The Briefing 09-10-14

The Briefing 09-10-14

The Briefing


September 10, 2014

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


It’s Wednesday, September 10, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Roman Catholic ‘evolution’ on gay marriage shows adding to Scripture subverts its authority

Will the Catholic Church evolve on the issue homosexuality and same-sex marriage? Or, on the other hand, will the Catholic Church split over the same questions? Two very important articles, in two very different periodicals, have appeared on the question. The first article appeared in Time magazine, the second in the Spectator published in England; and they’re asking the same question in essence – where is the Catholic Church going on the question of homosexuality, and the related question of same-sex marriage? The headline in the Time magazine article is this, “Is the Catholic Church ‘Evolving’ on Gay Marriage?” The author is Christopher J. Hale. He writes,


Last week New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan gave his okay to the St. Patrick Day Parade Committee’s decision to allow a gay group to march in the 2015 parade under their own banner. This was [says Hale] a remarkable shift from one of Dolan’s predecessors Cardinal John O’Connor who in 1993 declared that to allow a gay group to march in the parade would be a slander to the Apostle’s Creed.


Hale has a very interesting point to make in his article. There certainly does appear to be some kind of evolution on the issue of homosexuality taking place, at least among some very high ranking Catholic leaders. In the bull’s-eye of Time magazine’s article is New York’s Cardinal Archbishop, Timothy Dolan. Dolan had been known as a very clear opponent of same-sex marriage, and as the former head of the Catholic bishops in the United States, he had been running point in terms of the Catholic church’s teaching on homosexuality. That teaching, by the way, according to the official Catholic catechism, defines all homosexual behaviors as “intrinsically disordered” and furthermore sinful in any context. But all that appears to be changing, and not just with the Cardinal Archbishop of New York City. The question of where the Roman Catholic Church is going on this issue is prompted by statements coming from the man who heads the Roman Catholic Church – and that is none other than Pope Francis the first.


In the Time article, Hale suggest that this has been a rather remarkable summer in which several high ranking Roman Catholic officials have signaled, in his words, that Pope Francis is more open posture on gay issues has permeated throughout the Catholic world.


In May [he writes], a top-ranking Italian bishop said that the Church should be more open to arguments in support of same-sex marriage. And [he also records] just a few weeks ago, one of Pope Francis’s closest friends [that is] Brazilian Cardinal Cláudio Hummes said in an interview that he “didn’t know” whether Jesus would oppose gay marriage.


To its credit, Time magazine has another very important reason for running this article with the headline asking such a question. After all, next month prominent Roman Catholic leaders from around the world are going to be gathering in Rome for synod to ask questions about the church’s teachings on these very issues – issues not limited to homosexuality, but to human sexuality in general, and to marriage, and to the family. The very fact that Pope Francis is called the synod has led to a very open speculation, in Roman Catholic circles, about whether or not there’s going to be a major turn in Roman Catholic teaching. Hale seems to be suggesting that there already are very clear indicators of this kind of evolution – and he’s exactly right. The indicators go all the way back to Pope Francis, who shortly after his election as pope, raised the question as to whether or not there should be any Christian judgment made on homosexuality. An a flight back from Central America in 2013 the Pope said to reporters, and I quote,


If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?


Hale’s article, and the larger picture of what’s going on in the Roman Catholic Church, raises a host of issues – not just the question raised in the title of the article. There is abundant evidence of the Roman Catholic Church, or at least very prominent Roman Catholic leaders, are indeed evolving on the question of same-sex marriage and of homosexuality.


And of course the use of that term evolving goes back to the fact that major political leaders, most specifically former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama, have defined their own positions on these issues as evolving – and of course they evolved in a very clear direction, from the fact that when President Obama ran for president in 2008, he clearly defended marriage as exclusively the union of a man and a woman. All that changed when he ran for reelection in 2012, when he became the nation’s most prominent defender of the legalization of same-sex marriage. Of course in the background of President Obama’s evolution on the question, stands the fact that years before he ran for President, when he was running for a seat in the Illinois state Senate, he had indicated on a form that he was in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage; when he ran for president, he was opposed to it – until he ran for reelection as president, when he was in favor of it. So he was for it, before he was against it, until he was again for it. When she was running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, then Sen. Hillary Clinton was against same-sex marriage. She continued in that posture without any clear indication to the contrary when she was the Secretary of State of the United States. Shortly after leaving that position, preparing presumably for a 2016 run for president, Mrs. Clinton indicated that she had evolved on the question, and now is in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage.


All that points to the fact that this so-called evolution is a familiar pattern now; but it’s a pattern that we really have come to expect out of politicians. But is this kind of pattern what we should expect from the leader of a massive religious denomination? That gets to the question raised by Damian Thompson in his article the Spectator. The title of that article is another question; “Could homosexuality split the Catholic Church?” Thompson’s article was actually prompted by Hale’s article in Time magazine, but he writes in response, and I quote,


The Church insists that homosexual acts are sinful and, although it may eventually ditch the insulting label ‘intrinsically disordered’, it has no authority to change Christ’s teaching that sex outside marriage is always wrong. The magisterium of the Catholic Church is immutable on the big questions. You couldn’t reverse [he writes] Paul VI’s absolute ban on artificial contraception or John Paul II’s declaration that women priests are a theological impossibility without, effectively, abolishing the office of Pope. [Thompson then conclude,] And neither of these rulings is as blindingly obvious, from the perspective of ‘natural law’, as the sinfulness of homosexual genital acts.


Thompson suggest that the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church are actually confusing their own church members, and quoting American Catholic writer Deal Hudson, Thompson suggest that the Catholic Church under current leadership is becoming, to use Hudson’s words, “the church of blurred boundaries.”


I make reference to the articles by Hale and Thompson in order to get to a bigger point – you don’t have to have these articles in Time magazine and the Spectator to understand that something major is happening in Roman Catholic circles. The clearest signal was, of course, the words that came from the Pope himself; and it looks in this case, like Deal Hudson is exactly right when he suggest that under this Pope, the Roman Catholic Church is becoming the church of blurred boundaries. But from an evangelical perspective, there are huge lessons here. First of all, what we’re watching in the Roman Catholic Church is a divergence between the church’s official doctrinal teaching and its pastoral practice. As is often been pointed out with other controversial questions, the Roman Catholic Church, through it sacramental ministry, claims the right to be able to teach one thing but to apply those truths in a pastoral situation, leading to a very different kind of verdict. A very embarrassing example of this kind of dynamic occurred earlier this year when it became known that Pope Francis had placed a phone call to a woman in Central America, who had been forbidden entrance to the mass because she had married a divorced man. Now, that is exactly in keeping with Roman Catholic doctrine, and that doctrine is routinely applied to Roman Catholic situations globally. But Pope Francis gave her, what is in effect, a special dispensation. In her pastoral situation, the Pope said she could receive the mass, even if she had married a divorced man in contradiction of church teachings. So what you have here is just that kind of example that Deal Hudson and others are pointing to. The Pope claims to uphold Roman Catholic teaching, and in this case Damian Thompson’s exactly right, if he were to reverse that Roman Catholic teaching, he would effectively abolish the authority of his own office. But instead of doing that, the Pope, and following his lead, presumably other Catholic bishops as well, will simply signal the priests that they can bend or apply church teachings in a way that fits a local pastoral situation.


From an evangelical perspective, this is an absolute impossibility. The evangelical understanding of the church, of the Scripture, and of the gospel, reminds us that our doctrine and our practice have to be one in the same. We deny the Roman Catholic claim to dispense grace and the forgiveness of sins and the absolution for those sins through a sacramental or priestly ministry. Evangelicals also deny that Christ established His church in terms of a magisterial teaching authority – that’s exactly what the Roman Catholic Church claims, and of course at the head of that magisterial authority is none other than the Pope. There’s a third lesson here, and that has to do with natural law. Evangelicals do not deny the reality, nor the truth content of the natural law, but evangelicals believe that in the end, for that matter at the beginning and in the middle, the only authority that matters is the authority of Holy Scripture. We do not believe that natural law argument, detached from Scripture, will be either compelling or effective in public argument; nor is it compelling or effective in private devotion – instead, we are a people of the Scripture. In the final analysis, the so-called evolution now taking place or appearing to take place in the Roman Catholic Church sets up evangelicals to be further separated from the society and further isolated and at the crucial point of evangelical conviction. That’s what exactly matters; because as it turns out, if the Roman Catholic Church continues in this trajectory of so-called evolution, evangelicals will be standing in even smaller company as defenders of marriage as it is revealed in Scripture and of human sexuality as commanded by God. And our authority will be Scripture. At the end of the day, if nothing else, this controversy points to the fact that when you attempt to add something to Scripture or to the gospel – such as a sacramental ministry, priestly authority, and a magisterial teaching office – you do not add to the authority of Scripture, you inherently subvert it. From an evangelical Christian perspective in the biblical worldview, that’s what makes this debate about the future the Roman Catholic Church and its evolution on the question of homosexuality so important. Evangelical Christians, bound by conscience to Scripture and to the authority of Scripture as the word of God, cannot evolve on this question – not that is, if we are truly going to obey Scripture.

2) Evolution on homosexuality looms as generational challenge to evangelical integrity

But that takes us to yet another article that recently appeared in the pages of Time magazine. A young man by the name of Brandan Robertson has written an article entitled, “Evangelicals for Marriage Equality: The Story Behind Our Launch.” In Time magazine, this young man tells the story of how he, who identifies as an evangelical Christian who believes that the Bible is God’s word, has evolved in his own way on the question of same-sex marriage, and has now, joined forces with the group known as Evangelicals for Marriage Equality. He defines the group in these terms,


A new initiative launching Tuesday that seeks to change the hearts and minds of evangelicals about civil marriage equality.


Now remember that Mr. Robertson claims to be an evangelical who holds to a high view of Scripture and biblical authority, but in his essay in Time magazine he includes this paragraph,


Many evangelicals believe the Bible describes same-sex relationships as sinful; others disagree.


Robertson concludes his essay by writing,


Evangelicals who want to support marriage equality currently face the false choice of either remaining faithful to their tradition by opposing same-sex marriage, or being accused of watering down their commitment to Christ by standing in support of their gay and lesbian friends. I believe [he writes] that the best way is the middle path that both compels evangelicals to stand for civil marriage equality as an overflow of our love for our lesbian and gay neighbors, while allowing us to have space to wrestle with and remain faithful to our beliefs.


As is so often the case, what is argued as a so-called middle way is actually not a middle way at all. As I have written, and often discussed, on a question like same-sex marriage, there really is no third way – a church, or an individual Christian for that matter, will either support and affirm legal same-sex marriage or not. In his larger argument, Brandan Robertson suggested there should be a severe division between the church’s moral understanding of homosexuality and same-sex relationships on the one hand, and the government’s recognition of marriage on the other. But, as his article also makes clear, Mr. Robertson appears to be very unclear about what the Bible teaches on this issue in the first place.


I draw attention to his article for two reasons. First of all, its juxtaposition alongside those articles on the issue of the Roman Catholic Church’s evolution on the question and the fact that his article in Time magazine appeared within just a matter of days, alongside the Hale article on the Catholic Church. But there’s another important issue here, and that is this – you can count on the fact that there will be not only prominent Roman Catholic leaders who will appear to evolve on the question of homosexuality, there will be those who identify as evangelicals who will, and even are now, doing the same. In our generation it’s hard to conceive that there will be a greater challenge to the church’s faithfulness, not only on the authority of Scripture, but the integrity of the gospel than this question. And the question may soon be published in Time magazine – an article with the headline, “Are Evangelicals Devolving on the Question of Same-Sex Marriage?” Given all that has taken place in just the last several weeks and days, this much is clear – when that article appears, we won’t be able to say that we were surprised.

3) Response to ChickFilA owner Truett Cathy’s death indicates moral shift during his lifetime

I’m currently in Atlanta, Georgia and headline news here, as well as across much of the United States, was the death early on Monday morning of S. Truett Cathy, the founder of the restaurant chain Chick-Fil-A. I had the opportunity and the honor of knowing Mr. Cathy. He was, as a matter of fact, a former member of the Southern Seminary Foundation Board. Mr. Cathy founded his business – even as he had been raised in the context of poverty. He died Monday at age 93, and he left behind an incredible legacy of Christian generosity and of Christian conviction. Truett Cathy was not only a generous man; he was a very bold witness for Christ. He intended to witness to Christ even in the way he operated his business. As he said over and over again, he saw no conflict between his Christian faith and doing good business. And he did intend to do good business. He was very public about his Christian commitment, and he was a very active Southern Baptist churchmen. Truett Cathy had a great concern for youth and young people – that was made evident in the policies by which his company employed so many teenagers and young adults; policies that included a very generous scholarship opportunity. He founded missions and ministries for underprivileged youth, and of course his company was very well-known for the fact that it was never open on Sunday. Mr. Cathy believed that Sunday as the Lord’s Day, was a day that should be reserved for his employees for their worship, not for their work.


But the national response to the death of Truett Cathy tells us a very great deal about the moral revolution that came during his lifetime; but not just during his lifetime, during the last decade of his lifetime. Just consider the obituary on Mr. Cathy that ran in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times. The obituary was written by Kim Severson, and in it she states this,


But as the founder of the Chick-fil-A fast-food empire, he was also a billionaire several times over and, as a conservative Christian who ran his business according to his religious principles, he was at once a hero and a symbol of intolerance. Many admired him for closing his outlets on Sundays and speaking out against same-sex marriage. Others vilified his restaurant chain as a symbol of hate.


Actually the New York Times obituary included a mistake the paper later corrected. The statement against same-sex marriage was not actually said by Truett Cathy, but by his son and successor as chairman of the board, Dan Cathy. But to be fair Dan Cathy’s comment certainly shared the moral sentiment and convictions of his father; and that’s what makes this story really interesting. Here you have a man, who started in poverty, believed in the American Dream, began at age 8 selling soda and by age 12 was trying to run his own business. But the story, so far as many in the national press were concerned, is the fact that by the time Truett Cathy died, the very convictions he stood for, the convictions that represented what virtually all Americans believed during most of his lifetime, left him accused, to use the words of the New York Times, as being “a symbol of hate.”


The bottom line of this story comes down to this, Truett Cathy lived long enough, he died Monday at age 93, to have seen his own character assailed, along with the character of his company, simply because the Cathy family made one public statement about the fact that they believe that marriage is exclusively the union of a man and a woman, and that this was important for human happiness and for the flourishing of humanity. The obituary of S. Truett Cathy that appeared in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times arrives as an alarm for us all. Someone like Truett Cathy could live 93 years, contribute so much to American culture, and so much to the lives of so many, and at the end of the day be accused in one single paragraph of being a symbol of intolerance and a symbol of hate. In Truett Cathy’s life we find a tremendous testimony, in his obituary in the New York Times, we find a warning – almost like a parable.


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 I’m speaking to you from Atlanta, Georgia and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.


Podcast Transcript

1) Roman Catholic ‘evolution’ on gay marriage shows adding to Scripture subverts its authority

Is the Catholic Church ‘Evolving’ on Gay Marriage?, TIME (Christopher J. Hale)

Could homosexuality split the Catholic Church?, The Spectator (Damian Thompson)

2) Evolution on homosexuality looms as generational challenge to evangelical integrity

Evangelicals for Marriage Equality: The Story Behind Our Launch, TIME (Brandan Robertson)

3) Response to ChickFilA owner Truett Cathy’s death indicates moral shift during his lifetime

S. Truett Cathy, 93, Chick-fil-A Owner, Dies, New York Times (Kim Severson)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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