The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, September 16, 2021

It’s Thursday, September 16, 2021.

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

Part I

‘How Much Is A Little Girl Worth?’: Gymnasts Tell Riveting and Wrenching Testimony in Senate Hearing Against Larry Nassar Highlighting Failure by FBI

Riveting indeed heartbreaking testimony came yesterday in a Senate hearing in the United States Senate. It was the Senate Judiciary Committee and the concern of that committee was to respond to a report that had been released by the Department of Justice indicating the failures of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in handling allegations against Dr. Larry Nassar. He had been a team doctor working for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University. He had been on the front lines of training and preparing a generation of young American gymnasts and it is now known that he had sexually abused something like 330 girls and young women as they were entrusted to his care in preparation for gymnastic competitions. Nassar was found guilty. He was convicted on so many counts of sexual abuse that he was given terms in prison that will mean, effectively, he will serve a life sentence.

But the question that was being asked at that hearing yesterday came down to this, “How much is a girl worth?” Which is also the title of a book by Rachael Denhollander, one of the young women who brought the charges against Larry Nassar, the charges leading to the investigation and eventually to his conviction. How much is a girl worth? Now, that’s a huge question of moral significance. Just to hear the question is to underline its importance. But that points to the fact that there have been repeated institutional failures, moral failures, political failures, and law enforcement failures when it comes to looking into credible allegations of abuse. And the repeated allegations of abuse brought by young gymnasts against Larry Nassar, a medical doctor, who was supposed to be treating them and training them for athletic competition, those repeated accusations, those repeated cries of abuse were basically ignored even by the FBI. Several American gymnasts testified at the event yesterday and they included four-time Olympic gold medalist, Simone Biles.

She made the charge over and over again about the shortcomings of the FBI’s investigation into Larry Nassar. Speaking of those shortcomings, she said this, “I blame Larry Nassar and I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse.” Simone Biles was then identified by the BBC as the most decorated Olympic gymnast of all time. She added, “If you allow a predator to harm children, the consequences will be swift and severe.” As the BBC reported on the hearing yesterday, “A long-awaited report into the FBI’s investigation which was published in July found numerous missteps, delays, and coverups by FBI agents, which allowed Nassar’s abuse to continue for several more months after the case was first opened. The next portion is also important. “The 119-page report by the Department of Justice inspector general found that despite the seriousness of the allegations against Nassar, the FBI Field Office in Indianapolis had been slow to respond.”

Now, this kind of institutional failure, in this case, the institution was none other than the FBI, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, just as indicative of a pattern that has to be a very deep concern to our entire society. And we almost own the fact that this is a widespread problem that has become horrifyingly apparent in recent years. What makes this situation so difficult is that the institution at the center of the story, the institution that was the subject of this investigation, is indeed the law enforcement agency for this country that should have been, in every case, on the front lines of investigating and eventually handing to prosecutors information about this kind of abuse. But there’s something else, and Christians need to pay particular attention to this, there’s something else in the story, and that is, that you’re looking at the issue of trust.

And you’re looking at the fact that there are circles upon circles of trust. There are layers upon layers of trust. By the time you get to a trusted medical doctor who is so instrumental in the training of Olympic athletes, there are so many people involved in the concentric circles of such a situation, it seems almost impossible in retrospect to understand how these concerns could have been sidelined for so long. But that just points to what should be our concern here. And that is the fact that those circles of trust, those layers of different kinds of trust, different kinds of context, different kinds of individuals, different kinds of contracts of trust, all of those can become very, very dangerous if indeed that trust is violated and accusations of a violation of that trust are not investigated. The hearing in the Senate yesterday was about the Federal Bureau of Investigation. But in reality, it’s about the larger context of American law enforcement.

And beyond that, it’s about the entirety of American culture. Each of us have better recognize that.

Part II

Great Moment of Disclosure: Texas Abortion Law Unveils Divide in Pro-Life Conservatives Between Those Who Are Willing To Legalize Anti-Abortion Laws to Protect the Sanctity of Life and Those Who Are Not

But next I want to speak as a conservative and as a Christian to concerns about the reality of the pro-life movement in the United States. Every once in a while, something happens that becomes disclosive, you see something you didn’t see before. It’s almost like what you might have experienced in being in a room when all of a sudden you have the normal lights turned out and an ultraviolet light turned on and you see things you had never seen before. That’s what’s happening right now in the context of this cultural moment. And the catalyst for this disclosure is the law that has recently gone into effect in the State of Texas that basically outlaws abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. For the pro-life movement, this is a very, very important development.

By the way, the law in Texas is a very awkward law. And yet, it is awkward precisely because of the kinds of ridiculous court precedents defending abortion in the context of which this law had to be passed. It is not inelegant law, but that’s not the point. The point is it is a very effective law and its effectiveness is what has become the great agent of disclosure. Because it turns out that many people who have been claiming conservative identity and many people who have claimed an allegiance to the pro-life cause have now, we see, in the ultraviolet light of this cultural moment, actually, either held to or at least now hold to a very different understanding of conservatism, a very different understanding of the goals of the pro-life movement, and of what’s at stake in the issue of the sanctity of human life. I’m going to speak about four people in particular, Jonathan Last, Bill Kristol, Mona Charen, and Bret Stephens.

All of them, to one degree or another, had been well-identified with the conservative movement in the United States from at least the 1990s until the present. Most of them were identified with the magazine that had existed for some time as one of the most influential conservative magazines in the United States, The Weekly Standard. The Weekly Standard no longer exists and the unity of the conservative movement, now, as we know, no longer exists as it once did. Now, the catalysts for that are many. They included the years of the Trump administration, they included the 2016 presidential election and the 2020 presidential election. But the fact is that right now, the most important catalyst is not 2016 or 2020, it is 2021 and it is the Texas Abortion Bill. Let me get to the specifics. Shortly after the Supreme Court allowed the Texas law to go into effect, Bill Kristol posted a tweet in which he was citing an article written by his colleague, Jonathan V. Last at The Bulwark.

The words that Kristol had appreciatively posted were these, “The pro-choice movement makes many arguments which I find unconvincing. But one thing they have always said is that pro-lifers really just want to control women’s bodies. And part of me thinks that this is probably right.” Here’s what I want you to track with me. That statement by Jonathan Last was made in response to the Texas bill going into effect. Jonathan Last is stating in his article entitled, “Why I Opted Out of the Abortion Wars,” published at The Bulwark, Jonathan Last is explaining that even as he claims a pro-life identity, the pro-life movement has gone too far in anxiously seeking to use the law to prevent an actual abortion. The rest of us thought that was what the pro-life movement was actually about. This article published at The Bulwark on September the 3rd includes these words, “I don’t write much about abortion anymore and I’d like to explain why.” He said, “Once upon a time, I thought every abortion was a tragedy, which is to say that anytime a woman aborted a pregnancy, it was a sign that someone or something had failed her.”

Now, just think about this. Just think about writing the words, “Once upon a time, I thought every abortion was a tragedy.” Also, speaking in the past tense, Jonathan Last wrote, “I also thought that abortion was a moral evil, that every life is precious, whether it’s the unborn, or the convict, or the sick. In my worldview, I had opposition to abortion woven alongside opposition to the death penalty, and the imperative to help the poor, the homeless and the sick as part of the seamless garment of life.” Now, this argument about a seamless garment that goes back about 20 years ago to a liberal Roman Catholic, in this case, the late Roman Catholic Archbishop of Chicago, Joseph Bernardin. The late cardinal had argued for a fusion of so many issues under the banner of pro-life, indeed opposition to the death penalty, anti-poverty efforts, as well as anti-abortion efforts. Now, those who were primarily committed to the pro-life movement argued that if that’s not dealt with first, none of the other issues related to the flourishing of human life will matter.

If the sanctity and dignity, the value of every single human life is denied in a culture that accepts, not to mention celebrates abortion, then nothing else in policy really does matter. But now, you have Jonathan Last saying, as he writes in the past tense, that he used to think of abortion in such stark moral terms, by the way, just a few years ago, he identified himself in public as a “anti-abortion nutjob,” somewhat tongue in cheek but in order to explain what he then believed was his very clear position on abortion. Now, not so clear. And what’s becoming so interesting like that ultraviolet light has just been turned on is that many people actually never believed in the pro-life movement to the extent that they thought that laws would ever have to coerce the issue of abortion when it comes to a woman who might be seeking one.

Now, here’s something else, you have several people who are now talking about the pro-life movement as they had supported it as being about changing hearts not changing laws. But this is where a Christian operating out of a comprehensive Christian worldview, understands that there will never be moral unanimity in a society, but there needs to be, of course, a moral consensus. And by the way, in Texas, there’s a sufficient consensus for this law to be legislated. But the point is, the law is a moral instrument. It is a structure of moral accountability. And you really don’t believe in something like the sanctity of human life until you are willing to make it the law. It was important change hearts and minds when it came to Jim Crow’s segregation in the United States, but comprehensive change and the right moral posture did not happen until such prejudice was made a matter of the law.

As recently as 2012, responding to the Democratic National Convention of that year, Jonathan Last wrote “The Democratic Party underwent an ideological evolution in Charlotte last week. They are no longer a pro-choice party. They’re the party of abortion.” Last was writing about the transition even from the years of President Bill Clinton, the Democrat who said that he at least wanted abortions to be safe, legal, and rare, by the way, he did very little to make abortion either safe or rare, but the point is that was the language the Democratic Party used then. By 2012, they were basically celebrating abortion. And, of course, by 2016 and 2020, it had become, if anything, the central doctrine of the Democratic Party when it comes to national policy. In 2007, Jonathan Last had identified the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision as what must be overcome in order to protect the dignity and sanctity of life.

He wrote, “So, when we talk about abortion after Roe, we’re not talking about a few hard cases here and there where the situation is morally complex, we’re talking about a wholesale industry since Roe, of the pregnancies either terminated or brought to live birth, somewhere between 24% and 30% have ended in abortion every single year since 1976.” He went on to say, “That’s an entire generation of Americans, more than 48 million babies who are conceived and then destroyed.” To put this in perspective, he wrote, “The baby boom generation, the largest in our nation’s history, comprised about 75 million babies.” But that was then, this is now, and as you look at that statement that was cited by Bill Kristol in that tweet, going back to September the 3rd, again, this is a pro-choice argument that is basically being made here. The statement by Jonathan Last is this, “The pro-choice movement makes many arguments which I find unconvincing, but the one thing they have always said is that pro-lifers really just want to control women’s bodies. And part of me thinks that this is probably right.”

Now, remember, this is all about the Texas bill that outlaws abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. And here, that is basically dismissed as nothing more than an effort to, “control women’s bodies.” At least part of Jonathan Last, we are told, thinks that, and that’s the part that wrote this article. Kristol also cited yet another statement by Jonathan Last, “Now, I know that this isn’t charitable enough. There are many, many pro-lifers who truly and sincerely care about that seamless garment. I’m basically with them. But as an institution, it’s hard to see the pro-life movement as concerned with anything more than control and power.” Now, let me just make a statement here. You are not morally serious about actually putting an end to abortion. You don’t actually believe, in a tangible way, in what we would, as Christians, define as the sanctity of human life unless you are willing to use the coercive power of the law in order to preserve unborn human life. Period. Now, as I said, the tweet in this case that cited Jonathan Last was written by his colleague, William Kristol.

Bill Kristol, as he is best known, has been one of the most influential public intellectuals in the United States for a long time. He was chief of staff to former Vice President Dan Quayle. He was credited with making many of the most significant conservative and neoconservative arguments in the American public square over the last several decades. He was involved in the very founding and in the central leadership of The Weekly Standard. He is now involved in The Bulwark as a project, basically to oppose the conservatives who allowed for voting for Donald Trump. Kristol comes from intellectual royalty. His father was Irving Kristol who worked with Commentary Magazine and was such an important conservative Jewish intellectual voice in the United States. His mother was Gertrude Himmelfarb, another of the most important public intellectuals in the United States and a defender of the moral order necessary for civilization. Bill Kristol, serving as chief of staff to Dan Quayle and in many other roles, helped to define central conservative principles.

In 1997, writing about the future of the conservative movement, Kristol wrote, “Conservatism’s mandate in the years ahead is to repulse the last surges of liberal nihilism, wherever they manifest themselves, including in the judiciary. But conservatism’s more fundamental mandate is to take on the sacred cow of contemporary liberalism choice. And the choice issue presents itself most directly, of course, in the area of abortion.” Now, this means that Bill Kristol was saying that the defense of life and opposition to abortion was definitively central to the very identity of conservatism in the United States. Now, in retrospect, there were signals that Bill Kristol was wavering on this issue, going back, even into the 1990s. He wrote at one point about the 1992 Republican National Platform suggesting that it held to an absolutist position on abortion that would be very politically costly.

In 1992, Kristol told The Los Angeles Times, “I’m pro-life and I intend to remain pro-life,” but he said, “I think the party,” meaning the Republican Party, “is better off if it makes some adjustment.” There was a warning signal, but most in the pro-life movement did not recognize it because that moment of disclosure had not come. In 1992, a Catholic magazine stated, “Kristol believes that protection of unborn life and the importance of marriage are parts of the natural law and a vital Western inheritance. Besides being right unto themselves, he also understands that the several partners in the Reagan coalition, including social conservatism, is a single cloth that cannot be cut up to fit the fashions of the present moment. Conservatives do this at their peril.” Well, where’s that argument now? Bill Kristol is now effectively throwing rocks at the pro-life movement at the very moment when an actual law, although inelegant, but nonetheless crucially important and the defensive life is at stake.

Part III

The Great Divide Now Evident: The Sanctity of Human Is Not Just an “Issue”

And now we see, as I say, as if the lights have now been turned on. We see what we didn’t see before. We now see that when it comes to many people who claimed to be pro-life, they’re pro-life in the sense that they believe human life to be sacred enough to describe themselves as pro-life, they are even ready to say that they oppose abortion in some sense but they are not ready to say that they will support something like the reversal of Roe v. Wade, or for that matter, laws that will, in actual substance, protect unborn human life. And yes, that means that the law will at some point have to tell some women they cannot legally obtain the abortion that they are demanding. If you’re not ready to say that, you really don’t believe in making pro-life convictions a matter of public policy. The law is the central instrument of making those convictions about the dignity and sanctity of every single human life a matter of public policy in a binding way.

Speaking of The Bulwark, which again, has now turned in opposition to so much of the conservative movement, you also have another person identified as a conservative in years past, Mona Charen. She actually wrote an article published August the 27th of 2020, so in the white-hot heat of the 2020 presidential race. The headline in her article, “Why This Pro-life Conservative is Voting For Biden.” You see the logic of what so many of these people are thinking when Mona Charen writes, “My views on abortion can’t be severed from the rest of my worldview. I oppose abortion because it’s morally wrong. I understand that women are sometimes plunged into terrible life crises by unplanned pregnancies which is why I do what I can to provide help for them. Crisis pregnancies can present agonizing choices but I don’t think killing is an acceptable solution because life is sacred.” Well, so good so far. But then she writes in the very next sentence, “That doesn’t settle the issue of how to place abortion within the matrix of factors that go into voting.” I’ve had to read that succession of words over and over again.

She actually says that she doesn’t think killing is an acceptable solution because life is sacred but then actually says in the next sentence that that doesn’t settle the matter of how to place abortion within the matrix of factors that go into voting. If it doesn’t, then what does? But now you can see how this issue’s being redefined by so many who had been conservative and had been pro-life. Mona Charen writes, “It has always been my hope to change people’s hearts so that this cruel practice like slavery, torture, and mutilation can be put mostly behind us.” But notice, when you look at the very issues she raised, slavery, torture, mutilation, those are issues of the law as the sanctity of human life, unborn human life, must also be matters of the law. In the next paragraph she writes, “Being pro-life is part of an overall approach to ethical questions, it’s wrong to take innocent life. But other things are immoral too. It’s also wrong to swindle people, to degrade and demonize, to incite violence, to bully, and while we’re at it, to steal, to bear false witness, to commit adultery, and to covet.”

But that’s not actually a morally serious argument. Of course, all of those things are sinful, all of those things are sins, all of those things are wrong, but none of that really matters if a human life doesn’t even exist. But another figure who had been generally considered to be conservative is Bret Stephens. He’d won a Pulitzer Prize writing for The Wall Street Journal, and then he became a columnist where he serves now for the New York Times, where by the way, the liberal left went absolutely apoplectic that Bret Stephens would be appointed to that position. Bret Stephens participates with liberal columnist, Gale Collins, in a regular feature known as The Conversation. They go back and forth, but if you read it carefully, you can see Bret Stephens moving progressively in a more liberal direction. When it comes to the Texas abortion law, Stephens actually said this, “Of course the law is appalling, most of all for any woman in Texas in need of an abortion.”

Just consider that again. We’re told the law is appalling, “most of all for any woman in Texas in need of an abortion.” Notice the language in need of. He goes on to say, “We need pro-choice legislation at the national level like the Women’s Health Protection Act which should pass the House immediately, and we need to fight choice battles in statehouses, especially in red states where Roe v. Wade had paradoxically rendered the abortion issue basically moot for many years.” So, now, Bret Stephens has gone so far as to call for legislation that is tantamount to putting Roe into the force of law. And you have Bret Stephens arguing that what is needed is the defense of abortion rights, particularly in conservative states where, as he would style it, those rights are threatened. I’ve gone into this issue with such detail today on The Briefing because I want to make tangible the fact that what we are seeing right now is a breakup of the conservative movement in the United States.

And we are seeing that the issue of abortion or actually, more precisely, the issues of laws that would restrict abortion, judicial appointments, and judicial decisions that would reverse Roe v. Wade, we now see that this has actually become a dividing point rather than a unifying point in so much of what has been called American conservatism. But I’ll simply say this as a Christian, any conservatism that doesn’t start with the principle of the sanctity of human life is not a conservatism worthy of our support. The other principle is this and it’s even more important. You are not pro-life if you are not willing to say you can’t have that abortion, if you’re not willing to say, “We will bear the public burden of supporting a law that will actually, meaningfully restrict abortion.”

You are not really pro-life if you’re not willing to make pro-life convictions a matter of the law, not just because that’s our political commitment, not just because those are our ethical principles, but because nothing less is at stake here than life and death, unless we ever forget that fact.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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