Monday, Jan. 28, 2019

Monday, Jan. 28, 2019

The Briefing

January 28, 2019

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

It’s Monday, January 28, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Reducing politics to winners and losers is a lose-lose proposition for everyone

It was and then it wasn’t. The largest partial shutdown in American history came to an end as President Trump and the United States Congress came to terms on a bill that provided no funding, certainly no direct funding for a border wall as President Trump had demanded. But it does give a three-week period for the president and congressional leaders to try to come up with some kind of compromise. In any event, the bottom line is that the federal government is funded for another three weeks. This comes after an over 30 day partial government shutdown, which was by any estimation yet another demonstration of how government is not supposed to work. This is not the way that a sophisticated responsible national government conducts its business.

It was an embarrassment of the United States before the watching world. We need to remember that even as we argue for the superiority of the model of an elected representative, democratic constitutional form of government, we need to make very clear that we show how that government works, not how it does not. Arguments are going to be made on both sides of the political aisle as to why each side played its hand the way it did, and, of course, there will be a lot of defensive arguments. But what is really interesting from worldview analysis is how quickly everything in our current political moment is reduced to a matter of who won and who lost. That’s never irrelevant, but it’s simply is now such a national obsession– such a quick social, media driven national obsession, that everything is reduced as if politics is a great game and all that matters is whether or not your team is winning or losing.

Now sometimes there really are clearly political winners and political losers. But when you reduce every single major political question, controversy, event, policy to that kind of equation, it is not a win-lose proposition, but eventually for the people a lose-lose proposition. The founders of our constitutional order did not envision politics as a short game with just several isolated innings measured by who wins and who loses as if the ultimate score is simply wins and losses. Now, of course in elections there are winners and there are losers. When it comes to many contested issues in the form of final legislation, whether or not a president signs a bill into law. There are those who are happy there are those who are unhappy. There are winners and there are losers, but that’s not fundamentally actually the way government works, when government does work. And in this sense, whether or not you believe in small government or big government.

I believe in small government. We all believe in a government that works, that fulfills its essential constitutional functions. What’s the problem here? The heavy lifting of politics, the hard job of crafting legislation and policy is something that takes place long before there can be a win or a loss. And so if you just look at what might be defined as the finish line in the sense that you’re missing all that came before, and most of what happens in any responsible government is what comes before. You might add what also comes after, because not only are you looking at the after, including the implementation of legislation or a policy, you also have to keep in mind that politics is and always will be a long continuing conversation. Nothing in politics is actually ever over. Christians, first of all, have to be amongst those who know that. Another major problem in reducing everything in politics to who won and who lost is the fact that politicians figure out that their electoral futures depend upon being seen as winners.

Thus, you have two big problems here. One is that the politicians, the political leaders, decide they can’t possibly do anything other than act as if everything is about winning or losing. And thus, you see the kind of impasse that we experienced in the United States over the last month and more. But the second problem is just a matter of honesty. Politicians decide that if they cannot be seen as losers, then they have to define whatever is as a win, they have to represent that until their own political base, this is a win. It might be a very well disguised win, but it is a win. One final thought and the aftermath or what might be at least for three weeks. The aftermath of this partial government shutdown and political meltdown is the fact that at certain points in our own national history and going back even to the beginnings of representative democracy, even before the United States.

There was the hope, the aspiration that politics as a moral act could transcend the merely political, which is statecraft, and actually conduct business as sole craft, doing serious moral business on behalf of the people. But we’re now observing the opposite. We are seeing the devolution of politics, statecraft in the nothing more than stagecraft. Everything is acting. Everything is posing. Everything is a game played out before the public. Everything is now politics as a spectator sport. As you’re thinking about responsibility for this, just consider how the media tend to gravitate towards personalities who love to play the game this way, or at least have learned the modern rules of the political game and play by this playbook over and over again. As one observer of the media in recent days pointed out, you could at times just isolate two names Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi, as if the two of them as personalities encapsulated all of the major issues confronting a nation as large and complex as the United States of America.

Just look at the press coverage, look at the names, Trump and Pelosi as if this is a bipolar world. And those two are all that matters. As another example of this phenomenon, state craft simply turned into stagecraft. Consider how often the major mainstream media these days invoke the name of a freshman member of congress, a first term member of congress from New York, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. They cite her out of context, they go to her when she’s not on the committee. She has no expertise to speak to an issue simply because everyone knows she knows how to play Twitter. She knows how to play stage craft. She knows how to get the media to invoke her name when there is no natural reason for a freshman member of Congress to be cited in this story whatsoever. In order to play this game, it requires the complicity of both politicians and the media.

Part II

Can a Christian foster care and adoption agency be Christian? Trump administration offers protection for faith-based adoption agency, reversing Obama-era regulation

Late last week a major story broke at the intersection of religious liberty and the moral revolution. Stephanie Armour writing for The Wall Street Journal, offered us a story with a headline, “US gives foster group religious leeway.” That’s not a very clear headline after all, but the story is pretty clear. Armour writes, “The Trump administration on Wednesday said a faith-based foster care organization in South Carolina can be a part of the federally-funded program even if it works only with Christian families.” She goes on to write, “The administration gave Miracle Hill Ministries, a Christian Social Services Agency based in Greenville, South Carolina an exemption from a regulation put in place during the Obama administration that bans discrimination because of religion or sexual orientation.”

The mainstream media have not given much attention to this story yet. The Wall Street Journal deserves credit for including the story online and in print. But as you look to the story, you understand why it’s big. When you are thinking about the history of child care– that is ministries to children in the United States–when you think about the history of orphanages, foster care agencies, adoption agencies, you have to realize that many of them by some expert analysis, the vast majority of them were established by religious groups on religious grounds in order to serve children in the name of their religion. In the United States, and especially in a state like South Carolina, that means overwhelmingly Christians all across the American landscape. There are hospitals and all kinds of social service agencies that came into being out of a Christian motivation to love neighbor and to demonstrate that love and taking care of children who do not have parents or who came from what used to be called broken homes.

They’re in vulnerable situations. Of course, you’re also looking at over the last several decades, the state that is the government increasing its share of responsibility in this area. You’ve seen the professionalization of so much of this kind of humanitarian work. And you have also seen the government regulation that has followed just about everything in late 20th century and now 21st century America. But you’ve also seen a collision between Christians who are motivated by the gospel of Christ and by the Holy Scriptures, to establish these institutions and to operate them on Christian grounds. There’s a collision between those Christians and the moral revolutionaries who say you can’t run this kind of agency, you cannot establish and run a hospital, you can’t have a Christian adoption agency or foster care agency. Because even though Christians may have founded it and Christians may be funding it, it cannot operate by Christian principles. This may come down to employment. But in the case of foster care and adoption, it also comes down to which parents are to be recognized as authorized to take care of these children, either through foster care or adoption.

You can understand why Christian ministries established on Christian truth making very clear their Christian convictions, understand their responsibility to serve vulnerable children in a way that is consistent with that Christian conviction. But the moral revolutionaries, of course, believe that that is incomprehensible. When there is a collision between the new sexual liberty and religious liberty it’s religious liberty that simply has to surrender. If it won’t surrender, those who claim it simply have to be defeated. When same sex marriage became legal in the state of Massachusetts, the oldest and one of the largest adoption agencies serving vulnerable children in that state was shut down simply because Catholic charities dare do insist that if it would continue operation it would operate as a Catholic charity. That was just not acceptable to the moral revolutionaries. That march has continued across the United States especially after the 2013 Supreme Court decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act and even more urgently, the 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing same sex marriage.

The big news that came from Washington last week is that the Trump administration followed through on its promise to offer protection for Christian and other religious groups doing foster care and adoption work and to create a respectful system of exemptions for religious bodies, exemptions to that Obama administration era policy. The Wall Street Journal report continues, “The Department of Health and Human Services which granted the exemption to Miracle Hill ministry, is preparing to release a rule giving its conscience and religious freedom division, established last year by the Trump administration brought authority to investigate and enforce religious discrimination claims in healthcare. Major Democratic leaders have indicated their outrage. This includes Oregon democratic Senator Ron Wyden who said, “To turn away qualified parents because of their religion sexual orientation or gender identity and deny these kids a secure home is immoral.” Well, let’s just consider for a moment the fact that there are alternative foster care and adoption agencies. What is really being demanded here is that there be no Christian adoption and foster care agencies period.

Not they would dare to operate as Christian ministries. Yonat Shimron reporting for Religion News Service on the story quoted Reid Layman who is the CEO of Miracle Hill. He said clearly, “We are an arm of the Protestant church, we exist to be a mission arm of Protestant churches and to proclaim Protestant faith is not a judgment or an exclusion. It’s simply that we are going to be consistent with that.” The key issue here is the self-definition of this ministry as an arm of the church, not merely as somehow vaguely or historically Christian, but actually Christian in serving specific Christian churches. One specific charge made against the South Carolina foster care and adoption agency was that it had turned down a Jewish woman for participation in their programs. Once again, the ministry simply responded that it is a Christian ministry that deals with Christians and on behalf of children also places them only in Christian homes with Christian parents. In one of the most interesting indeed fascinating comments I saw in response to this story.

