The Briefing 11-15-17
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, November 15, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
We’ll look at one story with three headlines and then ask why and what do they mean, we’ll see religious liberty in crisis and not only for crisis pregnancy centers, we’ll see Canada's Governor General mock religious belief, and we’ll see the new state religion of sexuality and discover why the gossip column has disappeared.
One story with three headlines: Religious liberty in crisis, and not only for crisis pregnancy centers in California
In the great old age of print media there was a constant battle between reporters and editors. Reporters write the articles and their hope is that the editors will tamper with them as little as possible. The job of the editors is not only to ensure quality but also to ensure interest in terms of the readers of the paper. Copy editors generally add the headlines. All that adds up to the fact that when you're looking at a major article in a newspaper, especially an article on a very controversial issue, the headline was probably not written by the reporter, but the headline does tell you what the editors of the paper think is likely to incite interest. The purpose of the headline is to get the reader to read the story.
Now keep that in mind as we turn to worldview analysis of a major event yesterday: The announcement by the United States Supreme Court that it would take a very important case. But what is the case and what is it about? Well, consider the headline in the Wall Street Journal,
“Justices Review Law on Clinics Against Abortion.”
The headline in USA Today,
“Supreme Court to Hear ‘Religious Liberty’ Case.”
Religious liberty put in quotation marks. The New York Times and the Boston Globe,
“Justices to Hear Cases Tied to Free Speech.”
All three of these articles in terms of the lead issue are talking about the very same event; the very same announcement from the US Supreme Court. An announcement about a case the court has decided that it will hear. But what is the case about? Is it about abortion, is it about free speech, is it about religious liberty? The answer is yes, it's about all of those things. We’re talking about a case that emerges from California, given a California law that requires crisis pregnancy centers registered there in California to inform those women who come into those centers of the availability of abortion right down the phone numbers and contacts and addresses and they also are required to use specific language to tell these women about what the state of California declares to be their reproductive rights. Several of these centers acting together have challenge the constitutionality of this California legislation, and they have done so arguing that the bill violates their religious liberty, and more specifically violates their free speech, requiring them to state speech to the women who come into those clinics that violates their own convictions.
In terms of headline and in terms of lead paragraph the Wall Street Journal article is the least controversial. It states this,
“The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to take up an appeal by antiabortion pregnancy centers challenging a California law that requires them to tell patients about the availability of publicly funded pregnancy services, including for abortion.”
The reporters Brent Kendall and Jess Bravin go on to tell us,
“The case, Nifla v. Becerra, was one of three First Amendment-related appeals the high court added to its docket Monday. The justices also agreed to consider whether states can ban political buttons and apparel from polling stations, and whether local officials in Florida can be sued for arresting a resident who criticized their land-use policies at a public meeting.”
But clearly, those latter two cases are not of the public interest as the first case from California about those crisis pregnancy centers and about the issue of abortion. The reporters of the Wall Street Journal then state, and I quote,
“The abortion speech case adds another highly charged issue to a docket that already is filled with divisive cases, including one next month that examines whether a baker can refuse to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples.”
Now that's a very interesting linkage. Of course, this year before the United States Supreme Court is going to be really important, and that case, the case of that baker from Colorado is actually another case that points to the inevitable intersection of religious liberty and free speech. But before we leave the Wall Street Journal article, the most important thing, perhaps, we need to recognize is, again, that headline,
“Justices Review Law on Clinics Against Abortion.”
The crisis pregnancy centers are identified as clinics and within the article as,
“antiabortion pregnancy centers.”
The bottom line in terms of the importance of the Wall Street Journal's lead in the article and the headline of the article has to do with the straightforward acknowledgment that abortion is the controversial issue at the center of the case. Later within the article, the journal recognizes,
“Religiously affiliated antiabortion pregnancy centers, and an organization representing such facilities, petitioned the Supreme Court. They said the law violates free-speech and religious-exercise protections because it forces them to communicate a government message about the availability of state-funded abortion.”
Now dealing with the very same announcement from the Supreme Court, the New York Times and the Boston Globe in their headlines went not to the issue of abortion, not to the issue of religious liberty, but to the issue of free speech. The lede in the article by Adam Liptak is this,
“The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear two cases on the limits of the First Amendment’s protection of free speech. One asks,”
according to Liptak,
“whether California may require ‘crisis pregnancy centers’ to provide information about abortion. … The California case,”
“concerns a state law that requires centers operated by opponents of abortion to provide women with information about the availability of the procedure. The centers seek,”
“to persuade women to choose parenting or adoption.”
Now in terms of analysis, note the language that was used in the Wall Street Journal, the language rather consistently of antiabortion. Similar kind of language shows up here in the New York Times, but both papers deserve credit for a straightforward and generally very fair assessment of the announcement. What's interesting is how the New York Times and the Boston Globe zeroed in on free speech, The Wall Street Journal zeroed in on abortion, and USA Today, to which we now turn, zeroed in in it's headline and in its lede to the article on religious liberty. But perhaps even more significantly, put the words religious liberty in scare quotes. Richard Wolf reports,
“The Supreme Court is wading back into the competing issues of reproductive rights and religious liberty.”
Let’s just stop there with the lede sentence. That's the entire lede paragraph. Here we have Wolf telling us that the decision by the Supreme Court is to wade back into the collision between reproductive rights and religious liberty. Of course, over and over again in terms of Christian biblical worldview analysis, we look at that inevitable collision between the entire sexual revolution and religious liberty. One of the most ominous developments of our time is the fact that here you have one of most influential newspapers in the United States, USA Today is directed towards a very average American reader, in which the term religious liberty is now considered so controversial that it is put in quotation marks. What for over 200 years has been known as America's first freedom is here dealt with as if it's a very idea we can't precisely identify; it might not actually be anything substantial at all. That's what you're implying by the use of scare quotes. We should be deeply humbled and deeply concerned to recognize that the words religious liberty are now used by many in the cultural and social intellectual elites in this country with the use only of air quotes, as if to say some people use this language religious liberty, they mean something serious by it, but we just mean air quotes. And now you have actual scare quotes, that is in the headline quotation marks put around the term as if we’re not actually sure this is a real thing, but we do recognize that those pro-life Christian people think it's a real thing.
So just consider those three headlines and those sets of lede paragraphs in these news articles; remember that they’re about the very same event, the announcement, a very important announcement, by the US Supreme Court that it will take up this case from the state of California. But recognize that when one paper says it's about free speech and the other says it's about abortion and yet another says it's about religious liberty put in scare quotes, they’re writing about a single US Supreme Court case, now announced, that really will address all three of those very important concerns, and those should concern every Christian. If a crisis pregnancy center in California can be required by law to use government mandated language about reproductive rights and abortion and the tax paid availability of such abortion, then free speech really doesn't exist, and as for religious liberty, well, that risk should be obvious, that very same government mandated language against the convictions of the very people who established and volunteer in these crisis pregnancy centers, well, if that's not a violation of religious liberty, then religious liberty doesn't actually exist, and as for abortion, there is no greater moral issue faced by the generation of Americans now living than abortion, and the Supreme Court, as USA Today says, has decided to wade back into those waters. Well, in this case, we need to remind ourselves that the Supreme Court put itself into those waters with the decision made in 1973 that has led to the abortion, the murder of millions upon millions of unborn Americans. So it's good news that the Supreme Court has announced it is going to take this case, but it will only really be good news when the Supreme Court rules rightly on the case itself.
Canada’s Governor General mocks religious belief
Next we shift to Canada where controversy surrounds that nation's Governor General. Governor General Julie Payette, just a few days ago, condemned Canadians who actually believe in God and as God as creator and as God as the explanation for life, a God who intervenes in human affairs. In a mocking tone, according to major media in Canada, she said,
“And we are still debating and still questioning whether life was a divine intervention or whether it was coming out of a natural process let alone, oh my goodness, a random process.”
So Canada's Governor General was stating her belief in science, we’ve heard this over and over again, reflecting the worldview of scientism. That's the worldview that states that what ever the scientific establishment says at any given moment is to be understood as the sum total of the explanation of reality that’s socially acceptable. In other words, science is privileged as the only way of knowing. Scientific authority is the ultimate authority.
As she was mocking and speaking in this address, the Governor General of Canada also took swipes at astrology and horoscopes and furthermore just about every form of religion, even indigenous religion found there in America's northern neighbor. She threw all religion, including biblical Christianity, into the world of make-believe. She said,
“And so many people — I'm sure you know many of them — still believe, want to believe, that maybe taking a sugar pill will cure cancer, if you will it!”
She’s simply mocking all religious belief and lumping them all together as if they're all just different forms of the same basic irrationality. Now, Americans are not accustomed perhaps to even hearing of the title of Governor General, but Canada has one. It has one because it is a part of the British Commonwealth and that means that there is, many Americans fail to recognize, a reigning monarch when it comes to Canada. That monarch is the Queen of England, and she is of course Elizabeth II, the Queen. But as you look at that you recognize that that royal rule, at least in terms of official and ceremonial duties is, carried out within nations such as Canada by what is known as a federal viceregal representative of the monarch. Now let’s just to remind ourselves that the British monarch is also the supreme governor, the supreme head of the Church of England, ever since Henry VIII. Let’s also remember that the British monarch has been given, ever since Henry VIII, the title defender of the faith. But let's also note that British kings and queens, including, perhaps particularly, the reigning monarch at present Queen Elizabeth II has steadfastly refused to enter into religious controversy, but at least in terms of these recent headlines from Canada, the Queen's official representative in that nation, the federal viceregal representative of the monarch, has indeed waded into a great deal of controversy.
