December 12, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Monday, December 12, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Election autopsies and religious liberty: Will the Left retreat from moral and legal coercion?
Autopsies on the 2016 American presidential race continue, and for good reason. The first and most important reason is that this election reshapes the American political map; it raises a host of questions. We’re looking at the fact that, especially on the political left and amongst members of the mainstream media, there are huge questions about how they possibly missed what we now know to be the case in the 2016 elections, the election of Donald Trump and, as we’ve just said, that reshaping of the American political map. Amongst the autopsies now underway are several that are appearing in papers such as the Washington Post. Writing in the Volokh Conspiracy column at the Washington Post, the headline of the article by David Bernstein is this,
“The Supreme Court oral argument that cost Democrats the presidency.”Show Full Transcript
It’s a really important piece that ran just last week. He writes,
“The presidential election was so close that many factors were ‘but-for’ causes of Donald Trump’s victory.”
That ‘but-for’ in other words is in quotation marks as if it marks the beginning of an argument. One factor that has been overlooked, he argues, is Donald Trump’s surprising success with religious voters.
“According to exit polls,” he writes, “Trump received 81 percent of the white evangelical Christian vote, and Hillary Clinton only 16 percent. Trump did significantly better than the overtly religious Mitt Romney [a Mormon we note] and the overtly evangelical George W. Bush. He likely,” according to Bernstein, “over-performed among other theologically conservative voters, such as traditionalist Catholics, as well.”
He then goes on to ask,
“To what can we attribute Trump’s success? The most logical answer is that religious traditionalists felt that their religious liberty was under assault from liberals, and they therefore had to hold their noses and vote for Trump.”
At this point we simply have to say that there is, of course, plenty of empirical evidence for making this argument. The conversation that was common amongst evangelicals at virtually every level leading up to the November election had a great deal to do with religious liberty. David Bernstein notes this and then he cites Sean Trende of RealClear Politics who made the argument that it wasn’t just religious liberty in general that was the concern. You go back to the headline to this article in the Washington Post by David Bernstein, here you find the argument in which he cites Trende as saying that it was specifically the oral argument in the 2015 same-sex marriage case at the Supreme Court, the Obergefell case, that it can be argued cost Hillary Clinton the White House. The point being made here by Sean Trende and affirmed by David Bernstein is that it wasn’t just a generalized concerned about religious liberty, it was the recognition, as many of us have been pointing out for a very long time, that the issue of legalized same-sex marriage and the legal coercion that will come behind it is a specific and very dangerous threat to religious liberty. Bernstein cites Sean Trende as writing,
“Democrats and liberals have: booed the inclusion of God in their platform at the 2012 convention (this is disputed, but it is the perception); endorsed a regulation that would allow transgendered students to use the bathroom and locker room corresponding to their identity; attempted to force small businesses to cover drugs they believe induce abortions; attempted to force nuns to provide contraceptive coverage; forced Brendan Eich to step down as chief executive officer of Mozilla due to his opposition to marriage equality; fined a small Christian bakery over $140,000 for refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding; vigorously opposed a law in Indiana that would provide protections against similar regulations – despite having overwhelmingly supported similar laws when they protected Native American religious rights – and then scoured the Indiana countryside trying to find a business that would be affected by the law before settling upon a small pizza place in the middle of nowhere and harassing the owners.”
He goes on to say,
“In 2015, the United States solicitor general suggested that churches might lose their tax exempt status if they refused to perform same-sex marriages. In 2016, the Democratic nominee endorsed repealing the Hyde Amendment, thereby endorsing federal funding for elective abortions.”
What Sean Trende gives there is a recitation, indeed a litany, of specific threats to religious liberty that were very much in the forefront of the minds of evangelicals, not only leading up to the election, but in terms of the general trajectory and direction of the culture. But Sean Trende mentions specifically the oral arguments in the Obergefell same-sex marriage case before the Supreme Court, and David Bernstein in the Washington Post comes back to cite that very oral argument, saying that what happened there and then represents at least a plausible argument for why evangelicals found the election of Hillary Clinton so threatening and the election of Donald Trump so necessary.
