briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, September 30, 2019

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

It’s Monday, September 30, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Blockbuster Developments Expected This Week in Impeachment Process and Brexit: Tracking the Unfolding Story as History is Made

As the day dawns today on both sides of the Atlantic, we expect blockbuster political developments. In the United States, these are focused on the fact that the House of Representatives is now launching an official impeachment inquiry concerning the president of the United States. Over the weekend, even as Congress went into a two-week recess, Democratic leaders in the House in control of that chamber, thus driving this process, indicated that the impeachment inquiry process would take, in their words, “weeks, not months.” That remains to be seen, but in the larger picture, so much remains to be seen.

For one thing, as you’re looking at the political calculation behind this impeachment inquiry — and make no mistake, it is a political effort — when you look at this, you come to recognize that both sides in what is now sizing up to be a massive political standoff in the United States have potentially something to gain, but potentially a great deal to lose. First of all, the president of the United States, President Donald Trump, and Donald Trump not only as president but in every other aspect of his life, his adult life as known to us, has considered combat to bring out the very best in him and to offer him a platform that other arenas and dynamics do not. Thus, from the very beginning of the challenges to his presidency, there has been an aspect in which President Trump has basically dared his enemies to have the kind of decisive courage to come against him in some form of an effort such as an impeachment inquiry.

Of course, that’s exactly what is now taking place. The downside for the president is also potentially massive. In the first place, this is a constitutional mechanism by which he could eventually be removed from office. Of course, that would take an actual vote to impeach him in the House of Representatives and then it would take, in order to remove a president from office, a trial in the United States Senate, which would find the president guilty of high crimes or misdemeanors to justify the removal of a president from his office. In such case, the vice president of the United States would step in as his successor.

That’s a massive “if.” As a matter of fact, it’s important to look throughout American history and recognize that although two presidents have been impeached by the House of Representatives, Andrew Johnson in the 19th century and William Jefferson Clinton in the 20th century, neither was removed from office, neither was convicted in the United States Senate. A third president, Richard Nixon, also in the 20th century, faced an official impeachment inquiry and almost certainly would have been impeached, but he resigned rather than to face the impeachment by the House and then trial by the Senate.

Here’s the big historic point: As of now, no president in America’s history has been impeached and then removed from office. The reason for that is actually quite massively important, and that became very clear in the Senate trial of Andrew Johnson in the 19th century and Bill Clinton in the 20th. What was the big issue? Those who were in charge of the proceedings understood that even as the House had voted to impeach, the cooling chamber of the Senate refused to convict. Why? It is because the Senate in particular and the Senate, backed up by political support and the demands of the people, recognized that it was not right to remove an elected president of the United States from office unless there was a massive crime that the president had been convicted of committing that would justify such an act before the people.

Why? It is because the people of the United States, every four years, go to vote, and the results of that election should be considered binding unless the president should die or unless there should be some massively convincing crime that leads the American people to believe that the president actually ought to be removed from office, because here’s the big constitutional issue: Removing an elected president from office is effectively nullifying the effect of an election. Understanding that fact, it’s easy then to conceive why at this point in America’s history, over 200 years into our constitutional order, even though there have been so many political crises and so many accusations against sitting presidents, no president has yet been removed by this mechanism.

On the democratic side, the upside is pretty easy to understand politically. The base of the party has been demanding blood, has been demanding an impeachment inquiry concerning President Trump going all the way back to the president’s first day in office. Now that base has what it has demanded and it’s going to be very interesting to see how this plays out. The upside for the Democratic Party also includes the fact that in this official inquiry, testimony could come out, facts and evidence could come out that could be damaging to the president.

But there’s a big downside to the Democratic Party’s equation as well. The downside is this: In the first place, President Trump has a far bigger microphone. That’s true for any president of the United States, but particularly for this president whose microphone now includes Twitter and other forms of social media. This president will, to put the matter just plainly and honestly, vastly out-communicate the Democrats, including the democratic leadership in the House even as this inquiry moves forward. Every single twist and turn in the process of this inquiry will offer an opportunity for this president to make his own political points and, as I said earlier, he seems to relish doing so in the face of this kind of opposition.

Another big potential downside for the Democratic Party is a potential split amongst the democratic members of the House and then also the Senate, most importantly in the House. The big issue here is the fact that the Democrats are now in the majority position because of the 2018 midterm elections and the margin that gave them the victory was especially in suburban districts, highly educated districts, and districts that had been held by a Republican incumbent.

What does that mean? It means that there are very good signs for the Democrats that if this goes the wrong way, they could not only lose the effort to remove President Trump from office, they could also, if the democratic leadership in the House is humiliated, they could also lose that margin that has given them the victory to have the majority in the House in the first place. What happens today will tell us a great deal of what is likely to set the stage for developments through the week, especially since, in general, Congress has now gone into that two-week recess. But the democratic leadership has said that the inquiry process will go on, and that means that the headlines we’ll go on from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Here on the other side of the Atlantic in the United Kingdom, the huge political crisis represented by Brexit continues to loom large over everything. The nation now faces what is undeniably its biggest constitutional crisis in recent history, and that goes back now centuries. We are looking at a political impasse from which it is not clear there is any way forward, but of course history will unfold, something will happen, the question is “What?”

In 2016, the British people, by referendum, voted to leave the European Union, therefore the word “Brexit.” But parliament has been unable to deliver on that Brexit even as right now a hard deadline of October 31, 2019, looms. We’re now talking about just a little over 30 days before one way or another, this issue just might be settled. But the huge constitutional issues right now in the United Kingdom point to even more basic political divides and huge issues concerning British identity and the future not only of Britain but of Europe, and not only of Europe but of what we can still call, indeed must call, Western civilization. We’ll be tracking these issues during the week.

Part II

Culture of Death Gains Ground in New South Wales: The Sickening Celebration of Legalizing “Infanticide on Demand”

Meanwhile, headline news that came out of Australia, very sad headline news. Here’s the headline that appeared in the Times of London: “Cheers in Sydney as abortion curves finally thrown out.” Bernard Lagan, reporting from Sydney tells us, “Abortion has been decriminalized in New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, overturning a 119-year-old law.” Then listen to these words in the next sentence, “Wild cheering erupted in the state parliament in Sidney as legislation passed its final vote, ending more than 70 hours of often acrimonious debate.”

Now, before Americans look to Australia and consider this sad news there, we have to remember that just a matter of months ago, the same kind of celebration and applause for the very same horrifying reason broke out in the state assembly in the United States state of New York. This came as New York state passed one of are the most radical abortion laws anywhere to be found in the world effectively legalizing and decriminalizing more specifically abortion all the way up to and basically including the moment of birth. That is legalizing or decriminalizing even abortion through the third trimester of a baby’s development. That’s a radical turn even for a state, a pro-abortion state like New York.

But now, we see the same thing taking place in the most populous state of Australia and, again, as this paragraph told us from the Times of London, “Wild cheering erupted as parliament passed the legislation.” The report in the Times goes on to tell us, “The bill introduced by Alex Greenwich, 38, an independent member of parliament, removes abortion from the state’s criminal code. Terminations will now be permitted at up to 22 weeks. Later abortions will be allowed if two doctors agree. They also must seek advice from a hospital advisory committee.”

The big point there is, effectively, that means abortion on demand all the way up until the moment of birth. That point was made very clear by former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. He used virtually those very words in describing what had just happened in his own nation. As Mr. Abbott said, the change was “effectively infanticide on demand.”

The celebration came with an apology, but what kind of apology would have come by those who passed this legislation? Well, the sponsor of the legislation said, “Sorry, it took so long.” In other words, a progressive, liberal, freedom-embracing nations such as Australia, he was implying, should have taken this action a long time ago. Infanticide on demand, abortion on demand, that should have been adopted a long time ago. Sorry, it took so long.

In London, the left wing newspaper, The Guardian of London said, “The bill was opposed by religious groups, anti-abortion activists, and several members of parliament who raise concerns about late-term and sex-selective abortions, conscientious objection, and the way the bill was introduced.” Now, what I want Americans to recognize is just how similar this argument and, indeed this report is, to what we now know coming from the United States. We see the very same pattern. We see those who are pressing for abortion now pressing for abortion at every stage of a baby’s development all the way up until the moment of birth. We also see a rejection even of any limitation for abortion for the reason of sex selection and, again, we saw the very same arguments.

First came the argument this really doesn’t happen but, of course, the reality is it does. Then came the evidence that this is a racist or it is some kind of ethnic superiority argument because it is a particular pattern when you’re looking at sex selection abortion amongst those from Asia. Then came the argument if a woman is truly free and if she truly has autonomy, then she has a right to an abortion for any reason whatsoever. Society doesn’t even have the responsibility or the right to inquire of a woman why she is having an abortion.

Another issue we need to recognize here, and this explains something of the parallelism between the United States and Australia on this issue, it is the fact that we are now a part of a global, political, and moral conversation. We’re also seeing that the global elites have been driving this pro-abortion agenda because behind that pro-abortion agenda is the agenda of absolute personal autonomy. It is the agenda of autonomous human beings who possess rights. Of course, those rights are not founded on any kind of objective reality, but they are posited now in this infinite battle of what Harvard Professor Mary Ann Glendon calls rights talk. That rights talk is now the main energy of the left.

Everything is now presented as a matter of basic human rights. This includes now the right to kill the unborn baby within you for any reason or for no reason and, furthermore, to have the taxpayers to pay for it. You see that in the United States in the fact that there is not a single major contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination now who holds out any support for the Hyde Amendment. That is the federal act that prevents federal taxpayer money from paying for abortion. The most graphic illustration of that was the turnaround after decades of supporting the height amendment by former Vice President Joe Biden. He had a moment of nearly instantaneous political conversion on this issue. He is now a stalwart opponent of the Hyde Amendment because, otherwise, he would have no hope of gaining the 2020 presidential nomination in an increasingly leftist Democratic Party.

Part III

The Geographic Intensity of the Pro-Abortion Movement: The City of Austin Feuds with the State of Texas Over Abortion Support

But that’s the headline from Australia. In recent days, the Wall Street Journal offers us a very telling headline from the United States, and this from the state of Texas. Elizabeth Findell is the reporter in an article, the headline, “Abortion funding spurs Texas fight.” What kind of Texas fight is this? It is the state government of Texas versus the city government of Austin, Texas. Now, what we’re going to see here is a pattern that has shown up again and again. You have a map of the United States. The map is often divided between states that lean Republican and states that lean Democratic, that lean conservative and lean liberal.

Over the course of election cycles, going back to the 1980s, red has represented Republican and conservative, blue has represented Democratic and liberal. Yet, as you look at major election cycles, it’s very interesting to see that even though in many blue states there are not so many red dots, in many red states there are blue dots and those blue dots tend to be where young urban professionals and in particular where major institutions of higher education are to be found. By no coincidence, Austin is the home of the University of Texas, and Austin is an extremely liberal, socially and politically liberal, enclave within the state of Texas.

What Findell reports from the Wall Street Journal is this, “The city of Austin is caught in a political and legal feud with Texas Republicans over what constitutes public support for abortion in the latest clash between the state’s conservative leaders and its overwhelmingly liberal capital.” Now, when I read something like that, I want to help us to do a bit of media analysis. You’ll notice the city of Austin is just identified in that lead paragraph as the city of Austin. But we’re told that the city is caught in a political and legal feud with Texas Republicans. True or false? Well, it’s true, but that is not a parallelism. Their parallelism is that the city of Austin is in a feud with the state government of Texas.

The state government of Texas is under the majority control of Republicans — true. But if the paper were going to state the issue that way, then they should have identified the partisan identity of the leaders of Austin, Texas. That’s one of those little media issues we need to watch and observe when we see it happen. But Findell goes on to report, “The current fracas began when the GOP-led state legislature earlier this year banned cities from making any transaction with an abortion provider. The legislature cited Austin’s deal to rent a city-owned property to a Planned Parenthood clinic as the reason the bill was needed.”

“City leaders,” says the Journal, “had little reaction to the move as it was too late to affect the reproductive health organization’s 20-year lease. But,” the paper tells us, “soon after the prohibition went into effect this month, Austin added $150,000 to its annual budget to fund organizations that provide logistical and support services to women seeking abortions, including transportation, childcare, and emotional care.” The paper concludes, “The directive noted that abortion providers themselves wouldn’t be eligible for the funding so it would comply with state law.”

Here you see the kind of divide that now marks so much of America, but now we can look at one spot on the American map. We can look at Austin, Texas, within the state of Texas and there we see the great moral and political and worldview divide play it out. In a real sense, this is almost a classic example because it’s probably even more graphic than what you might see in a dynamic between Madison, Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin state government. At least to this point, Wisconsin has been more of a swing state than Texas. Austin, Texas, is a very clear example of the divide that we now observe. The issue of abortion is the perfect issue to demonstrate this divide and the intensity of the determination on the part of both the state government and the city government to make its point.

The state government is making its point very clearly. No city in the state of Texas can be involved in the support of abortion, the engagement with an abortion provider such as Planned Parenthood. But you see the insistence of Austin on the other side with Austin now committing $150,000 of its city budget to helping women to obtain abortions. You’ll also note that childcare was mentioned there. Austin is now offering basically to babysit for women so that they can obtain an abortion. The story is really horrifying. The intensity there in Austin. The determination to find some way to support abortion if not directly, then indirectly, offering to give women support, even financial support to do everything but pay for the abortion. They’ll pay for the transportation, they’ll pay for the childcare, they will pay even what’s identified here as emotional care.

Now, you also see the great divide in the United States and the crisis to which this could point when you consider the fact that the Wall Street Journal article tells us that some in the state government so offended by the act of Austin are now considering whether or not Texas should abolish the city of Austin and make it a capital district such as Washington, D.C. That probably won’t get very far, but consider the fact that Washington, D.C. is controlled to a considerable degree by Congress as a special administrative district. That’s what you see at least in parallel here being argued by some members of the Texas government as the way to bring Austin into line with the rest of the state.

What we see now in Australia and in Austin is the radical extremes to which the pro-abortion movement will now go, so adamantly determined to make abortion regular, normal, and universally available. In Australia, it’s now available all the way up until the moment of birth. In Austin, even if the city can’t be officially engaged in paying for abortion and providing for abortion, it’s going to do everything it can to cover the other costs to make abortion possible and proximate for people there, women there, in Austin.

But Christians also need to understand the huge worldview implications made clear here in the dynamic of the liberalizing influences of higher education, especially the most prestigious and influential institutions of higher education. The University of Texas at Austin is one of those institutions. Something else to watch is that the University of Texas at Austin, largely under the control of its faculty and its increasingly liberal students as well, that institution really doesn’t think much of the judgment of the state government in Texas. What it cares about is the judgment of the faculties of other institutions, especially institutions that would be even more highly ranked in the hierarchy of American higher education.

The faculty and administration of the University of Texas are probably far more concerned about what the faculties of Harvard and Yale and Princeton, the Universities of California and Michigan think than they care about what anyone in the state government of Texas thinks or, for that matter, what the citizens of Texas think.

Part IV

Freedom to Kill? Hospitals in Italy Become a Dangerous Place for Human Dignity

But finally along similar lines, headline news from Italy, the Daily Telegraph of London reports, “Euthanasia can be justified says Italian court in major judgment.” Nick Squires reports from Rome, “Euthanasia is justified in cases where a person is suffering from an irreversible condition and intolerable pain” — “Intolerable” is put in quotation marks — “Italy’s constitutional court has ruled in a landmark decision.”

The story continues, “The court said that in certain circumstances anyone who facilitates the suicidal intention of a patient kept alive by life support treatments and suffering from an irreversible pathology should not be punished.” Well, the article comes down to the fact that one individual who had suffered horribly after an accident obtained the services of another individual identified as a campaigner for assisted suicide to get him to Switzerland in order to end his life, which he did. Charges were then brought against that campaigner or activist and he then appealed on constitutional grounds that produced the decision that was announced last week in Italy.

But something we need to note here is that underlying this story, as well as the stories on abortion, is this new, modern, absolutely radical, and ultimately unsustainable view of human autonomy or human freedom. The Times of London tells us that the individual who won this case “welcomed the constitutional court’s ruling as one that gave everyone more freedom.” Notice this use, indeed this abuse, of the category of freedom. Christians understanding freedom defined in biblical terms understand that freedom has to be grounded in the appropriate boundaries in which we are given any form of liberty. There is no justification in the Christian worldview for claiming any liberty to kill an unborn human being, much less to kill ourselves.

But here’s where we see this modern projection of an ideal of liberty untethered from human dignity, ungrounded from the doctrine of creation, unboundaried by any form of binding, natural or moral law. What we see is the twin demands not only to kill babies in the womb, but ultimately to kill ourselves. So far as I can see, no one in the international media has pointed to these stories together and said, “There just might be a basic worldview connection that unites them, that combines them, and horrifyingly so.” But even as most of the world will not see the connections, Christians operating from a biblical worldview must not miss them.

The sad bottom line in all of this is that year by year, month by month, indeed, virtually now day by day, the world becomes a far more dangerous place to human dignity in the womb or in the hospital or, for that matter, anywhere.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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