The Briefing 04-02-14

The Briefing 04-02-14

The Briefing


 April 2, 2014

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


It’s Wednesday, April 2, 2014. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.


Same-sex marriages became legal in the United Kingdom (that is, Britain and Wales) on this past Saturday. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said that the Church of England would drop its official opposition to that legalization, and political leaders on both sides of the political spectrum in the United Kingdom voice their support for the new celebrations of hundreds of same-sex marriages that took place beginning on Saturday. British Prime Minister David Cameron said, “Congratulations to the gay couples who have already been married and my best wishes to those about to be on this historic day.” This development puts Britain in that very small list of countries that have now legalized same-sex marriage. Viewed worldwide, those nations are a very small minority, but they tend to be in the advanced industrial economies of the West and they tend to be in the parts of the world that are influencing the rest, especially as many of these nations are putting increased pressure on others to follow in their example. But as the social affairs commentator for the BBC remarked, this puts Britain in a very unusual situation. It is a country that now has two official definitions of marriage. One, a definition that includes same-sex marriage is now held by the government. The other, a view that defines marriage as only the union of a man and a woman, is held by the established church in that nation, the Church of England. One bishop of that church, that is the Right Reverend Graham James commented, “The Church of England believes marriage is between one man and one woman for life.” He went on to say, “It’s untidy for the law to have two definitions, but I think we can live with the untidiness.”


On the other hand, there are many within both the government and the church who are suggesting that this situation of having two definitions of marriage, however untidy it may be at the present, is not going to last very long. Inevitably, the argument now goes, the Church of England will have to come to accept same-sex marriage and at least some within the Church of England are already championing that cause. Dr. Jeffrey John, who is the Dean of St. Albans, a major role the Church of England, and a man whose previous nomination to be a bishop led to a nationwide controversy because he is an openly gay cleric, told the Gay News Service in Europe, “Along with many Church of England people, in fact I think most of them despite the impression that is given by the official spokesman, I am overjoyed that marriage is now possible for gay people and I wish those who are getting married today and in the future every happiness.” Dr. John then went on to say this, “I don’t doubt that God is rejoicing too because when two people love each other and commit themselves to one another in this way, they are expressing the deepest part of themselves, the part that is closest to God’s own nature as love.” He concluded, “I hope and pray the day will soon come when the church will give its official blessing to all couples equally. Meanwhile, I’d ask all gay newlyweds please not to judge God by the official church. Whatever it says, you have God’s blessing already.” That’s a very interesting, indeed, troubling statement from an official of the Church of England, but it reveals something very important in terms of our contemporary understanding. There are those who in defiance of both Scripture and the authoritative teaching of the church are stating that God is pleased with same-sex marriage.


How can they make such a statement? The actual wording of Jeffrey John’s statement makes very clear that he has abstracted a God who is not the God of the Scripture nor the God who has been affirmed, confessed, and worshiped by the Church of England. That is exactly what is taking place not only in the United Kingdom, but also in the United States, where there are many who are arguing that God is pleased with gay marriage. But even as they make that argument, at least we should press for the honest assessment that the God to whom they refer is not the God of the Bible, and in this case, we notice that the language is increasingly making that very clear. This is a God who has to meet our current expectations, in terms of the larger secular culture. This should remind us of a statement made several months ago by retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who said that he wouldn’t worship a God who had a negative moral judgment on homosexuality and those who are engaged in. That reveals the real theological contours of the current debate. What we’re looking at here are two radically different renderings of the entire theological scheme. We’re not looking at a head-to-head confrontation, in terms of people operating out of the same theological paradigm or understanding, who are arguing over merely the issue of same-sex marriage or even the issue of human sexuality. We’re looking at two radically different deities. We’re looking at two radically different understandings of Christianity. We’re looking at two radically different understandings of humanity and the gift of sexuality. What the statement here reveals is that this is not a confrontation over same-sex marriage, but a theological collision between two comprehensively different theologies. One that has a conscious and intentional continuity with the Christian tradition rooted in Scripture and the other that has a prior commitment to a theological accommodation with the current moral demands of the secular world.


Dr. Jeffrey John is not alone in terms of leaders of the Church of England making this kind of case. For instance, the Right Reverend Alan Wilson, who is the Bishop of Buckingham, said that priest should get, in his words, “creative” to get around restrictions in the law of both the nation and of the church for same-sex couples to be married and gay clergy who wish to marry should do so in defiance of the official line. This comes in a report from The Telegraph, a major London newspaper, and John Bingham, the religious affairs editor for that paper, begins by saying, “Gay clergy should follow their conscience and defy the Church of England’s restrictions on same-sex marriage.” He reported that this was said by the prominent bishop, the Right Reverend Alan Wilson, and this is proposed as “the most radical change ever made to the legal definition of marriage in Britain.” That is, of course, no overstatement. But the Bishop of Buckingham went on to say, according to The Telegraph, that several current serving bishops of the Church of England are themselves in gay partnerships, and the bishop urged them to publicly acknowledge their status for the sake of what he called “honesty and truthfulness” and he also suggested they should consider marrying in order to make the point graphically clear.


