briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, February 6, 2020

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

It’s Thursday, February 6, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Senate Votes to Acquit President Trump on Both Articles of Impeachment: The End of a National Ordeal?

The impeachment trial of the president of the United States in the United States Senate is now concluded, and it concluded in just the way it was expected to end, although the numbers came out to be just a little bit different and that becomes a part of the story.

On article one, the Senate voted 52 to 48 to acquit the president of the United States and thus not to remove him from office. On article two of the articles of impeachment from the House of Representatives, the Senate voted 53 to 47. Why the discrepancy in numbers, 52-48 on the first article, 53-47 on the second article? It had to do with the fact that for the first time in American history, a United States Senator of the same party as the impeached president voted to convict that president and to remove him from office. In this case, it was Republican Senator Mitt Romney of the state of Utah. Now this is going to be one of those votes that is considered and reconsidered, debated and debated again in American history.

Why did Mitt Romney vote as he did? Well, in a statement that he made to the United States Senate, he said that he was voting to convict the president on article one, abuse of power, and not on article two of obstruction of Congress. Now, why did he do that? Well, he said he did it because he was convinced that the president’s actions when it came to his conversation with the president of Ukraine, actually constituted an abuse of office for which there was justification to remove him as president of the United States.

Now, one of the things to keep in mind here, and it’s simply a matter of math, is that Mitt Romney knew he was casting that vote when there could have been virtually no opportunity that that vote would have actually removed the sitting president of the United States. Now, people are going to be looking at this from all kinds of angles. In one sense, let’s just assume that what he did, he did out of conviction. Well, you can understand that if he did indeed believe what he said to the United States Senate and he did believe that the president’s actions justified removal from office, then you would explain his vote by saying that at the end of the day he wanted to make certain that his particular conviction was recorded in American history. You might also say that Mitt Romney, who has himself a very interesting political pedigree . . . for example, he was a fairly liberal Republican governor of Massachusetts, an extremely liberal state, before he became a fairly conservative United States Senator from the very Republican, very conservative state of Utah.

And as you think about the span of American history, consider the fact that Mitt Romney’s late father was actually the Republican governor of Michigan, also fairly liberal when it came to many state policies and it was also the elder Romney who ran in 1968 for the Republican presidential nomination. And it was yet the son, Mitt Romney, after serving as governor of Massachusetts, who actually became the nominee of the Republican party and gained its presidential nomination in the year 2012. This is a very interesting story, but the reality is that we are not given the power to read another human being’s mind and heart. We can actually, in this case, read only another human being’s actions and words, and the Senator from Utah offered words and took an action that will indeed be recorded in history.

But the big fact recorded in history when it comes to the decision in the United States Senate yesterday is that again, the United States Senate maintained the fact that no president of the United States has ever in the entire course of American history, been impeached by the United States House of Representatives and then removed from office by the United States Senate. That didn’t happen with Andrew Johnson. That didn’t happen with Bill Clinton and now it didn’t happen with President Donald Trump. It also as a footnote, didn’t happen with President Richard Nixon, who was not impeached by the House but would have been, and was not removed by the Senate, but almost assuredly would have been. But in light of that actually resigned. The fact is that in over 200 years of American constitutional history, there has not been a president of the United States, not one who has been impeached by the House of Representatives and then removed from office. What does that tell us about our constitutional order? What does that tell us in worldview significance about the meaning of American politics today?

Well, just consider the fact that at least in part what this tells us is that it takes a monumental reason and it takes a monumental exercise of political will for the United States Senate to actually convict a president of the United States on articles of impeachment and thus remove a president from office. And here’s where in worldview analysis, I think we have to understand that is actually a very good thing. Why is it a good thing? Because we’re not talking about a king. We’re not talking about attempting to impeach and to remove a king who isn’t accountable by means of elections. We are talking about an elected official. Every four years, the people of the United States get to decide who they want to be president. In the case of President Trump, the people of the United States are going to decide again in the year 2020.

The United States Senate over the entire course of American history has never yet encountered a problem with a president that has led to the Senate’s decision to remove that president from office. Now, while there are going to be many people who will criticize that fact, just keep in mind that it is in itself a testimony to the basic stability and thus to the wisdom of America’s constitutional order. There is a provision in the Constitution to impeach and then to remove a president of the United States. If the president actually threatens the national security of the United States, actually threatens the people of the United States and its government in one way or another, actually represents a president who simply cannot be allowed to remain in office. That hasn’t happened and over two centuries of American constitutional tradition, and we should be very thankful that it hasn’t. We should also be thankful that that provision is there.

