The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, May 1, 2023

It’s Monday, May 1st, 2023.

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

Part I

A Major Debate in the Pro-Life Movement Right Now: Should Pro-Life Efforts Target Federal Legislation, or Should It Focus on Legislation in the States, or Both?

It has been a tumultuous few days, especially when you look at the moral landscape in this country and its several developments, primarily, most importantly, right now at the state level. In particular, we’re looking at the states of Nebraska and South Carolina, also the state of Montana. Other states are in play. Different issues in at least some of these states, but right now the big issue is abortion, and the big headline news, as we went into the weekend, is that it was conservatives, or at least some who call themselves conservatives or Republicans, who blocked abortion limits in proposed legislation in the states of Nebraska and South Carolina.

Now, Nebraska’s an interesting case because there you have a unicameral legislature, you have just one house. You don’t have a house in a Senate divided. The legislature is one house. It is supposedly nonpartisan, but almost all the candidates run as either Democrats or Republicans, and you have a D or an R after most of those lawmakers names. In Nebraska, it was something of an establishment Republican who stopped the effort to try to draw a more restrictive limit on abortion in that state. In South Carolina in particular, it was a couple of Republican women.

Now, almost immediately, this is put into a political context. A team of reporters of the Washington Post expressed exactly how the mainstream media sees this story, quote, “The failure of strict new abortion laws to advance in two conservative-dominated legislatures on the same day signaled a mounting fear among some Republicans that abortion bans could lead to political backlash.” Now, here’s where Christians need to understand that we need to pause, and we knew from the beginning that this is what this would look like.

We knew from the beginning that this was going to be an uphill battle. We knew from the beginning that this was going to be a very long struggle. We knew and kept telling ourselves, although so many pro-lifers appeared not to have really noticed it, that the reversal of Roe v. Wade in the Dobbs decision, now almost a year ago, it’ll be a year ago in June, set the stage for establishing more pro-life legislation. It did not in itself make abortion illegal, unavailable coast to coast. It didn’t come anywhere close to that. It did send the issue back to the states, and that’s where we understand we have basically three categories of states.

We have very red states, very pro-life. We have very blue states, extremely pro-abortion. Then we have a number of states where the issue is still very much contested, but the shock for many in the pro-life movement is that there are more in that third category of states, the states up for grabs, than had been expected.

Here were the signals, and they came quickly. First of all, very soon after the Dobbs decision was handed down, you had elections over the course of the next several months, in, especially, pro-life states such as Kansas and Kentucky, and pro-life legislation lost in both of these states, and one way or another, we’re talking about statewide votes.

Now, these are complicated questions because, for example, voters in Kansas were probably confused about exactly what they were voting on. In Kentucky, you had national pro-abortion money that came flowing in a very imbalanced equation, but again, that’s a part of the political struggle, and if pro-lifers mean to win, pro-lifers are going to have to put money behind their effort to try to reach voters. That’s the only way this is going to happen. But that was Kansas, and then it was Kentucky. Kentucky, especially, just incredibly pro-life until all of a sudden it seemingly wasn’t.

Then you had other developments even more recently. In Michigan, you had what had been identified as a swing state. You had it swing significantly blue, and even though that story’s still unfolding, the fact is that the pro-life movement in Michigan is somewhat on its heels, largely because of the pro-abortion activism of the Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer. But then you also have what took place, and we talked about it on the briefing, and this was the Supreme Court election just a matter of weeks ago in the state of Wisconsin.

That issue focused on abortion, and that, candidly, indeed outrageously, pro-abortion candidate won it walking away. All these are very troubling signs, and pro-lifers, Christians, we need to understand this. We are facing an even bigger battle than we knew a matter of a year ago, but remember, we are in this battle until it is done, and this is where we need to recognize, really interesting stuff is going on, and it requires our attention and, of course, it draws our concern.

It also needs to draw out our best thinking as Christians about how to respond to these developments. We also need to recognize that there is a huge principal debate among pro-lifers right now, and we ought to take a couple of minutes on the briefing today just to update ourselves on the status of this debate. The debate is over whether or not pro-life legislation, efforts to try to protect the unborn by legislation, should primarily be directed at the states or even exclusively at the states, or whether we should seek a federal abortion ban or federal legislation restricting abortion.

