The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

It’s Tuesday, May 17, 2022.

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

Part I

‘This Was Pure Evil’: The Necessary and Accurate Moral Declaration About the Racially Charged Shooting in Buffalo

A lot of really big issues for us to discuss today. First of all, we just want to make note that today is primary day in several states, most importantly, the state of Pennsylvania, but also Idaho, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Oregon. They’re all important. But the state of Pennsylvania is such a political bellwether state, and we’re particularly looking at two races there, most importantly, the United States Senate race and we’re looking at the race for the nomination of the two respective parties. It’s going to be a big bellwether in pointing towards the future. And the same thing is true of the governorship there in Pennsylvania. We’re going to know the shape up of that race within a matter of a day or so.

And for this point, all we need to note is that the primaries are happening today. Big decisions, thus, are happening today. We’ll know the results in a matter of hours or days and we’ll consider what we learn then. But next, we shift to very grave news, tragic news coming from Buffalo, New York, and the headline started on Saturday. By now, more is known of the situation there in Buffalo. But we’re looking at a tragedy. We’re looking at evil and that’s, again, one of the words we simply find to be essential in our vocabulary. If we can’t use the word evil and it doesn’t mean something in objective reality, then we are in a world of absolute moral nonsense. What took place in that supermarket in Buffalo was unalloyed, undiluted evil.

It was an intentional act, we now understand, undertaken by a lone gunman who was trying to kill as many people as possible in that supermarket. Particularly, according to his own words in what can only be described as a horrific manifesto that he left behind, as you look at those words, it is clear he was trying not only to kill as many people as possible, but as many Black people as possible. After he was interrupted in his killing spree, he turned the weapon on himself. But before firing, he was talked into surrendering by local law enforcement personnel. He is now in custody. He is a teenager. He has been charged with several counts of first degree murder and there are looming federal charges having to do with hate crimes and potential terrorism charges as well.

In this case, by the way, what we’re looking at is not a big question as to who did it. It’s pretty apparent that the suspect in this case did it. He was basically apprehended in the act of doing it, and furthermore left behind a written manifesto telling the world why he did what he did. As dark as that manifesto is, it certainly points to the workings of his own mind. That written document also turns out to be of extreme moral significance because in this case, he has given us his own words explaining why he sought to kill as many people as possible and to target those people as he did in that supermarket in Buffalo. And by the way, we also know he had to travel to Buffalo in order to carry this out.

We also know something that points to the deep, deep evil that was in and perhaps still is very much in this man’s heart and that is an evil that led him even to do some demographic analysis, trying to find the neighborhood that would be most racially concentrated for him to be able to carry out his mass murder plans in the way that he had intended. He went to Buffalo on a singular mission to try to kill as many Black people as possible. He tells us so. We understand exactly what the sheriff of Erie County, New York meant, that’s Sheriff John Garcia, when he said, “This was pure evil,” speaking of the teenager, his manifesto and his actions, and of course the 10 people shot dead in that Buffalo, New York supermarket.

But let’s look at this statement for a minute, four words, “This was pure evil.” Now, we don’t actually know what pure evil is other than what is revealed in scripture as the pure evil of say, Satan and his associates in rebelling against God. The evil of sin is in itself pure evil. But I’m not quibbling with the sheriff. I simply think he was speaking in common language here and he was speaking a profound moral truth. But I think what he actually meant when he said pure evil is absolute evil. This is just unquestionably, objectively evil. Now, in the biggest scheme of things that points to the fact that even in an age of increasing moral confusion, there is absolute moral clarity in an event such as this, a tragedy, an action, a sin, a horrific crime such as this.

All of a sudden, it focuses our attention on something that Christians know from scripture. And all people should actually know from even the moral structure of Creation as God has made the Creation to testify of his moral law, and that is that evil is real. Evil is not just an apparition, evil is not just non-being, evil is not just non-existence, evil is objectively real in the biblical category of that with which we must struggle. And indeed, it is so much more powerful than we are in our humanity that there is no way that human beings singularly or corporately altogether can defeat evil. Only God can do that, and that is exactly what God did on the cross and in the Resurrection of the Lord, Jesus Christ.

There are a couple of moral rules I follow on The Briefing in talking about this kind of crime. Number one, where possible, I never mention the suspect’s name. In this case, I’m simply not going to mention the alleged shooter’s name. I’m not going to mention the name that he put on this manifesto. I do not want to give him the personal attention that surely was his very goal in undertaking this kind of crime. The second thing is, I don’t want just to take his words at absolute face value. Because after all, even as people tell us why they undertake crimes, there is certainly something there to which we must give attention. In this case, it looks like he was truly expressing his heart. But the situation is also almost assuredly more complex than just what he put down on that paper.

