Tuesday, April 11, 2023
It's Tuesday, April 11th, 2023.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
A Political Parable of Our Cultural Age: Chicago’s Mayoral Election
When it comes to worldview, geography matters, and I often describe this in terms of a series of words that begin with C. The closer you get to a coast, the closer you get to a city, the closer you get to a campus, well the closer you get to moral progressivism or liberalism, the coast, the campus, the city, and you could add some other words as well. The point is, the closer you get to the cultural creatives, the closer you get to the coast.
Yes, the cities turn out to be far more liberal, not only in terms of contemporary American culture, but throughout most of history. By the way, one theme of biblical theology is how the city is considered in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, there is an almost exclusively negative view of the city. The city is seen as a cesspool of sin. A city is seen as a place of human arrogance.
The city is condemned by the prophets for their unbelief, for their lust. You go down the entire series, injustice, unrighteousness, but there is a shift in the New Testament. That shift in the New Testament, by the way, also at least has an analogy in the fact that Jerusalem is described not only in terms of its prophetic identity and its geographical and theological significance, but also an anticipation of a new Jerusalem in which the kingdom of Christ actually is described, at least in part in terms of a redeemed city.
But the New Testament is also very honest about cities, honest about the fact that cities are indeed pools of all kinds of temptation. One pastor, by the way, in a modern city told me that he says to young Christians moving to his church and his city that they better watch out because they're about to find out who they are, because just about everything in terms not only of ideas and ideologies, but all kinds of temptations can be found in a city, whereas, they cannot be found in the same way in the countryside or in more rural areas.
The New Testament has so many books named for cities because they were letters written by apostles to these cities, most importantly, the Apostle Paul. In the New Testament, even human cities are translated not just from a negative view, but to a positive role in terms of mobilization for the gospel and the planting of churches and the reaching of populations. But if you put the Bible together, Old Testament and New Testament, there's a very realistic understanding of the city.
So when you consider the city and you consider temptation, concentration of human hubris and other things, this is a very old story, but it's also as new as the headlines just these days. In the United States, cities are generally far more liberal than more rural areas. So as you have states that are more dominated by rural areas, they tend to be red, not blue, cities tend to be blue, or at least blueish or purple, even in red states.
Being in a city makes a difference, and evidently, being in a city means you can also politically and morally speaking just lose your mind, such as the case right now in a city that's becoming a parable of our age, and that city is the city of Chicago. In a recent citywide election in particular, the runoff for the election of Chicago's next mayor, Chicago went left again, way left again, and that's after you had voters repudiate the incumbent, very liberal mayor of Chicago because of all kinds of problems, including spiking crime rates.
So they didn't nonetheless make a correction. They basically just went with another candidate from the far left. Speaking of left, one of the reasons that the candidate of the left won is because so many people who would've voted against him left the city. Speaking of the liberal side, the political left, The Wall Street Journal ran a headline last week, The left wins big in Midwest elections.
The editorial board summarized the Chicago election this way, "The Chicago runoff was a battle between the moderate and progressive wings of the Democratic Party and the left won. Despite public frustration over rising crime and failing schools, Brandon Johnson's victory means the city's decline as a laboratory for progressive governance will continue and more companies will consider following the example, the recent exits of Caterpillar, Boeing, and Citadel. Actually the list of companies and of people leaving Chicago is very, very long and getting longer."
Another way of understanding this is to say that the majority of the voters, those who have stayed in Chicago, they tend to go for very liberal candidates, and this becomes a cycle. So even as Chicago voters elected, Lori Lightfoot and her administration on the left was judged by almost everyone to be a failure, you had Chicago voters choose someone of the same political cloth, in this case, also someone radically of the left, someone liberal even by liberal terms, and you just have fewer people who would vote conservative left in the city. So here's a very interesting political parable with vast worldview implications playing out right before our eyes.
How in the world could correction come to a city like Chicago when almost day-by-day, certainly month-by-month, there appear to be fewer people who would vote anything other than extremely liberal left in the city? Businesses are leaving and there is every evidence to indicate that the election of this new mayor means that there will be more businesses leaving.
Alicia Finley writing for The Wall Street Journal, put it this way, "There's a great deal of ruin in a nation as Adam Smith once observed. The same," she says, "could be said of America's big Democratic run cities. Brandon Johnson's victory in last week's Chicago mayoral race is a reminder that no matter how bad things get, they can always get worse." She explains, "The situation very well. Chicago is functionally bankrupt, it's high crime and taxes are driving away businesses like Citadel, Boeing and Tyson Foods." She continues, "Despite some of the highest property taxes in the country, its pension funds are in a death spiral.
Scads of people are moving out, a net 175,000 people left Cook County that Chicago's home county between 2020 and 2022. The same thing is happening in other liberal cities that are becoming failed municipalities." She writes, "Between 2020 and 2022, about 71,000 people net left San Francisco. That's about 10% of its population." During the same period she says that a half million people moved out of New York City. That's about four times the population of Topeka, Kansas. Now there's a reason why these cities are veering so far left is because so many people work for the cities.
Many of the people who are left are in these incredibly liberal cities where the government is so big that just about everyone is either working for the government or dependent upon government programs and government spending, or actually the recipients of that government spending. Alicia Finley writes, "America's big cities are increasingly steered by the interest of government unions and those who depend on the government dole. Unlike businesses, cities can't liquidate.
Politicians can always raise more money from taxpayers to pay off their public union friends and buy votes from the government dependent class, which nowadays includes outfits that contract with cities to provide social services," end quote. So what the cities can't do is hold residents hostage.
You have people if they have means and they have ability simply deciding, "I am not staying in this failed city any longer." The crime rate, the stink rate, the entire breakdown of civilization, the high taxation, the threat of even greater taxes to build an even thicker government, many people are simply saying, "We're out of here."
There are so many businesses right now, there are clearly deciding, "We can't continue to operate in Chicago." Store after store. Even in the formerly illustrious shopping districts of Chicago are saying, "We are out of here." It's not just The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post columnist, Jim Garrity, wrote a piece with a headline, "As ominous clouds gather over Chicago, progressivism marches on."
Garrity writes, "When a deeply troubled city chooses to double down on all the policies that aren't working, it's like watching sailors on a sinking ship bailing water in instead of out. Welcome to Chicago," he says. Here's how he summarizes the situation, "Brandon Johnson, a 47-year-old Cook County Commissioner, will be the city's next mayor. Voters had earlier rejected progressive first-term mayor, Lori Lightfoot, who won just 17% in the crowded first round of voting. Johnson, a former Chicago teacher's union organizer promises to govern from the same progressive playbook."
Garrity goes on to explain that the rate of overall crime in Chicago is spiking, "more robberies, more burglaries, and way more thefts and motor vehicles stolen. Even with the recent decline, Chicago's homicide rate is still nearly 40% higher than in 2019." He continues with the pathology, "Significant numbers of Chicago cops at every rank are quitting, retiring, or transferring to the suburbs. Large companies are moving out of the downtown area citing high crime rates that make their employees feel unsafe. In just the past few years, Boeing, Caterpillar, Citadel and Tyson Foods have moved out of Chicago.
So far, this year, Old Navy closed its flagship store in the loop, and Banana Republic said it will not renew the lease on its Michigan Avenue store." I'll just say, as a matter of pun, I guess it takes a Banana Republic to recognize a Banana Republic. Garrity gets to a very interesting point when he says that in order to get this kind of lopsided electoral picture, you not only have to mean that most Republican votes just don't count, you also have to understand that the Democratic votes are basically moving left far, left further left.
The reason for that is that so many people have left the city who would've voted otherwise. That means not only those who would've voted in a conservative Republican direction, but those who would've voted in a less progressive liberal direction. They're looking for happier places to live as well.
As for Brandon Johnson, he's got big plans for getting new big taxes as USA Today reports, "Johnson has called for new taxes and expanding social programs. He says the city should focus on mental health treatment, affordable housing and jobs for young people instead of further investing in policing and incarceration. So the new mayor intends to leave a lot of the vacant police positions vacant even as crime rates are spiraling."
USA today also reports, "He has proposed a plan he say will raise $800 million by taxing ultra-rich people and businesses. Johnson's plan includes a per employee head tax on employers and an additional tax on hotel room stays." Let me just ask you to be a prophet here. What will be the most likely outcome of those two policies? Fewer rich people living in Chicago and fewer people staying in Chicago hotel rooms. People do have a choice as to whether or not they will come to much less live in Chicago.
Now, I want to state that I happen to like the city of Chicago for any number of reasons. It's not only very important in American history, it is a major engine of the American economy.
But what we need to recognize is the Christian understanding that a city is only possible if it follows certain rules and meets certain preconditions. You have to have a stable society. You have to be one that encourages investment and enterprise. You have to be one that preserves order on the streets. You have to have neighborhoods that are functional based on families that are functional. If you invest in all the kinds of social policies that undermine every bit of that, then you should expect to find something like what Chicagoans are now facing.
The election of Brandon Johnson means not only that the city is not correcting its course, it has decided to move left full speed ahead. The interesting thing to note here is that you have all these warnings based upon already learned experience that so many corporations and people who have the options will simply move. They don't have to move to Wyoming, they can simply move out of Cook County, in that sense, you have what has happened in so many American cities where the people who have the means and the liberty, they move out. You have the ability to go into Chicago if you have some reason to go into Chicago, but you don't have to live in Chicago and be victimized by Chicago politics.
But there's something else we need to note, and that is that we are currently in a vast national experiment to see just how far that works, just to what extent are people willing to move out, say 20, 30, 40 miles? This is where you are likely to see the rise of a lot of mid-size cities actually growing very fast. You see this in Texas. You see this in many other states. Tennessee is one of those states where you see mid-size cities all of a sudden growing where people say, "I want to move to a more reasonable livable place where I'm not going to be worried about all these pathologies knocking on my door every day." Here's where you have the other problem that's now being experienced by Texas and Tennessee. You have people who are moving from places like Chicago and they keep voting as if they're from Chicago.
Okay. So the big picture here for our worldview consideration is understanding that the first issue here is that this is a city and it is a massive city. It's a city on such a scale that it's only unreasonable given the history of the United States and current economic factors. You have to have the industrial revolution, you have to have all kinds of new technologies that make a city like Chicago possible.
But the Christian worldview understanding is that even as cities can demonstrate some of the best of human achievement, they can also demonstrate the breakdown of human order. You come back to where we started and that is that cities are overwhelmingly more secular than more rural areas, and they often become engines of secularization as well. With those secular worldviews come secular ways of understanding a vision of human happiness, the understanding of the human being and human dignity and the role of government.
Here's something else to understand, those who believe in a more secular worldview tend to believe in a far more omnicompetent and ever-expanding government. That is a closely-tracked parallel, and it's because there's a shift of authority. There's a shift of hope. There is a shift of understanding what's most important. If you believe that what's most important can be delivered by government, then you'll expect a very big government to deliver on those promises.
All that just underlines that these worldview issues are always there and often very, very close to the surface. I go back to the fact that the closer you get to a city, the closer you get to a campus, the closer you get to a coast, well, the closer you get to a more secular and a far more liberal worldview. I'll let the last word on this come from The Wall Street Journal, the editorial board of that paper summarize this situation this way, "You think a new mayor who ran as a leftist would try to reassure employers that he'll not be as crazy as he sometimes sounded during the campaign. But now that he's won, he apparently feels liberated to sound crazier."
We'll track this story with you. Folks who are in or close to Chicago, we're going to have to track this story with particular interest.
(Some) Comstock Laws Are Still in Effect?: A New Revelation Dawns on the Political Left
Okay, next, we're going to turn back to that federal court decision last week coming from a federal court judge in Texas, ruling that the FDA had wrongly approved Mifepristone, one of the most important of the abortion pill drugs for its use as an aborted fashion. The effect of that ruling could eventually mean a complete shutdown of the ability to have the transfer and sale of Mifepristone state to state, or even in the states, all fifty states.
Eventually that's a possibility, but you had a dueling federal judge on the West Coast hand down a contrary opinion that least affects the Western states coming under the Ninth Circuit. But the federal government, the Biden Administration has appealed the Texas judge's ruling to the Fifth Circuit. It's going to be interesting to see where that goes, but it's almost certainly going to end up at the Supreme Court.
But this then raises something really, really interesting, and I'm honestly somewhat surprised that the national media has paid very little attention to this. The issue is the Comstock Act or the Comstock Acts, and why are we talking about this? Well, because Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk there in Texas cited that particular legislation and its binding authority having to do with why the FDA's situation related to the approval of Mifepristone and the sale and distribution of that abortion pill through the mail why that is very legally suspect.
The Comstock Act or the Comstock Acts, where in the world did those come from? Recent legislation? No, not at all, not unless you consider 1873 to be recent. So why would legislation at the federal level also repeated state by state in most states? Why going back to the 1870s is this even a matter of concern? It is because most of those Comstock laws are actually still in effect.
Why are they still in effect? Because Congress has never repealed them. 1873 to the present, well, it's a very interesting story. At the center of it is a man by the name of Comstock. The Comstock at the center of this is Anthony Comstock, and he received a special commission as a special agent for the Postmaster General in order to develop new policies for the U.S. Mail, and also for the U.S. Government as was related to certain problems that had emerged during the Civil War.
One of the problems that emerged after the Civil War, but was also dealt with during the war on the part of the Army and others, was a growing industry in pornography. Comstock laws were federal laws that were often mirrored at the state level against public indecency. Remember, Anthony Comstock was a special agent for the Postmaster General of the United States. It had to do most importantly with the distribution of such matters by mail.
The Federal Government passed the legislation known as the Comstock laws in order to say no to any number of issues that are related to vice and in particular, shut down the ability of such things to be sent through the mails, as in abortion pills. Section 211 of the Comstock laws passed in 1873 actually forbade sending through the mail in a number of things such as anything, "for the procuring, or producing of abortion."
Forbidden from the mail was any matter "containing any filthy, vile or indecent thing, device or substance in every paper, writing, advertisement or representation that any article instrument, substance, drug, medicine or thing may or can be used or applied for preventing conception or producing abortion or for any indecent or immoral purpose and every description calculated to induce or incite a person, so to use or apply any such article instrument, substance, drug medicine, or thing is hereby declared to be a non-mailable matter and shall not be conveyed in the mails or delivered from any post office or by any letter carrier."
Now, here's the amazing thing, most of those Comstock laws are still in effect. They're still in effect, at least on the books of our federal law in the year 2023, and Judge Kacsmaryk knows it. Evidently, an awful lot of people, especially on the left didn't know it until they know it now. Now that leads to something else and that is this. It's just a political reality for us to think about for a moment.
Now, in all likelihood, the sexual revolutionaries will find or at least attempt some way to get around the Comstock laws, but that does raise the question why so many years after 1873 we're talking about 150 years, how are those laws still in effect? Well, it is because there is no incentive for the Congress to reverse them. There's no incentive for a president to sign such a reversal. At least throughout most of the last 150 years, you could just imagine the situation.
How does someone say, "I want to reverse this. I actually want all those vile things to be available through the mails. I want to be the member of Congress who puts my name on legislation. I want to replace the Comstock Acts with my name, and I'm not going to be against vice, I'm going to be for it." Now, the reality is, let's be honest, many of them are for it, but they lack the political courage to stand up and have legislation named for themselves that would reverse the Comstock Acts.
But in closing out this issue, it is just interesting to look at how history is read. So many people basically operate on the presumption that history's just moving in a more liberal progressivist direction and that all of this is simply a matter of embarrassment. But the fact is that the vast majority of Americans in 1873 demanded this kind of legislation and throughout most of the intervening years supported this kind of legislation. It is not the past that is the aberration, it is the present.
A Very Dark Day in Kentucky: Unspeakable Tragedy in Louisville Yesterday
But today, in closing, I simply have to say that yesterday was a very dark day in Louisville, Kentucky, and I appreciate the prayers of so many. As events unfolded downtown in this city, in particular, a mass shooting that took place at the Old National Bank downtown. As so often the case, we saw this with respect to Nashville just a couple of weeks ago, there are connections that need to be acknowledged.
Thus, I released a statement yesterday that says this, "The Southern Seminary family expresses deep sympathy to the family of Thomas Elliot, killed in the mass shooting at Old National Bank. Mr. Elliot was a leader in Kentucky business and political life. Most importantly, he was husband to Maryanne Honeycutt Elliot, daughter of the late Dr. Roy Lee Honeycutt, eighth president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and his wife, June. Dr. Honeycutt served as president of this institution from 1982 to 1993. Thus, our love and prayers are with Maryanne Honeycutt Elliot, her daughters, and her sweet mother, June Honeycutt, who served so faithfully alongside her husband at Southern Seminary. We also pray for our entire community. With so many families bearing an unspeakable burden of grief and loss today, please join us also in praying for those currently receiving medical care, some in critical condition, in the wake of this shooting."
I released that statement yesterday. We continue today to pray for these families, including some families still very much in need of prayer for loved ones who remain in critical condition. There'll be more to know about this, and one day, more to say.
But for now, thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can find me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.