Monday, September 13, 2021
It's Monday, September 13, 2021.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Thinking Seriously About President Biden‘s Sweeping Vaccine Mandate That Will Cover Nearly 100 Million Americans
The headlines told us as we went into the weekend that the president of the United States had announced what amounts to a sweeping COVID-19 vaccination mandate that will cover something close to 100 million Americans. The president made the announcement late enough on Thursday that by intention, it missed most of the Thursday news cycles and the president and his administration knew that the nation would rightly be preoccupied with the commemorations and the memories of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks throughout the weekend. But now, the weekend's over and we are staring at a very big headline. We're also staring at the responsibility to try to think through these issues and to think through them carefully. There are several worldview dimensions that demand our attention, but first, we just need to look at what the president actually did, what he said, what he announced on Thursday.
He announced a series of executive orders and regulatory agency actions that will, as I say, cover something like 100 million Americans one way or another. That's almost one out of three and you're talking about a significant percentage of the American workplace. Now, what the president did was to announce that he was reversing the position that he had taken during the campaign, and furthermore, even as he was in the White House in the early months of his presidency. He basically reversed himself almost entirely on the question of a vaccine mandate. Now, we'll talk about why that's important.
But first, we just need to recognize what he did. He announced that the federal government will be directly requiring vaccines for federal employees, but then we find out later that that really doesn't cover entities such as the postal service, but it does relate to millions and millions of federal workers.
They are not given a choice as to whether or not they will be tested rather than vaccinated, they are under a direct vaccine mandate and it is coming with the executive authority of the president of the United States. The president had also announced that through the regulatory agency known as OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, tens of additional millions of Americans will be covered through mandates upon their employers. The employers that employ more than 100 persons are told that they must require employees to provide verification or proof of COVID-19 vaccination or those employees must be tested weekly and must demonstrate a negative test to continue to be active in the workplace and to continue in active employment.
What the president did and what the president said, and frankly, how he said it, all these are important issues, the president's tone was rather bitter. He seemed to consider millions of Americans to be in opposition, not only to vaccination, but basically an opposition to the larger society. He spoke of the nation's patience wearing thin.
But it's very interesting to note that the president's tone was itself something that was more divisive than unifying. This was the president that had indicated as a candidate and as president, that his intention was to unite the nation in such a way that the nation would get through the COVID-19 pandemic and would get through without mandates. But the president evidently is out of patience and he has decided to act with executive authority. One of the big questions, of course, is whether or not there is any constitutional or legal basis to the president's actions in full.
In order to understand this, we really need to take the issue apart. First of all, we need to distinguish between the question of the vaccine and the question of a vaccine mandate. Now, let me just be very candid, I have been vaccinated. I am generally pro-vaccine in the same way that evangelical Christians have been generally pro-medicine.
But everything comes with a certain footnote, a certain qualification. There could be concerns about any kind of medication, any kind of therapy, any kind of treatment, and evangelicals Christians bear the worldview responsibility to consider these issues carefully and to act in accordance with the Christian conscience. Now, this also means that evangelical Christians of like conviction may come to a different decision related to a specific issue such as the COVID-19 vaccines.
The Complex Issues of a Federal Vaccine Mandate: Evaluating President Biden’s Coercive Move — Moral, Constitutional, and Political Considerations
But the question about the vaccine needs to be separated because it's not really at stake here. The issue is a vaccine mandate. This is a fairly complicated issue, but the first thing we need to recognize is that the word mandate is itself a very loaded term. But that's exactly what we're looking at here. The president did not encourage COVID-19 vaccination for those covered by the policy, he is basically using the power of the federal government to compel it.
Well, let's think about that for a moment. Going all the way back to the beginning of the COVID-19 vaccine moment, going back to when the vaccines were on the horizon, I issued the strongest warnings I know possible to all who ask of me, I warned against the use of a mandate. Because a mandate, in this sense, a legal mandate by definition is a coercive act. I did have people involved in making at the federal and the state level asked me about a Christian understanding of these issues. And I warned as strongly as I know possible against the use of a mandate. And that's not just in general terms, but in the specific terms of the COVID-19 pandemic. Already, there are so many divides in this country, and if you're looking at a mandate for vaccination here, you are looking at an act that will violate the conscience or at least the moral concerns of tens of millions of Americans.
Now, under certain conditions, and usually, those conditions have been a matter of a major war, the American people have shown that they are fairly tolerant of these mandates, that they are rational and generally applicable, and if they are temporary and if they are under the context of what the nation understands is a national mandate, a higher calling, a higher purpose, a particular threat to the nation. But when you're looking at the COVID-19 pandemic, and especially when you look at the current moment, it is clear, even as you look state by state, even as you look at, for instance, red states and the blue states, most of those states are simply not responding to this moment in COVID-19 the way that they did, just for comparison, say, a year ago. One of the most striking aspects of the announcement made by the president on Thursday is that the policy that he sent down on behalf of the federal government is actually more extreme than any of the mandates that have been handed down thus far at least by even the governors of blue states, those heavily democratic, more liberal states.
There have been mandates that have been passed down by state governments with several states, but they've generally been limited to specific workers such as healthcare workers or teachers in schools. They have not been generally applicable as is the case in this particular order by the president that has to do with all employers that employ more than 100 employees or more. My warning on this has been consistent and that is that a mandate coming in this kind of context is a very heavy-handed action by any government, but in particular by the federal government, which lacks any direct constitutional authority for taking this kind of action which has almost always instead been considered matters germane to the states. But the president's tone was impatient and his action was also impatient. But as we think about vaccine mandates, we need to make another distinction, and that would be between mandates that are handed down by a private entity, such as a corporation, or for that matter, a college, a school, or vaccine mandates that are handed down by a public or a government authority.
The moral responsibility for the second is higher than the moral responsibility for the first, because the first can be at least defined as a voluntary relationship but the second is not. This is the coercive power of the government, not a mandate that would be handed down in some kind of context of a private relationship. But even as a flurry of Republican governors indicated legal challenges to the president's action, it became very clear that there is no direct regulatory authority given to OSHA to hand down this kind of order. You can count on the fact that the courts are going to be dealing with this very quickly and in all likelihood, very extensively. One of the issues faced by the country is that if this kind of mandate can be handed down on this kind of authority by a president under these conditions, under what other conditions could this or some other president hand down mandates entering into the private lives of American citizens and the private organizations of American businesses and institutions? If the president can do this, what can the president not do?
Challenges to the president's action on the basis of a constitutional appeal are likely also to cite a comment that was made by White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain when he acknowledged that the policy itself was in substance a work around. That is to say there was no direct federal authority, it was a way of trying to construct a policy that just might fit under a certain interpretation of certain regulatory rules and certain laws that are based upon actions of Congress way in the past. Another complicating factor is the fact that the FDA has given formal regular approval only to one of the three major COVID-19 vaccines available in the United States. That also creates a very different context for the regulation that is being handed down as a mandate.
So, as we think about the distinction between a vaccine and a vaccine mandate in moral terms, we think about the difference between a private mandate and a government mandate, we also have to recognize that even once we get out as far as the president's announcement in a government mandate, here we're talking about the federal government and there is no clearly articulated constitutional authority, and one would expect that if actions like this might be taken, they would be taken by governors, legislatures, and states, not by the president of the United States through a federal regulatory agency. Now, when you think about what the White House chief of staff called a work around, recognized there's another issue, and that is that the policy the president announced is not exactly a vaccine mandate, it is in the negative sense that it is a mandate and an act of federal coercion, but it also has a backdoor of sorts in which employees, if they are not vaccinated, may instead be tested weekly and upon the presentation of a negative test may continue in the workplace.
Now, a couple of things we need to recognize now. If that is the case, then the mandate isn't even likely to be as effective as the White House has indicated, maybe even as the White House hopes because it has created a backdoor, but it's a backdoor the White House isn't going to police, it is requiring employers to police. Again, it is putting a responsibility upon major employers, but that then raises another issue. If we are looking at a pandemic as creating the context here, the pandemic is a nationwide phenomenon, and as you're looking at employees in the American workplace, a very significant portion by some estimations, the majority of American workers are working for employers who have a few enough employees that they are not even covered by this policy. The way metaphors get mixed in this kind of media conversation, even those from the left who want even stronger mandates, have been complaining that the president basically went out on a limb constitutionally only for what they described as low hanging fruit.
A third dimension to all of this is the political, after we consider the moral and the constitutional, the political comes down to the fact that even the front page of the New York Times last Friday, announcing the president's "sweeping mandates for shots indicated that the COVID-19 pandemic was in the background." But so, as the front page article by Jim Tankersley made clear, "so were economic issues and purely political considerations." The president was under a lot of pressure to be seen as doing something. But there's another political consideration here. The president and his party are attempting to ram through Congress, massive amounts, unprecedented amounts of federal spending, and the political likelihood of getting that done is significantly reduced with the COVID-19 pandemic continue to serve as a drag on the economy.
