Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, December 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 a political earthquake in Alabama, we’ll look at the limits of conservative tolerance on questions of character, we’ll see the consequences of an election in the Senate, and in the womb we’ll look then at secular attempts to resolve the sin problem with therapy and hear news about a new investigation that threatens to tell the truth about Planned Parenthood.
A political earthquake in Alabama
For the last several weeks the state of Alabama has stood at the epicenter of a vast political earthquake in the United States. That was especially true last night when election results came in for Alabama's special election to fill the Senate seat that been vacated when President Trump nominated then Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions to be the Attorney General of the United States. Ever since that happened the state of Alabama has been in some process of tumult, the tumult began in terms of the nomination race on the Republican side, a race that was improbably won by the twice former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court Roy Moore, but the state continued to be at the epicenter and the earthquake continued to grow in magnitude. Last night it was a huge political earthquake. Those on both sides of America's partisan and cultural moral divide understood what was at stake, we’re talking about the United States Senate, only 100 seats. We’re talking about only 52 seats in terms of the majority of the Republican Party. We’re talking about absolutely massive issues in terms of consequence at stake. We’re talking about the state of Alabama that hasn't elected a Democrat to the United States Senate since 1992, and that Democrats changed to become a Republican.
So in a matter of just a few weeks, a special election that wasn't considered to be even special became the focus of national attention. The Democratic nominee is a former US attorney Doug Jones, who is now the senator elect from the state of Alabama. Doug Jones is not only a Democrat, he is a rather traditional, liberal Democrat. He may not be on the left wing of the Democratic Party, that's actually an achievement rather hard to reach these days, but there is no doubt that on many of the most controversial issues of the day, most importantly the issue of abortion, Doug Jones is very much a liberal. His electoral chances within the state of Alabama would in any other context be between slim and none, and yet he won last night, and it wasn't even a really close win. He won with an avalanche of votes coming in from areas of Alabama that clearly indicated they were going to vote differently than they had in the 2016 American presidential election. And vote differently, they did. They elected a Democrat to the United States Senate. What's even more important in terms of the views expressed by the voters of Alabama is that they did not do what they were expected to do, which was to elect the Republican candidate, that requires a huge explanation. And, of course, the last several weeks have provided that explanation.
The limits of conservative tolerance on questions of character
Ever since the 2016 presidential election many people in America have been asking how the issue of conviction and character policy and person would come together in the political equation. 2016 clearly tested Republicans and, in particular, conservative Christians on this question, but it was a deeper test in Alabama in 2017, a deeper test that came with the name Roy Moore, a deeper test that we now know, in terms of the results from exit polling last night, made a decisive difference. We’re talking about the fact that there were an incredible number of Republican voters in Alabama who simply did not vote. They could not vote for a pro-abortion candidate like Doug Jones, the Democrat, but as it turns out, they would not vote for a Republican in the form of Roy Moore. We now know that the allegations concerning sexual activity with young women, including teenage girls, had at least sufficient credibility to suppress the Republican vote in ways unprecedented in recent Alabama political history. But we also know that there were at least a significant number of votes that were shifted from Republican to Democrat, and there was a particularly interesting profile to many of those shifted votes. One of the most significant of the profiles that was demonstrated in the electoral results last night was the fact that women, and in particular women with children, were far less likely to vote for Roy Moore than they had been for any previous recent Republican candidate.
The nation was shocked, especially the political class, by the result last night, but I have been trying to point to some very interesting developments that made the 2017 Alabama race very different from the 2016 US presidential election. One of the most crucial distinctions has to do with the presence of very prominent evangelicals in the Trump campaign in 2016, but the almost absolute absence of prominent evangelicals, especially from within the state of Alabama, in the 2017 Senate race. This became particularly acute after the accusations of a sexual nature were made against Judge Moore, but it's very important to understand that we need to be honest and go back to the fact that there was not a single major evangelical leader or pastor in the state of Alabama who was publicly supporting Roy Moore in a very, very demonstrable way, even prior to those accusations becoming public. As I have said in the weeks leading up to this election and as I said repeatedly in terms of public comments yesterday, however this election were to turn out, it would be a disaster. It's a disaster in this sense: There is one less predictably, reliably pro-life vote in the United States Senate. There is one less Republican vote in terms of confirming judges and other very important constitutional responsibilities invested in the Senate. We are at a crucial testing time for this country, and what we’re looking at is that a reliably conservative state, Alabama has now sent a senator, who not only is not reliably conservative but who is not fairly described as conservative at all.
Elections have consequences—in the Senate and in the womb
The greater disaster, however, comes down on the single question of abortion. On the question of abortion, Alabama has now elected a United States senator who is not only pro-abortion, but, fair to say, radically so. You're talking about a now elected senator who has opposed all pro-life legislation and indicated in a public interview with MSNBC, prior to the election, well publicized, that he would oppose any effort to limit abortion right up until the moment of birth. Now when you put that in the landscape of modern American politics, that's nothing less than breathtaking. Alabama has now elected a United States senator, who by that profile would've been more associated with a state like Massachusetts or New York, but here we’re talking about the very buckle of the Bible belt, the state of Alabama. On the other hand from a Christian worldview perspective, the election of Roy Moore would also have been a disaster, it would have been a moral disaster for the state of Alabama. A moral disaster that would have taken the form of having a United States senator, against whom such accusations had been made, but also when it comes to Roy Moore a candidate, and, if elected, a senator in the United States Senate who would've supported some of the most outlandish ideas far outside of any traditional pattern of American conservatism.
So in Alabama in 2017, the situation was even more excruciating than was the case in 2016 in the presidential election, and when it comes to Roy Moore, there is a very long political track record; that's a rather significant difference from the Republican nominee for the president of the United States in 2016 who would never previously held political office. Those who have an utmost moral concern about the sanctity of human life and the defense of the unborn now understand we have an even greater challenge, but this also has to be placed in the context of understanding that politics involves two, and always at least two games. One is the short game, the other is the long game. In terms of politics, it means very little to win in the short game if you lose in the long game. That was the risk that was run by the election of Roy Moore as a United States senator. It would have been a short-term victory for the pro-life cause, but it might have come with the consequence of losing any hope for a majority, a pro-life majority in the Senate beginning in the year 2020. The electoral result last night in Alabama sends a very clear signal, there are limits in terms of the kind of character that voters in the United States will elect to public office, and, remember, here we are talking not about a liberal state, not even about a state fairly described as a swing state, we’re talking about one of the very few most reliably Republican states in the United States of America, now with a newly elected Democratic member of the Senate.
All things being equal, Doug Jones is not likely to have a long career in the United States Senate. Given the aberration of the 2017 special election, there is every reason to believe that Alabama will return to the pattern of electing a conservative pro-life senator in the year 2020. But the political distance between 2018 and 2020 is still very significant. It will matter a very great deal that there will be a pro-abortion senator from Alabama in the United States Senate for the next two years. But here again we have a very urgent reminder of the fact that elections have consequences, and in this case we need to remember that that means the elections for nominees as well as the eventual general election. It matters a great deal who receives the nomination of a party, and in the case of Alabama, the signal has now been sent that Roy Moore was a step too far for even Republicans in the state of Alabama.
Secular attempts to resolve the sin problem with therapy
But next, shifting to the larger national conversation, that conversation continues to focus a very great deal on sexual misconduct. I'm not going to go in any detail in terms of that issue except to look at an article that was regionally published at the New York Times, an article by Benedict Carey. The headline is this,
“Therapy for Sexual Misconduct?”
The important Christian worldview insights in this article comes down to the fact that the secular world is trying to find what the answer could possibly be to sexual misconduct. Let’s just generalize that and say that the secular world is trying to find some way to escape from the problem of sin, some way to address the problem of sin, to mitigate the reality of sin and its consequences. We have full evidence in this article that a secular society doesn't have even the most basic and fundamental tools in its toolbox to know how to address an issue of significant moral seriousness. Benedict Carey writes about the fact that the surge of accusations of sexual misconduct and assault
“has prompted some admitted offenders to seek professional help for [their] emotional or personality distortions that underlie their behavior.”
Furthermore, a good many people in this society, in this incredibly therapeutic age, just assume that whatever answer there would be to this kind of misbehavior — again as Christians let’s call it what it is: sin — the answer must be some form of therapy. But the most interesting aspect of this article isn't the fact that secular people are looking for a therapy that will cure sexual sin, it is the fact that even the therapists are acknowledging there hasn't been any successful therapy yet found. Benedict Carey summarizes when he writes,
“Whatever mix of damage control and contrition they represent, pledges like these,”
that is pledges such as the one made by Harvey Weinstein that he would seek therapy, Carey says, those pledges
“suggest that there are standard treatments for perpetrators of sexual offenses. In fact,”
“no such standard treatments exist, experts say. Even the notion of ‘sexual addiction’ as a stand-alone diagnosis is in dispute.”
He cites Vaile Wright, identified as director of research and special projects at the American Psychological Association, who said,
“There are no evidence-based programs I know for the sort of men who have been in the news recently.”
It is just incredibly interesting, from a Christian worldview perspective, to look at the secular world try to find some way to answer the problem of sin. Later in the article Carey writes,
“Sexual harassers, often caricatured, do not fit any personality type or types. There’s the brash executive who gets what he wants; the doe-eyed guy with the man bun in a loft; the nerdy good listener who likes to give shoulder rubs.”
He then continued,
“To the extent that their misdeeds are at least partially rooted in unacknowledged feelings of inadequacy or abandonment, traditional psychotherapy also has a role, experts said.”
