The Briefing 08-17-15

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Politicians, including White House, defend Planned Parenthood in cycle of anti-life

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Efforts to defund Planned Parenthood critiqued as inconsistent with destruction of embryos

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Colorado baker informed by court his Christian convictions need not apply to baking

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Federal court instructs nuns on whether nuns should oppose contraception mandate

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Transcript

The Briefing

August 17, 2015

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It’s Monday, August 17, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Politicians, including White House, defend Planned Parenthood in cycle of anti-life

In the aftermath of all the controversy over the repeated videos revealing the hideous truth behind Planned Parenthood, many people are simply wondering how can the group be politically defended and yet it is. Tim Stanley, writing recently in The Telegraph in London tells us why. It’s about the money and in a very big way. He calls it “The cycle of anti-life.”

He goes on to say,

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“Let’s follow the money. The White House has indicated that Barack Obama will veto any bill to defund Planned Parenthood. In 2012, Planned Parenthood endorsed Obama and spent millions slamming his opponent. Obama once addressed the group and concluded by saying: “God bless you.” Meanwhile, Nancy Pelosi says the Planned Parenthood scandal was manufactured by the Republican Party. She received $1,000 from the organisation during her recent re-election campaign. And Hillary Clinton has also come out in defence of Planned Parenthood. As well she should. Hillary has received 20 times as much in political donations from its employees than any other Democratic presidential candidate. If she wins in 2016, they’ll have a gal pal in the White House.”

Tim Stanley, writing for a London newspaper says what many Americans simply will not face and that is that what is revealed in the Planned Parenthood videos is murderous, barbaric and horrific. And then he writes,

“Remarkably, Planned Parenthood receives federal money to do what it does. A lot of money. Last year it got $528 million from the government, more than 40 per cent of its revenue. Conservatives have launched an effort to defund it – after all, the uncontroversial sexual health services that it provides are now rendered unnecessary by Obamacare’s expansion of medical insurance. This effort ought to enjoy bipartisan support given the growing case against Planned Parenthood. And yet it’s already suffered a setback in the Senate. Why? Well, partly because at the same time as the government gives a lot of money to Planned Parenthood, Planned Parenthood gives a lot of money to politicians. And those politicians then vote to ensure that Planned Parenthood continues to get money.”

That’s why Stanley calls it,

“The cycle of anti-life.”

He points specifically to the economic cycle, the money cycle by which Planned Parenthood gets over a half billion dollars in the government and then it comes back and financially supports the politicians that keep that money flowing. Stanley also writes about the worldview involved, he says,

“Some Democrats are abortion fanatics. Others are pragmatists. They calculate that while the American public tells pollsters that it’s broadly pro-life, they don’t actually vote that way. And they probably also calculate that the body parts scandal won’t prick the public conscience too deep, because abortion is something that folks simply don’t want to think about.”

Now coming from across the Atlantic this is filled with worldview significance. For one thing, Stanley is certainly onto something when he points beyond this money cycle, he calls the cycle of anti-life to the fact that many politicians of come to the cold political calculation that no long-term damage is going to come to Planned Parenthood by this scandal and that is rooted in the fact as Stanley writes that,

“Abortion is something that folks simply don’t want to think about.”

The good news is that 40 years plus after the Roe V. Wade decision in 1973, the percentage of Americans who are broadly pro-life is larger than it was even then, that is undeniably good news. But the bad news is that that broadly pro-life sentiment has not translated into any sustained political action that would actually do much about abortion, certainly at the national level and that’s why the politicians who come to the conclusion that they will continue to support Planned Parenthood and in return as they are supported by Planned Parenthood, fully expect to get away with it. Even as Stanley makes crystal-clear they are supporting and in return being supported by what amounts to a slaughterhouse for babies. And then almost as if on cue, at the end of last week came a news article in the Wall Street Journal telling us that the Obama administration is threatening to bring action against any of the states that seek to defund Planned Parenthood. Stephanie Armour, writing for the Wall Street Journal tells us,

“The Obama administration has notified two states that took steps to halt Medicaid funds to Planned Parenthood Federation of America that they may be in conflict with federal law.

“The law requires that Medicaid beneficiaries may obtain services, including family planning, from any qualified provider. States that terminate their Medicaid-provider agreements with Planned Parenthood restrict access by not permitting recipients to get services from providers of their choice, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.”

Now, keep in mind, the Department of Health and Human Services is under the leadership of the White House, it is part of the executive branch. The Department of Health and Human Services has been a leading agent of the moral revolution under the leadership of President Obama. It was the Department of Health and Human Services that infamously sent down the criteria for the contraception mandate that has violated the religious liberty of so many Christians in so many Christian institutions, more about that later. The important issue in this article is the fact that President Obama as I said, almost as if on cue from Tim Stanley’s article written earlier, is now bringing direct political pressure by his administration on states that seek to defund Planned Parenthood in terms of Medicaid payments in response to the videos.

What Tim Stanley calls the cycle of anti-life is here demonstrated when the Obama Administration threatens to cut off Medicaid payments to any of the states that take action against Planned Parenthood. Back in the 1970s during the Senate Watergate hearings, United States Senator Howard Baker from Tennessee famously said that the key to unraveling the Watergate controversy was this, follow the money. Then Tim Stanley from London writes that when it comes to the abortion controversy and when it comes to Planned Parenthood in particular, do the very same thing, follow the money. And that leads immediately to the story that came about White House pressure at the end of last week. But the Christian worldview reminds us that there’s something even more fundamental than the money. The money is the evidence trail, what we understand is that more fundamental than the money is the worldview and so our motto ought always to be follow the worldview. In this case, the money points right back to the worldview of the culture of death, in all of its ugliness, in all of its deadliness.

Efforts to defund Planned Parenthood critiqued as inconsistent with destruction of embryos

Also, over the weekend a very interesting article appeared in the pages of the Washington Post. It’s by Margo Kaplan, identified as Associate Professor at Rutgers law school. The headline is this,

“Fertility clinics destroy embryos all the time. Why aren’t conservatives after them?”

She writes,

“Last month, my husband and I signed forms donating an embryo we had conceived to medical research. Meanwhile, conservative Republicans are vowing to defund Planned Parenthood for allowing women who have abortions to make the same choice.”

In this essay, Professor Kaplan, again she’s a professor of law at Rutgers, argues that the pro-life movement is being inconsistent or perhaps contradictory by not calling for an end to the destruction of embryos in terms of IVF clinics or other means, even at the same time as there are calls to defund Planned Parenthood and to end abortion when it comes to protecting unborn human life. She thinks she’s onto something here. She’s writing from a feminist perspective arguing that efforts to stand up in protection of unborn life are really attempts to subvert the sexual power of women. But the point she thinks she’s making she actually isn’t making all. But let’s follow her logic – she’s arguing that if pro-life people really intend to follow through on the logic of the pro-life movement, if we really believe that human life begins at conception defined as when the embryo is first formed, then consistently we should be opposed to the destruction of human embryos whether in an IVF clinic or by other means, even as we are opposed to the destruction of the baby in the womb and in terms of that logic, she is absolutely right. But what she misses, at least in terms of the pro-life movement is that most people who understand the issue clearly do oppose in every way, by every means, the destruction of a human embryo for any reason that is the intentional destruction of the human embryo.

Now, surely she has the memory of the fact that back early in the presidency of George W. Bush, one of the most hotly contested issues of the time had to do with medical research that was undertaken on human embryos. Medical research that would lead to the destruction of the human embryo must under the name of stem cell research. At that time (and by the way it was just days before the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the United States) President Bush very early in his administration handed down a set of executive orders that banned any federal taxpayer funding for the continued destruction of human embryos. Furthermore, many of us have been very outspoken on this issue. I’ve contributed to no less than two book projects on the question and the fact is that she’s exactly right that the pro-life position in terms of its logic does point out that if every single human being is made in the image of God and if the human person emerges at the point of conception, then the willful destruction of a human embryo is also the termination of human life. To that I would simply say the Christian worldview responds emphatically in agreement. But that’s where we also have to push back on her larger argument. The fact is we have to begin where we can make political gains in terms of the moral revolution, and especially in terms of standing up for the sanctity of human life.

At this point, there is a real opportunity on several fronts as a matter of fact, to push back against the culture of death when it comes to the issue of abortion. The Planned Parenthood videos have made very clear that that organization is involved in the intentional strategic dismemberment of human babies in order to gain in terms of financial support by the sale or at least the transfer with use of reimbursements of the tissues and organs ripped out of those babies. This affords an opportunity to make a concrete step to protect at least some of those unborn babies and perhaps we hope, eventually we hope, to prick the nation’s conscience so that there is an enduring deep pro-life commitment that comes to be understood by the American people so that they will push back not only against the sale and the use of these tissues, but from the very killing of the baby in the womb in the first place. And yes, we also need to push back on the logic by which hundreds of thousands, perhaps well over 1 million human embryos have been created. Yes, including in IVF clinics and then intentionally destroyed or left by neglect to thaw out and perish.

As we had discussed, and I have thoroughly considered in writing about the issue of in vitro fertilization raises a host of moral questions for the Christian worldview. But at the very least, it means that Christian parents must understand the responsibility to transfer to the womb every embryo that is created by means of the IVF technology. On this point at least, Professor Kaplan gets the situation exactly right. Although, entirely backwards, her logic is that since the IVF created embryo isn’t a human being, neither is the unborn baby in the womb. Our logic is exactly the opposite, because the unborn baby in the womb is a full human being, so also is the embryo that baby, every baby once was.

Colorado baker informed by court his Christian convictions need not apply to baking

Next, a major setback for religious liberty also came at the end of last week. As Erik Eckholm reports for the New York Times, a state appeals court in Colorado ruled Thursday that a baker could not cite religious beliefs in refusing to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples. He says,

“The decision is the latest in a series of similar rulings across the country that have been cheered by civil rights groups but attacked by conservative Christians as assaults on religious liberty.”

Well, of course they’re considered an assault on religious liberty because that is exactly what is at stake here. In this case, a Colorado cake baker by the name of Jack Phillips refused to express his approval of same-sex marriage by creating a wedding cake that would convey that message. That’s what’s at stake here. He did not refuse to sell a cake to someone who had a sexual orientation with which he disagreed. He refused to participate in a same-sex wedding because that would’ve violated his conscience. But the court in Colorado saw it otherwise ruling that his conscience was not violated or should not have been violated by being required to use his own artistic expression in creating a cake for a same-sex ceremony. In one of the most ominous ironies of this case, Mr. Phillips made this decision back in 2012 when the state of Colorado did not even have legal same-sex marriage. This shows us how the religious liberty challenges are beginning to stack up all around us.

Here’s the most dangerous portion of the situation as reported by Eckholm of the New York Times,

“The panel also rejected the argument that selling a cake to a gay couple was so great an infringement on Mr. Phillips’s beliefs that it trumped the anti-discrimination law.

“No reasonable observer, the decision said, “would interpret Masterpiece’s providing a wedding cake for a same-sex couple as an endorsement of same-sex marriage, rather than a reflection of its desire to conduct business in accordance with Colorado’s public accommodations law.”

The court was in this case, actually telling a Christian cake baker that his Christian convictions shouldn’t have been involved in this situation in the first place. By the way, Mr. Phillips also told the court that he didn’t make Halloween cakes because he thought that elevated Satan, that he would not make a cake that expressed an anti-patriotic sentiment, nor would he make a cake that reflected in any way a racist message. The court sidelined all of that entirely and simply said when it comes to same-sex marriage; the cake baker is going to have to make the cake. The background as we have discussed on The Briefing is the fact that in the case of this cake baker as in the case of florists and wedding photographers, they’re being asked not only to provide a consumer product but a service that employs their artistic and expressive talents. They’re being asked to join in the celebration of a same-sex wedding and we’re also looking at a court here that said that if religious conviction is involved here, it needn’t be. That’s even more ominous perhaps than the eventual ruling the court handed down.

Writing at The Federalist in response to this decision, David Harsanyi got it exactly right when he entitled his essay, “Hey Christians, Say Goodbye to Religious Freedom.”

As he writes, in essence,

“The court has effectively tasked itself with determining for you when religion should matter.”

He says,

“Incredibly, the court acknowledged in its decision that it would have looked at the First Amendment arguments more closely had the gay couple ordered a cake with some explicit messaging that advocated for gay marriage. In other words, the Colorado Court of Appeals believes the threshold for denying religious liberty is the presence of advocacy.”

He then writes this truly telling paragraph,

“If nothing else, it’s comforting to know that Colorado can force an orthodox Islamic butcher to make sausages for a polyamorous bisexual bachelor/bachelorette party, so long as no one asks the butcher to outwardly promote swine and free love.”

That sentence points to the superficiality and to the danger of this Colorado appeals court decision. And then even more ominously, Harsanyi gets right to the center of the challenge we face when he writes,

“If you admit—and many rational people do, even those who quarrel with the reasoning behind religious obstinacy—that millions of Christians hold some form of a genuine, long-standing religious conviction that prohibits them from celebrating gay marriages, but you still support state coercion against them, then you might as well just concede that religious freedom isn’t compatible with your conception of a contemporary society.”

That’s exactly the case. Those who are pressing so hard for this sexual revolution have come whether they admit it or not, and in most cases they do not,

“That religious freedom isn’t compatible with your conception of a contemporary society.”

They decided that something has to go. And if it’s a head-to-head confrontation between erotic liberty and religious liberty, they’ve decided which way they’re going to go. This latest decision from the Colorado Court of Appeals is a very clear indication of that direction. Those who are pushing this sexual revolution operate from a worldview that holds that there are few things, if anything that is above the mandate of sexual expression and sexual liberty. That is a worldview we should note, that is not only at odds with the Christian worldview, but it’s at odds with the worldview of every society which has ever survived for any considerable period of time whatsoever. History records no society that has embraced that kind of a worldview that has ever sustained itself, that has ever survived, because it undercuts the very foundational cohesion of a society that accepts that there are some issues that are more important, even more ultimate than sexual expression. This is a society in which increasing millions of people no longer believe that. That’s becoming increasingly clear and increasingly ominous.

Federal court instructs nuns on whether nuns should oppose contraception mandate

Similarly, just in recent days – and this gets back to the contraception mandate cited earlier – yet another court decision has come down against a religious organization that claimed that its religious convictions were violated by the Obamacare contraception mandate, even the patch that was put on it by the Obama Administration in response to public outrage. As Emily Belz of World Magazine reported,

“Most recently, the Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of Catholic nuns who serve the elderly poor, lost its petition for protection from the mandate at the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The court consolidated its case with cases from Guidestone Financial Resources [of the Southern Baptist Convention], Reaching Souls International, Truett-McConnell College, and Southern Nazarene University.”

Other decisions handed down by circuit courts in the United States against organizations included decisions against the Michigan Catholic Conference, and the Catholic Diocese of Nashville, Priests for Life, the Catholic Diocese of Beaumont, Houston Baptist University, East Texas Baptist University, the Diocese of Erie, the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Geneva College, Seneca Hardwood, Wheaton College and the University of Notre Dame. You’ll note that many of those institutions are evangelical; several of them are Roman Catholic. The issue is that all of them claimed that their religious convictions had been violated by the Obamacare contraception mandate. You might think that no one would claim to tell the Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of Catholic nuns how to be nuns, but that’s exactly what the 10th US circuit Court of Appeals did. Much as in the case with the Colorado cake baker in which that court told the baker that his religious convictions shouldn’t have been offended, now the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th circuit has done the same thing to the Little Sisters of the Poor. You might think that no government would be quite so audacious as to tell a group of Catholic nuns how to be nuns, this court did exactly that, telling the nuns that their religious sensitivities shouldn’t have been overly troubled by the contraception mandate as it stands today.

Just consider this when you’re told that there is no real threat to religious liberty. If the United States government at the federal level, using all the power of that government will come against the Little Sisters of the Poor, it will come against anyone. If a federal court will tell nuns what their religious convictions ought to be and ought not to be and when and when not they would be violated, then that court will do the very same thing with an evangelical institution like a college or for that matter, an evangelical pastor. If the federal government will come after the Little Sisters of the Poor, it will come after any of us.

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing