Monday, November 19, 2018
Monday, Nov. 19, 2018
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Monday, November 19, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
In victory for religious liberty, Trump administration grants relief from contraceptive mandate for religious organizations
Just a few days ago, a very important announcement from the Trump administration, the President and the administration announced that the Department of Health and Human Services is revising the so-called contraception mandate from the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, making extremely clear that religious employers and specifically Christian organizations could not be required to violate conscience in the contraceptive mandate. That mandate had been so draconian, as passed down through the regulatory process in the Obama administration, that even Christian ministries were ordered that they had to comply against their own convictions, not only offering contraception to all, but paying for that contraception and including forms of contraception that at least some Christians believe will contribute to, if not cause, an abortion.
The headline in The Wall Street Journal's editorial page was exactly right, an unnecessary culture war. The editors pointed to the decision and declared it to be good news. They went on to say that the Department of Health and Human Services had finalized new rules, "granting the Little Sisters of the Poor a broad religious exemption from the Obama administration's contraception mandate." The editors remind the Catholic religious order that serves the elderly with the court to protect its right to religious liberty after the Obama Department of Health and Human Services imposed crushing fines for refusing to comply. The Sisters, we are reminded, finally triumphed in 2016 when the Supreme Court lifted the fines and kicked the issue back to the courts.
If that was 2016, why is this good news in 2018? Well, it's because the wheels of justice often grind very, very slowly, and, in this case, there's no good excuse, but it is good news that the Trump administration has simply announced that by changing the regulations of the Department of Health and Human Services, it will grant relief, not only to the Little Sisters of the Poor, but to all religiously-based ministries that would otherwise be required by our government to compromise their own convictions.
The editors went further, and this is what's really important as we think about the issue this morning, "Hard to believe, but some on the Left, including the Attorneys General for California and Washington, are still in court trying to deprive the Little Sisters of their exemption." That's what's so amazing. There are several State Attorneys General who are not giving in, even after the victory at the Supreme Court. They are suing to require the federal government to coerce religious organizations into violating their convictions because these Attorneys General representing these two states, the states of California and Washington, are so adamant to support the sexual revolution that they will violate religious liberty. That's an alarm bell we need to note very carefully, but we also need to remind ourselves of the map. California and Washington, two of the three states on the West Coast. That means two of the three states in one of the regions of the United States that is now most morally liberal and most religiously secular.
Looking at the map, reminding ourselves of that reality, it comes as no surprise. We understand that the one goes in hand with the other. This is affirmed over and over again, not only on the map, but in American politics and public life today. You find the Left increasingly becoming a secular Left, and you find that secular Left increasingly not only defining itself in secular terms, but in open, unprecedented antipathy and opposition to Christian organizations and Christian ministries.
The editors of The Wall Street Journal remind us of some important math that underlines the extremity, the extreme nature of the secular opposition to Christian conviction, even on an issue of this policy and this contraception mandate. The editors write, "The Department of Health and Human Services reckons no more than 200 employers will take advantage of the new exemption affecting fewer than 0.1%. That's fewer than 0.1% of the 165 million American women. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the Little Sisters, notes that there are many ways for the government to provide contraceptives without forcing nuns, or we should say, any other religious organization, to violate its beliefs," but that's the point, isn't it? Increasingly, we see the upfront, unapologetic effort to coerce Christians, specifically, to violate conviction when it isn't even necessary.
The government does have so many means at its disposal whereby it could provide this contraception coverage. Requiring of religious employers is a deliberate slap in the face to Christian conviction, to any form of religious conviction. It's a violation of religious liberty. It's sending a signal, and that signal was unmistakable. We are going to make you pay for this. We are going to push this sexual revolution, and we are going to make you violate your convictions even when it isn't necessary. If it isn't necessary, then those who are pushing it are pushing it just in order to make a point, and if they're making that point, we, as Christians, dare not miss it.
Journalism redefined: How the moral revolution requires changes in every dimension of the culture
Next, even as under any sane conditions, we would be talking about a national midterm election that is not only over, but has been over for a couple of weeks. The reality is now that even as of this Monday morning, the election's still not over. There are still contested and unanswered questions. That's an embarrassment to this constitutional form of government and to an electoral system of politics, but, nonetheless, that's as it is, but looking back over the last couple of weeks, there are some significant lessons that can already be learned. It's interesting to see how these lessons are considered by a newspaper, such as the New York Times.
The New York Times, in the aftermath of the election, noted that anti-abortion gains were part of the electoral map. Candidates who were anti-abortion tended, in many states, to win over candidates who were not. That means that in America today, we have an electoral map that's not only red and blue, as in Democratic and Republican, we also have an electoral map that's red in another way, states that are decidedly pro-abortion and states that are increasingly decidedly anti-abortion, but even as you had those gains in the anti-abortion movement, the New York Times also reported with a headline story by Christina Caron, Day of Firsts Signal Shift in Attitudes Nationwide. What would that shift in attitudes be? It turns out that the attitudes are related to the LGBTQ dimension of the 2018 midterm elections. The article's by Christina Caron. She tells us that no less than 399, notice the careful counting here, no less than 399 openly LGBT candidates ran in the election at all levels of government. This included 22 for Congress and at least four for Governor. The Victory Fund, very much an activist group for the LGBTQ community, indicated that it was the highest number in the organization's 27-year history.
Let's just think for a moment. If that's true, this is the highest number in that organization's 27-year history, then it is by any question, the highest number in our nation's history because if you go back before 27 years ago, it would be impossible to conceive that anyone would even be able to count openly gay candidates for these offices. There would not have been any, or it would have been so marginal a story that it certainly wouldn't have been noticed by the New York Times.
A part of the worldview's significance of this story is how carefully activist groups are counting. You're counting these openly gay or LGBTQ candidates. We are told it was at least 399. This kind of count indicates the way that moral progress, according to the sexual revolutionaries, is being counted in America, and you have groups, such as the Victory Fund, who will not be satisfied unless that number is far larger two years from now in 2020, and even larger than that in the midterm elections of 2022. That's the way moral change and political transformation happen.
You'll notice these are activist organizations. They're not only able to count, they are able to endorse candidates, they are able sometimes to encourage people to be candidates, and they are able to exercise a certain amount of political influence and political leverage. Of course, the New York Times is really happy about this. That headline is basically celebrating, Day of Firsts Signal Shift in Attitudes Nationwide.
The opening paragraph in the story was this. "More openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people were elected," that would be on Tuesday night, November the 6th, "than in any previous election," here is the editorial comment in the report, "signaling a shift in cultural attitudes even as the Trump administration has chipped away at LGBT rights."
Notice the editorialization in that news story. We are watching something important happen in journalism, something we need to note. It is more extreme on the cable news networks, but it's also showing up even in the flagship newspapers, such as the New York Times, that in any previous age would prize the absolute division between journalism and editorial work, but in this case, this is now justified in the name of news analysis. That's an even bigger issue perhaps than this news story that we should pay attention to under the guise of analysis. Journalism is being redefined so that editorial content and that kind of explicit editorial analysis is showing up in what's supposed to be a news story. This is just another signal of how the moral revolution and the changing political landscape in the United States also require changes in just about every dimension of the culture.
Journalism is one of the most important of those dimensions and, thus, you see here that a minor change, you might think, in the profession of journalism turns out not to be minor at all. It turns out to be major, and to show up not only in this story, but in just about every story where editorial comment is now often disguised as news content.
Desperation of pro-abortion movement on full display as activists launch online abortion pill service
But, next, even as there is the acknowledgement that there were pro-life gains during the 2018 midterm elections, there was another report that appeared just in recent days in the Philadelphia Inquirer. It's by Marie McCullough. The headline is With Roe Challenged, Abortion Pills Come to the United States. The background of this is the accusation that the Trump administration and especially the fact that there are two new Trump appointees to the United States Supreme Court means that the legal precedent of Roe v. Wade is threatened, and, thus, what the Left prizes perhaps above anything else, what they claim is a women's right to abortion, is also threatened.
McCullough reports, and I quote, "Foes and offenders of abortion rights are preparing for seismic shifts in the abortion landscape. Voters in Alabama and West Virginia approved trigger measures that could pave the way for state abortion bans if the United States Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, a possibility raised by the appointment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the high court."
Wait just a minute. What in the world is a trigger measure, as approved by voters in Alabama and West Virginia? It's very important. This is state legislation that is not currently allowable by the Supreme Court to precedent of Roe v. Wade. That infamous decision handed down legalizing abortion in 1973. According to the authority of the United States Supreme Court in the Roe v. Wade decision, states are not allowed under the United States Constitution to ban abortion. What you see here are trigger laws. That is to say the stage legislatures are ready. Voters in Alabama and West Virginia have indicated they are ready to ban abortion the moment the precedent of Roe v. Wade might be struck down.