Just as the oral arguments happened, I made a similar argument in terms of the threat to religious liberty, and that has come back again and again in terms of what we now see is the coercive power of the state exactly as we believed we were seeing it taking shape in that oral argument. Bernstein goes back to the transcript of the case, and so should we.
When Justice Samuel Alito asked the Solicitor General of the United States, that is the top lawyer representing the President of the United States, Barack Obama, in support of same-sex marriage, Justice Alito pointed out that in a previous precedent, the Court held that a college is not entitled to tax exempt status if it opposed interracial marriage or interracial dating. So, asked Justice Alito, would the same apply to a university or college if it opposed same-sex marriage? The Solicitor General Donald Verrilli replied,
“You know, I, I don’t think I can answer that question without knowing more specifics, but it’s certainly going to be an issue. I don’t deny that. I don’t deny that, Justice Alito. It is, it is going to be an issue.”
That is a direct citation of the Solicitor General of the United States responding to an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court when asked the pointed question if Christian and other religious institutions were going to be coerced in order to come to terms with same-sex marriage. The most important aspect of Bernstein’s article is the fact that he so specifically cites that particular exchange between a justice and the Obama administration’s top lawyer. And the key issue there is the Solicitor General saying “It is, it is going to be an issue.” In other words, evangelical Christians and especially the institutions that would serve evangelical Christianity were served notice that the federal government intended to use its coercive power in order to regulate and enforce the acceptance of same-sex marriage.
By any measure, this would be an enormous violation of religious liberty, and I think David Bernstein and Sean Trende are exactly right to say that these issues, indeed the entire litany of issues that Sean Trende mention, I think they were very much on the minds of evangelical Christians as they went to the polls and voted in the presidential election just a matter of a few weeks ago.
Writing even more recently, Megan McArdle, writing at Bloomberg BusinessWeek, points out that a part of what we are witnessing here is the attempt of the left to coerce the right in America, and this is something we’ve been watching for some time now. In this really important argument, McArdle goes back to the controversy concerning Chip and Joanna Gaines, and you’ll simply recall there that this controversy had to do with nothing that either of the Gaines had said, nothing they did on their program, but simply the fact that a BuzzFeed reporter went back and discovered that they were members of an evangelical Christian church where indeed the pastor supported a biblical definition of marriage.
The controversy that ensued was both alarming and illuminating, but McArdle points out that on the left the major response was the claim that conservative Christians were both alarmists and they were simply engaged in handwringing. She writes,
“The response from the left has (mostly) been that this is so much whining, clinging to a victimhood belied by Christians’ social power and majority status. No one, they have been assured, wants to touch their freedom to worship, but when they enter the commercial realm, they have to abide by anti-discrimination laws, whatever their private beliefs.”
Well, you can see where McArdle is headed with this. She has just set up the left for their own violation of the argument they have been making. She writes,
“What happened to the Gaines family makes that feel like a false assurance. Buzzfeed had no evidence that the Gaines family was discriminating.”
McArdle went on to say,
“They had not, as Mozilla’s Brendan Eich did, donated to an anti-gay-marriage campaign. The entire substance of the article is: ‘They attend a church where the pastor espouses something I find reprehensible.”
“What message does this send?” McArdle then asked. The message she summarized as this: “Sure, the government won’t actually shut your church down. But the left will use its positions of institutional power to try to hound anyone who attends that church from public life. You can believe whatever you want — but if we catch you, or if we even catch you in proximity to people who believe it, we will threaten your livelihood.”
One of the most important reasons for citing all of these items today is the fact that the left, in their autopsy of what happened in the 2016 elections, seems to be missing the point that even subsequent to that election they keep making the point that alarmed evangelicals so clearly in the first place. Megan McArdle points out that the left had been making the assurance that it was only concerned about coercion when there was an issue that was centered on the marketplace. But as she points out, when it came to the controversy about Chip and Joanna Gaines, there was no accusation that there had been any kind of discrimination whatsoever. Instead, it was exactly what the left said it wasn’t concerned about, which was the private beliefs of people even in their churches.
