The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, June 13, 2022

It’s Monday, June 13th, 2022.

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

Part I

‘The Enlightenment Consigned Religion in America to the Private Realm of the Individual’: The Secular Arguments Banishing Religion from the Public Square

One of the big questions being asked by many people in secular society is who are these religious people and why do they keep showing up trying to influence public policy? That must be unconstitutional, right? At Religion News Service. Jeffrey Salkin wrote an article asking the question, should religion influence abortion policy? That means national policy. It means law. And of course the implication of the question is no. And frankly, you would find that very same answer in his article.

He begins, “For the past three weeks, for the first time since the end of February, the biggest and boldest headlines in the New York Times have not been about Ukraine. They were about America, the threat to Roe v. Wade, and the very real possibility that abortion will no longer be legal and huge swaths of this country has shaken us. But for those of us who are people of faith,” he says, “the issue runs deeper and it is even more painful.” That is to say something more painful than the abortion debate right now is the fact that the abortion debate is coming on theological or on religious terrain. He says, “This is because this conflict forces us to ask the question, what role should religion have in national conversations on public policy, especially on issues as sensitive and intimate as abortion.”

He continues making his own argument, “First, let us remember that there’s no such thing as religion, there are religions, and none of them are the established religion or church in America.” He says, “It is not only that there was no public church in America. There could not have been. The principles of the enlightenment consigned religion in America to the private realm of the individual.”

Well, let’s just stop here for a moment. Let’s just consider that first argument, because this is big and it’s important. Now, Jeffrey Salkin is identified by Religion News Service as a religious teacher at temple Solel in Hollywood, Florida. And it’s also on its own website identified as a liberal or progressive congregation of reform Judaism. And it also actually makes a rather interesting claim. It says that at this particular synagogue, Judaism is not only observed, it is basically being created. On the website they put it this way, “We not only transmit Judaism. At Solel, we create it.” That tells us a great deal. When we’re talking about liberal Judaism, in this sense, we’re talking about a Judaism so liberal, it is actually openly declaring itself to be creating itself, even right now. But as we look at this, we recognize that an argument’s being made.

And the argument is that there’s no such thing as religion, there are religions, and no religion is the established church in the United States, true or false? Well, it is absolutely true that there is no established church in the United States. As a matter of fact, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution declares that there shall be no establishment of religion. That’s to say there is no state religion, there is no state church. And this writer, Jeffrey Salkin, comes back to say that there couldn’t have been a public church in America, “The principles of the enlightenment consigned religion in America to the private realm of the individual.” Except that wasn’t true at all. As a matter of fact, into the 19th century, there were states in the United States under the United States Constitution that did have even a state church, even an established church that continued well into the 19th century.

The U.S. Constitution limited the government of the United States of America, the federal government. It did not limit the power of the states. Now, eventually that logic was extended to the states. But the point is, that wasn’t the case in 1789. And the point is that the enlightenment never meant in the United States that religion was simply consigned to the private realm of the individual. That wasn’t true when the constitution was framed, it’s not true now. There can be no establishment of religion, but at the same time, the U.S. Constitution in the same paragraph guarantees the free exercise of religion. And that means that religious people are also fully free to exercise political influence, or even to hold political office. So what you really have here is an effort to try to rewrite the history of the United States in secular terms. And we can understand why there would be such an effort.

It is because there are people who well recognize that perhaps the most important obstacle when you’re thinking about the ambitions of those who want to secularize the culture and liberalize the culture, to get the culture to adopt a woke or very progressive understanding of all things, the great obstacle turns out to be religious Americans who can’t go along with the woke.

Mr. Salkin recognizes that even as he says, the principles of the Enlightenment consigned religion to the private realm of the individual, that’s wrong, but that’s what he said. He went on to say, “That being said, America is a deeply religious country. Separation of church and state,” he writes, “is one thing, but America’s never agreed to the separation of religion and society. There is that thing called American civil religion, religious symbols, meanings and celebrations crowd into and compete for space in the public square.”

So then he asked the question, and this is the big question in his article, what should religion’s voice be in shaping American society? Well, as it turns out, he basically comes down to the answer that so long as religion serves the political purposes he wants, then religion’s a healthy influence. But if it in some way limits personal expression, or for that matter, the full moral revolution, it’s probably a bad thing, Mr. Salkin asked the question, is there a limit to the relationship between religious teachings and society? He says, yes, and it is a necessary firewall. Here’s how he explains the situation: “We live in an open market of ideas. Religious ideas are part of the public discourse. Like other ideas in the public square, we can hear those ideas. Those ideas might influence how we think about the great issues, but those ideas cannot determine policy.”

He says, “Public policy must be open to rational discourse with provable data and not merely unbeliefs, however sacred their source is.” Okay. I can at least understand what he’s arguing here. It’s a very secular argument. Indeed it’s a secular rising argument. But let’s just take it seriously. Let’s try to think it through for a moment. Is it true that public policy must be open to rational discourse that is public reason with provable data and not merely on beliefs, however sacred their source is? Well, let’s just try that for a moment. Let’s say, for example, we’re talking about a law against murder. I think we can all agree that’s a necessary law. So let’s talk about the crime of killing a human being. And let’s be very thankful it’s a crime in every jurisdiction of which I know. It is a serious crime, perhaps the most serious crime.

But as you’re looking at this, you recognize, yes, there are secular arguments for the criminality of this offense. You can go right down to economic impact. You can go right down to something like we have to treat everyone like we want to be treated, and something like society can’t survive if indeed this particular crime starts to gain ground and creates actually something like a population crisis, as well as a crisis of trust. Yeah, there are, you might say just plain secular arguments, but we also recognize that Western law wasn’t just based in those secular arguments, because Western law did not emerge from a secular context. It emerged from a context explicitly influenced by biblical religion influenced by Christianity. It is a context that had understood the grounding of human dignity and the value of human life in explicitly biblical and Christian theological terms. Now, frankly, we should be thankful that in the main, laws against homicide are pretty well understood and pretty well affirmed.

That’s very basic for our society. But what about the issue of abortion? Because after all, that’s why we’re talking about this. This particular Jewish writer raises the issue of the influence of religion and public policy explicitly because of the issue of abortion. But he goes on to say that when it comes to religion in the question of abortion, religion needs to stay completely out of the picture. He says, “Conservative Christians are at least a part of the problem here.” He says, “This is where conservative Christian views on abortion come in. Those views,” he says, “are part of a larger conversation about when the fetus is endowed with a soul at the moment of conception later, and other religious ideas and texts that are specific to the Christian tradition.” After summarizing that tradition, he says, “I am moved by that witness, but that witness is not mine.”

He says, “Rather my own faith lies along these lines.” He says, “From a reform responsum,” that is a Jewish legal position. He then goes on to make a very contrary argument. And then he says this, “America does not allow you to turn your own religions, theological ideas into public policy. I respect those whose religious faith would prevent them from having abortions and assisting in abortion, but you cannot legislate those commitments, especially in matters over which there is substantial moral and scientific disagreement, and especially in areas of life that are so intimate.” Okay, very serious argument. I think seriously flawed, seriously wrong, but a very serious argument. Working backwards, he says, “In areas of life that are so intimate,” and this gets back to the claim of privacy that’s pretty much foundational to the Roe v. Wade decision. But again, the notion of privacy, the claim of privacy really can’t be logically extended to ending the life of another person, which is exactly what takes place in abortion.

But wait just a minute, says this Jewish writer, you have no right to say that a human life has been ended, because after all, there are some who would simply say certainly at early stages of development, this is nothing more than just a biological entity or a potential human being. That’s the language that is often used. But you know what’s really, really interesting to notice that many, if not most of the people who argue about the status of the fetus and the beginning of life, even the embryo, they continue to support abortion all the way up through the third trimester, which just indicates the fact that this really isn’t about a question as to whether or not this is a human life or a human being. It’s really about whether or not a mother ought to have the right to terminate the life within her, period.

But let’s look at one sentence that this writer has offered us. He says, “America does not allow you to turn your own religions, theological ideas into public policy.” Well, that’s an interesting statement, and it’s actually true. And it’s in keeping with our constitutional logic if we say that the plausible reason a rationale behind legislation should not be that the first Presbyterian church has said this, or the first Lutheran church, or the second Christian church claims that this is true, or that the Roman Catholic church, or the Southern Baptist convention says that this is true. But rather that applying public reason informed by Christian conscience, you have people saying, we believe this is true, but it really does go back, and this is where Christians need to be honest, it really does go back to the fact that our understanding of the dignity and the worth of every single human life, it is theological.

And by the way, our society, it better be thankful that at least among many, if not most Americans, it still is theological. All you have to do is look across history, and in particular the horrible history of the 20th century, to see what happens when regimes are put in power that are unconstrained by a Christian understanding based upon Scripture, based upon the doctrine of creation of the meaning and worth of every single human life, at every point of development and under every condition of life. He laments what would happen if Roe v. Wade were to be reversed. And then he asked a question, quote, “what contribution should religion be adding to the abortion controversy?” He answers, “Above all else, perhaps humility. We are talking about real women with real bodies whose God-given dignity requires that they have authority over those bodies.” He goes on to end, “Such humility requires that religious groups not press their theologically partisan agendas onto the American public. This way lies chaos, and worst, holy wars between religious groups. This way lies a return to the middle ages. It’s time for all religious people to call time out.”

Let’s just pause for a moment again, this is a serious argument meant to be taken seriously. Let’s try to. He says, “We are talking about real women with real bodies whose God-given dignity requires they have authority over those bodies.” Now, this is a claim of bodily autonomy, and there’s a certain sense in which a claim to bodily autonomy fits the biblical worldview. And yet there are severe limits to that argument from a biblical perspective. And in this case, the most important issue is that there is absolutely no, none at all recognition that a pregnancy means not one person, but two. And so you might have someone come along and say, well, according to Jewish tradition, the person only becomes a human being recognized as having human status after quick inning.

Well, okay, even that’s not recognized here. This isn’t even a classical Jewish argument. No, here’s where Christians have to look at this and recognize that yes, we are talking about real women with real bodies whose God-given dignity is to be recognized. But here’s where Christians have to come along and say that unborn child is also a real person with a real body whose God-given dignity requires that their life be defended rather than exterminated. But as we leave this particular issue today, we recognize it’s important for us to know there really are people out there who really do insist that religious and theological arguments ought to have no place in public policy at all. I’ll simply say, that’s not just of questionable constitutionality. It’s also just bluntly impossible, because Christian citizens of the United States of America are going to show up thinking we have to hope and pray like Christians.

Yes, voting as Christians, establishing policy as Christians, bearing witness as Christians, because that’s even more fundamental than being a citizen of the United States of America.

Part II

‘China Harvests Organs from Death-Row Prisoners and Prisoners of Conscience’: Wall Street Journal Study Reveals Chinese Surgeons Turned Executioners

Next, as we’re thinking about human dignity, we recognize that culture matters, politics matters, ideology matters. And I want to take us to China in order to understand that point. A tandem of reporters wrote a very interesting piece for the Wall Street Journal in recent days indicating that there is brand new, credible evidence that in China surgeons have become executioners. Now, one of the things that we have noted in China over the years is that there has been the widespread knowledge that condemned criminals are often executed at a time when it is most convenient and by a technology that is most convenient in order to remove organs for transplantation, which is to say that condemned prisoners are being considered organ procurement agencies and surgeons are carrying this out.

Jacob Levy and Matthew P. Robertson writing for the journal tell us, in a large scale review we conducted of nearly 3000 Chinese language clinical reports and published in the American Journal of Transplantation, we find surgeons acknowledging such actions again and again. What are the actions? In which the surgeon becomes an executioner by taking out a necessary organ for transplantation, thus leading to the death of the prisoner. One of the most chilling aspects of this particular report is that Chinese doctors are reporting on themselves doing this, and even seeking to improve and perfect their methodology. For example, coming from Wuhan, certain doctors wrote, “When the chest of the donor was opened, the chest wall incision was pale and bloodless and the heart was purple and beating weakly. But the heartbeat became strong immediately after tracheal intubation and oxygenation. The donor heart was extracted with an incision from the fourth intercostal sternum into the chest. This incision is a good choice or field operation where the sternum cannot be sawed open without power.”

The fact that this is being undertaken on live patients is made very clear in the article where the authors tell us, “Our research finds scores of reports over a three decade period at 56 Chinese hospitals involving more than 300 medical workers in which brain death was described as having been declared before the donor was intubated. They were often intubated immediately before surgery. In the 1994 Wuhan case,” they write, “intubation took place after the surgery began. In other cases, there was no intubation at all.” To get to the moral issue they write, “It has long been known that China harvest organs from death row prisoners and prisoners of conscience as part of a large scale, lucrative trade, to the extent that such religious minorities as Falun Gong and Uighur Muslims have been targeted, a London based independent tribunal described it as a crime against humanity and potentially a component of genocide.”

Yet they say, “Until now, there’s been no systematic study of the role of doctors in carrying out the executions themselves.” To document the role of doctors, these researchers downloaded 124,770 Chinese language medical papers. They developed algorithms to look for certain constructions and series of words. And they found out of that 124,770 medical papers, they found 71 clinical reports, “making explicit admissions of surgeon killing. And we suspect,” say these writers, “they were a tiny portion of a large hidden population.” Another issue we see here is the failure of international legal and medical organizations. As these writers tell us, “In a 2019 paper in the journal BMC Medical Ethics, they had used statistical forensics to show that the official voluntary organ donation numbers in China were falsified, inflating the success of a modest voluntary organ donation program used to buttress the reform narrative.”

They then said this, “Global medical leaders have largely dismissed such concerns. The World Health Organization took advice from Chinese transplant surgeons in the establishment of its anti organ trafficking task force, and then installed them on the membership committee. In 2020, World Health Organization officials joined longtime apologist for China’s transplant system attacking these researchers and to their previous research showing falsified numbers.” They go on to suggest that the global transplant community, for reasons of organ procurement has turned their eyes away, diverted their eyes from the reality of what is going on in state sanctioned killing for the purpose of organ procurement in China. And I’m going to go further than these writers, because there are many historians and medical ethicists who appointed to the complicated issue in China, where you have a one party government and a totalitarian state that actually profits by condemning people to death.

Now, there is no due process in China. There is no Western legal system in China. There is instead that totalitarian, autocratic, despotic state. And now we know that it has a financial incentive to kill people in prisons by finding them guilty of capital crimes and condemning them to death. The death often, actually we now know, undertaken not by an executioner, but by a surgeon. Once again, we have to come back to the Christian worldview. What worldview explains why such a practice is wrong, is always wrong, is never right? And what society, what civilization declares this to be incompatible with our civilizational morality and values? Evidently this is being put up with in China. Would this be allowed in the United States? Well, we would have to say, I think not. But then we have to come back and say, I think not right now, but the logic of depersonalizing, desanctifying, dehumanizing human life, well, we could well see it could end up here one way or another.

Part III

Could the Unethical Organ Procurement in China Come to the United States?: That Reality Lies Closer Than What Might Seem Possible to Americans

And I specifically raised this issue in tandem with the RNS story asking how should religion influence public policy? Because I want to make one statement emphatically clear. If we abandon, totally abandon, silence a biblical witness to the dignity and sanctity of every single human life, then eventually a society given its own request for organs, demand for organs, need for organs need for tissues, it will find a way to this kind of policy. It will declare as the Nazi doctors did in the 20th century, certain lives to be Lebensunwertes Leben, life unworthy of life. That is exactly the moral logic that is taking place in getting organs from live prisoners, or at least alive until the organs are taken out in China. But it’s also a logic that increasingly is found, let’s just remind ourselves in the fact that Planned Parenthood clinics, we now know we’re undertaking abortions, especially late term abortions, specifically with the goal of retrieving, and then even profiting by.

And whether you want to call it legally a profit or not, they were profiting by the sale of those organs and tissues of aborted humans in the United States. And so if you want to answer the question, could this happen here by saying, no, this could not happen here? You have to say, well, at least for now, maybe. The next time someone asks you should religion influence public policy? You’d better respond and respond with urgency, well, let’s hope that the fact that human beings are made in God’s image is not denied, because inevitably we have a long track record in human history of where that leads. Plenty of evidence from the horrifying decades of the 20th century, including Nazi Germany. Plenty of evidence right now coming from these reports about organ procurement from prisoners in China.

And finally on this issue, the United States High Commissioner for Human Rights recently went to China as a guest of China’s government, and having said before that she wanted to raise these issues of violations of human rights. Nonetheless found a way while she was in China, not to raise these issues. Michelle Bachelet, who is indeed the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, the first to visit China since 2005, explained that that particular concern was not what had taken her to China. She could have said more accurately and honestly that if those concerns had been what took her to China, the Chinese government would not have let her in. The fact that the Chinese authorities did let her in meant that they had plenty of confidence she would not raise these issues. I raised this issue, because the next time you hear that salvation of human dignity, and human life and human rights might come from the United Nations, here’s proof positive, again, that the United Nations is spectacularly incompetent of defending human rights. It gets back to the fact that if you assume a secular worldview, there’s only so much defense you can offer.

Should religion influence public policy? Well, the right religion for the right reasons, the right truth and the right defense of human life, we have to hope and pray so.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at You can call me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to

I am today in Anaheim, California, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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