Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018

Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018

The Briefing

January 23, 2018

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It’s Tuesday, January 23, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Today the government is back in business. Whether that’s good news or bad news, you be the judge. We’ll see legislative success and legislative evasion. We’ll see new conscience protections as national policy, and we’ll understand that sin is far more than a mistake. Then we’ll understand that abortion reveals a divide that points to the deepest divide of all.

Part I

The federal government is back in business...at least for another three weeks

Well the government of the United States of America is back in business. And you may see that as good news or bad news, but it reminds me of the story often told by President Ronald Reagan. He said that the scariest words in the English language were often those that followed a knock on the door. The words were these – I’m from the government, and I’m here to help you. The vote that came yesterday broke apart as an impasse, and the vote was 81 to 18. Two Republicans joined other Democrats in opposing the continuing resolution. But the vast majority of senators in both party joined in bipartisan unity after a season of very decided disunity.

Why? Well in terms of the political equation the Democrats were just feeling too much heat. The shutdown of the government, it was the 19th, limited shutdown of our government, is always blamed on one party because the argument eventually comes down to the fact that one party is holding the government hostage. It was the Democrats who were on the hot seat. They had made immigration, specifically the dreamers, the continuation of the DACA program the absolute line in the sand, and it didn’t hold. But it sort of did. Republicans in the Senate agreed to bring legislation or to allow legislation to come to the floor of the Senate in order to continue the DACA program. That was the price exacted by the Democrats. Whether or not that leads to an actual successful piece of legislation to secure stability and a place in the United States for the dreamers, that remains to be seen, and it could be that the House Republican leadership doesn’t play according to the playbook established by the Senate’s Republican leaders.

But here’s what’s really important. What we saw is merely yet another kicking of the can down the street. It was just another buying of time because the continuing resolution that was celebrated by both parties yesterday is such a rip-roaring political success funds the government of the United States all the way through February 8th. That is to say not for very long. In just a matter of weeks, we are likely to be in the very same place once again. The breakdown of our political process means that what we now witness is a Congress largely unable or unwilling to accomplish what in previous decades would’ve been relatively customary legislation. The very kind of legislation that makes government itself possible.

Under the circumstances the agreement reached yesterday, it was affirmed by the house only yesterday evening, that is probably the best that we could expect under the circumstances, but the circumstances are going to places back right in the same context in just a matter of weeks. One of the main responsibilities of government is to govern. One of the main threats to government is a government that seeks to operate to efficiently to overreach. But another problem of government is what is now described as a failed to state, a government unable to deliver on the basic responsibilities of government. Romans Chapter 13 points out that God gave government as a gift to his people, and Christians are to respect the proper boundaries and the proper authority and responsibilities delegated to government. Human liberty means that we must resist government tyranny, but anarchy according to Scripture is an even greater danger.

It is now the responsibility of the United States Congress and the President of the United States to come up with a reasonable, just and fair answer to the crisis of DACA and the dreamers. It is the responsibility of Congress not merely to continue to delay acting, but rather in a substantial way to act to act the way a responsible Congress acts which is in the form of legislation. But at this point it will also require that America look at the larger issue of immigration, both legal immigration and illegal immigration, and come up with a policy that protects the national interest of the United States of America and a policy that is just and fair and in our nation’s interest in dealing with those who are already in this country and those who by the millions want to come to this country.

As I stated last week on The Briefing, the key issue here in a same immigration policy is understanding that no nation the size and status of the United States can be healthy without a very steady stream of immigration. That is particularly true given the falling birth rate of those who are already in the United States, but it’s also true that we are a nation, a nation not merely a place, and we should welcome those who both can and intend to become a part of this nation and to make a contribution. The dreamers, those young immigrants who are here without documentation but also who came here not by their own action but by action of others, they have by their participation in qualification for the DACA program indicated that they are exactly the kind of immigrants we want in this country. But as is so often the case we have to observe that if this issue, one of the most important issues facing the United States in this generation is left as merely a battering ram for partisan politics, not only will immigrants suffer, not only will those whose lives are in suspension suffer, not only will churches seeking to minister amongst these new Americans suffer, but the entire nation will suffer. We can in effect draw a sigh of relief for the legislative victory of a sorts that was accomplished on Monday, January 22, 2018, but we have to remind ourselves February 8, 2018 is only a matter of days away.

Part II

As new conscience protections become national policy, the political left complains about the very argument they once advanced

Next, yesterday we observed the 45th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision in the United States, and I mentioned that we should turn to another major news story. This has to do with action taken by the president of the United States and the Trump Administration, an announcement that came last Thursday, an announcement that came as a surprise to many and good news for all who care about the rights of conscience in America. As the New York Times reported, the reporters are Stephanie Armour and Louise Radnofsky.

