The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

It’s Wednesday, March 9th, 2022.

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

Part I

Impact of War in Ukraine Starts to Hit Close to Home as U.S. Shuts Off All Energy Imports from Russia: What Does All This Mean?

There are few human activities or endeavors that are more ladened with moral consequence than warfare. And even as we continue to watch as Ukraine is fighting against Russian aggression and a Russian invasion, the reality is that the pain may soon be felt very close to home, particularly in energy prices. A very interesting development. And the story behind the development also is incredibly interesting.

We start with the announcement made yesterday by the president of the United States that the United States would cut off all energy imports from Russia to the United States. That’s a bigger story than many Americans would understand because Russia is a net exporter of energy and in a big way. Much of Europe is absolutely dependent upon energy sources coming from Russia. And even in the United States, something like 8% of the petroleum is actually sourced back to Russia.

That’s going to come to an end. And Americans are going to see the result almost immediately as they buy gasoline to put in their cars and as they pay for energy for their homes and businesses. This is going to be a cost increase that will ricochet throughout the entire American economy. And that comes when the American economy is facing real challenges. Just think about a vexing problem like inflation, and you recognize that prices are now going to go up. And those prices will go throughout the entire economy. It’s not just the price you pay for gasoline, but the price you eventually are going to pay for Cheerios and coffee, because almost all of the commodities you buy in a store at some point are running in a train, or they are in a truck. One way or another, they are using petroleum. And in some cases, a lot of it.

But that’s actually just the tip of the iceberg because at every point throughout the manufacturing process, at every point in transportation, at every point for that matter in life as it is lived by most Americans, energy is a constant need. And it is often being used and being used at rates that would surprise you when we’re not even thinking about it. So as we think about energy costs going up, that means the cost of life is going to be going up.

Now, here’s what’s really interesting in a political context. The White House did not rush into this decision. As a matter of fact, you can argue that the White House made this announcement only because there was a bipartisan consensus in Congress that this was the right step to take. When we say bipartisan, in this case, we mean Democrats and Republicans. But we also need to note those Democrats and Republicans may have had a common interest in supporting Ukraine and in punishing Russia, but they may well have diverging interests when it comes to the bigger picture of energy.

So what’s going on there? Well, so many of the Democratic Party citing the challenge of climate change want to reduce America’s use of petroleum products, coal and other traditional fossil fuels as energy sources. So this might present an opportunity to show a crisis in the fossil fuel industry to shock Americans into, say, buying electric cars. And yes, you are actually hearing those arguments.

The Republicans on the other side are extremely frustrated with the Biden administration, and their position is in many ways the opposite of the position taken by the Democratic Party. The Republicans are arguing that energy is a national security issue, that it always has been. And thus, there has been the push throughout the last several decades for America to achieve energy independence. And that actually took place in this generation. That is to say that right now, America alone has the energy capacity not only to provide all of our own energy needs, but to be an exporter beyond that. The United States has rich deposits of coal. We also have a lot of petroleum in the ground that can be brought out of the ground.

But energy independence as it has been achieved in the United States came through two other technologies. One of them is liquid petroleum and also natural gas, but the other big development was fracking. The ability to obtain petroleum from shale deposits and other minerals in the earth. And that has basically transformed the entire energy industry.

So why would we have, say, eight to 9% of our petroleum sourced back to Russia? Well, it’s because as you think about energy sources, you think about petroleum and natural gas, those are international commodities. They are traded, they are exchanged, they are transported in what amounts to an international market. What you have now is an effort undertaken by many nations to try to isolate Russia and in particular, to cut Russia off from all of those billions of dollars it has been gaining. And that takes us back to our conversation on The Briefing a few days ago about oligarchs. The way many of those oligarchs got really, really rich at the expense of the people of Russia was by gaining control of petroleum and other energy resources, and then selling them on that global market.

Now here’s where there is also another difference between the parties. And it came before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It was visible in the fact that President Biden, understanding the rising cost of energy, began trying to encourage Saudi Arabia and other petroleum exporters to increase their capacity in order to increase the amount that could be sold in the United States in order to avoid prices further skyrocketing. But here’s the interesting quandary, as Republicans pointed out. If the United States has adequate capacity, why wouldn’t the president of the United States turn to American energy sources and encourage them to ramp up capacity? Well, it’s because in the Democratic Party increasing the production of fossil fuels, it contradicts their position on climate change and the necessity of moving towards renewable energy sources. But the energy companies are going to come right back and say, “Look, these renewable energy sources, just at this point, can’t even come close to closing the gap in terms of our energy needs.”

