The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, January 21, 2021

It’s Thursday, January 21, 2021.

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

Part I

The Inauguration of an American President: The Image and the Reality

Yesterday Americans witnessed the inauguration of the 46th president of the United States, Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. And as the 46th president took the oath of office, he then launched upon his inaugural address. Now, earlier this week on The Briefing, I went through the meaning of the inauguration and its component parts, the transition of power and what it means for government to claim legitimacy. But as we spoke about the inaugural address, I mentioned that it is not required by the constitution that presidents have rarely missed the opportunity to use a national audience of this stature, the singular stature of their entire administration, in order to define their own terms and to start the administration. And as was expected yesterday, Joseph Biden, as President Biden, spoke about the need for national unity.

Now, immediately the national press jumped upon this declaring that it’s a new day in American politics because Joe Biden has declared it to be a new day by calling for unity, a word he used more than 10 times in his inaugural address. And there is no doubt that in temperament and in character, that is to say, personality and the character that comes in terms of inhabiting the office, Joseph Biden is in direct contrast with Donald Trump who came before him. Having spent 35 years in the United States Senate and eight years as vice-president under Barack Obama, Joe Biden is a servant of American political norms, but that means institutional norms.

When it comes to Donald Trump, he was a defier of those same institutional norms. And you can see the contrast as you look at the inauguration of Donald Trump in 2017 and the inauguration of Joe Biden in 2021. In 2017, Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States spoke very little about unity and almost entirely about purpose. He basically set himself over against the Washington establishment and he made very clear that he intended to lead the nation in a way that was distinctive from any president who had come before him. By contrast, Joe Biden seemed to want to embrace the entire Capitol, at least organizationally, as he took the oath of office and as his inauguration unfolded, and in particular through his inaugural address.

But here’s where we need to note something. Even as the national media have declared as Joe Biden no doubt intended them to declare that he is the great prophet of unity, even as he used that word unity more than 10 times and deployed the word democracy more than any previous president in American history in such an address, the reality is that Joe Biden spent his first day in office giving the signals of unity but the substance of moving the government far to the left. The actions that were undertaken by executive orders by Joe Biden on his first day in office as President Biden were hardly marks of unity. And they certainly were not leading from what’s been described as the center.

But as you look at the national media, you wouldn’t come to understand this, especially in the editorial celebration. The editorial board of the New York Times began their editorial entitled Biden Bets on Unity with these words, “Joe Biden began his presidency on Wednesday with the same animating philosophy that guided his campaign. The center can hold.” So the lead sentence in this editorial declared that Joe Biden is going to govern as he had campaigned moving to the center. The center can hold. But actually, that’s quite a misrepresentation of Joe Biden’s campaign and of his first day in office.

Now, just consider the fact that his most perceptive biographer, Evan Osnos, who wrote the recent book, Joe Biden: The Life, the Run, and What Matters Now, Osnos wrote this: “In the usual course of a presidential campaign, a Democrat leans left during the primary and then marches right in the general election. Biden went the opposite direction. Exit polls had revealed a stark warning. Even in states where he prevailed many voters preferred the more ambitious plans from Sanders and Warren on issues like the economy and healthcare. Within weeks Biden had picked up Warren’s plan to ease student debt and overhauled the bankruptcy system.” This just goes on and on. Osnos is making the argument, and we trace this during the campaign itself that rather than move from the left to the center, Biden ran from the center to the left.

Part II

President Biden Issues Call for Unity — But His Executive Orders Drive Hard Left

The editorial board celebrated Biden as, by the way, Evan Osnos’s biography is basically very, very adulatory towards Biden. But as you look at this editorial, it tells us that Joe Biden is to be celebrated for following Donald Trump’s disunity with unity. The center can hold, but it’s false advertising. And what makes that really evident is the news coverage of the same first day in office by the reportorial news staff of the very same newspaper. Early yesterday, The Times ran an article that began this way. “President Biden will unleash a full-scale assault on his predecessor’s legacy on Wednesday acting hours after taking the oath of office to sweep aside Donald J. Trump’s pandemic response, reverse his environmental agenda, tear down his anti-immigration policies, bolster the sluggish economic recovery and restore federal efforts aimed at promoting diversity. Moving with an urgency not seen from any other modern president, we were told Mr. Biden will sign 17 executive orders, memorandums and proclamations from the Oval Office on Wednesday.” That according to his top policy advisors.

Just in case we missed the point, listen to these words later in the article. “In his remarks,” that means his inaugural address, “Mr. Biden stressed unity of purpose urging Americans to see each other not as adversaries but as neighbor and pleaded with citizens and leaders to join forces, stop the shouting and lower the temperature. But his first actions in office are aimed not at compromise and cooperation with his adversaries, but instead suggest a determination to quickly erase much of the Trump agenda. He will work within four broad categories that his aides described as the converging crises he inherited; the pandemic, economic struggles, immigration and diversity issues, and the environment and climate change.”

Now, the point I want to make here is that in this news report, we are told that the inaugural address stressed unity of purpose, but just to quote the New York Times again, “His first actions in office are aimed not at compromise and cooperation with his adversaries,” but again, are staking out his own positions, and those positions are coming from the left. In executive orders or memoranda that were signed yesterday, President Biden indicated that the United States will rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, that he would cancel the Keystone XL pipeline project. He issued executive orders on immigration in which he went back to affirm the deferred action for childhood arrivals or DACA program and indicated in a flurry of words that he fully intends to revolutionize the nation’s immigration policy on the pandemic. He took significant actions, or at least he took executive actions. We’ll find out whether or not they were significant. When it comes to issues of moral and cultural concern, Biden ended the Trump administration 1776 commission. We’ll be talking more about that. And the commission’s report that was released on Monday of this week.

But on LGBTQ equality, President Biden followed through with the promises he had made, or at least some of the promises reversing some of the executive orders that especially protected, for example, religious liberty and liberty of conscience for Americans when it comes to the LGBTQ revolution. Biden had promised to be the most LGBTQ friendly or positive president in American history. And let me just point out, that is not staking middle ground. That is not moving towards unity. But the LGBTQ community is one of the most important components of the Democratic base, and it was service to the Democratic base that Joe Biden took these actions yesterday right after repeatedly calling for national unity.

He designated Susan E. Rice who is the head of his domestic policy council to lead an inter-agency effort throughout the entire government requiring every single federal agency to make “rooting out systemic racism central to its work.” It went on in the executive order “to reverse a Trump administration policy that had prevented certain kinds of training in the federal government, certain kinds of what are labeled anti-biased training programs that basically amount to a very critical view of American history, the American government, American law, basically institutionalizing something like critical race theory in the federal government.”

As the Times reported in this article, “Another executive order reinforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to require that the federal government does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.” Again, that’s a reversal of a Trump administration position. But notice how the New York Times is contextualizing this and how the media class and the political class are celebrating this as something that represents unity and a move to the center. At the same time, their own news articles are saying that that’s not the case at all, in honesty.

What you’re looking at here is the fact that Joe Biden is actually putting in place of very liberal position on any number of moral issues. And he will get to abortion quite quickly, something else he has promised and something else he has indicated he will address by executive orders within his first few days in office. President Trump had put back in place what is known as the Mexico City policy that had been originally put in place by President Ronald Reagan that prevents the federal government in its foreign aid from supporting any kind of international pro-abortion movement or any kind of abortion services. The president indicates he will reverse that policy.

Chloe Atkins reporting for NBC News offers a report with a headline: “Biden readies sweeping rollback of Trump era abortion crackdown.” The article begins, “President Joe Biden is poised to roll back several of the Trump administration’s most restrictive sexual and reproductive health policies including limits on abortion. Reproductive rights advocate.” She reports, “Expect Biden to quickly overturn Trump era rules like banning federal funds for foreign and national health organizations that promote and provide abortion and giving employers more freedom to deny free contraceptive coverage for their workers.” Now, just notice what’s going on here. We are told as if we needed any warning that Joe Biden is going to reverse Trump administration executive orders that, for example, recognized the rights of a group of Catholic nuns. For example, the Little Sisters of the Poor from having to violate conscience by paying for contraceptive health coverage by the Obamacare policy.

This means that Biden is saying he’s going to return the government to the infamous Obamacare contraception mandate. By the way, the Supreme Court found that mandate unconstitutional when it was applied to limited privately held corporations. But when it comes to religious organizations, President Biden says it’s back to that infamous mandate. You’re going to have to be complicit in contraception, and that includes medications that are believed by many to cause abortions. You’re not going to have any choice. The coercive power of the federal government is going to be used against you. That same news outlet, NBC News, offered another article shifting to the LGBTQ issue. This headline, “After ‘Trump onslaught,'” that’s put in quotation marks, “What LGBTQ advocates want from Biden’s first 100 days.” Well, the article is extremely candid. And now, President Biden has already given LGBTQ advocates at least part of what they had demanded.

Back in October just shortly before the November 3rd election, then candidate Joseph Biden had indicated that he would seek to push through Congress what is known as the Equality Act within the first 100 days of his administration. It is very significant that he has advised or his administration’s advisors have advised that he’s backing off of the timetable a bit, but he’s given all the assurances that he is not backing off of his affirmation of the Equality Act. Let’s be clear. The Equality Act would be a sweeping moral revolution that would set up a direct conflict with religious liberty, and one that the Equality Act would set up for religious citizens and religious organizations to lose.

Included in this article was affirmation of the plan by the Biden administration to move forward with using whatever powers the federal government may have to ensure that, for example, adoption and foster care ministries, even those conducted by Christians on Christian principles will not be allowed to apply those principles when it comes to the placement of children. Again, that’s an issue that is right now before the United States Supreme Court. But a win on that issue at the Supreme Court doesn’t mean that it would forbid the Trump administration from moving forward with its plans in this regard. The hostile administration when it comes to religious liberty is going to be a very difficult situation for Christians and other people in this society with the religious conviction that’s incompatible with the LGBTQ revolution or the pro-abortion movement.

Now, it’s really important that we recognize that personality does matter and character in many dimensions does matter, but character is not only about one’s personal deportment. It is also about whether one is true to religious conviction, whether or not one is on the right side of moral issues. Those two are issues of character. And when it comes to Joe Biden, even as his biographer Evan Osnos indicates, he has been a protean figure, which means he has held almost any array of positions on any number of issues over the 35 years he was in the Senate and eight years as vice-president. There are several different Joe Bidens even in the course of the 2020 presidential campaign. First for the Democratic nomination and then for the presidency.

The Joe Biden who was elected president is not the Joe Biden who had announced his candidacy for same office just a matter of about a year previous. And that Joe Biden wasn’t the same Joe Biden who served in the United States Senate. Just take an example such as the fact that Senator Biden consistently supported the Hyde Amendment that protects American conscience on the part of taxpayers by preventing them from having to pay for and thus participate in abortion. But Candidate Biden, when he ran for president both times previous to this run had also supported the Hyde Amendment. But in the middle of the 2020 campaign for the Democratic nomination, he switched his position because he had to. Let’s just note, that’s not a small switch. That’s a 180 degree turn on an issue of grave moral significance.

But one of the issues that certainly comes to our mind in the coverage of the inauguration, the inaugural address, and the events yesterday is that you have a full court press to declare Joe Biden the great prophet and priest of political unity. And once again, there’s a news report, even in a paper such as the New York Times, that makes that point. An article by Aishvarya Kavi that was published late yesterday in the aftermath of the new president signing these executive orders, it includes this paragraph: “Despite an inaugural address that called for unity and compromise, Mr. Biden’s first actions as president are sharply aimed at sweeping aside former president Donald J. Trump’s pandemic response, reversing his environmental agenda, tearing down his anti-immigration policies, bolstering the teetering economic recovery, and restoring federal efforts to promote diversity.

But here’s what you know. Even as the article says, “Despite an inaugural address that called for unity and compromise,” in other words, there’s the acknowledgement that these actions do not represent a move towards unity and compromise, you will notice that his actions are put as if they are automatically to be understood as correctives to the policies and executive orders of his predecessor President Donald Trump. That’s where the mainstream media is going to take every one of these stories. You can basically count on it. You can also count on the fact that the executive orders and the legislative pushes coming from the administration are just going to come and come and come with the energy of a new administration.

Part III

Misgendering America — What’s the Real Meaning of President Biden Nominating a Transgender Doctor to High Office?

But just to make the point very clear, the day before the inauguration, Americans found out that the President-Elect then, now President Joe Biden would nominate Rachel Levine. That is the top health official Pennsylvania, as his assistant secretary of health.

The headline in the Washington Post summarizes the big news: “Biden selects transgender Dr. Rachel Levine as assistant health secretary.” And as you have already detected, the key word here is transgender. It is in the lead of every news article, it is in the headline of just about every news account. And it’s because that’s the way the then President-Elect introduce the individual he’s appointing to this necessarily Senate confirmed position as assistant secretary of health. The news reports then tell us very quickly that if Dr. Levine is indeed confirmed to this position, this individual would become the first openly transgender Senate confirmed United States official.

So what’s going on here? Well, I’m not in a position to judge this physician’s qualifications to serve in this position, but the administration isn’t really beginning there. The big news has to do with the transgender revolution. The administration’s telling us that. Now, it does so in a rather clever way. On the one hand, the administration has to say more or less explicitly: “We didn’t choose this person because this person is transgender but because this is the very most qualified person to serve in this crucial role as the nation faces the pandemic.” But the cleverness is this, at the same time, the President-Elect at the time, now the president, made the statement himself that this individual was also important because of the transgender identity. As if saying, “The transgender issue is not really that important, but did we mention this person will be the first openly transgender Senate confirmed high individual of office in the federal government?”

Marsha Keisling’s the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality celebrated the appointment saying, “President-Elect Biden said throughout his campaign that his administration would represent America today. He made clear that transgender people are an important part of our country.” But as we step back and ask the question, “What’s going on here?” Clearly, this is a major advance for the sexual and moral revolutionaries. And that becomes very clear. Identity politics has been key to the appointments made by then President-Elect Biden and now President Biden. And that has been clear because of the various statements made by the administration and by the then President-Elect himself. He pointed out that he was looking for diversity.

At one point in the campaign, he had indicated that he would appoint Muslims just to give an example of inclusion in high ranking positions in the federal government, perhaps even in the cabinet. But as you look at the identity politics that is played out in the nomination process and in the selection of those nominees, the issue is that there wasn’t anyone who was transgender yet. Even when former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg, also a former presidential candidate for the Democratic nomination, even when he was nominated to be the first openly gay cabinet member serving as secretary of transportation have confirmed, the fact is that many in the LGBTQ community pointed out, “Well, wouldn’t, you know, that the very first openly LGBT cabinet member would be a white male, a white gay man.” That flies into the very maws of criticism of critical race theory and intersectionality.

This also where Christians have to step back and ask some serious questions. Just how big an issue is this? How big is this news? How much does it matter? We also have to recognize that it is entirely possible indeed by common grace and by the reality of the image of God, it is entirely possible to like someone whose lifestyle or gender identity we cannot accept. We have to judge by biblical terms, not by personal terms. And as we’re looking at this news, is it big? Yes, it is big. And it’s big even as you just look at the press coverage because what we are being told is that it’s to be celebrated. This appointment is to be celebrated as a massive advance in a necessary moral progress towards full inclusion for LGBTQ persons. And when it comes to transgender, this is now going to bring the power of coercion. And it’s going to bring about the process of further normalization.

Now, let’s clarify those terms. Normalization means that something that had been considered sometimes unthinkable but certainly abnormal becomes normalized in this society. This is exactly what has happened with same-sex marriage, just to give an example. A majority of Americans thought it was abnormal and ought not to be legalized. And then just a few years later, a majority of Americans decided, “No it’s perfectly normal. Let’s move along.” When it comes to transgender, the same effort is now very much underway, and it comes with coercion. That’s the issue. The coercion is found in the language that is mandated, whether it’s pronouns or even a name in this case. But beyond that, it also shows up in coverage such as the Washington Post news story where we read about the fact that back in May of last year, “A radio personality repeatedly misgendered Levine calling the health secretary sir at least three times while questioning her about the state’s coronavirus response.

Now, there’s a lot to unpack there, including the fact that this might represent a context of disrespect, even in the tone of voice that was used, or a particular effort to try to embarrass someone. But the point is this, the Washington Post is referring to the language used by this radio personality as misgendering. We are told that the personality, “Repeatedly misgendered Levine.” In other words, it is the moral error of using the wrong gender that’s misgendering. But here you’ll notice that the only way to avoid being charged with misgendering is to accept in totality the idea that an individual can claim and indeed become a gender other than the gender of their genetics, the gender that was recognized at birth. The language assigned at birth concedes too much, recognized at birth.

Take this back to the executive order, one of many that President Biden signed today when it comes to certain forms of anti-biased training that are now going to be allowed in the government, you can count on the fact that the great grave sin, according to the moral revolutionaries of misgendering is now going to become a preeminent moral concern of the federal government. And there will be direct coercion to all who are the employees of the federal government, those who are writing policy in the federal government to avoid the sin of misgendering. Every moral regime comes with an understanding of what is right, what is wrong, what is righteous, what is sinful. misgendering pretty much tells the story of the new morality of the sexual revolution.

And folks, all of this within just about the period of 24 hours. Just get ready, there’s a lot more in store.

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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