The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, January 4, 2021

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

It’s Monday, January 4, 2021.

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

Part I

All Eyes Are on Georgia for Tomorrow’s Monumental Senate Run-Off Elections: The Consequences Will Be Dramatic and Enduring

Welcome to the first daily edition of The Briefing for the year 2021. And what a year it is already. It’s starting out with a big bang in American electoral politics, something that is unprecedented, at least in recent American history.

We’re talking about a special election in Georgia for not just one, but two United States Senate seats. And we’re also talking about the fact that those two seats, each of them actually, will have everything to do with which party controls the United States Senate for at least the next two years. Let’s take a look at the political landscape and understand what we’re talking about. First of all, we’re talking about tomorrow, the state of Georgia, two senatorial runoffs. That was made necessary by the fact that there were two senatorial elections in Georgia, neither of the majority candidates gained 50% of the vote. Thus, the runoff was scheduled for January the 5th.

But why two? Why in the world one state, two Senate seats at one time? That has everything to do with the fact that Republican Senator Johnny Isaacson had been debilitated and resigned from the Senate. And thus last year, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp appointed Kelly Loeffler, using his constitutional authority as governor, to that seat. But until such time as a special election could be held, it just so happened that that special election was held on November the 3rd, the very same time that Georgia’s other Senate seat was up for its regular six year cycle election. And so you have two Senate elections on one state ballot on one election, and that sets up a recipe for big news anytime, but we’re not talking about just any time. We’re talking about 2021. We’re talking about the fact that the Democrats control the United States House, although barely. We’re talking about the fact that president-elect Joe Biden is putting his administration together and will be inaugurated on January the 20th.

And we’re talking about the fact that the only chance for a Republican check when it comes to our separation of powers in Washington, between the executive and the legislative branches, the only opportunity for a Republican check on democratic power is for Republicans to hold the majority in the United States Senate. Now here’s where the math becomes really important, and many Christians, even those who basically understand our political system don’t understand why maintaining party control in the United States Senate is so important. Whichever party has a majority of the United States senators holds the leadership positions. And that’s not just that the party’s leader becomes the majority leader of the Senate. And with that comes enormous responsibility and power controlling the flow of legislation, basically determining what bills will and will not reach the floor the United States Senate. But it’s more than that, because that means the party in power actually in the Senate holds every single committee chairmanship. And that’s huge.

The chairpersons of Senate committees hold awesome power. They hold the power of subpoenaing witnesses. They hold the power of setting things on the agenda. And of course, they control in terms of party discipline the actions of the committee by its majority party. Now, why is that so important? Well, the most basic reason it’s important comes down to the fact that legislation cannot pass Congress if it is not adopted by both the House and the Senate. If the Senate doesn’t approve, then the legislation effectively dies, and it puts the Senate in the position not only of being the so-called cooling saucer, or cooling chamber to cool the passions of the more excitable house, but it also has to do with the fact that when you’re looking at the United States Senate in particular, there is enormous stewardship of power invested in every one of those Senate seats.

And remember, 50 states, each has two senators, thus 100, there isn’t any magic number of 100. It’s a function of the fact that there are 50 states and each constitutionally has the same number of senators, two. But politics is also personality. And that means that if Republicans hold the power in the upper chamber, then Mitch McConnell of Kentucky will continue to be the majority leader of the United States Senate. If the Democrats gain control of the Senate, more about that in just a moment, then the leader of the Democrats, and thus the one who has the power to set the agenda for the Senate will be Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York. Now, you’re not just talking about two different senators. You’re not just talking about two different parties. You’re talking about the fact that if you look at those two particular party leaders, they both represent their parties in a most remarkable way. And you’re looking at the fact that there will be two very different political trajectories for our nation, depending upon which of those two United States senators is the majority leader.

Right now, Republicans have 50 seats in the United States Senate, and the Democrats have 48. Now, technically, you are looking at the fact that the Democrats actually only have 46, but there are two independent senators who caucus with the Democrats. So effectively it’s 50 to 48. How then, if the Democrats win both of these Senate seats, could they gain the majority? Well, it’s because Kamala Harris as vice president of the United States, effective on the 20th of January is also constitutionally the presiding officer of the Senate, and constitutionally, the presiding officer of the Senate, the vice president of the United States can cast a vote when it is a deciding vote. That is to say, when the Senate is split, now it could be 48-48. It could be 49-49. It can be 50-50. The point is, under that circumstance, the vice-president breaks the tie. And in this case, there would be no doubt that Kamala Harris would break the tie in favor of the Democrats, and thus Chuck Schumer as the majority leader.

If Democrats gain control of the White House, and the House of Representatives, and the Senate, you can look at what would amount to a steam roller of legislation coming from the democratic side. Elections have consequences. We often point to that reality. And in this case, the consequences are going to be dramatic and immediate. And of all things, it comes down to just one of the 50 states, 49 states are going to be watching one state tomorrow to see what happens. And of course, we’re hoping that we know the result tomorrow. It may actually be some time, but nonetheless, the election date is tomorrow, January the 5th, 2021.

And it’s also crucial to understand that both parties know that turnout is going to determine this election. Now, logically, you could say, “Well, that’s almost always the case.” But it’s not always the case in the same way. Yes, it comes down to math. But in this case, it really amounts to the fact that the motivation behind the voters is what becomes crucial. Especially in a one-off election. There was so much energy for the general election on November the third, to be frank, it takes more motivation, it takes more commitment, more energy for voters to turn out for a special election, especially one that comes so soon after a general election. There is simply a matter of political fatigue, but both sides have to hope that the fatigue is greater on the other side.

Well, let’s just quickly remind ourselves of these two elections in particular. First of all, in the regular Senate election coming up on its six year cycle, the incumbent is Republican David Purdue. He’s been a businessman for most of his life. He was elected to the Senate six years ago, he’s running for reelection. In most situations, a Republican would be favored for statewide election in Georgia, but this may not be a normal circumstance. Senator-produced challenger in this race is Jon Ossoff, who ran a very close race for a congressional seat, losing barely to a Republican candidate in a congressional district near Atlanta in the last cycle. But now he’s coming very close to winning this seat in the United States Senate.

Once again, turn out is going to be key. Ossoff, by the way is relatively young. He would be one of the youngest senators if elected, but the other thing is he has inherited money. He used that to become something of an independent filmmaker. He is the head of an organization that makes documentaries. He doesn’t have any particular political background himself, though he did work as a staffer for the late Republican Congressman John Lewis, also of Georgia.

There’s a lot more national attention to the other race, which interestingly enough is going to come up again in two years in the sense that whoever wins the special election that was called for the other Senate seat is going to have to run when that seat comes up for its regular six year cycle just two years from now. That’s going to be a very interesting dynamic. But in that case, you have the Republican incumbent appointed by the Republican governor. In this case, we’re talking about Senator Kelly Loeffler. She is also very wealthy. She comes from a background in business, particularly in finance.

And then you look at the fact that her challenger is one of the most interesting figures in recent American politics, the Reverend Dr. Raphael Warnock, pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church. Warnock is his himself a very interesting character because if elected, he would instantly become one of the most liberal members of the United States Senate, and that from a state that has been rather solidly Republican, at least for the last several decades. But what to Christians should make Raphael Warnock all the more interesting is the fact that he represents in himself liberation theology, in particular black liberation theology. And he is himself a product of Union Theological Seminary, the mothership of theological liberalism in the United States, that’s Union Theological Seminary in the city of New York City. He received both his Master of Divinity and his PhD from that institution. There can be no doubt that Raphael Warnock represents not only political liberalism, but theological liberalism as well.

And that’s very interesting, because as Christians think about this, we need to recognize that it would be extremely unusual actually to have someone who is a theological conservative and a political liberal in today’s landscape, or for that matter, a theological liberal, but a political conservative. The reason is that human beings tend to towards a certain consistency in thought. That’s why we refer to the issue of worldview over and over again. Our worldview is our basic understanding of the world. It’s the connectivity between our most basic presuppositions and how we work out our theological, our political, our policy understandings, our understanding of what it means to be human or understanding of right and wrong. Our understanding of the role of government, all of these things are actually based upon theological presuppositions. And that’s true by the way, even for the most secularist of thinkers. But nonetheless, when you’re looking at Raphael Warnock, you’re looking at a consistency between his theological liberalism and his political liberalism. And it’s also really important to recognize that Raphael Warnock is avowedly pro-abortion.

Now of course, he will not want to use the pro-abortion language, but his position amounts to a very solid, nearly unconditional advocacy of abortion rights under any circumstance. To put it another way, he opposes all restrictions upon abortion. He is also decidedly pro-LGBTQ, and again, in a way that’s very consistent, political liberalism, moral liberalism, theological liberalism, all in one package. And again, virtually without any meaningful restrictions whatsoever.

Part II

Can You Be a Faithful Christian or Pastor and Support Abortion Rights? The Question Is Front and Center in Georgia’s Special Election

Now, how can someone who identifies as a Christian pastor hold just on those two positions to such radical policies? Well, it has to do with the fact that theological liberalism represents an intentional reformulation of historic Christianity. That’s actually the whole point of the theological revolution launched by theological liberalism. It is an attempt to redefine, reformulate, transform Christianity into something it wasn’t. Never has been before.

Now this raises a fascinating article that appeared at The Hill. That’s a major insider media source there in Washington, DC. The article is by Marik von Rennenkampff, the headline is this, “Pro-choice pastors like Raphael Warnock have the Bible, history on their side.”

Now wait just a minute. How could it be that there’s a headline news story telling us that a pro-choice, or pro-abortion pastor has the Bible and history on his side? Well, clearly there’s something going on here. And what we’re looking at is the fact that in this article, Marik von Rennenkampff attempts to suggest that the pro-life position is the innovation and Christian history. But what’s really interesting is that even as the headline says history on their side, which isn’t true, by the way. It’s interesting that when they talk about history in this case, they’re just going back a few decades. That’s an interesting story, but the history of the Christian church is, let’s underline emphatically, over 2,000 years old, not just a matter of two or three decades, but looking at this article at The Hill, we are told that Warnock has the Bible on his side, as well as Christian history on his side. Does he have the Bible on his side?

Well, what is looked at here is the fact that if you are looking at penalties found in the Old Testament for murder, you’ll notice a different penalty when it comes to the murder of someone who is walking on the earth, that is a person who has been born, and a murder that eventuates in a miscarriage. But that should not be read as to understand that an unborn human being has any less dignity and sanctity of life than anyone else.

Just consider the fact that the Bible begins with the unconditional affirmation of the fact that every single human being is made in God’s image. And then jump from Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 to Genesis 9, where we are told that the very worth of a human being is that every single human being is an image bearer, and then jump just in our biblical imaginations to the book of Psalms, where in the Psalter, you have David, in the womb, speaking of God knowing him. Now note, David speaks of God knowing him, knitting him together when he was in his mother’s inward parts. But it’s not just about knowing about David, it’s the fact that God knew David. That is to say, David was a person already known by God, the omniscient and omnipotent creator. And David existed only because God intentionally said, “Let there be life,” even in David’s mother’s womb.

Another article on a similar theme, ran at Religion News Service by Jack Jenkins. The headline at RNS for this one is, “Rev. Warnock blasted for being a ‘pro-choice pastor,’ but his position isn’t uncommon.” Now, what could that be about? Jenkins, who writes a good deal about the religious left tells us in this article about the Reverend Kerry Jackson, who’s identified as director of spiritual care and activism at the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. And Jackson said, “There is no contradiction in supporting abortion rights while maintaining a Christian faith.”

Now, what does it tell us that this Reverend Jackson has said this? Well, it only tells us that Reverend Jackson said this. But who is the Reverend Jackson? Well, let’s recall that this individual identifies as director of spiritual care and activism at the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. Now that’s an organization that has been renamed, but it goes back to the fact that in the 1960s, you had theological liberals. Here we are again, who wanted to redefine the Christian churches position on abortion. And they created a clergy organization made up of liberal clergy to argue for the legalization and indeed the moralization of abortion, its most recent name is that Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. It had been the religious coalition for abortion rights, but just to remember the way that the abortion rights movement is attempting to use the language to obscure, what is really all about the Reverend Jackson said this according to the RNs article, “Rev. Warnock, by being consistent through the years, even as he’s running for elected office, about his stance for reproductive freedom, (is) really creating an opportunity to shift the public narrative. Religious people can be pro-choice.”.

Now wait just a minute. Can religious people be pro-abortion, or in this case using the language that they prefer pro-choice? Well, the answer is of course religious people can, but I would argue that consistent Christians cannot. I do not believe that one can be a faithful Christian. And I mean that in just those words, I do not believe that one can be a faithful Christian and do anything other than uphold and contend for the dignity and sanctity of every single human life, including the life of the unborn. The RNS article turns to this section, The Rev. Dean Nelson, the executive director of the anti-abortion group Human Coalition Action who helped organize the letter”–this was a letter condemning Raphael Warnock for his pro-abortion position–“insisted Warnock’s position is unbiblical.” The Reverend Nelson said, “I think that it is a misplaced understanding of Scripture to somehow talk about justice or reproductive justice for women while neglecting to address anything regarding justice for the child in the womb.” I would emphatically agree with the Reverend Nelson there. That’s a biblical understanding.

But we are then told by Jenkins, “Jackson said faith leaders were some of the first to advocate for abortion rights in the 1960s. Clergy in New York City, she pointed out, formed the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, which worked to connect low-income women with physicians who could perform abortions so they would not attempt the procedures themselves.” And notice the language here. You’ll notice that you had the earlier language of religious people rather than Christians. And here you have the language of “faith leaders.”

Now, again, if you’re using language like faith leaders, then you’re really not talking about any commitment to biblical Christianity whatsoever. So you could have religious leaders, you can have faith leaders that would not necessarily include at all anyone committed to orthodox Christianity or a biblical worldview. But Jenkins then goes back to the Reverend Jackson of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Freedom. That by the way, is the new name of what was the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion. Jackson said, “Rev. Warnock as I understand him has always been about seeking to increase the experience of liberty and justice and freedom in people’s lives.” And the article goes on to say that Jackson has known Warnock since they were students at Union Theological Seminary in New York at the same time.

Jackson then asked, “Why would he stop that when it comes to something that is most central to someone’s life — and that is their reproduction?” So just notice here, the entire biblical worldview turned on its head. Now you have justice, not about the right to life of the unborn, but rather justice, the justice work that we are told by his colleague that the Reverend Warnock has been about his entire life, as extended to someone’s reproductive right.

The issue here is reframed as reproductive justice. The question is why would Reverend Warnock stop at anything short of reproductive justice? Well, the answer would be because the alternative would be the affirmation of the sanctity of dignity, of the unborn life, that abortion murders and the womb.

Part III

What Is the Christian Church’s Historic Position on the Sanctity of Human Life? The Church’s Conviction Is Resoundingly Against Abortion

But while all of this, all of these issues are now front and center in the American agenda because of the special election in Georgia and the issue of abortion front and center, I want to turn to ask the question once again: what is the Christian churches historic position on the sanctity of human life? And here, I want to refer to the fact that if you look at the history of the Christian church, there has been an extremely consistent affirmation of the sanctity of unborn life and the condemnation of abortion. We could go back to the very first century of the Christian experience, the very first century of the Christian church, between the years of 80 and 120 AD.

There, you had an official teaching of the church that was shared by the churches in that first and second century of the church’s experience, and was tied to the authority of the disciples themselves. The dedicate stated that the teaching of the Christian church comes down to the way of life versus the way of death. The way of life commands that Christians shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not murder a child by abortion or commit infanticide. Both abortion and infanticide were common in the Roman empire, but Christians were forbidden to murder any child, born or unborn, and the way of life as the dedicated made clear honors the sanctity of life. The leaders of the church, the Christian church in its early centuries such as Clement of Alexandria, who lived between 150 and 215 made clear the sin of women who “in order to hide their immorality, use abortive drugs, which expel the matter completely dead, abort at the same time their human feelings.”

Tertullian, another early church leader in the years 160 to 240 taught even more comprehensively. Tertullian wrote, “For us, we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth,” said Tertullian, “is just a speedier man-killing. Nor does it matter when you take away a life that is born or destroy one that is coming to birth. That is a man which is going to be one. You have the fruit already in the seed.” Those are just two examples of the pro-life commitment of the early church, a position that included affirmation explicitly from early church leaders, including Athenagoras, Hippolytus, Basil the Great, Ambrose, Jerome, John Chrysostom, and Augustine. A document from the fourth century known as the Apostolic Constitutions states the pro-life position this way, “Thou shalt not slay the child by causing abortion nor kill that which has begotten. For everything that is shaped and have received a soul from God, if it be slain shall be avenged as being unjustly destroyed.”

Michael J. Gorman in his book Abortion in the Early Church states the matter very clearly, that “all Christian writers opposed abortion.” Every mention of abortion in the early church rejects it, and does so forcefully. Gorman writes this, “Writers of the first three Christian centuries laid the theological and literary foundation for all subsequent early Christian writing on abortion.” And he went on to say that there were three important themes that emerged during these early Christian centuries. Number one, the fetus is the creation of God. Number two, abortion is murder. And number three, the judgment of God falls on those guilty of abortion. You put those three convictions together, and you find the heart of the Christian pro-life consensus that came together in the United States very clearly in the years after the Supreme Court’s Roe V. Wade decision in 1973. That’s when the issue of abortion leaped with immediacy and unavoidable urgency into the Christian conscience and particularly the Evangelical conscience there during the decade of the 1970s.

To our embarrassment, Evangelicals were late to arrive in the right place on this issue, largely because it just wasn’t discussed until Roe v. Wade and made it unavoidable. And then Evangelicals had to think it through, and thinking it through became quite a clarifying matter in terms of Evangelicals operating out of a biblical worldview, and understanding what is at stake.

The two senatorial special elections in Georgia bring all these issues to the forefront, because these days in American politics, these issues are always in the forefront. But these issues though front and center are not alone. We’re talking about two rival visions of the United States, of law and of morality. And of course the role and function of government, the size of government, the shape of government policies, all of this is at stake as the citizens of Georgia effectively decide not only these two Senate seats, but the future of the United States Senate in terms of its leadership for the next two years.

Clearly for all kinds of reasons, including demographics, Georgia is a state in transition. We’re about to get a snapshot of what that transition looks like. It turns out there’s a lot more at stake in this election than just, as if you could say just, two Senate seats from the state of Georgia.

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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