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The Battles over Truth, State’s Rights, and Our Eyeballs

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

Today we’ll see the persistence of truth in an age of untruth, we’ll ask is the truth really more important than ever before, we’ll see the cultural rift between California and Washington D.C., we’ll look at the battle for our eyeballs in modern television programming, and we’ll ask what we can learn from those constant drug ads.

The persistence of truth in an age of untruth: Is truth more important than ever before?

The most noteworthy aspect of yesterday’s edition of the New York Timeswasn’t a news story, it was an advertisement. An ad placed by the New York Times about the New York Times about truth. Yesterday’s edition included a full page with these few words,

“The truth has power. The truth will not be threatened. The truth has a voice.”

At the bottom of the page, the simple iconic masthead the New York Times.But just the day before in Sunday’s edition of the paper, timed for that evening’s Golden Globes Awards program, the New York Times on the first of these pages had the words,

“He said. She said.
He said. She said.
He said. She said.”

And then 144 more times, an unbroken,

“She said.”

Very clearly was the New York Times signaling its own virtue associating with the #metoo campaign and the political messaging sent at the Golden Globes concerning the issues of sexual harassment. It was a pretty unnuanced message. Again,

“He said. She said.
He said. She said.
He said. She said.”

And then 144 times,

“She said.”

The second full page in the New York Times about the New York Timessimply had the words,

“The truth has a voice.”

At the bottom of the page, again, the iconic masthead of the New York Times.Now it’s really clear what’s going on here, the New York Times is signaling by means of these ads that it is the authoritative voice for truth in the culture, that it cares deeply about truth, that it — perhaps alone — is committed to finding the truth and giving the truth a voice. This follows last year’s first effort in this series by the New York Times, that time it was scheduled to coincide with the Academy Awards presentation. The messaging back then in 2017, I quote,

“The truth is hard. The truth is hard to know. The truth is more important than ever.”

That last line is the most important of the claims made by the New York Times, and in accordance with this particular advertising campaign it actually draped those words around its building.

“The truth is more important than ever,”

claims the Times.

Well, before looking further and more deeply at the issue of truth in our contemporary moment, it is really important for us to recognize that from a biblical perspective it simply is not true that the truth has never been more important. It is true to say that it’s never been more important and it’s never been less important. For Christians, according to a biblical worldview, truth is always the paramount question. It has never been less important. It’s actually a fairly ludicrous claim on the part of the New York Times, are they really suggesting that going back to that paper’s own history, if you look at the last decades of the 19th century, the truth wasn’t so important? When you look at two cataclysmic world wars during the 20th century, the truth wasn’t so important. When you look at the depression, the Cold War, and everything that followed, the truth was less important then than it is now. Of course, that’s not a serious claim that they would make. It is, however, the background impulse to their current advertising campaign. We know what’s going on here, it’s very similar to the kind of campaign and posturing undertaken by the major newspaper in the nation’s capital, the Washington Post. Just several months ago that paper began printing under its own masthead the words,

“Democracy dies in darkness.”

In both cases you have two major newspapers, two of the most influential newspapers in the world, claiming their priority in terms of the business of truth telling, and in the words of the Washington Post implicitly, saving democracy. Saving democracy from what or from whom? Defending truth against what? Well of course the most immediate challenge that is reflected in these campaigns is what is referred to as fake news, it’s the destabilization of the entire truth and information and media universe. But this is where Christians really do need to think a bit more deeply about this than the New York Times and the Washington Post. Is it because we are less invested in truth? No, to the contrary; it is because we are far more invested in truth. It’s also because we understand that the New York Times really does pride itself, along with the Washington Post and other major media, in being very concerned about the truth; they have entire journalistic teams of reporters and writers and editors and levels of editors and then publishers and all the rest, all supposedly working together in order to reveal and to report the truth. And of course when it comes to a story, let’s just take a routine story like a break-in in a neighborhood, if we’re looking for report on that break-in, we want to know the factual answers to who, what, when, and where, of course, why would help also. But as we’re looking at that we recognize that the very secular reporters and editors and publishers of the news media, they really do believe in the facts, they want to get to those facts when it comes to a break-in in a home. But when it comes to bigger and more complex questions, well at that point, the editors and the reporters and others tend to mix up their own categories. The New York Times when they’re claiming to be the voice of truth, they’re not just speaking about what they take pride in in terms of their rather objective reporting about major events. No, they’re implying that also about their analysis; they’re claiming truth for their own worldview. This is where Christians also have to understand that one of the hallmarks of the modern age as we know it is the denial of certain forms of truth, the existence of objective truth when it comes to morality, and, furthermore, when it came to the movement known as postmodernism, the denial of objective truth at all.

Now as we’re looking at this, we understand that no society can actually operate in any same way while denying all objective truth. So what you have in the contemporary world are two rival visions of truth, sometimes in the very same mind. You have a level of objective truth, and that’s understood to be, well to go back to our story about a break-in in a home or the robbery of a store, there are facts and those facts are merely be taken as facts, they’re facts because they are true because they correspond with reality. But when it comes to a question of morality, well, there’s a second dimension of truth, and that’s often hand-in-hand with the rejection of the fact that there can be any moral facts there are only moral opinions. The Christian thinker Francis Schaeffer pointed to this in his most important book, that book was written in 1968, the title, Escape from Reason. Schaefer famously argued that in the modern secular mind there was actually a two-story picture of truth; a lower story that consisted of facts and an upper story that merely contained opinions. The lower story was cognitive, the upper story was noncognitive. As Schaefer indicated, the denial of objective truth in matters of morality was the modern age’s way of putting all those questions, that it wanted to answer in a very different way, beyond the cognitive level of facts into the noncognitive level of mere opinion.

