The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

It’s Tuesday, March 8th, 2022.

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

Part I

The ‘Breadbasket of Europe’ is Endangered: War in Ukraine Threatens Global Food Supply, Possibly for Years to Come

The war in Ukraine continues and Russia is pressing its offensive. And we now have very credible evidence, more and more evidence of the fact that Russia and its armed forces are targeting civilians. This in violation of the rules of war, of the principles of Christian just war theory, of treaties and agreement such as the Geneva Convention. The reality is that we are looking at a nation that is acting as a criminal nation, as a rogue nation. And the simple historical fact, we just remind ourselves, is that this is the first invasion of a nation by another nation in Europe since the end of World War II. One of the things we do need to note is that Americans are becoming desensitized to the headlines.

I mean, after all, how interesting is it to come back and say, “The war in Ukraine continues.” If this war were to go on for matter of months or years, you can understand why we face the danger that urgent moral issues can simply become a part of the landscape. They can simply be assumed and interest is lost. Before interest is lost, we need to recognize that human lives are at stake in Ukraine. And there are two big stories that I want us to consider. One of them is more urgent than the other. The most urgent has to do with food. As you are looking at the massive movement of humanity, many refugees now over a million, trying to flee Ukraine and go into safer areas to the west, you are also looking at the fact that there are inadequate food supplies. But there’s another huge story looming all of this.

And that is that, if you were to put together the one great agricultural area that is the most important exporter of wheat to the rest of the world, that would be the agricultural belt that includes Ukraine and Russia. As you look at those two nations, you are looking at the combined strength of what is often referred to as the bread basket of the world. Maximo Torero, reporter writing for the Los Angeles Times, offers an article, the headline, “Russian invasion could cause a global hunger crisis.” That’s not an exaggeration. We are looking at a war that is now reached the stage that we could be looking at massive global disruptions of the food chain. Not just the supply chain when it comes to say, all the parts necessary to make an automobile, but the food chain in terms of the supply of edibles, the most necessary staples of life, most importantly, grain, and most importantly, among the grains, wheat. As Torero reports, “Russia provides 20% of the world’s wheat.”

Let’s just stop there for a moment. So as you’re thinking about all of the wheat production in the world, one fifth of it, 20% of it comes from Russia. Russia is by no surprise then the world’s largest exporter of wheat. But the fifth largest is Ukraine. So you put the two together, you have a really good idea of how much of the world’s food supply, especially when it comes to wheat, is at stake. There are certain nations that are overwhelmingly dependent upon the grain and especially the wheat coming from Russia. Perhaps the most graphic example is Egypt, which imports tons upon tons of wheat, not only from the rest of the world, but particularly from Russia and Ukraine. The Egyptian government subsidizes the price of that wheat in order for Egyptians to be able to buy the wheat in order to make bread. Other parts of the world that have food instability are also keeping a very keen eye on developments in Russia and Ukraine.

This includes Syria, already ravaged by war. You’re also looking at many of the nations of Sub-Saharan Africa, including for example, just one of them, you could say Kenya, which is overwhelmingly dependent upon agricultural products produced elsewhere. And that includes about $4 billion of wheat from Russia just in 2020 alone. But as we’re thinking about the endangering of so much of the world’s food supply, we need to recognize that this is not going to be a story that’s over soon. The ramifications of the war in Ukraine are likely to reverberate now, not just for a matter of days and weeks, but perhaps now for months and years. The explanation for that comes from a team of reporters for the Associated Press who write, “Ukrainian farmers have been forced to neglect their fields as millions flee, fight, or try to stay alive. Ports are shut down that send wheat and other food supplies worldwide to be made into bread, noodles and animal feed. And there are worries that Russia, another agricultural powerhouse, could have its grain exports upended by Western sanctions.”

A very interesting comment was made in the Associated Press story by Anna Nagurney identified as a professor of supply chains, logistics and economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She said, “Wheat, corn, oils, barley, flour are extremely important to food security, especially in the poorer parts of the globe. With Ukrainian men being called on to fight,” she said, “who’s going to be doing the harvesting? Who’d be doing the transportation?” Now there’s a lot for us to consider here. The first and most important issue is that once again we see the morality of war. In this case, the immorality of an aggressive war and the necessary effects that are now going to follow, including the fact that there may be hungry stomachs in Africa and in Egypt simply because of a war that now is being fought on the terrain of Ukraine as Russia is the aggressor.

