April 28, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday, April 28, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Abortion, the central sacrament of the secular left, is challenging the unity of the Democratic Party
Sometimes the deep and widening worldview divide in this country shows up in interesting ways, often in the headlines—sometimes the real story is even underneath the headlines. Recently, the New York Times ran a headline telling us,
“Nebraska race reveals divide for Democrats.”Show Full Transcript
Jonathan Martin gives us the gist of the story in the first paragraph:
“Rarely has a municipal election in a midsize city ignited such a fierce national debate over what defines a Democrat. But the election this spring for mayor of Omaha is pitting abortion rights activists against economic populists and threatening the party’s unity as it regroups to confront President Trump.”
Our concern in this story is not predominantly partisan. It is instead what it tells us about the worldview divide in this country and how that divide is getting even wider. Sometimes the divide seems even to widen not only between conservatives and liberals in this country, not only between those who are theists and non-theists in this country, but sometimes even inside the political parties. And that tells us a very great deal about the ideological fracturing of our age. This particular problem is nonpartisan; there are of course deep philosophical and political divides within the Democratic and Republican parties, but at this point it’s the Democratic Party that is showing the greater strain, and this strain is dividing Democrat from Democrat. It is also telling us what’s ultimately most important for the majority of activists in that party.
The subhead of the article in the New York Times says that we’re talking about economic issues versus abortion rights. The lead paragraph in the story tells us that all of the sudden, a municipal election, the election of a mayor in Omaha, Nebraska, has become headline news in the New York Times. That has to be explained by something. The something is the fact that in recent days, Vermont Senator—that’s an independent Senator—Bernie Sanders, who in many ways is the standard-bearer, ironically enough, for the Democratic left and Tom Perez, the former U.S. Labor Secretary who is currently chairman of the Democratic National Committee, had been traveling around the country to selected major cities in a Democratic unity campaign. But what’s been revealed tellingly enough is not a great deal of unity.
As the subhead in this article makes clear, what it has revealed is that there are two big ideological issues that are fighting for importance within the party. Those two issues are economic populism and abortion rights. In this article it tells us that Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers, conceded,
“This is very raw, after the presidential election, there is still this ongoing debate about identity politics versus economic opportunity.”
Now that was a statement about this divide, but it turns out it’s not just identity politics that’s at stake here, it’s also abortion rights. Indeed, what is revealed in this front-page story in the New York Times is that for many Democrats, abortion is the single most important issue—that means support for abortion rights translated into abortion on demand and also federal taxpayer funding for abortion.
The article is really interesting, taking us there to Omaha, Nebraska and telling us that the election of the mayor there has all of the sudden become a really revealing and contentious issue within the Democratic Party. That’s because the man who is the Democratic standard-bearer for that particular election is indeed leftist when it comes to politics and matters of economics, but on the question of abortion he is, at least as he says in terms of his own personal conviction, pro-life. That is not acceptable for many Democrats, Democrats who protested that Bernie Sanders had actually offered words of support. Senator Sanders well-known for his economic populism and for his contention for abortion had indicated that he supported Mr. Mello because of his economic policies. But some of Mr. Sanders’ own supporters have cried foul because, in their view, even a candidate that bears the Democratic label who admits that he or she is personally opposed to abortion on moral grounds, although politically respectful they say of abortion rights, they are arguing that such a candidate is simply unacceptable in the Democratic Party. Why? Because abortion-rights is the sine qua non, the single most important criterion for identity as a Democrat.
This Democratic mayoral candidate, Heath Mello, is 37 years old. The Times said he should be,
“A future star in the Democratic Party who could help break the grip of big money on the nation’s politics.”
That’s an interesting statement, but what’s more interesting is the fact that the president of NARAL Pro-choice America, identified on this front page clearly as a prominent abortion-rights advocacy group, termed the endorsement and appearance on behalf of Mr. Mello,
“A betrayal, especially of the women who have fueled the ‘resistance’ that has energized Democrats since [the last presidential election].”
Criticizing the appearance of Mr. Perez and Senator Sanders in support of Mello, Ilyse Hogue, who is the president of NARAL pro-choice America said,
“It tells your most active political base that we’re just negotiable political property.”
In a series of essays and articles especially from the left protesting this very thing, several have made the point that insofar as their worldview is concerned, abortion rights is absolutely central to economic rights. The argument that they are making—and this has been made by several, not just a few—is that abortion rights are central to the project of making all people equal, including establishing equality between men and women. The argument—and this goes all the way back to the Roe v. Wade decision—is that since men can’t be compelled to have a pregnancy and to carry it to term, women should also have the right to be equal, that is equally not compelled to carry a pregnancy to term. Just hold that thought. You see this particular kind of ideological thinking showing up in this article. For instance, Erin Matson, identified as a Virginia-based abortion-rights activists within the Democratic Party, said,
“It is incredibly important that people within the progressive movement and Democratic Party realize that women are sick of this [stuff] and we’re not going to take it anymore.”
Now in the days after the controversy broke, Mr. Mello also changed his policy, or least he clarified it in such a way that even as he continued to say that he’s personally opposed to abortion, he went on to say that he is fully now ‘respectful,’ and that’s the term that’s used, supportive of a woman’s right to abortion. And the leaders of the party, most importantly Tom Perez, also basically groveled in terms of the abortion rights movement. As Martin reports,
“By Friday afternoon, Mr. Perez had issued a far more strongly worded statement. ‘I fundamentally disagree with Heath Mello’s personal beliefs about women’s reproductive health. It is a promising step that Mello now shares the Democratic Party’s position on women’s fundamental rights. Every candidate who runs as a Democrat should do the same because every woman should be able to make her own health choices. Period.”
In that statement, what you see is the absolute bending of the knee to abortion on the parts of the Democratic Party and its leadership. When Bernie Sanders and Tom Perez have to basically apologize to abortion activists within their party, when the left wing leaders in terms of economics find themselves assaulted by abortion-rights activists and having to come to terms with their power, well, there you see just how central abortion is to that party. But it’s not just about the party here. That would be a merely partisan issue. It’s about the secular left. There’s a great overlap here—secular, left, democratic—that is the great worldview divide in this country on the left side, and at this point we simply have to note as we’ve noted before that abortion is the central sacrament of the secular left.
Religion and the necessary foundation of morality: Will Democrats seek to "reclaim religious ground"?
Next, we shift to Louisville, Kentucky in an interesting debate that appeared in two opinion pieces in the Louisville paper the Courier-Journal. The first is by Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons; he’s identified as a guest contributor who also writes for Religion News Service. He wrote an article that was headlined,
“Democrats must reclaim religious ground.”
Graves-Fitzsimmons says that the Democratic Party has lost a big opportunity that was reflected, he makes clear, in the 2016 presidential election by identifying itself as too secular, it ought instead to identify he says with religiously motivated Americans. He spoke oddly enough of Senator Bernie Sanders appearing at Liberty University and then he said,
“Democrats across the country should follow Sanders’ lead and visit churches, synagogues, mosques, and religious schools. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in Theology to see the common ground Democrats can build with religious communities on issues across their platform. Economic fairness, racial justice, immigration reform, promoting human rights, environmental justice, public education, universal health care, ending gun violence, and protecting workers’ rights: these aren’t’ just political issues, but rather areas of concern for the dignity and worth of God’s creation and children.”
Make no mistake, this particular writer isn’t calling out for Democrats to reach out to conservative Christians, but rather to those identified here as “progressive people of faith at the local and state level.”
In other words, this is a call for political liberals to build bridges to religious liberals. But the really interesting aspect of this story wasn’t actually the column by Graves-Fitzsimmons at all, but rather the column that was written and published in response, in this case, the guest contributor was Linda Allewalt, a secular activist within the Kentucky area. She completely dismissed Graves-Fitzsimmons’ article, even his central illustration, that is Senator Bernie Sanders at Liberty University. He wasn’t connecting to religion, of course he is a non-religiously identified person of Jewish heritage to begin with. Instead, Allewalt wrote when it comes to Bernie Sanders and his appearance at Liberty University,
“When he [meaning Senator Sanders] addresses religious venues to discuss his political goals he does not witness his own faith. In fact, it’s like pulling teeth to get him to be specific about that topic. What he does is use the tools of scripture or philosophy from within the tradition of the people he is addressing, ties that to universal values based on humanism and pulls his audience into what is essentially a secular arena of commonality for discussion.”
