Monday, May 15, 2017
The Briefing 05-15-17
Tags: Abortion, Audio, Boy Scouts Of America, Mormonism, Willie Parker
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Monday, May 15, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
"Ransomware" cyber attack affecting over 150 countries stopped by 22 year old surfer—at least for now
It was a very busy weekend, especially for a group of hackers and those trying to stop them. The hacking was actually a massive effort—according to the count as of last night, computers have been hacked in 150 different nations. About 200,000 computers, it was estimated, by Sunday night had been infected with what is known as ransomware, and it’s not an innocent hack. The story is very interesting, but the bottom line in it all is that it can get a great deal worse as of Monday morning. This morning the fear is that as people go into offices around the world and reboot their computers that have been dormant since Friday, it just might be that several hundred thousand additional computers could be infected.
And one of the other big lessons from this is the fact that with the new technological age comes a new set of vulnerabilities. And another thing we need to recognize is that with every one of these technologies and with their combined vulnerabilities, there are persons who with evil intent will try to take advantage. That’s exactly what was going on here and, by the way, that vulnerability was stopped, if it has been stopped, mostly by the effort and the wisdom of just one person, a 22-year-old anti-hacker in Britain who likes to spend most of his time surfing rather than working on computers. But he seemed to have what it takes to at least stop the continued spread of this ransomware, but it’s a warning about similar efforts that are sure to be undertaken shortly.
Days after winning the election, Emmanuel Macron inaugurated as President of France
Another important event over the weekend was that the French President-Elect Emmanuel Macron is now actually the new President of France, that transition period exceedingly short. The runoff election for the French presidency was just a matter of days ago and already Macron is the new French President.
Now of course there can be all kinds of observations about what the new president will mean for France, but just in terms of worldview it’s important to recognize that differences in the structure of government reflect even deeper differences. The French presidential model is almost monarchial; the French president is often compared to someone like a king, an elected king. This was modeled especially in what’s known as the French Fifth Republic upon the example of Charles de Gaulle, the World War II hero of France who became the model of the French presidency. But we also need to note that in the United States the transition period is considerably longer—shorter than it was at least in the beginning of the 20th century, but still a matter of months. The reason for that is that Americans put an enormous premium on a peaceful transition of power. And a rather seamless transition of presidencies in France, given the more monarchial model, it is a matter of immediacy. The French people having elected a president; expect that new president to show up as president very quickly, and Emmanuel Macron has now moved into the Élysée Palace and is even now the President of France.
Mormons sever longstanding relationship with Boy Scouts following pattern of rapid liberalization
Another major development as we went into the weekend was an announcement that came very late in the week that the Mormon Church was going to be severing its historic relationship with the Boy Scouts of America for programs affecting boys and young men aged 14 to 18. This is a really big story, and the timing of the story is also very significant.
In terms of the religious groups that sponsor scouting organizations, well, it turns out that the Mormon Church is, by percentage, by far the leader of the pack. The Mormon Church has historically had a very long relationship with the Boy Scouts of America, and the fact that Mormons are now separating their relationship with the Boy Scouts for boys ages 14 to 18 is extremely significant. This comes after what has taken place in 2013 and 2015 with major changes in the policy of the Boy Scouts of America first accepting openly gay scouts and then also accepting openly gay scout leaders. Something else that has happened in recent times is that the Boy Scouts have done their best to join to some extent the transgender revolution, allowing participation by transgender scouts who identify as boys. This means those who were born as girls but are now identifying as boys. But one of the crucial issues now faced by the Boy Scouts of America as we discussed just a few days ago are now open calls for the Boy Scouts of America to accept girls—that means biological girls who identify as girls—within the scouting organization and especially at the ages of 14 to 18 and, in particular, in the historic and traditional scouting programs that lead eventually to the recognition of an Eagle Scout.
Now the big news was encapsulated in major news media stories on Friday. One of the most interesting of these was found in the New York Times, the reporter Christine Hauser. In her report she indicates that Mormon authorities had said that their decision was not directly attributable to any recent policy change in terms of the Boy Scouts of America. Furthermore, the Mormons said they were going to go ahead and continue to participate with the Boy Scouts of America for younger boys, in particular for the programs identified as Cub Scouts. But nevertheless, the real story is in the headline of the New York Times piece which reads,
“As Scouting Liberalizes, Mormon Church Decides To Reduce Participation.”
That’s really the key issue here. There can be no doubt fundamentally that the reason the Mormon Church has separated from the Boy Scouts of America has everything to do with the change in the Boy Scouts and their moral policies and positions. As Hauser reports,
“In a letter addressed to church authorities, the leaders of the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said that the decision to end its sponsorship would affect boys between 14 and 18 years old, starting on Jan. 1, 2018, for units in the Boy Scouts of America and in Scouts Canada.”
The statement that was from Mormon authorities to Mormon congregation said,
“In most congregations in the United States and Canada, young men ages 14–18 are not being served well by the Varsity or Venturing programs, which have historically been difficult to implement within the Church. This change,” said the authorities, “will allow youth and leaders to implement a simplified program that meets local needs while providing activities that balance spiritual, social, physical and intellectual development goals for young men.”
Now in that language is a certain code that we can decode quite easily. It has to do with the fact that even as the Mormon authorities have said this really isn’t a decision that has been prompted by any specific scouting decision, the reality is it’s a pattern of scouting decisions, a liberalizing in terms of morality as this headline indicates. And furthermore, many outside observers familiar with both Mormonism and the Scouts say that even the open speculation about including girls within the Boy Scouts organization was enough to prompt this decision that seemed to be dropped even at the end of last week.
The Boy Scouts can’t say that they were not warned. Back in 2013 and 2015 when the major decisions were made that changed the policy, Mormon authorities indicated that they were “deeply troubled,” and they also announced that they would continue to examine their long association with scouting—and by long we’re talking about a little over 100 years.
Something else to consider here is that there has been a similar exodus from both Catholic and Protestant churches when it comes to the Boy Scouts of America. Some of this has been acknowledged by the national organization, some of it quite under the radar. But it is also true that many of the congregations and religious organizations that said they were going to try to sit out the changes and see what happened, many of these organizations and churches have been told that they would continue to be able to organize their own scout troops according to their own moral convictions. They appear to have seen the handwriting on the wall. And furthermore, other media reports indicate that many of these individual scout troops that have been operating in ways that were at least in terms of policy consistent with their religious organizations, they found that they were unable to cooperate with other troops in terms of state, regional, and national meetings without fully exposing their own programs to the same moral revolution.
Of course, as we have already noticed, when you’re talking about a change in an organization as historic and fundamental as the Boy Scouts of America, when you have to reach the point in a society where it may be no longer tenable—perhaps one day no longer even legal—to have an organization that would put either boy or girl in its title in any kind of restrictive sense, that we are looking not at the beginning or even the middle stages of a revolution in morality, we’re looking at the acceleration of its most radical stage. And all of this, we need to note, in a span of less than four calendar years. Going back to the policy decision of 2013 to this announcement by the Mormon authorities in 2017, you’re talking about less than half a decade. That in itself tells us a great deal about the story.
Abortion "God's work"? Setting the record straight on early Christianity's consistent pro-life witness
Next, looking at another very important dimension in terms of this revolution, Dr. Willie Parker is one of the most infamous abortion doctors in America. Located mostly in terms of his work in Mississippi, he’s now the author of a new book that is getting a great deal of publicity. The title of the book, “Life's Work: A Moral Argument for Choice.” It’s actually one of the most interesting and revealing arguments to come out in a very long time. Willie Parker not only seeks to justify his practice of abortion, but actually to celebrate it, calling it in the book not only his life’s work, but also claiming that in performing abortions he is doing “God’s work.”
In the book he refers to those who uphold the sanctity of human life as the “anti’s,” as in antiabortion, and in one of the most important paragraphs of the book he writes this:
“If you take antiabortion rhetoric at face value without knowing much about the Bible, you might assume that the anti’s have Scripture on their side.”
“That’s how dominant and pervasive their righteous rhetoric has become. But they do not,” he writes. “The Bible does not contain the word abortion anywhere in it. As an inspired document,” he says, “the Bible is full of guidance for me about justice and love, but as a historical document the Bible is a ruthless, unsparing record of the historic misogyny of the early Jewish and Christian people.”
So let’s look at what we’re dealing with here. Here you have a man who is claiming to sanctify abortion, claiming that the righteous Christian position is not in opposing abortion, but rather in defending what on the cover of the book he identifies as choice but throughout the book he identifies actually as abortion. And in the book he goes so far in the paragraph I just read as to argue first of all that the Bible doesn’t even use the word abortion, that if you weren’t thinking carefully and didn’t know the Bible you would think that antiabortionists actually have the upper hand in biblical argument. and there we need to pause for just a moment and say, of course the Bible doesn’t use the word abortion, that was not an accessible word when the Bible was written. But the Bible certainly knows what abortion is and it upholds in every way consistently the dignity and sanctity of every single human life. Saying that the Bible doesn’t mention abortion is very similar to the argument we routinely hear that nowhere does the Bible or in particular does Jesus speak against same-sex marriage. But of course, when you look at Matthew 19:3-6, there you have Jesus establishing what he says was God’s intention from the beginning in making human beings as male and female, and uniting a man and a woman in marriage for a lifetime. Thus, he says, was God’s purpose from the beginning. If you just stop there, Jesus has already said, look, the purpose for our creation as human beings as male and female is for marriage, and marriage for a man and a woman for a lifetime. And then it’s Jesus who said, “Whatever God put together, let no man separate.”
But the really interesting thing here is what Willie Parker and others are trying to get away with, and that’s trying simply to say the Bible’s not antiabortion, so move on. But the reason I read the entire paragraph is because you heard what Dr. Willie Parker actually believes about the Bible. Let me get back to that sentence again. He said,
“The Bible does not contain the word abortion anywhere in it. As an inspired document, the Bible is full of guidance for me about justice and love, but as a historical document the Bible is a ruthless, unsparing record of the historic misogyny of the early Jewish and Christian people.”
So in other words, Willie Parker looks to the Scripture in terms of its historic reality and describes it as ruthless and unsparing, holding to ancient sexual prejudices. So what he seems to argue with the one hand, he actually takes back with the other. It really apparently wouldn’t matter to Willie Parker if the Bible did use the word abortion and condemn it, because he similarly throws out what the Bible clearly does say about marriage and sexuality and sexual morality. Furthermore, Scripture really does seem to be a barrier in terms of the endorsement of abortions, as he acknowledges in the end of his book when he writes,
“Many seem to accept without thinking that to be a Christian is to oppose abortion rights. In my view,” he says, “the only Christianity that mandates an antiabortion view is an emotion-based faith, a rigid reading of Scripture that invites no questioning or interpretive consideration.”
Now wait just a minute. If the Bible doesn’t condemn abortion, why would Willie Parker himself at the end of his book say that opposition to abortion is rooted in an approach to Scripture that “invites no questioning or interpretive consideration?”
You can’t have that argument both ways. He continues by saying,
“The Bible is not stuck in time, but rather a living, breathing divinely inspired document and the God that I believe exists within its pages is big enough and flexible enough and loving enough to accommodate a very different perspective.”
So what is revealed in God’s word can be superseded by whatever Willie Parker believes that God actually would have him to believe about anything, even if contrary to his word.
That’s interesting and concerning enough, but the story gets a lot bigger when you consider Nicholas Kristof’s article in last Sunday’s edition of the New York Times. The headline of that article,
“A Christian Abortion Doctor.”
Kristof, writing about Willie Parker and his work and this new book, says this,
“No issue in America is more toxic than abortion, and that’s partly because it is today so closely associated with religion.”
“While many feminists see abortion as a matter of choice, some Christians see it as murder.”
Then he says,
“There are people like Dr. Willie Parker. Dr. Parker is black, feminist and driven by his Christian faith to provide abortions in the South, where women seeking to terminate a pregnancy have few options.”
He cites approvingly Willie Parker as saying that when he does abortion, he’s doing God’s work. But then Kristof goes on to say this,
“Since 2002, he has been providing abortions, mostly on the front lines in Southern states, walking past picketers who scream that he is a baby killer. He puts up with the danger, he says,” now this is Kristof writing, “because it’s morally right to help desperate women.”
Then Kristof writes this,
“If that seems incongruous, let’s remember that conservative Christianity’s ferocious opposition to abortion is relatively new in historical terms.”
Then Kristof writes,
“The Bible does not explicitly discuss abortion, and there’s no evidence that Christians traditionally believed that life begins at conception.”
Now he goes on throughout his article to suggest that Christians have debated when life begins, whether at conception or some later point. But what he openly argues here is that there is no clear message from the Bible about abortion and there is no clear message from historic Christianity also about the morality of abortion. That’s flatly wrong. But before I get to where Nicholas Kristof is wrong, let me speak about where he’s right.
Nicholas Kristof is a humanitarian, he writes very movingly very often about human rights and human dignity. The great tragedy is that he does not extend human rights or human dignity to the unborn. But what we notice here is that Nicholas Kristof says that conservative Christians in America, evangelical Christians in particular, have been relatively late to get to the abortion issue. And by relatively late he means basically between the period of 1973 when the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down legalizing abortion, and the late 1970s when evangelicals began fully to join the pro-life cause.
Now it’s even a little more complicated than that. For example, and Kristof is on to this, there were leading, very respectable evangelical pastors who were very confused on the issue of abortion during the 1960s and 1970s. Furthermore, there were entire evangelical denominations that took equivocal and now very embarrassing stands. One of them was the Southern Baptist Convention that, during the period of the debate over Roe v. Wade in the early 1970s, actually adopted resolutions that were far less than consistently pro-life. But by the time you get to the late 1970s, evangelicals have become profoundly pro-life. The argument being made by Willie Parker but now even more widespread in influence by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times is that there really is no Christian consensus when it comes to abortion and the morality of the killing of the unborn. And furthermore, he goes, like Dr. Parker, back to the Bible and says the word doesn’t actually explicitly appear, but he evades the big question. And when it comes to the early church, well, there there’s actually no question.
At this point we really need to separate two issues that are very much in play here. The first is the historic Christian understanding of the morality of abortion, the second is the question of when what some theologians have called ensoulment takes place. Now at this point we need to say that Christians have disagreed over the second question, but that shouldn’t have anything to do with the first. The reality is that the only consistent biblical position, regardless of the debate over the soul that was so fascinating to many theologians in late antiquity in the medieval eras, that consistent biblical position requires defending the sanctity and dignity of human life from every point after fertilization and consistently throughout all of natural life.
But when it comes to the first question, the historic Christian understanding about abortion, the evidence is absolutely irrefutable. The early church was decidedly, vocally, and courageously pro-life. It was opposed to abortion. One of the earliest documents of Christianity after the New Testament is what is known as the Didache or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles dated to the late first or early second century. And in it the teaching is this,
“You shall not murder a child by abortion or commit infanticide.”
Now both abortion and infanticide were common in the Roman Empire. This states very clearly that the early Christians were very clear in their own conviction against abortion, courageously so. The same is true of all early church leaders who came anywhere close to discussing abortion, and there were many of them. Historians such as Michael Gorman and ethicists such as Ronald Sider have done very good work in documenting the fact that there was an overwhelming consensus—as a matter of fact there was no violation of this consensus—in the early church identifying abortion as wrong and as evil and as sin.
As a matter of fact, in his work Gorman writes this,
“Writers of the first three Christian centuries laid the theological and literary foundation for all subsequent early Christian writing on abortion.”
He says there were three important themes that emerged in earliest Christianity.
“The fetus is the creation of God; abortion is murder; and the judgment of God falls on those guilty of abortion.”
Those three convictions lie at the heart of the Christian pro-life consensus that came together after the shock of the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. The scandal, we need to note, is not that evangelical Christians now hold to a pro-life position, the scandal is that there was ever any equivocation on such a fundamental question of human life and human dignity.
Arguments like these coming from Dr. Willie Parker and from Nicholas Kristof do not shame us for holding pro-life convictions now, rather we are shamed for the fact that there were ever Christians who held anything other than pro-life convictions anywhere throughout the history of the church. But at least we now know and can document that early Christians were very clear on the question of abortion.
So let there be no confusion on this question. The Bible reveals the sanctity of all human life, the early church affirmed the sanctity of every human life, and anyone who performs an abortion is not doing God’s work, rather he is undoing it. The Didache, echoing the book of Deuteronomy, describes two different ways for humanity: the way of life and the way of death. And like Deuteronomy, the Didache reminds us in every situation, especially the question of abortion, we are to choose life. Always to choose life.