briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, August 13, 2020

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

It’s Thursday, August 13, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Clueless in Seattle: Which Is Basic in Society, Order or Disorder?

Over the course of the last several weeks, now spinning into months, there has been unrest on the streets of many American cities. But by the time we reach August of 2020, a pattern is discernible, and what I want us to see today on The Briefing is that that pattern goes far below the level of what the media is treating. But nonetheless, even what we see in the headlines is really fascinating.

For example, you have the pattern that has developed thus far that even as many of these cities are experiencing protests, looting, rioting, you’re having all kinds of activity, sometimes, way into the wee hours of the morning, even though in some cases, there have been eruptions of violence, and in other cases, not. The reality is that most of these protests continuing now are taking place in cities that are under liberal administrations. It’s a very interesting phenomenon and one that bears a closer bit of attention from us. You’re looking at cities, such as Seattle and most famously now, Portland. You’re looking at cities like Chicago. And in almost every one of these cases, including Louisville, Kentucky, the mayors and the leadership of the city are basically very liberal Democrats.

One of the realities that that sets up is that the protesters have a lot of political clout with the elected leadership, both at the commission or council level, and of course, the executive level, with mayors and others, and also, when it comes to the now highly politicized position, such as being the chief of police or head of the department of public safety in these cities. The reality is the same. You have many of these elected and appointed figures who are basically politically afraid of the protesters. Now, as you go back to the death of George Floyd, just a matter of weeks ago, there has been an overwhelming consensus on the part of Americans that change needs to take place and that there is a problem that America needs to address, but even as there was a good deal of sympathy for the protesters early on, the reality is that we’re looking at something very different than what many at least claimed was true in the beginning.

But at the most basic worldview level, what we’re going to see on the streets of American cities and also, oddly enough, in a very strange headline coming from Spain is a basic distinction between two different worldviews that are these days rather rightly identified as the right and the left when it comes to such basic questions as human dignity and human nature, or you might even put it more simply, what is it that we expect of human beings without a certain amount of structure, respect and trust? Well, the left basically says human beings are good. There’s a goodness to humanity that we should count upon. Any evil that occurs in human experience by human action is probably because a bad society has warped the morality or the behavior of basically good people. Now, the philosopher in the Western tradition who is most behind that is Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the French philosopher who believed that human beings were basically good, and he especially addressed this to children in his famous work, Emile, or On Education. He said it’s the basic goodness of humanity that needs to be called out.

Society, however, becomes a cesspool of all kinds of human interests that can lead basically innocent and good and well-intended human beings into error. The conservative worldview begins in a very different place, and it has been historically influenced not by the secular enlightenment of a Jean-Jacques Rousseau, but rather by the inheritance of biblical Christianity, and that is, yes, there is a goodness in the sense that every single human being is made in God’s image, but there is also a very essential badness, and that original sin is real. Sin is the great enemy, and sin is the reality. And the biblical worldview doesn’t tell us the human beings are basically good from birth, the danger is that they’ll be warped by an evil or sinful society. The biblical worldview begins by saying that every single human being is conceived in sin and sin thus comes naturally to us. Sociologically, we would say that at the very least.

And so from the liberal perspective, what you need to do is to try to arrange society in order to encourage the basic goodness in humanity. The conservative worldview begins in a very different place saying that what is necessary for society is a certain establishment of order, which is based on human dignity, that doesn’t indeed call out the best in us, but expects that human beings, after all, being sinners, will sin. And thus, you have to have the structures of ordered society and social trust, a certain stability that is necessary in order for human beings to trust one another. You might put it the opposite way. That’s an interesting question. What does it take for human beings to trust one another? From the liberal perspective, the basic answer is you should trust until you don’t trust. The conservative position, again, rooted in a deep understanding of human sin, says you don’t trust until you can trust.

Now there’s more to it than that, but by the time you get to the Republican and Democratic parties in the United States in this season, by the time you get to the deep political and worldview division between Americans, a lot of it just does come down to how you would answer those questions. And the mayhem on the streets of several American cities just underlines how acute and important these questions are and our answers to them. Now let’s consider in particular three American cities in August of 2020: Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; Chicago, Illinois. We start in Seattle, which is one of the most liberal of America’s liberal, most secular cities, and it’s a part of the Pacific Northwest that has traditionally been the most secular region of the United States. Arguably, the Northeast has now caught up. The difference is that the Northeast, in terms of colonial America, was established with a more Christian consciousness. The Northwest in the United States never had an experience such as mass evangelization or anything like the great awakenings. The East experienced it; the West did not.

And furthermore, from the beginning, the West coast, Washington and Oregon and California, especially Northern California, has often defined itself morally over against what the West coast defines as the mass culture of fly-over America in the middle of the state and the East coast, and especially the deep South and the Sunbelt. But all that’s to say that it is really interesting that you might argue that the two cities that have experienced the most enduring mayhem are two of the most liberal cities, and especially when it comes to Portland, one of the most white cities in the United States.

But we’re looking first at Seattle, and remember that it was in Seattle that protestors, and yes, rioters took control of an area they declared to be an autonomous zone, no longer even a part of the United States of America. As I said, when they declared it, it’s not autonomous. There’s no way it would be identified as autonomous. It’s a political claim, and it had a lot of political clout. And even the mayor there in Seattle said in the face of this kind of lawlessness and mayhem, this just might be “the summer of love,” referring back to the experience of the sexual revolution in the late 1960s, and of course, enduring with influence, into the 1970s. But in one sense, the hippie age was never over in Seattle. And one of the things we saw central to the protests in Seattle was the demand to defund the police. Now, again, we’ve talked about this on The Briefing, but we need to catch up with more recent developments. Here’s what you need to watch.

This call for defunding the police, abolishing the police, as it was first said, doesn’t come out of the blue. It comes out of a movement on the far left to abolish the prison system. The argument is made by some who clearly identify with a more Marxist analysis that America is hopelessly racist and that its justice and prison system, its law enforcement system is basically an exercise in systematic racism. So the argument is to abolish the prisons, and then of course, it’s extended to abolish the police. But what you’ll notice in the media is that even as a lot of Americans said, oh yes, we agree. Defund the police. They didn’t mean actually defund the police, they meant bring about some kind of reform. But in Seattle, they actually did mean defund the police, at least to the extent that the city council unanimously recently moved to lower the expense that is paid for law enforcement and policing in Seattle. Now, what was the response to that?

Most importantly, the response was the resignation of Seattle’s police chief. Yesterday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal had a news article with a headline, “Seattle Police Chief Resigns Amid Budget Cuts and Turmoil.” Deanna Paul and Dan Frosch are the reporters. “Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best said she would be stepping down from her post following votes by the city council to cut the department budget, including her own salary, and reduce the police force, as part of an effort to reform policing.” Here’s the irony. When you talk about Carmen Best, the police chief in Seattle who just resigned, she is herself an African American woman. She would have been prior to these protests identified as someone to whom the protesters would likely appointed as a symbol of hope. But actually, because she does represent the police, because she was serious about being police chief, she is on the other side of the “defund the police” movement.

The article in the New York Times yesterday had a more blunt headline: “As Seattle Revamps Police Department, Chief Says, ‘Can’t do it,’ And Quits.” Mike Baker reports, “On Monday night, as she announced her resignation, Ms. Best said she had been left in tears by an email from a new Black recruit. The officer said he had been ecstatic to join a department headed by Ms. Best, the first Black woman to lead the city’s police force. But under an effort to drastically reduce the police department budget, Ms. Best said, the man — among many hired to help diversify the force — will most likely lose his job.” The police chief said in resigning Monday night, “That, for me, I’m done — can’t do it.”

Now here’s another irony we need to consider when it comes to the police forces in America. That has been, for many African Americans and other minorities, an opportunity for professional advancement. Many of the cuts that will have to be made with the defund the police calls will actually be of more recent hires, which may well turn out to be minority hires. But the political momentum on the left is towards what they style comprehensive justice reform, and that does mean redefining the police into more of a social work role, in some cases. Defunding the police, which is not completely defunding or abolishing, does mean significant budget cuts. And as the now former police chief in Seattle pointed out, that is not really rational or responsible.

It’s also interesting to note when we’re talking about Seattle that the New York Times, again, one of the most liberal newspapers in the country, ran a front page article with a headline in recent days: “Abolish the police? Survivors of Seattle’s chaos have doubts.” The article’s by Nellie Bowles. But here’s what’s interesting, and it takes close attention to a newspaper like the New York Times and understanding why it’s important, to see the pattern. Because even as that article ran on August the 8th, again, the headline, “Abolish the Police? Survivors of Seattle’s Chaos Have Doubts,” the same newspaper on its front page just a few days earlier, on August the 5th ran an article by John Eligon with the headline, “In Black Areas of Minneapolis, Some Doubt Calls to Defund Police.” Again, you’re talking here in Minneapolis and in Seattle about the fact that some of the people who will be directly affected by a cutback on police are now saying we don’t think that’s a good idea.

Eligon’s article about Minneapolis in the New York Times includes this statement, “Minneapolis is North side, with the majority black population, has decidedly mixed opinions on the city council’s effort following the police killing of George Floyd to significantly reduce the size and scope of Minneapolis’ police force.” An interesting statement later in the article is this, “Adding complexity to the debate, they say they despise the police but need someone to call when things go awry.” That’s a very sobering statement. In essence, it’s a heartbreaking statement, but it points to something that is a basic conservative instinct, and that is you do need to have someone to call when things go awry. And that same worldview, based in the realism of understanding sin, tells us things are going to go awry.

That gets back to a second basic fundamental question that increasingly, and for that matter, enduringly divides the right from the left, conservatives from liberals, and that is, which is basic, order in society or disorder? The liberal answer is order of some sort, but you really don’t need much order. The conservative answer is that the base situation, given human sinfulness, is disorder. Order is the achievement, and order is necessary for trust. The headline front page article in the New York Times concerning Seattle—again, the word was used “doubts,” that is people have doubts about defunding the police—cites the fact that many progressive cities are listening to the “defund the police” movement. “In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced a plan to shift $1 billion out of the police budget. The Minneapolis City Council is pitching a major reduction, and the Seattle City Council is pushing for a 50 percent cut to Police Department funding. (The mayor said that plan goes too far.)” And the response to that is what led to the resignation of Seattle’s police chief on Monday night.

“Some call for abolishing the police all together and closing down precincts, which is what happened in Seattle.” The next sentence is crucial: “That has left small business owners as lonely voices in progressive areas arguing that police officers are necessary and that cities cannot function without a robust public safety response.” The three cities cited as examples by the New York Times right after that sentence, Minneapolis, Seattle, and Portland.

Part II

Portland and Chicago: Two Portraits of America — What Do They Mean?

But next, we go to Portland because Portland has become, if anything, the central parable in understanding what is going on. You have protests that the left has celebrated against police calling for defunding the police and against the entire system, largely in the name of the late George Floyd and others. But what’s really interesting is that even as the media have given a lot of attention to all the moms and others, we are told, who are protesting, the protests have sent a decidedly mixed message, and the response to it has also been mixed. Let me give you an example of that. The Reverend E.D. Mondainé is the president of the NAACP in Portland, Oregon. Remember, that’s the organization established as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. And it is Reverend Mondaine who wrote an article just days ago for the Washington Post. The post ran with the headline, “Portland’s protests were supposed to be about black lives. Now they’re white spectacle.”

So here, you have the head of the NCAA in Portland saying that the protests there are basically white spectacle. Now, a flurry of articles have run in recent days making the very same point. At U.S. News and World Report, Deborah Bloom wrote an article, “In Portland, some black activists are frustrated with white protesters.” At the Washington Post again, Christopher Sebastian Parker, a political scientist, ran an article that had the headline, “How reckless white allies could lead to the reelection of Trump.” In other words, the argument is here: they’re actually counterproductive to the cause. Their cause being to move the country to the left comprehensively. It’s a very interesting argument. But then along comes the LA Times reporters Patrick J. McDonnell and Melissa Etehad. Their article has the headline, “Portland, America’s ‘whitest’ big city is an unlikely hub of Black Lives Matter.”

The reporters tell us, “Often called the “whitest” U.S. big city — more than 70% of the population is non-Latino white — Portland has transformed into a national center for a movement that might seem more at home in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles or another more diverse locale. ‘Black lives matter,'” says the article, “has become a ubiquitous rallying cry in a city where only about 6% of the population is Black — while almost 10% is Latino and 8% is of Asian ancestry.” But the fact is that Portland is probably giving Seattle a run for its money in terms of the continuation of hippie culture. Portland is, after all, known as Portlandia, and not just when it comes to entertainment. It is politically on the far left and culturally and morally so as well. And now you have the head of the NAACP there in Portland saying that the protests aren’t even really serving the cause that the protesters claim. They have instead become white spectacle, a interesting issue.

Reverend Mondainé, by the way, cites Malcolm X famously from the 1960s when Malcolm X was involved in an argument about whether or not liberal whites could really be of help to the civil rights movement. One of the points made by Reverend Mondainé is that whatever white people can do to be helpful, it is not about striking yoga poses nude on the streets of Portland, Oregon in the name of protest. Upon reflection, that says a very great deal about the protest themselves. By the time you have relatively middle class white people, and in this case, white women, posing nude in yoga poses in the name of protest, you’re probably not actually a part of a protest movement that’s going to make long-term American history.

But before leaving this pattern and the big issues, we need to turn to the city of Chicago. The city of Chicago is very different than Portland. Chicago has a very large African American population. It also has an African American woman mayor, in this case, the first openly identified lesbian African American woman mayor. But Mayor Lori Lightfoot has been very clear about the fact that what’s happening in Chicago in recent days isn’t legitimate protest at all. It is rioting and looting and robbing. The headline in Tuesday’s print edition to the New York Times: “Looters give bruised Chicago a new heartache.” The team of reporters for the New York Times tell us, “All summer, demonstrators have marched through Chicago to protest police misconduct. In many neighborhoods, gun violence has been unrelenting, soaring to levels not seen in decades. The coronavirus pandemic is resurging, now sickening hundreds of people each day.”

Then, early Monday morning, that’s early Monday morning, late Sunday night of this week, “hundreds of people spurred by a police shooting and by calls on social media to take action in the gleaming heart of the city converged on the Magnificent Mile, Chicago’s most famous shopping district. They broke windows, looted stores and clashed with the police, a chaotic and confusing scene that prompted city officials to briefly raise bridges downtown and halt nearby public transit to stem the unrest. Two people were shot and at least 13 police officers were injured.” The key quote in this development comes from mayor Lori Lightfoot, who said, “We are waking up in shock this morning. What occurred downtown and in surrounding communities was abject criminal behavior, pure and simple.”

Now the point is, again, you’d be hard-pressed to find any more progressive mayor in America than Lori Lightfoot, both in terms of identity politics and in terms of policy politics, but it’s also interesting to note that as mayor of the city, she finally had to say the obvious. This is just criminal activity. But the greatest heartbreak is seen in a headline that was on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, and you have to know, it’s related to all of this, Jill Hilsenrath reports with the headline, “Homicide Spike Hits Most U.S. Cities.” Thus far, in the year 2020, crimes statistics in the 50 largest U.S. cities finds that reported homicides are up 24%, just so far this year. That’s a total right now of reported homicides in the 50 largest U.S. cities at 3,612. The coronavirus and the shutdown are a part of this, but notice the larger moral confusion, and for that matter, the stand down of police and an anti-police, anti-law atmosphere also is playing into it.