So we have to recognize that the modern age has been trying to argue that there are some facts, those facts are understood to be true, true in the sense that they correspond with reality. In the modern cultural moment you see this especially affirmed amongst persons who reduce all matters of fact to what’s often limited to science, fact-based research they say. But when it comes to questions of morality such as whether or not an unborn human life is actually human, whether or not abortion is right or wrong, whether we can know that abortion is either right or wrong as moral facts, well at that stage everything’s simply kicked up into the second story into a matter of opinion, then it’s just a matter of which opinion gains majority status and support. We need to understand that that is the essence of modern politics and cultural conversation. We need to understand that that is the worldview that drives those identified as the cultural creatives, those who are the producers and the directors and the storytellers in Hollywood and beyond. We need to understand what Francis Schaeffer warned about as this two-story picture of truth, it is being drilled through every level of the culture, it is being drilled especially through every level of education, particularly higher education, but there’s plenty of evidence these days that it is also being drilled down even into kindergarten and grade school in terms of much of the official curriculum.

It is encouraging, in one sense, that the New York Times is so interested in truth, even if it comes in the form of a self advertisement, but when it states that the truth has never been more important, Christians agree with every single word so long as it’s followed by the fact that the truth has never been less important either. For Christians, the truth is not just important, it is ultimate.

California learns to sing the anthem of states rights as the rift grows between California and Washington D.C.

Next, I turn to looking at that deep cultural divide we see an America, we’re not the only ones who see it, the New York Times and others see it as well, sometimes referring to not just one America but two Americas speaking of that very deep moral and cultural divide. Recently, the New York Times ran a front-page article by Tim Arango, the headline,

“One America Fights Another As Rift Widens.”

The subhead is interesting,

“California pushes back against White House.”

Now it’s not just California and the White House, but that particular dynamic is the initiating catalyst of the story. It’s really about that great worldview divide that separates Americans, and when it comes the state of California there is no doubt where the majority of the political leaders in that state stand, almost all of them are California Democrats. But when it comes to the rest of America, is California now foreign country? Arango writes,

“In many ways it feels like that these days, as the growing divide between California and the Trump administration erupted this past week over a dizzying range of flash points, from immigration to taxes to recreational marijuana use.”

I think in many ways it’s that last issue that has the front place attention here. Last week Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the federal government would be reversing a few Obama era executive orders that it indicated that the Department of Justice would not pursue investigations and prosecutions of federal marijuana laws. There are now about eight states that have legalized recreational marijuana, and the Obama administration had announced that where the states had done so, the feds would not prosecute even though in all 50 states and in all American territories the use, the possession, the distribution, and the sale of marijuana remains a federal crime. So you now have a dynamic between those states that have legalized marijuana and the federal government, but what’s really interesting is what this shows us about how, in a moral Civil War, people or states for that matter can change sides and change arguments pretty quickly. Back during the 1950s and 1960s it was largely southern states using a state’s rights argument who sought to defend segregation laws and the larger nation, especially led by those who were ardently anti-segregation, argued that the states had no right to violate federal laws or federal decrees. That was a major dynamic, on the one hand you had an argument about states rights, on the other hand you had a prevailing argument about federal supremacy on such questions, but when it comes to marijuana all of a sudden California is singing a very different tune. California has learned to sing the anthem of state’s rights over the issue particularly of legalized marijuana.

We have often observed that the closer you get to one of the oceanic coasts the more liberal the society becomes on many moral and cultural issues. That’s true on the East Coast, but particularly in the Northeast, but it is true on the entirety of the West Coast, the United States Pacific Coast. Just consider this political profile,

“In California, every state leader is a Democrat, including the governor and the leaders of the State Senate and Assembly. Of the state’s 53 members in Congress, only 14 are Republicans, and,”

the article in the Times goes on to say,

“analysts believe several of them are in [serious political] jeopardy [in the 2018 midterm elections].”

One of the interesting dimensions of this article in the Times is that it identifies a certain impulse in this liberal direction in the state of California and traces it back to the Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. He had begun to use the language of California being

“an almost nation-state. And,”

Then, as the paper goes on to say,

“many Californians feel that way.”

The most important issue for us is to understand that the worldview distinction is real and that eventually it becomes tangible in politics, in laws, legislation, and policies. California knows that; frankly, we all know that, but what you’re looking at in this article is the recognition of a very deep divide that seems only to be getting wider and deeper at the cultural moment. Interestingly, with many other issues also on the table, marijuana has emerged as one of the key issues of contention leading even a state like California all of a sudden to begin talking about state’s rights reversing the very kind of arguments it had made decades ago. But that really goes both ways when you consider the fact that the current US Attorney General Jeff Sessions was making many of the same arguments in terms of very different issues also a matter of decades ago. What makes the story even more interesting to Christians is our understanding, just as we were discussing on the previous story, that that divide is actually deeper than the secular mind can understand.

The costly battle for our eyeballs intensifies in modern television programming

Meanwhile, as we’re the thinking about the media programming and advertising, a story in yesterday’s edition of the Times indicated that more TV shows are now vying for our eyeballs than in any previous time in history. Last year, John Koblin tells us, there were 487 original scripted programs, that’s a record breaker that follows last year’s record breaker of 455. Koblin explains,

“The staggering growth largely comes from the seemingly endless budget lines that help produce new shows for streaming services.”

Now one of the things we need to note is that we are looking here at streaming services primarily. The big three producers of scripted programs on television now are FX, HBO, and Netflix. Now just remember that that’s contrasted with what we would’ve understood even a matter of just a decade ago. Where are CBS and NBC and ABC, not to mention the major cable networks of yore. But from a Christian perspective, one of the most interesting aspects here is what this underlines in terms of the continued influence of television programming, it’s not going away, it’s not going away in terms of influence in the culture, it’s also not going away in terms of the competition for our eyeballs because this is where we always need to remind ourselves that programming is not really to entertain us, it is to entertain us in order to send advertising to us. That’s what pays the bills. Make the mistake, Hollywood does want to send moral messages in its entertainment but it can only do so successfully if it gets advertisers to foot the bill, and it’s a big bill. We are told in this news article that Netflix is going to spend over $8 billion in terms of production for this programming in just the next 12 months; $8 billion. I also found it interesting to find embedded in this article that just about every one of these individual programs cost on average $3 million. Somebody’s got to pay for a lot of advertising to make that commercially worthwhile.

What can we learn—about ourselves and advertisers—from those constant drug ads?

Meanwhile our advertising does reveal a great deal about ourselves, that’s why I was drawn to another article this time in the advertising column of theNew York Times. Joanne Kaufman writes that if you think you’re seeing more drug ads on television, you actually are. Koplin tells us that

“According to Kantar Media, a firm that tracks multimedia advertising, 771,368 [drug] ads were shown in [the last year documented, which is] 2016.”

There is every reason to believe there were more in 2017 and will be more in 2018. That number again over, 770,000 drug ads. She goes on to report by means of citing John Swallen,

“TV ad spending by pharmaceutical companies has more than doubled in the past four years, making it the second-fastest-growing category on television during that time.”

Now one of the interesting things is what’s documented in this article about this shift in these drug ads. It’s no longer primarily driven by pharmaceuticals for what would be called minor health problems, it’s now for major and massive health problems. Why? Well the article the Times argues it is because the television audience is trending older and because we are living longer, and as we do so more serious health problems represent themselves and the drug companies are battling amongst themselves in the war for our health and more urgently for our health dollars.

It’s also perhaps interesting to note that these health advertisements, drug ads, are directed primarily at television viewers for dramas and news shows. Speaking of the newly more serious drugs addressed in these ads, we are told by Thomas Lom, a consultant,

“In the old days, it was allergies and acid reflux and whatnot. …  Now, it’s cardiology issues. It’s cancer.”

Now if you’ve been looking at these ads you’re probably thinking what I’m thinking, how would anyone want to take these drugs once they have to tell us what the FDA requires, which is about the potential side effects, some of them truly horrifying, some potentially clarifying, others, admittedly, mystifying. But one of the interesting dimensions of what’s reported in this story is that all of those dreaded side effects the FDA requires to be cited don’t seem to have much of an effect upon the impact of the advertising. Part of this is because, authorities say in the article, that drugs that are to have a dramatic effect, well, are understood to sometimes come with dramatic other effects. But there’s something else in the article about the confusion that comes with white noise. That is to say we find ourselves tuning out what we’re not really interested to hear, and it tells us something about human nature, that we are more interested to hear the benefits of the drug than what might be the unavoidable side effects. But authorities in the article also say that the advertising might actually appear to be more credible and more truthful if the side effects are listed along with the primary benefit, but that takes us back to where we started on the issue of truth. It turns out that even a society in a modern age that wants to escape the question of truth simply can’t.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website You can follow me on Twitter by going to @albertmohler.For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For information on Boyce College just go to

(This podcast is by R. Albert Mohler, Jr. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)


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

Egypt’s Mosque Attack Theology, Robert Mugabe & Secularizing Thanksgiving

​We’ll see theology work back into the headlines, but this time it’s Islamic theology; we’ll see incomplete justice or incomprehensible crimes; we’ll see the fall of yet another tyrant and understand why Western academics support those tyrants; then we’ll see the New York Times try to secularize Thanksgiving.


Theology roared back into the headlines over the weekend but in this case it wasn’t Christian theology but Islamic theology. This has to do with the tragic attack that took place at a mosque in the Sinai Peninsula, where Egyptian officials report that over 300 persons were killed in a mass attack and over 100 persons seriously wounded. What makes this a particularly ominous development is that this was an attack believed to have been undertaken by forces loyal to the Islamic state. Indeed the attackers arrived in a caravan of armed vehicles that were flying the flag of the Islamic state, and we’re looking here at something that has surprised many Western observers, we’re looking at the attack by the Islamic state on a mosque. That requires some kind of explanation. The first explanation is that this represents yet another departure of the Islamic state from the already murderous ideology of Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda had a basic rule, and that was attacked non-Muslims not Muslims. The Islamic state has not followed that rule, and the current state of violence in both Pakistan and now in Egypt indicates an escalation of Muslim on Muslim attacks in the name of the Islamic state. But why this particular mosque? Immediately after the attack was announced it was also mentioned that this was a mosque that was associated with Sufism, with the Sufi movement within Islam. That immediately informs us that theology is very much front and center in this story, that’s because Sufism is considered by most Orthodox Muslims to be not only heterodox but actually not even a legitimate form of Islam.

Immediate reports in the international media after the attack did often mention the fact that the attacked mosque was associated with the Sufi movement, but it’s also interesting to note that many in the international media failed to recognize the fact that since at least 2016 there has been an expanding pattern of attacks by the Islamic state upon Sufis. This attack took place in Egypt but specifically in the Sinai Peninsula; Christians hearing that geographical designation will certainly remember that this is where for 40 years the children of Israel wandered. It’s a desolate Peninsula and it is sparsely populated, but this attack took place in one of the regions few population centers.

After the attack I had to wonder how long it would be before major media began to ask the question: Does theology have anything to do with this? Almost right on time the Washington Post ran an article dated Nov. 25 with the headline, “Why Muslim Extremists Attacked This Mosque in Egypt.”

Similarly, the New York Times ran a headline on Sunday, “Why Does ISIS Kill Sufi Muslims? Because It Sees Them as Heretics.”

All that in a headline. Of course one of the most interesting aspects of all this is that the word heretic would appear in a contemporary headline in the New York Times under any circumstance, but as we remind ourselves over and over again theology matters, it always matters, it’s always lurking fairly closely under the headlines, it rarely, in this age, gets to the very headline itself, and that’s a part of the story here. But it’s also important to recognize that Western media trying to interpret this Islamic conflict have to recognize that there are two major branches of Islam: the Sunnis and the Shia. And it’s true that the Sufis can be members of either the Sunni or the Shia, and they are for the most part mutually hated by both.

The New York Times report gets it exactly right when it identifies the hatred of both the Sunnis and the Shia, but the Sunnis in particular, toward the Sufis by saying that the hatred is rooted in:

 “the tradition of visiting the graves of holy figures. The act,” says the report, “of praying to saints and worshiping at their tombs is an example of what extremists refer to as ‘shirk,’ or polytheism, [that] according to [a source identified as] Brill’s Encyclopedia of Islam.”

