Monday, June 21, 2021
It's Monday, June 21, 2021.
I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Debate Continues in the Roman Catholic Church Over Communion Rights for Politicians Who Support Abortion: The Necessity of Moral Coherence in One’s Personal and Public Life
We're living in a very interesting time. How interesting? Well, just consider the fact that last week, the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church met in a very highly charged session to try to decide what to do with the nation's second Roman Catholic president.
The reason is simple. President Joe Biden is president of the United States. He is the second Catholic president of the United States, but his position on abortion is diametrically opposed to the official teaching of the Roman Catholic church on an essential issue of doctrine.
The headlines came out fast and furiously last week, some of them in anticipation of the meeting of the U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops, some from the meeting, and some just after the meeting. By the time the meeting came to a conclusion, a clear majority of the Catholic bishops in the United States had voted to go ahead with the formulation of a document that should make clear the responsibility of Catholic politicians, government leaders, and policymakers, when it comes to crucial moral issues and access to communion, that would be to the Roman Catholic mass.
There are just huge issues that are at stake here. And that was true back in 1928, when Al Smith, then the governor of New York became the first Roman Catholic nominee of a major party. He was defeated for the office. Catholicism was considered to be one of the reasons why he was defeated. And it was still an issue in 1960 when Democratic Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts became the second Roman Catholic nominee for the presidency, nominee of a major party, in this case, again, the Democrats.
John F. Kennedy, of course, was successful in the 1960 election. He was elected president in one of the narrowest elections in American history. But on the way to the White House, John F. Kennedy basically had to make clear that even though he was clearly identified as Catholic, he was not going to be bound by the official teachings of the Roman Catholic church or Roman Catholic authority.
By the time you get to the election of Joe Biden in 2020, the second elected Catholic president of the United States, you've looked at a sea change in the United States, a huge moral and cultural change. Of course, you have the legalization of same-sex marriage. And make no mistake, Joe Biden was big for that after he had been against it for decades.
It also points to the issue of abortion more than any other issue. Front and center is the issue of abortion, the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. When Joe Biden entered the United States Senate, he identified himself as pro-life and against abortion. He actually, at one point, was in favor of the legislation that would have returned the issue of the control of abortion back to the state post-Roe.
He had also been a stalwart defender of the Hyde Amendment, which had prevented the use of taxpayer money for abortions. He, like so many others, including Catholic politicians ranging from Nancy Pelosi, the current speaker of the house to John Kerry who had been a former Democratic presidential nominee, they as Catholics have made the argument that they were personally pro-life but they were, in terms of policy, pro-choice.
But when you come to those three, they're actually not pro-choice, they're avidly pro-abortion, at least in policy and that's the issue. They had been running on the idea that you can make a clear bifurcation between personal conviction and public policy. That doesn't make any sense to the evangelical conscience, and it increasingly doesn't make sense to the Roman Catholic conscience as well.
The meeting of the U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops last week made that abundantly clear. Furthermore, when you're looking at the current president, Joe Biden, you are looking at someone who has already declared that he wants his administration to be known, among other things, front line for its defense of abortion.
Now, they will package it as a woman's reproductive health, a woman's choice, you name it. But the bottom line is from executive orders, to regulatory changes, to legislative initiatives and to the promise of court appointments, Joe Biden intends to be clearly, avidly pro-abortion in effect and he is already showing those effects through the actions of his administration.
Furthermore, back in 2019, when he was on the quest for the Democratic presidential nomination within a 48 hour period, he renounced the position that he had proudly held, at least he said he had proudly held for decades, and that was the support of the Hyde Amendment.
When it became very clear that he was not going to be able to win the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination unless he renounced the Hyde Amendment, he did so after trying not to for a period of time.
Edward Isaac Dovere, in a new book entitled Battle for the Soul, he makes clear that in that crucial time period, Joe Biden faced the fact that he wasn't going to gain the nomination if he didn't surrender on the Hyde Amendment. He decided that he would do so because of the opportunity becoming president. He made a moral calculation. He sacrificed what he had said he had held for years, for decades in principle for the sake of winning the nomination. That was abundantly clear. It was a two day shift.
Since taking of as president, Biden has already unilaterally reversed the Mexico City Policy that had been put in place to prevent American foreign policy funds from being used for abortion or abortion support. He now, of course, is calling for an elimination of the Hyde Amendment, and in the spending authorizations having to do with the massive stimulus, at least he calls it a stimulus in the wake of COVID-19, also did not include the provisions of the Hyde Amendment. He has called for it to be reversed and his current budget proposal absolutely does not include the Hyde Amendment.
Over the last several years, there have been many calls by Roman Catholic bishops in the United States for American politicians, and they're almost uniformly Democrats, who were operating in such clear violation of Catholic teaching on the sanctity of human life to be forbidden access to communion. And remember that communion is for Roman Catholics a sacrament. It's not just an ordinance that is done in obedience to the command of Christ as evangelicals understand it. It is indeed a sacrament, which is basically necessary for the hope of one's salvation according to Catholic teaching.
Writing in anticipation of the bishops meeting, Jason Horowitz in the New York Times told us, "The Vatican has warned conservative American bishops to hit the brakes on their push to deny communion to politicians supportive of abortion rights, including President Biden, a faithful church goer and the first Roman Catholic to occupy the Oval Office in 60 years."
"But," and I read, "despite the remarkably public stop sign from Rome, the American bishops are pressing ahead anyway, and are expected to force a debate on the communion issue at a remote meeting that starts on Wednesday." So, that's before the meeting, and of course that debate did take place.
Horowitz wrote, "Some leading bishops whose priorities clearly aligned with former president, Donald J. Trump, now want to reassert the centrality of opposition to abortion in the Catholic faith and lay down a hard line, especially with a liberal Catholic in The Oval Office."
He continues, "The vote threatens to shatter the facade of unity with Rome, highlight the political polarization within the American church and set what church historians consider a dangerous precedent for bishops conferences across the globe."
First, a couple of very interesting observations to make about this. I don't know how old Jason Horowitz, the reporter, is but if he thinks this is a new debate, he needs to go back and look at some of the previous issues of his own newspaper.
This is not something that has anything to do with Donald J. Trump. It doesn't have anything to do with something that just emerged from the blue in the course of, say, the last several years. This is a debate within Roman Catholicism that goes back to the 1970s.
Furthermore, it's a more fundamental debate that has gone back for decades in the modern Catholic church. I mention this today because there are some huge parallels with evangelical Christians facing some of the same issues. The other interesting thing I just want to note, and we'll be looking at this further in months ahead. It's interesting to see the secular media, when the German Catholic bishops threatened disagreement with Rome from the left pushing for, for example, the recognition of same-sex unions, the American media say, "Well, they're heroic." But when the American Catholic bishops more conservative are actually in a position that's more Catholic in this sense, then what the Pope is defining they're clearly castigated as arch-conservatives.
So, you're really looking at the liberal bias in the media becoming all too apparent here. Roman Catholic bishops in Germany who are more liberal than the Pope are treated as if they are prophetic and heroic. American Catholic bishops who on this issue apparently are clearly more conservative than the current Pope, they're not presented as heroic in any sense. They're instead retrograde on the wrong side of history.
Bishop Liam Kerry of Baker, Oregon put the issue clearly, "This is an unprecedented situation in the country. We've never had a situation like this when the executive is a Catholic president who was opposed to the teaching of the church."
So, what does it mean to be Catholic? Oddly enough, some of the Catholic bishops believe that that means that you cannot, in office, defy the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church on an issue that is your political stewardship, that would be policy and law and judgments concerning abortion.
And when you're looking at so many of the prominent Catholics in the Democratic Party's current leadership, you are looking at those who cannot be defined in any other way as avidly pro-abortion. You're looking at some of the most liberal politicians in American history on moral issues; Nancy Pelosi, Democratic member of the United States House and Speaker of the House, and of course, Joe Biden, the President of the United States.
But they are not alone. The vote, by the way, wasn't close. It was 73% in the affirmative with those bishops, 168 out of 229 voting to move ahead with the document that is expected to make abundantly clear pastoral guidance as to the responsibility of Catholic politicians when it comes to the issue of abortion and other official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and access to communion.
The theological logic of the Roman Catholic Church is very clear here. If you are not in communion with the Roman Catholic Church, in terms of its doctrine on an essential issue, then you should not be given access to communion. But there's actually even more to it than just the current controversy. And just as reference for that, we go back to the year 2002, that's 19 years ago, almost two decades ago.
And by the time this document came out from the Vatican, the issue had already been engaged for a matter of decades. In 2002, the Vatican released a statement entitled the doctrinal note on some questions regarding the participation of Catholics in political life. This was signed by the then Pope John Paul II. It was an official statement of the Roman Catholic Church and it declared unequivocally that Roman Catholic politicians do not get to claim just some kind of secular exception in taking any action as politicians or government officials that would facilitate or further abortion.
