The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

It’s Tuesday, October 31, 2023.

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

Part I

Is There An Extremist in the House? The Left Goes Nuts About Speaker Mike Johnson’s Biblical Worldview

Well, as you know, as of the last few days, the United States House of Representatives has a speaker. That speaker is Congressman Mike Johnson of Louisiana. But the interesting thing for us to watch right now is that there are many people who believe that the House not only has a speaker, but that it has an extremist–a dangerous man, a representative of the radical right. And so, once again, listeners to The Briefing, we’re going to be looking at two different but inextricably linked questions. Number one, what happened? And number two, what does it tell us that people are talking in a certain way about it?

So, we think about what happened, the event, in this case, the election of the speaker of the House, and that means Mike Johnson, the speaker of the House. And then secondly, what are they saying about it? Or in this specific case, who’s in panic about it? So, who’s in panic? Well, for one thing, Paul Krugman of the New York Times, he ran a piece just over the weekend with the headline, “The GOP,” meaning the Republicans, “Goes Full-On Extremist.” Now, let’s understand that Paul Krugman is a man of the left, and so decidedly of the left that let’s just say he considers Joe Biden to be rather inexcusably conservative, so that tells you something about his worldview. He’s an economist. He actually won a Nobel Prize in economics, but he really doesn’t write that much these days about economics. He writes about politics and his politics are very transparent. The headline couldn’t be more clear when describing the Republican Party as going full-on extremist. And then, the breakout subhead in the article says, “The new speaker of the house holds radical views.”

So, let’s think about this for a moment. There’s some terms here that require some reflection. “The GOP Goes Full-On Extremist.” The declaration here is that Mike Johnson, the new speaker of the House is an extremist. Where does this come from? Well, I think we can all understand the word extreme is that the root of it, and I think we can pretty much define extreme: means out of the norm, one way or the other, and rather significantly out of the norm. Out of the norm, out of the safe, extremist. In politics, this word really became very important in the 1960s. And in the 1960s, it was increasingly applied to conservatives and it particularly became an issue in the presidential race of 1964. It was a feverish time in American politics, a feverish time for all kinds of reasons.

The presidential election took place just barely under a year after the president’s assassination. The vice president of the United States, Lyndon Johnson, had become president. Under that circumstance, it was almost assured that Lyndon Johnson, the vice president become president, would be elected to a term as president because it was understood as an act of fealty on the part of voters towards the fallen president–an extension of the murdered president’s term. But politics in the 1960s were getting very, very hot. As a matter of fact, one of the interesting historical questions in American history is how did things get so hot between 1960 and 1964?

There’s no doubt that in 1960, Richard Nixon, the Republican vice president, running for president with the Republican nomination, and John F. Kennedy, United States senator, having won the Democratic nomination, there’s no doubt that they represented two different candidacies, but they didn’t represent two different Americas. But that wasn’t true in 1964. In that year, Lyndon Johnson was the standard-bearer for the Democratic Party. Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater Jr. was the Republican nominee. He was accused of having supporters who were extremists, and that meant as conservatives.

Now, that comes from a very interesting historical background. It has to do with the Cold War, the battle between the Soviet Union and the United States, their allies, our allies, communism versus constitutional self-government, Western notions of liberty. It was a collision of worldviews. And the most heated political scandals of the 1950s had to do with the fact that there were spies, Soviet spies, communist spies embedded within parts of the American government.

Now, there were those who claimed that figures all the way up to Dwight Eisenhower, the president of the United States, who by the way was the five star general who won World War II in the European theater, at least directed the successful Allied effort, the claim was that he was a communist dupe. Not that he was a communist, but that he was a communist dupe being used by the communists. People on the right making arguments like that were often described as extremists.