But at this point, we simply have to note another problem with the Western media. It’s not just those who could fairly be described as Islamic fundamentalists who hold to this suspicion of Sufis; this would be a mainstream Muslim response. Alexander Knysh, identified as the author of two studies of Sufism, he’s also a professor of Islamic studies at the University of Michigan, spoke of the Sunni opposition to the Sufis saying,

“They believe Sufi shrines are the most egregious expression of that shirk. … You are turning to a mediator, who is inserting himself between the believer and God, and in this way it becomes a kind of idol.”

So now you have a specifically Islamic term, shirk, referring to this kind of polytheism or idolatry, and you also have the word heretic that appears in the New York Times headline. In this secular age and particularly with the kind of secular worldview that marks a newspaper like the New York Times, the word heresy or heretic is not an expected word in any headline. When it appears we also have to answer the question: Why this word; why now? The answer is very straightforward: You cannot possibly interpret or understand this horrible news coming out of Egypt without acknowledging the reality of the theological. The problem is according to that secular worldview that might be true in Egypt, in this case in the Sinai Peninsula, but it certainly wouldn’t be true here. Those behind the secular worldview are absolutely certain, or at least they say they are certain, that theology will virtually disappear, everywhere, but a news story like this reminds us that it hasn’t happened everywhere, yet. And it hasn’t happened even very close to the home of the New York Times, they just think it has.


Another major story on the international scene broke last week as the New York Times reported, “It was the closing of one of Europe’s most shameful chapters of atrocity and bloodletting since World War II.”

They say, “With applause inside and outside the courtroom at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, General Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb commander, was convicted [last] Wednesday of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. He was sentenced to life in prison.”

The Times went on to tell us, “It was the last major item of business for the tribunal in The Hague before it wound down, a full quarter-century after many of the crimes on its docket were committed.”

Speaking of the crimes of Ratko Mladic, we are told that from 1992 to 1995 it was determined that he “was the chief military organizer of the campaign to drive Muslims, Croats and other non-Serbs” in order to create an ethnically cleansed society. In 1992 about 45,000 persons were driven from their homes as Drew Hinshaw and Lawrence Norman report for the Wall Street Journal.

In the year 1995, Mladic and his troops lined up and then executed about 8,000 men and boys, and they did so in what became known as the Srebrenica massacre, identified as “the worst killing on European soil since World War II.”

The numbers themselves are absolutely shocking, we’re talking about just one year, just one village, 8,000 men and boys executed in a straightforward attempt to try to exterminate the entire Muslim and Croats population.

From a Christian worldview perspective there are some very important issues to understand in this new story. The first is we are talking about justice very long denied. We’re talking about crimes that took place, in some cases, 25 years ago. We also have to face the fact that Ratko Mladic was not convicted of his crimes to a jury of his peers there in the former Yugoslavia; instead, this had to come at the hands of an international tribunal set up specifically to address the crimes including genocide undertaken in the Yugoslavian Civil War.

Janine di Giovanni, the Edward R. Murrow press fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, reminds us of the fact that sometimes wars end but justice is never really served. From a Christian perspective we simply have to say that that sometimes actually needs to be restated as a usually. Di Giovanni also reminds us of the fact that justice, in this case a criminal conviction and a life sentence came, a quarter century after the crimes, means that it is very unlikely that this particular conviction or sentence is going to be a deterrent to those who would undertake similar kinds of atrocities.

Di Giovanni asked, “what kind of message does the process send to victims of current conflicts? For those living in conflict in Syria, in Zimbabwe, in Yemen? Will,” she asked, “Mr. Mladic’s verdict, 22 years in the making, inspire hope that justice can be delivered fairly and without delay? I think not,” she concludes. Di Giovanni notes, “Justice sometimes comes slow. But 22 years is too long for people to wait. The Nuremberg trials, in which 12 Nazis were sentenced to death, took place shortly after World War II ended. Tribunals,” she underlines, “should begin while the crimes and the evidence are fresh.”

Getting to an even deeper level, she writes, “The message we should send to those who continue to act with impunity is that they will be hunted down, that they will not escape justice. The mechanisms,”  she says, “that ensure international justice need to be given more teeth and not appear exhausted, cynical and misguided, as the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia all too often did.”

The Christian, the biblical worldview, emphatically affirms the imperative of justice, but at the same time it makes very clear that this kind of justice is never actually going to be adequately addressed by any human court. That doesn’t mean that a human court should not, it simply means that no court can actually come up with any punishment that corresponds to the gravity of the genocide. We also have to note the fact that she uses the phrase, “the mechanisms that ensure international justice.”

Here we simply have to note, there are no mechanisms that ensure international justice, and if anything this particular verdict and even the conviction affirms that very point, coming so long after the crimes and coming in a court that was set up on a temporary basis just to adjudicate these cases. One of the sad but real lessons of history is that when a people will not hold their own leaders accountable, it’s very hard, if not impossible, for any other authority to do so.

It’s also important to recognize that even though there is no question about the guilt of General Ratko Mladic, the reality is that he had hundreds and thousands of co-conspirators involved in this genocide. At this point, 22 years later, to call this justice served is a slander to justice.


Next, also in the international scene, we have to observe the passing, at least from power, of one of the most notorious dictators of the 20th and now the 21st centuries. We’re talking about Robert Mugabe, for 37 years the strongman of Zimbabwe. It was Robert Mugabe who led a guerrilla effort over against the government of Rhodesia, effectively in 1980 toppling the regime and becoming the de facto dictator of a new nation that was renamed Zimbabwe. For the first several years he was the prime minister but from 1987 forward he was the president of the nation, and yet it was not in any sense a legitimate democracy. The elections that produced massive victories for Robert Mugabe were understood both internally and externally to be shams. And speaking of genocide, it is now very well documented and was known even at the time that in 1983 Mugabe and his party, known as the Zanu-PF, had also engaged in genocide, killing about 20,000 members of an opposing tribe. Mugabe, age 93, was toppled in a coup that he didn’t believe would actually come, he had good reason to believe that it would never come after 37 years of tyrannical rule. It’s also instructed us that when it did come, it came largely because of the fact that he’d announced a succession plan that involved the power going to his young wife, Grace Mugabe, who, if anything united the nation in terms of hatred of the idea that she might become president.

