The Briefing 02-29-16

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Evangelical support for Donald Trump reveals amorphous definition of "evangelical"

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A constitutional right to abortion? SCOTUS set to hear biggest abortion case in a generation

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Secular societies struggle to ground moral judgments without Christian worldview

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Transcript

The Briefing

February 29, 2016

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

It’s Monday, February 29, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Evangelical support for Donald Trump reveals amorphous definition of "evangelical"

By any estimation, this is shaping up to be a week of massive importance in America. Two big issues loom above all others. On the one hand you have Super Tuesday, races in which the trajectories for both the Democratic and the Republican presidential nomination races are likely to be indicated if not decided. On the other hand, on Wednesday the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in an abortion case that will also turn out to be the most important abortion case before the nation’s highest court in a generation.

First, looking to Super Tuesday, the Republicans have 13 different contests and the Democrats 11, and as you’re looking at Super Tuesday shaping up, it is clear that on the Republican side it is a far different picture than anyone could’ve imagined just a matter of weeks or months ago. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton’s very convincing victory over the weekend in the South Carolina Democratic primary indicates that she is likely to be extremely successful, especially in the Deep South, with many of the crucial states voting in those areas in the Democratic primaries. On the other hand, on the Republican side, the emergence of Donald Trump as the front runner in the Republican campaign has completely resorted all expectations of the Republican race, and Trump’s ascendancy also raises a host of questions about the future of the Republican Party and about the present of that party in terms of the priorities of the Republican electorate. For the last nine Republican presidential cycles—that means every Republican nomination race going back to 1980—no winning presidential ticket on the Republican side has emerged in which the leading candidates were not solidly identified in one way or another either as American evangelicals or with American evangelicals. And yet the expectation that 2016 would be like those previous nine election cycles has turned out to be unfounded. The ascendancy of Donald Trump, who has had a largely secular identity throughout virtually all his adult life and who has been associated with enterprises that would’ve scandalized Republicans in years past, most importantly casino gambling and all the enterprises traditionally associated with gambling, a man infamously married, not once, not twice, but three times is now gaining a plurality of Republican primary votes in states including South Carolina, a state overwhelmingly identified with an evangelical electorate in the Republican primary.

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The Trump phenomenon can be broken down into several component parts. The first is his personality. This is not a personality profile that traditionally would’ve appealed to churchgoing evangelicals. Especially with his assertions of raw ego, this is something that no Republican candidate, that no recent presidential candidate, has been able to project successfully. And yet Trump appears to be doing so amongst the Republican electorate. The next has to do with his political platform, a platform that is largely ambiguous in terms of specific policies, except on issues that are likely to be tied to nationalism and to a form of nationalistic populism. Again, there have always been those sectors in the Republican primary, but they have never been a plurality of votes, at least in any recent presidential election cycle. A third component has to do with his mode of campaigning; it is a pugilistic mode of campaigning which blends entertainment and assertion in a way that is appealing quite clearly to a significant number of those voting in the Republican primary. But that raises a very important issue. How could American evangelicals be supporting Donald Trump, and who are these evangelicals who are now voting for Donald Trump in order that he might be the Republican nominee for the office of President of the United States? That has attracted a great deal of attention and it turns out that when you ask the question, “Who are these evangelicals?” it turns out they are not doctrinal evangelicals, by and large, and they are evangelicals, identified as such, but those who are less likely to actually attend church on any regular basis.

Now that tells us a great deal about how political scientists break down the American electorate, and this is something that should be of great interest to evangelical Christians. We as evangelicals sometimes play this game ourselves. We like to think that we are many, and therefore we are often reassured when pollsters and survey-takers and political scientists indicate that there is a huge percentage of evangelical voters in the United States or perhaps in our own state. But a closer analysis that is now made urgent by the ascendancy of Donald Trump reveals that the evangelical electorate is not necessarily evangelical in the same sense throughout. On the one hand, you have evangelicals who are more likely to attend church and they are more likely to be identified with specific evangelical doctrines and long-standing evangelical concerns, especially concerns such as the sanctity of human life. Those evangelical voters have tended to support one of two Republican senators currently still in the race, that is Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida. The evangelicals more likely to vote for Donald Trump are described differently.

