Wednesday, September 23, 2020
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Wednesday, September 23rd 2020, I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Two Theses That Are (Almost ) Always True: Everyone Is a Single Issue Voter and No One Is a Single Issue Voter — Abortion and the 2020 Election
Two theses today. Number one, everyone is a single-issue voter, and thesis number two, no-one is a single-issue voter. Now those two statements appear to be absolutely contradictory. By the law of non-contradiction, both of them cannot be true. And yet, in a sense, both of them are. We need to think today about the issue of single-issue voting and the stewardship of our political responsibility, especially with the 2020 presidential election looming before us. Now, when conservative evangelicals talk about single-issue voting that single issue most commonly is the issue of abortion. It's not just any other issue, it's a foundational, fundamental issue because it's tied to the dignity and sanctity of human life. Abortion is not just on a list of issues of evangelical concern, it's a fundamental issue precisely because if you get this question wrong, a matter as basic as human dignity and the sanctity of human life, it is unlikely you will get the other questions right.
It's also true that you will have subverted the entire system of truth. But as you're thinking about single-issue voting, consider this, I would argue that no-one should vote for a candidate who would support abortion, a vote that would lead to increased or sustained abortion rights in the United States, that would lead either directly or indirectly to a greater number of abortions performed in the United States. I believe it would be wrong to vote for a candidate whose position on abortion would mean that taxpayers would be coerced into paying for abortion, which means, as every research study I'm familiar with has demonstrated, there would be more abortions. There would be even more unborn babies who would be aborted in the womb. So that being said, I would support abortion as a single issue if and when it came to single-issue voting. I believe the issue is so important that if we were to find a candidate who was right on every other issue and wrong on the issue of abortion, I would not support that candidate. I would not vote for that candidate.
But on the other hand, I made the statement that even as every voter is a single-issue voter, no voter is actually a single-issue voter, so I need to make sense of that. Number one, when I say every voter is a single-issue voter, I mean that one way or another, if a voter is consistent, and thoughtful, and honest, there's going to be some issue that, at the bottom line, means that voter will vote for a candidate or can't vote for that candidate. It's going to come down to some single issue at least some of the time. And when we're looking at abortion, by the way, I'm reminded of a conversation that I had on Thinking In Public with prominent intellectual Joseph Bottum. He made the statement that he is the mythical one-issue voter. Now, he was speaking of his support for the sanctity of human life. He spoke back to his career as a public intellectual fighting abortion, and when he described himself as the mythical one issue voter, he went on to say this, memorably, "I'd vote for a communist dogcatcher if he were more pro-life than his opponent."
Now, that's really clear. Here you have Joseph Bottum saying he would vote for a communist dogcatcher if he were more pro-life than his opponent. Now, in one sense, that's the very definition of single issue voting, but as we think about this, and by the way, I'm in agreement which Joseph Bottum on this issue, we have to distinguish between two kinds of single-issue voting. Now, just think with me for a moment. We have to think about positive single-issue voting and dispositive single-issue voting. Now again, hang with me, it's important. When we say a positive single-issue voter, we're saying that the voter says someone must hold this position. A candidate must hold to a pro-life position. There could be other voters who would say must hold to a, say, pro-defense policy position, or must hold to a pro-abortion position. You could understand several different kinds of single issue voters on all kinds of the points of the political spectrum. But the positive aspect of this is that the voter requires the candidate positively to hold to a position.
Dispositive is the opposite, which is to say that the voter would not vote for any candidate who would say, "I stand for the position opposite to what the voter's looking for." So positively, we're looking for agreement, dispositively, we will not vote for a candidate who disagrees with us on a matter of such fundamental importance. Now, when Jody Bottum speaks of being a single issue voter, what he calls that mythical single-issue voter, when he says that he would vote for a communist dogcatcher if he were the most pro-life candidate in the race, he's talking about the positive affirmation. He would be looking for the most pro-life candidate in the race. Now, when I articulated that first thesis, that every voter is a single issue voter, what I mean is that either positively or dispositively, every voter at some point will have to honestly recognize I can or cannot vote for candidate A or B simply because of this issue.
But I made a second thesis, and I said I agree with it too. I believe it. And that is that no voter is a single issue voter. What do I mean by that? Well, what I mean is issues are connected. It's extremely unlikely that Joseph Bottum would ever have the opportunity or the responsibility to have to vote for a communist dogcatcher as the most pro-life candidate in the race. His statement certainly gets our attention and I agree with it, but it's an unlikely political context. In a far more likely political context, we're looking at the fact that in the United States right now, we have not only two very different, very divergent political parties, each of them represents a very different political, moral, cultural, social, philosophical, ideological, argument and alignment of issues. And so, as you're looking at these two parties and you're looking at the main electoral decision in this presidential election, it is not a smorgasbord. It's not a multiple choice.
It is two different parties, two different candidates, and two sets of issues that you can pretty much figure out 4 years ago, or for that matter, 8 years ago, 12, 16, 20, 24, 28 years ago, because these two political parties, even though they've been moving apart, have been moving apart in very predictable ways. And so, as you're looking at either the Democrats or the Republicans, you're looking at a set of interconnected issues. It's not just abortion, for or against. It is also taxpayer funding of abortion, for or against. It is also a set of policies related to everything from the definition of the family to how the government is to respect or not respect religious liberty. You go down a list of issues and the two parties are now two opposing arguments. Now, in American politics it wasn't always so. If you go back to the 1960s, it wasn't so. It wasn't so in 1960, when John F. Kennedy ran against Richard Nixon.
You take the platforms of the two parties, and they're very difficult to distinguish, but as you fast forward, after the revolution in 1968 and beyond, and after the Roe V Wade decision of 1973, by the time you get to 1980, the two parties are taking a very different alignment. In every election cycle thereafter it has become only more apparent the parties have become only more distant. The arguments are going to their logical conclusion. And so as you consider the issue of abortion in the 2020 presidential election, not only do you have one party committed to the overturning of Roe V Wade and thus to the sanctity of human life, you have the other party that has now reached the point that it will not nominate an individual to be president of the United States who will even support the Hyde Amendment that prevents taxpayers from being coerced to pay for abortion. And so on the one hand, you have a party that says we are going to work to restrict abortion and with the goal of ending it, whereas in the other party, you have an unrestricted, unqualified support of abortion at virtually any point.
Now, about every four years I make this argument, and I go back to those two theses. I believe that it's true that every single voter is a single issue voter. On some issue, every voter eventually has to take a stand, but at same time, it's extremely unlikely that that voter will ever actually be a single issue voter because you are not going to find candidates who represent everything you're looking for, except on this one issue they're way out in left field. Why? Because (A), logical consistency tends to work its way out, especially in the hustle and bustle of a campaign and that pressure. And secondly, the two parties now have very defined sets of issues and positions. There are almost no pro-life Democrats left at the national level and the democratic party. Even the one they often point to, Senator Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, has a 100% rating by the National Abortion Rights Action League, or NARAL. You're not pro-life in the least, not in any way that matters, if you have a 100% rating by the abortion rights industry. That 100% rating referring to the year 2017.
Now, this helps to explain why, as you look at the 2016 presidential election, the evangelical vote was overwhelmingly for the Republican candidate, President Donald J. Trump. And it's likely to be just the same way again in the year 2020. Similarly, you can look at other constituencies on the other side of the political equation and you see the very same pattern. And it's because voters know ahead of time where the two parties are going to be on so many issues that there is actually very little middle left in the American body politic. Now, the reason why I wanted to talk about those two statements, every one is a single-issue voter and no one is a single-issue voter, is because if there were to be a single issue on which we should vote as a single-issue voter, I would argue it starts with abortion, because if we do not get this issue right, we really can't get any other issue right, and we certainly can't keep those other issues right. You can't possibly actually affirm human flourishing if you subvert the very foundation and dignity of human life.
But the reason why I want to remind us of that second thesis is simple. And that is it is very unlikely you're going to find some kind of hypothetical individual who actually is a communist dogcatcher who is more pro-life than the other candidate. Now, I appreciated Joseph Bottum making that statement. I think it sets the issue of abortion clearly before us, and I think, about that, he's absolutely right, but in the real world of politics, it's not too often that you're going to have to consider voting for a communist dogcatcher. By this time in American history, we're down to the basic division being over the most fundamental issues of worldview. In other words, I'm so committed to the issue of the sanctity of human life, I am willing to be a single-issue voter, but given the fact that so many issues are interconnected, I don't expect actually to be a single-issue voter, but I do know this, I know the single issue where I'm going to begin the consideration.
Evangelicals Are “Medieval in the Worst Sense”? What in the World Does This Even Mean?
But next I'm going to shift to a different issue. This is a series of articles that appeared just in recent days in the latest edition of Le Monde diplomatique. Now, I'm just going to go out on a limb here and think that most of my listeners probably are not weekly or monthly readers of Le Monde diplomatique. What is it? It is the diplomatic monthly edition of Le Monde, which is the most influential French newspaper. Now, why are we talking about it on The Briefing? It's because this series of articles is about the rise of evangelical Christianity, and the rise of evangelical Christianity is something that Le Monde diplomatique sees with rather grave concern. The September 2020 edition of Le Monde diplomatique has that headline, "The Rise of Evangelical Christianity," and the theme article begins by warning that the rise of evangelical Christianity is bad news for the world. The subhead is this, "The fast-growing evangelical movement is mainly ultraconservative and keen on prosperity. It is transnational, pragmatic, shrewdly political, and increasingly seeks ways to advance its right-wing agenda."
Now, the package of articles in Le Monde diplomatique includes coverage from Brazil, South Korea, and Nigeria. Those three articles, by different teams of reporters, warned that the politics and the culture in those particular nations are being transformed by the rise of evangelical Protestantism, which is having political and cultural effects. And again, Le Monde doesn't like those effects. When it comes to the larger article introducing the theme, we are told, "In the last four decades, Protestantism, whether in Rio de Janeiro, Seoul, Mexico City, or Lagos, has experienced an impulse towards ultra-conservatism that has had an influence on social economic and diplomatic issues, as well as entire societies." Now, all of a sudden, here's a little signal, the reason why Le Monde diplomatique is interested in what it sees as the rise of evangelical Christianity is because it even affects diplomacy. Just consider recent headlines concerning Israel and the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain, for example, the involvement of evangelicals in that particular process. Well, now it has diplomatic concern.
But you'll notice how the theme article introduces the issue, readers of Le Monde are told this is a big movement, it's having effect, and it is ultra conservative, and it is Protestant. Now, there's an interesting thing. Let's consider where Le Monde comes from. It comes from France. France, which was historically overwhelmingly Catholic, but is now, if anything, overwhelmingly secular, but the one thing that France doesn't recognize, before it doesn't recognize just about anything else, is evangelical Christianity, because this is a reality that is far outside of the elite French imagination. It has to translate almost everything into politics and culture, even diplomacy. But it is interesting that in this package of articles, one other issue comes to the fore that is basically theological, at least it is to evangelicals, and that would be the fact that so much of what is called evangelicalism around the world in places like, in particular, Nigeria and Brazil, is a form of Pentecostal Christianity, it's a form of charismatic Christianity, and it is often tied to prosperity theology. And about that, genuine Protestant evangelicals committed to the gospel have our own grave concerns.
But that's not really the issue of concern in this package of articles by Le Monde. Instead, it has to do with issues of truth and theology, it has to do with the reality that evangelical Protestantism is Protestant and makes truth claims. The other reason that this package appears in Le Monde just because the numbers have the magazine's attention. We're told, for example, that Protestantism, the evangelical branch of Protestantism, now has 660 million adherence worldwide and is growing dramatically. Now, I'm not exactly how they came up with 660 million, but that might well be true. We're told in the 20th century, 94% of South Americans were Catholic and only 1% Protestant. Now, the number of Protestants there has grown to 20% while that of Catholics has fallen to 69%. in Brazil alone in 1970, we're told 92% were Catholic, but by 2010 that it declined to 64%. And as the articles in this package go country by country, including South Korea, by the way, we are told that evangelical Protestantism is growing fast.
In South Korea, it has now claimed more adherence than Buddhism, which has caught the attention of Le Monde diplomatique. That's a matter even of diplomatic interest. This set of articles actually appears as something of a warning to the foreign policy establishment. You better pay attention, the evangelicals are coming. Consider this paragraph, "Wherever they are, evangelicals' strength comes from their ability to disrupt old hierarchies and act pragmatically. Churches can be set up anywhere, in a disused cinema, a former restaurant, or a garage. Anyone can claim a ministry, so there's no recruitment crisis among their pastors. Unlike in the Catholic church, all that's needed is charisma, a Bible, a few plastic chairs, and an electronic keyboard." Now, I think evangelicals will recognize that's basically true. As a matter of fact, I often point to the reality that when one Baptist--his name was Francis Wayland, who was then the president of Brown University in the 19th century--was asked why Baptists and Methodists in particular were growing so fast on the frontier. Speaking of the Baptists, he said, "It's because we don't ask permission."
Later in this theme article, I also read, "Evangelicals are also targeting secularism. In Brazil, Nigeria, and South Korea, political language is infused with religious references that are sometimes hostile to modernity and progress." What you have in that sentence, that one sentence, is a sign of where the intellectual cosmopolitan elite in France is looking at evangelicals, warning the diplomatic community look out, these evangelicals hold to a worldview that is "hostile to modernity and progress." Now, what are they talking about? Well, they evaluate progress in entirely secular terms, in France even more avidly than in many other Western nations. France is very, very adamant in what it declares to be its official secularism. And furthermore, when the word progress is used here, it has a lot to do with the sexual revolution and the revolutions in morality all around us. The fact that evangelical Christians hold to the truth of God's word when it comes to moral principles, such as the definition of the family or God's principles for human sexual behavior, or the issue of abortion it, all of a sudden, is an alarm to the secular elite, look out, these people are backwards.
What Does the World Think of Christians? Well, At Least We Know What Le Monde Diplomatique Thinks of Evangelicals
One other issue of warning comes up in this theme article, and that is that evangelicals are conversionist, are seeking converts, and that includes seeking converts of Islam, something that also is a diplomatic no-no when it comes to the establishment that produces Le Monde. But the most fascinating statement made about evangelicals in this entire package is in a quotation from Valdemar Figuerdo, who is identified as a Brazilian theologian and professor of politics, who says that in his view, what evangelicals are trying to do is to "perform a U-turn against the secular state, the autonomy of science, the importance of universities, free-thinking, women's status, gender issues, minority rights." Then the professor goes on to say this, in one of the most remarkable statements about evangelicals I have ever seen in any format, in any forum, anywhere, "They are medieval in the worst sense." Now, what in the world does this professor mean by describing evangelicals as medieval in the worst sense. Let's just remind ourselves, medieval in this context means the medieval period in Western history, what's often, if wrongly described, as the dark ages, but that's the point.
Here you have this professor telling Le Monde, and Le Monde putting in print the fact that the world needs to be concerned about evangelicals because we are trying to drag the world back into the dark ages. What did the dark ages look like? Well, when it would come to marriage, it would be the union of a man and a woman. So many different issues, but one of the main points here is that in the medieval world, there was an understanding and affirmation of objective truth, and whether or not Le Monde states that explicitly, that's a big issue here, and it's not accidental, once again, that this comes from France. This is the France of the French revolution, which was explicitly secular, very unlike the American revolution. This is the French society that lionizes personal autonomy, secularism. This is France that gave us so many of the ideological variants of post-modernism, denying even the reality or no ability of objective truth.
This is the France that gave us deconstructionism and thinkers such as Jacques Derrida in the 20th century, who argued for the death of the author, meaning that a text, whether it's a novel or, for that matter, the Bible, is to be read by the meaning the reader intends, rather than the author. That tells you just about everything about the worldview divide here. Evangelicals hold to what is called a realist epistemology. Aren't you glad you heard that today? That means we believe that the knowledge of truth is real. That truth is real and, by God's gift, our knowledge of truth is real. And you have to understand that flies in the face of not only so much modern academic thinking, even the general thinking of the modern academy, but it is specifically an obnoxious idea to so many in France. Le Monde itself has an interesting history, by the way, it is the most influential French newspaper. The print edition of the daily newspaper reaches a very large audience inside France and beyond. Le Monde diplomatique, which is published in 71 additions and 26 languages, issues 2.2 million copies in print and 33 different electronic additions.
That is to say it has a very wide influence. Where did Le Monde itself come from? Now, the French words in the masthead of the newspaper Le Monde mean the world. That's a pretty ambitious name for a newspaper, but it was started, and this is rather crucial, it was started in the year 1944, shortly after the allied liberation of Paris from the Nazis, and it was started at the instigation of French heroic general Charles de Gaulle, who believed that France, in order to achieve national greatness on the other side of the second world war, needed a great newspaper through which it could speak to the world. Thus, Le Monde. Every once in a while, it's just healthy to find out what the rest of the world thinks of you. And in the case of evangelicals in the United States and elsewhere, well we pretty much now know what Le Monde diplomatique thinks of us. We are medieval in the worst sense.
Well, no doubt evangelicals have our own issues, and prosperity theology is at the top of that list, but when it comes to affirming truth, and the goodness, and the objectivity, and the realism, the reality of what God has given us, well if I'm going to be called medieval, I can live with that. It isn't every day that you and your fellow evangelical church members get dismissed as medieval in the worst sense. In this context, I would take it as a compliment in the best sense.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
Speaking of World War II, remember that tomorrow I'm going to be speaking at a live Leadership Briefing. It's going to take place at 1:00 tomorrow, 1:00 Eastern daylight time, and it's going to be about Dwight David Eisenhower, the president of the United States and the legendary five-star general, who was the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe in the Second World War. The title of my address tomorrow is this, "Always a General: the Leadership of Dwight D Eisenhower in War and in Peace."
In previous lectures, I've looked at the leadership of Winston Churchill, George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and, more recently, Margaret Thatcher, among many others. Tomorrow, it's going to be president Eisenhower, "Always a General." For more information, go to the website theleadershipbriefing.com. That's theleadershipbriefing.com. This has always previously been an in-person event on the campus of Southern Seminary and Boyce college, but because of the pandemic, we've decided to make it a virtual event. And we're opening it up far beyond the area of Louisville.
For more information and resources, go to my website albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to spts.edu. For information on Boyce college, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.