The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

It’s Tuesday, November 7, 2023.

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

Part I

Want to see the future? You had better pay attention to today's votes in Ohio and Kentucky

Off-year elections don’t often get attention in the United States, but they can be very important. This year’s off-year election underlines that fact dramatically. Today is election day. And in many places in the United States, it really matters. One of the reasons it matters is because we might be well looking at the shape of 2024 and next November’s elections coming into view. When you’re looking at these off-year elections, you’re looking at a few governorships. You are looking at some citizen initiatives, you’re looking at some elections such as for, in some states, seats on the Supreme Court. You’re looking at various things, but you’re not looking at Congress, the House of Representatives, two year terms, even years in the election. The Senate, six year terms, again, even year election–staggered so that you have three classes each serving six years. The president of the United States elected for a four-year term, and those elections of course taking place in even years every four years.

The off-year elections, as I say, they’re often just neglected, but we need to focus attention on several of them, several of the votes taking place today. A few of them are really huge.

We have to start in Ohio. What is known as issue one in Ohio is a constitutional amendment. Their proposed, that if the citizens approve, could well open the door for unrestricted abortion in the state of Ohio. There’s a history here. The history has to do with the fact that after the Supreme Court reversed the Dobbs decision back in June of 2022, there was an opening for state restrictions on abortion. And in the state of Ohio, the legislature and the governor moved in to offer that kind of restriction. It was a pro-life initiative, often referred to as a heartbeat bill. It basically says that abortion is prohibited in the state of Ohio once a fetal heartbeat is detected.

Generally, that’s believed to be at around six weeks of gestation, so you have this referred to as a six-week restriction or you see it referred to as a heartbeat bill. In any event, it passed and the pro-abortion movement was furious and the fury of that movement is what has brought about this proposed constitutional amendment. It should tell you a whole lot that issue one is labeled on the ballot that voters will face today in Ohio as having to do with a “right to reproductive freedom” that tells you the cast of even the language on this proposed constitutional amendment. The opening statement of the amendment sets the issue squarely, and I’m quoting it here: “Every individual has a right to make and carry out one’s own reproductive decisions, including but not limited to, decisions on contraception, fertility treatment, continuing one’s own pregnancy, miscarriage care, and abortion.”

Interesting. You’re looking here at a truly explosive constitutional amendment. And even as in later language in a subsequent paragraph, it is allowed that the state might offer some restrictions on abortion after the gestational point of viability. Let’s just point out that’s very different than a heartbeat bill, that’s very different than a 15-week restriction. And you’ll notice it says that the legislature, may, and even that under certain conditions. In all likelihood, we really are looking at, if not immediately, then eventually, this being the authorization and the legalization of abortion at any stage in the state of Ohio.

But as we’re looking at this, we need to recognize by the way, there’s no word woman in this particular constitutional amendment. Instead, it speaks to every individual and one’s own reproductive decisions. Now, it’s true that in a general statement about what’s classified here as reproductive decisions, men and women will be included. But when it comes to most of what is at the heart of this bill, you’re not just talking about individuals, you’re not just talking about human beings or persons, you’re talking about women. But the word woman or some cognate form of the word just doesn’t appear here at all. Again, a sign of the times.

But as we’re thinking about this proposed constitutional amendment, we need to recognize that this is going to send a very clear signal about where we stand, not only looking at Ohio but looking at the nation, on the question of abortion. Let me just remind you of this: The pro-life movement had been working for virtually a half century to bring about the reversal of Roe v. Wade. It took a half century to see that happen. Sustained effort, electing presidents who would appoint Supreme Court justices. More on that and just a moment. But the big issue here is that that reversal did take place in June of 2022. What the pro-life movement had not taken into adequate consideration is the fact that Americans were not nearly so pro-life as many of us hoped and prayed that they were.

And so in states such as most infamously in Kansas and in Kentucky, citizen initiatives that would’ve restricted abortion failed the pro-abortion movement, the abortion rights movement, the movement as they style themselves for a woman’s reproductive healthcare. And by the way, increasingly the word woman has just left out. The revolutionaries in this sense who are holding fast to abortion as a central tenet of their theology, they believe that this gives them a great deal of leverage in today’s political culture in the United States. The Democratic Party has decided that abortion is a winning issue when it comes to winning elections and not just when abortion is on the ballot, but even when you’re trying to elect candidates. We need to look to the 2024 election and understand that the signals already sent, that the Democratic Party is going to be even more ardently pro-abortion. And furthermore, they believe it’s a winning strategy to try to paint any pro-life politician or office holder as being a form of oppressor, and that’s basically working. We’re going to be talking more about how that’s going to play out in Virginia in just a moment.

I just want to underline the fact that issue one is truly, truly important. If issue one passes, the most urgent importance has to do with the numbers of the unborn who will simply die because of this constitutional amendment, and that could be projected very far out into the future, sadly enough. But it is also a tragedy for what it means in building momentum for the pro-abortion movement. If it passes, if it passes widely, that’s an even more horrifying thought, what you’re going to see is the argument that political analysts just now fit into their picture of the 2024 election. The message is going to be sent, the standing for the unborn is electoral disaster. Standing for abortion is electoral success. Let’s just understand the stakes here.

The adoption of issue one by the voters in Ohio would be a massive loss for the pro-life movement. And that loss would also underline the fact that if the measure is approved, pro-lifers would be 0-3 in big statewide votes since the reversal of Roe. Let’s just say that that will be devastating. And the pro-abortion movement, it fully understands the importance of that score. It’s going to want to widen 0-3 to 0, well, 50, eventually in terms of gaining full access to abortion as they would say, and eventually taxpayer support for abortion for all 50 states.

But then we need to shift and say also in this off-year election, you have some gubernatorial seats. The decision on the governor’s seat in Louisiana came in just a matter of days ago and the Republican won. The two big gubernatorial questions hanging out there right now in the United States have to do with the state of Kentucky and the state of Mississippi. The more interesting of them, quite frankly, is the state of Kentucky. And that’s because national analysts and others are looking at the race in Kentucky and they’re pretty much sizing it up as what might be a pretty accurate picture or predictive picture of what will take place in the 2024 presidential election.

Now, what we have in the state of Kentucky is an incumbent democratic governor, Andy Beshear, running for a second term. He’s running against the Republican nominee who’s the current attorney general in Kentucky, that’s Daniel Cameron. Now, I can think of no election in Kentucky, just to be honest, has ever drawn this kind of national interest. Now there are a couple of interesting things going on here. First of all, Andy Beshear is the son of a former governor, so name recognition has played a large part in his political success. Kentucky is one of those states where especially in rural areas, having had a father who served two terms as governor and has had a long name in state politics, that certainly gives you an advantage. But it’s also true that as you fast-forward to his bid for reelection, Andy Beshear is pretty much running on his own personality and on his own record.

Now, Andy Beshear has been successful where many other Democrats have not been. Let’s just put it this way. The state of Kentucky is a red state. It voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump not only in 2016, but also especially 2020. And you’re looking at a state that hasn’t elected a statewide democratic official since 1996. So many of the people who will be voting in this election, they’ve never voted for a Democrat at the statewide level. Or if they have, it was Andy Beshear. Andy Beshear is also a progressive. He’s not a liberal democrat if you’re going to compare him to say the squad or Bernie Sanders. But in terms of especially the moral issues, he is very liberal. He is against restrictions on abortion and has actually zeroed in on the attorney general, his opponent in the election, as being a radical on abortion.