Let’s just stop there for a moment. Notice that the problem of sin is here identified as rooted potentially in unacknowledged feelings of inadequacy or abandonment. Now just try that out for size, if you're talking to someone who's the victim of this kind of sexual abuse. It makes no moral sense whatsoever to try to find refuge in a therapeutic mentality that tells us that the reason that people do bad things is because they have a lack of self-esteem. But even after admitting that there is no evidence-based programs that document the fact that any of these therapies work, there's a continued grasping after at least some hope that they might. Benedict Carey though says as he ends the article,
“But only if the harasser is willing, committed and genuinely humbled is therapy likely to be anything more than a ruse to buy some sympathy — and worse, perhaps an eventual return to the field.”
Then look at the stunning words that end his article, and I quote,
“What to make of the harasser who is entirely unrepentent?”
One of the experts cited in the article has the last words,
“I don’t think we have a diagnosis yet. … We certainly don’t have a treatment.”
Now remember what that is a response to: the question what to make of the sinner who is entirely unrepentant. Notice that the article actually uses the word unrepentant. That we should note is not only a biblical word, it's a theological word. But what to make of an unrepentant sinner? The answer that comes from the experts cited in the article is that there isn't a diagnosis yet, and there certainly isn't a treatment. But this is where Christians understand that only by the grace of God, by his sheer mercy, do we have a knowledge of what the secular world is grasping after here. We know what sin is, not because we’re smarter than the secular world, but because it's been revealed to us in Scripture. Not only that, we do know the diagnosis: We are sinners and the wages of sin is death. Furthermore, we know that the only rescue that can come from sin isn’t in the form of therapy. This isn't to say that there are no situations in which therapy can be helpful to an individual, it is to say that we do fundamentally know that therapy can't possibly solve the problem of sin.
I think it’s just incredibly interesting that at the end of this article the word unrepentant shows up; there's that theological word. The Christian worldview continues to give evidence of its existence long after the secular world has tried to erase that memory. It's almost as if when the end of this article has come there is the sense that there has to be some kind of language that is appropriate to use in terms of this moral context. Oh, we remember a word: repentance and what it means to be unrepentant. That is indeed the right word, and it reminds us that therapy can never substitute for theology and that no therapeutic modality can possibly rescue us from sin. That is alone the power of Christ and the gospel of Christ, and that, as the old Puritans used to say, is not only the diagnosis of our problem but, in the gospel of Christ, the soul pointer to the remedy.
New investigation that threatens to tell the truth about Planned Parenthood
And finally, yet other evidence that elections have consequences, major media in the last several days reporting that the United States Department of Justice is now publicly revealing that it is beginning an investigation into fetal tissue transfers by Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. This points to the fact that we now have the executive branch responding to a genuine moral crisis with what appears to be the beginnings of an investigation into what is only described as horrifying conduct by abortion providers, especially Planned Parenthood, in trafficking in parts of unborn children who are aborted in the womb. But we also have evidence here of the importance of the legislative branch because it was a Senate committee that forwarded the evidence to the Department of Justice in order to begin the process that would eventuate in this investigation. The Senate Judiciary Committee had issued a final report entitled “Human Fetal Tissue Research: Context and Controversy” that concluded that the executive branch, as the New York Times reports,
“had for years failed to exercise oversight on the tissue transfer process and created a situation where costs and fees were not properly accounted for.”
The article by Nicholas Fandos continues,
“The report recommended that the Justice Department ‘fully investigate’ the fetal tissue practices of Planned Parenthood, its affiliates, and three companies involved in the sale of the tissue for potential crimes.”
That's exactly what is now underway in the announcement by the US Department of Justice. That's very good news, but there's one politician who had the last word in this story who certainly opposes this investigation undertaken by the Department of Justice. He wholeheartedly supports Planned Parenthood and has been amongst its most important congressional defenders. We’re talking about Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, who is the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. His final words in the article were these,
“It is unclear what it expects to find after five congressional investigations, over a dozen of state investigations, and millions in taxpayer dollars found absolutely zero evidence of wrongdoing.”
Why is that statement so important? Look at the final word: wrongdoing. No one, including Congressman Nadler, denies the fact that Planned Parenthood is dismembering babies in the womb and then is at least receiving revenue and income by selling the body parts. No one, including representative Nadler, denies that Planned Parenthood has strategically destroyed unborn babies in such a way as to maximize the transfer in what can only be called the sale of those tissues. The previous and superficial investigations that Jerrold Nadler here cited were generally undertaken by states under very clear pro-abortion control. They found that there was no violation of federal law. That's problematic enough, but notice what the congressman said, he said that those investigations have found
“absolutely zero evidence of wrongdoing.”
That's morally stunning. Considering what was well documented and admitted, even in terms of at least some issues apologize for, in terms of what we can only call etiquette by Planned Parenthood, to state that there was absolutely zero evidence of wrongdoing is one of the most morally atrocious statements of modern times.