We’re talking here about the fall of yet another tyrant in the case of Robert Mugabe, one who repeatedly compared himself to Jesus declaring himself to be more important, even in his words, better. But there’s a particular angle to the fall of Robert Mugabe that should have our attention, it has to do with the fact that several major Western universities representing the intellectual elites and the liberal impulse in this country, had celebrated Mugabe as a liberator when he came to power, and had even awarded him honorary degrees. This was true the University of Massachusetts, it was true of Michigan State University, it was true in Scotland at the University of Edinburgh. What makes those three universities most significant is that all three of them later, but much later, rescinded those honorary degrees. The University of Massachusetts gave the degree in 1986, rescinded it in 2008; the University of Edinburgh also gave the degree in 1986, rescinded in 2007; Michigan State University awarded the honorary degree to Mugabe in 1990, rescinded it once again in 2008.

Bret Stephens gets it exactly right as a columnist in the New York Times when he says,

“When the University of Massachusetts decided in 2008 to rescind the honorary degree it had awarded Robert Mugabe 22 years earlier, it noted that Zimbabwe’s dictator had once been seen ‘as a force for democracy and reform.’” 

But then Stephens says, “Even then the self-deception was breathtaking.”

Later Stevens writes, “The scale of Mugabe’s killing, estimated as high as 20,000, might not have been known to the good people of Amherst in 1986: Mass graves,” he says, “would continue to be unearthed for years afterward. But,” he says, “there was no mystery about his methods. The real mystery”, he says, “is why Western liberals and progressives so often fall for the Mugabes of the world, and why they seem to learn so little from successive and inevitable disenchantments.”

It’s really interesting that Bret Stephens points to the left in the United States, and very specifically to academics, we are here talking about universities awarding and then rescinding these degrees, and he says that it’s because it appears that Western academics have a particular vulnerability to offering a form of worship to dictators who take power, supposedly in the name of the people. The most glaring of these by no surprise was Fidel Castro, the dictator of Cuba, and yet it also has to be noted that many of these academics also become apologists. Bret Stephens goes on to say there might be another explanation, and that is the fact that,

“Ever since Jean-Jacques Rousseau tried to write a constitution for Corsica in 1765, Western thinkers have been tempted by the prospect of influence abroad, along with the power that comes with it, particularly when both are denied to them at home.”

Another way to put this would be to say that many on the left, particularly the academic left, see these revolutions as great and grand social laboratories. But by now we know that every single one of them turns out to be murderous, and every one of them, as Bret Stephens recognizes, fails and disappoints. And, of course, we’re not just talking about mass murder in the case Robert Mugabe, we’re also talking about spectacular, almost undefinable incompetence.

The headline in the Economist of London got straight to the point, and I quote, “The Man Who Wrecked a Country.”

The final words of Bret Stephens’ column deserve full citation. He says this:

“But Mugabe also had his apologists and admirers, and Zimbabwe’s tragedy is just a fuller version of a post-colonial story of disastrous ideological experiments accompanied by foreigners who cheered those experiments and then looked the other way when they failed. There needs,” he says, “to be a reckoning with them, too. The world’s poorest countries,” he concludes,“deserve better than to be the petri dish for Western experts who know too little and a field of fantasy for Western progressives who dream too much.”

On that story, Bret Stephens deserves to have the last word.


Finally, we observe the fact that the Thanksgiving holiday is now over are yet another opportunity for secular confusion. Just consider an editorial that appeared in the New York Times, timed for Thanksgiving Day. It states,

“In these days of anxiety and alienation, Thanksgiving offers the warm embrace of inclusiveness. Particularly for many people with families and faiths rooted in other lands, no other holiday, not even the Fourth of July, has so great a capacity to make them feel American.”

The editors, again, we’re talking here about the New York Times, then go on to write, and I quote,

“Thanksgiving’s origins are also Christian. But it has evolved into something both secular and spiritual, a day devoted to family and amity. Perhaps,” say the editors, “that explains its unwavering appeal for believers and nonbelievers. … Thanksgiving,” they say, “is at heart more than parades, or football or even country; there’s no flag-waving or chest-thumping. It is about shared bounty and shared humanity.”

From a worldview perspective, the interesting thing to note here is that the New York Times seems to believe that Thanksgiving is only worthy of commemoration and national celebration if indeed it has successfully been turned into a secular holiday. You can read that editorial over and over again but that’s the inescapable conclusion.

Again, the editors say that Thanksgiving, “has evolved into something both secular and spiritual.”

They see that evolution, of course, as a cause of celebration in itself.

Finally, in terms of worldview analysis, let’s just remind ourselves of the end of that paragraph, “Thanksgiving is at its heart more than parades or football or even country; there’s no flag-waving or chest-thumping.”

The final sentence, “It is about shared bounty and shared humanity.”

Notice what’s absent. What’s absent, of course, in this secular redefinition and celebration of Thanksgiving, is, well, Thanksgiving, but then it’s virtually impossible to pull off anything you could actually call Thanksgiving from a secular worldview.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website You can follow me on Twitter by going to @albertmohler.For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For information on Boyce College just go to

(This podcast is by R. Albert Mohler, Jr. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)


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According to a story in the New York Times, prayer by strangers had no effect on the recovery of people undergoing heart surgery, a study had found.

The study was conducted for nearly a decade involving more than 1,800 patients. Whether or not the patients were prayed for, or even if they knew they were being prayed for, it did not speed up their shows prayer had no effect on heart surgery patients

“In the study, the researchers monitored 1,802 patients at six hospitals who received coronary bypass surgery, in which doctors reroute circulation around a clogged vein or artery…

The patients were broken into three groups. Two were prayed for; the third was not. Half the patients who received the prayers were told that they were being prayed for; half were told that they might or might not receive prayers…

Patients who knew they were being prayed for had a higher rate of post-operative complications like abnormal heart rhythms, perhaps because of the expectations the prayers created, researches have suggested.” (Benedict Carey, New York Times, March 31, 2006)

It’s one of the most popular studies skeptics have used to say, “See, prayer doesn’t work!”

