briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, August 19, 2019

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

It’s Monday, August 19, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

The Culture of Death Advances in the Pacific: ‘Decriminalizing’ Abortion in New Zealand and New South Wales

Two major nations in the South Pacific moving towards the liberalization of abortion — we’re talking about two nations that have historically been a part of the English-speaking world, and very important parts of that world. We’re talking about Australia and New Zealand. In Australia, most importantly, it is the state of New South Wales. In New Zealand, it’s the entire country.

New Zealand’s story is reported by Charlotte Graham-McLay for the New York times. The headline: “New Zealand Plans a Vote to Update Abortion Law.” From Wellington she reports, “New Zealand’s government said that it would try to pass a law decriminalizing abortion, taking on an issue that the nation’s lawmakers have long avoided even as the country built a socially liberal reputation on the world stage.”

Now as you’re looking at that lead paragraph, it’s very interesting because most people knowing New Zealand and Australia assumed that they are basically socially liberal. That’s putting it within the context once again of what Winston Churchill famously called the “English-speaking world.” Not liberal in a Nordic sense but liberal in the sense that, for example, we have seen take place in so many of the nations that had been a part of the British empire and may even now be a part of the British Commonwealth. Among the Commonwealth nations, there has been a general trend in the nations such as Canada and Australia and New Zealand towards this kind of social liberalism. And this has come with the fact that those nations tend to be on the leading edge of secularization and low church attendance as well.

The Times article on the New Zealand development reports, “Under current law, women seeking an abortion must claim that the pregnancy would harm their physical or mental health and have the procedure approved by two doctors.” The new law as proposed by the government “would eliminate those requirements for women who are up to 20 weeks pregnant and remove abortion from a 1960s Crimes Act. Women who are more than 20 weeks pregnant will legally be able to have an abortion if a doctor approved it.”

Now looking at this law just at face value or this proposed law in New Zealand, it appears to be very similar to the kind of legislation that we have seen proposed and adopted in states in the U.S. such as New York, and similarly as was at least proposed by a legislator to a good deal of controversy in the state of Virginia. Since then, other states in the U.S. have moved or are now moving towards following the lead of New York. But what we also see is that in the New Zealand law, like New York, the word “decriminalization” appears. How does that factor in? Well, by using the word “decriminalization,” it effectively signals that abortion is being removed entirely from the criminal code. That is to say there is virtually no circumstance once abortion has been decriminalized that it can be in any sense a criminal act.

Now, as was warned in the case of New York and as we saw just days after the governor there, Andrew Cuomo, signed the bill into law that meant that an intentional murder of a pregnant woman would not be counted as two homicides, but rather as one. Because after all, according to the decriminalization of abortion, the intentional killing or even for that matter, the secondary killing of an unborn child is now not in any sense a criminal act. Speaking on behalf of the New Zealand government, Andrew Little, the justice minister said, “The purpose is to modernize our law and ensure that abortion is treated as a health issue.” Again, notice the redefinition here. In no sense would abortion now be a legal issue, simply repackaged as a health issue. The culture of death makes its advances on this kind of redefinition, or for that matter, this kind of new law.

The justice minister went on to make another very revealing comment. He said that adopting this new law would mean that New Zealand would be now in line with “many other developed countries.” Now as we think in worldview analysis, we look closely at language. Let’s look at the statement by the justice minister and note two very important linguistic signals we have just been sent. For one thing, the word he used to describe the law was “modernize.” The words he used of the peer countries that New Zealand would join was “developed countries.” Now we know exactly what he was talking about, but you’ll notice the moral logic that is there embedded in his statement. Developed countries, advanced countries, modern countries, they are pro-abortion. They decriminalize abortion. They treat unborn human life is absolutely insignificant, morally and criminally. To modernize is to redefine abortion simply as a health issue. That’s explicit in the justice minister’s statement.