A major news analysis by Damian Thompson, also published in The Telegraph, is headlined, “Gay Marriage Will Change the Church of England Forever.” He writes, “As of today, their power is broken.” He continued, “The first British gay weddings today face the Church of England with a perfectly simple question to which it can only reply with embarrassed throat-clearing.” The question, he said, comes down to this (the question faced by the church): “Do we go along with this or not?” The legislation passed by Parliament that authorized the legalization of same-sex marriage, permitting those marriages that began last Saturday, made same-sex marriage legal by the government of Great Britain. But that same legislation prohibited the established church (that is, the Church of England) from performing same-sex ceremonies. In the odd political mixture, the situation of having an established church that turns out to have little political authority within the state, Britain now finds itself asking the question as to whether or not it can continue with the government defining marriage one way and the church the other. There were protections, supposedly called protections, for the Church of England written into the legislation, but as Damien Thompson indicates, with so much dissension within the Church of England and with its weakness to prevent same-sex marriage from happening, it seems untenable, perhaps even inconceivable, that the Church of England can continue its stance. Add to that the evidence that on Friday night, just on the eve of these first same-sex marriages in Britain, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, as I said earlier, said that the Church of England will drop its political opposition to same-sex marriage.


The actual legislation adopted by the Church of England included what British Prime Minister David Cameron called a “triple lock,” a threefold set of legal strictures that, on the one hand, prevents the Church of England from performing same-sex marriages and also, supposedly, protects the Church of England from any legal requirement that it perform same-sex marriages. A third provision in the law extends this protection from churches being required to perform same-sex ceremonies to churches other than the Church of England, but legal observers in Great Britain believe that that protection is very legally thin. Damien Thompson then writes this:


Here’s my prediction. As of today, pro-gay clergy will begin to unpick [the prime minister’s] “triple lock” banning parishes from holding gay weddings; during the next Parliament it will cease to exist. Priests who want to marry same-sex couples, or indeed marry their own gay lovers, will just do it. Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical parishes that reject the whole notion won’t be forced to host such ceremonies, but both these wings of the [Church of England] are moving in a liberal direction, and in the long run demographic change will finish the job.


We can certainly understand the logic of Damien Thompson’s argument. He appears to have the current cultural winds at his back when he writes that the caving in of the Church of England is virtually inevitable and the accommodation of Parliament to the same-sex marriages being performed by the Church of England is just a matter of time, and, as he predicts, a very short amount of time.


But it is the conclusion of Damien Thompson’s essay that really should have our attention because it applies not only to the Church of England, but to any church or denomination. He writes this:


It’s hard to overestimate the weakening effect this will have on the central structures of the Church. The General Synod’s deliberations will be rendered irrelevant. The fiction of the “Anglican Communion” will be abandoned. Conservative provinces in Africa will repudiate the [Church of England]; the last Lambeth Conference’s disciplinary action against the anything-goes American Episcopal Church will cease to mean anything.


In the 1990s, when I started reporting on Anglican affairs, gay marriage was regarded as a non-negotiable horror by most clergy and churchgoers. The shattering of that consensus has happened far more quickly than even the most optimistic Christian gay campaigners thought possible.


His last sentence demands our full attention:


And if the centre cannot hold, one has to ask: what is up for negotiation next? Belief in an afterlife? The divinity of Jesus of Nazareth? After today, one thing is uncomfortably clear: the Church of England has lost the power – and even the inclination – to draw a line in the sand.


That is a profoundly important statement and it appears to be self-evidently true. The Church of England actually long ago stopped drawing lines in the sand. It began on issues of outright heresy, allowing bishops of the church even to become practical atheists. It refused to censure leaders of the church, teachers of the church, and bishops of the church who defied the creedal consensus of that church. And now on the issue of same-sex marriage, the church says that it opposes it, but will drop the political opposition, and some of the church’s own bishops are calling for the bishops who are living with openly gay partners to get married in defiance of the law. Damien Thompson is profoundly right. This situation leaves the Church of England in an untenable position, but if we think that this untenable position is new, we fail to learn the lessons of the past. The trajectory that is now experienced by the Church of England was established by an infinite number of theological compromises that preceded it. The refusal to draw the line on any number of important theological issues has now left the Church of England with no moral authority and apparently, as Damien Thompson writes, without even an inclination to oppose these forces. As he writes, “The Church of England has lost the power—and even inclination—to draw a line in the sand.”


Sadly enough, the Church of England is not alone in this predicament. By and large, the mainline Protestant denominations in the United States are in the very same predicament. But that predicament is not first of all nor even most fundamentally defined by the same-sex marriage issue. It’s defined by the issue of truth, and a church that will not stand for the truth wherever the truth is denied will find itself without both the power or the inclination to stand against the cultural tide that now pushes so much support and demand for same-sex marriage.