Now, here’s something that became very, very evident just in recent weeks, as you think about Europe. Because the United States, at least in theory, hypothetically, is an energy-independent nation, or it quickly can be if we ramp up our own capacity. That’s one of the blessings that comes with the incredible land that constitutes the transcontinental nation of the United States of America. But you take many European countries. They have basically very little energy capacity. They are also very energy-dependent nations, just to take Germany as one example. President Biden, under political pressure, announced this American ban on Russian imports. But at the same time, the German chancellor said that his nation would not be taking the same step.

But before we criticize Germany, that’s not a decision beyond criticism, but let’s just understand that for Germany, this is a very different issue than for the United States. The United States has options and has capacity that Germany doesn’t have. And Germany is the industrial heart of Europe, and for that matter, is the financial and economic heart of Europe. Cutting off Russian energy sources in toto would be a disaster for Germany. It’s a challenge for the United States, but it’s a temporary economic challenge. It was a massive moral and political step for Germany to take in announcing that it was going to be withdrawing from a gas pipeline project that had been carefully negotiated with Germany and was going to be a major source of energy for Germany for decades to come.

But here’s where we need to understand something. Something the chancellor of Germany understands and something right now that the president of the United States understands, he had better understand. And that is that people who have a vote in Germany and in the United States have a very low tolerance for political leaders who do not feel their pain when it comes to increased energy prices. For Germany, again, this would be an existential threat. That is to say, it would be a threat to its entire economic existence. Not so in the United States. But we’re about to find out whether Americans are really as committed to causing pain in Russia as Americans say they are when that pain shows up at the American gas pump.

But it’s Christians who understand, and we’ve been talking about this repeatedly in recent days, that every dimension of life is inherently moral and all decisions have moral consequences. The moral consequences of taking this hard line with Russia means that gas prices are going to go up. But in Germany, the moral cost, according to the German chancellor, is not going to be borne by Germans who might otherwise be shivering in the night because their heat has gone off. In other words, there are limitations. And particularly in Western nations where people have a vote and thus the people eventually have their say, political leaders are going to have to be very, very careful lest they make a decision that might rebound on them in a huge way.

And you understand that’s exactly what in political terms has been traumatizing President Joe Biden. The nation’s already facing inflation. He’s already been criticized for an inadequate response to the inflationary challenge. His State of the Union address didn’t move the needle politically on these issues. And now under political pressure, having announced this shutoff of energy imports from Russia as the American people begin to feel the pain, the White House is very concerned that the blame will be pointed right there. But that’s the way it works. In this kind of system of government where the people have a voice, the person who is elected the chief executive, in this system, the president of the United States, he will ultimately pay the political price for the consequences of this decision.

We live in a highly developed, highly complex economic context. And that includes the fact that we had inflation already well underway before the Russian invasion of Ukraine and before the announcement of the shutoff of energy exports from Russia, imports into the United States. Both of these realities will come with consequences. Both of them are likely to hurt the American consumer. And when the American consumer feels pain, that pain is often translated into electoral decisions.

Part II

‘We Must Not Trade One Dictator for Another’: Is Buying Petroleum From Venezuela Morally Better Than Buying From Russia?

But next, we need to understand that there are moral dimensions that many Americans just don’t want to think about. For example, President Biden’s administration is thought to be going on the global energy markets in order to find alternative sources to fill the gap that will be created by the end of these Russian imports of energy. Venezuela is one of those potential sources. But Americans should recognize in hearing the country Venezuela, we are talking about other big problems. Elvia Díaz, columnist for the Arizona Republic and the USA Today network points out that the oil from Venezuela is going to be as morally tainted as the oil or petroleum that may have come from Russia.

The headline in her article that ran yesterday in the Arizona Republic is this. Maduro’s oil is as tainted as Putin’s, referring to Venezuela’s president, another brutal dictator, Nicolás Maduro. As Díaz writes, “Anyone repulsed over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine must be equally disgusted with President Biden cozying up to Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro for oil.” As she points out, Maduro is a brutal dictator “who kills and jails political dissidents, crushing protests and starves his population just to stay in power.” She goes on to explain, “Venezuela, which faces U.S. sanctions, supplies its blood-tainted oil to Russia.” She continues, “But now, apparently the U.S. government is willing to turn a blind eye to Maduro’s brutality against his people in exchange for the chance to buy his oil.” But Díaz concludes, “We must not let Biden trade one dictator for another, even if that means paying more at the gas pump.”

Well, I want to make two observations about that argument. Number one, it has real moral traction. Nicolás Maduro is as brutal a dictator, though on a smaller stage, as is Vladimir Putin. He just doesn’t have the opportunity to be as horrifying in the scale of Vladimir Putin. And furthermore, Nicolás Maduro is following on Hugo Chávez and the promise of a Marxist revolution that has basically not only impoverished but imprisoned so many people in Venezuela. And much like Russia, Venezuela is only afloat because it is a net exporter of energy. And there are moral dimensions to buying that energy.

