briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

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

It’s Wednesday, November 6, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

To Kill or Not to Kill? An Ominous Turning Point in America’s Conscience on Abortion

There were elections yesterday in Kentucky, Mississippi and Virginia. Other states had various other electoral issues on the ballot as well. We’re going to discuss the election results comprehensively tomorrow after we do have comprehensive voting results. But in the meantime, we’re going to turn to other stories and the first of these has to do with abortion.

An article that ran just a few days ago in The New York Times entitled, “I Had a Late-Term Abortion. I Am Not a Monster.” Lindsay Werking-Yip is the author of the article. She begins by saying, “I am a baby killer.” She describes what happened when she and her husband discovered, due to prenatal diagnosis, that the child they were expecting back in January had abnormalities. In the course of a normal 20 week anatomy scan, something was detected. The technician said, “I see something. I’m not sure what it is. Come back tomorrow.”

And the author then tells us, “What followed was a few weeks of agony, an amniocentesis, a fetal MRI, multiple ultrasounds. After much waiting, we learned the diagnosis, severe brain abnormalities.” And the writer goes on to describe those abnormalities.

“We knew the diagnosis, but we didn’t know what it would mean for our daughter’s daily life. It was explained to us that she would face seizures hourly, daily, weekly, or monthly. No one could say. She would face developmental delays. Could she breathe? Yes. Could she feed herself? Crawl? Walk? Talk? No one could say. She would face cognitive impairment. Would she know what was happening to her? Would she know us as her parents? No one could say.”

But the entire point of the article written by this woman is to justify the decision that she and her husband made to end the child’s life. She was quite candid about this. She asked the question, “But what does life mean to you? The life that you are for? Does it mean breathing on your own? Does it mean having a heartbeat? What are the markers of a life of quality, of purpose of meaning? If your brain was not functioning following a traumatic car accident, would you want your body artificially sustained indefinitely? What is the threshold of experience for you to want to continue living?”

Now here, we need to know that we are at the intersection of some very recent developments. A couple of those developments demand our attention. One of them is the existence of all of this prenatal diagnostic technology that is now giving to parents challenges that they have never faced before and leading to what the medical establishment clearly frames as questions that expectant parents have never experienced before. And there is also a presumption in the very existence of these tests in the case where there can be no kind of remedial action or medical treatment, the only purpose of the test would be to offer an opportunity for the baby to be aborted. That’s not often articulated, but it is just an obvious fact.

Writing about the decision that she and her husband made Lindsay Werking-Yip writes, “My husband and I chose to end our child’s life. Many imagine this is an impossible decision to make. One that would take hours of deliberation. I’ll be honest with you, you may not want to hear this, but the decision was obvious to us. Our child would not be given a life of pain and suffering. Instead we would take her pain on as our own.” She says, “I regret that we had to make the choice. I regret that she was so sick, so broken, but I do not regret the decision we made. Within fifteen minutes of the diagnosis, we knew what we had to do. We would become baby killers.”

Here’s something else that’s a crucial turn in this development in our culture. Here you have an article published in the New York Times in which the author is using the language of “baby killer.” It is not something that is said of her. It is something that she is using now as vocabulary to describe herself. There’s honesty in this that has been absent in many previous conversation. She is not denying that it is a baby being killed. And notice the fact that we’re talking about a 20 week scan and this is an article published in The New York Times, a newspaper that seems in every other turn, especially editorially, to hold to the position that a woman ought to be able to kill the unborn life within her at any point ultimately up until birth. And this is a newspaper that doesn’t want to refer to the inhabitant of the womb as a baby. But this op-ed writer does refer to the baby within her as a baby and to the killing of that baby as the killing of a baby.

But there’s another modern development and that is the fact that there are now so many people in our society asking just what does justify anyone being alive. That’s not a hypothetical set of questions. That’s exactly the set of questions that form the framework of this couple’s decision making. At what point is a life no longer worth living? At what point in advance do we say this will be a life that isn’t worth living? And you’ll notice that the logic here is taken by this author all the way from the womb into a hospital room after a hypothetical car accident. Again, she asked the question, “If your brain was not functioning following a traumatic car accident, would you want your body artificially sustained indefinitely?”

Then the question, “What is the threshold of experience for you to want to continue living?” Now, this is not a new human temptation. It’s a very old human temptation. One of the arguments made even in the early church was that one of the demonstrations of human sinfulness at its very root is a denial of divine judgment and impending mortality and death. You can see that here. But there’s another temptation and that is the temptation that we can serve as the Lord of our own lives, determining for ourselves whether we should live or die.

This particular article is absolutely heartbreaking as you would expect. She writes, “My child was lovingly cared for until her last heartbeat. She was gently laid to rest after her footprints were stamped in black ink on a rectangle of paper. Those same footprints hang on my bedroom wall,” she writes, “along with a locket containing her ashes.”

She consistently defends the decision that she and her husband made and she concludes the article with these words, “I pray you never have to face a decision like the one I faced. You might swear up and down that you could never make the choice I did, but you never know for sure until the time comes. I know I made the best choice for my child. I do not regret it and I will not hide it.” Again, amazing candor and remarkable clarity in this argument. It’s chilling clarity, but we also need to recognize that it makes perfect sense that this argument would be right to millions of Americans who no doubt reading this article would say I would make exactly the same decision. Yes, this woman is asking exactly the right questions. When is a life worth living? When is a life no longer worth living, and when do we determine that a life that is now in the womb is not rich enough in prospect to allow this baby to be born?

This article is amazingly candid but it is also profoundly alarming because we are looking at a major turning point in the heart and in the mind of our society. No doubt we are looking at increased momentum behind the argument that life is now to be defined, human life is to be rendered and judged acceptable, only if the conditions of that life meet certain minimal standards. And of course individual by individual, those standards would differ. The author of the article recognizes this. Some people, she says, might’ve made a different decision but this was the decision that was right, she says, for her and for her husband and for their baby.

What is missing from the worldview behind this article is any understanding of the fact that there is a Creator God who is the Author of life, and he and he alone has the right to determine when life is worth living and under what circumstances.

But I waited a few days after the appearance of this article in print to discuss it because I anticipated that there just might be a lively exchange when it comes to the letters to the editor that would follow, and they did not disappoint at least in continuing to clarify the issues.

One woman wrote from San Francisco, “In my closet in a small urn and a velvet green bag are the remains of my daughter Marcella. I too had to make a heartbreaking choice then years ago though my case was not as clear cut as your own. Our daughter had triple X syndrome, a genetic disorder and possibly something irregular with her abdomen. The agony of our decision, my decision was unbearable and still brings me to tears.” But then she goes on to say, “I definitely killed my baby. It was the saddest, most horrific act I’ve ever done. I hope I am never faced with such a choice again, but it was my choice and it was the choice for our family at that time.”

Again, listen to the logic here. It is the logic of the culture of death, but it is a logic that infectiously is spreading throughout our entire society. Now remember that the author of the original article had described herself as having a late-term abortion and then, “I am not a monster.” A reader in Houston wrote a letter saying, “You are right. You are not a monster. You were faced with a choice that many cannot comprehend. Those who may shame you have likely never put themselves in your shoes.” This woman was faced with a similar decision and she carried the baby to term and is as she says, even now, fighting for the quality of life of her son. But she went on to say to this other woman who made the opposite choice, that was your choice to make.

The overwhelming majority of the letters that ended up being published — that doesn’t mean it was the overwhelming majority of the letter sent to the newspaper — but the majority of the letters that appeared in the newspaper supported the woman in her decision to terminate the pregnancy.

But it is also important to recognize that one very important letter did make its way through, and the writer was a woman from Raleigh, North Carolina. She said, “I’m a young female, pro-life activist. I’ve donated to pro-life organizations, spread pro-life information to others, marched in the streets. Abortion is a massive injustice that violates the right to life.” After that self-identification, she went on to address the author of the article. “You admitted that having an abortion meant killing your daughter.”

She then continued, listen very carefully to these words. “Picture someone murdering a five-year-old girl because they believed she was too sick, too disabled, too abnormal, society would be horrified. Strangely,” she writes, “it’s different for a child in a womb.” She continues, “Every child deserves a chance to live life as much as possible to stay strong against suffering, to hope for cures to rare disorders, to spend time with loved ones, to be themselves, to be human. Your daughter would have been a gift to this world, an inspiration to others, unique, beautiful. Don’t diminish this precious creation of God by arguing that she doesn’t deserve to be here.”

