Friday, August 11, 2023

It’s Friday, August 11, 2023.

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

Part I

Facebook Bowed to White House Pressure on Covid-19? Reports Show the Biden Administration Pressured Social Media Messaging During the Pandemic, Big Time

We know how much social media and the technological revolution has changed life, presenting challenges just about every dimension of our society, and certainly to Christians who intend to be faithful in this life, who want to prove faithful in terms of the use and stewardship of these technologies. But we also need to understand that there is a frame of reality that is being presented to us in virtually all of these platforms, and whether or not it corresponds to reality, well, that’s an open question. We need to recognize that people are trying to reach us with their messaging–to reach us in terms of changing the way we think, changing the way we buy, changing the way we vote, changing the way we believe, changing the way we understand reality itself.

Now keep that in mind with the major news story that appeared just in recent days. It’s by Ryan Tracy of the Wall Street Journal. The headline is this: “Facebook Bowed to US Pressure on COVID Posts.” Now you talk about something that’s loaded with controversy. You put COVID in the midst of this. You put the American administration of Joe Biden in this. You put the health authorities, you put the media, you put Facebook in this. Guess what? You’ve got a combustible situation here. Yet, this is a big story. I think it should have been getting a lot more attention. Ryan Tracy for the Wall Street Journal begins with these words, “Facebook removed content related to Covid-19 in response to pressure from the Biden administration, including posts claiming the virus was manmade according to internal company communications viewed by the Wall Street Journal.”

Let me just interject here and say, when it comes to a human lab origin for the virus, in the eyes of many, including many health experts, that’s the most likely explanation. The main alternative theory, and this is held by many, is that the virus emerged in one way from a mutation and the source of the transmission was probably traceable to one of the wet markets in which you had fresh meat being sold, largely unregulated there in China. But nonetheless, the big issue here is that Facebook bowed to political pressure to remove content that didn’t follow the line the White House wanted.

“The emails show Facebook executives discussing how they managed users’ posts about the origins of the pandemic that the administration was seeking to control.” The article, furthermore, included the following question that was in an email by Nick Clegg, Facebook’s President of Global affairs: “Can someone quickly remind me why we were removing rather than demoting or labeling claims that COVID is manmade?” A Facebook executive, referred to here as a Vice President in charge of Content Policy, said of the Biden administration, “We were under pressure from the administration and others to do more.” But then later came this comment, “We shouldn’t have done it.” What you see in this Wall Street Journal report is that there was an undisclosed but very clear effort by the Biden administration to get social media platforms to do its bidding in terms of messaging on Covid-19. Now, had Americans known this at the time, there likely would’ve been explosive outrage. I think there should be now.

Further in the article, the White House responded to claims made by the Wall Street Journal and others that the White House had involved itself in these issues. Later in the article, there’s a citation directly from White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre who said, “We have consistently made it clear that we believe social media companies have a critical responsibility to take account of the effects of their platforms that they have on the American people while making independent decisions about the content of their platforms.” Of course, the reality here is that their involvement means that the networks were not making independent decisions. The whole point here is that the White House was leaning in, and make no mistake, the White House has a very big lean in. Particularly when, understand this, these social media giants fear government regulation. So there is a stick the Biden administration had, but more importantly from a Christian perspective, there was also an ideological angle.

There was an angle of argument that the White House wanted to make certain was out there, and frankly that rival positions were eliminated or at least minimized on social media. The Wall Street Journal knows this is a big story. Just listen to this sentence, “Facebook has long said that its content moderation decisions are independent and not made with regard to politics. A spokesman declined to comment for this article.” That declined to comment decision tells us a very great deal. Silence in this case speaks very, very loudly.

Now notice, first of all, that this happened, and then notice also that these release documents indicate that at least many prominent Facebook executives thought in retrospect the company had made a mistake basically following the line and the admonitions of the Biden administration.

Now, my main purpose in raising this on The Briefing today is simply to say we need to watch what’s going on here. We also need to make a couple of very interesting assessments. One of them has to do with the fact that there are many people who have just prophesied kind of in a techno optimism that the arrival of social media would mean that there would be a freer exchange of ideas and thus that there would be a freer search for truth. People will be able to make arguments. No one will be able to block arguments. Arguments can appear in the public square and the public can make the public’s own decision citizen by citizen. But now we know that’s not exactly true. Frankly, that was a techno utopianism that we should have felt was suspect from the beginning.

Someone’s always in control. Someone’s always making decisions. Nothing is absolutely unmoderated when it comes to these big commercial social media platforms, and everybody has an interest in what is allowed and what is not allowed. In this case, I think many Americans would be quite troubled that the White House was so directly involved.

I go back to that statement made by the White House Press Secretary to President Biden, Karine Jean-Pierre, who said, again, “We’ve consistently made it clear that we believe social media companies have a critical responsibility to take account of the effects of their platforms that they have on the American people.” That’s a spoken statement. It’s just read there in the transcript. But the point is this. This is an acknowledgement by the White House that they exerted direct pressure on social media platforms to privilege their messaging and to sideline alternative messaging. As you look at the fact that conservatives in the United States already have very little representation in the top echelons of the management of these companies, we need to understand there is a battle for attention. There’s a battle for truth going on out there. And if you think social media is coming to you unfiltered, uncensored, unweighted, just understand those platforms have an agenda of their own. Every single one of them. Someone’s making decisions that are largely invisible to you.

Now, don’t hear me to say that there’s no value in social media, and I’m not denying there’s been a certain amount of democratization, that is to say access. Everyone these days can basically be a producer him or herself. But the fact is there is still a filtering operation. There are still decisions that are being made. As you’re looking at this, you need to recognize there are big political players. Hard to imagine a political player bigger than the White House that, in many of these cases, is caught playing hardball. With an election coming up, don’t you think that would be a good issue to keep in mind?

Part II

Can We Know If King Solomon Was Truly Saved? Can We Expect to See Angels, Even If We Don’t Recognize Them As Such? How Can I Know God Is Real If I Cannot See Him? — Dr. Mohler Responds to a Letter from an 8-Year-Old Listener of The Briefing

Next, we’re going to turn to questions. Again, I’m just week by week astounded at the quality of questions that come. And you’ve caught onto this. I particularly enjoy questions coming from children. In the case today, it’s an eight year old little boy named Lucas who listens sometimes with his dad to The Briefing and he decided he wanted to ask some questions.

Number one, Lucas asked, “Can we know if King Solomon was truly saved even though he committed so much idolatry and led God’s people astray?” Well, there is not a text in Scripture that tells us definitively about Solomon. There’s not a reference in this case in the New Testament like you find in the book of Hebrews, where it is made very clear by name Old Testament figures who were included in what we call the Economy of Salvation, that is to say they were saved.

But when it comes to Solomon, I think the likelihood and the weight of Christian understanding is that he was saved. Now, let me just remind you, Lucas, there’s only one way to be saved, and that’s through God forgiving our sins because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, and God raising him from the dead. The promise is that if we confess our sins, he’s faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. What is our confidence about Solomon? It’s not a confidence in Solomon, Lucas. Solomon was a man who committed great evil.

On the other hand, we need to remember how God described him. In 1 Chronicles 28:6, we are told that God said to David of his son, Solomon, “I have chosen him to be my son and I will be his father.” Now, that entire passage in 1 Chronicles 28 is really astounding. I hope, Lucas, you have a chance to read it with your mom and dad and think about it. But the reality is that every single one of us who is saved is saved by the grace and mercy of God through Christ alone. When it comes to what we do in terms of our own sin, the Bible says that every one of us is a sinner, desperately in need of salvation and the forgiveness of sins. Solomon’s on that list. You and I are on that list too, Lucas.

Very quickly, Lucas snuck in a couple of other questions. Referencing Hebrews 13:2, he asks, “Can we expect to see angels at any point in time without recognizing them as such?” The old language is angels unaware, and you do find references to that in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. I think one of the references in the background is Genesis chapter 18, where Abraham discovered that he had been visited by representatives, or messengers sent from God. You could put in the word angels there, but the point is, Lucas, we are to treat everyone with full respect and we are to hear the Word of God when it is spoken to us. But we have the Scripture, Lucas. So if an angel did appear or did say something, the angel would say exactly what the scripture says. So in that sense, we may know only in heaven if at some point we’ve met an angel unawares.

And finally, for the sake of time, I just have to take this question. Lucas said, “How can I know God is real if I cannot see him?” Well, Lucas, I just want to tell you something. You’re a very bright young man. You’re asking some really smart questions, but you know what? You know this. You have a mom and a dad. You have four grandparents. Back there, you have four grandparents. Two parents of your dad, two parents of your mom. And behind them were great grandparents, and behind them were great great grandparents. And I’m just going to assume here, Lucas, you’ve never met one of your great great grandfathers, but the reality is you know had one. Because if there were no great great grandfathers, there would eventually be no Lucas.

Now, my point is saying this, Lucas, there is no explanation for the existence of the entire world, but God as the perfect Creator. There is no explanation for why a tree exists. There’s no explanation for why planet Earth exists. There’s no explanation for why you exist other than God made you. There’s more to this to discuss, but I just want to tell you, I’m absolutely confident that your great great grandfathers were back there along with your great great grandmothers. And I’m even more confident that God exists, Lucas, because that’s the only explanation for how you exist. I’m so thankful you do and that through your dad, you ask these questions.

Part III

What About Going Into Politics? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Next, I’ll address a personal question. It was directed to me. I don’t take too many of these. I don’t want them to dominate, but Ansley asked the question. She said, “You talk so much about politics. And my question is, did you ever consider going into politics? Why or why not?” Well, I appreciate the question and the answer is yes, I did consider going into politics. As a teenager, I thought that’s exactly where I might go. I worked in the campaign in 1976 of Ronald Reagan when he was running for the Republican presidential nomination. I worked in my first campaign when I was nine. I saw politics as a big way to make an impact on society.

So why am I not in politics? Why am I not a politician? It’s because when I was 16, I was really struggling with some very big issues and I recognized that I was really called to preach and teach the Word of God and to serve the church. I don’t believe that political interest was wrongly attracted. I think it was just not what I was called to give my life to. I’ll also tell you something else because you asked. I got involved in a political campaign as a teenager and I saw things done that I realized as a Christian I could not do, I couldn’t be a part of, I couldn’t move forward knowing were being done.

I’m just saying that I think God used that in order to reach my heart and say, “I want you to understand how important politics is. I want you to understand that the preaching of the Word of God and the taking of the gospel to the nations is even more important.” So that’s just a bit of my story. I hope that makes sense. I believe that politics is incredibly important. I believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ is absolutely ultimate.

I need also to be honest here to say I’m very thankful for Christians who do enter the political context and do receive that as a calling from God in the truest sense–a vocation, a calling. I’m thankful for Christians who are able to maneuver in that political context and to do so while retaining their Christian integrity and their Christian testimony.

I think we all recognize that’s extremely difficult, but I think we also need to recognize that the biblical worldview reminds us that there is no place, there is no profession, there is no job in which there is not a moral dimension and there are not grave temptations. We live in a fallen world, and in a fallen world, that doesn’t make politics less important. Actually, the biblical worldview reminds us it makes politics even more important, even as it makes engineering important and nursing important. You could go down the list. But the fact is, I think the Reformation doctrine of calling based in Scripture is just so important. Martin Luther put it this way, he said, “The milkmaid is just as called in terms of a vocation in life as the prince or the preacher.” That’s just something good for us to remember. The milkmaid also has a calling. Our job is to discern what that calling is and then to respond in faithfulness.

Part IV

Would You Explain the Trinity? Can We Understand It Like We Understand Water, Which Is Able to Present In Three Different Forms That Have the Same Essence? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Next, a very big, very important indeed, absolutely essential theological question coming from Barry. He says this, “After taking a Bible study,” he says, “my understanding of the Trinity is in question. Previously I thought of the Trinity like H2O, the same, but able to present in different forms, water, steam and ice.” He speaks of a Christian teacher who rightly said, “This is not correct.” And then he asks, “Would you please explain the Trinity?”

Well, Barry, I really appreciate the question and explaining the Trinity in any short form is indeed a great challenge. It has been for the Christian church for 2,000 years. On the other hand, it’s an essential challenge and we have to be able to meet that challenge. So let me just tell you that biblically, Barry, the most important thing to understand is that the doctrine of the Trinity is the result of the Scripture saying four things: First, God is one. Second, the Father is God. Third, the Son is God, and fourthly, the Holy Spirit is God. All four of those are categorically, eternally true. And yet for our minds, that creates something of a need for explanation. God is one, the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God. All four of those are true. This comes down to the doctrine of the Trinity, one God in three persons.

Now, one of the problems for Christian theology, Barry, is that it’s tempting to want to say, “Well, here’s a metaphor we can use.” So I’ve heard people talk about an egg. You have the shell and you have the yolk, and you have the white. Well, that doesn’t work. You could also use the metaphor that you mentioned of water. You simply say H2O in which you have steam and you have liquid and you have ice. So you say those are three things. There’s ice, there’s steam, there’s liquid. But the reality is that metaphor really is broken. The Christian teacher who told you it doesn’t work, that’s a faithful teacher.

Let me tell you that understanding of say, water as ice and steam and as liquid, that refers to the theological error of what’s called modalism, saying that there’s one God, and he shows up here as Father. He shows up there as Son. He shows up in another place as Holy Spirit. That would describe the three persons as different modes of God’s existence. Well, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are not modes of God’s existence. They are eternal persons co-equal in the Trinity. So how do we understand that? We have to get away from say metaphors, because frankly, there’s no earthly illustration that fits. You can’t come up with anything better. If you’re going to be talking about a material parallel, you probably can’t do better than ice and steam and liquid water.

But the point is, that doesn’t work. So we really have to leave all those pictures. We have to come back just to how the Scripture presents these truths that comes back to those four sentences. Number one, God is one. “Hear, oh, Israel, the Lord thy God, the Lord is one, and you shall love your Lord, your God with all your heart and mind and soul.” But you also have, by the time you read the New Testament, you have the very clear statement that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. The only way to put that together is to understand that both of those statements are true. Number one, God is one, and number two, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are God. So the way the Christian church has put this is one God in three persons.

So Barry, it’s just best we stay away from any kind of earthly metaphor, whether it’s an egg or ice for that matter, because it just breaks down. It doesn’t work, and Scripture doesn’t use those kinds of metaphors or pictures. Instead, the scripture just declares in ways that are absolutely true and absolutely clear. God is one, the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. One God in three persons. As the great hymn, Holy, Holy, Holy puts it going all the way back in reference to Isaiah chapter 6, “God in three persons, blessed Trinity.”

Part V

Should the Southern Baptist Convention’s Constitution More Clearly Specify That the Role of Pastor is Limited to Biological Males in Light of the Transgender Revolution? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Next, a listener named Scott wrote in saying that he was in New Orleans for the Southern Baptist Convention, and I’m glad to say he tells us that he voted in favor of the amendment to the Constitution regarding the positive statement that only men can be pastors. He then asked this question, and I just want you to know, this is one of those questions that could only be asked in very modern times. Here’s his question in talking about the amendment to affirm that only men can be pastors: “That position is reactive. Should we also not be proactive and amend further so that it says only biological males at birth may be a pastor?” He says, “It seems like only a matter of time before the Convention is faced with possibly having to disfellowship a church for having a transgender pastor.”

Well, Scott, you’re right to say that’s a possibility. You’re also right to say that given the direction of the culture, there are some who would say that’s an inevitability. I do want to say that the Baptist Faith and Message in its paragraph on the Doctrine of Man, the Doctrine of Humanity makes very clear that gender is a part of the goodness of God’s creation, making human beings as male and female. So I think any fair reading of that accomplishes what you’re looking for here. But you know what, Scott? There is a principle throughout the history of the Christian church that helps us here. Christians have always had to undergo doctrinal development because at one point, what was once assumed now must be clearly articulated. You could assume orthodoxy over here until all of a sudden a heretic denies it. Now you have to articulate orthodoxy and require a statement of faith.

So Scott, it might become important, even necessary at some point, for evangelical Christians–and, in the context of your question, Southern Baptists–to specify further what we mean by male and female, but we can’t just say assigned at birth because we believe that God made us who we are and we trace our physical existence all the way back to the moment of fertilization. So it’s not just from birth. It’s actually the genetic structure all the way from the earliest development of who we are as a human being. As David says, “Even before we were known to our own mother in the womb.”

So I appreciate the suggestion. I think at this point, the Southern Baptist Convention’s, Baptist Faith and Message is quite clear. The 2000 revision now going back 20 plus years, had to be revised in order to make very clear that there is no transgender non-binary option when it comes to biblical Christianity. From the very beginning, in terms of Adam and Eve, he made us male and female. Male and female created he them. But we understand that’s also true of the human being. As God made us male or female, his sovereignty, his glory, and his demonstrated governance is made clear. Scott, I do appreciate the question. In every generation, the Christian Church has to closely monitor what can be assumed and what must be articulated. The longer we go in all of this confusion, I think it’s safe to say the more that is going to have to be articulated.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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