Tuesday, October 27, 2020
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Tuesday, October 27, 2020. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Special Edition: Christians, Conscience, and the 2020 Election
We now stand exactly one week out from the 2020 general election in the United States, and like so many other election days, this one comes with some massively important questions. It comes with an entire host of expectations. It comes as a clash of worldview, and it comes for many as a crisis of conscience. How will we vote? How should we vote? How should you vote? How should our Christian convictions get translated into understanding how we vote in an election of such consequence?
Back during the time of Samuel Johnson, he once had a friend who was facing the potential death penalty for crimes, and in the midst of the court proceedings, he managed to come out with a far more lucid memory than he had had at any point in the past. When Samuel Johnson, the famous wit was asked how it was that his friend had such a clear mind, Johnson famously quipped that when a man knows he's going to face the gallows, "it concentrates his mind wonderfully." Well, indeed it does. So does an election and an election of this consequence does concentrate the mind powerfully.
As we're looking at this election cycle, we understand the issues are incredibly clear. They are pressing, they are urgent, and the campaigns are now moving into their final strategies. The candidates right now are making whatever final messages, whatever closing pitches can be made. One of the interesting facts about the election of 2020 is that in this strange pandemic season, already more than 50 million Americans have voted. In one sense for 50 million Americans, the question of the vote is now past tense. But of course the election itself is present and future tense.
By now in this election, President Donald J. Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden are wearingly well-known to the American people. Donald Trump made himself known first through decades of hyperactive self-promotion in business and now almost four tumultuous years in the White House. Joe Biden has been known primarily for working his way through more than four decades of holding public office. He ran for president, that is for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988 and 2008. In 1988, he was running fairly strong. But on the other hand, he had to embarrassingly withdraw from the race when he was discovered to have been using someone else's material. In this case, borrowing from a British Labor politician, not only arguments, but speeches, not only speeches, but stories and stories that were in the first person, a first-person narrative that didn't actually fit Joe Biden, and some people noticed.
In 2008, he didn't get so far at all. He also wanted to run for the Democratic Party's nomination in 2016, but he lacked adequate support in the early effort within the party, the so-called invisible primary, to gain financial and political backing. At that point, Biden was also reeling from the tragic death of his son, Beau Biden, who had been the Attorney General of the state of Delaware. But Biden is back, and if he is elected, he would become the oldest individual ever elected President of the United States. Just keep in mind, both of the candidates are over age 70.
By the way, also late on Sunday, the Speaker of the House, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, who is age 80, announced that she would be running for the Office of Speaker of the House once the new Congress is seated. So we're talking about an 80 year old for the Speaker of the House. We're talking about two men in their seventies, one in his late seventies, running for president, and thus that makes the vice presidency all the more important, and that means that Americans are not only looking at electing either President Donald Trump or former Vice President Joe Biden, but they're vice presidential candidates, Mike Pence and Kamala Harris. Again, a very clear decision.
We now know who Donald Trump and Joe Biden are. We have a really good idea of how they behave, the manner of their self-presentation and the substance of their policies. The act of voting is not before Americans, and for many of us, it is already done. But what are Christians to make of all of this? I want to speak from both the head and the heart in what I hope will be a message of encouragement to Christians about thinking as Christians looking to the election and understanding the issues, the pressing questions of the age, our Christian responsibility, the function of Christian conscience. I'll try to summarize how I see these issues, and I'm going to do my best to think and act in a way that is consistent with my own Christian convictions and worldview.
There is the question of character. I've had to struggle with this question through about a half century of political engagement, that is my entire adult lifetime. In the case of Donald Trump, the reality is that he is sadly deficient in many of the most crucial issues of character and moral virtue. He's bragged about many of his vices, written books promoting them and given full vent to some of the baser instincts of the body politic. He appears to be driven by a narcissistic impulse that overrides nearly every opportunity to demonstrate moral virtues in public. He's been married to three women and has bragged about his infidelity. He is divisive, arrogant, vitriolic, and sometimes cruel.
