briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

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

It’s Tuesday, August 20, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Planned Parenthood Proves Its Deadly Commitment to Abortion by Withdrawing from Title X Funding

They did it. Planned Parenthood did it. They announced yesterday that the organization, the nation’s largest provider of abortions is pulling out of the federally funded Title X programs. What that means is that Planned Parenthood is so ardently, adamantly, obsessively committed to abortion that the organization is going to forego millions and millions of dollars of taxpayer’s money in order to continue their advocacy of abortion even in the programs that are covered by the federal government’s Title X. There’s a big story behind this as you might imagine, but what this says more than anything else is that Planned Parenthood is primarily, is centrally, is maniacally committed to abortion above everything else.

The immediate context of this development goes back to the opening months of the presidency of Donald Trump. President Trump and leaders in his administration indicated that there would be efforts to try to force Planned Parenthood to choose between its business in abortions, the nation’s largest abortion provider, and on the other side, its participation in federal funding.

Now, the announcement that was made yesterday doesn’t even cover most of the federal funding, about a half billion dollars that eventually gets from the federal taxpayer to Planned Parenthood. That’s through the Medicaid program. But what was at the center of the story yesterday was Planned Parenthood announcing that they would withdraw from the Title X programs because they would not accept the new policies, the new regulations of the Trump administration that prevents recipients of those Title X funds from advocating for or referring to abortion providers.

Some listeners may remember that early in the Trump administration, President Trump sent his own daughter and son-in-law to meet rather covertly with the leadership of Planned Parenthood. Its president then was Cecile Richards, the daughter of the former governor of Texas, Ann Richards. And as Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner met with Cecile Richards, they offered to her a deal. The deal was very straightforward. If Planned Parenthood would get out of the abortion business, the Trump administration would drop all of its efforts to try to defund Planned Parenthood. It was a straight forward offer, and we’re talking about, again, more than a half billion dollars of taxpayer monies going to Planned Parenthood.

Cecile Richards not only turned down the offer, but she went public with it in an effort to embarrass the Trump administration. Of course, the net effect was no such thing. There was no embarrassment in making the offer. Furthermore, there is every likelihood that the Trump administration understood that Planned Parenthood would reject the offer on its face, which is exactly what Cecile Richards did, and yet this is now playing out over a span of months, and now years, in which the administration has gone through the regulatory process to change the rules and guidelines concerning Title X funding to present, at least on this level of funding, the challenge to Planned Parenthood, and Planned Parenthood yesterday announced that they understood the issue entirely and that they were going to stick with abortion and give up the millions of dollars of taxpayer funding.

Now, we need to understand that in making the announcement yesterday, Planned Parenthood has finally, honestly, if not in an acknowledged way, made very clear what its real priorities are, as if we had any doubt. Its priority is abortion. Its first priority is abortion, its second priority is abortion, its third priority is abortion. But even as the organization has tried to rebrand itself in recent years as a healthcare provider, the administration made it choose, is it really a healthcare provider, that’s what would be covered by the Title X funds, or is it an abortion industry? Well, it’s an abortion industry. The organization made its choice. It also made its priorities abundantly clear.

The report in the Los Angeles Times late yesterday stated, “Planned Parenthood said Monday, it will withdraw from the federal Title 10 program that helps low income people access contraception rather than comply with what it calls a new Trump administration gag rule that prevents it from providing abortion referrals to those patients.” The next paragraph, “The announcement comes amid a protracted legal battle with the White House over changes to the nearly 50-year-old Title X program, which annually provides about $286 million to healthcare providers to fund family planning services such as birth control.

But as we think about this headline news, let’s remind ourselves of how Title X became a part of federal law. Technically, it is actually known as Public Law 91-572. It was a part of a larger omnibus act, which was known as the Population Research and Voluntary Family Planning Program. It goes back to the great society programs of Lyndon Johnson in the mid ’60s, although it only became law in 1970 under the presidency of Richard M. Nixon. Where did it come from? Why did it happen? Well, if you go back to that larger law, the Population Research and Voluntary Family Planning Program, that was the law as it was then known, it was adopted with vast bipartisan support. What did that tell us? It tells us that if you were to go back and look at the American government in the period, say from the mid ’60s to the mid ’70s, there actually was a vast bipartisan consensus that poor people ought to have less babies.

Now, let’s remind ourselves that Planned Parenthood as an organization goes back to Margaret Sanger, who was herself someone who at least agreed with part of the eugenics movement. The eugenics movement, good genes means good breeding, and of course the slogan of that movement often came down to more children from the fit, less from the unfit. It was elitist. There was always a racial element to the argument. It had a great deal of economic condescension in it. The idea was poor people should stop having babies. If we have to give poor people contraceptives and give them federal programs in order to prevent poor people from having so many babies, then that will be a good thing.

This was extremely popular worldwide throughout movements associated with the United Nations. The United States government at the time was one of the net exporters of contraception and the birth control mentality to the entire world. The United States will have to take moral responsibility for that reality, including the fact that the United States officially put political pressure upon China during that period to limit its own population explosion. And that at least in part led to the infamous and murderous one child only policy of the Chinese Communist Party.

That bipartisan consensus reflected the kind of Western elite opinion that came down to the birth control mentality being presented as the necessary answer to a population explosion and to the threat of mass starvation, political unrest, and well, just about everything else you can imagine, as a societal ill. It was threatened that if the population was not controlled, all of these horrible things would happen. But of course, the population actually grew even more than was warned at the time, but without those effects. There was no mass starvation in the 1970s as the prophets of doom had declared.

But what is even more important is to understand that a basic anti-humanism came in at this era that saw human beings as the problem; the more human beings, the bigger the problem. And you’ll also note the elitism here comes down to the fact that no one was then opposed to the right people having babies and there was a bipartisan consensus to try to encourage the wrong people from having more babies. That tells you a great deal about where America was then. It also tells you where the Title X program came from and why the larger law was packaged as the Population Research and Voluntary Family Planning Program. The fact that they had to put voluntary in tells you a very great deal once you think about it.

When it comes to the Planned Parenthood declaration yesterday, Michelle Hackman reporting for The Wall Street Journal this morning writes, “The organization’s decision to forego federal funding for contraception and other family planning services estimated at about $60 million a year across its affiliate clinics, will have a profound impact on the organization’s future and the patients it serves.” Now, remember the only services or programs covered by Title X have to do with family planning, mostly about contraception. After the announcement by Planned Parenthood, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, that’s the office that runs Title X, said that Planned Parenthood was basically abandoning its own obligations to its own patients under the program. Forced to choose between abortion and these patients, the organization chose abortion.

Now, if you ask Planned Parenthood about the decision, Planned Parenthood will come back and say that the reason they did this is their own declared high-minded principle that Planned Parenthood is opposed to any interference between a doctor and a patient in a relationship. That does sound profoundly wise until you understand that here we are talking about abortion and we’re talking about taxpayer funding of this program.

Planned Parenthood also described the new regulations as a gag rule. Is it or not? Well, in one sense, it does declare that the government will not allow certain speech to be presented under the coverage of these federally funded programs, but that’s not entirely new. It’s also true for other federal programs as well. And it’s also true that the new regulations from the Department of Health and Human Services for Title X didn’t even prevent Planned Parenthood and its affiliates, for example, from referring a patient to an organization that might also provide abortions. There just couldn’t be a referral with reference to abortion or for an abortion.

Predictably, Planned Parenthood announced that it will be seeking relief from the federal courts. It already lost at the district court level, and furthermore, it was also denied at the level of a panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal. That’s the nation’s most notoriously liberal appellate court. Time will tell concerning that appellate effort that Planned Parenthood pledges will be ongoing, but you can count on this, the more urgent front on which Planned Parenthood will be fighting is the political front and the cultural front. You’re going to see a full court press by Planned Parenthood presenting itself as a martyred organization for its own principles and you’re going to be seeing that throughout the mainstream media in coming days as well. But keep your eye on what Planned Parenthood has done, what’s really behind this announcement, and what Planned Parenthood really is.

Please remember to put this in tandem with the development that came just a few weeks ago when the organization fired its then fairly new president Dr. Leana Wen because even though she was adamantly, ardently pro-abortion, she wasn’t pro-abortion enough for Planned Parenthood.

Part II

Nonsense in the Cathedral: A Church that Has Lost Its Message and, Apparently, Its Mind

But now we’re going to switch from the United States and the issue of abortion to England with nonsense in one of its famed cathedrals. Megan Specia reporting for The New York Times. The headline is this: “English Cathedrals Offer More Than Exalted Architecture. But Mini Golf?” Specia writes, datelined from London, “The hallowed nave of a medieval church, with its stained glass windows and soaring arches, is usually thought of as a place for prayer and quiet reflection. Now, apparently, it is also a place for a slide four stories tall. This summer,” readers are told, “visitors to some of England’s most imposing and ancient cathedrals will find carnival rides, a mini golf course, a lunar landscape, and a lifelike model of the earth dangling from the ceiling.” And no, this isn’t a fiction, this is a news report.

The Times goes on to tell us, “Inside Norwich Cathedral in the east of England, a colorful 55-foot-tall slide — known as a helter skelter — winds past the 12th-century stone pillars. The Rev Canon Andy Bryant, Norwich Cathedral’s canon for mission, said it offered visitors a new perspective on the ornate ceilings and on the faith more generally.” He said, and I quote, “This is a deliberate attempt to help people engage with our cathedral. There is this idea,” he said, “that the helter-skelter makes it all brash and noisy, but people are going on to see the cathedral in all of its glory.”

Seriously? That’s the really bizarre nature of the story. This is intended by the people who have put the helter skelter into Norwich Cathedral and mini golf into another of the ancient cathedrals. This is being presented honestly, straightforwardly, seriously as an effort to try to bring people into the cathedrals in order to find meaning. But as we’re going to see, that’s the real problem. If what you’re looking for in a cathedral is meaning, then perhaps even a slide that is known as a helter skelter might be the object of that meaning. That’s the problem, not the explanation.

As Megan Specia went on to report, “After years of falling attendance for the Church of England, the amusement park atmosphere on display at some cathedrals shows the lengths the church is going to as it tries to pull in more people by projecting a more inclusive, less forbidding image.” Now, let’s just understand that what these cathedrals are doing, or at least the humans who are leading these cathedrals of the Church of England, is turning these ancient places of Christian worship into amusement parks because no one’s coming for the worship any longer, perhaps they will come for the amusement.

And then there is the spectacle of watching these church leaders describe their high mindedness in going to these lengths because their effort is to try to get people to reconnect with the cathedral, to try to find some connection to the transcendent, to get the people into the medieval nave of an ancient cathedral so that even as they’re going down the helter skelter slide or climbing the steps up, they just might see the stained glass, and the vaulted ceilings, and the magnificence of the cathedral and think, “This is a fun place to have fun,” but the spectacle is actually far, far worse than this New York Times article would indicate. You have to actually go to the British press to find out what a farce this turns out to be.

From London, the BBC, that is the British Broadcasting Corporation, offers a report and the headline of this one is, “Norwich Cathedral Bishop Delivers Sermon From Helter Skelter.” By the way, Helter Skelter is a brand name for this kind of slide that is well known enough in the United Kingdom that you can put it in a headline and people know exactly what you’re talking about. The BBC reports, “God would be reveling in the joy a glorious helter skelter is brought to Norwich Cathedral, its bishop has told his congregation from its slide.”

“The fairground ride,” we are told, “had been in the nave of the cathedral for 11 days. It was intended,” said the BBC, “to give people a different view of the building, although some accused the cathedral of ‘making a mistake.’”

“The Bishop of Lynne, the Rt Revd Jonathan Meyrick delivered his sermon from halfway up the ride.” The bishop said, “God is a tourist attraction.” And as he did so, the helter skelter slide was his backdrop. The bishop, we are told, then treated the congregation to a rendition of a Bee Gee’s song as he reflected on the importance of smiles. “God,” said the Bishop, “wants to be attractive to us… for us to enjoy ourselves, each other, and the world around us and this glorious helter-skelter is about just that.”

The bishop went on to say in his sermon, “Enjoying ourselves is a good thing to do and God will be reveling in it and with us and all those people who have found joy and fun and laughter here.” We are also told that before preaching, the bishop had climbed to the top of the helter-skelter before “edging halfway down the slide, where he stopped to deliver his sermon. Then he received a loud cheer as he whooshed to the bottom.”

It is of interest to note that the Norwich Cathedral is not the only of the ancient cathedrals of the Church of England to have brought a carnival, in effect, into the nave. That’s the central aisle and worship space of the cathedral. Rochester Cathedral has been converted into a crazy golf course. That’s the actual terminology that is used by the BBC.

Now, before we understand exactly what’s going on in this ecclesiastical disaster, let’s remind ourselves of what Norwich Cathedral is. Norwich Cathedral was built between the years 1096 and 1145. We’re talking about a cathedral that is almost a millennium old. It was built in traditional Norman architecture, and yet most people looking at Norwich Cathedral, most Americans at least, would describe it as Gothic. That’s because in the generalized term, what you are looking at is the vaulted construction, the massive perpendicular nature of the Norwich Cathedral like classical, Gothic architecture.

The important statement made by Gothic, which appeared in the mid to late medieval period, is the fact that we are small as human beings and God is transcendent. The very architecture of these giant cathedrals was to make a theological statement, “We are the creature, God is the Creator. He is a majestic, awesome God. He is transcendent in the heavens above. We are small, terrestrial, we are on this plane.” When you enter into Gothic space, your smallness is made abundantly clear. Your eyes and the entire visual perception is drawn upward. It’s a very strong theistic theological statement.

Now, it’s also historically what would be described as a Catholic statement. That’s not to say that there aren’t Protestant cathedrals, it’s not to say that Protestants should not like and appreciate Gothic architecture, it is to say that where you find churches where preaching becomes the dominant concern of worship, whereas in the Reformation preaching is recovered as the central act of worship, then there tends to be a flattening of the architecture. Just consider the difference in the city of London between its two most famous churches, Westminster Abbey, perpendicular, Gothic, transcendence, also deeply rooted in the fact that it was a Catholic church, and then going to St. Paul’s Cathedral, which shared much of the same history but is classical in its architecture, resisting the almost infinite number of perpendicular lines that are implied by Gothic architecture pointing upward, and rather, even though it is very large and majestic space, pointing to a very different dimensionality.

Norwich was established as a diocese by the see of Canterbury in medieval days and it has not been totally without evangelical influence. I personally know a former archdeacon of Norwich, Timothy Dudley-Smith, who served there between 1973 and 1981. But now we’re talking about unadulterated nonsense, not only in Norwich Cathedral, but throughout the Church of England. And make no mistake, the Church of England, the established church of the English people is facing a disaster.

A recent headline in The Independent, a major London newspaper: “Church of England staring at oblivion as just 2% of young Britons say they identify with it.” That’s right. Just 2% of the young adults in Britain aged 18 to 24 identify with the Church of England, which is supposed to be the Church of England. The old joke used to be that the Church of England was a lot of England without much church. Now it appears to be also without England.

The Independent article cites Roger Harding, head of public attitudes at the National Center for Social Research. He said, “Our figures show an unrelenting decline in the Church of England and Church of Scotland numbers.” The phrases that are key in this article would include “staring at oblivion” and “unrelenting decline.” So that raises a question, why the oblivion, why the decline, and what should the Church of England do about it?

A church that has been known in the main for having tepid theology and basically a church that has been under the control of theological liberalism for about a century, just might come to the conclusion, guess what, guys? This isn’t working. It turns out that having an historic architecture that preaches transcendence is not enough when transcendence and biblical truth isn’t preached from the pulpits.

I’m going to make a declarative statement behind which I will stand, and that is that if you find yourself preaching from a helter skelter slide in a cathedral, you’re not going to find yourself preaching biblical truth either. Remember that the message preached by the bishop cited in the BBC report included the words “God is a tourist attraction,” “God wants to be attractive to us… for us to enjoy ourselves, each other and the world around us and this glorious helter-skelter is about just that.” Frankly, if that’s your theology, guess what? You don’t have a theology, and you can guess what else, the people listening to you have figured out a long time ago that you don’t have a theology. They’re in your cathedral, as these news reports indicate, not because you have a theology, but because you have a helter skelter slide.

I’ll be honest and say that this story causes me almost physical pain, not just theological distress. I’m an unembarrassed Anglophile. I love the music of the Anglican church tradition. I love the Book of Common Prayer. I love the fact that our own theological heritage is rooted in the English-speaking Reformation that took place even within these churches, but it seems almost time to simply declare that the last Christian leaving the last of these churches should just blow out the candle as he or she leaves, passing, at least for now, at least some people coming into the cathedral to ride the slide or to play mini golf.

Part III

The Logic of Death vs. the Logic of Life: All Life Is God’s Gift Under His Sovereignty

But finally, we come back to the United States and look at some of the smallest principalities in Europe, we come back to the issue of abortion to look at a very different dimension. VICE released a story with a headline, “The Last Places in Europe Where It’s Illegal to Get an Abortion.” The background to this is the fact that the news source is apparently dumbfounded that there could be any place in liberal Europe where it isn’t easy to get an abortion, but it turns out that some of the small principalities still left over from the ancient European tradition, they’re holdouts. These would include San Marino, Liechtenstein, and also Monaco. They are with Andorra, some of the last places in Europe along with Malta, Poland, and Northern Ireland, where abortion is still criminalized. This is explained by the fact that many of these principalities have deep religious roots and they also tend to be under the control of some kind of elite that doesn’t want to authorize abortion.

But that’s not really why we’re even looking at the article. It’s because the example that is given in the beginning of a woman in one of these principalities seeking an abortion was seeking it because her gynecologist “revealed a diagnosis of Down syndrome.” The implication in this article, in fact, it’s explicit in the logic of this article, is the fact that if there is a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome, then the obvious thing is to get rid of the child, it is to have an abortion, it is to terminate the pregnancy. That is so implicit in the article. It’s an argument that isn’t even made. It is simply an argument necessary for the article even to make sense.

But then coming back to the United States, on Saturday there was an article published in the Daily Leader, that’s the newspaper of the Mississippi town of Brookhaven. In this article, there’s a couple that discovered that the wife was pregnant at age 42 and she also received a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome, but the entire sense of this article is that this couple decided, “Well, obviously, we will have the baby.” The mother, Mika Hartman, stated in the paper, “Honestly, not one teardrop of sadness was shed, but tears of joy. We had a chance to bring him into the world to make the world a better place. Definitely, our family would embrace this gift and face it all together.”

The article actually details the couple’s determination to save the pregnancy even when it was threatened by other complications. Little Hudson was born and the article shows beautiful pictures of this glorious child, Hudson, now a toddler. Hudson’s daddy is Lieutenant Colonel C. J. Hartman of the United States Air Force.

Providentially, I came across those two articles in a distance of less than an hour, and I saw the dichotomy, I saw the contrast, the contrast between when a diagnosis of Down syndrome is made, the decision being, “Of course we will abort,” and, “Of course we will have the baby and welcome the baby into our lives.” The contrast between those two instincts and those two decisions is the contrast between two diametrically opposed worldviews, each working its way out to consistency. One is the logic of death, the other is the logic of life, one in which we are the captains of our fate and the other in which life is God’s gift under His sovereignty. Just one photograph of smiling baby Hudson in the arms of his loving mother is enough to refute the deadly logic of the culture of death.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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