briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, August 31, 2020

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

It’s Monday, August 31, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Will the Federal Government Begin Funding Abortions? One Party Clearly Aims to Do Just That

As we often say, elections have consequences and right on time, some of the consequences of the upcoming national election are becoming more clear. With just about 60 days before the election, it’s very interesting to look at some of the headlines that are coming at us. One of the most crucial has come from the LA Times, just in the last few days. The headline, “House Democrats will try to repeal longstanding ban on federal money for abortions.” Jennifer Haberkorn is the reporter on the story, and what she’s telling us is what we’ve been warned about, but now we have official notice. And that is the fact that the democratic leadership in the House is going to be moving to try to remove the Hyde Amendment from all future federal funding bills, especially those related to federal funding for medical programs, such as Medicaid.

What’s going on here? Well, just consider the fact that in the Democratic Party, we have seen not only a general lurch to the left, we’ve seen an increasingly aggressive stance on the issue of abortion, and the Hyde Amendment has been right in the center. Right now, it’s as if it is the center of the target.

What’s the Hyde Amendment? Why does it matter? Just consider the chronology. The Roe v. Wade decision was handed down by the Supreme Court in 1973. It was, for many conservatives, like a bolt out of the blue. It just didn’t seem possible that the Supreme Court of the United States would try to invent an entirely new constitutional right that isn’t mentioned in the constitution at all, finding that all 50 states must allow abortion. A woman’s constitutional right to an abortion is what the court argued. And thus, even though the case was on the docket, the actual decision was more sweeping than many conservatives and pro lifers had even feared.

One response to it eventually came down about three years later, in 1976, with what was known as the Hyde Amendment. The big issue was this. As the Supreme Court ruled in the Roe v. Wade decision, and then in the Doe decision that quickly followed, if the court had ruled that a woman has a constitutional right to abortion, does a woman have a constitutional right for federal funding of that abortion, particularly through the Medicaid program? The Medicaid program requires, like all other major entitlement programs, an annual reauthorization in the form of the federal budget.

From the beginning, the feminist movement and the left were fighting for unquestioned federal support for abortion. They made an equity argument. Now watch this closely, because the argument’s back and the argument’s deadly in this case. The argument is that if a wealthy woman can afford an abortion, equity and equality and justice would require that a woman who can’t afford an abortion and might be on federally subsidized or provided health care such as Medicaid, should have an equal right and equal access to abortion.

Now, that’s the way this kind of logic played out, until a majority in both the House and the Senate in 1976, said, as some form of a compromise, we ought to agree that federal funding bills will include a rider, known as the Hyde Amendment. It was named for the late Illinois Republican Congressman Henry Hyde. The argument was that it is wrong morally to coerce pro-life citizens from subsidizing abortion. And here we mean the actual performance of abortions with their tax money. And so every year from 1976 forward, the Hyde Amendment has been a part of the spending reauthorization that has gone through the Congress.

The left and the pro-abortion movement have never been satisfied with this, but there has been a very wide, bipartisan consensus to the extent that it was politically unlikely that the Hyde Amendment could be removed, until lately. But a very clear signal was sent in the 2016 national platform of the Democratic Party. At that point, the Democratic Party when Hillary Clinton was their standard bearer in 2016, called for an end to the Hyde Amendment. This is four years later. The Democrats have not been able to pull that off, and that’s for a couple of reasons.

First of all, going back to 2016, they didn’t have a majority in either the House or the Senate, but that changed in 2018. That’s now two years ago. Well, one of the important things to note is that you have a lot of Democrats who are in swing districts, as they are known, and they have not wanted to put their names thus far on any legislation to withdraw the Hyde Amendment.

But the signal sent in recent days is truly important and ominous, and for a very crucial reason. As you’re looking at the kind of legislative proposals that are debated, including say removing the Hyde Amendment, we’ll just consider the fact that the leadership of the House and the Senate on both parties, generally has control over whether or not a matter will reach the floor. This is true in both houses, and in the House, it’s largely in the hands of the speaker of the House, and in the Senate, it’s largely in the hands of the majority leader of the Senate. There are exceptions, but generally, nothing’s going to reach the floor of the Senate that the Senate majority leader doesn’t allow. Nothing’s going to reach the floor of the House for a vote, if the speaker does not allow. That’s just a general rule.

What makes this important is that this is the Los Angeles Times reporting that the Speaker of the House, San Francisco Democrat Nancy Pelosi, is at least through our office, indicating that she and others in the Democratic leadership plan to move ahead after the first of the year, regardless of the outcome of the election, towards the removal of the Hyde Amendment. Now, very interestingly, she can pull that off in the House unless Republicans regained control of the House, in which case she isn’t Speaker. At least in terms of polling, that’s probably unlikely. The big question comes down to which party holds the Senate as of the seating of the new Senate after the election. That’s an incredibly big question, and it may come down to the Senate elections in states such as North Carolina and Colorado and Arizona, a few other states as well.

But nonetheless, as you’re looking at this, the huge issue is whether or not the Democratic Party gains control of the Senate, as the party already has control of the House. And if they elect Joe Biden as President of the United States who, and this is crucial, switched his position from decades of support for the Hyde Amendment, just a matter of months ago, to now vocal opposition to the Hyde Amendment. Well, you’re going to look at the fact that the Hyde Amendment is not only going to be endangered, it is extremely at risk. And furthermore, even as the Democratic Party is making its pitch to its own base, it is arguing for its support of removing the Hyde Amendment in order to get its base out. At that point, it’s going to be very difficult for them to backtrack even an inch on that pledge.

Jennifer Haberkorn, writing this article for the LA Times mentions, “TThe plan to oppose the restriction on government money reflects the dramatic and widespread reversal of opinion on the subject that Democrats have undergone in the last five years.” She continues, “What was once viewed as an acceptable compromise is now widely seen among Democrats as a prime example of systemic racism that unfairly hurts poor women and women of color by banning abortion in most cases for Medicaid patients.”

Now we really need to look closer at this because this argument about equity and justice is, as I said, not just theoretical. It’s downright deadly. Because the argument here is for a woman’s right to abort the baby in her womb. And the argument is that restricting federal funding, Medicaid funding, from abortion means that there is a disproportionate impact when it comes to African American and minority women, who are more likely to be dependent upon Medicaid. Here’s one of the things we need to watch. As we look at the social justice movement that is spreading across the United States, this is a part of it’s inevitable logic. And it comes down to this. If there is a disparity in outcome, there has to be a systemic injustice. If indeed, you’re looking at abortion and it is more difficult for an African American woman in the main to get an abortion, than a wealthier person who isn’t African-American, then the argument is, look, there’s another example of systemic racism.

But that assumes that abortion is a cultural good. Notice that so carefully. That assumes that abortion is a cultural good or a right to abortion is a cultural good that cannot be, must not be, disproportionately allocated that in any way would lead to a disparity when it comes to race or socioeconomic issues. That is a grotesque distortion of justice. It leaves entirely to the side the question about the morality of abortion, which we as Christians know, you can’t leave aside, not for a minute, not for a second, ever.

Representative Barbara Lee, Democrat of Oakland, California, who represents a very radical pro-abortion position, said, “It’s an issue of racial justice and it’s an issue of discrimination against low-income women, women of color, women who don’t have access to what middle- and upper-income women have in terms of the choice to have an abortion.” There’s the logic of the culture of death staring us right in the face and brazenly so.

Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut who heads the subcommittee that has control over federal health programs, she and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, according to the Los Angeles Times, told a small group of lawmakers just last month, that would be in July, that they would not add the prohibition to any government funding bill beginning next year. And that word was leaked to the public by Representative Barbara Lee, already mentioned from Oakland, and Representative Diana DeGette, Democrat of Colorado. Those two, we are told, co-chair the House Pro-Choice Caucus. DeLauro, cited in the article, told the Los Angeles Times that she had considered, “removing the ban from a spending bill this year, but the move was considered futile as Republicans hold the Senate and White House.” Now just reverse the logic of that sentence. It tells us that if the Democrats are able to win the White House and flip the Senate, operation remove the Hyde Amendment is going to go forward at warp speed. DeGette by the way, said that by her count, she has at least 200 House democratic votes. It will require 218. Let’s just notice, 218’s a very thin margin.

The article cites the fact that Joe Biden, the former Vice President, has reversed his position. And we need to note he did so precisely because he wanted to win the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. And as was clear, a matter of months ago, that wasn’t going to be possible unless he abandoned his historic support for the Hyde Amendment, something we should note he had bragged about over and over again, over the years past.

Patty Murray, Democratic Senator from Washington State, made clear in the article that she is working towards growing momentum to repeal the Hyde Amendment in the upper chamber of Congress. And Ilyse Hogue, President of NARAL Pro-Choice America, made clear that the pro-abortion movement would hold the Democrats feet to the fire. “We intend to go in with good faith that when we flip the Senate and the White House, that people need to make good on their commitment on this.” And then, just in case we missed the point and also to point to the fact that this is coming from a secular newspaper, the Los Angeles Times reports, “The Democratic Party’s changing position on the policy has been swift.”

Part II

An Assault on the Image of God in Mankind: Recent Criminal Sentences Reveal How Much Society Thinks Human Life Is Worth

But next, in recent days, as we’re dealing also with understanding the meaning and the dignity and sanctity of human life, we need to consider what is reflected in our criminal justice laws about how we undermine the dignity of human life by not requiring the ultimate penalty when it comes to murder, even mass murder. Headlines in this case coming from the State of California and also from New Zealand.

First of all, just in recent days in California, Joseph James DeAngelo Jr., commonly known as the Golden State Killer was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. This happened in a Sacramento County courtroom and DeAngelo was found guilty of killing 13 people and raping dozens more over course of decades, beginning in the 1970s. The judge in this case, Michael Bowman said in the sentencing, “When a person commits monstrous acts, they need to be locked away where they could never harm another innocent person.”

Now the fact that this man had a name for decades, even before his personal name was known, that is as the Golden State Killer tells you something about the enormity of his crimes. He admitted to committing 13 murders and dozens of rapes, but it is believed by law enforcement that that might not even be the extent of either his murder or his rape or his crime. DeAngelo was actually identified after police used what amounts to a DNA registry to tie him to the crimes. The crimes by the way, had taken place over the years in both Northern and Southern California, and it was actually years before law enforcement figured out it was probably the same individual.

Later in the article, we read this, “As part of his plea deal, the death penalty was taken off the table.” DeAngelo, now age 74, agreed to plead guilty to these crimes to avoid facing the death penalty. Actually in California, there are many right now on death row, but the fact is Governor Gavin Newsom, in an increasingly very liberal state, has said that he will not sign death warrants anyway, so being on death row in California is hypothetical. But DeAngelo’s not even going to be on death row.

Now, as you’re looking at the criminal justice system, this was a plea deal. And it’s one that’s understandable, at least in the pragmatic terms that the State of California is not going to have to go to millions and millions of dollars to actually conduct a criminal trial in every one of these rapes and murders. Furthermore, given the reality of the evidence behind at least some of these cases, without the plea, there probably would not be a finality to many of these cases. And there are family members and others who desperately want that finality. But that’s a plea agreement.

At least the death penalty was hypothetically possible in California, but then we shift to New Zealand. And you’ll recall, horrifyingly enough, that in March of 2019, a shooter entered two New Zealand mosques, and killed 51 people, 51 Islamic worshipers gathered there in the mosque for prayers. As Nick Perry reports for the Associated Press from Christchurch, New Zealand, “The white supremacist who slaughtered 51 worshipers at two New Zealand mosques was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, the first time the maximum available sentence has been imposed in the country.”

Now wait just a minute. The maximum applicable sentence in this case, life without possibility of parole has now been handed down in New Zealand for the very first time? And it took a murderer who killed 51 people to bring about the application of that highest penalty in New Zealand? That’s actually the case. It turns out that New Zealand doesn’t have a death penalty and it has a life imprisonment without the possibility of parole only for extreme extenuating circumstances. Clearly you would think the intentional shooting of 51 people in two mosques would qualify, and evidently it did. The slaughter was incredibly premeditated. In the evidentiary process, it became clear that Tarrant had actually flown a drone over one of the mosques, and carefully researched its floor plan in order to carry out a maximum carnage. The article ends by explaining simply, “New Zealand abolished the death penalty for murder in 1961.”

Now that’s a long time ago, almost 50 years ago, almost a half century. Well, we also need to keep in mind as we’re thinking about this, Anders Behring Breivik, who was guilty in 2011 of killing 69 teenagers at a youth camp and eight other people in a previous attack. All put together, that means 78 homicides. Was he sentenced to death? No. Was he sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole? No. Was he sentenced to life in prison? No. After being found guilty of mass murder, 78 homicides, he was sentenced to 21 years of preventive detention. 21 years. Now to be fair, it is unlikely that he will ever be allowed out simply because they will find a reason to extend his preventive detention. But the point is, in Norway, they don’t even have a moral imagination for the need for life in prison. Not to mention life in prison without the opportunity of parole, not to mention the death penalty.

What should we as Christians think about? Well, we have to go back to something a lot older than these headlines. We have to go back to the scripture. We have to go back to the Noahic Covenant found in Genesis 9. In Genesis 9:5, God says to Noah, “And for your lifeblood, I will require a reckoning. From every beast I will require and from man. From his fellow man, I will require a reckoning for the life of man.” Then this statement in Chapter 9:6. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed for God made man in his own image.”

Now just think about this for a moment. Here in the covenant that God made with Noah, God says that capital punishment, the death penalty, is the rightful punishment for a case of intentional homicide, intentional murder. But God goes on to make clear that the underlying issue here is not even just what human beings will consider to be the horrible crime of homicide, but the fact that God himself made every single human being in his image and thus, murder is an assault upon God’s own honor, and God’s own image. It’s actually a very powerful, affirmative statement about the worth of human life, the dignity of human life, its sacredness, saying that it is so sacred that if you kill another human being intentionally, you forfeit your own right to live.

But in an increasingly secular age, and it’s interesting that in all three of these jurisdictions, we’re talking about increasingly secular societies from Norway, very secular in Scandinavia. We’re talking about New Zealand, one of the most secular of all English speaking nations. And we’re talking about California, one of the more secular of the states in the 50 American states. But we’re also talking about the fact that generalized across all Western cultures, there is an increasing lack of conviction that ties together the horror of abortion and the reality that you can kill 78 people in Norway and be officially judicially sentenced to just 21 years of preventive detention. You can kill 13 people in California and get a plea deal that means you spend the rest of your life in prison, no death penalty. You could kill 51 people in a premeditated murder in New Zealand and be handed a sentence of life in prison without parole. And again, I was shocked to find out, quite honestly, that this is the first time in that nation’s history, that that particular sentence has been handed down.

And then I just have to raise the question. Is the American practice of abortion now driven into the nation’s consciousness over a numbing effect of decades? Does that have an effect on how little we consider human life to be worth in many of these criminal sentences? As we listened to those words and the covenant that God made with Noah and through Noah to all humanity, we have to recognize that if killing a human being outside the womb is homicide, then killing a human being inside the womb is homicide as well.

Part III

A Humiliating Soap Opera for Evangelicalism: Morality and Truth Have Consequences

But finally, over the course of the last several days in particular, we have seen a humiliating soap opera play out in one of evangelicalism’s major institutions, Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. Now in all honesty, this soap opera can’t be dated just a matter of weeks or months. It’s been going on for some years at Liberty, but in recent weeks it has skyrocketed into the nation’s consciousness and onto the headlines. It is humiliating because at a major evangelical institution, issues of personal sin have arisen in such a grotesque manner that it brought about the resignation of Jerry Falwell Jr. as President and Chancellor of the institution. And the soap opera involved his wife, members of his family, a pool boy in Florida, you go down the list. It is a horrifying tale.

It’s publicly acknowledged that there are other issues at stake here as well, but it’s just really important to recognize that what finally caught up with Jerry Falwell Jr. is fact that morality has consequences. And eventually, even if you do have the same name as the founder of a university like Liberty, eventually the truth is going to come out and that truth will have consequences.

All of this is very heart-rending when you consider the real life human beings, who are the students at Liberty University, the faculty and staff, and others who have seen the institution in headlines they never wanted to see and have humiliated the institution and who are experiencing the real life pain of seeing this story unfold in their midst. And yet, of course they’re not without hope. Liberty University is an extremely important evangelical institution. It has been, has grown even more so, and will remain so. But it faces the kind of test right now that very few Christian institutions ever face.

The school was established in 1971 as Lynchburg Baptist College by Jerry Falwell, Sr.. Jerry Falwell was one of the titanic figures of American Christianity in the last half of the 20th century. He died in 2007. He had established the Thomas Road Baptist Church that eventually basically gave birth to the school. He went there in 1956. He established the Moral Majority in 1979, a potent political force for the religious right in the United States. In 1971, he established the college after already having established a Christian school. He renamed it Liberty Baptist College in 1977, and it was renamed Liberty University in 1985.

The school was a pioneer in distance learning, beginning programs in the 1980s that have mushroomed into almost 100,000 online students in various degrees. The school has about 15,000 students, resident on the campus, and various schools including a law school, which was Jerry Falwell, the father’s, pride, but Jerry Falwell also had tremendous hope and confidence in the training of young Christians that he identified as young champions for Christ. The school originally grew out of independent fundamentalism in the Baptist movement in the United States. But in more recent years, it has been directly affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention through the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia Convention. I had the privilege of knowing Jerry Falwell, the father, and being at Liberty University several times, including speaking in chapel and speaking in classes, doing media events. It’s impossible, in just a couple of minutes, to define Jerry Falwell, or to describe him. He was, as the British would say, “A man in full.”

He built an evangelical empire, but upon his death, by his own design, that empire was divided between his two sons. He has three children, one daughter, two sons. Jerry Falwell Jr. became the leader of Liberty University. Jonathan Falwell became the pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church. And from the beginning, it was very noticeable that Jerry Falwell Jr. was very different than his brother Jonathan, and even more markedly, when you consider the job he held, radically different than his father, Jerry Falwell, Sr.. Jerry Falwell, Sr. held to a very conservative theology and to a conservative understanding of biblical morality. He defended both vociferously and publicly and established his college to stand upon conservative doctrine and biblical morality. His son, Jerry Jr. appears to have had little interest in or commitment to either. And now by means of scandal, it’s known to all. One of the questions Liberty will have to deal with is how long it was known to others.

But Anthea Butler, writing for Religion News Service, she, by the way, is a professor of both religion and Africana studies at University of Pennsylvania. She wrote an article rather cynically entitled Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s Fall, Liberty University, and the Myth of the Moral Majority. She basically accuses conservative Christians of being hypocrites when it comes to this kind of behavior. But I just want to point out, this is not an example of hypocrisy on the part of the evangelical movement. Once it was known what Jerry Falwell Jr. had done, it was impossible that he could continue as the President of Liberty University, and he isn’t.

There may well have been hypocrisy and a failure over time to apply moral standards to the president of the institution that were clearly applicable to students and to faculty. All of that remains to be considered by Liberty University. But the point is this, an evangelical institution is only evangelical if it holds to the gospel of Jesus Christ, to the full authority of scripture. If it holds to the faith once for all delivered to the saints and the morality that is revealed in the scripture and makes it apply to everyone, top to bottom in the institution, without exception.

I’m actually very confident that Jerry Falwell, the father’s vision for Liberty University can be sustained. It’s up to the current board at Liberty University and those who are on the faculty and staff and students to make certain that it is so. The stakes here are absolutely huge. And Liberty is now a very wealthy institution, far more wealthy than Jerry Falwell Sr. could ever have imagined. But the issue right now for Liberty University comes down to the Gospel of Matthew 16:26, when Jesus asks, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” Right now, before much of the watching world, those are the questions pressed upon Liberty University. But it’s very important that all evangelical institutions and all of us as American Christians understand the very same questions inevitably will be asked of us.

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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