briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, February 27, 2020

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

It’s Thursday, February 27, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Coronavirus Threatens 2020 Olympics and Global Market: A Reminder of the Fragility of Human Life and Experience

Just over a hundred years ago, we did not know they existed and now we’re talking about it just about every hour of every day. I’m talking about viruses. What exactly is a virus? This word has become so common in our vocabulary over the last several weeks. A virus is actually an infectious agent that can only replicate inside a living organism. That’s what makes it different from some other forms of threats to human beings. When you’re looking at a virus, you are looking at a little chemical and genetic compound that the evolutionists and materialists say exists only to replicate itself and at that it is spectacularly effective. Viruses, as I said, can replicate themselves only within living organisms and they basically use those living organisms as hosts that enable themselves to reproduce. They use up the energy and of course the resources of that host, whether it is a bacterium or it is a human being. But viruses as we know are microscopic in size, but all of a sudden we are reminded of the vulnerability, the fragility of human beings because as we now know, viruses can and do kill us.

The COVID-19 virus, which is a form of Coronavirus has now infected as of this morning 80,238 people. Leading to at least a documented 2,700 deaths. Less than a hundred cases thus far in the United States, but hotspots have emerged around the world in unlikely places perhaps by our imagination, including Milan, Italy and the nation of Iran.

But consider the fact that this little microscopic infectious agent is now making headline news, threatening a global impact on the economy, and even as international media made clear yesterday threatening the cancellation of the 2020 summer Olympic games in Tokyo.

Now all of a sudden we’re talking about this tiny little infectious agent being a world changer. How did that happen? We’re supposed to be living in an age of radical modern advances. We are living in the age of modern medicine and yet we are looking at a little organism that is turning the world upside down. We’re also looking at an organism that despite all of modern science and modern medicine is not yet completely understood. It is not yet ascertained exactly what the death rate is expected to be from COVID-19. But it is known that the virus is spreading very rapidly and unexpectedly.

Now going back to the early 20th century, the influenza epidemic that killed so many millions of people on both sides of the Atlantic then was believed to have been facilitated and accelerated by the World War itself and the movement of so many troops and others that were involved in the war effort. But remember that at that point we were talking about the very earliest stages of aviation with almost no passenger aviation and we were talking about all of those troops and others having to travel across the landmass on wheels or, still at that time, even many on horses and others crossing the oceans by ships. But now we are looking at the age of modern aviation when people can go to an airport in China and land just less than 24 hours later virtually anywhere in the United States. And of course the airplanes can go in all directions, and because of that it has become nearly impossible to limit the movement of human beings sufficient to stop the spread of this kind of infectious agent. And one of the other things we have to recognize is that we are looking at the potential for a very significant economic impact. This is not to say that it will lead to anything like a recession or a depression, but it is to say that that tiny little infectious agent has become a very important economic actor, not only in China but also in the United States and elsewhere.

And then that unexpected news that many had not even imagined that the summer Olympic games might be canceled. Those games were only canceled one other time in the history of the modern Olympics movement. And that was because of what became World War Two and those cancelled games were in Tokyo where the 2020 summer Olympic games are also scheduled to be held. Stephen Wade reporting for the Associated Press tells us, “A senior member of the International Olympic Committee said Tuesday that if it proves too dangerous to hold the Olympics in Tokyo this summer because of the Coronavirus outbreak, organizers are more likely to cancel it altogether than to postpone or to move it.”

That turns out to be very interesting. The entire Olympic movement involves not only thousands of athletes but thousands more who are involved as judges and organizers and volunteers. There are Olympic committees and there are all the different events and there are all kinds of preliminary events that lead up to even determining who was going to be qualified to compete in the 2020 Olympics. All of that is thrown off if the Olympics are not held exactly as they are scheduled. As the Olympic organizers have made clear in international press reports, it is a very finely detailed plan that can’t be adjusted just a little bit. It turns out that there is no practical way to postpone the games. There is no practical way to redistribute the games. We are really looking at the fact that at this point the Olympic authorities are saying to athletes, go ahead and train as if the Olympics are going to be held, but there’s actually no assurance. They are now saying according to the Associated Press that they will have to make an announcement within the next 90 days as to whether or not the Olympics are going to be held. One of the little footnotes in the news reports is that the food orders have to be placed by then. That’s just a reminder of how fragile human society can sometimes turn out to be.

The articles in the financial pages are also very interesting because those who are involved in selling or trading internationally and that means virtually everyone in a globally connected economy, they now have a great deal at stake in the future of this virus. And thus you are seeing very real impact even in the stock markets in the United States and in Europe right now with those who are investors trying to figure out where the virus is going in terms of impact in their own national economy and worldwide. Now, how should Christians think about this? Well, what a reminder it is of the fact that we live in a fallen world and what a reminder we need that human beings are more fragile than we would like to think. How humbling does it turn out to be that even in the year 2020 when we believe that we have conquered so much, there is so little at this point we actually know about this virus.

Now, of course, you have national leaders including President Trump in the United States offering assurance, and in the U.S. even as the Centers for Disease Control have indicated that this could become a major problem here, at this point, efforts have indicated that there are far less than a hundred cases in the United States. Yesterday in a publicized event, the president of the United States announced that he had appointed the vice president, Mike Pence, to lead the national effort to confront the challenge of COVID-19 the Coronavirus.

But as a Christian, there’s something else that comes to my mind and that is the fact that human beings are always closer than we would like to think to something that will kill us. This point was made most emphatically by one of the greatest preachers in American history Jonathan Edwards in his most famous sermon entitled “Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God.” He based that sermon upon Deuteronomy 32:35, “Their foot shall slide in due time.”

Edwards preached that sermon on July the eighth of 1741 in Enfield, Massachusetts. And in that sermon he made some astounding statements that resound not only through American history, but also in Christian ears. He said this, “It is no security to wicked men for one moment that there are no visible means of death at hand. It is no security to a natural man that he is now in health and that he does not see which way he should immediately go out of the world by any accident and that there is no visible danger in any respect in his circumstances. The manifold and continual experience of the world in all ages,” said Edwards, “shows that this is no evidence that a man is not on the very brink of eternity and that the next step will not be into another world. The unseen, unthought ways and means a person’s going suddenly out of the world are actually,” Edwards said, “innumerable and inconceivable. Unconverted men,” he said, “walk over the pit of hell on a rotten covering. And there are innumerable places in this covering so weak that they will not bear their weight and these places are not seen. The arrows of death,” he said “fly unseen at noon day. The sharpest sight cannot discern them. God has so many different unsearchable ways of taking wicked men out of the world and sending them to hell, that there is nothing to make it appear that God had need to be at the expense of a miracle or go out of the ordinary course of his providence to destroy any wicked man at any moment.”

He concluded, “All the means that there are of sinners going out of the world are so in God’s hands and so universally and absolutely subject to his power and determination that it does not depend at all the less on the mere will of God where the sinners shall at any moment go to hell then if means we’re never made use of or at all concerned in the case.”

Now that is 18th century language used by perhaps the most famous theologian of American history to describe the plight of human beings. When he speaks of the death of wicked men, number one, he doesn’t mean just men, he means men and women. And when he says wicked, he doesn’t mean especially wicked or notorious sinners, he means all human beings who’ve fallen short of the glory of God and sinned against God. When he speaks of wicked man, he speaks of all humanity and he makes a profound point. Human beings do not want to think that they are one step from death. They don’t want to imagine that they are just one instant from eternal judgment. They want to believe that the ground that they stand on is firm, they don’t understand, as Edwards said, that they are walking as if across a net and that there are holes in that net, and that as Moses said in Deuteronomy 32:35, “Their foot shall slide in due time.”

Now here we are in the year 2020 and I’m very thankful for the advances of modern medicine. I do not want to go back to a pre-modern age of medicine. I don’t want to go back before modern germ theory. I don’t want to go back to a period before surgeons washed their hands between patients. I don’t want to go back before anesthesia or antibiotics. I don’t want to go back before vaccines and modern treatments for these diseases. But I do want us to recognize that even at our best, we have only so much to say about the progress of a disease. This tiny little invisible infectious agent is threatening to have an impact not only in the world economy, not only on the Olympics and furthermore, other headlines say international soccer competitions beginning in just a matter of days. But it also comes as a reminder of the fact that plague infectious diseases has been one of the longest surviving enemies of humankind identified in the book of Revelation as one of the greatest threats to human beings have ever faced and a reminder of divine judgment, which is surely to come.

One final footnote, interestingly since I mentioned Jonathan Edwards. How did Jonathan Edwards die? Jonathan Edwards wanted to make the point that God had created a rational universe for his rational creatures to understand. Jonathan Edwards, that great Puritan theologian believed in the development of medical knowledge and even of the emergence of what was then known as early modern science. Jonathan Edwards wanted to make that point and so he accepted the treatment of a vaccine for smallpox. But at that point, the vaccines were badly calibrated and rather than being vaccinated against smallpox, Jonathan Edwards was infected with smallpox. And having just before that become the president of what we now know as Princeton University, Jonathan Edwards died.

My point here is actually not about vaccines per se at all, but about Jonathan Edwards who had warned in his sermon that men do not know when they may die or of what cause. They may be healthy one day only to be dead the next. Jonathan Edwards knew of which he spoke. Most importantly, he knew about his assurance in Christ.

Part II

Two Significant Pro-Life Bills Fail in the Senate This Week: A Revealing Roll Call on Late-Term Abortion and Infanticide

But next, we turn to Washington D.C. A very important headline in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times. The article is by Sheryl Gay Stolberg and the headline “Senate Democrats block a pair of abortion bills.” Now we saw this coming, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell had announced days ago that he would be bringing to the Senate floor two particular bills that would have to do with abortion. Both of them very important. Neither of them he knew would be adopted by the Senate because neither of them would garner the requisite 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. But the point is that the majority leader made certain that the bills hit the floor and senators are now on the record on these two crucial issues.

Just the day before, the New York Times had run a story by the same reporter, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, which had anticipated Tuesday’s developments with these words, “Senator Mitch McConnell is about to plunge the Senate into the nation’s culture wars with votes on bills to restrict access to late-term abortions and threatened some doctors who perform them with criminal penalties signaling that Republicans plan to make curbing a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy, a central theme of their reelection campaigns this year.”

Now I read that statement just as I did because I want to look at this issue not only because of the legislation that’s important in its own right, but also because of how this issue is treated in the mainstream media and especially by a newspaper such as the New York Times. That final sentence of that opening paragraph says that Republicans plan, “To make curbing a woman’s right to terminate pregnancy a central thing.” Just consider the way that’s phrased. “A woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy.” That is not unloaded language, that is language that is being used here in order to signal what the New York Times wants its readers to understand is the right and on the other hand the wrong position on the question of abortion.

A day later, again the same reporter tells us, “Senate Democrats on Tuesday blocked action on legislation that would ban almost all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and impose criminal penalties on doctors who fail to aggressively treat babies born after abortions, casting a pair of votes that Republicans hoped to use to their advantage in the 2020 elections.”

One thing to notice here very quickly is that in both of those lead statements, the reporter acts as if politics is the sine qua non. The political impact of these bills hitting the floor of the Senate are in the view of the New York Times or at least in this coverage, the most important issue. It’s politics that frames the reality. What is missing from the language and what is missing from the political context of this reporting is the fact that what is at stake is an unborn human being. And that what abortion is, is the termination, the ending of the life of that unborn baby, the intentional murder of the unborn. Now, of course that’s loaded language that is moralistic language, but notice that the New York Times is also using moralistic language of its own. But that language is intended to make the issue the politics rather than the act of abortion.

There’s also a great deal of confusion that is very much at stake in these two pieces of legislation. One of them was a law that was initiated by South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. It would effectively have limited or prohibited almost all abortions in the third trimester of pregnancy. And the crucial argument that was used in the Graham bill was that fetuses at that stage of development can feel pain and thus have legal standing to have their right to survive in the womb and to avoid that pain upheld as a constitutional requirement. But of course those who are intent upon supporting abortion for any reason or for no reason at all, at every stage of development right up until the moment of birth, they oppose this legislation because they said it infringes upon a woman’s right to choose. That’s the language they use, but also note something else. It is an interference they said in the relationship between a woman and her doctor in the process of reproductive healthcare. Now again, when we’re talking about abortion, we’re talking about the opposite of reproductive, but we are looking at a moral battle that is fought with the weapons of vocabulary.

Now on the issue of abortion, there’s an almost classic partisan divide and that has been growing more acute in recent years in American politics. And this was generally a party line vote, but not entirely. As Stolberg reports, “The votes prompted moderates in both parties to cross party lines. Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, and Doug Jones, Democrat of Alabama, both facing tough reelection campaigns, each split their votes backing one bill but not the other as did Senator Lisa Murkowski Republican of Alaska.” The next sentence states this, “Democrats who have long accused Republicans of waging a war on women’s reproductive rights, revived that line of attack. They accused Mr. McConnell of playing politics with the senate’s time by staging show votes on measures he knew would fail while refusing to take up hundreds of bills already passed by the house Democrats including those to protect women’s health.”

Now just notice that language, it’s downright Orwellian. It’s actually a classic example of how so many in the mainstream media want to immediately turn the issue of abortion at all extents away from any consideration of the unborn baby and only to the existence of the woman who was the only morally significant factor or actor so long as the pro-choice or pro-abortion movement insists.

But there’s something else of extreme importance here, we need to look at a couple of factors. For one thing, the first bill was known as the pain capable unborn child protection act and it would limit almost all abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy. From a Christian worldview by the way, we do not understand any moral distinction between the 19th week and the 20th week. We believe that the abortion of any child at any stage of development from the moment of fertilization is morally wrong and tantamount to the intentional ending and destruction of a human life.

The sanctity of human life requires the defense of that unborn human life, not only at 20 weeks, not only with the development of the ability to experience pain. And for that matter, we have to understand that the Christian worldview disallows any distinction by development or condition for the defense of the sanctity of human life. But we also have to note something here and that is that the pro-abortion movement is intent on supporting all abortions as we saw in the state of New York, but also in Illinois and other states thereafter, all the way up until the moment of birth, right up until the baby draws its first breath outside of the womb. You would say, well, at least at that point, evidently even the Democrats would recognize a baby’s right to life.

But at this point you have underestimated the lethal intention and logic of the pro-abortion movement because the second bill that was brought to the Senate this week is known as the Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which was sponsored by Nebraska Republican Senator Ben Sasse. Senator Sasse’s bill would actually not affect abortion at all. The accomplishment of the passage of this bill would not limit abortion at all. Now, Senator Sasse and the others who supported this bill do want to limit abortion, but the point is that this particular bill simply identified a baby that survived the process of abortion as an American citizen and a human being deserving of the protection of life and of whatever medical treatments might be expended on another baby in exactly the same circumstance. We have to recognize that in the moral corruption and confusion of America right now, you can have in one facility a baby with the exact same condition, a baby at the same point of development that is the recipient of heroic medical treatment to try to save that baby’s life while right down the hall a baby with the identical circumstances can have its life basically terminated simply because its mother does not want it.

Senator Sasse has been emphatic and eloquent in his defense of the legislation, pointing out that opposition to this legislation is actually tantamount to the support for infanticide. At this point, I go back to the coverage in the New York Times. “To that Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the number two Democrat shot back that infanticide was already a crime. He cited the case of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, an abortion doctor in Philadelphia who was convicted in 2013 of three counts of first degree murder after botching abortions on poor women late in their pregnancies and is now in prison. That’s why I think your bill is unnecessary,” he said to Senator Sasse. “Mr. Sasse insisted that doctors in abortion clinics were engaging in passive infanticide by withholding care from babies who survive abortions.” Senator Sasse said, “That’s what we should prevent and that’s what this legislation is about.”

Notice the illogic of the opposition to this bill. If they say that infanticide is wrong and if they go in to say that infanticide is already illegal, why would they oppose a bill that would simply stipulate with greater definition the horror of infanticide and make clear just how illegal and wrong that it is? Opposition to this bill and in this case Senator Sasse is absolutely right, is tantamount to embracing the logic of infanticide. And Senator Sasse helps us also by pointing out that infanticide, the killing of a human infant, is infanticide, whether it is morally characterized as active infanticide or passive infanticide. In either case, the human guilt is clear.

Part III

How Much Is at Stake in the 2020 Elections? Why the Battle for the Federal Courts Is a Defining Issue for Both Parties in 2020

Finally, yesterday on The Briefing they talked about the efforts to restructure and to correct the federal judiciary with President Trump having nominated and the Senate having confirmed more than 190 federal judges.

We also talked about the fact that president Trump in 2016 had offered a list from which he would draw judicial nominees and most importantly nominees for the United States Supreme Court. We also pointed out that Democrats at this point had been averse to the very idea of such a list and yesterday we talked about why. But in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times, Carl Hulse wrote an article with the headline, “A sign of liberals push to hone fight for the courts.” Hulse reports, “Russ Feingold, the former Democratic Senator from Wisconsin is assuming the leadership of the American Constitution Society, a progressive group active on judicial nominations and the justice system signaling that Democrats are planning an aggressive effort to sharpen their focus on the federal courts as a defining issue.” All of that simply to say that as predictable as this news is, it underlines the fact not only that elections have consequences, but that the federal courts are now front and center in the attention of both parties as we look to the 2020 presidential election.

You’re looking at the fact that here a very prominent ex-United States Senator a Democrat is taking control of the American Constitution Society that could be seen as basically the ideological opposite of the Federalist society and the battle is joined. It’s a battle of ideas. It’s a battle over how the United States Constitution is to be interpreted and it is a battle over what kind of role the judiciary should have in the United States. This story in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times coming so fast on the heels of the articles we discussed yesterday on The Briefing is just a reminder that anyone with even one eye open looking at the reality of the 2020 presidential race understands just how much is at stake.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’m speaking to you before a live audience in Santa Clarita, California, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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