Bob Allen at Baptist news global cites a Jewish rabbi as he writes, “Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said the waiver ‘harms’ religious minority foster parents and will deny thousands of foster youth the opportunity to find loving families.” The rabbi continued, “Religion has no impact on a person’s ability to love and care for a child.” He is then identified as releasing a statement on behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism, the Central Conference of American rabbis and the wider reform movement, that is Reform Judaism as a movement and its institutions. Now this is where many evangelicals Christians need to remember that there are several different branches of American Judaism. Reform Judaism is on the far left. Indeed, Reform Judaism has no specific requirements, even for theistic belief, that is belief in God. But the remarkable thing just to concentrate on this for a moment is the fact that in response to this announcement by the Department of Health and Human Services about this ministry in South Carolina. This Rabbi says in response, “Religion has no impact on a person’s ability to love and care for a child.”

Now you might understand how different people operating out of different worldviews, especially secular world views might dare to make such a statement. But what sense does it make for a rabbi to say that “Religion has no impact on a person’s ability to love and care for a child.” Well as one evangelical, I can only scratch my head and wonder why anyone would become a rabbi if religion isn’t even going to make any impact on a person’s ability to love and care for a child. No impact, none at all. Before leaving the story we need to note that similar developments that is at this intersection or collision of religious liberty and the new sexual liberties on foster care and abortion. Continuing fronts are now appearing in New York State and also in the state of Kansas. They won’t be alone. There will be others added to the list as soon as there is a conflict that can be turned into a court case or a matter of public controversy.

Part III

Andrew Cuomo, Mario Cuomo, and the long sad history of politicians claiming to be privately pro-life but publicly pro-abortion

But finally, we need to think, again, think further about big events in the last several days centered in the state of New York. We need to focus on the role of one singular individual, that would be New York’s liberal democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, now in his third term. Really interesting, heartbreaking, horrifying developments in recent days. Consider the fact that just over the last couple of weeks, the governor of New York has pushed for and signed into law, a law that not only grants abortion rights far beyond Roe V. Wade, but effectively creates the right of a woman in the state of New York to have an abortion right up until the moment of her child’s birth. Consider the fact that he also has signed into law two pieces of LGBTQ rights legislation, including one against so called conversion therapy, and another offering a general very wide non-discrimination policy. Consider beyond that that the governor argues that none of this legislation is enough. And he even wants to amend the state constitution in New York to enshrine a woman’s absolute right to an abortion at any time up to birth for any reason, or no reason as a matter of New York’s constitutional assurance.

The governor of New York is, as my grandmother used to say, on a tear. He is in an absolute frenzy to try to demonstrate just how liberal he is. Many people believe with an eye to gaining enough attention to run for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020. But whether or not that is his aim, it is clear that he intends especially in this third term in office as New York’s Governor to make his mark as one of the most morally liberal, he might style it politically progressive political leaders in American history. But there is an even darker side to all of this. When New York’s General Assembly passed that law, liberalizing abortion in New York and offering abortion rights all the way until the moment of a baby’s birth. That General Assembly broke out into raucous applause as if it was a great moment of political victory–shouting, crying, clapping, applauding the fact that unborn babies we’re now going to be killed in even greater numbers in the Empire State. Furthermore, you heard in New York City and other places prominent monuments in New York City and prominent buildings lit up in celebration, we were told of the signing of this legislation by New York Governor on the anniversary date of the Roe V. Wade decision.

But here’s where the story gets interesting. The Washington Post’s J.D. Flynn ran an article just days ago titled “Catholics want New York’s Governor Cuomo to be excommunicated for his abortion policy.” Well, that would make sense. The governor’s policy runs in direct contradiction to the doctrine and law of the church with which he is so famously associated. Governor Cuomo, by his political actions is living in absolute defiance of the moral teaching in law of his own church. Given the logic of Roman Catholicism, one obvious action for a priest or especially a bishop to take would be to forbid Governor Cuomo to take communion as a part of the sacrament of the mass, central to Roman Catholic practice and theology, its entire sacramental system. But you’ll notice that hasn’t happened, and The Washington Post explains it’s not likely to happen. It’s not likely to happen. We are told because in the complex canon law of the Catholic Church it’s not clear that a politician advocating for and legislating for the murder of the unborn is tantamount to being understood as participating in the murder of the unborn.

And so it is a matter of debate in canon law among Catholics. Some Catholic Bishops have gone so far as to argue that that is exactly what should take place even up to the point of excommunication. That raises the question if Governor Andrew Cuomo is not a good candidate for excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church then who is? Well, by the way you might add to this list major Catholic political leaders such as the speaker the house Nancy Pelosi who like so many other Catholic politician’s claims to be personally morally opposed to abortion but politically eagerly for the expansion of abortion rights. Speaker Pelosi is so avid in her support for expanding abortion rights that she openly supports coercing the federal taxpayer to pay for abortion. Timothy Dolan, the cardinal Archbishop of New York who would have jurisdiction in this case, released a statement saying that he is not likely to excommunicate the Catholic governor who is so avid to see babies aborted. He gave several reasons in a statement that was released by the cardinal Archbishop spokesperson.