By the end of the day, it is likely that there will be some court considering one of the challenges to the constitutionality of the president's announcement. His policy, either in part or in whole, if action isn't taken today and the issue does not get before some federal court today, it's only a matter of a very short amount of time, this will be staying tuned and watching the story as it unfolds. It is complicated, but it is also important, especially as we think not only about the COVID-19 pandemic, but about America's constitutional system of government.
More Woke Than Capitalism: Virtue Signaling in Corporate World as Salesforce CEO Commits to Move Anyone With Hindered Access to ‘Reproductive Healthcare’ From Texas — Or Any Other State
But next, over coming days, we're going to be looking at several issues related to the Texas abortion law, so much as being revealed right now. It's all important. It's almost as if the tide is going out and all of a sudden, land is being exposed, people are responding, corporations are responding, politicians are responding in ways that demand our attention.
One of those responses came on the Saturday, CNBC obtained a message sent to the workforce of the company known as Salesforce, that's a cloud computing company. In the statement to its 56,000 employees, the CEO or the leadership of Salesforce said that the company would, "Stand with all our women at Salesforce and everywhere." And the statement went on to say, "With that being said, if you have concerns about access to reproductive healthcare in your state, Salesforce will help relocate you and members of your immediate family." Fascinating. Now, as CNBC and CNN both are reporting, Salesforce, the company, took no explicit position on Senate Bill 8 in Texas, nor did the statement even mention Texas, but Texas is everywhere in this statement. And here you have this amazing radical statement from an American company saying that if an employee has concerns "about access to reproductive healthcare in your state, the company will help financially the employee to relocate along with members of the immediate family."
Now, is that an actual policy? Is that even a workable policy? Well, maybe it is, but it certainly is a form of virtue signaling on the part of a leading digital company in the United States. Virtue signaling is where an individual, an organization, or in this case, a corporation, takes an action that is intended to send a big moral signal. And make no mistake, Salesforce in this case is sending the signal that they are big time with the moral revolution, they are big time in support of abortion though they don't want to use the word, instead they speak of reproductive healthcare thinking that euphemism will somehow skate the issue of abortion, but then they'd go on to say that they are going to associate themselves as a company so much with this progressive vision that they will even move employees and help financially the employees to move if indeed there is any concern about access to "reproductive healthcare in your state."
In response to one presumed employee, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff tweeted on Friday night to the employee, "If you want to move, we'll help you exit Texas. Your choice." Texas here, referred to as TX, there's no mistaking what the CEO of Salesforce was saying here. As CNN reports, Benioff and the company, Salesforce, "have long championed social causes and corporate responsibility." That's indirect language but very well understood coded language for the fact that the company and its leadership are known for taking very liberal positions on some of the most divisive social issues in the United States. It is also interesting to note that in Saturday's edition of the New York Times, an article by David Gelles was entitled, "No Comment Is Top Reply To New Law Roiling Texas." The point being made in this article is that these companies don't want to address the abortion issue directly because it is so deeply representative of a very deep moral divide in the United States.
Furthermore, there's another fascinating statement made in this New York Times article in the business section, because one of the things we were told in this article is that some companies are treating abortion, now get this, "they're treating abortion as something of a religious issue." Now, why would that be the case? Why would they be treating abortion as a religious issue? Well, maybe it's because they recognize that nothing less than life and death is indeed at stake or at least the pro-life movement claim so. Now, let's be clear. The New York Times is absolutely right and it's a point that we make over and over again. Theology or what they refer to here as religion, it's always in an issue like this. It's just interesting to know that in a secular age, most people in the mainstream media tried to deny it, but here it is an essential issue in explaining to the readers of the New York Times why so many companies don't want to address the abortion issue directly.
It is because they see it as an issue that, if not religious is tantamount to being religious. And in that sense, they're religiously right. All this points, of course, to the power of so-called woke capitalism in the United States, and increasingly, as in this case, it's far more woke than it is capitalism.
A Parable of Post-Christian Religion: John Shelby Spong, Non-Theist Episcopal Bishop Dies at 90
But finally, word came yesterday of the death of John Shelby Spong, the former Episcopal bishop of Newark, New Jersey. He served in that role in the years 1979 to 2000, that was a long tenure for this Episcopal bishop. But the thing that made John Shelby Spong so famous or infamous was the fact that he basically abandoned every major tenet of biblical Christianity. He saw a complete theological reformulation of Christianity itself. He described Christianity itself as a dead religion that would have to be enlivened with an entirely new theological content, and yet he continued to serve until retirement as bishop of the Episcopal Church in Newark, New Jersey.
At one point, he was primarily known for his LGBTQ activism. But in a larger sense, John Shelby Spong became known as the non-theist or the post-theist, the post-Christian who nonetheless was an Episcopal bishop. Now, he wasn't the first bishop in the Anglican communion to be in this position or have this kind of profile. Spong indicated that he'd been influenced as a young priest in the Episcopal Church by the Anglican bishop, the Church of England Bishop John A.T. Robinson, whose book Honest to God was one of the declarations of the Death of God movement. Yes, the Death of God movement being championed by an Anglican bishop, a bishop of the Church of England. Robinson also called for a complete theological overhaul of Christianity, again, saying that the Christian Church was going to have to have an entirely new and improved theology if the church would survive in a secular age.
Spong, the Episcopal bishop, did not even believe in a personal God. He said at one point, "I do not believe that God is a being, sitting above the clouds, pulling strings. I do not believe that human beings are born evil and that only those who come to God through the blood of Jesus will be saved." He wrote that in the Newark diocesan newspaper in the year 2000, the last year in which he served as bishop before his retirement.
By 2002, Spong was openly calling for a complete new Christianity. He issued what he called Twelve Theses, having to do, first of all, with God, he rejected theism and supernaturalism. That's right, the bishop was rejecting the supernatural.
Secondly, concerning Jesus the Christ, Spong wrote, "If God can no longer be thought of in theistic terms and conceiving of Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity has also become a bankrupt concept." Well, in other words, if there is no theology, there is no theos, there is no Son of God.
Third, original sin, he referred to what he called the myth of the fall, the biblical story he wrote of the perfect and finished creation for which we human beings have fallen into original sin is Pre-Darwinian mythology and Post-Darwinian nonsense.
Fourth, he referred to the virgin birth as a doctrine as impossible.
Fifth, he rejected that Jesus had worked miracles.
Sixth, he rejected any notion of atonement or need for atonement. Remember, he doesn't even believe in the existence of the personal gods. Of course, there's no need for atonement, he doesn't believe in sinful humanity. He rejected, especially, what he called the bizarre substitutionary understanding of the atonement, this revealed in Scripture.
Seventh, he rejected the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead.
He similarly, eighth, rejected the ascension of Jesus.
When it came to ethics, ninth, Spong wrote, "The ability to define and to separate good from evil can no longer be achieved with appeals to ancient codes like the Ten Commandments or even the Sermon on the Mount."
Tenth, he rejected prayer as any kind of request made to a theistic deity to act in human history. He described that notion of prayer as, "little more than an hysterical attempt to turn the holy into a servant of the human."
He rejected life after death and said that that was basically put in place to control human behavior.
Lastly, he rejected, at least by his definition, any notion of judgment or discrimination. Notice that he was using judgment and discriminating on his own terms when he made that claim.
The fact is that by the time you reach the early years of the 21st century, I describe John Shelby Spong as a certain syndrome, the Spong syndrome, I named it. This is the syndrome in which a heretic has ran out of doctrines deny. The well has run empty. He has denied every major biblical doctrine, every Christian theological distinctive, all the way down to monotheism and the supernatural. So, what's left? But make no mistake, he continued to write books.
I engaged with Bishop Spong several times and I debated him at one point on television years ago. It was only last night that I found out that Bishop Spong had written about that in an account back in 2006. And in this case, writing about evangelicals and those he described as fundamentalists, he said this, "When I was last on a television program with Albert Mohler, it was painfully obvious that he was not in touch with any of the contemporary biblical scholarship of the past century." I would have responded to Bishop Spong, "Oh, I'm in touch with it, all right? I am very knowledgeable about it, but I refuse to sell my soul to it." But then again, I believe in a soul.
I must say this much about Bishop Spong, so far as I know, he was always honest in his assertions. He was quite honest in his theological denials. And with those very honest denials, he may have been in the Episcopal Church, but he was outside of biblical Christianity. Thus, the late Bishop John Shelby Spong becomes a parable of post-Christian religion. And we dare not miss the parable. I can only hope that he came to a better theology, and indeed a truly Christian theology, before he drew his last breath.
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.