briefing, Albert Mohler

Friday, May 15, 2020

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

It’s Friday, May 15, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

A New Wave of Socialists in America? What Exactly Does That Mean?

One of the most interesting developments concerning developments of recent times is the increased popularity of socialism, some brand of socialism, even if it is an imaginary socialism. It’s increasingly popular with some Americans and especially popular with younger Americans. It has become something that is sexy and marketable. It’s become something that is a consumer product, oddly enough. There is an irony for you. But socialism is now very hip when it comes to at least part of the electorate, part of the American society.

Elaine Godfrey wrote an article this week at The Atlantic. The headline: “Thousands of Americans Have Become Socialists Since March.” Now, if I believe this were true, that actually thousands of Americans had become socialists, that would be a matter of considerable alarm. Actually, as you look at the article, it becomes more and more apparent that this means there is an increased, popular interest in socialism and there is even an increase in the membership of groups like the Democratic Socialists of America. But it’s also very, very clear that a lot of the people, indeed the vast majority of the people who are now supposedly embracing socialism, they don’t actually know much about socialism.

They’re embracing something that they see to be cool or hip or popular or even counter-cultural. But the article and the development behind it both deserve a closer look. Godfrey writes about a young person named Abby Harms “laid off from their job at a Denver board game store the same day that the city went into a lockdown.” So you have a signal right off. You’ve got that pronoun problem. Here we are told that Abby Harms was “laid off from their job.” Now, again, at any epoch of human history, at least in terms of the English language, if you were to look at this paragraph, it would already make no sense because you have a single individual and a plural pronoun.

But you know where this is going. “Within days of filling out a petition for laid off service workers, Harms, who identifies as non-binary got an unexpected call from the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. Did they need food or help getting groceries, assistance filing for employment? Did Harms want to participate in a rent cancellation campaign?” The article continues, “To the last proposal, Harms eagerly agreed and soon they were a dues paying member of the DSA. That is the Democratic Socialists of America.”

So what we’re looking at here is a person apparently young, who identifies as non-binary. And again, “identifies” is a very crucial word in the age of identity politics. But even as this individual identifies as non-binary and The Atlantic thus grants to this individual a plural pronoun, we’re told that this individual is now a dues paying member of the Democratic Socialists of America. The 32 year old said, “I feel like I was doing something productive out of this whole nightmare. I had a purpose and something to fight for.”

Big lesson to be observed there, human beings of any age and regardless of their identity politics, all human beings want to be part of something significant. They want to do something important. They want some purpose and something to fight for, all of them. I used the “they” there in the plural, all human beings, every single human being. We all need purpose. We all need something to fight for. And every single one of us wants to do something important in our lives. But notice just how tricky the supposedly important issue is in this particular life. It all comes about because of a single phone call in which someone offered assistance and then invited this individual to become part of the Democratic Socialists of America. So voila, instantaneously, just add water and stir, you’ve got a new socialist, but this might not be a socialist who knows much about socialism.

Elaine Godfrey goes on to tell us, “Membership in DSA chapters around the country has surged in the past eight weeks. An estimated 10,000 people have joined since March, bringing the group’s total membership to roughly 66,000, according to internal figures. Enrollment fluctuates month to month, but the Democratic Socialists of America or DSA hasn’t seen numbers like this since the election of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2018, a spokesperson said.” The article tells us that the growth in the DSA membership, the Democratic Socialists of America, can be traced in large part to the campaign of Independent Vermont Senator, Bernie Sanders for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

Well, therein are some twists and turns. Bernie Sanders is a democratic socialist by his own self designation, but he wasn’t running for the nomination notably of the Democratic Socialists of America, but rather the Democratic Party, which says it isn’t officially socialist, but nonetheless had an avowed socialist at one point, the undeniable front runner for its 2020 presidential nomination. And furthermore, Bernie Sanders, who was that front runner for the Democratic 2020 nomination then, but has since endorsed Joe Biden as the 2020 nominee. Bernie Sanders is still not a Democrat, but he still identifies as a democratic socialist.

Does Bernie Sanders know what socialism is? The answer is yes. And he is one sort of, and he wants to be one to an even greater extent. Does the Democratic Party avow socialism? No, not in any classic sense, but it does invite socialists to be a part of the Democratic Party and wants to include them in the significance of their platform. They want them in the umbrella. And again, do the democratic socialists here even agree on what socialism is or what democratic means? The answer is almost assuredly not, but the reason we’re talking about it is the fact that there is a resurgence in interest in socialism, and we’re told over and over again, there’s a new openness, especially amongst younger Americans to democratic socialism or to socialism. And we are also told that since the advent of the coronavirus, the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been even in the last eight weeks, a surge in the explicit membership of the Democratic Socialists of America.

But before taking those numbers too seriously, we are talking about an increase of 10,000 people joining the association or the party since March, that now brings the total membership to roughly 66,000. That’s not a whole lot when you consider a population of over 330 million, but nonetheless, that’s not insignificant in political terms, which is illustrated by the fact that The Atlantic has run this article and by the fact that we’re talking about it on The Briefing today.

What exactly is going on here? Well, we are looking at a significant economic recession. We’re looking at a shutdown of the American and furthermore, much of the global economy. We are looking at very dark economic figures. We’re looking at very dark economic facts. That’s beyond question. But what do these facts mean and how would we come out of this with increased economic activity, increased wealth, increased flourishing for all? Well, just consider the statement made by the coach here of the Detroit Democratic Socialists of America chapter. This person spoke to The Atlantic “on the condition of anonymity for fear of professional repercussions.” This anonymous leader of the Democratic Socialists of America—tells you something that their leaders have to be anonymous—said, “People are starting to just look around and say, ‘Man, capitalism, isn’t working. If the markets can’t even produce hand sanitizer or toilet paper or masks during a plague, what good is this system?’”

Now let’s just step back for a moment and say, hard questions are certainly going to be asked in the aftermath of this pandemic, but let’s also remind ourselves of something. This pandemic came when the American economy was at full speed, there was plenty of toilet paper in the stores until there was a rush to buy toilet paper. And there is going to be plenty of toilet paper in the supply chain, not just toilet paper, but hand sanitizer, none of these things were in low supply before the pandemic, but the pandemic represented an unprecedented demand. That requires an increase of supply. That then leads to a very interesting question, to whom would we look for the increase of this supply? The people who effectively supplied it before, which would mean business, the supply chain, the stores that sell hand sanitizer and toilet paper, or would we all of a sudden look and say, “No, the government has to do this. I want government hand sanitizer. I want government toilet paper. I want the government to make this possible.” I hope in stating the question that way, it already appears ludicrous. We do not want the people running much of this government to be supplying our toilet paper nor to be dependent upon them.

There is, of course, a huge political worldview point to be made here, and that is that there are those who are going to be pressing for a rapid and permanent expansion of the welfare state and of government services and of government power. There are those who are going to be pressing for a permanent invasion of much of the economy by the federal government in particular, and in the short run that is surely going to happen. The question is, what should the long-term future of the American economy and the American government look like? Those who are pressing for socialism want the biggest government possible. They want to bring as much of the economy as possible under the control of the government in the name of the people. The problem with that is that the government is about the least efficient delivery mechanism and wealth creation mechanism on earth. And that’s true of every government. That’s no insult to the government of the United States of America.

And government, which is so necessary and is a part of God’s gift to us, governments have location by location, government by government, level by level, often shown themselves to be rather incompetent at responding to the coronavirus. Just consider the fact that state by state, you have unemployment processes that have crashed over and over and over again. That is not to say that government is not a gift. It’s not to say that government doesn’t have a proper role in a biblical worldview. It is to say that it becomes extremely dubious that government can do better than other sectors of the society, especially when it comes to delivering on economic prosperity or leading to human flourishing. There is a role for government, but that is not its proper role. And all of a sudden a parable that becomes the roll of toilet paper.

In The Atlantic, the article tells us, “The financial toll will be felt for years, maybe decades to come. And with Congress’s push to expand the social safety net, more and more Americans could be open to government playing a bigger role in their lives. There is, in other words, great potential for systemic change in this as yet unwritten future, a potential that DSA members recognized.” Democratic Socialists of America members—they recognized there is an opportunity in this pandemic.

