The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, May 26, 2022

It’s Thursday, May 26th, 2022.

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

Part I

A Time to Mourn: The Nation Looks to Uvalde as Details of School Shooting Emerge

American hearts, minds, and prayers continue to be directed towards the horror in Uvalde, Texas. And now we do know more, but I’m not going to go into detail on that story today precisely out of respect.

We spoke yesterday about what we knew at the time, the scale and scope of the horror is now well documented. Yesterday, in Uvalde, there was a political confrontation, even as government officials were seeking to give an advisory. There’s so much at stake in all of this, but we need to remember that the most important issue right now is a grieving community and in particular grieving parents and grieving families. And I know of connections to so many of those families. And even if you know no such connections, I documented those in an article I published at World Opinions yesterday morning. That even if you do not have personal ties, just look at those photographs, just understand what is going on. And let’s give some space and some time in order for all this to be figured out. But then again, I overstated that. I overspoke intentionally to make a point. We will never completely figure this out.

That’s a part of the Christian understanding of sin. The Christian understanding of evil that comes down to the little word surd as in absurd, which is to say evil doesn’t make sense. Now that’s true when it just comes to sin in the garden of Eden. No one would think that Eve and Adam made good choices in the garden of Eden. Their choice was absurd. Evil itself, sin itself is absurd. And that’s what we’re looking at in this picture, but it’s not only absurd. That’s a word that in English doesn’t communicate enough. It is irrational. It is anti-human. It is an assault upon God’s holiness. It is ultimately inexplicable, but the fact is it is all too real.

When it’s time to say more about what we will learn from the events in Uvalde, we will speak to those issues. But right now, we need to pray for the people there. We need to pray for the grace and mercy of Christ to be evident in that community and to those families.

Part II

‘I Respect People's Views . . . But I Don't Respect Us Foisting It Onto Others.’: Speaker Nancy Pelosi Speaks Her Mind About the Archbishop’s Communion Ban

But I want to shift to something I mentioned both in my article yesterday morning and on The Briefing that one of the quickest things that develops, and we saw that in that political confrontation in Uvalde yesterday, one of the quickest things that develops is a political argument over these issues. Now, you look at that and you say that’s very limitable, and yes, there’s the potential both for politicians not giving enough attention to these issues or politicians say trying to gain political advantage on these issues. Both of those are possible in a fallen world, but the point is and here’s something we need to note, politics means human beings trying to organize the world around themselves. And in that sense, what we need to recognize is that politics is always closer than we might think.

Politics is under a conversation between a husband and a wife, between parents and children. You mentioned extended family. Sometimes then it gets outright political. Just think of the conversations you may have had over a recent Thanksgiving meal. But the fact is that human life is political precisely because we are part of a polis. We are part of a community, and politics is about the right ordering of that community. And so one of the things we need to say as Christians is that even as theology is everywhere so in this life politics is ultimately everywhere. Don’t be surprised when you say it. We also need to say to politicians, you may think politics is an entirely secular arena, but it may come as a shock to you that theology is always there. It’s never merely political. So all of this is just something for Christians to keep in mind. We’re the last people on earth who should be surprised when the political turns theological or when the theological turns political.

As we actually live our lives, often these issues are inseparable. We talked just a few days ago on The Briefing about the speaker of the house, Nancy Pelosi being denied communion there in the archdiocese in San Francisco, that’s her home diocese in the Roman Catholic church, because the Archbishop there Salvatore Cordileone has forbidden her because of her obstinate refusal to hold two Catholic doctrine upholding the sanctity of unborn human life.

As we discussed on The Briefing, when we talked about this a matter of days ago, when you’re talking about the speaker of the house, you’re not just talking of someone who is say mildly pro-choice. She is avidly pro-abortion. Once you had that leaked Supreme Court opinion that would’ve reversed Roe v Wade. And of course, we, as Christians are praying that’s exactly what will happen. Once that became a public issue, the speaker of the house representing one of the most liberal districts in the Democratic party there in San Francisco actually tried to get through the house and succeeded getting legislation that is actually far more radical even than Roe itself. Codifying Roe, yes, that’s what she said, but actually taking the logic of Roe, the logic of abortion even further.

It was at that time that the Archbishop said that he had decided to act, and there had been threats before. There had been individual priests in the diocese who had refused the speaker communion, but that had been episodic. Now, it is a diocesan policy. The Archbishop has said it applies to every church and to every priest and to everyone presiding at the sacrament there in the archdiocese of San Francisco. The Archbishop said that he had tried to make contact with the speaker of the house, but that contact for conversation was denied him. Thus, he released the pastoral letter. He also released a letter instructing priests not to allow the speaker of the house access to the communion table and he issued a statement to the public.

Well, by now, there has been response. That’s why we’re talking about it again today because the speaker of the house Representative Nancy Pelosi has responded to the fact that she is banned from communion there in the archdiocese of San Francisco. She made her response on MSNBC’s program Morning Joe. And she said, “I respect people’s views about that.” Meaning abortion. She said, “But I don’t respect us foisting it onto others.” Absolutely fascinating. That’s why we have to talk about this today.

Here, you have the speaker of the house. I repeat myself, the Speaker of the House of Representatives. What does the House do? The House makes law. In other words, it foists judgment onto others. But now, when it comes to abortion, the speaker of the house who just pushed through radical abortion legislation through the House of Representatives says that she respects people’s views about abortion, “but I don’t respect us foisting it onto others.” Well, just another point about politics. In politics, one way or another, the law is going to foist value judgments upon the people. That’s what the law actually does. The law says you can’t kill. The law says you can’t steal. The law says you cannot commit say extortion. There are all kinds of crimes. As a matter of fact, the criminal law is expansive simply because of the ingenuity of human beings in setting.

And another thing we just need to know is that the codification of the law comes after the reality of the sin. That’s true, by the way, even in the scripture, when it comes to the revealed law of God, even in the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are given by God through Moses in Exodus 20. And yet, sin comes in Genesis 3. Sin that includes murder. And for that matter, fratricide. Sin that includes lying. Sin that includes stealing. Sin that includes committing adultery. It took place even before the giving of the specific commandment, but as the Apostle Paul says the moral law was there all the way from creation, but that’s where the Apostle Paul also tells us that the law alone is capable and quite successfully so of condemning us. It can’t save us, because no one may be justified by the law. Every single person stands condemned by the law.

The speaker of the house just says, and you have to assume that she meant someone to take her seriously about this. She says, “I don’t respect us foisting it.” Meaning her moral judgment on abortion onto others, but that’s exactly what she’s been pushing for and demanding for a matter of decades. What you have in the two party system in the United States in say red states and blue states and conservatives and liberals are two different visions of how society should be organized. Two different visions of the polis, thus of politics. And both of those visions come laden with moral judgements. They’re just different, sometimes diametrically opposite moral judgments. It is interesting that the speaker simply said, “We just have to be prayerful. We have to be respectful.”

But again, what in the world does respectful mean there? The Archbishop didn’t call her names. The Archbishop called her out for violating Catholic doctrine flagrantly, repeatedly, longstandingly in a way that was resistant to any kind of ecclesial, that is to say theological correction. The Archbishop was simply doing what, well, an Archbishop would do if indeed you had archbishops, which the Roman Catholic church does.

I have been both looking for and fascinated by letters to the editor, another public responses to this news story. Some of the most interesting came in the Los Angeles Times. One writer identifying as a pro-choice Catholic woman wrote “It is ironic that a church leader in the 21st century would deny holy communion to someone who seeks to serve all Americans and not voice her personal values on those who do not share her religious faith.”

Now, again, this person identifies as a pro-choice Catholic, but what’s missing from this is Catholic. Now, I’m an evangelical Christian. My views on Catholicism are very clear, but the one thing I am not shocked by, and at least don’t think I should be shocked by is a Roman Catholic Archbishop who is Catholic and upholds Catholic teaching.

But my favorite letter to the editor was written by a man in Altadena, California named Alex Murray, who seems to understand virtually nothing of this situation, but he does have strong opinions. This is what he writes. “Cordileone’s official and public sanction of Pelosi needs to be seen by the Internal Revenue Service for what it is, a clear and studied attempt to influence law and politics in America with the goal of imposing Catholic dogma regarding abortion onto the lives of all Americans. This goes well beyond,” he writes, “a cleric admonishing a parishioner to change her stance. He could have done that in private communication with Pelosi. This kind of behavior on the part of a high church official should result in the removal of tax exempt status or at least the threat of it for that archdiocese.” He concludes, “I hope the IRS is drafting a stern letter to the Archbishop reminding him that lobbyists and political action organizations are not tax exempt.”

Well, how interesting. It’s really interesting when you put it in contrast with something that we’ve noted several times and that’s the argument made by so many on the left. And the classic example of this is the former New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, who is himself identified LGBTQ, very liberal. He wrote an article a few years ago that infamously said that religious liberty should be constrained to, contained in our hearts, our homes and our pews. The fallacious argument he was making is that religious liberty stops outside your heart, outside your family, outside your church. That’s a nonsensical argument. That’s nothing to do with the religious liberty and the freedom of religious expression that is guaranteed in the constitution.