Just a few days after offering that mocking address she came back to try to clean things up with another address in which he praised the tolerance of Canada and the freedom of religion that marks that nation, but there, even more so than here, in Canada, present even more so than in the United States, religious liberty is very much under subversion and attack and without at least the constitutional protections made so clear in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. So Canada's Governor General got herself into some hot water, and it's unlikely this has pleased the one that she is now deputized to represent. But it's also very telling that she felt free in that role, and as a public figure there in Canada, to offer this kind of mocking dismissal of all forms of religion. It’s also very unlikely that the Governor General’s attempt to clean up the controversy is going to be successful simply by saying sweet things about religious liberty because those things really can't be reconciled with what she said in defense of pure scientism just a few days previously.
The new state religion of sexuality
And then even more troublingly from Canada, consider this new story also, from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The headline,
“Edmonton Christian Couple Says Adoption Nixed Over Views on Sexuality.”
The article tells us that, I quote,
“An evangelical Christian couple is accusing Alberta of discrimination, claiming their application to adopt a child was rejected over their religious views on gay marriage and homosexuality.”
The couple said, and I quote,
“The casework supervisor explained that our religious beliefs regarding sexuality were incompatible with the adoption process,”
that according to an affidavit now filed in Canadian courts.
“The casework supervisor said this stance was the ‘official position of the Alberta government.’”
Now, note how this story all the sudden circles back to where we began, that story about crisis pregnancy centers and the issue of free speech and religious liberty there in California. Now we’re looking at adoption and religious liberty in Alberta, one of Canada's provinces, and we are looking at the very same argument. The state of California now has an official doctrine on abortion, the Canadian province of Alberta now has what amounts to an official doctrine when it comes to sexuality issues, especially homosexuality and same-sex marriage. In both cases, what you have are convictional Christians who are identified as heretics of the new official state religion. The state religion of California on the one hand, and the state religion of Alberta on the other.
The CBC article continues, and I quote,
“The couple said they were also asked how they would deal with a child who was questioning his or her sexuality. They told officials that children should be taught that sexuality should not be experienced or explored until a person is an adult and is married.”
Now just note, that's just historic biblical Christianity. That's what biblical Christianity has taught for over two millennia. That's what, furthermore, both Canada and the United States as cultures shaped by Christianity, also held to be morally mandated until very recently, but now they are holding to the doctrines of the sexual revolution extremely tenaciously. An organization representing this Edmonton couple has the issue exactly right when it states that the province of Alberta now,
“requires citizens to profess agreement with and support for its state-sanctioned beliefs in sexuality and gender.”
In other words, the new state religion of Alberta, at least the religion of sexuality. So when you are told that either Canada or the United States doesn't have, in reality, an official state religion, you need to remember that in reality increasingly they do. This is the high church of secularism with all of its various sacraments of sexuality, and keep this very much in mind, this is a church that is ardently hunting down heretics.
Why the gossip column has disappeared
Finally, most obituaries don't make the front page of the Sunday edition of the New York Times, but this one tells us a great deal about our times. The obituary is for the most famous gossip columnist of the 20th century, Liz Smith, who for about 33 years reigned as the leading New York-based gossip columnist in the United States. Her columns were basically revelations or supposed revelations about this celebrity or that, but basically it was about the celebration of celebrity itself. The New York Times obituary reads,
“From hardscrabble nights writing snippets for a Hearst newspaper in the 1950s to golden afternoons at Le Cirque with Sinatra or Hepburn and tête-à-tête dinners with Madonna to gather material for columns that ran six days a week, Ms. Smith captivated millions with her tattletale chitchat and, over time, ascended to fame and wealth that rivaled those of the celebrities she covered.”
So what's the most interesting reflection upon this obituary in the passing of this gossip columnist? Well, it's actually the passing, for the most part, and certainly for younger Americans, of the very idea of a gossip column, certainly in a major American newspaper. So why did the gossip column disappear? Are we less concerned about gossip? Are we less concerned with celebrity? No, we have to recognize that the gossip column disappeared because given the advent of the digital age and social media, the entire world is now one giant gossip column. That's our world today, and we had better at least be honest enough to admit it.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter at 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’m speaking to you from Providence, Rhode Island, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.