Friday, September 15, 2023

It’s Friday, September 15, 2023.

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

Part I

An Historic Haven for the Famous Under Fire: France Welcomes Disgraced Hollywood Film Celebrities to International Film Festival

In The Briefing, we routinely have to look at the distinction between red states and blue states, and the fact that the divide between red states and blue states is getting ever deeper and is reaching more basic issues. But today I am not going to talk about red states and blue states. I’m going to talk about red countries and blue countries because as it turns out, political divisions, language divisions, culture divisions sometimes turn out to be moral divisions as well. Now, an interesting story is going to take us into this issue and it’s actually a report in The New York Times, and it’s from the style section. So this isn’t the big headline news, this isn’t the business section, this is the style section.

It has to do with entertainment, and the headline in this case is this. “France is a haven for performers under fire.” So the big story here is that performers in the United States, celebrities who’ve gotten in moral trouble, they could not show up on the platform of the Academy Awards or they’re not going to show up on the A-list of celebrities. They’re going to be shunned even by Hollywood and New York and by the cultural elites, but they increasingly just show up in France where they are still celebrated, they’re still celebrities, and they still have a lot of cash value. The subhead in the article tells us a lot about what we’re talking about. The language is this, “Woody Allen, Louis C.K. and Johnny Depp are welcome despite accusations at home.”

Steven Kurutz is the reporter in the article, “Woody Allen has described his new movie, Coup de Chance, as a poisonous romantic thriller. It made its debut at the Venice International Film Festival on Monday and will be released on September 27, but American movie goers won’t be able to see it in the theaters unless they happen to be visiting, say, Paris or Marsai.” “Like his two last films, Coup de Chance, a French production in French with a French cast, will not be distributed in theaters in the United States. Mr. Allen’s last deal with an American company ended in 2018 when Amazon cut ties with the filmmaker amid a renewed focus on accusations that he had molested his adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow.” Now, we talked yesterday about the fact that unfortunately there’s a distinction between morality and criminality, and you see here one of those distinctions made very clear. Woody Allen clearly had what in biblical terms can only be described as an absolutely perverse and immoral relationship with an adopted daughter.

Whether it was a crime or not, well, I guess that’s still to be determined if it’s ever determined. But the point is, I think any morally conscious person would have to say that what Woody Allen did was absolutely deplorable, and thus you have another worldview issue here, by the way, is whether, or to the extent to which, you can separate an artist and the art. When it comes to Woody Allen, it’s pretty easy, I think, to dismiss both the artist and the art when you understand the perversity out of which this artistry is coming. Now, by the way, that doesn’t always work retroactively. So in other words, sometimes people do things or are found to have done things and that really doesn’t change the way you might see what came before. But let’s be honest, in moral terms, it certainly does change what comes thereafter. And by the way, Hollywood’s very selective in its morality. We know that.

There’s a lot of posturing, there’s a lot of branding, there’s a lot of political correctness, and these days there’s a lot of wokeness. But the fact is that eventually moral truth works its way out to the point that there’s no Hollywood celebrity who wants to be in a selfie with Woody Allen. But that’s in the United States. It turns out in France, well, not so much. It’s not such an issue. The Times explains, “France has long provided a haven for American artists fleeing racism or political persecution, including Josephine Baker, who was embraced by Parisian audiences in the 1920s, and the film director Jules Dassin, who found work in French cinema after being blacklisted by Hollywood during the McCarthy era of the 1950s.” “But lately, France has given a warm reception to people who fall into an altogether different category, men who’ve been accused of sexual abuse, sexual misconduct, or domestic abuse.”

Later in the article, after making reference to Louis C.K. and Johnny Depp as well as Woody Allen, the article says, “Mr. Allen is the latest male artist to go there, meaning France, for career rehabilitation or simply to keep making films. In the United States, several A-list stars, including Greta Gerwig and Timothee Chalamet.” The article then tells us in the United States several “A-list stars”, some of them listed by name, “have expressed regret over having worked with him.” That means Woody Allen. But nonetheless, here’s the contrast. “In France, the 87-year-old director was able to hire a first-rate French cast.” In one sense, there has been a very long understanding of a moral distinction between Europe, for instance, and the United States of America on many of these moral issues, or at least it was true in the past that there was such a distinction. But it’s also true that there’s a distinction between continental Europe and the English-speaking cultures.

And so there was, during the 19th and the 20th centuries, a pretty clear distinction between what would be allowable, say, in Paris and what would be allowable in London. Those were two different moral categories. But we’re seeing the fact that those moral distinctions, which some people would say had simply evaporated, they haven’t evaporated, and that’s why Woody Allen can show up as a celebrity making A-list movies in France when he really can’t show his face in Hollywood or New York. That’s not to say Hollywood and New York are morally superior to Paris, it is to say there is a selectivity in both places that tells us maybe more about Hollywood and New York and Paris than about Woody Allen and Louis C.K. and Johnny Depp. But I also want to note that there are grave issues of moral seriousness here. So we’re not just talking about cultural preference.

We as Christians understand that morality is not relative, and when we’re talking about the crimes of many of these A-list celebrities, they are definitively–not relatively–wrong; they are heinously objectively, absolutely wrong. That raises another issue. In some cultures, the artist is considered to be such an elevated celebrity and personality that the artist exists on a moral plane beyond that of other mere mortals. In the United States, there’s been a little bit of celebrity worship and infatuation that has led in that direction. But you have to say the situation is categorically different in much of Europe and in particular in France, but not France alone. You really are looking at continental complicity here, and this is where the distinction between the artist and the art is something Christians understand can never be total. And we’re talking about issues of grave moral importance. In the 1970s, there was an infamous case having to do with film director Roman Polanski who was arrested and charged in Los Angeles for multiple charges of sexual offenses having to do with a 13-year-old girl. I repeat, a 13-year-old girl.

Roman Polanski, the very famous movie director of such fame in Europe and such celebrity in the United States, he eventually pleaded guilty in a California court to crimes I’m not even going to mention by full name. Let me just say they involved a 13-year-old girl. When he discovered that he was actually going to be sent to jail for these horrifying crimes, he fled the United States for Europe. Just about a few years later, by the way, he confirmed that this was not a false charge to which he had pled guilty, but he simply said it was consensual. And he went on to give something of an elaborate defense of his interest, which can only be described as grotesque perversity. And yet he continued to be a star among stars in much of the European cultural scene. And more than one European country, more than one European government, refused to extradite Roman Polanski to the United States because they basically made the argument that his art was more important than his crimes.

But here’s where we also need to recognize that many people who are now posturing in terms of the new moral consciousness we are told of Hollywood, they are people who were calling for the release of Roman Polanski when he was picked up in Zurich, Switzerland and held on the question as to whether he would be extradited to the United States to face once again, the Court of Justice, prominent European intellectuals, film directors, screenwriters, producers, actors, actresses, and others, simply demanded that he be released because of the greatness of his art. These folks wouldn’t want to be reminded of it now, but among those who signed a petition back at that time were Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Wes Anderson, guess what? Guess who? Woody Allen. But also prominent actors such as Harrison Ford and Jeremy Irons. At least some who had signed the petition, including some very prominent Hollywood actresses, including Emma Thompson and Natalie Portman did later retract their names, but they signed it at the time.

The fact is that in France, Roman Polanski was basically celebrated for his art and his crimes were simply downplayed, minimized, sometimes even made fun of.

Oh, and by the way, this is crucially important. It wasn’t until May of 2018 – now we go back to the fact – the crimes were in the 1970s. He pled guilty to this horrifying crime in the 1970s, but it wasn’t until May of 2018 that Polanski was expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization behind the Academy Awards. In other words, it took about 40 years for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and of course the Me Too movement and other things that happened with great impact in Hollywood, it took that long for Hollywood to say, “Maybe we need to expel Roman Polanski.” When it comes to France, well, as The New York Times still says in the headline that ran just days ago, “France is a haven for performers under fire.”

I have to end this particular issue by saying that at least a part of the history here is not only the French infatuation with culture. Indeed, you can almost say that there is something ingrained in French culture, which comes very close to an idolatry of culture and of art. But you also have the fact that the French Revolution, which took place about a generation after the American Revolution, was a revolution that set loose a moral liberalism that has never really been checked in France. And in much of France, no one really even wants to check it. And that explains why people who couldn’t show their face in Hollywood or New York are still very much able to show up in public in Paris. As we see, it makes a difference, and when we ought not to miss.

Part II

Can the Origins of Religious Liberty in the U.S. Be Traced Back to the Bible? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Next, we’re going to turn to questions. I’m always fascinated and really pleased with the questions that are sent in by listeners to The Briefing.

And so a mother wrote in, a retired homeschool mom, so retired homeschool mom, congratulations to you, and I’m sure you’re going to be honored for the investment you made in homeschooling your boys. But Marnie writes in, saying, “I feel like I’m missing something in the area of religious liberty. This is one of the great founding principles of our nation and one that we are fighting hard to defend in current times.” But she asks, “Can you trace the origins of religious liberty to the Bible for me? We cherish the right to have freedom of conscience here, yet I am unclear where the idea of religious liberty comes from in God’s Word. What makes things more confusing to me is when I think about how our Lord and Savior wants us to worship only him and not have idols because He is a jealous God. The seeming conflict has bothered me for many years, and I would appreciate if you would shed some light on this to help me understand if the principle of religious liberty is actually biblical or not.”

Well, Marnie, I appreciate the question, and if you’re asking for the biblical distinction, I’ll simply tell you the most obvious distinction is between the Old Testament and the New Testament. And the distinction there is that the Old Testament is addressed to Israel, the nation with whom God made His covenant, and God gave to Israel His laws, and God gave to Israel a theological responsibility. And one of those responsibilities given to Israel was to have a national policy against any form of paganism or idolatry that came with consequences in which there was nothing like you could describe as religious liberty in the context of God’s covenant with Israel. And as a matter of fact, you have in the Old Testament plenty of examples of the fact that the state was given a legislative responsibility for theological orthodoxy. Now, when you come to the New Testament, the interesting thing to note, because I am not saying that according to the New Testament, the state is given no responsibility in this area.

That’s not what I’m saying. I am saying that the context immediately in the New Testament is of Christians as a minority in a larger culture, a minority that in this case is not facing the responsibility–certainly the early church in the book of Acts, even in the Apostolic era, the church is not facing the question of how to handle unbelievers from a government perspective. The church is being addressed with how to survive and be faithful as the people of God given a dominant culture that was hostile to Christianity. The book of Acts alone would make that abundantly clear. Jesus said of his own kingdom, “My kingdom is not of this world,” in a very different way that set the Christian church on a different kind of theological platform than the covenant that God had made with Israel.

The covenant of grace is not made with a nation. It is made with a holy nation, a chosen people, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, the blood bought saints of God by the mercy of Christ. And so when you look at the people of God in the Old Testament: Israel. When you look at the people of God in the New Testament: the church, that’s not a nation. It’s not given a national government as what is the prescribed instrument of coercion or confession. Now, again, Marnie, I want to be careful. I’m not saying the government has no such responsibilities. Matter of fact, I think the case can be made that government has a first primary responsibility to acknowledge that there is a God and that whatever authority the government has, comes from God, and that means not generically. That’s why I believe that when you have the founding of the United States, when it says one nation under God, that was not under some kind of general, vague, universalistic, polytheistic notion that it could be any God, but rather it was the God of the Bible.

And people will come back and say, “Yeah, but you’re being intellectually dishonest,” because some of the founders were deists, yes, but those deists were, let’s be exceedingly clear, Christian deists. That is to say they were heretics, but the notion of God that was even the hallmark of their deism was one that was drawn from a biblical understanding. Even when they denied the personhood of God, the personality of God, even when they denied the active providence of God, they were clearly invoking the word God in such a way that the overwhelming majority of people who were Christians would understand who they’re talking about. Christians can have a really good debate about the extent to which biblical law, biblical truth should be made into legislation, and I’ll be glad to talk about that one day as well. But religious liberty is the question you raise, and religious liberty comes from the question as to what is the confessional responsibility of the state?

And you had people, particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries, and I’ll point to the 18th centuries, the most important of those periods, in which it came to be understood that religious liberty, which was sometimes originally expressed as religious toleration, was the least worst arrangement whereby the state would not take on a confessional role and certainly in the United States, not an official state church as in one denomination being established by the federal government, but rather it would be understood that the liberty of citizens meant that under God, they could worship where they believed right, and they could teach and preach freely. Now, I just want to acknowledge historically that that was within the context of a very limited spectrum of available options at that time. And so I also believe, and I’ll state this right out loud, that the American tradition of ordered liberty and constitutionalism is basically survivable only within a context in which the majority of Americans have a worldview that is at least shaped by a substantial Christianity.

I do not believe that any other worldview is capable of sustaining this experiment in ordered liberty. But when it comes to the confessional responsibility of the state, I think most of us as Christians would recognize even as there is a real responsibility, there’s a limited responsibility. Even as the Declaration of Independence says under God right there in the nation’s original compact of sorts in that sense, it is also clear that we do not want the state defining in ways that are improper, what would be the acceptable range of that toleration. But that raises a conundrum, and at this point there is no agreed upon right answer as to what would be, could be, should be the limits of that toleration, but it’s not a limitless toleration, at least in terms of religious practice, if not religious belief. And I think we understand the distinction there. There are things people could do, saying, “This is a part of my religion that would still be illegal.”

But when it comes to beliefs, that’s where we have a very unsettled area in American constitutional law. In general, I think most Americans would say you can believe whatever you want to believe, and yet I would just want to say that’s really only historically possible that the vast majority of Americans, I believe, operate of something very similar to a basic Christian biblical worldview.

And then to answer your question one step further, I think it is the biblical notion of the image of God and you match that to the New Testament, command and call for conversion. And we understand the last thing we want are unconverted persons being told they’re Christians and being treated as Christians. We want a clear gospel distinction. I had to speak here as an evangelical. I had to speak here as a Baptist and say, “I want a very clear distinction between believers and unbelievers. I don’t want any system in which, even in the name of some kind of consensual Christianity, we confuse that issue.”

I think that violates the very clear New Testament teaching of the nature of the gospel and the necessity of conversion.

Part III

How Should Christian Medical Professionals Think About Emergency Triage Situations? Is It Another Form of the Trolley Problem? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

But last week, we discussed the trolley problem as it’s often called, and I suggested that the first thing Christians need to think about is the fact that we can’t enter into that logic of who shall live and who shall die, as if it’s some kind of cold philosophical calculation that’s supposed to aid us in thinking through our values. I think Christians just need to say, “That’s a so-called problem that I’m not going to consider as an intellectual exercise, certainly in some kind of basic moral relativism.” But then I heard from a doctor, a pediatrician who wrote in, saying that this pediatrician’s been in a situation, especially several times overseas when limited medical resources had to be allocated, and the question is, especially with children, but in the larger question, just in medical ethics, how do you decide?

This doctor mentions triage, that French term that refers to the medical practice of saying, “This person has the most serious injury. This person is treated first. Here’s a gunshot wound. We treat the gunshot wound before we treat someone with a twisted ankle.” This emerged, by the way, in France or in French medical practice during the Crimean War in the 19th century. The fact that it emerged only in the 19th century tells you something about how slow we can be to recognize some issues and some answers that are pretty obvious. And during the Crimean War, the French doctors came to the conclusion that we just can’t treat everyone in the order in which they are brought to the field hospital because too many people are dying, so we need to rank them in terms of medical urgency and to treat accordingly. This pediatrician asks a very sensitive question and points to the fact that, for instance, where you have a limited number of ventilators and a large number of children who need them, decisions have to be made in terms of allocation.

That’s not what the doctor says. The doctor says, “Isn’t that just another form of the trolley problem?” But it was the trolley problem that pointed to this, and this is where I want to say to the doctor, no, this is not exactly the same thing. I think we recognize in a fallen world that sometimes scarce medical resources and medical personnel have to be assigned in such a way that the urgency is here rather than there. I said that very carefully. The urgency is here rather than there. That is to say that a Christian doctor can never say, “I’m not going to be saving all these lives. I’m going to choose to save these lives at the expense of other lives.” The Christian doctor has to say, “I’m going to try to save all these lives. I’m going to start here where the urgency is greatest.” And sometimes that also comes in the medical calculation. We just need to be honest where if you have, say, the same medical severity and the patients are one who would be, on the one hand, very young and the other very old, there is a long time societal moral impulse to say there’s a greater opportunity that this younger person will survive this catastrophe than the older person.

But what the Christian can’t enter into, whether pediatrician or for that matter, farmer, lawyer, we can’t enter into the calculation that we will simply choose to try to save these lives, but not those lives. Even in scarce resources, the Christian mentality has to be, “We’re going to save as many lives as is humanly possible. We’re going to start here and there’s good medical rationale and priority for why we start here, but we’re going to hope to reach all. We’re not going to simply write people off on a set of criteria that we might establish.” Now, I don’t want to play a mental game here. The fact is that there are situations in which the urgencies and the scarcity match in such a way that maybe only a few will indeed be treated and a few lives might be saved. But that’s very different than entering into the decision-making of the trolley problem in which you simply say, “We’re going to decide who will live and who shall die.”

And it’s going to tell us a lot about ourselves when we answer that question and report to the group or to the class who we would save and who we would not. That’s a calculation, I’ll simply state it again, Christians simply have to reject. We simply can’t enter into that moral calculus. We will try to save as many as possible for as long as possible with as much or as little as possible as is available.

Part IV

Is There Any Biblical Basis for Arguing That Conception and Implantation are Both Necessary for Life? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Another very interesting question this week comes from Paul and Paul’s referring to the argument which we made repeatedly, and we’ll come back to the historic Christian argument that human life begins at the moment of fertilization, and the Christian should do nothing to try to prevent the successful implantation of the fertilized egg within the uterine wall, which leads of course eventually to full-term pregnancy and to the birth of the baby. And the argument is raised here, could it be argued or is there a biblical basis for arguing that conception and implantation are both necessary for life?

Yes, I will say, Paul, that argument can be made, but what I don’t think can be made is that we have any right to interfere with implantation once there’s been the fertilization of the two cells and life has begun. The context, the relative movement, the location of that embryo in a woman’s body should not determine whether that embryo should survive or live according to human determination. And so I just have to say, I don’t think there is any escape hatch here morally or ethically that would say the embryo’s up and implanted, so we can just count it as something other than an authentic human life. And I realized that would be very convenient for some issues related in vitro fertilization or even the use of certain forms of the pill as it is known. But I’ll stand back on the argument that I think that consistent Christian moral wisdom is that we should do nothing that would prevent the successful implantation within the mother’s uterine wall. I just think that itself just invokes so much moral and ethical danger it ought to have our attention. And I would hope we could help to build a Christian consensus on this.

Part V

What Was the Name of the First Church? — Dr. Mohler Responds to a 6-Year-Old Listener of The Briefing

But finally, we’re going to end on a question from a wonderful six-year-old girl listening to The Briefing. This would be Eva. And Eva asked, “What was the first ever church called?” Well, Eva, it was called the Church. In Matthew Chapter 16, Jesus said, “Upon this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” I know what you’re asking in terms of like First Baptist Church, Christ Presbyterian Church, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church. There are all kinds of names. Sometimes there are places where you might have, say, London Baptist Church or something similar, but the fact is that in the New Testament, there are references to the church as Jesus made in Matthew Chapter 16. There are multiple references to the church as the body of Christ, and there are references to the churches. And in the New Testament, they’re most often identified by the city where they are located. You see this in the letters to the seven churches in the book of Revelation, for example.

And so Eva, what a sweet question. The first church was named Church by the Lord Jesus Christ, who said, “Upon this rock, I’ll build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” It is the church established by, belonging to, and under the rule of Jesus Christ. Such a sweet question, Eva, makes me wonder, what’s the church called where your family goes?

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

I want to speak to you seriously about something coming up at Southern Seminary. It’s Preview Day, and it’s especially intended to help host prospective seminary students on the campus, those called to ministry. I want to get to know you. I want you to get to know the faculty. I want you to know our programs. This institution, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, exist to train, educate, and prepare God called ministers of the Gospel for more faithful service. If you’re wondering if God’s called you to ministry, if you’re ready to take the next step for serious, faithful, biblical theological education, if you’ve been called to preach, then we want you to come visit Southern Seminary.

If indeed God’s called you to the mission field or other fields of service, we want you to come and visit Southern Seminary. Preview Day is October the 13th. That’s Friday, October the 13th. It’s coming up fast. I’ll be there. I look forward to meeting you there. The website is simply Listeners to The Briefing can sign up to the event for free. You’re going to need a code. The code is, well, you can figure this out, The Briefing. I think you can remember it.

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

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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