But nonetheless is obvious as that might be, the reality is that what we have in this letter is an argument that takes the issue even further. Arguing that a Catholic Archbishop archbishoping, so to speak, and simply announcing to his own church and making a public announcement about the discipline of the church to the people, that is all of a sudden an unconstitutional violation of the IRS code turning this church into just another lobbying organization.

But notice the logic of where this leads. This means a constriction of religious liberty, of freedom of religious expression, and also free exercise of religion simply to not only the religious sphere but the religious sphere that is never even publicly known. I often tell people that the most interesting arguments about some issues, some news stories and headlines appear only a few days thereafter. That’s usually when the really interesting arguments arise. One place to look for them is in say answering columns, one columnist writes this, another columnist sometimes in the same newspaper will come back with a contrary argument or look at letters to the editor. These are letters coming from just rather ordinary American citizens who read these periodicals. That’s actually what makes the argument so scary.

There’s one other issue to discuss here and that has to do with another high ranking Democrat in the Senate, that is Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin. There have been several articles about him in this light, because he has been under a similar ban for 17 years. Another very pro-abortion Democrat who is also a Roman Catholic. And in this case, Senator Durbin says he has found this experience very frustrating in his words, fraught and uncomfortable. The Senator complained about what he called “the way the bishops seem to be using the Eucharist, that’s communion in the Catholic church, for political purposes.” And speaking of what he assumes should be a complete break between the personal and the private, between religious conviction and public responsibility. The Senator said, “I didn’t realize that my political career would end up being a dominant factor in my personal life in that regard.”

But as one priest responded, why would he expect otherwise? What exactly does he think Catholic means? To an evangelical, I would say, what exactly do you think church means? Just one last note on this. Senator Durbin made a very recent statement on Fox News in response to the ban put upon the speaker of the house. And he said to Fox News, “It’s very personal to Speaker Pelosi as it is to me.” But then the Democratic Senator said, “I still believe that the authorities in the church believe we have issues that can only be decided by our own conscience and not by some bishop’s conscience.”

But then again, oddly enough, I’ve got to speak to this as an evangelical, actually as a Baptist. We don’t have bishops beyond the local church. We certainly don’t have archbishops. We don’t have cardinals. We don’t have a pope. But what I find fascinating is the statement made by this Catholic Senator who said that in his view, this shouldn’t come down to a judgment made by a single person, a judgment made by “some bishop’s conscience.” I can fully understand a certain kind of Protestant argument being made that way, but it’s a very strange argument coming from someone who is supposed to give allegiance to the Pope of Rome.

Part III

The Politicization of Medicine Added to Constitutional Confusion: Confronting The Lancet’s Argument for Abandoning the U.S. Constitution in Light of 21st Century ‘Science’

But linking this to another development concerning abortion. There’s so many of them these days. I want to go to a publication in Great Britain, an English medical publication, going back to 1823. It’s the most venerable of the English doctor journals that is medical journals. It was established, as I said, in 1823. It’s called the Lancet. That’s the word that is commonly used in England for what most American surgeons would call a scalpel. After the American medical journal known as the New England Journal of Medicine, the Lancet is the second most cited academic medical journal in the entire world. So in other words, it has a big footprint and has a big tradition. It has a big voice.

It recently ran an editorial as a medical journal. However, with this headline, “Why Roe v. Wade must be defended.” Two odd things here. Number one, this is a medical journal. Number two, it’s published in England. But nonetheless, here’s the point. The editors of the Lancet say, “What is so shocking, inhuman, and irrational about this draft opinion….” You can assume again, that’s this leaked draft opinion. “What is so shocking, inhuman, and irrational about this draft opinion is that the court is basing its decision on an 18th century document ignorant of 21st century realities for women.”

The editors went on say, “History and tradition can be respected, but they must be only partial guides. The law should be able to adapt to new and previously unanticipated challenges and predicaments.” They conclude in this point “Though, Alito, that means Justice Alito gives an exhaustive legal history of abortion, he utterly fails to consider the health of women today who seek abortion.”