This also raises another interesting point that many Christians probably are not aware of, and that's the fact that, right now, according to the laws of several states, abortion is not legal, but abortion is, at least in some sense, legal in those states. It's legal by action of the Supreme Court, but several of the states never revised their laws to come into line with Roe v. Wade, but from the very beginning of the impact of that decision have hoped for a reversal or, at the very least, the political realities in those states have not made it possible for the state legislatures to change the abortion law in a more liberal direction.
It's important for us to recognize that even though many people in the pro-abortion side of the argument want to act as if the pro-life movement is new and it's newly influential and newly threatening, the games that they believe that they had made in Roe v. Wade and beyond, the reality is that the pro-abortion movement in America has been in effect under attack and in retreat ever since Roe v. Wade was handed down. That's why the pro-abortion movement continues to try to build publicity firewalls, and, in a sense, that's what this story is as reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer, but the story turns far darker in the next paragraph.
"Even while Roe's constitutional right to abortion remains in place, abortion has become so hard to get in many parts of the country that a new online service called Aid Access quietly was launched during the summer to provide prescription abortion pills by mail-order to US women." The report goes on to say, "Founder Rebecca Gomperts, a Dutch physician and activist, has for years run Women on Web," that's the name of the organization, Woman on Web, "which ships abortion pills to women in countries where abortion is illegal."
Indeed, Rebecca Gomperts has been infamous for this for a number of years, but you see here, further demonstration of the desperation of the pro-abortion movement, so determined to make abortion available to as many as possible, as quickly as possible, in as uncomplicated a manner as possible, whether or not the law is on their side or not. Here you have an organization that is now seeking to mail to women in the United States the abortion pill and to make it accessible even beyond government control.
It is not clear at all whether this is legal or not. This is a fast developing story, and even the United States government doesn't appear to be absolutely certain as to whether it is legal. Groups such as Americans United for Life contend that the Aid Access model is not only unsafe, but in violation of the United States Postal and other federal regulations.
It's also important in this story to read, "No matter what happens, activists expect demand will only grow for medication-driven terminations, which now account for a third of all US abortions." It's hard to imagine a society any more dangerous and any more deadly than a society that will kill unborn life in the womb by a pill.
Why all of our political struggles shouldn’t be reduced to a Manichean conflict between absolute goodness and absolute evil
Next, I want to look at a bit of post-election analysis from the liberal side of the equation. It helps us to understand what's really going on in our society and how the different issues that frame the moral and political divide in the United States are seen from the other side.
There are a couple of very important illustrations here. One is an article by columnist, Charles M. Blow, that appeared in the New York Times. It's entitled You Have a Right to Weariness. He asks, "Does patriotic defense of country require perpetual obsessive vigilance, or is it permissible to retreat occasionally for one's own mental and spiritual health?" He continues, "These are questions I ask myself regularly, and ones that are frequently asked of me, if not in those exact words. People are trying to figure out the proper posture to take in a world riven by deceit and corruption, a world in which the leadership of the country represents an assault on decency." He says this. "This is a conundrum, I must confess. I, as much as anyone else, feel trapped by our current predicament. I would love nothing more than to write about other things, worthy things, more intellectually stimulating things, but for more than two years," he says, he's had to talk about the current administration.
What's interesting in this article is what we would call a Manichean worldview. The Manicheans, in the ancient world, were famous for their absolute division between good and evil and the fact that they associated good and evil, not only as absolutely distinct, but in constant cosmic combat with a good god and an evil god locked in that kind of conflict. That was an ancient paganism, but Manicheanism has simply become a way of saying, "An absolutist understanding of right and wrong as being in perpetual conflict."
The Christian worldview, by the way, just as a footnote, understands that absolute distinction between right and wrong, but does not understand that there is going to be an eternal conflict between the right and to the wrong, but turning back to this story, I read, "The struggle for goodness and decency is eternal, not seasonal." Again, "The struggle for goodness and decency is eternal, not seasonal."
Here's a problem. It's a problem that can appear on the Right, as well as on the Left. We should not reduce all of our political struggles to this kind of Manichean conflict between absolute goodness and absolute evil, between decency and the indecent and just argue that this is an eternal issue that must consume us all of the time.
I just talked about very important issues, urgent issues to Christians, issues worth dividing over, issues such as the sanctity of human life, but that does not extend in the same importance to every other political or economic or policy question, but one of the travails of America at this particular moment is that, increasingly, both sides, but especially this is demonstrated on the Left, there is this continual rationing up of the conflict so that everything is a battle between good and evil, between goodness and wrong, between decency and indecency. We simply have to note that that kind of language basically allows one to justify a constant demonization of one's political enemies.
That same attitude was demonstrated in another post-election analysis in the New York Times, this one by columnist, Timothy Egan. He wrote, "I'm here to bring you some good news, folks. It will take at least one more election cycle, but the enemies of progress are headed back to history's basement, and democracy, after a surge of voters who had checked out of their role in the governing part, has a pulse."
The critical language there is where we are told that the enemies of progress are headed back to history's basement. That reflects something else that we ought to know as we're thinking about our placement in the moral landscape of America today. We see over and over again that it is our responsibility and it is the imperative of elected officials and others in leadership to get, this is what you've heard so often, "on the right side of history," and, here, we are told from the Left that at least many of the results of the 2018 midterm elections mean that history is back on track and progress is back in the future.
Again, this is the kind of language that should attract our attention and help us to understand the situations of America's current political and cultural conversation, but everything I have just pointed to pales over against another article that also appeared in the New York Times, and this one is by Paul Krugman, and it's analysis comes down to the headline, Real America Versus Senate America. In all honesty, I haven't seen anything this politically divisive or extreme in print in a newspaper, even like the liberal New York Times, in a very, very long time.
The argument made by Paul Krugman, again, he won at one point the Nobel Prize in economics, is that the United States Senate is now an institutional obstacle to the kind of moral progress that was celebrated in that previous article by Timothy Egan. Paul Krugman's article is astounding. He writes, "Obviously, not everyone lives or wants to live in these growth centers of the new economy." He's pointing to the blue states, and he's pointing to the very liberal urban and metropolitan areas in the United States. He says, "But we are increasingly a nation of urbanites and suburbanites. Almost 60% of us live in metropolitan areas with more than a million people, more than 70% in areas with more than 500,000 residents." He goes on to say, "Conservative politicians may extol the virtues of a 'real America' of rural areas and small towns, but the real real America," he writes, "in which we live, while it contains small towns, is mostly metropolitan."
Here's his argument. His argument is New Hampshire has two Senators and New York has two Senators. That's not representative democracy. California, the most populous state in the Union has two Senators and so does Wyoming, but, here, we need to note that Paul Krugman's real argument is with the US Constitution. This is not an accident of the Constitution. The Constitution called for a legislature, called for a Congress, with two different chambers. The Lower House will be made up of representatives assigned by population. The Upper House would be made up of Senators elected to longer terms with the equality of the states a part of the promise. If the states had not been given that promise, the smaller states would never have even agreed to enter into the Union. That's not a fault of the US Constitution. It's one of the central strengths of the Constitution, and it simply means that the country cannot be run by the populous, urban, more liberal states on the East and West Coasts. The electoral map of electoral college and the United States Senate means that the central states of the Union, though more rural, also have to be taken into political consideration, but Paul Krugman's not happy about that, and what he writes in the section following is nothing less than shocking.
He writes this, and I quote, "I find it helpful to contrast the real America, the place we actually live," remember, this is the New York Times, "with what I think of as Senate America, the hypothetical nation implied by a simple average across states, which is what the Senate in effect represents." He continues, "As I said, real America is mainly metropolitan; Senate America is still largely rural. Real America," he writes, "is racially and culturally diverse. Senate America is still very white. Real America," he writes, "includes large numbers of highly educated adults. Senate America, which under-weights the dynamic metropolitan areas that attract highly educated workers, has a higher proportion of non-college people, and especially non-college whites."
The he writes this amazing statement. "None of this is meant to denigrate rural, non-college, white voters." Well, everything he wrote, if taken honestly, is exactly intended to denigrate rural, non-college voters. You are looking here at a division from the Left of real America and Senate America. This is a warning to all of us. We dare not from the Right, as conservative Christians, divide America into real America, which means ourselves and a false America, which means those who disagree with us politically, but we need to note that that's not really what's going on here. Conservatives aren't in control of any major media, such as the New York Times, but, here, you have a column in the New York Times, and I waited to cite it because I was waiting to see if there would be an editorial response even in the New York Times, but, days later, I sadly have to report it didn't come. I don't think it will come because I think the readers and the editors of the New York Times think that Paul Krugman is probably just stating the obvious in his distinction between real America and Senate America.
In coming days, we're going to look at the worldview implications of the fact that many are now arguing for a change in our Constitution. You hear the calls to eliminate the electoral college and now there is an avalanche of calls to redefine the United States Senate. As we shall see, this is hardly now an accident.