Friday, February 23, 2024

The Briefing.

February 23, 2024.

It’s Friday, February 23rd, 2024. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

What Kind of Political Ads Move the Needle? Why You’re More Likely to Respond to a Negative Political Ad Than a Positive One

Let me ask you to confront yourself with an honest question. Do you respond more powerfully to a positive political ad or to a negative political ad? Oh, I know you think of yourself as a positive person, and you’re wanting to say that you respond more clearly to a positive political ad, but the research shows you’re probably lying to yourself. Most of us, it turns out, seem to respond more viscerally to a negative political ad than to a positive political ad. Now, that might be a bit of an overstatement, because what we’re really talking about is what kind of advertising tends to move the vote, or to move the polling data.

This is where it comes down to the fact that the negative ads are now gaining ascendancy over so-called positive ads, because the negative ads tend to have more demonstrable effect, and that’s why you’re seeing a lot more of them. You don’t see that many ads with a politician saying, or someone saying, on behalf of a politician, “This person’s done a great job.” Instead, you see ads of someone coming out and saying, “This person, if elected, will bring an end to the human race. All ice cream will melt, and more children will be lost in the woods.” I mean, that is basically the way this kind of advertising game is played. It is important to recognize that this is not entirely new, but at the same time, it’s also important to recognize it is newly urgent, and the evidence is pretty newly overwhelming.

Gerald Seib wrote an interesting article on this for the Wall Street Journal. He’s asking the question, “What have negative political ads done to us?” The subhead in the article is this, “Candidates increasingly rely on personal attacks and fear mongering to win office leaving many Americans disillusioned with democracy.” So, as Gerald Seib is asking the question, “What have negative political ads done to us?” He means us as the nation, as the civilizational project. It’s done damage, because it brings negativity and cynicism into the equation. But of course, the question everybody’s asking is, “Well, why do they work better? Why do negative ads work better than positive ads?” The answer probably has something deep to do with the structures of human thought and emotional response.

This is where our response in terms of repugnance, or fear, or a kind of flight anxiety, that turns out to be more powerful than something that might be more magnetic or attractive or positive. What that says about us? Well, it says we’re complicated creatures for one thing, and we probably aren’t even fully honest with ourselves about what might interest us, or what might change our mind or even what might get our attention. Seib writes, “Certainly, there are many factors driving cynicism and polarization, cultural disagreements, economic inequality, social media, and the gerrymandering of legislative districts, which gathers like-minded voters into virtual echo chambers, but [he writes] political operatives in both parties have raised concerns about the cumulative effect of years of attack ads pounding home the message that the system is dishonest and corrupt.”

Seib gets to the point when he tells us, “Negative ads now make up more than half of all political ads in the top media markets, and considerably more than half in some highly competitive races.” This also gets really interesting. Listen to this section, “Beyond attacks, a big share of TV spots are contrast ads, which combine a negative message about an opponent with a more positive message about the candidate running the ad. Purely positive ads touting the virtues of a candidate make up only about a quarter of the total.” So, positive ads about 25% and decreasing according to these indicators. Negative ads, attack ads, and these contrast ads, they’re the majority of the ads now. Okay, contrast ads rather than attack ads. What’s the difference? Well, it’s subtle. That also should tell us something.

The contrast ad is when candidate commercial comes out saying, “If you vote for this person, then here’s what you’re going to get, all kinds of horrible, bad things. Here’s what this person’s effect has been on this issue. On the other hand, you could vote for this person, and then there will be sunshine and light. There will be a light at the end of the tunnel.” Now, obviously this works both ways. You can have Democrats run this on Republicans. Republicans run this on Democrats, and it’s also very clear that the distinction between an attack ad and a so-called contrast ad just might be in the eye of the beholder. But there’s something else here that should also get our attention, and that is that evidently, these ads produce. Now, that’s not to say that any given ad produces this number of votes, or this movement on the meter so to speak, but it is to say people are running these ads because they work.

In one sense, you could say, “Well, that’s just an impression.” Well, but now we’re living in an age of so much information and data. There’s a pretty good tracking mechanism to know what’s working and not working. Evidently, advertising is working. So, we are told of one particular media market where just a few years ago, there would’ve been 20,000 political ads. About 20 years ago, we are told that in this media market, Phoenix, this election cycle, it’ll be more like 100,000 ads. I’ll do the quick math for you. That’s a five-fold increase in about 20 years, and it’s an increase towards the quantity of the ads. It’s also a tilt towards the attack or contrast ad, the negative add rather than a positive add. It is expected that the current election cycle will represent a significant increase, a double-digit percentage increase even over 2020 just four years ago.

My favorite sentence in the Gerald Seib piece is this, and I don’t think he meant it in any way to be humorous. I’m just going to read it as straight as I can. “The strongest antidote might be more examples of candidates who stay positive, but there simply aren’t many.” But this is where Christians also have to flip the equation and say, “This does tell us something about candidates,” but the whole point of this article is it tells us even more about the electorate. That’s the bottom line.

Part II

How Did Conservatism Move from Figures Like William F. Buckley Jr. to Popular Figures Associated with the Right Today? — Dr. Mohler Responds to a Letter from Listeners of The Briefing

Alright, now, we’re going to turn to questions. Once again, appreciate every single one of them. Wish I could get to all questions, but we’re going to try to get to as many as possible today. Brian, a listener sent in one, and he mentions seeing reference in social media to a decline or deterioration in American conservative thought from someone like William, F. Buckley, Jr. to some of the big names in terms of, say, the social media right today.

He then mentioned some related issues, and then he basically asked the question of, “How conservatism has shifted from a figure like William, F. Buckley to some of the more famous figures today, and what it means to the state of conservatism today.” So, let me just answer as succinctly and clearly as I can, and that is the fact that I think conservatism is an ongoing project, which by definition has continuity. I think, however, that there’s a confusion between conservatism and being on the right. So, politically, I would say the right has changed a very great deal, but I would say that conservatism hasn’t changed nearly as much. So, I’m going to say some of the big names who are often called conservative. I’m going to say they’re really not conservative. They don’t act in conservative ways. They don’t actually articulate conservative truths and principles.

I’ll say they’re on the right. The right has changed a very great deal, but so is the left. So just looking at the two big ideological options, the right and the left have both changed a very great deal. The right is more right. The left is more left in one sense, but conservatism, which is on the right in one sense, I’m going to argue is a coherent and continuing conserving way of thinking. I’m glad to tell you that a lot of the thinking of the major conservative thought leaders and others over the course of the last several decades, their thought still continues, and there is still a conservative remnant. One of the quandaries for conservatives right now is where conservatism now falls on this spectrum. There’s no doubt it’s on the right, but frankly, there are people on the right that true conservatives don’t recognize as being legitimately conservative, which is why you see some very unconservative behavior out of some people who are unquestionably on the right.

Part III

What is the Role of Parachurch Ministry? — Dr. Mohler Responds to a Letter from Listeners of The Briefing

Another listener wrote in a thoughtful question, appreciate it, Cody, asking about parachurch ministry, and just asking what’s the point? Is it true that there needs to be some sort of extension of the church reaching people that the church cannot? Then he raises some significant concerns about some parachurch ministries even moving into more liberal ideologies, more liberal theology, et cetera, and mentioned some names. I’m not going to mention the names. I’m simply going to say, Cody, you’re onto something very, very important here. Christ said, “Upon this rock, I’ll build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” It is the church for whom Christ died, and it is the church that is the body of Christ, and it’s the church who are the New Covenant people redeemed by Christ and united to Christ and reigning with Christ throughout ages to come.

Yet at the same time, it’s just honest to say there have been times when churches or congregations have banded together to do together what they couldn’t do individually, and in some cases and by some means to focus ministry in a particular direction. That’s why you end up with mission boards, for example, in the rise of the modern missionary movement. That’s how you end up with many other things including, say, Christian schools and theological seminaries, et cetera. So to some extent, all those institutions are parachurch. That is to say beyond the church in some way. I think it’s really important that we keep that distinction. You’re talking, I appreciate this, you make reference to you and your wife working with elementary school children in a local church teaching them the catechism, teaching them the scripture.

Well, that’s absolutely precious, and that just points to the importance of the local church. So, I think first of all, we have to recognize that the priority is the local church, and no parachurch entity should exist or be supported that detracts from the local church, and that doesn’t add to and strengthen the local church. Every parachurch institutional organization should be seen as something temporary that will one day pass away, whereas the church of the Lord Jesus Christ will never pass away. I don’t want to slam the door completely on parachurch ministries and organizations. That would be a bit hypocritical, because I believe that they can serve a useful purpose, but they have to be governable by the church, and accountable to the church, and they have to serve the church, and not undermine the church. Otherwise, the church needs to close them and put an end to them.

These organizations should never threaten the local church. I’ve been in situations in which I thought the local church was weakened, because of the involvement of some of those people in the church, and a parachurch organization siphoned off so much of the attention, and there are so many of the resources of the church rather than in the church itself. I see that as a big problem. On the other hand, I’m in a denomination where you could have any number of churches who would cooperate together to be able to send a missionary, and that’s a parachurch reality. It’s a very sweet one. So, I think the most important thing is to recognize that Christ died for his church. The church is his eternal people, and it is the church that will stand inviolable forever, not a parachurch organization.

All such parachurch structures have to serve the church, be accountable to the church, show their worth in that service, faithfulness, to the church, and every single one of them will one day pass away, but not Christ’s church. By the way, Cody, you mentioned children. I just want to say I think one of the most wonderful things we need to recognize is that there are so many people who grew up and say, “As a child, I grew up not only in this family, and I not only was given to these parents and raised by them. I was raised within the nurture of this church,” and mentioning a congregation in particular. I think that’s very, very sweet. That’s the kind of thing that should be said of a church rather than of a parachurch ministry.

Part IV

Is There a Source of Truly Unbiased News? — Dr. Mohler Responds to a Letter from Listeners of The Briefing

But next, the question sent in, Bryson is asking about news, asking if I believe there’s truly a way to receive unbiased news, or does worldview always dictate a bias, and inhibit our ability to convey unbiased news reporting? Other good parts of the question he plays out here. Bryson, I want to say number one, this is just a very important issue in terms of Christian honesty. That is to say, that every single one of us as a thinker, as a mind, is trapped within the limitations of what it means to be one mind. Not only that is trapped within the reality of the fact that yes, our mind reflects the fact that we’re made in God’s image. It also reflects the fact that we are corrupted by sin. So, you do not have, and you have never met, an unbiased mind. Sometimes, and here’s something that’s deeply, deeply important to us, just as a Christian recognition, a matter of Christian humility, we don’t even know our mind well enough to know exactly where all the biases are.

We don’t even know ourselves well enough to check all of our prejudices and the limitations on our thinking, or perhaps even the bent or prejudice of our thinking. We just work at that. But quite frankly, there isn’t an unbiased mind. You’ve never met one. You aren’t one. You’ll never meet one, not in this age, but I’m not surrendering to bias as just an ocean of bias in which we’re stuck, an ocean of prejudice in which we are simply stuck for the rest of our lives. I want to say that we can learn as Christians to think critically, to try to check and take into account matters of bias. We can train ourselves to listen for evidence of bias. One of those that’s so important is just thinking in terms of worldview, recognizing that there are presuppositions that are always behind what people say and how people think.

Even if they don’t make the tie between those presuppositions and the statements they make, we have to learn to think in those terms. It’s not just about listening to someone else speak, “Okay, once they say that, they say this, I can connect the dots. Here’s the presupposition behind that.” We also have to understand that the same thing’s true of ourselves, and our job is not just to know what our presuppositions are, but to make certain that we have the right presuppositions based in Scripture, and that those presuppositions lead to the right thoughts and the right judgments and the right choices. I’ll say, Bryson, when it comes to the news, it’s all that, just more so. I say that a little bit tongue-in-cheek because the news, by the way, is in one form or another a product.

So, we’re back to the fact that if it’s a product, it’s being sold to consumers. That’s why, for example, we’ve had the massive change just in the television media from what we saw as the three brands of standard television, even black and white in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. Now, you’ve got these cable television networks and streaming media platforms. Frankly, they’re just directed to one segment of the news consuming public. One platform will just say, “We’ll give these people more of what they want.” You have another network that says, “We’ll give these people more of what they want.” One of the ways to recognize what’s going on there, is to expose ourselves to multiple arguments. So, Bryson, that’s an important issue here. In other words, we’re not just listening to ourselves. We’re not just listening to our friends.

It’s one of the reasons why on The Briefing, I often, indeed most often, cite news sources that would have a worldview commitment very different than my own and, I think, listeners to The Briefing, which is a part of what makes it work, because we really want to hear how the world is thinking, in order to also understand most crucially how we are to think as Christians in this world, even if that’s in contrast. But the last question you ask is, “Should we seek out unbiased answers, or does our answer need to reflect our Christian worldview?” Well, that’s where I want to say I think it’s really important that Christians talk through these issues. That’s part of what I try to do on The Briefing.

I try to help Christians who think through these issues speaking as a Christian primarily to Christians, but I also want to subject what we say, well, to the fact that there’s a public debate on these issues, and I’m making these statements in public, so we’re risking some public conflict with some of these statements, and a public collision of worldviews. I’m just arguing for Christians, that is not at all cost to be avoided, to put it bluntly. Bryson, well, thanks so much for sending the question, and hopefully you’ve helped us all to think more faithfully on these questions.

Part V

How Can Christians Teach and Work in a Secular Higher Education Context? — Dr. Mohler Responds to a Letter from Listeners of The Briefing

Also, glad to get a question from someone asking about what it would mean to teach in a public or a secular context, to teach or for that matter, to be, say, a college administrator in a secular context.

My response to this question is to say, I think, that situation is shaky, and it’s going to become shakier. It’s frankly going to become more and more untenable. That is because the entire culture of education in general, and higher education, particularly, it’s turning in ways that are increasingly openly antagonistic to Christian conviction. So, things come up pretty routinely in my world, where I hear from people in the secular context who are saying, “Look, our department just passed this policy, or if I stated what I believed out loud, I would never get tenure, or I was asked a question by a student in a classroom, and when I answered it honestly, now I’m facing a very hostile environment on this campus.”

Culture follows a certain sense of momentum and trajectory, and every culture has its own rules. Increasingly, the secular world of academia, it’s just tightened to those rules, and tightened to that world to such an extent that it doesn’t put up with much dissent at all. Someone coming as a genuinely committed biblical Christian is going to be out of step with those institutions. Now, not only when it comes to, say, policy A and C, and C paragraph C subsection S is increasingly at the very heart of the entire enterprise. I’m not saying that it’s impossible right now for a Christian, a faithful, conservative, believing Christian to serve in any of these contexts. I’m answering the question. I think it’s going to become more and more untenable and less and less likely moving forward.

I think the same thing’s true in some other arenas, including at least many sectors of the, say, American commercial world, American corporations, where many of the things we’re hearing from campuses, we’re now also hearing from employees and brand name American companies where they’re told, “Sign this. Celebrate that. Agree to this, or there’s not a future for you in this company.” I have long stated that I believe there are certain professions that are going to be closed to convictional Christians in my lifetime. I am pretty sure that’s absolutely certain. There are going to be some professions that are going to be more and more difficult, if not nearly impossible for Christians to enter because of the cognitive convictional price that is charged on the front end, or the ethos and the code of ethics and the rules of the organization once you’re in.

So, I’m not going to name them. We’ve talked about that in greater detail otherwise, but already, we’ve heard from places in other countries. We’ve heard from schools in other countries where, for instance, to get into medical school, you have to agree to perform abortions, because otherwise, the argument is you’re wasting a medical education. There’s more to it than that just in terms of the demand for absolute uniformity that comes from the left. That’s just one indication of, I think, the kind of tension points that are going to come. So, I’m often asked the question, “Should Christians stay in these jobs?” My argument is, “Well, that’s one of the reasons why you need the local church to give counsel on that.” I don’t think you need counsel from someone speaking from a speaker on that, but I hope nonetheless, to speak the truth and to speak wisdom in this.

That is to say, I think, we need to set up front, “Here’s a line that I know I can’t cross. I want to make that line very clear to myself. That’s a line I can’t cross, and I want to think about it often enough and pray about it often enough that I’m going to know it when it comes, and when that moment comes, I’m going to know that’s the line that as a Christian I can’t cross.”

Part VI

Should Christian Parents Avoid Sending Their Children to Public Colleges? — Dr. Mohler Responds to a Letter from Listeners of The Briefing

But then a very related question coming in from a mom, and it’s a very thoughtful question, and it’s one that in one sense, you just can’t answer with an absolute yes or no. A part of living with fear and trembling in this world, seeking to be faithful, sometimes there are just some issues in which you have to say, “Well, we’re going to have to talk about that a bit further.” This particular mom, very sensitively, asked, “Should Christian parents avoid putting their kids in public colleges in all cases?”

I think just given all the words in that question, I can’t say in all cases I believe that to be true, but I can tell you in all cases, I have concerns. But those concerns, quite frankly, are even higher in some institutions that claim to be Christian but aren’t seriously committed to Christian truth. So, just saying public colleges on the one hand versus private colleges on the other hand, I wouldn’t trust a lot of private colleges either. But when it comes to the public college or the public educational world, the world of public higher education, it’s often a mixed bag, but we know that the operating ethos of that entire universe is moving progressively left, and we know that it’s going to be harder and harder, but this is, again, where I think knowing the child, knowing the program of study, knowing as I often say, even more important than the campus where the student studies is the congregation where the student is embedded.

So, putting all that together, I think, Christian parents with fear and trembling and with deep love and concern for their children, well, they’re just in a better position to know what is best for this particular individual child, this son or daughter, what will be best. But I’ll tell you, I know one very good thing is that this question reflects the fact that Christian parents are thinking about this, and at least understanding, in a new and profoundly urgent way what is at stake. I’ll tell you another thing that’s so encouraging by this is the acknowledgement by parents that the context of education really matters. The context really matters. You are not only putting your child on a campus, you’re putting a young person into an intellectual and moral context. I wish more Christian parents took that into adequate consideration.

Part VII

Is It Appropriate for Christians to Pledge Allegiance to the Flag? — Dr. Mohler Responds to a Letter from Listeners of The Briefing

Okay, one final question for today. It’s a big question. It’s going to have to have a fairly short answer. We’ll see if we can do this well. The question is, “Is it appropriate for Christians to pledge allegiance to the flag?” I believe the right Christian answer is yes, it can be appropriate for Christians to pledge allegiance to the flag, but we have to understand relative allegiance, which is to say we offer no ultimate allegiance to any flag or to any nation. Our soul is owned, 

our destiny is in the hands of, no worldly regime or worldly power. But, even as we are put here in this age, and even as we are situated in a country, there is a proper patriotism and a proper allegiance. There could even be a proper pledge of allegiance, but it can never be a pledge of ultimate allegiance.

Any government that claims ultimate allegiance doesn’t deserve not only that allegiance. It doesn’t deserve our pledge. But as I said, I think I’ll have to keep it short. Yes, a Christian can say the pledge of allegiance, but can’t offer it as any ultimate allegiance. 

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. 

For more information, go to my website at You can find me on Twitter by going to For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to 

Today, I’m in Phoenix, Arizona, and I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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