Wait just a minute. You might have an American patriotic instinct that kicks in right here on two points. One of them is this is after all a British medical journal and it’s like we’re back in 1775. The British are now telling the Americans how we are to organize our culture. But that rather facetiously aside, the bigger issue here is the view of the constitution. Notice that this medical journal in England actually arrogantly decides is going to tell Americans what we should think about abortion and the U.S. Supreme Court how it should rule on abortion. And it does so straightforwardly by arguing that the Supreme Court should free itself from the U.S. Constitution.

Little historical footnote here. Might be interesting. How would you compare the British constitution and the constitution of the United States of America? Well, you can’t put two documents side by side. Britain is a constitutional democracy, but a very different kind. There are such close parallels between the British system and the American system even right down to the structures of our constitutional government. But when it comes to the constitution, in the United States of America, that means a text. When it comes to Great Britain, the constitution means a tradition. Those are two very different things. Go and try to pull up a copy of the constitution of Great Britain. Good luck. You’re not going to find one. No one’s ever seen one. You do have commentaries on the British constitution, but they’re commentaries on a text no one’s read.

Now, that doesn’t mean that British constitutionalism doesn’t work. It works in its own way. But even as say a British court might rule and more recently there’s some British courts that are sounding like American courts from the 1960s and ’70s, even though there are some British courts who would say this is contrary to the British constitution, they’re not pointing to a specific text that they call the constitution. They might reference an argument made along constitutional lines by someone contributing to the debate, but they can’t point to the text. In the United States, it is the text. In the United States, the constitution that was ratified at the end of the 18th century is a constitution that was intended from the very beginning to be a text, to operate as a text, to be publicly released as a text, to be shown to the world as a text, to operate with the authority of a text.

You’ll notice here the argument of the Lancet editors is just abandon the text. They say it’s shocking. Hear this again. “What is so shocking, inhuman, and irrational about this draft opinion is that the court is basing its decision on an 18th century document ignorant of 21st century realities for women.” Now, of course, the framers of the constitution were ignorant about many things, tried to explain to them say electric cars or steel belted radials, or air conditioning. But in the United States having a written constitution, we’re actually dependent upon judges to rule according to the text of the Constitution. And according to the text of the law, unless one of two things happens, either the law is changed in accordance with the Constitution, or the Constitution is changed through the constitutional process of amendment.

Contrary to the beliefs of the editors of the Lancet, American federal judges don’t get to say, “Well, my version of the Constitution says this.” We’re all bound to the same version and there it is. That’s a constitution you actually can look up and frankly probably should. By the way, I have to look at one other statement. It’s a question within the Lancet editorial, they write, “What kind of society has the USA become when a small group of justices is allowed to harm women, their families, and their communities that they have been appointed to protect?”

Well, one of the first rules of moralities, love your neighbor, do no harm as the Hippocratic oath says. But who gets to define that harm? That’s the problem. The editors of the Lancet say judges should do so based upon their own worldview, their own ideology, their own understanding. And they find it bizarre that a “small group of justices” is actually bound to a constitution and has to rule accordingly.

Once again, looking at this kind of argument, one of the things we need to do is simply look at the argument that confronts us and take it to its logical conclusion. And in this case, it would mean that judges are basically appointed in order to be very smart people who would make presumably very smart judgments about what they believe are the very smart positions on any number of issues. It certainly helps in that regard, if your constitution isn’t even written.

Another angle on this was addressed by the editors of the Wall Street Journal responding to the editors of the Lancet. They point to another issue and that is the fact that as they say, “The journal will damage the pro-abortion cause if the public starts to dismiss medical expertise as merely another vehicle for the progressive agenda.” The point there is that if you’re going to politicize medicine, guess what? You just politicized medicine, which means in a very significant way, you’re now operating as a politician, not as a doctor and in accordance that’s how people should hear you.

Finally, one of the most interesting arguments out there right now in our contemporary society comes down to the argument as to whether culture drives politics or politics drives culture. We’ll be taking a more expansive look at that. But the Christian understanding I think is more accurately, that it is primarily the culture that drives the politics. As the late Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “It is politics that is downstream from culture.”

But as we bring this addition of The Briefing to conclusion, one of the things we need to recognize is that there is no perfect point on a continuum of just how say political any moment should be, just how political we should think. The reality is that at times we are not really operating in an overtly political context. We are more likely to spend most of our times and this is by God’s intention in our family life, in our homes, at our work with our families and congregations with fellow Christians engaged in congregational life and mission and ministry.

But the reality is that politics is never very far. And as we’ve seen today, the church just being the church, Christians just say standing for and upholding biblical truth will find that to some people out there in the world, that itself is a profoundly political act. And oddly enough, understanding the true definition of politics in a sense we agree with them.

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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