Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018

Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018

The Briefing

February 7, 2018

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

It’s Wednesday, February 7, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Today we’ll take a look at an imaginary memo; then at a very dangerous debate about abortion; then we’ll ask, ‘Can we still make a distinction between those worthy of government welfare and those who are not?’; and then we’ll take a look at a maelstrom over a motto at the Veterans Administration.

Part I

An imaginary memo reveals a troubling reality about the politicization of abortion

An incredibly important political memo was recently leaked; it was leaked by David Brooks, a New York Times columnist. The headline is simply,

“The Abortion Memo.”

It’s to Democratic Party leaders and it is about late-term abortions. The memo says,

“Last week I watched as our senators voted down the Republican bill that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks. Our people [speaking of Democrats] hung together. Only three Democrats voted with the other side. Yet as I was watching I kept wondering: How much is our position on late-term abortions hurting us? How many progressive priorities are we giving up just so we can have our way on this one?”

David Brooks in this memo then takes us through the history of abortion, specifically with relation to the Democratic Party. He points out that if you go back to the period just before and even the period when Roe v Wade was handed down, you could find a significant number of clearly pro-life Democrats. You could also look at a significant number of prominent Democrats who at least were pro-life before they became either pro-choice or pro-abortion. At the very top of that list would be the late Massachusetts Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy. The memo reminds readers that if you were to go back to the period when Roe v Wade was handed down in 1973, you would find some states in the union where abortion would be legal and some states where it would be illegal. It was largely if not exclusively a state question. The memo goes on to remind us that when Roe was handed down in 1973, the Supreme Court, and we recall it was a 7-2 majority of the court, intended to create what they themselves stated would be a new national consensus on abortion; that consensus never happened, it never happened because an increasing number of Americans began to understand what abortion really represents as the murder of an unborn baby. But on the other side of the political chasm, on the left the consensus also failed to materialize because the pro-abortion movement moved steadily in more extreme directions taking us to today when there is now a demand for abortion on demand for any reason or for no reason and for unqualified government support and taxpayer payment for abortion on demand. But as Brooks in this memo makes clear, if you go back to the 1970s there was a basic bipartisan agreement about limitations upon abortion, and the memo goes on to cite that then Chief Justice of the United States Warren Burger, who wrote, and I quote,

“the court today,”

that means the day that Row was handed down,

“rejects any claim that the Constitution requires abortion on demand.”

But then the memo states everything became polarized.

“The pro-life movement grew on the right and withered on the left. Republicans introduced an anti-abortion plank into their platform in 1976. A new electoral coalition was born.”

The memo from a Democratic consultant to Democrats makes the argument that Democrats need to recognize why pro-lifers take their argument so seriously, and they should recognize that abortion is understood amongst pro-lifers to be nothing other than the taking of an unborn human life, a form of murder. The memo acknowledges that changes in technology, such as the development of the ultrasound, now make the personhood of the unborn child more and more visible and more and more irrefutable even as the pro-abortion arguments, especially those controlling the Democratic Party, have become ever more extreme. The point of the memo is that the abortion issue isn’t where it was in 1973 and that the Democratic Party is nowhere near where it was in 1973. By some counts, including counts with in the Democratic Party, there are only three predictably pro-life votes among Democrats in the United States Senate. The memo warns Democrats that they ought not to believe that Millennials have the same pro-abortion sentiment as previous generations nor that they see this as a hill on which they are politically ready to die.

The background to this memorandum is the failed vote in the United States Senate just a few days ago to outlaw abortion after 20 weeks of gestation. Remember that the United States is the outlier here, one of only seven nations that allows abortion so late. Late-term abortion is legal here, it’s legal in China and North Korea; that’s not the kind of moral company the United States of America should want to keep. But the memo from a Democratic consultant to fellow Democrats ends with these words,

“I’m asking us to rethink our priorities. What does America need most right now? One of our talking points is that late-term abortions are extremely rare. If they are extremely rare, why are we giving them priority over all of our other issues combined?”

Now in making this argument, the writer of the memo indicates that other legislative issues, issues very important to the Democratic Party and its political base, have languished because they continue to crack up on the question of abortion. But the most important words in this memorandum have to do with the author of the memorandum, this Democratic consultant. As David Brooks, the columnist for the New York Times, makes clear this is an imaginary consultant making an argument that actually belongs to David Brooks not to a Democratic Party partisan consultant. But this memorandum from an imaginary consultant actually goes a long way towards demonstrating reality, the reality of the great moral chasm in the United States that separates the two parties and two different worldviews when it comes to the status of unborn human life. But it also points to the fact that this great divide on abortion — a political divide, a partisan divide, a moral divide, a worldview divide — that this divide was unpredicted and unpredictable in the United States in 1973, but it is now one of the most significant political and moral facts of our time.

