briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

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

It’s Wednesday, November 13, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Exporting Abortion Extremism Around the World: The United Nations and the Push for Abortion as ‘Health Care’

Americans in general and Christians specifically often fail to understand the extent to which moral change around the world is actually driven by international organizations such as, most importantly, the United Nations, but that is increasingly the case. You have these international organizations and they have an agenda and that agenda is often not what is advertised. Chris Smith, a representative from the fourth district of the state of New Jersey in Congress, a Republican Congressman, he wrote an article yesterday that appeared in The Wall Street Journal with the ominous headline, “Abortion Extremists Hijack the UN.”

Congressman Smith writes, “The governments of Kenya and Denmark and the United Nations Population Fund are attempting to hijack the UN’s global population and development work to support an extreme pro-abortion agenda.” He points to the fact that just this past Tuesday, the fund opened a three-day Nairobi summit 25 years after the International Conference on Population Development in Cairo.

Before we go further, we need to remind ourselves that this was not really about population development, it was about population control. In this sense, the phrase “population development” is much like the euphemism, “family planning.” It’s not really about planning a family. It’s mostly about the agenda of not planning a family. Similarly, when it comes to this conference on population development, it’s not really about developing population but controlling it and limiting it. And here again, you are looking at the fact that it was Western elite opinion that was driving this international agenda and the bottom line in that in so many cases was that there was a concern — and it still drives so much of the left — there was a concern that the world, its ecosystem and everything contained therein was threatened by an expanding world population, and it is not an accident that most of that expanding world population was in non-Western nations. Thus, it’s also not an accident that that conference a quarter century ago was held in Cairo.

Chris Smith wrote not only as a concerned member of Congress but as one who attended the International Conference on Population Development. He goes back 25 years to say that it was then that 179 governments and 11,000 participants developed an international consensus. What was that consensus 25 years ago? “Participants rejected a global right to abortion, pushed by the Clinton administration, among others, and agreed that governments should take appropriate steps to help women avoid abortion, which, in no case, should be promoted as a method of family planning.”

Take a very close look at that paragraph. Here, we were told that a quarter century ago, the current American administration under President Bill Clinton was putting pressure on this international meeting to declare a global right of a woman to an abortion, but that’s not what happened 25 years ago. Instead, as Congressman Smith reminds us, the conference actually released a statement saying that governments should take appropriate steps to help women to avoid abortion.

So why is this a story now? Because a quarter century later, there are those inside the United Nations and there are those putting pressure on the United Nations to try to reverse that consensus and instead, declare a universal right of a woman to an abortion. You can follow where the logic of this will go. It now becomes a definition of what is contained within the category of human rights. It then becomes a part of the agitation and the activism of the United Nations, which also comes with member states and all of their foreign aid. It is an attempt to try to link support for abortion as a necessary issue to enable countries that are dependent upon the United Nations and others to receive aid, which means exporting, by effective coercion, a pro-abortion agenda all around the world.

Congressman Smith points out that 25 years ago, there was a respect for national sovereignty in the agreement, but he writes, “In contrast, conveners of the Nairobi summit had blocked attendance by conservative organizations and excluded countries and stakeholders that disagree with their agenda from offering input on the substance and planning of the conference. This includes the United States, which,” as Congressman Smith said, “under President Trump, has stated its objection at the United Nations to the use of ambiguous terms and expressions such as ‘sexual health’ and ‘reproductive rights’ on the grounds,” wrote the Congressman, “that such terms promote practices like abortion in circumstances that do not enjoy international consensus and which can be misinterpreted by UN agencies.”

So what we have shaping up in this new conference that began just this past Tuesday is the fact that the United Nations and the organizations controlling this event have isolated the United States and furthermore, they have excluded pro-life organizations and the organization itself is being planned by groups such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation, the group known as Women Deliver, the UN Foundation and the Dutch Pro Abortion fund entitled, She Decides. The Congressman writes, “They have already drafted a series of commitments intended to generate pledges from governments and civic organizations.” The first of these commitments is “to achieve universal access to sexual and reproductive health as a part of what’s defined and demanded as universal health coverage.” As Smith writes, “Defining abortion as healthcare is a goal of the pro-abortion organizations attending the summit.”

But as we understand how pro-abortion agencies and activists will gain advantage by this redefinition, we also need to understand the larger issue of the involvement of groups such as the United Nations and its correlate groups in bringing about moral change, in driving the moral revolution. The Congressman is right that the United Nations Population Fund doesn’t have much direct influence in the United States. That’s not the great worry. The problem is it does have influence elsewhere.

But we also have to note how this works even in the United States because when you have the left claiming that groups such as the United Nations or the United Nations Population Fund have taken such an action now defining abortion as part of healthcare and as a part of what’s demanded as universal health coverage, then you have enormous political leverage. And this is especially dangerous in the American courts and it is already nearly comprehensively in place in American higher education and academia.

There is enormous moral capital in being able to claim, “The United Nations says that abortion is a part of basic healthcare. The United Nations Population Fund and the authority of the United Nations now declares that a right to abortion is a basic human right. The United Nations now, in demanding universal healthcare coverage, also demands that abortion be covered within that coverage.”

One of the most important aspects of Smith’s argument is that you can trace this kind of action to the activism that comes before it, but also to the kind of coercion that follows. As he makes clear, vulnerable nations that are dependent upon Western nations for support may well find themselves, indeed, that’s an understatement, finding the fact that, that foreign aid will now be linked to the affirmations of this kind of declaration. You either join the moral revolution or you don’t get your new road funds.

But Congressman Smith also points out that key issues in the Cairo program of 25 years ago were now missing from the Nairobi statement, and this includes the practice of sex selection abortion. This is just incredibly revealing and important in and of itself because you know so many of the arguments that are being made there in Nairobi are being made that this is activism on behalf of women. But of course, even looking beyond the immediate issue of abortion, as if we can do that, you consider the fact that these sex selection abortions are overwhelmingly to select out female fetuses for abortion.

So here, you have the incredible revelation that those who are driving this particular conference and the ideology behind it are actually willing, even to defend by not mentioning or condemning in this conference, sex selection abortion knowing that that is overwhelmingly directed towards the elimination of female fetuses in the name of women’s rights, which means that the commitment to abortion is so monomaniacal that they will actually justify any abortion under any circumstance and demand that it be paid for by government money and declared to be a basic human right even when the human being being destroyed is, by all odds, overwhelmingly going to be a female.

In a release that came out also this week from the United Nations Population Fund, you’re not be surprised to find the sunny headline, “As Nairobi summit opens, leaders express optimism and urgency in securing rights for all.” Here’s where Christians have to understand that when we see or hear the word ‘rights’ used in this context, we have to ask, what exactly is the right that is being claimed here? And in this case, it is a woman’s right to an abortion as categorized under a right to healthcare. So when you have this kind of headline coming directly from the United Nations Population Fund, understand what is being claimed here as optimism and urgency in securing rights for all.

It is also very important for Christians to realize that our understanding of human rights, which is the consistent understanding of human rights behind the Declaration of Independence and the American experiment and constitutional government, the same understanding of rights that developed in Europe as an inheritance of the Christian tradition, that definition of rights, grounds rights in the fact that God has created human beings in his image and thus, it is God who has granted the rights and they are merely to be respected by government and importantly, to be defended by government.

But when you have a modern secular worldview, it has to declare that rights are somehow human just because humans are human, even though the modern worldview has no explanation for why humans are different or distinct in any way. Thus, you have the argument that is increasingly coming that chimps should have attorneys and that animals are people too, so you also have the confusion about just what rights specifically are to be included under this category of human rights in a secular worldview, and you will note that so often, these rights aren’t actually rights at all, and what is absent from this program and list are the actual rights, including a right to life, which actually is fundamental to any sane understanding of human rights.

Part II

BYU Finds Itself Delisted by Scientific Associations Because of LGBTQ Critics: There Is Nowhere Left to Hide from the LGBTQ Revolution — A Warning to Evangelicals

But that story was incredibly important in looking at moral change in the global context. Let’s come back to the United States and consider a headline that warns us about the coercion that comes by the moral revolution in ways that many Americans wouldn’t expect but are profoundly important. NBC News ran a headline with this story, “Scientific groups remove BYU,” that’s Brigham Young University, “job posts over school’s LGBTQ policy.” The story originates in the Associated Press where the press reports, “Two well-known scientific groups have dropped job postings from their websites from Brigham Young University because of the school’s LGBTQ policies igniting a debate on whether research organizations should take a stance on social issues.”

One of the things we need to note, one of the patterns that is most ominous in the world around us is that everything is now becoming political. Retail is political, sports are political, and now, you have the fact that scientific research is becoming increasingly political. The article here takes us to the fact that two different well-recognized scientific groups have decided that they will no longer post job postings at Brigham Young University because Brigham Young University, just as one example in this case, the school at the center of the bullseye, dares to stand over against the absolutist demands of the sexual revolutionaries.

As you no doubt know, the school located in Provo, Utah is a well-known institution, probably the best known academic institution of the Church of Latter Day Saints, the Mormon church. And of course, Brigham Young University is named for the second president of the Mormon movement and there is no question that Brigham Young University is Mormon.

And as a Mormon institution, primarily serving a Mormon population, the university holds all students to an honor code. That honor code prohibits premarital sex, the consumption of alcohol, but also, it prohibits, “Not only sexual relations between members of the same sex, but all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings.” That’s actually a very accurate and important statement included in the honor code at Brigham Young University. And at least something similar and equivalent should be found in the honor code of evangelical Christian institutions.

The Associated Press recognizes tersely, “As a private school and religious institution, the school can legally maintain the honor code.” But as the report tells us, “The American Geophysical Union and the Colorado-based Geological Society of America have taken down their job posting ads at Brigham Young, ‘amid mounting pressure from members.’”

The problem at Brigham Young University, according to the American Geophysical Union and the Geological Society of America — and I mentioned those names again just to point to the fact that they are supposed to be about geology — the problem, according to these groups, is the honor code at Brigham Young University, which they see as discriminatory and thus, they argue that their advertising is also equivalently discriminatory.

One of the activists behind this, a doctoral student in geology at UCLA who identifies as LGBTQ named Ellen Alexander — we’re told she was one of the people who complained on social media about the posting of the jobs by the American Geophysical Union — she said, “That ideology does not deserve an equal seat at the table. It’s not a belief, it’s discrimination.”

Here’s where we need to note this argument with extreme care and urgency. Indeed, you have the argument here that the honor code at Brigham Young University doesn’t represent a belief that would have to be respected because it is sincerely held but rather, you have the argument, it’s not a belief, it’s discrimination. But of course, every belief is a form of discrimination. Every single truth claim says this is true and the opposite is not true. Those who are arguing for the sexual revolution, they are also discriminatory. What you have here is the fact that they are calling for these two different scientific groups successfully, we should note, to discriminate against Brigham Young University. It is absolute moral insanity to use the word “discrimination” in this way as if you are talking about anything sensical. The argument here is that these two scientific agencies and others discriminate in the name of non-discrimination. It’s very similar to an argument made decades ago by the radical philosopher, Herbert Marcuse, that the only form of tolerance that should be tolerated is the tolerance that will not tolerate the intolerant.

