The Briefing 03-13-17

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Freedom of conscience vs. abortion "rights": New Mexico legislature debates radical new abortion bills

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Catholicism and the priesthood: Pope breaks with tradition, says he's open to allowing married priests

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When homework makes history: Danish boy finds German warplane wreckage during WWII assignment

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Transcript

The Briefing

March 13, 2017

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

It’s Monday, March 13, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Freedom of conscience vs. abortion "rights": New Mexico legislature debates radical new abortion bills

The issue of conscience is of such importance that it is recognized as having a particular moral urgency. In the case of abortion that moral urgency has been underlined, especially in the aftermath of the legalization of abortion in all 50 states by the Supreme Court in the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973. In the aftermath of that decision, many jurisdictions adopted conscience protection legislation or ordinances in order to respect the fact that no one, including specifically medical professionals like doctors and nurses, should be required to participate in the killing of the unborn against conscience. But now we see a concerted effort to try to remove those very important conscience protections. Ground zero for this story is the state of New Mexico, and a part of the story is that mainstream media have given almost no attention whatsoever to what is going on there.

In the New Mexico Senate, a bill known as Senate Bill 282 was introduced by Senator Gerald Ortiz y Pino; this particular legislation has been called the Patient Protection Act, but is really an attempt to roll back conscience protections not only for medical professionals and practitioners, but also for religiously base hospitals. In the state of New Mexico that is a particularly big issue with Catholic hospitals in that state. The language of the bill is seemingly innocuous, that too is part of the story. The bill proposes,

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“Notwithstanding the provisions of any other state law, a hospital shall not:

(1) refuse to provide a reproductive health service to a patient if withholding the reproductive health service would result in or prolong a serious risk to the patient’s life or health; and

(2) provided that a health care practitioner is acting in good faith and in accordance with generally accepted health care standards related to the health care practitioner, limit or otherwise interfere with a health care practitioner’s independent professional judgment related to the provision of reproductive health services in any of the following ways.”

When you look at that language more closely, it is self-evidently an attempt to include abortion within the list of reproductive health services that no hospital in that state may refuse to provide, if indeed a patient, according to this definition, needs it because of some kind of health threat to either the life or the health of the mother. But that’s a particular issue here that goes back to the Roe v. Wade decision and the language that was employed not only in Roe v. Wade, but even prior to that Supreme Court decision. This is where abortions for the sake of what was called the health or the life of the mother became a largely blanket provision to allow abortion on demand. The definition of health and well-being was extended in this case to the psychological or psychiatric well-being, the mental well-being of the mother and thus almost any medical practitioner could then provide justification for an abortion. Why? Because even if it did not pose any risk to the physical health, much less the life of the mother, if it would cause mental distress that was considered to be a health justification for abortion on demand.

The proposed bill, that is Senate Bill 282, goes on to stipulate that included within the scope of the legislation is the referral to abortion even where a hospital or a medical practitioner might not provide the abortion itself. At the very end of the legislation comes the ticking time bomb, and that is the explicit threat of litigation. According to this proposed bill a woman who is denied an abortion, or for that matter a referral to an abortion, could bring action against either the physician or the hospital that refused the service or the referral or both. Here you see the collision with conscience and abortion rights in the state of New Mexico, and this is now just a proposed bill in the state Senate there, but it is expected to come up for a hearing as early as today.

But all this has to be understood in terms of an effort, a concerted effort hand-in-hand in the House of Representatives there in New Mexico with what is known as House Bill 473. This is a straightforward repeal bill, and what it is repealing is a law that criminalizes abortion in the state of New Mexico. It is thus a bill to decriminalize abortion. Many people would immediately ask does this mean that there are laws criminalizing abortion on the books in some American states? And the answer to that would be straightforwardly yes. In most cases they predate the Roe v. Wade decision. And even as the Roe v. Wade decision meant that they are no longer currently in effect, they are still on the books, which means if the Roe v. Wade decision were to be reversed, several of our states would already have laws defending the sanctity of human life in place. The state of New Mexico was one of those, it has a law criminalizing abortion that was adopted within the state of New Mexico in the year 1969.

