Tuesday, February 13, 2018
Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, February 13, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Today we’ll look at a perfect storm of religious liberty and the moral revolution, first across the United States then specifically in Massachusetts, and then we’ll look at midwives in Great Britain. We’ll ask what is required to coerce agents of life into being now agents of death. And then we’ll ask the question, who is really helping the poor? And how?
A perfect storm over religious liberty and the moral revolution
Here is a sociological principle to observe. It’s so certain it's virtually a sociological fact. When moral change takes place, the winning side in the controversy quickly moves from a mode of persuasion to a mode of coercion. We see that in what can only be described as a perfect storm of events and coming to us in the form of headlines. First of all, the level of observation and analysis, an essay comes at Religion Dispatches, asking the question as to whether or not there is a moral pendulum at work on the issue of LGBTQ rights. The argument coming of late as we've already discussed on The Briefing in recent days is that there is a backlash of sorts against LGBTQ rights that has caught many in the movement of that moral revolution by something that can only be described as surprise.
But a closer look at the fundamental issues of this moral change indicates that there has been no backlash, there is no retreat, there is no return to a traditional understanding of sexuality and marriage. But what we also see is that there is a certain kind of distancing now taking place. In one context it might be called a form of buyer's remorse. A majority of Americans still say that they support LGBTQ rights but the same majority seems to indicate a certain uneasiness about the consequences of that very position change in American society. The essay at Religion Dispatches essentially gets to the conflict between conscience and that kind of moral and political and legal coercion we’re now finding in the United States of America.
It comes down to contested rights, contested liberties. It comes down to that inevitable collision between religious liberty and this new styled sexual liberty. In most of these cases thus far, sexual liberty has won over religious liberty. Even though in the United States of America, religious liberty is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. Sexual liberty is not only later invented by the courts. It doesn't appear of course in the language of the U.S. Constitution at all. Writing at Religion Dispatches, Patrick Hornbeck writes,
“Because much, if not in fact most, opposition to LGBTQ rights has religious roots, arguments about religious freedom, and claims about the exemptions due religious believers in their dealings with their LGBTQ fellow citizens, will continue to figure prominently in our national debates.”
Now of course we have a cake baker case currently before the United States Supreme Court, and even recently a similar decision was handed down by a federal court in the state of California. We’ve got other issues related to abortion, any number of other moral questions either at the surface or about to break the surface in America's political and legal culture. Later in his article Hornbeck writes,
“As Columbia University law professor Kent Greenawalt pointed out in a 2017 book, the very structure of the First Amendment’s religion clauses makes resolving disputes of this sort unusually difficult.”
He goes on to write,
“While the Free Exercise Clause limits the power of government to compel citizens to act against sincerely held religious beliefs, the Establishment Clause (as well as the Constitution’s equal protection provisions) aims to ensure that no individual set of beliefs is privileged over others.”
What's particularly misleading about those last words is that there's nothing new about the fact that courts are having to rule rather continuously about privileging one set of beliefs over another. There is no absolute balance of these belief systems. There never can be. This was true when the Mormons were confronted by the reality of the federal government back in the 19th century that said you may believe in a form of polygamy, and you may practice it, but you cannot do so and be a part of the United States of America. During the civil rights era, courts ruled very similarly privileging one set of beliefs over another. Without doing so the courts could not have acted in any way that would've brought about fundamental change. But when we are looking at the contemporary moment what you see is exactly what Hornbeck points to. Most of the issues related to conscience and religious liberty when it comes to the LGBTQ revolution are based in sincere religious beliefs and in the conflict brought about between those beliefs and the new moral revolutionaries and their ambition to coerce enforcement.
Massachusetts legislators consider bill that would eliminate conscience clauses
But the second article in our perfect storm comes in yesterday's addition of the Boston Globe. The headline of this story,
“Massachusetts bill would bar companies from citing religious exemptions”
As the Associated Press reports,
“Lawmakers are weighing a bill aimed at preventing corporations from being able to claim religious exemptions from state anti-discrimination laws for conduct that occurs in Massachusetts.”
We are then told in the article that the bill is at least in part a reaction by Massachusetts lawmakers to the 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision related to Hobby Lobby. That's the case in which the Supreme Court found that closely held private corporations may also operate on the basis of the sincerely held religious beliefs of those who founded and run them. But the proposed legislation in Massachusetts which state,
“the powers of a business corporation do not include assertion — based on the purported religious belief or moral conviction on the part of the corporation, its officers, or directors — of exemptions from, or claims or defenses against, federal or state law prohibiting discrimination.”
Now it's not at all clear how the legislators in Massachusetts think they would have any effect upon the federal aspect of this legislation. But there's no doubt that their action could have a great deal of effect when it comes to state antidiscrimination laws, and the net effect of this proposed legislation would be to deny the corporations in Massachusetts rights and recognitions granted to those very same corporations nationwide by the U.S. Supreme Court. Mason Dunn identified as Executive Director of the Massachusetts Trans Political Coalition released a statement saying,
“LGBTQ people across the commonwealth value the cornerstone of freedom of religion. It’s a core belief we all share. However, when faith and religion are used to hurt and discriminate, that freedom becomes a weapon against our community — and that’s not something we can allow here in Massachusetts.”