You may recall that sometime back I cited an article by Frank Bruni of the New York Times in which he said that religious liberty should be restricted to the freedom of persons to say whatever they wanted to say and believe whatever they wanted to believe, theologically speaking, in the privacy of their homes and their hearts and their pews, that is, their churches. Well, what then is the complaint against Chip and Joanna Gaines? Megan McArdle doesn’t make this point, but I will. If there is a restriction of religious liberty to hearts and families and pews, pretty soon there will be no religious liberty in the pews or in the home or in the hearts that is respected either. The point being made by all three of these articles is that the secular left is not retreating whatsoever from its instinct towards moral and legal coercion. Even as those on the left continue to say that Christians are simply being alarmists, it’s the left, as these articles quite well document, that continuously seems to trip the alarm.
New York Times Executive Editor: "We don't get religion."
Next, shifting to a similar issue as the nation went into the weekend, many headlines pointed to an important interview that was undertaken by National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air” program and Terry Gross, its interviewer. The interviewee: Dean Baquet, the Executive Editor of the New York Times. You may recall that on The Briefing just after the election I pointed out that the Publisher and the Executive Editor of that the most famous and influential newspaper in America, the New York Times, had released a public letter to readers of the newspaper indicating that they recognize some level of journalistic responsibility for failing to prepare readers for the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. In this interview with Terry Gross, Dean Baquet goes a good deal further and he raises a host of really interesting issues. Amongst them as the interview comes to an end is Baquet’s assertion that balance isn’t so much the right issue or the right question, it’s rather fairness. He said,
“I’m not sure I buy the constructive balance. To me, it’s fairness. You should always ask yourself – you would never say I’ve done 17.3 stories that the Clinton campaign isn’t going to like, and I’ve only done 14.7 stories that the Trump campaign isn’t going to like. So let me do 3.6 more that the Trump campaign isn’t going to like.”
Baquet then went on to say that following that kind of metric in the name of balance would lead to the fact that the editor’s head would explode and, “that’s imbalanced coverage because to do that, you’re actually having to turn up the volume on other stories to make them equal to the others.”
No, he said, rather than balance, what the New York Times and other papers should seek is fairness. Interestingly he then states explicitly,
“Fairness could mean that some candidate gets tougher coverage.”
He goes on to explain that that tougher coverage could be where one particular candidate has questions related to the candidacy that might not affect the other candidate. He said fairness means that both candidates feel like their toes have been stepped upon during the campaign. But he insisted that this could not be reduced to anything as simple as math, as simple as metrics. That in itself is an interesting pushback on the fact that these days, virtually everything seems to be reduced to data.
But as interesting as his distinction between balance and fairness was in the interview, the really explosive part had to do with the paper’s incompetence when it comes to religion. And here the Executive Editor of the New York Times, Dean Baquet, made a most amazing revelation. He said, and I quote,
“I want to make sure that we are much more creative about beats out in the country so that we understand that anger and disconnectedness that people feel.”
He then stated this. Listen to his words very carefully,
“And I think I use religion as an example because I was raised Catholic in New Orleans. I think that the New York-based and Washington-based too probably, media powerhouses don’t quite get religion. We have a fabulous religion writer,” he spoke of in terms of the New York Times, but [he acknowledged] she’s all alone.”
Then he said these astounding words in his voice, in his words,
“We don’t get religion. We don’t get the role of religion in people’s lives. And I think we can do much, much better. And I think there are things that we can be more creative about to understand the country.”
Let me simply go back to his words again. Rare is this kind of candor, much less the clarity that the Executive Editor of the New York Times brings concerning his own newspaper and the fact that that newspaper appears to be tone-deaf to the worldviews of many, many Americans, indeed tens and tens of millions of Americans. Baquet said and again I quote,
“We have a fabulous religion writer, but she’s all alone. We don’t get religion. We don’t get the role of religion in people’s lives and I think we can do much, much better. And I think there are things that we can be more creative about to understand the country.”
Now just consider what’s said here—not just the astounding words, “We don’t get religion. We don’t get the role of religion in people’s lives.” Go to the fact that just prior to that, he said that the paper was very proud of its single religion reporter, and he described this religion writer as fabulous, but then he acknowledged that she’s all alone. Now just in terms of the staff of the New York Times consider how many people are assigned to the economy, how many people are assigned to the business pages, how many people are assigned in terms of the politics beat, how many people are assigned even to fashions or, for that matter, to issues of culture and society at The New York Times. I’m not complaining about any of that. The obvious concern is the lack of coverage in terms of religion and, furthermore, everything that might be labeled religion in the United States.
Frankly, I have no idea whether this candid admission will lead to any change at the New York Times, but the absolute candor here needs to be recognized, because the candor is justified. It reflects the actual state of affairs not only at the New York Times, but at many other major media as well. That single, full-time religion writer at the New York Times, Laurie Goodstein, is certainly one of the hardest working religion journalists in America today. She’s got an enormous waterfront to cover, and single-handedly. I have tremendous respect for the journalistic professionalism of the New York Times and my complaint here is not so much with what is present in terms of the religion coverage of the New York Times, but what is absent. What’s indicated here is that the Executive Editor of the New York Times recognizes that the paper is failing to report to its readers on issues of vast significance for millions and millions of Americans.
You put this amazing interview together with those previous stories related to the 2016 election, and all that points to the massive fact that many people in this country, especially those who are in the major control of the culture, media, and entertainment, simply don’t understand why they don’t understand how so many millions of their neighbors voted. And that points to the fact that they really don’t understand how so many of their neighbors think and why they think as they think. They don’t understand the worldview that is shaped by primarily theological issues of conviction, and that leaves them unable to understand or to explain not only the 2016 presidential election, but so much of the map of the United States of America in terms of the people who think differently than they think. And understanding how other people think, genuinely understanding why they think as they think, requires every single one of us, whether liberal or conservative, whether secular or Christian, to get outside of our comfort zone. And if we’re not careful, that will come no more naturally to the rest of us than to the New York Times.
President Obama, bellwether of the moral revolution, now supports registering women for the draft
Finally, it’s always interesting to see what issues come to the fore at the end of a presidential administration, and President Obama is now coming to the end of two full terms, eight full years as President of the United States. And at this late stage with virtually no possibility of any concrete impact on legislation, President Obama, through his National Security Advisor, has announced that he is for the required registration of young women as well as young men at age 18 for the Selective Service, otherwise known as the draft.
Simply reflect upon the fact that President Obama is himself such a historical marker of the moral revolution. Elected in 2008, he was an opponent of legalized same-sex marriage. All that changed and did a 180 degree turn just in time for President Obama to run for reelection in 2012. More recently, he has spoken of any opposition to legal same-sex marriage as rooted only an animus and prejudice, evidently skipping the fact that this would mean that he held that very same animus and prejudice as recently as four years ago. But in terms of moral revolutions, the service of women in combat and the required registration of young women for the draft is itself an historic issue. It’s a significant milestone in the moral revolution. As USA Today reported just days ago,
“President Obama supports requiring women to register for Selective Service when they turn 18 — becoming the first president to endorse universal draft registration since Jimmy Carter.”
Now just pause there for a moment, because this reminds us that President Obama is not the first president to support the registration of women as well as men for the draft. He was beat to that by President Jimmy Carter, who was elected, you may recall, in 1976. But when President Carter affirmed universal registration for selective service, it was more of a political threat than any threat of becoming a reality. At least some around President Carter were very clear in the fact that they wanted women to have to register for the draft as well as young men because that would make the nation even more reluctant to call up anyone in terms of the draft.
In a statement released by Ned Price, a spokesman for the President’s National Security Council, the wording went like this,
“As old barriers for military service are being removed, the administration supports — as a logical next step — women registering for the Selective Service.”
What you need to notice is that there was a word missing there, that is the coerced or required registration of young women for selective service. Young men are not asked to register, they are legally required to register. And as anyone with even the slightest legal background will remind you, the requirement to register indicates the availability for call. We’ll soon find out where Americans stand on this issue, but interestingly enough, we just found out where President Obama stands just as the sands are running out on his administration.