Monday, October 14, 2019

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

It’s Monday, October 14, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

The Cultural Left Bares Its Teeth: No Tax Exemption, Even for Churches that Resist the Sexual Revolution

CNN’s Equality Town Hall held last Thursday night was indeed an earthquake. It was an earthquake morally, politically, and culturally. You might say that finally the teeth were absolutely bared.

It came in an exchange, first of all, between Don Lemon and Beto O’Rourke, the former candidate for Texas Senator, and current candidate for President of the United States and the Democratic nomination. Lemon asked him, “This is from your LGBTQ plan, this is what you wrote, ‘Freedom of religion is a fundamental right, but it should not be used to discriminate.'” Lemon then pressed the question, “Do you think religious institutions like colleges, churches, charities, should they lose their tax exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage?”

Without skipping a beat or even drawing a breath, Beto O’Rourke answered, “Yes.” And after that yes came momentous applause from the studio audience. He went on to say, “There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for anyone or any institution, any organization in America that denies the full human rights and the full civil rights of every single one of us. So as President,” he said, “we’re going to make that a priority and we’re going to stop those who are infringing upon the human rights of our fellow Americans.”

This particular issue is what we might call the neutron bomb of American politics, and the most explosive issue that we are facing in the collision between religious liberty and the newly declared sexual liberties. Many of us have in print and in voice been making the case for a long time that this was the position undertaken by the secular left, but it’s increasingly clear that it is the position of the Democratic Party.

There was just one candidate who used these exact words on Thursday night, but as we shall see in the course of this discussion, the movement on this issue is now such that it is virtually impossible that any one of the major contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination or even a major leader in the Democratic Party will be able or even willing to walk this back, even a millimeter.

As I said, we have seen this coming. In the oral arguments for the Obergefell Decision that eventually legalized same-sex marriage, the then Solicitor General of the United States, Donald Verrilli, representing the Obama administration, was asked both by the Chief Justice and by Justice Samuel Alito if there would be a collision between religious liberty and the new liberty of same-sex marriage. And Donald Verrilli answering the question as to whether, for example, a Christian college or university might be in trouble if it discriminate on the basis of say same-sex marriage or gender identity, he said infamously, “It will be an issue.”

Well, that will was a future tense. But what happened on Thursday night was a present tense. It was a clear and present threat from a leading contender for the Democratic nomination that he intends not only to strip religious organizations that hold what he considers to be the wrong view on marriage of their tax exempt status, but Don Lemon asked the question in a far broader way. He actually used the word “churches.” And without, again, skipping a beat, Beto O’Rourke went ahead and said yes. An unconditional yes.

Shortly after this took place, Beto O’Rourke then tweeted his own statement, very proud of it, making very clear he wasn’t going to walk it back. About 24 hours later he did appear, according to the press, to walk it back slightly when he said he wasn’t really talking about religious institutions and churches simply on the basis of their beliefs, but rather on any discriminatory actions.

But the press gave him far too much credit for saying that was walking it back at all, because in reality that is where the collision is taking place. It comes down to the question as to whether or not a Christian institution, a Christian school, or for that matter now a Christian congregation, can act according to its own convictions. Action, in this case, could be for a congregation as simple as deciding who is and who is not a member of the church.

We’re not just talking here about some kind of possible hypothetical future collision between religious liberty and the new sexual liberty. We saw the collision take place on the stage of the CNN Equality Town Hall. And what I want us to see is that we actually saw that collision taking place over and over again, just with different words and, we might say, with different degrees of honesty.

Part II

A Parade of Intolerance in the Name of Tolerance: A Candidate by Candidate Breakdown of the CNN Town Hall

The CNN Equality Town Hall had one candidate at a time in about 30 minute segments, which meant the entire event lasted hours on Thursday night. And we’ll just take in turn those who appeared on the platform as contenders for the Democratic nomination.

First up, Cory Booker, United States Senator from New Jersey. He was asked a question in which the background was what was claimed to be discrimination on the part of a Catholic High School in Bergen County, New Jersey. He was then asked, “How would you address the at times juxtaposing issues of religious freedom and LGBTQ rights?”

Senator Booker responded, “It’s a great question and thank you very much. Look, this is something I’ve been dealing with all my life.” He then cited the prophet, Micah, but then he went on to say, “And so for me, I cannot allow as a leader that people are going to use religion as a justification for discrimination.”

Now, what you need to note is that with those words, Senator Book said effectively the very same thing as Beto O’Rourke, but the press largely let him get away with it. He continued, making his point clear, “I can respect your religious freedoms, but also protect people from discrimination.” That means that he’s all for religious freedom until it actually means anything.

Almost immediately thereafter, he called for the passage of The Equality Act, that is an act that has been passed already by the Democratic majority in the House that would effectively do exactly what Cory Booker and Beto O’Rourke have called for, it would end all discrimination on the basis of LGBTQ, and at this point without any adequate provision for religious liberty.

This is an affirmation that came up again and again and again. Effectively by supporting The Equality Act, they are supporting the very same argument, just without the candor and honesty of Beto O’Rourke.

Later, CNN’s Dana Bash asked the Senator directly, “Do you think that religious education institutions should lose their tax exempt status if they oppose LGBTQ rights?” And the Senator responded, “We must stand up as a nation to say that religion cannot be an excuse to deny people health insurance, education, or more.” Again, what we need to note is that by including education and more, Senator Booker was effectively say, “Yes, I would deny Christian institutions that operate by Christian biblical principles tax exempt status.”

He went on to say that he would assert the laws. But then he was pressed, “So would they lose their tax exempt status?” Senator Booker responded, “Again, I, I will press this issue, and I’m not, I’m not saying because I know this is a long legal battle, and I’m not dodging your question, I’m saying that fundamentally that discrimination is discrimination.”

Well, he did appear to be at least squirming on the issue, not wanting to say out loud what he eventually said if you put the picture together. He went on to say, even in that statement, quite clearly discrimination is discrimination. Which means, religious conviction has no argument whatsoever.

Next up was Joe Biden, the former Vice President of the United States. He was asked questions by Anderson Cooper of CNN. And he went on to say that all the Democratic candidates were basically united. He said, “And by the way, I suspect Anderson, this is going to be one forum where you’re going to get very little disagreement among the Democratic candidates. I’m proud of the position they all have,” he said, “because every one of us, if there is differences, they are just in degree and emotional concern.”

Now, it’s hard to know exactly what Joe Biden meant by that, but it appears to be at least in part a way of trying to catch himself up with the developing left wing of his own party, which threatens very clearly to leave him behind, which is a tremendous frustration to Joe Biden. Which is why, for example, he went back to his childhood once again and explained that he never really had any discriminatory feelings towards homosexuals or others in the LGBTQ spectrum, because as a very young boy he was with his father who saw two men kiss and his father just basically said it’s another form of love.

Now, just put a footnote on that, as if we’re actually supposed to believe it happened, something similar, as we shall see, was claimed by Elizabeth Warren, but the other thing to note is that Joe Biden is now claiming that he was way, way ahead of the curve on same-sex marriage, that he didn’t have to evolve, unlike some other Democrats. But the first reference by Joe Biden affirmative of same-sex marriage was in the year 2012. That’s in our own decade.

That was the very same year when the Obama-Biden ticket was running for re-election that Barack Obama changed his position. He had been for same-sex marriage when he was a state legislator in Illinois. He was against it when he ran for the Senate. He was against it when he ran for President in 2008. But then miraculously, he himself evolved again and he was for it in 2012. But Joe Biden wants us to know he was for it at least a few months before Barack Obama.

Next up was Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, the only out of the closet openly gay candidate. He’s also the only candidate married to an individual of the same sex.

Just a few hours before the Town Hall, the Buttigieg campaign released an entire platform on LGBTQ issues entitled, “Becoming Whole: A New Era for LGBTQ+ Americans.” No kidding, it is 18 pages long. It includes a laundry list of just about every goal of the LGBTQ movement, but it also includes a couple of interesting little things such as, “Expand the representation of LGBTQ people and history in our national park system.” No one can accuse Mayor Buttigieg of leaving anything out.

In the Town Hall, Anderson Cooper asked him about religious liberty. He said, “Religious liberty is an important principle in this country and we honor that. It’s also the case that any freedom that we honor in this country has limits when it comes to harming other people. We say that the right to free speech does not include the right to yell fire in a crowded theater.” He went on to say, “And the right to religious freedom ends where religion is being used as an excuse to harm other people.”