But there’s something else in that statement that I think at least before we leave it, ought to have our attention. And that is the reference to men. This professor pointed out that there are Ukrainian men in particular who are now being called on to fight, and thus to question, who’s going to be doing the harvesting? Who’s going to be doing the transportation? Once again, this just points to the fact that in the crucible of real life, the actual even biological distinctions between men and women come very much to the fore. Later this week, we’re going to be looking at another major story in which this truth comes very much to light. The fact is that there are distinctions between men and women. Sometimes cultures can exaggerate those distinctions, but in reality those distinctions are so clear that they simply can’t help but to come out in the crucible of something as vital as life or death as war and whether or not grains are going to be harvested in the field and new crops are going to be planted.

That’s not to say that women can’t do that. It is to say that if men don’t do it, it’s not going to get done.

Part II

Stand with Dictators and You Will Fall with Them: There Is No Separation of Culture and Morality — The Case of a Russian Orchestra Conductor With Time on His Hands

But I said there was a second dimension that really has come to interesting light and this has to do with culture. Now, sports is a subsection of this topic looking at culture, so also the arts in particular music as we’re going to see. But the big issue here is that the international community, understanding the criminality of Russia’s actions, is beginning to isolate even Russian individuals in sports from international competition and also from the international arenas of culture. But that then raises some interesting questions. Again, in the Los Angeles Times, Jonathan Rosenberg asked whether or not the issues of war can be separated from the question of culture. The headline in the article that was published yesterday is this, as Ukraine suffers can art be separated from politics?

Well, let’s just pause for a moment and say that there’s a lot more to this war than politics, but we understand what he’s asking. And the fact is that, history will reveal, there is difficulty drawing a very clear distinction between culture and politics or between art you might say and the context of war. The article by Rosenberg’s interesting because he goes back to World War II, particularly the years between 1936 in 1948, when questions arose about the complicity of artists with Nazi Germany. And the question came up, could you have art and culture separated from the politics and the ideology and the context of war and Nazi Germany? The reality is that the answer in the crucible of World War II was no. There were conductors, there were artists, there were authors who became basically unusable in the west once Nazi Germany had shown its ideology and many of the cultural leaders and artists had to declare themselves one way or the other.

That’s where it is right now. For example, just take Russian orchestra conductor, Valery Gergiev. He, who is closely allied with Vladimir Putin, has now lost jobs on both sides of the Atlantic because he will not, here’s the word that’s used in the press reports, clarify his position on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, nor his relationship with Vladimir Putin. Now, one little footnote here, orchestra conductors, opera singers, and others have a higher profile in Russia than the same artist would have in the United States. And that’s because there’s much more popular interest in classical music, in orchestras, in ballet for that matter and in opera in Russia than there is in the United States. As you’re thinking about at least some of these art forms, they would almost rival Hollywood in some Russian contexts.

But speaking about music and culture in the person of Valery Gergiev, Rosenberg writes, “He certainly hasn’t kept music and politics separate. Gergiev and Putin have had a close relationship for three decades. In 2012, Gergiev appeared in a campaign video supporting Putin’s presidential candidacy. In 2013, the conductor was one of five recipients of the Hero of Labor of the Russian Federation.” That’s a prize that goes back to the Stalin era. That same year, “Gergiev’s performances at the Metropolitan Opera and Carnegie Hall were interrupted by gay rights activists who demanded to no avail that he explicitly repudiate the Russian president’s repressive anti-gay legislation.” Again, I’m reading this from the Los Angeles Times. “And the following year Gergiev supported Putin’s annexation of Crimea, a portent of things to come.” So the summary is here, “While it may be possible to make the case that music and politics occupy separate spheres, Gergiev cannot credibly do so. Over several decades, he has hitched himself to the Russian leader, which has necessarily politicized his every move.”

Now we need to keep in mind that eventually moral decisions simply have to be made. They are going to be made. And on this scale, they’re going to be made in public. This orchestra conductor, Valery Gergiev, is either going to break with Putin and he probably wouldn’t survive that, or he is going to be linked forever with Putin and his career is probably not going to survive that. One of the big moral lessons of the 20th century, and you would think this would be well remembered, is that those who stand with dictators tend to also to fall with them. Christians looking at these news need to understand something that’s basic to the Christian worldview, and that is this, morality infuses everything. There is no arena where human beings are active, where morality is not front and center. You may try to hide it, you may try to ignore it, you might try to camouflage it or rationalize it, but eventually moral decisions will be made. And eventually in public, those moral decisions will be known.

So Christians understand the fact that there is no clear distinction between any two dimensions of human life, whether it be politics and art or ideology and academia or industry, you just go down the list. Everything is tied to everything else. And the reality is the human nature, and that means fallen human nature and thus human sin, affects everything. And there is no dimension of human activity that doesn’t end up one way or the other clearly demonstrating itself to be moral. That is to say, morality is always there. Questions of right and wrong are always there.

It’ll be important for us to think about this, a good deal in the future, but just remember it this way, there is no spot on the battlefield that is not infused with moral meaning and there is no spot, no stanza. There is no plot. There is no movement in a symphony. There is no speck on a canvas that is not similarly moral. There’s no rescue from morality in war. There’s no rescue from morality in art. Christians understand why.

Part III

The Cannabis Culture Has No Brakes: California State Fair Officials Establish Competition Category for Most Potent Marijuana. Are They High?

I’m speaking today from California and there are a couple of things developing here in this state to which we need to pay attention. One of them has to do with the continuing development of a cannabis culture and a marijuana industry in the state of California. California, in many ways has pioneered the legalization and you might also say the industrialization of cannabis. It has been on the forefront of a moral revolution in the normalization of cannabis. But the editorial page of the New York Times is raising an issue as to whether or not, state fair officials in California are high. That’s the actual question being asked in a headline, in a statement from the editorial board.

The statement comes down to this, “Cannabis is making its debut at the California State Fair in July, taking its place among the Chardonnays, craft brews, tomato salsas, pickled peppers, and satsuma marmalades as a product of the state’s agricultural bounty.” But going on the editors say, “It might seem surprising that a plant still categorized as an illegal drug by the federal government is featured at a state sanctioned event.” But the editors write, “California voters made cannabis legal for adults in 2016, so it’s reasonable for pot farmers to showcase their goods at the state’s annual agricultural celebration.” Let’s just note that logic before we pass on. Here, you have the statement that since California voters legalized cannabis, even though the federal government still considers it illegal, it makes sense. That’s the very language used by the editors of the Los Angeles Times that the growers of cannabis, farmers of cannabis in California should be able to show their wares proudly at the state fair as well.

But the editors see a problem, “What isn’t reasonable is a contest category that recognizes the pot with the highest concentration of the acid form of THC, the ingredient that produces a high when it’s smoked, vaped, baked or otherwise heated.” Well, that’s really interesting. We’re told, “Health officials are raising alarms and the state’s fair board of directors ought to listen to them.” So let’s just rewind for a little bit. Back when California voters legalized cannabis, we’re told that they legalized it for adults, and they were also putting together a regulated market of cannabis. And the state was supposedly going to at least enrich its tax coffers with income from the now highly taxable cannabis trade. All that is basically fallen apart because as it turns out, the black market from marijuana is still larger than the legal market. And you also have the reality that the state now bears responsibility, not only for the legal adults who have access to so-called recreational marijuana, but to the teenagers, that one way or another are getting a hold of it as well.

And now you have the editors of the Los Angeles Times saying, “Now, wait just a minute. It’s reasonable. It makes sense.” That’s their argument that now that California’s legalized cannabis, it should be shown at the state fair. “But too far is too far,” say the editors. “Having an award for the most dangerous form of marijuana just doesn’t make sense.” Now from a Christian worldview perspective, let’s just consider marijuana again. It is extremely doubtful that there can be any Christian rationalization for the use of recreational marijuana in order to induce some kind of chemical high or hallucinogenic effect. The Christian worldview was all about being sober minded. It’s about the discipleship of the mind and the turning of the intellect to Christian truth, not to the chemical enhancement of the mind or to any form of alternative reality.

But as you’re looking at these very high percentages of THC, you’re looking at the marijuana that is particularly potent. By the way, something else most proponents of legal marijuana don’t tell you is that the marijuana or the cannabis, as it’s identified, available today is many times more potent than the marijuana commonly smoked on America’s college campuses in the 1960s. The Los Angeles Times editors think it might not be a good idea. It might just be a bad idea that the state fair would offer a ribbon or an award to the cannabis that achieves the highest THC level. And thus is the most hallucinogenic, the most mind altering. You think there might be a problem? There might be a moral dimension to this? The editors of the Los Angeles Times, big on the legalization of marijuana, nonetheless say this, “Meanwhile, research shows that the use of super potent weed is associated with problems such as psychosis, anxiety, and vomiting. The mental health risks are especially high for teens and young adults whose brains are still forming.”

The danger to developing brains, by the way, is incredibly well documented. But it’s not really that often you expect the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times to warn about effects that include psychosis, anxiety, and yes, vomiting. The editors didn’t make this observation, but I’m simply going to personally observe that if this particular competition continues, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near the people who are judging the competition, given what we were just told might be the side effects. Watch where you walk. The editors seem to insinuate that the only real concern here, by the way, is teenagers. The editors write, “Can you just imagine cannabis brands boasting about their gold medals to advertise the most potent pot, probably on billboards that teenagers will see?”

Now here’s where the Christian worldview kicks in again, not only in terms of the morality of any kind of mind-altering substance or even the yearning for that experience, but the Christian worldview also comes in to say, “If you’re making a basic moral distinction between adults and minors when it comes to something, you better make sure that you are telling minors, nonetheless, that if it is good for adults, it will be good for them in the future.” So in other words, the Christian worldview says that there might be a distinction. There is a distinction between adults and minors, but it should not be a distinction about what is ultimately, or at least eventually good. The reality is here that this editorial points to a real problem, but the even bigger problem is that the editors aren’t going back and saying, maybe this whole idea is ludicrous. Maybe being concerned about this one award in the cannabis competition at the July upcoming California State Fair, maybe focusing on this just illustrates the fact that the entire enterprise is a very, very bad idea.

But no, you’re looking at a culture that is so progressive, that is so committed to legalized marijuana and frankly, an industry that sees such an opportunity that they are not going to back off of legalized marijuana. They just want the weed without the dangers, without the effect, while also offering a ribbon to the most potent form of marijuana. But they’re concerned that teenagers might find out and read a billboard. In this case, I’m just going to assume that there are a lot of teenagers who show more intelligence and more moral judgment than politicians in the state of California.

Part IV

The Spreading Logic of Gambling: Sports Betting Arrives as the Latest Temptation

But again, speaking of California, voters here are going to face one and perhaps as many as four initiatives on the ballot this upcoming November on legalizing sports betting, different forms of sports betting and different models of how the state would allow for sports betting. At this point, a good deal of research indicates that a majority of Californians aren’t sold on the idea and there’s hope in that, but the whole issue of betting and the Christian understanding of gambling comes back to the fact that so many states have simply decided if you can’t beat them, join them. One of the strongest arguments in California for legalizing sports betting is that every state that borders California has already legalized it.

So you understand the argument. Why should Californians have to go to those other states and why would those other states gain all of the tax revenue that would come from sports betting? And make no mistake, it is massive, massive money. We’re not just talking about millions of dollars or even hundreds of millions of dollars. We’re talking about billions of dollars and various interest groups on both sides of the issue have pledged as much as $100 million a throw to make their case to the voters before the voters decide the issue in November. There’s some interesting twists here in California. You have to go back to 1987 when the Supreme Court of the United States struck down some state restrictions on the ability of native American tribes to sponsor and build casinos. In the state of California, this is still tightly regulated. The Indian groups, and that’s how they are identified in the article, are pressing for the legalization of sports betting, but they also want it limited to many of the casinos on their territory.

But in moral terms, perhaps the biggest issue here is the fact that what we are talking about is betting on sports. And you don’t have to know much history, not to mention much about human nature to understand that if you infect the world of sports with the virus of gambling, nothing good is going to happen and all kinds of bad is inevitably going to result. But nonetheless, we live in a world in which the moral arguments against gambling have fallen even as the influence of biblical Christianity has fallen in the culture. We also have the reality that once you have a virus start, like a new form of gambling, eventually every state thinks it has to get into it. And then by that time, it wants to get into it in a big way, bigger than the neighboring states in order to gain even more of the market.

Why have our people go to Nevada to gamble? Why not have people in Nevada want to come to California to gamble? One final note on this issue, and this really is interesting, it turns out that most of the research indicates that about 40% of Democrats favor the legalization of sports betting. In contrast, about 40% of Republicans favor the legalization of sports betting. You heard that right. The numbers are almost exactly the same, about 40% of Democrats and 40% of Republicans. What does that tell you? It tells you that neither political party has a very defined position on at least some of these issues. One observer put it this way. “It is rare these days for a political issue to be not seen as partisan but legalizing sports betting in California appears to be one of them, at least for the time being.” Well, the big issue here is really not at this point so much partisan as Christians understand it to be moral.

And once again, there is no way to escape the moral issues involved here, at least in the state of California right now, thinking about what voters are going to face in November. But this is, as you well know, not just about California. It’s eventually, and at least in most cases, about some proposal in each of the 50 states of the United States of America. It is a symptom of a nation following into a secularized context in which there is greater and greater moral confusion. Christians, and at least Christians, need to make sure that we’re thinking clearly about this.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’m speaking to you from Orange County, California, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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