That’s very powerful language, but there is an argument embedded in this letter that simply demands very close attention. It’s exactly the argument I was hoping someone would make and that is that if the logic pertains that parents have the right, and even as the medical establishment seems to imply now, the responsibility to terminate an unborn life if that life is judged as not meeting certain criteria, then why would that not be true outside of the womb? Why would that not be true of a five-year-old child if it is true for a five month old child in gestation? What is the moral distinction?

What we need to notice here is even that as the infectious nature of this horrifying idea spreads further through society, the logic will not stay limited to those who are in the womb. It has already jumped out of that context. Consider the fact that the issues are already addressed in the article itself. Again, after a car accident, if one does not have a sufficient quality of life then would one want to be kept alive? What about in a nursing home or in an intensive care unit? Or for that matter, what if a life is judged to be not worth living simply for psychological or emotional factors?

Recognize that right now in at least a couple of European countries, euthanasia is now legally justified for those who do not believe that their quality of life, regardless of any kind of health or the absence of a terminal disease, that if they do not have a life that is of the quality they demand, they have the right to demand a government-assisted suicide. Furthermore, by the time you read these letters, you recognize that in your local church and in your community, you no doubt know parents right now who are raising children that have the very same diagnosis but they are living. And you know that many of them are defying the diagnosis. You know that many of them are living lives that add joy to other lives and demonstrate the glory of God in and of themselves. And you understand that even when a child might not live long and even when a child might not have the experience of life that every parent, of course, longs for that child to have, it is still a matter of fundamental fact that a holy and righteous God has created that child for his glory, and his glory will be demonstrated in that child one way or another.

The very appearance of this article with this kind of shocking language and naked logic, it represents a turn in the culture that is extremely ominous. And one of the realities that Christians know is that a threat to life inside the womb will not stay a threat to life inside the womb. Those who deny human dignity anywhere will eventually deny human dignity everywhere.

Part II

Facebook and Twitter Make Different Decisions on Handling Political Advertisements: The Danger of Corporations Choosing Whose Voice Is Heard

But next, we’re going to shift to a very different issue of headline news. This has to do with different decisions that were announced by Facebook and Twitter concerning political advertising. Both of these were front page news across the country and around the world. Facebook announcing that it was going to continue to take political advertisements, but at the same time that it was going to apply new mechanisms, new technologies, and new corporate attention to limiting so-called fake news. Meanwhile, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey announced that Twitter would not take paid political advertising from now on, most specifically in the 2020 presidential race and thus this also received a great deal of attention.

Within 24 hours, Facebook and Twitter, two of the biggest international giants in social media, announcing what appeared to be diametrically opposed policies. There was an interesting political dimension to this. The left generally celebrated the announcement by Twitter and conservatives bemoaned it. At the same time, there was the opposite reaction to Facebook.

The big concern, and it is a very legitimate concern from conservatives, is that Facebook will use its new screening mechanisms to screen out conservative messaging. And that becomes all the more problematic if they’re going to continue to receive political advertising, but make a corporate judgment as to which advertising is genuine and authentic and to be accepted and which advertising is to be rejected.

Charles C. Camosy, writing at Religion News Service, points out that Facebook does not have a good track record just if you consider the pro-life issue taken in isolation. He points to how Facebook has treated Lila Rose executive director of the anti-abortion group Live Action. He points to the fact that Live Action “has a huge online presence with more than 2.5 million likes on Facebook,” which the group, like activists of all sides of the abortion issue, uses to influence public opinion through videos and other advertisements. But, Camosy goes on writing, “In August, however, Facebook marked Live Action’s content “false,” that’s put in quotation marks, “and refuse to allow the group to share it. Dubious on the merits, Facebook’s action caused Live Action to suffer a near irreparable loss of its reputation online, which for any nonprofit is precious capital.”

Now that leads to a host of questions. Who decides if an argument is true or false? Who decides if an advertisement is factual or non-factual? Someone’s going to have to make that decision and frankly, morally it doesn’t make the difference if the decision is made by a human being or by some kind of algorithm created by a human being. In any event, judgements are being made. Just consider the life arguments at stake here. Who decides whether or not it’s true or false to say that an unborn baby is indeed a human person?

The pro-abortion movement will no doubt bring out those they will cite in the medical community who will say it is not true. Meanwhile, those of us who operate out of a biblical worldview, and frankly what would be a common grace, common sense worldview, would say that of course the unborn child is a human being. Who is right? Who has the facts? Which is non-factual argument? Which is news and which is fake news?

It’s also interesting to note that the political left, the cultural left is encouraging Facebook, and encouraging maybe an understatement here, to follow what they would describe as the lead of Twitter in banning all political advertising. But notice what that would mean. It would effectively mean the two giants of social media worldwide deciding what is and isn’t even political. Many prominent conservatives have immediately condemned the decision announced by Twitter because it actually was made worse by the explanation that was given by Jack Dorsey, Twitter CEO. Jack Dorsey said that they would not accept paid advertising, but they would allow political statements to be made by people who might have any number of followers on Twitter.

In his words, political messaging, “should be earned, not bought.” But who gets to decide what’s earned? But, Bradley A. Smith writing for City Journal points to huge holes in Twitter’s new policy, inconsistencies. He writes, “Twitter will no longer accept any political ads.” He cites Dorsey as saying, “This isn’t about free expression. This is about paying for reach.” But then Smith goes on to say, “Presumably under Twitter’s new policy, a campaign will be able to pay a celebrity $50,000 to tweet out an endorsement or mention. However, a candidate without celebrity fans will be unable to spend $5,000 to promote a tweet.”

He goes on to say, “The paid ad may be truthful, while the celebrity tweet may contain what Dorsey calls unchecked misleading information, but only the former will be banned.” He then asked a question, “Or will Twitter disable the accounts of celebrities who accept payments for their tweets or who relay unchecked misleading information as determined,” he asked, “by whom?” I’ll just insert here that you can count on the fact that Twitter is not about to do this because Twitter also makes a great deal of money out of the celebrity phenomenon.

Smith then makes the argument, “Dorsey says he wants to level the playing field. Perhaps, he, with 4.2 million followers should shadow ban himself. Why does being a highly visible CEO mean one has earned more political influence than Walmart, the AFL CIO or any other entity that seeks to promote its political ideas?”

But then the Wall Street Journal offers us the signal service, pointing to a massive contradiction right in the policy and then the opinion columns of The New York Times. The column was written by Thomas Friedman. It was entitled, “Trump, Zuckerberg, and Pals are Breaking America.” Friedman wrote, “Look at Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who was questioned last Wednesday at a House hearing by representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. AOC was trying to grasp,” Friedman wrote, “why Zuckerberg thinks it’s okay for politicians to run political ads that contain obvious lies.” Friedman concluded, “This is all about money for Zuckerberg, but he disguises his motives in some half-baked theory about freedom of the press.”

But then, and here’s the brilliant turn, the Wall Street Journal went to the advertising policies of that newspaper, the New York Times. What do those policies state? Listen carefully: “We believe that the broad principles of freedom of the press confer on us and obligation to keep our advertising columns open to all points of view. Therefore, The New York Times accepts advertisements in which groups or individuals comment on public or controversial issues. We make no judgment,” said The New York Times, “on an advertiser’s arguments, factual assertions or conclusions. We do not verify nor do we vouch for statements of purported fact and advocacy opinion advertisements. We reserve the right however, to require documentation of claims when it is deemed necessary.”

The paper’s policy continues, “Our stance with regard to the acceptance of political advertisements is the same as it is for the acceptance of opinion advertisements.” And so you have Thomas Friedman influential columnist for The New York Times in his column condemning Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook for having a policy that, as it turns out, is the very same as The New York Times.

Part III

Increasing Calls for Hate Speech Laws: Who Defines It? Who Controls It? Who is Silenced?

But ominously, we are looking at another turn in our society towards very strange and suspicious support for so-called hate speech legislation. Richard Stengel, a former editor of Time Magazine, wrote an article published recently in the Washington Post, the headline, “Why America Needs a Hate Speech Law.” He says that as a journalist, he loved the idea of freedom of speech, but then he was asked the question by others more recently as to whether freedom of speech should be extended to speech that is offensive to people. Now you would think that anyone who had been the managing editor of Time Magazine would have a clue how to answer this question.