But here’s where Christians just need to pause for a moment and understand there are moral dimensions to buying anything from anybody. This is not to say that we should buy fuel from Venezuela. I’m arguing that the White House should actually open up and encourage more American self-sufficiency when it comes to energy sources. But as you’re looking at Americans paying more at the gas pump, let’s face the political reality. Americans are not willing to pay infinitely more. It’s also true in moral terms that when you put gas in your vehicle, you don’t know where that gas has come from. I don’t mean you don’t know the name of the gas station. But let’s be honest. You have no idea where those petroleum products really originated, other that in some substratum of the earth. We’ll be tracking this story with you, particularly in worldview and in moral terms. But you’re going to have to pay for gas in very real financial terms. And a lot of you are likely to have a shock at the gas station sometime today.

Part III

The Power of Entertainment Culture: Disney CEO Avoids Public Statement on Florida ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill Citing Storytelling as a Better Change Agent in Society

But coming back to the United States and also thinking about the morality of markets, let’s look at the market for entertainment and let’s look at the intersection between the entertainment culture and big corporate finance and the moral revolution, particularly the revolution in sexual morality that is summarized with the letters LGBTQ. And let’s just consider the company as Disney. And let’s look at the fact that Disney, which has massive operations in Florida, not only that huge amusement complex known as Disney World, but in recent months, Disney has announced that it is moving something like 2000 jobs from Southern California to Florida in the film production and entertainment production dimension of its work.

But wait just a minute. Disney is a very liberal company when it comes to corporate social policies and Florida is an increasingly conservative state. Just consider the fact that yesterday we talked about Florida through its legislature passing a bill that once signed into law, if Roe v. Wade is reversed by the Supreme Court this term, would establish an end to abortion in the state of Florida after 15 weeks of pregnancy. You also have legislation currently discussed pending there in Florida. And it includes a stipulation that in the public schools, certain issues related to sexual orientation, sexual behavior, and gender identity, mostly connected with the LGBTQ revolution, are to be restricted from students of a certain age in certain grades. And regardless of age, teachers are to avoid advocacy in classroom discussion. This is often referred to by those who oppose the bill as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

Now we need to look at the intersection of all these issues and the Disney corporation, as we discussed, because Disney’s chief executive, Bob Chapek, made a statement on this past Monday indicating that Disney is opposed to these particular legislative initiatives, but has not spoken up as a corporation in a big way nor sought publicly to influence the legislation nor legislators, but is instead pushing LGBTQ advocacy through other means. And this story turns out to be even more interesting than I think the Los Angeles Times recognized.

As the reporter tells this, “Well, Disney company chief executive Bob Chapek sent a lengthy email to employees to address the concerns of LGBTQ+ staff over the company’s public silence on legislation in Florida that would squelch discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools.” And as reporter Ryan Faughnder goes on to explain, “Disney has not issued any public statements condemning the Florida legislation which would forbid school districts from encouraging classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Well, it turns out that a lot of Disney employees, and in particular LGBTQ leaders among employees, had registered their discontent and had demanded that Disney’s leadership speak to the issue. According to the LA Times, “Chapek said in his memo that he met on Friday with a small group of Disney LGBTQ+ leaders for a conversation in which employees expressed disappointment at the company’s lack of a public statement. While he described the meeting as meaningful,” says the Times, “and illuminating and at times deeply moving, Chapek did not commit to taking an aggressive stance on the Florida bill.”

Now here’s where things get really interesting, and informed Christians need to think about this. Instead we are told, “He sought to explain why the company had not waded into the battle. He argued that corporate statements, in his view, don’t do very much in terms of changing the political context. He went on to say they can sometimes be counterproductive and ‘undermine more effective ways to achieve change.'” But that raises the issue, what would be a more effective means of achieving change, change in an LGBTQ+ affirming direction? What exactly is Disney doing here?

Well, Disney tells us. The article in the LA Times tells us that what Disney is trying to do is to use its products to achieve this kind of moral revolution and LGBTQ+ affirmation and inclusion in a way that actually has viewers pleased, laughing, charmed, rather than offended by political statements. Now, for Christians, this turns out to be massive in consequence. For one thing, it tells us how culture does change morality. Then it tells us that it often changes morality in a way that’s more powerful than politics. That doesn’t mean that politics isn’t important. It is to say that what three and four-year-olds or even younger children or older children are watching, or for that matter adults, there are changes that take place in the heart that are likely to be far more impactful and, for that matter, morality-changing than anything that might be adopted by law. Again, we’re not depreciating the role of law. To the contrary. But we are recognizing that there are forces in society more powerful than law and politics and the entertainment culture just might well be one of those dimensions.

