The Briefing

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The Briefing

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

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

It's Wednesday, October 7, 2020. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part

Party Positions, Presidential Succession, and Plexiglass? Setting the Stage for Tonight’s Vice Presidential Debate

As if there's not enough going on tonight, the scene will shift to Salt Lake City, the University of Utah's campus there in Salt Lake, and it's going to be the vice presidential debate. It is going to be, of course, the incumbent Vice President of the United States, Republican Mike Pence who will be debating United States Senator Kamala Harris, Democrat of California, and it will be, if it turns out to be a genuine exchange of ideas, a genuine contrast between a very conservative Republican and an extremely liberal Democrat.

But the big question is whether those issues will come to the floor. My prediction is to a degree far more likely than in the presidential debates. I believe these issues will come to the fore, and it is because not only of the context of a vice presidential debate, but it's also because of the personalities and the roles on their respective tickets of Vice President Pence and Senator Harris, both of them are going to be called upon to drill down hard on the issues that are central to the constituencies about the Trump-Pence ticket and the Biden-Harris ticket. So again, the likelihood tonight is that there will be a genuine exchange of ideas and positions, genuine contrast on policy. There are to be a series of about nine 10-minute segments, and each of the candidates will be given two minutes to speak, and then there is supposed to be time for response.

The moderator tonight will be Susan Page, who is the Washington Bureau Chief for USA Today. She's a seasoned reporter when it comes to national politics. She should be well equipped for this role, but it's going to be very interesting to see how she fulfills that role, because from time to time, it has appeared that the moderators have been something other than strictly neutral or non-partisan. Now, one of the reasons for that is because human beings aren't themselves neutral or nonpartisan, and that's true of those who are in the media. That's why in general terms, it often turns out better for there to be something of a panel of moderators. But the reality now is that under the conditions of the pandemic, there will be very few in the audience and there will be very few visible on the television camera.

It will be the vice president of the United States, Senator Harris and the moderator Susan Page. Frankly, one of the issues, even as the debate is looming before us is whether or not the participants will be behind plexiglass. The Harris campaign has indicated that she desires a plexiglass separation. The vice president's position is that such is not necessary with other precautions, including the rather extraordinary distance between the two candidates on stage. But nevertheless, these days, nothing is nonpolitical and that includes not only mask but plexiglass. We'll see what happens when we look to the stage tonight. It will be again at 9:00 Eastern Daylight Time, and the debate is scheduled to last about 90 minutes.

Let's remind ourselves who we're talking about here. The incumbent Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence, was a former member of Congress as a Republican, and then he was elected the Governor of the State of Indiana. He was identified in Congress with a conservative contingent of United States representatives, and he continued in a conservative mode as the Governor of Indiana. He ran into significant turbulence in the last months of his governorship there in Indiana over the fact that the state had passed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Now just remind yourself, that's the very important legislation that was adopted by the United States government overwhelmingly supported in the House and in the Senate signed into law by a Democratic President, Bill Clinton, that rectified some of the damage done by a Supreme Court decision known as the Smith Decision. In other words, RFRA was a very clear statement of legislation that would protect and respect religious liberty. But it tells you something of the revolution that has happened in our society, that what was as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, universally celebrated by both parties just a matter of a generation ago, is now basically upheld by one party, the Republicans, and officially despised by the other party as a matter of policy, the Democrats.

It's actually an open question as to whether or not Governor Pence who supported the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and with revisions would have been reelected Governor of Indiana, but we'll never know, because in the end he was chosen by the Republican Presidential nominee when he was then the almost certain but not yet official nominee Donald Trump as his Vice Presidential candidate, and of course, the Republican National Convention in 2016 officially nominated both Donald Trump as President and Mike Pence as Vice President. In office, Mike Pence has been a very loyal Vice President to President Trump. Their personalities could not be more different. When you're looking at the Vice President, you're looking at someone who is very familiar with political formality. He's a very quiet individual when compared with the President. He exudes stability. He's more like the no drama side of the equation versus the very high drama of President Trump.

When you're looking at Kamala Harris, you're looking at an individual who has been identified as either the most liberal or the second-most liberal member of the United States Senate ever since she was elected to the United States Senate. She hasn't served all that long in that role, but even before that, she was rather well-known even nationally as she served in government roles in California, and her liberalism was very well attested. But also in her background is the fact that she was a District Attorney there in the state of California, and as District Attorney, she was involved in making arguments before courts, and one of the arguments being made right now about this debate is that Senator Harris has the advantage of that background in courtrooms and in various political contexts, and yet the argument is on the other hand, that when you're looking at Vice President Pence, you're looking at someone who was elected Governor of his state, and furthermore did participate already as a vice presidential candidate in a vice presidential debate, and that was, of course, in 2016 against the Democratic vice presidential nominee, Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia.

So when you're looking at both candidates, you're looking at a considerable amount of political experience. Both of them should know what to do when they get on that stage in Salt Lake City tonight and debate, and we'll just hope that there will be a genuine exchange of positions, a genuine contrast to policies. We, as Christians would say, a genuine revelation of contrasting worldviews that will be clarifying for American voters. For that reason, it may turn out to be important. I say, may turn out to be important because sometimes these vice presidential debates are almost as quickly forgotten as they happen, but that's unlikely this year for a couple of reasons, not only the participants, Senator Harris and Vice President Pence, but the context with both the President running for re-election and especially the Democratic challenger, the former Vice President Joe Biden being in their 70s. In the case of Joe Biden, if he were elected and inaugurated, he would be the oldest individual ever to enter into the presidency.

So there's a particular urgency when it comes to the vice presidency, given the reality of constitutional succession. But then there's more to that of course, you're also looking at the fact that the President of the United States was diagnosed with COVID-19 last Friday, and thus mortality is at least a part of the picture in a way that has not been the case in any recent presidential election.

But when you're looking at Vice Presidential debates, you're often looking at debates that don't have that many memorable moments. There have been a few, however, in the modern age of presidential and vice presidential debates. Think of 1988. You had the Republican vice presidential candidate, Dan Quayle, Senator of Indiana running as the running mate for the then Vice President of the United States, George H. W. Bush. The Bush-Quayle ticket would of course be elected. But in a debate with the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee, Senator Lloyd Benson of Texas, the issue of age came up with Quayle much younger than Benson.

Benson thought he was putting Quayle away when the issue of age came up and Quayle made the comparison with John F. Kennedy, when evidently forearmed in anticipation, Senator Benson condescendingly said to Dan Quayle, "You're no Jack Kennedy." But that was one of those moments when the Democratic constituency said, "They loved it," and when the Republican constituency said, "That's one of the most mean-spirited persons we've ever seen." It probably didn't change the election, but in any event, Quayle went on with Bush to be elected. Benson running with Democratic Governor, Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts lost. Fast-forward four years and Quayle is on the stage again. But in this case, the opposing Democratic nominee was Senator Al Gore of Tennessee, the running mate of Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas, and of course the Clinton-Gore ticket would eventually win.

But what's often not remembered of 1992 is that there was a third vice presidential candidate on the debate stage, and that was Admiral James Stockdale. Stockdale's a genuine American hero and should be remembered that way. He was captured by the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War and was both imprisoned and tortured. He never broke. He later entered into American public life and he ended up there on that debate stage because Ross Perot, running an independent campaign in 1992 chose Stockdale as his vice presidential candidate. But what's remembered when that debate is remembered are two questions that Admiral Stockdale asked that he ought not to have asked. In his opening comments, he asked the two questions, "Who am I? Why am I here?" You shouldn't ask those questions when the answer is not obvious.

So tonight we'll be looking at that vice presidential debate, and we can hope that in contrast to the first so-called Presidential debate, it will actually be a debate, that will be healthy for democracy and healthy for the American people, clarifying, we hope, going into the election.

Part

If Elected, Joe Biden Wants to Legislate Roe v. Wade: What This Really Means

But next, speaking of clarifying, the former Vice President of the United States Joe Biden, the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, certainly clarified the abortion issue on Monday night. Speaking at a town hall, the former vice president anticipated the confirmation of judge Amy Coney Barrett as the next Justice of the Supreme Court and thus considered whether or not the Roe v. Wade decision may be reversed, and then he went on to say that if it were to be reversed, the only responsible response to that would be to pass legislation making Roe the law of the land. "That's what I would do," said the former vice president.

As I just said, extremely clarifying. That's the kind of clarity that probably was not premeditated by the vice president, but then again, given the demands of the leftward base of the Democratic Party, maybe it was premeditated. But in any event, there is now no excuse for not knowing exactly what is at stake. I want to follow this issue just a little bit historically. If you go back to his 47 years in public life and three decades and more in the United States Senate, Joe Biden ran the game of acting as if he were personally pro-life, even though he said he would not impose, that was his logic, his religious beliefs about abortion on the American people. It's an illogical and unacceptable position, and nonetheless, he got by with it for a matter of decades. He also tried to present himself as a moderate in the Democratic Party on the issue of abortion. Even early on, he made critical statements about the Roe v. Wade decision itself and speaking of it being overreaching and having gone too far.

He also was a time supporter of the Hyde Amendment. That was the amendment that came in the mid-1970s in the wake of the Roe v. Wade decision that prevented the American taxpayer from being coerced by taxpayer paid abortions into complicity with abortion. Then Senator Biden ran again and again, stated again and again he supported the Hyde Amendment. But fast forward to 2020, now former Vice President Biden has a very different position on abortion, and that's because his party has moved so far to the left on the abortion issue. It now supports and tolerates virtually no restriction on abortion whatsoever, and it demands the repeal of the Hyde Amendment so that federal taxpayer funds, especially through Medicaid, would pay for abortion, and you can just imagine what the consequences of that would be.

But back in February in New Hampshire during a Democratic candidate debate, the former vice president made clear exactly what he said Monday night, but not quite exactly. Back in February, the Democratic candidate debate, former Vice President Biden said that if Roe v. Wade were to be reversed by the Supreme Court, "If they ruled it to be unconstitutional, I will send it to the United States Congress, and it will pass, I believe, a bill that legislates Roe v. Wade adjusted by Casey. It's a woman's right to do that." Now that's a fairly incoherent sentence. Why? Because let's look at it carefully, and let's see how the former vice president adjusted his statement between February of this year and Monday night. Looking at the February statement, he said that if Roe were to be ruled unconstitutional, "I will send to the United States Congress a bill that legislates Roe v. Wade adjusted by Casey."

Now what's "adjusted by Casey" mean? Well, the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, the Casey decision was 1992, and what the Casey decision by the Supreme Court did was to uphold the basic structure of Roe, but to allow state laws that would restrict abortion so long as they do not interfere with the central finding of Roe. Now here's the point, for some reason, even looking back to February of this year, Biden determined that he would say, he would initiate legislation through Congress that would legislate Roe v. Wade, but he said, "as adjusted by Casey." Now you'll notice, that completely dropped out of the statement he made Monday night. There's no Casey. It's all Roe. From top to bottom, full support for Roe v. Wade.

But here's another issue. At the end of that statement that he made back in February, he said, "It's a woman's right to do that, period." Period, he said period as a word. Now, just think about that. The problem is according to Casey, it's not just a woman's right to do that, period. The whole point of Casey is that states can enact certain restrictions on abortion. So even in that statement in February, when he was a hopeful for the Democratic nomination, there were at least some modifications to what he said compared to Monday night when he just had outright support for Roe. Now, here's more background we need to think about. Let's just take Biden at his word. Let's say that the court should reverse Roe v. Wade. He says that if he's president, he would send to Congress a bill that would codify Roe v. Wade as national legislation and he said he would see it through.

Now, why is this so important? Well, for one thing, think back to 1973 in the Roe v. Wade decision. Why did the Supreme Court step into this situation in the first place? It's because of the absence of any legislation passed by Congress authorizing abortion anywhere. Why was that the case? Well, because going back to 1973, even the Democrats couldn't deliver their entire caucus to support any kind of legislation that was pro-abortion. But all that changed, or at least the implicit claim of Biden Monday night is that all that's changed. He said even in February that he would send legislation to codify Roe v. Wade nationwide and he thought he could see it through. Now, what would be the obstacle to him seeing that through? Well, obviously, the obstacle would be Republicans in the House and Republicans in the Senate.

But wait just a minute. The former vice president may be thinking that he would have a Democratic majority in the house. There is already a Democratic majority in the House, and that he might gain a Democratic majority in the Senate. Well then, could he get Roe v. Wade through? I'm going to argue, probably not, for two reasons. The first reason, the Democratic Party in 2020 is not the Democratic Party even in 2016. It has swung far to the left on the issue of abortion. The bottom line is this, I don't think the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives would be satisfied with Roe v. Wade. I believe that there is such a liberal movement, such a pro-abortion movement in the Democratic Party. Look to states like New York, Illinois, Rhode Island, where you have abortion now made legal virtually at any point up to the moment of birth. I don't think that the current Democratic majority in the House would even be satisfied with Roe v. Wade.

Just remember the fact that the current Democratic Party platform basically calls for abortion without restrictions. That means without Casey, and that probably explains why Casey disappeared between February and Monday night. Although, it seems that almost no one has noticed. But there's a second reason why Biden might have difficulty getting legislation codifying Roe v. Wade through Congress, and that would be that at least some in the Democratic Party aren't willing to go all the way on this issue, which is to say that the Democratic Party and the Republican Party both have a basic question, and the parties will answer this question over time.

Do they really care about a certain kind of voter in the United States, more likely to live in the suburbs, more likely to be college educated, more likely to be parents, do they really care about those voters who aren't going to go all the way in support of abortion? In other words, do they care about certain swing districts that they won in 2018, but would be very much at risk in the future if indeed they forced their entire Democratic caucus to go on the line for the left wing of the party's position on abortion?

So as we think about our Christian commitment to uphold the sanctity and dignity of human life, all of a sudden these two issues I've talked about today come into clearer focus together. Because it is likely that at the very least in a Biden-Harris ticket, that becomes a Biden-Harris administration, Kamala Harris would have a far outsized influence on policy than any previous vice president, and if indeed anything were to happen to a President Biden, the next president would be President Kamala Harris. and Kamala Harris, without question, is on the far left wing of her party and on the issue of abortion and connected issues. You don't even have to look it up, you know already where she stands. So it turns out those two issues really are connected.

Part

The City of Louisville Bans “Conversion Therapy” for Minors: A Very Real Threat to Religious Liberty, and to Young People

But third, I want to come to Louisville, Kentucky, and the headline here has to do with the fact that the Louisville Metro government has adopted a ban on so-called conversion therapy. The headline story in the Louisville Courier-Journal by Sarah Ladd includes a headline "Louisville bans conversion therapy on kids." Here's how Ladd begins the story, which was also carried on the USA Today Network, "The discredited practice of using conversion therapy on minors is now banned in Louisville. Mayor Greg Fischer, with LGBTQ rights advocates standing behind him, signed an ordinance banning the practice against minors in the city. The mayor said, "Our LGBTQ kids, they don't need to be converted or repaired. They need to be loved and supported and accepted for who they are."

Now, continuing in explaining the story, the reporter tells us, conversion therapy tries to change one's sexual orientation or gender identity, and has been condemned by the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association. The Louisville Metro council, we're told, "passed the ordinance in mid-September." The ordinance passed committee unanimously the week prior and passed the Metro council 24-to-1. There was only one dissenting vote. Let's look back and understand what's going on here. First of all, we have the reality, then we have the press coverage. Let's look at the reality first.

The reality is that so-called conversion therapy may include or may exclude certain methods that Christians would support that would help those struggling with sexual sin, and sexual sin taking the shape of an unbiblical sexual orientation, helping those persons to deal biblically with the reality of God's intention in sexuality, God's laws concerning sexuality, and God's intention in their lives. The point is this, Christians understand that God has indeed set down his intention for sexual orientation and that's reflected in the fact he created us male and female for each other and created the institution of marriage, and thus you not only have the positive teachings of the Bible in creation and in the law, you also have the negative declarations clear in scripture about the immorality of same-sex sexual activity, and thus the immorality of same-sex sexual orientation.

Now, all around us, especially in the Christian Church, are persons struggling with these issues who intend to live lives of holiness and obedience before God, and thus they're in our churches where we want them to be redeemed by the blood of the lamb, as we long for them to be. Yearning to be holy and obedient to Christ with us, which is exactly as it should be, and they understand that they cannot express themselves in an unbiblical sexual orientation, they cannot live out that orientation's impulses and be faithful to Christ. Even as you see this legislation, this is exactly what's at stake. What you have here is a denial that there can be anything wrong with virtually any sexual orientation.

Now, hold that thought for a moment. What you also have here is a law that bans any kind of licensed therapist or counselor from seeking to change or employing any counseling or psychotherapeutic modality that might change or be intended to change sexual orientation or gender identity. So here's what's going on. You have the mayor making it clear whether he intended or recognized it or not when he said, "Our LGBTQ kids, they don't need to be converted or repaired." Think about the word converted there. The mayor may say he had his own meaning, but we as Christians understand converted to come down to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we do believe that our LGBTQ kids need to be converted, so do all kids, and that means that all kids need to be converted by the same Christ and the same gospel. They need to come to know salvation and wholeness and the forgiveness of sins in Christ and they need to follow him in obedience.

But here you see the head-on collision between the biblical worldview and the secular worldview. The secular worldview in the words of Louisville's mayor is, "There is no need for conversion here. It is an emphatic celebration of a multiplicity of sexual orientations." Now, you'll also notice he says, "Our LGBTQ kids," but "Q" covers a lot of territory, "T" includes transgender. We're looking at an absolutely massive and consequential moral argument here, but it's not even on the front page of the newspaper. In the print edition of the Courier-Journal, it made page 9A.

But the second issue we need to look at is the press coverage. Remember that opening sentence, the lead, "The discredited practice of using conversion therapy on minors is now banned in Louisville." Now, just consider using the word discredited as the only word used to describe this kind of therapy or effort at all. That's loading the article with an entire argument that comes down to one word. That's what you come to expect these days from the secular media dealing with this kind of issue. But there is a final issue and that is how this kind of legislation runs into direct conflict with religious liberty. Let's say you're a Christian psychiatrist. What do you do when a Christian young person coming with Christian parents says, "I'm struggling with this. Can you help me?" According to this law in Metro Louisville, it is now illegal for a licensed counselor to seek in any way to change a person's sexual orientation.

For many Christian counselors and licensed therapists, this is going to be an absolute crisis of conscience. But go on from there, what does this say to a Christian pastor in a church counseling say a young person, or for that matter, an older person? In this case, the ban has to do with minors, but the moral effect is far larger. What does that have to do with a pastor or a Christian working in a church context? Right now, nothing legally. But don't let that give you breathing space because the reality is that those who passed this legislation don't have any more respect for the same kind of counseling that may be coming in a local church. They just haven't come for that yet.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

If you're trying to figure out how to connect these dots, my most recent book is written to help to make that connection. It's entitled The Gathering Storm and it's available at local booksellers. For more information, you can just go to the website, thegatheringstormbook.com. And in it, I tried to explain the big picture of how these issues are interconnected, and indeed, what's at stake as we think about the United States going into this election cycle and beyond.

For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can call 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 tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me using the contact form. Follow regular updates on Twitter at @albertmohler.

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