The Briefing 10-05-16
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, October 5, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from the Christian worldview.
VP debate punctuates deep ideological divide between Republicans & Democrats on abortion
Last night’s vice presidential debate was basically an insult to American democracy. It wasn’t much of debate at all, certainly until the very end. And furthermore, it wasn’t a serious exchange of ideas. But that points to a bigger problem in terms of American presidential politics. What we have seen in recent years is the fact that the media has reduced virtually everything to mere a soundbite. That’s not particularly new. As a matter of fact, that soundbite language goes back at least to the 1980 presidential campaign. What’s most remarkable, however, is that the sound bites are actually getting even shorter, and furthermore they’re becoming more and more scripted.
There are several important insights from the debate last night—we’ll continue to call it a debate. In the first place, it demonstrates how vice presidential candidates are actually expected to function in terms of a presidential ticket. When it comes to this kind of debate, which after all is often a low stakes affair, the main ambition, the main goal of these vice presidential candidates is not to do anything that will be fundamentally or lastingly embarrassing to the person at the top of the ticket. Last night, it’s arguable that neither candidate did anything embarrassing to their candidates at the top. But what’s also interesting is that Americans who were watching closely probably had the sneaky suspicion, if not the outright admission, that they would prefer the vice presidential candidates to the presidential candidates in terms of the 2016 presidential election.
Both men in the debate last night, Democratic vice presidential candidate Senator Tim Kaine and Republican vice presidential candidate Governor Mike Pence, are fairly likable persons. They are admired by their colleagues. They have functioned well in terms of the electoral process. They have not been scandalous in terms of their individual lives. That stands in contrast to both of the candidates at the top of the ticket, which leads to the realization, now made abundantly clear in polling, that the candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, are the two least likable candidates in recent American history—by recent we stretch back fully half a century.
In terms of the political theater last night, it was generally conceded that Governor Pence did better than Senator Kaine. One of the problems is that the game here is to use these kind of studied and practiced lines without seeming to do so. And in that case, Senator Kaine clearly came up with the short end of the equation, because his practiced lines he repeated over and over and over again without even the pretense of having any honest exchange with Governor Pence, at least in the beginning. It was clear that during the course of the debate he adjusted his style at least somewhat.
Also in evidence last night is the fact that one of the functions of a vice presidential candidate, especially in this kind of event, is to attack the person at the top of the opposite ticket. Thus, Governor Pence did his very best to land blows on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Kaine did his very best to injure Donald Trump. But what’s really interesting from all of that is that the two candidates, both so unlikable, are probably at the point where there is a full discount of any kind of their lack of likability. That’s to say it’s very hard to come up with something that is a new blow that can actually serve as an effective attack on either Secretary Clinton or on Donald Trump.
Another of the most basic rules of a vice presidential debate is that the vice presidential candidates are expected to give absolute, unbending, unqualified support to the party ticket, especially to the presidential candidate, but also to the entirety of the party apparatus. That was also very clear. It was on display last night from both of the candidates, both of whom understood that their first responsibility other than not making a mistake or causing embarrassment is to give unqualified support of the person at the top of the ticket.
Before looking more closely at one very important issue that did get attention last night in the debate, we need to note that when you take Senator Kaine and former Secretary Clinton, you are looking at two persons whose political record and disposition and their policy positions on so many issues are basically almost identical. But when you look at the other side, on the Republican ticket, it is very clear that Donald Trump and Governor Mike Pence actually represent two very different Republican models, two very different political visions. In this case, Governor Pence in contrast to Donald Trump is far more a traditional conservative and a traditional Republican national candidate. Last night, Governor Pence articulated positions on issues that Donald Trump has generally, if not strategically, avoided thus far in the campaign.
Now we turn to the fact that when you look at the vice presidential debate this year, there was far more theological content, far more explicitly religious reference, that happened by any estimation in the first presidential debate, or in terms of the presidential election thus far, in terms of the interplay between the two presidential nominees. But last night, many of these issues were front and center, and it was expected that they just might be so. Because when you take Senator Kaine and Governor Pence, both of them are very well, if controversially, theologically defined. Writing earlier this week in the New York Times, Jonathan Martin wrote,
“The descent of the 2016 presidential campaign last week into the realm of sex tapes and marital infidelity was remarkable enough in its own right, but it also offered a reminder of what has been largely absent from the race: a debate about issues of public morality that for decades have been at the heart of the country’s political divide.”
“In a striking departure from the recent history of White House campaigns, there has been almost no discussion of abortion or gay rights, two of the most animating issues for millions of American voters.”
But the headline of the story was this,
“With Tim Kaine and Mike Pence, Faith Is Back in the Mix.”
That headline, not unexpectedly, actually became an accurate prophecy of last night’s event, at least if you measure it from the very end, from the concluding minutes of the exchange between Senator Kaine and Governor Pence last night. That was when the two candidates talked about their own theological convictions on moral issues, including most especially the issue of abortion. Both men addressed their own religious identification and self-definition. Senator Kaine identified himself as being born to Irish Catholic parents and continuing a Catholic identity. It’s not only a Catholic identity by his education and parentage, but it’s also a Catholic identity in terms of the fact that he often remarks on the political campaign trail that he once served with Jesuits as a missionary.
Now when you note this, you have to understand that the key word there is Jesuits, and that also is very important in understanding Senator Kaine’s theological self-definition. Martin addressed this in his New York Times article when he said,
“Mr. Kaine, who like Mr. Pence has Irish roots and was raised Catholic, had his faith forged when, during law school, he went to Honduras and served as a missionary for the Jesuits. It was there that he embraced a brand of liberation theology centered on social justice that would eventually be one of the forces propelling him into government.”
The missionary service about which Senator Kaine often speaks is a missionary service that was basically a form of humanitarian aid under the direction of the Jesuits. Here’s why that’s so important: for years, the Jesuits were understood to be some of the most conservative Catholics, but in more recent years that particular order has often provided some of the most liberal leadership in world Catholicism. Jesuit no longer connotes, at least automatically, someone who is a fierce defender of historic Catholic doctrine. In many cases, it can mean exactly the opposite. This explains why so many liberal positions can be articulated and defended even by historically Jesuit institutions, such as Georgetown University in the nation’s capital.
It’s also very important to recognize that the current Pope is the first Jesuit pope ever, and that that’s a significant change for the Vatican, which for many centuries actually outlawed a Jesuit becoming Pope. Francis I is not only the first pope from South America, he is also the first Jesuit to hold that office.
Writing about Senator Kaine in the Wall Street Journal, William McGurn got right to the point on Monday when he wrote,
“Mr. Kaine is a garden variety Catholic Democrat of the early 21st century. In this capacity, the orthodoxies that now define his party and might once have disturbed a practicing Catholic bother him not at all. These include abortion on demand, underwritten with taxpayer dollars.”
McGurn went on to write,
“In some ways Mr. Kaine’s rise represents the yielding of the old pro-choice Catholic Democrat represented by Mario Cuomo—‘I am not implying that we should stand by and pretend indifference to whether a woman takes a pregnancy to its conclusion or aborts it’ said he at Notre Dame in 1984—to the brave new world where son Andrew Cuomo says that those who oppose abortion ‘have no place in the state of New York.’ Whatever else this is, it marks a comedown from the high hopes of liberal American Catholicism in those heady days before JFK became the first Catholic president.”
McGurn is on to something of very great importance here. There are two conflicting orthodoxies, at least in terms of the official teaching: the orthodoxy of the Roman Catholic Church on the issue of abortion and the unwieldy, unbending, uncompromising position of the Democratic Party on the question of abortion. On that question, the Democratic Party has a very enforced creedal orthodoxy, and that is abortion to be supported under all circumstances and even with required coercion of taxpayers in paying for abortion. The Democratic Party has made very clear that it supports abortion under any and all circumstances, including so-called partial-birth abortion. That is when a baby is aborted at the very moment when it otherwise would be born a healthy baby. It is a form of premeditated murder that is still disguised as abortion and politically supported by the Democratic Party. McGurn’s summary sentence deserves quotation in full,
“In this sense, Mr. Kaine might be best understood as the byproduct of a decades long effort by liberal Catholicism to make the world safe for pro-choice Catholic Democrats.”
When the conflicting orthodoxies of the Catholic Church and the Democratic Party arrive on the issue of abortion, anyone who is going to come close to leadership of the Democratic Party has to abandon pro-life convictions and wholeheartedly and unreservedly accept the pro-abortion logic of the Democratic Party. The interesting thing here, of course, is the fact you have so many Catholic Democrats claim that they are personally opposed to abortion. Senator Kaine has repeated that over and over again, and he stated it again last night. But that simply fails the plausibility test. If indeed Senator Kaine believes that abortion is murder, and that is the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, he cannot turn around with any consistency at all and support the Democratic Party’s enthusiastic affirmation of abortion, not only in terms of unrestricted abortion rights, but of taxpayer payment for abortion as well. That is an untenable position.
We’ve also noted on The Briefing how Senator Kaine has abandoned the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church on the definition of marriage, shifting from opposition to same-sex marriage to support for same-sex marriage just at the time that was most politically plausible and politically convenient. We also noted the fact that he went on with audacity to claim that his affirmation of same-sex marriage comes from his reading of the goodness of creation as revealed in Genesis 1. That’s not only an implausible reading of Genesis 1, it is an outright denial of Genesis 3 that so quickly follows. But he also went on to say, that it was his hope and expectation that the Roman Catholic Church would change its position on homosexuality and same-sex marriage. He went on to predict that it indeed would do so.
Governor Pence, on the other hand, shares with Senator Kaine the fact that he was born into a Roman Catholic family, but he later joined an evangelical church and has identified himself as an evangelical Christian. Last night Governor Pence landed some very important points of critique in terms of the Democratic Party’s position on the question of abortion and the sanctity of human life. He felt sure, however, of making an adequate case for the fact that abortion is murder, and it is the taking of an innocent human life. He made something short of the argument that the inhabitant of the womb is a full human person and to be respected as such. Nevertheless, though not offering a comprehensive argument in the time allotted, he did clearly identify himself as being consistently and publicly pro-life, something that is not new for the Indiana Governor.
Thus last night, far more than was evident in the first presidential debate, you had two very different worldviews on display. That became particularly clear and acute in the closing segment of the debate last night. Then it became exceedingly clear that one’s larger worldview results in a position on the sanctity of human life and the question of abortion: one way leads to the defense of life, the other leads to the defense of the taking of that life. That’s a fundamental difference. That difference reflects a deep moral divide in the American people. And that’s abundantly clear in terms of recent presidential elections when the issue of abortion has been entirely predictable in terms of the policy positions of the two major parties, the Democrats and the Republicans.
The Democrats have been solidly pro-abortion since the early 1970s, and the Republicans have been consistently pro-life since the 1980 presidential election. That’s a very long time. That means that a considerable number of voters in 2016 will not know a situation in which the Republicans have not represented a pro-life position and the Democrats a pro-abortion position In the 2016 election, it’s also abundantly clear that not only is former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, determined to continue that unequivocal support for abortion on the part of the Democratic Party, she is extending even to calling for the repeal of the Hyde amendment that would lead to taxpayer funding of abortion. And she has also been so pro-abortion that Planned Parenthood for the first time in the organization’s history endorsed her in the Democratic nomination process.
On the Republican side, since 1980 every single Republican presidential nominee has made a public issue of support for the sanctity of human life and opposition to legal abortion. That is what stakes Donald Trump out as a very different candidate for the Republican Party. Even as Donald Trump has historically been pro-choice on the question of abortion by his own affirmation, in the 2016 presidential election he has pledged to be pro-life and to appoint pro-life justices to the United States Supreme Court. It’s going to be very interesting to see how this issue plays out in the 2016 election, which after all is coming in just a very short amount of time. That points to the fact that there isn’t much time for the American people to move at all in terms of their electoral decision, and in their weighing of the issues and the relative importance of those issues. The last few moments of last night’s vice presidential debate offered at least a serious exchange on a fundamentally serious and important moral issue: the question of abortion. We’ll hope to see a similar kind of exchange between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in either the second or the third presidential debate. It may well be up to the moderators of those debates to make certain that the candidates do address the issue.
God, man, and nature: Massive Hurricane Matthew pummels Haiti, threatens American South
Next, we turn to the headline news about Hurricane Matthew, which slammed into the nation of Haiti yesterday with winds of about 145 mph, ranking it as a category four hurricane. For a while at least, it was a category five hurricane, and it may be once again, if it regains strength over the warm waters of the Caribbean and the straits of Florida. As John Bacon reported yesterday for USA Today,
“Bottled water flew off supermarket shelves along Florida's Atlantic Coast and South Carolina prepared to evacuate more than 1 million people as the nation braced itself for the most powerful storm to smash through the region in almost a decade.”
We were told that,
“A hurricane watch was issued Tuesday for parts of Florida as Matthew roared through the Caribbean, pounding tiny Haiti with heavy rain and powerful winds and tides. Hurricane-strength winds could reach Florida midday Thursday, and the storm could linger there into Friday
It is then expected to exit into the Atlantic where it will turn, according to these predictions, to the West and go into South Carolina along the coast, heading up eventually to the mid-Atlantic and the Northeast. Matthew is the strongest hurricane in the entire Caribbean region for almost a decade, and when it hit Haiti it was the strongest hurricane to hit that beleaguered nation in 52 years. Needless to say, Haiti is a nation that is very vulnerable to this kind of natural disaster. As of late last night, it was not yet clear whether there would be a high death toll in Haiti from the storm, but it was clear that there was expected widespread devastation in the already heavily devastated nation.
We’re also looking at the fact that predictions indicate that there is sufficient danger for regions of Florida and South Carolina to force preparedness, and in the case of South Carolina, the evacuation of an estimated 1 million people. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley has ordered the evacuation of all persons in South Carolina up to 100 miles from the coast, indicating something of the significance and scale of the danger that is expected.
From a Christian worldview perspective, of course, our first concern is to pray for those who are in danger and to do anything possible in terms of our own power to help those who may offer assistance to those whose lives are in danger or who are facing the threat of the storm.
There is also, however, the realization that should come by the Christian worldview of how little of the reality of the world we actually control. There is something of human arrogance and hubris in the fact that even as we’re looking at the 2016 presidential election, even as we find ourselves talking about events local and international, we often speak as if human beings are the deciders, human beings are eventually in control, it matters in the end, according to certain human arrogance, what human beings will decide, which course we will take, which candidate will elect. The size of this kind of hurricane reminds us, or at least should remind us, that we are actually not in control of some the most fundamental forces of the universe.
This is a humbling realization. It’s a very important realization for anyone who operates from a biblical worldview. It is precisely the kind of realization that came to Job in the final chapters of that biblical book when it became increasingly apparent to him by his own confession, and by God’s own speech to him, that he was not in control, rather that God alone is in control as the Creator, Sustainer, and the Providential Ruler of the entire universe. We may be far advanced in terms of previous generations in our ability to track and to predict these kinds of storms. But one thing remains constant: we are in no more control of these storms than were the ancients who could merely observe them once they arrived and after they left with no anticipated knowledge of any predictive ability. We now have a great deal of predictability. But that’s a very different thing than suffering under the illusion that we are in control.
Ruled by rules at a very young age: Research shows young children predisposed to rule-making
Finally, sometimes it’s important to observe the secular world standing back and wonder at something that shouldn’t be amazing or unexpected at all. Writing recently at the Wall Street Journal, Alison Gopnik writes about the fact that even very young children seem to be rather inflexible about believing that there should be rules and that rules should be followed, if not by themselves than by others. The headline in the article,
“Our Need to Make And Enforce Rules Starts Very Young.”
“Children as young as 3 years old enforce social rules and conventions—even when they aren’t really there.”
“They aren’t really there” part refers to the fact that sometimes these three-year-olds, toddlers, in effect invent rules and then apply them. The point is this: even very young children, toddlers, seem to have a very well-developed sense of rules and of rule keeping. One of the points Alison Gopnik makes in the article is that even though three-year-olds may themselves break the rules they can be extremely inflexible and judgmental about other three-year-olds who they see as breaking those rules. Gopnik makes reference to a debate that has shaped the Western mind at least since the Enlightenment and the influence of philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who held a basically humanistic understanding of the human being, believing that children are born naturally innocent and nonjudgmental and that culture and society forces a certain judgmentalism upon them. But the interesting thing is that even parents who try to be nonjudgmental and to raise their children in nonjudgmental ways end up with children who, by the time they are toddlers, believe in rules and believe, in effect, that those rules ought to be followed.
Gopnik cites researchers who refer to these children as,
In other words, they interpret actions as conventions and rules, even when that isn’t necessarily the case.
“Rules dominate our lives, from birth to death.”
Now what’s important here? Well from the Christian worldview it’s this: the secular world has no explanation for exactly why a toddler shows up making moral judgments and believing that moral judgments must be made. The Christian worldview has an answer, a very clear answer. And that’s because every single human being is made in God’s image, and a part of that image is a moral consciousness, and indeed the experience an expectation of making moral judgments. To be human is to be a moral creature. The Bible affirms that comprehensively. It’s something that seems to puzzle the modern secular mind, especially when faced with something as puzzling as a human toddler, but for Christians there’s a very clear understanding. That toddler is simply making very clear what we must already know. When you find a human being, you find one who cannot not know that we are moral creatures, and that there are even beyond us rules, rules to which we are accountable.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at AlbertMohler.com, you can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to BoyceCollege.com.
I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.