But this writer doesn’t merely dismiss Graves-Fitzsimmons’ illustration, she completely dismisses his argument. She says that the Democratic Party should not seek to identify with any religious people, even liberal or so-called progressive religious folk. But the most interesting part of her article is where she criticizes Graves-Fitzsimmons for making the argument that religion is important in the first place.
She says too that the problem is what she calls “the attempt to tie ethical and moral ideas solely to religion, which Fitzsimmons does as well. It enforces stereotypes of non-religious people as having no foundation for morality, which in turn encourages discrimination against them.”
Well there’s the real issue in her article, but the interesting thing is that she merely criticizes Mr. Graves-Fitzsimmons for arguing that religious liberals and political liberals should get together by saying that that seems to insinuate that morality in some sense requires a religious foundation or any philosophical foundation. She simply says that’s a dangerous idea, but at this point we simply have to note it’s an idea that for very good reasons is deeply ingrained within human beings and even within voters, even within many of the voters in the Democratic Party.
This is one of the central challenges faced by the secular left right now, and that is the fact that they have undercut by their secularism any basic claim to making fundamental moral judgments. They speak often as we’ve noted about human rights but they have no worldview in which they can ground those human rights. They have no ‘foundation,’ to use the very term that is used in this article. Perhaps in this sense Ms. Allewalt understands what she’s up against. If indeed secular folk are going to claim some validity of moral judgment, they are going to have to provide some foundations for those very judgments and for their fundamental understanding of morality. But secularism in all of its forms has proved devastatingly unable to provide or even to propose those very foundations, and that’s the real problem.
Human hatcheries and the end of pregnancy? Artificial womb raises huge ethical questions
Next, at the intersection of reproduction, morality, and technology comes a story based upon a recent scientific study, Rachel Becker reporting at the science website Verge tells us of the development of an external womb known by the researchers as a bio bag. She says it looks like an “oversized ziplock bag,” but what it’s really about is the creation of an artificial womb. So far it’s been tested on eight baby lambs; they develop for four weeks inside this artificial womb, according to this research that was published by Dr. Alan Flake of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and other researchers in the Nature Communications Journal. It turns out that the lambs did indeed develop and, it’s argued, developed at least mostly normally during this period in an artificial womb.
Now remember, we’re not talking about human beings, we’re talking about lambs and we’re talking about four weeks of development, we’re not talking about living sheep. But already Dr. Flake is saying we might just be three years away from experimenting in terms of an artificial womb for human beings. From the worldview perspective, that’s where the story gets really interesting. Becker writing at The Verge tells us,
“One day, this device could help to bring premature human babies to term outside the uterus — but right now, it has only been tested on sheep.”
Now note closely what we’re being told here is that this artificial womb currently experimented with only in terms of sheep is being proposed for an experiment with human beings, perhaps within three years, and we are told that it might help to bring premature human babies to term outside of the womb. Now that’s interesting; hold that thought because the very next sentence is this,
“It’s appealing to imagine a world where artificial wombs grow babies, eliminating the health risk of pregnancy. But it’s important not to get ahead of the data.”
So we jump immediately from “this technology just might be helpful to bring some premature babies who would otherwise be endangered to thrive inside this object outside the womb,” then immediately we’re told that the great vision, the very appealing idea is to imagine a world where artificial wombs grow babies eliminating the very norm of pregnancy. Now what we’ve been watching in recent years is the effort to separate sex and reproduction and furthermore to separate both sex and reproduction from the natural process. And now that’s being extended even to the womb. But note very carefully, even as the first great vision that’s identified here is eliminating the need for a woman to carry a baby to term in terms of a natural pregnancy, you also have to note that this also basically eliminates the need for the woman in any normal sense altogether as a mother. Instead, just imagine how the next great vision coming quickly on the heels of this once would be the extension of the use of this kind of technology to those who are not a married couple, but rather an individual of either gender or a same-sex couple. Now as Rachel Becker makes clear in this article, even she warns herself against getting “ahead of the data.”
We are talking here about something that’s very hypothetical when it comes to human beings, but in the very same article she indicates the kind of vision that might become a reality on the basis of this technology and what that tells us along with many other articles recently published about this particular invention, what this hope tells us is that there are many people who actually do hope to separate human reproduction even from a woman’s experience of pregnancy. The ultimate vision here is to be able to produce human babies outside of the normal process altogether.
But here we need to remind ourselves that there have been visions like this before. But the thing we need to remember is that at least until recently those visions were rightly identified as dystopian. They were the visions of nightmares, not of dreams. The greatest example of that in the 20th century is the author Aldous Huxley and his work Brave New World. He too back in the middle of the 20th century when the great threat was not only human technologies but also the Cold War and its oppression, the oppression coming from the Soviet Union, he spoke of the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Center. That was his dystopian or nightmarish vision. Now we are being told that we are to see it is as rather a hope, the scope of this kind of hatchery, after all, for human beings. Our hopes and visions reveal a great deal about our fundamental beliefs and worldview, just consider what it tells us about many that this is now the new vision and hope that we can somehow imagine a world in which babies are not only conceived, but now born without the natural process of pregnancy at all.
"Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" Brandenburg Gate, the Berlin Wall, and the cost of liberty
Finally, just hours ago along with friends I found myself standing at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, that great historic symbol of one of the most significant cities in Europe. Berlin is itself now well over 750 years old and it has been a leading center of political, economic, and cultural life in the West for most of that history. But there’s more to that story, of course. Berlin also became the center of world attention during much of the 20th century because of the militarism it symbolized first under Kaiser Wilhelm II and later under Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime. But in the period after World War II rightly known as the Cold War, Berlin became a primary symbol of the division between East and West embedded in what became behind the Iron Curtain, East Germany. Berlin itself was separated into four different sectors, but primarily identified as West Berlin and East Berlin. And that separation in terms of the Cold War between the ideology of the West and the ideology of the Soviet Union was symbolized from the years 1961 to 1989 by that great scar known as the Berlin Wall.
That wall was put by East German totalitarian leaders in order to prevent their own citizens from escaping the freedom in the West. The wall began to go up on the 13th of August in 1961; it would eventually stretch 69.5 miles separating East and West Berlin and furthermore separating West Berlin from East Germany in a totality of many miles. We’re looking here at well over 100 miles. That wall erected by communist authorities in order to trap their people within was known for its infamous death strip and it’s more than 300 watchtowers where East German police fired upon anyone seeking to leave by crossing the wall. At least somewhere between 100 and 200 persons were shot to death in terms of the years of the Berlin wall. One of the most tragic and remembered events of that wall came on the 17th of August 1962 when Peter Fechter, age only 18, was shot by East German guards in the death zone and he bled to death in view of a watching world.
Two American presidents in particular dared to stare down the wall. On the 26th of June 1963, President John F. Kennedy stood at the Berlin wall and declared,
“Ich bin ein Berliner!”
By saying, “I am a Berliner!” he spoke on behalf of all Americans and all who love freedom in order to indicate solidarity with the people of the city of Berlin. But it was most famously President Ronald Reagan who on the 12th of June 1989 stood once again at the Brandenburg gate and dared to challenge the dictatorial leaders of the Soviet Union to tear down the wall. Reaching the climax of his much-remembered address, President Reagan said, speaking to the Soviet General Secretary,
“Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”
Within a very short time communism indeed failed. The Soviet Union would eventually cease to be and so along with it with the Soviet bloc. The German nation divided for so long between East and West became unified, one of the great political miracles of the 20th century, and the city of Berlin that had been divided by that deep and horrifying, murderous scar found its way towards healing and recovery, just as President Reagan had dared to demand the wall came down.
But actually, again just hours ago, I stood not only the Brandenburg Gate, but also at a preserved section of that wall at a particularly notorious point, remembering there the cost of liberty and, of course, the danger of tyranny. Right across from the surviving section of that wall is a building that is pockmarked with bullets, bullets having to do with the armies entering Berlin to liberate it from Nazism in 1945. In a city like Berlin, history is always in sight, never unavoidable, and the same is true of morality. A failure to learn the lessons of history is not only foolishness, it is often nothing less than deadly.