The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

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

It’s Wednesday, November 11, 2020.

I’m Albert Mohler. And this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

An Interesting Divergence of Worldviews within the Democratic Party: A Debate Among Democratic Members of Congress Breaks Into Open

Even before the first election results were in, the New York Times was out with an article, a front-page article, the headline, “For The Next Battle, Two Parties Will Be Taking On Themselves.” Lisa Lerer is the reporter. But the article’s actually not as interesting as the headline because the headline does point to something that we need to give some attention to. And that is the fact that leading up to an election, the parties make their best case. They plot their strategies. But after the election, and of course, election results are rather complex, the parties begin to do an autopsy on what happened.

And of course, the biggest question is, why didn’t we get more votes? Why didn’t we win more seats? Right now, the most interesting of those discussions is on the Democratic side. In months to come, it is likely to be that the most interesting discussion will be on the Republican side, but all that’s going to have to wait.

On the Democratic side, the big discussion is actually not about the presidency. The greatest opportunity right now for inter-party definitional strife in the Democratic Party is coming over the House of Representatives. And the reason for that is very clear. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the others in the House leadership, the party in general had expected a rout of Republicans in the congressional elections that took place last week. But that didn’t happen. As a matter of fact, there was a net shift of party seats, but it was to the Republicans rather than to the Democrats. This raises a host of questions amongst Democrats, how did that happen, and what does it mean?

But all of this grew only more interesting when the New York Times after the election and after this pattern was clear, ran an article based upon an interview with Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the now iconic leader of the left wing of the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives. The bottom line in this article, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, known as AOC, is blaming the party for not going left enough, not going all out in a leftist agenda. And she’s saying that that’s why they lost net seats in the House of Representatives.

Now, there’s a lot to look at here. For one thing, you are looking at the reality that the Democratic Party is shifting left, indeed far left. So then, what will be the complaint of AOC and her colleagues on the left? Well, it is the fact that the Democratic Party, beginning with the presidential nomination but extending through the general election strategy, decided that there was a grave risk in the party appearing to be too far left.

Now, remember it was just on the eve of the South Carolina primary that the party leadership threw the nomination to Joe Biden, and that was out of white hot fear that Bernie Sanders, identified as a democratic socialist, was going to gain the Democratic presidential nomination. But when it comes to other races, including in the United States Senate and in the House, there was huge concern on the part of Democrats who held vulnerable seats or seats in territory that could go either way or when they had a significant Republican challenger or a significant number of, for instance, blue collar white voters in their districts, they were petrified that anyone suggesting that the Democrats held to any form of socialism would be deadly.

And it turned out that that fear was justified. We now know that all of this broke loose in a very confrontational conference call between Democratic House leaders and members that took place last Thursday. This story reached the front page of the Wall Street Journal, the headline, “House Democrats Air Frustrations.” Evidently, they aired a lot of frustration, and they did so for a long time. On the call, there were weeping so-called moderates who had either lost their seats or were still afraid that they were about to lose their seats. And there were angry members of the House, the Democratic caucus on the left, who were frustrated that the party had not gone far enough left. You had rival arguments as to why Democrats lost seats. Was it that the party wasn’t liberal enough or that it was too liberal?

Well, it also was going to rebound on the Speaker of the House, the head of the Democratic caucus, Nancy Pelosi. Reporters Natalie Andrews and Kristina Peterson for the Wall Street Journal tell us, “On an hour-long Democratic call, lawmakers question Mrs. Pelosi about why polling had been overly optimistic and why the party’s brand wasn’t strong enough to withstand attacks labeling candidates as socialists according to people on the call. Mrs. Pelosi ‘didn’t immediately provide an answer’ lawmakers said.”

Well, as you look through the continuation of the story, you’re looking at the fact that the House Democratic leadership is now all of a sudden on the defensive. They thought they were going to be celebrating, but now, their continued leadership of their own caucus is in question. Defensively, Speaker Pelosi said on the call, “We did not win every battle, but we did win the war. Every one of you knows that incumbent protection is my number one priority.” That’s an interesting statement for all Americans to hear, not so surprising, but amazingly candid.

But then the Wall Street Journal reporters tell us, “Those comments irked some centrists who said lawmakers in competitive districts have been hurt by negative ads calling them socialists and by some progressives’ calls to defund the police, which was seized on by Republicans. Representative Abigail Spanberger, a Democrat of Virginia said, ‘This was a loss.’ She went on to say, ‘This almost cost me my seat.'” The Wall Street Journal also explained, “The loss of seats could complicate Mrs. Pelosi’s plans to remain speaker for one more term, which she has pledged will be her last.”

