The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Friday, March 5, 2021

It’s Friday, March 5, 2021.

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

Part I

Conflicting Visions on Issue of Abortion: Pro-Abortion Advocates Can’t Fathom Fetal Heartbeat Bills and Other Pro-Life Initiatives by “Abortion Absolutists”

As Christians, seeking to think faithfully, biblically, and intelligently about the issues around us, try to understand the world, we have to look at several different dimensions. For one thing, we have to look at the controversy, the question, the issue as it is presented to us right now. We also have to understand how in the world this issue arose, it doesn’t come out of a vacuum, something has to explain this. We also have to look at the basic changes under the surface, or you might say are the changes in the tectonic plates under the earth’s surface, where we’re not only looking at what’s happened and why, we’re looking at where things are going.

Now in our society, as we think of where things are going, we need to understand that those on the cultural left are basically defining themselves as progressive. Just think of that term. They have ever since, by the way, some point in the 19th century in the English speaking world, the progressives are those who want to see society progress. Now, that doesn’t mean just move forward. It means move forward in abandoning what had been the inheritance of the past, and in this case, most importantly, that means the morality that progressives see having restricted the past, a restrictive, patriarchal, oppressive morality that modern people can now be done with.

Now, as you’re thinking about that, you have to recognize that the way the progressives look at history, history is in a linear direction. Now, by the way, Christians understand that. We don’t believe in history as a circle. We believe it’s history in terms of a temporal frame, past, present, and future. But Christians can’t accept the assumption that history is simply driven by an art that always leads to what could be called progress. The progressivist actually believed that. They believe that history is headed in that direction and can be accelerated in that direction. That’s why you have a progressivist movement. Now, what is anathema to the progressives is the idea that there could be any backward motion, any kind of regression. But that’s exactly how we have to read some of the cultural conversation going on right now.

Now, let me just give you an example. Christians committed to the sanctity of human life have better pay some pretty close attention to what’s going on here, and by here, I mean, in the United States, but I also mean in Poland, two different dimensions, both of them really interesting. First of all, right here in the United States of America, in the State of South Carolina. In recent weeks, that state has adopted legislation that’s referred to as a fetal heartbeat bill. That is it’s legislation that outlaws abortion after there is a detection of a fetal heartbeat. Now, that can happen as early as between six and eight weeks of pregnancy. Right now, fetal viability is considered later than that. The Supreme Court’s current case law on abortion means that, basically, abortion demand is available in the United States, at least up until the point of viability.

The footnote here is well beyond that, all the way to the end of pregnancy, actually, in many jurisdictions, such as the state of New York. But we’re talking in the United States right now about the state of South Carolina. I want to say a word of appreciation for the courage of the legislature and the governor in South Carolina for passing this bill. The federal court has put a temporary order restricting the bill right now, but nonetheless, the bill sends a very important moral signal. That’s the point. To the pro-abortion movement, it’s exactly the kind of signal they fear and exactly the kind of signal that they’re going to fight with everything within their energies.

But the way this is presented on the left also turns out to be really, really interesting. Now, for example, yesterday on National Public Radio, there was a broadcast about the controversy over Xavier Becerra, the former California Attorney General, now nominated by President Biden to be the next Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. That’s a very controversial nomination. I talked about it extensively on The Briefing, and precisely because of the radicalism of Xavier Becerra, especially on the issue of abortion. But abortion isn’t even in the news coverage on NPR yesterday morning. Instead, it was that controversy has emerged over Becerra’s commitment to reproductive rights. Listen to the language.

The language tells you how exactly the media are framing this issue. It’s not only on the left. That’s not even the most important issue here. It’s in favor of abortion as what should simply be expected, protected, available on demand. Now, for that matter, now paid for by the taxpayer by demand as well. But go back to South Carolina. How do you explain this? A very interesting article appears just in recent days in the New York Times is by Mary Ziegler. She is identified as a Professor of Law at Florida State University and the author of the book, Abortion and the Law in America: Roe V. Wade to the Present. The issue here is that Professor Ziegler is trying to explain to the readers of the New York Times, how in the world something like what’s happened in South Carolina could have happened. Where did the idea to ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat come from and how did it emerge?

Well, at least in the minds of many of these pro-abortion figures, in their consciousness, where did this come from? How did it happen? How did it happen in South Carolina? How did it happen now? How did regress happen? How did history go into a reverse on this issue? How could it happen here? Well, Mary Ziegler argues that this is a form of what she calls abortion absolutism. Actually, she refers to the people pushing this kind of bill as abortion absolutists. Now, let’s just pause for a moment. That kind of language is intended to be scare language. After all, we’re supposed to fear absolutism. That’s often used as a synonym for totalitarianism, for a dictatorship. Absolutism as in an absolute monarch. Well, Americans are against that.

So referring to an argument as absolutist, in this case, abortion absolutism, as a way of trying to undermine it, to subvert it, to deny its legitimacy. Actually, by the way, in the United States, the most effective abortion absolutists have been those pushing for abortion to be absolutely available absolutely up until the point of birth. That’s what we have seen in recent abortion liberalization laws in states such as Illinois, New York, Rhode Island. It’s not going to stop there. But the other interesting thing about this New York Times article by Mary Ziegler is that she’s trying to explain, how did this happen now. Here we are in 2021, how could there be regression, a movement backwards on these rights issues, as the left frames them, how in the world could that have happened now?

She says that the explanation for this might be, wait for it, Donald Trump. She writes this, “Laws like South Carolina’s are the new normal on abortion and they shed some light on the direction the anti-abortion movement is headed in the wake of Donald Trump. Perhaps more than any recent major office holder, Mr. Trump became synonymous with the fight to criminalize abortion. He was the first sitting president to attend the March for Life, and he nominated three Supreme Court justices who seemed primed to reverse Roe V. Wade, some prominent figures in the anti-abortion movement, including Janet Porter, the architect of the heartbeat campaign, saw Mr. Trump as a savior. With Mr. Trump’s rise into the White House, abortion foes were divided over how tightly to embrace the new president. That debate has intensified since his exit.”

There’s a lot to look at there, but most importantly, it is this. Those who are in the pro-abortion movement, those who style themselves as moral progressives, committed to the moral revolution taking place, they find it almost impossible to explain how things could have gone anywhere at any time into reverse, much less in the United States of America, crying out loud, in the year 2021. There must be someone to blame and that person must be Donald Trump. Now, here’s the issue. Actually looking at this, President Trump was not incidental to this question, not because he came up with the idea of a fetal heartbeat bill. No, here’s the point. That had been on the agenda of many in the pro-life movement for a very long time.

Such bills had been initiated in the political process long before anyone actually saw anybody coming down an escalator in New York declaring that he would run for president. The fact is, nonetheless, that Donald Trump is a part of the story because as president he did what actually many didn’t even expect him to do. He came out and actually supported the sanctity of human life in actual policies, appointments, and decisions, executive orders, and other initiatives in ways that no previous president had ever done. Even previous presidents who were Republican and identified as pro-life. In that sense, Donald Trump was a game changer on the life issues.

But Christians also have to understand that there’s something bigger at work here. There’s something more fundamental and less personal, and that is this. If you go back to the abortion debate in the United States, that debate grew white hot only after the Roe V. Wade decision in 1973. Now, there was controversy before, but nothing like the controversy that ensued after the Supreme Court handed down that infamous decision legalizing abortion on demand in January of 1973. Now, here’s another pattern that Christians need to observe. Arguments like this actually become more and more focused over time, which is to say that, eventually, the differences between the pro-abortion and the pro-life position are going to become very, very clear.

The logic of both positions will inevitably work itself out over time. Now we’re looking at decades of time, and at this point, yes, we are down to the fact that we need what the abortion rights movement demands, is demanding absolute access to abortion under every circumstance, even basically arguing that if there is any decrease in the abortion statistics, it has to be because of some kind of discrimination. They’re demanding taxpayer payment for abortion. That’s where that logic is going. But it’s also true that on the pro-life side, the logic has always been there. That is to say if we believe in the sanctity of unborn life, we believe in the sanctity of all unborn life. In other words, the Christian thinking consistently about the sanctity of life can’t say, “Okay, I’ll settle for abortion up to this point in pregnancy, but not after.”

No, at some point that might be a law and it’s better to have it at say 12 weeks than 30 weeks. But nonetheless, we’re looking at the fact that we believe that every single human life from the moment of fertilization is a human being made in God’s image and a life to be defended. The fetal heartbeat bills, by the way, are not being driven by an understanding that that life becomes sacred and that human being becomes a person only with an audible heartbeat. No, that’s not even the argument. It’s that right now, the argument is let’s push portion access at least back that far, because at the point in which a fetal heartbeat is detected, no one can deny there is life.

