April 4, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, April 4, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Filibuster vs. the nuclear option: History in the making as Gorsuch nomination forwarded to full Senate
Well now it’s not only words, it’s action. Yesterday, the Judiciary Committee of the United States Senate forwarded to the full Senate the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch as the next Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Unsurprisingly, it was a party line vote in the Judiciary Committee, and also it was yesterday that Democratic leaders in the Senate announced that they had at least 41 votes, the requisite votes in order to filibuster this nomination. And that sets the stage for Republicans to change the rules of the Senate. If indeed the Democrats filibuster this week, it will be the very first partisan filibuster of a Supreme Court nomination in American history. It will also be, in all likelihood, the last. That’s because Republicans are poised to change the rules of the Senate, removing the possibility of a filibuster for presidential nominations to the federal courts. Now that would include the Supreme Court of the United States. All of this made very necessary in terms of the partisan division not only the Senate, but increasingly throughout the federal judiciary.
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, lamenting the coming rules change now made necessary said the obvious, and that means that from now on the President of the United States needs only 51 votes in order to have his nominee to the United States Supreme Court confirmed. And as Senator Graham made very clear, that means that the future Supreme Court is going to be more ideological and not less. That’s bad news. But it is the logical and probably the almost historically inevitable outcome of the politicization of the courts especially begun under the Democratic leadership of the Senate in the 1980s. From now on every nomination to the United States Supreme Court is going to be understood as potentially tipping the balance of the Court for a generation or more to come. That’s at least part of what was behind the concern articulated by Senator Lindsey Graham.Show Full Transcript
But it was also very interesting that yesterday after it was clear that Democrats would filibuster the nomination, Sarah Posner of the Washington Post came along to offer advice to the Democrats of how they could oppose Judge Gorsuch on the substance of his responses to questions in the confirmation hearings before the judiciary committee. And it’s very telling that one of the two cases she mentions as giving ample evidence of why Judge Gorsuch should be turned down was the Hobby Lobby case. You’ll recall that that was the case that was indeed decided by a panel that included Judge Gorsuch. It was a decision that was later upheld by the United States Supreme Court. It was a decision that was a major victory for religious liberty. If you were to reverse the situation, it would be abundantly clear that if the case had gone the other way it would be a major blow to religious liberty.
In the Hobby Lobby case, the question had to do with the rights of a closely held corporation that that was run on Christian principles to apply those principles even to its health insurance program. This in conflict with the rulings of the Obama Administration in the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. You’ll recall that in the contraception mandate it was not only mandated that employers must pay for health insurance that would cover contraceptives, but included in that were four forms of contraception that are arguably functioning as abortifacients. The key issue is this, what is often not acknowledged in the press, the health insurance that had been offered by Hobby Lobby before the Affordable Care Act included cover of contraceptives but not for those suspected of operating at least sometimes as abortifacients. That would’ve violated the convictions of the Green family that founded and runs Hobby Lobby as a Corporation.
It’s just incredibly revealing that that’s one of the two cases chosen by Sarah Posner as evidence of what supposedly is the radicalism of this judge. We simply have to point out that that claim of radicalism is undone by the fact that the Supreme Court upheld Judge Gorsuch’s opinion, and also it was highly supported by the American people. We’re hardly talking about a radical idea here, much less a radical jurisprudence. But that just showed you again the changing definition of mainstream. In terms of the larger cultural conversation in America that dominated by newspapers such as the Washington Post and dominated in recent decades by the conversation in terms of the academic and legal left, well, that is moved mainstream to mean that anyone who is outside of the progressivist liberal understanding of the Constitution is now considered radical. In any case, the next few days are going to be really interesting in the United States Senate. Because now that the Judiciary Committee has forwarded the nomination to the full Senate, it is likely to be an accomplished event changing the history of the United States Senate by the end of this week. That bears a very close watching.
