Friday, September 3, 2021
It's Friday, September 3rd, 2021.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
The Sanctity of Human Life or the Sanctity of Court Precedents? The Single Word —Sanctity — Reveals the Great Moral Divide
In the very early morning hours yesterday, the Supreme Court of the United States did respond to legal appeals to seek to block the Texas abortion law from going into effect. The Supreme court had not acted earlier in the week, thus the law in Texas went into effect and that effectively ended abortion in the state after the sixth week of pregnancy. And that means basically the elimination of most legal abortions in the state of Texas.
But as we discussed on The Briefing yesterday, it was still possible, indeed, probable that the Supreme court would respond in some kind of declarative way. It did so, again, in the early morning hours yesterday. And what was stated by the majority of the court is that it would not grant an injunction. It would allow the Texas law to stand even though there will be inevitably efforts to repeal the legislation or to block it in the federal courts.
Now, it's really interesting, once again, to look at the math, whenever you're talking about the Supreme Court, we are talking about math, nine justices. Five justices thus constitute a majority. And as we have discussed, the usual math is six, three. That is six conservative justices and three liberal justices. But this just as a reminder, the conservative and conservative does not always mean the same thing. The chief justice of the United States, John G. Roberts Jr. sided with the minority this time. That means that instead of a six, three statement by the Supreme Court, it was five, four.
Now in terms of the authority of the court five, four is as good as six, three. But it does tell us something about the different judicial and temperamental and constitutional approaches that are taken by even those who are justices appointed by presidents of the same party. John G. Roberts Jr. is known as an institutionalist and that's probably an understatement. He increasingly appears to be more concerned at times about how the court is perceived by the public than how exactly the court should rule on one case on its merits. I find that very lamentable, but it is becoming increasingly predictable.
Is he still a conservative? The answer is yes, in general terms. But he is not conservative when it comes to many of these issues and the effect either liberal or conservative, a decision or a precedent may have. The conservative majority allowing the Texas law to stand turned back the effort undertaken by pro-abortion activists by saying, and this is very important, that the majority had come to the conclusion that the opponents of the Texas law were not necessarily likely to prevail when the constitutional merits are eventually considered.
Now that raises a huge question about the role of the Supreme Court and of the larger federal judiciary in American public life. We talk about the separation of powers, the executive branch, the legislative branch, and the judicial branch. One of the things that the judicial branch has to consider is whether or not it will put a stay or an injunction in place to prevent a law from having an effect until there can be an eventual full hearing of the case.
The bottom line is this, in this case, as in so many others, but this one with particular relevance to our concerns, in these cases, in which somewhat in this case, pro-abortion activists says, "This law adopted by this state," in this case, the state of Texas, "is unconstitutional, thus the court must issue a stay or an injunction simply to prevent the law from going into effect." Or the court can act as it did early yesterday morning to say, "No, we're going to let the law go into effect." In either case, we know that it is likely that this issue, this law will come for a full hearing in a case to be considered by the Supreme Court. The issue is, what law stays in place or does not stay in place until that time?
There were three different dissents issued by three of the four of the justices who were in the minority in this case. One of them came from the chief justice, John G. Roberts, Jr. It was mostly procedural and its concerns. Another came from Justice Stephen Breyer. The most important and inflammatory came from Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She began by saying that this law in Texas is blatantly unconstitutional. The actual phrase she used was flagrantly unconstitutional. A law, she said that was not only unconstitutional but "engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights." Fascinating.
She uses those two words, unconstitutional and constitutional. But again, understand what she saying. She is not saying, "Oh, go pull up your copy of the US constitution and find what it says on abortion," because the constitution says nothing. No. Basically she's saying, "Go back to 1973 and look at the Roe v. Wade decision where the court invented this so-called right to abortion." She's calling that a constitutional right. Now, there is a sense in which this has now just become a part of the American vocabulary. People speak of constitutional rights that aren't in the constitution and were never in the constitution. And as we're going to see, this issue is almost immediately going to become an issue of the national conversation in Congress. Man, that's another new chapter we need to consider very carefully.