In moral terms, we must not avoid the reality, the head on reality that we are talking here about grotesque, moral evil, we’re talking about objective evil, we’re talking about a horrific sin, we’re talking about what is legally, unquestionably a horrific crime. We are also talking about the motivation of racism here. There’s simply no way around it. He has given us so much evidence. He wrote about it in his manifesto and furthermore, there seems to be a history of his involvement in organized racism. Not only that, but the actual way he carried out the crime also testifies to the fact those words in his manifesto were not simple, idle thinking.

They were deep evil, about to leap onto the headlines of America’s newspapers, and not only that, more importantly to destroy 10 human lives, 10 human beings who are now unspeakably missed by their loved ones, 10 human beings who no other human being had any right to harm, much less to kill, 10 human beings who were targeted at least for a majority of the victims simply by the color of their skin, and a man who actually traveled to a specific neighborhood because he believed that it represented a certain racial intensity. The racism here is something that Christians, understanding evil, understanding sin, must never flinch from addressing.

Because this man has given us the statement of his heart and he has given us the evidence of his actions in such a way that it shows us the deep, deep evil of what happens when someone gives themselves over to sin. In this case, this young man, still a teenager, gave himself over to racism. But it’s also self-evidently true that The Wall Street Journal editorial board is onto something important when it says that the common reality behind so many of these mass murders and violent acts turns out to be mental illness or some form of mental disturbance. Now, that doesn’t in any case reduce the sinfulness of the racism that’s evolved. It doesn’t in any case reduce racism as the moral factor behind this man’s murderous killing rampage.

But it does point to the fact that even many people who would share that particular sin would not take that sin to this kind of violent extreme. So, what explains the transformation of a teenager, even a troubled teenager into a mass murderer? Well, here’s the other thing that simply shocks us, it is shocking people in Buffalo, New York, it is shocking law enforcement officials nationwide, and we’re all shocked by this, we are looking at a young man who was already understood to be troubled. And you go back to 2021, just last year, and as the headline in The New York Times tells us, Before Attack, Solitary Teen Caused Alarm. A team of reporters for The New York Times tell us that before the young man had actually graduated from high school, he had already made threats and indicated and intention to undertake mass murder.

The New York Times mentions the teenager and then describes him as being, a year ago, a senior in high school who, “said he wanted to commit a murder suicide,” according to a law enforcement official briefed on the matter. “He claimed to be joking,” the official said, “But the state police were summoned to investigate and took the young man, then aged 17, into custody on June 8.” Again, that’s 2021. Not yet a year ago under a state mental health law, police officials had told the press that the young man “had a psychiatric evaluation in a hospital but was released within a couple of days.” It turns out the two weeks later, the young man graduated and “fell off investigators’ radar”.

We now know how the story unfolds as the Times tells us, “On Saturday, he resurfaced 200 miles away in Buffalo where the authorities say he opened fire at a supermarket in a predominantly Black area, killing 10 people and wounding three others in one of the deadliest racist massacres in recent United States history.” But as shocking as that is, there’s more to the story yet, and that has to do with the fact that the young man was subjected to psychological tests and psychological evaluation, he was put on the watch list of certain law enforcement agencies, and yet, as quickly as he was put on, he appears to have fallen off. And we’ve discussed this before on The Briefing. It is one of the most vexing questions facing humanity. We are unable to get into the mind or heart of another.

We simply can’t know what someone’s thinking. We can’t know the evil that resides in their heart. We can’t know whether they mean to be serious or not. Law enforcement and mental health professionals, school officials there in New York seemed to have believed and some of them actually indicated as they evaluated the young man, they thought he was joking. But it’s also evident as classmates were interviewed by The New York Times for the story, they really didn’t believe. They certainly weren’t convinced that he was joking at all. And there was a further pattern, a broader pattern, a bizarre behavior by this young teenage male described as a loner. Now, again, you look at this and you understand, as a society, every society has to face the problem of troubled young men. That is simply a case.

The pathology of every society indicates that going all the way back to the earliest human civilizations, in the beginning of the biblical story, troubled young men are a common factor. And thus, every society has to figure a way to try to help or at least to limit the damage of troubled young men. But the truly frightening thing here is that this young man didn’t just leap onto the radar having been unnoticed for 18 years. To the contrary, he was actually the subject of active concern less than a year ago and yet, as troubled as classmates and school authorities were, he fell off the radar screen. Well, he’s back on the screen now.

I’m not blaming law enforcement or school officials there because I don’t know what they were considering at the time. The point is, there are probably any number of young men who show up in one way or another, having made comments that appear or at least are claimed to be joking, you have officials who are having to make all kinds of decisions about who’s serious and who’s not. My point is, evil is so insidious it is impossible for anyone to get into the mind of another in order to adequately evaluate this. But still, there were clearly lapses, lapses for which some people are clearly responsible. There’s a further issue. Even with this man’s situation, having risen to this level of concern within the school, and then within the mental health, and within the law enforcement community, he was able to obtain the weapons with which he carried out this murderous plan.

That also raises questions. Because even the most enthusiastic supporter of gun rights doesn’t want a troubled young man like this to have access to semi-automatic weapons. That’s simply something that no sane person would endorse. There is no one who has any moral responsibility who would want to go back in time and say, “Yes, it is right. We want this young man to have this weapon.” But the problems really get complex here because you will have gun rights activists who will come right along and say, “Well, the problem is that if you’re looking at the government, or therapeutic agencies, or school authorities believing that they have the right to believe who should and should not have weapons, well, just about no one will be allowed to have weapons. Because using that kind of authority, they will surely misuse it.”

The other problem is we actually don’t know a certain predictability about how to look at an individual and say, “Yes, the chances there are just extremely high. We’ll rate this chance 70%. We’ll rate that individual’s chance 15%.” No, it doesn’t work like that. It doesn’t work like that because we don’t have access to the human mind like that. But it is very interesting, and this is something that gun rights advocates are certainly going to notice and that is, the state of New York has some of the strongest gun control laws. But even the state of New York, with its massive school bureaucracy, with its massive mental health bureaucracy, with its very powerful law enforcement agencies, and even with some of the strongest gun control laws in the land, they were unable to prevent this.

And that points out something else, and this is just a part of the nation’s ongoing debate over guns. And I’m not rehearsing that debate here, I basically hold to the full constitutional right, guaranteed as a right to bear arms. But the point is here. Even in a state which has sought to put in very tight restrictions, that’s exactly where this happened. And it just shows us again the power of evil. Christians shouldn’t be surprised by this. Evil people do evil things and they do evil things in an evil way. We also see a biblical principle at stake here. When a human being, a sinful human being, gives himself or herself over to a sin, that sin becomes absolutely insidious. It begins to eat at every part of a human being.

If we give ourselves to sin and if the common grace, restrictions upon sin are taken off of us, then what happens is you see the utter dissent into a nightmarish murder, which is exactly what took place in Buffalo, New York. Headlines like this are just inherently shocking, and they should be shocking, and they’re deeply troubling and they should be troubling. But we also have to admit they’re mystifying. It’s mystifying to us that anyone would give himself over to this kind of sin. It’s mystifying to us that government and school officials, having been told a year ago that this young man spoke such intentions out loud, it’s mystifying to us that somehow this young man was still able to fall off of the radar.

We can expect as we watch New York State, there’s going to be further debate upon the issue of the guns and the weapons. And again, we shouldn’t flinch from the fact that there are moral issues involved here even as there are constitutional rights. But the point is this, and this is where Christians have to focus even as the world doesn’t focus here, the real problem and the biggest problem facing humanity is not what this young man carried in his hands. No, that’s horrifying beyond words. It’s actually what he carried in his heart. And that’s infinitely, if we’re honest, more horrifying.

Part II

They Fear Neither God Nor Man: Chinese Communist Party Arrests Bishop Emeritus Cardinal Zen in Hong Kong for Sedition

But next, as we’re trying to put the world in view, thinking through worldview issues, I want us to shift from the United States to China.

I want us to look particularly at something that has to do with China, but is actually focused on Hong Kong. And we have gone back to the travail of that territory over and over again. We’re looking at Chinese oppression, we’re looking at Chinese threats, we’re also looking at Hong Kong now legally being a part of China. But we’re also looking at a draconian move undertaken by Chinese authorities in arresting the cardinal emeritus of Hong Kong. That would be Cardinal Joseph Zen. He was elected recently. And by the way, his name is Cardinal Zen and he is a retired bishop, now the bishop emeritus of Hong Kong.

At one time, he was known as Cardinal Zen, which of course is just a matter of kind of a mnemonic kind of literary way just of thinking of the Catholic term about cardinal sins. No, this is not about cardinal sins, this is about Cardinal Zen. He still bears the title Cardinal Zen. But the most important reason we’re talking about him is that he has been arrested by Chinese authorities. Now, get this, he is not only the bishop emeritus, he is also a very old man. We’re talking about a 90-year-old cardinal. The bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, why would Chinese authorities have arrested him? Well, because he is seditious. Of course, Cardinal Zen is a thorn in the flesh of the Chinese Communist Party. He has been for a very long time.

The Wall Street Journal reported the story this way, “National security police arrested Hong Kong’s outspoken retired Cardinal Joseph Zen as part of a probe into a relief fund for people involved in prodemocracy protests, a move,” said the journal, “that could jeopardize a controversial rapprochement between Beijing and the Vatican.” Listen to this. “Cardinal Zen, now bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, was arrested in a swoop on prominent prodemocracy figures, including a pop singer and a former lawmaker,” said people familiar with the matter. “Using a sweeping national security law that was imposed by Beijing nearly two years ago to eliminate political dissent, Hong Kong police said they arrested four people for allegedly conspiring to collude with foreign forces by asking for sanctions to be imposed upon Hong Kong.”

So, Cardinal Zen is a democracy and human rights advocate. He’s an advocate for Hong Kong. That makes him the enemy of the totalitarian Communist Party. But I want to point out that Cardinal Zen has been a threat for a very long time because he continually pushes back on the materialism and the atheism of the Chinese Communist regime. And he does so in the name of preserving human rights, and he does so as a very outspoken Catholic cleric. But he’s now an outspoken cleric who finds himself, in his 91st year of life, arrested and under threat of prosecution by communist authorities. Let’s just step back for a minute. Let’s look at this. You look at the evil of totalitarianism. It’s autocracy, it’s dictatorship, it’s total claim upon heart, mind, and soul of people.

You look at the communist regime there in Beijing. You just consider the extremity of the evil involved and actually going so far as to arrest one of the most famous Catholics in the entire world, arresting him on sedition because of having contacts with people who just might be funding or advocating for human rights inside Hong Kong. They arrested a 90-year-old retired Catholic bishop, a bishop emeritus. What kind of regime does that? Well, a regime that actually believes it bears absolutely no fear from the people, that has absolutely no fear of God. This is exactly what you have, for instance, in one of the parables of Jesus in which you have someone say, “I fear neither God nor man.” Well, that’s exactly what we see in the Chinese Communist Party.

Its behavior in this case is just indicative of the deep evil at the very heart of totalitarianism. But there’s a further story here and that was something that was embedded in what I read from The Wall Street Journal, and that is the case that this arrest supposedly endangers an agreement between the Roman Catholic Church and the Chinese Communist Party on the appointment of bishops there. Now, I pointed out at the time, that is an evil deal. It points to the political machinations of the Vatican, of the Roman Catholic Church, which has a tradition at times of cozying up to totalitarian systems in order to try to preserve a certain advantage. Well, we can simply ask Pope Francis, “How’s that working out for you now?”

And I also, at the time, just pointed to a simple profound fact. If these persons are supposedly Catholic bishops who are acceptable to an atheistic totalitarian regime, then whoever they are, they’re Catholic bishops acceptable to a totalitarian atheistic regime. Let that sink in for a moment.

Part III

A Lesson in General Revelation (and Anatomy): Pete Buttigieg Comments on the Baby Formula Shortage

But finally, today, I am going to end just on a matter of general revelation, of ontological truth, and of fundamental moral meaning. What I mean by that is that it is not a malfunction that a father, or for that matter, any adult male cannot provide what a baby needs as a baby is hungry and needs to nurse. What that baby needs is a mother.

I need not go into any further anatomical detail. But evidently, the secretary of transportation of the United States needs a bit of clarification on this. But we knew he’s needed clarification on any number of things for a very long time. We’re talking about Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, former democratic contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, former mayor of South Bend, Indiana and currently married, according to the logic of same-sex marriage, to a husband named Chasten with whom he has now adopted two babies, neither of them can feed at least by terms of maternal anatomy.

But what we’re looking at here is that Secretary Buttigieg has spoken up on behalf of babies saying that baby formula is very personal to him, a very personal issue, because after all, as adoptive parents, he and Chasten are dependent upon baby formula in order to feed their children. Well, number one, let’s be really clear, we want the Buttigieg babies to be very well-fed and very safe. But the point is, what you see here is something Christians would better understand, it is not a malfunction in nature that these two men are unable to produce what is now only available by baby formula. Neither one of them is a woman. There’s a headline news story for you and it’s a bigger issue, of course, than a shortage to baby formula.

But it just goes to show that when you are, as a society, buying into this form of illogic, declaring that two men can be married and two men together can have children, you’re going to run into some biological obstacles, some of which might actually come to light in a shortage of baby formula. Let’s hope and pray that every single baby everywhere gets everything he or she needs. But at least a part of what we all as human beings need is a good dose of reality.

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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