Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, December 12, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
We’ll see a special election at the crisis of conscience in Alabama. We’ll look at the crucible of political discourse and the mixed messages of electoral results. We’ll look at abortion and a missed political opportunity and the urgency of fire as wildfires threaten and expand in California.
A special election and a crisis of conscience in Alabama
The people of the state of Alabama are undergoing today in particular what the New York Times calls a real-life political science experiment. Now it's more than that but it's not less than that. This is a real-time political science experiment. We are about to find out a great deal about not so much the American people at large, but we’re going to find out a great deal about the voting priorities of the voting citizens of the state of Alabama. And this is against the background of a race that wasn't expected to be this controversial or to attract this much attention at all. Back soon after President Donald Trump was elected in November 2016, he named then U.S. Senator from Alabama Jeff Sessions to be his Attorney General. Once he was confirmed, the then Republican governor of the state of Alabama Robert Bentley appointed the then Attorney General of the state of Alabama Luther Strange to serve until there could be a special election to fulfill the remainder of Senator Sessions term. That special election is the election held today.
But back when Governor Bentley, who is no longer the governor due to a sex scandal, had appointed Luther Strange to that position, there was the taint that Luther Strange had somehow been involved in the deal with the incumbent governor to avoid his continued investigation in a sex scandal in return for the appointment to the Senate. That was of course never proved, but there was significant suspicion on the part of voters in the state of Alabama that what was expected to be a virtual assured election of Luther Strange to the United States Senate as the Republican nominee in Alabama turned out to be anything but. And Luther strange lost the Republican primary to one of the men whose names had been most closely known in Alabama politics for the last 20 to 30 years. That man is Roy Moore, twice previously the Chief Justice of the state of Alabama and twice previously removed from office.
But if you didn't understand anything beyond that, if that's where the new story ended, this would still be a real life and live political science experiment, but there is a great deal more to it. What’s more to it is the fact that not only did Roy Moore win the Republican nomination, but after he had won that nomination and though controversial was expected still to be a shoo-in simply by virtue of the fact that he is the Republican nominee. Accusations came from multiple women that he had been involved with them in some sense including outright accusations of sexual abuse back to the time that the women were in some cases teenagers, one of them as young as 14. At the same time the winner of the Democratic primary, Doug Jones, was considered back when he won the primary to be a rather attractive candidate to those who were Democrats within the state of Alabama. That's a dying breed. We're looking at the reality that Democrats have not elected a United States senator from Alabama since 1992.
Doug Jones was a former U.S. attorney who had prosecuted the bombers of the infamous 16th Street Baptist Church bombing back during the civil rights era. But Doug Jones had identified himself as on many economic and political issues a centrist, but on crucial moral issues he is far to the left. Not only is he pro-abortion, he is as he said in an interview with Chuck Todd on MSNBC so pro-abortion that he would support a woman's right to abortion right up until the moment of birth. Furthermore he is known for his support of same-sex marriage. So if you look at all that just going back say 10 weeks ago, it would appear to be inconceivable that the Democrat could win or that the Republican could lose in terms of the special election. But we’re not looking at the reality 10 weeks ago. We’re looking at the reality that dawns not only on the state of Alabama but on the nation on Tuesday, December 12 of 2017.
So now the voters of Alabama and most specifically the Christians who are voting in Alabama are facing not only a real-life experiment in political science, they’re also looking at an unavoidable moral crisis. They're looking at some of the most basic questions that could confront any voters in any place at any time. They're looking at a reality which seems to be in one sense the logical next step after the presidential election of 2016. What would be that next step? Well just go back to the presidential election of 2016. There we had a Democratic candidate who was avowedly pro-abortion, Hillary Clinton. She campaigned on it. She was clear about it. She would not even limit partial-birth abortion. Not only that, she openly called for as her party's platform called for the abolition of the Hyde Amendment. That meant that so far as Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party were concerned American taxpayers should be coerced into supporting and paying for abortion.
On the other hand on the Republican side you had a man no one had taken seriously as being the likely Republican nominee in the beginning of the political campaign season, Donald Trump. A man who had been pro-choice even pro-abortion but had more recently identified as pro-life and not only that appeared to be making very clear pro-life arguments and sending very clear pro-life assurances to those within power in the Republican Party and the pro-life movement. But Donald Trump in terms of his personal morality and character was not to state the obvious almost the opposite of the kind of character that conservative Christians in the Republican Party had been demanding and supporting for the last several decades. But nonetheless by the time you got to the November election, it appeared to be a genuine and unavoidable binary.
On the one hand you had a pro-abortion Democrat, on the other hand you a pro-life Republican and by the time you got to the end of the cycle is also clear there were moral questions about both. But they weren’t the same kinds of moral questions. When it came to Donald Trump, they were pointed moral questions about his own character, specifically as related to questions about sex and his relationships with women. But by the time election day came around, Americans had not only been confronted with the landscape they pretty much thought they understood say in May or June of last year they were looking at a situation on the other side of what is now infamously called the Access Hollywood tape.
The logical next step we’re talking about is that now you have in the state of Alabama a Republican nominee about whom very similar kinds of challenges and charges have been made. And furthermore you're also looking at the next step. Here you're talking about charges of sexual misbehavior not only with females but to young women and girls, even teenagers. On the other hand in the state of Alabama you've got an avowedly pro-abortion candidate on the Democratic side. So do we now find ourselves in the same situation? No, it's not the same. Voters in Alabama are not looking at a mirror image of the fall of 2016. But it does appear to be the next extension.
From the very moment when these charges were first alleged, I had made the statement that I'm confident that Christians would not and could not vote for any candidate for public office if they believe these charges to be true and credible. Now you'll notice those are two different words. Credible means believable. True means true that they actually happen. In the case of the charges made against Roy Moore, I believe that any honest person should see them as credible. You're looking at credible charges. The question as I said back when the story first broke would come down to whether or not a sufficient number of voters in Alabama believe that the charges were credible. If they are credible, they are important.
The crucible of political discourse and the mixed messages of political results
In the days and weeks since this story has continued to unfold, there are further complications. For one thing you have multiple women making these charges, and then you have a very interesting development. The moment a press conference was held with attorney Gloria Allred representing one of these women coming out of the blue, a woman who had a yearbook that she said had been written in by Roy Moore, the moment that happened I told the national media that this could be the moment that Gloria Allred elects Roy Moore to the United States Senate. Why? It is because if you are an Alabama conservative citizen looking for reasons not to believe these charges or to construe them as lacking in credibility all you would need is someone like Gloria Allred to show up in order to prove the point.
Later the woman who would appear to the press conference with Gloria Allred, an activist attorney well known for her own worldview and political affirmations, she later had to say that she'd actually written at least some of the text that was shown to the press. One of the big lessons from this is that when someone shows up with that kind of attorney there is an immediate discounting not only of the evidence but of the motivation behind it. And furthermore when something is produced is evidence that is later in any way qualified, well you have just given people who are looking for a reason to doubt the evidence full reason to confirm their doubts.
Earlier this week I was in a conversation with reporter Benjamin Wallace-Wells of the New Yorker. The New Yorker later ran a story that includes my comments from that interview. The story is entitled,
“Roy Moore and the Invisible Religious Right”
But as I pointed out in my conversation with Mr. Wallace-Wells, if you're looking at what seems remarkable and quite in distinction from the fall of 2016 to today’s special election in Alabama, well here it is – there isn't a single major Alabama evangelical figure who is publicly supporting Roy Moore in this context. That was not the situation last fall when there were numerous very public and respected evangelical leaders who under the circumstances of this electoral binary were ready to call for the public support of the candidacy of Donald Trump for president of the United States. Many were willing to be with them, to be shown in photographs with him, to share public events with him. What's so important here is to recognize that that is exactly what is not happening in the state of Alabama.
In terms of worldview and analysis of this situation we also need to go back to the fall of 2016 and recognize that Donald Trump was running a candidacy that was unashamedly populist in tone. But when it came to policies, his policies were not just populist. They were a mixture of populism and traditional republicanism and any number of other kinds of conservative tenants. When you're looking at Roy Moore in Alabama, you're looking at a very different kind of populism. You're looking at a populism that harkens back to the early decades of the 20th century, a populism that failed in most places, but a populism that has continued to be successful even in the more recent decades in states like Alabama, a state that repeatedly elected George Wallace as the state's governor.
In terms of worldview analysis one of the issues I continually point to is the fact that if you look at two neighboring states, in this case Alabama and Georgia, you're looking at two very different understandings of what it means to be in the south and of what it means to be a basically Republican state. You're looking at two very different states even though they share a common border. When you're looking at a state like Alabama and you compare it with Georgia, you can simply in terms of worldview analysis ask what does Alabama not have that Georgia has. The answer is the city of Atlanta. The numbers tell the story. When you look at the state of Georgia, you're looking at a population of 10.31 million but 5.8 million of them live in the Atlanta metropolitan area alone. That means that more than one out of every two Georgians lives within the metropolitan area of just one city, and that city is now in basic economic and cultural terms a world city with the world's busiest airport and with many Fortune 500 corporations and major cultural institutions headquartered there. Fully 81% of all of the citizens of Georgia live in a metropolitan area, and as I’ve said that means that even more than half live within the single metropolitan area of Atlanta and its suburbs.
Meanwhile if you look at Alabama, the population is about half, less than half, 4.8 million. Birmingham, its largest city, has 1.1 million in the metropolitan area. We’re down from more than one out of two to just about one out of four. Both Birmingham and Atlanta have very significant very historic and very influential African-American populations near the city center. But you're also looking at the fact that both cities have suburbs, but there's a crucial difference. Even as in both Birmingham and Atlanta, those suburbs are becoming more sociologically, ethically, racially and linguistically diverse, the reality is that is far more the case in the Atlanta suburbs than in Birmingham. Just one county within Atlanta's metropolitan area, Gwinnett County which now has a population of 907,000, that single County is considered one of the most increasingly racially and ethnically and linguistically diverse communities in the entire nation.
The bottom line in all of this, populism and avowedly populist candidates tend to have traction over time only in states which tend to be more rural than their neighbors. That's a crucial distinction just if you're looking at the difference between Georgia and Alabama. Georgia has its own populist history but for that you'll have to go back at least a full generation back to the 1960s with figures such as then Georgia Governor Lester Maddox. But as we’re looking specifically at Alabama, this is a crucial moral testing time for the citizens of Alabama. They’re going to be very clear in terms of what happens in today's election about where they will draw the line if indeed voters will draw the line in terms of questions of character. We’re going to find out if a significant number of Alabama voters decided that the charges made against Roy Moore were credible or lacking in credibility.
Abortion and a missed political opportunity
But we’re also going to find out something else and this is something that has less attention in terms of the mainstream media. We need to take a closer look at the phenomenon of Doug Jones in the Democratic Party. And we need to understand that if that party had nominated someone who looks like Doug Jones and who talks like Doug Jones and who has the biography of Doug Jones but was pro-life and furthermore represented conservative positions on moral issues, well then there is an almost assurance that Doug Jones would be the next United States senator from the state of Alabama. But the Democrats did not nominate such a figure. They nominated the real actual Doug Jones who holds two positions especially on questions of abortion that are not only pro-abortion, but radically pro-abortion, so out of step with the voters of Alabama not to mention with any kind of respect for the sanctity and dignity of human life that it is inconceivable that Doug Jones could get elected to the United States Senate from any southern state or from any state with a sizable pro-life population and voting bloc.
So that just adds excruciating agony to the situation in Alabama today. The reality is at the end of the day the ballots are going to be total, but there is no clear way to understand what kind of message is being sent. If we had two candidates who held a similar political profiles, two candidates who were both avowedly pro-life and consistently pro-life, then you would be able to understand the message that was sent from the election of one of those candidates over against another especially if you have these kinds of moral charges in the mix. Deeply ingrained within Christian voters is the understanding that politics matters, more particularly and pointedly perhaps on questions of the sanctity of human life than on any other single question of evangelical concern going back to the 1970s. This was indeed the animating issue that brought so many conservative Christians into the political process in the first place beginning most pointedly with the 1980 presidential election.
I have tried to be very clear in terms of offering my own understanding of these things as related to elections. I could never under any circumstance give my vote to a candidate who was pro-abortion in the sense that Doug Jones is so clearly pro-abortion. I simply could not do it. That means that for me yes abortion is not the only dispositive issue, but it is a dispositive issue. I could not vote for a candidate who held to those convictions. But I also could not vote for a candidate given my own understanding of the Christian responsibility and the Christian conscience if I believe the kinds of charges made now against Roy Moore were true or not even just true, merely credible at this point. Because in terms of honesty at this point, credibility is all you're going to achieve. I do find those charges credible I know there will be other Christians who do not find those charges credible in the same sense. We’re about to find out where those numbers fall out in the state of Alabama. But we’re not going to see it just in terms of the numbers that will be published. There are other numbers that will be important. How many voters simply don't vote? How many voters excruciatingly can't vote? How many voters will make their vote but in so doing will vote on the basis of either a very clear concern about the sanctity of human life and the constellation of issues associated with that or on the other hand will try to make a very clear statement not in support of a pro-abortion position but against a candidate against whom these kinds of charges are made?
But that's the problem numbers don't talk. They don't tell the story. And regardless of what takes place today in this election in Alabama, the country is the loser, representative democracy is the loser, America's public conscience and our public conversation they are all losers. As the final news reports and analyses were coming in last night in anticipation of the election today in Alabama, it was widely reported that both sides in terms of this election, both yesterday and last night, right up until the very hour of the election, we’re going to use that new technique known as robocalls. As a sign of the significance of the election today, understood in a national frame, just consider this on the one side from one camp voters will be getting robocalls with the voice of the 45th president of the United States. On the other hand voters are going to get a call from the other camp with the voice of the 44th president of the United States. That tells you why a special election in the state of Alabama that wasn't even expected to be close is now so closely watched by just about everyone in the nation.
The urgency of fire as wildfires expand in California
But finally we have to look at another story. So much of the nation's attention today is going to be directed to the state of Alabama because of this election and given the importance of politics we understand why. But at the same time we have to understand there are even deeper issues at stake and deeper urgencies that become clear and must not be off our mind. This has to do with the fact that raging wildfires in the state of California have already consumed hundreds of homes and are now threatening even hundreds and thousands of others. As of last night one fire alone known as the Thomas Fire was covering a span of more than 230,000 acres. That is as National Public Radio helpfully explains tens of thousands of acres larger than all of New York City combined. Thankfully even though the threat is very real and the structural damage has been massive loss of life has been limited. We need to hope and we need to pray that it will stay that way.
But we also need to understand what this means in terms of the urgency of values. When your house is burning down or when wildfires are burning around you, your primary attention is not on any election whether in Alabama or anywhere else. They’ll be many people praying tonight about how they're going to vote in the Alabama election. But for all of us the urgency is to pray for those whose lives and property are at stake, very graphically so in the state of California.
I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.