Friday, November 8, 2019
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Friday, November 8, 2019. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Sacrificing Conscience Rights for the Sake of the Sexual Revolution: A Loss of Respect for Conscience Is a Loss for Religious Liberty
For over 2000 years the category of conscience has been fundamental to Western moral and political thought. The apostle Paul speaks of conscience explicitly. It's implicit in the Old Testament. We as Christians operating out of a biblical worldview understand that conscience is real, that inner voice of direction and morality.
It speaks to the fact as Christians understand that we are made in the image of God. He has implanted within us not only a consciousness but that moral conscience. In the Western tradition, when we speak of conscience, we are almost always speaking about something that is fundamentally moral. We speak about how our conscience guides us. We speak about how our conscience should guide us.
Ultimately for Christians, the final authority is not our conscience, but instead the word of God, but from the very beginnings of the Christian tradition, conscience has been a very important Christian category because it has been understood that that conscience has to be respected. After all, it is implanted within us by God. In the Western political and moral tradition, an increased understanding of rights of conscience has been considered a part of the trajectory of Western civilization.
It has been considered very important that as civilization has moved forward and human dignity and human rights are increasingly respected, that rights of conscience are also respected to the extent that liberating conscience from external coercion has been considered a hallmark, not only of Western civilization with the inheritance coming from Christianity, but especially of the modern age. For this reason, conscience has been granted special protections in law.
In just one example, consider the fact that one of the powers that a government has is the power to conscript soldiers from its citizens and send them to war. But in the United States, there has been a longstanding tradition of recognizing conscientious objectors, those who are so morally opposed to war that it would be wrong even in the name of the nation to conscript them and to make them enter into any kind of military conflict directly because it would violate that individual citizen's conscience.
It's also important to recognize that one of the main constitutional arguments deployed for the protection and respect of conscience is the category of religious liberty, the understanding that human beings have been granted by the Creator a liberty of religious expression and religious belief that cannot be coerced. With that, comes a moral dimension of obedience to those very beliefs, and thus religious liberty and conscious rights have been intertwined and indeed inextricable from one another throughout America's constitutional history.
Even as we have seen that inevitable collision coming between the newly declared sexual liberties, especially of the LGBTQ revolution and religious liberty, we also see that that very collision is now the front line in which conscience rights are now very much at stake and indeed endangered. Consider the headline that ran in yesterday's edition of the New York Times, "Federal judge nullifies conscience rule backed by Trump White House." The article is by Benjamin Weiser and Margot Sanger-Katz.
They remind us that just a matter of months ago, the Trump administration through the Department of Health and Human Services announced new rules for the protection of conscience rights, particularly of medical professionals. The new rule that had been announced by the Trump administration would have extended additional conscience protections, especially for medical practitioners, and if there were to be a violation of those conscience rights, then the federal government had threatened the end of taxpayer funding of certain programs.
As soon as the administration announced these new conscience protections, the secular left went into overdrive, going to the courts to try to seek to have the ruling nullified. That's exactly what they received on Wednesday as a gift from a federal district court judge in the state of New York. As the Times tells us, "The case was brought by 19 States, three cities, a county, and two reproductive health providers that said they were concerned the rule would prevent vulnerable patients from obtaining needed care. The case was one of several lawsuits, as the paper tells us, filed around the country objecting to the policy."
Stephanie Armour of the Wall Street Journal summarized, "The court vacated the rule in its entirety in a decision that criticized the administration for its rationale." It is important to note that the judge did vacate the rule in its entirety, but it's also important to note that he did so basically under procedural considerations. He did not deal much at all with the central issue of conscience rights that is absolutely irreducible in this case.
Nonetheless, the rule has been vacated, and it is important to understand the arguments that were made against it. Here's one for example made by Letitia James and the city of New York. She is New York state's attorney general. She said, "Healthcare is a basic right that should never be subject to political games," but the extended argument made by the New York attorney general basically sacrifices the conscience of medical practitioners and professionals on the altar of not only abortion but beyond that the sexual revolution, particularly, we should note when it comes to issues related to the transgender revolution.
The abortion dimension was made exceedingly clear in the New York Times article in a statement by Alexis McGill Johnson, the acting president of Planned Parenthood, also a plaintiff in the case. She said, "This rule put patients' needs last, and threatened their ability to access potentially lifesaving health care." Now when you consider the words potentially lifesaving health care, you have to understand that that is becoming increasingly code language for the fact that the argument now comes that you are endangering someone's life by not allowing them to have an abortion.
Here, we're not talking about medical necessity. Or, if you do not actively participate in their so-called gender reassignment or gender transition. The Wall Street Journal article by Stephanie Armour does helpfully point out that there are federal statutory conscience protections written into law, but the fact is that there are active challenges to those rights and compromises of those rights. We are facing a cultural revolution that is subversive of those rights, and thus we are looking at the fact that the Trump administration acted precisely because those rights are now in question.
Interestingly, just a few days before that federal court decision, Vox.com ran an article by S.E. Smith with the headline, "He needed a gender affirming procedure." The hospital said no. This article is a graphic illustration of the kind of fire now being leveled conscience rights not only for healthcare practitioners but also for religiously identified hospitals and medical centers. Smith wrote, and let's just remind ourselves, this is language that is supposed to make sense to us,
"In the summer of 2016, Evan Minton was preparing for his scheduled hysterectomy at Mercy San Juan Medical Center in Carmichael, California, just outside Sacramento. The procedure, part of his gender-affirming care, should have been routine." Again, you've already noted the pronouns. Here, we are told have someone identified as a he, who was scheduled for his hysterectomy.
There is no time in human history prior to the advent of this transgender revolution just in the last several years in which the phrase his hysterectomy would make sense. Of course, it doesn't make sense, but the individual identified here as Evan Minton did not receive that hysterectomy that day. It was blamed on the fact that the Catholic Medical Center invoked medical ethical principles that said that the operation could not take place there.
Smith explained this by writing, "Catholic facilities argue that the directives are protected under religious liberty laws." Again, we just have to interject here. The offense in this case is that a religious hospital would operate by its own self-declared and historic religious principles. That in itself is just horrifyingly offensive to the secular and the progressivist mind.
The author of the article then writes, "When it comes to healthcare, the stakes are life and death, an issue that the California core in Minton's case recognize when identifying the need for full and equal access to medical treatment." Now, wait just a minute. A matter of life and death? Was this a medically indicated as necessary emergency hysterectomy? No, this was a matter of a so-called gender reassignment or transition, but it's described here on emotional and identity grounds as the stakes of life and death.
S.E. Smith in this article makes very clear the secular response to a religious hospital acting religiously when the article states, "When patients go to the doctor, they expect treatment rooted in the latest medical advancements, not interpretations of the Bible, but as medical facilities continue to close or merge with better funded institutions, Christian hospitals, which may hue to religious doctrine when making treatment decisions are becoming a lone source of care for many Americans."
Now wait just a minute. Why would that be so? Why are so many hospitals and other medical institutions religiously founded and religiously identified? Where did that come from? Well, it comes from the fact that the American experiment relied upon the nonprofit sector in general, but specifically, it depended upon religious organizations, predominantly Protestant and Catholic, but also some Jewish and other groups such as even Seventh Day Adventists to establish hospitals and medical centers for the care of the population.
The ideal in America has never been for the government to supply all of these institutions, hospitals and care centers. That's because the government couldn't do it, is still can't do it, and it really shouldn't do it. That should be clear to all of us. Instead, you also have the fact that these institutions grounded in historic Christianity operating out of a Christian impulse of love of neighbor and concern offering care established these hospitals and medical centers all across the country.
This particular writer at Vox.com, is very concerned that even some of the hospitals that had been identified as secular are now falling into religious hands. Why? Because in many cases, those religiously established, and religiously governed institutions are just far healthier. But in that very shocking paragraph I read from this article, it's really clear that to the secular mind, Christians have no business running Christian hospitals and certainly not in terms consistent with Christianity.
We have seen this attitude and that general collision between the newly declared sexual liberties and religious liberty where we are seeing so many of the activists and their legal advocates in court even before the Supreme Court of the United States basically come down to saying, "We are thankful that you established all these schools and all these institutions and all these hospitals, but we will take them now because we're going to operate them by entirely secular norms in keeping with the LGBTQ revolution and the demand for abortion and all the rest. Just give us the keys.”
Speaking of the hospital at the center of this story, which is the Catholic Medical Center operating on the basis of the Catholic, "ethical and religious directives," to hospitals, the author says that these directives, "severely limit access to reproductive healthcare, including abortion, contraceptives, sterilization, and in vitro fertilization."
Now, let's just remind ourselves in order to maintain sanity, that the reason those Catholic hospitals operating under those Catholic directives operate in this way is because it is in accordance with Catholic doctrine. The point here of course is the right of religious hospitals to be religious, Catholic hospitals to be Catholic, Protestant hospitals to be Protestant, Jewish hospitals to be Jewish. But in our increasingly secular age, driven by the impulses of this moral and sexual revolution, a religious institution operating religiously outside of what the secular mind is willing to tolerate as religion, well, all that is simply unacceptable.
It has to be stopped. As we have seen, they will go to court to stop it, and they're also going to Congress. Of course, the issue is now front and center in the race for the 2020 democratic presidential nomination with candidates now making statements that would have been considered out of line even in the democratic party just a matter of three years ago. In the article, Ian Smith identified as a staff attorney at Americans United for separation of church and state. That's an activist organization that has pushed the secular agenda now for decades.
Speaking of liberal Americans, thinking of hospitals that would include Catholic, Baptist, Adventist and others, he said, "I think they think that religious refusals happen to certain people going in just for an abortion." He went on to say, "That's not true." As the article says, "Underscoring how ignorance of these rules can affect patients who need all manner of care such as hormone therapy, fertility treatment, gender affirming care, or tubal ligations."
That's all stated as if there is somehow a constitutional right of any citizen to show up at any hospital and to demand any or all of those things. By the way, it is really interesting to note the theological ground that the Catholic institution provided in its refusal to remove a hysterectomy from the patient mentioned in the article. It is because Catholic moral teaching forbids a Catholic hospital to remove a healthy reproductive organ without a medical indication of the necessary removal of that organ.
Oddly enough but important to this discussion, the Catholic institution responded that it would have refused to remove a healthy uterus from this patient regardless of the gender identity claimed by the patient. In these strange times, a hospital had to say that its directives would not allow it to facilitate the removal of a healthy uterus from a woman. Here again, Christians just need to remind ourselves, and here again, just to remain sane, that only a female has a uterus. Period.
As I said at the beginning, the most important issue here is to recognize that conscience rights have long been respected in Western civilization. It has been considered a signal achievement of the Western ideals of liberty and human dignity to respect conscience, but the new activists for the new sexual and gender revolution are willing — no, we'd have to say even eager now — to sacrifice conscience for the sake of their revolution.
30th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall: Why Human Beings Are Driven by a Quest for Freedom
Next, we need to recognize that tomorrow is one of the most historic anniversaries that we should recognize for the cause of human dignity. 30 years ago tomorrow, the Berlin wall fell. It fell over the course primarily of November the ninth and 10th of the year 1989, that year of revolution in which you could see the failure of state Communism, country by country, but particularly in the repressive regime of East Germany as it was then known. The Berlin wall was an ugly stretch primarily of concrete and steel separating the Eastern and Western sectors of Berlin, cutting the historic city in half.
This was a part of the very awkward post-war settlement in which Berlin was divided into four different quarters and eventually the Western nations united in the city that became West Berlin part of West Germany, and in the East under Soviet domination. There was East Berlin under the control of the East German government as effectively a proxy of the Soviet Union. The demarcation, the line between East Berlin and West Berlin was a line of Liberty and freedom, and thousands and thousands of people were fleeing from the East to the West. It was an absolute humiliation for Communism. Thus, communist authorities began on the night of 13 August, 1961 to erect an actual physical barrier between East and West Germany. Eventually, it would become a wall, a system of walls again largely made out of reinforced concrete and steel, and there was a moat effectively on the East German side of the wall that became a zone of death. There were many martyrs to liberty, including famously one 19-year-old boy who died in the view of the Western world, shot by East German authorities as he tried to flee East Germany for the West.
In the course of human history as Western authorities pointed out, walls had been historically built to keep people out, not to keep people in. The essential evil at the heart of Communism and the Soviet regime and its satellite nations was made clear by the fact they had to trap their people in, because people seeking liberty were trying to get out. Willy Brandt, the German chancellor that is a West Germany, called the Berlin wall, a wall of shame.
President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in 1963, standing before the wall, spoke of Berlin saying, "Ich bin ein Berliner, or I am a Berliner," indicating that Americans were in solidarity with all the citizens of Berlin on both sides of the ugly and deadly wall in their quest for liberty. But one of the key turning points in the history of the world in the last several decades came on the 12th of June in 1987 when president Ronald Reagan stood before the Berlin wall, the wall itself as the visual backdrop for his speech.
In the speech, he dared to address the Soviet leader of the time Mikhail Gorbachev. It is now known that the U.S. state department and senior diplomats did not want the President of the United States to utter these words. The same sentiment was largely true of West German leaders. The fear was that the president's words would be overly provocative and overly dramatic and might actually lead to an increase in tensions between the East and the West.
Furthermore, almost no one at the time other than Ronald Reagan and a few others, including Margaret Thatcher, could imagine that the wall might fall. President Reagan offering a public challenge to the Soviet leader said, "We welcome change and openness for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign,” said President Reagan, “the Soviet can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." Those words were uttered in 1987 when virtually no one believed that the wall might one day come down, but it came down, as we now know, on November the 9th, 1989, just a little over two years after President Reagan gave that speech.
This historic event, the coming down, the tearing down of the wall, led to a massive moment in Western history that is absolutely unforgettable, especially for those who are watching the images from Berlin. Over the course of that week, the wall began to come down. People began to tear the wall down. The soldiers put down their weapons, the Soviet backed regime in East Germany having lost its morale, its authority, and eventually losing its power.
History would then unfold, as the East German regime fell, eventually the Soviet Union fell and Germany was historically reunified as well as the city of Berlin. The deadly ideology of Communism had taken millions of victims by the time you get to 1989, but there is at least hope and recognizing that the failure of the Soviet experiment in Communism, it ended with a wall that did come down, a deadly wall where many had died.
But the coming down of that wall is now a symbol of the fact that human beings are driven by a quest for freedom and liberty and human dignity. As Christians understand, that's something that cannot be explained merely in secular terms. I also want to recognize an article that was published in yesterday's edition of the Financial Times. It's published in London. It's by Janan Ganesh. It offers a view from London of the impact of the fall of the Berlin wall on the United States inside the United States.
The point made by Ganesh is that so long as the Cold War was the driving energy of the relationships between the United States and the world, so long as the Berlin wall stood as a symbol of Soviet despotism, the political class in the United States had a common enemy. But when the Berlin wall came down and the Soviet Union broke up, that was no longer the case. The point made by Janan Ganesh is that this opened a Pandora's box of political opportunities in the United States for increased controversy.
Basically, Ganesh argues that the deep and increasing partisan divide in the United States is at least partly made possible by the fact that there is no common enemy. Even as Republicans and Democrats have stood together, united front for liberty against Communism, the disappearance of Soviet Communism opened the door for Republicans and Democrats to turn to a very different dynamic, basically opposed to one another.
Christians understand there's a lot more to it than that, but at the same time, there's not less to it than that. This certainly was a part of the picture. And we would expand this to say that the breakup of Soviet Communism and the end of the Cold War actually opened the door Christians should understand to a great acceleration of moral liberalism in the United States and to the secularization that wasn't really possible up until the fall of the Soviet Union.
Ganesh concluded his article poetically, "America's victory in the Cold War was a feat of strategy and patience that should be saluted this weekend. It just happens to be a victory from which it has never recovered."
The Fires of Secularization Have Burned Through the Religious Forests in Canada: Will the United States Follow the Same Pattern?
Next, as I am in Canada, you'll recall that there was a recent Canadian federal election, and Justin Trudeau, the head of the liberal party, will continue as prime minister. Even though interestingly his party lost the popular vote, it will still maintain a plurality of seats in the Canadian parliament.
What we have noted over and over again is that Canada as a society is far more morally liberal, far more sociologically liberal and politically liberal than the United States. At the same time, it has tracked more with Europe in being more secularized than the United States or you might put it differently, secularizing faster than has yet been the case in the United States. We should note that Canada's conservative party isn't really all that conservative having basically abandoned what we in the United States would call conservative social policies long ago, particularly on abortion, the LGBTQ revolution and beyond.
Canada is now so liberal in its intuitions that a good deal of political analysis after the election says that the conservative party, even having abandoned those positions, is still blamed for ever having held them. We'll be looking at that pattern and what it means for conservatism on both sides of the border in weeks to come, but considering the secularization of Canada, I want to cite a recent book by Reginald W. Bibby.
He holds a board of governors research chair at the Department of Sociology at the University of Lethbridge. He writes recently, "Viewing religion across Canada these days is like viewing devastation after some tragedy has hit. It's as if a fire of secularization has devastated much of what through the early 1960s was a flourishing religious forest." We should recognize that that is generally true. Thankfully, there is good gospel work being done in so many places in Canada, but what we need to note as Americans is that there is no security in what has often been called American exceptionalism.
The fact is America is now trending in the very same secular direction. There's cold comfort in knowing that at least to this point, it has been a slower secularization than across the Northern border. As we now know, Americans can no longer say it's not happening here. All the evidence demonstrates very clearly it is happening here.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can find 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'm speaking to you from Toronto, Canada. I'll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.