The kind of logic that is demonstrated here is revealed in the original report by Courtney Tanner at The Salt Lake Tribune. She cites an authority, Billy Williams, the Vice-President of Ethics, Diversity, and Inclusion of the American Geophysical Union as saying, “AGU has always encouraged and fostered a diverse geoscience community throughout its history because we believe and repeatedly see that diversity and inclusion are essential to advancing science. Since the job posting from BYU referenced its honor code as a requirement of employment, which conflicts with our policy, we removed the job posting from our website.”

So clearly, the BYU honor code applies not only to students but to faculty, and that’s the problem for the American Geophysical Union. We need to note the kind of self-congratulatory language here, which is almost assuredly a misrepresentation. We’re told that this scientific group “has always encouraged and fostered a diverse geoscience community.” That’s almost incomprehensible, as if the organization originally came together in an agenda of the modern conception of diversity that is almost assuredly absolute nonsense, but it’s the kind of nonsense that is now simply expected in this kind of press release.

But the bigger issue is where Billy Williams said, “That diversity and inclusion are essential to advancing science.” That’s the kind of language that drives the moral revolution driving anyone who stands or dares to stand, any institution that dares to stand, over against the coercion of this revolution, holding them as outside, not only of the mainstream, but now opposed to the advancement of science.

The response from Brigham Young University, officially and unofficially, has basically come down to the fact that these two scientific associations, in the name of advancing science and in the service of what they claim would be diversity, are now reducing the diversity of their own memberships and of the job postings that they allow.

But Christians have to understand the ultimate logic of this. Any institution that holds to a similar moral understanding should expect to be similarly excluded from the job postings in these two scientific associations, and it won’t be limited to these two associations. This is like a virus that’s going to spread through all the other scientific associations and unions and societies and before you know it, it will be impossible for any institution that holds to a traditional Christian understanding of morality in marriage or a traditional understanding of gender to be considered as a part of modern science and thus, its graduates and its faculty to be a part of these scientific associations. This is the way coercion works. In this case, it is directed to a Mormon school, but the very same logic could well be extended and will be to any school, Protestant, Catholic, or otherwise, that dares to stand in opposition. And we also need to note that there are far more schools identified with evangelical Christianity than with Mormonism. That represents a far bigger target. There is nowhere for evangelical Christians to hide.

Part III

The New Corporate High Wire Act : Trying to Virtue Signal without Offending (Many) Customers

But next, looking at how some institutions and even corporations are trying to walk the line in this time of moral revolution, the New York Times recently ran an article by Michael Corkery entitled, “Treading a Fine Line Amid Wars Over Culture.” The subhead: “Walmart’s Mission is Well-Honed: Offend as Few People as Possible.”

Corkery writes, “Walmart is getting out of the vaping business but still sell cigarettes. It is working to reduce plastic packaging for the products on its shelves, but continues to use plastic grocery bags at its checkout lines. The company has said that it would no longer offer certain types of ammunition, but it stopped short of barring customers from carrying their guns into stores. Thus,” The New York Times summarizes, “when navigating the nation’s culture wars, Walmart follows a strategy it has honed for years, alienate as few customers as possible and do no harm to its core business. In many cases,” he continues, “it appears to be working. Walmart’s stance on guns, for example, drew a lot of attention but had no discernible impact on overall sales according to a top executive who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters.”

The New York Times article pointed out that on the one hand, Walmart has been getting plaudits from some on the left for taking positions that are identified with moral progressivism. But you might say on the other hand, they’re not taking this too far, as you see with issues of plastic or for that matter, guns. But as The New York Times summarizes, “Interviews with more than a dozen Walmart executives, former executives, company advisors, and regulators show that the retailers’ approach to public policy issues is more nuanced than a desire to simply do the right thing.”

Now, what I want to point out here is the fact that that language indicates that The New York Times is now condescending to tell Walmart that it knows what Walmart should do if Walmart would simply do the right thing rather than follow a more nuanced policy.

