September 28, 2015
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Monday, September 28, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Boehner resignation from Speaker of House signals fissures within conservatives in America
The big news as America went into the weekend was the resignation of the Speaker of the House of Representatives. This is the kind of political development that happens only infrequently in America and, as in this case, it signals something of real importance. For years, the American political system has been caught in a debate between liberals and conservatives. That has come down in the political spectrum to Democrats and Republicans and that’s the partisan divide in the United States Congress and furthermore throughout most of American politics. But the Democratic Republican divide, the liberal conservative divide, the real is not in some ways the most urgent story. Instead, the resignation of the Speaker the House did not come because of liberal opposition, it came because of fishers within the conservative movement and particularly within the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives and we need to note that a similar divide now exists among liberals and thus within the Democratic Party itself. We’ve been watching the rise of the kind of candidacy represented by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a genuine socialist running to the far left of the Democratic presidential nomination race and thus on the Democratic side, we’ve had a genuine liberal in a very true sense, and that is former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is being opposed by an even more liberal candidate running at her from the left and on the Republican side in the presidential election something very similar is going on, but in the case of the resignation of Speaker Boehner, we’re talking about the House of Representatives and we’re talking about the fact that the speaker the house is one of the most important constitutional offices in the United States.
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The framers of the American Constitution not only sought to divide government between an executive, a legislative and a judicial branch, but also within the legislative branch sought to make sure that it was truly representative by having an upper house, that’s the United States Senate and then a lower house, which is the House of Representatives. In that sense, the House of Representatives has always claimed to be the people’s House. The Senate is elected to six year terms and every single state has two senators regardless of the population of the state. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives is districted and apportioned according to population. Thus a very large state like California with a huge population has dozens of house districts, whereas a state like Wyoming has at this point only one. When the Constitution was ratified in the end of the 18th century, the United States Senate was not even directly elected by the American people, but the House of Representatives has always prided itself on being a more direct democracy in terms of representing the American people and because of the volatility of the political life of the United States Congress in terms of the House of Representatives the framers put in the office of Speaker of the House and that’s a very important office, indeed. The Speaker the House largely sets the agenda for the House of Representatives and the speaker is elected by a majority of the representatives present to vote. And that’s why if Republicans are in the majority you can count on the fact that a Republican Speaker will be elected, if the Democrats are in majority then the Democrats will elect a Democratic Party Speaker and thus when you look at the Speaker of the House of Representatives, you can pretty much by party affiliation come to an immediate understanding of which party is dominant in that House.
For some years now, Republicans have held a majority in the House and thus there has been a Republican speaker and that has been none other than John Boehner, a congressman from Ohio for about a quarter of a century and he was elected speaker precisely because the Republican majority, known as the Republican caucus in the House, elected him speaker and thus chose him not only as the leader of their party in the House, but also of the entire House, setting the agenda as the chief parliamentary officer. So why did John Boehner resign? He resigned precisely because he had lost the ability to hold the Republican caucus together and in this sense, that meant he had lost the ability to hold conservatives together in a common platform in terms of a common strategy in the House of Representatives. From a worldview perspective, this is really interesting, because we can’t reduce everything to a simple partisan equation. We can’t even reduce everything to a simple equation between conservative and liberal, those are still the two main and most meaningful categories in American political and ideological life. But now they’re not sufficient, because we’re looking at a diversity within the conservative movement and we’re looking at a division within the liberal movement in America and so the resignation the speaker John Boehner points to the fact that we are in a period of intense ideological and political discussion and debate in this country and one of the most interesting things to understand is that the issues are now so urgent and so important that conservatives are in a current battle to define just what kind of conservatives they need to be and the same thing is taking place on the Democratic side amongst the more liberal party in the United States House.
This is going to be a very interesting development in weeks ahead. The election of a new speaker and remember that will be by Republicans, because they hold a majority in the United States House, the election of a speaker is going to signal what kind of Republican strategy, what kind of Republican profile is going to be dominant at least in the near future and that will signal some deep worldview issues as well. At the center of this debate, not right now, just between Republicans and Democrats, but amongst conservatives is the proper strategy to take on the issue of Planned Parenthood and the defunding of Planned Parenthood, especially in light of the controversial videos that have recently been released. It’s very interesting and it’s important to note, that it’s almost absolutely certain that when John Boehner was elected to the House and later when he was elected speaker of that House, he could not have imagined that one of the defining controversies that would bring about the end of his speakership would be related to the organization we know as Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood conflict reveals life and death significance of political process
And that points to the fact that Planned Parenthood is back in the news and it was back in the media on Sunday in a very important article in the New York Times. The article is by reporter Jackie Calmes and the headline is this,
“Reacting to Videos, Planned Parenthood Fights to Regain Initiative.”
The big idea of the story is the claim that at least according to Planned Parenthood, the organization in terms of recent controversy is no longer on the defensive, but is rather shifting to the offensive, going after its critics and strengthening its political support in the United States political system. As Calmes writes,
“The undercover videos were made over more than two years, yet Planned Parenthood was taken by surprise when the first one was posted online in July. Now one of the biggest crises in the 99-year history of the organization, the nation’s largest provider of women’s reproductive health care, could reach a climax this week as conservatives want to shut down the government rather than help fund the group.”
Calmes goes on to write,
“Dawn Laguens, Planned Parenthood’s executive vice president, recalled that after an aide alerted her to the initial video by the little-known Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group, she thought: “This is not new” — Planned Parenthood had faced such tactics before — “but it’s a new low. And it is going to have reach.”
The videos, indeed, have had a reach and it’s because they show in such a compelling and undeniable way the reality of abortion. The Americans who have seen those videos come to a clear understanding that Planned Parenthood is in the business of killing unborn babies in the womb and then ripping apart those bodies in order to sell or in their macabre vocabulary, to receive reimbursement for the tissues and organs of those unborn infants that have been murdered in the womb. Calmes writes, and this is the point of her article,
“But Planned Parenthood has fought back and managed to put some opponents on the defensive after gathering information from its affiliates; hiring lawyers, crisis managers and video experts to document deceptive edits; and working to solidify support among donors, Democrats and, according to polls, a majority of Americans.”
This article, perhaps more than any recent article points to the great worldview challenge that we face, it’s the great challenge we face in terms of pushing back against the evil of abortion. The great challenge we face in terms of building a community, of building a civilization that is truly convictionally pro-life and it is because the ethos of abortion has so saturated the American people in terms of the so-called right of a woman to an abortion that even as a majority of Americans indicate they are in some sense pro-life, they have also demonstrated that they are not yet willing to take any decisive or costly political action to act on those convictions, which means those convictions are either misleading or superficial, in all likelihood it is the latter. What this probably demonstrates is that it is true that a majority of Americans think that there is something deeply, essentially wrong with abortion, but that’s a largely superficial moral instinct and intuition. They are not yet willing to translate that into any costly or complicated political action and when you put that into the equation it means that Planned Parenthood wins. And Planned Parenthood has won over and over again. And what is abundantly clear in this article is that it is aided and abetted by the cultural left, and by the mainstream media, even as evidenced in this article. And the way the article is clearly championing the case of Planned Parenthood and more or less celebrating the fact that Planned Parenthood is according to the article, “fighting its way back.”
Now what links this story to the first story, that is the resignation of speaker John Boehner, by the way, his resignation will be effective at the end of October, what links the two stories is the fact that this is a current political debate in Washington. And what we need to note is that the Republicans are almost totally unified in agreement about the horror of Planned Parenthood. The Republican Party is unified in terms of a pro-life position, but the party as is now represented in this debate in the House of Representatives is not unified in a strategy to undertake when related not only to the general issue of abortion, but to the specific question of Planned Parenthood.
You’ll recall that in recent weeks we’ve talked about the fact that the house has passed two very important pieces of legislation. One of them was a measure to defund Planned Parenthood and the second was a measure to eliminate abortions at this point, after 20 weeks of gestation. But just passing legislation isn’t enough. The way the American political system works in terms of how laws are eventually passed has to do with the fact that the House must eventually negotiate with the Senate in order to have a common bill that will be forwarded by Congress, that’s the House and Senate together, to the President of the United States who must at that point, either sign the bill or veto it. And what we’re looking at in terms of this debate is that even though conservative pro-lifers in the United States House are united in opposition to Planned Parenthood, they are this point, not united on the question of whether or not to shut down the government in order to make the emphatic point about Planned Parenthood. On the other side of the aisle as they say in Congress and more importantly, on the other side of this worldview divide, we asked a question, why is the Democratic Party so beholden to Planned Parenthood? Calmes actually answers the question in this paragraph,
“The group, which once enjoyed bipartisan support, has relied almost solely on Democrats since abortion opponents gained sway over the Republican Party in the Reagan era. Its heft with Democrats flows from its grass-roots support, and willingness to spend freely on advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts in key states.”
This demonstrates, once again, just how essential the political process is and how unavoidable it is in terms of the big issues of the day. Not all of politics has to do with life and death, but on this question it clearly does. This is a question, undeniably not only of politics, not only of left and right, not only of pro-life and pro-choice as those are styled, but it’s a matter as we know of life and death. Meanwhile, a final note on the Planned Parenthood issue, a recent editorial in The Nashville Tennessean tells us that the United States government should not be shut down over the issue Planned Parenthood. David Plazas, Opinion Editor for The Tennessean writes, this as the conclusion of his editorial,
“Meanwhile, elected officials should keep the federal government running and decouple the Planned Parenthood issue from it.
“They ought to wait for the results of any investigation to see if accusations of criminal activity are true before taking steps to destroy an organization that serves an important purpose of serving women’s health care needs.”
That’s the kind of propaganda that has protected Planned Parenthood for so long. Because what we need to note is that the claim is being made in this editorial that there should be no defunding of Planned Parenthood on the basis of those videos until there can be an adequate investigation to find out what exactly is going on, but we need to note something very carefully, the very people who are claiming that Planned Parenthood should not be defunded until there is an adequate investigation to find the truth, they are almost always the very same people who are opposing any investigation that would do just that. We need to call this what it is, it is propaganda and political defense of Planned Parenthood. It is the defense of the culture of death and it is not even honest.
Pope's statements in US leave confusion, paving way of leftward trajectory for Catholicism
Next, as of yesterday, Pope Francis is on his plane headed back to Rome, but in his wake are huge issues that are important not only for Roman Catholics in America but for all of us. In the wake of the Pope’s departure comes a headline in tomorrow’s edition of the New York Times, an article by Jim Yardley and Laurie Goodstein. The headline is this,
“Pope Departs, After Showing a Deft Touch.”
The two reporters for the New York Times indicate and they quote many sources to prove this point, that the Pope proved himself to be a very adept politician during his visit to the United States. Proof positive of that assessment comes down to the fact that when the Pope was coming to the United States and his coming was anticipated, there were so many who hoped and conservative Catholic were at the front of this list, there were many who hoped that the Pope would clarify his position on so many crucial moral issues and it wasn’t just conservative Catholics hoping that the Pope would hold up and defend Catholic doctrine on the issues, it was also Catholic liberals, theological liberals and even secular liberals who are hoping that the Pope would do exactly the opposite, that he would signal an impending change in Roman Catholic doctrine on those crucial issues. Neither side got what it wanted, but as almost any analysis would indicate, the Pope leaned left and liberals got far more than conservatives and that point was made profoundly clear when at the conclusion of his rather lengthy visit to the United States, he went to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families Congress and there, according to media sources and according to the transcript of the event, he came almost close to almost saying something about same-sex marriage, but he actually didn’t, he didn’t name same-sex marriage, he didn’t use the word gay, he never used the word homosexual, leaving people to believe he just might have come close to making a statement against same-sex marriage. But in the end, he sent far more signals that would please liberals pointing to their agenda, than conservatives concerned with the historic teaching of the Catholic Church and that gets to another issue that is also made very clear. In terms of the Pope statements, he left what can only be described as an intentional confusion and that’s something that we should note very carefully. Why would Pope Francis come to the United States and sow the seeds of such confusion in his own church?
At this point what it means is that liberals and conservatives are coming to the common conclusion that the Pope really is a revolutionary Pope heading his church in a liberal direction. Just consider the front page article in the New York Times yesterday with the headline,
“For Finale, It’s ‘Francis Effect’ vs. Core Catholic Doctrine.”
Something is at least, to say the very least, exceedingly odd when you have a Roman Catholic Pope whose personality is countered in the headline in the front page of the New York Times by the court teaching of the Catholic Church.
Liberal theology's marriage to liberal politics leads to secular liberalism
But the fact that these issues are important not only to Roman Catholics, but also by extension to evangelicals as well, was made very clear, also in the New York Times by a very important op-ed piece written by Ross Douthat. Douthat’s headline,
“Springtime for Liberal Christianity.”
Writing about the so-called “Francis effect” in the Roman Catholic Church. Douthat writes,
“It’s a gift the religious left sorely needed, because the last few decades have made a marriage of Christian faith and liberal politics seem doomed to eventual divorce. Since the 1970s, the mainline Protestant denominations associated with progressive politics have experienced a steep decline in membership and influence, while American liberalism has become more secular and anti-clerical [that is anti the church], culminating in the Obama White House’s battles with Francis’ own church. In the intellectual arena, religiously-inclined liberals have pined for a Reinhold Niebuhr without producing one, and the conservatives fear that liberal theology inevitably empties religion of real power has found all-too-frequent vindication.”
That is a brilliant paragraph. Ross Douthat writes that liberals have largely been in decline precisely because they have been emptying their churches and denominations of adherence and the wedding of liberal theology and liberal politics has led to the evacuation of so many these churches and declining influence in the American political system and in the larger American culture of theological liberals. And Douthat is on even surer ground when he says that the result of all this has been the secularizing of American liberalism, which just gets to the point. The reason that liberal theology has had so little impact in the larger culture is because the larger liberal culture really doesn’t have any interest in theology and that’s an essential worldview insight here, Douthat gets right to the heart of it. Secular liberals really don’t have any need for theological liberals, except in terms of perhaps bringing along a few largely older middle-class white adherents who might join the Liberal platform in the liberal bandwagon. With brilliant argument Douthat writes later in the article,
“There are deep reasons why liberal Christianity has struggled lately, which a Francis-inspired revival would need to overcome. One is the tendency for a liberal-leaning faith to simply become a secularized faith, obsessed with political utopias and embarrassed by supernatural hopes, until the very point of churchgoing gradually evaporates.”
We simply have to note, this really isn’t something that just might happen in the future, this is the very pattern we can already discern. It’s a pattern very clear in the liberal churches ever since the 1960s. Douthat writes,
“The other is religious liberalism’s urge to follow secular liberalism in embracing the sexual revolution and all its works — a move that promises renewal but rarely delivers, because it sells out far too much of scripture and tradition along the way.”
To that observation, I can only offer a very eager affirmation, but with one hesitancy and that is this, it is a significant understatement. Ross Douthat writes, once again, that the problem is that secular liberalism and theological liberalism so often embrace what he calls the sexual revolution and all its works, but then he says that it,
“Sells out far too much of Scripture and tradition along the way.”
At that point we simply have to say that’s an understatement. The sexual revolution doesn’t demand minor revisions in terms of the theology of Christians; it doesn’t require minor subversions of biblical authority. It goes right to the heart of the matter and demands a completely relativist and revisionist understanding of Scripture, and it goes right to the heart of the gospel which I’m not sure Douthat affirms in this article. The sexual revolution doesn’t just demand rejecting the moral tradition of the church for 2000 years, it also demands redefining sin and that means redefining the gospel, and that means it’s not just a theological revision, it is and must be seen to be an abandonment of the gospel itself. Douthat in his article describes what he calls a,
“Springtime for Liberal Christianity.”
That is signaled by the influence and the reputation of Pope Francis. Liberals, both theological and secular, at this point seem to be united in hoping so. But it’s hard to really understand how we can describe what’s taking place as a “Springtime for Liberal Christianity.” Because when it comes that liberal theology in a final analysis, there’s just not that much theology to it.