“The Trump administration is planning new exemptions for health-care practitioners with moral or religious objections to performing procedures such as gender-reassignment surgery and abortions….. The Department of Health and Human Services sent the proposal” last Friday to the White House for review.

The Health and Human Services department,

“will also establish a division of ‘conscience and religious freedoms’ within its Office for Civil Rights,”

that according to people familiar with the formation of the new policy.

The Washington Post reported it this way,

“The Trump administration will create a new conscience and religious freedom division within the Health and Human Services Department to ease the way for doctors, nurses and other medical professionals to opt out of providing services that violate their moral or religious beliefs.”

The New York Times went on to report that,

“The department’s announcement was greeted with alarm and applause”

The reporter said this is,

“a testament to the divisions over the hot-button social issues of abortion, gender and sexual identity.”

This is a major development and one that deserves a much closer look, and upon looking more closely we will see that there’s actually more here a lot more here than many have yet observed. For one thing you have the Department of Health and Human Services, which during the Obama Administration had been used as something of a battering ram against religious conservatives. One of the big questions that remains after the Obama administration came to a conclusion is why that Administration chose for example in the Affordable Care Act otherwise known as Obama Care to insist that religious organizations, such as just to take one famous example the Little Sisters of the Poor, had to include contraceptive coverage in their medical coverage. That’s a huge question. It’s a political question. It’s a moral question. But what makes the news now so important in the announcement last week is that the very same department is now going to establish an entire office described in the news media as a division just to make certain that the policies of that federal department, a massive department given our entitlement programs, will preserve and protect and respect religious liberty.

But it went on beyond that. One of the most interesting developments in this story has received very, very little attention. And that’s because most people probably aren’t aware of the origins of part of the policy. Some on the left have complained about the fact that the Administration’s announcement used not just one word to describe the possible objections – that’s the word religious – but another word. That’s the word moral: moral and religious conscience objections. These conscience protections are absolutely vital. They are a part of protecting fundamental freedoms and liberties, including of course religious liberty. Without these provisions, and we need to note many of these protections are already a part of American statutory law, without these protections a Christian whose convictions would be consistently pro-life could be coerced into performing abortions.

The latest front on these issues is gender reassignment surgery. Without these conscience protections, medical professionals could also be coerced into participating in medical services that they believe actually violate the Hippocratic Oath by doing harm rather than bringing health. But now it’s absolutely fascinating to see many on the left complain about the fact that the Trump policy protects not only conscience as we think about religious objections but also as moral objections. Some, including leftist ideologues and politicians, are saying that it’s overbroad. That adding moral to religious just opens the door far too widely as we think about protected conscience objections. But what we need to note is this, and it seems to be largely lost on so many in this country. The inclusion of moral with religious in thinking about conscience actually was an argument made not by the right but by the left during the 1960s and 70s. The context then was conscientious objection to the draft, young men in particular who had the option of declaring themselves conscientious objectors to the war, but the only conscience grounds that were accepted by selective service during most of those years were issues of religious conscience.

Young men called up by the draft could become conscientious objectors only if they could demonstrate that they were long-standing members of a religious group or a church that held to pacifists or nonviolent commitments. But the left argued back then that the requirement of a religious conscience objection was too narrow. That it ought to be widened to larger grounds philosophical or ethical grounds. What we see is that the left was making the very argument then that they’re complaining about now. One of the interesting questions thus about this policy, a question that comes to me, is how both religious and moral ended up and we should note have ended up repeatedly in policies issued by the Trump Administration? This is a question that may never be answered, but it’s really interesting to see the left complain about principles and arguments and logic that they came up with in a very different moral context.

As we wind up our thoughts on this story, we need to recognize that Christians understand the importance of conscience. The fact that as the apostle Paul writes Christians are bound by conscience. To the degree that if we do what our conscience tells us we must not do, then we sin. But the New Testament also tells us that our conscience is to be framed by biblical truth, and thus it’s not a conscience that represents our personal autonomy, but rather a conscience that is grounded in the explicit teachings of the word of God and in the consistent moral witness of the Christian church throughout two millennia.

Part III

What one politician calls “a mistake”, the Bible calls “sin”

Next even as we’ve looked at that moral argument, we need to look at another moral argument and this in the form of moral evasion. It’s yet another scandalous headline. This one coming from Jefferson City, Missouri. News came over the last several days as the Associated Press headline ran,

“Missouri governor: no blackmail or violence in extramarital affair”

This has to do with the fact that the current Governor of Missouri, Eric Greitens, a Republican, had to admit recently an extramarital affair, an affair that began shortly after he had organized his campaign for governor. Up until the announcement, Governor Greitens had been considered a rising star in Republican politics, openly discussed as a potential presidential candidate, and we now know that he had reserved the website Eric Greitens for president shortly after being elected governor. But all that now appears to fall apart. The moral lesson is massive. But just consider the fact that when the headline says that the governor is insisting no blackmail or violence in extramarital affair, well at this point the moral shoe has already dropped.

To state the obvious, if the best you can offer is the argument that there was no blackmail or violence involved in adultery, you are already telling us just exactly who you are. But furthermore we’re talking about a man who was a decorated U.S. Navy Seal. We’re talking about a Rhodes Scholar. We’re talking about someone who seemed to have everything going for him. Until all of a sudden the tide turned with his moral revelation. What we need to look at more closely than anything else are the words used by the governor in describing the scandal. He said and I quote,

“The mistake that I made was that I was engaged in a consensual relationship with a woman who was not my wife. That is a mistake for which I am very sorry.”

The key issue is looking closely at the word the governor used not once but twice. The word is mistake. Now here is one of the great moral evasions of our time. Many have noted the fact that public apologies are a form of demonstrating the moral confusion of our times. Politicians use the kind of slippery language about being concerned or sorry if someone was offended, or given one of those classic evasions, simply the statement mistakes were made. The Governor at least did not say that the mistakes happened on their own. He said that this was his mistake. But the problem from a Christian worldview perspective is this, we’re talking about adultery. Adultery is not biblically defined as a mistake. In politics maybe you could reduce this to a mistake, but in the moral world of reality, it’s not a mistake. The word mistake doesn’t come close to covering what the Governor did and now what he has admitted to doing. The use of the word mistake twice in just two successive sentences indicates both the accepting of responsibility of a mistake but the evasion of the responsibility for what adultery really means.

Part IV

Abortion reveals a divide that points to the deepest divide of all

Finally also on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Pew Research Center came out with one of those studies that doesn’t really tell us anything we didn’t know but does tell us something more than we knew about what we already did know. In this case what we already knew was the fact that there is a radical difference between the ways that American Christian denominations or religious groups look at the question of abortion. It’s so predictable now that just as you have a Republican and a Democratic position on abortion. You now have an evangelical on the one hand and a liberal Protestant view of abortion, very predictable on both sides. The Pew Research Center report even gave a listing also in the form of a bar chart of American religious organizations and denominations on the question of abortion. Amongst the most supportive of abortion: Unitarian Universalist, American Jews, the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, also the mainline Lutheran Church in America. The more pro-life religious groups in America included the Church of God Cleveland, Tennessee, the Assemblies of God, the Southern Baptist Convention and the Church of God in Christ, the Seventh-day Adventists and the Missouri Synod Lutherans. Also indicated as very pro-life were the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons.

So what’s the big dividing line here? Well the apparent dividing line is abortion. That’s the issue of the consideration of the research, but what’s really important is what’s not reflected in the study. And that’s the question, why? Why is there such predictability? I would suggest that the basic fundamental argument has to do with the claim of divine revelation. What you see in common in the pro-life intuition commitment and instinct of certain religious groups is the fact that they believe that God has spoken. That God has spoken in Scripture. When it comes to the Mormons, they would add the book of Mormon. When it comes to others, it would include their own writings of religious importance and authority. The issue is this: the great distinguishing characteristic that separates the list separating pro-life from pro-abortion is whether or not there is a belief in divine revelation, a binding and authoritative and true divine revelation.

So on the one hand this tells us just about everything we need to know about the basic distinction between liberal and conservative religion on questions of doctrine and orthodoxy and confessionalism. But we can also look at it a different way, a way that so far as I know hasn’t been observed by many. And it’s this, there are many religious groups and denominations who are convinced of a pro-life position because they believe that God on the basis of his own divine self-revelation is for life and opposed to abortion. It’s at least interesting and informative to note that on the other side of the equation it’s a basic lack of belief in divine revelation not the kind of claim that God does speak and He’s for abortion. Perhaps the bottom line in this is the recognition that if God does speak, the author of life is going to speak in defense of life.

Thanks for listen to The Briefing. Now as faithful listeners to The Briefing, I want to tell you about my new book on the Lord’s Prayer that is released today. The book is entitled The Prayer that Turns the World Upside Down: The Lord’s Prayer as a Manifesto for Revolution. In the book I seek to capture the urgency and the revolutionary nature of the Lord’s Prayer. Far from being a safe series of comforting words, the Lord’s Prayer makes extraordinary claims, topples every earthly power and announces God’s reign over all things in heaven and on earth. You can order your copy today at Amazon, at Christian book Distributors (CBD) or Barnes & Noble. You can also learn more at albertmohler.com

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to 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’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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