According to the LA Times, Disney’s CEO said that he believes Disney is “more effective at creating social change through its movies and TV shows.” He went on to cite some, stating, “These and all of our diverse stories are our corporate statements and they are more powerful than any tweet or lobbying effort.” Now, I’m going to say that as much as I disagree with Disney’s CEO on the moral question, I think I might well agree with him about the power of story being even more powerful than the power of policies or laws. Speaking defensively but probably also honestly, Chapek said, “I firmly believe that our ability to tell such stories and have them received with open eyes, ears, and hearts would be diminished if our company were to become a political football in any debate.”

Well, there you have it. There you have the Disney CEO saying that the purpose of the stories the company is telling is to reach “open eyes, ears, and hearts.” You knew that, but still you have to admit it’s quite powerful to hear it right from the company’s CEO.

Part IV

“Ethical Non-Monogamy”: Redefinition of Marriage and Revolution of Polyamory Trickles Down into Moral Advice Column

But finally, today, as we think about moral and cultural change, I want to take you back to the great day of the big influence of American newspapers. One of the innovations that took place in the newspaper industry in the 20th century was the development of the gossip column and the advice column, both of them extremely popular. The advice column spread like wildfire at the midpoint of the 20th century and continued for decades thereafter. You had the sisters who actually wrote rival columns, Ann Landers and Dear Abby. And both of them in terms of the advice they gave and the questions they considered turned out to be pretty interesting moral barometers.

You could take Dear Abby or Ann Landers. You could look at their columns over about 30 to 40 years and you can see how they change their own position on any number of issues. And in every single case in a more liberal direction in moral terms. In some newspapers, the advice column continues, one of the most influential entitled Ask Amy. The author is Amy Dickinson, a syndicated column. But in a recent column, she addressed this question: “Our son and daughter-in-law, married for about six years, recently dropped a bomb on my husband and me. They told us they were involved in polyamorous relationships where each has another partner, lover or person they spend time with outside of the marriage. They tell us this lifestyle’s becoming more common.” We’re told they’re in their thirties. They don’t have children. The parents say they’re having a hard time “understanding this choice and accepting what this will mean for our relationship going forward and for our larger family.”

So how’s Amy going to respond to the bewildered parents who have just been told by their son and daughter-in-law that they have entered into a polyamorous relationship? Well, the response comes down to this. Get with the program. Amy basically says that there are probably two and only two moral complexities here. One would be the effect on children. But she goes on to say, and remember, there are no children in this relationship, she says the important question is how these polyamorous relationships would affect children: “If all the adults are stable, loving, and committed to them, then I imagine the kids will be fine.” So the kids can thank Ask Amy for declaring that she thinks they’re going to be fine.

The other moral issue here is the one we see in the thinnest sexual morality in this me too age. And that’s just consent. As if consenting adults consent to anything, then it’s consensually fine. It’s morally positive. As for marriage, Amy seems to think it can be anything consenting adults want it to mean. Society just better get in line. She writes, “You may define marriage as monogamy until divorce or death, but as people explore their freedom to redefine the boundaries of what it means to be married, they may choose ethical non-monogamy. They remain lovingly married but are free to engage in other romantic relationships in a way they believe is open and honest.” Amy goes on to suggest that maybe the parents need to do some reading on polyamory. She concludes, “You define marriage one way. They define it differently. If they want to remove the taboo around polyamory, you should discourage them from defining it as a deep, dark family secret.”

Now, to be honest, I think the good news is that there are very few people taking any serious moral advice from this kind of column. And frankly, if you’re going to be morally outraged, you’ll probably be outraged quite repeatedly and frequently by such a column. But on the other hand, I have bad news for you. And that is that this worldview is actually sinking in at various levels of our society in a big way. And thus, even as Ann Landers and Dear Abby demonstrated in the last century, these advice columns, and perhaps even more influential these days are talk television programs, they are demonstrating that this revolution and morality is now far down the road. And you can find this kind of advice and this approach to destabilizing and, for that matter, completely redefining marriage, reformulating sexual morality comprehensively, you can find these arguments not only in the academy, not only coming through entertainment, but you can hear them in your local community.

Another reminder, by the way, that God intended marriage as an exclusive institution, a man and a woman in a covenant relationship for life. And if marriage can mean anything else, it will eventually mean everything else. And trust the Bible, not Amy, both to define marriage and to explain how this kind of experiment inevitably will play out.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’m speaking to you from Kansas City, Missouri, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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