But the most interesting one I found is what’s identified as fourth in the statement we read, “Finally, from a strategic perspective, I do not believe that excommunication would be effective, as many politicians would welcome it as a sign of their refusal to be bullied by the church thinking it would therefore give them a political advantage.” Now, as an evangelical Christian, I just want to ask what kind of sense that makes. The sense of arguing that discipline should not be taken against a Catholic politician, because effectively that would play right into the politicians playbook of saying that the church had tried to bully him or her and was unsuccessful. Well, think about the logic of that for just a moment and then think about the obvious, it is very clear that Governor Andrew Cuomo is not at present in any danger of being bullied by the Roman Catholic Church. The article in The Washington Post includes these interesting words telling us that Cardinal Dolan doesn’t have to use excommunication. “Instead, he can declare that Governor Cuomo’s ongoing and open support for legalized abortion constitutes obstinate perseverance in grave sin. And that as a consequence, Cuomo cannot receive communion in the Archdiocese of New York where he lives.”

So here you have a secular newspaper article offering the observation that the Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York doesn’t have to excommunicate the pro-abortion governor but could actually do something lesser finding him in obstinate perseverance and grave sin and temporarily banned him from communion in the Archdiocese of New York. It remains to be seen if that will even be done. But I have to admit that a couple of other thoughts have come to my mind, and I simply I’m left scratching my head again. If you’re looking at obstinate perseverance in grave sin, then I have to wonder what Roman Catholics think about the fact that Governor Cuomo is living in sin. According to the Roman Catholic Church, he is living with a woman who is not his wife, something he has done since his divorce from Kerry Kennedy Cuomo in 2005. If that isn’t obstinate perseverance in grave sin, then we simply have to ask again. What would that look like?

A second observation has to come back to the Cuomo family. Andrew Cuomo is now in his third term as the governor of New York. But his famous father, Governor Mario Cuomo also served for three terms as the chief executive of New York. And Governor Cuomo the first, Mario Cuomo famous made the distinction in classical form between what he claimed was his own moral abhorrence of abortion. And his role as a politician, even a Catholic politician, which he said was to uphold human dignity through consensual politics, which meant that he would not let his Catholic convictions influence in a way that would be pro-life, his political leadership. He even dare to go in 1984 to a central symbol of American Catholicism, the University of Notre Dame and to deliver an address making that very argument. It became quite famous or infamous in 1984 and beyond.

In his address, the first governor Cuomo argued that it isn’t government’s job to impose religious conviction on those who do not share those convictions, but instead, “To help to create conditions under which all can live with a maximum of dignity and with a reasonable degree of freedom where everyone who chooses may hold beliefs different from specifically Catholic ones, sometimes contradictory to them, where the laws protect people’s right to divorce, to use birth control, and even to choose abortion.” Now here’s where evangelical Christians have to understand whatever the Roman Catholic Church may settle as its consensus on this question, evangelical Christians, gospel-minded Christians do not believe that we can separate ourselves whether we’re politicians or barbers or school teachers, or pastors or anything else. We cannot separate ourselves into one self that is a private self holding to private religious convictions and a public self that is an accountable to those own convictions.

That bifurcation is something that shows up in modern Catholicism in Pope Francis’s distinction between a doctrinal position and it’s pastoral application. That too simply doesn’t have any place in the logic of a Reformation-based Christianity. It simply doesn’t have a place in evangelicalism, but we can understand the temptation. And we can see it demonstrated so graphically right now in the relationship of the Catholic Church to the Cuomo family. A final observation for today. If you go back a few decades to Mario Cuomo, he made this distinction between the private and the public self. But at least speaking as governor, he went so far as to say that he was even though this is inconsistent, personally opposed to abortion. You really don’t even hear that kind of language from many prominent liberal Catholic politicians today. And it would have been nearly inconceivable that Governor Mario Cuomo could have been living in the governor’s mansion during his terms as governor with someone other than the woman to whom he was legally married.

That tells you something of just how far we have gone in American politics in just two lifetimes, the political lifetimes of Mario and of Andrew Cuomo. But of course, Andrew Cuomo was hoping that this third term as New York’s governor is not the last chapter of his political career. You might say in that respect, we have been warned. I suppose we should brace ourselves for the announcement that what Governor Cuomo has done in New York, he now wants to do throughout the entire nation. But we should also recognize that it isn’t Andrew Cuomo in this case, there will be plenty of others who will rise up to make the same argument. These are the times in which we are living, and these are the stakes we know face.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’m speaking to you from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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