Shifting to the United States and what our entertainment culture tells us about our larger culture, The New York Times last Thursday ran an article by Alessandra Stanley entitled, “When We Were Young, and Dads Were Men.” Alessandra Stanley is a television reviewer for The New York Times, and in this article she writes:


There is a search on for the non-nurturing father. The primal paterfamilias who hollers, never helps with homework, doesn’t consider soccer a sport and goes on camping trips with his buddies, not his sons, is in demand.



What Alessandra Stanley is addressing here is the fact that Hollywood, with three different programs debuting in recent months, is trying to go back to a previous era in order to find a father who is authoritative. As she writes, current fathers, especially fathers portrayed in Hollywood, are anything but authoritative. Speaking of authoritative fathers, Stanley writes:


Those kinds of dads do not exist anymore, not at least among the sitcom writers in Hollywood, who are evidently immersed in prenatal co-parenting and Lamaze class couvade. So television is turning into a time machine, taking viewers back to an earlier age, when moms mostly stayed home, and dads came home to read the newspaper, not to take their offspring to Daddy & Me cake decorating classes. Those were the days when college cost a lot less, and not everyone expected to go.


What Alessandra Stanley is suggesting here is that the world has changed utterly and with it has changed, what Hollywood at least considers, an acceptable form of modern fatherhood. Authoritative fathering is out. The permissive fathers who now exist in the sitcoms and dramas of primetime television America are not authoritative in any sense, and yet, as she writes, there is a hunger in America to go back to that model of fatherhood, at least to watch it if not to experience it.


With great perception, she writes that many in the generations known as Generation X and the Millennials are longing to see that kind of father and they want to see it on the television screen even if they don’t get to see it in everyday life. But in order to see it, they have to go back in American history; back at least a generation. She writes of one program on the Fox Network known as “Surviving Jack.” It stars Christopher Maloney, formerly of “Law and Order SBU.” She writes, “It is the latest recovered-memory comedy, a series that begins in 1991” and is told by a man looking back at his adolescence and life with his father, and you’ve figured out by now, his father was named Jack. She writes also of ABC’s program, “The Goldbergs.” It stars Jeff Garland, formally of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” who plays a grumpy, disengaged dad in what she describes as “a period coyly described as 1980-something.” She also writes:


The Goldberg father is fat and choleric, the kind of man who takes off his pants the minute he gets home and nestles into a reclining armchair. Jack [of “Surviving Jack] is more of a “Great Santini” figure, a strict father who is busy, intense and formidable. At heart, of course, he is a loving husband and father; he just keeps it mostly to himself.


In an age in which many families simply do not even have fathers and many children live all or part of their childhood and adolescence without any father it all, Alessandra Stanley writes that there are many Americans who long to see this kind of picture. And, yet, the polarity she demonstrates is between authoritative and permissive. But what’s missing from her analysis are the insights that have been drawn from recent studies of fatherhood and, larger than even the issue of fatherhood, of parenting in general. Researchers are demonstrating over and over again that the spectrum actually runs from authoritarian to permissive. In the middle is authoritative. Amanda Ripley, in her work on how some students succeed in schools and others do not, points out that the model of parenting that brings the best results is that of authoritative parenting. It’s not authoritarian in which the father in this case or the parents in general lord authority over the children merely for the sake of authority, but rather steward that authority in an authoritative sense in order to guide and discipline, nurture and encourage their children toward defined goals; the main goal being to grow into a mature and moral adulthood.


Her article is actually a very sad commentary on America today and the state of so many families. But it is extremely telling that even Hollywood recognizes that what’s missing is the authoritative father. Of course, in many cases, there is a hunger for a father of any form that frames the experiences of many children and teenagers, even young adults. But what makes her analysis so very interesting is that the father-need that is now represented, at least by the interests of Hollywood with these programs, is a father who is genuinely authoritative, who loves his family, who loves his children, but operates from a basis of parental, indeed, of fatherly authority. That tells us a great deal. It also tells us much that in order to get the picture of this father Hollywood has to go back in time, simply believing that either these fathers now do not exist or that they are so out of step with our contemporary moment that portraying them in the present would be inconceivable, untenable, perhaps even unbelievable.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. Remember Ask Anything: Weekend Edition. Call with your question in your voice to 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058. For more information, go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to I’m speaking to you from Destin, Florida, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

Podcast Transcript

1) Same-sex marriage legal in United Kingdom as Anglican church drops opposition

Same-sex marriage now legal as first couples wed, BBC

Get used to gay marriage, Philip Hammond tells Tory critics, The Telegraph (Christopher Hope)

Gay marriage will change the Church of England forever, The Telegraph (Damian Thompson)

2) Hollywood attempts to portray real, authoritative fathers of a bygone era

When We Were Young, and Dads Were Men, New York Times (Alessandra Stanley)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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