If there ever is a president who acts in such a way that a super majority of United States senators decide that he must be removed from office after the House has voted to impeach, well in that case, we will be very glad that that constitutional provision is there and that the founders included it in the Constitution of 1789. But we should also be very thankful that given the political stability and the continued constitutional operation of this government, we should be very thankful that we’re not a nation that has ever actually experienced the trauma of a removal of president from office. That means, in effect, telling the American people that they made a mistake in the election. That means, in effect, saying that the national destiny and the actual survival of the United States and its constitutional order requires the removal of a president of the United States. Once the issues are actually understood in those terms, well, we can all understand why to date, no president has ever yet been removed from office.

But it’s also interesting in worldview analysis to understand that there will be perhaps unintended but unavoidable consequences of this entire cycle. It’s been an extremely partisan cycle. With the exception of that one vote on one article by one United States Senator Mitt Romney, this has been an entirely partisan event. It’s exactly what, at least some leaders in the Democratic party said would represent an invalid impeachment process until they got themselves involved in this one, which turned out to be just as partisan as what they said would be illegitimate.

Part II

What Happens Now that the Impeachment Trial Is Over? Consequences of the Entire Process

Gerald F. Seib writing before the Senate verdict in an article in The Wall Street Journal pointed to several of the likely impacts of impeachment, impacts that he said will be felt for years. He said for one thing that this demonstrates the country is even more polarized. Indeed, it does. That polarization is now such a fact of American national life that it basically is the furniture with which the room is set.

And when you think about what we witnessed on Tuesday night in the State of the Union Address, well there, you didn’t have to be told about that political polarization. You could basically just look at it, you could watch it. And at this point in worldview analysis we have to understand it’s not an accident. You don’t have two political parties that are just lined up as say, a blue team wearing a blue jersey and a red team wearing the red jersey just deciding to compete with one another on a political field of combat. No, there are very real issues at stake. Some of the most basic issues we could imagine including the dignity and sanctity of unborn human life. You’re looking at an entire worldview chasm that separates the two parties, and you are looking at the fact that given the reality of the recent impeachment process, America is if it’s even conceivable, even more polarized. And of course, it is actually conceivable and we are now experiencing it.

There is another thing that Gerald Seib pointed out, and this is also really important. As he said, the executive strengthens further. Now, when you look at the history of the American presidency, you have to understand that as we see in the Federalist Papers, the founders of America’s Constitutional Order understood that they did not want a monarch, but they did want an elected chief executive and they empower that chief executive in rather remarkable ways. When you’re looking at the American government, because of the founders’ understanding of the corrupting power of sin and thus the separation of powers into three separate branches—legislative, judicial, and executive—the fact is that as you see in the Federalist Papers, the founders designed the presidency with an intention to put energy in the executive. That’s the language—energy in the executive. The executive has to be able to execute. The president has to be able to preside.

But all throughout American history there has been the daunting, haunting question. When is a presidency strong enough and when is the presidency too strong? Well, one of the things we look at repeatedly on The Briefing is the fact that Congress continues to abdicate its responsibility. Far too much is actually now taking place through the executive branch when actually these issues should be decided by, or at least legislated by the Congress, but Congress no longer rewards that kind of legislation. Congress tends to try to avoid the actual responsibility of that kind of legislation.

So much of the energy in the United States has now shifted to an administrative, managerial state in which through the executive branches, decisions are made by well, those who are holding administrative responsibility. And this tremendously strengthens the executive branch in a way that was not envisioned by the founders. But the reality is that when you are looking at the 20th century, there are two very important dates or at least two very important presidencies in this regard. The first was early in the 20th century, the presidency of Woodrow Wilson. Woodrow Wilson believed that what the United States needed was an extremely strong executive who would represent the will of the people and would begin to run the country as a modern state, that was very important in the early 20th century, seeking efficiency of action and basically finding a way for the president to rule in a far more central way than had been envisioned by the American Constitutional Order. And Woodrow Wilson was largely successful.

Another president to keep in mind here would be Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In the middle of the 20th century, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt would become the extension of Wilson’s logic. But the second president to which I want to point was fairly near the end of the 20th century, and that was President Ronald Reagan. Unlike Wilson and Roosevelt, Reagan was a Republican president, and unlike Wilson and Roosevelt, Reagan was a conservative president. But by the time Reagan was elected in 1980 having served two terms as the governor of the nation’s most populous state, California, Reagan had also learned that given the political shape of the United States, by the time he was elected in 1980, what conservatives had to seize upon if they wanted effective national leadership and the federal government was once again, energy in the executive. By the time you get to our own period, again, you have Congress receding into the background.

As Gerard Seib pointed out, “Lawmakers from both parties have on multiple fronts among them war powers, trade strategy, spending and immigration policy, steadily seeded power to the president over the last two decades. Republican conservatives though traditionally leery of too much centralized power anywhere in government have gone along.” Indeed that’s actually true and it’s also true that any effort at any time, regardless of party to remove a president and then not to remove a president ends up actually strengthening the presidency. That’s how it works.

But even if it is true that one inevitable result of this entire process is going to be the effective strengthening of the executive branch and of the presidency, it is also true that the net effect of this entire process has been to weaken the nation as a whole. This is not the way the nation should be seen to act as a beacon for democracy before a watching world.

Part III

The Moral Revolution Demands Complete Conformity: Private Religious Schools in Florida Told to Get in Line with the Revolution

Next, there’s a really big story coming out of Florida and it will send a signal far beyond the sunshine state. It began with an investigative report that was published in the Orlando Sentinel, the major newspaper of Orlando right there in the center of the state. Leslie Postal and Annie Martin writing the story said, “In the shadow of a nearly 200-foot cross, Central Florida Christian Academy enrolls students who live by the Bible’s commands and abstain from ‘sexual immorality’ meaning gay children aren’t welcome on the state-supported campus in west Orange County.” Well, what does it mean, first of all, the state supported campus? Well, what it means is that Florida has one of those systems that offers vouchers for private education to parents on the basis of a fund that is set up and partially funded by tax credits. It is not direct tax subsidy of the schools, but rather it is a voucher that is backed up with tax credit monies that is given to parents in order to send their children to private schools. This is under the umbrella of school choice.

This is exactly what we talked about just a few weeks ago as a major case from Montana is coming before the Supreme Court of the United States. But the way that lead sentence was written, putting the words “sexual immorality” in quotation marks, and the fact that the students continued saying that at the school, gay children aren’t welcome. Well, you can tell exactly where this argument is going. And this investigative report is an argument and the argument is not limited to this report. The Orlando Sentinel has now released at least two major editorial statements that continue the argument. As the article, the investigative report continues, the reporters go from school to school throughout much of Florida looking particularly at Christian schools that operate on the basis of Christian biblical conviction when it comes to what is taught, when it comes to student discipline policies, when it comes to admissions policies and hiring policies.

Well, what this article tells us is that at least 14% of Florida’s nearly 147,000 scholarship students in last year, “Attended private schools where homosexuality was condemned or at a minimum, unwelcome.” Now you don’t have to go more than just a few inches in this article to understand where it’s headed. It’s headed towards what is intended to be understood as a vast expose of discrimination going on in private schools in Florida, supported by this voucher program. And the entire premise of the article is that this is scandalous. It must be wrong.

The government of Florida must disqualify schools that would operate on Christian conviction in this way from the voucher program. And if that doesn’t happen, then someone has to take it to the courts. Furthermore, companies, major American and Florida corporations funding these voucher programs must be served notice as this investigative report seeks to do, that they are funding discrimination. So what we see here is the intersection of so much of what is going on in the midst of the moral revolution. We see the state of Florida here being told, “You must not discriminate. You must not allow these Christian schools operating on the basis of Christian conviction to continue to operate in this voucher program.”

School choice, according to this argument, cannot include schools that discriminate on any basis. But of course, let’s just point out the fact that just about every school discriminates on some basis. Otherwise, you can’t have a school unless you’re deciding who is and is not a student. But you’re looking at the fact that the other intersection here is between the entire idea of operating a school and the new moral mandate of the moral revolutionaries claiming that whatever you do, you cannot oppose the LGBTQ revolution and you must not only tolerate it and embrace it, you must do so enthusiastically.

Now, as you’re looking at the evidence provided in this investigative report, the reporters again go from school to school and they document what is supposed to be a litany of horrors. For example, a school in Clearwater, we are told, denies admissions to students if they or someone in their home are practicing a “homosexual lifestyle or alternative gender identity” or beyond that are “promoting such practices.” A school in Melbourne, Florida, we are told, keeps an expulsion list with homosexual act among the offenses alongside bringing weapons to campus, distributing drugs, and striking a staff member. Well, the article discuss on again and again and again. The reporters tell us that last year, 156 private Christian schools with these types of anti-gay views educated more than 20,800 students with tuition paid for by state scholarships. Again, the newspaper says, crediting its own investigation.

Suzanne Eckes, a professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Indiana University. She said, “All students should be welcome at a K-12 school, especially those schools that receive public money.” She went on to say, “I think the big question is, ‘Hey, citizens of the state of Florida, do you want your tax payer money used in this way?'” Now, looking at this analysis, let’s just consider the fact that there is an effort here to try to deal with K-12 education through this voucher program in Florida, without acknowledging that inevitably the same kind of logic extends to any kind of tax payer funding when it comes to institutions or for that matter to individual scholarships that might go to Christian colleges or universities. It is the same kind of pattern and you’re going to see the same kind of argument.

The Orlando Sentinel article tells us, “Several Democratic law makers this year are pushing to change that, arguing private schools that accept state money shouldn’t be able to discriminate against some of the state’s students. But,” we are told, “their proposals look unlikely to pass in the Republican controlled Florida legislature.”

One administrator in a Christian school in Florida told the Sentinel, “A fundamental tenant of our democracy is the right to hold and express varying beliefs and viewpoints, which includes beliefs and viewpoints informed by one’s religious convictions.” And the administrator went on to argue that the state shouldn’t try to change those. He said, “Faith-based admission requirements and codes of conduct ensure that our schools can create the learning environment where religious values are passed along to the next generation.”

Now, let’s note something else that should be very central to our understanding of this issue. Here you are looking at parental choice. You’re looking at the fact that parents have decided to send their children to these schools. No one has told the parents that they must. The parents are looking at an array of educational options—everything from the public school to any number of private schools, including some private schools that would assuredly not operate from a Christian worldview commitment. But the parents have instead chosen to send their children to schools that do maintain that commitment. One of the things we need to note here is that when you have this kind of revolution in morality that is now encapsulated in the letters LGBTQ, one of the things that we have to note is that government and the forces that try to bring pressure on government try to bring absolute coercion and absolute uniformity of the entire system.

One of the mechanisms they use and one of the arguments they make is that if there is any government money involved at all, then there must be no discrimination. Now again, a footnote, there is no sane person who actually believes that there should be no discrimination. The issue here is over what is rightful discrimination and what is wrongful discrimination. And you will note that in the name of non-discrimination, the entire logic of this article, not to mention the editorials the paper ran, is that we must enforce diversity by making the private schools involved in this program less diverse. Once again, we see the pattern of the intolerance of those who act in the name of what they claim to be tolerance.

Now this comes up again in a related article on this issue. This one by Valerie Strauss of The Washington Post. The headline is, “Two major banks pull support from Florida school voucher programs because of LGBTQ policies.” Well, here you have The Washington Post looking at this controversy in Florida and the fact that after the Orlando Sentinel investigative report and after the paper’s editorials, major corporations were put on notice that they’re going to be outed if they funded this program and the program continues to allow these Christian schools to be included.

Well, at least one of the banks that pulled out was Wells Fargo. The company said in a statement, “We have reviewed this matter carefully and we decided to no longer support Step Up for Students. All of us at Wells Fargo highly value diversity and inclusion and we oppose discrimination of any kind.” Now just notice the language there and notice how the language is made to stand on its head. “Wells Fargo,” we are told, “highly values diversity and inclusion. Therefore, we’re going to demand the exclusion of Christian schools. That’s how committed to inclusion we are.”

Interestingly, the other major bank here was Fifth Third Bank that announced that it was also pulling funding and it also used the word “inclusive” saying that it would stop all contributions until, “More inclusive policies have been adopted by all participating schools.” It’s a demand for a less inclusive policy in the state funding in order to demand more inclusive policies—you see how the language works—when it comes to the policies of the schools. In other words, “Christian schools, abandon your Christian convictions. They’re not allowed anymore. Get in line and march in step to the moral revolution.”

There’s another interesting historical note just as I look at this very extensive investigative report in the Orlando Sentinel. When the reporters go school by school pulling out the supposedly inflammatory and horrifying language about sexual morality, as I look at it, there’s something that strikes me. Almost every school, including most public schools, would have had similar language until very recently in the span of human history, even very recently in the span of American history, even very recently in the span of Florida history. The fact is that we are looking at a moral revolution that is a revolution in morality that has happened so fast that in one lifetime or even just a part of a lifetime, you can see an entire moral universe turned upside down. And with turning the entire moral universe upside down, the moral revolutionaries now want to shake the world in order to find out which schools and which people and which churches and which institutions are going to fall out of the order.

A January 28 editorial from the paper was headlined, “Companies can’t support gay rights while also supporting gay discrimination at schools.” All you need to see is the headline to understand the argument made by the editorial board of the newspaper. “Companies, you’re going to be outed as inconsistent and discriminatory unless you get out and demand that the schools that won’t get with it fall in line.”

An editorial that ran just three days later dated January 31 has the headline, “The moment is now for LGBTQ equality in Florida schools and everyday life.” Now, just notice here you have a headline that jumps from Florida schools to everyday life. This is a revolution that’s not going to leave any single tiny patch of life unclaimed.

It may be that there are some out there, especially in states other than Florida, who are saying, “Well, we’re safe from this kind of threat because we don’t have a similar voucher program.” Don’t fool yourself. This kind of logic and the coercion that comes with it is coming for you and for your school. If not on the basis of a voucher, then something else, very fast and you can count on it.

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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