Joe Biden is generally cooler in temperament, and like Trump, he is also known to Americans. Biden is the essence of the career politician. He has survived this long by being a part of the system, including years of Democratic Party service as senator and vice president. Throughout this process, and these many years in government, Biden's principles have been, I'll just use the word flexible, but he has served his party dutifully. His commitment to a liberal direction of the country has been clear, even if sometimes calculated. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he personally oversaw the destruction of Judge Robert Bork in confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court.
He had to drop out of the 1988 race, as I said, when he was caught telling someone else's stories as his own. He seems to repeatedly have trouble telling the truth and he surrenders very clearly now to the rising leftist wing of his party, while claiming to be a moderate. More importantly, he is an enthusiastic champion of many of the most wretched policies that threaten the moral survival of our nation.
If I'm electing a neighbor, it would be Biden hands down. Biden would always be ready for a hamburger with friends and he would always be ready to entertain with a story, whether or not the story is true. Biden seemed to think they're true at the time. I would not choose Donald Trump for a neighbor. I'm just not up to the tumult. I like a quiet neighborhood.
But let's face the facts, we are not voting for who will be our neighbor. We are voting for who will be the next President of the United States. That's a very different question. It's a very different equation. I am a Christian, I'm a Baptist by conviction. I'm a Christian theologian who has addressed issues of public policy, political theory, history, and cultural analysis for decades. I stand solidly within the Augustinian tradition, and thus I see politics and culture as being of temporal, but nonetheless, very real significance for human beings and the communities we build.
I believe the human dignity and human rights are grounded in the transcendent truths of God, who is the source of all being and truth. I cling to the gospel of Jesus Christ and to the saving truths of redeeming grace. But I'm also thankful for the common grace whereby all humanity formed in the image of God is accountable to universal truths embedded by the creator in his creation, including the goods of marriage and family and community and economy and culture. I believe that denying these eternal truths is destructive of civilization. I believe that in our fallen world, all politics is some mixture of good and evil. All political gains are partial and the perfect is, often tragically, the enemy of the good.
As a Christian, I believe that love is to be the animating motivation for political action, but I understand love is revealed in scripture to be manifested in concrete actions that are measured in moral effect. In other words, love is not merely a mood or an emotion. Love leads to policies that have good moral effects, not necessarily to actions that earn the applause of the world.
Thus, I am also a classical conservative in the Western tradition. I stand solidly in the tradition of Edmund Burke affirming the real but limited responsibilities of government, the importance of the rule of law, the classical defense of liberty, the vital importance of free associations and the necessary alignment of human government and human nature.
In the structure of partisan politics in the United States during my adult lifetime, I have openly identified with the Republican Party. I worked as a teenage volunteer in the presidential campaign of Ronald Reagan in 1976, and once I reached voting age, my first vote was for Ronald Reagan for president in the year 1980. By that time, the divide in the nation over major moral issues and abortion, most urgently, was evident in the divide between the two major political parties. The Democratic Party became the party defending abortion rights and the Republican Party became the party opposing abortion rights. Over time, the divide has grown even more dramatic. By 2016, the Democratic Party had eliminated all meaningful opposition to unconditional abortion rights, and it demanded that taxpayers be coerced into paying for abortion.
The Republican Party defined abortion as the killing of an unborn human being and called for an affirmation of the sanctity of human life. In these years, I have worked closely with Republican administrations on policies and legislative goals. I have not always been satisfied, but I've never doubted which party would defend unborn life in which would embrace the Culture of Death. I didn't vote for Donald Trump in 2016. Repulsed by his character and unable to see him as a conservative, I didn't vote for either major party candidate. I made a symbolic vote. I had to hope that Hillary Clinton would not be elected president, but it seemed almost determined. As we know now, it was actually not determined.
Having argued loudly for the resignation of President Bill Clinton on national television many times over in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky affair, I felt that I could not vote for Donald Trump without hypocrisy. I even went so far as to say that if I voted for Donald Trump, I would have to apologize to Bill Clinton. Well, I am voting for Donald Trump in 2020, and I make no apology to Bill Clinton. I do apologize, but my apology is for making a dumb statement that did not stand the test of time. I'm not about to apologize to Bill Clinton who stands guilty of having desecrated the presidency by his gross sexual immorality while in office. I still believe in the necessity of character for public office, but I've had to think more deeply about how character is evaluated in an historic context.
When it came to Donald Trump in 2016, I made note of his pro-life promises, especially with reference to the federal courts culminating in the Supreme Court. As a conservative Christian, I have lived through decades of frustration and heartbreak as the nation's highest court had transformed itself into a super legislature, inventing newly declared rights at the expense of human dignity and ordered liberty. But I doubted that Donald Trump meant to fulfill his promises. I was wrong. As I told the New Yorker in an article that was just published, "He actually did what he said he'd do," adding, "It's the oddest thing."
Indeed, it is the oddest thing. The candidate who had been pro-abortion became pro-life. Now I have no means of reading Donald Trump's heart on the issue, but I can easily evaluate his actions. In terms of presidential action, Donald Trump has been the most effective and consequential pro-life president of the modern age. Furthermore, in both executive actions and court appointments, President Trump has gone far beyond what would have been politically necessary to secure his base. He has staked his place in history and has defied the accommodationist temptation. He's given pro-life Americans more than any other president. In April, I said in public what was implicit in my commentary and action since January of 2017 when Donald Trump was inaugurated. I would vote for Donald Trump in 2020 and I actually already have. I sincerely hope that Donald Trump and not Joe Biden will be elected President of the United States on November 3.
When I make that statement, I ask you just to consider the fact that a Biden-Harris administration would be, by any honest account, the most pro-abortion political force in American history. Biden who once bragged of supporting the Hyde Amendment for decades abandoned it in haste earlier this year when it was required to gain the nomination. Hardly a profile in courage, Biden has tried for decades to follow in the line of Mario Cuomo, Ted Kennedy, and other Catholic Democrats claiming to be personally opposed to abortion, but unwilling to enforce, that was the word they chose, their views on the nation. That's a pathetic evasion in itself.
But listen now to the major Democrats and you will find virtually none who will speak of abortion, the strategic destruction of unborn human life as a moral evil. The Democratic Party is now so pro-abortion, and yes, that is the right term that it has declared opposition to any restriction on abortion and demands taxpayer funding for abortion. Led by Democratic governors, states such as New York and Illinois, have adopted new abortion legislation that effectively allows for abortion right up until the moment of birth. Those who deny this reality are dishonest. The mainstream media run cover for the Democrats with so-called fact checker columns, claiming that the Democrats do not support abortion rights right to the moment of birth. But the easily confirmed truth is that the Democratic Party is opposed to any restriction on abortion right up until the moment of birth.
The party's dogma would allow for unrestricted abortion in the case of Down syndrome diagnosis, for reasons of sex selection or for any other reason or for no stated reason at all. The Democratic Party is linked hand in hand with Planned Parenthood, which is not only the nation's largest abortion provider, but is also the engine for the Culture of Death, unmasked for having targeted unborn babies for the strategic removal of specific organs and tissues. This tears at my heart, I must say, like no other issue. I agree that there are many other issues that press on the Christian conscience, questions of economic policy and foreign affairs and energy and the stewardship of the earth, the searing pain of racial injustice and the unraveling of our social fabric, these demand Christian response and urgency.
Christians must be concerned about questions of immigration policy and refugees, and these issues defy the simplifications of the soundbite and tweet culture. But human dignity, the sanctity of human life are even more basic truths, and I believe there is no hope for defending human dignity for all if it is denied in the womb. To be intellectually responsible is to recognize the array of issues confronting us, but the same intellectual responsibility demands that we know which questions are prior to others and on which issues the entire superstructure of human dignity and human rights depend. It is tempting to try to separate personal character and political policies as if they can be cleanly divided. But character is policy and policy is character. What I mean by that is that whatever policies are advocated themselves have moral importance. They also reflect character.
Let me be as clear as I know possible: President Trump's behavior on Twitter and his divisive comments and sub-presidential behavior are an embarrassment to me. Constantly. His arrogance and ego and consistent need for adulation drive me to distraction. But character is some strange combination of the personal, the principled, and the practical. Let me put it another way. I cannot accept the argument that a calm man who affirms the dismembering of babies in the womb has a superior character to one who rants like Genghis Khan but acts to preserve that unborn life. In my ideal world, I would get to vote for a candidate in whom the personal, the principled, and the practical all earn my admiration. I do not live in that world. I live in this world, and I must act and vote accordingly.
In the protection of liberty, religious liberty is fundamental. President Trump has corrected many of the infringements on religious liberty caused by the policy mandates of previous administrations. He has made religious liberty an American priority at home and abroad. Under his administration, the Department of Justice and the Attorney General have defended religious liberty. President Trump even extended conscience protection to those whose worldviews are not explicitly religious. Biden on the other hand has already indicated that he would immediately put the Obama administration contraception mandate back in place stripped to the religious liberty protections President Trump has established. The Little Sisters of the Poor will find themselves once again under the gun, their conscience rights denied, and, note this, they will not be alone.
The Democratic Party has also decried other forms of conscience protection and would deny religious liberty to Christian cake bakers, wedding photographers, and pharmacists. Christians in many medical fields will face the reduction or removal of conscience protections related to abortion. These are not idle threats. The legal establishment of the Democratic Party is eager to press these agendas. Mr. Biden has made clear that he would appoint judges to follow that party orthodoxy.
Furthermore, in another act of stunning cowardice, the former vice president has refused to answer whether or not he would support calls for enlarging the Supreme Court to allow for the appointment of additional liberal justices. He actually said what I cannot recall any presidential nominee ever saying out loud, that he would answer the question only after the election. He eventually said that he would appoint a special commission to consider such options. Again, any sane person knows what he is saying. He will eventually argue for the expansion of the court. After all, it is the left wing of his party, clearly in the ascent, which will control the debate and decide the issue.
The primary front of religious liberty controversy is likely to be related to LGBTQ issues and both Biden and Harris are eager to advance the sexual revolution on every front. Remember that Joe Biden was vice president under President Barack Obama, whose Solicitor General Donald Verrilli when asked about whether a Christian college would be forced to forfeit its Christian convictions in light of the legalization of same-sex marriage told the Supreme Court of the United States, "It will be an issue." In a Biden administration, count on it becoming an issue very quickly.
On issues such as the transgender revolution, which will reshape the entire society, Biden went so far in a recent town hall appearance that he said he would support transgender demands all the way to supporting gender transition among eight and 10 year old children. "There should be zero discrimination," Biden said. Keep in mind that zero discrimination in that context means enforced submission to transgender claims throughout society. That means your Christian college, adoption agency, mission border school. The Democratic administration will steam roll these issues through the entire society and leave no arena untouched. Just listen to them describe their policies and then understand what is at stake.
As a senator, Kamala Harris berated a nominee for having been a member of the Knights of Columbus. That's a venerable Catholic men's organization. As a long standing organization of Catholic men, its membership is unsurprisingly limited to men, as is by the way, the Roman Catholic priesthood. In Senator Harris's world, that is scandalous discrimination. Religious liberty means nothing if being a part of the most famous Catholic men's organization is now a disqualification for federal office. As a boy, by the way, I was a proud member of the Royal Ambassadors, that's a Baptist organization for boys. If the Knights of Columbus are a scandalous organization, then so are the Royal Ambassadors.
Evangelical Christians are almost certain to vote in overwhelming numbers for the reelection of President Trump. This is not a surprise to anyone who has been awake during the last 40 years of American life. Ever since 1980, the pattern has been very consistent. Evangelical Christians have voted by large percentages for the Republican ticket. Every four years, the mainstream media claim to be shocked by this pattern, which turns out to be the same pattern that supposedly shocked them for years previously. The basic partisan divide reveals an even more basic worldview divide and the pattern shows no sign of changing. No one should be shocked. The majority of evangelicals continue to vote in a predictable pattern that reveals evangelical concerns. No surprise there, no new development.
