The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, November 17, 2022

It’s Thursday, November 17th, 2022.

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

Part I

Twelve Republicans Voted in Favor in Respect for Marriage Act — But Redefining Marriage Is Profoundly Not Conservative

Well, now we know the number is 12. The number is 12 Republicans who voted for the so-called Respect for Marriage Act, demonstrating a profound disrespect both for marriage and for religious liberty. And as I have tried to make clear over and over again, anyone who would vote or move to subvert the institution of marriage is no conservative. You can have someone who claims to be conservative on fiscal and on other political issues, but if they are subverting the institution that makes human civilization possible, then they are no conservative. They are not acting to conserve what must be conserved if civil society is to continue, be healthy, and flourish. But that is exactly what happened. That is an extreme dereliction of duty when it came to 12 Republicans voting with all 50 Democrats for this Orwellian-named Respect for Marriage Act.

Let me just remind you, there are at least two huge problems with this legislation. Number one, the very essence of the thing. The purpose of this bill, make no mistake, the purpose of this bill is to put the full faith and authority of the United States government behind the subversion of marriage. The denial that marriage can only be the union of a man and a woman. It explicitly puts the United States Congress and thus, once the President of the United States, Joe Biden, signs it as he is eager to do, it puts the United States federal government in the position of opposing the scriptural and creation revealed understanding of marriage. The only definition of marriage, by the way, that leads to the future of civilization, otherwise known as babies.

The other big problem with this legislation, and again I say it’s called the Respect for Marriage Act, it actually represents a profound act of disrespect for marriage. But the other aspect is the damage to religious liberty. And even as you have people claiming in that bipartisan panel, claiming that all the concerns about religious liberty had been resolved and alleviated, as I said at the time, it has done no such thing. It was a fig leaf and no one should take it with intellectual or moral seriousness. It was intended to give political cover in order to gain enough Republican votes in order to overcome the threat of a filibuster to get the bill to the floor and eventually to see the bill passed. In this case, it’s important to recognize that yesterday Senator Mike Lee of Utah put out a statement saying, “I offered to support the bill if the sponsors would include my amendment to prohibit the government from removing tax exempt status based on religious beliefs about same-sex marriage for or against. The sponsors adamantly refused even to consider that.” Senator Lee then asked the question, “Why?”

Well, here’s where we need to understand that there never really was any serious protection of religious liberty in this so-called amendment. The resolution didn’t resolve anything and the very fact that Senator Lee would say that he had offered to support the amendment, if it would make clear that there would be no removing of tax exempt status based on religious beliefs about same-sex marriage, the fact that the bipartisan group turned that down, well, that should tell you everything you need to know.

Now remember, you need 60 votes in order to achieve cloture, to move a bill to the floor. That makes this procedural vote yesterday the most important vote of all. All 50 Democratic senators voted for it given the position, given the platform of the Democratic Party, no surprise there. But to overcome a filibuster, at least 10 Republican votes were needed. But the supporters of this legislation didn’t get 10, they got 12.

The 12 senators in this line of infamy include Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Dan Sullivan of Alaska, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Todd, young of Indiana of Indiana.

Now, what ties all of those members of the Republican Conference in the Senate together? Well, there are a few issues you need to note. Number one, several of the people on this list are retiring. Thus politically, they have nothing to lose because they’re never going to face voters again. So they voted, and they voted for the redefinition of marriage. I think in particular of retiring Senators Roy Blunt of Missouri and Rob Portman of Ohio. I discussed Portman at length on The Briefing yesterday.

The big number was 10, but they got 12. The big moral message for evangelical Christians is understanding that the culture is moving away from us faster than we might even have recognized. We are now in a position, this is a very sobering realization, but we’ve had a couple of enormously sobering realizations in recent weeks. The first of them has to do with the failure of just about every pro-life effort that was on the ballot in the midterm elections just a matter of days ago. Now, the second shoe has dropped, and this one is on same-sex marriage and the big revelation is that 12 Republican senators voted for this bill. And that means that 12 Republican senators have basically looked at the Republican base and said, “We really don’t care about your stated convictions about marriage because we see the way of the political future.”

That also gets to something else. When you look at Senator Portman, I discuss the fact that what you have there is a family situation, what I call the Republican version of moral relativism. A relative comes out of the closet. When it comes to Roy Blunt, very interesting, or even others who on this list might not face voters again, the big question is, did they vote because they believe that history is going to vindicate them? Is history supposedly moving in the direction where in a moderate or short amount of time people are going to look at that vote and say, “You know, voting for the codification of same-sex marriage, that was the right thing to do”?

Now, here’s where I want to warn Christians. The moment we enter into that calculation, we give the store away in moral terms. The moment we decide, “You know, I want to look good in the eyes of my descendants on an issue like this,” and we abandon biblical conviction, we compromise moral conviction in order to put ourselves, at least we might believe, in a better moral light or political light as judged by our descendants and generations beyond us. Well, the moment you do that, you give away any current moral responsibility. You also, and this is what Christians and conservatives must recognize, this is central to what defines conservatism, you are also giving away your patrimony. Because the moral continuity that conservatives are supposed to prize means that we as Christians want to hold to the very same doctrine and the very same morality as the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ in the first century when it comes to the issues on which scripture is abundantly clear.

There will be a lot more to know about the situation in the Senate. And by the way, the actual Senate floor vote on the so-called Respect for Marriage Act could take place in the next several days, but that would require an unusual procedural move that would mean that all 100 senators would have to vote to move the bill to the floor. It’s unlikely you’re going to get 100 votes in order to do that. So on a more normal Senate calendar, this bill is expected to come up after the Thanksgiving break.

And just keep this in mind, 62 senators have already in effect voted yes. That includes the 50 Democrats and 12 Republicans. All that is needed once the vote comes to the floor is 50 Senators plus one. They are already 11 positive votes beyond that. So now we understand all that is left when it comes to the action of the United States Senate is a bare formality. But we need to note, a very tragic formality. And once again, we need to be clear, we’ll be taking names.

Part II

New Congressional Leadership Comes Into View: Why Does This Matter and Why Is the Road Ahead So Troubled?

But next, we’re going to go back to the Senate for a moment and not just because of the midterm elections, not just because of the so-called Respect for Marriage Act, not just because of immediate developments, but because we need to take a little longer view for just a moment. Yesterday on The Briefing, we talked about the fact that the election actually sets up other elections. And in this case, you have the elections for party leadership in both the House and of the Senate, and those are very, very significant votes. Votes that tell us a great deal about the future shape of the new Congress.

In the Senate, the democratic leadership is set. The current Senate majority leader is Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York. He’s going to continue in that role. On the Republican side, as I said yesterday, the big issue was an unexpected leadership challenge, the first in 15 years in which you had a Senate colleague challenge Kentucky U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, the current Republican leader for that responsibility and that role. Senator McConnell said in the very beginning of all of this that he wasn’t concerned because he had the votes and it turns out he did have the votes. That vote was taken yesterday. Senator McConnell was challenged by Florida Senator Rick Scott, but the vote was 37 for McConnell, 10 for Scott and one undecided.

So Senator Mitch McConnell from Kentucky will continue to be Leader McConnell, leading the Republican Conference in the United States Senate. But here’s where we need to do a little worldview analysis because we talked about the fact that the midterm elections or any congressional election sets up another set of elections inside the congressional structure. But something else we need to understand is that this is inherently not a pretty process. Something else we need to understand is that on the House side, and you had the vote this week that Kevin McCarthy of California will continue to be the Republican leader. That was not however an overwhelming vote. He had a pretty significant conservative challenger. Now, he won with the votes of 188 Republican members of the House. But then keep this number in mind, the number 218. That is how many seats are required for a majority for either party in the House. And the very same number, 218, is how many votes are needed to elect a speaker of the House.

Leader McCarthy in this case has a gap between 188 and 218. And I’ll do the math for you, that’s 30 votes at this point and he is 30 votes short of being elected the next speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Now, the reason I’m bringing this up is not just to remind you the math, it is to remind you of the process that’s going on here and of the fact that the only way any of these leadership positions can be attained or retained is by making political deals. That’s just a fact of life, and that’s what’s going on right now.

When Senator McConnell said that he had the votes, he just wanted to say in advance, he knew he had the votes. Well, he’s had those votes for a long number of years. And during the next Congress, Senator McConnell continuing as the Republican leader will be the longest tenured party conference leader in the history of the United States Senate. That is no small achievement, and Senator McConnell certainly knows that. But the only way that you can put together the kind of coalition that will elect you party leader in the Senate or for that matter, party leader in the House, it is by doing deals, it’s by making deals, it is by compromising, it is by agreeing that someone will be put on a committee or someone might be blocked from a committee. But the point is politics, sadly enough, but in reality, we need to recognize, is a matter of making deals and of the making of those deals known and unknown, unknown, but at some point disclosed, unknown and, at least in public attention, forever unknown, the making of those deals is a daily, if not an hourly occurrence.

The other thing we need to recognize is that when you’re looking at getting legislation through or for that matter blocking legislation, let’s say the Republicans want to get something through and the Democrats want to block it, then what is required is discipline on the part of both parties in the Senate in their conferences, in the House in their caucuses in order to make certain that all the Republicans stay in line. Or on the other hand, all the Democrats stay in line. Now on some issues, party discipline is not absolute. There are defections from both parties in certain legislative acts.

But nonetheless, the thing we need to note is that the parties exist not by a failure to exercise this discipline, but by the success of exercising this discipline. But this also means that the only way the party leaders in the House and the Senate, both Republican and Democrat, the only way that they can be successful is by putting together coalitions that are big enough either to do or to block what they want to do or to block.

And that ladies and gentlemen is often incredibly messy and that often leads to what is some kind of negotiation and ultimately some kind of political compromise. And this is where people who look at politics as an act of say, pure science, they’re often befuddled by the fact that what they thought would happen didn’t happen. And what you need to note right now is that in both parties, but particularly right now among the Republicans in both the House and the Senate, what you see is a breakdown of party discipline. People are now more committed to their own seat or to their own electoral prospect or to their own convictions than they are to being Republican and to voting with other Republicans and of voting what might amount to a Republican line, at least as defined by Republican leadership.

Now, there are advantages to that. For one thing, you often find greater ideological and convictional purity, but there are downsides to that in that the persons who hold those positions are often in an absolute minority. But this is where you have to understand that in politics, there is no perfect, there is no utopian option, there is no way to avoid some kind of compromise.

But I’m not arguing for a system of encouraging compromise. I’m instead arguing that the responsible Christian legislator must know what can and cannot be compromised. And this is where I return to the issue about undermining the integrity of marriage. If you do not see marriage as one of those issues that cannot, should not, must not ever be compromised, then you are not in any actual sense a conservative. If you will compromise on marriage, where possibly would you draw the line?

Now, when you look at something as basic as marriage, if you will compromise on marriage, then you will compromise on anything. And if you’ll compromise on anything, let me give you a prediction, you’ll compromise on everything.

Part III

Mass Cultural Confusion, Government Failure, and a Gospel Opportunity for the Church: Encouragement for Christians in a Society of Moral Revolt

But here’s where I want to offer Christians, and this might be a little unexpected given the flow of this conversation today. I want to offer Christians a word of encouragement because this also demonstrates that even when there is a massive failure of government, the even greater responsibility falls upon the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. For if a government fails on marriage, we must not fail. If the government confuses marriage, we must not be confused. If the government lies about marriage, we cannot enter into the lie. And so this actually affords for Christians what we would not hope for, we would not work for, we will not settle for, but it’s taken out of our hands at the moment.

It gives us the opportunity to say, look, this is just how confused the culture has now become, so confused on issues across the array of moral issues, whether it be abortion or the LGBTQ set. You’re just talking about massive confusion. And thus the clarity of the voice of biblical Christianity and of gospel churches becomes ever more essential and sometimes ever more clarified simply because of the pressure exerted upon the church by the larger culture. And yes, this is an unwanted situation. Unwanted because believing in the cause of human civilization and of human flourishing and wanting to contribute out of love of God and love of neighbor to making society stronger, we are seeing society made weaker before our eyes. But our responsibility more than anything else is to maintain our Christian testimony, the freedom and the conviction of the Christian pulpit, and the integrity and the witness and the ministry of Christian churches and of Christian families.

And so if this morning you’re listening to The Briefing on your way to school with kids in the car, on the way to work, perhaps with colleagues or maybe alone or sitting in your office, sitting at home, working in the kitchen, just keep in mind the glory of God is in faithful Christians being faithful even in an age that is increasingly unfaithful. And the most important thing that Christians can do here is not just make sure that we are in agreement about what marriage is, but to make sure that we are in obedience to all that scripture reveals about marriage and everything else. And that means that we start right at home with our own marriages, with our own families raising our own children. It starts with our own congregations, with the preaching of the word of God and the proclamation of the gospel and the living out of faithful Christianity, not only in private, but also in public. When the entire world around us is losing its mind, this is the very moment when the church must keep its mind.

And here’s where we also need just to remind ourselves, there is a great deal of responsibility invested in the United States government, in the United States Congress, in the House and in the United States Senate, but there is infinitely more responsibility invested in the family and by extension also, in the New Covenant. To the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, visible and local gathered congregations where even if the larger civilization is acting in open rebellion in the civilization of Ecclesia, of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, what is revealed in scripture is honored and obeyed.

We may not at the moment have the power to make certain that the Congress of the United States of America teaches, preaches, and legislates according to the truth, but we do have the power to make certain that our congregations, our churches, our denominations do, and that we not only can do, that we must.

Part IV

Issue of Abortion Goes Before Kentucky’s Supreme Court: But Abortion Rights Are Not, and Never Were, in the State’s Constitution.

But next, we have to turn before leaving The Briefing today to look at the situation in Kentucky because this is not only important for the Commonwealth of Kentucky before the entire nation on the issue of abortion.

As we discussed, we had an enormous setback on election day last week on the issue of the sanctity of human life with the passage of several pro-abortion measures and the failure of some pro-life measures. And one of the most important of those was what was known as Amendment 2 in Kentucky. But now with the failure of Amendment 2, which would’ve precluded this kind of appeal to the courts, the Supreme Court of the Commonwealth of Kentucky on Tuesday of this week heard arguments coming from the pro-abortion side about why the court should hand down an injunction against Kentucky’s pro-life law in order for the pro-abortion side to make an appeal through the Kentucky courts that there is a right to abortion in the Constitution of the State of Kentucky. This is no small matter. It is a giant matter.

Now, one of the things that came up Tuesday in the oral arguments before the Supreme Court of Kentucky was the fact that at least one of the justices raised the issue of the failure of Amendment 2 and said that it was germane to the analysis of the court because through that vote the people had spoken. But here’s where we just need to come back and ask ourselves the question, and this is profoundly important. Is this what judges and justices are supposed to do? Are they supposed to take a political calculation? Are they supposed to try to figure out which way the political winds are blowing? Are they supposed to say, “Okay, this is a matter up for the vote of Kentucky’s people”? Well, if that’s all there is, you don’t need a Supreme Court.

Know the Supreme Court, and this is what we have been battling for over a generation, the Supreme Court and any court for that matter, but in particular, the high or superior courts of appeal like supreme courts, they are supposed to rule according to the text of the constitution. In the United States of America, the United States Supreme Court, its authoritative text is, no surprise here, the Constitution of the United States of America. In the 50 states, the highest court, whatever it may be named, and in Kentucky at present, it is known as the Supreme Court, that court is supposed to rule according to the state constitution of the respective state.

But what you had in the oral arguments was at least the implication coming from some of the justices on the Kentucky Supreme Court that this isn’t so much a textual question. It’s not a question of the original intent of those who framed the Kentucky Constitution. It’s a question of what these judges might see as their best analysis of the situation. But this is exactly how the United States Supreme Court got in trouble during its most progressive phase in the last half of the 20th century, by putting itself in the position of deciding we are wise people who are supposed to decide these issues on our wisdom.

That is not the purpose of these courts. The courts are to rule and to decide according to the texts of the appropriate statutory authority and ultimately the constitution of their state or at the federal level, the Constitution of the United States of America. This just reminds us that bad ideas have a very long shelf life. And the bad idea that judges are to rule according to what they see as either public sentiment or for that matter, their own analysis, that is a very bad idea that simply refuses to die. And I’ll say, I think at least a part of this is the fact that the political left in the United States has adopted this of necessity as one of its major arguments, one of the pillars of its own activism. We understand that, but I think something else is in play, and this is just human nature.

If you are sitting on one of these courts, then certainly you’re there for a reason. You’re not just there as some kind of computer. You’re not just there as an abacus. You are there in order to make analysis. And it must be incredibly easy to believe that one’s analysis is actually something that can contribute to the constitutional tradition or correct even something that might be absent from or erroneously stated in the constitutional text. That must be an enormous temptation. But the plain historic fact is that abortion was not on the minds of those who framed the Kentucky Constitution, and that’s evident. And furthermore, of greater importance, abortion is nowhere in the text of a Kentucky Constitution. Any judge who finds a right to abortion there is finding it in the judge’s own imagination, political ambitions, and moral analysis.

As I said, the most immediate issue, and the court could rule almost immediately on this, it’s a request for an injunction that would put on pause Kentucky’s pro-life legislation and thus allow legal abortion to begin in the State of Kentucky once again. The bigger issue will take a little more time, and that is the basic challenge coming from the pro-abortion side, that somehow though the word abortion doesn’t appear in the Kentucky Constitution, and we know that the framers of the Constitution didn’t intend any right of abortion. The longer issue is the fact that that argument is also going to be considered by the court.

And as you understand, this is not just a matter of constitutional interpretation. We’re talking about abortion here. This is a matter of life and death.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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