The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

It’s Tuesday, December 14th, 2021.

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


Part I

The Sanctity of Human Life Is a Theological Issue — And Now Now Political Analysts Are Getting the Picture, With Very Interesting Insights

Is America about to tear itself apart on the issue of abortion? Well, let’s consider how these news are often presented to the American people in the mainstream media. The New York Times just a few days ago ran a news article with a headline on abortion, “Public Is Not As Polarized As Parties.” But then just yesterday, columnist Charles M. Blow decidedly on the left ran an article on abortion, an opinion piece with a headline, “We’re Edging Closer to Civil War.”

Now there are few headlines more ominous than a nation that is edging closer to civil war. That raises the question, “What exactly, Mr. Blow, are you talking about?” But let’s look first at the article that is presenting the case that abortion is not as divisive as the political parties would indicate. Nate Cohn, the author of the article, and he tells us that while abortion is one of the most polarizing issues in Washington, and even as you look at the fact that the two parties are now diametrically opposed on the issue, he tells us, “The public’s view of abortion is far more complicated.”

Now our business here is worldview analysis, and as we’re looking at this, we recognize there is so much here for us to consider. For one thing, Nate Cohn is arguing that the answer you get on the question of abortion has a great deal to do with how you frame the question presented to the public. And on that we simply have to agree, but even as he looks at this article, he points out that there is a divide in the United States, but here’s where the worldview analysis gets really interesting, it turns out that there are many Americans, millions of Americans, on both sides of this issue. You knew that already.

There are millions and millions of Americans who support abortion rights nearly unconditionally, and there are millions and millions of Americans who support the right to life of the unborn and very adamantly thankfully. And as you look at this, you recognize they are not geographically distributed in an even pattern you’re looking. And this article makes very clear at a pattern in which just to give two examples. As you look to the American northeast, cosmopolitan, urban, increasingly secular, you see a very clear pro-abortion pattern.

But as you look at the American south, far more religious, far more Christian in its heritage and in its worldview, you find very high rates of pro-life conviction. That means that the battleground, insofar as there is a political battleground is in something of a confused middle. Now I have to say that as a Christian, absolutely committed to the pro-life cause. If one does not understand these issues clearly, you might be confused about where you stand. But it’s the Christian’s responsibility to understand these issues clearly and to defend unborn life.

But let’s look at what Nate Cohn tells us. He says, “The relatively large number of voters who split with their party on abortion may simply be a reflection of how the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade often kept the issue from the center of political debate,” but he says, “It may also suggest that many voters just don’t feel as strongly about the issue as one might assume.” That’s probably true, but it’s also true that that would only be common as you look at some kind of confused middle. You go up to a pro-abortion activist, they will make the case. You go up to a pro-life activist, that activist will also make the case. And there are millions and millions of Americans on both sides of this issue that could at least to some extent make that case.

Cohn points to something that’s absolutely true, and that is that if you were to rewind American history, we talk about this often, and go back 30 years, and certainly you go back further than that, there is no partisan divide on the issue of abortion. Now I just want to point out one fundamental historical fact, that is true largely because it was not a national issue. There was no great national debate on abortion, and that continued up until the point that the federal courts decided to take the issue of abortion on as a federal issue.

It’s a willful misrepresention to go to, for instance, the American south, and say, “Look, you really didn’t hear much debate about abortion,” as if those people didn’t care about abortion at the time. You go back 30 years and go to Alabama, there’s not much debate about abortion. Does that mean that the people there didn’t care about abortion? No, it means that abortion was not a controversial issue because it was not on the ballot. As you go to a state like Alabama, you go to a state like Mississippi, you go throughout much of the southwest and the American south, there wasn’t much controversy about abortion until the federal courts made it a national federal issue.

But Nate Cohn is doing some worldview analysis of his own in this article, he tells us, “The complexity of Americans’ views on abortion is perhaps a reflection of the role religion plays in it. Only a handful,” he says, “of other political issues are more closely tied to people’s personal religious beliefs.” Profoundly true, and this is something that is often missing in the analysis offered by the mainstream media. But this tells you something, it tells us for example, that you have writers for a newspaper like the New York Times who are saying, “Why are there so many people who are so opposed to abortion? What could explain this?”

And they are right. They are not wrong, eventually to have to say, “Well, theology must play the determinative role here.” But it’s also simply true that the issue of abortion invokes a more clearly theological argument than at least some other controversial issues, think tax policy, for example, precisely because we’re dealing with the fundamental question of the sanctity of human life. But it’s really interesting that Nate Cohn is looking at that middle group, the group that is not made up of persons who are solidly pro-life or those who are solidly pro-abortion, and he refers to this as the gap, the conflicted voters.

And he says they, “Tend to be relatively religious Democrats and less religious Republicans, including black evangelical Democrats who oppose abortion or relatively secular white working class Trump voters who support abortion rights.” What’s he talking about there? It’s really interesting. He’s talking about those voters that have a conflict with voting for the party for which they would normally vote because of its stance on abortion. And thus, he says, “You have religious Democrats and less religious Republicans. They’re the people who are conflicted over this.”

The more religious Republicans, they’re real clear on the issue, defending the sanctity of human life. Really secular Democrats, they are equally clear in support of abortion rights. It’s the Democrats who describe themselves as more religious and the Republicans who describe themselves as less religious, who are the ones who are politically conflicted over the issue. But that fact is really, really important in helping us to understand the electoral map, and thus, the worldview map, because the voters who are here described are also not evenly distributed.

You take a map of all those Americans who are registered as Democrats. Well, the ones who tend to be the more religious Democrats tend to be concentrated in the south. You take a map of all those who register as Republicans across the United States. Well, the less religious Republicans tend to be concentrated in the northeast. Thus, you have swing votes only in those areas where you might have, say a democratic majority, but you also have a large group of more secular Republicans. Or you might be in an area of Republican dominance like the American south, where you also have a significant percentage of the population that is made up of more religious and that is to say generally more Christian-identified Democrats.

The important dimensions for us to think about concerning this research will be first of all, that you have the recognition here that abortion, the sanctity of human life, is a theological issue. And it’s a theological issue when you have religious believers and when you have religious disbelievers, so to speak. In both cases, the issue is theological because believe in the God of the Bible and participation in a Christian church has a very clear impact on voting patterns and on one’s position on abortion. If you believe that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, if you believe that God creates every single human being in his image, and that every human life is sacred, well, you can pretty much figure out where you’re going to be on the issue of abortion.

But one of the main concerns in this particular research is what this means about electoral politics in the United States, and in particular, with reference to the United States Congress. And you might say even more than anything else, as you’re looking at the House and the Senate, and particularly at the House because the redistricting process for House districts in all 50 states is going on right now, subsequent to the 2020 National Census.

That brings us to another very important news story, and this one was given a great deal of attention by the Wall Street Journal yesterday, and it has to do with the fact that as these re-apportionments and redistricting processes are underway state by state, guess what is most likely to disappear? The swing district. Those congressional districts that over the course of the last three or four decades have gone back and fourth R and D, Republican and democratic. Why are these swing districts disappearing? Well, you could say on the one hand, it could be defined as gerrymandering, the party in power is doing its very best to create more safe districts in order to have more seats in Congress for its own party.

But that’s only part of the story, no pun intended. The other part of the story is this, Americans are clustering in populations where you have districts that are becoming inevitable just based upon the demographics. You also have federal and state legislation in many cases that will indicate rules by which this redistricting is to take place, especially in light of minority populations. Now this requires all kinds of convoluted maps, but the end result is that you’re going to have more districts that are clearly overwhelmingly leaning D, and likewise, others leaning R.

Now this does represent a sea change in American politics. If you went back at 30 or 40 years, this would’ve been inconceivable. According to most estimates at that time, about a third of all congressional seats were at least hypothetically swing districts, even though there has always been the likelihood that incumbents will be reelected to office, whether Republican or Democratic. The incumbency is a very powerful political tool.

Part II

Big Worldview Issues and Politics Collide in the Battle Over Congressional Redistricting

But this is also leading to some very interesting, nearly instantaneous, political developments. For one thing, you have people who are incumbents in a district that is now being moved, and in some cases, it’s being moved with their own home being outside the new district. Or you have candidates who are running for one district that have all of a sudden indicated they’re going to have to run for another district in order to try to find an electorate where they will have a better shot. You also have in the state of California, a new system for devising these districts that is intended to be nonpartisan. We can debate whether it actually is or not, but nonetheless, it is at least structured to be nonpartisan, and it has now produced the reality that you’re going to have rival incumbents in some geographic territories as these new districts are drawn.

It’s going to be a very interesting, not to say, well, very combative political process in a state like California, where you might have had two incumbents of the same party who are now going to have to run against one another for a single seat. It’s going to be very, very interesting. The worldview dimensions of this are also really important because as you’re looking at the logic of the United States House of Representatives, and you’re looking at 435 seats, and they’re apportioned across the 50 states based upon population. How exactly would you fairly draw those congressional districts?

The reality is there isn’t an automatically fair way to do this. There are competing questions here. Do you want to have a congressional district represent something that will be recognizable as say, some kind of organic community? If so, you’re going to have to compromise when it comes to saying we want this kind of demographic mix in as many congressional districts as possible. Gerrymandering just based upon partisan interest sometimes results in congressional districts that are strung along a state like beads of pearls, making no geographic or demographic sense, just political sense.

But the same thing is also true when you begin to use the formulas about representation. That’s not to say these issues are unimportant, it’s just to say you can’t take politics out of the equation. Eventually human beings, not some kind of anonymous machine, will have to come up with these congressional districts state by state. This might lead, by the way, to court fights that could continue into the future, but right now, as you’re thinking about the House of Representatives, every single seat is up for election or reelection in just a matter of less than a year. So get ready for a wild ride because we are in for months of sustained political warfare with lots of worldview considerations to come.

Part III

Do Pro-Life Americans Want to "Take Away" a Civil Right (Abortion)? No, Because There Is No Right to Abort an Unborn Baby

But as we began, I also mentioned an opinion piece written by the liberal columnist at the New York Times, Charles Blow, his headline, “We’re Edging Closer to Civil War.” Now Charles Blow tends to see civil war around the corner in many cases, especially as you look at American moral conflicts, but it’s really interesting that as he brings this article to a close, he raises some issues that we ought to look at very closely.

He talks about the civil war likely to come over abortion if the Supreme Court reverses the Roe v. Wade decision. He sees that, by the way, as an absolutely horrifying prospect. He says, “It’s not likely that this civil war will mean young men dead in combat,” but he says it is going to be a war “fought in the court state houses and ballot boxes rather than in the fields.” Let me just say that that is redefining war. If you’re going to use the image of civil war and you’re going to compare something to the civil war, which was the bloodiest war in American history, you ought be very clear you’re not talking about that kind of war.

But nonetheless, he chose the metaphor. And then he writes this, “And this war won’t be only about the subjugation of black people, but also about the subjugation of all who challenge the white racist patriarchy.” Now where did all that come from? Well, here you see something that at least seems to be held honestly by a significant number of people on the left, and that is that if you oppose abortion it’s because you really oppose something else. And in this case, he ties everything together.

Now this is a temptation everywhere you look across the political spectrum and it’s not without merit because we understand many of these issues are linked together, but let’s just notice exactly what Charles M. Blow has done here, he has said that if you’re pro-life and you would celebrate the reversal of Roe v. Wade, ultimately, this is about the subjugation of black people, but not only that. And that requires us to ask the question how could he possibly make that statement? What would be the basis of that argument?

Later he writes this, “In some ways the abortion battle now being waged in the courts as a test case, can the states make an argument that a civil right can be reversed on the state level? Can they make the case that all that the Constitution is not explicitly spelled out should be reserved for the states?” Well, he’s asking the right questions. The first question he asked is can the states make an argument that a civil right can be reversed on the state level? Now the pro-life argument is not that a civil right, the right to abortion, should be reversed. The argument is it was never rightly understood to be a civil right at all.

And here you see one of the conceits of the left. The left believes all rights in this case, all civil rights, all human rights, to be positive law, that is to have been invented by a human being and to be irreversible in historical logic. But we don’t believe that human rights are invented by human beings. We don’t believe that governments invent rights, rather we believe, and the founders of this country believed, now they didn’t believe this perfectly, but they did state this in public, that rights are granted by the creator, by nature, and nature’s God, and they are also rights that are objectively true, not just legally important.

The argument against Roe v. Wade is not that abortion is a right that was recognized then and should simply be put on hold now. No, the argument is it isn’t a right at all. There is no right to destroy the unborn life within you. It’s not a right, it’s never been a right, it will never be a right. The Supreme Court declared it a right in 1973, but even those who were the majority in that case knew they were inventing a right that was never imaginable in the United States Constitution, and frankly, hadn’t been imaginable in the United States of America until then. And even then, America was not united on the issue of abortion rights. It wasn’t then, it’s not now. If anything, it is more divided now than it was then.

But Charles Blow then asked the second question, can they, meaning the pro-life side in the abortion battle, make the case that all that the Constitution is not explicitly spelled out, he means as a power of the federal government, should be reserved for the states? Well, Mr. Blow, that is exactly the conservative argument about the United States Constitution. It was the argument that allowed the ratification of that Constitution in 1788 and 1789. This was indeed the compact that produced the American Constitution, the understanding that the federal government was not a tyrannical national government with the states merely as districts, but rather that it was a federation of states and the powers that were not enumerated in, that means specifically listed in the Constitution is given to the federal government belong to the states.

Now that’s a logic that no one can really deny was the very logic that allowed the ratification of the Constitution. But Mr. Blow makes the argument that the Constitution hasn’t been modified, it hasn’t been amended enough to keep up with the times, thus, he’s making the argument, we need to understand this, this is the argument of the American left. This is the argument of the sexual revolution. This is the argument of the moral revolution. The Constitution just has to be recognized as being outdated. We need judges to update the Constitution, not by the process of amending the Constitution as the Constitution itself allows, but rather by simply handing down decisions that will invent new rights that then cannot be reversed.

And this also gets to the main issue behind Charles Blow’s warning here. His warning is that if a woman’s right to an abortion turns out to be an artificial right, that the court can simply say was never right in the first place, then there are other rights that could be declared equally the same. And here’s where we have to come back and say when it comes to civil rights, we have to look at the very language of the Constitution. We would argue that civil rights in that sense are there. But when it comes to a right, for example, for same sex marriage, well, just like on abortion, we’d have to come back and say there is no such constitutional right. It’s not a right that was given and then taken back, it was a right that was wrongly declared, and now honesty compels us to go back and say, that never was a right.

Now just to state a political fact, there is no organized movement to try to undo the Obergefell decision in 2015 legalizing same sex marriage the way there has been and has been nearly ever since the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down, an effort, an organized effort, an increasingly organized and powerful effort, to try to reverse Roe v. Wade. But this is where Daniel Henninger writing for the Wall Street Journal is exactly right when he says that the left liberals in the United States had been confident ever since the ascendancy of a liberal court in the 1960s, that moral authority and the right to decide moral questions had simply been transferred to the federal government for good, to the federal courts for good. And thus, it is inconceivable to so many people on the left that what they see as an essential liberal gain could ever be reversed, particularly by the states.

Here’s where Henninger gets right to the point, and this is just vitally important. “Overturning Roe would erode the foundations, not only of abortion, but of an entire philosophy of American governance. Liberals,” he writes, “Abhor federalism. They don’t trust the states on abortion, voting, or anything else. What they trust and want is a single authority government.” In another section of this article, he states something else that bears repeating, “Progressives always hit the ramparts over Roe v. Wade because they recognize the larger threat its disappearance poses to the well established hierarchy of political authority in the United States.” Again, that means the shift to the federal courts, to the federal government at the expense of the states.

And just remember something, virtually every important abortion case in American history, well, as you look at the names of those cases, one of the names has almost always been a state. If not a state, then an authority of a state, the secretary of state, or the governor, or the attorney general, someone who is standing in for the state. And in the case of the Dobbs case, the state is Mississippi. In the case of the Texas abortion law, again, obviously, it’s Texas. State by state what you have are the citizens of those states saying, “We ought to have the moral authority.” The United States Constitution not only doesn’t speak to abortion, it doesn’t give the federal government any authority to rule on this issue in the federal courts. Period.

And that takes us back where we started, even as we conclude The Briefing for today, and that just gets back to the problem of surveys or research when it comes to what Americans believe about abortion because Americans don’t decide the abortion issue, even when it comes right now to say, the composition of Congress or the election of a president, that takes place on a state by state level, something else that just inherently frustrates those who are trying to rewrite America’s constitutional order without rewriting the Constitution.

And that takes us back to the meddlesome issue of those new congressional districts, because those new congressional districts will overwhelmingly be not only colored either red or blue, but they will be shaded either pro-abortion or pro-life. That’s just about inevitable. Americans at large do not elect the member of Congress, the representative from the sixth district of Kentucky, or the 11th district of New York, or the 30th district of California. The citizens in those districts, the voters in those districts, make that choice and they make it on their own terms.

Charles Blow concludes his article by saying that, “A reversal of Roe would be the beginning of an age of regression.” I guess that would come down to a very interesting dividing line in the United States, a dividing line between those who would see the reversal of Roe as moral regress, compared to those would see the reversal of Roe as moral progress.

Well, that probably says just about everything we need to know about one’s fundamental worldview, and I guess it’s safe to say that at this point, both sides in this battle understand 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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