But, those skeptics, and those who conducted the study, don’t understand how prayer works. There are qualifications for prayer:

If I cherished iniquity [sin] in my heart the Lord would not have listened to my prayer. (Psalm 66:18)

You ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly to spend it on your passions. (James 4:3)

John 14:6 says Jesus is the only way to the Father.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

And, 1 Timothy 2:5 says he’s the only mediator between God and man.

For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 2:5)

So, prayers to Mary, or a false version of God, aren’t received. We are to pray in Jesus’ name. (The groups who prayed in the prayer study featured in the NY Times included a contemplative Catholic order, Catholic monastery, and a New Though organization, all of whom deny essential Christian truth and core Bible teaching.)

But even then, the Bible does not promise God will grant a person’s wishes.

The Apostle Paul prayed three times for the Lord to take away what was tormenting him. But God replied, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.” Paul said he would boast all the more gladly of his weaknesses, content with hardships, insults and persecutions so the power of Christ would rest upon him.

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)

Prayer works for God’s glory before it’s for our benefit.

With Thanksgiving to the Lord, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

…when we understand the text.

(This video is by WWUTT. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central.)


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America’s Changing Moral Landscape

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


This is not a story that has yet reached much of the attention of the mainstream media, or perhaps putting it differently, the mainstream media doesn’t appear too interested yet in the story. But The Federalist is, and Mary Hasson of The Federalist offers us a story with the headline,

“Illinois Purges Social Workers And Foster Families Who Don’t ‘Facilitate’ Transgenderism.”

“Facilitate” is put in scare quotes. Now the story is really interesting because as Hasson reports, Illinois has now adopted regulations that would in effect make it impossible for anyone to be a foster parent in that state, much less to be employed even as a volunteer in the system, without entirely affirming the entire LGBTQ agenda and most particularly facilitating—that’s the word that’s used in the document—the transition of children and teenagers in terms of their gender identity. Anyone who would hold to any positions that would to any degree not endorse the idea of transgenderism, well, that individual is simply out in terms of foster parenting or volunteering, much less working within the state’s system.

Hasson reports,

“The science-deniers are running the LGBTQ show over at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), and dissenters will not be tolerated. The department’s new ‘enhanced,’”—that again is in scare quotes—“policies promoting the “well-being of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer/Questioning (LGBTQ) children and youth in the Department’s care”—all that’s a quotation—“ratchet in one direction only: encouraging children towards LGBTQ identities. DCFS has drawn a rainbow-colored line in the sand, announcing it “will not tolerate exposing LGBTQ children and youth to staff/providers who are not supportive of children and youths’ right to self-determination of sexual/gender identity.”

It turns out this is all traceable to what the department calls its newly enhanced standards and policies referring to child welfare and in particular to the foster care system. Hasson gets it exactly right when she tells us,

“The new DCFS policies are less about safety and wellbeing and more about using state power to “overrule” basic, empirical (and common sense) truths about human beings and to replace them with ideological assertions that validate adult feelings rather than benefit children.”

I would actually put it a bit more strongly. This is actually a set of policies that rules out all believing, convictional Christians from participation in the foster care system there in the state of Illinois. Now keep in mind also that state-by-state there are recurring patterns in which it is Christian churches and Christian parents who are particularly given to offering these kinds of services to children. This goes well back in terms of the nation’s history where most of the childcare systems and orphanages that existed before the state began taking over these services in the 20th century were explicitly Christian. The new regulations in Illinois will require all adults, whether volunteers or employees, to simply “facilitate exploration of any LGBTQ matters through an affirming approach.”

Notice the phrase “affirming approach” is stipulated required in the policy. It also says that these volunteers must be open, nonjudgmental, and they must express empathy. Looking to the policy myself in terms of what’s available on the website there in Illinois, section 302, appendix K is entitled,

“Support and Well-Being of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) Children and Youth.”

Again LGBTQ. Reading from the policy the state demands,

“Children and youth who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning are protected by the Illinois Human Rights Act. Children and youth have many legal rights while in care, including the right to be free from verbal, emotional and physical harassment in their placements, schools, and communities. The adults involved in their care have a legal and ethical obligation to ensure that they are safe and protected. These children and youth also have the right to be treated equally, to express their gender identity, and to have the choice to be open or private about their sexual orientation, gender expression and gender identity.”

Now of course, every morally sensitive adult and certainly everyone who’s involved in the adoption or foster care enterprise must be absolutely committed to the well-being of children and youth. But the question is, who defines that well-being? It’s clear that in the state of Illinoi it is the sexual revolutionaries who alone have the power and authority to define the well-being of young people and children. But also note this: there’s the use of the word hurt or harm, which is expressed even to giving something less than full enthusiastic support in terms of the transgender revolution.

Insofar as those who by Christian conviction cannot give such enthusiastic approval of this new sexual ideology, the statement says,

“DCFS will not accept the services of volunteers who fail to abide by Appendix K, and will not contract with private agencies who fail to adopt LGBTQ policies that are at least as extensive as Appendix K (including, without limitation, policies providing for employee discipline, up to and including termination, for conduct in violation of the non-discrimination policy.”

Now that’s something that I didn’t expect to see even in this kind of draconian policy completely given over to the new ideology of the sexual revolutionaries. It’s here demanded that any agency with whom the state of Illinois might partner must have policies that are at least as extreme as the Department of Children and Family Services there, and if they’re not exactly the same, they must actually goe further in terms of compliance with the demands of the sexual revolutionaries. Also made very clear in the detailed Appendix K is the requirement that all the adults who are involved in the system must be willing to use the preferred gender pronoun for the minors who are addressed to their care.

And furthermore, it is also very clear in terms of the details of Appendix case that the sexual revolutionaries are continuing to push the boundaries. For example, there is a new expression that is found here,

Gender Expansive: Having or being perceived to have gender expression and/or behaviors that do not conform to traditional or societal expectations.”