The Wall Street Journal’s article tells us this, “Homicides, on the other hand, are up because violent criminals have been emboldened by the sidelining of police, courts, schools, churches and an array of other social institutions by the reckoning with police and the pandemic, say analysts and law-enforcement officials in several cities.” Again, very heartbreaking confirmation of the pattern. But this isn’t the pattern that surprises conservatives who, again, begin with the understanding that sin is going to be represented by sinful behavior and that order and trust and respect are achievements. But this is a form of realism that eventually has come even in that clear statement made by the mayor of Chicago and the aftermath of what took place Sunday night and Monday morning in her city. We’ll turn tomorrow to another issue that helps us to understand, in a longer perspective of history, why the left and the right are two very distinct positions that are now centuries old, and that’s important for us to recognize.

Part III

From California: The Abortion Industrial Complex and the State’s Attorney General Are Determined to Deny the Personhood of the Unborn

But as we come to a conclusion today, I want to turn to something which is of pressing importance. Just a few days ago, we talked about an article in the Washington Post about a woman expecting twins who was dying of COVID. Because of the doctor’s intervention, the article said that three lives were saved, both the mother and the two twins. And the point is that the newspaper got it right. They would not say three lives were saved when they’re talking about the logic of abortion, a very pro-abortion newspaper, to say the very least. But when they talked about it as a news story, all of a sudden, those unborn babies became lives, lives saved, human lives saved. It was a very heartwarming story.

But on the other side of the equation, we have an article that appeared yesterday in the New York Times by Jacey Fortin. The headline is, “California Condemns Prosecution Over Stillbirth.” The reporter tells us, “After her pregnancy ended in a stillbirth last year, a woman in California was charged with murder. Kings County prosecutors said that the fetus had died because the woman used methamphetamines during her pregnancy.” Next, “The case has captured the attention of civil rights groups and reproductive health advocates, who have argued that the charges against Ms. Becker could set up a dangerous precedent for criminalizing the choices that women make while pregnant.” Now notice that the law in California criminalizes the death by action of an unborn child, at least when it comes to an unborn child killed under the circumstances that violate California’s criminal code penal section 187. It makes clear that the law in California criminalizes “the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought.”

The fact that this mother was using methamphetamines and admitted to have used the drugs just three days before the baby’s death and acknowledging that the baby died with extraordinarily toxic levels of methamphetamine within the baby’s body, California officials pressed charges. But in liberal California, that’s not where the story ends. The attorney general of California, Xavier Becerra, has now come out against the prosecution of the woman. He’s the Attorney General. He says that if the superior court’s interpretation of the law stands, it would “subject all women who suffer a pregnancy loss to the threat of criminal investigation and possible prosecution for murder.”

Now one little insertion here is that years ago, there was an infamous murder of a pregnant woman and the man who was arrested, tried, and convicted of the crime, well, he was found guilty of two murders, both of the mother and of the unborn child. And just about everyone in the country recognized that that was absolutely right. But the illogic of that is of course, that you have so many millions in this country who will say, nonetheless had the mother aborted the child, it would be perfectly fine.

You also have this particular situation in which California law makes very clear that under some circumstances, the killing of an infant is murder while in others, California declares, it is a constitutional right. But one of the saddest aspects in all of this is that the abortion rights industry, sometimes as referred to here, calling itself the advocates for women’s reproductive health, they never sleep. They’re going to press the abortion cause under every circumstance, even if that means endangering every single unborn child in California. And it’s not just the Democratic Attorney General in California. It is also the position taken by the Democratic party at the national level.

The New York Times tells us, “California is among 38 states that have fetal homicide laws recognizing the fetus as a victim in cases of violence against a pregnant woman.” But the abortion rights movement and industry recognizes a threat when it sees one. The acknowledgement that any unborn baby is indeed a human being and a human life worthy of counting in court, well, that’s a threat to the entire logic of abortion. And that’s the point, isn’t it? In this case, as in so many others, the abortion industry makes very clear exactly what it is about, killing unborn babies and opposing anything that might in any way acknowledge that that unborn baby is a baby.

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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