Barry Goldwater ran with support from conservatives who were resurgent in the Republican Party at the time. Barry Goldwater was the conservative’s candidate. He was not usually thought of as an extremist, but he had the support of some political groups and some voters who were making rather extreme claims. And that’s when Barry Goldwater uttered one of the most famous, if one of the most costly statements in the history of American politics. When he said, and I quote, “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

Well, just a little bit of retroactive political advice to the 1964 Republican nominee, don’t use the word extremism and own it. That turned out to be political dynamite. It played into his enemy’s hands. I go back to where I was before, it was unlikely that Barry Goldwater was going to win that election anyway, just given the election in the aftermath of the assassination of President Kennedy, but it didn’t help. And it actually became one of the iconic statements in the history of American politics. The word extremism is used against you. Don’t use it about yourself. It is used in polemics, it’s used in argument, it is used as a way of marginalizing someone and saying that view is just outside acceptable bounds of conversation or public argument.

And when you have Paul Krugman describe the current speaker of the House of Representatives as full-on extremists, well, we know exactly what he’s doing. On the left, I think there is something very evident–maybe two things evident. Number one, genuine surprise that someone like Mike Johnson could be elected speaker of the House of Representatives, and thus, directly in the line of presidential succession, and thus, able to have simply incredible power over the legislation that does or does not reach the House of Representatives for a vote. It is a massive constitutional office, and there are many on the left who are just waking up to the fact that it’s held by an evangelical Christian, who turns out to hold the evangelical Christian beliefs, who believes that those beliefs are deeply grounded in Scripture and isn’t ashamed to talk about it, nor to make arguments on behalf of those convictions, or in his previous career as an attorney, to litigate on behalf of religious liberty, Christian interests, and for that matter, moral issues such as the defense of the unborn and the defense of marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

Many people on the left are simply waking up to this and they are astounded. I think it’s fair to say many of them are honestly astounded. They’re not faking the astonishment.

But there’s a second issue going on here, and that is that many on the left are trying to marginalize the new speaker of the house and they’re trying to mobilize public opinion against him simply by describing him, dismissing him, seeking to discredit him by speaking of him as an extremist. But here’s the other problem. If he’s an extremist, who are those who agree with him? And that means tens of millions of Americans, including–I will simply make as a matter of assumption–a good number of those who are listening to The Briefing. Welcome to extremism 101.

But frankly, as loaded as the word extremist is, well, you’ve got people who are willing to go further. For example, columnist Jamelle Bouie, also with the same newspaper, the New York Times, ran a piece. It’s about the election of Mike Johnson, the speaker of the House. And the headline is, “A Right Wing Fever Dream Come to Life.” Now, that’s very expressive language. What exactly does fever dream mean? It means delirium. It means a form of delirium, which is excusable because you have a high fever. It would otherwise need some explanation, perhaps in mental illness or psychosis. This is a direct assault upon the speaker of the House as being a right wing fever dream come to life.

Now, you could also just flip that and say that this is an acknowledgement that the election of Representative Mike Johnson, the speaker of the House, is a fever nightmare for the left, and thus, they’re responding in just this way. But again, this means that we are the enemy if Mike Johnson is the enemy. And there are those who would say, “Well, at least part of that has to do with his association with Donald Trump and his advocacy of certain issues after January 6th, 2021.” But the problem with that, that’s not an irrelevant issue just looking at the totality of someone’s political life and influence, but the point to make is that so many of these people who are writing about Speaker Johnson as a right wing fever dream come to life, or someone who’s a full-on extremist, you need to see they’re really talking about his position on marriage as meaning the union of a man and a woman. They’re talking about his defense of the unborn. They’re talking about his association with conservative Christianity. They’re talking about his defense of religious liberty.

The new speaker of the House we are told, “holds radical views.” Now. In a conversation with Sean Hannity on Fox News, the new speaker referring to his worldview just referred viewers of the program to the Bible. He said, “Basically, you read the Bible, you’ll find my worldview.” Now, that set the liberal world absolutely on fire. Frankly, there’s plenty of evidence for this, but I want to point to just a couple of examples. Number one, The Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin in her program known as Jen Rubin’s Green Room, she said this, “This guy is a religious nut. And by that, I mean he subscribes to all the extreme Christian nationalist views, which is number one, there should be no abortion nationwide. Ban number two, he’s continually, I don’t want to say discriminated against, but certainly supported measures that have an adverse effect on LGBTQ Americans.”

So, I just want to make the point. You heard this in Jennifer Rubin’s own voice. She describes the new speaker of the House as holding to all of the extreme Christian nationalist views. What are the two things she mentions first? Abortion and LGBTQ issues. So, when people say it’s about something else, no, it’s not about primarily something else. It is about exactly what they are focusing on here. It’s about how they define what they call Christian extremism. The word extreme is here. The speaker of the House, “subscribes to all of the extreme Christian nationalist views.” And the first one she mentions is the cause of the unborn. So, that’s what it takes these days to be classified as a Christian nationalist who holds to all of the extreme Christian nationalist views.

You advocate for the unborn, you advocate for a biblical understanding of sexual morality, you’re against drag queen story hour, you don’t believe that children should be subjected to these things, you have absolute confidence that a boy can’t be transformed into a girl and a girl can’t be transformed into a boy. Well, guess what? You are holding to all of the extreme Christian nationalist views. It’s just a package that underlines where we stand in this culture. We can have examples that could make this point virtually every day, but we don’t turn to this every day. But then, again, you don’t have a new speaker of the House every day, and the left doesn’t set its hair on fire this clearly every day.

Jennifer Rubin, by the way, speaks of the new speaker as, “a nut.” Here’s what she says. “He’s a nut.” That’s the kind of language that’s being used by the left. “And this bodes very well for the Republican crazies. For the rest of us, it’s very bad news because we will have a shutdown unless saner voices prevail.” So, there you have it. There are the sane people and the insane people. As for the new speaker of the House, because he is a clearly identified Christian, “he’s a nut.”

But then, for a second example, let’s turn to Jen Psaki. She was the White House press secretary, the first to serve in that position under President Joe Biden. She’s a pretty well-known fixture in Democratic politics and pretty much of the political left. She has her own program now and MSNBC, simply known as Inside with Jen Psaki. And well, Jen Psaki made her own comment. First, however, she played a clip from a statement made by the new speaker in an interview at the rival, Fox News. And in that interview, the new speaker said, “I’m a Bible-believing Christian. Someone asked me today in the media, they said, ‘It’s curious. People are curious. What does Mike Johnson think about any issue under the sun?’ I said, ‘Well, go pick up a Bible off your shelf and read it. That’s my worldview.'” So, the new speaker of the house said, “If you want to know my worldview, pick up a Bible. Look at it. That’s my worldview.”

Well, then, Jen Psaki responded to her listeners with this. “You heard that, right. The Bible doesn’t just inform his worldview, it is his worldview.” She continued. “In fact, during his first speech in his new job, Johnson suggested that his election of speaker was an act of God. Talk about a bit of humblebrag there. So, what exactly is God apparently called on Mike Johnson to do?” She continues, “Well, his views on policy are essentially what you’d expect from a religious fundamentalist. They’re more divisive than they are divine.” Well, isn’t that divine?

Here you have the former White House secretary telling us two things, and let’s just note there are two things we’re being told here. Back to the beginning of our conversation today, two things we need to see. First of all, what did the new speaker say? And then, secondly, how has that made people go crazy? Because that’s what we’re looking at here. Here is what the speaker said again. He said, “If you want to know what my worldview is, well, pick up a Bible off your shelf and read it. That’s my worldview.” That was enough to tell Christians exactly what Christians would want to know about his worldview. That doesn’t say everything about his policy on incremental tax reform. It does tell us about his convictions on the most basic issues.

And when it comes to the left, well, first of all, the most dangerous word in their view that the speaker of the House used was actually Bible. Telling people, “Pick up a Bible, that’s my worldview.” Well, you might as well say, “Pick up a cobra,” or, “Pick up a Nile crocodile,” because that’s basically revealing that to this crowd, a Bible bites. It’s going to hurt you. Put the thing down. Don’t possibly claim that the Bible represents your worldview. To skip back to Paul Krugman, that makes you an extremist.

