The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, January 16, 2023

It’s Monday, January 16th, 2023.

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

Part I

Thoughts of an Observer: SpaceX Launches Falcon Heavy Carrying Classified Payload

As a boy, I saw many rocket launches from the Kennedy Space Center, and even as I watched them, they never lost their thrill. The biggest ones, of course, in my boyhood were the Apollo missions. The big rocket was known as the Saturn V.

The Saturn V was indeed one of the most powerful machines human beings have ever invented. The Saturn V that launched Apollo 11, that was the mission that first took human beings successfully to the moon and back, it was at liftoff, exercising 7.5 million pounds of thrust. That’s an enormous machine, as I said, one of the most powerful machines ever invented by human beings.

There’s something about watching one of these massive rockets launch into space that is both simultaneously prideful and humbling, prideful in that it’s an incredible human achievement, but humbling in that it makes a human being to scale feel quite small indeed, even to feel small with the power of the engines readily apparent.

But let’s just think about what took place last night. SpaceX successfully launched the first Falcon Heavy mission of 2023, and it went off basically without a hitch, even though it had been originally scheduled for Saturday night. I and my family had the opportunity to stand there as we watched the mission begin, and as we tracked the rocket going into the sky. But furthermore, the most interesting part of the entire launch was not just the massive power of the engine.

And by the way, again, when you’re talking about the Falcon Heavy, you’re talking about five million pounds of thrust at liftoff. It’s also that you had the two main engines successfully reenter. That’s something that simply wouldn’t have been imagined back in the 1960s and 1970s. The US Space Program, and in particular the Manned Space program was very much a part of the American experience in the second half of the 20th century, and it was very much a part of the Cold War.

One of the reasons why President John F. Kennedy said that he would establish as the aim of the nation to take a man successfully to the moon and return him safely within the decade. The reason he said that was because there was the fear that the Soviets would get there first. But with the breakup of the Soviet Union and with the high cost of an entirely government funded space program, the American Space Program went into something of a backwards motion, especially when it came to manned space flight and particularly when it came to the moon.

Since the end of the shuttle program, there has been no major Manned Space program by the United States of America. But all that’s about to change. Just weeks ago, NASA launched the Artemis 1 Rocket. Now remember the Apollo Rocket, 7.5 million pounds of thrust. Artemis, even bigger, 8.8 million pounds of thrust. And even as last night’s launch was undertaken by SpaceX for its Falcon Heavy rocket. That’s basically three Falcon 9 rockets strapped together.

The SpaceX program is also intending to release a new rocket with 16 million pounds of thrust within a matter of the near future. Space is going commercial in a big way. Commercial enterprises like SpaceX are in it now in a big way. And what we saw last night was a joint mission between SpaceX defined as the carrier and the United States government defined as the client. And not just the United States government, but in last night’s instance, the United States military in what was defined as a classified mission.

Now let’s just state the obvious, you can’t hide the launch of a Falcon Heavy rocket. That’s impossible anywhere on earth. And so you had a very public acknowledgement yesterday that the launch would and did take place and right there in public view. But as for the payload, classified, not announced, not our business, a matter for interest only to those who know it on a need to know basis.

And so far as our government was concerned, the only thing we need to know is that this was a classified military mission, one that evidently took this incredibly powerful rocket. And it was identified only as USSF67, a classified mission. That is United States Space Force 67. That’s what we know. Basically, that’s all we know. Why? Because it’s classified. All this raises some big issues from a Christian worldview perspective. What does it mean that certain information is classified?

What does it mean that certain information is available to some but not to others? How exactly does information get classified by the American government, by our military, by the executive branch, by our spy agencies? Well, more on that in just a moment.

Part II

Classified Documents Found in Trump’s Mar-A-Lago, Biden’s Corvette Garage, and Hillary Clinton’s Email: How Did the U.S. Become So Incompetent in Dealing with Its Classified Information?

What we need to know right now is that this is big news in the United States, not mainly because of a rocket launch, but because of an accusation made against the sitting President of the United States, Joe Biden.

And that had to do with the disclosure that at an academic center that had been headed by the then former vice president, current president, Joe Biden at the University of Pennsylvania, there were classified documents that should not have been in the papers in that office that were discovered to have been there. And by the way, discovered and acknowledged by the White House Council before the midterm elections. The White House sat on that information.

In recent days, there was a disclosure that the classified documents, which should not have been there, were there and then came two additional disclosures. The first had to do with the fact that other classified documents were found in President Biden’s garage, as he himself pointed out, along with his prized antique Corvette, he said, “locked away.” But at the same time, they had to come back a third time and acknowledge that there were even more classified documents that were found.

Where did this end? We don’t know. But last week, the Attorney General of the United States had to announce that he was appointing a special counsel to look into the president’s offices and possession of these classified materials, which to put bluntly, he should not have had after leaving office as vice president in January of 2017.

But wait just a minute. Isn’t there a similar accusation, a similar special counsel and a similar investigation looking into the fact that classified documents were found, an even greater number by the way, at the 45th President of the United States private residence in Florida known as Mar-a-Lago? Yes, that is indeed a simultaneous special counsel investigation.

And of course, the Biden administration, which just about everyone admits, has badly fumbled the public relations and communications part of the scandal, it has nonetheless tried to point out there are differences between the context of the documents found both in the number and in the location of the documents and in the response of the Trump administration and President Trump himself as compared to President Biden.

But make no mistake, this is a huge black eye. It is a massive embarrassment for the incumbent president who after all had claimed to be so competent in dealing with these issues and had basically pointed to Donald Trump as someone who is massively incompetent on these issues.

And it is interesting to note that even the liberal media have acknowledged that this is an enormous problem for President Biden, and at least in part, a problem of his own making. Not only because the documents are there, the classified documents that should never have been in those contexts, but also how he had handled accusations against President Trump. This is a big, big problem. But wait just a minute, doesn’t this go back even further?

Don’t we need to go back to 2016 when former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, was the Democratic nominee for president. And she basically came to blame her loss in that election on the fact that she had been found guilty of using a private email server for, wait for it, classified information and the disclosure by the FBI, at least in her mind, cost her the election. But did she do it? Did she mishandle classified information? Yes, she did. Did President Trump mishandle this classified information? Well, at least according to media reports, yes, he did.

And what about President Biden, who again, had prided himself on his competence in dealing with these national security issues? Did he do it? Well, his own White House said, “Well, yes he did.” Now saying he did it, that means actors for the former vice president during the period that he was out of office evidently did not prevent these classified materials from being intermingled with the other papers of the then former vice president and former Senator, Joe Biden.

So what’s the point here? Well, the point is what kind of intelligent system are we running after all, and just how competent is the United States of America in handling its own classified information? And at least for a moment, we need to step back and ask, what in the world does this mean anyway?

Well, the term classified information just has to do with the fact that there are special categories of information that require, well, let’s put it this way, very special handling, especially when it comes to governments and particularly in the modern age. Now the term classified, just in terms of its dictionary definition, means you have one class, you make it distinct from another class. You could have ones stack, you say those are good documents. And another stack, you say those are bad documents. You’ll be classifying them.

That’s obviously not what we’re talking about here. But we are talking about sorting information into what according to the current policy of the United States government would be confidential, secret, top secret and SCI or sensitive compartmentalized information. Now who is in charge of all of this? Well, according to our constitutional system, most of this falls under the executive branch.

That means under, in one sense or another, the President of the United States. So as you look over the last several decades, successive presidential administrations have established and have redefined the laws and the policies concerning the United States government’s classified information, who has access to it, how it’s to be stored, how it is not to be used.

And one of the basic principles is that only those who are in office have the right to have access to this information. Being out of office means you no longer have that access. That’s why it’s a scandal that you have the documents found in the possession of both President Donald Trump and now President Joe Biden. But it’s also a scandal if you mishandle the information, you fail to protect it as it deserves to be protected in a matter of national trust.

That’s where you come to the scandal concerning the former Secretary of State and former Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. So as you look at this, you can think of it this way. Over the course of the last two election cycles, you’ve had three major candidates. Donald Trump who ran twice, Hillary Clinton who ran once, and thus far, Joe Biden, who ran once.

All three of them have now been openly implicated in what can only be described as the mishandling of classified information. And that’s a very big issue. It also points to what has to be a very big problem for this country. How have we become so incompetent at dealing with classified information, which after all, we declare ourselves as a matter of our own national security.

To put it another way, there has not been a major party presidential nominee in the last two cycles who has not been implicated in this problem. And that means the entire government in one sense or another is now implicated in the problem. How have we arrived at this point? Frankly, I’m just going to assume for the sake of nonpartisan purposes that all three of the persons we’re talking about in this case, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and Joe Biden have a lot to answer for here.

But it is really interesting to note that the mainstream media, and I’ll point to yesterday’s front page article in the New York Times, it tries to argue that at least the problem when it comes to the former vice President Joe Biden, now President of the United States having these documents, it was because of the rush of the Obama administration’s rushed exit from the White House. And that would include the former vice president in this case in January of 2017.

But that begs the question, why was there such a rush? It certainly can’t be an excuse at this point. Because after all, both President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden knew their term was coming to an end, and they knew that for four years before January of 2017. If it was rushed, well, bad on them, not bad on our constitutional order. When it comes to President Trump and President Biden, there are now two special counsels looking into the matter, and that means conducting independent investigations.

And that’s also a blight upon our constitutional order that we would be in this position at this time. Now there’s a double-edged sword to this. It’s rather embarrassing before the other nations of the world that this is so, but on the other hand, in most other nations of the world, there would simply be no public acknowledgement of the problem in the first place.

So this is one of those situations in which the American system appears to be working, but it needs to work on fixing a problem. But from a Christian worldview perspective, there’s just a huge issue here, and it has to do with the morality of knowledge and the valuable nature of information. When you have information, it can be used for good or it can be used for ill, and this is the result of human sin.

If we were to imagine going back to the Garden of Eden, there would’ve been plenty of information and none of it would’ve been misused, none of it would’ve been misunderstood simply because sin did not yet exist. But once sin entered human experience, information itself becomes something that can be used to aid or to harm.

And information itself translated into knowledge is something that can be used for good or it can be used for evil. And this leads to one of the most interesting moral complexities of the modern age, and particularly in modern state craft. You have nations such as the United States of America. We try to protect our vulnerable information, our precious national security information from prying eyes.

And at the same time, we send out spies to be prying eyes when it comes to the sensitive information of other nations. In a fallen world nations seek to preserve their own precious information and they seek to discover the precious information held by others. And that is most importantly true when it comes to enemy states. But as the United States has had to acknowledge at various points, it also sometimes has to do with our friends.

Yes, even within something like NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, even with our allies, we spy on each other. There have been exposes of British spies in the United States, and American spies in Britain, and yet we’re the two closest nations you can imagine when it comes to diplomatic relations and shared history. When it comes to opposing nations, well, the stakes just get higher, and in many cases, the battle for information just gets deadlier.

At this point, the American people are just going to have to sit back and allow these investigations to run their course, but we’re able to speak today on the basis of what has already been acknowledged by all parties, and that is the fact that we have classified information, some of it defined as top secret and acknowledged to be such found where it should not be.

And this leads to another very interesting moral dimension of information in the war over information and even in the American political order in the modern age. Back during the administration of President Bill Clinton, one of America’s chief spy masters was accused of and basically was very credibly accused of mishandling the most sensitive classified information.

This became a matter of a likely criminal indictment and criminal trial. But it never happened, you don’t know about it. Why? Because President Bill Clinton publicly pardoned that spymaster in the United States. You asked a question, why? Wouldn’t it have had a deterrent effect to others to be more careful with this information if that particular intelligence officer was prosecuted?

Well, the answer is maybe so. But the United States government could not allow that trial to take place. Because after all in our constitutional system, you have a trial for this kind of criminal offense and the accused gets to mount a defense. That is the responsibility of the government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime took place. That would require evidence, and the United States government could never afford for that evidence to be aired in public.

And so the President of the United States just pardoned that intelligence officer, one of the main intelligence officers in the United States at the time, simply because the United States government then needed to prosecute this case, couldn’t afford to because it was seeking to protect the information that it was accusing this spymaster of having mishandled. The government could only prove its case by also revealing the same information. Oh, this just underlines the fact that information is always moral.

That’s a part of the Christian worldview. We need to understand that there’s a reason why our government did not say what was the payload on that rocket that took off from the Kennedy Space Center last night. There’s a reason why you have a presidential pardon to avoid a trial. That’s the reason why we may know or we may never know. In the case of virtually any of these cases of sensitive intelligence information, we might know, we might never know what actually happened.

But it is not reassuring that some of the most sensitive information to the security of the United States of America could be found on the floor at Mar-a-Lago or stacked somewhere near Joe Biden’s Corvette in his garage. In any case, in both cases, it’s a huge problem.

Why? Because the United States of America has enemies in the fallen world and enemies want that information.

Part III

‘Who Lives? Who Dies? Who Decides?’: The Worldviews On Display Reveal a Moral Crossroads

But now we shift gears to another issue of vast worldview significance for Christians. Just after the first of the year, I discussed a front page article that had appeared in the New York Times asking, “When Does Life Start?” The article is by reporter Elizabeth Dias, and she described that question, a post row conundrum, she said is, “The question that goes beyond politics, law, and science.”

Now I discussed that article and that issue at length in The Briefing issue for Wednesday, January the 4th of this year. But I return to it right now, both to make emphatically the main point and to acknowledge that there have been some letters published more recently in the New York Times in response to that article that are just incredibly revealing.

We need to pay attention to these letters because what they demonstrate is the fact that when it comes to understanding human life and the dignity of human life, whether born or not yet born, the fact is that in the United States, we now have two absolutely fundamentally opposed absolutely contradictory understandings of when human life begins and the consequences of that affirmation.

And that is because we have two absolutely opposed contradictory worldviews at war in the United States over such a fundamental issue. Now back on January 4th, I made the point that for the Christian, the only consistent position, the only biblical position is to believe and to affirm publicly and privately that human life begins as soon as God says, “et there be life.”

And in terms of our understanding of human development and human reproduction, that means at the point of fertilization. From that point onward and at every point until natural death, we must understand every single human being at every point of that development to be equally made in God’s image and to be deserving of full protection and respect.

But an article of that importance and urgency, not to mention controversy, is likely to bring a response and letters to the editor or a part of that response. Yesterday’s print edition of the New York Times included some letters in response to that earlier piece in the New York Times asking, “When Does Life Start?”

One came from a medical professor now emeritus at Columbia University who wrote this, “Two attributes are widely accepted as criteria to be considered human. First is an awareness through our senses that we exist and that we exist within a world of objects. Second is the ability of the brain to use the information from our senses to create ideas and make predictions about how to survive in that world.” Well, that is an amazing statement.

You’ll notice two criteria, and both of them are extremely problematic. The first one he says is an awareness to our senses that we exist and that we exist within a world of objects. But wait just a minute. That would be the normal human experience, certainly after birth. And furthermore, there are indications that the unborn child has at least some of that consciousness even in the womb. But the point is this, it doesn’t matter. We can’t draw that line. We can’t make that a criterion.

There are persons who are human beings fully made in the image of God, who have never gained that consciousness or may have had it and lost it, for example, in some kind of catastrophic accident. That doesn’t make them non-human. It doesn’t make them non-persons, but by this criterion, by this definition, it would. The second one is even more problematic. This emeritus medical professor said, “Second, it is the ability of the brain to use the information from our senses to create ideas and make predictions about how to survive in that world.”

This professor is quite blunt in making his argument in yesterday’s edition of the paper, “What this tells us is that a fetus cannot perceive most sensations, the first attribute of being human until at least six months after fertilization, the ability to formulate ideas. The second attribute of humans probably does not occur until after birth when the newborn’s brain begins to correlate all of the sensations into a coherent experience of its surroundings.”

Now the point I want to make is this, the New York Times makes no reference to this article or this argument whatsoever. Just published it in yesterday’s print edition. But here you have an emeritus medical professor at Columbia University saying that even after birth, most human infants do not yet possess that second essential criterion for being recognized as a human person.

That is, as a life that has started. Now what I want you to recognize is that that argument appeared in black and white print in yesterday’s print edition of the New York Times, and that tells us a very great deal about the slippage when it comes to the sanctity of human life and the dignity of humanity in the modern age. Ominously, the argument made by that professor seems very similar to an argument made by a professor at Princeton University by the name of Peter Singer.

Peter Singer argues as a matter of fact, fact that a highly sentient pig might actually have more dignity and more sacredness of life than a human being who does not develop these particular criteria of consciousness. And Peter Singer went on to say that not only should abortion be justified, but at least in some cases, infanticide. That is the murder of a child after birth might be justified on the basis of a lack of the development of these particular criteria.

What I want you to understand, listener to The Briefing is that here we are talking about matters of life and death. And as we’re looking at this great worldview clash, we understand that yes, issues of the sanctity and dignity of human life are the denial of that sanctity and dignity. Issues, policies, laws, judicial decisions related to abortion and infanticide, euthanasia, all of these are a part of our culture now.

They are unavoidable, and one worldview or the other is going to be ensconced in law and is going to become the basic moral consensus in this culture. And I shudder to think what it would mean for us if it is the worldview of this letter that appeared in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times, if that worldview is the one that gains ascendancy. And yet I simply have to warn myself and you, there is every evidence that among the intellectual elites, this is the worldview that is gaining ascendancy.

I appreciate the fact, by the way, that the New York Times ran letters from pro-life authorities as well, one writing in as a physician herself to simply say this, quote, “The question becomes not when does life begin, but who lives, who dies, and who decides.” She then says, “Such questions are nut up for grabs in a just and merciful society. And that really is the big question, what kind of society are we? What kind of society will we be?

Will we be a society that denies human dignity and simply continues to destroy unborn human life and we remind ourselves it won’t stay death in the womb, it will expand to assisted suicide, euthanasia, even as we just said, most ominously, even infanticide. And here’s where Christians need to understand that if indeed this society operates from the position of some kind of just basically non-theistic materialism, then the worldview of that professor emeritus at Columbia University is going to be all that remains.

In other words, we’ve got a lot of work to do, so we better get to it.

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 Orlando, Florida. And I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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