The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Friday, August 18, 2023

It’s Friday, August 18, 2023.

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

Part I

Is Divorce Still a Big Deal for Political Leaders? Some Say No, and Point to Muted Response to Canadian Prime Minister’s Breakup

I often refer on The Briefing to the fact that a story’s never simply a story–a development, an event, a controversy. One of the things we as Christians need to watch is not only what happens, but what happens after that happens, how the cultural conversation changes. Almost every major event, almost every major controversy is followed by a cultural conversation in which there are further developments. So sometimes you look at a story and you need to ask the question, so what happened after that happened?

Now, what happened in this case is the announcement by the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, that he and his wife Sophie are separating, and it’s not just a separation in which they’re going to be living separately for some time. It’s basically presented as a final separation. Mrs. Trudeau is going to be moving out of the official residence and the children will be living primarily with their father, the Canadian Prime Minister, there in the prime ministerial residence. This is clearly a very sad story. It’s the breakdown of a marriage. It is the breakdown of a family in this case.

Now because of the politics involved and the way these things are handled in our culture, when the announcement was made, it was made with all the expected language about the fact that this is very amicable, that even though the Prime Minister and his wife have decided to separate, they want to maintain their relationship with their children. They don’t want there to be disruption, et cetera. I just pointed out that is what is said in almost every case and in almost every case it is not matched by reality.

The reality experience by these children is not going to be that this is going to be entirely amicable. And not only that, now the entire glare of national and international publicity is on not only their mother and their father, but on the breakup–the breakdown–of their own family.

But in the what happens after that happens category, I want us to look at some of the subsequent media coverage, some of the subsequent cultural conversation because as you might expect, it turns out to be just about as revealing as the event itself.

Now, this takes us to what is not only the most influential paper in the United States, but the most influential paper in the world. And the New York Times saw the breakup of the Trudeau marriage as the kind of story it has to deal with. It has to report the news and then it will come back and consider it.

It’s the comeback and considerate part that has my attention, and this takes me back to last Sunday’s edition of the New York Times in an inside section. So this isn’t front page, it’s not even front section news. This is a reflection on what took place. The article appears with the headline, the Split Decision. Here’s what makes it so important. Elizabeth Peyton is the writer of this particular piece. Here’s the subhead. “A stable marriage may no longer be required for political leaders.” So here’s what’s really important. You take the breakdown of one marriage, now it’s being held up as a way of saying, maybe this isn’t such a big deal after all. Maybe in terms of politics, this is not the kind of political damage that it would’ve been in time past. Maybe the big lesson here as you’re thinking about relationships and style and culture, maybe the big lesson here is that it’s really not such a big deal anymore.

The article says this, and I’m reading the exact words. “Once upon a time, for most world leaders, major political capital lay in the crafting of at least the outward appearance of a stable marriage and persona as a family man or woman. According to Lori Gottlieb, a psychotherapist and host of the Dear Therapist Podcast, ‘people wanted to feel that their leaders were a solid and steady presence.'”

So the psychotherapist has a psychotherapeutic answer for why that is so. You’ll notice it’s not rooted in any kind of civilizational authority. This is not rooted in any kind of biblical truth. This is just rooted in psychotherapy. She says, “Because our first leaders were our parents or adult caregivers, we tend to equate stability with family stability, which is why politicians tend to make their perfect families part of the campaign, trotting the mountain public. They’re saying, ‘I’ve created a solid stable family and I can do that for my country.'”

Now, I’m not saying that this psychotherapist deploying psychotherapeutic categories here is entirely wrong. I think she’s actually right. I just don’t think it’s a matter merely of political convenience and political custom. I think it’s grounded in the deepest recesses of the human conscience, and that conscience is not primarily explained by anything that has come in as experience. That conscience is first and foremost explained by the image of God, the fact that our Creator made us in his image and he made us the creatures with a conscience. That conscience cries out, you know what, if this person is unfaithful in this arena of life, he or she is likely to be unfaithful in other arenas of life. You know what, it really turns out that a picture of a leader with spouse and family, and I’ll just go on and say, that means marriage as the monogamous union with a person of the opposite gender–so a man married to a woman, a woman married to a man–that picture along with children and family stability has been essential to political credibility throughout the years.

The point, and I think this is what’s so important, raised by this article is maybe we’re past that, maybe there’s not going to be lasting political damage to someone like Justin Trudeau. Now, I mentioned back when we first dealt with a story that the only Canadian Prime Minister to have divorced while in office before Justin Trudeau was his own father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who divorced his wife when Justin Trudeau was just a little boy. And now the little boy is the Prime Minister following in his father’s footsteps. He’s following in his father’s footsteps evidently in more ways than one.

An interesting fact noted in this story is that no President of the United States has divorced while in office. At least in the United States, I think it’s still pretty much politically unthinkable that a President of the United States and a First Lady would divorce during the time they were in office. Now, there have been some sideways glances and there have been some glares and no doubt there have been some flareups and there have been some separations in presidential history. We now know, and this is part of the historical record, part of very well-respected biographies, that there was no lack of marital turmoil in some of these marriages, but the point is they had to stay together. It was unthinkable that there would be a divorce in the White House. I think it’s fair to say that even in the last few years that has been something that political candidates and incumbent presidents have had to keep in mind.

Looking at this report in the New York Times, one of the things that first comes to my mind is that the question’s legitimate. Is it a big matter anymore? But the other thing that comes to my mind looking at this story is that, well, it’s just written in such a way as if it’s offered as a hopeful statement that maybe we’re past that. Maybe we are hopefully past the point that political leaders getting divorced even while in office is considered to be a moral fault. Maybe we have grown up in our progressivism. Maybe we are just past that.

Now, I hope we’re not past that and I don’t think it’s ever going to be a non-issue. The interesting thing here is this is a subsequent report in the New York Times about the divorce or at least the marital breakup of the Canadian Prime Minister, and even as they’re saying we’re not sure it’s still a big deal, it’s a big enough deal that they’ve come back to the story yet again.

But there’s something else coming from this psychotherapist identified here as Lori Gottlieb, and remember, she’s also a psychotherapist behind a podcast and she made a very interesting statement. I mentioned that this article’s almost written as if there is a hopefulness that we’re past divorce being a big issue, and I mentioned the fact she put it in the past tense saying this is why in the past we tended to equate stability with family stability. But now she makes an argument summarized by the New York Times is saying that “political separations reinforce the idea that money or privilege can’t buy happiness, much like the way people see separations of celebrities or royalty.” In direct quote, she said, “Sometimes people might feel empathy for a couple, but what I see most is a feeling of relief for themselves. They think, ‘wow, even world leaders who have everything, power, money, fame, mansions paid for by our taxes struggle with parenting, arguing, sex lives, disconnection and personality differences just like many regular people do.'”

In other words, a famous couple like this divorcing, a couple supposed to represent stability not only for themselves or for the nation, their split up, the psychotherapist says, basically makes other people feel better about their own failures at holding their marriage together. Now, this is something that Christians understand. The responsibility of leadership comes with moral leadership to present a model. And what you have here is the suggestion that in the new morality we don’t need good models, we don’t need to hold our political leaders accountable to marriage or to marital stability. We don’t need those old rules anymore because if they’re liberated from them, guess what? We are too.

Another psychologist and psychoanalyst quoted in the article points to something else that really should have our attention. “The fact that leaders separate or divorce doesn’t create shockwaves as it once did because idealization around them has shattered.” From the couch said this psychoanalyst, “I hear so much about a loss of faith and even deep despair in modern governance and leadership. A marriage split leaves people resigned to thinking there’s just another human being that can’t help us.”

I do think it’s worth noting that this article that begins frankly with the idea that we should celebrate the fact that divorce doesn’t really mean that much anymore, it ends on a very sad note saying, here’s just another human being that can’t help us. Don’t tell me that moral collapse doesn’t come with devastating cost. That’s actually what’s affirmed by the end of this article.

Part II

How Should I, as a Christian, Handle Government, Corporate, or Other Institutional Pressures to Affirm Our Society’s Cultural Revolutions? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Next, we’re going to turn to questions. I just greatly appreciate the quality of questions coming from listeners to The Briefing. Sometimes we use names as we’re given permission. Sometimes I just avoid using names because there are some very tight situations that we can all find ourselves in.

One of those tight situations has to be at the intersection of so many of the cultural pressures of this moment and the issue of employment and in increasing numbers, you have people who are being required to attend certain kinds of seminars, certain kinds of awareness programs, certain kind of professional training. It may be packaged as a way to keep your job, and some of that’s really deeply steeped in ideology that is really deeply not only non-Christian, but in many cases, anti-Christian. You have a collision of worldviews, you have critical theory, you have all kinds of variants of ideology, ESG, DEI, you got all that, and quite frankly it’s coming with the force of employment from many forces including employers who are simply saying, look, you’re going to get on this train or you’re going to get off the train. If you’re on the train, this is where the train’s headed. It’s in a DEI direction. It’s going to be towards rethinking the entire morality that is represented by this company. If you hold to historic Christianity, you’re just going to be out of step and that means inevitably probably out of a job.

Now, there are some huge employers that come to play here and you might say the biggest turns out to be the federal government because under the Biden administration you’ve got federal departments, and by the way, this didn’t start with the Biden administration, but it certainly has been accelerated in the Biden administration. And you have the United States military in many cases. I’ve got soldiers, sailors, airmen and others writing in saying, this is exactly what I’m facing as I wear the American military uniform. Obviously you’ve got Fortune 500 corporations, you’ve got major academic institutions, organizations, but the other thing you have to watch our school systems. And that would include most importantly public school systems where so many of them are moving markedly in these directions. And by the way, sometimes they are, or at least they claim they are under pressure from state boards of education, under pressure from national educational professional associations. The fact is the elites all basically move in the same direction and they all push each other and they all pull each other in the same direction. We know how that works.

But this particular listener, and actually there are several who’ve written in with very similar questions, this particular listener speaks of a seminar his wife is going to be required to attend and a professional growth plan that his wife as a public school teacher is going to be required to produce. Now, I want to separate those two issues by the way, because there’s a sense in which some of our life is passive and some of it is active. That’s to say, if you have to hold your job or even to remain in the United States Army or to remain as a student in this university, if they require you to go to a seminar, that is not necessarily a violation of your responsibilities, it’s not necessarily sin for you to attend the seminar that is required because after all, you are listening to what they’re telling you. The difference is when they require positive affirmation and that’s what’s exactly embedded in this particular question.

Is one thing for an employer to say, you got to attend this seminar, but it’s another thing for the employer to say, now you got to give us a plan that indicates your affirmation of what has just been presented and your active agreement that you are going to move in this direction and we want a personal growth plan to demonstrate that and hold you accountable. I want to point out that this is how the left has learned it makes its fast progress. The left learned a long time ago that the way to make progress is not just to require people to go to the awareness seminar, but to require them to say, “I not only receive that. I agree with it.” Now sometimes they’re not so blatant as to say that right out loud or to stick a piece of paper in your hand. You have to sign to say, I agree with everything I just heard.

So instead what they do in so many professional settings is say, okay, then give us a growth plan. Give us a professional strategy for how you’re going to incorporate this in your job, and that requires positive affirmation. Here’s the point I want to make. Christians cannot give positive affirmation to what we believe is contradictory to Christianity. We just can’t. We can’t give it if it’s required by a government bureaucracy, we can’t give it if it’s required by a university professor, we can’t give it if it’s required by an employer, we just can’t. And because the moment you do that, you just end up denying the whole of Christianity, and so we just need to recognize this is going to put a lot of Christians in some very tough spaces and in some cases pretty fast.

As a matter of fact, some of this has already happened in certain employment contexts and there may be legal recourse in some of this. There may be some kind of ability to push back against this in some employment context, but let’s face it, if you’re looking at certain contexts right now, at least humanly speaking is virtually impossible to believe that you can get by without just accepting this, signing onto it, embracing it pretty much hook, line and sinker. And I think the public schools are one way that is going to be pushed through the society. I have to come back and say it’s not the same in every district. We know that. We’re thankful for that. But at the same time, when you look at the national reality and you look at how this is being pushed through the professions, through the regulatory agencies, through the Department of Education, how it’s being pushed by so many activist groups, it’s something that’s going to land one way or another just about everywhere.

The key distinction here is between someone saying, you have to listen to this, you have to watch this, and someone saying, you now have to sign that you agree with this. Positive affirmation. This is a deeply rooted Christian principle. It goes back to the fact that if you were, say a Christian in the first century and you were serving in Caesar’s army, you could serve in Caesar’s army without denying the faith. But you could not say that Caesar is Lord. If what Caesar required is positive affirmation of that which is antithetical to Christianity, that’s where Christians couldn’t go. So that’s just an historical grounding of a biblical principle. It’s just a reminder to us that this is not a new struggle for Christians.

But it is a new struggle for Christians in this country in this time, precisely because what we’re seeing is this subversion of a culture that was pretty much explicitly based upon a Christian understanding of reality, and you now have people who are trying to replace it with a culture that is explicitly situated as a direct rejection of Christianity, especially when it comes as we say, to LGBTQ issues, any number of other issues. But it’s basically now a matter even of ontology, just a matter of being. And you see this where people say you have to say that’s a girl when you know it’s not a girl.

Part III

Our Church’s Pre-School Has a Transgender Student Attending. How Should We Handle This Situation? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

And that takes me to another question. I’m not going to mention the name here either or the location because this could be just about anywhere, but this listener writes in to say, “Our church has a preschool and it meets throughout the week. “We’ve recently had a preschooler who is a biological male, but his parents are raising him as a female. He has longer hair, wears dresses and is very effeminate. How should we handle this and how should we handle this moving forward with the preschool staff and what should be our first steps in protecting us from any future possible litigation over issues like this?”

Well, a lot of questions there, but I think all of them are quite legitimate and pressing. I’ll say number one, that you can’t have a Christian school that doesn’t abide by not only Christian morality and Christian truth and teachings, but by a Christian definition of reality as basic as biology. You just can’t have that. And I think there are some Christians who would say, we’re going to be missional, we’re going to be missiological. We want to be evangelistic in this sense. Well, here’s the problem. That doesn’t work. It doesn’t work if you say we’re going to bend our morality in order to have an opportunity to share our theology with you. That just doesn’t work.

And if you’re going to have a Christian ministry and if you’re going to have a Christian school, it’s going to have to abide by Christian truth, and that means you can’t say a lie. You can’t live a lie, you can’t agree with what you know to be a lie, and a boy presented as a girl is a lie. And by the way, the sadness here is simply exacerbated by the fact we’re talking about a preschooler. So this is kind of a whole new territory for Christian churches.

But I do want to say to all of you, here’s the deal, your church, it better have very clear doctrine on this matter because when push comes to shove, you need to point that this is an essential biblical belief. This better be something that’s preached from the pulpit. If it’s not, don’t be surprised when there’s confusion everywhere. If there is a matter of a lack of clarity coming from the pulpit, don’t be surprised when that lack of clarity shows up everywhere. It needs to be a matter of congregational life, which is to say you are glad to have someone who is confused on this issue to show up and to attend worship and hear the gospel, hear the preaching of the word. But there’s a categorical distinction between showing up to hear the preaching of the word and coming as a member of the church. Those are two very, very different things.

When it comes to running a Christian school, and by the way, this covers the entire spectrum of Christian schools in terms of age, you’re talking here about a preschool, but this should go all the way up to graduate programs in a Christian college or university, that institution, that school has got to be very, very clear about two things, and I’m going to press this hard and I just hope everyone’s listening to this. You have to press it two ways. Number one, we believe as a matter of explicit biblical truth to which we are fully accountable, we believe that biological male means male and biological female means female. We believe that marriage is and can only be the union of a man and a woman, biologically defined, well understood. We believe that sex is reserved for the covenant of marriage thus defined. We do not believe that homosexual behavior is legitimate in any context, in any form. You have to say the first thing, which is we believe that to be biblical truth. The second thing is you have to say, we make this a matter of our identity and membership and operation.

It’s not enough to say, here’s what we believe, if you allow the contradiction to that. If you say, this is what we believe, this is our expectation of membership, and then you have a deacon who’s a man show up in a dress, you had better do something or guess what, you really don’t believe what you said you believe. When you have a Christian school, you can’t just say, look, we hold to this position and you better not openly disagree with it. We have to operate on the basis of consistency and integrity that says this is our conviction and we operate on the basis of this conviction. And again, this applies to enrollment, whether you’re talking about a 20-year old in a graduate program or a four-year old in a preschool, it simply has to apply in exactly the same way.

This doesn’t mean that you don’t love the family. It doesn’t mean you don’t love the child. It doesn’t mean that you don’t want to minister to the family. It just means that if you allow students enrolled under this circumstance, you are eventually going to have to abandon your convictions or you’re going to have to say pretty much in public, these convictions really don’t matter. They’re over there in a document. That’s not how we operate.

Similar kinds of questions, by the way, come up in a reverse, and this is something very much active in litigation in some circles right now where you have say, a same-sex couple who shows up with a wonderful child and wants to enroll that child in your Christian preschool or in your Christian private school. The moment you say yes to that, and let’s be very clear, this child has not sinned, but the moment you accept that child as a student, then you’ve got a same-sex couple showing up as parents in the parents meeting, and you’re not going to then say, “We believe that marriage can only be the union of a man and a woman.”

Furthermore, this is where the water hits the wheel. You have a teacher, say in the third grade, there’s a child in the third grade, in the class, who has same-sex parents. That teacher now is not going to be able to say, “We believe that the only definition of marriage means a mommy and a daddy.” You’re not going to be able to say that because you have just accepted within your school a child who has either two moms or two dads. They clearly don’t fit that definition. And this is what we’re seeing happening. This is a virus that is affecting many who claim to be Christian colleges, universities, schools. You go down the list.

And again, we have to make a distinction, and it’s a distinction for the church as well as for Christian institutions and Christian schools. We have to minister to persons. We want to present the gospel to persons. We want to witness and develop relationships with people who are not members of our church, who are not students in our school, who are certainly not teachers and administrators in our school and the failure to understand that is basically a poison pill for the future of Christian faithfulness in the United States.

By the way, this listener also asked, “How can we take first steps in protecting against any future litigation?” I’ll tell you the first thing is make very clear, this is a doctrinal theological issue. Put it in the confession of faith of your church. Make it very clear in the creedal expectation of your school and then lawyer up. This is where you need to look to groups such as the Alliance Defending Freedom and others, First Liberty. In certain circles, Becket Law, the Becket Fund, in order to say just how can you help us to define what these policies need to be? And so God bless you. This is such an important question. If you think this is about somebody else’s school, think again. This is about every school that would claim to be a Christian school. Every preschool program, every church, every ministry, every one of us is on the line.

Part IV

How Has Abortion Contributed to the Falling Birth Rate Worldwide? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Finally, for this week, we’ve talked about this issue in many and various ways. We’re going to come back to it because of an overwhelming wave of new data on the question of population falling birth rates, fewer babies, and what this means is a challenge to society. But I appreciate a question coming from Sheri. She says, “I was surprised you didn’t add to your argument about the problem of declining birth rate the issue of abortion.” She says, “Surely that staggering number is part of the problem as well.” Yes, yes, it is. And what binds it together, and by the way, one of the frustrations is we can’t talk about everything all the time, but one of the realities of Christian worldview is that everything is connected all the time. And when it comes to abortion, that’s just the most graphic way of saying, we’re denying that every single conception is good news for the entire human race.

That’s something very important to the Christian worldview. It’s not just that every single conception, human conception, every single new life is a gift to, say, a mom and a dad to a family. It’s not just a gift to a community or an extended family. It’s a gift to all humanity. The moment we lose sight of that is the moment when we begin to accept the great dream that somehow we can have a world that’s perfect without human beings in it by having fewer babies in it. Babies are an imposition. Babies are an obligation. Babies are a crimp in one’s sex life, and that’s exactly how all this came about. And so when you’re talking about this, you realize it’s really all the piece, and this is where Christians understand it has to be all of one fabric.

You talk about the development of the contraceptive revolution, and you look at the abortion revolution. It’s not an accident that they happened at just about the same time, and in both cases, you have new technologies that make the availability of these issues just so much wider than ever before in human history. And then you have a moral revolution directly at odds. Let’s just keep this very much in mind. The moral revolution that brought about the sexual revolution, the revolution that we now refer to as LGBTQ, the revolution that led to abortion, it’s the same revolution. It’s a revolution explicitly to replace after rejecting the Christian definition of sexual morality, human dignity, pregnancy, life, and to replace it with something that enables and encourages and celebrates the revolution.

Part V

A Time to Reflect and Pray for Faithful Christians Doing Gospel Ministry for Those in the Aftermath of the Lahaina Fires — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Let me end The Briefing for this week with this: We began talking about the tragedy, the horrible fires in Lahaina, the loss of life, the loss of community, most importantly, the loss of life. We now know that loss of life was far greater, is far greater than we had known. Even right now, we don’t know the total extent, although the known death toll was over 100. We also know that there are so many grieving families, so many broken in the community there.

I want to remind us that as easy as it is for these news stories to pass from our minds, say, for Christians ought not to pass from our hearts. And this was particularly prompted in my heart by an email I received reminding me that there are six ministerial alumni of Southern Seminary in Boyce College who are serving right now in the area of Lahaina in ministry, and they just remind me of the need to pray and to do all within our power to help the people in Lahaina, and I think especially to pray for Christians on the ground there, that the Lord will give them unprecedented opportunity to minister in the name and to the glory of Christ in the middle of this tragedy. A good reminder for us all, not only thoughtfully but prayerfully as we end this week.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to

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

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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