But doing the right thing in this case would be doing the right thing according to The New York Times and those The New York Times would recognize as being right-minded people. Christians need to recognize that corporations are going to do what corporations believe will be in their best interest. That’s what the shareholders will demand. That’s what the economy also demands by the very structures of a free market. Eventually, corporations do what corporations believe are in their own best interest. They actually have no other choice.

But the quandary of being observed by others, and we shouldn’t be surprised by the business pages of The New York Times, means that we find paragraphs like this, “On the environment, Walmart has been viewed as an industry leader by reducing carbon emissions in its trucking fleet and supplier network and cutting back on plastic packaging for thousands of food and household items that sells in the stores, but internal company discussions about plastic grocery bag showed the tension between Walmart’s environmental concerns and its sales goals. Walmart continues to use plastic bags in its checkout lines while big competitors like Kroger are phasing them out.”

Well, we can understand the way that change happens in a capitalist society, pressure is broad, moral conditions change, but even as those moral conditions change, business conditions change also. So eventually, using plastic will be so unprofitable that just about every business is going to get out of plastic as much as possible, but we also have to recognize that even as this posturing is taking place, it is impossible to get away from plastics altogether. I’m sitting in a studio that is largely constructed out of plastics. Plastics are an enormous amount of what is now found in automobiles and for that matter and just about every part of every room of every house. Even the activists who are saying we need to get rid of plastics are tapping out their messages on a smartphone largely made of plastic and a good deal of the medical technologies keeping people alive in hospitals and out of hospitals right now are made out of plastic.

And furthermore, for all kinds of reasons, including sanitation and non-contamination, many of those materials are made out of plastic precisely because they are not to be reusable. All you have to do is look at the evidence to understand that we have a huge problem with plastics, and indeed, the overuse of plastics is not good for the earth and it is not good for any of us. But posturing is if we can all of a sudden retreat from plastics is just irrational. It’s not honest. Even the people ready to come and confiscate your straw from your Big Gulp aren’t ready to confiscate your oxygen line. It’s also made out of plastic. Granted they’re not the same issue, but that just points to the complexity of life, which also points to this story that is representative of Walmart, in moral terms, what’s most interesting is the fact that Walmart is trying to offend the least number of consumers possible.

And the final issue for Christians to consider is the impossibility of treading that line for long. I mean, just look at the story we did about those two scientific associations. You would think that it would be difficult to run into conflict with the American Geophysical Union. You would think, but it’s not. Just ask Brigham Young University. And Walmart might decide it doesn’t really want to take a corporate policy on anything that will alienate a considerable number of its customers, but it will and inevitably, it does. We are a society right now so divided over basic issues that there is no company that is representative of all Americans and any company runs the risk of ticking off an incredible percentage of Americans at any turn.

But there was an incredible insight that perhaps was inadvertently given in this story by the CEO of Walmart, Dan McMillon, who said during a 2017 interview, “Politics moves around.” That meant that a company can’t overreact to politics but the big issue here is the fact that he’s absolutely right, politics moves around. Today, the political obsession is X, but tomorrow, it will be Y. When it comes to the great moral issues of life, Americans shouldn’t look to Walmart or any other corporation or for that matter, as we now know, to the American Geophysical Union, as a lodestar. That raises the issue, what then would be the lodestar? And in a secular society, that changes too. It could be X today and Y tomorrow.

But for Christians, it just undergirds the fact that our authority isn’t anything that is here today and gone tomorrow. But being committed to the one true and living God and to the authority of his Word is sure to get us into trouble and probably, with a far larger percentage of the population than Walmart might risk on any single policy.

All these stories today coming from places as distant as Nairobi, and Provo, Utah, and Northwestern, Arkansas, they just remind us that there is no place safe in the midst of these revolutionary times. And these stories indicate that the moral revolutionaries think they have the upper hand, and right now, unquestionably, they do. But we also see that they create an insatiable appetite for moral revolution that even they will not be able to contain. And if Christians begin to take our moral cues from anything other than the Word of God, we also are in big trouble.

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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