The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Friday, November 19, 2021

It’s Friday, November 19, 2021.

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

Part I

Catholic Bishops and Pro-Abortion Politician — the Meeting Is Over But Not the Debate. What Does It Mean For How Evangelicals Should Approach Church Discipline and the Issue of Abortion?

For months now, many in the United States have been watching a debate among the United States Catholic bishops. They’ve been debating whether or not they should adopt a policy that would ban pro-abortion politicians from receiving communion at the mass. By definition, it’s of interest to Catholics but it should be of interest to all of us because it raises some of the biggest issues that are going to be confronted by every single religious institution, period. Or at least all those religious institutions that bear any sense of continuation of the Christian moral tradition, not only on the issue of abortion, but sexuality and gender, marriage issues as well.

The report coming out from the bishops’ meeting in Baltimore tells us that the bishops did adopt a statement they did so overwhelmingly. Indeed, the vote was 222-8. And as Ian Lovett and Francis X. Rocca reported for The Wall Street Journal, the adoption of the statement, “was followed by applause at the gathering of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.” Those reporters went on to explain, “The vote was the culmination of a debate that has taken most of the year and exposed deep ideological divisions in the church, particularly between U.S. bishops and Rome.” What would be that deep ideological division? It would be between what appears to be a majority of the Catholic bishops in the United States and the Vatican, most importantly, Pope Francis himself.

Pope Francis, who has at times, defined abortion as murder, nonetheless, has called upon the United States Catholic bishops to tread very carefully when it comes to applying Catholic doctrine and the Catholic theological understanding of the mass to Catholic politicians, such as most prominently, the President of the United States, Joseph Biden and the Speaker of the House, for example, Nancy Pelosi. The statement set out concerns about sins and how sins are to be related to access to the Sacrament of the Mass, the communion, that is so much at the center of the controversy when it comes to President Biden and Speaker Pelosi. But not only those two prominent Catholic politicians, but many others as well. The pattern in the United States has so many liberal politicians who are avidly pro-abortion and increasingly pro-abortion.

Just take the case of Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, a Democratic representative from a district in San Francisco, it’s hard to imagine a politician who would be more extremely pro-abortion. But the same thing is now true of Joe Biden, who had claimed through decades in the Senate that he was a defender at the very least of the Hyde Amendment that prevented U.S. taxpayer money from being taken from taxpayers and applied to paying for abortions. Biden, throughout his senatorial campaign, had bragged about that defense of the Hyde Amendment and indicated that he believed it would be morally wrong to coerce American taxpayers into paying for what they believed to be murder. But in order to gain the Democratic nomination in 2020, just months before in 2019, President Biden, then candidate Biden, abruptly switched his position within a 24-hour period.

And even as his own most senior aides indicated, it was a step undertaken out of political expediency, even political desperation. There was no way that Joe Biden was going to get the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination until he joined the entire abortion agenda that was being pushed by the Democratic Left. They made the demand, he met the demand. Since becoming president, he has pushed the abortion agenda even further. He has extended the role of the United States and its tax support in international affairs, in the funding of abortion, and the support of abortion. He has taken every action imaginable within his power to try to facilitate abortion and to extend abortion even through proposals having to do with the stimulus in the wake of the pandemic, and even in the social spending bill that is now being debated amongst Democrats. We’re talking about someone who can no longer claim merely to be, in the words of the Democratic Party before, pro-choice, Joe Biden is a validly pro-abortion.

So much so that in recent months, he actually indicated that he does not believe that life begins at conception. But here’s the point, that is the official dogmatic and doctrinal teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. Joe Biden, like so many other liberal politicians, once the cultural and political benefits of identifying as Roman Catholic, while at the same time, establishing policies and proposing even more radical policies that directly undermine what his own church teaches on an issue of fundamental doctrine. The New York Times reporter, Ruth Graham, indicated that even though President Biden wasn’t mentioned in the document, “For some of the most outspoken critics of Mr. Biden and other liberal Catholic leaders, the document represented a strategic retreat. Still, its very existence highlighted a divide between conservative American bishops and the Vatican, and pitted some of the nation’s most powerful bishops against the country’s second Catholic president.”

Graham offers another paragraph, “It also,” meaning the document, “illuminated sprawling rifts among ordinary American Catholics, falling along lines that have become familiar since the presidency of Donald J. Trump scrambled both political and religious loyalties. An emboldened Catholic right wing, including media outlets and activist groups, now feels increasingly free to antagonize Pope Francis and his agenda.” To antagonize Pope Francis and his agenda? This is tied to Donald Trump. Here’s a clue for you in the mainstream media. When they don’t know what else might gain attention, they just mention the name, Donald Trump. Donald Trump bears nothing on this story. In no way is Donald Trump a part of this story. Joe Biden is at the center of this story. They throw in the name Donald Trump because it is sure to get attention.

But the reality here is that the argument is fundamentally false, that all of a sudden, this is a new rift among American Catholics. Just go back and read, oh, I don’t know, The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal, and the same fundamental rift among Catholics would be clear. There was controversy during the 1980s when pro-abortion New York Governor Mario Cuomo went and gave an infamous speech at the University of Notre Dame. This is not a new issue. It wasn’t triggered by 2016, it wasn’t triggered in 2020, it actually wasn’t triggered by Joe Biden. But Joe Biden has put this issue front and center on the moral conscience of American Catholicism. And the American Catholic leadership is going to have to decide, does it actually stand for Catholic doctrine? Does it allow the most influential Roman Catholic in the United States, Joe Biden, to openly defy Catholic doctrine?

You also see something else here, and this is new. This is where The New York Times is accurate. There is something new here and that is, what can only be described, who can only be described as a liberal Pope in Rome. That does make a difference. During the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, it would’ve been inconceivable that the Pope himself, who was supposed to be the guardian of Catholic doctrine, would’ve been calling the bishops back from enforcing and requiring Catholic doctrine. But to its credit, The New York Times also points out something else about this new document. We are told that it emphasizes the distinction between categories of sins, by the way, that’s a Catholic, not a Protestant or evangelical doctrine, but we’re told that this new document also cites a previous document. It dates back to 2007.

So just a matter of say, 14 years ago, that document emerged from bishops in Central and South America and that group was headed by a cardinal who later became, you probably guessed it, Pope Francis himself. That document, remember that Pope Francis headed the committee that brought that document, “That document, which has come to be read as a foundational text of his approach, contains sharp words for legislators, heads of government, and health professionals who violate church teaching on abortion and other grave crimes against the family.” The next statement, “Catholics in such positions of influence may not receive communion.” Well, once again, we see a reality, that was then, this is now. The rift among the United States Catholic bishops was made clear year at the meeting in Baltimore, one of them, Wilton Gregory, who is the cardinal archbishop of Washington, D.C., and has identified thus as the president’s pastor, said that he would not refuse him communion.

But at the same time, the archbishop of San Francisco, Salvatore Cordileone, who has said that the president shouldn’t take communion, has openly criticized the Speaker of the House, and as The New York Times says, he has said repeatedly that “he didn’t expect Mrs. Pelosi would present herself for communion in San Francisco, but wouldn’t offer it to her if she did.” Now, there’s a Roman Catholic archbishop caught in the open actually functioning as a Roman Catholic archbishop. Who would’ve thought it? But some of the listeners to The Briefing may wonder what all this has to do with America’s evangelical Christians. What stake do we have in this controversy? Well, we have a huge stake. We have a stake, first of all, in the sanctity of human life and the defense of unborn human life and we share that responsibility with many others. And in this case, we are thankful for the brave stand for life undertaken by many of these bishops.

But the big issue here is church discipline. And this is where evangelical Christians, individually but most importantly, evangelical Christian congregations, denominations and institutions as well, but congregations centrally, we need to understand that we bear a responsibility to defend the unborn. We also bear a responsibility to exercise biblical church discipline. Biblical church discipline means calling to account Christians who are involved in sin, in particular, in the kind of public sin that you see demonstrated amongst politicians, or for that matter, others who would support the abortion rights cause seek to extend abortion across the country and defend abortion rights. We need to understand that this too should be a matter of church discipline for evangelical congregations and our churches. Now, you say, “The defense of human life, of unborn human life, is not in our doctrinal statement.”

Well, let me state boldly. It should be, if it’s not, you are not fulfilling your doctrinal responsibility as a church, as a denomination, as a Christian institution. It should be inconceivable that any public advocacy for abortion rights would be tolerated within an evangelical congregation. And that moral principle is not limited to politicians or those with governing responsibility, it should be extended to the entire church. If it’s not, what does it say about our understanding of the biblical teaching of the sanctity of human life? What does it say about our biblical understanding of the nature of the church?

Part II

Why Do Ducklings Swim in a Line Behind Mom? A New Scientific Theory, Evidence of the Glory of God

But next, in just a moment, we’re going to turn to questions from the Mailbox, but I want to end on a very sweet news story. And this appeared, first of all, in The Times of London from the United Kingdom.

The headline in the article is reported in the magazine The Week is this, Why Ducklings Swim in a Line? The article tells us, “Ducklings have a surprisingly good grasp of fluid dynamics, according to a new study that examined why the baby birds swim in a row behind their mother.” The article goes on, “Using a mathematical and numerical model, researchers at the University of Strathclyde in the UK found that when the lead duckling swims in a particular sweet spot behind its mother, a so-called destructive wave interference phenomenon occurs.” The article then tells us, “This causes the wave drag acting against the duckling to turn positive, meaning that the baby bird is propelled forward as it rides the wave.” The article then explains what happens with the ducklings in line, “The next duckling benefits from the same phenomenon, but when you get to the third duckling, the drag starts to ebb to zero. After that, ducklings act as wave passers, passing along the waves’ energy to their trailing companions.”

The lead author, the scientific report said, “It’s so beautiful.” We’re also told that, “He thinks the findings could have applications for maritime technology.” That was explained as this, “Shipping firms might design their vessels so that they can travel in a train to reduce fuel consumption.” Well, I’ll leave the maritime matters to someone else. Let’s look at the fact that here you have a scientific study that ask an interesting question, “Why do baby ducklings follow in a straight line behind their mother?” It turns out because there is a very clear reason in hydraulics and fluid hydraulics to why it is the case. And the lead duckling, he gets in line right behind mom. And right behind the lead duckling come the other ducklings. And even as the fluid dynamic effect begins to lessen duckling by duckling, the ducklings then do a little work on their own and they pass along the benefits to the next in line.

It’s almost as if someone designed it that way. Now, of course, when naturalistic science looks at this, they are looking for merely naturalistic explanations. But we as Christians don’t look at anything in nature as being merely natural. And there is something simply beautiful. Yes, the researcher’s right, but there’s something simply glorious and wondrous about seeing a mother duck being followed by all those little ducklings in a line, who follow her because they are following a command they do not even understand, from a source they do not know but we do, a creator, who made every one of those little ducks and every feature about every one of those ducks to his glory and allows us as human beings to see that glory. Even when that glory comes swimming across a pond, mother duck in front, little ducks in a line, a beautiful line demonstrating the glory of God.

So, the next time you see the mother duck, whether little ducks in a row, understand that you are watching fluid dynamics at work. But understand more than that, you are seeing the glory of God on display.

Part III

How Should Christians Think of a Historical Figure Like Nelson Mandela? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters From Listeners Of The Briefing

But now we turn to the Mailbox, and really fascinating questions from very intelligent listeners. A question came in from Shane mentioning our reference to Nelson Mandela and the end of apartheid, and it was occasioned by the obituary of F.W. de Klerk, the former state president there in South Africa. The question comes in saying that he has always wondered how the Christian should view the role of someone like Nelson Mandela in history. Goes on and says he was a pro-choice advocate, and his ex-wife was famous for necklacing. By the way, that’s a form of murder in which a tire was put around the neck of someone who was a political victim and then burned alive. It was simply horrifying.

And yes, Winnie Mandela did indeed endorse that move. We also need to note that she was far more radical than her husband and she attacked him in a now infamous 2010 interview saying that he was basically just a collaborator who’d never should have accepted the Nobel Peace Prize along with President de Klerk. But Nelson Mandela simply reminds us, even as of course, he held many positions that we would consider reprehensible, even though there were terrorist activities associated with the end of apartheid, the most important thing is that we recognize that in the complexities of history, there are very few human heroes. By the way, in its own way, the Bible teaches us that as well. There are very few human heroes. Indeed, by the time you read the Bible, there is only one hero and that is Jesus Christ our Lord.

Now, the Book of Hebrews helps us to understand that there are those who are valorized for their faithfulness. And in that sense, they are understood as heroic, men of whom the world was not worthy, says the writer of Hebrews. But at the same time, you look at that list and you recognize they were sinners. Now, Nelson Mandela is indicative of so many of the moral fights, the moral struggles of the 20th century. And some of those struggles, even as they were righteous struggles, ended up being led by people who had very mixed moral backgrounds themselves. The point is this, the cause was right. Apartheid was unquestionably evil and it needed to come to an end. It’s one of the saddest complexities of human history that horrifying movements rarely come to an end without some kind of horrifying development.

Christians, by the way, biblical Christians, I believe, are the only people on planet Earth with a worldview adequate to explain that. By the way, Shane, thanks for listening, and I thank Stone too.

Part IV

When Does the Bible Say Human Life Begins? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters From Listeners Of The Briefing

Next, Ryan wrote asking about when human life begins and whether or not the Bible’s really clear about this. He mentions a conversation he’s had with a very close friend who says that the Bible really isn’t clear, therefore, we need to leave some of these questions basically open to debate. That would involve issues such as IVF, IUDs, you could go down the list. Well, the point I want to make here, Ryan, is that wherever we come down on the question as to where human life begins, we’re going to have to take responsibility for the consequences. Now, that’s not the first place we need to begin every moral consideration, but it is an inescapable issue here.

If we actually begin or assume that human life begins at some point other than fertilization, well then, we’re going to have to say that whatever period of time comes before human personhood emerges, means that that individual is not a human person, not deserving of protection and thus can be destroyed, basically is nothing more than biological material. And that’s the implication of the pro-abortion movement. But at the same time, I don’t believe that the Bible is really unclear about this. I think the point is that Bible makes very clear that life only happens when God says, “Let there be life.” And the Bible also makes very clear that it treats the inhabitant of the womb as nothing less than fully human at any point. The psalmist points to the fact that God declared him to be alive, gave him the gift of life, and knew him even before his mother knew him in the womb.

But there’s yet a third consideration here and that is this, how would we know when human life begins other than believing that it begins with God’s gift of life at conception and thus continues all the way through the natural span of life? How would we dare to know that we could decide when human life begins or ends? Well, maybe you say or someone would say, I’m not saying you would say this, Ryan, but maybe someone would say, “Well, we really don’t have to determine that. We really don’t have to take a position.” But of course we do. We do have to take a position because, after all, we are talking about whether or not abortion would be legal, whether or not abortion is right, whether or not it is right to destroy human embryos, which after all are human embryos. Those are huge questions and they’re inescapable questions and every society is going to take a position on those issues.

Even taking a position of no position is a position with devastating moral consequences. And those of us who comprise the society, individual citizens, and in our case, individual Christians, we have to understand that insofar as we have any hand, any chance of participation in that process, we also bear responsibility. As Americans, we understand we bear a huge responsibility.

Part V

Why Use the term ‘Moral Revolution’ When Our Culture’s Revolution is Often So Immoral? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters From Listeners Of The Briefing

Next, another very interesting question from Beth asking why I refer to a moral revolution when it generally leads to an immoral direction. Why declare it to be a moral revolution rather than the immoral revolution? Well, great question, Beth. But the reality is that the term moral revolution is not one that I invented. It’s one that, nonetheless, refers to a revolution in morality. Just think of it as a cousin to a sexual revolution.

That doesn’t make a judgment as to whether it’s good or bad. Just in the term, it means that it’s a revolution in sexuality. A moral revolution is a revolution in morality. And of course, when you talk about moral and immoral, we need to understand that that’s a modifier when it comes to discussing or debating whether something is right or wrong, moral or immoral. But in the largest sense, as we talk about moral theology, or moral ethics, or moral policy, that refers to the fact that we are talking about huge issues of moral consequence. And the revolution in morality, that’s what we’re talking about here, the moral revolution, has come with devastating consequences. We need to trace them back to the source, the sources in that revolution in morality. But Beth, your question reminds us that all language is difficult and limited. There are no perfect expressions.

And I thank you for asking this question because it just helps to remind us of what’s at stake when we think about the moral revolution, which in so many ways, Beth, as we openly lament, is immoral in its effect.

Part VI

Why the Correlation Between the Arts and Progressivism? Should I Still Listen to CCM Artists Who Support the LGBTQ Revolution? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters From Listeners Of The Briefing

Another interesting question comes from Jacob and this goes back to what we discussed this week about of the LGBTQ agenda appears to be spreading in what is known as contemporary Christian music or CCM. The questions are these, “Why is there a correlation between the arts and a progressive worldview,” and second, “Should I continue to support and listen to Christian artists who support that LGBTQ revolution?” The first question, why is there a correlation, that’s not new. There’s been a correlation between say moral progressivism or moral liberalism, even libertinism, and what you might call transgressive behavior in the artistic community.

Let’s be clear, not all artists are moral liberals. But there is a very clear pattern throughout human history and all you have to do go back and read a biography, say of some of the most famous artists in Western history, even some of the artists hired by the Catholic Church to do their artistic work within St. Peter’s Basilica. You don’t have to look very far to see what we’re talking about. There’s a reason why artist communes tend to be rather morally liberal. There’s a reason why neighborhoods that have a concentrated artistic population also turn out to be more morally liberal, why cities that define themselves as artistic enclaves tend almost axiomatically to be morally and politically liberal. It’s a pattern. I think for one thing, many people in the arts consider themselves rather beyond conventional morality.

And I’m not just saying that because I’m making that inference, I’m saying that because so many of them tell us so. They consider transgression to be part of their responsibility, pushing boundaries to be part of their artistic license. And that comes with moral consequences. And that takes us back to the previous question, that means that this is all part of the moral revolution very quickly. Very quickly, I have to look at that second question about listening to music by artists who, let’s just say, are morally transgressive one way or another, either by their personal lifestyle or by their political and moral advocacy. Obviously, there’s a good question here, Jacob. I think it is a morally troubling question. And I think every single individual Christian has to come to terms as whether or not we are endorsing a particular artist or a particular worldview by listening to the music, or for that matter, looking at the art.

This is not a simple question because if you go to a major art museum, you’re going to see great art by profoundly awful people. Again, we have the only theology, a biblical theology, that explains how that could be so in a fallen world. But I’ll just say, it’s one thing to go look at a piece of classic art or art of historic consequence hanging in a museum and another thing to buy a product from an artist who is gaining commercially by the purchase. By the way, Jacob points out that he really doesn’t want to participate in cancel culture. I’m glad of that, Jacob. But this is not about cancel culture. Cancel culture would be about anyone claiming that such persons shouldn’t have the right to make their music and sell it, that they shouldn’t be able to push their own art in the public square.

I’m suggesting nothing like cancel culture, which would say we’re trying to shut them down, I am suggesting Christian discernment which is our responsibility. Determining what you, or by the way, your children should and should not read, should and should not hear is not a matter of cancel culture, it’s a matter of discernment. It’s a matter of discipleship.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’m speaking to you from Fort Worth, Texas, and I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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