There clearly is a divide amongst evangelical voters, not just when it comes to candidates, but when it comes down to evangelical identity and how that gets translated into political choices. There are those who are identified as evangelical because just as a matter of habit; they are not identified with any other major religious groups, so political scientists and others classify them as evangelicals and they have generally voted as or with evangelicals in terms of recent Republican presidential cycles. But no more. These evangelicals, it turns out, aren’t so evangelical after all, certainly when it comes to being defined spiritually in terms of church attendance—theologically and doctrinally, morally when it comes to major issues of evangelical concern and, furthermore, what we would suggest is the even more basic level, and that is of the evangelical worldview. Biblically-minded Christians thus need to keep in mind that what we are seeing revealed in this presidential election cycle is not just something that is shocking political scientists and party insiders, it is something that draws to our attention the fact that even as we have claimed this massive number of American evangelicals—and a part of that affirmation has been recent voting patterns in the United States—current voting patterns indicate that when it comes to core evangelical identity and core evangelical convictions, many of those, perhaps by the millions, who have been counted as evangelicals really aren’t so evangelical after all.

Ben Domenech, writing at The Daily Beast, says that at least some of those who identify as evangelicals who are now supporting Donald Trump are doing so because they fear that they have lost the culture wars and they want someone to fight back. Domenech describes this as a “post-apocalyptic environment”

He writes,

“In this post-apocalyptic environment, it becomes increasingly clear why Southern evangelicals would drop their requirements that a political leader who seeks their backing be one of them, ideologically or faithfully.”

He goes on to say that these voters, that is the voters for Trump,

“They have no illusions about his unbelief. The difference is that while they believe Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio would be one more round of good soldiers for their cause, they think Donald Trump would be a tank.”

But then Tyler O’Neil, writing for PJ Media, says,

“That’s assuming, of course, that Trump does not perform another ideological back flip. He’s supported abortion and single-payer healthcare in the past, so what’s to stop him from doing so again? Voters may see him as a tank, but he may end up being a Trojan horse.”

Similarly, R.R. Reno, who is the editor of the journal First Things, writing for the Washington Post, says,

“The reason so many evangelicals are for Trump is fairly simple to explain. Religious conservatives have been losing a lot lately. This has put them in a rebellious mood.”

But a key issue for the Christian worldview is whether or not a so-called rebellious mood would justify this kind of a voting pattern, and evangelicals who have been voting this way in recent cycles are going to have to face some very difficult questions, not just those that were raised in terms of the article by O’Neil, but also headlines that Donald Trump made over the weekend such as this headline from CNN,

“Donald Trump stumbles on David Duke, KKK.”

This seems almost unbelievable. But as Bradner reports for CNN,

“Donald Trump stumbled into a racially charged controversy Sunday saying in an interview on CNN that he didn’t know enough to disavow former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke.

“Hours later Trump tried to clean up his comments on Twitter, amid an outpouring of criticism from his Republican presidential rivals.”

We should point out that the criticism came from many others as well. Trump told CNN that he didn’t know enough about David Duke to repudiate him, but it turns out that he is on the record going back to the year 2000 citing David Duke and furthermore, he said back then,

“This is not company I wish to keep.”

That is stunningly different from what he had to say—or actually what he didn’t say—in terms of being confronted with an endorsement by David Duke yesterday, and this is where many younger evangelicals may not know enough to understand what’s really at stake here. David Duke was not only a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, he was also a statewide candidate for Governor of Louisiana several years ago. In that race, he was running against a former governor who had been indicted and convicted of crimes. Just to mention the initials KKK brings up some of the worst memories of one of the darkest chapters in American history. The KKK is known not only as an overtly racist organization going back to the early decades of the 20th century, but it has also been associated with lynchings and other acts of direct violence against African Americans. Just to say the initials KKK should strike moral terror and revulsion among all Americans.

At this point, American evangelicals have to ask some very difficult questions, especially those voters who will be going to the polls on Super Tuesday. What are American evangelicals actually looking for? We need to consider what this recent voting patterns says to the nation about evangelical conviction and about evangelicals as a group. If evangelicals do not overwhelmingly repudiate any association with this kind of racism and nativism, then there is every reason for the American people to wonder, as we must wonder ourselves, just how evangelical are American evangelicals? There can be no doubt that every single election is a worldview test for the candidates. And inevitably, one way or another, we are likely to find out a great deal about the worldview of the American electorate in just the next couple of days.

A constitutional right to abortion? SCOTUS set to hear biggest abortion case in a generation

Next, the other big looming issue this week is what will take place Wednesday morning as the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the most important abortion case in many decades. The New York Times went right at it on Sunday in a lead editorial entitled,

“Showdown on Abortion at the Supreme Court.”

The editors wrote,

“The decades-long crusade to end legal abortion in America after Roe v. Wade has again reached the Supreme Court.

“On Wednesday, the eight justices will hear a case challenging a 2013 Texas law that has already shut down more than half of the state’s 41 health clinics that perform abortions.”

Now one of the things we need to note is that even in the lead to this editorial in the New York Times yesterday there is embedded an understanding of the Constitution and of the Court. A worldview analysis of those statements reveals that, first of all, there is shock on the part of the editorial board of the New York Times that abortion is still an issue. One of the things we see over and over again is that the pro-abortion movement in this country believed that the issue had been settled in 1973 with the Roe v. Wade decision. Now, 40 years later, there is enormous frustration on the pro-abortion side that they are still having to deal with abortion in the courts and in the court of public opinion. One of the issues that most perplexes the pro-abortion side in America is that there has been no substantial loss of pro-life conviction in this country since Roe v. Wade. To the contrary, pro-life conviction has measurably increased not only in terms of numbers, but in terms of mobilization and in terms of a deeper knowledge of what is at stake with abortion. And states have also taken Supreme Court precedents to press the issue of abortion, and the state of Texas is front-and-center in the case that will be heard on Wednesday morning. But then the editors said that the case is about a Texas law,

“…that has already shut down more than half of the state’s 41 health clinics that perform abortions.”

Now notice what’s missing from anything in the analysis to this point: the United States Constitution. This is where the editors of the New York Times betray the fact that they see the Court and the Constitution as a way to get somewhere, and in particular a way to get to their desired moral outcome. Building on court precedents from the 1960s, the Supreme Court in 1973 discovered what they described as a woman’s right to abortion in the Roe v. Wade decision. But Americans have not been convinced, and America remains divided over the abortion issue and they are divided not only over the issue, but divided geographically in terms of how the issue plays out. In a state like Massachusetts for instance, a more secular, far more liberal state, the chances of legislating restrictions on abortion are very slim. On the other hand, there are states like Texas, far more conservative and far more identified in terms of religious identification, where the population is generally supportive, but the legislatures have enacted and governors have signed into law legislation that would restrict the availability of abortion. And that is leading to the head-on confrontation at the Supreme Court; and of course the big development on that Court is the fact that Justice Antonin Scalia, who died just a matter of weeks ago, will not now sit on that court and that could be a crucial issue.

Before leaving the New York Times, we need to note that Linda Greenhouse, the paper’s long-standing analysts of the Supreme Court, wrote a lede piece on the front page of the review section which also calls for the Court to strike down the Texas statutes. We should remember that in the immediate aftermath of the death of Justice Scalia, Linda Greenhouse was very clear about what she saw as an opportunity for a liberal reshaping of the United States Supreme Court, which reminds us that what takes place on Wednesday morning is not just about Texas; it’s not even just about abortion. It is an indication of the importance of the Court and the future direction of that court for the future of American public life.

Now the New York Times is one of the most avowedly pro-abortion newspapers in America, opposing even restrictions on so-called partial-birth abortion. But to its credit, the news analysis of the New York Times published in Saturday’s edition of the paper included an article by Jan Hoffman entitled,

“Backers of Texas abortion law cite safety, but opponents find it onerous.”

This one I’ll credit as being a generally fair article that gives both sides of the debate. First of all, those who are against the regulations say that they have been adopted merely to restrict abortions and have nothing to do with any improvement of women’s health. They will be arguing before the Supreme Court on Wednesday that the state of Texas and other similar states have adopted this legislation—simply in their words and according to their argument—to restrict what they claim is a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. Defenders of the law acknowledge that they are pro-life, but also argue that they have a legitimate and urgent concern for women’s health. The law in Texas and other similar legislation requires abortion clinics and the doctors in those clinics to come closer to the requirements of hospitals in the same area and other physicians associated with those hospitals. Doctors performing abortions will be required to have admitting privileges in a local hospital as would any other surgeon in the area, and abortion clinics are required to have upgraded facilities that would also come closer to what you would find in a hospital in terms of those requirements. Without doubt, that would require many abortion clinics in Texas and other states to close. As Hoffman writes,

“Legislators in Texas and other states that have passed similar restrictions cite as a medical rationale the notorious case of Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia doctor who was arrested in 2010 and convicted in 2013 of murder and involuntary manslaughter in connection with late-term abortions performed at a filthy clinic.”

Now the case of Kermit Gosnell is another of those very dark moments in American history. It was discovered that what he was conducting in his abortion clinic in Philadelphia was murder and the murderous malpractice that was taking place in that clinic not only led to the deaths of untold unborn babies, but also to the death of at least one mother who had come for an abortion. Defenders of the Texas law and similar legislation make very clear that if Kermit Gosnell had been required to have admitting privileges at a local hospital as a board-certified gynecologist and obstetrician, it would’ve been discovered that he lacked those credentials. Defenders of the law also point out that an issue is,

“…continuity of patient care. Doctors who perform abortions, particularly in rural areas, may travel among facilities, rather than have a full-time position at one clinic, said Dr. Ingrid P. Skop, an obstetrician-gynecologist in San Antonio, who does not perform abortions. “So it’s virtually unheard-of that any of them would be able to take care of a complication,” said Dr. Skop, who testified at legislative hearings in favor of the law.”

She continued,

“If I have a patient with a complication, I’d want to take care of her in the hospital.”

As Donna J. Harrison, Executive Director of the American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians and Gynecologists said,

“The requirement that abortion facilities meet the standards of an ambulatory surgical center is just good medicine.”

Now when those oral arguments are held on Wednesday morning, we will of course not yet know how the Court is going to rule. But we will know how the arguments were presented to the justices and by late on Wednesday, we will know how the justices presented themselves in terms of asking questions of those making the arguments before the Court. In any event, we’re going to know a lot more on Wednesday as that day closes than we do today. We’re going to know a great deal about that worldview test of the electorate come Super Tuesday, and we’re going to know a great deal about where we stand as a nation on the sanctity of human life as at least the oral arguments in this case before the Court will be heard.

Secular societies struggle to ground moral judgments without Christian worldview

Next, a couple of articles that indicate from a worldview perspective just how a secular culture tries to deal with moral issues without accepting or admitting that they really are moral issues. The reason for that is quite straight forward. If these issues were accepted as being issues of urgent morality, then the question would arise: where would the moral standards come from by which would make moral judgments? But a secular society is more likely to avoid a head-on moral issue and try to make it into something else. Evidence of that came in the Louisville Courier-Journal on Saturday with an article by Jeffrey Lane Blevins, who was a guest columnist for the paper. It’s entitled,

“Prevention more important to stopping revenge porn.”

The Kentucky legislature is considering the issue of revenge porn. And as is well-known, this is a problem that has arisen because of the existence of sexually explicit images that are sometimes being used after the termination of a relationship by one party in order to embarrass the other. Governments not only in Kentucky but elsewhere are considering writing legislation that would criminalize the use of so-called revenge porn. But what’s missing from this conversation is the fact that the problem is porn in the first place, and the fact that the sexually explicit images exist. And in response to that, Jeffrey Lane Blevins is making an argument that what’s needed in terms of this legislation and in terms of our social response is not merely to criminalize revenge porn, but to educate people in terms of how social media works. As he wrote,

“Cases like this, sadly, emphasize the need for media education that goes beyond ‘how to’ use digital apps and devices, and critically examines the risks we take when using them. There also needs to be more awareness about the criminal and civil penalties for certain activities, as well as the lack of regulation over others – especially with respect to privacy, as well as the ease of sharing digital images, and the difficulty of identifying anonymous posters.”

It’s actually a far more lengthy article. But what’s most remarkable about it is nothing that’s in it, but something that’s not. And what’s not in it is any suggestion that there is a basic moral issue involved with pornography itself, and thus this argument, which does go further than many of the arguments over revenge porn yet have, still doesn’t get to porn and the sexually explicit digital images as themselves being of moral significance and moral concern.

The other article appeared recently in the Financial Times, a major London newspaper. The headline in this editorial:

“India’s caste system is an affront to modernity.”

The background to this is the infamous caste system in India whereby there are different castes broken down with great detail that have different social standing, different rights and different privileges based simply upon the caste of one’s birth. It is a form of systemic racism and discrimination that defies the moral imagination. The editorial is actually against the attempts by the Indian government to regulate the caste system in favor of what it considers a more humane approach. But the editors of the Financial Times are pointing out there is no humane approach when it comes to the caste system, period. The editors acknowledge that the caste system is rooted in ancient Hinduism, and they argue that it simply has no place in the modern world. But this is where the article also reveals the very same pattern. What’s really interesting here is not what’s present, but what’s absent. There’s nothing in this article that identifies the caste system and the racism that is at its core as being essentially immoral. Instead, the headline says,

“It is an affront to modernity.”

In other words, it is an affront to the modern secular age and its modern secular presumptions. Of course it is, but that that is not enough. That’s not nearly enough. The caste system is not just an affront to modernity, it is an affront to the biblical doctrine of creation and to the fact that every single human being is made equally in the image of God. And as we should note, that is a worldview that grows out of Christianity and out of the understanding of the God of the Bible as the Creator who made human beings in his image. It shows the moral weakness of the age and of the secular worldview that the strong thing that this paper believes its saying is the caste system “is an affront to modernity.”

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing