The Briefing 02-24-17

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Should parents be involved when a minor considers abortion? Current IN law says no; new bill says yes.

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Vermont edges out New Hampshire in new Gallup survey as the least religious state in America

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Secularization and Secularism in New England: The shape of our future?

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Transcript

The Briefing

February 24, 2017

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

It’s Friday, February 24, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Should parents be involved when a minor considers abortion? Current IN law says no; new bill says yes.

A headline coming out of Indianapolis,

“Abortion bill targets parents’ rights in cases of pregnant minors.”

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One of the things we need to watch in terms of the abortion issue is how the two sides define the issue in fundamentally different terms. For example, abortion-rights activists are very clear to make the woman the only important moral agent in the entire question; the baby has to be denied as a person and has to be considered as nonexistent, and thus unimportant. And of course that is shifted not only to women, but to females, including teenage girls who become pregnant and might have an abortion. On the other side, the issue is defined in terms of at least two moral agents and that is also two persons, that is the mother who is expecting the child and the unborn child. The Christian biblical pro-life position insists that both must be understood to be persons made in the image of God, and both must be respected, must be understood to have an inherent dignity of life, a dignity of life that is unconditional, that is, it does not rest upon either of them achieving any particular kind of capacity or moral quality, rather the gift of life is itself an intrinsic good, not something that has to be achieved, and that’s true of both the mother and the unborn child.

But when you see the logic of the pro-abortion movement at its most bare, well, you see exactly the controversy that is announced by this headline in Indianapolis. As the reporter tells us,

“When a pregnant minor seeks an abortion in Indiana without her parents’ consent, she has one option: a hearing involving her attorney and a juvenile court judge who decides whether she is mature enough to make the decision for herself.”

Now behind that is the entire logic of the Roe v. Wade decision and the movement of abortion on demand. The entire pro-abortion argument rests upon the fact that the woman is the only responsible agent and that her agency is all that matters. That means that her decision is the ultimate issue, the only ultimate question. And so when it comes to a minor, when it comes to a teenage girl or even younger, the only issue according to the pro-abortion worldview is whether or not she has the capacity, the maturity, to give consent. The assumption is if she has the maturity, then the consent is all that matters. That’s troubling in itself. But what’s even more troubling is the fact that pro-abortion activists keep wanting to keep parents out of the equation. And what you see right now is an effort undertaken by legislators in the state of Indiana to put parents at least back into the equation. The reporter Robert King tells us,

“A bill that advanced in the Indiana Senate on Wednesday would give her parents the right to enter the courtroom and even testify on whether she is competent to make the decision.”

Now step back for just a moment. Indiana is not alone here. You’ll recall that the opening paragraph in this story tells us that right now this happens only one way, and that is that the minor girl goes into the courtroom facing a judge with her attorney and with no parent present. At present, parents are not allowed under any circumstance even into the hearing. The report continues,

“Supporters of Senate Bill 404 say parents should have a role in deciding their daughter’s well-being and whether she can undergo a surgical procedure such as an abortion. Opponents say requiring parent involvement could push pregnant minors into dangerous situations because their greatest fear is often being disowned by their families.”

Well, that’s a horrifying reality, of course, but you’ll realize that the pro-abortion argument is that the girl has to have the capacity to make the decision unhindered by her parents under any circumstance. This is not an argument coming from pro-abortionists that in some circumstances parents should not be allowed into the context, that’s problematic in its own, rather the current situation is that parents are not allowed under any circumstance into the courtroom hearing. One of the supporters of the legislation said,

“Parents have the constitutional right to determine the upbringing of their children, and that includes medical decisions. And so this is really just strengthening those rights.”

Well, step back again for a moment. Of course there is a constitutional right concerning parents and their responsibility, not just their right, to take care of their children and make major decisions, including medical decisions. But long before the existence of the U.S. Constitution, long before the Constitution recognized this right, it is fundamentally true that according to the law of God, a law that has been respected in virtually every culture, parents do have the right and the responsibility to care for their children, and parental authority over their children is to be considered sacrosanct unless there is some threat from the parents that would allow the community to intervene, and that of course only in an emergency.

But now you see the logic of the pro-abortion movement that treats parents as an intrusion into the abortion decision that might be undertaken by their child. This entire process, we remind ourselves, is the process for a minor seeking an abortion without the consent of her parents. And that’s a problem, because after all, that same minor could not receive even a routine medical exam without the permission of her parents. She would not be able to take an antibiotic without the permission of her parents. She would not be able to have her tonsils removed without the explicit permission of her parents. But that very same minor girl can have an abortion in the state of Indiana not only without her parent’s involvement, but also without even parental knowledge.

