The Briefing 06-02-14

The Briefing 06-02-14

The Briefing


June 2, 2014

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


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


The issue of homosexuality now looms over every denomination, every church, every school, every politician, and eventually every American citizen, including, of course, every American Christian. That becomes increasingly clear as any option to evade the issue evaporates, and as so-called middle positions also continue to crumble. As I’ve been saying for some years now, this is inevitable. There is really no middle position on this issue and recent events have made that abundantly clear. In fairly short order and sooner rather than later, every American is going to be put on the spot, asked the question about beliefs on the issue of homosexuality and, of course, the related issue of same-sex marriage.


In recent days, that very argument is being made from the opposite side of the issue of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. On the other side, you have Tony Jones who has been known for years now as a major figure in the emergent church. Tony Jones, writing back on May 20th, pointed to the fact that there really is no third way on the issue of homosexuality and gay marriage. Jones points to the example of mainline Protestantism in general, the Presbyterian Church USA in particular, when he suggested that a denomination or a church may study the issue, but eventually it takes a vote and it takes a vote about whether or not to allow its clergy to perform same-sex unions. He then writes:


And the same goes for an individual congregation. At some point, every congregation in America will decide either, YES, same-sex marriages will take place in our sanctuary, performed by our clergy; or NO, same-sex marriages will not take place in our sanctuary, performed by our clergy. There is no third way on that. A church either allows same-sex marriages, or it doesn’t. 


He then writes in conclusion:


What I’m saying is that a church or an organization can study the issue in theory, and they can even do so for years. But this isn’t really a “third way” or a “middle ground.” Instead, it is a process. And at some point, that process has to end and practices have to be implemented. At that point, there’s no third way. You either affirm marriage equality in your practices, or you do not.

Now I rarely find a point of agreement with Tony Jones, at least to my mind this is the very first, but on this argument I am in profound agreement with him. On the opposite side of the question, of course, but in profound agreement with the importance of the question and with the essential fact that this is not just a question of theory, but inevitable church practice. And eventually the church will make its decision, and when a church or organization, a denomination, or an institution makes that decision there is no possibility of a third way.


Now a very interesting issue on this has appeared earlier this year when a Vineyard pastor by the name of Ken Wilson wrote what he entitled “A Letter to My Congregation.” It was subtitled, “An Evangelical Pastors Path to Embracing People Who are Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender in the Company of Jesus.” Ken Wilson released that letter as a short book form, available electronically and digitally, and in that book, he made the argument that there is the possibility of a third way and he intended to at least demonstrate a third way in a congregation that would be made up of those who were in various places on this issue. But that’s a matter of theological and intellectual dishonesty because if the church is allowing openly gay persons, gay persons in open relationships, and the performance of same-sex ceremonies and the related kinds of rights within the church, then it is a gay-affirming church. It is affirming the normality and acceptability of homosexuality and same-sex relationships. There is no way then to declare that there’s a third way. Tony Jones is exactly right: a church either will or will not allow the performance of same-sex ceremonies and, for that matter, allow the clergy and ministers of that church to perform same-sex ceremonies. The church that does allow such is a church that affirms homosexuality whether it intends to say so explicitly or not. And a church that does not do that is going to be well recognized as a church that, having faced the decision, is taking its stand in the biblical understanding of marriage as the exclusive union of a man and a woman, and is rejecting so-called gay marriage or same-sex marriage as something that is not only not going to be practiced by the church or accepted by the institution, but is that which is understood to be directly contrary to Scripture.


But all of this hits very close to home when just a few days ago blogger John Shore at put up an article entitled “Southern Baptist Pastor Accepts His Gay Son, Changes His Church.” John Shore printed a letter written by Pastor Danny Cortez of the New Heart Community Church near Biola in suburban Los Angeles. The pastor wrote:


My name is Danny Cortez and I pastor a small Southern Baptist Church in La Mirada, CA. We’re about a mile from Biola University in a very conservative neighborhood.


Anyway, I recently became gay affirming after a 15-year journey of having multiple people in my congregation come out to me every year. I scoured through your whole website and read everything I could. And it was especially the testimony of my gay friends that helped me to see how they have been marginalized that my eyes became open to the injustice that the church has wrought.


He then writes about one specific day in August of last year, that is, in August of 2013. He describes being at the beach on a sunny day and he said, “I realized I no longer believed in the traditional teachings regarding homosexuality.” He then went on to say, “As I was trying to figure out what to tell my church, I was driving the car with my 15-year-old son Drew,” and as he tells the story, a song came on that was associated with homosexuality. It was, to use the expression used by the pastor, “gay affirming.” Pastor Cortez then told his 15-year-old son, “I told him that I did know and that’s why I like the song.” That is, the song was gay affirming. He said, “I also told him that I no longer believed what I used to believe.”


