March 30, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, March 30, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Pro-life journalists charged with 15 felonies for exposing Planned Parenthood's abortion business
An incredible story is unfolding in California. The headline in the Los Angeles Times yesterday is this,
“Two antiabortion activists behind undercover Planned Parenthood videos charged with 15 felonies”Show Full Transcript
The Attorney General of California announced to the public yesterday that he is filing 15 different felony counts against those who had exposed Planned Parenthood over the course of the last couple of years in terms of a series of videos. Matt Hamilton, reporting for the Los Angeles Times tells us,
“Two antiabortion activists whose controversial undercover videos accused Planned Parenthood doctors of selling fetal tissue were charged Tuesday with 15 felonies by California prosecutors. State Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra’s office alleges that David Daleiden and his co-conspirator, Sandra Merritt, filmed 14 people without their consent at meetings with women’s healthcare providers in Los Angeles, Pasadena, San Franciso and El Dorado.”
Hamilton went on to report,
“The edited videos were published online, prompting outrage among abortion foes and triggering a wave of threats to abortion providers and those who were secretly recorded.”
So what’s really going on here? This is a really big story. We’re looking at the fact that the Attorney General of California, California being one of the most liberal and pro-abortion states in the unions, is using the coercive power of the law in order to put an end to what they see as a threat to the abortion industrial complex, and that is the series of videos, those already released and those promised to be forthcoming, coming from the organization known as the Center for Medical Progress. The two people named in terms of these felony counts are the very people who are responsible primarily for the release and indeed the production of the videos themselves.
Let’s also look at the language used by the Los Angeles Times. We are told here that the videos were edited, true enough. We are told that the videos prompted outrage amongst abortion foes, true enough. We’re also told that the videos triggered a wave of threats to abortion providers. What the release of the videos also accomplished was to spark a national conversation, but disappointingly enough, that conversation has basically taken us nowhere in terms of any public or legal action against Planned Parenthood. We also need to remind ourselves that these videos demonstrated beyond any question that Planned Parenthood’s medical personnel, including its chief medical director, were intentionally destroying unborn human babies, strategically crushing their bodies in order to obtain tissues and organs for medical experimentation. There’s also no question that they were doing so while they were being reimbursed financially.
There is open discussion in terms of the recordings about how Planned Parenthood intended to profit by means of these transfers with the reimbursements. But when it came down to questions as to whether or not Planned Parenthood had broken the law in terms of the language that forbids the sale of human tissues and organ, well, that’s a very different matter, and those states found that Planned Parenthood had not technically violated the law. But we also need to remind ourselves before we look at the further developments this week that Planned Parenthood acknowledged and even organizationally apologized for the language that was used by its chief medical officer in those videos. The organization did not contest the identity of the persons who were filmed, nor did they contest the basic reality that these babies were being destroyed in the womb in a strategic way so that their tissues and organs could be harvested for medical experimentation.
The language used by the Attorney General of California was itself very interesting. As Los Angeles Times says Attorney General,
“Becerra, a veteran congressman who became attorney general in January, said his office ‘will not tolerate the criminal recording of confidential conversations.’”
He went on to say,
“The right to privacy is a cornerstone of California’s Constitution, and a right that is foundational in a free democratic society.”
There’s no question that what this amounts to is an effort to try to crack down on this organization and put an end to its threat to Planned Parenthood and the larger edifice of legal abortion in America. Thankfully, David French at National Review magazine did some research that is quite helpful and necessary here. In his report filed yesterday at National Review magazine, David French wrote
“Its decision to go after two journalists who exposed Planned Parenthood reeks of selective prosecution. It’s becoming increasingly clear that in the state of California, the right to abort a child is the chief liberty in the land, and all other liberties must bow before it. Few things illustrate this sad and morbid truth more than the decision of the California attorney general to prosecute (or, more accurately, persecute) David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt.”
He then goes on to make very clear that this is a selective prosecution. We knew this even before we look at the specific research that is produced here by David French. We know this because in many celebrated cases of journalism, it was the very same kind of surreptitiously videoed or recorded conversations that led to what liberals wanted rather than what they feared. He goes on to say this,
“California’s case not only fails on the merits, it reeks of selective prosecution. There is no shortage of examples of concealed-camera videos in California exposing scandalous behavior.”
He cites a report done by Sean Davis of The Federalist who has also been raising this question. They go back to 2014 when a group known as Mercy for Animals released an undercover video that showed widespread animal abuse, they claimed, and cruelty at one of the largest duck farms in California. As French says,
“Authorities reportedly responded to the video — by investigating the farm.”
We’re also told that the very next year in 2015 the same group released another undercover video, this time, in the words of the organization, “exposing ‘apparent mistreatment of chickens at a Foster Farms poultry slaughterhouse in Fresno and at three poultry farms in Fresno County.’”
“Once again, authorities responded — once again by investigating the farm.”
You will note that in both of those cases the state of California investigated the source of the scandal, at least the alleged source of the scandal, and they did not bring criminal charges against those who surreptitiously and secretly videoed the evidence, including conversations. As David French wrote yesterday,
“But the lives and deaths of chickens and ducks rate higher than the lives and deaths of human babies in the womb, so the Center for Medical Progress triggered an entirely different law-enforcement reaction. Pro-life journalists must be prosecuted.”
In the conclusion of his article, French writes,
“Fairness and law notwithstanding, Daleiden is clearly in for the fight of his legal life. California’s entire political establishment is growing ever-more repressive against people of faith and the pro-life movement. In close cases it may be difficult to find a sympathetic judge. Even here, with solid precedent on Daleiden’s side and a First Amendment that should tip the scales in his favor even further, progressive judges may be tempted to punish Planned Parenthood’s worst journalistic enemy.”
That’s all troubling enough, but before we leave this story, we need to recognize that yesterday the Washington Times broke a story on yet another video released by the Center for Medical Progress. This time, as Bradford Richardson reports, the activists released a video “showing a former Planned Parenthood official suggesting that babies born alive after abortions are sometimes left to die.”
Actually a transcript of the video demonstrates that it reveals, horrifyingly enough, even more. As the Times reports,
“DeShawn Taylor, former medical director for Planned Parenthood Arizona, appears in the video. ‘In Arizona, if the fetus comes out with any signs of life, we’re supposed to transport it. To the hospital,’ Ms. Taylor says.”
Next, we are told that the activists posing as fetal tissue buyers ask this former Planned Parenthood official if there is “any standard procedure for verifying signs of life.”
“Well, the thing is, I mean the key is, you need to pay attention to who’s in the room, right?”
Later in the video, speaking of the same process of removing organs and tissues from aborted babies for use in medical experimentation, this former Planned Parenthood official indicated that when she was working for the organization there were moments of awkwardness. She said,
“It’s not a matter of how I feel about it coming out intact, but I gotta worry about my staff and people’s feelings about it coming out looking like a baby.”
Just consider those last words with all of their horror. She speaks about a baby “coming out looking like a baby.”
That tells us just about everything. This tells us that in this context, the moral status of the baby as to whether or not it’s a human life is really not even a consideration. Instead the only consideration is the staff and the emotional response that might be produced if indeed the aborted baby looks like a baby. It’s hard to look at this issue without coming to open grief. But it’s not only grief that should be our response, but moral outrage. And furthermore, there should be moral outrage at the fact that the Attorney General of California has arrested these two pro-life activists and charged them, once again with 15 felony counts.
Even if these prosecutions do not go far and even if, as we should hope and pray, these activists are acquitted, the reality is that California is undeniably guilty of selective enforcement in this case selective arrest. It is using a law against these two activists that is not used against others in a similar situation. It is also, that is the state of California, trying to deny the status of these individuals as journalists, therefore, trying to remove any First Amendment protections. But we’re also looking at the absolute fanaticism that is reflected here. Former California Attorney General Kamala Harris, now a United States senator, began this investigation. Once it was begun, there was no question of where it was going to end. The only question was when. And now we know the answer to that. The answer was yesterday, but now for these two and for the larger pro-life movement, at least in the state of California, the trial is only just beginning.
Dominion, stewardship, and creation: How worldview shapes the climate change debate
Next, sometimes it’s hard to know what the biggest news coming out of Washington might be at any given moment, but at least the biggest news in Washington this week is the signing of a series of executive actions by President Donald Trump. The headline in the Wall Street Journal was this,
“Trump Loosens Climate Rules.”