Now, you can have pro-lifers who are equally pro-life. That is, their goal is to see every unborn life protected, who might have a different argument to make on this very complicated issue, but at least the options are clear, state only or state and federal. Now, I’m going to cut to the quick, I think it has to be state and federal, but it is a complicated issue, and I want to acknowledge that.

What would be the argument against, first of all, trying to achieve federal legislation? For one thing, you have the sheer pragmatic difficulty of getting any kind of real legislation through the Congress. In particular, while you have a democratic, radically pro-abortion President Joe Biden, you have democratic control of the Senate. Obviously, this is at least partly hypothetical right now, but it’s not hypothetical.

When you consider the fact that the Republican Party and its eventual nominee in the 2024 presidential election, it’s going to have to think this through and have a policy, one way or another, Republicans are going to nominate a policy on this question. Now, one of the arguments against trying to seek federal legislation is that it could become a ping-pong. It could just be a matter if you have an alignment of a democratic, pro-abortion president and democratic majorities in Congress.

If the federal government can legislate on abortion, it might legislate in a radically pro-abortion way. If you had a pro-life Republican and pro-life majorities able to pass legislation in Congress, you might have the opposite. But there is also a constitutional question. Congress does not have the authority, by the US Constitution, to legislate on just anything, and the question of legislation on abortion is contested in terms of constitutional interpretation.

Furthermore, just think back to the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that it was conservatives making the argument that the federal government has no right to have a national health policy that is enforced uniformly across the states. Now the question is, does abortion fall under the same category? I’m going to make this argument. I’m going to say that we have no choice but to try to seek simultaneously, state and national legislation. The reason’s simple, it is because, if you do have a democratic majority and you have a Democratic president, they’re going to press for this legislation on a pro-abortion basis, and we’re going to have to do the best to counter that with better legislation.

We also have to acknowledge that regardless of which party, regardless of which argument eventually might be able to legislate on this issue at the national level, the constitutionality is going to get to the Supreme Court. I say, as a conservative, let it get there faster rather than later. I want to see abortion outlawed every single abortion in this country, and eventually, it’s hard to see how that happens without some national federal legislation, but we need to understand that, right now, Republicans are in a pretty weak position.

We actually hold only the House of Representatives, and that by a fairly narrow margin, and so this is really an argument about what pro-lifers would do if we had a pro-life majority in the Congress and also a pro-life president in the White House. But the pro-life movement learned a very long time ago, if you don’t have a plan for when that happens and then work to make that happen, it won’t happen, and you won’t have a plan.

The other problem we just need to acknowledge when it comes to national legislation is that if it goes the wrong way, we will actually have a far less pro-life America, particularly in invalidating restrictions on abortion or bans on abortion at the level of the states. Right now, in states such as Texas, Alabama, you could go through any number of states if you know them well. You have bans on abortion or at least very strict restrictions on abortion. If you had national legislation pushed by President Biden and eventually signed into law by President Biden, you would have those very same pro-life states effectively nullified in their restrictions by federal legislation. That’s obviously a concern.

Now, I’m just going to have to say in response, the fact is that they will press for this legislation anyway, so pro-lifers need to press for the opposite legislation, the legislation that will defend unborn life.

Again, it’s going to have to get to the Supreme Court very quickly. The argument for giving the most immediate and concentrated energy at the state level right now is that is where you can make a big difference right now. Right now, a big difference is being made as several legislatures have taken very important action, and furthermore, you have already existing legislation in some states.

Historic legislation is making a big difference. One argument is, we need to be paying a lot of attention to that middle tier of states. We’re not going to have a pro-life victory in Illinois, New Jersey, New York, or California for a very long time. We’ll work for it, we’ll pray for it, but we can work for, and we have legitimate reason for hope for making a real difference in many states that are right now teetering on the brink, but we just need to step back for a moment and remember how we began this today, looking at the states in Nebraska and South Carolina.

A couple of quick lessons the Christian worldview helps us to understand. Number one, there are politicians who will simply sell us out. They will sell us out because they see it to their political advantage or their political expediency. You have the argument being made by some Republicans right now that the Republican Party simply can’t afford a consistent pro-life message given the political realities of the day. I just want to remind you that that argument was made in the 1970s, in the 1980s, in the 1990s, and pro-life voters simply had to press on over against those arguments and win at the ballot box, and that’s exactly what we’re going to have to do now.

The other thing is that we’re about to see a separation of the sheep from the goats and the pro-life movement. We’re about to find out who is actually going to stand for meaningful restrictions and bans on abortion or who is going to try to negotiate the issue away politically, and some of them will have the letter R after their names.

As I said, in Nebraska, at least, it’s arguable that this came down to one 80-year-old Republican male legislator making the difference. In the state of South Carolina, there are actually six Senate Republicans, three of them women, who played key roles in blocking the legislation. In both cases, it’s hard to know exactly how pro-life momentum can be restarted in this legislation, but it has to be done. The groundwork has to be laid, the effort has to be made, and that just points to the fact that we should expect there is opposition and we should expect there will be those who try to temporize on this issue and pro-life Christians.

We’re just going to have to be very, very clear in tracking this issue and not just taking people at their word. We’re going to have to eventually take them at their word only when they prove it with a vote.

Part II

The Temptation of Evangelical Moral Relativism: Holding the Line When Members of Christian Families Face Sin and Disorder

I mentioned also the state of Montana. In that state, the big headline issue is not abortion over the weekend. Rather, it’s the trans issue, and in particular, the governor there signing legislation that would disallow certain kinds of surgical and hormone treatments for transgender children and teenagers. That would all change when they transitioned to legal adulthood.

But the big fact here is that once we look at this issue in Montana, we come to understand just how complicated all this can get in personal terms. We have to be very clear as Christians, this isn’t all that complicated in moral terms. It certainly isn’t complicated in biological terms. It’s XX and XY, but in the case of Montana, the headline is that the governor of the state, the Republican governor, Greg Gianforte of Montana, signed this legislation over the public opposition of his own non-binary son, David Gianforte.

David Gianforte, the governor’s son, who identifies as non-binary, also, at least politically, uses he and they pronouns. The they makes the news coverage on the story all together difficult to follow, which is actually a part of the confusion sewn by the transgender non-binary movement. The Guardian, a very liberal newspaper in London, had interest in this story. Sam Levine is the reporter who tells us, “David Gianforte, who uses he/they pronouns, said they urged father Greg to stand up against unjust, immoral legislation.”

The article goes on using that pronoun they, and it becomes extremely confusing, as I said, but it also becomes somewhat heartbreaking when you recognize, here is a family where all this is now being played out not only in national but international headlines. Here you have a governor’s son who identifies as non-binary, very much criticizing his father for signing this legislation.

Now, his father, Greg Gianforte, the governor, followed through by signing the legislation as he had indicated he would, and there are other bills in the process that will arrive at the governor’s desk, but nonetheless, you see how politically this has played out, especially in the media, how culturally, the trans revolution, the non-binary identity, is simply championed and the pronouns are simply used, and there is an effort to try to just make it appear that the absolute unthinkable position is to say that a policy should protect children and teenagers from what those on that side of the aisle call gender reassignment or gender affirmation surgery, hormone treatments, and all the rest.

But here’s where Christians need to understand that we have to deal with these issues on matters of moral principle, as matters of moral principle. We have to decide on a biblical basis what is right and wrong, and then we have to stand for what is right and oppose that which is wrong.

Now, this is true because we’re not just talking about legislative issues, where this is, of course, important. We’re talking about conversations that every single Christian, or at least every single Christian church, is going to be involved in over time. This issue is now so widespread, there is no place that is going to be untouched. There is, over time, the likelihood that very few congregations and no denominations in Christian institutions are going to be able to duck or avoid this issue, and it comes down to how the entire thing is addressed because here it’s very clear that there is something else in play that Christians need to identify and we need to talk about it openly.

Years ago I started talking about the issue of divorce and many other issues, especially when it came to, say, sexual misbehavior, even adultery, and other things where it was clear that there were some who identified as Christians and identified as conservative who were trying to say, “We need not to talk about these issues so much. We need not use inflammatory language like adultery, homosexuality, or, if you go down the list, divorce. Instead, we need to find some other way to talk about this.” Which meant generally not talking about it.