But if the pastor surprised his 15-year-old son with that statement about the change in his position on homosexuality, just moments later, the son turned the table, and the 15-year-old told his father, “Dad, I’m gay.” Pastor Cortez then writes:


My heart skipped a beat and I turned towards him and we gave one another the biggest and longest hug as we cried. And all I could tell him was that I loved him so much and that I accepted him just as he is.

He went on to say this:


I couldn’t help but think that my 15 year journey was in preparation for that moment. If it wasn’t for this 15-year journey and my change in theology, I may have destroyed my son through reparative therapy.

Well, as the pastor continues to tell the story, on February 7, 2014, his son Drew made a coming-out video. On February 9th, he told the church about his position, and the pastor has posted on the Internet the hour-long message he gave to his congregation about his change on the issue of homosexuality. After he told his church about the change in position, the church voted on March 9th to prolong a period of study in prayer and discernment until May 18th. On May 18th—that’s just a few Sundays ago—the church voted not to dismiss the pastor and “instead to become a “Third Way” church (agree to disagree and not cast judgment on one another).” He went on to say, “This is a huge step for a Southern Baptist church.” Lest anyone missed the point, he says:


So now, we will accept the LGBT community even though they may be in a relationship. We will choose to remain the body of Christ and not cast judgment. We will work towards graceful dialogue in the midst of theological differences. We see that this is possible in the same way that our church holds different positions on the issue of divorce and remarriage. In this issue we are able to not cast judgment in our disagreement.

But that particular paragraph is directly contradicted by the one that follows; the very next paragraph in the pastor’s letter. He then writes:


Unfortunately, many who voted to remain traditional will now separate from us in a couple of weeks. We are in the period of reconciliation and forgiveness. Please pray for us in this. Then on June 8, we will formally peacefully separate, restate our love for one another, and bless each other as we part ways. It has been a very tiring and difficult process.

Well let’s just look at those two paragraphs again, and the one is stacked right on top of the other. In the first, Pastor Cortez says that the church has chosen to agree and yet to disagree; to agree to disagree to allow all positions, both positions, any number of positions within the congregation. But then he states explicitly that many who hold to the traditional position are separating from the church and will do so formally on June 8th. That’s this coming Sunday. But he is also contradicting himself not just in the paragraph that follows his declaration that they will agree to disagree, but also in the preceding paragraphs where he makes very clear that “We will accept the LGBT community even though they may be in a relationship. We will choose to be in the body of Christ,” he says, “and not cast judgment.” Well, as you look at that, it’s very clear that the church is not taking a third-way position. It’s not taking a position of neutrality. It is declaring itself, and all those who remain within the congregation and all congregations that remain in fellowship with that church are also affirming the gay-affirming position. That is simply inevitable given the fact that if you choose to become a part of this congregation or to remain a part of this congregation, you’re profoundly making that statement. And if the Los Angeles Southern Baptist Association, the larger California Southern Baptist Convention, and the Southern Baptist Convention itself maintains any kind of association with this church, the entire denomination and all its component parts will also be inevitably gay affirming.


To his credit, in his video, Pastor Cortez is very clear about the fact that he recognizes that his change in position represents a radical shift in the understanding of his own church and the biblical teachings the church has understood since its founding, and also, he understood that his position, his new position, is a radical shift in terms of the confession of faith of the Southern Baptist Convention—the Baptist Faith and Message that was revised in the year 2000 in such a way as to make explicit the fact that Southern Baptists believe that the Bible reveals very clearly the sinfulness of homosexual acts and homosexual relationships, and thus the biblical impossibility of endorsing same-sex relationships, much less so-called same-sex marriage.


But as you look at this, you come to recognize that what we have just days before the meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Baltimore in June is that the Southern Baptist convention will now be forced by the action of this congregation to take the action to dis-fellowship the church from the fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention. Otherwise, the SBC and all of its member churches and all of its component parts will join in an act of biblical infidelity. This is a very difficult issue for any denomination, but it is also an inescapable issue. And I am absolutely assured that when Southern Baptists meet in Baltimore in a matter of just a few days—as a matter of fact, convening just 48 hours after this church will say goodbye to its traditional members that disagree with the new direction of the church—I’m absolutely convinced that the Southern Baptist Convention and the messengers to that convention will do what responsibility requires the convention to do. Several years ago the convention adopted membership requirements that made very clear that any church that affirms homosexuality is to be excluded from the Southern Baptist Convention and its membership. That’s the kind of position that reflects the biblical reality. There is no third way. And even as this kind of decision is necessary, it is done with a brokenness of heart that is the case any time a disciplinary action must be taken either in the context of a local church or in the context of a Baptist Association or denominational agency or unit.


The constitution of the Southern Baptist Convention explicitly excludes from membership congregations “which act to affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior.” The denomination’s position on the issue is clear. The resolve of the denomination is also, I believe, very clear. But the convention now faces just that kind of decision that will eventually be faced by every denomination, by every church, by every Christian institution and school. But this much is already clear and in this case, graphically clear: there is no third way. There is no middle ground. A church or a denomination or a denominational school or Christian institution will either affirm homosexuality or it will not. There is no middle ground. And when it comes to something like same-sex marriage, that becomes even more clear because either it will be allowed and recognized or it will not. And if so, there will be no question about where the church or institution stands. So Southern Baptists now head to Baltimore next week with a very big issue on the agenda and, as we’ve stated so often, an inescapable issue, an unavoidable issue, an issue that demands—and demands urgently—a decision.


Shifting to China and the issue of religious liberty, last week, at the end of the week, The New York Times reported on the fact that crosses are fast disappearing from a city that had recently been described as the Jerusalem of China. As Ian Johnson describes:



For nearly a year, the Sanjiang Church was the pride of this city’s growing Christian population. A landmark in the fast-developing northern suburbs, its 180-foot spire rose dramatically against a rocky promontory. Wenzhou, called “China’s Jerusalem” for the churches dotting the cityscape, was known for its relaxed ties between church and state, and local officials lauded the church as a model project.


But, as Johnson goes on to report, that was then and this is now. Now, late last month, “the government ordered the spire torn down, saying that it violated zoning regulations.” As a of matter of fact, as Johnson reports, the entire city, in terms of government officials, has led to a destruction of many spires and steeples and the removal of highly visible crosses from the city in a very clear crack down upon religious liberty and, in particular, upon public demonstrations of Christianity. One believer known as Mabel said, “People are stunned. They have completely lost faith in the local religious authorities.” Part of this is because this was a registered church. The church was officially government sanctioned and it had permission from the government to build the facility with the spire and the cross.


But a crackdown on Christianity in China that is especially prominent in this particular province—but is also true for the rest of the country at large—it is part of a crackdown by the Communist Party on what is declared to be the influence of Western systems of thought with Christianity described as one of those Western systems. But here we have a very clear example of what in the New Testament is described as the scandal of the cross. But we also have a very clear testimony to the fact that it is Protestant Reformation-based Christianity that is really the problem here. That’s made clear in Ian Johnson’s report in The New York Times when he writes:


Protestantism is also linked to a national debate about “universal values.” Some Chinese Protestants argue that rights such as freedom of expression are God-given, and thus cannot be taken away by the state. These beliefs have led many Protestants to take up human rights work. A disproportionate number of lawyers handling prominent political cases, for example, are Protestant.


So here you, have all the way from China, a New York Times story, a story in the nation’s leading secular newspaper, that demonstrates that not only does theology matter, but a theology that was rooted in the Reformation that gave birth to modern notions of religious liberty, matters in the nation of China right now; matters so much that this explains why the Communist Party has Protestant Christianity clearly in the bull’s-eye of its attack and why the removal of crosses in this province of China points to a crackdown by the Chinese Communist Party upon Christianity writ large.


The New York Times deserves credit for very good reporting on this issue, including the fact that the paper got a hold of an internal government source from the province, a nine-page document that suggested that due to the fact that there would be international outrage over the forced removal of the crosses, it should be claimed that this was simply because of zoning regulations. But, very clearly, the Communist Party, once again, has not only violated religious liberty, but has done so in a way that has exposed itself to the very righteous indignation of the entire world, or at least the world in so far as there is respect for religious liberty. Writing for Christianity Today last week, Kate Tracy reveals that it’s not just in Wenzhou that this is taking place, but in other major Chinese cities as well. She mentions in particular Ningbo where a campaign known as Three Rectifications and One Demolition led by the Communist Party has affected the ability of churches to hold services in the city where the famed missionary Hudson Taylor once very famously worked.


Christians in the United States should pray for our brothers and sisters in China, even as we recognize that the Chinese Communist Party well understands the challenge it faces because, as The New York Times reports, Christianity is the fastest-growing religion, and thus the fastest spreading worldview in China. And the Communist Party is absolutely right about this: in so far as Christianity grows, there is a direct threat to the supremacy and the oligarchy hold on power of the Communist Party. Because as even the secular New York Times recognizes in this report, where you find true Christianity, you find powerful arguments for religious liberty.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. 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 Remember that this past Saturday we released another issue of Ask Anything: Weekend Edition—the last one for this spring season. A new season will start late summer, and we invite you to call with your questions in your voice to 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058. I’m speaking to you from Anchorage, Alaska, and I’ll meet you tomorrow for The Briefing.

Podcast Transcript

1) SBC affiliated church attempt to establish “Third Way” on gay marriage no middle way

Why There’s No “Third Way” on Gay Marriage, Patheos (Tony Jones)

Southern Baptist pastor accepts his gay son, changes his church, Patheos (John Shore)

2) Secularism of China clashes with Protestant Christians

Church-State Clash in China Coalesces Around a Toppled Spire, New York Times (Ian Johnson)

China Lifts High the Cross (Right Off Dozens of Churches), Christianity Today (Kate Tracy)


R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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