Now that statement is at the very least absolutely contradictory and incoherent. At the most it is intentionally dishonest only the speaker knows which is the case. But you’ll note that it begins by affirming the cornerstone of the freedom of religion identified as a core belief we all share, but then any public effect of religious liberty is essentially nullified by the very same statements and the subsequent words by the very same speaker. In the article Catholic Action League of Massachusetts Executive Director C.J. Doyle said,
“The same people who pleaded for tolerance and an end to discrimination when gay rights laws were being considered, now demand that Christians be punished, and if necessary, driven out of business if they refuse to service same-sex ‘marriage’ ceremonies,”
What is required to coerce agents of life into being agents of death?
That first story was an analysis of the collision between religious liberty and sexual liberty in the United States looking at current issues. The second article was specifically about this proposed legislation that would eliminate conscience clauses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, but the third story is about midwives in the United Kingdom. The Daily Mail recently ran a headline,
“The midwife hounded out of her job after 30 years (and 5,000 babies) because she refused to supervise abortions”
Now when looking at the sourcing on this story, the Daily Mail is one of the more popular tabloid newspapers sold in the United Kingdom in Great Britain. The tabloid newspapers are often cutting edge when it comes to breaking a story, but they often lack the kind of in-depth reporting and furthermore the long-lasting interest in big political economic and social issues. The tabloids by definition are a bit flashier. But what's important in this sense is that most of the major establishment daily newspapers in Great Britain think that the abortion issue isn't even worth covering anymore. That’s significant in and of itself.
Reporter Jenny Johnston for the Daily Mail introduces us to Mary Doogan who she says,
“sees herself like the driver of the getaway car in an armed robbery”
Why? Because the highest court in Great Britain has ruled against her. Saying that even though the laws in the country prevent a midwife from being coerced directly into participating in abortion, the court ruled that the law does not allow a midwife to refuse to supervise an abortion, thus the metaphor. Mary Doogan says she is not being forced to be a participant inside the bank holding a weapon in a bank robbery, but she is being now required by the nation's highest court in Great Britain to effectively drive the getaway car to be nonetheless complicit in the bank robbery. She is now being required to be complicit in abortion. And after 30 years of being a midwife, after delivering 5000 babies as an act of professional love, she is now out of the business of being a midwife. She's out of that service simply because she refuses when it comes to abortion either to hold the weapon in the bank or to drive the getaway car.
But the decision recently handed down by Britain's highest court said that the midwives had the right to refuse to carry out abortion procedures themselves but nonetheless they were obligated to,
“delegate these duties to other staff and to supervise the staff during the abortions.”
The background of this is very instructive. Britain's current abortion law originated in an act of Parliament of 1967, and according to that legislation there was to be an absolute conscience protection given to medical professionals particularly to physicians. But as the Daily Mail makes clear those conscience protections required in the legislation adopted in 1967 are now when it comes to the midwives not worth the paper they were printed on. But Britain's overall shift on the issue of abortion is also made clear in the article,
“Anyone who tried to warn that, within 50 years, Britain would become a place where an abortion is carried out every three minutes, or 20 times an hour, or 600 every working day, would have been greeted with disbelief and accused of scaremongering.”
But that is exactly the reality of abortion in the United Kingdom today.
So there is that perfect storm – three stories, one about the United States writ large, one from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, one from the United Kingdom two about the LGBTQ revolution and one about the issue of abortion point to this inevitable collision between these newly constructed sexual and reproductive liberties and religious liberty. And we see this in the United Kingdom, Great Britain where many of our modern ideals of religious liberty originated in the English-speaking world, and we see it in the United States which took those arguments and cherished those liberties so much that they are enshrined in what is called the Bill of Rights, the First 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, required by the states to be included before the Constitution itself would be ratified.
What American viewers aren’t noticing when they watch one British TV show
Thinking about midwives, we are reminded that a similar court decision was handed down not too long ago in Scandinavia. This is a virus that is spreading. But thinking specifically about the role of the midwife in the United Kingdom, we need to remember that millions of Americans have been watching an import, BBC1 drama known as “Call the Midwife” which has looked at the role of the midwife in Great Britain particularly in the period after World War II. But what many American viewers of that program have not recognized consciously is that what they are watching as that drama has unfolded over the series over the years is a process of social and moral change that took place in that very reality of postwar Britain.
Just like so many American viewers watched “Downton Abbey” without recognizing that they were watching the end of an age morally as well as socially and historically, many American viewers of “Call the Midwife” fail to see that what is taking place in that drama is the fact that midwifery in the United Kingdom even with the rise of the welfare state there at the very same time transformed the midwife from being primarily about helping a woman to deliver a healthy baby to the midwife becoming a social worker with a moral cause. And that moral cause was closely tied to feminism and the very moral revolution that brought about legal abortion both in the United States and in Great Britain and has brought about the very same collision of liberties we have been observing today.