Part II

A very dangerous debate about emotional health and abortion

Next, similarly, just a couple of days ago the Washington Post ran an article by reporter Salvador Rizzo asking the questions, if it’s really true, as many Democrats charge during that last abortion debate in the Senate, that the Republican sponsored bill that would’ve outlawed abortion after 20 weeks of gestation would’ve included absolutely no exceptions? The fact checking column in the Washington Post comes back to say, ‘no, that claim was not true.’ It was made by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, who in a statement on January 29 said,

“The blanket ban in this bill makes no exception for a woman’s health. A woman would need to be at risk of death or irreversible harm to receive care under this bill.”

Now just note again the moral invasion in the use of the word care rather than abortion. Also note the fact that there is reference here to a woman’s health. We simply need to be reminded that that became one of the most contentious issues on the other side of the Roe v Wade decision. What exactly constitutes a woman’s health? The big issue that led to the reality of abortion on demand with the inclusion of mental and emotional health along with physical health. The bill that had been proposed in the Senate made reference to physical health but since it did not make equal reference to mental and emotional health, well, that’s the reason why there were some who came back and said there were no health exceptions. But here’s where we need to remember the truth, and the truth is that once mental and emotional well-being was included in the definition of health to be used for exceptions to restrictions on abortion, those restrictions effectively melted away. It’s almost like the issue of medical marijuana; if one is looking for a prescription for medical marijuana, well, one can get one for almost any reason. Some medical diagnosis, plausible or implausible, was brought forth as the legal justification for the prescription. Similarly, once emotional and mental health were included in the exception language and in the definition of health, it basically came down to the fact that some level of emotional stress could become justification enough for an exception to restrictions on abortion. To put the matter plainly, the exception language demanded by the Democrats in the last Senate debate would’ve nullified the intention of the law in the first place creating a category so wide that the exceptions would have become the rule.

Part III

Can we still make a distinction between those worthy of government and welfare and those who are not?

But next, we shift to a very different moral argument, this one also of great interest in America today. It has to do with proposals for any kind of reform to federal entitlement programs. Furthermore, many of these same arguments show up state-by-state when it comes to welfare, Medicaid, any number of government programs. The article that appeared in the New York Times is by Emily Badger and Margot Sanger-Katz. It asked the question,

“Who’s Able-Bodied Anyway?”

It comes down to a statement made by the Speaker of the House Paul Ryan that there should be a limitation when it comes to some federal entitlement programs such that able-bodied persons should be required to work or be making some kind of progress in education to continue to receive those kinds of entitlement programs. The basic argument is that there is a distinction between those who deserve to be on these entitlement programs and those who could otherwise be working but simply are not. There is a distinction here between those who are able-bodied and thus able to work and those who can’t work. There is a recognition that there is a different moral status when it comes to those two different categories. The reporters for the New York Times take us back to the fact that able-bodied has a history, and that history, by the way, goes all the way back to Britain in the Elizabethan age. It turns out that Britain’s poor law passed in the year 1601 made this distinction. The distinction between the worthy poor and those who were simply seeking assistance because they should be working but were not. Able-bodied became the physical distinction that made the mark between one group and the other. Now what’s really interesting from a Christian worldview perspective is that when the welfare laws in the United States were put into effect with the current welfare program in the year 1965 there was a very clear borrowing from Britain’s poor law of 1601. There was this moral distinction between the worthy poor and the unworthy who were applying for government benefits. In Elizabethan England, the distinction between the worthy poor and those were simply seeking benefits was made by local officials including church overseers and church wardens, but when it comes to today’s welfare system, well there’s an acknowledgment in this article that the distinction here, this basic moral distinction, has been lost and it’s not just been lost in memory, it has been eradicated from the continuing legislative history.

Leonardo Cuello, who is the health policy director of the National Health Law Program, said,

“It’s a clear sequence from 1965 to 2010, where ‘able-bodiedness,’ [or] ‘worthy poor’ is being written out of the statute.”

He continued,

“That comes to its full completion in 2010, where able-bodiedness is explicitly irrelevant.”

There’s a big moral point here that is now stripped out of the legislation but continues in the hearts and minds of the American people. A survey taken in 2016 by the American enterprise Institute and the Los Angeles Times indicated that 87 percent of Americans said that it’s better to require people to seek work or to participate in a training program

“if they are physically able to do so.”

Now, on many moral questions in America you’re looking at a very divided population when 87 percent of Americans respond with the same moral perspective that tells you something about the endurance of a moral consensus on this question. There is a vast agreement in America that there is a distinction between the worthy poor and those who unworthily are simply seeking taxpayer support. This divide is partly partisan and ideological in the United States, the removal of this moral distinction when it comes to those receiving federal benefits was largely driven by the Democratic Party and by Democratic presidents. But it’s also clear that there is more than a partisan issue here, there is a basic underlying consensus, and I think this is largely due to the fact that there is a continuing work ethic in America without which you can’t have America as a thriving and stable society. The big ideological divide in America on these issues is between the structuralists, those generally identified with the left who believe that the basic causes of poverty are structural, and the culturalists, usually identified with the right who argue that the basic causes of poverty are moral. But interestingly, over the last several years even as the great chasm over the question of abortion has continued to widen, the chasm between the structuralists in the culturalists has narrowed; there is a general agreement now that there are both structural and moral or cultural reasons for income inequality and for poverty.

Christians remember that the work ethic is not something that merely emerged out of the Protestant Reformation, although there are good reasons to understand why the modern statement of the work ethic goes back especially to the Protestant reformers and their understanding of vocation, of God’s calling to all of us in the workplace. But it’s also true that a work ethic is deeply affirmed by and grounded in the Scriptures in an understanding of the assignment given to human beings in Genesis and of the reminder that comes in the New Testament that if one is not willing to work, neither should he be allowed to eat. And it tells us something about our contemporary moment that on these issues there is actually a growing consensus in America, a consensus that as we note is now missing in the law but seems to be very persistent amongst the American people.

Part IV

A maelstrom over a motto at the Veterans Administration

But next, shifting to a very different controversy of a very different sort, this one also coming from Washington. A story in the Washington Post asking the question,

“Is the VA,”

that is the Veterans Administration,

“Motto Outdated and Sexist?”

The headline goes on to say,

“The Head of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Group Thinks So.”

Emily Wax-Thibodeau reports for the Washington Post,

“The Department of Veterans Affairs is coming under increasing pressure to change its motto to include female veterans, through an effort championed by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the largest organization representing post-9/11 veterans.”

The issue, reminds the Post, is an 1865 quote from Abraham Lincoln, and this 1865 statement from Abraham Lincoln has been — for many, many years now — the motto of the Veterans Administration. What did President Abraham Lincoln say that would become the motto for the Veterans Administration? Here are the words,

“To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.”

That statement, we should note, is from one of the most morally significant and theologically freighted address given in the history of the United States of America; the second inaugural address of President Lincoln. And in that address, looking forward to the end of the war, the President spoke of the nation’s responsibility to care for veterans, particularly in this case the veterans of the Union army. In poetic language characteristic of President Lincoln, he spoke of the nation’s responsibility to care for


meaning the soldiers and veterans,

“who shall have borne the battle,”

and then the extension to the veteran’s widow and his orphan. Now one of the interesting things in political history is that this is one of the most important statements made anywhere by any head of state about the responsibility of the nation to its veterans after the war. But the complaint is now that the motto is too gender specific and specifically masculine; there can be no question that for years now there have been many brave American women who’ve worn the American uniform and have also borne the battle. The debate as to whether women should be in some combat categories is an important debate, but there can be no debate that there have been women who have served boldly and bravely in the American military. So there’s no question about whether that’s true. But the question is: Do we have to go back and revise history so that President Abraham Lincoln in 1865, who gave the impetus that led to the modern Veterans Administration, are we now arguing that we have to go back and effectively remove words from President Abraham Lincoln because we can’t sanitize them? The same kind of language, we should note, is found in the U.S. Constitution and it’s found in the Declaration of Independence; does it mean that we have to somehow now adopt new statements? Making a moral acknowledgment of the present does not mean it can’t mean denying the past, but what we see here is an agenda that has no respect for the past whatsoever, even the past that produced the present.

The Washington Post article makes clear that it doesn’t stop and end with the Veterans Administration. In 2003 the Air Force Academy took down its

“Bring Me Men,”

sign and replaced it with a gender inclusive motto,

“Integrity First. Service Before Self. Excellence In All We Do.”

But there remains a fact we must face, a fact that is revealed in history, a fact that is verified in experience, a fact that we as Christians believe is even found in the structures of creation, it’s a fact that reminds us that the United States military has required an incredible number of men and does in the present also require a majority of men and will in the future depend upon an armed services made up in the majority of men, and without those men there will not be the fighting force that the United States needs. The statement that there is now an inclusion of women and that the United States also honors women and is dependent upon women in many positions of leadership and of service to the United States, that is not denied, but the reality is this: If you are no longer willing to say,

“Bring Me Men,”

then the reality is that before long you may have a shortage of them.

It turns out that men need the address as men, but you’ll also notice something else, gender equivalence and gender inclusion could have been served by saying, “Bring Me Men and Women,” that would be one plausible suggestion for how to deal with the motto. But that’s not what happened; instead, all references to both men and women disappear. There’s a great moral lesson here, it is a lesson of immense worldview significance. If you find it difficult to speak of men, before long you will find it difficult to speak of men and women. And Christians understand that what is at stake here is a lot more than a sign at the Air Force Academy, once again what we see is a sign of the times.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to

I’ll meet you again on tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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