You’ll see how rhetorically in worldview analysis we come to understand this strategy. The justice minister, speaking for the government on behalf of this very liberal law on abortion, says modern people, intelligent people, people who would want New Zealand or their own country to be a part of the developed world, they understand that abortion is just a health issue. If you think it’s a moral issue, if you think that the fetus has rights, if you think that the fetus is morally significant, then you’re just not modernized. Another very interesting section of the article by Charlotte Graham-McLay states this, “Abortion in New Zealand,” and that means right now before this proposed law, “is technically illegal under the Crimes Act of 1961, but in reality it is widely available provided that women seeking it make the required claims about risk to their health, receive counseling, and consult two doctors. Abortion rights advocates,” this is right out of the New York times story, “say that this forces women to lie in order to get access to the procedure.”

Notice again, just think in worldview terms here for a moment. By what worldview does it make sense to say that the law requires women who would break the law to lie in order to break the law, and that’s a morally significant issue that is so significant that we will now allow the decriminalization of the killing, the murder of unborn human life, because what’s more important is not to put women in the position where they must lie in order to obtain an abortion and kill the unborn life within them? One of the realities this reveals to us again is that every worldview has its own morality. There’s no worldview without a morality. The question is which morality, whose morality? And in this case you’re looking at the government representing a morality that is not only socially liberal and modernist in this sense, it is deadly.

But before we leave this article about New Zealand, there’s another fascinating statement. “Analysts attributed the past legislative inertia on the issue in part to the pressures of New Zealand’s fast-paced electoral cycle in which voters head to the polls every three years and their ire over lawmakers actions can remain fresh.” Very interesting. So here you have the argument coming from those who are supportive of this new law that would liberalize abortion saying that one reason it hasn’t happened before is that voters might remember that their legislators voted for it. It’s also important to recognize that the article links the issue of abortion with the secularization in New Zealand, documenting that 41.9% of people in the nation reported having no religion in the 2013 census.

Switching now to the development in Australia, as I said, the most important issue here is taking place in the state of New South Wales. What makes that interesting, very important here, is our understanding that even though Australia has been increasingly secular, following or maybe even leading that trend in much of the English speaking world, New South Wales has been the central concentration of evangelical influence within Australia. Within New South Wales, is the largest city in the country, Sydney. And Sydney has been long associated with evangelicalism even or particularly within the Anglican church there. So much so that around the world people familiar with Anglicans often refer to the Sydney Anglicans, meaning Evangelical Anglicans.

As in New Zealand, the New South Wales proposed legislation would basically and totally decriminalize abortion — in the case of new South Wales up to about 22 weeks of pregnancy. After that, a pregnancy would be allowed if in the view of two recognized medical practitioners, a woman’s future would be endangered, her health or her psychological wellbeing, and then the doctors could approve even a late term abortion, even a very late term abortion.

But what makes the New South Wales legislation interesting and in this case very interesting, is the fact that a woman’s sociological context explicitly can also be taken into consideration by the medical practitioners. You can immediately see where this is going. It might be complicated, but a woman could basically find two medical practitioners to authorize a late term abortion on the basis of any number of arguments she might make. And for that matter, once you bring all these issues into consideration, it’s hard to imagine how any woman would actually be denied a late term abortion if she claimed that the outcomes, including sociological outcomes in her life would be dramatic. The legislative debate in New South Wales has also been very interesting because it reveals the extent to which pro-abortion legislators find it impossible to identify when they understand the unborn child to become a human being, or in any sense, a being worthy of serious moral consideration.

The question, “When does human life begin?”, is an inescapable question. If you basically decriminalize abortion and especially right up until the moment of birth, you’re stating that effectively, so far as you’re concerned, human life does not begin until a baby is born. But as we have seen and frighteningly so, that argument doesn’t even hold for long, when you see people who will make the argument that birth is now just an arbitrary distinction. Peter Singer, an infamous bioethicist who once taught in Australia at the University of Monash now holds an illustrious endowed chair in bioethics at America’s Princeton University, and that is to the shame of Princeton first, but to the entire American nation. Peter Singer has gone so far as to say that birth is an arbitrary distinction and that human infants being born should not be assumed to possess personhood and the full defense of life just because they are human beings who have been born.

Part II

Contrary to Claims of Liberal Minister, Historic Christianity Has Condemned Abortion

But it was another part of the controversy in New South Wales that particularly caught my attention. The article appeared in The Guardian, a left wing paper published in London. The headline: “As a Uniting Church Minister, I think Abortion Can Be a Morally Good Choice.” Again, the author Margaret Mayman. The subhead of the article, “In the debate about the New South Wales abortion law reform, we should trust women to make good decisions about whether or not to continue a pregnancy.” Notice again the language. No babies mentioned here, just a pregnancy. Mayman identifies herself as a minister in Australia’s Uniting Church. She also says that she’s a teacher of ethics, but then she goes on to say as such, “I support the move from criminalization to reproductive justice because it separates divisive questions of moral justification for or against from the law that applies to all citizens, whatever their religious or ethical beliefs.”

Now notice again the language, just very quickly the language. She not only uses the word “decriminalization,” she repackages abortion as an issue of “reproductive justice.” By her argument, clearly if you oppose this liberal abortion law, then you are embracing injustice.

But then she goes on to give what she believes is a theological rationale for abortion rights. She writes, “The Uniting Church acknowledges that its members have diverse views on abortion, but holds that it is unjust.” There, let’s just interject is justice malformed and misrepresented again. But back to her statement, she says that her church believes that it is, “unjust to criminalize women or doctors for the act of abortion.” “It,” meaning the church, “advocates a response based on compassion and sensitivity to the complex realities of human life.” The minister then wrote, “I contend that recognizing the moral agency of women, the capacity of women to make good decisions about whether or not to continue a pregnancy is crucial for human flourishing, which should be the goal of religion.”

Let’s just state the obvious, when she talks about human flourishing, she is not talking about the human life extinguished in the womb. That human life does not flourish, it is murdered. But then she makes an argument from church history. She writes, “In the public, legal, and religious debates about abortion, the status and rights of pre-natal human life is a central factor. Christian teaching about this”, she says, “is varied historically and today.” She goes on to write, “It is not true that Christian faith has always taught that life begins at conception. For much of Christian history,” she writes, “human personhood was considered to begin at quickening or when the child was able to exist outside its mother’s womb. Abortion,” she wrote, “has not been regarded as murder of an innocent human by the vast majority of church leaders and theologians. Christian Scripture,” she says, “is silent on the topic.”

Now, it’s hard to imagine a more gross misrepresentation of the truth about church history than what is included within this article. We’re going to have to look at it closely. She says basically that the Christian church has not been overwhelmingly pro-life. She makes a couple of interesting arguments. They’re fairly slick as a matter of fact. She says that, for example, throughout much of Christian history, human personhood was considered to begin at quickening. Now, here’s something to note: throughout most of human history, women were not sure that they were pregnant until quickening. That’s just an historical fact. The access to medical technology informing a woman about her pregnancy, especially when you’re looking at modern medicine with all its diagnostic tools, ultrasounds, and all the rest, that’s very, very new in human history. You can’t expect people living in previous centuries to even understand what we’re talking about here. For most people throughout human history, women knew for certain that they were pregnant at the moment of quickening, or at another moment when the human life within her began to present itself.

But the most astounding statement she made was this: “Abortion has not been regarded as murder of an innocent human by the vast majority of church leaders and theologians.” Now, let me just remind you of something I’ve written extensively about, and we’ll offer links to these articles at When you look at the history of the early church, one of the issues on which the early church was most clear is the issue of abortion. One of the earliest teaching documents of the Christian church going back all the way to the first century is a document called the Didache, or the Teaching of the Twelve. The twelve of course refers to the 12 disciples. And in the Didache, it says, “Do not murder a child by abortion.”

That’s right. “Do not murder a child by abortion.” This was also affirmed by the fourth century Council of Elvira. The fact is that you will not find a morally permissive or positive statement in church history about abortion, abortion being rightly defined as the intentional murder of an unborn human being until very modern times. And only then, only in places such as the liberal West. In particular, we need to remember the fact that abortion rights in the United States, especially in the 1960s and beyond, was driven not only by second wave feminism, it was also driven by liberal Protestantism in much of the United States. As you’re thinking about church history, just think for example the statement made by the reformer John Calvin in reference to Exodus 21:22. Calvin wrote, “If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field because a man’s house is his most secure place of refuge, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy the unborn in the womb before it has come to light.”

Going back to the early church, Michael J. Gorman in his book entitled Abortion and the Early Church went on to state to simply, “All Christian writers opposed abortion.” That’s an easy statement to understand. “All Christian writers opposed abortion.” The ancient Christian document known as the Apostolic Constitutions, it comes basically from the fourth century states, “Thou shalt not slay thy child by causing abortion, nor kill that which is begotten. For everything that is shaped and hath received a soul from God if it be slain shall be avenged as being unjustly destroyed.” Gorman, the author of that book, Abortion in the Early Church stated, “Writers of the first three Christian centuries laid the theological and literary foundation for all subsequent early Christian writing on abortion.” Writing about his book he said, “We will see that three important themes emerge during the centuries. Number one, that would be the fetus is the creation of God. The second is that abortion is murder, and the third is the judgment of God falls on those guilty of abortion.

But going back to New South Wales, Lisa Martin writing for The Guardian gives us another article with the headline: “New South Wales Abortion Law Reform: Uniting Church breaks religious ranks to back decriminalization.” Now the essence of this article is that this church in Australia, this denomination known as the Uniting Church has broken ranks with other Christian denominations in now supporting this decriminalization proposal when it comes to abortion. Why is that important? Because we ought to note that this article is only news even to a left wing newspaper because this denomination, the Uniting Church there in Australia, has broken ranks with other churches, denominations, and religious organizations in backing decriminalization. So this is headline news, not because the Uniting Church in Australia is here even claimed to be representative of churches, denominations, and religious groups in Australia, but rather because it isn’t.

But before leaving this New South Wales in Australian context, perhaps we ought to ask the question, what exactly then is the Uniting Church in Australia? Well, that’s an interesting name. It reminds us of the United Church of Canada. It’s a similar story. In this case, in 1977 a few Liberal Protestant denominations all in numerical decline joined together. The Presbyterian Church of Australia, the Congregational Union, and the United Church of Canada. So this is a church, a denomination birthed in theological liberalism as recently as 1977, uniting multiple strands of Protestant liberalism in Australia. That explains everything. Liberal theology, accommodating Christianity to a secularized worldview, abandoning biblical authority, redefining the gospel, and for that matter, reformulating the entire doctrinal inheritance of the Christian Church by no surprise also produces a new morality. But seen rightly, it’s also important to recognize that for many in Liberal Protestantism, the new morality that was demanded led to the necessary reformulation or further radical reformulation of the entire theological structure. Considered in that light, there is really no surprise here, even though of course there is headline news.

Part III

A World in Which ‘Ladies’ and ‘Gentlemen’ No Longer Makes Sense? In California, ‘First Lady’ Gives Way to ‘First Partner’

Coming back to the United States, the associated press ran an interesting story. The headline was “California First Partner Puts Focus on Gender Equality.” “First partner” is put in scare quotes. It’s the new term. We’re supposed to pay attention to it and of course it is interesting. Gavin Newsom is the new fairly young governor of the state of California. He was already known as a theological liberal on the radical fringe, as a matter of fact, when as the mayor of San Francisco, he rather infamously began performing same-sex marriages before they were legal. He then became the Attorney General of California following the same kind of trajectory. And then he was elected the state’s governor following two-term governor Jerry Brown, who was 81 when he left office. He had served also two terms a generation earlier.

But now California has a much younger, very liberal governor. He was even to the left, the far left of Jerry Brown, who is married to a woman who seems to be his match. Her name is Jennifer Siebel Newsom. And according to this article, the 45-year-old actress turned documentary film maker is an advocate for gender equality and society’s treatment of women and families. But what’s most interesting in this headline is the fact that she defines herself not as California’s first lady, but rather as California’s first partner. The Associated Press says that this is a term she prefers to the traditional first lady because “it is gender neutral and could apply to the spouse of a future woman or LGBT governor.” The article documents the newly identified first partner’s activism on these issues from abortion and other terms that again have been redefined under the umbrella of reproductive justice and gender equality, and the article also makes clear that liberal activists in California see her as a key ally because after all, “She has the governor’s ear, and you know, she values the same things.”

Looking at the article, it becomes very clear that there’s not much of a story here about the activism. We really wouldn’t, understanding California and understanding the Newsoms, expect Mrs. Newsom, if she even refers to herself ever as “Mrs. Newsom,” as an activist on these causes. That’s not headline news. What really is the headline news is exactly what most newspapers put in the headline from the Associated Press story. It’s not really about her activism, it’s about how that is represented by her chosen title of first partner. You also have to love the fact that it’s described that she came up with this and applied it to herself because in the future it could apply to the spouse of a future woman or LGBT governor.

This new nomenclature surely will not be limited to California. It can’t be, because it basically does follow the logic and the rhetoric of the moral and gender revolution. You really can’t have a first lady if you don’t want to use the word “lady.” And if you’re going to avoid any kind of binary, then you’re going to have to avoid both man and husband and woman and wife and lady, and then again, feminist of hated the word “lady” going all the way back to the 1960s because, as the word rightly understood has implied it not only designate a woman, it designates a certain kind of social presentation. The same, by the way, is true for men with the term gentleman. The term gentleman not only includes a male reference, it also refers to a certain kind of expectation about social and moral representation. We used to be a society which although of course it had faults, at least had the moral sense to say to children, “You should grow up to be ladies and gentlemen.” But just think now how antiquated and remote that kind of exhortation must sound.

Part IV

Why is Alabama’s Marriage Law Changing on August 29? You Can Trace the Reasoning Directly to the U.S. Supreme Court

Finally, I have been preaching this weekend in Gadsden, Alabama, and yesterday’s edition of The Birmingham News has the headline, “Getting married in Alabama to change August 29.” The article’s by Leada Gore. How exactly is getting married in Alabama going to change on August the 29th? Well, as Gore explains, “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, oh and something notarized.” She says, “Alabama’s new marriage law goes into effect Thursday, August 29. The change approved by the state legislature in its most recent session eliminates the existing process of obtaining a marriage license and replaces it with requirements for a state-provided form that must be completed and notarized before being delivered back to a probate judge’s office. The probate judge would then record but not issue the license.” The article continues, “No wedding ceremony will be required, though the notarized form attesting applicants meet the legal requirements of marriage must be submitted to a probate judge’s office within 30 days of being signed. Fees we are told will vary by county.”

So what’s really going on here? Well, when this law was first adopted in Alabama, many in the major media began immediately to report, “Look, even the state of Alabama, red-state Alabama, conservative Alabama has moved to join the moral revolution and to basically join the revolution for same sex marriage on the other side of the Obergefell decision legalizing same sex marriage in all 50 states.” But that’s not really what’s going on here. What is going on here is however very interesting and it’s of worldview significance. What’s going on here is that on the other side of the Obergefell decision, the state of Alabama is basically saying that the state of Alabama is getting out of the marriage business. It’s getting out of stipulating how a marriage has to take place. It’s getting out of representing any kind of religious or covenantal understanding.

It’s simply now going to be a matter of public record. The state of Alabama still states some minimum requirements. The requirements include a minimum age of 16 with parental consent or 18 without parental consent, but no more waiting periods, no more blood tests, no more residency requirements, and no more preacher. No preacher is necessary. That isn’t to say that the vast majority of weddings in Alabama will not continue to be overseen and formalized by a minister. It is to say, the state of Alabama says, “We don’t care anymore.” Seen in this light, the effort undertaken by the government of Alabama was not to affirm in any sense same sex marriage, nor to do so through its laws and its elected officials obligated to follow the law, but rather by saying, “We are making no statement whatsoever.”

Now we can understand the logic whereby Alabama State Government did this. It is perfectly understandable. At the same time, it does demonstrate just how much loss there has been to our entire civilization with the redefinition of marriage. And so if you ask, why is marriage law and Alabama going to change on August the 29th? You can draw a direct arrow to the Supreme Court of the United States in 2015. Supreme Court decisions of this kind of moral magnitude and immoral effect have consequences. This is just one of them.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’m speaking to you from Birmingham, Alabama, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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