The next sentence,

“Gender-expansive individuals may or may not identify as LGBTQ.”

Taking all of these policies in their details seriously word by word, it becomes apparent that all the adults in the foster care system there in Illinois are basically going to have to treat every single child as somewhere on the LGBTQ continuum, if not actually then potentially, and if not now then perhaps in the future. So let’s take the measure of what we’re facing here. At the very time that we face an unprecedented number of young persons and children who need care, at the very time that states are reaching out saying they need more parents to participate in the system, more adults to volunteer in the foster care system, at the very time they are trying to reach out to the community saying we need help, they’re making very clear that help is not going to be welcomed from anyone who holds to his worldview anything close to biblical Christianity.

We’re not just looking here at the ominous pattern of government using its coercive power in order to further of the moral revolutionaries. We’re looking at the fact that they are quite willing to sacrifice children and the well-being of children to that very revolution. This development in Illinois also serves as a very brutal reminder of the fact that there is no way to escape the impact of this tremendous moral divide in the United States. We’re looking at a divide over the very definition of what it means to be human, what it means to be male and female, and what it means to care for rather than to harm children. This story is a very tragic way to underline the fact that there is nowhere to hide.


Next, as I said, that story really isn’t yet headline news. The secular media seemed to be avoiding it entirely, but they’re not avoiding other stories. A recent edition of the New York Times actually came with a headline story. Here’s the headline,

“Story Hour at the Library, Presented in Drag.”

No this is not satire. This is a straightforward news reports in none other than the New York Times. Una LaMarche writes,

“Story hour, long a mommy-and-me staple, had never looked so colorful. She stood well over six feet tall, the reader at the Hudson Park branch of the New York Public Library in Greenwich Village, her height aided by six-inch heels on purple patent leather boots. Her outfit was an oxymoronic neon camouflage bodysuit and a purple tutu. A tuft of fuchsia hair curled from under a spandex headdress with fabric-covered cylinders lined up in a row, like a Keith Haring-inspired Mohawk. As she entered,”

We are told,

“The adults clapped politely, but the preschool- and kindergarten-age children huddled on a rug went wild. With the elation typically reserved for a ‘Frozen’ character, one toddler screamed ‘Yay!’ and clapped furiously, squirming in his mother’s lap. ‘My name,’” said the reader, “‘is Harmonica Sunbeam,’ the reader said, in a voice used to loud rooms. As a warm-up, she had the children sing ‘This Land Is Your Land’ and then march vigorously in place. ‘I’m getting you ready for Zumba’…. She sat down and read aloud from ‘Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress’ by Christine Baldacchino. The book,” we are told, “is about a boy who wore a beloved dress to school every day. At one point, Morris’s friends inform him that he isn’t allowed to play on their imaginary spaceship, because ‘astronauts can’t wear dresses.’ ‘Yes, they can!’ one child cried out. ‘No, they can’t,’ said another. ‘Boys can’t wear dresses,’ a third added.”

We are then told,

“The debate continued as Harmonica Sunbeam listened. Then she leaned down, addressing the children in a conspiratorial stage whisper.”

Now at this point, just remind yourselves that this is a public library in the United States of America. LaMarche then tells us,

“This is Drag Queen Story Hour. The brainchild of the writer Michelle Tea and Radar Productions, it is exactly what it sounds like: drag queens reading stories to children. It began in San Francisco in December 2015 and spread to Brooklyn last summer, thanks to social media attention.”

The New York Times then excitedly reports,

“Later this spring and summer, the Drag Queen Story Hour will expand to Harlem, and inwood to Manhattan and to the Bronx.”

Eva Shapiro, the early literacy coordinator for the New York Public Library, said,

“At first we identified branches that we thought would be excited by it. We didn’t want any surprises. Some neighborhoods are less familiar with the concept. But so far everyone has been thrilled.”

LaMarche then tells us,

“After reading a few more books from the library’s preapproved list”—notice I’ll simply insert here “the library’s preapproved list”—“some, like ‘Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress’ or “It’s Okay to be Different’ by Todd Parr, address themes of diversity and gender expression, while others are simply story time favorites — Ms. Sunbeam distributed scarves and asked the children to shout out their favorite ice cream flavors, an exercise that inspired a more contentious debate than that over the astronaut’s dress. Then they broke for a paper crown decorating session.”

The most telling sentence in the entire article comes at the end where the person identified as Ms. Sunbeam says,

“We all learn every day in life. And there’s a lesson in everything you do. Sometimes we just have to sneak it in.”

Well that’s exactly what’s going on here—sort of. This is sort of sneaking in the message. But if you’re actually sponsoring a program at public libraries on both coasts in several locations and you’re calling it the Drag Queen Story Hour, maybe it’s not so much that you are trying to sneak in a message as you are barging in with the message. Now looking at a headline story like this one from the New York Times, it’s all too easy to say the obvious this is where the moral revolution leads. But there’s more to it or I wouldn’t be talking about it.

The more to it is this: at this point, many Christian parents or informed Christians even looking at this story will say, well, we are talking about Greenwich Village, we’re talking about San Francisco, but you have to go on to notice that they are introducing this program neighborhood by neighborhood. And furthermore, if you’re in a city like Dallas or Houston or Phoenix or Atlanta, maybe Charlotte, North Carolina, it’s easy to say this isn’t New York City. But when it comes to the agenda we’re looking at here and when it comes to the kinds of programs that are being presented as what the public library wherever it is located should do, well, then don’t be surprised if the Drag Queen Story Hour actually does show up in Tampa or Atlanta, or for that matter, Birmingham or Nashville or just about anywhere else. Just as the new norms in terms of childcare and foster care are expanding coast-to-coast—remember that first story was from Illinois—in the same way the agenda that you see in this story coming from New York City certainly isn’t limited to New York City. The ideology that has infected just about every dimension of public life, including the public libraries, it spreads like a virus, and it will not be contained.