But every presidential cycle or so, a group claiming evangelical identity forms something like Evangelicals for Biden and the media swarm to suggest that it's big news. This year, a group calls itself Pro-Life Evangelicals for Biden. The insanity of endorsing a pro-abortion ticket of this magnitude while claiming to advance the pro-life cause is more than I can deal with here, more than I can deal with on The Briefing today. But a look at the organizers reveals that many of the major figures are not exactly new to this kind of pattern. One actually established Evangelicals for McGovern in 1972. Seriously. I quickly lose respect for those who now endorse Joe Biden while claiming to save the pro-life cause or the conservative movement.
As a classical conservative, I do not believe that conservative policies and principles can long survive without conservative virtues. But I see some who claim to be conservative falsely ascribing virtue to a Democratic candidate and failing to concede that a Biden election would lead to direct threats to conscience and religious liberty among American Christians. Think tank Washington will, for the most part, find a way to get along and go along whatever political winds may come. It always does.
There will be evangelicals who cannot in good conscience vote for Donald Trump. I understand their predicament, but not voting for Donald Trump, though a political decision in itself is not the same thing as voting for Joe Biden. This is beyond my moral imagination. I also recognize that I know brothers and sisters in Christ who see this differently. The vast majority of black voters in America vote regularly and predictably for the Democratic ticket and have at least since 1960. Like the pattern of white evangelical voting, this is not a surprise. It's not new. There are long historical reasons why both patterns are so. With my black brothers and sisters, I make my best case for how I see the issues. They have every right to do the same. We each have a vote. Both of us will answer to God for that vote. We earnestly seek to persuade the other. We will likely vote differently in the end. We remain brothers and sisters in Christ.
What does this mean for a local church or what does it mean for a denomination? I'm thankful to be a Southern Baptist and I'm extremely thankful that Southern Baptists have for nearly four decades spoken clearly and courageously for the unborn and just as clearly and courageously about marriage and sexuality and gender. The convictions of Southern Baptists are clear, and I am confident that the vast majority of Southern Baptists will vote according to those convictions. That pattern has been in place for many decades. Again, no news. But Christian fellowship is based on shared conviction and common faith in Christ. In my denomination, that means shared passion for the gospel, shared commitment to cooperative ministry and shared convictions about marriage, the sanctity of human life, humans being made male and female, and the wholeness of the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
I know of no church or denomination that makes voting choices a matter of church discipline or church order. It is the convictions themselves that constitute grounds for church discipline and church order. On the other side of this election, brothers and sisters who share the same convictions will have to find a way to work together to forge a way forward. If politics becomes primary, the church is reduced to a political party. Politics is never off the horizon, but if it dominates the horizon, then Christian fellowship is undermined. At this stage in an election cycle, politics seems to dominate every horizon. Given the of this pandemic election, the stresses will continue. Soon, we hope we will know the reality we face.
The Christian church cannot exist in a constant state of political fervor. Election by election, we debate, we organize, we advocate, we vote and we pray. So much is on the line. But I thank God that the kingdom of Christ is not up for a vote. I truly believe that this presidential election with the control of the Senate also clearly at stake is likely to be transformational for the nation. The stakes just keep getting higher. The difference between a Trump administration and a Biden administration will shape a generation and have a very great deal to do with the future of our nation.
My convictions lead me to a very clear conclusion in this election. I hope and vote for the election of Donald Trump and the Republican ticket to a second term, and for a continued Republican majority in the US Senate. I do so precisely because of my convictions. I'm accountable to make these convictions and my reasons clear. That's what I've sought to do even today in these very words. But in the end as a Christian, my greatest conviction is that Jesus Christ is Lord, and that the sovereign God of the universe is indeed sovereign. So Christian faithfulness comes down to doing what we believe to be right, and then trusting the course of history to God.
In that light, I simply join with other Americans in praying this, one week before the national election, may God bless the United States of America and may this nation bless all the nations of the world.
You can find the full text of my argument entitled "Christians, Conscience, and the Looming 2020 Election" at my website at albertmohler.com.
Thanks for listening. You can also follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information about The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information about Boyce College, go to boycecollege.com.
Today, I'll be speaking near St. Louis to the Missouri Baptist Convention, and I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.