The saddest aspect of this entire flow of history is that moral observation requires us to see that a profession that had been established over millennia for the successful delivery of a healthy child and the assistance of the mother in that process has now been transformed into an agency of either death or birth as if they are both equivalent choices as if they both should be left as a matter of choice as if they both can be described in a profession that still goes by the name midwife. We just need to ask yourself the question – what kind of fundamental moral change, what kind of change has to take place in the hearts and the minds even in the souls of a people that they would willingly transform a profession like being a midwife from being always and consistently an agent of life to being now under force of coercion of law an agent of death?
Who is really helping the poor and how?
But next we shift to an economic issue in the news, and we must recognize economics is one of the most morally revealing dimensions of human behavior and of human society and culture. The group known as Oxfam – that’s a nongovernmental organization or NGO – originally based in Great Britain has been in the headlines recently because of the sex scandal in Haiti. And that has dominated a good deal of the headlines having to do with a group recently. But missed by many unnoticed by the major media in the main has been an economic report issued by the group, a report about income inequality and how to address it.
But David R. Henderson writing in the Wall Street Journal looks to that report and understands exactly what is at stake. The headline,
“A War on the Rich Won’t Help the Poor”
Now it turns out that Oxfam has released a report. It’s not the first time they have done this. The group has over the course of the years looked to the issue of income inequality and ranked nations according to their income inequality. But Oxfam goes beyond that so far as making proposals about how income inequality within and among nations should be addressed. But what we need to note is the basic logic behind the proposals and furthermore behind the worldview of Oxfam. It is the view that the greatest evil imaginable in the world, the source of all other evils is income inequality. It is simply wrong and it is a wrong that drives most other wrongs that there are people who have more than other persons.
Now income inequality is a fact of human existence. John Rawls the famous theorist of justice of the far left used to say that we should trying to achieve an absolute equality of possessions, an equality of ends, but the first thing you have to note is that as soon as you let human beings loose amongst themselves inequality will appear because human beings do not all even prize or want the same goods. Human beings don't have the same commitment to a work ethic. Human beings will for all kinds of reasons inclined towards economic inequality rather than equality. And from a Christian worldview perspective, there is no doubt that economic oppression and injustice are grave moral wrongs. We understand that they appear in a Genesis 3 world. We expect them, but we certainly would expect government or an economic system to at least recognize the reality of the problem and adopt a system of just laws. But even within that system of just laws, we understand that just laws do not produce just people.
But Oxfam evidently didn't get that memo because the thrust of its proposals is to address income inequality by taking wealth from some and giving it to others. Well there are a couple problems with that. For one thing it's virtually impossible to imagine how that would be carried out on a global scale. But Oxfam has an answer for that. It's a new global taxing authority with police and we would presume military powers that would be able to tell nations how they must arrange their laws and their economic systems in order to prevent persons from becoming abnormally rich. Just exactly what will be acceptably rich and what would be unacceptably rich, well that's not defined yet. But here you see again that the intention to use coercion even international coercion in order to bring a moral result about.
But the bigger problem is in assuming that income inequality is the problem rather than poverty. As Henderson,
“Say that wages in a developing country rose by 10%, and in the U.S. by only 1%. For a family in the poor country earning $2,000, that would mean an extra $200. But for a family in the U.S. making $50,000, it would equate to $500. In other words, income inequality would increase, even though wages grew 10 times as fast for the poor family.”
What’s perhaps even more shocking is that when you look at the alleviation of poverty over the last generation, it is proved possible to vastly raise the economic power of the poor, but in so doing it has also created a context in which income inequality has grown. But the thing to keep in mind here is that if income inequality is the problem and solving that problem is our sole aim, we can simply solve that by arranging for everyone to have nothing. But in this article we see a correct assessment that what many in the world want to do in the name of helping the poor would actually hurt them and wreck the entire world economy simultaneously.
But we also see in this article what happens to so many organizations so many of these NGOs or nongovernmental organizations that have a great deal of clout in the international community and whose reports gain a great deal of media attention. As Henderson who is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution writes,
“Oxfam started honorably during World War II as a group of Quakers, social activists and academics at Oxford who wanted freer trade. Specifically, Oxfam wanted the British government to allow food to reach the citizens of Nazi-occupied Greece. That was a long time ago. Today Oxfam’s annual budget exceeds $1 billion, and it gets almost half of that from governments and the United Nations. So,” Henderson says perhaps it’s time for a new name. No longer Oxfam but Oxgov. That he says, “has a nice ring to it.”
Christians operating out of a biblical worldview know that we have a responsibility to the poor, the poor close to us and the poor wherever they are found. We have a moral imperative to work towards economic justice. But the question is, who's really working towards helping the poor? And what will really contribute to human flourishing and to economic justice? If you frame the problem the wrong way, you can't possibly get to the right solution.