The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, November 9, 2023

It is Thursday, November 9, 2023.

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

Part I

Practically an Unmitigated Disaster for the Pro-Life Movement: An Honest Look at the Results of the Off-Year Elections

We need to take a very hard, a very serious look at the off-year election results on this past Tuesday because if anything, they represent a massive reality call, wake-up call, a massive alarm that should go off to all of us who are seeking to understand these things through a Christian biblical worldview, and who are trying to translate those truths into public policy because there’s just no other way to put it. Tuesday was a nearly unmitigated disaster.

I say nearly unmitigated or near total disaster because we are looking at the fact that Mississippi’s Republican governor was reelected. That has something to do with the life issue, something to do with the larger constellation of what is often described as liberal-conservative issues. That’s not unimportant. If the Democrat had been elected there, you can count on the fact that it will be trumpeted as a clean sweep for Democrats and for the progressivists cause. But as you look at the big issues that voters faced in terms of big consequence and big impact, we lost at least five out of six. Add to that, the success of an abortion legalization measure also in the state of Ohio. And well, you have a pretty good idea of what these off-year elections underline as the challenge that we face. And we need to understand case by case, vote by vote, even in some cases state by state what all of this means.

As I said before the election, we have to look to Ohio first. Issue 1, as it was known, the proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize abortion, potentially without restrictions at all, all the way through the nine months of gestation. It not only passed, it passed convincingly. And as you’re looking at voting patterns, there’s something else to watch and that is correlation. So looking at previous voting patterns, who had voted along what lines in a predictable fashion? Did the predictable pattern break? It did in this case. In the case of this pro-abortion constitutional amendment, significant areas of Ohio that had voted for Donald Trump for president in 2020, voted for the constitutional amendment supporting abortion rights in 2023.

Now, we’re not talking about causation here, we’re not even talking about the fact that these are the same issue. They’re not the same issue. But overwhelmingly, as you look at the partisan divide in the United States, the Republican Party is a far more pro-life party than the Democratic Party. And that increasingly is, if anything, an understatement. So what does this tell us about abortion in America, not just in Ohio? It tells us that the vast majority of those who voted on Tuesday voted to support abortion rights, and that’s against a backdrop of the fact that otherwise Ohio would continue under a very restrictive abortion law.

And so the voters effectively not only got rid of that law, they established what will be defined as a constitutional right in the state of Ohio, and that is a woman’s right to an abortion. But wait just a minute, it really isn’t a woman’s right to an abortion. It’s a pregnant person’s right to an abortion. Along with other issues related to reproduction, it was all put in a package and the voters had given us a pretty good indication just a matter of weeks ago of how they were going to vote when they refused to move ahead with a measure that would’ve required a super majority for the passage of a constitutional amendment. The vote was not exactly the same, but it was predictably the same. And so there is no great surprise here, but there is great tragedy here.

Those of us who are convictionally committed to the pro-life position and are working for the elimination of all elective abortion in the United States, we have to face squarely the fact that since the Dobbs decision reversing Roe v. Wade in 2022, we have lost just about every major statewide vote. Is that a shock? Yes, it is a shock. Is it a disappointment? Well, that’s not even a strong enough word, but it’s also a matter of data. This is information telling us that during the time of the almost half century operation of the Roe v. Wade decision and what was declared to be a woman’s right to an abortion, there was a moral message that was sent and there was a moral education, in this case, what we might call an immoral education that comes with effect. Now, there’s something very deeply embedded in the Christian worldview that is behind this, and that is the fact that one of the functions of the law is to teach.

Now here we’re talking about a legal system. A legal system teaches. If the legal system teaches wrongly, then you end up with the wrong morality. And that’s exactly what happened under the near 50 years of Roe v. Wade given the Supreme Court’s decision in 1973 legalizing abortion. And when you look at the reasoning that was behind the Supreme Court’s majority opinion legalizing abortion in 1973, that reign of legal abortion in all 50 states by the decree of the Supreme Court, that had an educational function. That’s horrifyingly true, but it did have that function and we now are reaping what was sown in the education of that horrifying Supreme Court decision. Millions upon millions of Americans, including millions upon millions of those who live around the center, voting in statewide elections and will be voting in the national election in 2024, it turns out they are far less concerned with the preservation of unborn human life than we thought they were, or certainly hoped they were.

Now pro-life politicians are trying to say it’s not as bad as it looks, but I just want to tell you honestly, it’s at least as bad as it looks. It may be even worse than it looks. And if nothing else, we need a bit of honesty here because that’s also essential to a biblical worldview. Honesty compels us to say we have lost every one of these major statewide votes since the reversal of Roe in 2022. We have a far greater challenge than we knew, but to be honest, it is not necessarily a greater challenge than we feared. Those of us who have been working in the pro-life movement for decades understood that we would find out where Americans really stand on these issues only after Roe v. Wade were removed. Now what falls out from this right now is going to be state by state. And then again, it might not be state by state.

We’ve been talking about Kansas and Kentucky. We’ve just talked about Ohio because that was the vote on Tuesday. But we also have looming before us the fact that if the pro-abortion side, if the Democratic Party gains a majority in both Houses of Congress, an adequate majority in the Senate and for that matter of course elects the President of the United States. If they gain control of those two branches of government, you can count on the fact that there will be an effort to codify what will be declared to be a woman’s right to an abortion. Now, wait just a minute. They won’t use the word woman anymore, but a pregnant person’s right to an abortion and to what they will define in Orwellian fashion, a woman’s reproductive health decisions, they will legislate that nationally. That’s not just a threat, it’s an absolute promise. You can count on the fact that that is going to happen. If there is the opportunity for the pro-abortion side to gain that advantage, they will press it.

What exactly that will mean still remains to be defined because that will certainly be challenged in terms of the US Supreme Court given the Dobbs decision last year. But we do need to understand that there is no confidence that the Supreme Court of the United States will rescue us from this. They are not necessarily going to take any action to rescue this issue from American politics. One way to read the Dobbs decision is that they said the Supreme Court should not have made this decision at the federal level. It should be up to the people’s elected representatives. Well, you can see where the pro-abortion side will want to take that argument.

In terms of political momentum because that’s also something we have to understand, when you are looking at politicians, they’re like investors. They’re interested not so much in the market as it stands right now, as in the market as it’s going to line up in the future. You invest money because of the future. That’s exactly where politicians aim themselves. They want to win the next election. So they are watching all of these developments vary closely. And thus momentum, when it works for you, it’s a great thing to have, but when it works against you, it is a very dangerous thing. And that’s what we see right now. There are those in the political class who are absolutely convinced that the momentum is running against the pro-life movement and for abortion rights.

Washington Post’s headline: “Abortion rights advocates win major victories in Ohio, Kentucky, and Virginia.” But we were just talking about Ohio. How did Kentucky and Virginia get thrown in there? Well, it’s because the Democratic incumbent governor of Kentucky, Andy Beshear, won reelection over his Republican challenger, Attorney General Daniel Cameron, and it had a lot to do with abortion. Governor Beshear actually ran an abortion-forward campaign. He ran advertisements seeking to scare voters evidently quite effectively from voting for the Republican candidate because he presented the Republican candidate as a threat to abortion rights.

Andy Beshear has been supported by Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion groups. In most situations, in a red state, a Republican conservative state that would work against you, but it didn’t work against Andy Beshear. And yes, you can say he won because of his name recognition. Yes, he won because of his response to disasters in the state. Yes, he won because of an attractive personality. But at the end of the day, at the very least, this tells us that the pro-life position, pro-life conviction wasn’t at least strong enough to dissuade an adequate number of voters not to vote for Andy Beshear. At the very least, the pro-life argument did not block his reelection. He was reelected convincingly. How does this factor into Virginia? And as we shall see, also in Pennsylvania?

Well in Virginia, incumbent Republican governor Glenn Youngkin wasn’t running for reelection. He was running for the opportunity to hold a majority in one house of the Virginia legislature, a thin majority about four seats, and to win a Republican majority in the other chamber. Again, the margin about four seats. And his goal was to use his influence as the Republican governor to build these two Republican majorities in both houses of the Virginia legislature. It failed. It didn’t just fail in one of them, it failed in both of them. Even the one that had the thin Republican majority lost it. And you really are looking at the fact that once again, the issue of abortion factored into this.

Governor Youngkin, the Republican incumbent, seemed to believe that he was cutting some kind of compromise on the issue of abortion that would please voters, calling for a ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Well, Governor Glenn Youngkin, that didn’t work. In one sense, that makes it even worse than some other developments for the cause of life because this means that even a 15-week ban was in some sense repudiated by the voters. But we need to note it was not repudiated in an up or down vote on the issue, but the partisan divide that is very much an issue that was abortion front and center. So we can’t discount that election either.

In the state of Pennsylvania, the Open Supreme Court seat that would tilt the balance one way or the other. And as we saw looking at this election already this week on The Briefing, it was a head-on collision between two rival ways of interpreting the Constitution. And that means in this case, the constitution, most importantly of the state of Pennsylvania. But the point is, whether it’s the state constitution in Pennsylvania or the United States Constitution, the interpretive issue is do you as the liberals, the progressivists, see the Constitution as an evolving document that is to be reinterpreted given what judges would say is the present need, or do you see it as a document that is binding in its words and in its sentences and that the right way to read the text and to apply it is simply to say, “Here’s the text. If you want to change it, you’ve got to change the text.” Well, the liberal argument won, the conservative argument lost. And everyone knew that just as in Roe v. Wade in 1973 and in the Dobbs decision in 2022, abortion was very much front of mind.

Part II

The Culture of Death Becomes a Political Platform: The Democratic Party’s Successful Campaign Strategy Built on Abortion

But the shift on the abortion issue is not just say a shift from pro-life momentum to pro-abortion momentum. It may be even worse than that. For example, headline in the New York Times, “Democrats, No Longer Squeamish on Abortion, Lean Into Searing Personal Ads.” So the argument here, and this is now widespread in the political class, is that the big lesson to be learned by Tuesday’s off-year election is that abortion is no longer a dangerous issue for pro-abortionists. Instead, the Democratic Party, its platform, its candidates, it is to run aggressively for abortion and is to run aggressively against pro-life limitations on abortion because they see this now as a winning strategy. And I think this headline’s really important. The party is no longer squeamish on the issue of abortion. Let’s just remind ourselves what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about the deliberate termination of human life in the womb, whether that life is microscopic or indeed in late term, abortion is fully recognizable as a human baby.

The point is that the pro-abortion argument means that a woman has the right to end the life of the unborn child for any reason, for that matter, no reason. It is a matter of personal autonomy. That is a horrifying argument. That is the sacrifice of little ones made in the image of God. A society that will do that, just ask yourself the horrifying question, what else will that society do?

A few other issues we just need to look at here. Alexandra Petri writing in the Washington Post tells us a lot about how the left looks at this with an opinion piece that comes with the headline, “Having rights still bewilderingly popular.” Now she’s writing that tongue in cheek, of course. This is a cheeky argument in which she’s saying, look, guess what? The results of the elections Tuesday just indicate that people would rather have rights than not have them. But the big issue here from a worldview perspective is who determines what is and is not a right. If you ask people, “Are you for having rights or having them taken away?” Well, just about any sane person is going to say, “I want to have those rights. Don’t take them away.”

But that really begs the question, it underlines the importance of the question, what exactly are authentic rights? And that is to say that if the right to an abortion is an authentic right, well then it should be an authentic right. But I believe it emphatically is not an authentic right. I don’t believe that one person has any right to end the life in the womb, to end the life of the unborn. And elective abortion, which means this is a chosen abortion, when we see this translated into rights, we just have to understand that that rights talk is itself one of the toxic tools of those who are trying to undermine the sanctity and dignity of human life. If you can turn anything into a right and you can say, you’re violating my rights if you prohibit this or restrict it or in any way seek to dissuade me actually from exercising that right, then you are simply on the wrong side of liberty. You’re on the wrong side of justice, you’re on the wrong side of the law, you’re on the wrong side of the Constitution.

This gets back to that Pennsylvania Supreme Court race. A lot of it has to do with how you believe constitutions work. A lot of it has to do with how you believe morality works. And a lot of it has to do with answering the question, who decides what is and is not a right? And furthermore, how would you know and beyond that, where exactly do these rights come from?

So let’s just understand that those who are making the pro-abortion argument, they’re not really making the argument that some divine authority is behind what they call woman’s reproductive rights. No, they’re not really making that claim at all. Because once you bring God in, well, then you’re going to have a lot of problems because the Bible is very clear about what God thinks about unborn life. So as you’re thinking about these rights such as a so-called right to an abortion, well, you’ve got to pretty much have a pretty secular society if you’re going to invoke that right. We saw that happen in Europe, later we saw it in the United States. We’re seeing it right now. But if you’re talking about where rights come from, you have to know that what began the American conversation, the American argument, was the assertion of natural rights. These were rights endowed by our Creator. They were inalienable or unalienable rights, which is to say you cannot alienate them from the human being. Now, that is not exactly what people are even claiming, what even the left is claiming when it comes to abortion rights.

The liberal argument is simply that we want it to be a right. We think it should be a right. And so we’re going to call upon judges to find it even in a constitution where it’s not there and where no sane person can say it was there in terms of those who frame the Constitution. And that’s why you have the argument, well, we want that right. We want it to be there. So we will argue for an evolving understanding of the Constitution, and thus it can evolve to include whatever rights, just add LGBTQ rights, just go down the list. You can imagine what’s coming. But when the argument is made here, having rights is still bewilderingly popular, we need to press back on that by asking this columnist or anyone else for that matter, where exactly do you think these rights come from? Now, here’s where their argument is politically powerful, but historically weak.

It’s politically powerful because yes, if you tell people, look, you have a right and these pro-lifers are trying to take this right away, well, you’re facing an uphill battle for the pro-life cause. On the other hand, it’s historically weak because one of the lessons learned from human history is that you have oppressive regimes and you have oppressive times. You have oppressive leaders and movements where sometimes rights that have been recognized are no longer recognized. And this is where we have to look at the situation right now and just understand that what is coming is going to be at some point a great sifting under difficult circumstances in which Americans are going to have to rethink, okay, what actually are the rights we’re willing to fight for? What exactly are the rights we are willing to suffer for? What are the rights we are willing to base our vote upon and where do those come from? And that’s where we as Christians need to be ready with a very substantial biblical argument. We need to understand that on the other side, there is no substantial argument other than we think there ought to be such a right.

I want to make reference to something else. This is from the same newspaper, another opinion column. This is Greg Sargent for the Washington Post. His particular piece is headlined, “Youngkin’s disastrous night shows the right’s culture war has fizzled.” This is referring of course to Virginia Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin, suggesting that his disastrous night in terms of trying to gain majorities in the Virginia legislature “shows the right’s culture war has fizzled.”

Now, the argument is that because Governor Youngkin’s political strategy failed, this means that the culture war has failed. Now, I’m not denying that what he was doing could be described as a culture war in terms of political strategy, saying, “You’ve got to take this action. You need to elect these people. You need to elect the members of my team, my party, because the future of the culture is at stake. Deep cultural issues are going to be decided. You need to have the right people in those offices to prevent the wrong things from happening in the culture.” And that if anything, in a time of deep division, it defines what a culture war is.

But I want us to note that here the headline again says, “Shows the right’s culture war has fizzled.” Has it fizzled or not? Well, we’re going to find out frankly, but you also have to understand that if we are going to press what we believe are the most important issues in the public square, we’re going to be accused of being culture warriors.

But that’s not even the main thing I want us to see in looking at this article. I want us to see that the culture war is seen by folks in the elite media, and the Washington Post is a very liberal newspaper, but they seem honestly to look at the political cultural situation in the United States right now, and they say it is conservatives who are the culture warriors. But you know what? Those have been pressing for all the change in this society for a revolution when it comes to human dignity, when it comes to the rights of the unborn, when it comes to marriage, when it comes to sexuality. Now, when it comes to gender, those culture warriors aren’t on the right. They’re on left.

So this really isn’t about culture warriors on the conservative side and the absence of the same on the liberal side. No, it’s about the fact that the liberal culture warriors are winning. And you know one of the signs you’re winning, you don’t call yourself a culture warrior, you just call those who are opposing you culture warriors.

Part III

The Flawed Logic of ‘My Body, My Choice' — The False Worldview Presuppositions of the Pro-Abortion Movement

These issues are so important. We needed to spend this time today on The Briefing, thinking about them before we lose the urgency and frankly, the shock in some sense of the lessons that were learned on Tuesday and subsequently, as the election results came in. I want to point to an article from the British Broadcasting Corporation. So this one’s coming from England. The BBC reports in a story about the takeaways after the American off-year election. Number one on their list, and we understand why is this. Abortion remains a top issue. Now, we pretty much already acknowledged that, but there is a statement in this article that as we conclude, just demands our attention, we need to just let this settle in a bit.

The person cited here is Dr. Marcela Azevedo, identified as co-founder of Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights. After it was clear that Issue 1 was going to win the day on Tuesday, he made this remarkable statement, and it again was published by the BBC. So the BBC had to see this as a very interesting if not remarkable statement. Here’s what he said, “We’re going to bed knowing that we own our own bodies.” Now, where in the world does that come from? What kind of worldview is reflected there? I think it’s an honest statement. I think that Dr. Marcela Azevedo is simply saying, “Abortion rights are about my right to control my body.” Well, you can’t say that anymore. Not according to the moral revolutionaries, a pregnant person’s right to an abortion, a pregnant person’s right to own that person’s own body, my right to own my own body, your right to own your own body.

Now, is that a legitimate argument from a Christian worldview or not? Well, in one sense it is. You might be shocked to hear me say in one sense it is. We do believe in a certain right to the integrity of one’s own body, but we do not believe that fundamentally we own our own bodies. That is an overstatement with catastrophic consequences. We did not make ourselves. We did not produce ourselves. We do not own ourselves. We do not own any part of ourselves. We do not own our own body. We are not free even in this morally confused age to go out on the market and sell a kidney or some other organ. That would not be allowed. Why? Because we actually don’t own our bodies in the sense that you might own a coin collection. But you do see where this logic is headed, and that’s something else in worldview analysis we always need to keep in mind, what is the worldview trajectory here?

In this sense, Dr. Marcela Azevedo is probably indicating in a very frightening way the future of this argument towards the totality of claiming that we own our own bodies. “We’re going to bed…” Meaning in Ohio Tuesday night, “knowing that we own our own bodies.”

Let me just point to something very important as we close. If the Constitution of the state of Ohio can supposedly allow, if written the right way, someone to go to bed in Ohio believing that they own their own bodies, well, that’s actually granting to a constitution more than it can bear. On the other hand, this is what is sobering for those of us who believe in the pro-life cause and in the sanctity and dignity of human life. We do understand that that kind of statement is not as nonsensical as we would hope it would be, certainly not as offensive as we would hope it would be to an increasingly secular culture, which is not only distancing itself from the knowledge of God, but of course, you know what goes with it, the knowledge of the imago Dei, of the image of God. There goes human dignity, and you see it in this statement. We certainly see it in the aftermath of Tuesday’s votes.

But we have to end on this and what’s coming. We’re Christians, so we don’t just say, this is bad news. We’re going to just stay at home and not worry about it. No, it tells us that our challenge is even bigger than we knew it to be. We need preachers preaching truth from the pulpit. We need parents teaching truth to their children. We need American citizens in all 50 states bearing witness to the sanctity of human life and to the horror of abortion and making it count neighbor by neighbor, as well as vote by vote. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We knew that already. Now we just know it in a whole new and sobering way. In this sense, faithfulness is if nothing else, staying in the fight.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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