The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, October 26, 2020

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

It’s Monday, October 26, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Final Vote on Nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to Occur This Evening: What Should We Expect?

The nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court of the United States comes to a final vote sometime today on the floor of the United States Senate. Given the Republican majority, it is almost assured that Judge Barrett will become Justice Barrett in a matter of hours after the confirmation, which is expected sometime on Monday evening.

In an unusual Sunday session yesterday, about 1:30 PM, the Senate voted to move the nomination to the floor for a final vote. This procedural vote was 51 to 48. Now, by the time, sometime today, or this evening, this final vote is taken, it is likely that there will be 52 votes for Judge Barrett to the Supreme Court. Why 51 yesterday, 52 today? It has to do with the unusual decision made by Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski.

She had stated that she was opposed to a nomination this late in an election season, and thus, she said that she would vote against bringing the issue to the Senate. She did, but she has also indicated, in statements to the press, in Alaska and in Washington, that when the matter hits the floor now, she will vote for the confirmation of Judge Barrett, on the merits of her nomination.

Now that’s very important. Every number counts. Even though all that will be necessary is 51, having 52 is better than 51. The one Republican Senator who is not expected to vote for Judge Barrett’s confirmation is Senator Susan Collins of Maine. Now she’s a rather liberal Republican. She’s the very last liberal Republican of her type still left in the United States Senate. Right now, she is considered to be the underdog in her race for re-election to another term in the United States Senate from Maine. And it has to do with the fact that there is a huge demographic and political shift going on in the United States.

Right now, as of today, Senator Collins is the last major Republican office holder in all of New England. When you’re talking about the representatives and senators sent from those New England, Northeastern States to the United States Senate and the house, and when the election day comes next week, at least as the polling indicates, it is unlikely that Senator Collins will be returned to the Senate.

That will have massive ramifications if it turns out that way, because even as Senator Collins has not always voted with her Republican Party, and even though on many issues, she’s considerably to the left of most of her Republican colleagues in the Senate, she has nonetheless voted as a member of the Republican caucus, and that has everything to do with whether or not the Republican Party is in the majority or minority position in the United States Senate.

So that’s to say that conservatives in the Republican Party and in the United States have a very awkward situation here. And it’s also faced by Democrats in a certain sense when there are more conservative Democrats who are essential to their math, and that would include someone else who’s extremely endangered, if anything, even more endangered than Republican Senator Susan Collins in Maine. And that will be Democratic Senator Doug Jones in Alabama, running against the Republican nominee, former Auburn coach, Tommy Tuberville. It is extremely unlikely that the very red state of Alabama is going to send Doug Jones to a full term in the Senate.

But the math comes down to a simple number in two columns, the number in the Republican column and the number in the Democratic column. Democrats are clearly hoping to regain control of the Senate. And that means that there would be more than 50 in that Democratic column, by their hopes. Republicans are hoping to hold on to majority status in the Senate, having already lost control of the United States House of Representatives.

Conservatives looking at the situation related to Susan Collins recognized that even as she was more liberal than her conservative colleagues, her vote actually made possible some of the Conservative victories, just the fact that she was a member of the Republican caucus and thus Republicans were in control of the chamber and were able to control legislation.

So there’s the irony. Susan Collins was more liberal, but she was actually, by her identification as a Republican in the Senate, at least a part of what became very genuine conservative victories. There’s the irony again, it’s one of the awkward realities of American electoral politics when it comes to both the house and the Senate, the votes matter, of course, the party identification matters hugely because whichever party is in the majority in either house gets to set the rules of the game.

Part II

Barrett Faces Criticism for Serving as Trustee for Christian Schools That Hold to Christian View of Sexuality, and We’re All Supposed to Be “Petrified”

And that brings us back to today’s extremely likely and much hoped for confirmation of Judge Barrett to the Supreme Court of the United States. And I’ve been holding a few issues that have emerged in recent days that help us to understand a great deal, not only about Judge Barrett and her service on the court, but even more importantly, they tell us a lot about where we stand in this culture.

Now here’s one, for example, I actually think this is the most important of all. The Associated Press ran a huge article by Michelle R. Smith and Michael Biesecker, and the title of the article is this, the headline, “Barrett was trustee at private school with anti-gay policies.” The headline tells you what this is going to be about. It’s actually a very considerable article, it’s quite long. And the point of this article and of the headline is that we should be shocked that anyone who might be nominated to, much less confirmed to, the United States Supreme Court might actually have been a board member or trustee at a private school that might’ve held to certain religious commitments.