Work ethic, food, and politics: How 2 Thessalonians 3:10 sparked controversy in the US House of Reps
Next, staying with the Washington Post but shifting to a very different issue, last week I found myself talking to a food reporter for that very newspaper. And at the center of our conversation, interestingly enough, was a specific text from Scripture, 2 Thessalonians 3:10. The political context was the fact that Congress is considering changes to the supplemental nutrition assistance program, and that verse had at least arisen in terms of congressional conversation in hearings. The reporter, the food writer for the Washington Post who talked to me, Caitlin Dewey, asked me straightforwardly about the meaning of that text and whether or not it could or should have anything to do with the formation of American national policy in terms of food assistance.
Now let’s just remind ourselves of the verse. 2 Thessalonians 3:10 reads like this,
“For even when we were with you,” Paul writes, “we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”
Now before we look closer at either the Scripture or at the congressional conversation, we need to look at the media reporting because almost immediately there was a hue and cry that some members of the United States House of Representatives were calling for unemployed people not to be fed. The most telling aspect of this is that at least many in the mainstream media consider it absolutely illogical, nearly morally irrational, to suggest that work and food should somehow be connected. Let’s remind ourselves of the biblical text first. Of course, it doesn’t come in a vacuum. Paul is writing here to the Thessalonian church. And as he does so, he writes about himself, making clear that even as he sees some problems in that congregation, he addresses them directly, he wanted them to consider his own example. He writes about this when he says,
“For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you.”
Now that’s really interesting. Here the apostle Paul is writing to the congregation saying that even as he had a right to expect that they would feed him as he was ministering among them, he made a specific point of working even at night in order to earn his own bread so that he would not be a burden on the Thessalonian congregation. But then he points to others in the congregation who have demonstrated idleness. An old Christian word for that sin is sloth. And here the apostle Paul is very clear when he gives this command for the Thessalonian church,
“If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”
Now once again in terms of the political context, the issue is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and there are both offenders and critics of the program. No doubt there are some work requirements within the current legislation, but the conversation was about tightening those requirements in order to make certain that able-bodied persons who can work do work. And of course here we’re talking about adults.
The very idea of the food assistance program emerged during the war on poverty, launched most specifically by President Lyndon Johnson as an effort to make sure that on a short-term basis persons who could not have access to food would be fed. And furthermore this was one of the anti-poverty programs that was intended as the legislation made abundantly clear to lift persons out of poverty, not merely to institutionalize an impoverished state.
Now is not the time to go into a lengthy consideration of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The merits of these changes can be debated either way. The important thing for us to recognize is just how bizarre Paul’s point made to the Thessalonian church appears to many, particularly on the cultural left in the United States today.
But here’s where we need to note something. One of the questions I was asked is whether or not this Bible verse should have any direct application to American policy. The answer to that is the Bible verse itself should not be necessary. Embedded in creation is the very witness to the fact that there is to be a linkage between work and reward, in this case between working and eating. That’s symbolic of the larger biblical worldview in terms of economics in which there is to be a direct link between labor and its reward. And in which the sins of sloth and idleness and laziness are identified for exactly what they are and are not rewarded.
There should be no consideration here as to whether this text means that those who cannot work should not eat. As a matter of fact, the verse is exceedingly clear. It says,
“If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.”
Now at this point we also have to recognize what applies to so many other issues including the legal definition of marriage. Every single civilization has found itself to a work ethic. Without a work ethic, civilization itself is not possible. Throughout human civilization, this work ethic has actually taken on a very specific form. That form comes down to two very clear points. The first is the responsibility of any able-bodied adult to take care of himself or herself rather than to be a burden on others. And the second has been the responsibility of parents and a family to take care of their children and the extended family again in order not only to take care of those for whom they are responsible but to avoid the entire family becoming a burden on the larger society.
