Monday, March 21, 2022
It's Monday, March 21st, 2022.
I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
New Urgency to Worldview Issues As Ukraine War Enters Another Deadly Week
We're looking at so many important developments this week. We're going to be looking at a host of big controversies and issues seeking to understand them through the lens of a Christian worldview. But we have to begin this week with a couple of really big developments. The first of them is in Ukraine. The second will be taking place this week before the Senate's judiciary committee. And that, of course, will center in the confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to be, as President Biden has nominated her if confirmed by the Senate, an associate justice of the United States Supreme court. Absolutely huge issues. Let's turn to Ukraine first. We are looking at a war that continues to slog on now into its fourth week and in a very deadly fashion.
The developments over the last several days have included increased attacks upon civilian populations. And here we just need to note. As you are looking at this war, if you want to understand the morality of what is taking place, just look at where the people are dying. Look at who has invaded whom. There is no Ukrainian invasion of Russia. There is, most markedly, a Russian invasion of Ukraine. And we're looking at the use not only of deadly force, but the escalation of that force in two different ways. First of all, even more intentional attacks upon civilian populations and even centers where it is known that civilians have been located along with their children. Attacks upon movie theaters used as refuges, upon apartment houses and upon civilian populations continue to mount and in a deadly fashion. But one of the things we've also had to take into account when it comes to Russia's war in Ukraine, is the fact that Russia has threatened, in particular, Russian President Vladimir Putin, has threatened to escalate the war by the use of particular weapons.
Now, two really come into play here. For one thing, you have the reality that Vladimir Putin has announced to the world that he has put Russia's nuclear forces on a heightened state of alert. And furthermore, we know because Russia is not hiding this, that Russia's own war plan calls for the early use of nuclear weapons. Now, just remember that since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there has been no use of a nuclear weapon in war. We're talking about decades in which it became very, very clear, particularly in the context of the Cold War between the then Soviet Union and the United States, that an exchange of intercontinental nuclear weapons would mean mutual annihilation. This became known officially as the doctrine of MAD, mutually assured destruction. And even as that came as a form of realism, both in the USSR and in the United States, the reality is that years later, we're looking at a far more complex situation.
Now, as we think about the Christian understanding of war and just war theory, we can honestly understand that the use of those early atomic weapons, now simply massively dwarfed by new thermonuclear weapons, that the use of those two weapons could be justified in order to bring the war as it was known then as World War II in the Pacific theater, to an end. The alternative to the use of those nuclear weapons was not some other peaceful end to the war, but rather the reality that Imperial Japan had announced that it would fight all the way to the last inch and to the last soldier. Nuclear weapons during the time of the Cold War were mostly confined to missiles, intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs as they became known, and bomber-carried nuclear weapons. And those two forces were primarily the strategic nuclear forces of the USSR and of the United States.
But the situation now is quite different. And the situation has actually reached a new definitional moment with the announcement unconfirmed at this point by Russian authorities, that they have used two hypersonic weapons in the course of the war in Ukraine. Now, as we're thinking about this, just realize that the stalemate or the standoff in nuclear weapons back during the Cold War was primarily between the USSR and the USA. It came down to the understanding on the part of both nations that any use of nuclear weapons would basically annihilate both nations. And thus, even through the hottest moments in including crisis in Berlin and of course the Cuban missile crisis, the reality is that humanity was spared a nuclear exchange, and it most certainly would've been a nuclear exchange. But in more recent decades, different kinds of nuclear weapons have been devised, including those that are described as theater nuclear weapons.
Now, the distinction is between strategic nuclear weapons. Those are the massive thermo nuclear bombs carried mostly by missiles or on bombers, and what are described as tactical or theater nuclear weapons. Those so-called tactical or theater weapons actually involve, of course, a nuclear detonation. This is genuinely a nuclear weapon. And that means that all of the devastation and all the fallout and all of the complications come with it, but the assumption is, at least on the part of Russia if on the part of no other nation, that somehow a war exchange that begins with tactical nuclear weapons will stay limited to the tactical dimension and to the theater of war. But this is where we understand that there was a very tragic, but very necessary understanding back during the time of the Cold War. And that is that once there is any use of nuclear weapons, when you look at multiple parties now having those weapons, it is virtually impossible to imagine how that does not escalate into a thermo nuclear exchange that will come very, very close to ending civilization as we know it.
