The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

It’s Wednesday, June 29, 2022.

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

Part I

The Irreducible and Unavoidable Question in Abortions Is This: Does the Inhabitant of the Womb Deserve Protection?

Now, when the Dobbs decision was handed down by the Supreme Court on Friday, not only did we do a special edition of The Briefing, but I said up front that some of the most interesting material for worldview analysis, some of the dimensions that would demand our attention, would come in the response to the decision. And that response has been vehement, it has been voluminous and it is coming at us fast. Now, just looking at some interesting things in the last several days, one of the issues that has emerged is the dawning recognition that human life might actually be at stake. An important affirmation of this came from Henry Olsen, the columnist of The Washington Post.

The thing to keep in mind here is that The Washington Post has been extremely liberal. Now, that’s not a new development, but in particular, on the abortion issue and on the Dobbs decision, the commentary has been overwhelmingly very, very liberal. But Henry Olsen writes this. He says that the unborn child “is the only reason abortion is and ought to be an issue of political discussion. No rational person today,” he writes, “believes that one human being ought to take the life of another because they want to. Abortion on demand,” he wrote, “can be morally justified only if the entity whose life is extinguished is not a human being worthy of the legal protection of any decent society, or that is the legal protection any decent society provides.”

Really fascinating. For one thing, that first line is something you don’t see very often in public argument. Henry Olsen rightly says, this is very important for us to recognize, he’s right about this, “The unborn child is the only reason abortion is and ought to be an issue of political discussion.” That’s just a vital importance because it underlines the key distinction here. When it comes to other issues of a person’s private health decisions, very, very few of those are open for any public conversation. If you’re having a tonsillectomy, you don’t have to have a public debate about it. The law doesn’t address it. It’s just under the standard of good medicine. If you need any number of medical treatments or any number of surgeries, those are absolutely outside public scrutiny.

But abortion is not outside public scrutiny, it can’t be outside public scrutiny. And the reason for that is the presence of the unborn child in the womb. It is the humanity of that unborn child that is the game changer, changing everything utterly by the fact that we’re not talking about one human being, but two. So, Henry Olsen deserves credit for underlining that basic moral, indeed metaphysical fact. It’s simply a fact, it is a truth. And as you’ll notice the issue of abortion, even as you think about the Roe v. Wade decision, 1973, Casey, 1992, Dobbs, 2022, it’s really interesting that those who want to argue for abortion rights basically just do their best to avoid any reference to the inhabitant to the womb whatsoever.

Those making the case against abortion, most importantly on moral grounds, go right to that unborn life. And the reason we have such an intractable debate in this country is not just over the definition of what an abortion is and what abortion law should be, but our understanding of who is inhabiting the womb and what is the moral status, the actual biological status as a human being of that tiny little inhabitant of the womb growing towards birth. I shift now to the fact that there are some people, and especially you could say in the legal community, in the activist legal community, who are basically just about to go nuts because not only the Dobbs decision handed down Friday, but because of religious liberty decisions, a number of decisions, the gun decision, you just look at it, and progressives are really angry.

One of the chief among them in terms of intellectual status is Erwin Chemerinsky. He is the dean of the law school at the University of California at Berkeley. Let that settle in for you for just a moment. We are talking about the Berkeley Law School dean. Erwin Chemerinsky has written a series of opinion pieces just in the last several days for the Los Angeles Times. Now, I just want to put in a footnote. I mentioned The Washington Post has been overwhelmingly liberal, progressive in dealing with the abortion issue and especially with the Supreme Court in recent days. But the Los Angeles Times, and this is quite an achievement in one sad sense, has exceeded The Washington Post in terms of its hysteria, I don’t think there’s another word for it, over the issue of abortion, the reversal of Roe, et cetera.

Erwin Chemerinsky has written some of that. The law school dean wrote an article of the headline, “Ending Roe is a Pure Exercise of Republican Power Wielded to Reduce Women’s Freedom and Equality.” Again, notice that this is a steadfast refusal to deal with the fact that there is a human inside the womb. You could say even in terms of the arguments that have been made historically by abortion rights proponents, even they generally, at least in the past, talked about, they’re wrong about this, but they use the language potential human life. You’ll notice human life has simply disappeared here. Actual, potential, hypothetical, no, it’s an awkward moral reality that simply now has to be ignored. Erwin Chemerinsky has also written very, very strong articles against both of the religious liberty or church state cases decided by the court this term. He’s outraged by both of those decisions as well.

But it’s in this piece about ending Roe that like the Olsen piece has one paragraph that simply has to be thought about and talked about. That paragraph is this. Dean Chemerinsky writes, “There is a desire to think that law exists apart from the identity and ideology of the justices. But that is a myth when it comes to the Supreme Court. Its decisions have always been and always will be a product of the identity of those on the bench. For example, from the 1890s until 1936, the court had a very conservative majority and declared unconstitutional over 200 federal state and local laws protecting workers and consumers. Only once in American history,” he writes, “during the Warren Court from 1954 to 1969, and especially from 1962 to 1969, was there ever a liberal majority on the court and its decisions were progressive in a way never otherwise seen in American history.”

Why do I draw attention to that paragraph? Again, breathtaking honesty. I disagree almost entirely with everything Erwin Chemerinsky argues, but I agree with him in that analysis. The fact is however, that it shouldn’t be so shocking that he said this. The amazing thing should be not that he said this, but that others refuse to say it. What did he say? He says it is wrong “to think that law exists apart from the identity and ideology of the justices.” That’s such an important statement because it reflects the importance, the urgency, the centrality of worldview in our thinking. There is not a single human being who doesn’t operate out of some sense and understanding of reality, some explanation and understanding of the world, some explanation consistent with that as we think about morality, right, and wrong, even reality and unreality.

No, we are all embodied human beings, and Christians understand there is no position of intellectual neutrality. To put it another way, there is no one from nowhere. We are all someone from somewhere. And it shows up in our worldview. We could quibble a bit about the argument made by Dean Erwin Chemerinsky in this article. But the fact is that the dating, even the dating is pretty much right. There is embedded here something else, and that is the recognition that the liberal era of the Supreme Court was explained by the fact that liberal justices had been named to the Supreme Court. Now, that’s just fair. And I appreciate the fact that he expressed this candidly. Because you have so many on the left who are saying, “Look, this is a conservative court because there are conservative justices. The alternative to that would be a neutral court with neutral justices.”

No, Erwin Chemerinsky points out that that is nonsense. None of those justices are no one from nowhere, they’re all someone from somewhere. But even as I read that paragraph to you, there is one very strange sentence. That first sentence is so strong, as the dean writes about the wrongful desire “to think that law exists apart from the identity and ideology of the justices.” But his next sentence, which is a refutation of that, doesn’t go far enough. He says, “But that is a myth when it comes to the Supreme Court.” Well, of course, he’s right. That is a myth when it comes to the Supreme Court, but it’s also a myth when it comes to the Courts of Appeal, when it comes to the federal district courts, when it comes to the state courts, to the circuit courts, or for that matter, to the traffic court perhaps right down the street from you. Where you find a judge, you find a worldview.

But wait just a minute. We understand the reality’s a lot bigger than that. We understand that where you find a human being, you find a worldview. But before leaving the issue of press coverage in all of this, I want to point to the nation’s most influential newspaper and it’s long-time Supreme Court reporter. I’m making reference here to The New York Times and to Linda Greenhouse. She reported on the Supreme Court for The New York Times from 1978 until 2008. You look at that, that is 30 years of Supreme Court coverage. But, of course, this isn’t 2008, it’s 2022. And since she ended her term in that senior position reporting for the Supreme Court, she has become a columnist largely about the Supreme Court for the very same newspaper, switching from news to opinion.

Except, here’s the point, it became very evident over time that Linda Greenhouse in herself had no separation between news and opinion or even between the news reporting that she was doing supposedly from a position of reportorial objectivity and her own endorsement of abortion, indeed her own abortion activism. In last Sunday’s print edition of The New York Times, there was at least part of two pages made up of one of her essays lamenting the Dobbs decision in very clear terms. The headline was, “Requiem,” that is to say a funeral mass, “for the Supreme Court.” In other words, she says, “It’s not just Roe v. Wade that died, it was the Supreme Court that died.” But trust me, she’ll keep writing on it, writing about what she sees as the complete conservative takeover of the Supreme Court of the United States, pushing back what she believes to be rights that once invented by the court can’t be uninvented.

Greenhouse wrote, “Justices, your work isn’t done. What you have finished off is the legitimacy of the court on which you are privileged to spend the rest of your lives.” You have killed the integrity, the credibility, she says here, “the legitimacy of your court.” Thus having killed the legitimacy, she calls for a funeral mass for the court. But some of you may remember back to 2017. On November the 17th of 2017, I did an edition of The Briefing from Rhode Island, and I spoke about Linda Greenhouse. I spoke about her 40-year career with The New York Times and the fact that she had just recently written a book about her time at The Times covering the Supreme Court and she was extremely candid about something she hadn’t been so candid about when she was a reporter, and that is her pro-abortion activism.

Over the course of her career with The Times, she estimates she had written about 2,800 articles, most of them about law, the Constitution and the Supreme Court, and she’s now contributing, as I said, as an opinion writer. But the point is, I will argue that she was an opinion writer back when she was presented as a news writer. In that book by Greenhouse I discussed back in 2017 entitled Just a Journalist: On the Press, Life, and the Spaces Between, Linda Greenhouse wrote about her support for planned parenthood. She said, “It was important to me to write a check every month and sign my name. It was the signature of a citizen. The stories that appeared under my byline, on abortion and all other subjects, were the work of a journalist.”

Now, we just need to note that you can’t divide yourself like that. It isn’t ethically, it’s not even psychologically sound to argue, “I’m an activist over here, just a citizen, I am a journalist over here, by the way, reporting to the nation in the nation’s most influential newspaper on what I’m actually over here serving as an activist for.” Frankly, that situation’s untenable. And it’s something like a felony in journalism except evidently, The New York Times decided it wasn’t. Linda Greenhouse did not disclose this to the editors at the time. And furthermore, editors at other papers such as The Washington Post have condemned what she did as something that would be unacceptable at their own newspaper. But even as she clearly broke the policies of The New York Times, she continues writing for The New York Times, indeed lamenting the loss of legitimacy of the Supreme Court in her view.

So, in other words, here was a Supreme Court reporter we now learn had been giving monthly donations to planned parenthood. It also turns out she had participated in at least some demonstrations. When at one point it turned out that she had been involved in a pro-abortion march and it came to the attention of her editors, one of the editors called her in and basically said she had made a mistake. But Greenhouse argues it was the editor who had made a mistake. Interestingly, at the time, the editors of The Washington Post, at some points even more liberal than The New York Times, they found out that some of their own employees had marched in the pro-abortion demonstration. Their response was to bar those employees from any further coverage of abortion as an issue in the newspaper, something that specifically The New York Times did not do and certainly has not done when it comes to Linda Greenhouse.

So, as we’re talking about a loss of legitimacy, perhaps we ought to wonder about the legitimacy of someone who treats journalistic ethics in such a cavalier manner, justifying herself because she says she’s a citizen over here and a reporter over there. Well, it was the reporter citizen who marched in that protest and who made monthly checks donations to planned parenthood. Erik Wemple, who comments on journalistic ethics at The Washington Post responding to the book by Linda Greenhouse, spoke of what he described as her “remarkable ethical divisibility.” Indeed, it’s an implausible divisibility. We just need to recognize that is not just true for reporters or opinion writers. It’s true for all of us. The falsity is in denying that it doesn’t apply to any of us.

Part II

With Roe Reversed, I’m Leaving! (Maybe): The Moral Absurdity of Threats to Leave the U.S. in the Wake of Dobbs

All right, but next, we’re going to turn to a very different kind of response. This is a response by some people who say, “If Roe v. Wade has been overturned, which it has, I’m leaving the country. I no longer want to live in America. I no longer want to be an American.” Billie Joe Armstrong, the lead singer for the group Green Day, already known for his activism, declared just after the Supreme Court decision in recent days that he would renounce his U.S. citizenship because he is disgusted about the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade in the Dobbs decision handed down on Friday. Now, I just need to state the fact that renouncing one’s national citizenship, and in particular one’s American citizenship, is not so easy as standing up in front of adoring fans at some kind of concert and declaring your political activism.

If you go out on the street corner and just say you renounce your American citizenship, it is unlikely that the government will actually considered you to have done any such thing. But there is a way to do this and it involves presenting yourself to an official of the United States and turning in your passport and renouncing your American citizenship. It can be done. But something else you need to recognize is that once you have renounced it, you don’t have it. And it’s extremely unlikely you can ever get it back again. Now, this comes at the very same time that horrible headlines came just yesterday about the discovery of 51 dead migrants, they’re described just that way, near San Antonio. They were found in a truck where evidently, it is believed they had suffocated trying desperately to get into the United States.

So, just understand the morality of this. You have many people risking their lives to get into the United States and much less to gain American citizenship. Meanwhile, you have a very liberal entertainer who plays to the crowd by announcing that he is renouncing his U.S. citizenship because he is just so offended by recent decisions of the United States Supreme Court. Now, it’ll be interesting to see if he actually follows through with this or if he was just seeking headlines. He must understand, by the way, that renouncing your American citizenship doesn’t mean you’re a citizen of any other nation in the world. I’m just going to go out on a limb here and say he is probably smart enough and rich enough to find some way to make certain he lands in a cushy place by some arrangement.

And that is very different than the situation of most people around the world who are desperate to get in the United States, not to get out. But Armstrong’s not alone. At Religion News Service, Jeffrey Salkin wrote an article with a headline asking, “When is it Time to Leave America?” He begins writing, “Tuscany, Greece, Finland, Portugal, Toronto, Tel Aviv, Ireland. No,” he says, “that is not a recitation of the table of contents of the newest issue of Travel and Leisure. That is actually a list of places that many of my friends have mentioned in the last week, not as places to visit, but as places to live.” Now, I just want to back up a moment. The great waves of immigration to the United States that really formed the immigrant identity of this country went back to the late 19th and the early 20th century.

Now, clearly, there were waves of immigration before that. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have had colonial America, you wouldn’t have had revolutionary America or the early republic. But when we’re looking at the U.S. population, the giant influxes of immigration came in the late 19th and the early 20th centuries. That explains the Statue of Liberty there in the Harbor in New York. It explains the population of the United States. It explains why you can get incredible Italian food in a city like Chicago, which is you may note a long way from Italy. But what I’m simply referencing here is that when you’re looking at so many people trying to get in the United States, that was true by the multiple millions of people long before 1973 when the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down.

The implication of these who are posturing this way that America is no longer America because Roe v. Wade has been reversed, that ignores the fact that Roe v. Wade didn’t happen until 1973 when the United States of America was just three years short of being 200 years old, when it had already had its largest waves of immigration, people trying to get to the United States, not away from the United States. And we’re going to end in a very important way on this issue as well. Again, it will be very, very interesting to see how many people actually leave the United States or renounce their citizenship over this issue. It’s illogical, it’s frankly crazy, and I think most of the people threatening it aren’t going to follow through with it.

But nonetheless, it tells you something about the moral stakes of what we have experienced in the reversal of the Roe v. Wade decision. There are some people who declare they don’t want to live in an America without all 50 states compelled to allow what amounts to abortion on demand.

Part III

The Reckoning of History: New U.S. Ambassador to Germany Visits Her Father’s Boyhood Home — Her Father Had Fled the Nazis in Fear of His Life

But I said I was going to end with reference both to the new world and the old world. And I want to end by looking at the new United States ambassador to Germany, Amy Gutmann, who was formerly the longest serving president of the University of Pennsylvania, a scholar of politics and of the democratic experience. She was appointed by President Joe Biden to be the U.S. ambassador to Germany.

But it was from Germany that her father had fled the Nazis in 1934, fleeing eventually all the way to the United States of America. As Katrin Bennhold reports for The New York Times, “After Amy Gutmann’s father fled the Nazis in 1934, he swore never to set foot in Germany again. For the rest of his life, he boycotted German goods and only spoke English to his daughter. Germany, he impressed on her when she was growing up, was very bad. Now, a century later, Ms. Gutmann, a respected democracy scholar, has moved to Germany as the new U.S. ambassador.” That’s a fascinating turn. It’s one of the ironies of world history. It ought to be heartwarming to any American.

Any American considering what it means for the daughter of a man who fled the Nazis, coming to the United States, fleeing from Germany in order to save his life and the life of his eventual family, his own daughter now goes back to Germany as the ambassador of the United States of America. The most recent article in The Times tells us about Ambassador’s Gutmann mission, a personal as well as a geopolitical diplomatic mission to a little town in Bavaria, a little town Feuchtwangen, a sleepy Bavarian town, we are told, where generations of her German ancestors had dwelled before a Nazi mayor burned down the local synagogue and declared his town Jew-free.

Speaking to an audience there in that little Bavarian town from which her father had fled for his life, Ambassador Gutmann said, “You’ll forgive me for speaking not only as the U.S. ambassador to Germany, but as Amy Gutmann, the daughter of Kurt Gutmann.” 72 years of age, the ambassador told a crowd of local dignitaries, “I would not be here today were it not for my father’s farsightedness and courage.” In her address, Ambassador Gutmann went on to say, “Germany and the U.S. today are extremely strong allies and they’re allies in defense of human rights and in defense of the sovereignty of democratic societies. It closes a loop,” speaking of her own appointment as U.S. ambassador to Germany, “It closes a loop while leading us forward into an era that my father never had the opportunity to witness.”

Condemning Germany because of the Nazi era, the ambassador’s father pledged he would never set foot on German soil. Again, he didn’t speak German, he gave up German food. But his daughter is now eating German food as the United States ambassador to Germany. But there’s a particularly poignant turn to the story when we find out that Ambassador Gutmann returned to her father’s hometown there in Bavaria, a hometown in a nation to which her father said he would never return, but she took with her the photograph of her late father as she went back to the town from which he had fled. In front of the people in that town speaking as the United States ambassador, looking in her hand at a small photograph of her father, she metaphorically spoke to her father.

Movingly she said, “You would be so proud, not only of your daughter, but of your country, the United States, which became your country and the country that you had to leave and what they had become. Two of the greatest allies still fighting what you would tell me is a fight that could never end.” I share this news with you because of its moral poignancy, but also because of its moral irony, but in this case, what we could describe as a hopeful, happy irony. The fact that the daughter of a man who had to flee the Nazis and flee Germany is now the United States ambassador to Germany and the fact that this proud daughter took a photograph of her fleeing father back to the town and spoke of why now he will be proud, not only of his new nation, but of the nation he fled.

And, of course, the ambassador daughter remembered her father’s statement that the fight for freedom was a fight that would never end. And Christians know that until Jesus comes, it will never end. Look around the world right now, the fight for freedom goes on. It’s a fight we can’t stop fighting.

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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