The Christian church is ordered to be very, very concerned for the poor as was Israel in the Old Testament. But that did not mean, and here again the Bible is very clear, rewarding idleness or sloth. As a matter of fact, all you need to do is to read the book of Proverbs in order to understand that with abundant clarity. It would be interesting to know what kind of controversy might have been invoked if members of Congress had used the very same words without attributing them to the apostle Paul and to the biblical text in 2 Thessalonians 3:10. My guess is quite honestly that many people would’ve heard those words and said that makes sense. And yet now we know the controversy that ensued, and I think it’s probably due to the fact that there is now such a knee-jerk reaction against anyone even citing the Bible. That tells us a very great deal about where we are in the society today. And notice that this particular antipathy directed towards a member of Congress citing Scripture was not to a Scripture that spoke of anything having to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ directly. Rather, it was simply to the necessary linkage between working and eating, but a society that institutionalizes not working will not be a society for long.
Mike Pence, the Billy Graham Rule, and the importance of protecting marriage from infidelity
And next we shift to a controversy concerning Vice President Mike Pence. The former Indiana Governor and former member of Congress found himself, now as Vice President, at the center of controversy because of remarks he had made in an interview back in 2002; he was then a member of Congress. But now as Vice President, those words have taken on a whole new importance, and again, what we have here is incredibly revealing. The Vice President of the United States has been called out for following a rule that he and his wife have both publicly articulated that he does not dine with nor meet with a woman not his wife or a member of his immediate family alone. Many in the media immediately tracked this to a rule that was most famously articulated by the evangelist Billy Graham who stated that he and his team would follow a very similar policy.
That rule quickly spread throughout the evangelical community, especially as applied to men in leadership, and for very good reason, the same very good reason that Billy Graham articulated and put into effect that rule decades ago. And that is this: there is always the danger of marital infidelity and ruining one’s testimony in terms of sexual sin, undermining one’s leadership. And this is an issue to which Christians understand we have a particular responsibility, and thus it wasn’t by accident that it was Billy Graham who is attributed with this rule in terms of its articulation. Of course Billy Graham did not come up with this rule. It was a rule that simply articulated a wisdom that had existed among Christians for a very, very long time, and it comes down to a very simple and irrefutable observation. And that is this: it is virtually impossible to have a sexual affair to be engaged in infidelity if one is not with a woman alone—that woman of course not your wife or a member of your family. That’s the issue here. The rule is very simple. It comes down to this: a man should not meet with a woman alone who is not his wife, especially in any kind of setting that isn’t open, that is, that is not being observed.
Now when you look at the media outcry here, you will see immediately once again just how irrational this kind of wisdom appears to those on the progressive left. And furthermore, even to many in mainstream America, the sexual revolution has so reordered their intuitions and expectations that it appears to them to be unreasonable that any man, or for that matter any woman, would hold to this kind of policy, especially when one holds public office or major corporate responsibility.
But let’s just consider the situation for a moment in this light. What if indeed the expectation of American political leaders is that they would not be alone with a person of the opposite sex? Now again, it’s not that they will not meet with or even eat with, dine with, the person of the opposite sex, just not alone. That “alone” is the big issue. Let’s just make the obvious observation here that if this rule had been applied to United States presidents, we would not have ended up with the impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton as President of the United States. The outcry against this policy has been absolutely amazing. Now remember, all this is traced back to an interview from 2002, but of course these days anything can be unearthed. And once revealed, it can become an issue of great controversy.
Laura Turner, writing in the Washington Post about this, raises this issue. She says,
“we also have to keep in mind the fact that Pence is the vice president of the United States. He is not a pastor and does not act in that capacity. How on earth can he be expected to represent half the country if he won’t eat at the same table as us?”
But that of course is ludicrous. The Vice President’s policy going back as far as 2002 is not that he would not dine or meet with persons of the opposite sex. It was that he would not do so alone. Writing at the Huffington Post, Soraya Chemaly wrote,
“This quiet informal rule isn’t only a matter of Pence’s private life, but of his professional life and public policy. It is, if still true, ridiculous and a good illustration of the absurdity women have to put up with regularly.”
She went on to cite Mother Jones reporter Clara Jeffery who asked,
“Would Pence dine with Theresa May?”
May, of course, is the Prime Minister of Great Britain. The answer to that should be immediate. Yes, of course he would dine with her, but he would not dine with her alone. By the way, what’s also missing from much of this is the fact that if one does serve as Vice President of the United States, one is almost never alone. This issue is actually not more important since Vice President Pence is holding that office, it’s far less important. There are very few opportunities, especially now as compared with when he was a member of Congress, that the Vice President of the United States would be alone. But the big issue here is the example that he sets, and that’s exactly why there’s been so much outcry. For example at Vox, Joanna L. Grossman wrote an article with the headline,
“Vice President Pence’s ‘never dine alone with a woman’ rule isn’t honorable. It’s probably illegal.”
Just consider the argument that makes perfect sense to this writer when she says that,
“By law, working dinners with the boss could be considered an opportunity to which both sexes must have equal access.”
It’s a matter she argues of fundamental equality.
One of the most incendiary articles also important for our consideration was written at the New Yorker by Jia Tolentino, and what’s most interesting about her article—by the way the headline is this: “Mike Pence’s Marriage and the Beliefs that Keep Women from Power”—is not so much the argument she makes about the policy, but the argument that she implicitly makes about marriage and infidelity. She writes, and I quote,
“By and large, there’s nothing wrong with living by whatever works for your marriage, your temperament, and your principles. And the outrage directed at Mike Pence’s chastity-belted Google calendar stems in part from many liberals’ unfamiliarity with conservative religious mores—as well as a gleefully voyeuristic interest in the striking details of Pence’s marital life.”
Then comes this line, I quote,
“Infidelity can be corrosive in marriages worth preserving, and guarding oneself against sexual deceit is a bipartisan practice.”
Actually, we can only hope that members of both parties would consider this such a priority. It’s lamentably not the bipartisan practice it should be. But what’s most interesting are the words that precede those in which she says that “infidelity can be corrosive in marriages worth preserving.”
That’s all you can say about adultery and infidelity, that it could be corrosive of marriage’s worth preserving? That perhaps tells us more than anything else where marriage now stands amongst many in this culture, the very people who are criticizing the Vice President for holding to this policy.
I do appreciate the fact that Alyssa Rosenberg, again writing an opinion piece in the Washington Post, at least writes this,
“Even granting that the couple’s critics could be correct about the consequences of the Pences’ rigid worldview, few seemed to consider it possible that the couple adheres to these rules out of a genuine dedication to their marriage.”
Now that gets to another issue that really does require attention. It seems that many who are writing about this controversy openly are ready to say that they are unnerved by the closeness of the Pences in terms of their marriage. Rosenberg indicates this when she says that some of the concern is about the Pences as “a couple who stay unusually — perhaps unnervingly — close.”
The confusion about this policy in terms of the cultural conversation and almost intentional confusion, especially when the word “alone” is generally left out of the coverage in the conversation, tells us a great deal so also is the lack of concern about adultery or infidelity found in some of this mainstream conversations. But perhaps most troubling of all is the fact that when a couple who have lived together in fidelity for so many decades in public life continue to be so close, it’s described quite honestly as “perhaps unnervingly close.”
Sometimes Christians looking at a controversy like this are tempted to respond with frustration and outrage, and there’s ample ground here for that kind of frustration. There’s also ample reason for Christians, in particular Christian pastors and leaders, to remember why a rule like this is important, and why it’s important to teach this rule to others and to explain it in terms of ministry and the congregation. But there’s something else here. Christians observing this conversation in public should be not only irritated and frustrated, but also feeling a sense of tragedy and loss, for the loss of an understanding of marriage that is simply indispensable to society. When a large number of persons especially in the opinion-making class in this country consider a marriage that has stood the test of time over decades to be unnervingly close, we have to recognize we have suffered a huge loss to the ideal of marriage. But if one does cherish and honor the institution of marriage, then awkward as some decisions may be, that also requires adherence to principles that support and protect the covenant of marriage.