But embedded in that statement is the other major development, and that is that we're not look can get a bipolar nuclear world right now, the USSR and the United States. We are looking at a much more complex world with other state actors, other nations that have nuclear weapons. Some of them admitted, some of them not admitted. Some of them known. Some of them, perhaps, not known. But it is known that, at least to some degree, even a rogue state like North Korea has at least some nuclear capacity. We know that Iran is steadfastly attempting to develop a nuclear capacity. We look at two nations facing a standoff, Pakistan and India. Both of them have nuclear weapons. So as we're thinking about a nuclear exchange now, it is not only a question of escalation in terms of the type and number of nuclear weapons. It is the number of nations that might well become directly involved in such a context.
Here's the frightening thing and Christians understand the realism in this. It is now quite possible to imagine how such a nuclear exchange would happen, how it would start. What's very difficult to imagine is how it would end.
Is Russia Committing War Crimes? Is Vladimir Putin a War Criminal: Objective Morality and the Limits of Law
One other major development in recent days is that for the first time in American history, an American president has accused a leader of Russia of being a war criminal quite directly. This is an innovation. It is no doubt intentional. And furthermore, it is no doubt, right. That is to say, there can be no doubt given the current situation that Vladimir Putin is a war criminal. But just a minute, when Christians use that kind of language, what are we actually saying? Well, for one thing, we're talking about the reality of an objective morality.
When, in this context, someone has said to be a war criminal, that doesn't mean that we don't like that person. We don't like what that person is doing. We mean that there's an objective reality of right. There's an objective reality of wrong, and it is possible and morally necessary to put that right and that wrong into language that is really clear. Now, in the 20th century, that moral clarity came more than anything else with the Geneva conventions. And just about every nation you can imagine is at least a signatory to the Geneva conventions that identify when you have moral evil undertaken in the name of warfare that is completely illegitimate and is to bring the moral outrage of all civilized nations. Now, one of the central issues in the Geneva conventions and in the idea of legislating war is the fact that attacks upon civilians simply are inexcusable. And by this, we mean deliberate attempts to attack civilian populations, bringing about death and radical injury and furthermore, other forms of harm against the civilian population so that they will no longer be able to oppose.
So that political opposition would basically disappear and the people in the nation would demand that the nation's leaders simply surrender in order to end the hideous reality of these attacks upon civilian populations. Now, listeners to the briefing will recognize that is at least consistent with just war theory is developed among Christians. That's the understanding that for a war to be just, the targeting of military action and the use of deadly force has to be directed against other military forces and not against civilians. Now, in a day in which the intellectual elites, at least when it comes to so many issues, are embracing what can only be described as moral relativism, there is no absolute right. There's no absolute wrong. It is really interesting that one of the issues clarified by war is that there has to be an objective right. There has to be an objective wrong.
These are not merely words we use. They are moral realities that it is insane to reject. But here's the issue. Once you acknowledge that there is an objective right and an objective wrong, an objective good and an objective evil, then you've got to describe what makes evil, evil, what makes good, good, and how we can know the difference and how we can put that into law. And this is where we come to understand that even once you have agreement that there's objective right and objective wrong and that it is objectively wrong to target civilian populations, the reality is that the next question comes down to who would prosecute? Before what court will this charge be adjudicated? And this leads to the fact that an international agreement, a succession of agreements, has come about trying to establish something like criminal courts on an international basis including one, the straightforwardly is called the international criminal court.
But here's something else to understand. Neither the United States, nor Russia is a signatory to that treaty. Neither the United States, nor Russia recognizes the legitimacy of that court when it comes to charges against either Russia or the United States. Well, immediately you might think, "That's bad company in which to be. We don't want to be lumped with Russia in this regard," but the reality is that the United States has come to the very sober-minded conclusion that it cannot entrust our national destiny to the kind of confusion, and for that matter, minimal agreement even on terms that could be found in something like the international criminal court. Again, Christians look at that and understand, we see another affirmation of the most fundamental nature of the realities that God has given us in the structures of creation, which is to say marriage, family, neighborhood, nation. Once you abstract all the way to some international community, once you accept that kind of cosmopolitan outlook, you have basically made it impossible to actually address something like outrageous, immoral, unethical, illegal behavior because it is simply to abstract.
And furthermore, you have too many interests involved in the international community, and you're really not looking at a dispassionate search for justice. This does not mean that we are satisfied with the limitations of justice and the international arena. No, we are very dissatisfied. Christians are unsatisfied. It's a reminder that we are to seek justice, but it's also a reminder that final and authentic total genuine justice, satisfying justice, will only be brought about by the Lord Jesus Christ as judge, not by any human judge, certainly in a global or international context.
Advice and Consent: Senate Judiciary Committee Set to Consider Nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the United States Supreme Court
But next, we come back to the United States because this is a really big week. There are nine and only nine seats on the United States Supreme Court. There is one chief justice and there are eight associate justices. And it has been that way for well over a century.
And as you look at that court, you recognize that even one appointment makes a massive difference. Now, as you look at the court right now, understand that most people will describe it as having a 6-3 conservative majority. And by no coincidence, the six generally classified as more conservative were all appointed to the court by Republican presidents. The three identified as more liberal, no surprise here, were all nominated to the court by democratic presidents. The most stunning developments when it comes to Supreme Court nominations take place when there is an exit from the court by retirement or death of a justice that is either conservative or liberal when the president of the United States at the time is the opposite. And thus, there is the opportunity to change the basic composition of the court. That is not the case when it comes to President Biden's nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court.
That is because retiring justice, Steven Brier, was a more liberal justice appointed by a democratic president, Bill Clinton. And thus, a democratic president, Joe Biden, appointing Justice Breyer's successor is not going to change the composition of the court. But every single position, every single seat is a vital importance. And every single judge nominated to be a justice of the Supreme Court deserves the closest consideration. It's going to be a very interesting and you can understand upfront is going to be a very partisan dynamic. Today, I just want to set the stage for what is going to be taking place in Washington. The hearings will be before the judiciary committee of the United States Senate. That is the particular committee that, under the rules of the Senate, is given the responsibility to hold hearings or at least to hold a discussion in order to consider the matter of the nomination and if the committee should forward it to the Senate in order to advise the Senate about whether or not it should confirm the nominee.
Now, where does that come from? It comes from the constitution of the United States, which grants to the chief executive, to the president, the sole power of nomination, but it is to be with the advice and consent of the United States Senate. And that consent part of our constitutional requirement has, over the course of American history, meant that a vote will be taken. And if the Senate affirms denomination, then the person will enter that high office. If not, then the president must begin the process again and appoint someone else or nominate someone else to that position. So that advice and consent power is actually very, very considerable. President Biden has the upper hand in this. That's one of the results of being elected president of the United States. The president, whoever the president is, has the sole power of nomination. Not another person, not one other human being on the planet can nominate persons to these federal positions, judgeships, cabinet secretaries, and other positions. The president has that sole authority.
So as you look at the political dynamic, here's the partisan reality. The most that the party in the Senate opposing the president may do is bought the nomination. Republicans thus, in the Senate right now have at least some possibility of stopping this nomination. But in practical political terms, since they are in the minority, there is actually no absolute way that Republicans can stop this nomination. But the advice and consent process means that under the rules of the Senate, there will be a full hearing before the Senate judiciary committee. And that affords an opportunity for Republican senators to ask crucial questions and, at least in theory, perhaps to persuade some Democrats about whether or not they should vote for this appointee by a democratic president. But of course, it works the other way as well. There is at least a possibility that in the course of these hearings, some Republican senators might actually vote for the nominee. We're looking at two or three Republican senators who are more liberal than the rest of their Republican colleagues and could possibly vote in that direction. It's going to be extremely interesting to watch.
Who is Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, and What Should We Expect from the Senate Judiciary Hearings? — Huge Christian Worldview Issues at Stake
So what are we talking about here? Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was born in 1970 and has been long associated with Washington, DC. As a young student, she went to Harvard University for her undergraduate degree and then went on there to the Harvard Law School from which she graduated, of course, with the law degree. Now, one thing to keep in mind here, this is very important, is that even as there is a lot of attention to the fact that Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is the very first African American or black woman to be appointed to the court, the reality is that in her educational background and preparation, she basically shares what is the overwhelming majority experience of those serving on the nation's highest court. The vast majority of them went to either Harvard or Yale, or to either Harvard or Yale's Law School. There are a couple of very interesting particularities in the background of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.