That 1969 New Mexico legislation provides for abortion to be approved even though it is generally not allowable if there are justifications meeting some very specific criteria and if the decision for the abortion is approved by what’s known as a special hospital board. But you need to note that in the proposed repeal of this legislation is the absolute repeal of the conscience protections that were written in in 1969. I read from the 1969 law there in New Mexico,

“This article does not require a hospital to admit any patient for the purposes of performing an abortion, nor is any hospital required to create a special hospital board. A person who is a member of or associated with the staff of a hospital or any employee of a hospital in which a justified medical termination has been authorized and who objects to the justified medical termination on moral or religious grounds shall not be required to participate in medical procedures which will result in the termination of a pregnancy and the refusal of such a person to participate shall not form the basis of any disciplinary or other recriminatory action against such person.”

It’s difficult to exaggerate the consequences of removing that legislation, in particular the conscience protections. You put together the proposed House Bill with the proposed Senate Bill and the picture becomes very, very clear. Conscience protections are at the very center of the target. The pro-abortion movement is acting with a certain desperation, but it is also acting in a way that would’ve been considered radical even in the beginnings of the pro-abortion movement. Many in that movement actually argued, at least in the early years, that they too advocated and respected conscience rights, but you’ll notice all that is disappearing very, very quickly.

The net effect of these two bills taken together would be to nullify the conscience rights not only of doctors and nurses and other medical practitioners in the state of New Mexico, but also religiously identified hospitals. It would make it virtually impossible for a Christian hospital to operate in defense of the sanctity of human life. We also see here something that is happening in other nations, and that is the reclassification of abortion as a necessary and routine medical procedure, the denial of which actually violates a woman’s rights.

But the radical nature of what’s going on in terms of the abortion-rights movement there in the state of New Mexico is not limited to this removal of conscience protections and the opening of religious hospitals and Christian medical practitioners to litigation if they refuse to participate in abortion or even referring to an abortionist. As Dan McKay, a reporter for the Albuquerque Journal reported just about a week earlier,

“Democrats in the state House on Thursday blocked Republican efforts to pass a law requiring doctors to provide medical care if an infant is born alive during an attempted abortion.”

He goes on to say,

“The House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee heard emotional testimony and debate for about two hours – as supporters of the legislation described the horrors of botched abortions and the killing of infants.

“But in the end, the committee’s three Democrats voted to table the bill, preventing it from proceeding through the Legislature.”

Dr. Sandra Penn, identified as a physician for more than three decades according to the Journal urged the committee to avoid what she described as political interference in medical care. She said,

“This bill would add the possibility of criminalizing a medical procedure.”

The Journal said that she argued that it would inject fear into a situation “when it should not be there.”

Here you’ll simply note again the absolute disappearance of the unborn child as a moral reality or even as a moral entity. Instead the only concern here is the woman who is demanding an abortion. But notice the truly radical nature of what’s being reported here. What was proposed was a bill that would require physicians to try to save the life of a baby that was born alive during an attempted abortion. You would think that even those who support abortion on demand would understand, if for public relations than for nothing else, then they should if not support the bill, then at least get out of the way. But here’s where you have to understand that the pro-abortion movement is allowing absolutely no opening whatsoever. They are so absolutely committed to abortion rights that they will even go to the lengths to oppose a bill that would merely require a physician to try to save the life of a baby that is born alive during an attempted abortion. As even the newspaper recognized, the bill would have made it a felony “to intentionally kill a born alive infant.”

But even as we note the truly radical nature of the pro-abortion movement as reflected in their opposition to this bill, we also need to recognize that it’s not as shocking as we might like to think, precisely because the pro-abortion movement has defended virtually every abortion imaginable and has steadfastly defended itself against any legislation that would criminalize any abortion, including the abortion-rights movement’s absolute defense of even what is horrifyingly known as partial-birth abortion.

What we see in terms of these issues, the confluence of these stories and what we now know is happening in the state of New Mexico, is a one-two punch. On the one hand, it is an effort to defend any abortion imaginable, under any set of circumstances, against any kind of moral or legislative scrutiny. And then it is to go forward and to remove the conscience protections for medical practitioners and also for religiously-based hospitals. This is not only a one-two punch, it is very clearly an act of desperation, but yet an act that just might work in terms of the New Mexico legislature. We can only hope that if that does happen that the Governor of New Mexico will recognize what is at stake. If either of these bills does reach the Governor’s desk, she’s going to have to make a very clear statement not only in defense of human life, but in defense of religious liberty and moral conscience.

Catholicism and the priesthood: Pope breaks with tradition, says he's open to allowing married priests

Next, the dateline is Rome and once again we have a story that demands our attention having to do with Pope Francis. As USA Today’s Doug Stanglin reported over the weekend,

“Pope Francis said he is open to the possibility of permitting married men to become priests to address the serious shortage of Catholic priests in some countries.

“The pope raised the idea in an interview with the German newspaper Die Zeit.

“He ruled out the prospect of allowing single men who are already priests to marry but was open to the idea of allowing unmarried laymen or men already married to be ordained.”

According to Stanglin,

“The pope raised the prospect in the context of allowing ‘viri probati,’ Latin for ‘tested men,’ to be ordained in places with a scarcity of priests.”

According to USA Today the Pope said,

“We need to think about whether ‘viri probati’ could be a possibility. If so, we would need to determine what duties they could undertake, for example, in remote communities.”

Now speaking of the scarcity of priests, the New York Times, the reporter Jason Horowitz makes that very clear when he writes,

“In the United States, there are now about 2,500 Catholics per priest, compared with 851 per priest in 1972, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, which is affiliated with Georgetown University.”

As Horowitz goes on to report,

“The chasms are far wider in Africa, Asia and Latin America, where the faithful can go months without access to a priest and married deacons are increasingly called on to conduct the business of parishes. In Brazil, according to the center, there are roughly 8,000 Catholics per priest.”

Now there’s a lot going on here, but at least a part of what evangelicals have to recognize is the difference between our understanding of the ministry and the Roman Catholic understanding of the ministry. The Roman Catholic Church is based upon what is called a sacerdotal ministry, that is an official priesthood which is understood to have sacramental duties and thus to have enormous authority, even to the extent of the forgiveness of sins and by the ministration of the priest in the sacraments, in the latin ‘ex opere operato.’ Even simply by the action of the sacrament itself grace is realized in the life of the Catholic church member, and thus what we’re looking at is the fact that if Catholics do not have access to a priest, they do not have access to the sacraments, and if they do not have access to the sacraments, according to Roman Catholic theology their very salvation is not only in peril, but indeed in doubt.

Over against this the Reformers, claiming the full authority of Scripture and Scripture alone, insisted that salvation does not come by this kind of sacerdotal ministry nor by a sacramental infusion of grace, but rather that we are saved on the basis of Christ alone, and that it comes into the life of the sinner who is the saved; we are justified by faith alone, and we come to understand that is by grace alone. But that not only redefines the gospel, it also redefines the ministry and those who are recalling that this is the 500th anniversary in 2017 of Martin Luther’s famous nailing of the 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church there in Wittenberg, thus the 500th anniversary in this sense of the Reformation, we have to remind ourselves that the first several of the theses that Martin Luther nailed to that church door were precisely about these issues, in particular the sacrament of penance. Luther’s understanding of the unbiblical nature of that sacrament led to his understanding of the unbiblical nature of the entire edifice.

Interestingly, Horowitz looking at this as an outsider to the Catholic Church said that what’s going on here is actually perhaps less theology than arithmetic. That is it’s a matter of math, the ratio of the number of priest to the number of parishioners. But, of course, it’s never merely about the math, it’s always about theology, and this is where evangelicals also have to be reminded that the Roman Catholic Church is teaching about the necessary celibacy of priests runs directly counter to the entire logic of the New Testament, including even the experience of Jesus with his disciples. We’ve come to know that they were married, we also have the apostle Paul writing to Timothy about the minister of the gospel, the one who holds the teaching office as the husband of one wife. Furthermore, this Roman Catholic teaching written into canon law is, as the Roman Catholic Church acknowledges, not even a part of that church’s earliest history, but was rather a theological innovation. But what we’re looking at here is something that has been central to the Catholic Church and to its definition of priesthood, including the fact that the Roman Catholic Church claims that the priest is representing Christ personally and incarnationally in the ministry, and thus what we see here is a huge issue for the Roman Catholic Church. We’re also seeing this as a part of a larger pattern in which Pope Francis is an agent for the liberalization of the doctrine and practice of that church.

Once again, going back to USA Today’s Doug Stanglin he wrote,

“In his latest interview, the pope discussed the possibility of female deacons, saying theologians should study the example of Scripture, according to the Catholic Herald.”

The Pope said,

“What did this mean at that time (of the Bible)? What does it mean today?”

Then he said,

“Don’t be afraid! That makes us free.”

This Pope is clearly writing in not only elasticity into the moral practice of the church and its sacramental ministry, we see this on issues of human sexuality and a host of other issues, but we also see it now in terms of the Pope, after all, the supreme head of the Roman Catholic Church, throwing open the idea of a married priesthood. Now here is a huge issue, the condition of celibacy, it has been argued, is necessary for the priesthood, there have been some very few exceptions, and those exceptions have generally in modern decades been when someone has been a minister in the Church of England or the Anglican Communion and has converted to Catholicism. They have allowed at least some married Anglican priests or Church of England priests to enter into the Roman Catholic priesthood. Those have been very, very rare exceptions. And furthermore, if celibacy is a necessary condition of the priesthood, how in the world can there be some who are functioning alongside celibate priests, they themselves being married? If it’s a necessary condition, then even exceptions are actually not allowable.

Now the Pope is calling for an even wider category of exceptions which would tend to undermine the Roman Catholic Church’s insistence on celibacy. But then again, the Pope has said perhaps there needs to be a revisiting of Scripture. Now the way the Pope put it, it appears to be a rather liberal reinterpretation of Scripture. But the Pope had better be careful, because if he’s going to point his church back to the Scripture for the understanding of ministry, it will not come up with a priestly ministry. It will not come up with a sacerdotal ministry. It will not come up with a ministry that requires celibacy, nor would it even come up with the definition of the ministry that would make celibacy in any way the norm. The Pope is absolutely right, the Scripture is where we should go in order to settle these questions, but if indeed his church resettles this question on the authority of Scripture, it won’t come up with anything that looks like the Roman Catholic priesthood.

When homework makes history: Danish boy finds German warplane wreckage during WWII assignment

But finally we turn to a story datelined from Denmark, where the headlines were about a 14-year-old boy who took his school homework very seriously indeed. As Dan Bilefsky reports for the New York Times,

“When Daniel Rom Kristiansen, a 14-year-old student in northern Denmark, was given a homework assignment on World War II, his father had a jokey suggestion.

“Family legend had it that a plane crashed not far from their farm in 1944. “Go out and find the plane,” the father, Klaus Kristiansen, suggested.

“Much to his surprise, Daniel did.

“What began as a good-natured attempt by a man to make history come alive for his son turned into headline-grabbing news this week when Daniel, aided by Mr. Kristiansen, discovered the wreckage of a German warplane, along with the remains of a man who might have been its pilot.

“After the discovery Monday, forensics police officers arrived to secure the site, along with bomb disposal experts and a representative from the German Embassy. Soon, the Danish news media descended on the farm, in the remote town of Birkelse in the north of the Jutland peninsula.”

Now it turns out that the father had been told by his late father who lived on the farm that there had been a crash in terms of the final months of World War II right on the family farm. But there had been at that time, no discovery of any wreckage of the plane, and so was written off by many as a myth or a misunderstanding. But the father remembered this story as his 14-year-old son had this homework assignment on World War II and it turned out that the boy, armed with a metal detector, did find the plane along with the remains of the pilot. It was buried in a swampy bog on the farm. It turned out that the plane had basically disintegrated upon contact with the earth, but armed with his metal detector the boy was able to find many of the pieces including the engine of the plane, and then they found a jacket and the human remains.

The German government then confirmed that the remnants were of a Messerschmitt BF 109, a very common warplane of Nazi Germany,

“An amateur historian from the nearby city of Aalborg told the local news media that a German warplane had taken off on Nov. 27, 1944, from the city, crashed into a swamp and had never been recovered.”

The pilot was believed to have been identified as a young German by the name of Bruno Kruger. The New York Times story concludes,

“While there are still many unanswered questions, [the father] told the Danish radio station DR P4 Nordjylland that [his son] Daniel had gotten a day off school to watch the teams examining the wreckage. ‘Luckily, my son has something to write about in his assignment now.’”

This headline news comes to us as the World War II generation is passing from us. But for a nation like Denmark this isn’t something that took place far, far away, it was something that took place in this case almost in the backyard. Perhaps the lesson for parents is this, if you tell your 14-year-old son to go out in the backyard to see if he can find a crashed warplane, he just might do it. It turns out that sometimes homework isn’t just about history, sometimes it is history.

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing