Monday, November 13, 2017
The Briefing 11-13-17
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Monday, November 13, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
We’ll see yet another crisis of conscience for Christian voters, we’ll see the urgent need for moral clarity from biblical Christians, we’ll ask what kind of denial should Christians expect, even demand, and we’ll ask the question: What is a watching world watching for as it watches Christians?
Yet another crisis of conscience for Christian voters, specifically voters in Alabama
We now face a new moral crisis, a new crisis of conscience, for voters in the United States, specifically, this time voters in the state of Alabama. That's because on December 12 the voters of that state will elect a new United States Senator in a special election made necessary in order to fill the seat that had been vacated by the current Attorney General of the United States Jeff Sessions. As of at least the beginning of last week, we thought we knew what the election was going to look like, we had a very conservative Republican and a rather liberal Democrat going head-to-head. The Republican was generally favored, even though he's a controversial figure in Alabama, because it's very difficult for Democrats to be elected statewide right now in Alabama under almost any circumstances. On the Republican side, the nominee is the former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, he’s held that position twice, twice he was removed given controversy that actually enhanced his standing on issues amongst many conservative Christians, while troubling others, especially the secular left but also some in the political mainstream. In any event, it was going to be Republican Roy Moore versus Democrat Doug Jones and everyone understood that the stakes were very high. The Republican majority in the United States Senate is right now a majority of two, losing even one seat would be very, very damaging to Republican prospects. And that means, of course, for those who are very much concerned about the sanctity of human life, just to take one major moral issue, the issue of abortion, losing even one seat in terms of switching from a pro-life to a pro-abortion position would be absolutely devastating, but that was early last week, by the time we get to the end of last week, well, it looked like just about everything was changed. The best summary of the explosive story that broke just at the end of last week comes in a few paragraphs published in the Wall Street Journal. Janet Hook and Natalie Andrews report,
“Alabama’s special election for a U.S. Senate seat was rattled [last] Thursday by allegations that Republican nominee Roy Moore initiated a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl several decades ago, when he was 32.”
The reporters went on to say,
“The allegations surfaced in a report in the Washington Post just one month before Alabama voters are set to hold a special Senate election to choose between Mr. Moore—an evangelical conservative who is a hero of the religious right—and Democratic candidate Doug Jones.”
The reporters continued,
“The Post article also quoted three other women who said Mr. Moore had pursued them when they were ages 16 to 18 and he was in his early 30s and an assistant district attorney. … Mr. Moore denied the allegations calling it ‘a political attack’ by Democrats.”
The report went on to say that
“Several Republican senators—including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—said if the article [were] true, Mr. Moore should abandon his campaign.”
That's just a summary of the words in the Wall Street Journal article, a much longer article, and if anything, the Wall Street Journal played down the volatility of this rather explosive news. By the time America went into last weekend this was the news that was consuming most of the airtime and most of the public attention, and we have to face it, this is a very big story. It's a big story that this massive story broke in the Washington Post. It's an even bigger story if the allegations are true. In any event, it's also a big story that conservative voters in the state of Alabama now have a genuine crisis of conscience faced with yet another major political candidate. This crisis of conscience is made even more acute by the public policy issues that we here confront, very genuine policy differences between Judge Moore and Doug Jones. Very different policies that are represented by the respective platforms of the Democratic and Republican parties, but we’re also looking at the intersection of public policy and personal morality; the issue of character and the question of conviction. These are difficult and unavoidable questions at any time, but in this particular moment, they are particularly acute.
