September 2, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday, September 2, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
California considering bill that would outlaw the kind of videos that exposed Planned Parenthood evils
The Washington Post reported it yesterday this way:
“Calif. legislature poised to criminalize distribution of Planned Parenthood-type sting videos.”Show Full Transcript
What the story tells us from the Washington Post is that the California legislature is considering a bill, and we’re told the bill is actually nearing approval, that would make it a crime punishable by a jail sentence to carry out and distribute undercover video or audio stings against Planned Parenthood and other healthcare groups. Now the background of this is of course the controversy over Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest single abortion provider, and the fact that a group known as the Center for Medical Progress had carried out a series of sting operations against Planned Parenthood facilities across the country, catching those involved in Planned Parenthood at the very highest levels of the leadership of the organization orchestrating the destruction of unborn human bodies, that is babies in the womb, in order to tell their body parts and tissues and organs. Now the Washington Post puts it this way,
“The measure was inspired by two California antiabortion activists who made undercover videos of themselves trying to buy fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood. The project prompted multiple investigations by Congress and states, none of which found wrongdoing on the part of Planned Parenthood.”
Now just to stop there for a moment. Those last words state that no investigation found,
“wrongdoing on the part of Planned Parenthood.”
Similar language was used in an editorial in the Los Angeles Times where the editors of that paper one day previously said that the videos,
“didn’t actually demonstrate that Planned Parenthood violated a federal law against fetal tissue sales.”
Let’s be abundantly clear. The videos did prove and Planned Parenthood did acknowledge that the organization is in the business of obtaining and selling tissues and organs from unborn human fetuses that are aborted in the womb. There is no question about that. The technical point is whether or not Planned Parenthood thus violated federal law. That’s a complicated question. What’s really telling is that the Washington Post report by Fred Barbash declared that these multiple investigations by Congress and states did not find wrongdoing on the part of Planned Parenthood. So aborting a living human being in the womb is not therefore wrongdoing; tearing apart the baby in the womb is not wrongdoing; specifically targeting the way that the destruction of the unborn child is undertaken in order specifically to obtain specialized body parts and tissues—that is not classified as wrongdoing. This tells us a great deal about the society in which we live at this moral moment. Wrongdoing in this case is very carefully restricted to having been found guilty of violating a federal law. And what this tells us is that there are now many in this culture who are so adamantly supportive of abortion rights that there is no practice of abortion that they would find to be wrongdoing unless it is explicitly criminalized. And in this sense that would require a certain financial incentive.
At least the Los Angeles Times editors did restrict their language at least somewhat carefully to stating that Planned Parenthood was never found guilty to this point of violating the federal law against fetal tissue sales. That’s a more technical and more accurate way of describing the situation. But that’s not the big issue behind this news story. The big issue behind the news story is the effort of the California legislature to protect Planned Parenthood against any future threat of some undercover investigation that might discover some kind of not only wrongdoing, but illegality. The defenders of Planned Parenthood now have ample support in the California legislature, it appears, to criminalize the kind of undercover investigation that the Center for Medical Progress undertook. Now that also tells us that this story really did get under the skin of many who are the defenders of abortion and the defenders of Planned Parenthood. But what is also interesting behind this is that the law would basically shut down any kind of investigative journalism across the same lines.
Now at that point there comes some interesting dimensions to the story. The American Civil Liberties Union is against this legislation, that is not a conservative organization to say the very least. It is an organization, however, that is adamantly committed to the rights of free speech and, furthermore, the rights of journalists. They understand that this law, if adopted by the California legislature and signed into effect by Governor Jerry Brown, would effectively criminalize many press investigations. One of the questions that comes immediately to mind is whether or not something like the Watergate investigation could take place under these circumstances.
But wait just a minute—there’s an interesting limitation to this law. It has to do with criminalizing any effort to undertake a sting investigation of a healthcare provider. Now that’s an interesting restriction, but the Los Angeles Times recognizes effectively that could shut down undercover journalism and the kind of sting investigation that is not only undertaken by an organization such as the Center for Medical Progress, but is routinely undertaken by the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times and ABC and CBS and NBC—and the list goes on.
