briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, November 4, 2019

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

It’s Monday, November 4, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Can Christian Foster Care and Adoption Agencies Actually Be Christian? The Sexual Revolutionaries Demand Total Surrender

When most people think of the intersection, the collision, of religious liberty and the new sexual revolution, they most often think of college and university campuses, or of Christian schools, from which so many of the headline stories have come, but we also need to recognize that other vital Christian interests and ministries are also right in the center point of this intersection and right in direct fire of this collision.

This was made clear in an article that appeared in yesterday’s edition of The New York Times. The reporter: Derrick Bryson Taylor. The headline: “Proposed Rule Could Deny LGBT People An Adoption.” The story begins, “A proposed rule by the Trump administration would allow foster care and adoption agencies to deny their services to LGBT families on faith-based grounds.”

As Taylor goes on to report, “The proposal would have enormous effects and touch the lives of a large number of people, that according to Denise Brogan-Kator, who is Chief Policy Officer at Family Equality, identified as an advocacy organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender families. The policy change by the Trump administration, it comes down to the fact that the Department of Health and Human Services would offer a proposed rule, it was released last Friday, and in effect, it rolls back a decision by the Obama administration, a rule that was handed down in 2017.” And, as the Times says, that Obama era policy “included sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes.” In other words, the Obama administration requirement meant that agencies that had anything to do with the federal government or with federal agencies that were involved in foster care or in adoption, they could not discriminate on the basis of LGBT identity relationships or behaviors.

The important thing here to recognize is that that language needs to be turned around and Christians need to learn how to reverse the language. This means that Christian organizations, some of the most venerable, and frankly, some of the largest of these organizations in American history would have to deny and compromise their own convictions, and they did have to do so, at least under the Obama administration’s policy.

The Trump administration policy announced on Friday, would reverse that and reverse the situation to the reality prior to 2016, but you can understand why this is now going to be a flashpoint in America’s cultural controversy because after all, we are talking about something that really does stand in the center of the firing line here. We’re talking about foster care. We’re talking about adoption. That means we are talking about parenthood, and parenthood has been legally redefined largely by action of the Supreme Court of the United States in the 2015 Obergefell decision, legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states. We are seeing that working out of the logic of that lamentable Supreme Court decision.

The Supreme Court of the United States decided to turn nature and the entire natural order on its head. It decided effectively to continue its line of argument, separating procreation from marriage, and now even procreation from sex. The destabilization of the entire society by destabilizing and decentralizing natural marriage and the natural family, this has led to the fact that now, religious liberty is on the line.

Now, just consider the fact that so many of these historic foster care and adoption agencies were begun when the government wasn’t at all even involved in this process. Christian ministries, they emerged largely as the answer to a vacuum, the need of children, many of them, especially in the previous centuries, genuinely orphans. You had orphanages, orphan houses, you eventually had adoption agencies, and a culture of adoption, which emerged in the Christian Church in a unique way, largely because of the picture of our own salvation presented in the New Testament as adoption. Looking at adoption worldwide, you find uniquely high rates of adoption in countries, where the civilizational values have been forged within the crucible of Christianity. That is to say that Christianity uniquely has contributed to and motivated foster care and adoption services for children, and thus, when you look at the United States, so many of these agencies, not only historically were established by Christians, but even now, are undertaken by Christian boards, and ministries, and agencies.

The New York Times article in yesterday’s edition points to the fact that this is going to be a court action. You can almost assuredly count on that. The Trump administration’s proposed rule, it has to be posted for 30 days. After that, it is considered permanent. But there could be no doubt that LGBT activist groups are going to take this into the courts, where it is likely to be debated and almost certainly will one day appear before the United States Supreme Court, but of course, all of that can be circumvented by the election of a Democratic president in 2020, who would effectively reverse the Trump administration’s rule. And that would mean that there would be no need for that kind of court action.

But that’s not the only issue that Christians have to confront here. That’s made clear in a recent cover story in World Magazine, the article is entitled “Giving Up: Bethany Christian Services Quietly Surrenders as Others Go to Court for Religious Liberty in Foster Care.” This has to do with the fact that the religious liberty issue is very much front and center, state-by-state, and these are outside the reach of the regulations that are affected by the Trump administration’s federal policy.

The article is by Jamie Dean and World Magazine, and it takes us to various dates, but first, to Michigan. Jamie Dean begins by telling us that some 13,000 children are currently in Michigan’s foster care system, and nearly 300 of those children are eligible for adoption. But she goes on to tell us, “Finding homes isn’t always easy, and state and local governments often contract with private agencies, including Christian groups to recruit foster care families. More than 400,000 children are in the foster care system in the United States.”

Well, we are told about one couple who met their children through a Catholic agency, that St. Vincent’s Catholic Charities, but we’re also told that Bethany Christian Services, an organization identified as evangelical, operating in 35 states also facilitates foster care for more than 1,000 children in Michigan, but here comes the bottom line: “But earlier this year, the Christian groups faced a government ultimatum, except applications from same-sex couples for foster care and foster care adoption, or lose the legal right to conduct foster care in Michigan.” The World Magazine report then summarizes, “The Catholic group refused, Bethany complied.”

That really is a very big story. Bethany Christian services does indeed operate in a majority of states, 35 states, and in at least some of these states, we now know, as this investigative report makes clear, that Bethany had already reached arrangements, whereby it retreated from its historic definition of marriage as and only as the union of a man and a woman. And it did so, as officials with Bethany Christian Services made clear, in order to continue its ministries of foster care and adoption in those affected states.

As World reports, “Bethany’s decision to give in to government demands drew national attention. The Christian group is one of the largest adoption agencies in the country and has been well-known among evangelicals for decades, particularly for its work in private adoptions. That work has grown to include foster care in a handful of states and services for refugees and migrants in others,” but the most important issue for Christians to consider here procedurally is the fact that a precedent has now been set. Bethany Christian services has accommodated to these demands not only in the State of Michigan and furthermore in the Philadelphia area, but also in the states of California and Maryland, and that had happened even before most evangelicals knew it.

There can be no doubt that there is a very strong Christian imperative, a gospel imperative to be involved in foster care and adoption ministries, but it is also clear that this cannot be undertaken by a Christian organization or agency, and it continue to operate by Christian principles if the state is going to repressively require Christian ministries to forfeit Christian conviction in order to be involved in foster care and adoption enterprises. And that’s really the issue, because our belief in foster care and adoption is based in biblical conviction. It’s going to be impossible over any long-term to continue to operate such ministries with Christian conviction if other Christian conviction is absolutely invalidated, or for that matter, as this story frighteningly makes clear, surrendered. The Catholic agency in Michigan made an appeal to the courts and it has met at least at this point with a favorable response. The evangelical agency simply surrendered, and that leads to a further consideration. When any Christian institution, any Christian school, or any kind of Christian ministry defines itself on a matter of conviction, and then is willing to sacrifice or surrender that conviction, it actually makes it much harder for other Christian ministries to maintain that conviction.

The most important legal defense in our constitutional order against a violation of religious liberty is to make clear that the issue that is at the heart of the controversy is a doctrine that has historically been taught by Christians, held dear by Christian churches throughout the centuries, is based on biblical authority, and furthermore, is held as a conviction that cannot be violated without an offense of faithfulness. When you have an organization like Bethany Christian Services surrender in the face of these demands, they are effectively saying, “Yes.” As one agency spokesperson said, “We continue to believe in marriage as the union of a man and a woman exclusively, but we’re willing not to operate that way.”

This effectively reduces a Christian conviction to a matter of operational preference, but there is no way to successfully defend religious conviction and religious liberty on the basis of a mere religious preference. It has to be on the basis of a long-standing and well-recognized theological principle. It’s also simply the case that if religious organizations do not stand together in these principles, then the principles are not likely long to survive in the courts.

The World Magazine article cites a Vice President at Bethany Christian Services, who in the words of the report, “Said the organization had to consider the probabilities of winning in court and how long the case might drag on, and then balance that with its desire to continue serving children in foster care.” Well just translate that argument into the world of the Christian college or university. In order to continue serving Christian students in a generally Christian way, how many schools are going to say, “We’re going to forfeit this Christian conviction in order to maintain our IRS, 501(c)(3) status, or our placement in the society, or our ability to participate in federal student loan programs”? You can see the same kind of argument, and you begin to understand how absolutely catastrophic this will be for religious liberty.

The World report points out that the Mississippi affiliate of Bethany Christian Services actually has separated from the national organization precisely over this concern. It cites Will Thompson, who had served on the local Bethany board for years as saying, “Our whole point was that we’re not going to be defined by the culture. We’re going to be defined by what we feel are biblical principles, having to do with family, marriage, and child-rearing.”

Here, we have the intersection of the November 9, 2019, cover article in World Magazine and an article that appeared in yesterday’s edition of The New York Times, both dealing with the rights of Christian organizations and agencies to be Christian in foster care and adoption. Sadly, it also indicates just how determined LGBT activists and some government agencies are, to act in defense of the sexual revolution and the redefinition of sex and marriage, even at the expense of taking care of children who are obviously in need. Christians looking at this story and the larger controversy have to understand that the issues here will not be limited to foster care and adoption, and note carefully that surrender here on this issue will not satisfy the revolutionaries, who are demanding nothing less than total surrender.

Part II

In a World Subversive of Gender, Gender Reveal Parties Fly in the Face of the Cultural Orthodoxy: Clarity in a Confused Time

Next, another very revealing article appeared from the Associated Press that appeared in yesterday’s edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is by Grant Schulte. The headline in the article, “Pink or Blue? Some Gender Reveal Parties Can Take Dangerous Turn.” Well, it turns out that dangerous here means physically dangerous, and the article tells us about a woman who had been killed at a recent gender reveal party, because the gender was to be revealed by a cloud that was to emerge from what amounts to a home-made explosive, and instead, it killed the woman.

As the article tells us, “Gender reveal parties have grown increasingly popular and elaborate, with smoke, confetti, or colored treats to symbolize the soon-to-be-born child’s biological sex. But what began as a lighthearted, intimate gathering with family and close friends has morphed into a spectacle with guns, explosives, and wild animals to maximize shock value with sometimes dangerous consequences.”

The report then cites a professor, that is Carly Gieseler, an associate professor at the City University of New York’s York College, who, we are told, “has studied the rise of gender reveal parties.” She said, “There’s this huge pressure to publicize these once private moments. You get that outside validation that what you did was unique, that it was extra special. It drives celebrations to the extreme because you’re trying to do the thing that no one’s done before.” She went on to say that the number of gender reveal parties has risen over the last decade, but as the AP reports, “speculated that the recent string of accidents could cause it to decline.” I’m going to offer that I doubt that’s true. I doubt there will be a decline. It turns out that the accidents are multiplying.

A Border Control agent seeking to gender reveal his new offspring, started what we are told was a 47,000-acre wildfire in Southern Arizona when, “He shot a target filled with an explosive powder and blue coloring to signal that he was expecting a son.” In Australia, we are told that a car that spewed blue smoke to announce the arrival of a — well, it has to say here, as if it needed to — a boy burst into flames and the driver and passengers had to abandon it. “And in separate instances over the last two years, couples announced their child’s sex by putting items into the mouths of their pet alligators, a watermelon filled with blue Jell-O in Louisiana and a pink powder-filled balloon in Florida.”

Well, no doubt these are dangerous undertakings, and we are well-warned. But what we need to do as Christians is to step back for a moment and ask ourselves, “What in the world is this chaos showing us?” It is showing us that in a world, subversive of the very idea of male and female, and in a world that seems at the ideological level, to be insisting that biological sex doesn’t really indicate gender, these gender reveal parties fly in the face of that supposed orthodoxy. It tells us, for one thing that in an age of gender confusion, spawned by the sexual revolutionaries, there is a desire to say, in essence, we are not confused, and furthermore, note how carefully this article the Associated Press is written. It is written as if gender reveal parties are supposedly revealing mere biological sex, but of course, that’s not true. That’s why they are called gender reveal parties, and that also indicates that these parents are not merely trying to point to anatomy. That’s not the point. They are trying to point to the identity of the child.

Now, let me be clear, I’m all for gender reveal parties and for these announcements, I think, in our confused times, they are amazingly clarifying, but there does appear to be no need for explosives, much less for alligators, but all this does tell us just how clear these issues really are, where the issues most matter. For instance, in declaring the identity of our own children. We’re going to have a boy, we’re going to have a girl. That is amazingly and spectacularly clarifying, all the more important in these very confused times.

Part III

Beto O’Rourke Ends His Campaign for President: The Candidate Who Said Out Loud What the Others Were Thinking

But next, speaking to the confusion of the Democratic 2020 race for the presidential nomination, the big news was the exit of Beto O’Rourke, the former U.S. Congressman and previous senatorial nominee in Texas from the 2020 race. The speed of his exit was what made it most newsworthy. By Friday of last week, when the announcement was made, O’Rourke had figured out that he had neither the money nor the momentum to stay in the race.

As Matt Flegenheimer reported for The New York Times, “Maybe Beto O’Rourke knew on some level that this was never quite right. Most politicians look in the mirror and see a president,” he wrote. “It is possible, not certain, but possible that Mr. O’Rourke was not among these, until less than a year ago, long before the punk rock Congressman turned democratic savior, became a White House also ran.”

O’Rourke had run a surprisingly close race against incumbent Republican Senator Ted Cruz in 2018, but then, just a matter of a little more than a year later, his campaign for president fizzled. When his campaign was announced, it seemed, on the part of many democrats that their great hope had appeared on the horizon, and O’Rourke seemed to believe himself to be destined to run for president. In an infamous statement, now infamous, that he made to Vanity Fair Magazine in its March cover story earlier this year, he said about the race, “Man, I’m just born to be in it.” As The New York Times said, “Not eight months later, he was doomed to be out of it.”

O’Rourke’s campaign was decidedly offbeat, and sometimes appeared to be almost unserious. But what is most important for Christians in considering this news about Beto O’Rourke’s exit from the race is the fact that we should be really clear that he served a very revealing function in this race, and that is because of things he said in the race that other Democrats actually, we now know, are thinking. But only he apparently had the candor to say out loud.

In the CNN town hall, the Equity or Equality Town Hall as it was known, Beto O’Rourke was asked a question about whether or not Christian churches, schools and ministries should be stripped of their tax exempt status if they refuse to endorse same-sex marriage, and by extension, the full range defined as LGBTQ. Responding immediately, Beto O’Rourke said, “Yes, of course,” he would lead to the withdrawal of that tax exempt status, effectively, by the way, ending many of those churches and to their ministries. You’ll note that even as he later tried to walk it back slightly, it was only by removing the word “churches.” The larger threat is still very, very clear.

Furthermore, his Democratic colleagues, who apparently were thinking what he was saying were also willing merely to walk back the fact that may be churches and congregations wouldn’t be put in the firing line, but Christian schools and other institutions would be. He had earlier made a similar statement about government confiscating certain forms of weapons. Again, what appears to be most clear is that he was saying out loud what the other candidates were thinking, but even saying those things out loud did not gain him the momentum he needed nor the funds that were necessary for him to continue in the race. But it’s not because he was a liberal outlier. If anything, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders continue to run, even as front-running candidates to Beto O’Rourke’s left.

Part IV

Elizabeth Warren Unveils Healthcare For All Plan: The Role of Reckless Proposals That Move the Norm

Next, that leads to another issue, and that is Elizabeth Warren’s Medicare For All plan and the fact that she, who famously has declared that she has a plan for everything, late last week, actually released her plan for funding Medicare For All, a complete nationalization of America’s healthcare system.

The New York Times article on Warren’s announcement, it was published in the Times on Saturday stated, “The plan represents a significant bet that enough voters will favor an approach that dismantles the current system and replaces it with Medicare For All, a government-run healthcare insurance program, and it comes after decades in which Democrats have largely tiptoed around policy proposals that relied on major tax increases and Republicans ran on tax cuts.”

It is also very important to recognize that many in the press pointed to the fact that the increase necessary for Warren’s program would be 20.5 trillion, that’s trillion with a T, dollars. But that is an underestimate, because it is supposedly what would be the increase in Warren’s plan over other likely funding sources for paying for healthcare in the United States. We’re actually talking about something like 60 or $70 trillion, but as Christians look at this, there are a couple of big issues that have to come to mind.

The first has nothing to do in the first place with money, but rather, with control and decision making. Nationalizing America’s healthcare system will effectively put all of these healthcare decisions and priorities, and furthermore, even funding mechanisms and decisions about the beginning and end of life in the hands of government even further from the reach of American citizens. It will be a major constriction in the liberty of citizens.

But secondly, when we do look at the money, we have to recognize that what is being promised here is so far outside fiscal reality, that to put the matter simply, it’s not going to happen. It’s not even going to come close to happening, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t cause mayhem and disaster in its failure. We’re not only talking about the biggest big government program imaginable, but we’re also talking about a program that will crush the economy, and do so dishonestly. For example, to its credit, today’s edition of The New York Times runs an article by Thomas Kaplan with the headline, “Billionaires Only? Warren Errs in Saying Whom Her Healthcare Plan Would Tax.”

The headlines over the weekend said that the tax, the wealth tax would primarily be levied against the top 1% or those identified as billionaires. Elizabeth Warren herself stated this, “It doesn’t raise taxes on anybody, but billionaires.” She went on to say, “And you know what? The billionaires can afford it.” Again, as I said to its credit, the New York Times points out that that is absolutely dishonest. It is inaccurate, because at least a part of the huge taxation that Elizabeth Warren is called for is a tax on capital gains that will affect middle-class Americans.

That just points to something else we need to recognize. When you put together this kind of government program, effectively socializing a massive sector of the American economy, eventually, it will be in to consume more and more of the economy itself, and it is also just unworkable on its face because taxpayers will demand more and more medical care.

One of the things to note here is that Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have been unclear as to whether or not even aesthetic surgery, plastic surgery, elective surgery would be included in their healthcare plan. Given the political dynamics on the left, they’re going to be hard-pressed to say no, but given the fiscal realities, it’s going to be impossible to say yes. So, you see the game being played, that they will instead try to delay making their promises as long as possible for the election, and then hoping that the electorate either forgets or forgives the fact that the program doesn’t deliver on those promises. Eventually and always in a society like the United States, the middle-class will have to pay the bills. There’s no way around it.

There is huge wealth concentrated in the United States in that top 1%, but if you confiscated all of that wealth, which of course will not happen and should not happen, you still wouldn’t have enough to pay the bills for any considerable amount of time. And Elizabeth Warren with her wealth tax is actually proposing something that is almost assuredly unconstitutional, but beyond that, if it were to take effect, it would likely destroy the very engines of creating wealth, not only for the ultra-wealthy, but for the middle-class as well.

Reckless promises are made in virtually every major national political campaign. We need to recognize that. The American people are accustomed to doing something of a discounting of these promises when they think about electoral decisions, but Christians need to note that these kinds of proposals actually do have the effect of moving the center line, of moving the norm. In the long run, that is the biggest impact that is likely from the 2020 Democratic presidential race, but then again, who knows? We’re about to find out if the American people or if a sufficient number of the American people will now be willing to put the entire system at risk in order to follow this kind of political promise.

As we so often point out, every major election is in effect an X-ray of the real worldview of those doing the voting, so 2020 is going to be extremely revealing.

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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