The Briefing 04-30-14

The Briefing 04-30-14

The Briefing


 April 30, 2014

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


It’s Wednesday, April 30, 2014. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.


Yesterday on The Briefing we discussed the fact that the United Church of Christ, one of the most liberal denominations on the Protestant left, has filed a lawsuit against the state of North Carolina, charging that that state’s constitutional amendment that identifies marriage exclusively as the union of a man and a woman and the state’s statutory law violates the United States Constitution’s guarantee of religious liberty. It appears to be a novel argument. And as many in the major media over the last 24 hours have reported, this appears to be something that is rooted in the actual language of the North Carolina statute. But actually, the media’s coverage of this has been far more confusing. Major newspapers, such as The New York Times, reported on Monday that the state of North Carolina included in its amendment or it statutory law a statement that ministers could be arrested or at least face criminal penalties if they performed religious blessings and marriage rites and “if they perform a religious blessing ceremony of a same-sex couple in their church, they are subject to prosecution and civil judgments.” Well, a closer look at the story says that that’s not exactly false, but it is at least falsely reported or falsely presented because what we are looking at there is not the language from the marriage amendment in North Carolina, overwhelmingly adopted by the citizens of that state in 2012, nor is that actually a very accurate depiction of the North Carolina statute. But the statute is itself an issue of our ongoing consideration and interest for the very reason we discussed yesterday. Because those who are concerned for the preservation of religious liberty must be very concerned whenever there is any statutory or, for that matter, any authoritative legal address to ministers of any sort about any kind of message or ceremony they are either required or prohibited from exercising.


Now in Michael Paulson’s article that appeared April 28 in The New York Times, he cited Evan Wolfson, who is himself the founder and president of Freedom to Marry and many people at the national level credit Evan Wolfson with being one of the primary architects of the entire motion and movement to adopt legalized same-sex marriage. He said quote:


In their zeal to pile on to denying the freedom to marry, North Carolina officials also put in place a measure that assaulted the religious freedom that they profess to support by penalizing and seeking to chill clergy that have different views. The extent to which North Carolina went to deny the freedom to marry wound up additionally discriminating on the basis of religion by restricting speech and the ability of clergy to do their jobs.


Now I think it’s fair to say that a fair-minded understanding of those words would indicate that Mr. Wolfson here intends a chronological understanding of his statement. He says, “In their zeal to pile on to denying the freedom to marry, North Carolina officials also put in place a measure,” now when you look at that sentence when he says, “also put in place,” and he speaks of “a zeal to pile on,” you would think that that would mean that once the constitutional amendment had been adopted by voters in 2012, legislators put in new and innovative language that might violate the religious liberty of members of the clergy by suggesting that they either should or should not involve themselves in some religious ceremony. But actually that is not the case, and in order to gain an understanding of exactly what the North Carolina law is, I spoke to a member of the North Carolina House of Representatives, an attorney who is well-versed in this entire situation. What I discovered is this: the law here at stake, that is, the statute in the state of North Carolina, actually goes all the way back to the year 1669, before there was a United States of America. As a matter fact, before North Carolina was a state; when it was a colony. The second legislative action undertaken on behalf of that colony was a statute that would authorize and identify marriage. That shows, if nothing else, the centrality of marriage to human society as evidenced by the fact that the second statute adopted by the colony and by its legislature was the statute identifying and authorizing marriage. In that particular statute going back to 1669 and updated at several points since the 17th century, that law stipulated that ministers were authorized to serve as agents of the state in conducting marriages, but they were not authorized and were indeed enjoined from, prohibited from, exercising their authority to perform any kind of marriage that was not duly authorized.


Now fast-forward to the year 2014 when legal same-sex marriage is in some states a reality and in other states a threat. That statutory language would establish, in a state where there is no legal same-sex marriage, the fact that any member of the clergy who would perform such a marriage would indeed be violating the law of the state. Now I think for most people that would simply amount to what we would call common sense. In other words, a minister acting as an agent of the state, acting illegally, doing what the state has prohibited would be seen as committing an act against the law; in other words, an illegal act. And in that case, the state, we would understand, would be on sure and certain footing in criminalizing that offense with some kind of penalty. In the case of North Carolina, it is reported that the current penalty is a misdemeanor offense with a $50 penalty.


But a look at the North Carolina statute indicates that it also appears to use the language “religious ceremony” in its injunction against ministers from authorizing in any sense a marriage which is not recognized by North Carolina as a marriage. There is the problem or, at least, the potential problem; at the very least an appearance of a problem. For there it appears that the statute, which has roots going all the way back to 1669 in North Carolina, may actually do what those who are behind this lawsuit charge it of doing, at least in a very small way or in a very small and commonsensical part—that is, in stating that ministers must not bless what the state has cursed. But there is the problem. If it comes to the language of religious ceremonies or any kind of religious message—and theologically we can’t make a distinction between the two—then the reality is that no government, no legislature, no king, no president, no prime minister should make any such address to ministers of any kind for any reason, and that’s something that should have our concern.


But that points to something else. In fact, it points to several dimensions of this story. In the first place, it points to the fact that the national media appears to be absolutely determined to give aid and comfort to all of those making any kind of argument and filing any kind of lawsuit to challenge constitutional amendments or state laws that identify marriage as exclusively the union of a man and a woman. That’s one big lesson here and, as a matter fact, one thing to watch is how the news coverage on this particular lawsuit is changing right before our eyes.


The second thing we need to note is the desperation of those who are trying to do anything to remove those constitutional amendments and, thus, effectively to legalize same-sex marriage in those states. They are using whatever argument is convenient and whatever argument they think just might win the day. In this case, I continue to think that the United Church of Christ has been able to pick up something in the law that might be of genuine concern, but not in any sense the kind of concern that would nullify the constitutional amendment nor the statutory law.


There’s something here that needs to be considered and that gets to the third issue. The kind of language found in that North Carolina statute makes perfect sense when marriage is in all places amongst all people at all times understood as one and only one thing. In other words, when that statute was adopted in 1669, the only alternatives to heterosexual marriage, that is, the union of a man and a woman—in other words that institution historically and accurately called marriage—would be something that the state would clearly want to deny sanction and blessing, and that’s exactly what’s going on here. The state of North Carolina, going all the way back to the 17th century, said, “We believe that marriage is this.” The state authorizes ministers to conduct marriages of people who can be legally and rightly married in the eyes of the law of North Carolina. And at the same time, the law apparently, in terms of its statutory language, goes back and says ministers are enjoined from religious ceremonies that might give the impression of actually being a wedding or, for that matter, a marriage; in other words, conducting a religious ceremony that might look like marriage. But even as we need to look at that language, what this also tells us, once again, is where we began. It points to the centrality of marriage in every civilization and culture and of the fact that for thousands and thousands of years, marriage could mean only one thing, and that is the union of a man and a woman in an exclusive, monogamous, respected, pre-political institution: the institution of marriage.


By the way, I spoke to Representative Paul Stam. Paul Skip Stam has been a member of the North Carolina House of Representatives for the 37th District for many years now. He is also the Speaker Pro Tempore of the House of Representatives there in the state of North Carolina. He’s also an attorney. And he said, to the best of his knowledge, the state has never taken cognizance of any part of the statute other than the language directly related to marriage. In other words, he’s saying this is really a legal fiction; at least it is so on the part of United Church of Christ making this complaint.


But those of us who are very concerned about religious liberty, especially as related to the issue of marriage, must, as I said yesterday, be very, very sensitive and very, very concerned about any language, whether in a constitutional amendment or a statute, that would in any way instruct ministers of any kind as to what kind of ceremony or message they may exercise or fail to exercise. In other words, when you have language that could be well intended and deeply rooted in constitutional and cultural history that establishes what ministers must not do, then that language can be turned around and the same logic reversed in order to argue what ministers must do. And that right now may be the bigger concern for those of us who believe in the authority of Scripture, in the institution of marriage, and in the freedom of religious expression, and especially the freedom of the ministry and the pulpit.


And just because there’s been so much confusion about the issue of the actual North Carolina marriage amendment, let me read it in full:


Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state. This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party nor does this section prevent courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts.


That is the entire constitutional amendment. The statutory law, of course, is dependent upon and derivative from the North Carolina Constitution, as is the case in all 50 states and, of course, in our federal government as well, and that statutory law is often far more complex than the amendment that was just read. But the fact is that the amendment just read is one of the strongest, clearest, and most defensible constitutional amendments on the issue of marriage we can contemplate. In other words, this is an amendment that for every reason should stand. As for the statutory law, that’s something the legislature and the political leadership of North Carolina’s going to have to look at, not only as related to this case, but to the far larger question of how the state is to relate to those who are pastors, preachers, and ministers of other varieties because in this strange new postmodern world, all the sudden, to be a pastor or a preacher, to be a minister of any kind these days is to be on the front lines of a culture war. But then again, if you read the New Testament, that’s where it began.


By the way, in yesterday’s edition of The Briefing, I cited The New York Times, quoting Tami Fitzgerald, the executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition. She said:


It’s both ironic and sad that an entire religious denomination and its clergy, who purport holding to Christian teachings on marriage, would look to the courts to justify their errant beliefs. These individuals are simply revisionists that distort the teaching of Scripture to justify sexual revolution not marital sanctity.


As I said yesterday, those words are profoundly true, and they deserve repeating. Because the big issue here is theological before it’s constitutional or legal. The first concern of the Christian church and of all Christians should be what is right and what does God say and how do we understand the Bible to speak to this before we ask, “What sayeth the Constitution?” I’m indebted to Tami Fitzgerald for clarification on the constitutional issues here at stake.


Shifting to the issue of racism in America, headlines have been consumed in recent days with the controversy concerning L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling and reports of a conversation surreptitiously recorded that were made public, and to his great embarrassment. Because, as the content of that conversation made abundantly clear, Mr. Sterling was speaking in explicitly and horrifyingly racist terms.


There are a multitude of issues related to this; most of them rather unimportant. The most important issue has to do with the moral issue here at stake. And as was reported yesterday, Adam Silver, the Commissioner of the National Basketball Association, handed down sanctions against Donald Sterling, which amounts to him being banned for life from basketball and from his own team, fined $2.5 million for making racist comments, and as this ban makes abundantly clear, absolutely barred from any involvement in the team he has owned since 1981. As a matter fact, Donald Sterling bought the team in 1981 for $12.5 million. He has owned it through years, indeed, decades of controversy, including controversy about previous racist statements—not only racist, but sexist statements—and he has been fined previously for actions violating the NBA’s rules, including moving his team to Los Angeles without prior authorization. The Clippers, bought for $12.5 million in 1981 and now estimated to be worth approximately $700 million, and many in the larger culture have simply said to Donald Sterling, what you need to do is simply go away, sell your team, take your capital gains, and have nothing to do from now on with the NBA or with American public life.


From the Christian worldview perspective, there are several issues that should have our attention. One of them is the fact that Adam Silver, in handing down this sanction against Donald Sterling, did the only thing he possibly could have done. In other words, we have now reached the point in America, and this is something we should uniformly celebrate, when making the kind of statements that Donald Sterling made would bring about absolute, unqualified, overwhelming opposition and outrage. That’s a good thing. Just compare where we might’ve been a matter of 20 or 30 or 40, much less 50, years ago when such statements were horrifyingly uncontroversial and common. The good news is that in America this kind of moral change is something to be celebrated. The fact that when these statements came to light there was no one standing to defend him, there was no one suggesting that this was not a major issue, there was no one saying that there was no harm in the content of his speech.


But from a Christian worldview perspective that last comment takes us to another issue. The appropriate way for sanctions to be brought against someone making this kind of statement is exactly what the NBA has done, using the kind of corporate and financial economic levers to punish a man for making statements that are inexcusable, effectively putting him in the position where he has no other choice but to sell his team, barring him from the team he has owned for decades, and telling him he can have nothing to do—nothing whatsoever to do—with the sport of basketball at the professional level. What is not happening here is Donald Sterling being arrested and charged with a hate crime because even as we understand that this is a significant immoral act, it is not something that should be criminalized. The appropriate response is exactly what’s taking place here, and even as there is harm in his speech, there is greater harm in hate speech laws. And even as we should be very thankful that sanctions have now been brought against him, we should also be thankful that these sanctions are those rightly brought about, in terms of economic and corporate terms, even contractual terms, by those who have leverage over him, not by any government, which has no business criminalizing speech of any sort, of any reason, for any time.


Finally, two other observations: this was a private conversation, he thought, surreptitiously recorded. Just remember that very clear biblical exhortation: be certain your sin will find you out. In a digital age, this has taken on a new urgency. Just about anything you say can show up somewhere. And if it’s an outrageous statement such as Donald Sterling made, you can count on the fact that when it does erupt in public, well, the fall the house, as the Lord said, will be very great.


Finally, we need to remind ourselves as Christians of why these statements were so horrifying, so wrong. It is because every single human being, according to the Scripture, is made in God’s image. It is because every one of us is a descendent of Adam. Indeed, every single one of us is a descendent of Noah. We are all brothers and sisters, and this kind of racist language is not just an insult to fellow human beings made in God’s image, it is ultimately an insult to the Creator who made every single one of us equally in His image. Thus, once again, we remember that behind every major moral insight, every major moral impulse and intuition is an even deeper theological reality. But it takes the Christian worldview to understand that and to understand why Donald Sterling’s comments were not only horrifying, but more horrifying than the horrified culture around us does understand.


