The Briefing 05-05-14

The Briefing 05-05-14

The Briefing


 May 5, 2014

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


It’s Monday, May 5, 2014. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.


Twenty years after the first women were ordained as priests in the Church of England, that church held a national service. It was yesterday. It was held in St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said, at that service marking the 20th anniversary of the ordination of women as priests, that the ordination of women should be celebrated with what he called ‘fullness of heart and no holding back’. At the same time, he warned against triumphalism. If it sounds like the archbishop was sending a mixed signal, it’s because he profoundly was. And as a matter fact, the church is still divided over these issues and in many cases deeply divided. Twenty years after the first women were ordained as priests, there are still no women serving as bishops in the Church of England, and if women are to be fully included at every level of the church’s leadership, they must be elected as bishops as well. That’s been the argument of women for the last twenty years. Just a matter of about a year ago, the Church of England, in terms of its General Synod (and that is democratically elected in terms of laypeople being involved), it narrowly turned down an effort to legalize women serving as bishops. That led to an outrage on the part of the British Parliament, asking when the church was going to “get with the program” in terms of joining the feminist momentum. And now twenty years after the first women were ordained as priests, it looks like the Church of England is this summer poised finally, according to the logic of the women pushing for this, to approve women serving as bishops as well.


In his message yesterday, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is head not only of the Church of England but is also the titular head of the entire Anglican Communion worldwide, he said, “We’re not there yet.” He was speaking to a congregation that included, according to the national press, more than 600 women who had been ordained as priests in that church since the first wave of female ordinations came in the year 1994. The Archbishop said:


As we celebrate how far we’ve come, let us be mindful of the distance yet to travel. In twenty years, we’ve come a long way. How did we not see that women and men are equally icons, witnesses, vessels of Christ for the world?


Noticeably absent from the archbishop’s message was any reference to biblical passages that would create quite an insurmountable problem for the ordination of women as priests. The Church of England, in terms of its decision-making process, has moved far beyond that over the last twenty years and it has adopted a method of interpreting Scripture, in terms of how the legislative bodies of the church are now acting, in such a way that when you look at this story that comes out of the Church of England yesterday, when you look at this service that took place on the 20th anniversary of the church’s first wave of the ordination of women to the priesthood, what you see is language that you can almost imagine you’re going to hear again very soon. But not addressed to the issue of women serving as priests, but to the issue of openly gay persons serving as priests. It’s because the hermeneutical, which is to say, the interpretive issues related to the Scripture on the question of the ordination of women to the priesthood, or that is to the pastorate, we might say, are almost precisely the hermeneutical issues that are involved in asking the questions about the sexual morality of same-sex acts and of same-sex relationships and of the qualifications of men who are called to serve as pastors and teachers of the church.


Speaking of that 20th anniversary service and addressing himself to what he described as the church’s progress on the issue of the ordination of women, the archbishop said, “In our celebrations, let us not overlook the cost, the bitterness of disappointment and rejection, the knee-jerk resistance of an institution facing change.” He continued, “As a representative of that institution, I want to thank those here today whose costly loyalty, whose scars make this celebration possible, and to say personally how I grieve that it cost so much, to apologize for my own part in that hurt.” It’s not just evangelicals in the church who expect that they might hear that language very quickly from the archbishop on a very different issue. It is also those who are pushing for the normalization of homosexuality within the Church of England, for its acceptance of same-sex marriage, and for the church to change its position, so that it will also ordain openly homosexual persons to the priesthood and eventually also to the episcopacy. The Times of London reports that number of ordained women in the Church of England now amounts to about a third of all the priests in that church, that is about 3,827 out of an existing 12,814. But what is really interesting, and this is also an issue of the archbishops concern, a good many of those women, indeed, perhaps even a majority of the women who have been ordained as priests in the Church of England are not serving as what might be described as pastors. Rather they are serving in alternative charges; serving as chaplains in hospitals, prisons, schools, and universities. The religious affairs reporter for the BBC, that is, the British Broadcasting Corporation, Robert Pickett said that there were in his words “clouds hanging over the celebrations.” In his words, a disproportionate number of women priests are working in unpaid positions and the recruitment of young women priests has, in his words, “dried to a trickle.” Affirming that analysis was Professor Linda Woodhead of Lancaster University. She said only one in seven people coming forward as new priests are women and she said the reason is that women are “very much second-class citizens” even now among Church of England clergy.


Evangelicals should note that it was twenty years ago that the political pressure within the Church of England led to the acceptance by legislation of women as priests. We should also note that the pressure, the political pressure, on that church right now, coming not just from within the church, but also from the nation’s government on the issue of homosexuality, is even more fierce and even more concentrated. As a matter fact, already you have bishops of the Church of England who will openly defy the laws of the church and of the state on this issue. You also have leaders in the Church of England who are coming out of the closet and inviting other priests to do the same. You have at least some bishops claiming that a significant percentage of the bishops of the Church of England now are living in same-sex relationships and you have a recipe for what almost certainly will be a church in fairly short order that will change its position, its convictions, and its doctrine on the issue of same-sex relationships and same-sex sexual behaviors. As many have correctly argued for a very long time, the hermeneutical issues are exactly the same, which is to say the theological logic is the same. If you can devise a way of dealing with the Scripture that allows you to avoid the clear teachings of Scripture in order to find a way to ordain women to the pastorate, then it’s a fairly short jump to use the very same process to find a way to get around those passages in Scripture that are very clear in declaring moral condemnation on same-sex relationships and same-sex behaviors. This is something to watch very closely because even as that celebration yesterday was in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, the same issues are very close to us, being debated in almost every major denomination in America, certainly those on the Protestant left, and also a matter of concern to anyone who is watching for the credibility of evangelical witness and the issue of the authority of Scripture and trying to figure out what all these things mean. That service yesterday in St. Paul’s Cathedral was about the ordination of women to the priesthood, but for those who have eyes to see, it was about a great deal more.


Meanwhile, back in the United States, coming on the very same weekend, the first bishop of any church anywhere to be known who was ordained as an openly homosexual man announced that he is divorcing his spouse, that is, the man he calls his husband. As Gene Robinson who in 2003 was elected the Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire announced, he is leaving his husband and they are not only separating, but divorcing. He wrote:


Life is hard. And it just keeps on coming, ready or not. Somewhere inside me, I guess I thought that life in “retirement” would be more peaceful, easier somehow. But I am also not naïve enough to believe it for long.


Recently, my partner and husband of 25-plus years and I decided to get divorced. While the details of our situation will remain appropriately private, I am seeking to be as open and honest in the midst of this decision as I have been in other dramatic moments of my life—coming out in 1986, falling in love, and accepting the challenge of becoming Christendom’s first openly gay priest to be elected a Bishop in the historic succession of bishops stretching back to the apostles.


It was in 2003 that Gene Robinson was elected the first openly gay bishop of the Episcopal Church or of any known church. It was in 2008 that he entered into a civil union with his partner Mark Andrews. It was in 2010 that that civil union was transformed by the force of New Hampshire law into a marriage, and it was just about four years later, in now 2014, that the Bishop now in retirement has announced his divorce.


Now that introduction is probably sufficient to prove the point that Gene Robinson is living in open defiance to the clear teachings of Scripture, but it’s also true that he often make statements that appear to be in clear conflict with common sense. He says in this statement that he often says to couples in premarital counseling “marriage is forever, and your relationship will endure—whether positively or negatively—even if the marriage formally ends.” In other words, up is down and down is up. Your marriage continues—it endures to use his word—even if you divorce. If that makes sense to you, then so does the election of an openly gay bishop. In perhaps the most revealing paragraph of his statement, the retired Bishop wrote:


It is at least a small comfort to me, as a gay rights and marriage equality advocate, to know that like any marriage, gay and lesbian couples are subject to the same complications and hardships that afflict marriages between heterosexual couples. All of us sincerely intend, when we take our wedding vows, to live up to the ideal of “til death do us part.” But not all of us are able to see this through until death indeed parts us.


Now we need to note something very carefully in terms of the slippery language of that statement. The words “til death do us part” are not statements of an ideal; they are statements of a vow. A vow is not an ideal. It is not a statement of aspiration. It is a sacred commitment. And the ceremony of Christian worship, historically then and now, is a ceremony when those vows are made publicly so that, in the presence of God and Christian witnesses, the affirmation of the man and the woman to live together in holy matrimony “until death do us part,” that is a vow; a vow willingly entered into by both parties. In words that continue to flout both biblical teaching and common sense, he writes:


My belief in marriage is undiminished by the reality of divorcing someone I have loved for a very long time, and will continue to love even as we separate. Love can endure, even if a marriage cannot.


Now there’s something here we need to note very carefully. Certainly there are several lessons from this very interesting news report that comes on the very same weekend as that 20th anniversary of the ordination of the first female priests in the Church of England. What we have here is a pattern of evading Scripture, and you’ll notice that it comes hand-in-hand with a pattern of evading common language, common rationality, and common sense. And we should not be surprised that those two things tend to go together. Rejecting the one tends also to involve rejecting the other. You see, one of the main problems that Gene Robinson and others who advocate his moral position and his understanding of marriage have is not only that the Scripture must be dealt with, at least if you claim any kind of Christian identity, but so also must the plain use of language be dealt with, such as the words that would include marriage and fidelity and vow.


The other thing we must note is that a huge Christian concession on the issue of divorce preceded any controversy over so-called same-sex marriage. In other words, what should have been unthinkable, indeed, unspeakable in Christian circles on the clear teachings of Scripture, that is, the issue of unauthorized divorce, that willing confusion and doctrinal compromise set the stage for the confusion over the issue of what many now call same-sex marriage, and it inevitably followed. As a matter of fact, the churches who compromise their positions, their biblical convictions, on the issue of divorce are like those who compromise their positions on the issue of gender in the issue of the ministry and the clear teachings of Scripture. They find themselves in a very weak position to address with honesty and integrity the clear teachings of Scripture related to gender, to sexuality, to same-sex sexuality, and to marriage.


Perhaps the biggest lesson for evangelical Christians looking at this news about Gene Robinson is not the issue of his divorce. After all, we don’t believe that in the eyes of God he was actually married. In the eyes of the state of New Hampshire he may have been, and he may go to the state of New Hampshire for a divorce, but the reality is that Christians actually, on the authority the Scripture, can’t accept that he’s divorced because we can’t accept that he was ever actually married. So even as this issue points to the confusion in the larger culture over the issue of same-sex marriage, the bigger issue for Christians should be this: it is our concession and confusion on the issue of divorce over the last several decades that set the stage for continuing confusion, all the way down now to demands for people of the same gender, of the same sex, to be married and then, having been married, to claim also the right to divorce.


Shifting the scene from New Hampshire to Cambridge, Massachusetts, last month we talked about the fact that the Gospel of Jesus’s wife, so-called, was back in the news. It had emerged first back in 2012 when Smithsonian magazine declared that a papyrus fragment had been found, which would, in the words the magazine, “send jolts through the world of the biblical scholarship.” But as I wrote in an essay on April 14 last month, I wrote, well, it didn’t jolt much of anything, and, of course, it didn’t. As a matter of fact, the background of this is that professor Karen King of the Harvard Divinity School had announced back in 2012 that she had come across this papyrus fragment that supposedly referenced Jesus having a wife. It is about the size of a large postage stamp and the words in Coptic, supposedly, on this supposedly ancient papyrus included the statement, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife.’” But did this so-called discovery send shockwaves through the Christian world? It profoundly did not, but it should send shockwaves through the world of what is now called biblical scholarship, at least in many secular and liberal academies, because this is nothing more now than a huge intellectual and academic embarrassment.


As I pointed out in my essay last month, entitled “It’s Back—‘The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife’ and the State of Modern Scholarship,” the reality is that even The Harvard Theological Review that had to delay its publication, in terms of the analysis of this papyrus, attempting to defend its own faculty member Karen King, it also had to include articles within the very issue of The Harvard Theological Review that in the eyes of at least some leading Coptic scholars, the papyrus itself is nothing more than a fraud, a hoax, a fake. As a matter fact, one of the articles published in The Harvard Theological Review stated that it is beyond imagination that it’s anything other than a fake.


But now Friday’s edition of The Wall Street Journal includes an article by Jerry Pattengale. It’s entitled “How the ‘Jesus’s Wife’ Hoax Fell Apart,” and it involves things that have developed even the last several days. Just a matter of days ago, on April 24, Christian Askeland, a Coptic specialist at Indiana Wesleyan University, revealed, says Pattengale, “that the ‘Gospel of Jesus’s Wife,’ as the fragment is known, was a match for a papyrus fragment that has already been identified as clearly a forgery.” Pattengale goes back to The Harvard Theological Review’s attempted defense of the so-called finding; then he writes:


Then last week the story began to crumble faster than an ancient papyrus exposed in the windy Sudan. Mr. Askeland found, among the online links that Harvard used as part of its publicity push, images of another fragment, of the Gospel of John, that turned out to share many similarities—including the handwriting, ink and writing instrument used—with the “wife” fragment. The Gospel of John text, he discovered, had been directly copied from a 1924 publication.