But Andy Beshear represents the kind of Democrat who really is pretty much a profile of what you see in the White House right now with Joe Biden. Joe Biden is not the left wing of his party, but when it comes to so many issues, the left wing is in control, not the president of the United States. President Biden in that sense is a very weak president in a relatively strong party. As you’re looking at Andy Beshear, he’s carved out a political brand, but we need to see through that brand. The bottom line is that he is pro-abortion. The pro-abortion movement held fundraisers for him when you ran four years ago. And again, he has the backing of groups like Planned Parenthood. There is no doubt that the abortion rights movement sees him as a champion. And you’re also looking at the fact that he’s pro LGBTQ.

Now, in a way, that has not disallowed his election in Kentucky. But one of the very interesting things he has done is to veto a bill passed by the Republican super majority within the Kentucky General Assembly that forbid transgender treatments for minors in Kentucky, and that includes both hormone and surgical treatments. The governor vetoed the bill, but the Republican super majority in the legislature was able to override the governor’s veto. But that veto tells you where he is, so does the support of LGBTQ groups.

So when you look at the issue of abortion and issues of sexuality and gender and even as you’re looking at questions as to whether or not biological males can compete and female teams, all the other issues that are going to come again before state lawmakers, it’s going to make a difference as to whether Andy Beshear, who very clearly is identified and endorsed by the LGBTQ movement and the Pro-abortion Movement, whether he’s in office, or Daniel Cameron.

Now, Daniel Cameron who as I said is the incumbent attorney general in the state, he has a really clear conservative record. He has a very clear record defending the unborn. He has a very clear record calling for sanity and for the protection of young people when it comes to the LGBTQ issues, and in particular the transgender non-binary, so-called gender affirming treatments that the state legislature had moved to forbid; that is to forbid hurting minors by the use of these hormonal or surgical treatments.

So this is not just a hypothetical distinction between a conservative candidate and a liberal candidate, not just a partisan face off between a Republican nominee and the Democratic nominee who is the incumbent governor. You’re going to be choosing two different visions of the state. You’re going to be choosing two different visions of morality. I can only hope that the citizens in Kentucky understand what is at stake here.

Now, something else that is informative to us, it appears when we answer the question, why is Andy Beshear so popular. Now, the economy is strong in Kentucky and yet the economy is strong in this sense in many other states as well. But the governor’s been able to claim that as a personal triumph.

The other thing is that during COVID, the governor held daily briefings. And even as they were aggravated, citizens were aggravated by the policies, they kind of identified with the governor in his laid back, very friendly approach. I don’t think he was particularly effective in terms of his leadership. As a matter of fact, the state legislature basically took a lot of his powers away from him because he was pretty much given to restrictions that were unwise and in some cases at least arguably unconstitutional.

But here’s the point, Americans tend to respond to visual signals and Andy Beshear presents himself as a model American, as a family man, and hardly presents himself as some kind of radical from the political left. And people buy into political brands. Andy Beshear has branded himself as a family man. And holding to family values, it just turns out it’s a liberal family and the values are liberal values. But nonetheless, he presents himself as a very, very non-threatening figure.

Daniel Cameron is also a very attractive candidate. He is also an American success story. If elected, he would be the first Black governor of the state of Kentucky. He has a very clear political pedigree and he comes with a lot of political experience. And frankly, he’s demonstrated a lot of political conviction and courage.

I can only hope that my fellow citizens in Kentucky understand what is at stake and take a vote for life and take a vote for moral values, take a vote for protecting Kentucky’s young people from the insanity of the LGBTQ revolution. We can only hope for these things, but we’re about to find out. We’re going to see. And the speculation is that there will be many Democratic candidates who will try to follow the model of Governor Andy Beshear if he does win reelection as a Democrat in a state that votes overwhelmingly Republican. That’s going to send a signal. There will be a lot of national media in Louisville and Lexington and in other Kentucky locations, and they’re going to be there today because they know this is a big story. We’ll find out eventually if it’s a happy story or not.

It’s also important, by the way, to look at other statewide elections in Kentucky. One of the most important is the vote for the successor to Daniel Cameron as the State’s Attorney General. In this case, a former US attorney, Russell Coleman holds the Republican nomination. Once again, he comes with a great deal of political experience. And furthermore, he has also made very clear his own conservative convictions. That too should make a difference.

Part II

Major Elections in Virginia and Pennsylvania: Big Issues and the Clash of Worldviews in This Off-Year Election

All right. There are a couple of other states to which we need to look. The first of them is the state of Virginia. The governor’s seat is not open. The incumbent Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin is instead putting his political capital behind an effort to have Republicans gain, especially in the Senate there in the state of Virginia, which is short about four seats of a Republican majority.

And on the other hand, the Republicans have a majority in the House, but it’s a very thin majority of about the same number of seats. So here’s what the Republican challenge needs to be to elect enough Republicans to gain control of the Senate and to hold control in the House. All 40 senate seats are at stake in today’s election, as is the House of Delegates. That’s the name for the lower chamber in the Virginia legislature. It’s going to be very interesting to see how this race turns out. But once again, it’s already being sold as a bellwether for two things. The first is the power of Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin, and that’s with an eye to the possibility that he could run for higher office even for president of the United States. If he wins big Republican majorities in both of the chambers or even if he holds the House and wins the Senate, that’s going to be a big story. And it will make a big difference in terms of what he’s able to accomplish in the state of Virginia as governor.

But the other state we need to talk about is the state of Pennsylvania. And there we’re not talking about the governor’s seat, we’re not talking about the legislature being most crucial, we’re talking about the state Supreme Court. A seat is open and it is going to be the tie-breaking seat. These are partisan elections, so in other words, there’s no pretense about this not being partisan. There is a Republican candidate and there is a Democratic candidate.

Here’s what’s most crucial. When we talk about how a judge or a justice should interpret the statutory law or the Constitution, the question comes down to that method of interpretation. And here the distinction between liberals and conservatives is extremely clear. And generally, we’re talking about a distinction between Republicans and Democrats even in terms of how to read a text. But when we’re looking at this Supreme Court race in Pennsylvania, the Democrat Daniel McCaffery is running against the Republican Carolyn Carluccio. Now, Carolyn Carluccio is very clearly advocating that a judge’s role is to interpret the law as it is written, to interpret the Constitution as it is written. That’s really clear. And that’s the conservative position. That means the words mean what they mean, the sentences mean what they mean. The authorial intent is important. The actual word in a sentence, the word order in a sentence is important.

This is a check against exactly what the Democratic candidate for the Supreme Court seat in Pennsylvania is arguing for. When it comes to Daniel McCaffery, he’s arguing for the liberal vision of an evolving constitution, constitutional interpretation that changes not because the Constitution might change, but because the social needs of the moment change. That’s the progressivist evolutionary understanding of how to read and interpret the law in the constitution that has made such a decisive difference in the great clash of worldviews of the 20th century and beyond. This just tells us that that clash of worldviews is hardly over.

Whether you have a judge on the Supreme Court there in Pennsylvania who decides, “I’m going to look at the law and I’m going to decide whether the constitution should apply here or how it should apply because of what I see to be the social needs,” that is one argument. But this election is going to present the contrary argument as well in the case of the Republican nominee who says, “No, we interpret the law, the constitution, as it is written. We are bound by the constitution.”

Now, I just want to be really clear. This has parallels even in terms of how Christians interpret the Scripture. You might say, “I get to decide what it means. I get to decide what current social needs are determinative in deciding how we are to interpret the Scripture.” Or you can say, “The Scripture is the inspired word of God and thus my responsibility is to understand it as it was written.” Indeed, that language is found in Scripture, “As it is written. It is written.” Our job is to understand the text as it is written and to obey it.

So you’re looking at a clash of worldviews here and there are many people in Pennsylvania who probably aren’t paying much attention to this clash of worldviews, but I hope we all understand that on issues not just the big controversial issues like abortion and say the LGBTQ issues, but yes on those issues, emphatically on those issues, but on the entire range of issues that will come before this court.

You’re looking at two radically different visions of how to read a text, two radically different understandings of the role and responsibility of a judge. You’re looking at two rival understandings of what’s good for society and what is a citizen’s responsibility. These are huge issues. Just a reminder that this is an off year election, but it’s no small issue. The issues before voters where voters are voting today, they are big issues, and not just in Ohio and in Kentucky and in Virginia and Pennsylvania. So if you’re in one of the states that has an off-year election, once you’re finished listening to The Briefing, go vote and vote your conscience.

Part III

“Harmful” Names of Bird Species? Ornithological Society Announces the Renaming of Certain Birds Species with Morally Complicated (Human) Names

Finally, today we’re going to think and talk about birds. Christina Larson of the Associated Press offers us a news report with a headline, Dozens of Birds to Lose “Harmful” Names. And the word harmful is put in scare quotes or quotation marks in order to say it’s an interesting use of the word here. I think it’s a very interesting use of the word indeed. So she begins, “Birds in North America will no longer be named after people, the American Ornithological Society says. Next year, we’re told, the organization will begin to rename about 80 species found in the United States in Canada. Colleen Handel, the president of the group said, “Everyone who loves and cares about birds should be able to enjoy and study them freely.”

Now, without going into detail, and this isn’t even my central concern, many of these species are going to be renamed because the person, the human being whose name is on the name of the bird species, has some great moral complication, and in some cases these are pretty significant moral complications. But nonetheless, this is a part of the movement to take names off. But as you look at this article, and it’s a pretty sizable article, we’re told that the problem is that naming birds, when the species are named for human beings at all, it’s problematic because you never know what a human being is going to do. That’s a profoundly true moral insight. You never know what human beings are going to do.

But you’ll notice the overreaction to this group simply to say, “We got to take human names off.” It’s something of a cheap way out, by the way, because this means you can just avoid making any necessary moral judgments other than the massive moral judgment that at this point no human being is worthy of having a bird species named for him or her.

We’re told that there is precedent here. “In 2020, the organization renamed a bird once referring to a Confederate Army General John P. McCown as the thick-billed longspur.” Emily Williams identified as an ornithologist at Georgetown University, she wasn’t involved in the decision, but she’s very happy about it, “I’m really happy and excited about the announcement.” And the Associated Press says that this professor said that “heated discussions over bird names have been happening within birdwatching communities for the past several years. Naming birds based on habitat or appearance is one of the least problematic approaches.”

The article also tells us that the National Audobon Society had to rethink its own name because of John James Audubon, but it’s keeping the name because of its familiarity, which just goes to say the issue here really isn’t any consistent moral insight at all. If you keep your name, even though you say there are problems with the name because the name is popular, well, you’ve just sold out whatever moral principles you were claiming to apply in the first place. But that’s not even what I think is most interesting here. What I think is most interesting here is the fact that the word harm is in this language or harmful when it comes to names. I go back to the headline, Dozens of Birds to Lose Harmful Names.

Here’s the very interesting insight I want us to focus on. There’s nothing here about a harm to a bird. The birds, by the way, don’t care what they are named. But then let’s remind ourselves of something else .who got to name the animals? Originally, it was none other than Adam. Adam as a human being, made in God’s image was given dominion, and a part of that dominion was to name the animals. The animals do not name us. We name the animals. And by the way, so far as I know, even the most colorful of all birds has no idea how colorful our name may be for his or her species.

You talk about missing the point. In this case, this group and this article basically misses the point by talking about harmful names of bird species as if there’s even an issue of harm to the birds. The birds don’t care, but we do. And interestingly enough, that tells us something about not what it means to be a bird, but what it means to be a human being. Even this controversy, let’s face it from a Christian worldview, it’s oddly interesting no matter what you call it.

Thanks for listening to the Briefing.

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I’m speaking to you from the Cove in Asheville, North Carolina.

And I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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