Next in terms of tracing the cultural and moral change in the United States, sometimes it shows up on the business and financial pages of the newspaper, such as recently in the Wall Street Journal. The headline story,

“Caesars Rolls With Changes in Casino Scene.”

This has to do with Caesars International emerging after struggles including bankruptcy trying to find its way in modern America. The business issues behind this story have to do with a lot of things, most importantly, the changed business and financial landscape of organized gambling in America today, an America in which organized gambling remains a very big industry. But this is an industry that is having to face new realities. It’s having to squeeze more profit from things like hotel rooms and from meals and alcoholic beverages and entertainment, but what’s really interesting is what’s simply mentioned in the story as if we should all know this and move on. In the second paragraph of the story by Chris Kirkham we read this,

“Now it,” meaning the gambling industry, “faces a new challenge: How to grow when gambling is within driving distance of virtually every American, and even international opportunities have diminished.”

Let’s go back over that sentence. What we’re told here is that gambling is facing a new challenge because now gambling “is within driving distance of virtually every American.”

We can pass over that pretty quickly without pausing to reflect what a massive change in American life that actually represents. As recently as 20 years ago, that was hardly the case. Going back even to the last decades of the 20th century, organized gambling in the United States, the casino industry in particular, was found only in two major locations outside of Native American reservations. Those were Las Vegas, Nevada and Atlantic City, New Jersey. But over the course of the last half of the 20 century, state-by-state accelerating in the 1980s and 90s began to adopt certain forms of gambling, including one of the forms most pernicious to their own citizens, which is the form of a state-sponsored lottery.

But after that the expansion in terms of gambling income, both for the industry and for the states looking for revenue, it turned increasingly to other forms of gambling that the states had avoided steadfastly. The very idea that most of these states would allow casino gambling would’ve been unthinkable just a matter of a quarter-century ago. Now the big problem is gambling, as the Wall Street Journal tells us, is now accessible within a half day’s drive to virtually every single American. It’s at least worth the observation that that sentence alone in a matter of just a few years ago would not have been buried on the business page as something we’re all supposed know and factor into the business equation. It would have run on the front page because it would’ve been front-page news. It would have been understood then that this would represent an entirely different America, morally speaking, than that which was then known. At the very least, we ought not to let a story like that pass without any attention whatsoever. This might not be big news in any sense to those who are writing the business pages of the Wall Street Journal. But morally speaking, it’s huge news if indeed it really is news.


Next, we live in a world that is increasingly distant from the Christian biblical worldview but is still in an odd way haunted by it. Saturday’s edition of the New York Times included an obituary notice for one of America’s most famous writers and poets, Denis Johnson, who died last Wednesday at age 67. Of great interest to the New York Times in terms of this obituary about Denis Johnson is the fact that this writer had directed so much of his attention to the moral boundaries in the United States, often writing very openly about moral outcasts and all of their moral complexities. As Michiko Kakutani writes in that front-page story for the New York Times, Denis Johnson wrote about “the lost, the dispossessed, the damned — with empathy and unsparing candor.”

Kakutani later in the article writes,

“Mr. Johnson’s America, past or present, is uncannily resonant today. It’s a troubled land, staggering from wretched excess and aching losses, a country where dreams have often slipped into out-and-out delusions, and people hunger for deliverance, if only in the person of a half-baked messiah. Reason is in short supply here, and grifters and con men peddling conspiracy thinking and fake news abound; families are often fragmented or nonexistent; and primal, Darwinian urges have replaced the rule of law. And yet, and yet, amid the bewilderment and despair, there are lightning flashes of wonder and hope — glimpses of the possibility of redemption.”

Now wait just a minute, the word redemption almost cries out from the page here. This is the New York Times, but there’s another word that leaps out at us from even earlier in the story. Kakutani writes of Johnson’s stories that they “depict people living on the edge, addicted to drugs or adrenaline or fantasy, reeling from the idiocies and exigencies of modern life, and longing for salvation.”

Longing for salvation? That’s earlier in the article. Hoping for glimpses of the possibility of redemption, that’s later in the article. But here’s the headline of the article,

“Denis Johnson’s Poetic Visions of a Fallen World.”

Now let’s just think about this for a moment. Here you have the words salvation and redemption following in a headline story that speaks of a fallen world, but what’s so heartbreaking in this is that there’s no theological definition of what it means to live in a fallen world. No one seems to be asking the question, fallen from what or from whom? But why, we have to ask, would an increasingly secularizing society find stories such as these so absolutely compelling, so endlessly fascinating? Why are we drawn even as a secular culture to so many of these themes that all of a sudden show up as if shouting out loud from the text of the New York Times using words like salvation and redemption and tying that to hope?

And what about that front-page headline speaking of Denis Johnson’s stories, his poetic visions of a fallen world? Well it tells us something. It tells us that even in this very confused age there is still an understanding that this is a civilization and that we are a species fallen. A secular society apparently is not ready to ask the question from what state are we fallen, against whom have we sinned, but there is a clear understanding that the world is not right. And this comes with a reminiscence somewhere in terms of a haunting memory that it must have been otherwise in the beginning. This article certainly doesn’t speak of sin. The word is nowhere in the article. But notice how even sin comes through with references to the lost, the dispossessed, and the damned, “people living on the edge, addicted to drugs or adrenaline or fantasy, reeling from the idiocies and exigencies of modern life,”

What binds them all together? Her very next words are: “longing for salvation.”

Some of the most powerful literature of the modern age addresses very directly the fact that we are still in a Christ-haunted culture. Much of that literature goes back to that second half of the 20th century, but here’s an obituary dated in the month of May in the year 2017 with “a fallen world” in the headline and hopes and glimpses of salvation and redemption in the body of the story. Christians looking at this kind of article need to remember that this is why the Bible itself calls the Gospel good news, the evangelium. And in this article tells us that in, yes, this fallen world, people, even people in today’s very complex postmodern, post-Christian America, desperately are hungry to hear the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website You can follow me on Twitter by going to @albertmohler.For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For information on Boyce College just go to

(This podcast is by R. Albert Mohler, Jr. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)


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