As I said, a lot of it has to do with what I call evangelical moral relativism. In evangelical moral relativism, you rarely have the argument of the old moral relativists, who say all morality is relative. There’s no absolute right and absolute wrong. No. The great temptation of evangelical moral relativism is that when one of your relatives shows up with this kind of identity, you all of a sudden begin to go quiet about it, and sometimes you even go on and revise positions on the issue.

By the way, this is well attested in the research. The research tells us that when you have someone who knows someone or is related to someone who identifies as LGBTQ, if you go down the list, there’s an increasing likelihood that such persons will try to find a way not to have to take a decisive stand that would say that their own relatives are in a sinful position, doing what is wrong, or violating both biology and God’s revelation.

Here’s what we need to recognize. This is a clear issue, not just for the governor of the state of Montana and his son, who identifies as non-binary. We just need to recognize, this is a pattern that can show up just about anywhere. It’s a pattern that can show up in just about any congregation. It’s a pattern that will threaten to show up in Christian institutions and certainly will affect every single Christian denomination.

The only antidote to this kind of evangelical moral relativism is a prior full commitment to the authority of Scripture, to the faith, ones for all, delivered to the saints, and to the historic Christian understanding of morality, marriage, gender, and sex. There has to come with that a determination to hold to those convictions regardless, not only of what headlines might come but regardless of who might show up and claim that identity.

Now, immediately, there are people who say, “You look at these issues and you understand there’s going to be a great fight in the Republican Party over these issues at the national level.” True or false? True, absolutely, we have to gird up for that battle, but we also have to understand, this is going to be a battle in many congregations. Shouldn’t be, but it will be. It’s going to be a battle in many Christian institutions. Shouldn’t be, but it will be, and it will be a battle in many denominations as well.

I simply have to say again, “It shouldn’t be, but it will be.” Already, the entire edifice of liberal Protestantism is simply gone. Now that’s predictable because it was liberal Protestantism. Its plan was to go along with the culture. The problem is that there are many who are trying to find some kind of middle position, but just understand this, a middle position is actually just a waiting room in order to abandon biblical conviction.

There is no real middle position on these issues. Now, we can talk about how we should speak about these issues in biblical fidelity, how we should minister to a person struggling with these issues in gospel fidelity. But what we really have no room to debate right now is whether or not God has established a very clear understanding of what it means to be male and female, a very clear definition of marriage, and very clear boundaries for human sexual expression.

That’s not up for debate. At least it can’t be up for debate among those who are Bible-believing Christians. Now we’ll be tracking these issues with you. All these came in just a matter of about 24 hours, just as we were headed into last weekend.

Part III

The Legacy of Sin is Very Long: ‘Nazi Cloud’ Hangs Over Jewelry Auction in New York and the Release of Dutch Archive of Accused Nazi Collaborators

But I want to shift to another story, and this one tells us a lot about how history and moral issues have to be confronted and eventually demand to be confronted and are going to be confronted one way or another, even if that confrontation comes in the context of an auction for jewelry.

Now, the auction is going to be held by the elite auction firm, Christie’s, and the items are going to be listed on Wednesday of this week. It is part of a giant sale of something like 700 jewels from the estate of an Austrian heiress by the name of Heidi Horten. It is expected that the sale of her jewelry might bring in something as much as $150 million, which would surpass, as The New York Times tells us, the $137 million jewelry auction taken in during the 2011 sale of Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelry collection. It’s expected, the income from the sale of the jewelry estate of Heidi Horten is going to be larger even than the jewelry that had been owned by the actress Elizabeth Taylor. It is expected, again, perhaps $150 million, perhaps more.

Now, just in the event, gentlemen, you want to pick up a little something for your wife, this estate will include the auction of a 90-carat diamond that is expected to bring something like $7.8 million. 90 carats. By some accounts, one Bulgari diamond, sapphire, and emerald necklace includes something like several hundred emeralds and sapphires, just in case you were looking for that little something.

In this case, the sale is going to benefit a charitable foundation established by Heidi Horten, who died just last year. Her husband, Helmut Horten, was a German retailing billionaire who had built his fortune by building department stores, particularly in German-speaking Europe. He became one of the wealthiest businessmen in Europe. His wife became one of the most significant owners of jewelry in Europe, and now that jewelry is going up for sale.

Why are we talking about it on The Briefing? Just consider this headline from the story about the auction in The New York Times, “Nazi Cloud Hangs Over One of the Largest Jewelry Sales in History.”

Yes, I said, history comes back, and history’s coming back in this case because Helmut Horten, who was the husband of Heidi Horten and who had built this billion-dollar fortune in department stores, had identified as a young man as a Nazi and had actually bragged about these stores now being owned in Germany, he said, back during the 1930s by someone of Aryan stock.

Now here we are in 2023. World War II was over in 1945, and with it the destruction of the Nazi regime, but this is where the biblical understanding of the enduring legacy of sin, it reminds us that this is going to show up in the headlines about a jewelry sale in New York just in the coming days because history doesn’t go away. As the Scripture says, “Sometimes the teeth of the children and the grandchildren are set on edge by the sins of the fathers.” And that’s exactly what you see here.

It’s a generational reminder of the power of sin. In this case, Heidi Horton is not accused of being directly involved in any Nazi complicity herself, but there is very little doubt that her husband at least identified as a Nazi, and there is also very little doubt that he made a lot of his fortune because he identified as a Nazi in a time when it would be very difficult to build a fortune in Germany otherwise. It’s also interesting that when the Nazi connections came up as a matter of controversy, the auction house responded by saying, “But this is for charity.”

Later, the auction house said that it would be making at least some reparation payments, at least from its own proceeds from this sale. But all this just goes to show that history hangs around. As this headline says, “Nazi Cloud Hangs Over One of the Largest Jewelry Sales in History.”

But at the very same time, another legacy of Nazism was showing itself in headlines from a neighboring nation, in this case, the Netherlands. Again, The New York Times reports this case, Nina Segal. Here’s a headline: “The Dutch Are Making Collaboration Files Public,” subhead, “The Nazi-Related Archive Have Been Restricted Since The War.”

Now, if you want to think about a national problem, think about this one. In just a matter of a couple of years, an incredible archive of documents showing who was accused of collaboration with the Nazis during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. It is going to go public. Not only is it going to go public, it’s going to go public in two years. In a way, no similar archive has gone public in any other nation. It is going to be unedited, it is going to be digital, and searchable. That means that as soon as the archive goes live, people are going to be able to put names in the search bar and quickly find out if some who had been alive during the time of the Nazi occupation had been accused of collaboration with the Nazis.

Now, as you can imagine, this is a massive moral issue, and it’s also very important to recognize that this archive is going to be about accusations, not about any kind of legal findings or legal verdicts. That is another story entirely in other nations. First of all, you didn’t have this kind of search process. You had archives that were edited in some way, and furthermore, there is, it seems almost no precedent for putting up accusations without any kind of evidence or legal proceeding for people whose names will appear even though they have long, themselves, been dead.

Now, just in the Netherlands, the numbers are staggering. There were 65,000 collaborators who were actually tried after World War II. Again, the number is 65,000, but there were another 300,000 Dutch people who were at least investigated, as a matter of record, as having been collaborators, and it’s that larger list that’s going to go public in a couple of years, and there is enormous anxiety in the Netherlands about that.

Now, as we understand this, Christians have to understand there are huge moral issues implicated in this, and when we talk about the documents, it’s estimated that when this archive opens again, searchable and online, two years from now, it’s going to include 32 million documents on file. 32 million. I mentioned there were 65,000 who underwent some kind of trial. 51,000 Dutch citizens were found guilty and received prison sentences.

Again, the numbers are staggering, 51,000, but all this reminds us that even as we are coming up on the 80th anniversary of the end of World War II and the fall of the Nazi regime, the Bible just tells us that the legacy of sin is very, very, very long, and we certainly see this, in this case, in an archive that is going to open in a couple of years in the Netherlands and a jewelry auction that may begin just within a matter of days in New York. In both cases, nearly 80 years after World War II, the word Nazi has found its way back into the headlines.

I’m simply going to end with an amazing statement made by one of those responsible for this archive in the Netherlands who said this, “Children aren’t responsible for the crimes of their parents. But it’s important to know what’s in these archives to prevent it from happening again.”

And this is where Christians need to understand. There are certain moments looking back in history when we have to say that simply can’t be allowed to happen again.

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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