Before we leave Justice Sotomayor's dissent, we need to note that she says that the Texas law "equates to a near categorical ban on abortions." What's so important is that we recognize that she writes those words as if Americans are supposed to recoil in horror at what she considers to be the abridgment of a woman's constitutional right, what's missing is any concern whatsoever for the unborn human life within the woman. The unborn human life is simply not a part of the moral equation in Justice Sotomayor's dissent.
If you're thinking about the United States constitution, think about the year 1788, 1789. When you're thinking about abortion as a so-called constitutional right, think of 1973 and 1992, the Roe v. Wade decision and the later Casey decision upholding what the court declared to be a woman's constitutional right to abortion. Notice there's a lot of space between 1788 and 1973, or not to mention 1992.
But in looking at Justice Sotomayor's dissent, there was one particular phrase in one particular sentence that got my attention more than any other. I want to read to you the closing sentence of Justice Sotomayor's dissent. Just listen to this single sentence, "The court should not be so content to ignore its constitutional obligations to protect not only the rights of women, but also the sanctity of its precedents and the rule of law."
Now those of us who would contend for the defense of unborn human life and for all human life and who would contend that every single human life, every single human person is a life to be defended from the moment of fertilization until natural death, we refer rightly to our concern as a concern for the sanctity of human life. The sanctity of human life is one of the primary, if not the absolutely central issue that is addressed by the movement opposing abortion and upholding human life. It is not just because human life is good, it's not just because human life is valuable, it's because human life is precious. But not only that, human life is sacred.
The word sanctity is not just an adjective that says this is a good thing, it refers to holiness, sanctus. It refers most importantly to the holiness of God. When we speak about the sanctity of human life, we are really using a theological category. Sanctity means holy, as in the things that pertain to God. Human life holds dignity and human life is sacred, not because human beings are sacred in themselves, but because we are created by a holy God, the holy God. But notice how Justice Sotomayor uses the word sanctity. She intentionally quite carefully uses the word sanctity in the closing sentence of her dissent that was handed down yesterday. But to what does she ascribe sanctity? She says it is the sanctity of the precedence of the Supreme Court. Seriously, the Supreme Court precedents we are told are holy.
If you want to know the key difference, just in one sentence, even coming down to one word between liberals and conservatives in the political context of the United States, if you're looking at just one word that helps to explain the radical distinction in worldview between the pro-life movement and the pro-abortion movement, just consider that both sides consider something, something sacred. What? The pro-life movement says human life is sacred, but Justice Sotomayor says the precedent of the Supreme Court, meaning especially the precedents she likes, are sacred. There it is in one word.
Pelosi Describes Supreme Court Decision as ‘Cowardly and Flagrantly Unconstitutional’, Setting the Stage for Congress to Debate Abortion
But next, as I say, this issue is going to be front and center in American politics. Congress is going to speak to this. And that is because the Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi of California, has said that since by her estimation, as indicated in this very news story, the Roe v. Wade decision has endangered a woman's right to an abortion, as she would pause it, "Must be now codified into law." "Congress must act," she says, "to pass legislation that would effectively replace Roe v. Wade in the event Roe v. Wade is struck down, modified, or lessened in its power or reversed by the Supreme Court."
But here's where we need to note something very, very interesting. When you have those in the pro-abortion movement speak about a woman's so-called right to abortion, where can they side in authority. Well, that's not Congress because Congress has never adopted legislation authorizing abortion coast to coast in the United States. Congress has not been able to do so because Congress doesn't have enough pro-abortion legislators or at least enough willing to put their name on legislation. Instead, it was a cowardly act in which the Supreme Court in 1973 took up the abortion issue because Congress was basically too cowardly to deal with it.
Speaker Pelosi responded to the Thursday ruling by the Supreme Court by stating, "The Supreme Court's cowardly dark of night decision to uphold a flagrantly unconstitutional assault on women's rights and health is staggering." She went on to say that the court's action would "necessitate codifying Roe v. Wade." Now it appears that the speaker has been reading Justice Sotomayor's dissent, including the phrase, flagrantly unconstitutional. You can't really believe that's a coincidence.
The speaker is promoting what she calls the women's health protection act indicating once again, how the pro-abortion movement tries to cloak its ambitions and its purpose in the language of health rather than it acknowledging when you're talking about health here, you're talking about ending the health of an unborn human life. One of the central propaganda ambitions of the pro-abortion movement is to lead Americans to believe that the issue of abortion is not primarily about the unborn life, it is not really about the meaning and the value, the sanctity of human life. It is about a woman's health, period, so deal with it as a health and simply move on. But again, notice what happens. In order to do that, you have to deny that the unborn human life is of any moral significance whatsoever. And frankly, that is exactly where the pro-abortion movement is.
Intersection of Liberal Religion and Pro-Abortion Movement: The Emergence of ‘Reproductive Freedom Congregations’
But next we come to understand not only how this involves the Supreme court and then Congress, the larger national political structure, it also involves something that can only be described as the very tragic intersection of liberal religion and abortion politics. The story is not by coincidence from Texas, the law we're talking about is a Texas law. The Washington Post and Religion News Service are reporting. The Post headline is this, "Churches are getting designated as Reproductive Freedom Congregations."
Now, if you have been following so many of these events in the United States over the course of say the last 40 to 50 years, you know that there have been liberal congregations that have declared themselves to be say, sanctuary congregations for those who are undocumented immigrants, or they have been sanctuaries for political protesters of the left. They have declared themselves to be protected spaces. They've even allowed people to take residents inside some of these liberal churches, including liberal Catholic parishes, in order to prevent law enforcement officials or others from gaining access to them or even serving court papers. These sanctuary churches have been one of the major tools used by religious liberals for so many different issues.
But now we're talking about a development at that intersection of liberal religion and the pro-abortion movement. Now you have the emergence of these Reproductive Freedom Congregations in Texas. Now, what is this all about? As Alejandro Molina tells us, "More than two dozen Texas congregations are publicly declaring their support for women to decide whether and when to have children and asserting that access to reproductive healthcare is a human right." So how do they do that? They declare themselves Reproductive Freedom Congregations. They do so in cooperation with an activist group known as the Texas Freedom Network and Just Texas. We're told that, "Faith leaders interested in the religious freedom congregation designation can sign up to the Just Texas website and attend a number of the information session so far scheduled through September."
Now, what kind of churches would be involved in this movement of Reproductive Freedom Congregations? Well, you're going to guess they're very liberal congregations. In this case, that actually is an understatement. The Reverend Erika Forbes described as outreach and faith manager of Just Texas said at a news conference, "This is a historic moment given the state of politics and policy and culture in the state of Texas. It's a moment worth noting because it represents a transformation."
Churches that will earn the designation as a Reproductive Freedom Congregation must agree to the group's principles, including the claim that abortion is a moral and social good. Just to understand, this is the demand that abortion be recognized as a moral good. That's an astounding statement that turns the entire Christian theological heritage of 2,000 years on its head. It's also interesting to note that the Religion News Service report tells us that the Reproductive Freedom Congregation designation "is similarly modeled after churches that show support for LGBTQ people, but declaring they are open and affirming congregations."
Now here's where we see that intersection of very liberal theology and extreme abortion advocacy. You see it in the fact that of all the thousands of congregations in Texas, thus far about 25 congregations, have declared themselves to be Reproductive Freedom Congregations. That tells you something about the media, by the way. All it takes is 25 out of thousands and thousands of congregations to get this kind of media story. But the reality is you can pretty much guess what kind of churches these churches are.
The RNS report says, "So far, the 25 churches that have taken this official stance are largely Unitarian Universalist, but also include Presbyterian congregations and the University Baptist Church in Austin." So they're mostly Unitarian Universalists. And we've talked about this before, when you say Unitarian, there's a denial of the Trinity generally also a denial the deity of Jesus Christ. Then you say Universalist, it's a denial of the exclusivity of the gospel. The suggestion that everyone's going to be made right with God without respect to Jesus Christ or any confession of faith in Christ. Unitarianism is an ancient Christian heresy. But as something of a denomination, it's been present in the United States as the far left extreme of any kind of religious liberalism for more than the last 200 years.
The article mentions that there are some liberal Presbyterian churches that are associated with this movement, but also University Baptist Church in Austin, Texas. Now, as a Baptist, as a Southern Baptist, I want to make certain you understand something about University Baptist Church in Austin, Texas. It is not a Southern Baptist church. It once was, but it is no longer affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, and hasn't been for a long time. This one congregation there in the University town of Austin, Texas, a famously blue dot in the red state of Texas. It is a bluest of blue dots on the church map of the bluest city in Texas, which would be Austin.
There's a big story behind university Baptist Church. That story reveals the swerve to the left of so many liberal congregations. And of course, if you are on the left, you have to keep moving to the left. There's always a new heresy, there is always a new cause. The official history on the website of University Baptist Church speaks of its journey to become an "even more inclusive congregation." But then the history reveals this, "Recent years have also seen changes in UBC's with other Baptist bodies. During the decade of the '90s, UBC became affiliated with the Alliance of Baptist, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the American Baptist Churches of the USA."
"In the fall of 1995, the Austin Baptist Association, again, expelled University Baptist Church. This time for ordaining a gay man as a deacon in 1994. In the fall of 1997, the church voted to disaffiliate with the Southern Baptist Convention because of ramifications of the fundamentalist takeover of that organization. University Baptist Church is welcoming of homosexuals led in February of 1998 to the executive board of the Baptist General Convention of Texas' action to stop receiving mission funds from UBC and to request that the church remove mention of its affiliation with the Baptist General Convention of Texas from its publicity."
"In 2001, the church disaffiliated from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship after that organization had taken an official position not to expend funds for organizations or causes that condoned or affirmed homosexual practices. UBC's acceptance of homosexuals in the worship work and fellowship with the church has cost additional members, but has also attracted others to take a stand with the congregation by becoming members."
Let me give you the shorthand on this. This is a church that has been twice kicked out of the local Baptist Association, presumably the second time for good. This is a church that disfellowshipped from the Southern Baptist Convention because of the conservative theology of the SBC. It was then basically invited out of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, but it had joined the Alliance of Baptist and the liberal group known as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. But the CBF was not liberal enough, and so this church marching ever onward to the left, eventually left to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship as itself too conservative.
You could look at something like this and say, "They've got nowhere to go to the left," but you would be wrong because now this church is affiliated as a Reproductive Freedom Congregation. On the Just Texas website, you can look at the list of the 25 congregations thus far identified as Reproductive Freedom Congregations, and you will see that list of Unitarian Universalist churches. You will also see, "The Gathering, a womanist church." And the final one on the list at least at present is Wildflower Church. No doubt, they're keeping it wild.
The Mailbox — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners About Issues Addressed on The Briefing
But now we turn to The Mailbox, I want to go to a question posed by Michael about subsidiarity. He said, "My question is in regards to subsidiarity is a Christian principle, where in Scripture does the idea of subsidiarity most clearly come from?" Great question. And the answer takes us right to the opening chapters of scripture. It is in Genesis 1, Genesis 2, and then frankly, and everything that follows. But in particular, in Genesis 1 and in Genesis 2. Also, reflected, for example, in the 10 commandments where you see that principle of subsidiarity that tells us that the most basic unit of human organization is the most competent to deal with needs. That means that the further you get from those more basic units, the more abstract everything becomes and the more diffuse.
Now that sounds diffused, just consider this, you do not want your children to be raised by the United Nations, you want your children to be raised by parents. And by that we mean a mother and a father who are married to each other. Now why the doctrine of creation? Why Genesis 1 and Genesis 2? It is because subsidiarity follows the very logic of God’s creation order that is revealed in that book of Genesis. And it tells us that the most basic unit of human society is the man and the woman coming together in marriage to form a family and then to be fruitful and multiply and to fill the earth.
As you follow the sequence of the biblical revelation from that point onward, you see that there is authority, the greatest reality, the greatest trust, the greatest authority resides in the most basic unit. And that begins where God began in creating human society as we see in the opening of Scripture itself in Genesis.
Now you can also say it appears everywhere there's a reference to marriage and the family always upheld, whether it's Jesus saying that it was God's plan in the beginning that a man and a woman should be married for a lifetime time, whether it's Paul speaking of the household codes in his letters where he very clearly refers to the family and recognizes the family's responsibility for the nurturing of children, the raising of children. And furthermore, you can even see it as you go to the book of Revelation. But we don't have time to do a complete biblical theology, but that's a project that should be done on subsidiarity.
Second, a good question from Cade, and he's responding to references about art and culture and the power of pop culture. And he's asking about the role of the artist in the Christian worldview and whether or not Christian should both appreciate art and produce art. He speaks of his own calling as an artist, and then ask, "Do you think Christian institutions should be taking the art far more seriously?" Well, there's a sense in which I want to say yes to that. And for instance, if you go into my personal library or you come on the campus of Southern Seminary, you're going to see an appreciation for art.
But you know, Cade, for biblically minded Christians, there's always a tension here. For one thing where you see the church give itself most generously to the arts, you often see the most general alienation from biblical theology. Now that's not a universal rule, but just consider the artworks of the Vatican, which were a scandal, even the Catholics at the time, not to mention to the reformers of the 16th century.
Cade, you're absolutely right, we should use all the gifts God has given us for His glory, but we also have to understand that the delight of the eye, or for that matter, the delight of the ears and music, though we love those things in their place, there's always the danger that they become something else. Cade, the other thing I thought of when I read your very thoughtful message was the fact that there are entry and exit doors. And frankly, when it comes to the art world, we don't control many of those doors. Those entry doors are largely controlled by those who hold a very different worldview. But you're certainly right that we should use all the gifts God gives us to a godly and God glorifying end. And that means art and music in their place.
Given the urgency of some of the issues in the headlines today, we didn't have as much time as I would want for the mailbox. We'll do our best to give more time than usual to the mailbox next Friday.
‘A Dairymaid Can Milk Cows to the Glory of God’: On Labor Day We Reflect on the Dignity and Calling of Work
But finally, here in the United States, I want to wish to all listeners a happy Labor Day weekend, and just remind you that labor isn't just a secular issue. It is a biblical issue. The history of Labor Day goes back to the federal holiday, basically put in place in 1894 as a part of the growth of the Labor Movement in the United States. By the way, the earliest Labor Day celebrations were on May the 1st, the date that was set by the second international and what became the communist party.
You can understand why in the United States it was moved to a September observance in the fall at the end of the summer, marking the summer holidays by end as much as Memorial Day does generally in the beginning. But as you're looking at this, you also need to recognize that it is right to honor labor, it is right to honor human work and the dignity of human work. We need to recognize that the Bible itself does so, with the dignity of human labor made very clear even in the opening chapters of Genesis, even in a fallen world after the curse of Genesis 3, human labor is still recognized as a good thing if now a more arduous reality.
It's also important to recognize that during the Protestant Reformation, one of the great practical insights brought from the biblical recovery of the reformers was the understanding of the Christian and calling vocatio, vocation. The fact that every Christian has a calling to a particular contribution to society and to the church. The famous statement made by Martin Luther is that the milkmaid milking a cow is doing a work that is just a much a calling as a minister who is ministering in a church.
We live in a time of cultural tumult in which many people are losing their understanding of the dignity of work and the calling of work. And even many Christians are losing the understanding that every single one of us has a vocation, that God has a purpose for us. He gives us particular gifts putting us in a particular place at a particular time for us to do something which we alone particularly can do and must do for His glory. It's an unavoidable irony that in order to honor work, Americans take a day off. But that just points to the fact that it is the day off, that is the exception rather than the rule. So enjoy Labor Day and rejoice in your own calling.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can find 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.
Have a good Labor Day weekend.
I'll meet you next Tuesday for The Briefing.