October 14, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday, October 14 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
"Religious beliefs have to change": Hillary Clinton's open hostility toward religious liberty
It seems that just about every day brings a new development and a new scandal in the 2016 American presidential election. Yesterday the scandal was the result of additional emails connected to the Clinton campaign released by the group WikiLeaks. As the Wall Street Journal said in its headline editorial what was represented was,
“Anti-Catholics for Clinton.”Show Full Transcript
But this is a bigger issue than just Hillary Clinton and her campaign and it’s a bigger issue than just Roman Catholicism or, in this case, anti-Roman Catholicism. What we see here is a bare-knuckled example of the secularist worldview that increasingly affects the American elites and shapes their thinking. And we now have here further documentation of the secular worldview and the hostility to religious conviction that increasingly marks the modern Democratic Party.
The Washington Post moved at least two stories on the controversy yesterday. The first is by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, she wrote,
“The latest batch of documents published by WikiLeaks appears to show Hillary Clinton’s campaign communications director joking with a confidant about Catholics and evangelicals in emails sent to John Podesta, chairman of Clinton’s campaign.”
Now what’s really crucial at this point is understanding that this was not just some supporter of Hillary Clinton, we’re talking about the woman who is the Communications Director of the campaign, and these were emails sent to and responded about by John Podesta, the very Chairman of the Clinton presidential campaign. As Bailey reports, at the center of this controversy is Jennifer Palmieri, who is the campaign Communications Director for the Hillary Clinton campaign. She was also previously head of communications for the liberal think tank The Center for American Progress that, not coincidentally, John Podesta, the campaign chairman of the Clinton campaign, once ran. And the controversy concerns emails Palmieri received from a colleague at that liberal think tank, a man by the name of John Halpin. Halpin wrote,
“Many of the most powerful elements of the conservative movement are all Catholic (many converts) from the [Supreme Court] and think tanks to the media and social groups.”
He went on to accuse the conservative leaders of corrupting the Catholic faith.
“They must be attracted to the systematic thought and severely backwards gender relations and must be totally unaware of Christian democracy.”
Now the only way that kind of e-mail makes sense is if it is intended or expected that the writer will be understood by the recipient. And in this case there’s plenty of evidence that that was exactly what should have been assumed, and it appears that Jennifer Palmieri basically agreed with the assessment of John Halpin that what we’re looking at is conservative leaders that are on the one hand influenced by Catholicism and on the other hand influenced by evangelicalism. And what you find when you get to the bottom of the scandal is a sneering and condescending dismissal of conviction in politics and in particular of theological conviction, in the case of this scandal of both Roman Catholic and evangelical conviction. And what’s also known just in what’s already been cited is the dismissal, the rejection, the antipathy towards the historic teachings of the Christian church concerning sexuality and gender. That stands at the very center of what is here so openly hated.
In an interesting twist, Palmieri herself responded that she believes many conservative leaders are Catholic because they think it’s,
“The most socially acceptable politically conservative religion.”
She went on to say,
“Their rich friends wouldn’t understand if they became evangelicals.”
The Post reported that John Podesta was included in that email thread, but did not respond to these specific emails. It is interesting here that Palmieri, the Communications Director for the Clinton campaign, says that many of these conservative political leaders are Roman Catholics because it would be socially embarrassing for them to be evangelical Christians. That demonstrates something of the class consciousness and the open antipathy to evangelical Christianity that permeates so many secular ranks, and in this case is demonstrated by high officials in the Hillary Clinton campaign.
But the scandal continued to expand when additional emails leaked indicated that the Clinton campaign may well have been involved in trying to sponsor and organize groups within Catholicism to bring about moral and theological change. As Bailey reports,
“Another email that was released appears to suggest that Clinton’s campaign set up Catholic groups to organize on issues such as contraception. Sandy Newman, president of Voices for Progress, wrote in a 2011 email to Podesta that there needs to be a Catholic Spring, in which Catholics themselves demand the end of a middle ages dictatorship and the beginning of a little democracy and respect for gender equality in the Catholic church.”
Here you have an email thread eventually connected with the Clinton campaign that demonstrates that the campaign has a theological agenda, a worldview agenda, not merely a political agenda. And about this evangelical Christians should not be generally surprised. But it is interesting to see this kind of frank and candid language used by people about the political situation and of course by people who eventually became central to the Clinton campaign.
Also writing at the Post, Marc A. Thiessen took us back to 2015 and an event known as the Women in the World Summit when Hillary Clinton made what he called,
“A stunning declaration of war on religious Americans.”
You may remember that at that point, the then-former U.S. Secretary of State spoke of what she called,
“Deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.”
Thiessen then writes,
“Religious beliefs have to be changed? This is perhaps the most radical statement against religious liberty ever uttered by someone seeking the presidency. It is also deeply revealing. Clinton believes that, as president, it is her job not to respect the views of religious conservatives but to force them to change their beliefs and bend to her radical agenda favoring taxpayer-funded abortion on demand.”
Thiessen then writes,
“The hostility to people of faith here is simply breathtaking. Apparently when Clinton aides speak in private, their basket of ‘deplorables’ includes faithful Catholics and evangelicals who believe in the sanctity of human life. If they had made such comments about any other group, they would be politically excommunicated.”
Similar analysis of this particular development was clear in the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal yesterday in an article, “Anti-Catholics for Clinton” in which the editors of the Journal wrote,
“It’s no secret that progressive elites despise religion, but it’s still striking to see their contempt expressed so bluntly as in the leaked email chains that include Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.”
As the editors evaluate,
“This is a window into the intolerant secular soul of the Democratic establishment and perhaps explains why it has done so little to accommodate requests for religious liberty from the Little Sisters of the Poor. Team Clinton apparently views religion merely as a justification people adopt for their views on politics and gender.”
Sadly, it is likely that this scandal, an issue central to it, will be soon brushed aside by even new and more scandalous developments, but this is not an issue or a development that thinking Christians should fail to recognize as what it represents. It represents yet another example of the sneering and dismissive condescension of the secular elites. It also, however, demonstrates something more fundamental. And that is the divide between Christian and secular Americans is growing so deep that secularists now see Christianity as a truth claim as something that has to be overcome in the name of human progress, but they also see Christians as driven by a worldview they find not only beyond their understanding, but outright reprehensible.
Now this development at the end of the week makes even more important an insight that appeared in an article published in recent days at the New York Times written by Molly Worthen. The title of this article, “What’s God got to do with it?” And it too is in its own way about the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. But it is taking a very different tact. In this case Molly Worthen, a veteran observer and scholar of American religion, is writing about the fact that the Democratic left is increasingly divided between an older leadership that has some ties to historic Christianity and a new, invigorated, far more secular leadership. She looks at this, for example, in the distinction between the historic leadership of the Civil Rights movement deeply indebted to and grounded in Christianity and the Black Lives Matter movement that is explicitly secular and often absolutely dismissive even of the Christianity of the Civil Rights leaders of the past.
Worthen says that this just might explain why Hillary Clinton has been unable to use theological or religious arguments even coming from the left as a way of uniting her party. It’s because so much of her party has actually departed any identification with Christianity at all. Keep the scandal that developed just yesterday in mind as you read Molly Worthen writing days before when she says that the clash in the Democratic Party,
“…goes deeper than policy or strategy. It is a theological rift: Is religion founded in submission to unchanging principles or is it a protean revolutionary force, a tool of self-empowerment?”
Now before moving even an inch from that statement we need to pause and understand that what Molly Worthen is writing about in the New York Times is what we daily talk about, and that is the fact that worldview is essential to our understanding of everything and, in this case, it is two divergent worldviews, not just between the two political parties, but in this case within the Democratic Party, that should have our attention. Molly Worthen is noticing that there is a decided shift, perhaps even a generational shift, in the Democratic Party towards a far more secular worldview, one that really isn’t influenced at all by historic Christianity, but rather they see religion as a political force and perhaps as a matter of mere self-expression.
In the most interesting section of Molly Worthen’s article, she makes very clear that in the divergent worldviews within the Democratic Party, it comes down to a basic theological distinction—it is a distinction between the older leadership that is rather committed to a theological liberalism and a younger or newer leadership that isn’t committed to any theological worldview at all, or that measures every theological question by its political result. Writing about the Democratic activists she says,
“To many activists then and now, the test of theology is not Scripture, church tradition or scholarly consensus, but whether it empowers the oppressed. If it does, then it is true.”
In the end what this tells us is that the Democratic Party is trending in an even more secular direction and that secular direction might come with some kind of theology. But it is going to be a theology that is entirely rooted in political argument, not in Scripture, not in the tradition of the Christian church. That’s a very important insight, and that insight appeared in the New York Times days before the scandal broke concerning the emails within the Hillary Clinton campaign. For thoughtful Christians trying to think about this in terms of Christian biblical worldview analysis, perhaps the most important issue is the warning that all of this represents about the challenges we are likely soon to face. There is a hostility in these communications, a hostility to biblical traditional Christianity that simply cannot be ignored.
Dutch government proposes "death assistance providers" for anyone who feels they have "completed life"
Next, already this week we talked about the issue of assisted suicide, and it should tell us something that already we have to talk about it again. That’s because on Wednesday Reuters, the international news agency, ran a story with the headline,
“Dutch may allow assisted suicide for those who feel life is over.”
One of the things we have documented and discussed concerning assisted suicide is that once you open the door to accepting suicide as legitimate and once you make it proper for medical authorities to be involved in bringing about the end of life, once you argue that human beings have the right to end our lives on our own terms that eventually end up with a headline like this. It is just a matter of time. We also need to recognize that those who advocate for the legalization of physician-assisted suicide and other forms of euthanasia always tell us that what we just read in this headline could never happen. And yet it’s happening. And the story is actually more frightening even than the headline.
As the Reuters story makes very clear, the Dutch government is now considering authorizing euthanasia, or in this case assisted suicide, for just about anyone who wants it, regardless of any underlying physical condition. The other perhaps most chilling aspect of this: there is nothing in the current legislation that even hints at a minimum age for someone to demand assisted suicide, once again, even without any underlying medical conditions. Toby Sterling writing from Amsterdam, tells us,
“The Dutch government intends to draft a law that would legalize assisted suicide for people who feel they have”—and here’s the term in the law—“‘completed life,’ but are not necessarily terminally ill.
“The Netherlands was the first country to legalize euthanasia in 2002, but only for patients who were considered to be suffering unbearable pain with no hope of a cure.”
Once again just notice the argument was made back in 2002 that of course assisted suicide would never be extended to anyone who wasn’t at the very threshold of likely death from an unquestioned incurable disease. But now it’s extended to children and teenagers and now it’s to be extended to virtually anyone if they merely believe their life is not worth living, regardless of whether they have any underlying medical conditions. Reuters reports,
“In a letter to parliament, the health and justice ministers said details remain to be worked out but that people who ‘have a well-considered opinion that their life is complete, must, under strict and careful criteria, be allowed to finish that life in a manner dignified for them.’”
Now even days ago we thought we’d seen perhaps one of the most egregious statements of personal autonomy we had yet encountered. Well, it’s been topped in about 48 hours. Here you have two government ministers, the equivalent of cabinet secretaries in the Dutch government, who are describing what they can only call a well-considered opinion that life is complete. And then they dare to say, “under strict and careful criteria,” well we’ve seen just how strict and careful the Dutch criteria are, “be allowed to finish that life in a manner dignified for them.”
Once again you see this absolutely untenable assertion that human beings can create death that is by our definition in a manner dignified for us. Perhaps they can only describe this as one of the end stage developments of any culture or civilization. A culture that begins to embrace death in this kind of explicit manner is a culture that we can only say cannot long last. But once again we see that language often betrays the reality better even than an argument.
In this case, the legislation includes some language that almost taken by itself would tell the entire story, that is the story of what’s so horribly wrong here. The language in the legislation to which I point is language that describes a new professional, “a death assistance provider,” that is to be called for in the case of someone who may decide to end his or her life on his or her own terms when they believe that life is complete and to do so by legal assisted suicide. Just consider again that language, “a death assistance provider.” It was one thing when those previously called doctors and nurses and others just were summarized as healthcare providers, but just consider what it demonstrates when we’re not talking here about a healthcare provider, we’re talking about a death assistance provider.
It’s also interesting that an official government commission was established to consider this question actually recommended against the very legislation that the government is now determined to bring forward. In describing the way the government was determined to move forward anyway, the minister said,
“The cabinet is of the opinion that a request for help and dying from people who suffer unbearably and have no hope without an underlying medical reasons can be a legitimate request.”
But let’s step back and just ponder what this tells us. The Dutch government established an official government commission to ask the question whether or not assisted suicide should be extended to those who have no underlying medical condition. In other words, it’s just a psychological or other kind of conditions. And the government commission said no, there was no need for it. But the government is determined to move forward. But notice the language used by the government. It uses a word that Christians must note and note emphatically. It is the word hope; it describes assisted suicide and says it should be made available for those now have no hope.
At this point there should be full Christian attention, because hope it is not a secular category that has much lasting meaning. It is only a theological category in terms of enduring meaning. This points to the fact that in a post-Christian secular society, hope begins to disappear. And in this case you have government ministers saying that in light of the fact that so many people have no hope, they want to move ahead with making assisted suicide available for them. That reminds us that the antidote to this kind of legislation and the culture of death worldview that is behind it is not merely cogent and careful rational argument, but it is even more profoundly the preaching and teaching and telling of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
When it's everywhere, sex no longer sells: Abercrombie abandons sexually explicit ads
Next, yesterday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal had a headline,
“For Abercrombie sexy isn’t cool anymore.”
Elizabeth Holmes tells us that Abercrombie and Fitch, a retailer that had been very important to fashion conscious adolescence and young adults for a matter of two decades and made its reputations through sexually exploitative and explicit advertising, has decided it’s got to change its course. It turns out the sexually explicit advertising and iconography that Abercrombie and Fitch had been using is no longer effective so much with younger people today, and there are a couple of interesting reasons suggested in the Wall Street Journal report.
For one thing, says the Journal, young people are not so impressed these days by the sexually explicit advertising because they do not identify themselves with the sexually explicit models that were used by Abercrombie and Fitch and so much of its advertising. Part of this is a pushback cynically, but also we should say quite realistically against the false ethos and ideal that Abercrombie was putting forth, the recognition, to put it another way, that many of these young people recognize that the people featured in these advertisements, often nudity as a matter fact, carefully positioned as the Wall Street Journal said, don’t actually look like this in person. They recognize that they were had, manipulated, by people who were using these photographic images in a very unrealistic way.
The Wall Street Journal article basically notes also that there are some larger shifts in the culture, but then we have to ask the question, is that larger shift in the culture away from anything that could be described as sexually explicit? The answer to that sadly has to be no. So why did so many people tire of this very explicit advertising campaign and ethos as projected by Abercrombie and Fitch? Well, there’s another insight to be gained here. If you’re going to make your reputation by being, well here’s the modern word “transgressive,” by trying to push the boundaries of just how sexually explicit you can be, eventually you run out of material.
In this sense, Abercrombie and Fitch basically exhausted itself trying to be racier and racier and scandalous and more scandalous. There is a lesson for us here as well. This is what happens in a society that loses its mind over sex. It begins to push the boundaries until frankly, there are no boundaries in its own imagination left to be crossed, and eventually, as many Christians have observed through similar times, it grows weary of the very thing it once worshipped, that is human sexuality. It exhausts itself morally. Perhaps we should put it this way: the advertisers learned that sex sells until sex doesn’t sell anymore, and one of the reasons why it might not is because just about everybody apparently is selling sex.
Girls, boys, and gender-neutral toys: It turns out boys and girls are still different
Finally, in the file-this-under-common-sense category, Jonathan V. Last writes about the effort by marketers to convince parents and children that children ought to play with gender-nonspecific toys or gender-neutral toys. In this case, Jonathan Last and his wife have a son and two daughters, and evidently the kids aren’t buying the message. Last writes,
“Over the years we’ve noticed that whenever a ‘non-gendered’ toy is introduced into their habitat, the kids appropriate it along stereotypically gendered lines. Example: A few years ago there was a Rainbow Loom craze, where kids took tiny rubber loops and wove them into bracelets. Everyone was doing it. We bought thousands of the things for our kids. The girls wove bracelets that they collected and gave to their friends. The boy also wove bracelets—until he realized that he could use the rubber loops to weave a long elastic cord that he was then able to tie to a flexible piece of wood. He used the Rainbow Loom to build a workable bow. . . .”
“We never taught our kids any of this stuff. They just arrived at it on their own. Because—I understand that this is a radical concept—boys and girls are different.”
Last and his wife also bought a gender-neutral teepee for their kids. What happened?
“All of them use the teepee, the girls as a ‘fairy house’ and the boy as a fort.”
What about Legos? He says,
“The girls spend hours designing princess castles and houses, with intricate rooms for their Lego minifigures. The boy has created a series of fighter jets, each one with more missiles and cannons and bombs than the last.”
“One of the oddities of modern life is that polite society currently insists that you are “born this way” if you are homosexual or misgendered. But when it comes to boys who like to play with swords and build fighter jets? For some reason, this is viewed as a societal construct that should be eradicated so that they’ll want to play with dolls.”
“As we’ve discovered at my house, this is a project that’s doomed to fail.”
Here again we turn back to a story that has to do with marketing, in this case the efforts by marketers to promote gender-neutral toys. But as Last says, “this is a project that’s doomed to fail.” And we need asked the question as Christians, why is it doomed to fail? It’s doomed to fail because of that very radical idea that Jonathan Last had the temerity to publish: yes, boys and girls are different. It turns out that any worldview that seeks, however, determinedly to deny that is a worldview that will end in frustration.