Thursday, May 23, 2024

It’s Thursday, May 23rd, 2024. 


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

Part I

Absolute Hostility to the West and Further Instability in the Middle East: The Death of Iran’s President and the Future of the Islamic Republic

The death and funeral of Iran’s president and other Iranian leaders has brought to American attention, and frankly global attention, the reality of the Iranian regime. And even as the headlines right now have to do with Sunday’s helicopter crash in a mountainous area of northern Iran in the condition of fog. Even now, the big questions are what will be the future of Iran? And we, as Christians, need to understand there’s some very deep worldview issues here. And it requires us to go a little bit further back in the headlines. Indeed, we need to go back further in the headlines even than the term of President Ebrahim Raisi. We need to go back to the Iranian Revolution that took place in 1979. We need to go back to ancient Persia in order to understand what we’re dealing with here and why it is so consequential.

Now, in order to gain some footing here, let’s think first of all of geography. The geography puts Iran there in that critical portion of land in the east, in the borderlands. And in particular, you have many Asian countries to the south, and especially to the southeast. And you have Russia very close as you look to the north and to the west. And so, interestingly, as you look at a map of Iran these days, a lot of it is the result of various military actions over the course of the last several centuries, including ongoing conflict with Russia, the Russian Empire, and what vestiges of an empire were represented at the time by Iran. But when I say vestiges of an empire, we need to remind ourselves that what is now the nation of Iran, that geography was at one point one of the most threatening and powerful empires the world had ever seen.

You can go back in history and just remember the Persian Empire. So, as you’re thinking about Iran, it is the most central representation of ancient Persia, and the very heart of what was the Persian Empire. You can think of figures throughout history such as Cyrus the Great, and you come to understand that there are intersections here with all kinds of empires, the rising and falling of empires. And of course, you have an intersection with the experience of the nation of Israel, where Cyrus the Great is mentioned, let’s just remind ourselves, in Scripture. You can’t tell the history of Israel in the Old Testament without Cyrus the Great, you can’t tell the history of the world without reference to the Persian Empire. But for the better course of the last several hundred years, we weren’t so much talking about anything like a Persian Empire. And much of that portion of the world was basically not at the center of world affairs.

But ever since the middle of the 1970s, Iran has taken on a new significance. But even as we’re thinking about that, we need to recognize you could go back just a few decades and there were hints that Iran was going to be a big part of the world conversation. For one thing, in the aftermath of World War I, one of the big questions is what would happen to much of that world? And remember, that a part of what happened with the end of World War I was that you also had, even before the armistice, you had the collapse of the Tsarist Empire, the Russian Empire. You had the rise of the Bolshevik Revolution, and you had all kinds of questions about the future of what had been the Russian Empire. So, one of the things you have to note is that even as in 1925, a regime came to power in Iran, the leader became known as the Shah, the Pahlavi family became the dynasty.

One of the big questions was how Iran would position itself between the great powers of the day. And at least for many years, it was not exactly clear where that alliance or allegiance would fall, but eventually, it largely fell into congruence with the interest of the British Empire, and also of American foreign policy, particularly during the Cold War, with Iran being so important for two reasons. One, geostrategically, it was right there very close to what became the Soviet Union. And then, in terms of the energy economy, Iran turned out to be a net exporter of oil.

But from the start, there was an awkwardness in Western relations with Iran, and if for no other reason than you had Islam as a major factor. And yet, that also plays in some interesting ways into the history of Iran in modern times. Because even as the Pahlavi dynasty was in place and often, ruthlessly so ,with the support of Western powers, including, most importantly, the United States for so many years, it was not a matter of great affection for many people in Iran. And in particular, for those who saw the Pahlavi dynasty as hopelessly corrupt, and at least in part corrupt because of its involvements with the West.

And as you’re thinking about Islam in what is now Iran, just keep in mind it is not the majority Sunni Islam of most of the Islamic world. It is Shia Islam, the adherents are called Shiites, and it’s often referred to as Shiite Islam, or a Shiite Republic of Iran as an Islamic Republic. And just remember that as you’re talking about Shiites, you’re not talking about, by the way, a distinction in Islam over the use of force. That’s not true. Many Americans thought that because of the rise of terrorism largely rooted in Shiite Islamic cultures and largely personified by Iran at the time, by the late 1970s going into the ’80s and beyond. But that was actually a misapprehension. Much of Islamic terrorism comes not from the Shiite part of that world, where quite frankly, it is commonplace, but also from forces of Shia Islam. In particular, the sect known as the Wahhabis, the ideology known as Wahhabism. And much of that is actually centered not in Iran, but in Saudi Arabia.

Another aspect of Shia Islam that deserves our attention is that it is avidly apocalyptic. It’s apocalyptic because the version of Islam that is represented here is one that claims that Islam was well-represented by the descendants of Muhammad, and they were known as the 12 imams. The most interesting twist comes near the end of the first millennium when it is argued that the 12th or the last of the imams disappears. It is claimed by the Shia adherents that the 12th Imam will appear again. That will be the age of the establishment of a global Islamic reality. And Iran and the Shia Muslims in Iran see themselves and their efforts as a part of that larger theological picture.

Now, the biggest conflict in terms of many of these centuries has been a conflict not between Islam and the West, that’s always been there, at least mostly as represented by for most of those centuries, the Ottoman Empire. But it is a conflict between the majority Sunni Muslims, and the minority Shiite Muslims, and Iran is the center of Shiite influence. And all that came to the attention of the West with the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979, and the establishment under the leadership of the man known as the Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and Khomeini as he became known in the West, was the very face of Shia Islam and of course of the Islamic Republic. And this became a matter of daily headline news, indeed almost hourly headline news in the United States because of the capture by Iranian students of those who became the hostages in the United States embassy there in Iran. And the hostage crisis as it became known, actually not only changed history, it changed the way that news broadcasting was done.

You had the development of late night news programs such as ABC’s Nightline. You also had the advent of cable television with 24 hour coverage. All this was basically transformed during this era, not only by just the general events of the age, but specifically, by the hostage crisis. The hostage crisis, by the way, was not resolved until the hostages were freed after negotiations with the United States government. And several others were involved, as you would imagine as well. But it wasn’t until the day of the inauguration of Ronald Reagan as president of the United States that the hostages were freed. And that is because the conflict between Iran and the United States came down, at least in part to what was understood as a personalized conflict between the Grand Ayatollah in Iran and the leader of what the Shia called the Great Satan, which is the United States, who was then President Jimmy Carter.

Now, it’s important to recognize that the establishment of the Islamic Republic in Iran was the establishment of the most aggressive Islamic power one could imagine in the modern world. And Iran intended not only to seize the headlines, but to seize the initiative in the Muslim world. And much of the attention that is directed towards the conflict between Iran and the West needs to be modified by our understanding that some of the regimes that are most wary of and concerned about Iran are the Sunni regimes, for example, of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. They might want to say this softly, but trust me, they’re saying it.

So, the Shah of Iran was deposed, his regime came to an end. On February the 11th of 1979, the Islamic Republic was declared in Iran. And ever since then, Iran, not only through the hostage crisis, but ever since, has been a major force of malign influence in the world from the American perspective, and has been openly hostile. And it sees itself as a religious worldview in absolute opposition to the Great Satan, which is often described, not only by the Shia in Iran and elsewhere, but also by the Wahhabis in Sunni Islam as being hopelessly corrupt, atheistic, and depraved in every way. And by the way, it’s also important to recognize that there were emissaries of both versions of Islam who visited the United States in the 20th century, and they weren’t absolutely wrong in documenting the depravity they said they found here.

Now, it’s important to recognize, and this is something that many Americans will miss, that the man who died among others in this helicopter crash, Ebrahim Raisi, was indeed the president of Iran. That does not mean that he was the most powerful political figure, not at all. And instead, that would mean the current supreme leader in Iran, Ali Khamenei, and he remains in power, but he’s 85 years old. One of the things that’s important about Ebrahim Raisi is that he had been considered at least a possible, maybe even the likely successor as the supreme leader. Obviously, that expectation came to an end, there on that mountainous hillside in Northern Iran. But this is where we need to go back and put the story together.

On Sunday, all across the world, headlines were released saying that the Iranian government had said that they were missing the helicopter, and that it is believed that the helicopter had experienced what the government called a hard landing. Now, almost immediately, I think anyone seeing that understood it to be a likely euphemism for a crash. And it’s also very interesting to note that it was reported right at the time that this helicopter, which by the way turns out to have been quite antiquated, was flying in mountainous territory there in Northern Iran in conditions of heavy fog. It also turns out that there were aviation advisories in the region. It raises the obvious question as to why the president of the nation and its foreign minister would be on this helicopter in the fog in the mountains. As you know, previous headlines have reminded us that is a very, very dangerous combination.

It seemed to take quite a long time before the helicopter was located. It turned out that it was located, at least in part, with help from authorities in Turkey, who were using imaging devices to hone in on sources of heat. By the time it was located, it was very clear that there were no survivors of the crash. Now, I mentioned that this was an older helicopter. Indeed, it was older. It goes all the way back to the period before the Iranian Revolution because after that revolution, the United States and other Western allies put trade sanctions in place. It’s one of the reasons why Iran for so many years had no modern airplanes, either when it came to its air force or when it came to its civil aviation. The airliners flown by Iran, well, let’s put it this way. There were many aircraft hobbyists who went to Iran in order to fly on aircraft who could not be found in the Western world precisely because they were so old.

But this helicopter’s age, it is derived actually from the Huey helicopter that became so well-known during the age of Vietnam, I repeat during the age of the Vietnam War, in the United States. Its civilian component is known as the Bell Jet helicopter. And in this case, it was very old, and the nation had not been able to buy adequate parts for a very long time. It declared that it had reached self-sufficiency in terms of aircraft parts, but it’s not at all clear that that was true. In any event, you had a very old helicopter with very old technology, flying in the fog in the mountains, and you can imagine how catastrophic this could turn out to be, and it was. By the time that the wreckage was located, there were no survivors.

Part II

The Background Story in Iran — The Rise and Fall of Empires, and Emergence of Modern Islamic Theocracy

And this led of course to the political crisis of the regime there in Iran, because if you’re going to stake all your power on a very few limited number of officials, and you’re going to drive an ideological regime that is built on the repression of the people, when you have crucial members of that autocratic tight circle die, you are left with a power vacuum. And Iran’s supreme leader moved pretty quickly to seek to fill that void, at least temporarily. Declaring that elections will be held in about 50 days, hence. But in the meantime, Mohammad Mokhber, who had been the vice president, would become the interim president. Here’s where we need to recognize that Iran has remained in power through the exercise of the most ruthless coercion exercised by the state, and thus by the supreme leader and by the Iranian government, even against its people.

That has included mass executions from the beginning of the Iranian Republic until now. It has included the use of force, including deadly force, including executions, including public executions, not only of many, many people numbering in the hundreds and thousands, but even of teenagers and children. It is to say that this is a regime that seeks to hold its credibility by the exercise of absolutely ruthless force. And it’s also important to recognize that in this case, the religious leadership is coming from a variant of Islam that claims that the very use of that force is sanctioned by Islam, and even following in the example of some ways, of Muhammad the prophet.

So, it’s important to recognize that as we’re looking at Iran, we’re looking at the political crisis there, it isn’t at all clear that autocratic and totalitarian governments can handle this kind of crisis all that well. It is no doubt going to show strains. It’ll be very interesting to see because this is coming even as the supreme leader is 85 years old, and the most obvious question is who will follow him? It is also important to recognize that history reveals that when there is this kind of a crisis, it often brings out an even greater ruthlessness. If the old regime supposedly earned its credibility by being ruthless, any new regime, having even less political power, might decide that it has to be even more ruthless.

It’s also important to recognize that even as Iran recognizes the United States and our allies as the Great Satan, and thus, the great enemy to be opposed, we should expect more terrorism, we should expect more of what we saw with Iran’s attempt to launch an aerial attack upon Israel. The very fact that it wasn’t all that successful doesn’t mean that it would not be in the future. And Iran has been threatening to develop nuclear weapons for the better part now of 30 years.

But finally, on this issue today, we need to recognize that the conflict between Iran and the West, including most importantly, the nation that has been known as the Great Satan representing the West, the United States of America, that this conflict is not one that can be resolved through any normal political process. It is one that is a giant clash of worldviews, which of all people we had better understand. And it puts to the lie the claim of a modern secular age and so many of those who would seek to lead and shape it, that we are way past theology in this world, and that anyone who takes theology seriously is just out of step. Well, if you don’t take theology seriously, you’re not going to understand what in the world is going on in Iran, and that’s going to make you very dangerous.

Part III

Two Republican Senators Propose Federal Protection of IVF: So Let’s Make Them Tell Us When They Think Human Life Begins

But next, we need to go to another big story this week, and it reminds us of the ongoing controversy and worldview conflict over the question of in vitro fertilization or IVF. More importantly even than invoking IVF is remembering we’re talking here about the sanctity of life and we’re talking about human embryos, which means we’re talking about human beings at the earliest point of physical development. We’re talking about it right now because two Republican senators, Ted Cruz of Texas and Katie Britt of Alabama have initiated legislation that would offer federal protection for IVF in all 50 states.

Now, they call for absolute bipartisan support. Senator Cruz said that 100% or 100 of the senators should vote for this bill. It is presented as a common-sense consensus bill that would protect IVF by prohibiting any restriction on or especially any prohibition of IVF in any of the 50 states. Now, I want to go to the bill itself for just a moment before we look at the subsequent controversy. The bill cites the development of IVF in the 1970s. It says that IVF “has proven itself to be a safe, effective, and reliable means to achieving pregnancy.” It says, “IVF has allowed millions of aspiring parents to experience the miracle of childbirth. IVF is a pro-woman and pro-family solution to those struggling to have children.” And then, “IVF has become a symbol of hope for those aspiring to conceive.”

Now, there’s some truth in that, that we understand that IVF has “allowed millions of aspiring parents to experience the miracle of childbirth,” but that’s even more complicated than it first appears to be. But notice the very first thing that was said here is that IVF has proven itself to be a safe, effective, and reliable means to achieving pregnancy. Well, I’m going to leave reliable for another conversation, but safe and effective? Well, it depends on how you’re looking at it. From the perspective of the untold numbers of embryos that are never going to be transferred to a mother’s womb and are thus facing eventual decay and destruction, it is not safe.

I want to jump down later in the bill where the text says, “As a condition of receiving payments,” that means for section 192 the Social Security Act, a state “shall not prohibit in vitro fertilization as defined in section four, paragraph B of the IVF Protection Act.” And secondly, “shall ensure that no unit of local government in the state prohibits such services.” Now, I just want to jump in here for a moment and say words really matter. And I was really looking at these two clauses in order to see what the verb is, and the verb is “prohibits.” Now, you’ll notice that that means the verb is not restricts. So, this is legislation that would prohibit a state from prohibiting IVF. It doesn’t go into the detail about any presumed possibility of a restriction, although it’s basically implied that there would be no restriction here. There is no restriction that with any responsibility is undertaken in this bill. And that probably explains why the entire text is just a matter of something like three pages, double-spaced.

But in order to understand how deep the problem is, I think it’s important to recognize that neither of these two Republican senators, both of whom claim to be pro-life, acknowledge the huge moral problems that come with IVF. And even in a television appearance the two of them did together on Bloomberg Television they studiously avoided taking seriously any of the grave moral issues related to IVF. And what makes that even more complicated is that the Bloomberg host, in this case, Annmarie Hordern, had done some homework, and was able to document the fact that both Senator Cruz and Senator Britt, were on the record saying that they believe that life begins at conception. Well, Senators, you either do or you don’t. If you ever did believe that, do you believe it now?

What we can say at the very least is that both of these senators are now avoiding taking moral responsibility for holding to the practice of IVF without any reference or even any honesty about the fact that this involves the destruction of more embryos than will be transferred to the womb. Now, there are those who have looked at the entire enterprise of IVF technology who now report, and this is very much backed up by all kinds of evidence, that only about 7% of the human embryos created by the IVF technology are ever transferred to a womb. 7%. Do the math. That means 93% of the human embryos created by means of this technology outside the womb, they are not transferred. They are instead either already destroyed, they are in decay, they’re in deep freeze, and they will eventually be destroyed. Now, there are only a couple of other things, and one of them is even worse. And that means that they have been the subject of medical experimentation, which we know that at least in some cases has been the reality.

Now, there are some Christian couples who have been doing what are described as snowflake adoptions, and that means adopting abandoned human embryos. But quite honestly, that doesn’t represent even a statistical blip at this point on the fact that so many of these human embryos are created by the technology and they are not transferred to any womb. There are other problems here, and we’ve talked about these before on The Briefing. Let’s just remind ourselves of this quickly. The other problem is that there is no reference to marriage in terms of the technology of IVF. And you add this to surrogate parenting, surrogate motherhood in particular, and you can end up with donor gametes, the sperm and the egg, donor embryos. And I say donor, that doesn’t mean people aren’t paid for them because there is a commercial business here. And you can have one of these embryos or more of these embryos which are transferred into a surrogate mother’s womb.

And thus, you have people who declare themselves to be parents, even two men or even a single person, they declare themselves to be parents. And frankly, they’ve made absolutely no contribution to this whatsoever. And even if they did, a gay male couple, I won’t go into detail, they can only contribute so much. But nonetheless, our society says that this technology has allowed them to “have children.”

So quite honestly, from a Christian perspective, it is an unraveling of creation order. It is an attempt to separate the goods of creation. It is a good and holy thing for a married couple, as a man and a woman to want children. It is a matter of deepest concern among Christians that there are couples who desperately want children. That’s as old as the Scripture itself. And we should be thankful that there are some medical means of seeking to alleviate that condition and bring about the birth of children. But as we look at IVF technology, I just want to underline again that in the very beginning what it requires is the creation of human embryos, and in almost every case, far in excess of those that will ever be transferred. And then, you have the problem known as selective reduction, whereby some of these embryos are removed even after they are implanted in some cases, in the pregnancy.

And you also have what basically comes down to selective reduction, which means that you have a choice being made, which means this child looks preferable to that child, so we will maintain the pregnancy for, this child and we will terminate that child, or children. No one wants to put it that way, but that’s avoidably the honest truth. So, I want to be heard as sympathetic with Christian couples seeking a pregnancy as I can possibly be, but I also am honor-bound to talk about the reality of what we’re facing here and the moral confusion that is becoming, in so many cases, more and more political and more and more deliberate.

I do look forward to the opportunity at some point to be able to turn to people such as these two senators and say, “At one point you said that life begins at conception. Now, you are the advocates for this bill initiated in the United States Senate. You do not even concede the fact that the moral status of the embryo is at stake.” Senator Cruz, when this issue was raised, spoke instead about the fact that the issue should be left to the states. And then he said this, “That’s the beauty of a democracy, that we can have different views. But in IVF, we ought to be able to unify everybody,” that means for it.

So, what about the question of abortion? If the glory of it is that we can have different views, but once again, I think the senator here has invoked a logic which is incompatible with believing that every single human life from the moment of fertilization onward is worthy of our defense, indeed demands that defense. It’s also interesting that after Bloomberg Television raised the issue of some pro-life concerns. Senator Cruz said, “Well, look, I can tell you that there’s unanimity. I believe all 100 senators support IVF.” Well, if so, that’s going to be a game changer because eventually they’re going to have to answer the question, when exactly then do you believe the human life begins? And at that point, it’s not just the issue of IVF. What you see there is the impending collapse of the pro-life argument in the United States Senate. 

And in answer to that prospect, I can only say, dear God, I hope not.

It’s also interesting that these two senators wrote a piece together, published in the Wall Street Journal. The headline is this, “We’ll Protect Both Life and IVF.” And yet, in that article, they never concede the real issue and the conflict between life and IVF. Eventually, they, for that matter, the entire nation, is going to have to answer that question.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. 

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

I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me using the contact form. Follow regular updates on Twitter at @albertmohler.

Subscribe via email for daily Briefings and more (unsubscribe at any time).