One of the interesting things about the pattern of leadership and the Democratic House caucus is that all of these leaders are old, in general and political terms, very old, approaching 80 years old or already there. But in worldview analysis, the most interesting issue is the clash of worldviews, not only in bigger terms between the Democrats and the Republicans, between the right and the left, but the divergence of worldview even within the two parties. Again, we’ll be looking at that reality on the Republican side in weeks and months to come.

But right now, the urgency is on the Democratic side because that’s where the big surprise is in the House of Representatives. The quandary for the Democratic Party right now, and it was nowhere more clearly exemplified than in the campaign of Joe Biden for the presidency, is the fact that the Democratic base has to say, “Number one, we really, really, really are liberal. Just watch us.”

They have to say that to the younger portions of their base. But they are also trying to say to the rest of America, “Don’t pay attention when we say we’re increasingly really, really, really liberal, because we don’t mean what we say when we talk about defunding the police or when we use the word socialism.”

Speaking in frustration in that New York Times interview, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said, “It’s not a personal thing. It’s just the history of the party tends to be that we get really excited about the grassroots to get elected. And then those communities are promptly abandoned right after an election.”

So on the Democratic side, the liberal wing is frustrated with the moderates. The moderates are frustrated with the liberal wing, and the net result is that the party lost seats because here’s the issue, the American people in so many of those so called swing districts decided that they would actually listen to what the party is saying. And when they listened, they didn’t like what they heard.

One other issue of worldview analysis here is the importance of words. A word like socialism, people sometimes use socialism without an adequate definition, but the fact is that when people on the Democratic left are pushing for socialism, they actually mean some form of socialism. You can put a modifier in front of it like Bernie Sanders and call it democratic socialism, but it still ends up being a form of socialism. That puts the more moderate members of the Democratic Party on the defensive and in a very vulnerable position when they try to say, “Well, when we talk about socialism, we don’t actually mean socialism.”

But there’s something else here, and this is a big issue of worldview significance. And it has to do with how parties change, how cultures change, how you have something like the moral revolution that gained so much momentum. If indeed there is concern, you could say it’s on the part of both parties just for a matter of hypothetical analysis. You could say that both parties over time have become more who they are. The Republicans have eventually become more Republican. The Democrats have become more Democratic. That’s one of the reasons why that red blue divide in this country is so significant.

But it also means that what is disappearing when it comes to congressional representation are the seats, the large number of seats that used to exist in the Congress that could at any particular electoral point go Democratic or Republican. Why is that changing? And why is it that the Democratic Party is moving farther to the left with every electoral cycle?

Just to look at the Democratic side, well, it comes down to this, when you have moderates who are primaried by their own party, the challenge is going to come from, in the Democratic Party, the left. The left is going to pull that primary election to the left. What happens then is that those who are identified as moderates in that party are more in danger. When they lose the election, the Democratic caucus ends up being more liberal simply because there are fewer moderates who survived electoral challenges. So, the blue becomes deeper blue.

Now, the same thing has happened in recent decades on the Republican side. But right now, the interesting dynamic, the most interesting debate for the moment is on the Democratic side. And in worldview analysis, we understand there are big issues here because this is not only about the future of the Democratic Party. Given the reality of politics and culture in the United States, it tells us a great deal about at least one likely or possible future for the United States of America.

I’ll leave this issue there pretty much but simply mention that in the last, say, 48 hours, we have seen a flurry of articles expressing frustration from the Democratic left, frustration about the Democratic Party. For example, an op-ed piece ran in the Wall Street Journal, Democrats, Let Progressives Lead. An opinion piece in the Washington Post, “Progressives Are An Asset For The Democratic Party, It Should Treat Them That Way.” Another op-ed headline also from the Washington Post, “Democratic Leaders Play A Ridiculous Blame Game With Progressives.”

But one final point about all of this, given the fact that worldview matters, geography matters, culture matters, I often point out that what it takes to win in Albany, New York is very different than what it takes to win in Albany, Georgia. Similarly, think of Manhattan, New York and Manhattan, Kansas. And what we’re seeing in America right now is that what it takes to win in New York is indeed what it might take to lose in either Kansas or Georgia.

Part II

A Troubling but Predictable Pattern as the Vatican “Clarifies” Pope’s Statement on Civil Unions: Pope Francis Liberalizes His Church Wink by Wink

But next, we’re going to shift to a very different issue. Just a few days ago on The Briefing, we talked about the fact that the Vatican had affirmed that statements included in a documentary film by Pope Francis were authentic. That indeed, the Pope had called for governments to recognize civil unions, that is not marriage, same-sex marriage, but nonetheless legal, same-sex unions that would have many of the same rights and recognitions as marriage. This led to a flurry of headlines predictably.