The document stated, "No Catholic can appeal to the principle of pluralism or the autonomy of lay involvement in political life to support policies affecting the common good which compromise or undermine fundamental ethical requirements." In a really important statement the document says, "It is a question of the lay Catholics' duty to be morally coherent found within one's conscience, which is one and indivisible."
In other words, Pope John Paul II, said that it was a responsibility to be morally coherent. It was not acceptable for a Catholic politician to say, "I hold this position privately, but I hold to a very contradictory public policy." That is according to this official Vatican statement, and by the way, it is also according to common sense and any kind of intellectual honesty that is morally incoherent.
That by the way is language that we should all pay attention to. It's grounded, not only in the Roman Catholic catechism but in biblical Christianity. In this sense, to be morally coherent is not to say one thing in private and another thing in public. Not to say I have a private view on this issue in accord with my conscience, but also supposedly in accord with my conscience I'm going to do exactly the opposite when it comes to public policy.
To cohere means to hold together. And moral coherence means that our moral character, our moral views, our political policies, our private and our public commitments are one and the same. They are coherent and all the principles hold together. We are coherent in our thinking, we're honest in our thinking. To cohere is to hold together.
But there's another issue that is specific to the Roman Catholic Church by definition that has expansion to our own interest here, and that is the use of the word scandal. The accusation is that president Biden's speaker, Pelosi, and others are acting in a way that commits the sin of scandal.
Well, what is that? When we hear the word scandal, we think first of all, of some kind of moral controversy, some kind of scandalous act. But you're also looking at the fact that there is a long tradition of Christian moral theology on the issue of scandal.
What is a scandal? Well, the catechism of the Catholic church defines scandal as this, "An attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor's tempter. He damages virtue and integrity. He may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a grave offense, if by deed or omission, another is deliberately led into a grave offense."
So, what's the situation here? It is the accusation, and this is a very vital and it is a very accurate accusation, that by supporting abortion so vehemently, so aggressively in public, the speaker of the house and the president of the United States, the president here very much in the hot seat, have actually acted in a way that commits the sin of scandal. They are leading others into sin, and with deadly consequences.
Deadly consequences, first of all, for the unborn child, but deadly consequences also for the person who is led into sin. And yes, in this case specifically, the sin of abortion by the public advocacy of people such as the president of the United States.
In the case of the president of the United States in this current controversy, the issues are essentially Catholic because he is, after all, one who claims over and over again presenting himself to the public as a practicing Catholic. But of course, this raises a host of issues for the Catholic church.
What does it mean to be Catholic? Is it merely some kind of cultural or historical attachment or does it require some kind of active, personal advocacy on behalf of the central doctrinal claims of the Roman Catholic Church. But that's an issue that simply points to why we need to talk about this issue today.
It's one thing to look at the Roman Catholic bishops and it's one thing to look at the Roman Catholic President of the United States, but we have to understand as evangelical Christians that our responsibility is to be morally coherent, our responsibility is to be intellectually honest, our responsibility is to stand for and defend biblical truth both in public and in private.
It is of tremendous interest to witness this debate in the Roman Catholic Church. But to be honest, there are some evangelical congregations that also need to have the same kind of discussion and an equal measure of determination.
Benjamin Netanyahu Is Out as Prime Minister of Israel — And There’s Theology Here Under the Headlines
Next we're going to shift to the international scene. Two very important governmental changes. Electoral office changes into the most important headline nations in the world right now, Israel and Iran. The first, one of the most crucial allies of the United States, the other, one of our most important adversaries.
Political change in both of these countries turns out to be not only important, but of worldview importance. And yes, theology is very much a part of the picture, even though many in the mainstream media seem basically to have missed it in both cases. Let's look at Israel first.
For 12 years, Benjamin Netanyahu had been prime minister of the state of Israel. He had been a titanic political figure. As a nickname, people often referred to him as the Magician because even as he had faced potential political disaster many times in the past, it always appeared that he pulled the rabbit out of the hat at the last minute. But not in the last few days.
His coalition fell apart after Israel had failed in four electoral decisions since 2019. Israel has always had a very contentious domestic politics. It has been so because Israel is a modern nation established in 1948. Remember by action of the United Nations in the aftermath of World War II, it combined so many people who came with different political perspectives.
But from the beginning, there were two issues about Israel that many Americans, including American Christians, forget. The first issue they often forget is that Israel was declared to be a secular nation. The second is that most of the governments of Israel have been very liberal governments that have tended towards socialism of one sort or another.
Benjamin Netanyahu was very much not committed to socialism. He was very much committed to bringing Israel into the modern economy. And frankly, having experience from the United States, he went to high school in Philadelphia, he went to college at the Massachusetts Institute of technology, MIT, he was clearly allied with more conservative forces in the United States and also with Republican presidential administrations.
He carried himself in office as the Israeli prime minister, much as a president. Even though Israel had a president as head of state, he had such a strong media presence and was such a political dynamo that he basically became nearly singularly identified with Israel in the modern era.
Benjamin Netanyahu was also known even as he was head of the Likud Party, he was known as a strong advocate of Israel's defense. Israel has always had to give incredible attention to its defense because it has always been surrounded by adversary nations that have threatened not only to humble it, but to extinguish it.
Benjamin Netanyahu avoided any major war during the time that he was prime minister for the past 12 years, he doubled the size of the Israeli economy. And furthermore, he basically redefined the realities on the ground in terms of Israel's posture in the entire region.
But Israel's contentious domestic politics and the fact that it's very hard for someone in that kind of context to continue in office for anything even approaching 12 years, much less beyond it, Benjamin Netanyahu had just about as many political enemies as anyone could imagine within the Knesset, that is the Israeli parliament. But when his coalition fell and a new coalition was put into place, the vote was close. How close? 60 to 59.
But actually the very strange and incoherent, I'll use that word, coalition that toppled Benjamin Netanyahu by that vote of one, it is itself unlikely, according to most political expectations to survive very long. Why? Because the Netanyahu coalition was clearly conservative. The new coalition actually has, at its head, someone even more conservative than Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister.
But it's a power sharing agreement and it's a power sharing agreement with those that are far to the left of Netanyahu. In other words, it's not likely to hold together. But I told you theology was there under the headlines even if the mainstream media didn't give it much attention. The new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, the 49 year old is actually considered Orthodox. He identifies with Orthodoxy in the Jewish tradition.
That places him in a position of being the very first confessing Orthodox Israeli prime minister. So in other words, even as constitutionally Israel has a secular government, it is now headed by someone who is profoundly not secular. This raises a host of issues, including the relationship between American evangelical Christians and the new Israeli prime minister. There's likely to be a closeness precisely because there are theological points of affinity. But there may also be deep concerns because of the nature of the coalition that includes many who are actually even more aggressively secular than was Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud government.
But at the very least, it is extremely interesting to know that the new prime minister of Israel is actually a Jewish man identified with Orthodoxy. In the language of American Judaism, he is a religious Jewish figure, and that makes current happenings in Israel of very significant theological importance. Israel is indeed one of the closest and most important of American allies, not only in the region, but throughout the world. And that relationship does go back to 1948 when the United States became the very first government to recognize the new state of Israel.
Ebrahim Raisi, Radical Islamist, Elected as New President of Iran: Theology Always Matters and Christians Know Why
But even as Israel is a very close ally, Iran is a very clearly identified adversary. Indeed, you could use the word enemy. And in Iran over the course of the last several days, an ultra-conservative former head of the judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi has been elected president.
He is basically one who has the stamp of approval from the Supreme Ayatollah there, that would be Iran's Supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamanei. And you have the fact that he was also vetted by what is known as the council of guardians. The theological issue here is radical Islam, radical Shiite Islam.
The new president of Iran is very clearly identified with that radical form of Shiite Islam. He also wears a black turban, by the way, which is supposed to mean that he is himself a descendant of the one called by the Muslims, the prophet Mohammed.
Furthermore, he is clearly identified in American foreign policy as one who is a human rights abuser and has been involved directly in the execution of thousands of political enemies there inside Iran. The election of Ebrahim Raisi as the president of Iran is a very clear statement of continuity with the radical Islamic theology of what was known as the Islamic revolution there in Iran dating back to the late 1970s.
It also says something that in Iran, you are indeed looking at what amounts to an election, but it was an election in which the candidates were vetted by a supreme council. They all basically had to have the authorization and the approval of the supreme leader before they could even get on the ballot. There were many, many who were excluded because they were unacceptable to this council or to the supreme leader.
But in any event as we're looking at the world's headlines today, and they would include Islam and Judaism and Christianity in those headlines, theology is always there. Even if the mainstream media do not give much attention to those theological dynamics, we must. We know they're there. We need to understand what they mean. And we need to understand that theology always means more than the secular world either anticipates or wants. Theology matters in Iran, it matters in Israel, it matters in the United States. It matters everywhere and we know why.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.