The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, May 18, 2023

It’s Thursday, May 18th, 2023.

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

Part I

Political Drama in North Carolina Over Abortion: State Senate Overrides Democratic Governor’s Veto of Abortion Ban in Strategic Win for Pro-Life Movement

Big headlines out of the state of North Carolina, giant political news, a lot of conflict, big worldview dimensions. We’re talking about the fact that as North Carolina went into the weekend, on Saturday, its Democratic Governor, Roy Cooper, vetoed a pro-life bill that had been passed by the Republican dominated legislature. So here’s the setup, last week the Republican legislature passed what amounts to a 12-week abortion ban. That means a ban on all abortions after 12 weeks, a law more restrictive than was currently in place in the state of North Carolina.

But then you had the Democratic Governor of North Carolina, Governor Roy Cooper, actually deciding to go for a bit of political theater last Saturday by basically holding a rally in order to publicly veto the bill that had been adopted by the legislature.

So that set up an interesting political equation, but just how interesting could it be? Well, this interesting folks, because as it turns out, every single vote for the legislation would have to hold if there was to be an override in the governor’s veto. If even one of the members of the North Carolina Senate had changed his or her vote, there would be no override.

But yesterday there was an override. The legislature overrode the governor’s veto of the bill and thus, this particular ban on abortions after 12 weeks in the state of North Carolina will take effect. Now of course, this is going to go to the courts because you’re going to have the pro-abortion folks who are going to immediately seek relief from the courts, trying to put a stay on this legislation or a hold, keeping it from going into effect and perhaps setting up an even longer range challenge.

But it’s really interesting to look at this because this is one of those pro-life victories that comes in a very strategic state, often referred to as a swing state in American politics, and what you also see here is a bit of political courage being played out. Now, you might say that just in terms of political risk, both sides decided to take a lot of risk here. The Republican dominated legislature took a big risk seeking to override the governor’s veto.

The governor, in one sense, took a big risk by holding what amounted to a rally in order to veto the bill and basically daring the legislature to override his veto. He dared them, they did. But here’s where, from a worldview perspective, we need to understand something, it’s difficult to get into the mind of a politician, whether a legislator or a governor or for that matter, a precinct captain.

When you are looking at homo politicus, that is to say the human political animal, like in every other human situation, but in politics, perhaps even more extremely so, there’s a mixture of motivations. There is the impossibility of reading another’s heart and mind. You don’t know exactly why, in some cases, a certain politician has made a certain decision or voted a certain way on legislation. But furthermore, it’s also true that you don’t know exactly what’s going on in the heart and mind of any individual voter. You just know how the vote turned out.

Now, over the course of the last several months, particularly after last year’s Supreme Court reversal of the Roe v. Wade decision, the pro-life movement has suffered a series of defeats. Put into an historical context, that’s at least plausibly understandable because it had been the pro-life movement that had been building, working, battling for years to override Roe v. Wade. And when that happened, there was almost assuredly a political backlash.

No team is it greater vulnerability than when it has just won a very long sought win. Once you have that, there is immediately the vulnerability and that showed up in terms of the combat in the United States, politically speaking, between the pro-life and the pro-abortion movements. It has appeared that the pro-abortion movement has been gaining momentum, particularly in the states described as swing states. So let’s think about that for a moment. As you have a map of America, particularly state by state, we’re now accustomed and this is becoming only more so, to speaking of red states, conservative, blue states, liberal, but there are also some purple states.

Now it’s hard to know just how long some of these states will remain purple. You had Florida that was described years ago as purple, now it’s pretty much red, but you also had Georgia that was considered pretty much red, that’s now increasingly purple, maybe even blue. You have Virginia that was purple, but it’s been increasingly blue. But then again, they in the last gubernatorial election, elected a conservative Republican.

All that to say politics is life in action. It’s happening right now. You might know how you think certain political developments will unfold, but you don’t know how they will unfold until they actually do unfold. But by all accounts, we’re now looking at increasing stress over giant moral issues, a worldview divide in the United States. North Carolina is one of those states often referred to as purple. It had been deep blue in terms of voting for Democrats for a number of years, but that was a pattern in the south. And then it had been rather deep red. It became purple for a number of reasons, a couple of them are worthy of our consideration. One of them is that you had an influx of people moving into North Carolina who were new to North Carolina.

That’s particularly true, by the way, in other regions such as Northern Virginia, where Northern Virginia’s become something like an absolute suburb of Washington DC, naturally that region begins to vote like and think like the nation’s capital, which, by the way, never suffers a recession because that’s where the tax money goes. North Carolina is sometimes described as a halfback state, which is to say you have people moving from the north, fleeing not only the climate at times, at a certain point in their lives, but also rather high levels of taxation.

They could move all the way to Florida, but that’s a long way from their community, their network of friends, and sometimes their families. And so they move, say halfway, the halfback, by the way, refers to a demographic pattern in which people say, move from New Jersey to Fort Lauderdale, Fort Lauderdale’s too far, so then they move back to Raleigh, halfway, halfback.

You have there, in the central part of the state, what is known as the research triangle, three cities, also three major universities, Duke University in Durham, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, there in Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University, also right there in the area. And thus, you have a very high concentration of those who have graduate degrees. You have a very strong influence of academia. It’s a good deal different than what you would find in some other regions of the state.

But then again, western North Carolina has also been historically far more liberal than people might remember and far more inclined to vote democratically. So you’re looking at a state that is in political transition, all you have to do is look at events of the last several days to see that. It’s also important to recognize that politics is personal. You’re not electing computers, you’re not electing automatons, you’re electing human beings, and sometimes human beings do rather unexpected things.

That’s the case of State Representative Tricia Cotham. A matter of weeks ago, she switched parties. She had been elected as a Democrat and had pledged in some way to support abortion rights, but she switched parties. Claiming bad faith on the part of the North Carolina Democratic Party and the Democratic caucus in the House, she switched to Republican, she also switched to defending a pro-life position, and without her vote, the override would not have been possible.

A matter of just a few weeks ago that override wouldn’t have been imaginable. For pro-life Americans this is a significant victory and it’s a victory more than one way. For one thing, it’s a victory that the North Carolina legislature was so determined to see this issue through. Now, those of us who hold to a consistent pro-life position can’t be satisfied with a ban on abortions after 12 weeks, but this is a significant restriction of abortion as compared to the law in North Carolina, say a week ago.

And so you see here some courage on the part of the North Carolina majority in the legislature, that pressed this issue and after the governor’s veto, pressed back and won. This is where we also understand that right now you are looking at this massive worldview divide, and it’s just really important for us to recognize the divide is getting wider. It is not becoming more narrow. Votes like this just make that ever more clear.

And again, consider the political stakes. Consider the fact that the governor raised the stakes, maybe because he wants a national profile. Who knows exactly why he did it. He put his pro-abortion position on the line risking an override of his veto, and that’s exactly what happened. But I think the big thing to watch is the fact that Republicans in the North Carolina legislature had the courage to press this issue when it was not assured of success.

And when the nation was watching and when the nation would’ve celebrated, at least the media class, so many on the left would’ve celebrated any potential, every potential setback for the pro-life movement, this was a high risk operation. Remember, the override would’ve failed with a switch of just one vote. But it did succeed, and that’s why the story has made headlines. All this underlines what we already knew, that the issue of abortion is in flux in America right now, and there is an opportunity right now, and both sides know it, to make the case either for abortion or for the sanctity and dignity of human life.

This is where pro-life Christians need to show up and make certain we are not afraid to talk about this issue. If we expect legislators to put their reputations and their political careers on the line in the defense of the unborn, the very least we can do, and yes, listeners you can do, is make your own pro-life convictions very clear and keep the issue of abortion very much before the nation’s conscience.

Part II

Family Lines Drawn Over Abortion: Granddaughter of Senator Jesse Helms Fights to Undo Grandfather’s Legacy

A couple of other dimensions of the story demand our attention. One of them is an article that appeared about the context in North Carolina, an opinion piece in USA Today, the writer is Ellen Gaddy. And she writes about the harmful legacy of the late North Carolina Republican Senator Jesse Helms.

Now, Jesse Helms was a conservative fire brand. I had the opportunity to meet him a couple of times. He was, if anything, Mr. North Carolina conservative and everyone who knew him knew he was Mr. North Carolina conservative. He came to cultural prominence there in North Carolina, largely through a radio program in which he articulated conservative arguments. He was catapulted into a major figure in the United States Senate, a formidable figure by any comparison.

So now you have this particular article blaming the late US Senator Jesse Helms for having a harmful legacy on the issue of abortion, as reflected in this Republican victory on the question overriding the governor’s veto. So what makes this story all the more interesting? The author of the piece is a granddaughter of the late Senator Jesse Helms. Ellen Gaddy is Jesse Helms granddaughter. She’s writing this article to blame her own grandfather for having what she declares to be a harmful legacy on this question.

She begins by writing, “My grandfather was the arch-conservative US Senator Jesse Helms from North Carolina, the state where I live, North Carolina with its recent 12-week abortion ban is the latest casualty in a national conservative led movement,” she writes, “to deny women the right to bodily autonomy and essential healthcare. The endgame,” she writes, “of the anti-abortion movement is to make abortion illegal in all 50 states.”

So there’s quite a lead paragraph written by a granddaughter about her grandfather. Now, before she drops that bomb, she writes, quote, “Jesse Helms began his US Senate career in 1973, the year the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision allowed for the federal constitutional right to abortion.” Writing about Jesse Helms, she says, “known for his extremist and inflammatory political rhetoric, my grandfather opposed Roe with such a vengeance that he drew comparisons between legal abortion and the Holocaust.”

I’m just going to interject here that one of the arguments made by the Nazi doctors, one of the arguments for the Holocaust was expressed in the German, you’ve heard it on The Briefing before, Lebensunwertes Leben, life unworthy of life. That is exactly the argument made by the pro-abortion movement in the United States. She at least understands what her late grandfather believed, “He viewed abortion not as essential healthcare, but as the murder of children.”

But the main point of her argument is to blame her grandfather for what she sees as a baleful legacy on the issue of abortion, he dared to believe that abortion was the murder of an unborn child, rather than to categorize it as reproductive healthcare. When it comes to his granddaughter, no such reluctance at all, exactly the opposite, she refers to abortion in terms of comprehensive healthcare. She also writes as a citizen of North Carolina, saying that the state had played the role as something of a haven for those seeking abortion until the legislature had passed this bill and has now overridden the governor’s veto.

She then also writes at the federal level about her embarrassment evidently in the fact that one of the main restrictions on the federal government funding abortions, in this case overseas, is actually named for, quite rightly we would add, her grandfather. It is known as the Helms Amendment. That amendment prevents any U.S. foreign policy aid from going to the payment of abortion and certain other services.

She writes, “The 50-year-old law restricts the use of U.S. foreign assistance funds for abortion as a method of family planning,” in her words, “thereby denying millions of people access to safe abortion even in countries where abortion is legal.” She writes about her late grandfather saying that no doubt he would have been elated by the Supreme Court’s decision reversing Roe in 2022.

She acknowledges that he would be delighted also by the Republican legislature’s effort and now success in overriding the governor’s veto and passing pro-life legislation. She refers to her grandfather in terms of what she calls political extremism. She makes her own view clear when she says about abortion, “This is a private healthcare decision between doctors and their patients.”

Again, you’ll notice how this is repackaged and it again comes back to the moral meaning of language. The medical language here simply betrays the effort to conceal what abortion really is. Just relabeling it, “A private healthcare decision between doctors and patients.” Now as a pro-life Christian, but also in this case as a grandfather, I read this with tremendous pain, just feeling it for the family that is involved here. You don’t often have a situation in which a granddaughter goes to the national media in order to blame her own grandfather for what she describes as a harmful legacy.

But we also need to note that for pro-life Americans, she disappointed to why the pro-life efforts are so necessary. And she also accidentally points out the truth, that anyone who will seek to defend the sanctity and dignity of unborn human life is putting our reputation at risk in terms of the larger society, that’s necessary.

Part III

The Pro-Abortion Movement’s Internal Fight Over Strategy — One Debate? Use of the Word ‘Woman’

The next thing I want to mention is that sometimes when you are looking at analysis of what’s going on in the country on an issue like this, you see the intersection of other issues and it’s just unmistakable. And that certainly is the case in a very interesting analysis piece that ran in the New York Times, it was in Sunday’s edition. The headline is, “Abortion Access Wins Elections, But Advocates Can’t Agree on a Strategy.”

Now in this case, this is an analysis not of the pro-life side, but of the pro-abortion side. And the whole point of this article, by writers David Leonhardt and Lyna Bentahar, has to do with the fact that there is not yet an agreed upon strategy on the pro-abortion side, state by state and nationally, as to how to press their case. And these writers are actually indicating confusion on the parts of many on the left, wondering why there are not more efforts at the state level to try to support abortion rights and put the issue before voters, since, at least in terms of recent efforts, the pro-abortion movement has won so many of them.

Well, it turns out that there is not yet a unified strategy on the pro-abortion side. I guess we should be thankful for that. But I mentioned the intersection of different issues and it certainly shows up in this article, is the main reason I’m bringing it up today.

Let me just read to you this sentence and see if you hear what I’m talking about, “Other advocates pointed to internal disagreements and disorganization in the movement that have delayed action. The movement has not been able to agree on a national strategy, including whether ballot initiatives should use the word woman and how far into pregnancy abortion should remain legal.”

Yeah, I know you heard it. The controversy that now divides at least some in the pro-abortion camp is whether or not they can, must or should not use the word woman. The other big worldview consideration here, it’s just good to see it, is that these issues do become linked together.

If you can deny that a baby is a baby, that an unborn child is human, you can deny other things including that biology matters and a woman is a woman. You can buy into all these moral ideologies and they’re clustered. They’re clustered on the conservative side, they’re clustered on the liberal or progressive side, and they’re clustered for good reasons.

If you’re going to overthrow biology and tradition, you’re going to overthrow the Christian moral tradition, it’s not going to be very satisfying to just overthrow one moral principle or one moral restraint because after all, they’re tied together and whatever it takes to get around this text of Scripture, well, it’s quite convenient to use that to get around another text of Scripture as well. If you’re going to overthrow one basic principle, the Christian moral tradition, you’re going to eventually have no reason not to overthrow all of it. And pretty soon you’re involved in a divisive controversy over whether or not you can use the word woman.

Part IV

JPMorgan Discriminates on the Basis of Religious Beliefs? Nation's Largest Bank Faces Shareholder Challenge on Cancelling of Religious Accounts

But finally, this week a big shareholder meeting was held. In this case it is for the financial services company and bank known as JPMorgan Chase. Just look at the names invoked in that company. You look at Chase, as in Chase Manhattan, as in the Rockefeller name. You look at JPMorgan, well, you can figure that out, the Morgan name.

You’re looking at two of the biggest names in American history when it comes to banking and you’re looking at what is now the nation’s largest bank, it is also a publicly traded corporation. In the shareholder’s meeting of JPMorgan, well, there were headlines to be made over the weekend. For instance, the Wall Street Journal, Red States Pressure JPMorgan on Religion. What’s religion got to do with a shareholder meeting a JPMorgan Chase?

Well, a shareholder challenge, a shareholder action proposed that would instruct the company no longer to discriminate on the basis of religion in actions against clients. In other words, this was a shareholder action to call the bank out on a practice of turning down accounts from some Christian ministries and from some organizations that have a Christian or a conservative purpose.

Jathon Sapsford, writing for the Wall Street Journal tells us, “JPMorgan Chase has become the target of a campaign by Republican state officials seeking to expose what they see as religious discrimination in the bank’s business practices. 19 Republican State Attorneys General sent a letter this month addressed to JPMorgan CEO, Jamie Dimon, accusing the nation’s largest bank of a pattern of discrimination and denying customers banking services because of political or religious affiliations. In March, 14 Republican State Treasurers wrote a similar letter to Mr. Dimon making the same accusations.”

I quote again, the letter said, “JPMorgan terminated client accounts due to religious beliefs, which the bank denies, and they also demanded the bank respond to detailed survey questions on issues of concern to conservatives.” The issue here is not hypothetical, there are credible accusations that the bank was turning down or terminating certain accounts simply because they represented some conservative Christian organization or cause.

The papers report went on to say, “Conservative advocates say corporations are prioritizing such issues as gay rights and reproductive health access over the freedom to oppose such initiatives for reasons of faith. The echoes and emails to JPMorgan,” according to this report, “echo this criticism saying the bank suspended the accounts of at least three conservative faith-based organizations for religious reasons.”

Now for that reason, David Bahnsen, a major investor who controls something like $100 million worth of shares in Morgan Stanley, he proposed a shareholder action that would abound the company not to turn down, terminate, or interfere with accounts held by conservative Christian organizations, or more specifically, not to discriminate on the basis of religious beliefs. The company’s board suggested voting no and the action actually went down, they voted no.

But the point is, as David Bahnsen made clear on Fox News business’s program, Big Money, he acknowledged that the board of directors had recommended a unanimous vote against the resolution. But the point is he said that the signal was sent, even as he insisted, “We had every right to bring the resolution forward and the SEC ruled in our favor.” He said, “The resolution failed,” quote, “but the huge victory that we achieved is that right now I think they are petrified.” And by that he meant petrified to discriminate against accounts on the basis of religion or politics.

Bahnsen lamented the fact that his resolution didn’t pass, but nonetheless, he insisted that the message had been sent. We can only hope so, and I’m thankful that David Bahnsen and other investors are showing up at these meetings to contend for the rights of Christians and conservatives, not only in the public square but in the world of American corporations.

Part V

Who’s Regulating the Regulators?: Let's Hold All Responsible Fully Accountable When a Bank Fails

But before we leave the big issues related to corporate America, let me just remind you that the United States Senate heard testimony on Tuesday of this week from the now former CEO of Silicon Valley Bank, which by the way is also a former bank after its failure, that will be the former CEO, Greg Becker. It was a fairly hostile confrontation and as the New York Times and others indicated, Becker went on to blame all sorts of forces and organizations for the failure of his bank. Some of that was probably credible, but of course he bears ultimate responsibility, but the issue of responsibility is the ultimate question.

This is where the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal points to something important, Gary Becker paid the price for the failure of his bank. He paid it financially, he lost his job, and he goes down in history as the man who was CEO of a bank, when that bank became one of the biggest bank failures in American history.

So what’s the big moral point here? It has to do with the responsibility, but the point being made by the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board is that Greg Becker lost his job, he lost a lot of money, he lost his bank, but he can’t be singularly at fault here. The regulators themselves are largely at fault and the regulators who were supposed to be preventing this from happening, were on the site, they were on the scene, and yet they did not put out warnings about this failure, nor did they require any corrective action that may have prevented it.

The point being made by the editors of the Wall Street Journal is when it comes to apportioning the blame, the regulators almost never lose a job. As the editorial concludes, “Bank executives aren’t blameless, but they were also responding to the Fed’s easy money and misplaced regulatory priorities. Mr. Becker has lost his job and no doubt a lot of money, has even a single regulator at the San Francisco Fed lost hers?” This leads to a big problem in a sinful world, the regulators are supposed to be watching those they regulate, but who’s watching the regulators?

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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