It’s also important we recognize that this is not just, for instance, a problem that’s localized at The Washington Post, The New York Times, or even just the political left. There are those who wouldn’t define themselves in leftist terms or in liberal terms, who are also, well, pretty troubled about this development, or at least worried about it. For example, you have the Wall Street Journal run a piece just yesterday, and it takes a rather calm perspective in the headline, “Speaker Took On Conservative Cases For Years.” However, the photograph is the ark, which is to say the Ark Encounter, which was put together by Answers In Genesis, a Christian ministry, and it attracts a lot of people in Kentucky in order to see this reproduction of the ark.

The photograph in this placement is supposed to puzzle people, like how in the world do you have a speaker of the house in 2023 that evidently believes in something like the historicity of the ark? Now, the article doesn’t say that, but it’s a matter of communicating, this is strange. And from a secular perspective, from a liberal progressivist perspective, it certainly is strange. The association of the speaker of the House of Representatives of the United States of America in the year 2023 with Noah and his ark? What’s going on here?

The same newspaper over the weekend ran a front page story with this headline, “Speaker Choice Puts GOP Majority At Risk.” So, that just tells you this is not exactly the same thing as calling him a full-on extremist. This isn’t exactly the same thing as talking about him as a right wing fever dream. No, it’s a little bit different. But it is warning, this guy may be sufficiently scary to American voters that the Republicans may lose their majority. So, there are hot ways that people have gone crazy over the speaker’s election, and there are cooler ways, that nonetheless really indicate that someone with the speaker’s convictions might be scary to other Americans. And dear listener, that probably means you.

One final thought before we shift to some other topics today, as you look at all of this, when you look at this language, when you look at the left in absolute panic, when you look at others saying basically, “Just wait a minute, what in the world’s going on here?” That tells you something about not only the new speaker of the House, that tells us something about the predicament of Christianity in this increasingly secular age. So, there’ll be more to watch here, and well, we’ll be watching it together, especially next week.

Part II

Abortion Labeled Mislabeled as a ‘Health Issue’: Looking at a Central Issue in the Kentucky Governor Race

We’re going to be looking at the very few but very important elections that are going to take place in this off year. That is to say November 5th, 2023, election day throughout much of America.

There are, as I say, several things we’re going to have to look at. But here in Kentucky, the big issue is the election of the governor. And in this case, you have the incumbent Democratic governor, Andy Beshear, running for reelection. And at this point, at least according to claims made in the polls, leading Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who was the Republican nominee, very clearly conservative. And it is almost assuredly an extremely close race, probably too close to call until election day. Kentucky is a very red state, a very conservative state, a very Republican state, but Governor Beshear is the second in his family to hold that office. His father was also a governor. You look at this, you recognize name recognition’s simply huge, especially in a state with a lot of rural citizens.

And there’s also enormous support for any Democrat coming from some of the bigger metropolitan areas here in Kentucky. Although the state is red, there are those islands of blue. It’s all going to come down to turnout. And here the conservative hope is that conservative Kentucky voters will get out and vote for the attorney general, Daniel Cameron, because it really does make a difference who is the governor in the state. And that’s very clear and it’s pretty traceable to certain issues. And here, I want to point to an article that appeared over the weekend in a local Kentucky newspaper. In this case, it is The Daily News published in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

So, Bowling Green’s influenced by the fact that it has Louisville not too far in the north, Nashville not too far in the south, but east and west it has solidly conservative territory. In Bowling Green, you will find Western Kentucky University, a very well-known and growing regional state university. So, there’s a university there. We talk about the fact that a university is often a more liberalizing influence on the community. And yet, it’s also very important to recognize that you have, in Bowling Green, a newspaper that publishes an article on the governor’s race with a headline, “Beshear, Cameron On Health Issues.” So this is telling us we have two candidates, and this is going to be about their stance on health issues.

Sarah Michaels is the reporter in the story, and we are told that this is part of a weekly series examining the race for governor. So, health issues very much of live consideration in state politics just about everywhere. And the health issues include COVID-19, a lot to talk about there if we had time, and also aging populations and childcare, Medicare and Medicaid. But here’s the issue of greatest moral significance I want us to note. Included in the candidates on health issues is what’s identified as reproductive healthcare. And so, I just want to draw attention to the fact that when you take an issue like abortion and you redefine it as reproductive healthcare, you put it in an article about health issues, you’ve told us a lot about how you are morally contextualizing the issue of the unborn and the question as to whether or not abortion will be legal. Defining it as healthcare is, I would argue, profoundly unhelpful and it’s tilting the table.

Now, you might say that category of reproductive healthcare might be referring to things more expansive or wide-ranging than abortion, but in this case, you’d be wrong. This entire section of the article actually turns out to be about abortion. It starts out by telling us, “Cameron,” that’s the Republican nominee, “has also defended Kentucky’s current abortion law, a near total ban with no exceptions for rape or incest in court.” The article cites the fact that the attorney general has called himself, “Planned Parenthood’s worst nightmare.” The candidate also said, “At the end of the day, we need to keep in mind that every baby is an image bearer of God, and I think that we need to establish here in Kentucky a culture of life.”

Now, Kentucky’s governor, the Democrat who has been very pro-abortion and is running with support from abortion advocates, the article says that he supports, “reasonable restrictions on abortion, especially late-term procedures.” And of course, here’s where we have to turn to him and say, “Well, we want to know exactly what abortion restrictions you would support.” They often, like with President Biden, point to Roe v. Wade. But the fact is that what the pro-abortion movement’s demanding right now goes even far beyond the horrible situation of Roe v. Wade. But nonetheless, all that’s quoted here from the governor has to do with his support for abortion. There’s no other issue here. So, when this paper says reproductive healthcare, let’s be honest, it means abortion. And that political framing, that journalistic framing tells us a great deal about where we stand.

Part III

Don’t Celebrate the Death Cult: The Dark Turn of Halloween

But finally, for today, I want to end with a thought about Halloween and what’s happened to Halloween, now one of the major commercial holidays in the United States and one that is increasingly dark. I want to point to an argument made by Barton Swaim of the Wall Street Journal. I think his argument is just spot on. The article’s entitled, “Down With Halloween’s Ironic Death Cult.” And one of the warnings about the increasingly dark nature of Halloween that he puts into words is this. “Halloween has since become a kind of industrial cartoon death cult. Its appurtenances, candy, costumes, and yard ornamentation, including giant skeletons and faux cobwebs for the shrubbery hit the shelves long before summer ends.” But he goes on saying that, “Many of the most brightly lit lawns have,” what he describes as, “garish nativity seams.”

It’s also interesting, he points to something I haven’t seen anyone else underline, and that is the fact that there’s a class dimension of this, which is to say many of these truly ghoulish celebrations of Halloween, especially translated into say, yard art and decorations, they’re found in more high-income neighborhoods. And Barton Swaim suggests that that might well be because more low-income neighborhoods tend to also to have more active churchgoers and people who might be, well, less likely to embrace a death cult.

Without going into detail, the reality is that there are some absolutely death-centric celebrations that are now pretty much becoming a part of commercial American life and the observance of Halloween. There are things that would be considered absolutely psychologically troubling, and that’s an understatement in any other context, that are now being celebrated in wealthy neighborhoods with Halloween decorations. Barton Swaim points to the obvious, “How in the world can that make moral sense just after the October 7 Hamas attack upon Israel and the slaughter of so many people? How can this now become a matter of American celebration?”

I’m going to let Barton Swaim have the last word. He points to the yearly observance of Halloween, and he says that it has, “taken a dark and wholesome turn.” He then ends with this, “My fear is that ironic celebrations of death are becoming less and less ironic.” Well, there’s the danger.

Part IV

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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