briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

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

It’s Wednesday, August 28, 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 Partners with Musical Artists to Promote Abortion at Concerts: The Deadly Logic of the Pro-Abortion Movement

Some interesting stories that, put together, reveal something of a pattern going on in our culture right now, especially at the flashpoint of abortion. National Review headline: “Planned Parenthood to Educate Audiences About Abortion Bans at A-List Concerts.” The story tells us this, “Planned Parenthood has joined forces with over a hundred music stars to promote the organization’s new campaign, ‘Bans Off My Body.’” The article at National Review goes on to tell us, “The nation’s largest abortion provider has recruited at least 136 pop stars and bands to urge their fans to support the campaign.” The artists include Ariana Grande, The 1975, Billie Eilish, Demi Lovato, Dua Lipa, Macklemore, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and many others.

The article by Mairead McArdle goes on to explain, “As part of the campaign, the organization which receives $500 million annually from the federal government will educate concert goers about the recent wave of hard-line abortion restrictions sweeping the country on the state level. It also hopes,” she says, “to get a half a million signatures for a petition protesting the bans by January the 22nd, which would be the 47th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.”

Just one indicative statement was made by Billie Eilish who said, “I’m proud to be standing up for Planned Parenthood as they fight for fair and equal access to reproductive rights. We cannot live freely and move fully in the world when our basic right to access the reproductive healthcare we need is under attack. Every person deserves the right to control their body, their life, and their future.”

Let’s just start with that final quote, as awful as it is, and work backwards. First of all, you have the butchering of the English language, or at least what in any previous age would have been a violation of the English language when Eilish spoke about every person deserving the right to control “their body,” “their life,” and “their future.” But that just points to the fact that in the new gender revolution ‘their’ is being used increasingly as a personal pronoun in the singular. It’s not clear that Eilish even meant anything that intentional.

But what’s even more problematic as we work backwards is that opening statement by Billie Eilish when she said, “We cannot live freely and move fully in the world.” What will follow that? Well, it’s when she said, “Our basic right to access the reproductive healthcare we need is under attack.” Let’s just think about that for a moment. The insinuation here is that without what she defines as our ‘reproductive healthcare rights,’ we can’t live freely in the world. We can’t move fully in the world.

Now, even giving a certain amount of license to an artist who, after all, mostly sings lyrics, the reality is that that’s more lyrical than sensical. But lest we then simply discard it as unimportant, let’s understand that that is exactly the point. If something is turned into a lyric, if its authority comes from a contemporary celebrity, if it’s being transfused into the culture by pop culture, then it largely goes by what in other context might be filtered out.

It’s very interesting that given the power of popular culture, people accept messaging from entertainers they wouldn’t accept from anyone else. If a college professor makes a statement, students might question it, but when a pop star makes a statement, especially in the form of the lyrics of a popular song, it tends to go directly past the filters. That’s not to say that people listening to a song necessarily agree with every word. It is to say the words begin to be imprinted. It is to say that there is a new cultural authority held by these kinds of entertainers and artists and celebrities, and Planned Parenthood knows that its intention is to go around natural filters on nonsense to have the messaging coming from these kinds of celebrities.

We also need to note that this is about abortion. It is centrally essentially about abortion. And the headline news, what should be fully important to us is the fact that at least 136 major music stars and bands have signed on to make abortion a part of their events, a part of their shows.

Alexis McGill Johnson, the acting president of Planned Parenthood conceded the agenda, “Artists can highlight how out of touch some of their politicians are in this space. They can hold up a mirror and say, to quote Marvin Gaye, ‘What’s going on?’” Once again, I would warn not to dismiss this kind of effort. It is not going to be without effect because, after all, you’re talking about an audience that is there in order to pay consummate attention to these entertainers. It’s at least fair warning to know what they’re going to be receiving in moral messaging about abortion.

Part II

Should the Government Have No Preference Whether a Child Is Born or Aborted? The New Yorker Seems to Think So

But next, in this collection of recent articles, we go to the New Yorker, an article in this week’s edition by Margaret Talbot entitled, “How the Trump Administration is Stigmatizing Abortion.” Remember that the issue of stigma of this kind of moral judgment was covered on The Briefing on Monday, but now it’s back because it’s in the headline related to abortion.

The Margaret Talbot article is basically a criticism of the Trump administration’s effort to limit the kind of federal funding covered under Title X funding and thus the challenge that was presented to Planned Parenthood, the choice Planned Parenthood had to make between continuing in the abortion business or receiving the Title X funds, as we covered thoroughly. Planned Parenthood solidly chose abortion and thus has forfeited those Title X dollars. That’s millions of dollars. And of course, you have here in the New Yorker, an article decrying the fact that this has happened, that Planned Parenthood was forced to choose.

Margaret Talbot writes about the restrictions on abortion counseling being absolutely unreasonable. And from the viewpoint of those who are absolutely committed to abortion, those restrictions are not only unreasonable, but frankly unthinkable. There’s a revealing section of the article in which she points to the fact that this will have an effect in some high school health clinics, which again, should have our attention, knowing that the issue of abortion is advocated in some of these clinics.

But the most interesting section of the article is actually the conclusion where that issue of moral stigma finally arises and in an interesting context. Margaret Talbot writes, “The new rules will deny women health care they need and will also,” and this is no accident she says, “further stigmatize abortion.”

She goes on to say, “Part of the goal of regulation like this is to underscore a government preference for childbirth and part of the work it may do is to help create a world in which forcing that preference on women is more and more acceptable.”

First, note the word ‘preference’ when it comes to having a baby or killing the baby. That is a horrifying linguistic issue for us to note in this quotation. But working backwards, in the middle of that paragraph is the amazing statement that accuses the Trump administration on behalf of the government of preferring childbirth. Childbirth to what? Childbirth to the killing of the unborn child, or even, you might say in a general sense, the government is accused of preferring childbirth to the birth of no children.

That takes us back to what we discussed yesterday with the report coming in the Wall Street Journal about the fact that younger Americans are less interested in, first of all, patriotism and then religion and then in having children. Here’s another indication of this. Here you have the accusation that the United States government might, if read in the most evil sense, be demonstrating by this action, a governmental preference for childbirth.

Now, let me just start out by saying with rare and horrifying exceptions such as the communist party in China decades ago, every single government on earth has seen its survival tied to its citizens having children. Every government has been, one way or another, pro-children, pro-childbirth, pro-child rearing. Civilization absolutely depends on it.

Throughout most epics in human history, this has been so obvious that no one would have even raised an issue about it. Government itself concedes the rights of the family and the privilege of the family in reproducing. Government backs off the family historically and offers protections for marriage and family historically because the society depends historically upon people having babies and successfully raising those children.

Unless you live in some kind of Orwellian dystopia in which the government takes babies from their parents, the government’s survival, the entire civilization’s survival, depends upon citizens having children and actually successfully raising those children. Something government, by the way, can’t do. Government can’t have children and the government can’t actually raise children.

So, that absolutely astounding dimension of that final paragraph in Margaret Talbot’s article is the fact that she is apparently horrified to believe that the government would actually indicate a preference for childbirth. But again, the immediate context is not just the survival of civilization, it’s the survival of individual human infants in the womb.

This is just incredibly revealing. The New Yorker is influential in New York culture, but more than that, it’s a barometer of elite thinking and elite culture in the United States. Elite opinion shows up in the New Yorker, and what this tells us is that we have already reached the point as a society when the illumined and sophisticated readers of the New Yorker are predictably horrified at the idea that our government might have a preference for childbirth in general, much less a preference for protecting the life of a specific individual human being yet unborn. But that’s where we are as that article tells us right there in black and white.

Part III

Beto O’Rourke Doubles Down on His Horrifying View on Third-Trimester Abortions When Pressed by Voter

But then of course, next these issues intersect with the 2020 presidential election and right now that means most importantly, the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. Beto O’Rourke, who had been, before the race actually started with its intensity, considered a likely front runner, but who hasn’t actually turned out to be a front runner, he found himself crosswise on the issue of abortion on the campaign trail. A man addressed the former congressman asking if his own life had had any meaning the day before he was born. He said, “My question is, I was born on September 8, 1989, and I want to know if you think that on September the 7th, 1989, my life had no value?”

Fox News tells us that the man asking the question was apparently referencing an answer that Beto O’Rourke gave in Ohio when he had been asked about third trimester abortions. O’Rourke responded then by saying, “That should be a decision that the woman makes. I trust her.” But when addressed by the man who asked the congressman if the day before the man had been born his life had had no value, O’Rourke responded by saying, “Of course I don’t think that.” He went on to say, “And of course, I’m glad that you’re here.” But then he went on, and this is what’s so important, he said, “But you referenced my answer in Ohio, and it remains the same. This is a decision that neither you nor I nor the United States government should be making.” Speaking of the decision to abort a child even as the illustration was given the day before the child was born, Beto O’Rourke answered again, “That’s a decision for the woman to make.” Fox News then said, “He received loud applause from his supporters.”

Now, on the one hand, this is just another day on the presidential campaign trail, but on the other hand, this is a day to which we had better pay some attention, this particular interaction between this man and the former congressman running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. Why? Because if you take O’Rourke statement and actually look at it word for word and then remind yourself that he had days to prepare for this answer and then you remind yourself again that he understood exactly what was being asked and actually doubled down on his answer, he appears to be saying at the same time to the man who asked the question, “No, your life was not without meaning and value the day before you were born, but your mother should have had the right to kill you anyway because it’s her decision period, and I trust her.” There is simply no way around what Beto O’Rourke said. He said it, he doubled down on it, and apparently what he said received loud applause from his supporters in this audience on the campaign trail.

So, let’s just think about this for a moment. The man asked if his own life had any value the day before he was born. We’re not just talking about late-term abortion, we’re talking about the day before he was born. He doubled down on that himself in asking the question by pointing out that he was born on September the 8th of 1989, so he specifically referenced the day before, September 7th, 1989. That is the day that Beto O’Rourke answered his mother should have had the right to kill him in the womb. It should have been her decision alone. There should be no outside interrogation of her decision. There should be no governmental intervention to prevent her decision.

We should do an instant flashback to that article by Margaret Talbot in the New Yorker. Is she denying that the government should have a preference for childbirth even when we’re talking about the day before a child is born? What we have to recognize is that the logic, the expanding and deadly logic of the pro-abortion movement, is leaving those committed to that worldview absolutely no logical option but to say, “Yes, that mother should have the right to abort that child. No, there should be no laws restricting such an abortion. There should be no criminalization of such an abortion. It should simply be her decision.”

Putting this into real life politics into the real life timeline of America’s political order, Adam Shaw, the reporter for Fox News pointed out, “All prominent Democratic 2020 presidential hopefuls in the Senate back in February voted down the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, and that would include Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Kamala Harris of California, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts” — all of them, every one of them.

Again, returning to his answer, the former congressman said, “I don’t question the decisions that a woman makes. Only a woman knows what she knows and I want to trust her with that.” That’s the kind of expansive, indeed I’ll go back to say, lyrical logic or so-called logic, of the pro-abortion movement. Just notice how it falls apart almost instantaneously. The statement is, “I don’t question the decisions that a woman makes.” Is that really true? Is he saying that society doesn’t question any decisions that a woman might make? Of course, the response is any sane society does question many of those decisions, but what he knows is that he’s talking about the issue of abortion and what he has confidence in is the fact that increasing numbers of Americans by the millions have bought into the idea that on that question, even murdering the unborn child in her womb, there can be no kind of outside questioning. There can be no questioning the decisions that a woman makes.

Part IV

Is the United States a Republic or a Democracy? Why It’s Necessary to Know the Difference Between Direct Democracy and Representative Democracy

But next, on a different issue as we’re considering the meaning of politics in America these days, the New York Times yesterday ran an article with the headline, “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Understands Democracy Better Than Republicans Do.” Jamelle Bouie is the author of the article. The immediate context of this article is the fact that he reports on an exchange, he says, between representatives, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, and Dan Crenshaw of Texas.

As Bouie writes, “In a brief series of tweets, Ocasio-Cortez made the case against the Electoral College and argued for a national popular vote to choose the president.” She said, “Every vote should be = in America, no matter who you are or where you come from. The right thing to do,” she said, “is establish a popular vote and GOP will do everything they can to fight it.” Well, indeed, you can count on the fact that the GOP and many of the states, indeed I would argue a majority of the states, will fight back hard against any effort to try to nullify or to constitutionally remove the Electoral College. That’s because the Electoral College is part of the original compact that made the American experiment and representative democracy possible.

For years now those on the progressive and political left have argued that the Electoral College needs to be abolished because they prefer a more direct democracy, and you can see why. This would give even more political clout to the highly populated two coasts and increasingly liberal portions of the country. That would be at the expense of more conservative parts of the country.

And that takes us back again, as I said, to the framing of the Constitution itself, where the Electoral College became absolutely necessary for the smaller states to be willing to join with the larger states in the compact of the U.S. Constitution. The reason for that is quite clear. Those smaller states were absolutely and rightly fearful of the fact that if they joined the Constitution with a direct democracy that is a popular vote for the presidency, then their votes wouldn’t matter. They would effectively enter the union with no political significance whatsoever.

And this takes us back again to a founding principle that the political left hates about the United States. The United States is a federal union of 50 states. Those 50 states are political actors and they are political units of incredible importance in America’s constitutional order. That’s made very clear by the composition of the United States Senate. It’s made very clear by the electoral college. It’s made very clear in the U.S. Constitution pervasively, period.

But what’s at stake in this particular debate is larger than the issue of the electoral college. It comes down to an argument that was made by Crenshaw who said, “We live in a republic, not a democracy.” But then Jamelle Bouie writes, “You can fill in the blanks of the argument from there. The founding fathers built a government to stymie the tyranny of the majority. They contrasted their republic with democracy which they condemned as dangerous and unstable.” Bouie goes on to cite John Adams, who in 1814 wrote to John Taylor, “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes exhausts and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”

But then Bouie argues, “But there’s a problem for the founders. Democracy did not mean majority rule in a system of representation. The men who led the revolution and devised the Constitution were immersed in classical literature and political theory. Ancient Greece in particular,” he writes, “was a cautionary tale.” He goes on to argue that when James Madison critiqued democracy in Federalist Paper No. 10, he meant the Athenian sort, “A society consisting of a small number of citizens who assemble and administer the government in person.”

James Madison, as Bouie notes, contrasted a democracy with a republic, “A government in which the scheme of representation takes place.” He goes on to write, “In more modern terms, the founders feared direct democracy and accounted for its dangers with a system of representative democracy. Yes,” Bouie writes, “this ‘republic’ had counter-majoritarian aspects like equal representation of states in the Senate, the presidential veto, and the Supreme Court, but it was not designed for minority rule.”

The key turn in the argument comes when Jamelle Bouie argues that the insistence that the United States is a republic rather than a democracy is just a conservative effort to rewrite American history. Now, let’s just assert that that becomes a rather implausible argument when the author of this article has already cited so many of the founding fathers and indeed Federalist Paper No. 10 before he turned to make this argument.

It all comes to a head when Bouie writes, “These origins are important. If there’s a substance behind, ‘We’re a republic, not a democracy,” it’s not as a description of American government.’” He goes on to say, “There’s really no difference in the present between a republic and a democracy. Both connote,” he says, “systems of representation in which sovereignty and authority derive from the public at large.” He concludes, “The point of the slogan isn’t to describe who we are, but to claim and co-opt the founding for right-wing politics, to naturalize political inequality and make it the proper order of things.” He concludes, finally, “What lies behind that quip, in other words, is an impulse against democratic representation. It is part and parcel of the drive to make American government a closed domain for a select privileged few.”

Well, I’ll just have to push back and say that is absolute nonsense. It is arguing counter to the very authorities that Jamelle Bouie has cited, but it does show you just how many people in modern America believe that our own republican system of government, our own system of representative democracy is actually by its essence, anti-democratic and unjust.

The anti-democratic part is addressed by the founders. They did indeed fear direct democracy. Now, that leads to a kind of linguistic confusion, which at least adds a little currency to Jamelle Bouie’s argument. He can count on the fact that many of the readers of his column, really unacquainted and probably unthoughtful about American history, are just going to take it the way he explains it. But what he explains is that in our contemporary parlance, there isn’t a great deal of distinction between republic and democracy. There’s a little bit of truth in that, but the problem is not with the words “republic” and “democracy.” The problem is with the contemporary confusion.

The fact is that many Americans simply don’t know the distinction between a democracy and a republic, and we also have to recognize that at times the language does get confusing. If you talk about looking at a globe and you talk about the spread or the constriction of democracy around the world, then that democratic world would include the United States of America, which isn’t after all, a democracy, but for the better part of all logic, most of those other nations, whatever their form of government, aren’t really democracies either.

In a direct democracy, whoever is qualified to vote votes on everything directly. Now, that would be an insane form of government. That really didn’t even work in the metropolis of Athens. It’s not going to work in the United States of America. It wouldn’t work in your state. Frankly, it wouldn’t work in your neighborhood. A direct democracy means that the people would have to make the decision by majority rule on everything. Clearly, that’s not even imaginable, and the American founders didn’t imagine it, they feared it. Instead, they wanted to create and they did create, a representative democracy, which means that we elect members of Congress and we elect, constitutionally, electors who elect the president of the United States. Those electors preserve the federal union and the importance of the states themselves, protecting the little states against the more populous states.

But there is also a basic Christian worldview conviction behind the distinction between a democracy and a republic amongst the founders. They operated out of the realities and structures of a Christian worldview even when they were not themselves confessing individual Christians. Behind this, indeed behind the whole idea of the separation of powers, is the understanding of the power of sin and the concentration of sin and the corrupting power of sin and the fear that if power is invested in a way that grants anyone total immediate authority, it will lead to corruption and despotism. And the founders operating, again, out of the structures of a Christian worldview, understood that that must be applied even to the mass of people as a mass of people. The mass of people as the Bible makes very clear, can change almost instantaneously from laying down palms before Jesus as the King of Kings and the coming Messiah, to crying out, “Give us Barabbas. Crucify him.”

And by the way, while we’re doing a little bit of truth telling, the people who cry for democracy don’t actually want a democracy. They just want a political order that minimizes the importance of the states and leads to what, by their definition, would be a more direct democracy. But we have to recognize that that would not be a mere or minor constitutional change, that would be a major modification, indeed a repudiation of the American conception of government as representative democracy going back to the founding.

So, in this Twitter exchange, it comes down to the fact that on the argument Dan Crenshaw, congressman from Texas, was right and representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York was wrong. But the bigger issue is that even as that Twitter exchange will very quickly fade into American memory if it even made a dent at all, the reality is that this issue is indeed current. It is indeed urgent, and it is not going away.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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