Julia Shannon, who sits on the steering committee for the Los Angeles DSA said, “There’s the sense that this situation is unacceptable and immoral and that feeling is really pushing people into the meticulous work of organizing.” She went on to say, “We have to try to work toward harnessing that momentum and energy to create structures that work for the majority of people.”

Now the biblical worldview would tell us as we are committed to love of God and love of neighbor that we want whatever system will actually create structures that work for the majority of people. Yes to that. But anyone who looks at the broad sweep of history and understands what socialism is and understands that socialism is not going to deliver on that either for the majority or the minority of people, not in an understanding that prioritizes human flourishing.

Later in the article we are told that a nurse in Minneapolis was alarmed and frustrated by the lack of N95 masks and other personal protective equipment at the hospital where she works. The article tells us, “A Sanders supporter in the primary, Gavin, the nurse, was approached in mid-April by a handful of other nurses recruiting for the DSA and she agreed to join the organization.” She said, “I feel supported and heard and challenged in a good way.” There again is a human need, to be supported and heard and challenged in a good way. It also reminds us of how bad ideologies take root and gain energy. It reminds us of how many bad historical occurrences come about. It is because the wrong people have offered support and a hearing and challenge.

I believe that the Christian worldview based in Scripture offers economic principles that are in conflict with socialism. I believe that socialism basically comes down to a denial of many of those principles. I believe that socialism ends up rewarding the wrong things and it also violates principles that I believe are necessary as they lead to human flourishing. This is one of those points in which there is probably agreement on the end goal, which is the flourishing of human beings: people being fed, people being clothed, poverty being minimized, people who do not have economic power getting economic power. Those are goods, they are goals upon which we agree, but the evidence is clear that socialism does not actually lead to those goals. And history is also clear that where the government steps in, it rarely steps out.

But as the week comes to an end, this is another one of those developments that deserves our attention telling us that there are fundamental issues at stake very clearly in the midst of a pandemic. There are political arguments that are taking place right now. And even if the number 66,000 is not all that concerning when it comes to the Democratic Socialists of America, out of a population of well over 300 million people, the problem is that the ideas have a much greater influence and current attractiveness than the membership in the Democratic Socialists of America as an organization.

Part II

The Biblical Creation Order Shines Through: Surrogates Bond with Their Babies During COVID-19 Disruption of the Surrogacy ‘Industry’

But also at the end of the week, a couple of other developments, The Guardian in London ran an article by Sirin Kale with the headline, “Surrogates Left Holding the Baby As Coronavirus Rules Strand Parents.” Very interesting article. One of those we probably did not anticipate, but when you think about it, it makes obvious sense. All over the world, there have been contracts between individuals or couples or whatever you might conceive—irony intended there—for surrogate parenthood. There has been the hiring of women to serve as surrogate mothers. The surrogate mothers have been carrying babies that have come to term and are now being or about to be born in the midst of the pandemic but these surrogate mothers are often geospatially separated from those who have contracted with them for the surrogacy, which means even as many parts of the United States allow a wild, wild West of surrogacy and other services. You have clients from all over the world who are now separated from their babies and they’re complaining they can’t be here. They can’t be in the United States or elsewhere where it is legal for the birth of the baby. International travel has been shut down both ways in most cases.

I believe that the Christian worldview makes the entire concept of surrogate motherhood extremely dubious and outright wrong. When you look at it, you come to understand this as the commodification of human reproduction, it is also something that allows the redefinition of parenthood. You’re looking at something that amounts to in many cases, an incentive for human trafficking, or at least for the abuse of women who are given an economic incentive to sell or rent their wombs. It has also facilitated a shift in the language which reflects an even greater shift in morality. You have couples that are made up of two men in a gay relationship who claim that they have now had a baby, but of course they haven’t had a baby. Neither of the men, or both of them together cannot produce a baby, not to mention, gestate or bear a baby, that takes a woman. And that means an actual woman, an actual female, biologically, genetically female, who is contracted as the mother of the child. This allows parenthood to be so redefined.

But this article from a biblical worldview has some very haunting reminders of how biblical truth, ontological truth, God’s creation truth still shines through in a way that might be haunting, but must not be missed. The separation of the surrogate mothers from those who have hired them has led to the development that is described this way in The Guardian: “Surrogates and surrogacy agencies are scrambling to look after babies themselves.” One person, Rich Geisler, a California surrogacy lawyer said, “It’s unprecedented for a surrogate to be looking after the baby.” Very crucial words here. Christians, listen very carefully. “We, as an industry, really try to avoid that. We want to avoid the possibility of the surrogate bonding with the child.”

That’s one of those statements that’s just dropped in this article in The Guardian as if it’s supposed to make sense. It does make sense to Christians. It makes a very tragic sense to anyone operating from a biblical worldview. It reminds us that mothers are supposed to love the child in the womb. It reminds us that mothers are supposed to bond with their babies. It reminds us that motherhood is not something that was supposed to be franchised out as a rent-a-womb. It is supposed to imply a relationship, it is supposed to imply love. And in this case, you have someone who is supposedly in the industry—and yes, it’s described as an industry—who says, “We really try to avoid that.” Quote, “We want to avoid the possibility of the surrogate bonding with the child.” But the geographical distance between the surrogate and the client now amounts to the fact that surrogate mothers are mothering their babies. And of course, they are bonding with them.

Then listen to this line in the article, “To avoid leaving children in the care of their surrogates, with the emotional challenges this can entail, some surrogacy agency workers,” you could just insert here, those in the industry, “are taking babies into their own homes.” What an incredible statement. What a hauntingly revealing statement. A statement coming from someone inside the surrogacy industry that the industry is at pains to try to prevent mothers who have carried the babies, the women who have carried these babies in their own wombs, from bonding with the children. But you understand the quandary here. Once a mother gives birth to a child, if that mother is handed that child, that mother is going to bond to that child in almost every circumstance, that bond is going to be natural and it is going to be real because after all that baby made in the image of God, that human person from the very beginning has been in that mother’s womb and that mother has known it.

So all of a sudden in this article from the left wing paper in London, The Guardian, telling us about new complexities in the surrogacy industry tells us about an enduring principle that Christians know will go back, not only to the revelation of God in Scripture, but to the order that God has implanted in the entire creation, particularly in the creation of human beings made in his image, and creating us male and female, and creating us made for one another, and creating the institution of marriage and giving us the gift of sexuality and the stewardship of reproduction, and giving children to mothers and to fathers. That creation order shines through. Even in defiance of the creation order, the creation order shines through.

Even in the midst of this pandemic, no, particularly in the midst of this pandemic, this pattern shines through. A woman is supposed to bond with the child that emerges from her womb. That’s what is right. Anything that tries to deny that or prevent that is wrong. And how clearly do we see it in this article in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.

Part III

‘In London There Was Such a Man’: Remembering the 80th Anniversary of Winston Churchill Becoming Prime Minister of Britain

But finally, as we come to the end of this week, a very important historical anniversary, it was 80 years ago this week, it was on May the 10th, 1940, that King George VI, the King of  Great Britain asked Winston Churchill, then the first Lord of the Admiralty to come to Buckingham Palace. Both the King and the first Lord of the Admiralty understood exactly what was going to take place. When Winston Churchill walked into the 775 room Buckingham Palace, and he made his way to a personal meeting with the British Monarch, King George VI did what until almost that moment he could not have imagined doing. He asked Winston Churchill to become the King’s first minister, the prime minister of great Britain, the head of government in the entire United Kingdom.

Most importantly, at that moment on May the 10th, 1940, he asked Winston Churchill in effect to save Britain, to save Britain at its moment of greatest danger. Even as great Britain was largely undefended looking at the onslaught of Adolf Hitler threatening its very existence and declaring that he would conquer Britain, King George VI turned to Winston Churchill because there was no one else to whom he could turn.

Churchill was in many ways the last of the Victorians, he had been born to privilege and he had been born to power. Even as a teenage boy, he dared to tell his friends that he had had a dream that one day he would be called upon to save England and that he would do so. That was an infectious self-confidence.

His youngest child was 17-year-old Mary. She was listening to the radio when surprising to her, she was told that King George VI had called upon her father to come and to head the government of Britain and to lead Britain against the Nazi onslaught. We’re told that Mary, hearing these words from the BBC on the radio, paused to pray for her father and then she went on with her day because actually she just assumed that her father would do with the King had asked him. Her father would save Britain, save freedom, save democracy, save the West. She knew him. She just assumed that he would.

Winston Churchill had been a prophet in the wilderness for years. Indeed, those years are called his wilderness years. William Manchester, his most lyrical biographer, got it exactly right when he described what England demanded, what it had to have if it were to survive and who Winston Churchill was.

In the first volume of his biography, The Last Lion, Manchester wrote, “England’s new leader, were he to prevail, would have to stand for everything England’s decent, civilized Establishment had rejected. They viewed Adolf Hitler as the product of complex social and historical forces. Their successor would have to be a passionate Manichean who saw the world as a medieval struggle to the death between the powers of good and the powers of evil, who held that individuals are responsible for their actions and that the German dictator was therefore wicked.”

Manchester continued, “A believer in martial glory was required, one who saw splendor in the ancient parades of victorious legions through Persepolis and could rally the nation to brave the coming German fury. An embodiment of fading Victorian standards was wanted: a tribute for honor, loyalty, duty, and the supreme virtue of action; one who would never compromise with iniquity, one who could create a sublime mood and thus give men heroic visions of what they were and might become.

“Like Adolf Hitler,” said Manchester, “he would have to be a leader of intuitive genius, a born demagogue in the original sense of the word, a believer in the supremacy of his race and his national destiny, an artist who knew how to gather the blazing light of history into his prism and then distort it to his ends, an embodiment of inflexible resolution who could impose his will and his imagination on his people, a great tragedian who understood the appeal of martyrdom and could tell his followers the worst, hurling it to them like great hunks of bleeding meat, persuading them that the year of Dunkirk would be one in which it was ‘equally good to live or to die’ – who would, if necessary, be just as cruel, just as cunning, and just as ruthless as Hitler but who could win victories without enslaving populations, or preaching supernaturalism, or foisting off myths of his infallibility, or destroying, or even warping, the libertarian institutions he had sworn to preserve. Such a man,” wrote Manchester, “if he existed, would be England’s last chance.”

Manchester’s next line is this, “In London there was such a man.”

Churchill did become the greatest defender of liberty and freedom and democracy of the 20th century. And he, more than anyone else will go down in the history of Britain as the man who stood between Britain and Hitler and defended his nation and defended freedom.

As a boy, I will never forget the image of a young woman dressed formally holding a purse under the towering columns of St. Paul’s Cathedral for the funeral of Winston Churchill. She was awaiting the arrival of Churchill’s body in the cathedral. She stood there, the first reigning British Monarch ever in the history of Britain to attend the funeral of a non-royal. Queen Elizabeth II, who is still queen of the United Kingdom, would explain that she was there simply for the fact that Winston Churchill had saved England. That meant saving her throne, the throne of her father. It meant saving the nation.

The historian, Jeffrey Best, warned years ago that the problem for England is that by the time Churchill died, the nation, “Was fast turning into a land in which such a man, as he was, would never again find room to flourish. With a popular culture increasingly inimical to his values and likely therefore not to notice or properly appreciate his achievements.” We can now say that the great tragedy is that that is increasingly true on both sides of The Atlantic.

Churchill was a human being who was a sinner like the rest of us. He had his faults and given the size of his character and role in history, some of his faults were massive, but his greatness was far, far more massive. And that’s the remembrance of history. It must be.

We now know, looking back 80 years this week, that history was turning on one of its most important hinges when King George VI asked Winston Churchill to come to Buckingham Palace. We’re told that King George VI turned to Winston Churchill and said, “I presume you know why you are here.” Churchill responded, “Your Majesty, I haven’t an idea why.” But both men knew. And let’s be honest, we all know now.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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