Now, when you’re thinking of Amy Coney Barrett, you’re thinking of someone who is extremely well identified as a Roman Catholic, and not only that, the member of a group known as People of Praise, which is predominantly Catholic, but not exclusively so. But that particular religious group, with which Amy Coney Barrett has been identified virtually all her life because of the participation of her own parents and then of her husband and her own family as adults, that group sponsors Christian schools, and that includes one that is known as Trinity Schools.

And it is the fact that Amy Coney Barrett was a trustee in that particular school that has led to this headline. But the implication of the article is this, we should be shocked that a Roman Catholic and a predominantly Roman Catholic movement that sponsors its own schools would somehow have doctrines that align not only of course with the official teachings of the Roman Catholic church, but with historic Christianity, when it comes to human sexuality, gender and marriage.

The lede in the article says this, “Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett served for nearly three years on the board of private Christian schools that effectively barred admission to children of same-sex parents and made it plain, that openly gay and lesbian teachers weren’t welcome in the classroom.” Now that lead is supposed to at least bring about some kind of gasp on the part of the reader, but we also need to look even more closely before we consider this school and its policies. What does it mean when you have an article like this that begins by telling us that the school “effectively barred admission to children of same-sex parents and furthermore made it plain that openly gay and lesbian teachers weren’t welcome in the classroom.”

What about that first part? “Effectively barring admission to children of same-sex parents.” What’s that all about? There is no moral accusation against the children. Why wouldn’t they be admitted to the school? But this comes down to a basic question, a very important question, that’s going to be faced by every Christian school. And the argument comes down to this and I’ve had to make this argument to many of the boards of these Christian schools.

If you accept students who have same-sex parents, married or otherwise, and they are allowed into the classroom and into the school process, how are you going to say, in the classroom or in chapel and consistently throughout the curricular process that you believe that same-sex relations are sinful, that you believe that God’s plan is for a man and a woman to be united in marriage. And that you do not believe that the family is simply up for moral or sociological reinvention, but rather it is to be a man and a woman united in holy matrimony and the children that they receive by birth and by adoption, at least that is the molecular center of the family.

The fact is that when you decide in the admissions policy of your school to accept children who come from other families, you are in the position, almost assuredly of zipping your own mouth when it comes to your own convictions, because after all you have those children in the classroom and thus it would be not only awkward, it would be in one sense, nearly impossible to speak openly on these issues.

And that’s why you have a Christian school in the first place. You have a Christian school in order that it can teach Christian truth. If you put yourself in a context in which you really can’t teach Christian truth, then you have no reason to have a Christian school. It comes down also to the fact, and this is something that I just want to stress to all Christian schools, all board members of those schools, all leaders of those schools, if you put yourself in the position where you are accepting students from non-Christian families, you’re eventually going to be in a situation in which those families are going to make some complaint about the fact that you are teaching something with which they do not agree.

Eventually, I also believe that it will become more and more legally problematic to contend for the right of Christian schools to be Christian, if not all of the families involved in the school are also identified as practicing, believing Christians. That’s going to be something that will be a more significant legal hurdle in years ahead. And by the way, it doesn’t relate only to Christian schools at the secondary and primary level. It also applies to institutions calling themselves Christian colleges and universities. The same principles will pertain.

The very second paragraph in the article states, “The policies that discriminated against LGBTQ people and their children were in place for years at Trinity Schools Incorporated both before Barrett joined the board in 2015 and during the time she served.” Now, notice again, how this is phrased. It doesn’t say, “The policies that were consistent with the religious beliefs of the group sponsoring the schools were in place.” It says rather, “The policies that discriminated against LGBTQ people,” and thus, you’re not talking about a neutral way of presenting this, it clearly is intended to be something that should be embarrassing to Judge Barrett and to the president who nominated her and to the others who want to see her on the court.

It also gets back to something we, as Christians, are going to have to face over and over again. And it’s the word discrimination. The implication when someone uses the word discrimination like this is that the discrimination is wrong, but of course all morality is based upon making discriminations. The question about discriminating judgment is not whether or not we discriminate. All human beings make discriminating decisions all the time. We decide to choose this rather than that, we say that this moral argument is better than that, but it’s the use of the word discrimination in this kind of article that implies that what’s really behind this are forms of discrimination that are now considered to be wrong.

Now, of course, we as Christians understand that there are forms of discrimination that are indeed wrong. For example, discrimination on the basis of the color or of one skin or ethnicity, that would be wrong. But the implication here is that even as discrimination is wrong, when it comes to racial categories, it should be wrong when it comes to all other categories, including what amount to invented categories related to the letters LGBTQ.

Going deeper into the story we’re told the associated press spoke with more than two dozen people who attended or worked at Trinity Schools or former members of people appraise. They said the community’s teachings have been consistent for decades, “Homosexuality is an abomination against God. Sex should occur only within marriage and marriage should be only between a man and a woman.” Now, again, what are we looking at here? Historic biblical Christianity. We’re also talking about the near universal consensus when it comes to all cultures and all nations on human sexual morality and the definition of marriage for thousands of years.

Even later in the article, speaking of the school’s policies, the reporters write, “‘The actions are probably legal,” expert said. Scholar said, ‘The schools and organizations teachings on homosexuality and treatment of LGBTQ people are harsher than those of the mainstream Catholic church.’ In a documentary released Wednesday, Pope Francis,” remember this would be last week now, “Pope Francis endorsed civil unions for the first time as Pope and said in an interview for the film that homosexual people have the right to be a family, they are children of God.”

Notice again, this is exactly what I talked about when the story broke on Pope Francis, and we’re going to return to it again this week because of subsequent developments, it comes down to this, here you see the Pope statements, which were very cleverly and intentionally released as they were knowing that the comments would receive maximum news coverage.

They were then released with the Vatican saying, “Oh, that wasn’t an official statement of the church,” but now you have so-called scholars in an article published just about 48 hours after the Pope statement made headlines, you have scholars say, “Well, you see Judge Barrett holds to a version of Catholicism that is more harsh than the Vatican.” The Associated Press also obtained what’s been identified as a 2018, 2019 enrollment agreement for the school. The Associated Press says, “The only proper place for human sexual activity is marriage, where marriage is a legal and committed relationship between one man and one woman.”

The report goes on to say that “activities such as fornication, pornography, adultery, and homosexual acts and advocating or modeling any of these behaviors are at odds with the school’s core beliefs.” Now, again, that’s actually a very good policy statement for a school such as this. It’s written with intentionality. It also shows sophistication, not that that’s surprising, given the kind of talent likely sitting on this board, including, as we now know, a future Supreme Court justice of the United States, we believe to be so by the end of today.

The head of school said, “The reason was not any desire to judge or punish, but to avoid potential confusion for our students regarding our consistent position, that sexual activity is meant to be only within marriage, understood as the union of one man and one woman.” Again, classical Christianity. Evangelicals would agree entirely with every word of that statement and should agree with this kind of policy, so would conservative Catholics, so would others. The point is we do so on the basis of religious conviction, I’m using the word religious there because that’s the right legal term. We do so on the basis of religious conviction.

A spokesman for the People of Praise group, Sean Connolly, told the Associated Press that, “People of Praise holds the standard Christian teaching based upon the new Testament that sexual activity is meant for marriage, understood as the union of a man and a woman.” Again, boilerplate, traditional, biblical, historic Christianity.

Speaking again of how the Pope is changing how the Roman Catholic church has perceived on this issue, even without at least thus far changing the official teaching of the church, Massimo Fagioli, a theology professor at Villanova university said that some of the teachings, some of the beliefs of the People of Praise group “are more in keeping with pre-1960s Catholicism than the modern church.” Fagioli said, “It comes from a very literalist reading of the Scripture.” I’m just going to stop there again. What in the world does Massimo Fagioli mean by an extremely or in his words, very literalist reading of scripture, it means a reading of scripture in which the words mean what the church has understood the words to mean from the very beginning, period. But then looking at the moral change, Fagioli said, “It’s no longer the official language used by the official teaching of the Catholic church. It’s no longer used by the Pope. It’s no longer used by official documents that still have a negative view of same-sex marriage.” But that’s not true.

The official catechism of the Roman Catholic church says right now, the official doctrinal teaching document of the Roman Catholic church says right now, even as of today, that homosexual desire and homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. That’s even stronger language that is used by the People of Praise group.

But one person quoted in the story who objects to the policy said what the article is intended to bring about as the reader’s response, “From what I experienced in People of Praise, as a student and one of their schools, everyone needs to be petrified, frankly.” Petrified that a religious school was found holding to its religious convictions that were extremely well advertised and understood in writing at the time that the student was enrolled, who should be petrified?

Part III

No Issue Stands Alone: The Logic of Roe v. Wade Leads to Demands for Legal Physician-Assisted Suicide

Other issues that have come up in recent days have to do with the fact that The Washington Post ran an article on Judge Amy Coney Barrett, and the future of physician-assisted suicide. This article by Charles Lane points to the fact that this issue really didn’t come up explicitly as any major part of the confirmation hearings of Judge Barrett. But the bottom line is that even as abortion was very much a frontline issue on the minds of many on the Senate committee, the fact is that physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia come fast on the heels as a related issue, both of the claims of personal autonomy that are now made by some in our society and also the devaluation of human life. The really interesting aspect of this article is that it offers a somewhat sophisticated analysis looking at two different cases.

First of all, in 1997, the case Washington versus Glucksberg, and then the 2006 decision in Gonzales versus Oregon, you put those two decisions together as bookends of sort on where this issue stands before the Supreme Court and at this point, the two decisions put together mean that the Supreme Court has said that States may move to legalize something like physician assisted suicide, but that such a putative or claimed right, is not to be extended by action of the Supreme Court to other States. And that’s exactly the situation that was faced by the United States in 1973 in the Roe v. Wade decision, the Supreme Court had never said before Roe v. Wade, the States could not legalize abortion.

There were several States that had legalized abortion, but the court went further in that 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, striking down all state laws that had criminalized abortion. And so you look at that and you recognize that we’re looking at a situation in which the question of physician assisted suicide or euthanasia is pretty much set up right now, exactly as the abortion issue was set up in 1973.

The point of this article by Charles Lane is basically to say, “Look, we are probably in trouble on the physician-assisted suicide issue. The appointment of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court makes it less likely that there would be a Supreme Court that would move to declare a universal or American right, a constitutional right to physician-assisted suicide in all 50 States.”

But again, one thing that’s really important for us to recognize is that the story is even necessary. That tells us again about the pace of moral change in the United States and the fact that no issue stands alone. Other issues come as if successive cars on a train, they eventually come because of the logic, the logic of Roe v. Wade eventually leads to the logic of the Obergefell decision, legalizing same-sex marriage. And there are those who want to extend that logic further to a constitutional right, of course not in the Constitution, but declared nonetheless by judges of a right to physician assisted suicide in all 50 States, the logic follows in the direction the train is headed.

Part IV

Veggie Burgers and Veggie Tubes? European Parliament Debates Whether Non-Meat Products Can Be Identified with Meat Terminology

There will certainly be a lot for us to talk about this week, but finally, on today’s edition of The Briefing, I come to other headline news this time from the New York times. And this has to do with veggie burgers or what are currently called veggie burgers, but may not be called veggie burgers there for long. Isabella Kwai, writing for the New York Times, begins the article, “When is a burger not a burger? When it contains no meat. At least according to a divisive proposal that was in front of the European Parliament this week”–that would be last week now–“part of a set of measures that would have banned the use of terms like ‘steak,’ ‘sausage,’ or ‘burger’ on the labels for plant-based alternative products.” But we’re told after the vote became divisive on Friday, it seems “veggie burgers will still be on the menu.”

Nikolaj Villumsen, a member of the European Parliament from Denmark posted on Twitter, “Reason prevailed and climate centers lost, it’s worth celebrating with a veggie burger.” But we’re then told that even though the term veggie burger may stand according to the European Parliament, there are other terms it has already banned, including yogurt style or cream imitation.

Those words for what are identified as non-dairy replacements are already not legal when it comes to the European context by action of the European Parliament. We are told, “The proposed changes, a small part of a package of agricultural measures received more attention than perhaps desired either by the proponents among meat and livestock groups, who said they would prefer to focus on helping farmers work sustainably or the environmentalist and food manufacturers opposing it for whom it is a distraction from climate change policy.”

Jasmijn De Boo, vice president of ProVeg International, a group, “Aimed at reducing meat consumption,” said the proposal according to the times was not in the interest of consumers or manufacturers and that shoppers were not confused by the labels currently on store shelves, “Why change something to a veggie disc or tube instead of a sausage?” She said. “It’s ridiculous.” In the United States, you can call something a veggie burger and you can call something soy milk, but not in Europe because soy milk and tofu butter, those terms are illegal in the European Union, after dairy producers won a ruling going back to the year 2017.

And yes, the New York Times tells us that that ruling was actually backed by the European Court of Justice. So an issue about whether or not you could use a term like soy milk or tofu butter went all the way to the European Court of Justice? The article also tells us, “Several parties in the European Parliament had also submitted proposals with different caveats since the initial amendment was introduced, and those are still to be voted on.”

“Manufacturers like Beyond Meat, Unilever and Ikea, along with the European Medical Association have opposed the changes which they described in an open letter as, ‘disproportionate and out of step with the current climate.'” It’s not clear whether they’re talking about the climate, climate or the cultural climate, but they said, “The current climate.”

The surprise to me in looking at that list was to see Ikea. I thought Ikea made furniture, as in furniture, furniture. But Ikea is actually listed as amongst the manufacturers who did not want their product reduced to being called something like a veggie disc or a tube.

Now there is a worldview issue here having to do with the overreach of the European Parliament, which like a super legislature, which is what led to resentment in the United Kingdom that led to the Brexit vote that came before the 2016 American presidential election.

But actually all of that though, reels a bit much to bring into this story, which actually does turn out to be an entire fracas before the European Parliament about whether or not something that isn’t meat can be called meat. But then again, an awful lot of the Christian worldview depends on being careful about words, even words like milk and meat.

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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