April 4, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Monday, April 4, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Obama administration threatens cutting funds to North Carolina over transgender bathroom law
The great worldview conflict we are experiencing within the United States—a microcosm of the larger worldview conflicts taking place in the world—has increasingly been defined in terms of the right and the left, increasingly between conservatives and liberals; it is also between a secularizing culture and the continued influence of theists, of those who operate out of a biblical worldview. But increasingly that conflict is coming down to a battle between the federal government—in particular, the Obama Administration—and several states. But before turning to that conflict, we need to note that between the states and among them we also see the tremendous diversity of ideological and worldview perspectives in the United States. The issue of the states has become increasingly clear just in the last several days.
Over the last week, news has come that the Governor of Arizona has signed a bill that places that state over against the decision handed down last week by the federal Food and Drug Administration to allow more widespread use of the so-called morning-after pill, the abortion pill mifepristone, and the fact that it relieves women of the necessity of having two visits to clinics in order to obtain an abortion by means of the pill. That was seen as not only a policy change but, as the secular media noted, it was a gift to the pro-abortion movement from the Obama Administration in the waning months of President Obama’s years in office.Show Full Transcript
We have also seen Planned Parenthood at the center of deliberations in the states in recent days; just in the last week the Governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, vetoed a bill passed by that state’s general assembly that would have limited funding to clinics—Planned Parenthood clinics in particular—that continue to offer abortion services. On the other hand, the Governor of Florida, Rick Scott, signed the same kind of bill. And that sets the states of Virginia and Florida as counterexamples.
As we also saw in just the last several weeks, indeed in the last several days, in the contrary examples of Georgia, where Governor Nathan Deal vetoed a religious liberty bill and on the other hand, the Governor of North Carolina, Governor Pat McCrory, signed the bill, stipulating that individuals are to use the bathroom in a public context that corresponds to the sex assigned to them at birth. That bill went further in order to make very clear that local governments in the state do not have the right to adopt LGBT legislation that is contrary to the position taken by the state.
We also have the story coming from the state of Mississippi that that state is considering and is in the final stages legislatively of adopting a very similar religious liberty bill to the one that was vetoed by the Governor of Georgia. The Governor of Mississippi, unlike the Governor of Georgia, is expected to sign the legislation. We’ll be watching that very closely as the days unfold this week.
Meanwhile, we have other news coming that on the abortion front the states of New York, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington are considering offering abortion by pill by mail in order that women there would not even have to go to a clinic in order to obtain an abortion. This is an amazing unfolding of a debate within the states and a debate among the states demonstrating an almost state-by-state pattern in terms of the great worldview conflict we are experiencing.
But now there is a very new development, and it’s one that made the front page of the New York Times on Saturday. The headline of the story by Matt Apuzzo and Alan Blinder is,
“North Carolina Law May Risk Federal Aid”
This, combined with a story coming from Florida, tells us that the coming conflict may be between the federal government and the states that are out of line with the policies and priorities of the Obama administration. The article in the New York Times tells us,
“The Obama administration is considering whether North Carolina’s new law on gay and transgender rights makes the state ineligible for billions of dollars in federal aid for schools, highways and housing, officials said Friday.”
What this story tells us is that the Obama Administration is now considering using the massive financial leverage of the federal government in order to force states like Florida and North Carolina to get in line. The article says,
“Cutting off any federal money — or even simply threatening to do so — would put major new pressure on North Carolina to repeal the law, which eliminated local protections for gay and transgender people and restricted which bathrooms transgender people can use.”
The article says,
“A loss of federal money could send the state into a budget crisis and jeopardize services that are central to daily life.”
The New York Times article cites unnamed experts as saying that such a drastic step would be unlikely at least immediately. That’s the wording of the reporters and yet, says the paper,
“the administration’s review puts North Carolina on notice that the new law could have financial consequences.”
It is also, according to this article, the case that this now represents a test for the Obama Administration,
“which has declared that the fight for gay and transgender rights is a continuation of the civil rights era. The North Carolina dispute,” says the paper, “forces the administration to decide how aggressively to fight on that principle.
The New York Times article published on Saturday indicates that secretaries in the Obama administration—cabinet secretaries—are getting in line to make the point. The article cites a spokeswoman for the Department of Education who said that the agency was reviewing the North Carolina law,
“to determine any potential impact on the state’s federal education funding.”
The spokeswoman said,
“We will not hesitate to act if students’ civil rights are being violated.”
The agency went on to make very clear that it provided $4.3 billion in federal grants to North Carolina last year for kindergarten through 12th grade, as well as funding for colleges.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development was the next to get in line, issuing a statement:
“We’re reviewing the effects of the law on HUD funding allocations for North Carolina.”
“Any decision,” said the paper, “in federal aid would take time. Federal agencies have successfully used the threat of lost money to pressure a handful of municipal governments in California and Illinois to change their policies and allow transgender students to use the restrooms of the gender they identify.”
The paper notes,
“There is no recent precedent for the federal government applying similar pressure to address a state law that it sees as discriminatory.”
Now when you look at this, we see clearly the battle lines that are forming. The New York Times says
“The Obama Administration would not need to go to court to withhold grant money, but doing so would surely lead to a court fight, especially since the law is unsettled.”
Well the Obama Administration has made his position very, very clear. It not only threatens to use the power the federal government over against other governments—in particular municipal governments, as cited in this article—but now it has put the states on notice that it is willing to challenge their funding as well if those states will not get in line with the policies and with the priorities of the Obama administration.
It’s really interesting to see what’s going on here. We discussed on The Briefing in recent months the fact that, exactly as a cited in this article, it was the Obama administration that forced a suburban Chicago school district to change its policies in terms of the use of bathrooms, locker rooms, and changing areas in public schools related to gender. The local school district there had adopted what parents would surely see as a common sense policy that would have, for example, forbidden a student that was biologically male from using the girls’ changing area, locker rooms, and restrooms. But the Obama Administration forced, by threat of withdrawing funding, the school district to reverse its policy and get in line.
The article that made the front page of Saturday’s edition of the New York Times tells us that fast on the heels, just days after the governors of Florida and North Carolina had signed legislation opposed by the Obama Administration, the federal government is threatening to withhold funding that amounts to multiple billions of dollars. This is how a culture war happens. This is how a moral revolution takes shape. This one story shows the consequences of electoral decisions. The election of President Barack Obama set in line the very process we are seeing here; it set it in motion. And now we are seeing overt threats coming from the federal government to the states of North Carolina and of Florida on issues certainly including the LGBT agenda and the question of abortion.
When he was running for office in both 2008 in 2012, President Obama made very clear his abortion advocacy, his absolute opposition to any effort to curtail abortion for any reason, at any time, at any level of government. When he was in the state legislature, President Obama had opposed even a limit on partial-birth abortions. And now we see that he is using the force of his own administration to counter any effort to defund Planned Parenthood. We also see that on the LGBT front, President Obama, who was very clear in 2008 about his advocacy of those issues and who by 2012 had evolved—to use the President’s own word—into an advocate for same-sex marriage, how he is now using the full power the federal government to come against any state or any governor that would buck that trend.
The New York Times article had to do especially with the LGBT issues. But an article that appeared in the Daily News in Destin, Florida on the very same day, last Saturday, had the headline:
“Feds Could Block State Ban on Planned Parenthood Money”
Margie Menzel, reporting the News Service of Florida, says,
“A new Florida abortion law seeks to ban Medicaid funding for family-planning services at clinics that also offer elective abortions — such as clinics run by Planned Parenthood — but the federal government appears unlikely to allow that part of the law to take effect.”
Part of what we’re looking at here is the massive expansion of the power and influence of the federal government at the expense, in this case, of the states. Over the past 50 to 60 years, we have seen the massive expansion of the federal government and its bureaucracy; and we see the fact that taxpayers, who pay from the states, for instance, of Florida and North Carolina, now have tax money coming back to their states controlled by the federal bureaucracy that is coming with the threat that the states had better get in line.
The worldview distance between the states is made clear in the fact, as once again we state, that the Governor of Florida signed legislation that would cut off Medicaid funding to clinics that offer services that would include elective abortion. Meanwhile, as the Washington Post reported on March 29, and I quote,
“Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Tuesday vetoed a bill that sought to block state funding for Planned Parenthood, saying he was fulfilling a campaign promise to be a ‘brick wall’ against efforts to limit access to women’s health care.”
Note again the use of language: “women’s health care” in this case refers specifically to abortion.
Meanwhile, even as the Governor of Arizona signed a bill that would put restrictions on the use of the abortion pill, The Guardian of London reports,
“A groundbreaking new experiment is launching in four states that could make abortion dramatically more accessible by allowing women to obtain abortion-inducing drugs through the mail.”
Molly Redden reports for The Guardian:
“The program, which will be run as a pilot study out of four clinics in New York, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington state, is a first in the United States and one that its architect urgently hope to expand as the country’s abortion clinics close down at historic rates.”
The logic of the pro-abortion movement is made very clear in this article in a statement made by the director of counseling at an abortion clinic in New York, who said,
“It’s the future.”
She went on to say,
“Especially in the times we’re living in today, women experience so many struggles getting through our doors. They’re mothers. They work. Imagine if they could do it all from home, and never have to step into the clinic for even a moment.”
Let’s just imagine what she asked us to imagine: it imagines the United States becoming a society in which abortion becomes so routine and is so available that it’s available simply in the form of the pill that doesn’t even require a visit to a doctor, an abortion available by means of a pill that could be obtained by mail-order.
That’s the frightening prospect that is made clear in this article. The radical expansion of abortion, the radical expansion of the culture of death, is made very clear in one chilling sentence from this article, and I quote:
“The study may also finally deliver on what reproductive rights advocates have always seen as the true promise of abortion drugs: abortion, without the clinic.”
Columnist calls for Christians to bow to modernity and accept inevitable LGBT direction
Next, making all these issues abundantly clear, columnist Frank Bruni of the New York Times was out Sunday with yet another column that tells us a great deal about where we stand. Last Easter, Frank Bruni ran a column—one of two he had run in recent days then—in which he made very clear the threat to religious liberty. In the articles he made clear that he doesn’t believe that churches should even have the right to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or the whole LGBT spectrum of issues when it comes even to hiring clergy. He said,
“Churches have been allowed to adopt broad, questionable interpretations of a ministerial exemption, the laws that allow them to hire and fire clergy as they wish.”
He also went on to make very clear the fact that religious liberty, in his view, should only be extended to religious institutions and religious beliefs that meet the expectations of the moral revolution. He wrote,
“So our debate about religious liberty should include a conversation about freeing religions and religious people from prejudices that they needn’t cling to and can jettison, much as they’ve jettisoned other aspects of their faith’s history, rightly bowing to the enlightenments of modernity.”
That statement, “rightly bowing to the enlightenments of modernity,” is exactly what is the mantra and the theme of theological liberalism: Abandon core biblical and theological beliefs if they are out of line with the modern society. We must also remember that it was Frank Bruni who redefined religious liberty simply as freedom of worship. We need to note those are not the same thing. He made that very clear when he said that freedom of worship should be respected and limited to what takes place and is taught or advocated in our pews, in our hearts, and in our homes. In other words, safely far outside of the public square, with Christianity having no public influence.
Now in yesterday’s column, Frank Bruni comes back to the issue, criticizing legislatures that have taken positions opposed by those LGBT activists. The openly gay columnist then went on to criticize Republicans, identifying them as
“…playing a short game, not a long one, by refusing to acknowledge a clear movement in our society toward L.G.B.T. equality, a trajectory with only one shape and only one destination.
Here we have boiled down to its essence the argument coming from the secular left. We simply have to get in line. Everyone will have to get in line. Everyone will be made to care. Everyone will be made to believe exactly what the new secular elites demand that we believe. He addresses his threat towards anyone who would dare to oppose in any measure, to any degree, the LGBT agenda. He says that our society is headed on only one trajectory, a trajectory, he says, with only one shape and only one destination. That’s a stunning assertion, and yet it’s very revealing because it is exactly what is driving the new secular elites. So far as they see it, history is headed in only one direction. The future can take only one shape. That’s a remarkably candid statement. In other words, the social engineers are going to make clear that in every level of life, in every state in the union, in every town, in every village, and every city, society can have only one shape, the shape they now demand. And history, he says that history has only one destination. Later, he says this:
“They will lose in the end”—meaning opponents of any part of the LGBT agenda—“They will lose in the end,” he says, “whether that’s 10, 20 or 30 years from now.”
This is the argument we are confronting again and again, the argument about the arc of history and the mandate to be found on the right side of history. Frank Bruni is very influential, and he is only more clear and more candid than most in stating what he believes. Society can have only one shape, and history is headed in only one direction. The question is simply “when” not “if.” He says it may be 10 years from now; it may be 20 years from now; it may be 30 years from now. But when this revolution is complete, there will be no outliers, there will be no outpost, no islands, in which any part of the LGBT agenda is successfully resisted. Religious liberty, he acknowledges, is going to have to be curtailed. Religious liberty is going to be redefined merely as freedom of worship. It’s going to be confined to what takes place in our pews, in our hearts, in our homes. That’s his very language. And religious liberty is going be transformed into a mandate, a call from the secular elites, not only a call, but a demand, that all religious beliefs give way to the LGBT movement, and if necessary, all theological or biblical changes must be made in order to meet the demands of the forward momentum of history, history that is headed towards a society with only one shape, in his words, and with only one possible destination.
Sydney University forces evangelical group to abandon evangelical statement "Jesus is Lord"
Next, shifting to Australia, an article from the Sydney Morning Herald in that nation makes very clear what the threat to religious liberty looks like, not only in this nation but also in increasingly secular Australia. Eryk Bagshaw, reporting for the Australian paper, says
“An evangelical student group has refused to remove a vow to Jesus from its constitution despite being threatened with deregistration from the Sydney University student body.
“The Sydney University Evangelical Union was issued an ultimatum by university’s student union last week to remove a requirement that new members sign ‘Jesus is Lord’ or be deregistered from the university.”
It is not the students who would be deregistered, we should make clear, it is rather the Sydney University Evangelical Union. The new secular elites will not allow an evangelical union on a college campus to be genuinely evangelical. Rarely do we see, however, exactly what we see here. Here you have a student union demanding that an evangelical organization for students, an organization that’s been around for a very long time, is now being told that it must remove the statement that “Jesus is Lord” from the requirement for membership or be deregister from the university. As Bagshaw writes,
“The ultimatum came after a three-year struggle ended with the union accusing the club”—that is the student union accusing the evangelical union—“of discriminating against people who wanted to join the evangelical club who were not evangelical.”
This is very similar to the so-called “all comers” rules adopted in many American colleges and universities as well, most notably, as we discussed on The Briefing at Nashville-based Vanderbilt University, where truly Christian organizations that held to a Christian identity were forced off the campus. They were likewise “deregistered,” to use the language in Australia. Now remember, this is an evangelical union. It’s the Sydney University Evangelical Union it is a union and organization, a voluntary organization, of students defined as evangelical. But now they are threatened with being deregistered and kicked off the Sydney University campus because they expect those who are members of the evangelical union to be evangelical. And they are being required to remove the membership standard, which states that Jesus is Lord from the membership of the organization or they’re going to be kicked off the campus.
Now just consider, let’s remember where Christians have been for nearly 21 centuries. We’ve been in the position of understanding that the central Christian affirmation is exactly what is the focus of the policy here. That is the affirmation that Jesus is Lord. The statement that Jesus is Lord is nonnegotiable for any Christian organization, about that Christians must be abundantly clear. To take out the words Jesus is Lord is to turn the Sydney University Evangelical Union into something very clearly non-evangelical, for that matter, non-Christian. This is what is happening on so many fronts and in particular on so many college and university campuses. Free speech is being replaced with coerced speech, in this case, coerced non-speech. Students will not be able to have a union that requires evangelicals to affirm that Jesus is Lord; that’s going to have to go.
The new secular elites simply can’t stand even isolated outposts where there is a statement that Jesus is Lord required of membership. They simply cannot abide the fact that on a campus there would be the freedom to express a religious belief, the central Christian belief that Jesus is Lord, and then make that as the basis of what it means to be an evangelical and a member of the evangelical union.
Americans looking at this story from Sydney Australia might take false comfort in believing that’s a long way away; that is a different continent, after all. But we need to note that these Australian students forcing the evangelical union to abandon the statement that Jesus is Lord are following a precedent that was already set here in the United States—and a precedent, we should note, that was backed up by the United States Supreme Court in a now-infamous decision in which an evangelical student organization in a law school in California was required to take a similar policy to adopt an “all comers” policy to drop a requirement of Christian identity if they were going to continue as a part of the University or the law schools student organizations. Taken together, all of these stories coming in a single week from various states of the union and from as far away as Australia, make very clear the challenge that we face. And at the end of the day that challenges is this: we are required as Christians standing in solidarity with Christians in the centuries to affirm that Jesus is Lord; whatever the cost; whatever the consequences.