Now, remember the definition of harm that is being used here. Harm means any kind of policy that in any way is seen as discriminating against LGBTQ+ people. And of course, that would include a Christian college that would require its faculty to hold to certain doctrinal convictions and would require faculty and students to live by a certain biblical moral code.

But Mayor Buttigieg has also tried to present himself as the new icon of the theological left in the United States, and that means that Anderson Cooper decided to ask him an openly theological question. He asked him, “Is being gay a sin?” Buttigieg responded, “I don’t believe it is. I also get that people reach their own understandings of their own faith. I guess where I try to reach people is that, can we at least agree that whatever faith tradition or commitment they have agrees with mine, that we are called to compassion? That we are called to seek out in one another what is best? And that we are supposed to protect those who are vulnerable?”

Notice what he does here, he makes up his own theology. He makes up his own religion. He is asked about sin, but even as he claims a Christian identity, he doesn’t even make an argument that is remotely Christian, not mention biblical. He just answers the question that homosexuality is not a sin, because of course he doesn’t want it to be a sin. He simply ignores the Bible and a biblical definition of sin all together.

Next up was Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. She was asked questions by CNN’s Chris Cuomo. He asked her how she would respond if a supporter were to approach her and say, “Senator, I’m old fashioned and my faith teaches me that marriage is between one man and one woman. What is your response?”

Senator Warren then responded with a condescending putdown that was widely celebrated in the press and clearly loved by the audience. She said, “Well, I’m going to assume it’s a guy who said that, and I’m going to say, ‘Then just marry one woman. I’m cool with that.'”

But even then, as loud applause broke out in the Town Hall audience, she then went on condescendingly to add, “Assuming you can find one.” And then, of course, there was laughter. And of course, everyone seemed to enjoy it. But what does that mean? It means that the single candidate right now that by an average of polls is actually the front runner condescendingly said to Americans, “If you don’t hold the view I hold on same-sex marriage, you’re not even worthy of anyone marrying you.”

It should tell us a very great deal that that is now an applause line with millions and millions of Americans. If you are not in support of same-sex marriage, which after all has been around legally in the United States for four years, then you are so backward that you don’t even deserve to be married yourself. No one should want to marry you.

Next up was California Senator, Kamala Harris, also asked questions by Chris Cuomo. And, once again, we had an explosive development in the Town Hall that went viral in social media.

Senator Harris walked out and identified herself by pronouns she, her, and hers. Cuomo, attempting apparently to make a joke, simply said, “Mine too,” with a quizzical look on his face. Harris responded, “All right.” But for the next several days, continuing even unto the present, Chris Cuomo is trying to get over a gaffe that just might cost him any kind of influence on the left, and he’s been working on that influence for years now.

The son of a famously liberal governor of New York, and now the brother of a famously liberal governor of New York, Chris Cuomo comes from a family, and he also operates in a social circle, where he should have known the trouble he was getting himself into by trying to make a joke with pronouns.

Just keep in mind that on The Briefing days ago, we talked about a medical doctor in the United Kingdom who lost his job for such a problem with pronouns. We have a teacher in the United States, as we shall see later, who is also in big trouble because of pronouns. Why should Chris Cuomo get a pass when others don’t get a pass? Well, it is because he is demonstrating the art of the grovel.

Kamala Harris, like all the candidates before her, made very clear that one of her top priorities would be the passage of The Equality Act.

Beto O’Rourke was up next, but given the importance of his exchange, we’re going to come back to it in just a moment. But after O’Rourke came Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who is often identified, like Joe Biden, as something of a moderate within the spectrum of the current contenders for the Democratic nomination.

But that’s one of those issues we have to look at a little more closely. She is not a moderate in any legitimate sense, except perhaps her personality. Senator Klobuchar was very clear in her engagement at the CNN Town Hall that she was avidly for LGBTQ rights. Her first priority, like the others, would be passing The Equality Act, and that means that she is in the very same position as all the rest, effectively ready to deny rights of conscience to Christians, to Christian business people, and even to Christian institutions and schools, and all of that is simply packaged in a very friendly approach which smiles all the way to taking away your religious liberty.

Just in case we misunderstood her determination, she answered one question with these words, “First of all, our Constitution, as you know, has been founded on a separation of church and state, and we can have different faiths in this country, but the law rules. And the law rules when it comes to discrimination and all kinds of other things. I can just tell you that I will appoint Supreme Court Justices that understand that. That’s number one.” Case closed. She’s on the record.

But something else came up in the exchange with Senator Klobuchar, and that is that in the view of many of the Democrats, there is good religion and bad religion. Good religion is liberal religion, quite at peace with the LGBTQ revolution. Klobuchar identified with it personally, even identifying the church as First Church, a United Church of Christ congregation. She said, “And so that is the faith that I raise my daughter in and that I grew up in the last few years.”

Don Lemon then asked the question, “So on that subject, should the federal government give funding to any religious non-profit organizations that oppose same-sex marriage? For example, an adoption agency that won’t work with LGBTQ parents?” She immediately said, “Yeah. I think that you’ve got to have agencies that follow the law, and that’s one of the reasons that I want to pass The Equality Act, I think that’s really important.” Big point? Even Senator Klobuchar, often identified as a moderate, holds essentially to the very position as Beto O’Rourke.

Former Cabinet member, Julián Castro, also basically revealed the good religion, bad religion dichotomy now held virtually as the orthodoxy of the Democratic Party. He himself identified as a Roman Catholic and seemed to indicate that there are plenty of Roman Catholics who agree with the LGBTQ revolution. But what he didn’t mention is that that flies in the face of the official doctrine and teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. Once again, that appears not to be an issue at all. That’s bad religion. The official teachings of the church, bad religion, would be any kind of religious conviction that isn’t in line with the LGBTQ revolution and the entire spectrum of issues now connected with identity politics and personal autonomy.

The final figure on the stage was Tom Steyer, a billionaire candidate who was really making his first major appearance on such a platform as a Democratic candidate. The interesting thing about what he had to offer was what he identified as a vast generational shift in the American public. So much so that he basically said to the LGBTQ movement, “Don’t worry, everything is going your way. It’s a matter of generational inevitability.”

He even talked about the possibility of forcing political change on these issues by term limiting members of Congress and United States Senators. He openly said, if they are replaced by younger people, they area almost assuredly going to be in agreement with you.

Part III

Beto O’Rourke Just Said Loudly What the Others on Stage Just Said More Quietly: An Open Threat to Churches and Christians Who Hold to Biblical Conviction

But coming back to Beto O’Rourke, if anything we should acknowledge his candor in answering the question as he did. Ready with the simple word, “Yes,” to strip even churches and religious institutions of their tax exempt status. We need to remember that the first Chief Justice of the United States made very clear that the power to tax is the power to destroy. That’s really what’s at stake here.

And furthermore, you have the insinuation on the part of O’Rourke that a tax exemption is some kind of privilege extended to churches and to Christian or religious institutions by a government that otherwise would have every right to charge them taxes.

That’s a complete misunderstanding of the American Constitutional order, but it’s really interesting to see that there were some who were extremely troubled by Beto O’Rourke’s statement. Not so much on the part of many that he didn’t say what they themselves believe, but that they recognized he let the cat out of the bag.

Michael McGough, senior editorial writer for The Las Angeles times, ran a piece with the headline, “Beto O’Rourke’s ‘church tax’ idea plays into conservative paranoia about same-sex marriage.” Here’s the interesting thing, conservative evangelicals are here identified as paranoid because — oh I don’t know — we actually listen to the words spoken by those who are in leadership in government, and the Democratic Party in particular, and those who are running for President now considered to be contenders to the extent that they were invited to this CNN Town Hall. If that’s paranoia, it’s also called reality. The interesting thing is that reality here is described as paranoia.

The LA Times article recognizes, “So it would seem from O’Rourke’s answer on CNN that if he had his way, the Catholic Church would lose its tax exempt status unless it changed its teachings about marriage.” But then after talking about the slight qualification that the O’Rourke campaign made, the writer for the LA Times goes on to say, “The idea that the legalization of same-sex marriage would lead to curtailment of religious freedom has long been floated by conservatives.”

Well let’s just remind ourselves, it wasn’t just floated by conservatives, it was threatened by the Solicitor General of the United States when asked the question before the Supreme Court of the United States. Let’s remember the article by Harvard law professor, Mark Tushnet, in which he made the case, “The culture wars are over. They lost, we won.”

He then went on to argue, “For liberals, the question now is how to deal with the losers in the culture wars. That’s mostly,” he said, “a question of tactics. My own judgment is that taking the hard line, you lost, live with it, is better than trying to accommodate the losers who remember defended and are defending positions the liberals regard as having no normative pull at all.” He went on to say, “And taking a hard line seemed to work reasonably well in Germany and Japan after 1945.”

So here is the William Nelson Cromwell professor of law at the Harvard Law School saying that conservative Christians, traditional Roman Catholics, Orthodox Jews, and Muslims who can’t join the sexual revolution should be treated as defeated foes, just like Germany and Japan after World War II. That’s not paranoia, that’s reading from his own article.

But the Todd J. Gillman of The Dallas Morning News points to the fact that the day after the Town Hall, Beto O’Rourke offered a very slight qualification, saying that he was referring to religious institutions that take discriminatory action, again now we need to note that just means living out what we actually believe. But then a spokesperson for his campaign said, “Of course, Beto was referring to religious institutions who take discriminatory action. The extreme right,” said the spokesperson, “is distorting this for their own agenda.” The Dallas Morning News then indicates a profile of courage when the staffer “asked not to be identified by name.”

Gillman later said, “O’Rourke’s stance invited accusations from the right that in his drive for tolerance he would punish religious groups that disagree with him, and is therefore pushing intolerance.” Again, that is not some kind of extrapolation from his words, those were his words.

Gillman later wrote, “The outpouring from gay rights activists was enthusiastic, though some commentators warned that O’Rourke is only feeding into the suspicion some conservative Christians hold toward Democrats and their sense of persecution.”

It’s at this point I want to issue what I consider to be the most important challenge imaginable. If this is not the position of the other contenders for the Democratic nomination, then I dare them to say so. Even one. I can almost promise you ahead of time, not one of them will walk back O’Rourke’s position to the slightest degree. They may use different language, they may try to be a little bit more evasive, but the position they will hold to because they have to keep the attention of the Democratic left, it’s going to be the very same position.

And as we’re thinking about how these kinds of moral revolutions work, and this one literally hit warp speed, we need to remind ourselves that Beto O’Rourke ran for the United States Senate as the Democratic nominee against Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz just not even two years ago in 2018. But at that point, he ran with a very different personality. He ran on an extremely different platform. And at least to the credit of The Dallas Morning News, the local newspaper has noticed.

A Dallas Morning News editorial the day after the Town Hall said, “Beto embraces divisions by wanting to tax religious organizations over gay marriage,” and continued, “The presidential candidate is running a different campaign than the Senate candidate.”

The editors wrote, “When Beto O’Rourke ran for Senate last year, he presented himself as someone who could reach across the political divide and work with those he disagrees with. Now, as he runs for President this year, Candidate Beto is embracing the politics of sharp divisions.”

Just days ago he said that yes, he is coming for automatic weapons to be confiscated by the government, and now he says no tax exemptions for even religious organizations and churches that don’t toe the line on the LGBTQ revolution.

We can’t truly read the heart of any other individual, that’s a part of the human predicament. But we can hear and read their words. And in this case, in the span of just a matter of months, we have not one Beto O’Rourke, but two. And even if we can’t read his heart, we can read what this says about American culture, about the changing landscape around us, and about the radicalization of the Democratic Party.

Just go back about 12 years in your imagination. 12 years, the blink of an eye in human history. Go back 12 years and Barack Obama is running for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States, and he wants to be on the record as not supporting the legalization of same-sex marriage, just 12 years ago.

The massive revolution in morality, especially on matters of marriage and sexuality and gender, has been so fast and its ramifications so wide that if you just consider the Town Hall that took place on Thursday night, it appears that Senator Elizabeth Warren insinuated that Barack Obama in 2008 didn’t even deserve to have a spouse.

And now, Beto O’Rourke actually accompanied by virtually every one of the candidates there on the stage says you don’t deserve to have any voice in this society either. And just to make that point, we will use the coercive power of government to silence you.

All of that on just one cable network on a single, albeit very long, night. But it was a night that American Christians had better mark on the calendar for a very long time.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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