Thursday, March 7, 2024

The Briefing.

Thursday, March 7, 2024.

It’s Thursday, March 7th, 2024. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview. 


Part I

Liberal San Francisco Considers Murder Charges for Drug Dealers? What Has Happened? Reality Sets In as Death Toll Mounts

Sometimes reality is really hard to deny. You can try it, but reality has a way of proving itself to be real. The truth has a way of pushing itself out front, proving itself to be true. You can deny things for only so long, and that’s true when it comes to sin. It’s true when it comes to human nature. It’s true when it comes to criminal prosecutions and criminal behavior. It’s also true when it comes to many drug issues. And the intersection of all of this has to do with developments in many parts of the country, but in particular on the West Coast, and as we’re going to look at today, developments in California and Oregon, in particular. So let’s go to California first.

Just came back from California, and boy, were the issues interesting. So were the headlines. For instance, one of the headlines that appeared in a Los Angeles newspaper in recent days has to do not with LA but with San Francisco. Here’s the headline: “Liberal San Francisco To Get Tough On Drug Crimes.” The subhead of the article: “Facing a crisis, the city will consider murder charges for dealers in fatal opioid overdoses.”

Hannah Wiley’s the reporter in the article. Just look at that: Liberal San Francisco. First of all, here you have L.A.. In this case, L.A.’s liberal paper, calling San Francisco liberal. First word in the headline. Now, if LA calls you liberal, you’re liberal. If you are in San Francisco, you’re proud of being liberal. But if you are in San Francisco, liberal is not working too well. You have complete control of the government. You have complete control of the culture. You pretty much have complete control of the corporate structure. But what you don’t have control of is the streets. What you don’t have control of is where people are, well, let’s just say exercising physical processes in public. What you don’t have under control is rampant drug abuse and other things.

You are a city that is out of control. You’re losing major businesses. You have major department stores exiting downtown, simply because it’s virtually impossible to do business there. And you have streets that smell so bad, it’s very hard to imagine who would want to walk on them, or say, shop from them. But this article, as I say, is already interesting because the Los Angeles paper referring to a development in San Francisco just starts out by saying, “Liberal San Francisco.” It’s not so much that it’s wrong; it’s just that well, in California, it really takes something to earn the designation liberal, and San Francisco certainly qualifies.

The article begins like this: “County by county in California, as fentanyl overdoses escalate, local prosecutors are turning to a novel legal strategy to stem the spiraling death toll: charging drug dealers with murder.” Now, I don’t think that’s a bad idea because these drug dealers are indeed directly agents of death. But the point is that what’s taken place in places like not only San Francisco, but here’s what’s the irony, also in Los Angeles, you have people who have been elected as so-called progressive district attorneys or progressive prosecutors. And what makes them progressive, at least in part, is the fact that they are against this kind of prosecution, and many of them have run against prosecuting many kinds of drug crimes, claiming that they are disproportionate, in effect, with different parts of the population.

But quite frankly, one of the central hallmarks of the Christian worldview is that you must have a certain amount of order before you can have any exercise of freedom. A certain amount of order is necessary for human flourishing, for families to develop, for societies to work, for neighborhoods to be safe. And you have American cities, most classically, cities like San Francisco, where the breakdown of order is the big story. And at the center of that breakdown of order is actually rampant drug use, and behind the drug use is an entire economy of those who, quite frankly, are making a killing, pun sadly intended, by massive involvement in gangs, organized crime, and for that matter, just street-level drug offenses.

So here is big news. The city of San Francisco, the leaders in San Francisco, are considering, and of course, this means the prosecutorial authorities there, bringing murder charges against fentanyl dealers, opioid dealers, because they are merchants of death. Now, this is a bizarre and very telling development at every turn. First of all, that you have liberal prosecutors who quite frankly have been running for their lives. You have some right here in California who have been removed from office. You have prosecutors who have been blaming other prosecutors who are just refusing to prosecute crimes. That actually took place on the staff here in the DA’s office in San Francisco. You’re looking at a very bizarre development here, but frankly, all of us across the country better be watching this very carefully.

So we’re looking at a headline like this. The headline’s interesting because the first word is liberal. The second phrase has to do with the City of San Francisco. But the big point here is that you’re looking at sin showing up as crime, in all of its deadliness, and in this case, directly, irrefutably. And eventually, even in a place like liberal San Francisco, you have legal authorities, based upon cries for rescue from the people, who are saying, “You’ve got to do something about this.” And frankly, moving to murder charges against drug dealers, that’s a pretty severe move. I think it’s a very legitimate move.

But the fact is, it’s really clear, a moral impulse is behind this. Christians need to understand that moral impulse comes from the moral nature put in us by our creator. Our creator has put a moral knowledge and a moral sense in us that cries out, “We can’t put up with this.” That cries out, “We have to have a certain level of order or we can’t have a civilization here.” That cries out, “Human life and human dignity are too important to simply let them be massacred in the marketplace of opioids or other drugs.”

So it’s very interesting that right away, you have this kind of development taking place, and you also have people who are acknowledging, “Look, other methods haven’t changed. Other approaches haven’t worked.” You look at the fact that you have liberal, progressive ideas that were brought on the drug question. What did it lead to? Well, it led to a bigger drug problem, and that’s because the problem isn’t drugs. We, as Christians, understand, the problem is sin, and sin does require the law. If it’s merely some kind of chemical issue, you don’t need the law, all you need is a chemist. If it is just some kind of therapeutic issue, you don’t need the law; you just need a therapist. But I think we all do know, this is a moral issue that cries out for the law.

The turnaround in San Francisco is summarized in this article with these words: “It’s a remarkable shift in rhetoric and strategy for a city regularly lambasted by right-wing pundits as an anything-goes sanctuary for drug dealers and users.” Now, I just want to pause there for a moment to say the reason why so-called right wing pundits referred to the city and lambaste it, according to this article, as an anything-goes sanctuary for drug dealers and users is because that is exactly what it has been. That’s not just lambasting, that’s simply speaking the truth. And quite frankly, right-wing pundits accused in this article couldn’t bring about this change. The demand for change has to come from the people of San Francisco and frankly, from the mounting body counts.

It’s also very interesting, incredibly telling, that in the City of San Francisco, there are liberals who are very opposed to this, and they are progressives who are willing to go out and say they’re opposed to it. For instance, consider this section of the L.A. Times article: “Keith Humphreys, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford who studies addiction, was skeptical that dangling murder charges over low-level dealers would cause a disruption in the drug supply chain.” He said, and I quote, “They’re very low-skilled labor. You can spend your half a million, million dollars per to put them in a state prison system, but they’ll be replaced almost instantly.” The criminologist went on to say, “It’s not out of sympathy that I say we can’t just continually arrest people on the corner. It’s just futile.”

Meanwhile, that sad comment in the background, let’s leave San Francisco and go back to Los Angeles, where George Gascon, who is the local district attorney there, also identified as a progressive prosecutor. He is facing rather stiff competition in the election. And those who are opposing him, well, the L.A. Times says they’re offering TV commercials that follow what’s called a familiar script. In this case, the challengers, and there are several, well, the news story is that their television advertisements and also streaming on the internet, they’re basically following the very same storyline. And the storyline is about one of the most talked-about crime trends in the area, “the smash-and-grab.”

It’s become such an issue in places like Los Angeles that it is the narrative of these political advertisements. The reporter in this case, Sonya Sharp, writes, “If these commercials seem familiar, it’s because L.A. County’s five million registered voters are being bombarded with campaign messages that tend to follow a similar script.” Later, “And yet in a race defined by the struggle to stand out, the ads flooding YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook feel almost identical.” Now, let’s just say that the reason they seem almost identical is that they all are attempting to speak to the issues, the fears, the very valid concerns, and the anxieties of voters in the Los Angeles area, voters who can vote for the L.A. D.A..

Meanwhile, by the way, going back to San Francisco on a similar theme, there is a mayoral election that is under way. And as Heather Knight begins the article in The New York Times, again, liberal newspaper, liberal city, New York City referring to San Francisco. The first word is, or at least in this case, the second word: liberal. “Famously liberal San Francisco is irritable these days.” And the point is, they’re irritable, according to this article, because of crime and the breakdown of order in San Francisco. And the article here is explaining that Mark Farrell, a venture capitalist, is running for mayor on a platform of bringing a bit of law and order. He believes he has the answer, according to the article: “A firm style of governance that would massively increase police ranks, clear all homeless encampments, detain drug overdose victims who survive, and return cars to the city’s main thoroughfare.”

Now, does he have any kind of electoral chance in San Francisco? Well, time will tell. We’ll watch the story. But again, I didn’t want to let this pass without noting that liberal New York City, when it looks at San Francisco, well, it tells us something about our culture when New York City looks west at San Francisco and goes, “Now, that’s liberal.”

Part II

A Sad, Telling Story in Oregon: State Reckons with Increased Death and Devastation in the Aftermath of Drug Decriminalization

Meanwhile, on the West Coast, another massively important story, and we, as Christians, need to recognize this isn’t just cultural analysis. There are very real human lives that are at stake. This is, when it comes to drugs, often a matter of life and death. Now, the big story is this: Oregon has some of the most liberal drug laws in the United States, so much so that many drugs were, by political action, undertaken by voters. It was called, in 2020, Measure 110. Many drugs were simply decriminalized. So decriminalized is really big because that means it’s not the same thing as legalizing them, but decriminalizing them means you’re no longer facing a criminal penalty for using these drugs.

Now, why are we talking about it now? That was 2020, this is four years later. We’re talking about it because Oregon is having to rethink the entire question of drug decriminalization. The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal pointed that out in an editorial with the headline: “Oregon Rethinks Drug Decriminalization.” And even in the subhead of the editorial statement, you read this: “Democrats seek to reinstate penalties as overdose deaths soar.” So here’s the bottom line. Many hard drugs, very dangerous drugs, were decriminalized in Oregon. Did that lead to less use? Well, no, it didn’t. Did it lead to more use? Yes, it did. Did it lead to less overdoses? No, it didn’t. Did it lead to more fatal overdoses? Yes, it did. And furthermore, was there just basically less use of the drugs? And of course, the answer to that is no. So even in a state as liberal as Oregon, there is a required rethinking of this entire process of decriminalization.

But as Christians, we need to understand, we are talking about the function of the law here. As we so often discuss, the law is a teacher, and the law sets boundaries, and the law is an enforcer of what it teaches. In any sane society, that just simply has to be true. But it is really telling here that just in recent weeks, Democrats in Oregon, and by the way, that’s all that matter, when it comes to the political reality in Oregon. Oregon is so liberal and is so controlled by the Democratic party, it’s going to take a Democratic consensus, that is a consensus in the Democratic Party, to make up a difference. But as The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board said, there are Democrats who are now considering proposals that would make personal possession and use of drugs, at least some drugs, at least a misdemeanor, and at least bringing some threat of jail time.

And as the editor said, and this is really important, “The political shift reflects the cost in lives lost and public disorder from drug decriminalization.” In 2019, 280 people died of an opioid overdose in Oregon, according to the state’s health authority. “By 2022,” Remember the big change: 2020, decriminalization. In 2019, 280 people died. “By 2022, that number rose to 956.” Full data, according to the editors, isn’t available yet for 2023, but in the first six months of 2023, Oregon “recorded 628 fatal opioid overdoses.”

So when you’re thinking about the function of the law and you’re thinking about the issue of drugs, even as people are saying, “Look, we need to decriminalize. There are too many people in jail. The threat of jail time is just inordinate, in terms of the problem.” This is a problem that is now stacking up in a death count. Again, before the decriminalization, 280 people, reported by the state, dead of opioid overdose. You fast-forward two years, you’re up to 956. You fast-forward to last year, half a year, you’re looking at more than 600, 628. So you can see how the death spiral is turning out here. It’s a very, very sad story.

And so we, as Christians, shouldn’t look at this and say, “You know, the people there in Oregon deserve kind of effect for doing something as frankly, legally and morally stupid as passing this kind of decriminalization.” Instead, Christians, chastened and humbled by all the realities we understand, we have to look at this and say, “Look, this is a very sad, sad, but telling story, and it’s not as if we don’t know what is the heart of the problem here.” We, as Christians, have to look at this and say, “Let’s just remind ourselves, and let’s remind the people in Oregon, that we’re talking about very real human lives. We’re talking about very real human suffering. We’re talking about a direct threat.” And what we are looking at here is the hope that there could be at least a bit of sober realism that would arrive there in Oregon, just in time to perhaps do something in order that this death count doesn’t simply rise, every year, higher and higher.

Part III

‘All the Lonely People’: New Friendship App Highlights Loneliness Epidemic

But next, let’s look at another epidemic, another human epidemic, and Christians ought to pay particular attention to this kind of epidemic. It’s an epidemic of loneliness. Now, just recently, there have been major headlines about loneliness among American adolescents and young adults. But I want to point to an article that appeared, of all things, out of London in The Financial Times, one of the most influential financial newspapers in the world. The headline is this: “All The Lonely People.” The article is by Beth Ann Stanton, and it’s about the fact that she attended an event made possible by an app which is directed at people living in metropolitan areas, in order that they may be able to find one another, and even get together in a group in order to at least remedy, to some extent, loneliness.

Now, this is actually a very sad article. There’s some interesting developments in it, but what you have in this article is that the reporter says, “I did not plan to spend the most romantic night of the year having dinner with strangers, but then a friend sent me a link to.” And I’m not going to mention it, but this is the name of an app. “The app, which algorithmically matches six people to go for a meal together, seemed a better option than staying in. So on Valentine’s Day, I arrive at Americana, a restaurant just off London’s Piccadilly Circus, with a Southern U.S. theme.”

After mentioning what she ate and drank, she tells us, “that in the restaurant, a singer in a nylon flamingo dress performs covers of love songs, urging the seated diners to join in. They do not.” But this app was started in London we are told. “After starting in continental Europe, taking its place among a new group of startups seeking to innovate a way out of loneliness. It defines itself against social networks and apps that limit communication to our phones, staking a claim to opening the door to something new and real. The magic of chance encounters with people you wouldn’t have met, according to the website.” According to the reporter, the entire idea is “to combat loneliness, depression issues, and broken families.”

Wow, there you have it. I’m not going to go further in the article about her experience because, frankly, getting this far exposes all the major issues. You notice, it starts out about loneliness. You look at a great city, you find a great deal of loneliness. You find a lot of people who, by the way, reading The Financial Times have a lot of money and social status, they probably have very powerful careers and pretty healthy bank accounts. What they don’t have is friendships. What they do experience is loneliness. The city has a way of atomizing relationships. But frankly, I think we recognize this isn’t first and foremost a problem of the city. What I found most telling and from a Christian biblical worldview perspective, most urgent, is the fact that of the three issues that were mentioned, loneliness, depression issues, and broken families, I think we all recognize the biggest issue is the last, broken families.

The biblical worldview tells us that loneliness is absolutely deadly. We’re told that man was not made to live alone. We are social creatures. And the Bible points not only to the institution and covenant of marriage, it points to the existence and structure of the family as one of God’s great gifts to us. And family defined in scripture, not just the so-called nuclear family, that’s, by the way, an unhealthy term. The natural family is the more healthy and helpful term. But it’s not just mother and father and children living in a house isolated from everyone else, it’s also a network of relatedness in terms of grandparents and grandchildren and aunts and uncles and cousins. Quite frankly, we have an aunt, uncle, cousin crisis in the United States right now. There are just so many people who are disconnected from their own relatives. But the breakdown of the family has come with massive cost, and we as Christians understand that is unavoidable.

If you are going to break down the most basic unit of civilization according to the creator’s plan for human health and human flourishing, you’re going to bring about a great deal of human pain, human vulnerability, and human crisis. And that’s exactly what this reflects. This report tells us that there are those who are now marketing apps to people who live in cities like London and are simply lonely. They’re so lonely that they will pay to go through a process whereby they agree to meet with other individuals they’ve met on the app in a public place just to have a bit of conversation and connectedness. Now, very sadly, almost with a broken heart, we have to look at this and recognize, we are seeing here very legitimate human pain demonstrated, and we understand it’s a very legitimate human need that is being revealed here.

Quite frankly, you look at this kind of app, you look at this kind of commercial product and you say, well, this is, on the one hand, just crass commercialization and commercial opportunism. But on the other hand, you look at this and say, wow, this is a need that is crying out. So much so that people are trying to respond to this with digital apps. Now, the risk of this kind of thing also become very clear. You don’t know with whom you are meeting. It’s one of the reasons why it’s not two people meeting, it’s six people meeting. They’re meeting in a public place. You look at all those protections and you go, wow, if you need all of that, you must really be desperate. And of course, with full sympathy, we need to step back and say, if we were in a similar situation, we would be similarly desperate. We do need human contact, we need relatedness.

And the reality of broken families just points to a brokenness that’s going to lead to this kind of alienation, this kind of aloneness, this kind of, well, just frankly, loneliness that turns out to be absolutely toxic. And we understand that the breakup of the family is going to do that. The subversion of marriage is going to do that. The separation of parents from children is going to do that. The fracturing of the entire family is inevitably going to do that. But we also recognize something else, and here’s where Christians who are committed to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and are a part of the church, and that means a local congregation of faithful believers. This is where we understand that in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, there is no one without family. And the fellowship of the local church is also something that is just infinitely more promising, infinitely more powerful than anything that can be orchestrated by an app, no matter how efficient it might be.

You look at this kind of article, and the first thing you might think is, wow, that’s really sad. People are driven to that. And then you need to step back and recognize we all do. That, but by the grace of God, we would all be in that situation, just as alienated, first of all, from the creator himself, without the gospel of Jesus Christ. And furthermore, we’ll be alienated from one another. In a society that pulls us apart and tells everybody, you go here, you go there. You don’t need each other. You don’t like each other. You now divorce each other. You just separate. As for the children, well, let’s hope for the best. In that kind of society, you’re just going to have to expect this kind of evidence of human fracturing and hurt.

Christians have an opportunity to respond to this kind of crisis at the level of neighborhood, at the level of just people that we know in different circumstances. But most importantly, most crucially and most morally accountable, we have to understand is the relationship in our own marriages, our own families, between parents and children and brothers and sisters and cousins. Yes, and aunts and uncles and grandparents, and all the rest. Not about to leave out grandparents here and grandchildren, trust me. But you look at that and you also recognize as important as that is, and as first and fundamental as that is by common grace and creation grace, in Christ, the gift of the local congregation is also of infinite power. It’s a demonstration of God’s mercy. It’s a reminder of how much we need one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. The church is the place where everybody has a father and everybody has a mother, and everybody has children, everybody has brothers, everybody has sisters. And in a healthy gospel church, that is made evident, not only because we say it to one another, but because we show it to one another.

I want to leave you with another word from this article, an economist, who is the author of a book entitled, The Lonely Century, her name is Noreena Hertz. She said that the figures are just stark. She mentions in the United States, and I quote, “One in five millennials say they have no friends at all.” According to the same research, “More than one in 10 people in the United Kingdom across all ages said they had no close friends, and more than a quarter said they had no best friends.” What a sad commentary on our times. Interesting that it appears in such an explicit and honest forum in the pages of The Financial Times. As for Christians, what a reminder to us of the grace of God and of both the blessings and responsibilities that come in being a part of a family and being a part of the family of God in the local church. As we know it is, all by God’s grace. 

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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