The urgent need for moral clarity from biblical Christians
In terms of trying to think about how we should think about this kind of issue, a very explosive and developing issue, we need at least to think in terms of the charges first of all, the allegations because without the allegations there is no story, and the allegations come down to this: In a massive investigative report from the Washington Post of almost 3,000 words. The allegations come down to the fact that Judge Moore is accused of having made overtures, at least romantic overtures, to four girls who were teenagers at the time he made the approach roughly 40 years ago when he was in his early 30s. The most explosive of the allegations has to do with the fact that he is accused of actually making an improper sexual advance towards a girl who was 14 at the time, including at least some kind of sexual contact. So as evangelical Christians committed to the authority of Scripture and to a biblical understanding of morality and sexuality and character, the first thing we need to face, without even reference to any specific charge against any particular person, is that this is a very serious moral charge. The Christian worldview would make very clear that there is no context whatsoever in which a 30-year-old young man should have any sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl. It's not only a matter that is immoral, it was certainly also illegal at the time and it is also an issue of extreme moral urgency. Christians affirm that, according to Scripture, there is one and only one arena, only one allowable and proper arena for any kind of sexual contact or behavior, and that is within the context of marriage defined as a man and a woman in a marriage that is to last for their lifetimes. We also understand a particular responsibility to defend the defenseless and to speak up for those who need that defense, and we must make very clear that predatory sexual behavior, especially predatory sexual behavior addressed to a child, to a minor, is absolutely heinous, reprehensible, and cannot be accepted by any morally sane society. Even in our sexually confused age, we should be thankful for the fact that there is at least enough residual moral sense in the American people that they understand that any contact by an adult male with a minor female, or for that matter you could even change the genders, it’s absolutely wrong, immoral, and unacceptable. So we should at least state that about the charges right up front: If indeed the allegations are true, they are genuinely, morally devastating and they should be politically devastating as well.
This was affirmed, of course, by major Democrats across the United States who see this as at least an opportunity to pick up a seat they thought was hopeless, but it was also affirmed by major Republicans, including the Republican who is the president of the United States Donald Trump, as was mentioned in the Wall Street Journal article, Mitch McConnell, the Majority Leader of the Senate, and also others such as the senior senator from the state of Alabama Richard Shelby. Shelby said very categorically as a Republican,
“If these allegations are true, there is no place for Roy Moore in the United States Senate.”
By the time the weekend came to an end almost every Republican senator had said something very similar, some even called for Judge Moore to exit the race even without regard to whether or not the allegations are true, but in any event, this takes us to the second major issue of Christian concern and that is the credibility of the charges. We do understand that charges can be made against virtually anyone at any time. The question is: Are the charges credible; do they make sense? Do they have traction? In this case, at least in terms of the reporting from the Washington Post we have to say these are very serious allegations. The Post is a liberal newspaper, to be sure that has to be factored into the equation, the editors of the Washington Post would be far happier with Doug Jones as a United States senator, with virtually any Democrat as United States senator rather than any Republican. But as you look at the story, the Washington Post has put its journalistic integrity very much on the line. And this in the aftermath of the fact that we can remember, for example, in the 2004 presidential campaign that 60 Minutes II, and its main correspondent Dan Rather, made devastating charges against the then president of the United States George W. Bush as he was running for reelection, charges that had to do with a set of documents that had supposedly been uncovered. Documents known as the Killian Manuscripts, which, supposedly, demonstrated that as a young man George W. Bush had used political connections to avoid the draft and get preferred status. But as it turned out, that report was extremely suspect; its credibility began immediately to fall apart when it was discovered, for example, that some of the documents that been brought forward by 60 Minutes II had actually been documents that had been printed on a technology that didn't exist when the documents were said to have originated.
Over the weekend, Judge Moore directly questioned the credibility of the allegations even as he flatly denied them. Another story in the Wall Street Journal included this denial offered by Judge Moore,
“I have never provided alcohol to minors, and I have never engaged in sexual misconduct.”
He called the report in the Washington Post, and all subsequent reports based upon it, fake news, but then we also have to ask the question: What kind of credibility are we able to ascertain in this situation? It is virtually impossible, especially before the 12 of December when voters will go to the polls, to be able to bring forward any kind of forensic evidence, even if any kind of such evidence exists, so we’re looking at the credibility of those who are making the charges and the credibility of the one who was charged, in this case, the credibility of Judge Moore, who as he pointed out has had no allegation about sexual impropriety in 40 years of public life versus the credibility not only the Washington Post, but of the four women who are cited within the Washington Post as making these allegations; women for whom there is, at least as yet, no evidence of any reason to bring these charges except the fact that they are true. These women have put themselves very much in public view, they put themselves in the line of fire. We’re talking here about a very serious set of allegations and we’re talking about an extremely difficult question of credibility. Eventually, Christian voters in the state of Alabama will have to make the credibility judgment, and making that judgment they will then have to vote accordingly. What am I saying? I'm saying this, that if voters in Alabama decide that Judge Moore's credibility is far superior to that of the accusers, then they will vote accordingly. But if they come to the conclusion that the accusers and the accusation are more credible than Judge Moore and his denials, they will also need to vote accordingly. That's a matter of conscience. It's a matter of principle, and voters in Alabama should it least face clearly, the fact that they are going to be making a judgment about the credibility of these charges, they’re going to be making that judgment as a go to the polls. There's no way around making that judgment. Those voters will then have to take responsibility for their vote in light of that judgment. Voters in the state of Alabama did not ask for this challenge, but nonetheless they now face it, and they're going to face it all the way to December 12 when they're going to have to face living with the consequences of that decision. And of course this points to the fact that at any given political moment, we’re actually living with the consequences of prior decisions; decisions made in the nomination process in this race; decisions made even over years and decades past that provided the political history that leads to the political present.
What kind of denial should Christians expect, even demand?
But in that light, I then have to turn to yet another dimension of this very difficult situation, and that is looking at the nature of the denial, and, in this case, asking very seriously as Christians, what kind of denial we should expect, even should demand. The denial I cited from the Wall Street Journal appears to be very straightforward. Judge Moore said,
“I have never provided alcohol to minors, and I have never engaged in sexual misconduct.”
But as we’re looking at this kind of allegation, this set of allegations, we have to understand that as Christians, even if we remove this, maybe particularly if we remove this from the political context, we have to understand that in virtually any other context we’d be looking for a very specific form of denial, a very specific form such as, I never dated teenagers, teenage girls, such as the denial of the fact it couldn't be possible that had ever taken place, a denial such as I don't know this young woman, I never knew her, and I was certainly never alone with her under any circumstances in which anything like this might even have happened. But we also need to look at the fact that the denial, in terms of an extended comment from Judge Moore, at least at this point, falls considerably short of what we should look for as Christians. For example, in what was presumably a very friendly interview chosen carefully with Fox News host Sean Hannity Judge Moore was asked the question,
“Would it be unusual for you as a 32-year-old guy to have dated a woman as young as 17? That would be a 15 year difference or a girl 18. Do you remember dating girls that young at that time?”
Judge Moore responded,
“Not generally, no. If I did, you know, I'm not going to dispute anything but I don't remember anything like that.”
Well, let's just be clear, that's not the denial that we were looking for. I don't think it's the denial we should be looking for. The hedge words there had to do with the fact that Judge Moore responded,
“Not generally, no.”
And then he said,
“If I did,”
again, he said,
“I'm not going to dispute anything but I don't remember anything like that.”
I’ll just state the obvious and say Judge Moore is going to have to say something far more specific as a denial than that because it is certainly true that one should be able to remember that if one were in one's 30s and had dated teenage girls.
Hannity came back, apparently somewhat puzzled himself, with another question in which he said,
“You can say, unequivocally, you never dated anyone in their late teens like that when [you] were 32?”
The judge responded,
“that would be out of my customary behavior.”
The problem there is not the word behavior, but the word customary. Does that mean that that was just a general policy that wasn't always applied? These are questions that will eventually have to be answered. Judge Moore's going to have to answer these questions, and even though we should note he has given a very straightforward denial of any sexual impropriety, it is still a huge question that is hanging over his campaign as to what exactly he is now denying other than that. Again, I simply have to state that voters in Alabama are going to come to the conclusion that either the charges or the charged are more credible, and eventually they're going have to vote based upon that conviction. But voters in Alabama, Christian voters in particular and Christians thinking about this question wherever we live, should at least also press the issue to ask what kind of denial we would expect of a friend, against whom similar allegations have been made, against a Christian leader, these are questions we should ask far beyond the context of this particular special election in the state of Alabama. We as Christians also have to recognize that as we act in this situation, as the voters in Alabama must act and as we think about it and try to analyze it, as we converse about it wherever we may live, we need to keep in mind that the world is watching, a world that is increasingly puzzled about many of these questions, a world that has created many of these problems in its headlong rush into the sexual revolution, but a world that is now watching to see how biblical Christians are going to think about this issue, speak about it, and respond to it.
What is a watching world watching for as it watches Christians?
The stakes on this count were made clear on the opinion page of the New York Times yesterday. Two different articles, what makes them interesting is the juxtaposition. One of them was by a secular liberal Nicholas Kristof, very well-known columnist for the New York Times. The other was by the conservative columnist for the times, Ross Douthat. They are offering two parallel, if juxtaposed, understandings of what we’re now facing. Nicholas Kristof got right to the issue when he asked: How can some Christians cite the Bible to defend child molestation? The background of this was an extremely unfortunate statement made by a political figure in Alabama suggesting that a grown man having a romantic relationship with a young woman wasn't all that unusual and might not even be immoral, citing the example of Joseph and Mary. Let’s just state categorically, that's out of bounds, it’s neither good theology nor biblical interpretation, nor is it sound moral reasoning, and to state the obvious beyond that, it’s just exceedingly bad argument made at exactly the wrong time.
In his article, understanding the quandary now faced by conservative Christian voters in Alabama, Kristof makes a rather amazing admission of his own. He wrote,
“We all make compromises — I supported Bill Clinton in 1992 over George H.W. Bush, whom I thought was personally more moral — but that doesn’t require downplaying the inexcusable.”
Now, I’ll just have to interject at this point and say that President Clinton's sexual misbehavior, serial sexual misbehavior, was itself unquestionably morally inexcusable, but we’ll also recognize that in this case, as Nicholas Kristof has underlined, we are talking about sexual misbehavior with a minor. We’ll just simply have to move on. But Kristof writes,
“I used to complain that conservatives believe that morality is about only personal behavior, while liberals believe it is only about policy positions, while actually it’s about both. Sadly,”
“some of the ‘family values’ conservatives now don’t seem to care about either private or public morality.”
Now I think that Kristof's argument is reductionistic, but nonetheless, it's important to recognize that the main lesson we should learn from this article is that the secular left is watching us, watching to see if we really believe what we say we believe and then will translate that into what shows up even in the voting booth. The world is watching us.
In his article, Ross Douthat points out that there are some structural issues we have to face honestly here, and one of them is deeply theological. That’s something he understands as a Roman Catholic, that’s something we understand as confessing evangelicals, and especially as evangelicals committed to a biblical pattern of complementarity. Speaking of lessons that must be learned by this particular controversy, Douthat writes,
“One lesson is that any social order that vests particular forms of power in men needs to do more, not less, to hold the male of the species accountable.”
Far beyond the immediate context of this controversy in Alabama, that's a principle we need to hear. Frankly, it was distilled about as clearly as I think it possibly could be in Ross Douthat’s column in the New York Times yesterday. Yes, indeed, any social order, we should say, any theological or doctrinal system that invests particular forms of power in men, as we believe is scriptural, it needs to do more, not less, to hold the male of the species accountable. That's a deeply Christian instinct. It is a deeply New Testament, a deeply biblical instinct.
As I said earlier, the voters of Alabama did not ask for this. None of us asked for this, but now there is no way that any of us can avoid thinking very deeply, seriously, and even publicly about this excruciating crisis of conscience. The political stakes, especially when you just think about the issue of the sanctity of human life, is extremely high. Yet, the moral stakes are even higher. We can hope that in the coming days of this week there is at least some additional clarity brought to the situation, but until then, this much is already clear: We face a responsibility we cannot possibly avoid.
Finally, speaking of the Washington Post on Sunday, I had an opinion piece in that newspaper in the print edition, in which I discussed some of the controversy about politicians and others, speaking of the fact that our thoughts and prayers are with people who are at that point experiencing grief and sorrow. For example, the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas. In my article, I point out that it is a false dichotomy to suggest that we are either thinking and praying for someone or we are doing something. Now as I point out, prayer from a Christian biblical perspective is profoundly doing something. You can find that article that the Washington Post.