briefing, Albert Mohler

Friday, September 4, 2020

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

It’s Friday, September 4, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

What Does It Take to Defeat a Kennedy in Massachusetts? Apparently a Candidate Further to the Left

The landscape around us is being reshaped politically, and underneath the politics in the worldview of the nation. We’re also looking at the fact that from time to time, a microcosm appears that tells us a little story that turns out to be a really big story. And the dateline of the most interesting this week comes from the state of Massachusetts. Massachusetts is one of the bluest of blue states on the American electoral map. It is overwhelmingly Democratic, so much so, that especially when it comes to statewide office, any Democrat is likely to win over just about any Republican. That’s in normal terms.

But throughout the history of Massachusetts, for more than the last half century, if one of those candidates in the Democratic Party has the last name of Kennedy, that candidate has almost always won. As a matter of fact, here’s the big story. After 26 consecutive Democratic primary wins, the candidate named Kennedy lost in Massachusetts and lost big and lost hugely by 10 points over against an incumbent Democratic Senator, Edward J. Markey. Someone who’s 74 years old. Running against the insurgent Kennedy aged 39, the grandson of the former Attorney General of the United States, Robert Francis Kennedy and later United States Senator from New York.

The Kennedy name had worked magic at American politics for a matter of decades. Going back to 1946, when a young Navy veteran by the name of John Fitzgerald Kennedy was elected to the United States Congress. He was extremely young, so much that many people who voted for him weren’t quite sure that he was actually old enough to hold the office, but he did. And he held the office until he was elected just a few years later in the 1952 election to the United States Senate. And it was from there, eight years later, that he became the Democratic nominee and was elected President of the United States.

All of this came about because of the titanic political ambitions of the individual who was behind all of this. And that is the patriarch of the clan Joseph P. Kennedy. He was out to prove on the one hand that Irish Catholic Americans could move into the American cultural mainstream, but he was also out to build a new American dynasty in a very real way to try to rival a family such as the Roosevelts who had produced two presidents of the United States. But whereas the Roosevelts were a part of the New York Dutch aristocracy, the Kennedys were Irish Catholics in Boston. And the transformation of the Kennedy name into political magic is one of the most powerful political stories of the 20th century.

If nothing else, a part of what was learned Tuesday in Massachusetts is that political dynasties all have a shelf life of some time. There was a time in the United States where it was believed that if you had the name Roosevelt, you were probably destined for the oval office. The same was true, of course, for the Kennedys. John Fitzgerald Kennedy was elected president in 1960. His brother and his Attorney General at the time, later US Senator from New York, Robert Kennedy, became the front runner for the Democratic nomination in 1968. His run that came in, even as the democratic race was well underway, ended with his assassination in Los Angeles just after winning the California Primary.

The attention then turned to the youngest of the Kennedy brothers, Edward Kennedy, known as Ted Kennedy. He had been elected to take his brother’s vacated seat in the United States Senate in the election of 1962. So you have John F. Kennedy elected to the United States House in 1946, and then he’s elected to the United States Senate against an establishment candidate in 1952. The seat is his until he’s elected president in 1960. And then two years later after the office was held by a Kennedy placeholder in effect, it goes to his youngest brother, Edward Kennedy, known as Ted.

Now in that primary race, by the way, his challenger who had the last name of Lodge, another name of Massachusetts’s political aristocracy, made the point that Ted Kennedy was so politically unaccomplished that if his name were merely Edward Moore, rather than Edward Moore Kennedy, he would have no hope of election. But the name Kennedy has all that he needed and he won the primary and then was elected to the Senate. He stayed in the Senate until the year 2009 when he died. That means 1962 to 2009. One of the longest tenures in the modern United States Senate.

But John F. Kennedy is elected president in 1960, tragically assassinated in 1963. His brother was his Attorney General, something that would not be possible now, given anti-nepotism laws. Robert Kennedy served under LBJ as Attorney General, but they basically hated each other. And Robert Kennedy took the exit ramp running for the United States Senate from the State of New York in 1964. In 1964 Robert Kennedy is elected to the Senate from New York. His brother’s already in the Senate, the younger brother having two years seniority in the Senate.