As Louise Radnofsky and Cassandra Sweet reported,
“President Donald Trump Tuesday took steps to begin unraveling the centerpiece of the Obama environmental agenda, signing an order to reverse rules aimed at pushing U.S. utilities to shift from coal plants to cleaner-burning fuels.”
As The Journal’s report continued, President Trump was cited as saying,
“My administration is putting an end to the war on coal.”
He said this ahead of his official signing act at the Environmental Protection Agency. The Journal also said that the President said he was “paring back regulations that impeded job creation, while still ensuring clean air and water.”
Then The Journal says,
“But while the moves are being billed as job savers, companies and energy experts said the order is unlikely to reverse the U.S. utility industry’s shift to natural gas, solar and wind as leading sources of electricity.”
Without doubt there are very serious worldview issues implicated in this story. There is also the fact that we’re looking at a basic divide in how people see this kind of news or address this kind of issue. Here we stand at the intersection of a number of issues including climate change and environmentalism, creation care and our responsibility for the earth as the Lord has given to us both for dominion and for stewardship. And of course there are deep economic and political issues that are also very clearly involved in this equation. But when you look at the differences in terms of opinion in worldview, just consider how the editorial boards of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal responded differently. The Journal’s editorial board openly celebrated the President’s action with the headline,
“Trump’s Energy Progress.”
It went on to say that this new executive order stops “Obama’s war on fossil fuels.”
On the other hand, the editorial board of the New York Times ran a statement with the headline,
“President Trump Risks the Planet.”
And it went on to say that the signing of these executive orders on Tuesday put the entire planet at risk in terms of climate change. But here you have the reality that when we’re looking at so many of these issues, it’s not just a difference of opinion. It actually is a difference of fact. When it comes to many of these climate change issues, especially when it comes to very highly politicized issues such as these policies, you’re looking at the fact that Americans, and furthermore those around the world, are not even dealing with the same agreed-upon facts.
On an issue like climate change, the facts are actually somewhat hard to come by. Not so much in recent years, for well over a century there is very substantial and comprehensive weather reporting. The records are very clear, but the issue of climate change requires a much longer view than is available to us in terms of well-documented weather studies. Instead, scientists have tried to retroactively create the weather and climatological conditions that they believe did pertain in order to argue for patterns and for that matter the future trajectory of climate change under different sets of conditions.
The problem is, as I’ve said, those facts are by no means beyond dispute. And what you have taking place this week is the Trump Administration claiming one set of facts to replace the set of facts that had been claimed by the Obama Administration. Politically, there’s even more here at stake because you’re looking at the fact that we are not here talking about legislation. If we were, we wouldn’t just be talking about former President Obama and now President Trump, we would be talking about the United States Congress. But Congress isn’t involved in this issue at this point precisely because President Obama acted by means of executive orders. And now the very same thing is happening in reverse with President Trump on Tuesday issuing his own executive directive. One of the things that simply affirms is that anything that can be done by executive order can over the long haul be undone by the next president or a future successor.
The Christian worldview does remind us that we are given a dual assignment. That assignment includes dominion. There are many on the left of these days who see dominion as a problem, that human beings are themselves a blight upon the planet. This has a very long rootage in terms of the modern environmental movement, which is one of the reasons why the modern movement that is called environmentalism has been tied to what was claimed to be the population control movement throughout at least the second half of the 20th century. The presumption, the worldview behind both of those movements so closely intertwined, is that human beings are themselves the problem. The existence of human beings, certainly of more human beings, on the planet is seen to be a problem. Now, again, that is a direct refutation of the Christian biblical worldview that understands that every single human being is an image bearer of God and reminds us that in Genesis 1, God gave to the human creatures made in his image, male and female, a dominion to go forth and to multiply and to fill the earth.
The dominion command that is found in Scripture, specifically in Genesis chapter 1 verse 28, is a command that human beings are to make a difference on the planet. We are to make a difference by subduing the planet in order to aid human flourishing. The simple irrigation and cultivation of a crop, the planting of a crop, is one form of taking dominion, very simple and straightforward understanding. But so is digging a ditch or, for that matter, building a home or even raising a family. All of this is a part of exercising dominion, and this requires the use of natural resources, a use that is sanctioned in Scripture.
But there’s also the balancing command given to us. And that is the fact that we are not only to take dominion, we are to exercise stewardship. The biblical model here is simply of the garden. We are given a garden. We do not own it. We are called to tend it and to make it flourish. And we are going to give an answer to the owner of the garden for how we cared for it, but also how we enjoyed it. This is a reminder to us that the biblical worldview tells us that God gave us all that is given to us in creation for his glory and for our own flourishing and enjoyment. The Christian worldview validates dominion and also reminds us of stewardship. In the biblical worldview, these are by no means at odds. They are complementary. They go hand-in-hand.
When we think of this in terms of the worldview aspects of the controversies this week in the headlines having to do with President’s Trump’s agenda and his executive orders, let’s just keep in mind that we’re looking at a basic divide in America. It’s a divide over the facts having to do with the claims about climate change and climate science, but it’s about more than that as well. It really is a clash of worldviews. And as is the case in so many very highly politicized controversies, there probably is on this issue a good deal of middle ground, a good deal of consensus in the society. None of us wants to have anything less than clean water. None of us would rightly want to see the earth and including of course the landmass of the United States desecrated in any way. We also must remember that the land is given to us to be enjoyed and to be used as well as respected and appreciated.
When we look at this at the intersection of climate change and politics and economics, the economic factors are really important. President Trump cited them; so also did President Obama. They had different economic priorities reflected in these two different sets of policies. But the economy is in itself not just directed by national mandates or presidential executive orders, it is driven by the operation of the economy in terms of the decisions made by individuals, by communities, by corporations. All this to say that an environmentalist like Bjorn Wallenberg is probably absolutely right to point to the fact that the market is likely to resolve these issues in a far more powerful long-term and effective way than any government.
That’s actually embedded in that Wall Street Journal article where the reporters tell us,
“But while the moves are being billed as job savers, companies and energy experts said the order is unlikely to reverse the U.S. utility industry’s shift to natural gas, solar and wind as leading sources of electricity.”
That tells us that despite the executive orders, either those of President Obama or President Trump, the market is making a fundamental shift towards different forms of energy than we have used in the past.
One other issue before leaving this story, it is also now conceded that climate scientists in terms of their own records have indicated an unexpected pause in what was claimed to be global warming over the course of the last several years. That is a change that is inexplicable given any change in policy, either national or international, which is if nothing else a reminder, a humbling reminder, of how little we actually know and how little perhaps we can actually do about the larger question of the climate. The biblical worldview reminds us that we do have a responsibility, but that’s very different than claiming that we have some sort of sovereignty.
Ethics, truth, and the importance of public trust in Congress's ongoing Russia investigation
Finally in terms of big headlines out of Washington D.C. in recent days, here’s one from USA Today:
“Representative Devin Nunes bursts onto scene with Russia probe.”
A great deal of controversy: it could consume just about all of our attention to follow the ins and outs on a daily basis of this kind of headline story. But where Christians need to pay attention is this: Representative Nunes, the Republican leader of the House Investigatory Committee into the question of the relationship between Russian actions and the Trump election in November 2016, entered into controversy because of the fact that he had released to the press and to the Trump Administration information, including classified intelligence information, that he evidently obtained in a visit to the White House itself, meaning it had to come from a White House source. So here you have something of a circular form of information. Information came from the White House to the congressional investigatory Chairman and then back to the White House and just about every point entered the press in one way or another.
Here’s what we need to watch. When you have a question concerning ethics, when you have an investigation going on, it is very important that the public trust the investigators and the investigation. A story like this is radically politicized, and furthermore, if you’re watching cable news networks, you would think that this is a story that demands our constant attention 24/7. Of course, it doesn’t. It does require our moral attention, but it’s going to require a great deal more information before any informed American can actually understand what’s going on. But this is where Christians need to affirm very clearly that whatever takes place, the investigation should be understood as being fair, and it should be a hallmark of a democratic form of government, a constitutional republic, that our elected officials know how to conduct an investigation that in the end is understood to have been bipartisan and if not neutral, then at least fair. The Christian worldview also makes very clear the fundamental importance of truth, the reality of truth, the imperative of truth. And one thing Christians must be agreed upon is the fact that we need to know the truth. On that imperative, there should be absolutely no disagreement.