The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, September 11, 2023

It’s Monday, September 11, 2023.

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

Part I

A Historic City Rocked by Devastating Earthquake: Marrakech Struck by 6.8 Magnitude Earthquake

The earthquake in Morocco came on Friday night with devastating effect. It may turn out to be one of the deadliest earthquakes in that nation’s history, but we’re going to have to see, but we already know it’s a great tragedy in that country. The epicenter was close to Marrakesh, one of the world’s historic cities there in North Africa, and the death toll’s already between 2,000 and 3,000. Some of this is just a reminder to us that, even as we take the ground and the stability, the ground for granted, that’s simply not true. The earth, just about everywhere, is in some kind of motion, and of course, when that motion becomes destructive with the release of this kind of energy in an earthquake, and at this point the Richter scale is estimated to have been somewhere around 6.8 on that scale.

The fact is that, when that epicenter takes place under the right, or you might say even the wrong conditions, it can be particularly devastating. There’s another factor when it comes to Marrakesh and the villages around it there in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, one of the great mountain ranges of the world. The fact is that, earthquakes are relatively rare there, and the need for housing is great there. Marrakesh, by the way, is not the most famous of the cities in Morocco, that would be undoubtedly Casablanca, but it is among the biggest cities there. It’s there closest to the mountains, but because earthquakes have not been so common there, their earthquake codes really don’t play much of a role in construction. Many of the homes there, as Reuters explained, are “built of mud, bricks and timber or cement and breeze blocks, therefore, structures crumbled easily.”

We already know that this was Morocco’s deadliest earthquake since 1960. At that time, a single earthquake was estimated to have killed about 12,000 people. All this is just a reminder to us that we can take nothing for granted, even the ground under our feet. That is something that is made very clear in Scripture, it was made very clear by the great American theologian, Jonathan Edwards, who spoke of walking over an abyss, walking over the pit, and by that he meant quite literally hell. And walking over it on a net while thinking you were walking on solid ground. And all that just underscores the fact that, when earthquakes like this, or natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, you name it, when those stories quite tragically gain the headlines, it again just affirms effect that we’re living in a Genesis 3 world–a world in which the effects of sin and God’s judgment on that sin expand all the way to the crust of the earth, and sometimes erupt in deadly earthquakes.

One final note, Marrakesh is a place rich with history and tradition, lots of archeological and historical sites there going back millennia, in one sense, and certainly many centuries, particularly going back into the first millennium of the Christian era. It’s of course a Muslim dominated part of the world, the largest part of the population, very clearly, identified as Muslim, but the very historic nature of that town and of that area, even of the country. It is another affirmation of the fact that you can’t take history for granted either. Just think about Pompeii, or so many other famous places, Lisbon, in terms of the great earthquake that took place there, where history was changed and you had history in one sense almost wiped clean. When it comes to so many of the historic structures in Marrakesh, it is unlikely that many of them survived.

Part II

California’s Assault on the Family: Radical New Gender Bill is an Assault on Parental Rights

But next I want to come back and spend most of our time today looking at an extremely serious story from the state of California. It might not sound so serious when it’s simply presented as the general assembly passing AB, or Assembly Bill 957. It did so just in the last several days. But you need to know that, that bill has to do with gender identity and children, and it has to do with parental rights. In particular, it has to do with what factors are to be taken into consideration as to whether or not a parent is judged to be an adequate parent with legal standing in the state of California.

Another way to understand this bill, is that it is a direct assault upon parental rights in that state and offers every parent in the state of California the threat that, if that parent is judged by some court to be inadequately supportive of a child or a teenager’s gender identity, then that can be used by the court in order to separate the parent from the child in terms of parental rights.

The legislation was introduced by Assembly Member Lori Wilson. The legislative summary says this: “Existing law governs the determination of child custody and visitation in contested proceedings, and requires the court for purposes of deciding custody to determine the best interest of the child based upon certain factors, including, among other things, the health, safety and welfare of the child.”

Now, that’s pretty boilerplate, that’s pretty much what you’d expect in any one of the 50 states in the United States of America. That’s the typical kind of language about what is at stake in a custody hearing. But then, the summary of the bill gets to this: “This bill, for purposes of this provision, would include a parent’s affirmation of the child’s gender identity or gender expression as part of the health, safety, and welfare of the child.”

Now, before we go any further, let’s just look at two terms used in that single, rather short, sentence. Both of them are explosive, one of them is gender identity, the other is gender expression. Now, gender identity, you know this in terms of the ideologies of the transgender, non-binary revolution that has to do with the claim made by an individual that gender identity is separate from biological sex. And that’s a rather emphatic statement with legal significance. But the second thing mentioned here is simply gender expression, and we need to understand that gender expression refers to something that might be as cosmetic as say, well, a boy wearing lipstick, or choosing to wear a girl’s clothes, or vice versa.

Gender expression is an enormous category, and all of it is filled with this ideology, all of it is subversive of ontology, which is to say creation order, God’s intention. But what we see here is that it is being used as a direct assault on parental rights in the state of California. The Senate has already adopted similar legislation in California. This is now moving to Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk, an extremely liberal governor who has made very clear support of this kind of legislation. And earlier in the term, the governor said that, if this bill reached his desk, along with several others, he would sign it. So, it appears, at least at this point, that this is going to become law in California, where we can only hope it is challenged by parents in court.

I don’t want to just depend upon news reports and summaries, I went right to the text of the bill as it was filed there in the assembly in California. It states this: “In making a determination of the best interest of the child on a proceeding, described in Section 3021, the court” (this means a court of law), the court shall “among other factors it finds relevant and consistent with Section 3020, consider all of the following. 1A, the health, safety and welfare of the child.” Listen to B. “As used in this paragraph, the health, safety and welfare of the child includes, among other comprehensive factors, a parent’s affirmation of the child’s gender identity or gender expression. Affirmation includes a range of actions and will be unique for each child, but in every case must promote the child’s overall health and wellbeing.”

Now, if those words do not explode in your hearing, they certainly should, because when you are looking at an assault upon the family, an assault upon parenthood, it’s hard, frankly, to imagine anything as Draconian and extreme as this. There are those who have referred to this bill as it was proposed as radical, and of course it is radical. The problem is, that word isn’t nearly strong enough to explain what’s going on here. This is the state of California taking sides in terms of the gender ideologies, the revolutionaries of our age, and stating that the state of California will now instruct its judges that in considering whether or not a parent should be considered a parent who should retain parental rights, when considering whether a child may basically appeal for someone other than the parent to have parental supervision when it comes down to separating parents from their own children on these matters.

Now you have the transgender, non-binary, sexual expression, gender expression, gender identity stuff absolutely made a matter of law. And in this case, the judges aren’t told by the way, this would be troubling enough that they could consider this issue, they are told that they are to consider this issue. The other thing I want to note, and you wouldn’t know this unless you look at the actual text of the legislation, this legislation puts as a criterion that could be used against parents, the gender expression and gender identity ideology. But you need to note that it’s put in the context of other actions that might separate a parent from parental rights, and that would include a history of abuse, or of drug or alcohol abuse. So, we’re looking at putting opposition by a parent to a child’s gender expression or claim of gender identity up with child abuse. Indeed, it’s basically defined as a form of child abuse.

Now, if that sounds extreme, you need to understand that’s exactly what’s going on here. This is defining, let me just say, Christian parenthood as a form of abuse. That language isn’t used. Let me tell you the language that is used. The assembly member in this case, Lori Wilson, told a local news affiliate there in California earlier this year, and this is according to National Review, “No one is out to get your kids. No one is out to force your kids to be anything they shouldn’t be. It’s about really protecting children who are caught up in the family court system from a parent that is antagonistic or non-affirming.” There’s the language just basically accusing a parent who, when faced with a non-binary, or a gender confused, or a trans-identified child or teenager, it really is defining that parent in the family court system as antagonistic or non-affirming, and thus as illegitimate, thus parental rights can be terminated.

Indeed, the courts are told they should use that factor in making such a determination.

Now, as Christians, we need to step back for a moment and recognize that the very issue of parental rights as a contested issue in a society is a sign of profound unhealth and a very toxic, if not fatal, confusion. We are, however, living in a time in which this isn’t coming from a vacuum. We can look back at the 20th century, and I want to point to two developments in the 20th century that very ominously formed the background here. One of them was the Bolshevik Revolution, in what became the Soviet Union. The ideology of the communists stated emphatically that children belong to the state, not to parents. Parental rights were really only a matter of limited obligation in the ideology of the Soviet Union. The state was above all and all children belonged, effectively, to the state.

So, parental rights could be terminated at any time and children could be turned against parents, parents against children. And you’ll recall, of course, there were famous cases in which one of the symbols of Soviet patriotism was a boy who had supposedly turned in his father to be executed for crimes against the Soviet Union. And then you also had something else happen, and that was not in the Soviet Union, but in the United States of America. And that was the rise in the progressivist wing of what might be considered a leftward drift in the United States, especially in the intellectual elites. You had people, and some of them were identified with the therapeutic community, some of them with the legal community, some of them just in terms of what became the administrative state, who were basically arguing that parents had only provisional rights when it came to their children, that the state had an obligation.

And this is chillingly like what was in the Soviet Union. And the United States never said that children belong to the state. Instead, the claim was that the state has an obligation to make certain that children have their own interest recognized by the state, even if that interest is at odds with the intention or supervision of their parents. And so, that was a less radical claim, we need to make very clear, a far less radical claim than what emerged in the Soviet Union, where children were simply said to be basically the property of the state. But when it comes to the United States, the growth of the administrative state, the therapeutic regime, and even educational authorities in many cases, it basically came down to the assumption that parents are to be trusted until the state doesn’t trust them anymore.

Now, the logic of this legislation is to say, one of the issues that can make the state lose trust in parents, is that the parents take what’s defined here as a non-affirming position when it comes to gender expression or gender identity claims made by children, and just recognize whether it is the same claim or not, this basically ends up very much like the Soviet Union. To be honest, it’s hard to imagine legislation more truly radical than this and more truly destructive of the family than this kind of legislation, and it is now moving to the governor’s desk. There’s no reason to believe the governor won’t sign this, he basically has already said he would sign it. And this is not the only legislation of similar form he said he would sign if the legislation reaches his desk.

State by state, this is becoming an issue, although California’s certainly, let’s just say, leading the way when it comes to pushing hard against parental rights, in this case, and pushing hard for the non-binary, transgender ideology pretty comprehensively. But state by state, this is becoming an issue where you have those who might be state officials, or government officials, or school officials who claim they know what’s best for children. And one of the issues that is coming up again and again, is the fact that parents aren’t even being told when children are, for instance, in the public school system, assuming some kind of alternative gender expression or gender identity. Sometimes the parents are explicitly not told, and in some cases, the schools are told they must not tell the parents.

This is a contested issue, as I say. In some states, legislation is passed where the parents must be told, the schools have the obligation to tell parents.

But when it comes to a state like California, this issue is also very much in play, and very much in just the last several days. Consider this headline in last Friday’s edition of the New York Times. So, this is just, say, three days ago. Here’s the headline: District can’t notify parents if their child is transgender. Notice, again, the word is can’t. School districts can’t notify parents if their child is transgender.

Anna Betts reports for the Times, “A superior court judge on Wednesday temporarily blocked a Southern California school district from notifying parents if their child seeks to change pronouns or gender identity.” So, you notice it’s not just the legislator, it’s not just the governor who said he will sign the bill if it reaches his desk, it’s also action in the courts. This is a superior court judge in California blocking the policy that was undertaken by the Chino Valley Unified School District in the state of California, a more conservative school district as you might guess than some others, that had “approved a policy in July that requires officials to notify parents if their child asks to use a name or pronoun that does not align with the child’s birth certificate, or seeks to use a bathroom assigned to a different gender.”

So, folks, I hope you’re paying attention to this. The biblical worldview would make very clear that when it comes to relationships, the relationships between parents and children are absolutely sacrosanct. And they’re prior to other relationships. The only human relationship that is prior to the relationship with the parent and the child, is the relationship with the parent and the parent. And this means, biblically defined, a man and a woman united in marriage. And this means the children produced by that marriage.

And so, the relationship of the husband and the wife, the mother and the father, is the only relationship that is legally prior to the relationship of the parent and the child. Now, here’s what we also recognize that the state, and by that I mean the government, not just the state of California, but speaking in legal terms of the state or the government, whatever its level, frankly, wherever it’s found, the government has the responsibility to respect both marriage and parenthood. And to respect them actually, not coincidentally, together.

Now, I think we should also posit that it is not only understandable that parents would want to be informed of such a development, their own child, their own son or daughter trying to use a different name, suggesting the use of different pronouns, and for that matter presenting as a gender expression or a gender identity different than biological sex, you would think that just about anyone would think it’s sensical that parents would at least be informed, that for Christians it’s not nearly enough. We would believe that parents have a responsibility here that goes beyond just being informed. We would think that the government would have the responsibility to, at the very least, inform parents.

But now we are told that the district, according to this judge, not only doesn’t have that responsibility, but can’t do it. That school district is basically informed here that it cannot, legally, inform parents of such a situation. Now, we really are looking at a complete meltdown here. This isn’t just a problem that has emerged in some kind of anecdotal development, this is a full assault upon parental rights, which is a full assault upon parenthood, which is a full assault upon the family, predicated on a full assault on marriage. And I meant every word of that in exactly that sequence.

The very liberal Attorney General of California, Rob Bonta, filed a lawsuit in San Bernardino Superior Court against the Chino Valley Unified School District for having adopted a policy of notifying parents. The Attorney General asked for a temporary injunction to put a hold on the district’s adopted policy. As the Times reports, “The temporary ruling by Judge Thomas S. Garza indicated that the court might ultimately decide against Chino Valley Unified and prevented officials from notifying parents in the interim.”

Now notice, and this is what many people, even among conservative Christians, seem to be missing. It’s not just that the judge said that the school district is not required to inform parents, it emphatically said that the school district cannot inform parents. Now, I can just say, for my part, that would be the very last minute I would have children in that school district, period. There are other school boards there in California being informed of similar kinds of motions and movements, and this would include the Anderson Union High School District in Northern California, the Murrieta Valley, and Temecula Valley Unified School District in what’s defined as the Inland Empire.

They’ve adopted similar policies, we’re told, to the policy that was adopted, but has now been suspended, the policy adopted by the Chino Valley Unified School District and put on hold temporarily by Judge Thomas S. Garza, superior court judge, with the indication that there’s a likely judgment of a more permanent nature coming against the school district.

The news report in the Times is presented as something of a legal brief summary, and the final section says, “What’s next?” And the answer is, proceedings will continue in the case. “Nearly a month into its school year, the Chino Valley Unified School District must shelve its notification policy and await further court proceedings. The next hearing is scheduled for October the 13th.”

Now, on both of these developments, the action taken by the California State Assembly just days ago, and also just days ago, the action taken by the superior court judge in California, both of them bear, indeed demand, a very close attention. Both of them absolutely explosive, absolutely alarming, and quite frankly, I think all of us as Christians recognize a sign of things we sense inevitably will come, and not only in California.

Part III

Prison Break: What Recent Breakdowns of Prison Security in the UK and the U.S. Teach About the Depravity (and Ingenuity) of the Human Heart

Finally, for today, three big prison breaks that made big news in Pennsylvania and Washington DC, and also in England. In England, an apprehension has been made of a man who was accused of very serious crimes of terrorism, but for some reason, wasn’t held in a maximum security prison. And well, the end result of that was, he made his way out under a delivery van that had entered into the prison premises. The international press has indicated that Daniel Abed Khalife had escaped from the Wandsworth prison by “strapping himself to the bottom of a food delivery van.” So, give him credit for cleverness, but also give those running the prison a demerit for stupidity, in this case.

Just to state the obvious, there are two problems. Number one, the prison let him escape. Number two, he shouldn’t have been in that kind of prison in the first place. This was a severe miscalculation given the gravity of the charges made against the suspected terrorist.

Here in the United States, in Washington DC, a murder suspect had escaped from custody in the midpoint of last week. As that particular individual, Christopher Haynes, age 30, had complained of ankle pain, was taken to George Washington University Hospital. And while some of the officers were changing his handcuffs, he fled with the handcuffs dangling from his right wrist. That man was suspected of shooting two men, one of them died, so he’s facing murder charges. But the fact is, he broke away, because the supervision was just too lax.

And of course, the most famous of these escapees is Danelo Cavalcante, who escaped from a Pennsylvania county prison, also having been convicted of murder, also being suspected of murder, and under a murder charge in his native Brazil. He escaped and, as of last night, well, still very much on the loose.

And one of the things you need to note, is that the law enforcement officials there in Pennsylvania, they have kept saying, “We think he’s in this particular area,” and then he would show up somewhere else. It’s just another affirmation of the fact that people escaping from prison have a very high ambition not to be caught.” That was actually a statement that was affirmed by law enforcement officials there in Pennsylvania. Also, on Sunday, another twist in the tail came when Cavalcante was able to commandeer a vehicle. How did he do that, you ask? Well, he did it because the keys were left in it. And has exasperated law enforcement officials in the state just pointed out, “If we’re trying to catch him, it would be a whole lot easier if you don’t leave your keys in your vehicle.”

One of the issues common to all three of these escapes, is that law enforcement basically underestimated the determination of someone being held in custody, and of course, two of these on charges of murder, one of them proved in court, so you’ve got a conviction. The other was a case of terrorism in Great Britain. But in all three cases, those who are responsible for the custody of these prisoners just underestimated, number one, the determination, and number two, the ingenuity of those who are determined to escape imprisonment.

And this is where we need to understand that, in a fallen world, we’re looking here at a pattern of incommensurate interest. Now, that’s rather abstract terminology, but it just points to this. Every single prisoner might have an interest in escaping, and there are more prisoners than there are guards. The guards have an interest, indeed a responsibility, to prevent those who are in prison from escaping. But those who are seeking to escape actually have a greater interest in escaping than even the guards and the authorities do in keeping them from escaping. And furthermore, there are more the prisoners coming up with more ingenuity and seizing, or perhaps perceiving, more opportunity, and that’s why you have this problem come up again and again.

But the other issue common to all three of these escapes and escapees, is that law enforcement and prison authorities just underestimated who they were dealing with in terms of evil intent.

Danelo Cavalcante, by the way, escaped by wedging himself against two walls and basically crawling over the top in order to escape the prison. He did so on video and he sees himself being watched, and seems to be amazed that no one is stopping him. It turns out that, even though the entire thing was on camera, no one perceived it at the time and no one did stop him, and his absence was only noted later at a bed check.

The actual technique used by Cavalcante in this case is called crab walking, but it wasn’t a crab that escaped from prison, it was a convicted murderer.

One bottom line issue for the Christian worldview is something that Christians have had to come to terms with and understand over time, and that is that people with evil intent, they will seek to seize any opportunity to carry out that evil intent. And people of goodwill, even people of goodwill who bear responsibility, often make the mistake of underestimating evil intent.

A Wall Street Journal report offered as Cavalcante is very much still on the loose, stated this: “The corrections officer who failed to spot convicted murderer Danelo Cavalcante during his escape from a Pennsylvania County prison, has been fired. The Chester County prison officer was stationed in a tower on August the 31st, and didn’t see Cavalcante as he climbed to the roof, maneuvered through razor wire, and scaled a fence to escape. That, according to a county spokeswoman last Friday.”

The next sentence, “The officer who had 18 years with the prison was fired Thursday afternoon. The spokeswoman said the officer’s name wasn’t released.” Again, just in reflection, the video is absolutely amazing. Cavalcante clearly knows the camera is watching every move. In this case, the problem was, the camera was watching, the human beings weren’t.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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