The Briefing

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The Briefing

Friday, January 14, 2022

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It's Friday, January 14th, 2022.

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

Part

Supreme Court Blocks Biden Administration’s Vaccine — With Big Constitutional Issued at Stake

Yesterday, the Supreme Court of the United States blocked the Biden administration's vaccine mandate. It was a very important ruling by the court. It came with a six/three votes. The majority of six represented the six conservative justices on the Supreme Court. The three more liberal justices, quite predictably dissented. What you were looking at here is a great collision, not over vaccines, but over a vaccine mandate. The way that mandate was presented, handed down how it was prom by the regulatory state, how it was presented and defended by the Biden administration, and how the federal government must operate within constitutional bounds, and bureaucratic agencies, regulatory agencies must operate within clear congressional mandates. All of this was very much on the line. There were two issues, two dimensions in the court's action related to vaccines yesterday.

In the second matter, the court let stand a certain requirement of vaccination for medical employees. But the big issue was the Biden administration's order that the Secretary of Labor instruct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration known as OSHA to promulgate a rule that would require all employers that had more than 100 employees to mandate vaccination or weekly testing, and furthermore, to maintain a roster in which there was a clear differentiation between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. I'll explain more why that was a major problem. But it was very clear that the Supreme Court's conservative majority said stop to the Biden administration. This would be a big story in any event, but having to do with the intersection of COVID-19 and the constitutional debates that come before the United States Supreme Court. This turns out to be really important.

Now, just remember something, I need to stipulate right up front. As president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, I need to make clear that Southern Seminary entered a suit against the Biden administration over this vaccine mandate very early on, precisely because, most importantly, it was outside constitutional bound and would violate religious conscience. Now, we'll talk more about how this particular OSHA regulation would've turned even a theological seminary into an extension to the regulatory state. That is not only unconstitutional, it's unacceptable. More about that in just a moment.

In the important ruling that was handed down yesterday, the Supreme Court, let's just be clear, took no position on medicine. It took no position on vaccines. Rather, the court's majority offering no medical advice, did acknowledge the context of the COVID 19 pandemic. But it went on to block the Biden administration from moving forward with a mandate that would've required, again, all businesses with more than 100 employees to require that those employees be vaccinated or tested weekly. The most important reason the court's majority gave in blocking this regulation, putting a stay on it, was the fact that there was no clear congressional authorization whatsoever for OSHA to do any such thing.

From the very beginning, it was clear that this was a way that the Biden administration thought it could force a vaccination mandate without having to go through the legislative process, without having to go through a process that clearly would've met constitutional muster. Even before the president gave his address, in which he indicated this plan back in September of 2021, the White House Chief of Staff, Ron Klain had retweeted a statement, and he effectively affirmed the fact that this was a Biden administration attempt at a workaround. Now, that's not an accidental phrase. In Washington D.C., in this context, a workaround means trying to find a way to get what you want done, even if that is not being done through any normal process or it's not coming under any normal assignment for the federal agency or the government entity that would promulgate the rule. The court's majority affirmed the fact that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration under the supervision of the Department of Labor had a clear mandate for all kinds of issues related to occupational health, but not to the broader issue of public health.

The court's majority said that "clearly enforcing this rule in this way, announcing it publicly in a political context with the acknowledgement that it is a workaround, this was an unacceptable assignment to OSHA, and it is an unacceptable reputation of the doctrine of separation of powers." Congress did not give the executive branch any authority to do this through OSHA. It didn't do so directly. It didn't do so indirectly. So to allow this kind of rule to stand by OSHA, it simply raises the question, and I've raised this over and over again. If OSHA can promulgate this rule and make it stick, what could it not do? What could this president or a future president order some federal agency to do in service of whatever cause might be the object of this so-called workaround? When you think about what's hanging over us in the threat of any number of issues that would violate Christian conscience, just to say, the LGBTQ issues and policies, you understand why this pattern would be so threatening and why it would be a such great concern.

In blocking the vaccine mandate the nation's highest court underlying the fact that the federal government can't simply invent new powers for its agencies. It can't just go out and promulgate policies that turn private businesses into extensions of regulatory government. Now, again, that's a part of what was going on here. The OSHA regulations would require employers, businesses, private businesses, and that would include, by the way, a theological seminary, a Christian college, a Christian mission agency, for that matter, a Christian church with a sufficient number of employees. Back in September, President Biden announced that he would instruct the Department of Labor to create this mandate for vaccination. The president went on to say that it would cover about two thirds of all Americans in the workforce. As we have seen, this was by means of this instruction to, and then from OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Clearly, that OSHA policy provided no exemptions for religious employers and would require that a Christian institution invade the privacy and potentially violate the consciences of Christian employees.

Some of whom have expressed religious objections to the vaccines. That's why Southern Seminary filed suit. Yesterday, the Supreme Court acted in defense of constitutional government, and in more than one way, the court's ruling was clear: "Administrative agencies are creatures of statute. They accordingly possess only the authority that congress has provided." Now, there's a larger lesson here, you have many, especially on the left who want to use the power of the regulatory state through the executive branch to accomplish what they could never accomplish through the legislative process, to try to do through the executive branch, what the left has done for a matter of decades through the federal judiciary, just force new law, new policies that you could never get through Congress, basically turning both the judiciary first, and then the federal executive branch into legislative bodies, or at least operating like legislative bodies.

Effectively in the state that was granted yesterday, the Supreme Court said, "Look, if congress gives OSHA, explicitly gives the Occupational Safety and Health Administration responsibility to cover issues of public health, that would include vaccines. That would be a different story." Again, the court didn't say that Congress should do that. But the point is, the court made very clear Congress did no such thing, and that means the agency has no such authority. Citing precedent, the court's ruling stated bluntly that "congress had given this particular regulatory agency defined responsibilities related to occupational health, not to the larger issue of public health," and then citing its own precedent. The court's majority declared that the vaccine mandate is, "No everyday exercise of federal power." It was instead government overreach and a violation of the Constitution's careful separation of powers.

As is so often the case, the importance of the court's action in this case is made more clear, as I said before, by asking the question, if OSHA under the direction of the Biden administration, can promulgate this kind of rule, what could it not do? Again, just think about the LGBTQ issues. Think about any number of issues in which you have people who want to use the power of the executive branch and the regulatory state to force, just to say, Christian institutions, Christian schools, Christian ministries, to get in line with some form of cultural mandate, even if that violates religious conscience. By the way, there was an interesting question that was posed by both Justice Neil Gorsuch in his concurring opinion, and then by the three liberal justices and a descending opinion independently in both of those opinions, in both of those statements, both the conservative justice joined by two colleagues and the three liberal justices, they ask the question, "Who decides?" That's a big issue here. Who decides? The court's majority said yesterday, "The Biden administration doesn't decide."

The Department of Labor, the Secretary of Labor, has no power to decide this. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration doesn't get to decide this. Now, the court's progressives, the minority in this case, were protesting the majority's ruling stating that they were opposed to the fact that the court would make this decision. But again, what the court did was not to decide the vaccine issue. The court handed down, no policy on vaccines or vaccine mandates. Instead, what the policy said was, "This particular mandate issued through this federal regulatory agency without legal authorization, it was wrong." They went on to say, "This is a technical matter of importance," that they were putting a preliminary hold on this exercise of the Biden administration's policy until the issue can be revisited by the six US Circuit Court of Appeals. But again, given the strength of the majority's case made clear in this ruling, we have good reason to be encouraged.

Our liberties, constitutionally defined, are not just individual. They come as part of a larger package that was understood by our national founders and by the framers of our constitutional order. The Bill of Rights, wasn't just adopted, in terms of the first 10 amendments to the constitution very clearly stipulating those rights. They were not adopted individually, but corporately. It's a reminder to us that religious liberty in Winston stands or falls with other liberties that are articulated and respected within the constitution. But religious liberty, we understand as Christians, is the first liberty, the fundamental liberty upon which all the other liberties eventually depend. That's one of the reasons why we went to court. It's one of the reasons why I believe yesterday's action by the court was so important.

But I make clear, again, even as the court said, the court wasn't ruling on vaccines. My concerns are not based in opposition to the vaccines. My mother was a nurse, and I've said this before, as a nurse, she had worked in pediatric wards during the 1950s. She had seen firsthand the wonders of vaccines in saving the lives of children. I can assure you that she lined up all four of her children for vaccines. She did so with vigor. Thus far, I've received three COVID shots, and I was glad to take them. As president of a large Christian institution, I've encouraged COVID vaccination to both faculty and students. I've done so both privately and in public.

But I have opposed, and I do oppose any mandate. I've done so from the start, and I deny the right of a federal agency to force me to line up our employees and effectively separate the sheep from goats on the basis of vaccination, and then to coerce employees against religious conscience to be vaccinated or outed. The Supreme Court granted a stay against the Biden administration mandate yesterday, noting that those who brought the suits are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim, that the secretary lacked authority to impose the mandate.

We have to hope that it's so. I certainly pray that it's so. But I'm extremely thankful that yesterday the Supreme Court of the United States, at least said, it is so. That's no small thing.

Part

Elections Have Consequences: The Dark Legacy of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, Whose Term Ends Tomorrow

But before turning to questions, I want to turn to a political milestone. That's also a moral milestone we ought to think about that takes place tomorrow, where in Richmond Virginia, Glenn Youngkin will become the 74th governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

But that also means that the current governor Ralph Northam will leave office tomorrow after serving four years. Four very tempestuous years, four extremely liberal years. Let's just remind ourselves that this is the governor who was almost forced from office because it was revealed that he had been at least with someone who appeared in blackface in the college yearbook, indeed the medical school yearbook going back a matter of decades. That became a raging controversy, and against all political odds, the governor stayed in place, and he asked for effectively a second chance, but it was a second chance to move to the far left.

But here's something else we need to remember. Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia should be remembered for his infamous comments, basically affirming and describing a form of infanticide. During the time that he was governor, Virginia asked an extremely liberal abortion law and in explaining that law, and doing so, by the way, not only as governor, but as someone who had been a practicing pediatric physician, governor Northam basically described that a baby that would be severely deformed would be left to die. The choice would be at least potentially infanticide. And he explained it with a technicality, with the casualness, with a coldness that is chilling, still. Elections matter, and the election of Ralph Northam as the governor or Virginia produced, not only that very liberal abortion legislation, and that was a picture of Virginia moving far to the left, as we have expressed and explained. It went from being a red state to a blue state. It was predicted that it would be for some time, a purple state going both Democrat and Republican. But in the main, that has not been the case.

Virginia has swung far to the left. It's going to be interesting to see, if the rather unexpected election of Glenn Youngkin as the Republican governor of Virginia will change that course. It's going to be very interesting to watch. But just remember that the election consequences of Virginia electing Ralph Northam include the fact that along with the legislature during these years, the state not only adopted a very liberal abortion law. It legalized marijuana. It abolished the death penalty. It went on to do many things that were demanded by progressives, just a reminder that elections have consequences.

As Ralph Northern leaves office, we can see that several, indeed many of the consequences of his four years in office will continue. It's going to be up to Glenn Youngkin to bring a lot of correctives in that state, and we're about to find out what he's made of.

Part

Is it biblical to pay pastors? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters From Listeners Of The Briefing

Okay, now, we turn to questions at the end of the week.

Marzio wrote in asking, "Is there any biblical support for the practice of paying pastors, a salary or remuneration for the work they do and teaching and leading the congregation?" Well, actually Marzio, yes, of course there is. I would refer you most specifically to 1 Timothy 5:18, and in that passage, the apostle Paul goes ahead and quotes the Old Testament about not muzzling the ox, and then goes on to speak of the Workman who is worthy of his wages, and that is particularly speaking of one who bears the teaching responsibility.

Now, the fact that there would be one or multiple people who bear that responsibility in a church and that some of them might be so-called full-time and others not on the church payroll. There could be any number of arrangements that would certainly meet the biblical mandate here and a biblical structure. But the fact is that it's really clear that there is a biblical mandate, for the church supporting financially and offering remuneration and salary and support to at least someone, if not several, who are recognized and installed within the teaching office and given responsibility for the preaching and teaching of the word of God in and for to the congregation. That's just a really important thing. The apostle Paul here, writing to Timothy, goes on to say, "It's not just valid that there be pay, but that there be pay that is commensurate with the responsibilities that are given this individual." After all, just thinking about the role of a pastor in a church, he also has to support a family. He has financial needs.

So, yes, I'm very thankful that the apostle Paul dealt with this explicitly, because if he hadn't, we might be left wondering. But we're not left wondering, because this is a question that the apostle Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, answered.

Part

May Christians serve as organ donors? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters From Listeners Of The Briefing

Next, over the course of the last several days, even the couple of weeks, we've talked about a couple of big issues on The Briefing, one has to do with the traditional Christian concern about cremation, largely based upon the idea that it's the desecration of the body. It's just a reversal of a biblical logic. I can't repeat that entire segment here, but I refer to it.

But nonetheless, speaking of the Christian concern for the body, even the dead body, even in the grave, Ryan and Heather came to asking, "Well, another issue you've discussed had to do with the pig heart beating in a man's chest and the need for donor organs." So both Heather and Ryan were asking, "What would be the Christian concern about, say organ donation, and would that be legitimate?"

Well, let me come back to Ryan and Heather and say, those are just very intelligent questions. I appreciate you raising this and say, here are some dots, we need to figure out how to connect them. Here again, the Christian worldview really helps us, because what we are opposed to is the desecration of the body. Something that would be done in order to destroy the body, which would be a way of just basically, either intentionally or unintentionally denying something that the scripture says is really important. The holistic understanding of humanity, the psychosomatic unity of body and soul resisting the idea that the soul is somehow to be liberated from the body. That's the origin of many pagan practices of cremation.

But organ donation is not the same thing, and it's for the same reason that Christians should have no particular resistance to any legal need for an autopsy. There may be a legitimate need for such a procedure, and it's not being done to desecrate the body. It should be done with full respect to the body. An organ donation can come in much the same way. A moral good can come without a moral harm. There is no reason why the Christian should not say, "If I die and my kidneys can be useful, I will donate them. Or if my corneas can be useful, I will donate them." Or a Christian member saying about a loved one, "Look, we think this is the right thing to make these organs or tissues available," because this is being done out of love of neighbor, and it is not something that is being done in order to show any disrespect to the body at all.

It might be indeed analogous to a certain form of surgery that would take place even while someone is living. But in this case, it is something that is intended for the good of another, and it is not disrespect. That's the big issue, Ryan and Heather. It's not disrespect. It's not desecration. It's not a denial of the body. It's instead in understanding that there can be a gift by means of these donor organs and tissues, that can make a real difference for someone else. But the issue here is respect, avoiding desecration.

Very smart questions, I really appreciate both of you asking.

Part

How should Christians handle cremains? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters From Listeners Of The Briefing

Finally, a related a question came to me, and that is what do you do with cremains? What should a Christian do with the cremated remains that may come into our possession, say, handed down from, let's say, not so much generation to generation. I don't know how much that happens, but at least someone says, "Hey, you need to decide on behalf of the family, how we deal with this."

Well, this is a problem. It's a problem because the Christian worldview understands that at times there are questions that almost can't rightly be answered on a Christian basis. Once this is done, there is basically no real option to do anything that is particularly right. It back to the issue of respect. But when it comes to cremated human remains, what does respect look like? Does respect look like scattering them on the shore, or in the sea, or at the lake? Or does it mean instead residing in an urn, and that urn sometimes just put out of sight? Out of sight, maybe out of mind. Regardless, it's just another reminder of the artificiality that this kind of disposition of the body really does represent the moral complexities of cremation.

There are people who don't like the fact that I've discussed it at all, because they see it as just in the realm of the private. But here's where Christianity reminds us, there's actually very little in the absolute domain of the private. Christianity is a public truth, and we live out faithful Christianity and congregationalized lives. None of these issues are just private for us and for us alone. That's why we talk about them.

I want to thank you for helping us to think about them and talk about them with the very intelligent and helpful questions you send in.

Keep them coming.

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 informational on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.

I'll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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