November 30, 2015
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Monday, November 30, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events Christian worldview.
Gunman attack at Colorado Planned Parenthood undermines values of pro-life movement
On Friday a gunman shot several people, killing three in Colorado Springs and he started a hostage situation that lasted for hours in a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado. As Trevor Hughes and Doug Stanglin report for USA Today,
“Police were trying to determine Saturday why a middle-aged gunman in hunting gear allegedly went on a wild shooting spree inside a Planned Parenthood clinic, killing three people, including a police officer.”Show Full Transcript
They went on to say that,
“The suspect, identified as Robert Lewis Dear, 57, of Hartsel, Colorado, surrendered to officers after a five-hour ordeal Friday in which he fired randomly at people in the clinic and roamed the halls shooting through walls with an assault-style rifle.”
The fact that the location of the violence was an abortion clinic in particular, a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, led immediately to assumptions about the motivation for the attack, but over the weekend, Lieutenant Catherine Buckley, spokeswoman for the Colorado Springs Police Department said,
“We don’t have any information on this individual’s mentality, or his ideas or ideology.”
So at this point what we know is that a shooter unleashed violence inside a Planned Parenthood clinic, killing three people, including one young married father of two who was a police officer on the force of the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. He was one of the first responders who responded to the distress call from the clinic. The officer killed was identified as Garrett Swasey, age 44, he was known to be a six-year veteran with the force there at University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. According to the news report he was one of many officers in the area who helped Colorado Springs police. The spokesperson for the Colorado fraternal order of police said,
“The officer who gave his life today alongside the other officers put the lives of civilians in peril above his own. He died to save others.”
It is now known that Garrett Swasey was not only an evangelical Christian, but an elder at one of the leading evangelical churches there in Colorado Springs. Swasey was an elder in the congregation known as Hope Chapel there in Colorado Springs and he was listed at least in some media reports as a co-pastor, but according to the church’s website it is more likely he would be well described as an elder who was a member of the teaching team. Sarah Pulliam Bailey reporting for the Washington Post tells us that
“Swasey was part of the leadership at his non-denominational, evangelical church that is overseen by a group of elders or co-pastors, as opposed to one specific pastor. Swasey was part of what the church calls the “teaching team” and played guitar on the worship team.”
A brief bio of officer Swasey found at the church’s website says that they began attending the Hope Chapel in 2001. About the officer and his wife, it was written,
“As they raise their son, Elijah and daughter, Faith, they view the members of the church as their family.”
Both the officer and his wife were described as having been
“Granted a servant’s heart by God and are a demonstrative evidence of God’s grace to Hope Chapel.”
So even as we are all asking basic questions about the motivation of the shooter in this case, the effect is abundantly clear it was the death of a man who was a husband and the father of two, an elder at his local church who was a police officer, one of the first responders to the scene and two civilians. In an unusual delay the media did not report the identity of the two civilians until late on Sunday; they were then identified as a veteran of the Iraq war and a married mother of two. Danielle Paquette, Ana Swanson and Brady Dennis, reporting for the Washington Post said that the man in this case is identified as Ke’Arre Marcell Stewart, he’s a 29-year-old veteran of the Iraq war who was identified as,
“A DJ, an entrepreneur and, by all accounts, a devoted father to his two young daughters.”
The other civilian victim shot to death in the case was identified as Jennifer Markovsky, according to the Washington Post,
“[She] also had two children, a son and a daughter. The 35-year-old Hawaii native had gone to the nearby Planned Parenthood clinic Friday to support a friend.”
In the wake of any kind of violence like this the immediate question is a moral question and the question is why we cannot avoid the question and the motivation of the shooter as a part of the moral equation. It doesn’t change the result of the shooting in terms of those who were victimized and those who are now dead by the shooter’s action, but it does place within a moral context an understanding of the why and as moral creatures we are made to ask the question why. In this case, the why is not yet evident although at least some media reports have indicated that after he was taken into custody, the man Robert L. Dear, Jr. said,
“No more baby parts.”
Likely a reference not only to Planned Parenthood, but specifically to the infamous videos that have become a part of our national conversation, videos released showing officials of Planned Parenthood talking about the harvesting of parts from aborted babies and of the sale or the transaction of those body parts after the abortion. Reporting on Sunday the New York Times tells us that,
“Robert L. Dear Jr. was a man who lived off the grid.
“On this lonely, snow-covered patch of land in a hamlet ringed by the Rocky Mountains, his home was a white trailer, with a forest-green four-wheeler by the front door and a modest black cross painted on one end.”
They went on to report that,
“As police officers surrounded it on Saturday, looking for clues to what they said had sent its owner on a shooting rampage at a Planned Parenthood center that left three dead and nine wounded, neighbors said they barely knew him.”
Even as law enforcement authorities at this point have not been willing to speak to the motivation, the very fact that the headlines told us that the shooting took place in a Planned Parenthood clinic raises the likelihood that Planned Parenthood in the issue of abortion was very much on the shooter’s mind. The reference to body parts is just a further indication of that fact. Even as we must wait for a more complete understanding of this case, of this shooter and of his motivations, it is important at this point for Christians to underline and to be very emphatically clear that there is absolutely no excuse for violence at an abortion clinic. Christians operating out of a biblical worldview must be advocates for life at every stage of development and under every condition from the moment of conception until natural death, but we are not assigned or authorized by Scripture to be judge, jury and executioner when it comes to the understanding of how we are to respond to abortion. Instead we are to contend for the sanctity of human life and we are to do everything to defend human life, but we are not to take violence into our own hands.
Christians operating out of a biblical worldview understand what is at stake in abortion and that’s what makes it such an urgent and serious moral issues, so important that it now comes ahead of virtually every other issue that we now face in terms of our culture. To state the obvious from a biblical worldview to take human life in an abortion clinic is to betray the very worldview that understands abortion to be the taking of an innocent human life. Pro-life activists who move from advocacy for life and counseling women who are considering abortions, doing everything we can to change the laws and to influence the culture, who move from that to taking violence and taking the law into their own hands, not only bring disrepute upon the pro-life movement, but they subvert the very message that we are trying to convey. Furthermore, this requires some very serious Christian thinking, some very serious worldview and theological analysis, because when we think about our moral responsibility on behalf of life, we again have to come back to the fact that God has assigned a government to responsibility, and that raises a very difficult issue for the Christian conscience, especially with the background of the 20th century.
Historically informed Christians, understanding the horrors of the 20th century will often ask the question, what about Dietrich Bonhoeffer? Bonhoeffer joined the resistance against the Nazi regime before and after the outbreak of World War II and he eventually was executed by the Nazis in the very final days of that war. In the in stage of his work for the resistance he actually joined a plot and became complicit in an effort to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Too often the example of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is simply cited as an obvious example that we are to follow in contemporary situations, but that falls apart upon a closer analysis. First of all, it falls apart on a closer analysis of Bonhoeffer himself. Bonhoeffer joined the resistance, he only moved to advocating and becoming complicit in violence after every other remedy had been tried and after he come to the conclusion that the entire German government, the entire Nazi regime was beyond any kind of legal or political remedy. Even then, Bonhoeffer was not convinced that what he and others had planned in terms of the killing of Adolf Hitler was ethically justified, but he claimed a justification in terms of the example of Martin Luther in terms of Christian history in that a bias towards action should guide the Christian rather than towards inaction when something urgent and important is at stake. But in this case, Dietrich Bonhoeffer complicity in the plot against Adolf Hitler not only left him with a deeply conflicted Christian conscience, but it was also premised upon his conclusion that there was no other means of remedy. The Nazis were in complete control of the government, the courts were completely corrupt, the system of laws and the entire government was under the totalitarian control of the Nazi regime. Just at that stage of analysis we are clearly in a fundamentally different situation in the United States of America.
Conservative Christians have every reason to be concerned about many trajectories and trends in this culture, and that includes trends in politics, in the law and coming from our courts. But we are certainly not in the position of stating that the regime itself is beyond remedy. Our situation is fundamentally different; we have recourse to the courts, we have recourse to elections, we have recourse to laws, we have recourse to political advocacy, we have recourse to moral argument. Christians have every right and furthermore every responsibility to be on the front lines of the cause of defending the sanctity and dignity of human life. We have every reason to be deeply involved, even urgently involved in pro-life activities, activities of counseling women who might be considering abortion, activities such as being involved in making the moral argument for the sanctity of human life, activities such as in every arena of our life being advocates for life under every situation as God’s gift. Bonhoeffer was right to point to Luther as arguing that the Christian should have a bias to action, but in our case that bias to action should be action of advocacy and witness for the dignity and sanctity of human life. And that same mission and responsibility for the advocacy for human life means that we speak up even for the human lives of those who are in the abortion clinics who are not unborn, but born.
As the media have rightly reported, we’re going to have to wait to have a fuller understanding of this individual and his motivations. In the meantime, we must be praying for the families of these three victims, recognizing the horrifying parallel that all three of the shooting victims leave two young children. The sanctity of human life means that four of those children deserve to have a father living and two deserve to have a mother living. Those lives snuffed out by the shooter in Friday’s attack. This much we know, the headlines coming out of Colorado Springs have been absolutely horrifying and we also know this, nothing we can learn about the motivation of this shooter will make that reality any less horrifying.
Video of police shooting of Laquan McDonald reveals need for righteousness and justice for all
Next, another horrifying headline that came last week came in this version from the Chicago Tribune,
“Shooting video latest stain on Chicago’s policing record.”
Reporter Steve Schmadeke, Jason Meisner and Bill Ruthhart, reporters for the Chicago Tribune reported,
“Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday released a 2014 video of an African-American teen being fatally shot by a white police officer just hours after authorities charged the veteran cop with murder, all the while trying to head off violent protests city officials feared might result from the images of the teen twisting and falling as he is riddled with bullets.”
There have been so many horrifying headlines of this sort in recent years and months and there has been so much national controversy, but this story seems to be coming in a slightly different and perhaps importantly different form. For one thing, this video was released even as the officer in this case was charged with first-degree murder. The video itself is almost impossible to watch in moral terms showing as it does a 17-year-old being gunned down by a police officer. Now there’s more to the story as you might expect media reports indicate the 17-year-old had been observed trying to break into cars earlier in the evening. The police were responding to the fact that he was walking down a Chicago Street, according to media reports and even very latest reports, holding a knife, and yet the overreaction in this case was indicated by the fact that the video shows the police officer to begin shooting just six seconds after arriving on the scene and to have shot the teenagers 16 times. According to media reports that point to legal documents in this case, the officer was actually reloading his gun when his partner told him to stand down. As the Chicago Tribune reported,
“The October 2014 video shows 17-year-old Laquan McDonald shot repeatedly as he walked down the middle of a Southwest Side street, part of the evidence to support allegations that Officer Jason Van Dyke fired 16 shots into the teen’s body in 14 seconds.”
Other differences in this case are actually embedded within this report from the Chicago Tribune, for example, the reporters tell us that,
“For more than a week, concerns swirled that the release of the video could prompt widespread protests like those following police-involved deaths of African-Americans in places such as Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore.”
Then these words,
“Anticipating the likelihood of street demonstrations here, Emanuel and McCarthy [that is the mayor and the police superintendent] worked to minimize the public fallout in a city with a long, sordid history of police misconduct.”
Now Americans are accustomed to understanding the valor and bravery of police officers. As exemplified very graphically by Garrett Swasey in Colorado Springs, just in recent days and yet we’re looking at the reality that in a fallen world, every dimension of that world is corrupted by sin and one of the most horrifying demonstrations of sin is that even the structures and institutions that are given to us by God to help to limit human sinfulness, they are, after all, people by persons who are also sinners and one of the things that this story makes very, very evident is that in the city of Chicago, there has been a long problem of police misconduct and that means that the leadership of the city and the police department have been complicit at least to some extent with what the Chicago Tribune, which by the way, is not one of the nation’s more liberal newspapers indicated as the article stated once again is,
“A long, sordid history of police misconduct.”
Christians who understand the importance of the rule of law and who understand the importance of those who represent the rule of law in our lives, that gets down to the entire legal system and of course in first response, it gets right to police officers. We understand the importance of honoring those who undertake that responsibility. We have to understand the dangers they face, again, as exemplified so graphically in Colorado Springs in recent days and we need to understand that just as in other sectors of life, most of the people who were drawn to this particular kind of work are drawn because of the respect for law and because of their commitment to serve the community, to serve and to protect. There are ample headlines, sadly enough, showing that there is no calling or profession that is free from those who will demonstrate the effect of sin in the most sinful and horrifying ways. That is true of politicians and economists, it’s true of police officers and it’s true of bakers and butchers and candlestick makers, it is also tragically enough sometimes true of preachers and that is why in a fallen world we need structures that not only represent the law, but uphold the law and require justice and righteousness of all.
Respect for the rule of law means that we respect to the indictment was handed down in this case that led to the arrest of this police officer on a charge of first-degree murder. Respect for the rule of law means we also have to have respect for the upcoming trial, but respect for the rule of law also means that where we see a pattern of persistent misbehavior, there is a moral responsibility that goes all the way to the top. The Chicago Tribune reporters got it absolutely right when later in the story they wrote,
“This isn’t about a stunning, isolated event. Zoom out, and it’s part of a broader nationwide clamor over the use of lethal force by white cops against black suspects. Zoom in, and it’s about Chicago’s long-standing failure to deal effectively with rogue police officers.”
Finally on this issue, we have to understand that these headlines would not have happened without the video and without the video being released. The video itself is absolutely compelling, but Christians have to keep in mind, because Scripture tells us that on that great Day of Judgment everything we have ever done will be made known and everything we have even thought would be made manifest. The editors of the Chicago Tribune called the release of this video,
“A staggering moment for Chicago.”
On that Day of Judgment, it will be a staggering moment for us all.
Prevalence of profanity in 2016 primary exposes significance of language for character
Finally, in the New York Times had a very interesting front-page story in Saturday’s edition, the headline,
“Foul-Mouthed and Proud of It on the ’16 Campaign Trail.”
The reporters are Matt Flegenheimer and Maggie Haberman and they report about how so many candidates for the 2016 presidential nominations of the Republican and Democratic parties are using explicit language, foul language in order to convey their political message. Now, as the article indicates, this is something of a significant departure, perhaps not from how these candidates talk, but it’s a departure from how they have spoken in public. During previous presidential cycles, candidates have been caught in moments in which they have used foul language, but in those cases the incidents were disclosed, they were not stated in public addresses and they often came to the embarrassment of the candidates. This article represents one of those reports in the media that I have to quote very selectively and that actually makes the point. The article begins by citing Donald Trump as being the leader in terms of the new innovation of using this kind of language repeatedly in political addresses, but it also mentions that Senator Rand Paul has spoken similarly, and then the article says,
“Even Jeb Bush, the stern patrician of the Republican race, has shown a growing fondness for some gentler four-letter words, at times adding them to prepared remarks that had called for something meeker.”
The reporters then later write,
“A little more than two months before the voting begins, the candidates have charged into what appears to be the inaugural profanity primary, wrought by an overstuffed field of competitors vying for attention and the specter of a foul-mouthed Manhattanite perched atop the polls.”
But even if Donald Trump seems to be determined to be the leader in using profanity in a political race, the question is why would so many other candidates follow his example and this is a significant departure from any previous presidential election cycle. The reporters then explained,
“The reasons for saltiness seem varied — a play for machismo, perhaps, particularly as national security becomes a chief focus, or a signal of vitality, rawness, a willingness to break through the din.”
Donald Trump is described as,
“The election’s clear pacesetter in vulgarity.”
But the article also cites Senator Rand Paul as asking students at George Washington University,
“Are you allowed to use profanity?”
And then the reporters said,
“It would appear so.”
Because Senator Paul proceeded to do just that. According to the report, students at George Washington University responded to the senator with, “Raucous cheers.”
And perhaps the oddest sentence in the report we read this,
“For news organizations, style guidelines generally dictate that obscenities should not be printed unless they are newsworthy.”
From a Christian worldview perspective this raises a couple of very important issues. One is that our language does reflect our character, inevitably, and that’s not only our language in private, but our language in public or to state it oppositely, not only our language in public, but our language in private. Christians instinctively understand that language and character are inextricably linked. And one of the things we also need to understand is that recourse to the use of obscenity and profanity in this kind of political discourse indicates the weakness of political conviction not the strength of it. The insertion of profanity is a substitute for conviction and clarity and as for machismo, if you have to use this kind of language to prove your masculinity; you’ve got a masculinity problem that certainly won’t be solved by language. But that statement about editorial policy points to another moral dimension, profanity eventually doesn’t shock and thus it doesn’t work. A candidate determined to be the pacesetter in terms of profanity is at some point going to have to invent new dirty words, because the other words will have lost their ability to shock even in a media environment.
Once again, the statement said,
“For news organizations, style guidelines generally dictate that obscenities should not be printed unless they are newsworthy.”
What makes that sentence so interesting is the fact that this news article was on the front page of the New York Times and that sentence is in the article. So evidently the use of profanity by these candidates was both noteworthy and according to the editors and reporters of this newspaper newsworthy. But just what will they have to say next time to make the front page once again? In any event, we will one day be judged by our words, every single one of those words and that’s on the Day of Judgment, but long before we get there, the American people will be making their judgment and in that sense we’ll soon find out if profanity is a winning political platform.