WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 31: U.S. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) attends a roundtable on the southern border at the U.S. Capitol on January 31, 2024 in Washington, DC. Members of the House Republican Conference held a roundtable to discuss border security legislation and immigration.
Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Wednesday, February 7, 2024. 

It’s Wednesday, February 7, 2024. 

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

Part I

The Border Crisis and Proposed Senate Legislation—What is the Debate All About?

In Washington DC and across the nation, a good deal of the public conversation has to do with what’s been called a Senate Border Deal, but it’s a deal that might well not get through the United States Senate, much less get to the House of Representatives. The Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, has announced that the house is not open to this legislation, and behind it are some huge worldview issues and some giant political developments.

For one thing, the very way this came together tells us something about at least the pressure on official Washington over the loss of control of the border. So, in the case of the Senate, the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, actually, a liberal Democrat from New York, assigned a group of senators to come up with a plan, a bipartisan plan, because there’s no way, absent some kind of a bipartisan plan, for this kind of legislation to get through the Senate which has a 60-vote threshold in terms of the filibuster rule.

So you recognize that Senator James Lankford, the Republican member of this particular group, and he’s, of course, a Republican senator from Oklahoma, and then the Independent, and that’s Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, and the Democrat, Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. They had a major task. As you look at the legislation as proposed, this is something that would’ve been completely unexpected even just a year ago, but Americans are becoming more and more aware of the fact that as a nation, we have lost control of the border with thousands of people coming across every day and with over a million expected to come into the United States without legal permission, that is to say illegally, in the year 2024. So, clearly, something has to be done.

Now, this bipartisan proposal does break some new ground. I mean, for one thing, it’s important to recognize what is here and what isn’t here. So what isn’t here are many of the things that at least the Democratic Party had been saying that it would insist upon, in terms of what’s often called comprehensive immigration reform. Now, let me just point out this isn’t comprehensive immigration reform. Not even close. This is a bill intended and claimed to be a response to an emergency at the United States border, but we also have to recognize that even as there are some things that are not here, the Democrats said they would always demand, they were insistent upon that, but this is a change. So an example of what’s not here would be those classified under DACA, young people often referred to as the “Dreamers.” They are not included in this legislation, even though the Democrats had said, at least just a matter of months ago, that they would not consider any legislation that did not include those classified under DACA.

Furthermore, it’s important to recognize what is here that hasn’t been here before, and that includes at least some fairly strict language along with some limitations that trigger effective action we are told on the part of the administration and especially if more than 4,000 or 5,000, depending upon the day, were to cross the border illegally, and if this happened over a significant number of days, it could lead to a shutdown and furthermore, other restrictive action. But this is where we need to recognize that even if the number is 4,000 or 5,000, depending upon which part of this legislature you’re looking at, let’s just say 5,000, even if that is the number, that’s 5,000 more than are legally designated today.

So one of the big stories here is the tension in terms of legislation, especially on the part of those who are very insistent upon gaining control of the border. The big question is, is this as a bill, as a proposal, is it a step forward or a step backward? In reality, the case can be made both ways. There can be those arguing that this is a step forward because it does give the administration explicit authority after certain triggers, but the argument also goes the other way, arguing that the administration has most of this authority already implicit by the fact that there are laws that make such immigration illegal, not legally recognized, not legally protected, and thus the administration could act on these things even if a court should bring up some obstacle or impediment, hand down such order. The reality is that the Biden administration, if serious about these things, should be exercising its authority and its responsibility. If a court should intervene, it should be pressing its responsibility onward towards an appeal to the Supreme Court to sustain presidential authority on this issue and the integrity of America’s laws related to the border.

So we just need to admit this is very complicated, and Senator James Lankford, again, Republican of Oklahoma, has a very good reputation among conservatives, and he is undoubtedly a conservative himself. He’s being accused of many in his own party, including former President Donald Trump, of being a good man who has basically signed on to a bad plan. Looking at the plan itself, I think there are huge problems with it that we’re going to talk about. There are huge gaps and assumptions that are based on it, but you also need to recognize that this is the first bipartisan plan like this to come along in a very long time.

This is more serious action related to the border than we have seen in the United States Senate in a matter of years, and so there’s clearly a balancing question here, and especially among Republicans, among conservatives, the big question is, is this the best we’re going to get, or is this actually something that should be rejected in order to get something far better after what might be the election of a Republican president, particularly former President Donald Trump, the front-runner in the race right now, and there are others who are asking the question, what about the composition of the House and the Senate after the 2024 election?

One argument goes like this. Perhaps it is in the best interest of Republicans trying to gain control of the border to go ahead and pass this legislation, and then put continued pressure on the Biden administration, and then hope for better, more comprehensive legislation coming in the future. The argument against that, is really rather complicated, but important, and that would be that this legislation would hand to the Biden administration a big public argument that it is taking the border crisis seriously while at the same time, the President doesn’t necessarily have to respond in any serious way at all. The other argument is that this legislation would effectively normalize what should not be, in any sense, accepted as a normal transgression of American law on the border.

I find both of those arguments actually quite compelling, and I want to tell you why. It is because, if the President of the United States, Joe Biden, if he intended to exercise this authority, he could have already and clearly should have already. So, as you look at this legislation, it also underlines another problem. It is based a good deal upon presidential discretion. Now, not entirely, but at the same time, this bill gives to the president the authorization under the amnesty argument, to create exemptions to the limitations and the thresholds, even the triggering mechanisms that are put into place.

So, effectively, one argument would be that adopting this legislation isn’t actually adopting anything, or you might put it another way, isn’t adopting anything close to how it has been presented by some. Criticizing the legislation and frankly, even opposing the legislation does not mean suggesting that Senator Lankford along with Senator Sinema and Murphy acted in bad faith. That’s an extension of the argument. That is not necessary to the action at all, but senators, and right now, this is a matter that is before the Senate. Senators are going to have to take on its merits, the bill as it is written, and put that into the context, and decide what is right or at least what is better than the other option.

I find the argument against the legislation to be very, very strong simply because of the amount of discretion left to the President of the United States, and this president just hasn’t acted in ways that have indicated he has really taken seriously the border. Why would he all of a sudden act more seriously in the future? Some of this discretion is clearly given to the White House, and I continue to think that’s a big problem, but there’s another problem, and it’s in the larger political context, and that is this. Where is the clear statement from President Biden and his administration about what exact policy they would wish to see in place? What are the limitations that they would consider to be appropriate? This is where the worldview collision and the political collision becomes very, very clear because you have not heard that kind of specificity from President Biden nor do I believe you will ever hear it, and that is because his party has been basically a party against any meaningful control of the border. That’s not true of every single Democrat, but it is simply true right now of the Democratic Party as a whole.

Last night, you saw a headline saying that the border deal, the border proposal is on the brink of disaster, on the brink of failing, and it is certainly right at that brink. Yet, it’s really interesting to look at the arguments and see that this isn’t a simplistic issue. It’s a complex issue, but eventually, it comes down to having to vote yes or no on the legislation. It’s interesting to note that the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, and that’s a paper that has not supported uncontrolled borders, but rather responsible control for the borders. The editorial boards calls this “A Border Security Bill Worth Passing.” The subhead is this, “The Senate Bill Has Reforms Trump Never Came Close to Getting.”

Well, the reason for that is that the Democrats have been steadfastly opposed to this kind of thing, but the political pressure coming from Americans right now with the 2024 election looming before them, this has created a motivation for the Democrats to at least act like they are responsive to this crisis. But once again, we have to ask the question, where are the policy and principled proposals coming from the Democrats saying what they believe should be the nation’s approach to this question? Where is the consensus in that party? Where exactly is the President of the United States on this, and how has he backed that up with executive actions?

The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal says this is the best that anyone is likely to get in terms of actual mechanisms to control the border, precisely because the Democrats, at least many or most of them, are responding to this proposal out of a sense of political urgency given the pressure on them. So, again, the editorial board of the journal says the Republicans better take this while they can, because it’s unlikely that a proposal this strong is going to be passed by the Senate and then forwarded to the House, approved by the House, and then signed by any president in the near future.

I just have to say in the historical context, that’s not a stupid argument. That is not a dumb argument. It may well be that, say, a year or two from now, folks may look back and say Republicans missed an opportunity if they turn down this bill. Maybe this is a temporary window of democratic openness to some kind of serious action on the border. The argument against that is that this action is not as serious as has been presented, and where it is serious, it might be seriously wrong in terms of basically validating and putting in place, assuming a level of illegal immigration which, quite frankly, is devastating in itself.

I just have to come back to the basic worldview issue that we have to face in terms of the human beings who are coming across the border, and I just want to underline the fact that I believe that every nation has not only the right, but the responsibility to police its border. A nation without a border is a nation that isn’t long-term a nation, and I believe that’s not a wrong priority to establish stable nations, in a community of nations, with primary responsibility to the nation of which we are a part. But we as Christians understand that love of neighbor means that we have some responsibility to everyone everywhere, even as we have a first responsibility to those who are in our care and responsibility right here, but those who are making the argument that somehow the Christian ethic requires that we welcome all persons from everywhere under all conditions simply because they show up on our border legally or illegally just suggesting that that ought to be an appropriate policy in the name of human dignity. That just doesn’t hold water, and I want to tell you why.

It is because if you really care about human dignity and you really care about human flourishing, then you care about the total context for which you’re taking responsibility with such a proposal. The fact is that it doesn’t serve the cause of human flourishing to create a massive market in human trafficking that leads people to move away from their homes in the name of economic or political opportunity and bring their families and frankly, put themselves at horrifying risk from human traffickers, and then come to a place where, quite frankly, there is, in the case of the vast majority of those who are now crossing the border, no legal basis for them to remain in the country.

One of our responsibilities as Christians is to take the full measure of a situation and of a challenge of a political controversy and say, “Well, exactly, what comprehensively should be the Christian response?” Any of us as Christians should say, “This is a complicated picture,” and we as Christians should recognize there are some persons whose lives are genuinely at stake. There are those who are fleeing genuine abuses of human rights who have a legitimate ground to claim asylum in the United States, but those numbers are tiny compared to the 5,000 to 10,000 persons a day who are coming across the border, and even those on the left admit that the qualified claims of asylum are actually relatable to very, very few.

So I would argue that those who are basically encouraging vast numbers of people to cross the border, knowing that they’re here illegally and they have no legitimate claim of asylum, they’re actually damaging the nation’s ability to respond in a humanitarian way to those who are the genuine victims of asylum. This is where I think we need to flip the picture and say, “Those of you who are claiming that you are standing for human dignity, and for human rights, and human flourishing, it’s not that we disagree with that priority, we disagree about the policy that would lead to that result.”

There’s one other issue that I just want to reference, and that is Gerard Baker, also in the journal, who wrote a piece entitled “The Elites Opened the Doors to Migrants and Chaos.” The subhead, “Bleeding-Heart Liberalism Has Taken a Dangerous Turn Toward an Ideology That Rejects National Borders.” I come back to the fact that that is what is taking place at least among some. The closer you get to a major university, the closer you get to a liberal think tank, the closer you get to much of the administrative state, you’re getting closer to people who actually think that the border is the problem. The bottom line in all of this is just the honest realization that if you look at the world, what happens with the disappearance of borders is not that the rest of the world begins to look like the United States. It’s that the United States begins to look increasingly like the rest of the world, and we need to understand there are some people who think that should be the goal.

Part II

A School Shooter’s Mother is Convicted of Manslaughter: Massive Lessons from the Jennifer Crumbley Trial

Next, we need to go to the state of Michigan where a Michigan mother has been found guilty on four counts of manslaughter because the court came to the conclusion that she shared some responsibility for the deadly school shooting undertaken by her son. In this case, the mother is Jennifer Crumbley. Her son was Ethan Crumbley. As the Associated Press reports, “A Michigan jury convicted a school shooter’s mother of involuntary manslaughter in a first of its kind trial to determine whether she had any responsibility in the deaths of four students in 2021.” Now, tried as an adult, Ethan Crumbley has pled guilty to these crimes, the crime of murder, and he has been given a life sentence. It’s the odd development that his parents were charged with the crime, and that is both his mother and his father. So why are they being tried separately? It is because they are basically turning on each other, and so there is evidence against both of them that has to be separated, but Jennifer Crumbley was up first, the mother in this case, and she was found guilty.

Now, there are some who are arguing that this is just social revenge. This is just society looking for revenge, and the mother is just someone whom they can point the finger in revenge. The manslaughter charges, nothing but revenge. The prosecution, nothing but revenge. This is feel-good court action. That’s the argument made by some, but the closer you look at the case, the more you recognize this mother clearly does bear a great deal of moral responsibility for this crime. Now, why would I say that?

It is because she was actively involved in buying her son the gun. She knew that her son had access to the gun. She knew also that he was a deeply troubled young man who had actually been brought before school authorities with the parents called in precisely because he had drawn a picture in which he indicated his plans for a mass shooting. Even if she didn’t acknowledge to the school authorities at the time, he had drawn a picture of the very gun that his parents had bought for him, the very gun he had taken with his mother just days before to a shooting range, and the parents knew at the time, that means both the father and the mother, that even as they were speaking to school authorities, the gun was not secured. What they say they did not know and probably did not know is that at that time, the gun was in the son’s backpack, and school authorities did not check the backpack. Of course, that eventually led, within a very short amount of time, to the deaths of four students at the hand of this student and his gun purchased by his parents.

Furthermore, that very morning, the parents have been called in by troubled school authorities. They’ve been shown the evidence, and the young man was actually crying out for help, indicating that he needed help, and frankly, at least offering to some the complaint that his parents were not responsive to his need for help, and the parents, rather than taking him home and out of the school, actually left him in the school and went back to their affairs. The AP story says this simply in summary, “On the morning of November 30, 2021, school staff members were concerned about a violent drawing of a gun, bullet, and wounded man accompanied by desperate phrases on Ethan Crumbley’s math assignment. His parents were called to the school for a meeting with school staff, but they didn’t take the boy home. A few hours later, Ethan Crumbley pulled a handgun from his backpack and shot 10 students and a teacher. No one had checked the backpack. The gun was purchased by his parents.”

In particular, the Associated Press says that the SIG Sauer 9-millimeter was bought by his father, but it’s the mother who took him to a shooting range the same weekend just before the crime took place. This is the first time that the parents of a school shooter have been themselves put on trial. The father’s trial, as I indicated, is coming later, but the mother was just found guilty. The jury deliberated for 11 hours. That’s a serious deliberation in this kind of trial. That indicates that the jury was weighing the arguments for and against conviction pretty carefully, but it was also clear that the verdicts were decisive. On all four counts of involuntary manslaughter, Jennifer Crumbley was found guilty.

In her defense, the mom had said that it was the father or husband’s job to keep track of the gun. It’s also very interesting that this mother said that she didn’t see signs of mental distress or mental illness in her son, and that’s just rather difficult to understand because the signals were abundant and clear. The boy had left an entry in his own journal, “I have zero help for my mental problems and is causing me to shoot up the school.” The legal arguments behind the prosecution came down to the theory that she had failed to perform the duty that is the responsibility of any parent, to protect other children, and furthermore, that she was grossly negligent in terms of the raising of her son. But it’s also interesting to note, that the jury did hear testimony about the fact that Jennifer Crumbley was actually more interested in extramarital affairs and frankly, what were described as sex parties, than she was in the problems of her teenage son. Furthermore, she was deeply invested in two horses that emerged as a massive hobby. Well, very sadly, I’ll just say there was evidence that she had paid more attention to the horses than to her own son.

In terms of the worldview issues that are just looming around this, it’s very interesting to look at an argument made by Megan K. Stack at The New York Times. She asked the question, “What is this mother really guilty of?” I guess I could summarize her argument by saying that she says what this mother is guilty of is being a bad mother, but that’s not necessarily criminal, but here’s where the cumulative responsibility is made very, very clear. It’s both an active moral responsibility, and a responsibility for inaction that is a moral responsibility. She didn’t do what she should have done, and she did do what she shouldn’t have done, but the greater part of the burden is that she simply didn’t do what a mother should have done under this circumstance, and this is a reasonable person kind of standard too. Whether it was mentioned in court or not, it just comes down to whether or not a reasonable person would think that that means that this mother shares criminal culpability in the crime. What’s important to recognize here is that a jury in Michigan returned with an emphatic answer that yes, this was criminal irresponsibility.

For Christians, this just underlines the importance of, frankly, the family and parents, and parents being deeply invested in the lives of their children, and honestly, taking responsibility for them, and understanding that there is a responsibility that extends to parents for inaction when dealing with children who are troubled in this sense, especially with this kind of evidence and responsible for buying a gun that they made available and accessible to a troubled teenager to deadly effect. That’s not an argument for or against guns. This is a situation in which any sane person would say this was a deeply irresponsible act. Furthermore, the parents being brought to school on that very day, and shown a picture of the boy having drawn a picture of murder and leaving him at school.

There are other issues of responsibility. Why wasn’t the boy’s backpack checked? But it turns out that the parents didn’t even tell the school that the boy had access to the gun. There’s just so many dark angles to this story, and that’s true of every crime of this kind, but it is a sobering reminder to Christian parents of our responsibility. It shouldn’t take a verdict from a jury in Michigan to underline that point, and quite frankly, asking the question, “What is this mother really guilty of?” Well, the problem is not that there’s not an answer. The problem is that the answer is actually so clear.

Part III

Dairy Farmers Want Their Word Back: The War Over “Milk” Underlines the Importance of Words

There are other big stories out there, but it’s also interesting to note what kind of front page news can appear in the media. At the center of the bottom of the front page of the print edition of The Wall Street Journal is an article offered in every edition that just draws our attention to something interesting. Thus, yesterday’s paper included this headline, “America’s Frothy Milk Wars Pit Team Cow Against Team Oat.” As the subhead says, “Dairy Producers Want to Scrub Milk From the Labels of Plant-Based Alternatives.” Now, this is a big issue because these days, just about anything can appear to be a word that appears before the word “milk.” It’s not just oat milk. It’s other milk I didn’t even know until reading this article. Frankly, I’m deeply troubled by this. Evidently, there is algae milk. That’s right, pond scum milk.

As Kristina Peterson of The Journal tells us, “A flood of plant-based milk alternatives, almond, oat, coconut, rice, flax, hemp, and soy, is set off an aggressive defense by dairy milk producers, including spoofs to steer customers away from crops and back to cows, wood milk is one,” but the article begins by raising the question, “Salmon milk? Hotdog milk?” No. Don’t go to your store expecting those products. The article is just making the point. Evidently, anything these days can precede the word “milk,” and that is particularly problematic for dairy farmers who after all have a very, very important responsibility to know what milk actually is, and they have a responsibility to get that milk to us, and that milk comes from, wait for it, mostly, cows.

The milk industry, the dairy industry is now launching a very important legal offensive against the use or misuse of the word “milk.” As the paper tells us, “Milk producers and their allies are trying to scrub milk off the labels of plant-based rivals. Their position is if it doesn’t come from a lactating animal, it isn’t milk.” I’ll simply stop at this point and say I have no vested interest in opposing almond milk, oat milk, well, I guess just about any milk, although I think I would draw the line at algae milk. But nonetheless, as looking at this, you do have to say that there is a confusion about the word “milk,” if it means anything that doesn’t come from, well, I’ll just use the language of the article, a lactating animal. That’s where we get milk.

Evidently, some people need a refresher course in exactly how this happens, and the dairy producers have signed on former FDA, that’s Food and Drug Administration, Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. He famously noted, and this is an argument that simply is beyond successful refutation. This is beyond refute. He said, “An almond doesn’t lactate.” Congressman Mike Simpson, a Republican of Idaho, and the paper reminds us that Idaho is a big dairy state, he’s a sponsor of a bill to address this issue. According to the paper, “He has occasionally posted sticky notes that say, ‘This is not milk,’ on supermarket refrigerator doors that open to plant-based milks.” He went on to say, “I’m not trying to restrict what you drink. Just label it what it is.” He says, “I got no problem with almond drink.” 

But then, again, we’re living in interesting times, aren’t we? 

It’s at least not wrong to harken back to the days when men were men, and milk, was milk.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. 

For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can find me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com. I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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