One is the fact that she has served as a public defender in the federal system. You say, "Well, what's unusual about that? You know how law and order works. You know that there are two different sides in any form of criminal proceeding. There is the prosecution and there is the defense, both of them representing the law." Yes, but what's very, very interesting is that the role of being a federal prosecutor is often a direct pointer to later serving in the judiciary. Serving as a public defender on the defense side of the equation has not been such a likely pointer to future high office, including office in the judiciary. So to put the matter bluntly, if Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is confirmed as an associate justice of the United States Supreme court, she would be not only the first black woman justice, she would also be the first public defender to sit on the nation's highest court.
Now, that is going to raise a host of issues we need to watch in the confirmation hearings, because it is well known by now that Republicans are going to raise questions concerning her role, both on a Senate and commission and as a judge and as a public defender. They're going to be asking questions as to whether or not she will uphold the law in terms of its criminal provisions. And you have at least some members of the Senate, most particularly Missouri Senator Josh Holly, who is going to be raising issues about Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson's background and legal arguments when it comes to the prosecution and sentencing of certain sex offenders. It's going to be a very interesting development. But let's just look at the lay of the land. There's a democratic majority in the United States Senate.
Now, remember there are 50 senators who identify with the democratic caucus. There are 50 senators who identify with the Republican caucus. That's 50/50. How do the Democrats have a majority? It is because the vice president of the United States, vice president Kamala Harris, is the tiebreaker as the president of the Senate. She is a Democrat, of course, so right now the Democrats have a majority. A majority of one, which isn't enough to get most legislation through, but actually is just enough to get nominations through. Service on the judiciary committee, the United States Senate is considered a plum assignment. There's a lot of attention to it. And furthermore, so many senators are actually interested in constitutional issues and in the judiciary. And so a lot of interest there. Senators want to serve on that committee. The ranking democratic Senator and that's the chairman of the committee is Illinois democratic Senator Dick Durbin. He is a generally liberal Senator. No doubt about that.
He's going to have his opportunity on the public stage by means of serving as chair of this committee. Other democratic senators on the committee include Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont; Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California; Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island; Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware; Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut; Senator Mazie Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii. And then senators Corey Booker of New Jersey, Alex Padilla of California and Jon Ossoff, a Democrat from Georgia. So those are the Democrats on the committee. Most of them are very well identified in the left of their party. So as you think of the role of the Democrats on this committee, just understand they're going to be playing defense. They just want nothing damaging or at least too damaging should emerge in the course of these hearings, as it relates to president Biden's appointee. They have the votes, they just want to avoid a problem.
On the Republican side, the ranking Senator is Senator Charles or Chuck Grassley of Iowa. Other senators include Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, John Cornyn of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah, Ted Cruz of Texas, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Josh Holly of Missouri, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, John Kennedy of Louisiana, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. Now, mention those names because you're going to be seeing these faces and you're going to be hearing these names. And over the course of the next several days in these hearings, it is almost absolutely certain that you're going to hear from every one of these senators. So one of the things Christians need to consider here is the fact that these hearings are some of the most important proceedings before the United States Senate anytime, but particularly right now with this nomination. We need to be paying very close attention. This is the kind of process that Americans, and in particular, American Christians should want to watch.
There's just about no way that most people can watch every moment and every exchange in the course of these hearings, but it would be great for Christian parents and Christian families with their children to sit down and say, "Look, here's what's happening. This is how our constitution works." There are huge questions at stake here about the interpretation of the constitution. There are huge questions here about the future of our nation. There are massive questions here related to something as basic as to whether or not an unborn child demands protection, or may be aborted in the womb. Now, we'll be tracing what takes place in these hearings. We'll be talking about it on the course of the briefing. And we're going to be talking about the huge constitutional issues that are at stake because they're massive. And even if it turns out that the nominee moves rather quickly through this process, the reality is the Senate has a job and it is up to the Senate to do this job.
And that means that in this case, the Republicans on this committee have a particular stewardship of making certain that the most crucial issues are raised. On the course of the next few days, we'll be talking about what those most crucial issues are, including everything from personal character, to the question as to how to read the constitution. And the question as to just how binding the actual words of the constitution should be as you think about our government and our society today. Few questions, you know, are as important as these. We're also, in the course of the next several days, going to look back at the issue of COVID and what is revealed in retrospect about politics, ideology, morality, and the view of government held by the American people in light of the experience of COVID. Some really interesting dimensions to talk about there.
We're going to be talking about the transgender swimmer, the University of Pennsylvania. We're going to be talking about controversies related to the Disney Corporation. Lots to talk about. We'll try to get to it all this week on The Briefing.
There is plenty for Christians to think about. We'll do our best to think about it together.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.