Lyndon Baines Johnson is elected president of the United States in 1964. So by the time you get to the year 1964, you have Ted Kennedy in the Senate from Massachusetts, Robert Kennedy in the Senate from New York, and everyone knows he’s going to be a presidential candidate. And it’s only four years later in 1968, that Kennedy, that is Robert Kennedy, enters the Democratic race late in the process. And as I said, it only came to an end when he was assassinated tragically after he won the California primary. That left Ted Kennedy, and the question is: when will Ted run for president? And that finally officially took place in the year 1980, when he ran against the incumbent Democratic President of the United States, Jimmy Carter, and exposed the weakness of Carter as a candidate made all the more apparent in the general election against Ronald Reagan when Carter lost in an electoral college landslide.

So the Kennedy family, regardless of the first or middle name of the candidate, had racked up for the family 26 unbroken primary victories in the Democratic Party until it was broken on Tuesday when United States Congressman Joe Kennedy lost to United States Senator Edward J. Markey in the Democratic Primary in Massachusetts. That basically means the general election is wrapped up for Markey. What’s the huge story? It’s not just that the Kennedy name, the Kennedy candidate lost. It’s that the Kennedy candidate lost to someone considerably to his left.

So if you ask a very interesting question, what does it take to knock off a Kennedy in the State of Massachusetts? Well, it’s not so much Edward J. Markey, age 74. It is the fact that Markey has moved tremendously to the left of the Democratic Party, becoming with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the co-sponsor of the so-called Green New Deal. He ran to the left of the Kennedy, and the Kennedy lost.

Congressman Joe Kennedy is the grandson of the former Attorney General and Senator, Robert Kennedy. That means that Joseph P. Kennedy was his great grandfather. And so four generations after Joseph P. Kennedy began the political dynasty, it has suffered its most significant loss to the Democratic Party, to the left of the party. And just to make the picture even more interesting, Congressman Kennedy lost hugely in suburban Boston. He didn’t win a single Democratic precinct in East Boston. Markey won by two-to-one in Brookline, about the same in Newton, Natick and Weston. He won three-to-one in Kennedy, in Cambridge, Massachusetts home of Harvard University, from which John F. Kennedy had graduated. Markey won by four to one. He beat a Kennedy four to one in Cambridge.

What’s the lesson from all of this? Well, if you want to know the direction of the Democratic Party, you’ve got to look to the left. You’ve got to look far to the left and you got to look to the left in a hurry. And to now it is so much to the left that the Kennedy magic has lost its magic in Massachusetts, but this raises another very interesting background issue. How exactly do Democrats remember the Kennedy family? Interestingly, in policy terms, it is arguable that the modern Republican Party is in policy and politics closer to John F. Kennedy than the modern Democratic Party has been for a very long time. When Ronald Reagan ran for president and won in 1980, he cited as his economic plan, more than anything else, the influence of John F. Kennedy, especially in a significant cut to the Capital Gains Tax in order to invigorate the American economy.

When it comes to defense policy, when it comes to fiscal policy, Kennedy was by no means a liberal in the Democratic Party by the end of the decade in which he had been elected. Not to mention in 2020. The Democratic left feels far friendlier towards Senator Robert F. Kennedy forgetting the fact that he had served on the far right in effect as a major Lieutenant to Senator Joseph McCarthy. That’s not something repeated by many Democrats. But between the years 1964 and 1968, Senator Robert Kennedy moved considerably to the left, but he was even then by no means on the left wing of his own party then in 1968, much less in 1972 when the party would nominate George McGovern. Not to mention when his grandson would run for the United States Senate, the Democratic Primary in 2020 and lose to 74 year old Edward J. Markey, the son of a milkman.

So get this. The 74 year old son of a milkman from Malden defeated the Kennedy from Boston and did so handily, defeating the grandson of Senator Robert Kennedy, defeating the great grandson of Joseph P. Kennedy. The first huge and seismic Kennedy loss in generations. Now almost immediately, you have people asking how could this have happened, even though the polling indicated it was going to happen. And the polling was very clear. It is because Edward J. Markey had what Markey called the young ideas in the Democratic Party even if he was the older candidate. “It’s not your age that counts,” said, Markey. “It’s the age of your ideas.”

And how old are those ideas? Well, in one sense, they have a history and progressive leftist thought in the United States, but really the ideas such as the Green New Deal are only as old as I’ll say, 2018 in the surprise election of a former bartender to the United States Congress from New York, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. It’s a strange but very important irony that it was representative Cortez with Senator Markey who co-sponsored the Green New Deal. And thus it was Edward Markey who was able to be the candidate of the Sunrise Movement. That’s the youth movement on the progressive left in the Democratic Party rather than representative Joseph Kennedy. And the Kennedy magic died because the party is moving fast to the left. Faster than a Kennedy could get there.

And even in the midst of so many other issues boiling in America, E.J. Dionne Jr, the very influential liberal columnist for the Washington Post, suggested that the magic of Edward Markey came down to, “The miracle of being green.” The headline of his column about the defeat of Congressman Joe Kennedy was: “How Markey beat Kennedy: The miracle of being green.” He goes on say, “Markey’s victory follows the spectacular rise in the fortunes of Green parties in Europe, particularly in France and Germany.” Dionne concludes his column, “Don’t count Kennedy out forever; bringing the legacy down a peg may, paradoxically, increase his popularity. But Markey’s triumph really was, as he proclaimed in his victory speech, ‘a celebration of a movement.’ He’ll now always be known for working a political miracle — and for making clear, to borrow from JFK, that saving the planet is this generation’s long twilight struggle.'” It’s spelled “green new deal.”

Part II

Can Religious Foster Care and Adoption Agencies Hold to Their Convictions? Supreme Court to Hear Case with Huge Religious Liberty Implications

But next we’re going to shift gears. We’re going to move to Washington DC. Although the case before the Supreme Court is most importantly from Philadelphia, from the State of Pennsylvania. But it is going to be a huge case that’s going to set a massive precedent and Religious Liberty is very much on the line, but it’s an extremely important case where once again, we see the collision between the newly invented and declared rights of the sexual revolution and the constitutional right of religious liberty. And it all comes down to foster care and adoption. And again, it’s in the city of Philadelphia.

The city of Philadelphia citing its own laws against discrimination, let the Catholic charities in Philadelphia know that it could not continue in the foster care and adoption business there in Philadelphia with the cooperation of the state, unless it stopped discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, the entire LGBTQ array. Catholic Social Services there in Philadelphia thus faced an enormous quandary. They could remain Catholic, or they could remain in the ministry of adoption and foster care. But evidently they couldn’t do both.

Now, by the way, let’s look at a little history here before we get to Catholic Social Services and Philadelphia. Chapter one in that history takes us back to the beginnings of foster care and adoption in the United States. Almost all of the agency work that was on behalf of adoption and foster care came from explicitly religious organizations, and they were primarily Protestant and Catholic organizations. In the American Northeast and in the urban areas, especially where there was such Catholic concentration and population, you’d find many of these Catholic Social Service agencies, or like you had in Boston and in Massachusetts, what was known as Catholic Charities. That’s chapter one. You don’t have adoption and foster care without the religious institutions and movements that are performing them. And it is because of their own religious identity and convictions.

Chapter two comes down to what we might describe as the government takeover. And that’s not necessarily an unfriendly takeover of the foster care and adoption process in the United States. As America got into the 20th century and as the need for foster care and adoption grew largely, exponentially due to the breakdown of the family and other factors, government stepped in. But where government steps in, government controls. And so as you look at foster care and adoption in virtually any of the fifty states in the United States, you can’t go through that process without considerable government control and supervision.

But chapter three is the fact that even as the government does now largely control a great deal of that process, it can’t carry it out. That is to say, and by the way, this is a very important Christian principle known as subsidiarity that I’ve defined many times on The Briefing. It comes down to the fact that government doesn’t have the competence actually to care for a child. Over time, it has to have someone else do that in the place of the government. And so in one of those interesting turns in history, the government had to turn to the nonprofit sectors it would say, and that is largely to religious charities to say, “Hey, please continue doing your work, but we want you to do it largely hand in hand with the government and as a part of our larger social services umbrella.”

