Thursday, October 17, 2019
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Thursday, October 17, 2019. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
LeBron James Missed His Shot When He Entered the Controversy Between the NBA and China: The Moral Perils of Economic Involvement
The story of the NBA and China in controversy continues, chapter after chapter, and the story is just getting worse. The latest chapter has to do with L.A. player, LeBron James, and a statement he made that apparently serves to condemn the democracy protestors in Hong Kong.
This has led to headlines such as an editorial in The Wall Street Journal, "LeBron's Hong Kong Education." The editorial begins, "Holding up sports stars as moral arbiters is usually a mistake, as the case of basketball star LeBron James and Hong Kong demonstrates. The man who lectures America on its many sins went soft this week on the People's Republic of China."
Indeed he did. The Wall Street Journal described what he did as a waddle. "We all do have freedom of speech, but at times there are ramifications for the negative that can happen when you're not thinking about others and when you're only thinking about yourself.” That was a statement made about Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, who found himself in controversy after he simply tweeted a single tweet in support of the democracy protestors in Hong Kong. This led to a massive retaliation by the Communist Party and the regime in China, demanding that Morey be fired, that the NBS offer an apology, and that the NBA and other corporations, having been put on notice, make certain that they and their employees would do nothing, absolutely nothing that would in any way offend the Chinese Communist Party.
It's been a very sad tale because it has generally been a picture of capitulation, by the leadership of the NBA and by others on behalf of the NBA. It has led to a basic understanding, perhaps for the first time on the part of the American people, that the United States and China are still very much locked into an ideological conflict with absolutely contrasting, even contradictory understandings of human dignity and of human liberty, and with the understanding that in this global economy, all the hopes that many Americans and Americans corporations had placed in business with China, they may come crashing to reality with the understanding that the only way to continue to do business with China is to sell your soul.
LeBron James may be the biggest name in basketball now living and playing, and he has huge commercial appeal and popularity in China. He has a very large endorsement contract that brings him multiple millions of dollars a year in China. Offending the Chinese might be very expensive for LeBron James. And James has found himself in controversy before, but he is used to being loved. Back in 2010, when he suddenly announced that he was leaving Cleveland for Miami, he received a pushback, a blow back that was beyond anything he had imagined, leading to his own recollection that it was a very painful episode.
But if anything, the blow back that is likely to come from this latest episode with the NBA and China, LeBron James is likely to experience long lasting damage to his brand as a spokesperson for justice and righteousness. Dan Wolken in the front page article for USA Today Sports said this, the headline was, "James Undermines Values He's Espoused for So Long." The opening paragraph got right to the point. "On behalf of the 327 million American citizens who generally believe that freedom is good and authoritarian regimes are less good, let me apologize to LeBron James of the Lakers."
He says, "It must have been a real inconvenience to take that 13-hour chartered flight to China last week and hang around a luxury hotel in Shanghai for five days while promotional appearances got canceled. Surely it was awful to be in the middle of an international firestorm when the stakes were so high: Would preseason NBA games be played or not? And to think, LeBron and his teammates were so disrupted all because Rockets general manager Daryl Morey had the temerity to send a relatively anodyne tweet supporting a protest that pretty much every one of his countrymen — whether on the left or right side of the political spectrum — would agree with over the rights Hong Kong was promised when the United Kingdom handed control of the territory over to China in 1997."
The reason for the sarcastic nature of that tone in USA Today is because James actually put out a pathetic statement, "My team and this league just went through a difficult week. I think people need to understand what a tweet or statement can do to others. And I believe nobody stopped and considered what would happen. Could have waited a week to send it."
Now the point to recognize here is that LeBron James, this explains the sarcasm, was basically saying that the NBA should be pitied and that we should sympathize with it because it has had to experience what might be a slight pause in its advancing economic interests in China. The background of that is the fact that people are now suffering oppression in Hong Kong that the Chinese Communist Party in China is breaking its promises of semi-autonomy with Hong Kong, the fact that the Chinese regime is now abusing human rights at the scale of millions, evidently in the view of LeBron James, that pales over against any interruption in the business model of the NBA.
But another important point was raised in the editorial in The Wall Street Journal, "Mr. James's remarks about Hong Kong would matter less if the Los Angeles Laker didn't hold himself up as a moral authority on America's supposed injustices. He often opines about political matters and in 2018 famously tweeted that 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.'"
The obvious question is whether or not LeBron James believes a word of what he wrote, and the editors of The Wall Street Journal, referring back to his tweet in 2018, raised as to whether including speaking for those who are suffering injustice, LeBron James meant to include "people fighting for freedom against a communist government."
At this point, intelligent Christians should step back a bit and understand that this is not just a story about LeBron James, not just about the NBA, it's not just about China. It's about the moral perils of economic involvement. Now, we have to be economically involved. To be human is in one sense to be an economic creature. Sometimes our economic lives reveal very strikingly our moral lives. We find out what we really believe when we find out what we buy, with whom we do business, how we spend our money. Christians understand that. We are economic creatures. God made us that way. The first time we commit any kind of transaction, we become economic actors with full economic responsibility. Expand that out to the global scale and understand that over the course of the last several decades, American corporations have seen China as a massive consumer and economic opportunity. And of course it is. You're talking about a nation of hundreds of millions of people with increasing wealth, that represents a massive opportunity for economic growth with consumer goods, but also other kinds of economic goods that is unprecedented. In the American market, on some commodities, the consumer market has already peaked and given the population changes in this country, there isn't an opportunity for breakout growth. That's what makes China so opportune.
But that was also cloaked in something else as official United States government policy. The United States government began to encourage trade and commerce with China decades ago, this comes especially after the visit of President Richard Nixon to China, breaking a deadlock of decades in the relationship. The United States government began to encourage that kind of commerce, believing that economic ties and increased economic liberalization would lead to increased political freedoms as well. And for a time, the United States and others around the world thought that that was exactly what is happening. But as it turns out, at a certain point, the Chinese Communist Party decided that it wanted its own state controlled form of capitalism, but not at the risk of expanded personal freedoms for the citizens there in China. Not at the expense of the unquestioned political authority and totalitarian power of the Chinese Communist Party.
And so, those dreams have largely come crashing down. And what's really interesting in this story is how hard China has pressed against the NBA. China is making very clear, even in an official statement from China Daily, making very clear that American businesses had better get the message and better get it fast. If they want to do business in China, they better toe the line and never do anything that would be even remotely offensive to the Chinese Communist Party or the market's going to be shut down.
Now thinking even further about this, Americans have to recognize we are really all complicit in this to some degree. What do I mean by that? We're deeply invested in the stock market. Our retirement accounts, our mutual funds, and we count on economic growth, which means we are looking to these companies for growth, we want to see growth in the economy, we want to see capital growth in our own accounts. And that's going to have to come from somewhere and at least some margin of it we've expected will come from China.
So we are complicit in this in that we have all basically been doing business with China. LeBron James has a personal investment through the NBA and his personal endorsements that are certainly more lucrative than the rest of Americans of all likelihood. But the reality is that in a fallen world, Christians have to recognize there is no untainted economy. That doesn't relieve us of moral responsibility. That's why we need to have this kind of conversation. But we do need to think carefully about the limits of our willingness to be involved with certain nations and certain markets and certain industries. In a fallen world, there is no pure or sinless economic position from which we deal. And we as Christians understand, that's what we expect, because there's no place you find human beings you do not find sinners who sin. But this does point to a responsibility that in a fallen world, we had better think these matters through very clearly.
That's pointing to the responsibility of the NBA. What principles are actually guiding the National Basketball Association in dealing with this issue? Does the Association have any moral limits whatsoever? If so, what exactly are they? When it comes to players and others who are quick to make moral judgments here in the United States, how is it that all of a sudden they declare themselves incapable of making moral judgments elsewhere?
The particular issue with LeBron James we need to recognize is that he blamed the general manager of the Houston Rockets for acting immorally and irresponsibly for that tweet, condemning someone who stood up for democracy and effectively citing himself as a well-paid, well-compensated spokesperson for the Chinese Communist Party. That's not the brand LeBron James wants you to think about, but that's the brand he has just created for himself in the last few days due to his statements about China.
We're back to talking about this story because it reached an entirely new and important chapter, and the reality is it's probably not the final chapter in an unfolding story that's about far more than the NBA and China.
The Battle for the Dignity of Unborn Human Life Rages On: U.S. Appellate Court Blocks Ohio’s Ban on Abortion of Babies with Down Syndrome
Turning back to the United States, I want to look at the issue of abortion as revealed in several headlines. Number one, Reuters reports a story telling us that the Ohio ban on down syndrome abortion has been blocked by a U.S. Appeals Court. That ominous headline is telling us the truth. It's reported out on October 12th, telling us that a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the United States has struck down, at least for now, a legal restriction on abortion for the reason of diagnosis of Down syndrome in the state of Ohio.
The interesting thing about the decision that was handed by the Circuit is that it sets the precedent of saying that there must be absolutely no interference with a woman's right to abortion in the first trimester, period. That goes back to the fact that when we talk about abortion on demand, effectively legalized by the Supreme Court in the infamous 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, what we're really talking about is that it authorized abortion for any reason or for no reason.
Just consider where we are as a country right now. This was an Appellate Court of the Circuit of the United States. That is the level of courts just under the Supreme Court of the United States. And it said that it is unconstitutional even to say, as the state of Ohio has set in law, that it is illegal to kill an unborn child simply because that child has been diagnosed with Down syndrome.
Notice that we have conflicting moral issues here. One is the absolute evil of destroying an unborn child, period. The other is the unmitigated evil of destroying an unborn child simply because that child does not meet our genetic qualifications, in this case a diagnosis of Down syndrome.
And then on the other side, you have the moral imperative as affirmed by this court, and by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade, that it is immoral, wrong, unconstitutional to impede any woman from killing any baby in the first trimester of pregnancy. Those are conflicting, contradictory moral claims. And it lays bare the real divide in the United States, the divide between those who think it's just fine if you're going to kill an unborn child because it's diagnosed with Down syndrome, because if in any way you limited or made illegal or even questioned a woman's right to do so, then you're violating the great moral imperative, which is access to abortion.
Now notice that some of the very same people who are saying that's in the first trimester, they are also the people who in states like New York can press for virtually the very same right to abort or to kill a baby all the way up until the moment of birth. Not just in the first trimester, but in the second and all the way through the third.
One of the most frightening developments in modern America is that even as there have been pro-life gains, legislative gains such as this law in Ohio, the reality is that as a federal government, we are still largely a regime of abortion rights. It is extremely important that state by state, especially in light of recent Supreme Court decisions over the last several decades, that state by state, states take responsibility to defend unborn human life. But we need to recognize that even as that is where most pro-life victories have been won over the last several decades, the reality is that every one of those victories is put at risk by a federal court.
It should be shocking, devastating to Americans to recognize we're the kind of country, we, after all, were just talking about the abuses of human rights under the Communist Party in China, but we're the kind of country that will not, by federal court decree, even allow a law denying abortion to a woman seeking to abort simply because her baby has been diagnosed with Down syndrome.
2020 Democratic Candidates Won’t Say “Abortion”: The Democratic Plan to Codify Roe v. Wade Becomes Clear on Debate Stage
At the national level, it's really important recognize the increasing depth of the divide, and the intensity of the conflict in this country over an issue as basic as the sanctity of unborn human life. Just consider the Democratic candidate debate that took place on Tuesday night and the fact that no less than eight times the issue of abortion was addressed to one of the candidates. And every single time, all of the candidates addressed with the question about abortion, that was eight out of twelve, they all uniformly defended the most extreme abortion rights imaginable.
Again, that's the new orthodoxy of the Democratic Party. As we have seen on the sexuality issues, even compromising religious liberty, what we see is the fact that that party has decided that abortion is, if anything, its cardinal first doctrine.
Mother Jones, a left leaning journal, responded to the debate with an article by Becca Andrews that begins this way, "When the moderators at the Democratic debate Tuesday night finally asked about abortion, many of the candidates were ready with a simple plan. Congress, they argued, should pass legislation codifying the right to an abortion established in Roe v. Wade — a move that could take the matter out of the hands of the Supreme Court and Republican state legislatures altogether. Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, Julián Castro, and Elizabeth Warren all embraced versions of the idea. Booker, Warren, and Kirsten Gillibrand, who has since exited the race, were among the first to adopt such a plan earlier this year. Of course," said the magazine, "the president wouldn't be able to do all of this alone; the idea would almost certainly require Democratic majorities — perhaps large ones — in Congress."
So, let's just take a step back and understand what we're looking at here. Why isn't abortion on demand already the law of the land by act of Congress? The answer to that is simple, there is no way such legislation could ever have gotten through Congress with the necessary 60 votes in the Senate at any time from Roe v. Wade to the present. That is why abortion rights activists went to the courts in the late 1960s, and especially up to Roe v. Wade in 1973. They looked to the courts for a victory they could not possibly gain by democratic means in the Congress.
And that's exactly what they accomplished. But now, their cherished Roe v. Wade decision is at risk with the current composition of the Supreme Court, and also increased pro-life victories at the states, setting up cases that will certainly get to the Supreme Court. And so you now see the Democratic candidates saying, "Maybe we need Congress to effectively legislate the abortion rights in Roe v. Wade, so that if the court were to reverse the decision, it wouldn't matter."
Here's the point, if they could've done that in the 1960s, they would have. If they could have done it in the 1973, they would have. But they couldn't and they didn't, and thus, the Supreme Court of the United States usurped the democratic process and declared it out of a total of nine justices voting, rather than having the matter legislated by Congress. Now and only now in their panic about a possible reversal of Roe v. Wade are they looking to go back to Congress. But that will take, as the report indicates, a super majority in the United States Senate. Unless, of course, there's a Democratic majority that votes to remove the filibuster rule, and thus would allow that majority to push through any legislation, basically with as few as 51 votes.
Then looking also at the debate on Tuesday night, The Atlantic ran an article by Shannon Stapleton, pointing out that one of the most interesting and revealing aspects of that debate is that the Democratic candidates, eight of the twelve, were asked questions about abortion but they didn't want to use the word “abortion.” That is a very telling development. They want to support abortion, they want to demand abortion, they want to do everything to legislate abortion and to continue to have judges that will support abortion, but they don't want to use the word “abortion.”
Shannon Stapleton writes, "Twelve candidates were onstage last night, and of the eight who were asked a direct question about abortion, six avoided using the word, preferring euphemisms such as 'reproductive rights' or 'a woman's right to choose.' The question went down the line: As president, how would you, Kamala Harris, stop recent state laws that have banned abortion after six or eight weeks of pregnancy? How would you do it, Amy Klobuchar? How would you do it, Cory Booker?”
"Their answers were largely the same: They will pass laws that protect the right to abortion, above and beyond the principles the Supreme Court laid out in Roe v. Wade. They will intervene in southern states. They will push back against President Donald Trump's anti-abortion policies. They will, in other words, act as steadfast defenders of abortion rights. They just can't, or won't, use the word ‘abortion.’"
In worldview analysis, that's extremely telling. They don't want to use the word “abortion.” Why? Because everybody knows what abortion is. You are demonstrating the moral evil of your case when you refuse to use the word of that which you are trying to argue. If you can't use the word with a straight face, that reveals the fact that you are making an immoral argument.
That's exactly what goes on with abortion. That's why the pro-abortion movement has been trying for years to do two simultaneous things. Number one, to remove what they call the stigma of abortion. But they can't remove the stigma of abortion, they can't remove the moral horror of killing an unborn human being. Why can't they do it? It is because God has implanted within human consciousness, as human beings are made in his image, a moral knowledge that cries out, "That is wrong!"
And you also have simultaneously the effort to shift to euphemisms amongst pro-abortion advocates. They have tried to talk about reproductive health, a woman's right to choose, you go down the list. But what they are talking about is killing unborn babies in the womb, and at least the moderators were willing to use the word “abortion,” even if the candidates were not.
But then that takes us back to the states. We are looking at the fact that even as you look in the 1960s and '70s, in politics in general, and legislation in general, a federal pattern emerged of the states as the laboratories of democracy. The federal government has not been very creative when it comes to legislation for decades. We've had a basic legislative breakdown in both houses of Congress.
Congress has found it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for decades to adopt any major legislation. That's why there has been such a shift of authority to the courts, that is why there has been such a shift of power to executive decisions handed down by presidents of the United States.
But, what you're looking at in this case is the fact that the laboratories of democracy of the states, they've been far more creative in taxation policy, far more creative in other forms of legislation and economic policy. They've been far more innovative, even on many social welfare and entitlement programs. But here's the other issue, the states, at least some of the states, have been far more active in protecting the rights of unborn children.
You'll notice that some of the Democratic candidates at the debate on Tuesday night made very clear that they would seek to undo what has been accomplished in so-called southern states. But that's not really honest. Consider the fact that significant pro-life legislation has been passed in states such as Ohio and Indiana, and elsewhere.
It is, however, a largely southern phenomenon, and that goes back to the electoral map in the United States between red and blue states and understanding that the sanctity of human life tends to be tied, no coincidence here Christians, it tends to be tied to a more explicitly Christian worldview, higher rates of religious participation. No surprise there, but there's a reason why the Bible Belt is also the pro-life belt.
The Defense of Life Defines the Race: Absolute Contrast In Election Battle for Kentucky Governor
And that brings us to the state of Kentucky, which in November will have a gubernatorial election. Governor Matt Bevin, Republican, is up for re-election for a second term and he's running against, Andy Beshear, the current Attorney General, a Democrat. And the face off is going to tell us a great deal not only about where Kentucky stands in 2019, but where America is in a far larger context.
The showdown between Bevin and Beshear is indeed a showdown of titanic personalities. But what we need to recognize is that on this particular issue, it is a genuine face off of two absolutely contrasting worldviews, just on the issue of abortion. The bottom line, as we shall see, is that Governor Matt Bevin has handed down executive orders and signed legislation at every opportunity presented to him in defense of the sanctity of human life. To put it another way, it's hard to imagine a bill defending the life of the unborn that Governor Matt Bevin would not sign.
But the contrast is immediately obvious, it is also nearly impossible to imagine a law that would in any way curtail abortion and the killing of the unborn that a Governor Andy Beshear would sign. You're looking at two absolutely contradictory positions.
This isn't just a matter of an isolated debate or an isolated political issue. Andy Beshear clearly has his eyes on a future in the Democratic Party nationally, and that means that he has hedged his bets in such a way that he wants to make certain that he supports what will at least keep open a viability for himself beyond even the state of Kentucky.
Kentucky as a state is rather conservative. It is majority pro-life. He is running for governor, but he has been taking money from pro-abortion sources. He's even had a fundraiser in the home of an abortion clinic owner. He's made no secret of the fact that he has accepted overt support from some of the most pro-abortion organizations in America at the national level. But then he accuses Governor Bevin of nationalizing the election. What does he mean by that? He means that Governor Bevin has pointed out that Andy Beshear is indeed representative of the national Democratic Party and its worldview.
But in contrast, the same is true. Governor Bevin is largely representative of the emerging Republican identity in the United States. What does that tell us? It tells us that very few elections these days are not nationalized elections. When you look at the great worldview divide in the United States, the worldview divide between the two major political parties, it used to be the case that to be a Democrat in Pennsylvania meant that you were still likely to be pro-life. No more. When you're looking at the Democratic Party today, to have any kind of identity in the Democratic Party nationally, you had better make certain that you're pro-abortion bona fides are clear.
Likewise, since the 1980s, the Republican Party has become increasingly pro-life. A part of that is the outflow of the logic of the pro-life position. But the other part of this is the fact that over subsequent elections, the more pro-life candidate on the Republican side has gained victory over the less pro-life candidate in the same party ticket. The primary process has helped to shift the Republican Party into an even more consistent pro-life position.
One of the dangers in our system of government is that in something like a gubernatorial election, especially in an off year as Kentucky has in 2019, many Christians in Kentucky will say, "There is nothing basically at stake for me in this election, I don't have to get out and vote." But here is where we are reminded on this issue, even if we consider this one issue alone, this election, like other elections, comes down to a matter of life and death when it comes to the unborn. There's no other way around it.
When you consider there are other issues at stake, fiscal issues, economic issues that certainly separate these two candidates, the thing we have to keep in mind is that the defense of unborn life, and all the issues that that entails, also separate these two candidates.
An election is never merely an election. It's not just one candidate over another. It's one vision of life and reality versus another. Kentuckians better keep that in mind as we head to the polls in just a few days in November.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.