Now, what I pointed out at that time when the story broke is that there is both more and less here than meets the eye. But when it comes to worldview analysis, it actually is more rather than less. I predicted at the time that the Vatican would shortly seek to “clarify”, I’ll put quotation marks around that word, “clarify” the statement made by Pope Francis. The reason for that is very clear. The statement made by the current Pope is in diametrical opposition to the official policy of the Vatican going all the way back to an official Vatican statement in 2003. That is a predicament.

I also pointed out that this Pope has been playing a public relations game, a messaging game because at least, it appears very clear that he is trying to shift his church, the Roman Catholic church, to the left on so many issues. But given the claims of the Roman Catholic church and given the realities politically he faces within, he really can’t officially bring about this change in doctrine. Some of it actually can’t be changed in literal form. But nonetheless, he’s doing his best with a wink and a nod to say, “I’m saying this. It makes headline news, but I really didn’t mean exactly how that was reported.”

But as I pointed out, there is no public relations machinery more effective than that of the Vatican. And thus, this is not an accident. It is a pattern that Catholic observers, especially conservative Catholics have been noting now ever since the beginning of the Francis pontificate.

But once again, the effect of this article was, for example, that after the Pope’s statement, the Thursday, October 22nd edition of the Wall Street Journal ran a near full half-page color photograph of Pope Francis with the headline, “Pope Backs Civil Unions For Gay Couples.” So, there’s the net cultural effect. Anyone looking at the Wall Street Journal print edition would say, “Oh, Pope Francis has now backed civil unions for gay couples.”

We saw in the immediate aftermath of this story breaking, story after story, headline after headline in the mainstream media saying, “Look, the Roman Catholic Church has changed its policy. Look, this is a great progressive step for the LGBTQ revolution.” You had LGBTQ activists saying, “Look, Pope Francis is on our side.” Inevitably, they would argue this is just one more step towards the full normalization of homosexuality and homosexual unions in the Roman Catholic Church, which is worldwide one of the last obstacles to the full normalization of LGBTQ relationships.

But again, I made a very clear statement back when this story broke that the Vatican would be out with a clarification within a matter of days. And indeed, it came. The New York Times dated November the 3rd, 2020, that’s election day last week, ran a headline, but it’s on page A11. It’s well within the newspaper. In other words, the clarification never gets anything close to the attention the original comments get, and Pope Francis knows it.

Elizabeth Povoledo, the reporter for the New York Times, tells us in this article what the headline states, “Vatican Says Its Doctrine On Marriage Is Unchanged.” Here’s the story, “The Vatican has confirmed the Pope’s remarks on gay couples deserving civil protections as it sent an explanatory note to bishops underlining that Francis’ comments did not mark a change in church doctrine.”

The reporter then explained how the comments came to be known in the documentary film. But then she writes for the Times, “Last week, acknowledging the various reactions and interpretations provoked by the Pope’s apparent break from his predecessors, the Vatican Secretary of State sent an explanatory note to its nuncios or ambassadors to be shared with bishops ‘with the desire to favor an appropriate understanding of the words of the Holy Father.'”

Now, I’ll just say as a religious leader, as a Christian leader, one of my responsibilities, and it is shared by every Christian proportionate to the responsibility we bear, one of our responsibilities is not to require anyone to have to come behind us to explain what we really meant by what we said. As the Bible says, “Let your yay be yay and your nay be nay.” You shouldn’t need a spokesperson to clarify.

The official Vatican statement went on to say that some of the Pope’s responses as portrayed in the documentary had been pieced together. Now, that might be true, but the Vatican had to confirm that the basic substance of what the Pope said is exactly what he said. And he’s right there on film saying it. Yes, statements like that can be taken out of context. We all have to be careful about that.

But the Vatican is not condemning the film for doing any such thing. It is simply trying to clarify. And furthermore, the Pope is now, at least according to the Vatican, repeatedly complaining about the treatment that he gets by talking to liberal and unbelieving journalists, which is to say, why do you keep giving these interviews? Or why do you keep participating in allowing people access to this kind of video, which the Vatican actually did and has had to confirm.

Later in the New York Times article, we read, “It is clear, according to the note from the Vatican, that Pope Francis was referring to secular laws, ‘not certainly the doctrine of the church, many times reaffirmed over the years.'” But then the next statement says this, “Francis’ comments conflict with the Vatican’s official position on same-sex civil unions. A 2003 document issued by the congregation of the doctrine of the faith says that the church’s respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behavior or to legal recognition of homosexual unions.”

Again, the New York Times has had to admit here inside the newspaper on page A11, the previous comments made the front page, but now on page A11, we read that actually, the Pope’s statements were his. He did make the statements, and yes, he has made similar statements before. But yes, the official position of the Vatican is actually the opposite of what Pope Francis said.

