April 13, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, April 13, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
A high court in Sweden just ruled that a midwife must be willing to perform abortions to keep her job
Should a midwife be required to perform abortions or lose her job? This headline story comes from Scandinavia. It comes from Sweden, where the Wall Street Journal Sohrab Ahmari reports that one midwife there has found her job in jeopardy precisely because on the basis of Christian conviction she cannot participate in abortion. Ahmari writes,
“Ellinor Grimmark didn’t set out to wage a campaign. In 2007 the 40-year-old mother of two quit her catering job to become a midwife. She studied for years, dreaming of bringing life into the world. But Ms. Grimmark was professionally blacklisted in Sweden for her opposition to abortion. Now she is at the center of a yearslong legal dispute whose outcome will have implications for freedom of conscience in Sweden and across Europe.”Show Full Transcript
The background of this story is all too familiar to us. We’re looking at a young woman who had gone into training in order to be a nurse midwife there in Sweden. She did so because as a mother and as a medical practitioner. She wanted to bring life into the world. She wanted to be a midwife, and of course the role of the midwife goes all the way back in the ancient history. It is honored, of course, even in the Bible. Just think of the Hebrew midwives in the book of Exodus, and the very purpose of being a midwife is indeed that, it is to assist a woman in the process of bringing life into the world, and of course it’s an honored profession precisely for that reason. But in Sweden and elsewhere to be a midwife is not only to be a medical professional who assists in bringing life into the world, all too often it also means being a medical professional, as it is defined, who prevents life from coming into the world, that is, participates in abortions.
And when it comes to this particular midwife, Ellinor Grimmark, she didn’t want to participate in abortion, and in her case it’s not only a matter of personal preference, it is also a matter of her deep Christian conviction. As Ahmari wrote,
“Despite a reputation for stellar health care, Sweden faces an acute midwife shortage. Eighty percent of the county councils that run local hospitals reported having trouble recruiting midwives last year. An older cohort is retiring faster than its members can be replaced, and the perception that midwives are overworked dampens enthusiasm for the profession.”
As Ahmari continues the story, we are told that Ms. Grimmark, a devout Christian, knew that some midwives participate in abortions, but she assumed that hospitals would offer conscience carve-outs for practitioners like her. In her words,
“‘There is so much to do as a midwife,” she says in an interview at her lawyer’s office. ‘So I just thought, ‘OK, that’s one part, but I will do everything else.’ ”
Now, given the fact that Sweden is facing an acute shortage of midwives, you would think that they would be very, very reluctant to excise a woman from the profession simply because she is committed to doing virtually everything midwives are called upon to do with the exception of abortion. But abortion, as this story makes abundantly clear, in Sweden is a sine qua non. It is a moral absolute, and now you have a woman who is being excluded from this profession precisely because she will do everything else other than participate in the killing of an unborn child.
Further complicating the situation is research undertaken there in Sweden that shows that many midwives actually don’t participate in abortions, and you would think that that would at least cause the government and agencies there and also its courts to find some way to allow Ellinor Grimmark to continue as a midwife. But what seems to have singled her out is the fact that she vocally expressed the fact that she would not participate in the abortion. But then Ahmari writes Ms. Grimmark “underestimated the authorities’ determination to root out antiabortion sentiment.”
One supervisor asked her,
“How could you even think of becoming a midwife with these opinions?”
She was also tested in terms of her willingness to participate in the coverage of women who might have had an abortion. But even as Ms. Grimmark made very clear, she would treat such a woman. The fact that she was herself opposed to abortion meant that it was invalid in the eyes of many in authority there in Sweden that she could possibly continue as a midwife. Unable to practice her profession in Sweden, she instead accepted a midwife job in neighboring Norway. There hospitals do accommodate those whose convictions do not allow them to participate in abortions. The commute between Sweden and Norway was four hours. Eventually, her husband moved to Norway with her. And she says many of her Norwegian colleagues, some of whom are ardently supportive of abortion rights, are puzzled by her treatment there in Sweden. And let’s make no mistake about just how virulent that opposition has become. As Ahmari writes,
“Speaking at a panel on Islamist extremism in 2015, Mona Sahlin, a prominent politician and former government antiterror coordinator, argued that ‘those who refuse to perform abortions are in my opinion extreme religious practitioners’ not unlike jihadists.”
Now just consider that again. Here she is making an equation between those who cannot on the basis of conviction participate in abortion, and she is saying that they are basically morally the same thing as jihadists. Now you’ll notice here that one who is opposed to the taking of unborn life is being compared to someone who willingly takes human life. Ahmari continues,
“In January a TV segment framed Ms. Grimmark as part of ‘a global wave of oppression against women.’ On another TV panel the same month, feminist writer Cissi Wallin mused, ‘Those who are against abortion now, can’t we abort them—retroactively?’ Another panelist replied, ‘Yes, a really great idea!’ The others chuckled.”
Ahmari then tells us,
“During the trial, in the fall of 2015, an attorney for the defendants asked one of Ms. Grimmark’s would-be hospital directors, Christina Gunnervik, if it would be possible for someone ‘who stands for these opinions and is willing to express them publicl’ to work at her hospital, even temporarily. Ms. Gunnervik responded: ‘Unthinkable. Completely unthinkable!’”
It is simply inconceivable to her that anyone with pro-life convictions could have anything to do with the medical profession, specifically with being a midwife. Now at this point Ahmari goes into some very interesting legal analysis considering whether or not this right of conscience is actually enshrined within Swedish law and thus clearly being violated in this case. He also points to agreements on human rights to which Sweden is a signatory that likewise almost assuredly offer protection to Ms. Grimmark. Considering the secular nature of Europe, it’s important that Amari writes that,
“The Council of Europe has repeatedly condemned discrimination against health workers ‘because of a refusal to perform, accommodate, assist or submit to an abortion.’”
Then we are told that,
“Sweden is also required to safeguard the ‘freedom of thought, conscience and religion’ under the European Convention on Human Rights.”
Now when we’re talking about Scandinavia, we’re talking about the most northern and the most secular region of Europe. We’re talking about Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. But as Ahmari makes very clear, Norway and Denmark have found a way to have midwives and to have a radically pro-abortion culture but still to respect the convictions of medical professionals who cannot by those convictions participate in abortion. And so you’re looking at Sweden being the outlier here even in Scandinavia. At the end of the article Grimmark says,
“They still think they are putting women first by not giving me a job. We have Swedish mothers giving birth in Norway because they know they will have a midwife there. In Sweden, you don’t know. We’ve had mothers dying because they didn’t have midwives. It’s crazy.”
It is not just that it’s crazy, it’s actually the completely logical conclusion of an intellectual and ideological direction that the pro-abortion movement has been taking for a very long time. They are moving from what they describe as a right to an abortion to what is now the coercion to participate in abortions. There are many in America including the last platform of the Democratic Party that calls for American taxpayers to be coerced into funding abortion—and we’re also looking as we discussed on The Briefing just a matter of months ago at a nation like Canada considering requiring medical students to agree in advance that they will participate in abortion. The argument being that it is a waste of taxpayer dollars in Canada to allow someone to go to medical school who will not perform abortions. And now we have this story coming from Sweden, the original report by Sohrab Ahmari that ran in the Wall Street Journal in Monday’s edition. And then yesterday came the news that the court decision in Sweden has been handed down and Ellinor Grimmark has lost her appeal.
Steven Ertelt writing for Life News tells us that a Swedish court ruled yesterday that Grimmark has no choice but to participate in abortions if she wants to keep her job as a midwife. In a statement released yesterday, Ellinor Grimmark said,
“As a midwife, I want to exercise a profession which defends life and saves lives at all cost. Are healthcare practitioners in Sweden to be forced to take part in procedures that extinguish life, at its beginning or final stages? Somebody has to take the little children’s side, somebody has to fight for their right to life.”
She then goes on to describe the fact that one midwife shared with her the experience, the horrifying, unspeakable experience of holding a child that had been aborted as it was then allowed to die. She then says,
“I cannot take part in this.”
This story will be difficult enough for us to conceive and to discuss if it were a story that we knew would simply be limited to Sweden, but of course this logic is not limited to Sweden. The logic of coercing persons now to participate in abortion, whether it be merely taxpayers paying for it all the way up to doctors and nurses and midwives required to perform them, we are seeing this ideology become more and more openly espoused and advocated even here in the United States of America. Ellinor Grimmark is certainly right when she speaks of the situation and says it’s crazy. The problem is it’s not just crazy. This is where we have to use a theological vocabulary. This isn’t just crazy; this is evil.
Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics: Calling breastfeeding "natural" is unethical
But next we shift right to the United States and an article that simply can’t be missed published in the academic journal Pediatrics. That’s the official journal of the American Pediatrics Association, and thus it comes with a special medical authority. The article’s title,
“Unintended Consequences of Invoking the ‘Natural’ in Breastfeeding Promotion”
The article is by two medical ethicists, Jessica Martucci and Anne Barnhill, and let me just get to the absolute essence of their argument. They are arguing that those who have been advocating for mothers nursing their children have been imposing a gender stereotype by using the word “natural” in response to a mother nursing her children. What we’re looking at here is the fact that this is a straightforward argument that the use of the word “natural” just isn’t going to fit in terms of the LGBT revolution. Instead, the word “natural” is going to have to disappear, and this is not just something that’s implied in this article. It is absolutely explicit. Reading from the article now,
“Building on this critical work, we are concerned about breastfeeding promotion that praises breastfeeding as the ‘natural’ way to feed infants. This messaging plays into a powerful perspective that “natural” approaches to health are better, a view examined in a recent report by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.2 Promoting breastfeeding as ‘natural’ may be ethically problematic, and, even more troublingly, it may bolster this belief that ‘natural’ approaches are presumptively healthier.”
Now what’s the big hang up on the word “natural” here? Well, this is one of those big-picture issues in which we have to look very closely because we’re talking here about the use of the word “natural” as actually, not by accident, relating to nature. That is to say, what is found in nature by design is natural, and therefore it is to be understood as a part of the intention reflected in nature. Now, of course, that implies that there is an intention in nature, and that’s the very foundation of the Christian worldview. But even secular worldviews have affirmed that nature itself, even if they deny a designer or a Creator, has an embedded pattern of wisdom within it.
Now let’s just note something else, because it simply has to be said. Without natural reproduction, there would not be the reproduction of the species, and it’s simply a fact that when it comes to nursing mothers, well, it’s the mothers who do the nursing. And that is according to this article an invasive and dangerous gender stereotype.
You rarely find a sentence that is so shockingly clear as what is found in this article from the April edition of Pediatrics. I quote,
“Coupling nature with motherhood, however, can inadvertently support biologically deterministic arguments about the roles of men and women in the family (for example, that women should be the primary caretakers of children). Referencing the ‘natural’ in breastfeeding promotion, then, may inadvertently endorse a controversial set of values about family life and gender roles, which would be ethically inappropriate.”
This is, to be honest, not a subject that I would eagerly take on The Briefing, and yet I did so because there is no more crystallizing realization of what we face in terms of this social, moral, and sexual revolution than the fact that the most basic pattern known to humanity here, the familiar pattern of a mother nursing her child, is described as unethical if described as natural. “Natural” here is the enemy of the moral revolution, and that’s the point. The moral revolution is itself contrary to nature. It is contrary to nature to say that male and female are indeterminate categories. It is contrary to nature to say that mothers and fathers are the same or interchangeable or that we can simply do without either. It is against nature to try to sever the relationship between a mother and a child, even in terms of something as natural as nursing.
We are talking about a rebellion against the entire order of creation here. But you normally don’t have it in quite such straightforward terms. Here the rebellion against the entire structure of creation comes down to an article in which we are told that it is problematically unethical to use the word “natural” when referencing to the most natural pattern that we could imagine, a mother nursing her child. And just remember as we move to a new story that this is not an article that appeared in some fringe periodical somewhere. This is published in the April edition of the journal Pediatrics.
Does it matter if the Passover story is literally true? Truth, fact, and the historicity of the Bible
Finally we turn to an article that appeared in the Los Angeles Times. Here’s the headline,
“Does it matter if the Passover story is literally true?”
This is an article that comes, of course, coincident with the Jewish observation of the Passover, and it raises a question that is central to how we understand Scripture. This is not just a Jewish question, of course, this is a question of great interest to Christians as well, and the parallels become abundantly clear. Here you have an author by the name of Eric Schwitzgebel, he’s identified as a professor of philosophy at the University of California Riverside, who raises the issue as to whether it should matter as to whether or not the Passover events as recorded in Exodus actually happened. But that’s not all there is to Mr. Schwitzgebel’s argument. Because as the argument unfolds, he moves from asking whether it is necessary that these events happened in space and time and history, whether they’re historical events, to the fact that he’s certain that they were not historical events, that is, what’s recorded in Exodus as the Passover. But he goes even further saying that they must not have been real events because the God who would be behind such events would be an immoral, evil God.
Mr. Schwitzgebel writes,
“Passover is a holiday of debate, reflection and conversation. Last Passover, as my family and I and the rest of the congregation waited for the feast at our Reform Jewish temple, our rabbi prompted us: ‘Does it matter if the story of Passover isn’t literally true?’ Most people seemed to shake their heads. No, it doesn’t matter.”
Mr. Schwitzgebel explains that he was in the congregation because his wife and teenage son are Jewish. He says that he is not. They have a 10-year-old daughter adopted from China who describes herself as half Jewish. But he instead said it does matter if the Passover story is literally true. The Rabbi asked him why does it matter. He says,
“I hadn’t planned to speak. ‘It matters,’ I said, ‘because if the story is literally true, then a god who works miracles really exists. It matters if there is such a god or not. I don’t think I would like the moral character of that god, who kills innocent Egyptians. I’m glad there is no such god.’”
Now, here you have what is theologically described not merely as atheism, but as protest atheism. This became increasingly popular after the Second World War. Protest atheism says that this kind of God, the God of the Bible, not only does not exist but must not exist. It is not merely an argument about being, that is the argument that there is no such God. It is an argument about morality that there must be no such God. Mr. Schwitzgebel then said,
“It is odd that we have this holiday that celebrates the death of children, so contrary to our values now.”
Now let’s just step back for a moment and remember what Exodus tells us about the miracle of the Passover. We’re talking about the final plague that was brought by God against Pharaoh and the Egyptians. It is not—that is the Passover celebration—it is not and has never been a celebration of the death of the Egyptian children, the firstborn sons. It has rather been a celebration of the miracle of the survival of the preservation of the firstborn sons of Israel and, of course, so long as those sons were in the house where the blood of the lamb had been put on the door posts in order that the death angel would pass by that house.
Now let’s just look at what we’re facing here. We are looking at a straightforward argument that the events of Exodus didn’t happen, and we’re also looking at that argument being amplified to the effect that they must not have happened. Claiming that the events of the Exodus are historical would be not only an error, this man says, it would be a wrongful act. Mr. Schwitzgebel does say it does matter whether the events of the Exodus were historical or not, and he makes not only an historical argument, he makes a very clearly moral argument.
But this is where we have to come to understand that this is a pattern that is now familiar to us. It’s the pattern of trying to find events to be meaningful while denying that they actually happened. This has been a part of the great liberal quest ever since at least the 19th century when many liberal biblical scholars and religious leaders tried to say you can have meaning in the stories of the Bible so long as you do not claim that they actually happen. But here you need to note that that argument is inherently unstable, the kind of argument that you can find meaning in these events if they didn’t happen. Well, Mr. Schwitzgebel’s arguing that you really can’t find the meaning of those stories even in the stories whether or not they actually happened. Instead, you have to correct the stories and to create, he’s quite open about this, a story that is more in keeping with modern liberal values.
Now in essence that’s the very idea of Reform Judaism. It’s also the idea behind liberal Protestantism, that is theological liberalism wherever it is found. Mr. Schwitzgebel argues that the Passover and other biblical events are simply myths. He then goes on to say this is the central insight of Reform Judaism,
“Myths are cultural inventions built to suit the values of their day, idealizations and simplifications, changing as our values change.”
That’s an undiluted argument that we simply have to change the stories as our values change, but it doesn’t matter because the stories didn’t actually happen anyway. It is also interesting to note that Mr. Schwitzgebel’s commentary brought a series of responses as letters to the editor of the Los Angeles Times. Several of them continued and extended the argument. One of them said that when it comes to the stories in the Bible, you have to decide between a literal as opposed to a figurative interpretation. Well, there you have it, once again, the central defining issue in terms of interpreting the Scriptures. And this is where evangelical Christians have to understand that if it is revealed as history in the Scriptures, it is to be received as intending to convey and reveal history, and it must be received as history in the same sense as space, time, and history define our existence today. One writer said that the meanings of the story, the moral meanings are the story. The facts, so to speak, simply don’t matter.
At this point evangelical Christians have to understand that to Christianity, it matters immensely. It matters entirely whether or not the events as recorded and revealed in Scripture actually happened. That is indeed the central Christian truth claim that the events of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection are absolutely historical, as are all of the historical events that are revealed in Scripture. And it’s at this point that Christians have to be particularly attentive because in asking the story if the Passover happened, we are asking a story that’s important to the Gospel as well. Because in the unfolding story of the Gospel, God’s saving act on the night of the Passover is a picture of God’s ultimate saving act on the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the empty tomb. Does it matter that the events of the Passover actually happened in history? Of course it matters. And at this point Christians need to understand that it matters not only to the history of Israel, it matters to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.