So the religious organizations and ministries started the foster care and adoption ministries. The state said, that’s our business. The state then said, we can’t do it without you, but in Philadelphia, the moral revolution has now reach the point that the city of Philadelphia says, well, we don’t want you in here more, even if we can’t do it without you, because our first and primary commitment is not to Religious Liberty, nor is it to the foster care and adoption of these needy children. It is instead the sexual revolution. The compromise is going to have to come somewhere other than the demands of the LGBTQ movement.

Now moving north from Philadelphia, let’s go to Massachusetts and let’s rewind history 16 years. 16 years ago in 2004, same sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts. And that created a problem for Catholic charities there because the state of Massachusetts tried to use its coercive power to tell Catholic charities that the Catholic ministry would have to give children from adoption and foster care to same sex couples. Because after all the state of Massachusetts said, they’re just as married as a married man and woman. Catholic charity said, “No.” The state of Massachusetts said, “Then you will have to get out of the foster care and adoption process.” Catholic charities did get out of foster care and adoption there in Massachusetts, and of course to the harm of needy children there.

But oral arguments in the current case of concern, which is known as Fulton v. Philadelphia, will be held the day after the American general election. That means on November the 4th, Wednesday, the Wednesday after the Tuesday presidential election general election in the United States. It is as if the Supreme Court has itself said, “By the way, take note! This presidential election and its impact on the Supreme Court is really going to be important. Just look at the oral arguments in the case we’re going to consider the very next day.”

Fulton v. Philadelphia has to do with the fact that Catholic Social Services is suing the city of Philadelphia, trying to put it out of the foster care and adoption business on the basis of the fact that it demands not to have to choose between serving children and abandoning its Catholic convictions. Now, this is where evangelical Christians have to understand this case isn’t about us, but is everything about us. Because the right, the constitutional right of Catholic Social Services in Philadelphia to be Catholic is exactly the right of Baptist ministries to be Baptist, Presbyterian ministries to be Presbyterian, of evangelical Protestant ministries to continue in ministry such as foster care and adoption.

But it’s beyond that because the logic of this case isn’t even just about foster care and adoption. It will have ramifications when you consider issues such as whether or not a Christian college will be allowed to operate by Christian principles or whether the recognition and legalization of same sex marriage, not to mention all the non-discrimination statutes concerning the entire array LGBTQ will mean that Christian colleges have to redefine their admissions policies, their hiring policies, their housing policies. You can go down the list. Cases like this are never just about say Catholic Social Services in the city of Philadelphia, any more than the case challenging the Obama administration’s contraception mandate was just about the Little Sisters of the Poor. No, it’s not just about the Little Sisters of the Poor. It’s about all of us.

But there’s another landmine right in the center of this case, and it’s going to detonate the day after the election because the Supreme Court in taking up this question is almost going to be forced to take up the question as to whether or not another Supreme Court decision should be reversed, if not significantly revised. That is the Smith decision of 1990. That was a decision–by the way, ironically, the majority opinion authored by Justice Antonin Scalia–that ended up serving as a significant compromise of and subversion of religious liberty in the United States, particularly the free exercise clause. That wasn’t the intention of Justice Scalia, but the point is bad decisions like bad laws will have bad consequences. And the Smith decision has had very bad consequences now for 30 years.

Over the course of the last several years, the Supreme Court has been moving step-by-step to distance itself, if not repudiate the logic of this myth decision. But this case Fulton v. Philadelphia puts the Smith decision right at the center of the case. It’s going to be very hard for the court to rule on this case without ruling on Smith again. And at this point, it’s just really important to understand it’s very difficult to exaggerate the significance and consequence of the Supreme Court revisiting the Smith decision. A good deal of the shape of religious liberty in the United States for our children and grandchildren will come down to how the Supreme Court of the United States answers this question in its upcoming term.

Part III

Did You Know the Lions and Tigers and Bears at the Zoo Miss Us Too? A Testimony to God’s Goodness and Glory in Creation

But finally, as this week of The Briefing comes to an end, something to warm the heart a bit. A testimony about the goodness and the glory of God’s creation right down to the critters in the zoo. Yes, there are many Americans who miss going to the zoo, but according to some zoo authorities, the animals miss the human beings coming to the zoo. Nora Eckert writing in a front page article for the Wall Street Journal tells us, “Humans aren’t the only ones whose routines have been upended by the pandemic. While lockdowns have forced zoo and aquarium visitors to stay home, the animals appear to have noticed that they have the place to themselves. Some of them seem to miss people, staff say, while others don’t exactly seem to mind that no one is tapping on the glass.”

Beth Schaefer, Director of Animal Programs at the Los Angeles Zoo said, “It completely surprised me.” Speaking of the animals that seem to miss being observed, “including a curmudgeonly black bear and red river hogs seeming to peer around in the sudden quiet.” Mary Yoder, Collection Manager of Primates at Arizona’s Phoenix Zoo, said, “We always think, ‘The animals don’t really pay that much attention to visitors. They just kind of do their own thing.’ And then when the zoo is empty, it’s like, ‘Oh, wow, they actually respond or look at visitors more than we thought.”

It’s not just in the United States. From Australia, we learn of Cecile, an Emu who was bored, but now has his very own decorative tree adorned with bulbs, disco balls, and tinsel that dance in the night. “It’s not close enough to peck at, but it seems to keep Cecil entertained when he’s not foraging for tasty bites.” Authorities at the Phoenix Zoo tell us about a mandrill “with a mesmerizing smile, bright red snout and yellow chest.” He, named Jax, “used to enchant visitors at the Phoenix Zoo. During the pandemic,” we’re told, “he swapped out his characteristic joyful jumping with simply lying in his enclosure.” Mary Yoder there with the Phoenix Zoo made an effort to try to befriend Jax, give him some company, including sharing lunches with him separated by glass. Over time, we’re told he got his mojo back.

She said, “I’ll be like ‘Hey buddy, how are you? Good morning!’ And he’ll just run up with this big smile and shake his head and show you his teeth.… For him it is actually a smile and a greeting.” A more mournful tale comes from the RainForest Adventures Discovery Zoo in Sevierville, Tennessee. There we are told that Row is a cockatoo who lives at the zoo and is notorious for singing, even belting out, “Row, row, row your boat.” Normally we are told, humans finish the song for the cockatoo, but now the cockatoo begins singing the song, there are no humans to complete it, and so she just stops, looking at the other birds as if they’re supposed to join in and sing the song and finishing it.

Bill Lucy, the Zoo Director there said, “You wonder what’s going through her little head, you know? Like, ‘Come on guys! Help me out a bit here.’” Senior curator, Brian Amarelle of the National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute in Washington DC said, “Those animals are typically pretty aloof, pretty secretive. It was interesting to see one of those animals actually pay attention, and kind of perk up when I walked by and actually acknowledge me. For what it’s worth.”

While the secular world looks at this and it’s cute and it’s quaint and kind of poignant, but Christians look at this and it’s all of that, but it’s also more. It’s a testimony to the glory of God in the creation he made in the absolute wonder that God built in this creation in making so many creatures. So many creatures beyond our imagination, including what are believed to be thousands and thousands of creatures we haven’t even identified yet. Many of them in the depths of the ocean. Some of them probably in unpenetrated jungles and elsewhere. We’re talking about the wonder of the animal kingdom that God has made. And remember that one of the first responsibilities that He gave to human beings and taking dominion and exercising stewardship was for Adam to give every one of these animals its name.

Now, from animated features to fairytales and beyond, human beings have often sentimentalized that relationship between human beings and the creatures, but the relationship is there. Just look at that puppy’s face that’s fixed on you right now. Your cat may act like she doesn’t care if you’re at home, but she’s looking out the window while you’re away. And even in the zoo, it turns out that the animals are lonely for their human companions. The Christian worldview comes down to making the right distinctions. The first distinction between the creator and creation.

A second distinction between the creatures that are animals as distinct from human beings made in God’s image. But the fact is we share the fact with all these animals that we too are creatures made by a holy and righteous and infinitely wonderful God. And he made us all for His glory. Only human beings are made in his image with the ability to know him and have that consciousness, but the other animals are made for His pleasure as well, but also for ours, which is why we love going to the zoo and why we miss going to the zoo. And it tells us something really powerful about the creation that God has made, that the zookeepers have discovered that the animals miss us too.

So let this story make you think and warm your heart as we go into the weekend. And I’ll just end with a final request. Will someone please in Sevierville, Tennessee, go and help that cockatoo end her song.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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So that means I’ll meet you again next Tuesday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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