But the bottom line is that the Vatican so-called clarification has actually made clear that Pope Francis was calling upon civil governments to ignore the official Vatican position when it comes to the recognition of same-sex unions.

The official Vatican statement, going back to 2003, unchanged we should note, which the Vatican is affirmed states, “Legal recognition of homosexual unions or placing them on the same level as marriage would mean not only the approval of deviant behavior with the consequence of making it a model in present day society but would also obscure basic values, which belong to the common inheritance of humanity.”

Now, that statement was written by the immediate predecessor to Pope Francis who was then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI. But the point is, it is that policy that is still the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, the teaching that evidently Pope Francis has told civil authorities around the world to ignore. No wonder conservative and traditional Catholics are up in arms. This is not the way it’s supposed to work.

But my point in returning to this issue is not just because the news has broken about the Vatican’s clarification but also because there’s an even more basic issue here, and it comes back to what the Bible says, “Let your yay be yay and your nay be nay.”

What I mean by that is this, speaking as an evangelical Christian, as a Protestant, I want to state in our own world that one of the dangers we face is that some Christian theologians, scholars, intellectuals, and preachers are tempted, and in some cases, clearly succumbing to the temptation, to accommodate to the spirit of the age and to basically surrender to the moral revolutionaries on the LGBTQ issues by suggestion and winks rather than outright statements.

Trying to move the church left without admitting that that is what one is doing is not a problem that is limited to the Vatican. It’s a theological virus that tends to spread far and wide. We need to know it when we see it.

But finally, a common theme in our considerations today is what is required of us in the stewardship of language, why language matters, and why the definitions of words matter tremendously. If you’re using a statement such as defund the police, you better mean defunding the police because that’s actually what you’re saying. If you’re going to use statements that would include socialism, then guess what? You’re going to be branded as an advocate of socialism. If you are going to wink and nod at civil unions, then guess what? People are going to say you are approving them.

Part III

A Change in the Dictionary Drives Change in the Culture: Oxford Dictionaries Alter Definition of “Woman” After Claims of Sexism

And when it comes down to other words, dictionaries have an outsize influence in our society. Thus, we need to note the moral implications of a major headline in USA Today yesterday, “Oxford Dictionaries Change Sexist Definitions Of The Word ‘Woman’ After Online Petition.” Now, this story had been brewing for weeks. It turns out that a woman had started a petition to demand that the Oxford English Dictionary, the larger family of Oxford University Dictionaries, would change the definition of woman in order to meet some contemporary expectations and remove items that had been objectionable.

Now, one of the premiere issues about the Oxford English Dictionary is that it indeed has reflected historical use of words, and that would include the bad or negative use of words or even the misuse of words common to the English language. But when it comes to the word woman, you simply have to ask the basic question, just what can be clarified here that would absolve the OED as it is known or Oxford Dictionaries of sexism using the word woman? If it doesn’t refer to a woman, what’s the point of the word?

But as it turns out, one of the big agendas here was the LGBTQ revolution. For example, the USA Today article yesterday states, “One of the definitions was also altered to acknowledge that a woman can be a person’s wife, girlfriend, or female lover, not only a man’s.” New equivalent phrases such as “women of the moment” were included to match phrases like “man of the moment.”

The intent was made very clear in an interview with Maria Beatrice Giovanardi. She’s the woman in London, a communication strategist who began the petition aimed at Oxford English Dictionaries in 2019. And she said, “I’m very happy that they’ve made the changes they have made. The definition as a result is now more inclusive, especially of the LGBTQ community.” Yes, indeed. That’s the agenda. That’s the point. And the Oxford Dictionaries has surrendered to the moral revolutionaries. That dictionary thus becomes an engine itself for changing the culture because anyone looking to the Oxford Dictionaries for a definition of woman is now going to find out that the LGBTQ definitions are just fine.

The dictionaries also in their own defensiveness indicated that they are undertaking a thorough review. And the article concludes, “This review has developed into an ongoing project, and Oxford University Press has also re-examined language on race, diversity, and the use of the pronoun they for non-binary people this year.”

Language matters because truth matters, and dictionaries matter because those words matter, and a change in the dictionary surrendering to this kind agenda means that this word, the usage of such words, such as even they in the English language are now in just the blink of an eye transformed from how they had functioned in the English language to how they will now function in the service of the moral revolutionaries.

But I’m going to let the last word on this issue come from the word of God, from Paul’s exhortation to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:13. Paul wrote to Timothy, and I quote, “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.”

Yes, you heard it right from the Apostle Paul to the young man he was preparing for ministry, Timothy, retain the pattern of sound words. And that’s an exhortation, not just by the apostle to Timothy but from God himself to the church of the Lord Jesus Christ until Jesus comes.

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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