Wednesday, November 16, 2022

It’s Wednesday, November 16th, 2022.

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

Part I

These Elections Matters Massively But You Have No Vote: Who Will Become Speaker of the House, Senate Majority Leader, and President Pro Tempore?

Well, the elections are going to take place over the next few days. You say, “Well, election day was last week.” Yes it was. And I’m not talking about counting votes, I’m talking about the elections for leadership of the caucuses in the United States Congress because Christians often don’t recognize how important those leadership elections actually are.

When you’re looking at the legislation that is passed or the legislation that is not passed. A great deal has to do with who is leading the caucuses in the majority and in the minority in both the House and the Senate. First, let’s look at the House of Representatives. At this point, even President Biden is conceding that Republicans are almost certain to have a majority.

Now, it’s going to be a very thin majority and that’s going to turn out to be crucial, but nonetheless, the Republican caucus had its vote for its party leadership and the Republican caucus and the House elected or technically reelected Kevin McCarthy, US representative from California and California’s District 23 as the Republican leader going into the new Congress. And that would mean, or at least under normal circumstances, should mean that Kevin McCarthy, given the Republican majority would be the next Speaker of the House of Representatives. But even as that is still likely, it is not assured.

In the Republican leader race, McCarthy was opposed by Andy Biggs, representative from Arizona. And even though the vote was lopsided, there were enough people who voted against Kevin McCarthy in the Republican caucus that he would be denied the speakership when that issue goes before Congress, just after the first of the year because the entire House of Representatives votes on the speaker.

Now, just to make the point bluntly, if there are more Democrats in the room, you’re going to have a Democratic Speaker. If there are more Republicans in the room, you’re going to have a Republican Speaker. And there should be more Republicans in the room, but it still takes the magic number of 218. And if McCarthy doesn’t have 218 votes, well then the process is going to get a lot more complicated.

But that also points to the fact that leadership in both parties, in the House and in the Senate, it’s actually pretty marginal in terms of the advantage of any one party over another in the present. That’s going to make a lot of votes extremely close. Now, under some circumstances that could mean, a greater likelihood of some kind of bipartisan compromise. But in today’s polarized times, it is unlikely to mean that, instead it might mean congressional gridlock, it might mean basically something of a political stalemate. In any event is going to be very interesting.

The situation among the Democrats in the House might turn out to be even more interesting, because you have Nancy Pelosi who was the Speaker and then was the minority leader, and then was the Speaker again, who is not going to be the Speaker if there’s a Republican majority in the next Congress.

And just a matter of a few years ago, she effectively made a deal with the members of her own party that she would not run for the leadership position in that party caucus again, but Nancy Pelosi has not yet indicated what she will do. We will be watching that situation very, very closely. Because politics is not just personality, but personality does loom large in any political equation. The smaller the group, the more important the category, a personality becomes.

Congress itself is a microcosm of society, but the numbers 435, you take the respective party caucuses in the House of Representatives, right now you’ve got something at least close to almost a 50/50 split, but then you take the leadership, that leadership is a much smaller group. And that just points to something else.

Even as the United States is an electoral system of government, a representative democracy, the citizens actually vote for representatives. We don’t get a vote on who is speaker. We don’t get a vote on who is party whip. We don’t get a vote on who will be the chairman of this or that committee, in either of the Houses of Congress. And those are stupendously important positions, but we do have a stake in them and that’s why we’re going to be watching them. But in a representative system of government, we elect the representatives and then they have to also hold elections for the leadership within their own respective legislative body.

But now we turn to the United States Senate. It is almost assured that Chuck Schumer, Democratic Senator from New York will continue to be the Democratic leader, and in the case of the Democratic majority, he will also be the Senate’s majority leader, but it is becoming very interesting when you look on the Republican side because the big surprise there, is that yesterday it was announced that Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, is going to have a challenger in the Republican caucus in the Senate for the leadership position. And that challenger is announced to be Rick Scott, United States Senator from the state of Florida.

Now, when you’re looking at Mitch McConnell, you are looking at one of the most long tenured veterans of the United States Senate. He is in so many ways a creature of the Senate. His position of leadership among Republicans dates back to when he became the Republican leader in 2007, and at least a part of the reason why Republicans put their confidence in him is because he can be defined as something like a master of the Senate, something like in his own time.

Lyndon Baines Johnson was in the United States Senate in the Democratic Party, to be sure in the 1950s. But it is something of a surprise that Senator McConnell known in the Senate as leader McConnell is going to have a challenger. And Rick Scott is that challenger.

Now, this raises another very interesting issue because Rick Scott was actually the chairman of the Republican group responsible for enlarging the Republican caucus in the Senate. That did not happen. That effort failed, but nonetheless, now you have a blame game going on among the Republicans. Why was the Republican senatorial effort not successful in terms of gaining majority?

Even before the election leader McConnell said the issue is candidate quality, but Rick Scott says that one of the issues is leader McConnell himself, and thus, even though it is unlikely that his challenge to leader McConnell will be successful nonetheless, it is very interesting that Senator Scott at least seize and intends to seize his opportunity for the leadership of the Republican caucus.

Now, even if that leadership shift doesn’t happen now, just given the age of so many of the people we are talking about here, the reality is there will be a change at some point in our future, but we are just honestly in a position right now, when we have many people who have been in leadership in the House and in the Senate on both sides of the aisle, by the way, for a very long time.

One other thing to remember is that as you are looking at the House of Representatives, the Speaker of the House is in the line of presidential succession and thus is a constitutional office. The majority or minority leader, the Republican or the Democratic leader in the Senate, those are not constitutional offices. The constitutional office in the Senate is number one, the president of the Senate, who is the vice president of the United States, and then the president pro-tem of the Senate, and the average American citizen any given time, any given year has no idea who that is. Even though that person is, depending upon how you count either the third or the fourth person in the line of succession.

It’s important to recognize by the way that American voters do not vote. Voters in the states do not vote, on who will serve as the president pro tempore of the United States Senate. It is the Senate who elects an individual to that position, and it almost always corresponds to the party identity of the majority party. No great surprise there.

The current president pro-tem of the Senate, but only for a matter of days now, is Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy. Who by the way, has chosen to retire at the end of this term. So again, in just a matter of days or weeks. So we’re going to have not only a new Speaker of the House, but in a matter of days and weeks, we are also going to have a new president pro tempore of the Senate. That position has basically no major political responsibility. The Speaker of the House certainly does, but the president pro tempore of the Senate has no major political responsibility, but nonetheless is constitutionally very high in the list of presidential succession. So yes, who sits in that role really does matter.

By the way, just because I love history and think you might as well, I just want to point to one moment when this became an especially crucial question, and for that, you have to go back to the early 1970s and the presidential crisis in the administration of then President Richard M. Nixon. His vice president Spiro Agnew, had to resign from office because of a scandal. Meaning that for a period of time, the vice presidency was open, but nonetheless, during that period of time, had the then president of the United States, Richard Nixon, a Republican either died in office or been removed from office or resigned.

The next in the line of succession was Carl Albert. A Democrat who was then the Speaker of the House of Representatives. So that would’ve meant not only a change in presidents, but a change in party without an election. That might have represented something of a constitutional or political crisis in the United States, but it didn’t happen. But then again, during those years, plenty of crises did, and yet the Republic survived.

We can’t ignore the fact that last night, the 45th president of the United States, Donald Trump announced very early that he is running once again for the nation’s highest office. He’s running for the presidential election in 2024. We’ll have to take a closer look at that and the meaning of that announcement. But for now, with yesterday’s late hour of that announcement, it is sufficient to say he made the announcement in what was described as a rambling one hour speech.

But the bottom line of the speech is that he intends to put himself back in the center of the American political conversation, and he sees the best way to do that is by announcing right now that he is running once again for the White House. By the way, the last candidate to have served as president lost an election and come back to win another election was Grover Cleveland. Well over a century ago.

Part II

The Mormon Church Comes Out in Official Support of the Respect for Marriage Act — Big Theological Issues Are in Play Here, and History, Too

Yesterday, we discussed the fact that the United States Senate will be taking up what is called the Respect for Marriage Act. As I describe it, it is an act of profound disrespect for marriage, redefining marriage. I wrote a major article on this at WORLD Opinions. You can find the link at today’s edition of The Briefing. I also spent considerable time yesterday describing the issue and the urgency of it with the Senate threatening to redefine the most basic institution of human existence. Marriage.

But it is important and urgent right now that we recognize that the first vote on the Senate floor, on this issue could come as early as today. Indeed, it’s scheduled for today by the Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. It’s going to be very telling, the biggest issue is whether or not it looks like there are 10 Republican votes for the effort to join with the Democratic votes to move it forward. And again, we can simply hope not, but we’re going to have to watch the Republican caucus very, very carefully and see who is standing up for the integrity of marriage and who intends to subvert it.

But there’s another development I want us to note. Just over the last 24 to 48 hours. And this comes not from a political authority, but from a religious authority. And in this case, we’re talking about the Mormon Church, the Mormon leadership. We’re talking about the church that calls us off the Latter-day Saints.

The newsroom of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as they call themselves, yesterday, put out a statement that reads, quote, “The doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints related to marriage between a man and a woman is well known and will remain unchanged. We are grateful,” they said, “for the continuing efforts of those who work to ensure the Respect for Marriage Act includes appropriate religious freedom protections while respecting the law and preserving the rights of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. We believe this approach is the way forward as we work together to preserve the principles and practices of religious freedom, together with the rights of LGBTQ individuals, much can be accomplished to heal relationships and foster greater understanding.” End quote.

Now, my summary of that message comes down to basically unconditional surrender, and that’s what the Mormon leadership has decided to do. They have decided that they’re not going to fight the issue of same-sex marriage when it comes to its legal status. They are instead going to draw a new boundary when it comes to the protection of at least some kind of religious liberty.

But here’s where there is not only a giant theological chasm between Mormonism and Orthodox biblical Christianity, it’s also where we need to recognize that there are both cultural and theological issues at play here that intelligent Christians really need to observe.

Number one, the cultural issue. The Mormon movement seeks, especially in the 20th century, the last half of the 20th century. It has sought assiduously to move into what is recognized as something close to the mainstream in American popular culture. American political culture.

The Mormon Church, of course, began with great scandal and controversy, so much so, that the doctrine of polygamy had to be ended by the church before Utah could be admitted as a State of the Union. And of course, Utah is not officially a Mormon State, but especially in its founding era, it was overwhelmingly populated by Mormons.

Now, as we’re talking about the history of Mormonism, we have to talk about Joseph Smith, who was recognized as the first president of the church and thus he was also recognized as the first president of the church is recognized now, as prophet and seer and revelator. More on that in just a moment. But what we need to recognize is that successive first presidents have had a different sense of mission, in particular in the last half of the 20th century.

Three prophets or first presidents of the church who had overwhelming influence and helped to move Mormonism, closer to the center of American culture, at least in terms of popular perception. And this came by various means, but those three leaders were Spencer Kimball, who was the prophet of the church in 1973 to 1985, Ezra Taft Benson from 1985 to 1994, and by the way, he had been Secretary of Agriculture under President Dwight David Eisenhower. And then you’re talking about Gordon Hinckley, who was prophet between 1995 and 2008. The current first president or prophet of the church, by the way, is Richard Nelson. He’s 98 years old, and he began his service in that role in 2018.

Now, senior Mormon leaders reached those positions of senior leadership largely by longevity, which also to explain why so many of them, particularly those who reach the very top as first president, tend to be quite old. But now I want to turn to the theological issue, and here’s where we know that Mormon theology is a radical divergence from Christian biblical theology.

A lot of the language is brought over by Mormonism, but Mormonism officially rejects doctrines central and essential to Christianity, including most importantly, the doctrine of the Trinity and doctrines concerning God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. For example, Mormon theology holds to the fact that there is heavenly father and heavenly mother. Both of them are embodied. They’re physical beings.

You also have Mormon theology basically starting from a point of some kind of inherent human goodness, the promise of universal salvation, a form of works, righteousness, and even a form of moral perfectability. All those things are contradicted by scripture. And the historic Christian Church and all of its branches is basically opposed almost all of these major Mormon teachings. And again, the doctrinal differences go back to the very identity of God, but Mormonism also has some American particularities.

Its roots are almost entirely American, and the United States of America is even present in its revealed doctrine. There’s no other religion, no other religious group. So far as I know, that has the United States of America in its official doctrine. Joseph Smith himself taught that the Constitution of the United States of America was divinely inspired. That’s something you’re not going to find in historic Christianity.

There’s a very big difference between respecting the Constitution and claiming that it was divinely inspired. And by the way, that raises another issue, and that’s even more fundamental, and that is, that the United States Constitution, if divinely inspired, well, it is also revisable or amendable, and that points to the Mormon understanding of revelation.

Remember, the first president or prophet serves as prophet and seer and revelator. It is believed by Mormon theology that divine revelation in the present comes to the church that is the Mormon Church by means of the prophet, which means fundamental doctrines can change. Indeed, in history of Mormonism, fundamental doctrines and moral teachings have changed.

I mentioned polygamy, in the 19th century. God commanded it at one point and forbade it shortly thereafter. Now, all of this gives Mormonism a certain kind of cultural and doctrinal adaptability, that historic biblical Christianity simply doesn’t have, and we believe was not intended by God that we should have, but we see it work here. Two principles, at least, two dynamics that biblical Christians need to observe and keep very much in mind.

One is the effort to remain or to attain status in the cultural mainstream. Biblically minded Christians should note that that comes with great cultural advantages, but it cannot be attained at theological cost. We cannot surrender biblical truth and historic Christian doctrine and teaching on morality, if it’s demanded by the culture, in order for us to retain our cultural standing.

We have to let goods and kindred go as the reformer Martin Luther said, even this mortal life also. Christians believe in what’s described in scripture, as the faith ones for all delivered to the saints, we have no prophet, seer, revelator. Instead, we have the Lord Jesus Christ as prophet, priest and king, and we have the Bible as the inherent and infallible word of God, and our responsibility is to teach and preach and obey. All that is revealed in scripture.

We can’t look to some so-called contemporary revelation to change God’s position on any of these issues. He’s spoken his word, eternal, unchanged, and unchanging. It is interesting to note that the Mormon authorities have moved forward positively in negotiations with LGBTQ activist groups, trying to find some kind of middle ground, but that middle ground does not actually respect religious liberty, the way the LDS authorities claim that it does.

Most evangelical Christians would find their settlement absolutely unacceptable, but the power of the LDS movement there in Utah and in the West and throughout America can’t be simply dismissed. We need to note, that when the issue of this legislation came up in the House a matter of months ago, all four Utah members of the House of Representatives voted for the legislation codifying same-sex marriage. That wasn’t much noted at the time, but it’s certainly worth our notice now.

Part III

The Epimenides Paradox Arises Anew as the Two Most Powerful Spies in the World Meet Together — And That’s No Lie

But finally, I want to raise an issue that you might have noticed in the news. It’s something that wasn’t necessarily leading headlines in terms of recent news coverage, but it certainly caught my attention. We are now told that the United States Director of the Office of Central Intelligence that is the CIA director, met with his Russian counterpart in a meeting that has only lately be revealed.

We’re talking about CIA Director William J. Burns and Sergei Naryshkin, who is the director of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service. So the head of the CIA and the head of the Russian spy agency, met together. The meeting later confirmed by United States and Russian authorities, and they met together in order to talk about decreasing tensions, particularly with the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the raising of issues by the Russians of the use of nuclear weapons. And so you had the head of the American spy agency and the head of the Russian spy agency meeting together to talk, and we are told the meetings were rather extensive.

We’re also told they conducted no peace negotiations because that would not be done without the participation of Ukraine. They were talking spy stuff. And I don’t know about you, but I would like to have been a fly on that wall. What happens when two spy chiefs talk to each other?

Here’s a crucial question with worldview significance. Do they lie to one another? Do they know the other one is lying? How do you know that a spy who is after all in charge of espionage, isn’t lying to you all the time?

Remember, in this case that the spy agencies aren’t just about trying to find out what the other side knows and is doing, but also actively to mislead the other side about our own intentions and capabilities. Espionage is a dual game played on both sides of the street. And this reminds me of an interesting intellectual and moral paradox, and it’s one that will simply end The Briefing for today.

As I think about these two spy masters facing off in this meeting, I have to wonder about the epimenides paradox. “What is that?” You say. Well, the epidemines paradox goes back epidemines of Cnossos and to the sixth century BC, and it was he, an ancient Greek philosopher who said that all Cretans at his residents of Crete are liars.

Now, what’s the paradox? Well, follow this closely. By the way, the Apostle Paul, quotes that statement in his letter to Titus 1:12. He quotes the statement that all Cretans are liars. He’s quoting, of course, that Greek proverb, but what does it mean and how does it work, and why is it a paradox? Well, I’m simply going to give you this brain teaser as we come to the end of The Briefing for today. The epimenides paradox comes down to this. If all Cretans are liars, is a Cretan telling you the truth when he tells you he’s lying? One last twist on all of this, guess where epimenides was from? You guessed it, Crete.

Now that ancient paradox is no insult to modern inhabitants of Crete, but it is a hair raising, head spinning paradox for sure. So you put the two most powerful spies in the world together in one room, they talk to one another, but when they talk to one another, how do they know the difference between the truth and a lie? All this just reminds Christians of how destabilizing the loss of truth is. You have no objective or honest point of reference. It also reminds us that the biblical worldview tells us that that truth, really urgently, eternally matters. Sometimes indeed, it’s a matter of life and death.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to

I’m speaking to you from Denver, Colorado, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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