The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, October 3, 2022

It’s Monday, October 3rd, 2022.

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

Part I

When Doctrine Collides With Politicians—California Seems to Be Ground Zero

It is often instructive these days to look to the state of California. And as we’re thinking about what could be called the People’s Republic of California, I want us to keep in mind that what we are seeing there is often a sign of things to come where you live. The state of California is a trend setter, it intends to be, and in terms of cultural and political and even moral issues, it often is. And that should concern us all, precisely because California is basically now a very left word, one party state, especially when it comes to say, officials elected on a statewide basis. But furthermore, even in national politics, California functions as an incredible engine for progressivism, but it also underlines some of the most interesting intersections between the increasing moral radicalism on the left of California and theological issues.

And there are some very interesting situations for us to observe. The most interesting right now is what I would describe as a dual between California’s governor, Gavin Newsom and one of the most influential Christian leaders of our time. That will be John MacArthur, pastor teacher of the Grace Community Church there in the area of Los Angeles. But before we turn to Newsom and Pastor MacArthur, I want us to turn to what has been unfolding already. And it’s interesting in this case that most of the action, in terms of what has been unfolding in the intersection between religion and politics, or political office in California has not had to do with Evangelical Christianity, but rather with Roman Catholicism. I want to offer a suggestion as to why that’s so. Well, first of all, it’s so, because as you are looking at the liberalism that so marks California politics, that liberalism finds a larger home within the big tent of Catholicism than it can ever find within anything that is called Evangelical Christianity.

Evangelical Protestantism is far more doctrinally defined and more politically predictable in this sense, given the convictions held by so many evangelicals. Now, the Roman Catholic Church on the other hand, is of course a very different operation, and that’s one of the reasons why we had a reformation in the 16th century. The reformers believed that the Roman Catholic Church had turned into something that was not actually a church, but it certainly was Roman and it certainly was Catholic. Now even as we understand that in the year 2022 on so many moral issues, you have common ground between Roman Catholics and Evangelicals, you also have common challenges, and in some cases a common lack of courage, which makes outbreaks of courage all the more important and encouraging. But let’s look at the Roman Catholic side first because this has been going on for some time and I gave attention to it on The Briefing a matter of months ago. But this is an unfolding story.

And one of the most important figures in this story is not, first of all, the governor of California, but rather the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, who you recall, is a member of Congress representing a district right in the heart of San Francisco. That’s the base of her political operation. And Nancy Pelosi, much like the current president of the United States, Joe Biden, they present themselves as faithful practicing Roman Catholics. And though they might be practicing, neither one of them is faithful, not if the word faithful means anything, particularly as it is defined theologically. And the Roman Catholic Church is defined theologically. It is defined to official creeds and official statements and cyclicals, and for that matter, the development of doctrine under the authority they claim of the papacy. That’s central to understanding Roman Catholicism. And it is also extremely clear given the current catechism of the Roman Catholic Church. That the Roman Catholic Church with astounding clarity condemns abortion as a most serious sin.

And that same catechism and official Roman Catholic teaching makes very clear that individual Roman Catholics don’t get to hold to their own version of whatever doctrine or moral position they may choose. Indeed, the Roman Catholic Church speaks on these issues. And when it comes to abortion, the Roman Catholic Church speaks rightly, as do all Christians who hold to a correct biblical understanding of the sanctity and dignity of human life grounded in life itself and human life in particular as the gift of the Creator. And in the case of human beings alone, a gift that means that human beings are made in God’s own image. But back to Speaker Pelosi for a moment. The Democratic Party has been moving increasingly to the left on the abortion issue. If you were to go back to the beginning of the abortion debate in the United States, quite frankly, well an honest assessment would point out that it was a bipartisan problem.

In both parties, there were both pro-lifers and those who supported abortion rights, even demanded them. But a part of the political sorting that took place between, say the 1970s and the year 2000, it was now a near perfect sorting on the issue of abortion. By the time you reach, say even just the last decade and more, the species known as a pro-life Democrat was increasingly endangered and now almost extinct, and certainly extinct in terms of any kind of national leadership in the Democratic Party. But the pro-abortion stand to that party has been growing ever more radical. And that seen in the two people we are discussing on the Democratic side, and that would be the current President of the United States, Joe Biden, who spent decades in the United States Senate declaring himself to have grave reservations about abortion and to believe that it was wrong to force the American taxpayer to pay for abortion.

As I’ve documented in several writings, Joe Biden as a United States Senator tried to have it both ways, but that game came to an end in 2020 as Joe Biden was seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. He couldn’t gain that nomination while trying to play the game on both sides. He had to declare himself, and in this case, he had to declare himself not just a little bit even more committed to abortion rights, but absolutely sold out, basically to abortion without any legal restriction. And furthermore, he abandoned his decades of what he claimed was principled support of the height amendment in order to adopt the platform and the position of the Democratic party that taxpayers in the United States should be coerced into paying for abortion. Now, what we have seen is that there have been a few brave Roman Catholic leaders who have openly addressed the President of the United States.

Indeed, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops here in the United States has made some pretty clear statements about the responsibility of Roman Catholic politicians to uphold Roman Catholic conviction on life and about the priority of that issue. But nonetheless, the United States Congress is basically filled with Catholics who violate that principle, and the Biden administration has a good number itself, but there it starts with the top. Joe Biden presents himself as a so-called practicing Catholic, but he doesn’t practice Catholic doctrine. And when it comes to some of the most important moral issues of the day, and that’s not just abortion, but say the very definition of marriage, President Biden is a very, very different figure than he was just a matter of a few years ago. But then again, maybe he’s not. Maybe he’s just now revealing who he is. More likely he’s actually revealing who he had to become in order to stay relevant in the Democratic Party, not to mention gain the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

When it comes to Nancy Pelosi, you’re talking about another very long standing Catholic family with Catholic tradition in the United States. That goes back to her father, the politician in Maryland, and it certainly continued through Nancy Pelosi’s very public, very loud, very ostentatious claim to being Roman Catholic. She also has now found herself in a position that very few politicians in the United States have ever experienced. The Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco, that’s the home diocese of the Speaker of the House, that would be Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone, has officially forbidden the Speaker of the House of Representatives from participating in communion or what’s called the sacrament of the Eucharist within the Roman Catholic system of worship. And that’s of crucial importance because of course Roman Catholicism is a sacramental religion being cut off or denied access to communion. That’s an extremely serious issue. The ultimate form of that literally means excommunication.

You are cut off from being a communicant of the faith. Now, the Archbishop has not taken it that far, but he has suspended the right of the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives to participate in communion in any of the churches within his dioceses. In his letter to the speaker, the Archbishop wrote, “The Second Vatican Council in its decree on the church in the modern world reiterated the church’s ancient and consistent teaching that from the first moment of conception, life must be guarded with the greatest care. While abortion and infanticide are unspeakable crimes.” The Archbishop continued, “Christians have indeed, always upheld the dignity of human life at every stage, especially the most vulnerable, beginning with life in the womb.” He went on to cite the current Pope, Pope Francis, who “In keeping with his predecessors, has likewise been quite clear and emphatic in teaching on the dignity of human life in the womb.”

He then goes on to say, and this is what is of crucial importance, “This fundamental moral truth has consequences for Catholics and how they live their lives, especially those entrusted with promoting and protecting the public good of society.” In other words, the Roman Catholic Arts bishop of San Francisco has informed the United States Speaker of the House that she is in violation of Catholic teaching in such a way that she should be barred from receiving communion. He also chastised her, by the way, for not responding to his inquiries or his pastor efforts, and clearly he is also concerned for her soul. But that’s most particularly in the context to the Roman Catholic Church with a sacramental and priestly theology. And what we see here and what we see quite sincerely is a Roman Catholic leader very much concerned for two things, for the public influence of Roman Catholicism in the United States, and for Nancy Pelosi, not only as speaker of the house, but as a Roman Catholic.

And so here you see Catholic theology merging in terms of the interest in the defense of unborn life and in its very clear expectation about the role of Roman Catholics who hold public office, or are entrusted with making public policy. So it’s been interesting over the course of the last several years to see so many liberal Roman Catholics in Congress, in politics, or like Gavin Newsom, as a governor of a state, claim that they have a private life that is anti-abortion and a public life that supports abortion rights, that they’re Catholic and they’re quite ostentatious. Most of them are quite ostentatious in making that claim.

It’s quite politically potent, but on the other hand, they are living, they are deciding their legislating, they’re using their public influence in direct defiance of the teaching, not only of the Roman Catholic Church, but of historic Christianity through the ages.

Part II

Blasphemy on a Billboard: Governor Gavin Newsom Manages to Reach a New Low

But I mentioned the name Gavin Newsom, because right now the most crucial issue for us to watch is not particularly about the Speaker of the House nor the President of the United States. When it comes to the current moment, the most interesting confrontation is between pastor teacher John MacArthur of Grace Community Church and the incumbent Governor of California, Gavin Newsom running for a second term in office. Now, when it comes to Gavin Newsom, by the way, he is not a particularly Catholic, Catholic as we’re going to see. He’s basically distanced himself from the Catholic church in a way that Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi certainly have not attempted to do.

But when we’re talking about Pastor John MacArthur, we’re talking about one of the most influential and important voices in all of Evangelical Christianity, and one of the voices, which by the way has extended for the longest period of time with the greatest influence. While so many in his generation are retired or they’re no longer with us, John MacArthur is still preaching. He is still teaching, and as his public confrontation in recent days with California’s Governor makes clear, he has lost none of the energy or conviction of his voice.

Now, in order to understand what’s going on here, we have to see that Gavin Newsom, the Governor of California, has throughout his political career trying to position himself as the most leftist on the left, in terms of what’s accepted at any given time as the spectrum of national Democratic politics. Before same sex marriage was legal in the state of California, and a considerable amount of time before the Supreme Court of the United States basically handed down the Obergefell decision, legalizing same sex marriage in all 50 states, Gavin Newsom, the very liberal, very Democratic mayor of the city of San Francisco. There you see another commonality. He was actually not only supporting same-sex marriage, but in defiance of the law, he performed them. Now they didn’t last, which is to say they weren’t in terms of the law recognized, but nonetheless, he had made his point.

He has been a hero to the Democratic left for a very long time. And given the one party state that California now is, it takes someone basically on the left wing of acceptable democratic politics to gain that kind of nomination. And that’s true for almost every statewide office in California. But Gavin Newsom, the point is this, throughout his political career, both as the mayor of San Francisco and then later Lieutenant Governor, and now in his role as governor running for reelection, Gavin Newsom has his eye on progressivist politics. He is a huge champion of abortion rights, going beyond even what is the case for any other democratic governor. I mentioned on The Briefing in recent days that just within a very short amount of time, Gavin Newsom has pushed through and has signed into law more than a dozen pro-abortion laws and regulations in the state of California, which is already overwhelmingly pro-abortion.

And you see the same thing when it comes to LGBTQ issues. Just in the last few days, Gavin Newsom has sought to make California something of a so-called sanctuary state, both when it comes to the issue of abortion and the LGBTQ issues, with the central attention in this case in recent days being given to the “T,” as in transgender and in particular transgender young people. But even as Gavin Newsom has been making waves, he has also been running for reelection, and his campaign recently put up, not only in California but in other states, billboards that read like this, “Need an abortion? California is ready to help.” Then we are told to learn more at a website undertaken by the government, then this line, “Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no greater commandment than these. Mark 12:31.” The final words, “Paid for by Newsom for California Governor 2022.”

The very fact that the Newsom campaign has been putting up those billboards across the country, well it demonstrates the fact that this is a publicity stunt. For example, in one of the states where the billboards went up ,in the state of Mississippi, the governor of California tweeted, “The people of Mississippi deserve to know they have access to the care you,” meaning Governor Tate Reeves of Mississippi, “You are refusing to provide. This will be launching in your state today.” Well, just to state the obvious, people in Mississippi don’t have a vote in California’s gubernatorial election. What we see here is a very clear signal that Gavin Newsom really does plan to run for the office of President of the United States. He plans to run for the Democratic presidential nomination and the timing of all of this, including his reelection, well, it indicates that there would be no time more opportune in Gavin Newsom’s own self-understanding than 2024. And all that stands between Gavin Newsom and that Democratic race is the incumbent democratic President of the United States, Joe Biden.

If anyone should be nervous about Gavin Newsom, in terms of the politics, it should be President Biden. But let’s go back to California and let’s look at the fact that Gavin Newsom’s campaign, his official campaign quite obviously with his own complicity, not only put up those billboards, but put them up including that verse from Mark 12:31, “Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no greater commandment than these.” Now, it was that, that put Pastor John MacArthur into action, or you might say in this case, reaction. And a thunderous reaction it was in a public letter addressed to the California governor. The pastor began his letter by reminding the governor that, “Righteousness exalts the nation but sin as a disgrace to any people.” That of course is Proverbs 14:34, and the pastor underlined the fact that an elected official’s chief duty is to uphold righteousness, to reward those who do well, to punish evildoers. And then he got right to the point, “You have not only failed in that responsibility, you routinely turned it on its head, rewarding evildoers and punishing the righteous.”

He goes on to point out that that very pattern is exactly what scripture condemns, and it’s very clear that God’s judgment will follow. With very strong language, the pastor said, “The diabolical effects of your worldview are evident in the statistics of California’s epidemics of crime, homelessness, sexual perversions like homosexuality and transgenderism and other malignant expressions of human misery that stem directly from corrupt public policy. He went on to say, “I don’t need to itemize or elaborate on the many immoral decisions you have perpetrated against God and the people of our state, which have only exacerbated these problems.” He went on to conclude in that paragraph, “Nevertheless, my goal in writing is not to contend with your politics, but rather to plead with you to hear and heed what the word of God says to men in your position.” Dr. MacArthur then turned to the action undertaken by the Newsom campaign in the messaging on that billboard.

Then after denouncing the support for abortion, which MacArthur described as “Promoting the slaughter of children whom he creates in the womb,” Pastor MacArthur went on to say, “You further compounded the wickedness of that murderous campaign with a reprehensible act of gross blasphemy, quoting the very words of Jesus from Mark 12:31, as if you could somehow twist his meaning and arrogate his name in favor of butchering unborn infants.” As you would expect, John MacArthur used a great deal of scripture in his rebuke to the California governor, but then he got right to his personal concern when he wrote, “My concern, Governor Newsom, is that your own soul lies in grave, eternal peril.” The pastor went on to cite a great deal of scripture before warning the Governor, “You will stand in the presence of the Holy God who created you, who is your judge, and he will demand that you give an account for how you have flouted his authority in your governing, and how you have twisted his own holy word to rationalize it.”

He then says, “As you look over the precipice of eternity, what will your answer be when you look ahead of you and see that nothing awaits you but eternal misery, the just punishment for your sins? What will all the clever rationalizations and political talking points avail for you then?” He says, “By then, it will be too late for any remedy or redemption.” The governor was then addressed with these words, “My plea to you, sir, is that you would not let it come to that. That you would not go to that day of judgment, apart from receiving forgiveness and righteousness through faith in Christ alone.”

Part III

‘Please Respond to the Gospel, Turn to Christ, and Use Your Office to Advance the Cause of Righteousness Instead of Undermining It’: Pastor John MacArthur’s Message to California Governor Newsom

The pastor then summed up his argument with some additional pastoral words. But what you see here is something very important and something that should be familiar to those who know the history of the Christian Church. There have been moments when Christians have had to address those who are in power, and that includes, for example, the fascinating confrontation between the reformer John Knox and Mary Queen of Scots.

And you’ll recall that John Knox, though very much against many of the Queen’s policies, was most concerned for the queen’s soul. And that same concern is made very evident by Pastor John MacArthur and his confrontation with California’s governor. But we also need to understand that Gavin Newsom represents something a bit different than President Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, when it comes to Catholic identity. Gavin Newsom simply doesn’t have much Catholic identity. He comes from a Catholic family, particularly his father, and he went to a Jesuit university, that would be Santa Clara University there in the Silicon Valley area, but it’s really clear that Gavin Newsom is something of a postmodern Democrat as compared to the much older president and Speaker of the House.

Referring back to his education at a Jesuit university, the now governor said that the main thing he learned was to be an independent thinker, and then he said, “But oftentimes that independence gets in the way of orthodoxy.” But he went on to say, and he said this, with a lot of sarcasm, “In many respects, I think it’s been nice to sort of celebrate that independence of thinking, which I will hold Santa Clara responsible for.” And then Newsom said, and you understand the sarcasm in this, “So there would be no gay marriage except for my education at Santa Clara. Eat your heart out guys.” Now, if we were to ask why say a Roman Catholic prelate has not denied Gavin Newsom access to the communion of the Roman Catholic Church, the answer would presumably be he doesn’t present himself for communion.

But regardless, that’s an interesting question and only a Catholic authority can answer that question. The fact is, if anyone deserves such excommunication, it would be the radically liberal Gavin Newsom, whose positions routinely defy the official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, but it wasn’t a Roman Catholic authority who spoke out in this case. When the governor’s campaign so used and abused Scripture, it was not a Roman Catholic who responded so loudly. It was an evangelical pastor in the area of Los Angeles. It was Pastor John MacArthur.

And in that confrontation, we should note that the main concern of this evangelical pastor was not with the public policy, which is so much of our concern, but rather it is with what is of even greater concern, and that is the eternal destiny of a single human being, in this case, not so much the governor, just the individual center, Gavin Newsom. But the governorship and other positions of political authority have revealed his heart and have revealed his hand, and thus the issue of abortion becomes a very clear indication of the spiritual rebellion that is represented by Governor Gavin Newsom.

We can only pray that more evangelical Christians, both in the pulpits and in the pews would be characterized by this kind of conviction. Now, this week is a huge week in terms of American public life. Today begins the new term of the Supreme Court of the United States, huge cases coming before the court, and of course, a brand new justice that would be Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, sitting on the court for the first time. We’ll be talking about that as this week unfolds and looking at many other developments. We’re also very concerned and continue to pray for the people who have been so upended by the storm known as Hurricane Ian, and we now know that the scope of devastation and death in Florida was far more than had been thought, even in the hours immediately after the storm. Lots to talk about there as well.

We will do our best to follow these issues and consider them through the lens of a Christian worldview event by event, day by day. There is no shortage of material.

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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