Friday, August 28, 2020
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Friday, August 28, 2020. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
A Senate Candidate in Georgia Supports Unrestricted Abortion Rights . . . And He’s a Pastor
The national media are not giving this story much attention at all, but I think you will think it's very important. In the state of Georgia, a Baptist minister, a current Baptist pastor, is running for the United States Senate, and he's doing so while actively and unabashedly supporting abortion without any restrictions whatsoever, and in recent comments this pastor went so far as to say that his support for abortion is entirely consistent with his theology and with his ministry.
As you might expect, this is a very big story, actually several very big stories. And it's going to be really important that we unpack these because behind all of this is not only the political dynamic in the United States right now, it also has everything to do with explaining where we are as a nation on the issue of the sanctity of human life. And it also points to a basic war within Christianity that really does demand our attention, the battle to define Christianity itself. Well, all of this comes about because when voters in Georgia go to the polls in November, they will be voting not for one Senate seat, but for two.
The first is the regularly scheduled senatorial election. The seat currently held by Republican Senator David Perdue is up, and he's running for reelection against Jon Ossoff, a rather liberal Democrat who ran a close race for a congressional seat two years ago, and now has the Democratic nomination to run against Senator Perdue. But put that election aside for a moment. What's of greater interest to us in this respect is the fact that given the fact that Senator Johnny Isakson resigned that seat--a Republican Senator resigned for reasons of health in 2019--a special election will be held in November, the very same day that the other Senate seat is up for election, and of course, the date that Americans will elect a new president of the United States. That's November the 3rd.
The reality is that that special election held on the very same day as the other Senate seat is open has provided a platform for a most amazing race. Because it is a special election, it won't follow the normal process of the parties, each getting down to a nominee. Instead, there are going to be three big names on the ticket, two are Republicans, one is a Democrat, and if not one of the three gains fifty percent of the vote on November the 3rd, there will be a runoff between the first place winner and the second place runner on January the 5th of 2021. This could be an unfolding story. Then again, it is already absolutely fascinating.
On the Republican side, there are two main candidates. One of them is Senator Kelly Loeffler. She was appointed to the position by Georgia Governor Brian Kemp. She took office in January of this year, but of course she's going to have to run for the seat now in November. Loeffler was not someone particularly well-known in American politics. She's fabulously wealthy and married to a leader in the stock exchange. She is also a co-owner of a WNBA team. The other Republican candidate in this case is United States representative Doug Collins. Again, very interesting. He had a background in the Christian ministry and was pastor of a church before going full-time into politics. He won a seat in Congress and now he wants to move up to the United States Senate. He implicitly, if not explicitly, has had the backing of President Donald Trump.
But as interesting as the two Republican candidates are facing off against one another, the reality is that our greatest interest is in the major Democratic candidate. The Reverend Doctor Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. The Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta is one of the most famous and historic Baptist congregations in the United States. It was established in 1888, and it's had basically five pastors in it's long and storied history, two of them were named Martin Luther King. The first of them was Martin Luther King, Sr., who became co-pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in 1927. His son, Martin Luther King Jr., already well-known for his leadership in the Civil Rights movement joined his father, often known as Daddy King as co-pastor. Again, that was in 1960, and Martin Luther King Jr. remained co-pastor of that church with his father until he was assassinated in the year 1968.
The association of Ebenezer Baptist Church with both generations of Martin Luther King and with the Civil Rights movement in the United States has meant that it has been a very famous congregation. The current pastor, again, is the Reverend Doctor Raphael Gamaliel Warnock. Very interesting story behind him, even before we get to the 2020 Senate race. The son of two Pentecostal ministers, both mother and father, Warnock attended Morehouse College in Atlanta before going for his theological education to Union Theological Seminary in the city of New York. Now just understand that Union Theological Seminary in New York City is the flagship institution of liberal Protestantism, and it has been so basically since the late 19th century. A decision to go to Union Theological Seminary is a decision to go to the Protestant left, to liberal Protestantism, and just about an every variant imaginable on its faculty.
Over a process of years, Raphael Warnock earned the master of divinity degree, and then he stayed for doctoral work, eventually gaining the master of philosophy degree and the doctor of philosophy degree. His doctoral dissertation at Union Theological Seminary was in the main a critique of prosperity theology. One of the main points of his critique of prosperity theology is that it was a diversion from the political involvement of the African-American church in fighting for social justice. Dr. Warnock became pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in 2005. Prior to that, he had served as a minister on the staff of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City. Again, another very famous historically African-American Baptist church. That church was also very well-known for its involvement, both in politics and in the Civil Rights movement.
Its pastor for many years, the Reverend Adam Clayton Powell Jr. was a member of the United States Congress from 1945 to 1971 while he remained pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church. Dr. Warnock had been giving indications in recent years of his interest in running for the United States Senate, and he decided he would run in this special election in 2020 after the resignation of Senator Isakson. By then, Warnock was rather well-known in the circles of political liberalism in the United States and in the Democratic party, and now he's a very serious contender in this special election coming up on November the 3rd.
In a profile of Dr. Warnock recently published in The Atlantic, reporter Emma Green asked the question, "Can the Religious Left Flip the Bible Belt?" This headline is really important because we're talking about exactly that, the religious left, and we're talking about the left religious left. Emma Green explained that Warnock's candidacy and his hopes for election would come down to three words: math, motivation, and morality. The most interesting word to me is that last one, morality, given what we're talking about here and the issue of abortion.
But when it comes to math, the article pointed to the numerical strength of African-Americans within the state of Georgia and the fact that the state has been moving in a somewhat more purple direction, more politically moderate. The math may be a factor here. Motivation, that's about getting out the African-American and the Democratic base to vote. Morality, well, here's where the article got even more interesting because we are told that the plausibility of pastor Warnock's campaign comes down to the fact that he is identifying as a person of faith in a state where Green notes that three-quarters of the population attends church or at least says that they attend church.
But even in that profile, Emma Green mentioned to the pastor saying, "He opposes all abortion restrictions." Now just think about that for a moment. He opposes all abortion restrictions. Now, that would include, for example, partial-birth abortion. It would include late-term abortion. It would include any abortion for whatever reason or no reason at all by any means that might be defined as legal. Months ago, pastor Warnock's position on abortion was already clear, and he was certainly already on my radar screen. But in recent days, things have gotten even more interesting.
As a matter of months ago, you also had the fact that the Planned Parenthood Action Fund had endorsed this Baptist pastor for the Senate seat, that tells you a whole lot right there. But it was all instantly clarified beyond any doubt in recent days when the pastor was asked directly about the issue of abortion and he responded to it quite candidly. As reporter Michael Faust tells us, it all came about in recent comments that the candidate gave to WGA News reporter Tim Bryant. As Faust tells us, "Brian asked Warnock how the pro-choice views of the Democratic party square with his 'role was a minister, a leader of a church'?" Warnock then responded, "I believe that healthcare is a human right," and he went on to say, "I believe that it is something that the richest nation in the world provides for its citizens, and for me, reproductive justice is consistent with my commitment to that."
Now just notice there's so much here. First of all, you have the brazenness of moving to healthcare as a generalized issue when you're asking about abortion and then trying to reframe the whole thing in terms of that new language of moral evasion, reproductive justice. Understand what we're really talking about there. We're talking about an unrestricted access to abortion, period. That's what's defined as reproductive justice. It's also sometimes called a woman's reproductive health. It all comes down to the same thing. We're talking about abortion.
But Warnock didn't stop there. He went on to say, "I believe unequivocally in a woman's right to choose and that the decision is something that we don't want government engaged in. That's between her and her doctor and her minister." He continued, "And I will fight for that in the United States Senate, and at the same time continue to fight so women can receive the kind of services that they need in order to have a healthy pregnancy and healthy babies. We have a maternal death rate in this country that is exceedingly high, particularly to be the richest country in the world."
Now notice how he puts all of this together. Yes, Christians should be deeply concerned about maternal health and want to help mothers to have healthy babies. But that is not consistent with saying at the same time that one gives unrestricted support to a woman's unrestricted right to have an abortion for any reason or no reason and to kill the unborn human life within her. Later in the conversation, Warnock said, "I've been focused on women's health, women's choice, reproductive justice that is consistent with my view as a Christian minister, and I will fight for it." Now again, notice that all of this is reframed as reproductive justice, and let's just understand what's going on here.
This is a redefinition of justice in such a way that one argues that if there is a disparity between the ability of woman A and woman B to be able to obtain an abortion and kill the unborn life within her, then that becomes a justice issue. What's not dealt with at all is the prior and far more important justice issue, and that is the justice of abortion itself, which means that killing of an innocent human life. The most fundamental issue about justice when it comes to abortion is the injustice of killing the innocent inhabitant of the womb, period.
But the conversation wasn't over. Brian asked the senatorial candidate, "Do you think it's consistent with God's view, that God endorses the millions of abortions we've had in this country since Roe V. Wade?" The pastor responded, "I think the human agency and freedom is consistent with my view as a minister." Now, one of the things we've been watching on The Briefing for years is this unbelievable assertion of human autonomy as the greatest moral and legal good of all. Human autonomy, the right to say, "This is who I am, deal with it." Of course, we see that that now is extended even to the claim that personal autonomy means that you can be born biologically male and demand that the entire society recognize you as a female.
But another deadly aspect of this obsession and idolatry with autonomy is where you have a pastor saying that he thinks that human agency and freedom are consistent with his understanding as a minister. Human agency here, that means the power to choose. That's the context. What does this mean? This means that in his theological viewpoint, a woman's right to choose. So notice, this isn't just a slogan. Here, we're talking about choosing between life and death. A woman's right to choose is what has the greater theological emphasis in his theological system. Now, in and of itself, at this point, we're looking at a really big story. We're looking at a pastor of a church who unreservedly supports abortion. We're looking at an iconic church of the Civil Rights movement that is here defined as having a pastor who supports abortion without any restriction whatsoever.
A Social Justice Argument Transformed: Jesse Jackson’s Complete Reversal on Abortion — A Sad Story That Should Be Remembered
That's a big story. It's a tragic story. It's a story with life and death hanging in the balance, but it takes us to another aspect of all of this. My guess is that most of the listeners to The Briefing have no idea where we're going and that's what will make this so incredibly important. If you were to rewind history and go back just a few decades, many, if not most, if not all, of the major Civil Rights leaders in the United States, and in particular, the pastors who were the backbone of the Civil Rights movement would have opposed abortion. One of those Civil Rights leaders in 1977 wrote this, "The question of life is the question of the 20th century. Race and poverty are dimensions of the life question, but discussions about abortion have brought the issue into focus in a much sharper way. How we will respect and understand the nature of life itself is the overriding moral issue, not of the black race, but of the human race." The man who made these statements went on to say that he cares about this a great deal because he knows what life is.
Second, he said he's a minister of the gospel and, "Therefore feel that abortion has a religious and moral dimension that I must consider." Again, this leader in the Civil Rights movement was not only a pastor, but he later became a presidential candidate. Third, he says he was born out of wedlock when his mother had to defy the advice of her doctor that she abort the baby. Then these words, "Therefore abortion is a personal issue for me. From my perspective, human life is the greatest good, the summum bonum. Human life itself is the highest human good, and God is the supreme good because he is the giver of life. That's my philosophy. Everything I do proceeds from that religious and philosophical premise." In other context, he would refer particularly to abortions in the black community as a form of genocide.
That Civil Rights leader was the Reverend Jesse Jackson, and he was very-well known for his ardently pro-life position and his eloquent defense of the sanctity of human life. Again, it was not only theological. It was explicitly theological and it was personal. In my files, I have clippings including a newspaper article from 1975 in which Jesse Jackson was announced as one of the founders of a group known as the Christian Action Council that was organized to oppose abortion and speak up for the sanctity of human life. In 1975, Jesse Jackson joined with Ruth Bell Graham, the wife of the late evangelist, Billy Graham to call for a constitutional amendment that would ban abortion. Again, 1975.
Jesse Jackson was known as the director then of Operation Push, that for People United to Save Humanity, was a Civil Rights organization, but he was also very much known for his insistent defense of the sanctity of human life. But all that changed. When did it change? Well, somewhere between say 1977 and 1984. What happened in those seven years? Well, in 1984, Jesse Jackson ran for the Democratic nomination for the office of President of the United States, and he had entirely reversed his position on abortion.
By 1984, when he ran for the Democratic nomination, Jesse Jackson not only supported abortion, but demanded that Medicaid cover abortion. He continued those arguments when he ran for the Democratic nomination a second time in 1988. But by the time Jesse Jackson ran for President in either '84 or 1988, the fact is that many of the leaders of the Civil Rights movement had gone largely silent on the issue of abortion, and the Democratic party was growing, not silent but loud in its absolute insistence upon total support for abortion if one wanted to have a future in the Democratic party.
So in a very tragic way here, we draw a line from two generations of Martin Luther Kings who were pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church through the changes in the Civil Rights movement and Jesse Jackson's reversal of position on abortion between 1977 and 1988, the incredible radicalization of the Democratic party in support of abortion, and now we end up with the current pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, the Reverend Doctor Raphael Gamaliel Warnock who is unrestrained, unabashed, and unembarrassed in his demand for abortion without any restrictions whatsoever.
So thus far, we looked at the biggest issue that confronts us here, and that has to do with the basic issue of the sanctity of human life, and we've seen the insidious redefinition of a so-called social justice argument that is transform and to support for abortion, and you'll notice abortion without restriction and abortion that is covered by the American taxpayer. Then we have seen the transformation that has taken place in many circles, including the Democratic party and much of the leadership of the Civil Rights movement.
There’s a Civil War to Define American Christianity and Abortion Is a Central Issue
But I said when I began that we're going to have to look at the fact that there is a civil war within Christianity. When I say that, I'm not exaggerating. If you go back just a matter of now almost two centuries, there has been a basic struggle to say what Christianity is. By the time you get to the early years of the 20th century, it's a basic divide between those who stand for historic, biblical, orthodox Christianity and those who demand a new religion but want to continue to call it Christianity. A new theology that denies the basic truths of the gospel, that denies the authority of scripture, that denies the historicity of the very events central to Christianity, that redefines all Christian doctrine and of course eventually redefined all Christian morality. We are looking at two rival visions of Christianity.
You've often heard me cite the theologian, J. Gresham Machen, who in his work on Protestant liberalism made very clear that we're not looking at two different versions of Christianity. We're looking at Christianity when you look at orthodox, biblical, continuing Christianity, and we're looking at some other religion that claims to be Christianity. I just want to say this is exactly what we're looking at here. In the words of this pastor in Atlanta, it is clear that the sacrament of this new theology indeed becomes abortion and its leading doctrines are freedom and human agency here. Another way of describing that idolatrous embrace of human autonomy that is at the center of so much of the modern project.
In 2014, pastor Warnock published his first major book. It came out from New York University Press and is entitled The Divided Mind of the Black Church: Theology, Piety, and Public Witness. In the book, Dr. Warnock points to a basic argument, now decades-old in the African-American church, and that is, is the church primarily to be defined theologically or in terms of political action? You can pretty much tell where Dr. Warnock is going here. He wants the church to be defined by what he calls a combination of piety and political action. But that's going to require that complete transformation of Christianity. But taken in the larger context, that same dynamic is not just found at the black church. It is found in what is called American Christianity, where the right and the left are basically defining the church in radically different terms, because ultimately every theological issue is defined in radically distinct and contradictory terms.
Now, in one sense, as we bring this part of The Briefing today to a close, all of this is on the line in this special election for the United States Senate in the state of Georgia. But in the larger sense, I've given so much attention to this today because it's just about a special Senate election in Georgia. It's about the future of the nation. No, it's about more than that. It's about the future of American Christianity. Biblical Christianity is incompatible with the idea of a pastor who supports abortion, not to mention a pastor who here supports abortion so enthusiastically and so thoughtfully, he knows exactly what he's doing. He knows exactly what he's supporting.
But I want to give credit to one man who saw the issues clearly and spoke courageously and this is television commentator and former NFL coach Tony Dungy. In shock, picking up on Warnock's comments, Tony Dungy responded by citing Psalm 139 saying, "Anyone familiar with Psalm 139 would be against abortion." He tweeted this, "When you say a minister, does that mean they represent a church? I'd like to know what book the candidate uses as their foundation for truth and their guiding principles. It couldn't be the Bible."
One final note, the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta is affiliated with what is known as the Progressive National Baptist Convention. That was a group established in 1961 by African-American churches and church leaders who were frustrated with the lack of support for the Civil Rights movement of the then National Baptist Convention.
The Odd (And Often Humorous) History of Political Conventions
Well, we'll have more to say about it, but both of the national party conventions are now history, but they're not going to make the kind of history that political conventions used to make. One of my favorites is 1924 when the Democratic party took 103 ballots to come up with its nominee and he was diplomat John W. Davis, and you don't remember him after 103 ballots.
Democrats who went to the 1956 convention didn't know who the party's vice presidential nominee was going to be because the presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson, who had also been the party's nominee in 1952 decided to let the convention choose the vice president. Nominated for the vice president there at the convention in 1952 was Senator Albert Gore Sr. His son would become the Democratic nominee in 2000, losing to George W. Bush. Robert Wagner was the mayor of New York city. He didn't get it. Hubert Humphrey, Minnesota Senator, he didn't get it. But most historically, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the young Senator from Massachusetts, he would become the party's nominee for president in 1960. He'd be elected president. But he couldn't get the vice presidential nomination in 1956. Instead, the nomination went to Estes Kefauver.
By 1960's convention, John F. Kennedy, who was the presidential nominee hadn't decided the vice presidential candidate. It eventually would become of course Lyndon Johnson. In 1964, the Republican convention was memorable for a speech given by the nominee Barry Goldwater, who would be defeated by Lyndon Johnson. But in that election cycle, Republicans were a lot more excited about a speech given on behalf of Goldwater's losing campaign given by Ronald Reagan. In 1968, the Democrats had riots on the street of Chicago that made their convention more interesting than most. In 1972, oddly enough, both parties decided to hold their national conventions in the area of Miami.
In 1976, president Gerald Ford was the Republican nominee, but he had nearly lost the nomination to former California Governor Ronald Reagan running an insurgent campaign. The big question at the end of the convention was whether or not there would be a picture of party unity and thus the winning nominee president Gerald Ford called Ronald Reagan up to the platform. It may have been a mistake because Reagan gave an impromptu speech that made a lot of the people watching forget Gerald Ford. In 1980, it was a different picture at the Democratic convention when Jimmy Carter having beaten back a bloody insurgency coming from his left, from Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, called Senator Kennedy up on the platform for a unity sign. But when he reached the platform, Senator Kennedy appear to ignore the nominee who had called him up, and that was the big story.
Sometimes a single speech is what people remember from a given national convention. For Democrats, that was probably best illustrated in 1988 by a keynote address that was given by a young Illinois state legislator who was running for the United States Senate. That would be Barack Obama. Four years later, he won his party's presidential nomination and won the white house. But sometimes a bad speech can end a political career, and that's what a lot of people thought had happened in 1988. The speaker of that year was Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton and all he had been asked to do was to place in nomination the name of Michael Dukakis, the nominee that year for the office of President of the United States. He was supposed to give a nominating speech.
Instead, he got up and droned on for more than 30 minutes in a speech Democrats have tried to forget. The biggest applause line in the speech came when after more than 30 minutes the Arkansas Governor said, "In closing." That led to rapturous applause. But of course, four years later, Clinton actually since the Democratic nomination and then went on to win the White House. So I might be looking back at the two conventions from 2020, you would say, "That was a really good speech, that might catapult that person to national prominence." Maybe so, maybe not. There might've been a really bad speech at one of these conventions, and you'll turn around four years later and that speaker is the nominee.
There's surely a lot to think about and there will be a lot to think about next week on The Briefing. But I certainly hope if I speak personally that you're not going to applaud when I say as we come to the end of this week, "In closing."
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.