The editors of the Los Angeles Times recognize that this is an effort by a special interest group to try to gain a special protection with the force of law and with the coercive force of jail time for those who violate the law. Now the Los Angeles Times, one of the nation’s major newspapers and certainly the most influential newspaper in terms of the American West Coast, is a liberal paper in terms of its journalistic profile. There is no question that it is adamantly pro-abortion rights, but the editors of the Los Angeles Times recognize the unique threat of this kind of legislation, not just to conservative groups like the Center for Medical Progress, but to journalism writ large, including the Los Angeles Times. And the paper finds an unusual candor in targeting exactly who is behind this. Listen to the editorial,
“But make no mistake, this measure would heap more criminal and civil penalties on making a secret recording — an act that’s already prohibited by state law, even when done in the public interest — simply to satisfy an interest group popular among Sacramento Democrats.”
Now what’s shocking to me is that the editors of the Los Angeles Times would be so candid about who is behind this legislation and why. It is indeed Sacramento Democrats who are trying to protect an interest group that is popular within their own circles, Planned Parenthood. Of course, it’s an understatement to say that Planned Parenthood is merely a popular cause amongst the Democrats these days. It has become not only a popular cause, but a central cause, most clearly in terms of the standard-bearer of the Democratic Party, and that is former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton running on the Democratic nomination for the office of President of the United States. As the New York Times, another very pro-abortion paper identified Secretary Clinton, she is in some ways the candidate from Planned Parenthood, and now you see how the favor is returned. But it seems at least that the editors of the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times recognize a threat to investigative journalism when they see it and they understand just why it is coming, and from whom.
Is adoption meaningless now? NYT editorial board celebrates redefinition of parenthood
Yesterday on The Briefing we talked about the decision in the New York State appeals court redefining parenthood. As I said yesterday, it is almost impossible to overestimate the actual impact of that court decision, but we’re also looking at an editorial that appeared yesterday in the New York Times, that is the leading newspaper in the United States in so many ways, and of course the newspaper that is located in New York City, and of course this was an appeals court in New York State. Thus, the editors of the New York Times say,
“It took 25 years, but on Tuesday New York State’s highest court finally admitted the damage it did in 1991 with a ruling that denied parental rights to many people in nontraditional families — including unmarried opposite-sex couples, stepparents, and gays and lesbians — who are raising children.”
Now the interesting thing to which I want to draw our attention is the headline of the editorial: “An overdue victory for gay parents.” Now let’s look at this. It turns out that in the opening sentences of the editorial, the editors admit this isn’t only about gay parents, I quote them, but also, “unmarried opposite sex couples and stepparents.”
The paper goes on to celebrate this, saying that the court had erred back in 1991 and that it has finally repented and corrected its ways in terms of the decision that was handed down earlier this week.
“Under the new rule, a partner in an unmarried couple may seek parental rights by proving that both partners had agreed to conceive and raise a child together, as Brooke and Elizabeth did. The court left open the possibility that a partner could seek parental rights even if he or she was not involved in the decision to conceive.”
The editors go on to say,
“In affirming that legal rights associated with parenthood do not hinge simply on biology or marital status, the Court of Appeals decision stands as an important marker in the continuing struggle for equal rights.”
We return to the story today precisely because of this editorial and the arguments that are revealed along with the headline. Yesterday we made the point that this is a major revision of the most basic institution in human existence—that is the family and that relationship which has marked humanity from the beginning, and that is between parents and children. The definition of parenthood throughout human history in virtually every culture, however the language is arranged, has been that parenthood has been defined by biology or by adoption. That’s what makes this editorial really interesting, really alarming, and really timely. Here we have the editors of the New York Times stating at the end of this editorial that,
“In affirming that legal rights associated with parenthood do not hinge simply on biology or marital status, the Court of Appeals decision stands as an important marker in the continuing struggle for equal rights.”
Now what’s really important here is not what’s present, but what’s absent. What’s absent is the word “adoption.” Throughout human history and especially in terms of the American tradition, parenthood has been tracked through biology or adoption. The editors actually make a stunning admission in this article. They acknowledge that same-sex couples in New York State have been able to adopt children since 1995. Just do the math. That means 21 years ago, that means for the past 21 years, same-sex couples have had the right to adoption. So what’s the issue here? It can’t be about any child or even teenager alive now, at least in terms of the question of adoption. But that’s what’s missing.
What this court in New York State did was to basically eliminate adoption as the meaningful legal category that establishes parenthood without biological relationship. The big importance from the Christian worldview is our understanding of what the story tells us and what this court decision means. It means that the sexual and moral revolutions taking place around us will not even stop with the initial demands, nor with the demands that same-sex couples be given the legal right to adopt. Now we being told that even adoption is too high a bar of expectation. And this will not be only about same-sex couples, even though the editorial headline in the New York Times was labeled, “An Overdue Victory for Gay Parents.” What it’s actually more than anything else is a victory for non-parents claiming to be parents, whether straight, gay or otherwise.
What this editorial in the New York Times tells us that the situation that was already alarming even earlier in the week is underlined now as being even worse than might have been thought. Even that category of de facto parents that was celebrated in terms of this court decisions is going to give way eventually, as we see in this editorial and its logic, to the absolute elimination of the meaningfulness of the word parent at all. Somehow, we have to be able to draw a line from biological parents and adoptive parent to de facto parent to no parent at all.
Amidst the collapse of Christianity in Britain, some are wondering what will fill the gap
Next, looking to Great Britain, The Economist ran an article entitled,
“This sceptic isle.”
As The Economist tells us, the final parish meeting of the Holy Trinity Church in the center of Bath, that’s a relatively small British town, took place on a rainy day in February 2011, five years ago now.
“Congregations had worshipped here,” we read, “under the hammer-beam roof and monuments to heroes of Napoleonic wars, for nigh on two centuries.”
But according to the report by 2011,
“Bill for electrical repairs had succeeded where a German bomb had failed: the church was to close and it was time to wind up its affairs. Formalities concluded, parishioners filed in for a final mass. ‘Forgive us as we confess our negative feelings and fears for the future,’ ran a closing message on the website. Today the building is listed for sale on the Church of England website, offers invited.”
The Economist tells us that the process of secularization in Great Britain has accelerated to the point that the Church of England itself has reported what it called a “sharp upturn” in real estate available by collapsing and disappearing churches. Churches ceasing to exist as congregations, their properties, many of them very venerable properties in terms of the British heritage, being made available for use as bars and nightclubs, sometimes mosques, sometimes exercise centers, sometimes vacant and nothing at all. The language is truly sad when we read,
“The country is littered with evidence of the change. Everywhere deconsecrated churches are reopening as bars and restaurants. Five hundred churches were turned into luxury homes over five years in London alone.”
Now that figure simply staggers the imagination. If it were published in any journalistic outlet with less credibility than The Economist, I would question it openly, but I can’t question The Economist on this. If The Economist can do anything, it’s count. Five-hundred churches turned into luxury homes in the city of London alone in five years’ time. Just imagine, 100 churches a year transformed from the homes of congregations into luxury homes, deconsecrated is the word.
The mathematical shock continues when we hear that a quarter of Sunday services in the Church of England today are attended by fewer than 16 parishioners—fewer than 16. The Economist then states the obvious when it writes,
“If it does not reverse the decline, society at large—all of it—has big questions to ponder. Christianity has been woven into British life over the course of two millennia. In the span of history the current contraction of the observant population is precipitous. In all sorts of ways it leaves a big gap.”
Well, if The Economist represents anything, it’s establishment in London and the establishment in the United Kingdom, and this tells us that the establishment is concerned. Having observed and at least somewhat celebrated the process of secularization and the diminishing influence of Christianity in the nation, all of the sudden they’re recognizing this could be a crisis. It’s a crisis of real estate, that’s what made the headline here, but it’s also a crisis that goes far beyond. It represents a political crisis in the United Kingdom, which after all, has an established church with the Queen supposedly the supreme head of that church and the bishops of the church sitting in the House of Lords.
If we’re looking at the precipitous decline of the Church of England, there’s no question that we are, if we’re looking at hundreds and hundreds of churches closing on an annual basis with no end in sight, if we’re looking at a quarter of all Church of England congregations having less than 16 persons in average attendance, then this is a crisis across the board. The Economist signals that it is not particularly happy to have all of these cultural assets—isn’t that interesting—being transferred into private hands, but it also doesn’t want taxpayer support keeping all those church buildings alive when the congregations are dead.
Then we are reminded of the political dimension, and The Economist is asking openly if perhaps the House of Lords seats should be divided between, well, just a few bishops who might linger and remain, but other authorities who are defined as “philosophical and moral.” What does that tell us? It tells us that in the collapse of Christianity, there are others who are saying, “Now, wait just a minute, something’s missing. Perhaps it could be fulfilled by morality or philosophy.” That’s also made very clear in The Economist editorial. I read this,
“Then there is the non-liturgical dimension. Churches are spaces for reflection and meditation. In an age when pubs, too, are struggling to stay open, they are a bastion against social atomisation. Before it closed, Holy Trinity in Bath used to host dance classes, band rehearsals, counselling groups and lectures.”
They asked the question,
“Should civil society be providing new sources of guidance and communion?”
Well, let’s just note the obvious. If a church is primarily known in the community for its band rehearsals and dance classes, the battle is already lost. There can’t be much guidance and communion, to use the words of the editors of The Economist, coming from an organization that is basically now just a building with a venue for dance classes and band rehearsals. In an absolutely pathetic statement in this piece in The Economist, I read,
“In 2008 a group of philosophers founded the School of Life, a sort of secular answer to organized religion (tickets to an upcoming class on ‘Mastering the Art of Kindness’ sell for £10). Are more such initiatives needed?” The Economist asked.
“For sale initiatives for a class on mastering the art of kindness” as replacement for the Christianity that gave shape to the entirety of Western civilization and the British Society for more than a millennium? If you are down to advertising your purpose as offering classes like mastering the art of kindness, again, the battle is already over. If that’s all that remains, you certainly don’t need Gothic architecture and stained glass.
Finally on this topic, the editors of The Economist recognized that this trajectory in Britain toward secularization is going faster than even the prophets of secularization theory had forecast and faster than is taking place in most other nations. The process of secularization was actually detectable earlier on the European continent rather than in the United Kingdom. But in the UK, the process has now accelerated beyond even what we find in most European nations. It’s as if The Economist, looking at the secular reality in the face, wants to declare, “London, we have a problem.” But it isn’t even sure what the problem is, much less how to address it.
Is this socialism? Bernie supporters balk at use of "dark money" and his $600k third home
Finally, as the 2016 American presidential race marches on, some of those left behind are still capable of making headline news. One of those is Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who shocked the nation as he ran openly declared as a Democratic Socialist. But that’s really the point of the headlines now. In the aftermath of losing the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, Bernie Sanders is setting up a movement, a new political group, to continue his platform. But as the New York Times tells us, this has been met by a staff revolt. Why? Because many of the people who had worked for Bernie Sanders in his campaign actually believed that he meant it when he declared himself a Democratic Socialist and when he opposed certain things such as so-called “dark money” in American politics. It turns out that the organization that Bernie Sanders has set up in order to continue his campaign against dark money is going to accept dark money. It turns out that Bernie Sanders isn’t quite the Democratic Socialist, isn’t quite the socialist at all, that some of his most dedicated supporters had understood.
As Margaret Thatcher once said, the problem with socialism is, eventually you run out of other people’s money to spend. Socialism is one of those ideas that sounds good perhaps on first hearing, but it breaks down in terms of operation, not to mention the worldview behind it. But it turns out that Bernie Sanders made other headline news in the month of August, also shocking for one who claims to be a socialist. Bernie Sanders and his wife bought a lake house at a cost of more than $600,000. It’s not their second home, it’s their third. It turns out that Senator and Mrs. Sanders now own three homes, and the socialist now owns three homes with a lake home worth more than $600,000 in terms of the purchase price. All this recalls George Orwell’s famous book Animal Farm, the parable of socialism, in which he said that the entire principal comes down to this,
“All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”
It turns out that some socialists have three homes, including a $600,000 lake house. Well, whatever that is, it’s not socialism.