Now, we believe there’s life there before the heartbeat. But the point is, this becomes an issue of public plausibility where we say to Americans, at the very least, you have to recognize that abortion after this point is the stopping of a beating heart. So again, just watch the unfolding of this story. In this case, Mary Ziegler writes about those she identifies as abortion absolutists who were pushing for something as absolute as a fetal heartbeat bill. Well, Professor Ziegler. I’ve got to tell you something. That is already not enough, not if you under the sanctity of human life and if you actually believe it.

Part II

A Perplexing Question for the Pro-Abortion Movement: How Could Poland Outlaw Abortions After So Much “Progress” on “Reproductive Rights” Issues in the European Union?

But I did mention Poland and The Economist, which is one of the most respected news journals in all of Europe, indeed in the world. The Charlemagne column and its major columns are not attributed to a reporter or writer. This column includes in the February 27th print edition an article entitled, “Underground Abortions,” and it is about the fact that the high court in Poland in recent months has basically restricted all abortions in that country. It comes down to the fact that the particular abortions that are now outlawed in Poland have to do with the fact that they were abortions for the basis of some kind of fetal abnormality or diagnosis, and that has now been ruled an invalid reason for abortion in Poland. For that, again, I want to say thank you for the courage of the Polish court in coming to that decision, and over against public opposition, not only in Poland, but in Europe.

That becomes very, very interesting because this is The Economist published in London. It’s doing an article about the controversy over abortion in Poland. The point of this article goal is actually a lot like the point of the article by Mary Ziegler in the New York Times, is trying to explain how anywhere on planet earth you can make what the pro-abortion movement considers progress in liberalizing and legalizing abortion only for that to move back backwards even just a little bit, it’s unthinkable. Now, there are several points made in this article in The Economist. One of them is that even if you are in Poland, and a woman can’t get access to abortion in Poland, Poland’s a member of the European Union. It’s connected by transportation to all kinds of neighboring countries, and so women can get to another country.

Or the article also makes clear that there are illegal efforts that are getting through one way or another to try to get abortion pills to Polish women who are seeking an abortion and there are operations operating quite openly in other European countries saying, “We will get those pills to you.” It’s illegal, but it’s getting through. As The Economist reports, “It is like a game of whack-a-mole, the moles are winning.” But as we’re thinking about the pattern we see now in South Carolina and in Poland, the big issue here has to do with how could this have happened in Poland, what are we going to do about it. That’s the pro-abortion quandary. How could right minded people find themselves in this kind of situation?

They have to explain that, well, it’s probably because Poland is a bit backward as compared to other European countries where abortion is far more liberalized. But The Economist report does go on to say basically it might come down to something, oh, I don’t know, religious. Consider this particular set of sentences, “Abortion laws within the European Union are a patchwork. They range from relatively permissive in places such as the Netherlands to practically banned in Poland and forbidden altogether in Malta. The bulk fall in between. There are no common rules. Normally, the EU steps into harmonized law. On reproductive rights, it has no competence. Given that the block ranges from the devout to the enthusiastically godless, European Union officials would rather ignore the issue.”

Now, wait just a minute. Did you notice what happened there? We all of a sudden shifted from an issue of abortion, argument over abortion, between Poland and more liberal nations in the European Union. We’re then told the European Union, though it has uniform standards and laws on many things, on what’s described here as reproductive issues does not. But then it goes on to explain that not by talking about abortion or even just about culture. It goes on to say, “Given that the block ranges from the devout to the enthusiastically godless, EU officials would rather ignore the issue.” Wait, just a minute. All of a sudden, this is about God? All of a sudden this is about belief in God? All of a sudden the rationale here is theological? The answer is of course Christians understand, yes, and it was from the beginning.

Because if you’re talking about abortion, you’re talking about human dignity. You’re talking about the origin and the value and the meaning of human life. Guess what? You’re talking theology, and The Economist, I think, probably almost accidentally here betrayed the issue by saying, “Well, the reason why the issue of abortion is such a patchwork in Europe is because it’s such a patchwork theologically between the relatively devout and the enthusiastically godless.” Well, you can do the math and figure out on which side of the abortion issue the devout and the godless would be. You would be pretty right.

Now, there’s one more issue in this article in The Economist about these abortion restrictions in Poland that we want to look at and that’s this. The issue is, will they last? Is Poland just a standout for now? Is Poland just behind the times and will Poland have to catch up with the rest of Europe? Now, The Economist is pretty straight forward in saying, “Well, that’s the logic of Europe. That’s the logic of the European Union. If you’re going to be a part of the EU, you better get with the program and that basically means morally and ethically as well as economically and in other terms. After all, we’re talking here about a union that is itself committed to this idea of progress as an arc moving to the left.”

But then it gets to something else. Maybe the article raises the issue the actual reason why Poland will have to move in a more liberal direction here will be not a change in morality, but money. Maybe the money will force Poland to move in a more liberal direction. The Economist warns in blunt language, “Where Polish ministers are right to be wary is that eventually decisions such as banning abortion will move into the arena of European politics. Politics follows money. And now the EU controls more of it. Taxpayers in rich countries may wonder what the governments spending their cash are up to.” That is a warning to Poland, but it’s also a warning to the entire pro-life movement wherever it’s found. In other words, they’ll use the law if they can deliberately use abortion. They’ll use the culture. They use Hollywood values, cultural production in any way they can. They’ll use the courts in any way they can. They’ll use every form of media, including social media, in any way they can. But they will also use economic coercion, positively and negatively, any way they can.

Part III

The 75th Anniversary of the Winston Churchill’s Iron Curtain Speech: A Reminder That Words Can Change the History of the World

But finally, as we’re talking about Poland, let’s talk about the former Soviet Bloc. Let’s talk about the Cold War between the Soviet Union and its allies and the United States and its allies. Let’s talk about that great scar that took place in the middle and through almost the end of the 20th century and let’s look back to what happened 75 years ago at a small college in Fulton, Missouri, where the then former Prime Minister of Great Britain, Winston Churchill, delivered the address that has gone down in history as his Iron Curtain speech. That wasn’t his title. His title was, “The Sinews of Peace.” It was Winston Churchill who was invited by this small college, Westminster College, there in Fulton, Missouri to give an address. Now, it’s unlikely that at that point, Churchill, who was the leader of the opposition, he was no longer prime minister at that point. He would become prime minister again. But his party lost the election in 1945 even as he had won the war.

He was then the leader of the opposition. He was invited nonetheless as probably the most famous man in the world to address an audience on this very small college in a fairly rural hamlet in Missouri. Now, why did he go? Well, he went because he was looking for a continued friendship with and influence on the President of the United States Harry S. Truman, who before becoming vice president very shortly and then president after the death of Franklin Roosevelt, had been a United States Senator for several terms from, you remember, the State of Missouri. Thus, this little Missouri college ended up with the former prime minister and current opposition leader in Parliament of Great Britain as its speaker, the most famous man in the world, Winston Churchill.

But there’s more, the sitting President Harry S. Truman accompanied the former British prime minister to the college in Fulton, Missouri to give the address and that was a bit tense. It was tense because Churchill had been pushing in ways that Truman found uncomfortable, especially in terms of relationships between the West and the Soviet Union. Winston Churchill had grown increasingly dark about the reality of the Soviet Union and the behavior of the Soviet Union and its leader Joseph Stalin at the end of World War II just showed to Winston Churchill the utter depravity of the Soviet Union and its aims. The capture of so much of Eastern Europe into the Soviet Bloc by force was, as Churchill understood, the subjugation of those nations by the Soviet Union.

Now, it wasn’t that Harry Truman, the American president, so much disagreed with that, as that the American president wasn’t really keen on that being said out loud, especially with the sitting president in the audience. Now, as Churchill began his speech, he mentioned the name of the college, Westminster College, and of course, Westminster is where the British Parliament meets. It is the seat of government there. Thus, it was Winston Churchill who said, he felt very much at home. He also said something else and this should have been a clue what was coming. He said in the opening remarks that the president of the United States who was basically responsible for the fact that he was there had told him to speak his mind. Now, Churchill said that because Truman, undoubtedly, had said it, but it’s questionable whether Truman actually meant it.

But looking back, it’s really clear that Churchill was giving a little clue that something big is coming. Get your pencils ready reporters. What he did was to lay out his vision for what would make for peace in the world going towards the future. In the most important section of his address, he identified what he called an iron curtain that had fallen throughout Europe from the north to the south. In language that will stand throughout history, Winston Churchill said about three quarters into his address, “A shadow has fallen upon the scenes so lately lighted by the Allied victory. Nobody knows what Soviet Russia and its Communist international organization intends to do in the immediate future, or what are the limits, if any, to their expansive and proselytizing tendencies.”

Later, he said this, and these are the words that are best remembered, “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie,” in what Churchill said,” I must call the Soviet sphere and are subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and in many cases increasing measure of control from Moscow.”

Churchill said out loud what most in the West who were aware of the world understood. The Soviet Union had simply taken captive entire nations behind what Churchill called an iron curtain. Now, an iron curtain is a very memorable metaphor. We can imagine an iron curtain, but where does that come from? It actually has a very interesting history. The iron curtain in the day of gas-powered lights and theaters where plays were conducted was the safety curtain between the stage and the audience. Because there was so much danger in the lamps that were used to light the stage, there was always the danger that the fire would break out amongst the audience, and so this iron curtain was put into place high enough so that the flames could not leap over. But anyone who was familiar with the theater that day understood that the iron curtain was a very powerful picture of exactly what had happened.

When Churchill said from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, he was drawing a line from the north to the south, and he said on the left or the west of that line is liberty, on the right or the east of that line is Soviet totalitarian domination. But even as we commemorate the 75th anniversary of Churchill giving that important speech and that 75th anniversary is today, we need to recognize that sometimes speeches can change history. Churchill in saying out loud what the Soviet Union had done in grasping and imprisoning these nations, he basically made it impossible for Western leaders to ignore the presence of the iron curtain he had so courageously defined.

We also need to recognize that as we’re looking at this now, we’re looking at it from the other side of the collapse of the Soviet Union, but we really need to recognize what happened there. That was the liberation of peoples, of nations from the grasp of the Soviet Union and from its totalitarian worldview and its totalitarian grasp. It was a great moment for human liberation. But here’s what we need to understand something else. Freedom never comes without a fight and freedom never lasts without a commitment to what is required as the very foundations of freedom, an understanding of human dignity and respect for every single human being, an understanding of what the founders of this country called unalienable rights. Where that kind of worldview is absent, freedom is not going to last. It’s not going to last long.

I make the connection with Poland and our previous discussion about abortion in Poland because Poland was one of those nations that had been first savaged by Nazi Germany, and then was savaged far longer by the Soviet Union. Here’s something else. It’s important to recognize that one of the strengths of the Polish people that the Soviets could not extinguish was their religious faith. That set Poland apart even from some of the other nations that have been subjugated by the Soviet Union. At the end of the day, that basic impulse of historic Christianity was at least a part of what gave the Polish people courage to demand that the iron curtain would metaphorically come down.

But of course the iron curtain actually took the shape of a wall in the city of Berlin and it was the United States President Ronald Reagan who famously stood at that wall and dared, called for, demanded that the then leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, would tear down that wall. Critics at that time, including some of his own party criticized President Reagan for speaking they said recklessly in his speech there at the Berlin Wall. But of course, history records that he spoke prophetically and courageously, and that wall did come down even during the living lifetime of then President Ronald Reagan.

But there’s something else to understand and that is that Winston Churchill didn’t live long enough to see the coming down of the iron curtain, but the fall of the iron curtain had a great deal to do with Winston Churchill’s courage 75 years ago today in speaking the truth about the tyranny of the Soviet Union. It’s also very interesting to understand that Winston Churchill tied a theological worldview to this great conflict. Later in his speech, he said this, “Except in the British Commonwealth and in the United States where communism is in its infancy, the communist parties or fifth columns constitute a growing challenge and peril to Christian civilization.” In other words, Churchill said at that point what many others were not willing to say out loud. This is not only a military conflict. It’s not only an international political conflict. It’s not just a Cold War. It’s a theological conflict.

We are greatly endangered in an age when national leaders now are quite reluctant to admit that theology could even matter this much. 75 years ago today, Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, Winston Churchill, the speech entitled the Sinews of Peace, but forever remembered as the Iron Curtain speech. Words matter, remember that. Sometimes, words begin a fight that eventually ends in the coming out of a wall, the collapse of an iron curtain. Always keep that in mind. Keep that in hope.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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