corruption a matter of everyday business, and to have totalitarian states opportunistically seizing upon the Olympics simply because they have the money and the political clout to host the games.

Well, at the same time, having governments like that of the United States warn its own citizens going to the games not to use their own personal cell phones unless they be spied upon not only in Beijing, but at home. But we simply have to come back to the 15-year-old skater, Kamila Valieva. We have to understand that the heartbreak everyone felt in observing that collapse on the ice and the awkwardness, the horrible awkwardness, in observing the response of her own teammates and of her own coach. The reality is that you have people now asking questions, “Should teenage girls at that age even be allowed to compete?”

By the way, there are some very interesting issues that came to light in this. It turns out that the judging mechanism for figure skating for girls and women has been changed so that athleticism, in terms of jumps in the air and certain kinds of moves, now have a great deal of weight over what had been much of the expectation of the judging when it came to women’s figure skating. They would have to do with choreography and the theme of the actual performance, and the tie between the performance and the music, the story being told, and of course, the mature skater using many different, some risky, some not so risky, maneuvers in order to demonstrate the beauty of figure skating and its athleticism.

But that’s been replaced with a very interesting emphasis upon a certain form of athleticism in jumps, and that has led to the fact that there’s now a dangerous temptation for teams to put out younger and younger skaters who are able to use their lighter frames in order to do things that older skaters can’t do. But you see the price of that. You saw the price of that in that 15-year-old girl collapsing, and collapsing under not just the weight of her body after she fell on the ice, but collapsing under the weight of a completely unrealistic international attention that should never be the weight placed upon 15-year-old shoulders, ever.

Some of the observers, long involved in the Olympics, who spoke about that horrifying moment there on the ice in Beijing said, “Well, here’s where you have to understand. There’s a huge human cost to something like the spectacle of the Olympics. There is a huge human cost when it comes to the athleticism and to the devotion. There is a certain kind of monomaniacal commitment that has to be made, but who’s making that commitment when the skater is 15?” Of course, you saw this reflected in the fact that the IOC’s body looking at the doping controversy and the fact that Valieva had failed a previous drug test that came back and said, “But she’s a minor, and thus she might not have been responsible.”

Well, here’s the point, Christians understand someone’s responsible. There are parents who somehow are responsible, there are coaches, there are doctors and others who are responsible, just like the Soviet Union and its satellite states were responsible when girls and young women were showing up for gymnastics competitions clearly showing evidence of incredible drug use, and yet, in many ways, they simply got away with it.

But again, we’re all responsible. When it comes to the Olympics, we’re responsible for our own nation’s participation. We’re responsible for the fact that American corporations were largely carrying the freight and paying the bills for the entire Olympic games and when it came to NBC and others…. I’m not saying it’s wrong to watch the Olympics, it’s not. I’m not saying it’s wrong to celebrate the Olympics, it’s not, but it is wrong to celebrate without a moral understanding and an acknowledgement of what’s really going on here.

But as we end on this issue, trying to think intelligently as Christians, we need to remind ourselves that there are theological lessons to be learned here. The Olympics in this sense are not an aberration. Here’s what we need to understand. The Olympics did not tell us something about sin in the world that we didn’t already know.

The Olympics did not tell us something about the problems in a totalitarian regime, the evil of such regimes. We already knew that. The Olympics didn’t tell us something about the temptation of athletes or those who are handling athletes to create shortcuts by use of drugs or pharmaceuticals or other supplements. We already knew. But every once in a while, you see all these things and more come together in a picture with a focus that simply now can’t be denied. Christine Brennan, back at USA Today, said that the 2022 Winter Games should serve as, “One big cautionary tale.” Well, here’s the thing, a cautionary tale is to be observed as a very hard lesson.

Shame upon us all if that lesson doesn’t lead to substantive changes. But a review of recent Olympic history will indicate those changes are actually unlikely to come. Will we remember four years from now the lessons that we said we learned this year?

Part II

The Conscience, Rule of Law, and the Over-Reaching State: Protests in Canada and Now Coming to the U.S. — How Should Christians Think?

But now I need to take a quick look right again across our northern border at the controversy in Canada over the declaration of the Emergencies Act. By the way, it came to an end, the Prime Minister Trudeau announced yesterday, but that one’s only after he forced an extension through parliament, basically, on a party line vote on Monday.

Now, what’s happening? Well, what’s happening is, I think, Canadians are waking up. Canadians are waking up to the fact that a government declared an Emergencies Act as if Canada were facing something tantamount to the risk of invasion or war and it was declaring it because of protestors that were driving trucks and parking their trucks and obstructing the work of the government and obstructing the flow of traffic on the Ambassador Bridge between Ontario and Michigan. But after all, that was cleared by normal police action, even before the Emergencies Act declaration had gone into effect.

It is as if in the United States something like a state of emergency with a suspension of constitutional rights were to be declared. But I argued at the time that no rational, sane or honest assessment can justify Prime Minister Trudeau’s declaration of the Emergencies Act. Nothing in retrospect is going to justify the act of the Canadian parliament under its labor government of actually moving forward with the declaration of the Emergencies Act, the extension of the Emergencies Act, and then the declaration. In the time between this past Monday and yesterday, that all of a sudden, while the emergency’s over, we don’t need to invoke the Emergencies Act any longer.

Whether you recognize it or not, that was at least a tacit acknowledgement that it was never necessary in the first place. Or to put it another way, what likely prompted the change between Monday and Wednesday was unnecessary reading of the political wins on the part of Canada’s liberal prime minister. But it’s also the case that there was an awakening to at least one dimension of the Emergencies Act that people on both sides of the Canadian border really had not recognized. That is the fact act that the Emergencies Act gave the government the power without subpoena or without individual court action to seize or to freeze certain financial and economic assets of those that the government suspected or accused of complicity even at distance from the protests themselves.

In language only bureaucrat could love, the New York Times reported that as of Sunday the national police force said that 219, here’s the quote, “financial products have been frozen. 253 Bitcoin addresses related to protestors and organizers have been given the virtual currency exchange operators and a bank had frozen,” now get this, “$3.8 million Canadian held by payment processor.” Some of that might have been directly tied to the protest. That would be at least in an American point of view, a constitutional crisis alone, the government acting in an extra judicial way in seizing or freezing those accounts.

But we are also looking at the fact that some of the “financial products” that were frozen and some of the accounts that were the targets of this kind of government action, they were actually held by people who might not have had any direct involvement in these events at all. The Editorial Board of the Wall Street Journal in a statement published yesterday said, “Canada’s Government is obliged by law to hold a public inquiry on the state of emergency. The courts could also rule against Mr. Trudeau, throwing in the question convictions against truckers and leaving Canadians to wonder what the prime minister could have been thinking.”

The editorial board concluded, “Mr. Trudeau may then find there is a real emergency to the survival of his government.” I can only say I hope so. But we quickly have to come across the border back into the United States with our concern because you have a report coming. For instance, a headline in the Los Angeles Times, “Capitol Police Request National Guard as Trucker Convoy is Expected for the State of the Union.” This is referring to a truck convoy that is expected to arrive in the nation’s Capitol, the nation in this case being the United States of America, the Capitol being Washington D.C.

This trucker convoy, with a similar kind of protest message, is expected in the nation’s Capitol in order to coincide with the State of the Union Address to be given by President Joe Biden on March, the first. Pentagon press secretary, John Kirby, said, “Those agencies have asked for National Guard personnel to provide support at traffic control points in and around the district to help address potential challenges stemming from possible disruptions at key traffic arteries.” The nation will no doubt sleep better at night knowing that the Speaker of the House of Representatives, California representative, Nancy Pelosi, said that she and her office are watching this situation very, very closely.

But there’s a point that’s very important to Christians that we need to think about here, and that is that we believe in the rule of law. That means that we believe that, under almost all circumstances, the law is to be obeyed. The law is not obeyed, it has to be for a morally justifiable reason, and in most cases, protest is not a justifiable reason. But the United States was built as a protest nation. It was established in protest against another unjust regime. Protest is written into the United States Constitution in such a way that freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, freedom of a religion, they are all made very, very clear.

Here’s where conservative Christians in the United States have to recognize, we do not support protests because we simply support the message, because that would mean that we’d support our kind of protests and we would ask for law enforcement to crack down on opposing protests. Now, we believe in the right to protest, but we do believe that the same laws and the same principles and the same law enforcement should apply to Black Lives Matter and to truckers who might come to protest during President Biden’s State of the Union Address. Same rules, same constitution, same government, same police, it had better turn out to be law enforcement according to the same principles.

One of the key issues where Christian conscience and protest is hitting the asphalt literally, is where you have pro-life protestors, for instance, outside abortion clinics and so called women’s health clinics, who have the right to protest. One of the big issues that the intersection of the freedom of assembly and the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion is the freedom of pro-life protestors to make their advocacy for the sanctity of human life right where it’s tangible, right there in front of abortion clinics. As you understand this is a live issue in Canada, recognize it is also a live issue in the United States.

We should be very clear. I don’t believe the trucker should have been allowed to obstruct the bridge. After all, that would keep ambulances with very serious medical emergencies from crossing the bridge. We don’t want to shut down the economy. That’s a threat that may appeal to the left. It cannot appeal to those who want to preserve our way of life on our constitutional order. But the same rules do have to apply when the protests are those with which we agree and it has to be equal when we consider protests with which we might disagree. But again, remember, that clearing the Ambassador Bridge of those trucks took place with normal police action and it took place without violence or any loss of life.

Yet Canada’s prime minister said, “The very survival of Canada is at stake, trust me.”

Part III

SCOTUS Takes Up Religious Liberty Case over Wedding Web Designer — Will It Defend Religious Liberty and Free Speech?

I want to quickly mention good news.

The Supreme Court of the United States has taken a case at the intersection of religious liberty and the LGBTQ revolution, taking a case from the State of Colorado in which the Supreme Court is going to decide, on free speech grounds, whether a Christian operating a web design business can be required to take the business of same-sex couples for same-sex weddings which would violate the conscience.

This comes back to the question of artistic expression. We’re not just talking about leasing a space that would be available to the general public, we’re talking about using artistry and expressive ability and being coerced to use the artistry and expressive ability in the service of something that the artist believes to be morally wrong. The case has been taken by the Supreme Court, that’s a good thing. It has been taken on limited grounds. We’ll see exactly how that turns out, but the court did take the case. It has created a part of the mess that has produced this case.

Let’s hope it uses this opportunity to clean it up for the cause of conscience.

Part IV

Male and Female in Scare Quotes?: The Moral Decline of our Civilization Summarized in a Retirement Column in the New York Times

But finally, I want to end on a farewell article by a writer who had been writing since 1965 on health issues for the New York Times.

The writer, Jane E. Brody. I’ve mentioned this writer and her articles on The Briefing before. She’s writing about her retirement, having covered health and health advice issues for the New York Times since 1965. Just consider how much the world has changed since 1965. She writes about some of those changes and her reflections upon those changes, but I want you to hear one particular paragraph under the heading, “Sexuality and Gender.”

Jane E. Brody wrote, looking back over her long writing career in the New York Times, “Our understanding of human sexuality has undergone a big shift toward medical and cultural acceptance of lesbian, gay, transgender, and queer people. It may shock you to learn,” she writes, “that a page one article I wrote in 1971 suggested that psychotherapy could help homosexuals become heterosexual, an idea that I and health professionals now scorn as abusive. Medicine now recognizes and accepts a wide range of gender and sexual identities. Increasingly,” she writes, “people who identify as transgender, for example, are able to adopt a gender identity or gender expression that differs from what is typically associated with the ‘male’ or ‘female’ sex they were assigned at birth.”

Now in the one sense that paragraph is just a bracing cautionary tale. There’s that term again about what has happened in our society, not just in medicine over the course of the last few decades just since 1965. But there’s more to it than that, because you also have a claim being made here that there is a new reality that we’ve all just settled now as the new science. But even as I read those words, I think most of you were thinking, “I don’t actually accept that at all.” Here you have someone who’s been writing about health for the New York Times since 1965, and she writes her valedictory article as she leaves the paper by using the term male and the term female only in scare quotes.

Something I’m going to offer in response, that if the Lord tarries, this society will only be found intact and functioning if we once again gain the moral of sanity to use the essential terms male and female without the scare quotes.

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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