Finally, we end on a note of heartbreak that drives us straight to the gospel. A series of tornadoes have gone through the American Midwest, Mid-south, and Deep South. The death toll, at least at this point, is confirmed at 34 dead. At least fourteen people are confirmed dead in Arkansas on Sunday night, and as a tornadoes moved into the Deep South on Monday night, additional deaths were recorded. One thing to note, the National Weather Service offered detailed forecasts of these tornadoes and their outbreak, and in one of the most documented cases of the accuracy of the Weather Service’s forecast, exactly what they said might take place, unfortunately did take place. And it did not take place without warning, but warning was not enough.


I was reminded of this when I received an email from Dennis Rainey, a good friend and the head of Family Life Today, an important ministry located there in Little Rock. As he wrote


Rob Tittle, a Family Life Staff member and kindred spirit warrior for the family, died last night [that would be Sunday night] in the tornado that crushed parts of Central Arkansas. Two of his daughters, Tori age 20 and Rebekah age 14, were among the sixteen killed in the storm. Rob who was 48 and his wife Kerry had heard the tornado warnings and were shepherding their nine children under a stairwell when the tornado disintegrated their home. Rob was doing what a man does, putting his family first when the twister hit. All that is left is a grim, gray slab of concrete.


Rob Tittle and his wife Kerry had nine children, and the father and two of those girls died on Sunday night. The mother, that is, Kerry, is left with seven children on her own. And where they once had a home inhabited by a happy family with a mother and a father and nine children, there’s nothing but, as Dennis Rainey said, but a grim, gray slab.


How in the world can anyone survive this? How can anyone survive such a catastrophic loss? But as Dennis Rainey’s email made very clear, this family was deeply committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and in Jesus Christ they found their hope. Perhaps the most poignant statement I have seen in the aftermath of this tragedy was written by the Tittle’s 19-year-old daughter on Facebook. She had lost her father, her 20-year-old sister, and her 14-year-old sister. She wrote this:


Dear friends, do one thing for me. Hug your dad, hold him tight, and don’t let go. That man is the greatest gift God gave to you. Tell him you love him; tell him you will always love him.


Rainey told of another Family Life couple, Dan and Kristen. They lost their home and two cars in the tornado. As Dan saw the twister coming across the river, he hurriedly moved his wife, six children, two dogs, a bunny rabbit, and a lizard into the master bedroom closet—it was designed as a storm shelter. He closed the door, Dennis Rainey says, and as the seconds ticked by, he said to his children, “This is the day of salvation. If you haven’t accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, now is the time to do it.” A moment later, the tornado tore into their home, sucking the vent plate out of the top of the shelter. When they looked out of the vent after the tornado had passed, all they could see was a landscape marked by massive devastation. They couldn’t even get out of the shelter, so they called 911. Their house was gone, but they were safe. As Dennis Rainey says:


Today has been a day of extreme emotions at Family Life. We mourn the loss of a good man and coworker and his two daughters, and at the same time, we celebrate the survival of so many children and family members. The news could’ve been worse.


Well even as we pray for the Tittle family and for all those who lost loved ones in this new round of tornadoes, we are reminded that we live in a world in which these tornadoes happen. And similar things happen in tragedies of other forms, whether they be storms or earthquakes or anything else. All too regularly we are reminded that we live in a Genesis 3 world, but aren’t we thankful that the answer to that Genesis 3 curse is a John 3:16 promise: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him might not perish but have everlasting life.” In a Genesis 3 world, we have no recourse but to pray for one another and grieve for one another and lean into to the promise of John 3:16.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. Remember the weekly release of Ask Anything: Weekend Edition. Call with you 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’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

Podcast Transcript

1) Restrictions on what ministers can do is of great concern for religious liberty

North Carolina’s Gay-Marriage Ban Is Challenged by Church, New York Times (Michael Paulson)

2)Donald Sterling banned for life from basketball for racist comments

Donald Sterling’s L.A. Clippers Worth More Than Ever, Wall Street Journal (Sharon Terlep and Ben Cohen)

NBA Bans Clippers’ Donald Sterling for Life for Alleged Racist Comments, Wall Street Journal (Chris Herring)

3)The hope of the Gospel exists even in midst of tragic tornadoes

U.S. tornadoes kill 34, threaten more damage in South, Reuters (Emily Le Coz)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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