But Stengel actually answers the question by saying that it is now time for hate speech because, he argues, the internet is a new playing field. The old ideal of the constitutional guarantee of free speech was good so long as there was a marketplace of ideas in which the good ideas, the truth, pressed out the bad ideas and the lies. But he says on the internet that no longer works, so we need to adopt hate speech legislation.

Speaking of what he defined as hate speech, he wrote, “Hate speech has a less violent but nearly as damaging impact in another way it diminishes tolerance and enables discrimination. Isn’t that by definition,” he says, “speech that undermines the values that the First Amendment was designed to protect fairness, due process, equality before the law?”

He concludes, “Why shouldn’t the states experiment with their own version of hate speech statutes to penalize speech that deliberately insults people based on religion, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation?” His final words must be heard in full: “All speech is not equal and where the truth cannot drive out lies, we must add new guardrails. I’m all for protecting thought that we hate but not speech that incites hate. It undermines the very values of a fair marketplace of ideas that the First Amendment is designed to protect.”

What you have here is evidence of several things simultaneously. First of all, you have the survivors of the old age of print. This man was the managing editor of Time magazine complaining that the new digital economy of news is a wild, wild West that cannot be trusted, which meant they’re implying that when they were in control, they could be trusted.

Nick Gillespie at Reason Magazine points to Stengel’s article and he also points to the fact that he is not only a former editor of Time, he’s the former CEO of the Constitution Center. But now he is willing to violate and to compromise the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and he’s doing so openly. He is not disguising his intention.

In an article responding to Stengel also in the Washington Post, Charles Lane wrote of the necessity of freedom of speech for a free society. He points to the fact that European hate speech laws have “hardly eliminated in tolerance or inter group violence.” And he refers to speech including speech on the internet and elsewhere that often does have negative effects and sometimes even often turns out to be false and almost assuredly often is offensive to somebody. And horrifyingly enough, often is intended strategically to be as offensive as possible.

But Lane then writes, “The point is that the only worse thing than cancel culture would be canceled culture enforced by your state, that is the local district attorney, police and jailer.” He cites Stengel’s argument, “It is important to remember that our First Amendment doesn’t just protect the good guys. Our foremost liberty also protects any bad actors who hide behind it to weaken our society.” But then Charles Lane rightly responds, “That’s true of every single clause in the U.S. Constitution.”

Interestingly and very weakly, Richard Stengel had made this argument, “On the internet, truth is not optimized. On the web, it’s not enough to battle falsehood with truth. The truth doesn’t always win.” He wrote, “In an age of social media, the marketplace model doesn’t work. A 2016 Stanford study showed that 82% of middle-schoolers couldn’t distinguish between an ad labeled sponsored content and an actual news story. Only a quarter of high school students could tell the difference between an actual verified news site and one from a deceptive account designed to look like a real one.”

Nick Gillespie then responded with the obvious truth: “If you’re basing the erosion of constitutional rights on the reading comprehension skills of middle-schoolers, you’re doing it wrong.” And he continued, “And by it as in doing it wrong, I mean journalism, constitutional analysis, politics, and just about everything else too.” And that is frankly no insult to middle-schoolers or other adolescents who frankly should be able to see through Richard’s Stengel’s argument, understanding that the only thing worse than allowing bad speech is the government disallowing bad speech and determining what speech is good and what speech is bad.

This is not only a threat when it comes to those who hold unpopular political opinions, increasingly those on the political right when it comes to those who control the culture, but also to Christians in particular whose very biblical convictions are often considered, especially by the secular left and by the activists of the left, to be hate speech in and of themselves. And if you’re going to think about hate speech, just recognize that of course Christians understand that it’s real, but the problem is who’s going to define it and who is going to decide what is legal and what is illegal.

Consider that exchange of letters to the editor in response to that article about abortion. Which side of the argument hate speech? Was it those who defended the termination of the baby’s life in the womb or those who argued against it? I think we know which way many in control of our culture right now would answer that question. But Christians do understand the threat and the argument that government should have any say in answering that question whatsoever.

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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