And then other shoes began to drop. On April 25, that’s the very next day, Mark Goodacre, a New Testament professor and an expert on the Coptic language at Duke University, wrote about the Gospel of John discovery. “It is beyond reasonable doubt that this is a fake, and this conclusion means that the Jesus’ Wife fragment is a fake too.” Then after that, Alin Suciu, a research associate at the University of Hamburg and also a Coptic manuscript specialist, wrote—and this is the 26th, so one statement on the 24th,the next on the 25th, the next on the very next day, the 26th. Professor Suciu wrote, “Given that the evidence of the forgery is now overwhelming, I consider the polemics surrounding the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife papyrus over.”


Pattengale concludes his article in The Wall Street Journal by suggesting that professor Karen King and her colleagues were probably, as he says, “the victims of an elaborate ruse.” But then he writes these words:


What is harder to understand was the rush by the media and others to embrace the idea that Jesus had a wife and that Christian beliefs have been mistaken for centuries.


That’s a profoundly accurate statement. And it’s the very same argument that I made back in 2012 and again last month in 2014 because that is the bigger lesson here. It’s not really about a hoax. It’s not really about a so-called ancient papyrus. It’s about the determination of people in the academy, largely in the liberal and secular academy, to try to prove that the church doesn’t actually know who Jesus was, that there are evidences that Jesus was someone other than what the church teaches and is proclaiming, what is revealed in Scripture. Now why would the secular world and the larger secular academy have that ambition? It is because if Jesus is who the church teaches He is, if Jesus is who He said He is, if Jesus is who the Scripture reveals Him to be, then the secular academy cannot remain comfortably secular. And that is exactly what is at stake here. It is the determination of a secular academy to remain solidly, convincingly, unshakably secular. And that has bread a sort of fanaticism, a fanaticism that has led one of the most well-known professors of the Harvard Divinity School to now be identified in the pages of The Wall Street Journal and academic journals all of the world as having been the victim of a ruse. There are certainly worse things that can happen to a person, but there are few more horrifying things that can happen to a professor at Harvard University.


Finally, you’ll want to note that Britain had a far larger anniversary to celebrate and commemorate yesterday. It was twenty-five years ago yesterday that Margaret Thatcher became Britain’s Prime Minister, and in so doing, she became one of the most influential and important figures of the 20th century in terms of the world stage. It was she along with Ronald Reagan, who was elected the United States president about two years after she became Britain’s Prime Minister, who largely redefined the approach taken by the West in terms of the Soviet Union, who brought an end to the Cold War. It was Margaret Thatcher who brought a conservative revolution into the politics and culture of Great Britain, following years of Labour liberalism and Tory compromise. It was she who represented a very clear model of convictional leadership, and it was she who modeled that even before Ronald Reagan was elected president here in the United States. It’s hard to imagine the history of the last quarter-century without Margaret Thatcher having played that central role as Britain’s Prime Minister in those crucial years from 1979 to 1990. Twenty-five years ago, Margaret Thatcher became Britain’s Prime Minister and that day is truly worth commemorating.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. Remember the weekly release of 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’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

Podcast Transcript

1) Twenty-year anniversary of women priests in Church of England foreshadows shift on gay clergy

Justin Welby Says Church Of England ‘Has Long Way To Go’ Over Ordaining Women, Huffington Post

Welby: The Church has a long way to go in the acceptance of female priests, The Times (Sanya Burgess)

March through London to mark 20 years of women priests, BBC

2) Gene Robinson, first openly-gay ordained minister announces divorce

A Bishop’s Decision to Divorce, Daily Beast (Gene Robinson)

Gene Robinson, first openly gay Episcopal bishop, announces his divorce, Religious News Service (Sarah Pulliam Bailey)

3) Gospel of Jesus’ wife ruse major embarrassment to higher academia

How the ‘Jesus’ Wife’ Hoax Fell Apart, Wall Street Journal (Jerry Pattengale)

Jesus had an ugly sister-in-law, Evangelical Textual Criticism (Mark Goodacre)

Illustrating the forgery of Jesus’ wife’s sister fragment, NT Blog (Mark Goodacre)

It’s Back — The “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” and the State of Modern Scholarship, (R. Albert Mohler, Jr)

4)Twenty-fifth anniversary of Margaret Thatcher’s elevation to prime minister of Great Britain

Margaret Thatcher, The Free Dictionary

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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