An additional important moral point was made by another supporter of the legislation who said,

“Minors who obtain secret abortions often do so at the behest of older men who impregnate them and then return them to abusive situations.”

That’s pretty well documented. But you’ll also notice the logic that comes from the pro-abortion side. Indianapolis family law attorney, Jane Glynn, said,

“Said there have been cases when the minor has been molested by her father — and that this bill could give him a pathway into the hearing. More than anything else, Glynn said, the greatest fear a pregnant minor has is that her parents will cut her off financially and emotionally, even force her from the home. This puts the pregnant teenager at the mercy of anyone who will care for her, including sex traffickers. ‘This bill not only doesn’t protect girls,’ she said, ‘it puts them in danger.’”

Now, here you will notice what is undeniably, Christians should recognize, a possible situation. That is to say, there is no question that at times girls would need to be protected from those who would prey upon them, and that’s why a judge is in the equation. But there’s no justification for cutting parents out of the equation unless there is some justification that would be recognized by the court. The extremity, the radical nature of the current law, is that parents are excluded from the entire process. And this legislation in the state of Indiana, if adopted, would put parents at least back into the process.

The moral logic of the pro-abortion argument comes down to the fact that the only important moral agent is the woman or the girl carrying the unborn child. No one else, they argue, has any say in the matter. And to make their point emphatically clear, they argue that even the parents of the girl should have absolutely no say in the matter.

Vermont edges out New Hampshire in new Gallup survey as the least religious state in America

Next, the recent conversation about the Trump administration’s decision to allow the question of bathroom assignments to be made by the states rather than the federal government, well, that leads to the point that there is a recognition that there is a regional diversity that reflects a worldview diversity. As I said in discussing the Trump administration’s action, this reflects the fact that there really is a difference between Massachusetts and Mississippi. That was made emphatically clear just in recent days with a headline such as this,

“Vermont is Once Again the Least Religious State in the Country.”

Hemant Mehta writing at Patheos.com says,

“Congratulations, Vermont! You’ve dethroned New Hampshire to return to your rightful position as the least religious state in the country.”

It turns out that Gallup lists an annual ranking of states according to their relative religiosity. In Vermont “only 21% of the people in Vermont consider themselves ‘very religious.’” That, again, is the lowest percentage in the nation.

Meanwhile, if you move to the state of Mississippi, well, there are 59 percent of people identify themselves as very religious, only 12 percent identify as nonreligious. Now Vermont’s very close, as you know, to Massachusetts. The entire Northeast as a region is now the most secular region in the United States, and so the difference between Massachusetts and Mississippi is a difference that has not only to do with the percentage of persons who identify as very religious or not religious at all, but whether or not there is any binding authority in the larger culture to historic Christianity. To state the matter very clearly, in Massachusetts there is very little, in Mississippi there is a very great deal. And that isn’t because of any state imposition of Christianity in Mississippi, it’s because the vast majority of people in Mississippi identify themselves as Christians.

This headline, by the way, makes very clear that in the last two surveys it had been the state of New Hampshire that ranked as the least religious or the most secular, but this time, Vermont is back on top of that listing.

Secularization and Secularism in New England: The shape of our future?

But almost at the same time, New Hampshire was also in the news with an article at the Portsmouth Herald. Max Sullivan of that paper reports with a headline story,

“Losing our religion: The rise of secularism on the Seacoast.”

Sullivan reports,

“Seacoast religious leaders,” speaking of that region of New Hampshire, “said a recent cultural shift towards secularism has caused them to make significant changes, including altering their strategy for attracting members and consolidating churches.”

Sullivan continued,

“Secularism, which experts say has always been prevalent in New Hampshire and has continued to rise, have caused attendance to dwindle in many religious congregations. A Gallup poll in 2015 stated 20 percent of New Hampshire was considered ‘very religious,’ the lowest percentage found in the poll.”

They again point to the fact that,

“Mississippi came in at the highest with 63 percent.”

But the whole point of this story that moved on February 19 tells us that in New Hampshire there is a recognition of just how secular the whole society is becoming. There’s a problem here in terms of this news report, and it’s understandable given the fact that this appears in a secular newspaper. There’s a confusion here of two different terms that we must keep separate. That is secularization and secularism. They’re both real, but they are two different things. Secularization is what’s really, for the most part, at stake here.

Secularization is the process whereby a society moves in a more secular direction; that is, it loses its religious reference points and eventually it also overthrows the binding force of religion in the society. But that’s not something that people just decide to do, it’s something that happens according to the development of modern societies, at least that’s the theory. Secularism is quite different. It’s an ideology that says not only that secularization will happen, but that it should happen. And the agents of secularism are doing their very best to push a secular ideology all in service of creating a secularized society.

Another interesting thing to note here is that the experts cited in his article say that secularism has always been prevalent in New Hampshire. Now that requires a redefinition of always, because it certainly wouldn’t have been the case if you go back to the founding era of New Hampshire, if you go back to the Revolutionary or even before that to the Colonial era. That’s where we get the very idea of the New England Town Church. Every single village would’ve had a church, and the church would’ve been at the very center of the community. So when we’re told that New England has always been secular, New Hampshire here in particular, well, that redefines always as in, well, say, the modern age, or at the last several decades, or since the beginning of the 20th century.

But there’s no doubt that New England has become the most secular region of the country, and that’s shocking for at least two reasons. The first is this. Previously, at least until say, this generation, the most secular region of the United States had been the West Coast and more specifically, the Northwest Coast, the states of Oregon and Washington. And what made that understandable is that those two states where the least congregationalized and the least evangelized of any of the states, and there’s a good deal of history that has to do with that. The fact that, for instance, the First and Second Great Awakenings, the bringing about of revivalism, all of that basically happened before the main settlement and development of the states we now know as Washington and Oregon.

But the Atlantic Northeast is exactly the opposite. If you look at the Northeast states, they were at the very cradle of Christianity because they were also the cradle of the nation. If you go back to those 13 original colonies, there were religious differences amongst them, but there was not one of them that wasn’t inherently and overwhelmingly religious. And at the time, of course, that meant that every single one of these colonies had a very clear Christian identity in terms of its population. That’s not to say that all of the colonial inhabitants went to church and considered themselves confessing Christians. It is to say that the binding authority of Christian truth was inevitably the main reality in terms of the establishment of the society and its communal meaning. And that was true whether or not you were dealing with the local community or with the Confederation that became the United States of America.

One Catholic priest cited in the article said that church attendance among Catholics began to decrease in New Hampshire in the late 1990s, This led to three churches, for example, joining into one in the year 2006. He then said, and I quote,

“What I think we’re facing today with secularism is basically, there’s been the shift from a reliance upon God and a deeper appreciation for the things beyond what we can see and figure out, to the reliance on self.”

Well that priest is onto something here, because it is the rise of personal autonomy that perhaps more than anything else demonstrates the great moral shift in terms of the reversal that’s taken place, with the Christian worldview left behind and a very modern worldview based upon personal autonomy taking its place.

Michele Dillon, a sociology professor at the University of New Hampshire points out that secularization is happening across the nation. About that she’s absolutely right. But, she argues, again absolutely accurately, that it is accelerated as a trend in the Northeastern states.

A really helpful insight came from Pastor Ken Lawrence of the Hampton Falls First Baptist Church cited in the article who said that his church has continued to do well, but that’s been the result of hard work adapting the church’s approach to evangelism. Listen to this,

“For example, he said, conversations with nonbelievers today need to begin with establishing the Bible as an authoritative book, where before the strategy might be to start with what Jesus says in the Bible.”

The pastor said,

“It affects our starting point. Where it used to be assumed there was a god, now we have to do a pretty good job of establishing the basis of authority in the Bible. (We need to answer) why is the Bible the authority before we can talk about using Bible verses. And if churches don’t do that,” he warned, “if we don’t do that, then shame on us.”

Now what the pastor is pointing to is that the question of authority is inescapable. This is the question of how we know, on what authority we make claims, and this is very, very crucial, because this pastor is rightly making the point that ultimately our authority is Holy Scripture. And that means that we have to be ready to defend the authority of Scripture and to make very clear that in answering questions concerning the existence of God all the way down to the details of the gospel, we are left with the necessity of making very clear our own dependence upon Scripture, and that requires us to be able to tell people, to develop an apologetic of why Scripture is to be understood as the Word of God.

One of the authorities cited in the article said,

“We’re swimming against the current. To swim against the current, you need to be strong. I think in a way we’re experience a deepening of fervor, zeal.”

The statement here that is of greatest importance is this, “we’re swimming against the current.” To swim against the current you need to be strong. This requires a much deeper doctrinal commitment, a much deeper commitment to Christ, a much deeper Christian identity. It requires much more intentionality. As the church teaches the Word to its members and teaches its members how to understand how biblical authority and the truth of God’s Word is to be translated into everyday life. This means it’s even more important that parents pass on the faith to their children, not just as a matter of making sure they go to church, but also grounding them in the truth, comprehensively teaching what is revealed in Scripture. This was the assignment given to the parents of Israel in the Old Testament, it is certainly the assignment given to Christian parents in the age of the church.

But it’s also telling that in this New Hampshire paper there was a response to the article by Stackhouse, and the response came from a state representative, Brandon Phinney, he wrote this,

“I fail to see the problem with this cultural shift. In an age of information, scientific progress and exploration and the understanding of the workings of our world, it is difficult and to be frank, rather foolish, to hold onto archaic beliefs that deny reality. In these modern times of religious extremism, I do not see the value of belief systems that consistently devalue others by telling them they’re bad people for not believing the same things or having some sort of moral superiority. Also the amount of hatred from these groups that manifest into violence turns people away. People are rejecting religion because it just does not coalesce with our modern times.”

Now I read a statement in full because it deserves to be read in full. Notice that it is a jumble of absolutely false connections, but what it reveals is the intensity of the secularist agenda. I pointed out that there’s a difference between secularization and secularism. What we were facing in the first article was secularization, but make no mistake, what we’re facing in this letter to the editor is secularism. This state legislator in New Hampshire wants to see Christianity overthrown, and he thinks that secularism is a very, very good thing. It’s the direction of the future. He said this,

“The reliance of self is something to be celebrated. By being able to rely on ourselves instead of unseen forces that cannot be proven to exist, we encourage personal responsibility, personal freedom and autonomy with others. Love, morality, justice, etc. are not strictly religious doctrines, but originate in our human nature to do good for ourselves and for others.”

At this point we simply have to ask some very serious questions. Why would human nature cry out the realities of morality and justice, or in his words, “etc.”? And furthermore, how does he know what justice is, by what standard would he even use this term? The consistently secularist worldview cannot possibly answer the questions that it asks, it can’t possibly bear the freight that it tries to take on. Here you have a worldview that wants to talk about love and mercy and justice and righteousness but it has no grounding of those, it doesn’t even have a consistent definition of those realities. There is no authority by which it can invoke those terms.

And there’s something else going on here. You’ll notice that this very secular worldview has to borrow its terminology from, well, historic Christianity. That is to say that even the secularist vocabulary is bound to moral language that is the inheritance of Christianity. Where in the world would otherwise these terms make any sense? The secularist worldview says that human beings are merely cosmic accidents; there is no purpose to life in the cosmos; tthere is no purpose to the cosmos. We’re simply one more evolutionary accident. As one evolutionist said,

“Human beings are simply one very green twig on the arborescent tree of accidental life.”

Well, there you have it. If that worldview is true, morality is nothing more than what might be explained as an evolutionary adaptation. There’s really no such thing as right or wrong. There are just behaviors that either aid or impede what’s defined as the progress of evolution.

Finally, the state legislator goes exactly where you would expect him to go. He writes,

“The last thing I would like to point out is the crucial and often times ignored aspect of our society, which is the separation of church and state. Religion has no place in governance and should be kept separate as we are not a theocracy. Our federal and state Constitutions protect religious freedom but we should respect the freedom from religion as well. We are no more a Christian nation than we are a Muslim country or a Jewish country or an atheist country. There is plenty of proof in history, such as the Treaty of Tripoli, that highlights the fact the United States of America was not founded on the Christian religion.”

Now by the way, it is true, even though it’s an arcane reference to the Treaty of Tripoli, that the United States was not founded on the Christian religion. What it was founded upon were the assumptions that only come by the inheritance of Christianity. And when this legislator writes, “we are no more a Christian nation than we are a Muslim country or a Jewish country or an atheist country,” well, that only makes sense if citizens don’t matter and if their faith and worldview actually does not matter. But we all know that what animated this letter is the concern that it does matter. But it always matters.

But this legislator is also right when he considers the fact that secularization will have consequences, of course it will. And increasingly those consequences are quite clear.

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing