The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, June 26, 2023

It’s Monday, June 26th, 2023.

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

Part I

A Coup Against Putin, a Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Inside an Enigma: What We Can and Cannot Know About the Moves of the Wagner Group Over the Weekend

We were already set for a monumental week on The Briefing simply because of the remaining cases pending before the United States Supreme Court. And thus going into the weekend, it would’ve taken some massive stories to move the Supreme Court off of front concern. That’s exactly what happened. Actually, several huge stories, an apparent attempted coup in Russia, and of course what we now know was an implosion of a deep sea vehicle there that had been visiting the site of the Titanic.

Massive stories with a lot of importance here. And of course, also as you look at Saturday, just two days behind us, the one-year anniversary of the Dobbs decision at the United States Supreme Court. So three huge issues, all of them. Just also in light of the fact that the Supreme Court is going to be dropping some monumental decisions this week, we’ll be giving those attention right now. We need to look at Russia, abortion and the Titan.

First of all, Russia. It will take some time before we know exactly what happened in Russia over the course of the last three or four days, but we do know it had been building for some time and we also know at least a part of the reality that’s undeniable, but we are talking about Russia. Famously during World War II, Winston Churchill, then Prime Minister of Great Britain, defined Russia as a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, riddle, mystery enigma. What you see is rarely what you get in Russia. Russia is a deep mystery. It intends to be. It has been that way since medieval times. It is especially so now with Vladimir Putin as effectively an autocrat running an autocracy.

And remember several things here about Vladimir Putin. First of all, he is a killer. He has been for a very long time. Secondly, before the fall of the Soviet Union, he was actively involved by his own choice as an officer in the KGB, the secret police. And so we’re talking about someone who knows how to run a government from the dark side, and that’s exactly what he has been doing. Famously also, of course, having a vision of a mother Russia that would include several of the nations now independent, but previously a part of the USSR that he believes must be a part of mother Russia and that includes Ukraine.

And of course, last year he sent the Russian army into Ukraine in an invasion intending quickly to defeat Ukraine and absorb it within Russia. That is what he had done with the Crimean Peninsula. It didn’t work with Ukraine, at least it hasn’t yet. And as a matter of fact, Russia itself, a along with Vladimir Putin, has been demonstrated to have been far less than the military power that it advertised itself to be and frankly that Western Nations believed it to be.

It has also basically become a publicly announced rogue nation. A rogue nation that explains for one thing why so many nations in Europe that have been keeping their distance somewhere between the United States and Russia, they’ve been moving to the United States and our Western allies simply because the Russian bear is so obviously omnivorous. Over the course of the last 20 plus years, Vladimir Putin has basically made himself apparently untouchable.

That word apparently is a very important word as we’re discussing this today because it appears that he came very close to being touched, indeed very close to being the subject of a coup over the course of the last several days. This requires us to take a closer look. It also requires us to step back for a moment and say something which basically is very much akin to what Winston Churchill said when he defined Russia as a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

We often have no way to know what’s actually going on in Russia. There is always the possibility that what we see is not actually the truth. When you look at the fact that you had the Wagner Group, which is a private army basically marching on Russia, marching on Moscow, leaving Ukraine where it had been deployed alongside Russian army troops and by the way, showing Russian army troops to be generally inferior to their own mercenary corps. And you had the leader of that group, Yevgeny Prigozhin actually threatening to march on Moscow and to remove the Defense Minister who is part of Vladimir Putin’s senior leadership.

A lot behind that, but the first thing we need to say is maybe that’s what was happening. Maybe it’s not. It will take some time for us to know if indeed we ever know. Even as you’re looking at a generation after the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, we know a lot, but we do not know a lot still. There is just much about the Soviet Union and much about Russia that is hidden from us by intention.

And when it comes to Vladimir Putin, he’s the master. He’s only survived by being the master, political intrigue and the use of the dark arts. And those dark arts include the assassination of his rivals, but he’s also followed a very old Russian pattern of autocrats and that includes the old Russian czars and that is to seek to have plural enemies rather than a singular enemy because plural enemies can be played off against each other and internally, that’s exactly what Vladimir Putin has until now shown himself to be the master of doing.

Vladimir Putin has, of course, the Russian army. The Russian army hasn’t performed all that well, and that’s an understatement. And one of the things he’s also used is this Wagner Group, which is a mercenary group, a paid army under the leadership in command, at least until the last couple of days of Yevgeny Prigozhin, and Yevgeny Prigozhin is himself another master of the dark arts, another killer. He is wanted in the United States and European nations for crimes against humanity. He is guilty of murder on a mass scale. Here you have two murderers, you have two masters of the dark arts, and yet they’ve used each other for the better part of the last couple of years, especially after the Russian army has been basically humiliated in terms of its invasion of Ukraine.

The fact is that Prigozhin has been helpful to Vladimir Putin until evidently the last few days. We now know that Western intelligence have been picking up on the fact that Prigozhin was staging some kind of operation and was likely to challenge Moscow, but it’s also clear that no one apparently was expecting exactly what happened, if indeed, to be honest, we know what happened, but whether the dictatorship is the old USSR or the Communist Party in China or Nazi Germany, there are ways of figuring certain things out and that’s when arguments are publicly made that are absolutely not acceptable to the leader.

This would be Vladimir Putin, the autocrat. And the argument that Yevgeny Prigozhin made is that the Russian Defense Minister had to fall. That’s one thing, but secondly, that the invasion of Ukraine was a mistake. Now at that point, it doesn’t take massive political powers of insight to understand Vladimir Putin could not allow that to stand. But this is where things get even more interesting because Prigozhin and his army, his mercenary force, decided to go into Russia leaving Ukraine where they blamed the Russian army for killing some of his own men.

And apparently Western nations and Western intelligence sources believe that Prigozhin and his forces downed at least one airplane as a part of the Russian Air Force. Things are getting very serious, but things are also getting very interesting because even as Prigozhin and his forces began moving North in Ukraine towards Moscow, they apparently faced no opposition, which is to say they faced an awful lot of the Russian army that astoundingly did not oppose them.

According to most, including Western sources, not a shot was fired as Prigozhin and his forces were moving from Rostov-on-Don, northward towards Moscow, at one point by some Western estimates coming within about four hours of Russia’s capital. So one of the things we need to do trying to think as Christians about these things is to understand what’s the realm of what is known and isn’t known?

And what we do know is that the kind of language that Prigozhin was using against Russia is absolutely unacceptable to Vladimir Putin, and then having an army march on Moscow, that is beyond the realm of theatrics because it was humiliating to Putin and his regime. And that’s the one thing an autocracy can’t survive and that is appearing weak or incompetent or both.

The other thing you can’t hide in the modern day of satellites is any kind of armed conflict that breaks out into a battle. There wasn’t a battle, there should have been. If indeed Vladimir Putin, as he said on Russian television in a live appearance, if what he was facing was treason, then the Russian army had every responsibility to put down the treason, to arrest the trader. They did not do that. That’s the spectacular truth.

But then there’s more open evidence of how weak Vladimir Putin was now shown to be in that the deal that brought this to some kind of conclusion was actually brought about by Alexander Lukashenko, who is the strong man of Belarus.

Now, Belarus is a tiny country and it basically has been openly intimidated by Russia. Russia has clearly indicated, Putin had indicated that he wanted to absorb Belarus back into mother Russia, but it is Lukashenko who brokered the deal that avoided a head-on confrontation between Prigozhin and his forces and Putin and his forces, and we are told that Prigozhin is not going to be arrested. All the treason charges Vladimir Putin had talked about are evidently to be dropped and Prigozhin is to go to Belarus where presumably he would be protected and his forces would presumably be folded back in to the Russian army or something similar.

But then again, there’s a lot of presumably there. The one thing we know is that for Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, a tiny little country, to broker the deal that apparently saves Vladimir Putin, that is a sign of weakness beyond which an autocrat generally does not survive.

But then again, it’s unlikely that anyone’s going to be trying to sell a life insurance policy Yevgeny Prigozhin because it is unlikely that he will live very long. The enemies of Vladimir Putin seldom live very long, even when they go into what is supposedly some form of protection. Vladimir Putin’s agents have used poison. They’ve used other mechanisms to bring about the murder of his enemies, and when it comes to his enemies, for Vladimir Putin, there is now public enemy number one, and his name is Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Another thing to keep in mind is that there’s a pattern when it comes to Russian leaders who are humiliated this way. They seldom last very long. Sometimes they last a few months, sometimes a little bit longer, but the fact is that their end is written on the wall, so to speak, and that is now, we can presume, true of Vladimir Putin. How he could come back from this is almost unimaginable. Not only has his army been humiliated, Russia’s been humiliated, but now he has been openly humiliated. Humiliation is something an autocrat can’t stand.

After the Cuban Missile Crisis, then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev appeared to survive, but it turned out it was really only for a very short matter of time. The same thing would likely have happened to other Russian leaders if they didn’t die, at least reportedly of natural causes. Remember, three of them died in a span of about three years during the Reagan administration. There’s been open speculation in the West for some time that Vladimir Putin could not survive the humiliation of Ukraine.

There’s a big question now as to what the future means for the Russian invasion of Ukraine and for what is now called the war in Ukraine. And even as Vladimir Putin appears to have survived this attempted treason and effectively an attempted coup, the reality is that if you are shown to be this weak, the coup probably hasn’t been put down. It just may shift to a different fuse.

Part II

The Staggering Challenge Before the Pro-Life Movement: One Year Post-Dobbs and the Future of the Fight for Life

But next, as I say, we’re going to be watching the Supreme Court very closely this week because the term is ending in just a matter of days, huge decisions to be handed down. We will turn to those when they come, but right now we need to recognize that this past Saturday was the one-year anniversary of the Dobbs decision that reversed Roe v. Wade.

That was a thunder clap across America’s constitutional history. And by now, we have learned a great deal in the aftermath, the one year and two days since that decision was handed down. The pro-life movement in the United States was largely catalyzed, largely brought into being by the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, in which a liberal supreme Court basically invented a right to abortion and mandated it on all 50 states.

That was a wake-up call. It was itself a thunder clap, and evangelicals and others responded in creating a pro-life movement. Roman Catholics had been active on this movement for a long time, but it was Roe v. Wade that really brought millions of evangelicals, millions of Protestants into the pro-life movement as well. The general goal of the pro-life movement was to save unborn lives, but the specific goal was to change the Supreme Court in order to reverse Roe v. Wade. History will reveal that took almost a half century. It was within months of being a half century, but it’s also true that pro-abortion forces basically didn’t believe it could ever happen.

There’s a sense in which you have to wonder if a lot of pro-lifers believed it would happen either and even as the case known as Dobbs was working its way from Mississippi to the Supreme Court of the United States, there was great anticipation. There basically was on both sides of the case, by the time you get to the Supreme Court last year, both sides understood this was going to be a definitive moment in terms of abortion in America.

By that time, the oral arguments before the court had made clear there was really no way for the court to avoid the issue. The issue is this, or at least the issue should be this, and the majority of the Supreme Court understood the issue to be this. Is there in the text to the U.S. Constitution any right for a woman to obtain an abortion? The answer to that is plainly, obviously no.

That was the basic argument of the majority on the court, and that included of course, the one who wrote the majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito. But over the course of the last year, we have seen a massive reshuffling of the deck when it comes to the issue of abortion in the United States in political and cultural terms, not in moral terms.

The issue of abortion remains in moral terms, where it has always been. Christians understand that what is at stake is the fact that every single human life is an individual made in God’s image, and we have no right to compromise that life or deny protection to that life from the moment of fertilization until natural death, period.

What we discovered on the other side of the Dobbs decision is that America is even more conflicted on this issue than we thought. Now, I want to make reference to the front page of yesterday’s edition of the New York Times, simply because what appears there is really important. What appeared there yesterday was a front page article with the headline, “Abortion Views Shifted in Polls after Roe’s End.” Kate Zernike is the reporter in this case, but the case he’s making is that the viewpoint of Americans on the question of abortion has shifted just in the last year after Dobbs.

Now, if so, that just tells us something about the fickle nature of many Americans when it comes to moral questions. They’re not taking those questions with the seriousness the questions deserve. If you can be moved on this question over the course of the last year, you’re likely being moved by either media attention or political pressure, or just by some kind of social pressure that may have come from the coffee machine in your office.

Zernike begins her article going back a year saying, “For decades, Americans had settled around an uneasy truth on abortion. Even if most people weren’t happy with the status quo, public opinion about the legality and morality of abortion remained relatively static.” But she said, “The Supreme Court’s decision last summer, overturning Roe v. Wade set off a seismic change, in one swoop striking down a federal right to abortion that had existed for 50 years, long enough that women of reproductive age had never lived in a world without it.” She continued, “As the decision triggered state bans and animated voters in the midterms, it shook complacency and forced many people to reconsider their positions.”

But now she says the ground has shifted, “For the first time, a majority of Americans say abortion is ‘morally acceptable.'” That’s in quotation marks. “Abortion is morally acceptable. Most now believe abortion laws are too strict. They are significantly more likely to identify in the language of polls as pro-choice over pro-life for the first time into decades.” Zernike went on to argue that the surveys indicate that Americans are more likely to vote on the basis of a candidate’s position on abortion than at any previous time in American history.

Now, let’s just understand what the Dobbs decision did. The Dobbs decision struck down Roe v. Wade, which means the federal government now has no operating authority mandating that all states legalize abortion. The question has been at this point, mostly return to the states and the states have responded differently. 14 states out of the 50, so you do the math, 14 out of 50 have basically outlawed abortion and another set of states, a significant number of states that are rather geographically predictable, although not entirely so, they have put down significant restrictions on abortion.

In the 14 states, the bans on abortion are often described as near total, but effectively, a woman is not going to get an abortion in those states under any normal circumstance. On the other hand, pro-abortion states are even more pro-abortion than they have ever been. So what we have seen is that the map, and let’s just think in terms of blue and red, in general, the red is a lot redder than it was a year ago, and at the same time, the blue is a lot bluer.

Just consider California, New Jersey, Illinois, other states like that, and even the state of Michigan that has been moving steadily leftward on this issue. And when it comes to some states like California with a virtual plan, or at least a political posturing in which they’re saying to American women, wherever they’re located, “You get to California and we’ll help you get an abortion.”

It has taken on something of a missionary cause, darkly enough for the state of California, and in that the state of California isn’t alone. Here’s something else we’ve learned. The pro-life movement has a staggering challenge before us. This is exactly what we should have expected. So a year after Dobbs, a year after the reversal of Roe v. Wade, what we need to understand is that we are pretty much where it should have been predicted we would be.

In this sense, if you have a political movement on a moral issue, it is far easier to campaign against the status quo than to defend it, nor to move it in a direction of greater restriction. That’s just a political reality, and we should have seen it coming. But then again, all of the energies were put for a half century into reversing Roe v. Wade and having won that victory, we should expect that the pro-life movement is going to have to work even harder, even if it requires us to work harder for the next half century in order to seek to extend protections to the unborn.

That raises a host of issues including federal legislation, and that’s where you have the Democratic Party now pushing, they’ll often say to put Roe back in place, but actually, President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have been very clear. They don’t want to put Roe back. They want a federal right to abortion with virtually no restrictions whatsoever. The stakes couldn’t be higher and the issue could not be clearer, and we will return to this on The Briefing regularly just to look at updates on the issue. But at this point, yes, the New York Times is probably right. There have been shifts on this issue, but we need to recognize it’s gone both ways.

I want to point out something else. I looked through an enormous set of mainstream publications, news agencies, newspapers, and others. Not one of them made any reference in a headline, in a cut line or in any major editorial emphasis about the lives of the unborn saved. That’s just invisible in terms of the mainstream media.

It’s all about, according to the mainstream media, the loss of a right to abortion that we need to recognize was simply invented. But it is the high sacrament of the left. And the culture of death is bearing its teeth a year after Dobbs. We should have expected it. We’re going to have to fight back.

Part III

An Ironic and Tragic Parable of Human Hubris and Life or Death Drama: The Titan Submersible Implodes During Dive to the Titanic Wreckage

But finally for today, we need to look at something else that consumed headlines and understandably so in recent days, and that was the apparent implosion of a deep sea submersible at the site of the Titanic, ironically enough.

The submersible was known as the Titan, named basically for the Titanic, lots of historic links to the Titanic, and now it is going to be linked along with five deaths of all those aboard the Titan. It is now going to be linked to the Titanic. The wreckage was found as the Titanic, 13,000 feet under the surface of the Atlantic and the wreckage of the Titan about 1,600 feet from the Titanic.

Now, there’s some massive worldview issues here. The entire world seemed to be absolutely obsessed with this story, and we can understand why, and I’m going to get to another story in just a moment by comparison.

But the fact is that when you look at this, number one, you have the reality, the historic reality of the Titanic. The Titanic disaster became an absolute parable of the modern age. The ship that supposedly could not be sunk, sunk on its maiden voyage with massive loss of life. It became a parable of human hubris, and it became one of the defining marks of the 20th century. It has also been, oddly enough, you might say now tragically enough, an object of incredible and intense interest, even obsession on the part of some.

In the case of the five people, one of them was Stockton Rush, who was the inventor, the designer of the submersible, the CEO of the company and the pilot of the craft. The other four were called mission specialists, but the fact is that at least most of them had paid $250,000 a person, that included a Pakistani businessman and his 19-year-old son. They had paid a quarter of a million dollars apiece for the experience.

Now, speaking of human hubris, we now know in retrospect that there were grave warnings about this craft. The fact that the main container was made of a carbon fiber that had been cleared to a depth far lesser than that to which it had gone previously in dives to the Titanic, and there were those who had issued very clear warnings on the basis of engineering about the unsuitability and unsafety of this craft. Here are a couple of other irony.

Stockton Rush, the CEO of this business, was named for two of his ancestors, both of whom were founding fathers of the United States. This would include two signers of the Declaration of Independence. His name was drawn from both of them, Benjamin Rush and Richard Stockton.

Thus, Stockton Rush was the putting together of those two names, and he was the third, so there were two Stockton Rushes before him. He knew that there were criticisms that his craft was unsafe and should not be used in order to visit something of the depth of the Titanic.

He responded with a form of hubris saying, “I mean, if you just want to be safe, don’t get out of bed.” That’s what he told the CBS News Sunday morning last year. “Don’t get in your car, don’t do anything. At some point you’re going to take some risk, and it really is a risk-reward question. I think I can do this just as safely by breaking the rules.”

Well, he did break the rules, both in terms of engineering and evidently in some other ways as well, although when it comes to a wreck like the Titanic at that great death in international waters, it basically is a no man’s land in terms of much legal coverage. And so a company like this was at least on the dive operating it thought outside the reach of the law. We’re going to find out eventually if that’s true.

By the way, something else we need to note is that that submersible didn’t just park itself in the middle of the Atlantic at the wreck of the Titanic on the surface where others went up to meet it. It had to be involved in ports in North America, probably including both the United States and Canada, which is to say that even if you’re looking at an unregulated company like this, when it comes to the deep sea dive, and we’re told that at least some of this may have been chartered somewhere in the Caribbean in order to have more legal independence, the reality is somewhere, somehow there is going to be some legal authority that is going to exercise some jurisdiction here.

But when it comes to Stockton Rush, it wasn’t just the name of two signers of the Declaration to ancestors that he inherited or his father and his grandfather’s name that he inherited. It was also the wealth that he inherited, and he turned that by his own reckoning into a greater fortune. He channeled at least some of that into OceanGate, the submersible that met its end.

But in another irony, he married his wife, Wendy, and Wendy Rush is descended from one of the most famous couples who went down on the Titanic. Wendy Rush, the wife of Stockton Rush was the great-great-granddaughter of Isidor and Ida Strauss. The Strausses were the power and the money behind the Macy’s department store, and they were famously a very romantic couple. They went on the Titanic, and even as she was given a seat, we are told on one of the rescue boats, if Isidor was not to be given a seat, Ida would not go without him.

And according to some historic records and also depicted in James Cameron’s movie, Titanic, they went down holding hands. The ironies here just abound, but it also points to something else that’s very important for us to consider from the Christian worldview. There is a fascination with the Titanic. There’s a fascination with disaster, and one of the things we need to recognize is that there certainly was an obsessive fascination with the fate of five human beings in this submersible craft, or at least possibly still in that submersible craft, and the big question for a matter of a few days was whether or not they were alive and could be saved.

We need to understand that from a Christian perspective, we understand that obsession. There’s just something about the human drama. There’s something about the value of human life. There’s something about the question, the mystery. There is something about the historic reference to the Titanic. There’s something about proximity to the United States, and of course, to many people around the world who knew the story of the Titanic.

There are other worldview issues we can explore on this at a future date, but we do need to note that there is something about what it means to be human, to be drawn into a story like this and to understand the living drama of it as actually having to do not just with a world in which there are stories to be told, but a world in which there were five very real human lives at stake.

But finally, it’s also true that at the very same time that the Titan was missing and there was a massive search operation, there was a maritime disaster halfway around the world that had a far greater death toll and loss of life. One lesson to be learned from that is that even as Christians understand that every single human life is of infinite worth, the fact is that there’s a limited amount of media attention, and the fact is, I’ll just say this, honestly, I think a good deal of the public interest in this story had to do with the fact that the Titan went missing at the Titanic.

There’s so many moral issues here to unpack, including the fact that here you had a company that was getting people to pay vast sums of money to go on an unsafe craft when there were very clear warnings about the lack of safety.

One final thought as we close. Clearly, our Creator did not intend human beings to inhabit the space 13,000 feet under the surface of the ocean. When something down there goes wrong, apparently there is no recovery.

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 more information on Boyce College, just go to

I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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