The Briefing 09-18-14

The Briefing 09-18-14

The Briefing


September 18, 2014

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

It’s Thursday, September 18, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Primacy of cultural issues in electoral discussions reveal moral contours of our society

Back in 2002 then Senator Joe Biden declared ‘soccer moms are security moms now.’ He was responding to the fact that in 2002 the Democratic Party got a shellacking in the midterm elections, and the explanation for that loss in the electoral polls had to do with the fact that the issues of national security began to replace the issues of domestic policy in terms of the minds of so many, including the Democratic voters that the party had been counting on in previous elections – known throughout the Clinton years as ‘soccer moms.’ From a Christian worldview perspective, this raises a host of issues – politics only a part of it. How in the world do soccer moms become security moms? The answer to that is: when they have to. One of the things we think about from a worldview perspective is that every single one of us operates out of a hierarchy of needs and a hierarchy of concerns. At one point in our lives, we might be most concerned about something that, in later times in life, we have no opportunity to give any thought at all. Urgency tends to press out – issues of far lesser concern. And soccer moms become security moms when a very real threat is presented to them.

Over the course of the last three decades, the Democratic Party’s been tilting itself towards arguments that are arranged and marketed for a female constituency. As we saw in the election two years ago, the Democratic Party and Democratic candidates won the vast majority of votes among those who are single women, single employed women. If you look at the votes among married women, and add to that married women with children, the votes tilt towards the Republican Party. Now in order to gain electoral success, parties are giving an incredible amount of attention to the segmentation of the electorate. But my concern is about worldview, and on that account there are several different dimensions of this story that deserve our attention. Peter Beinart writing for the Atlantic says that the security moms are back. He says,

“Suddenly, it feels like 2002. [He goes back to that year and says.] Democrats got creamed in midterm elections that year because the women voters they had relied on throughout the Clinton years deserted them. In 2000, women favored Democratic congressional candidates by nine points. In 2002, that advantage disappeared entirely.”

And the reason for that was quite straightforward; you can simply say the date September 11, 2001. From a Christian perspective this reminds us of the fact that we often have concerns today that we didn’t have yesterday. And concerns that can all the sudden erupt, in terms of our moral consciousness, can basically displaced just about everything else. We’ve looked time and time again to the fact that many of the issues that we currently confront, many of the controversies now playing out of headlines, are the controversies that are only possible in a time of relative peace and affluence. You change the economic conditions, you change the national security conditions, and that kind of headline disappears – replaced with something far different. The images now emblazed upon the consciences of so many Americans and people around the world of beheaded journalist and humanitarian workers, those immediately crowd out all kinds of concerns about lesser issues and in particular economic issues. Peter Beinart says that the return of security moms is bad news for Democrats, similarly an article that appeared in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times by Michael D. Shear and Carl Hulse tells us that world events are muffling the Democrats economic rallying cry. Now looking at this from a worldview perspective, not merely from a position of partisan interest, the Democratic Party begun to tailor its message towards women for the 2014 elections, coming up in just a matter of weeks, believing that economic issues would predominate. Now if you rewind history about a year, the Democratic Party had every reason to believe that would be a sensible electoral campaign strategy, but not now. And as these writers in New York Times make clear, the Democrats are finding that Americans just aren’t that urgently interested in economic matters, at least in these weeks. They cite Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee. He said,

“I think the Democrats’ economic message has a lot of resonance, but it has been difficult to break through the focus on foreign policy issues,”

Another thing to consider here’s is fact that President Obama, running for office in 2008 for reelection in 2012, did his very best to say he would be the president who would avoid having to do with foreign-policy matters. He said in 2008, “If you elect me, you will see an American military withdrawal from the Middle East.” And now, this very President had to face the American people, and the watching world, and say he is sending in airstrikes. And just a matter of a few days ago, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff suggested that it will take some kind of ground campaign in order to oppose, and eventually to defeat, the group known as the Islamic State.

But then on Tuesday of this week the New York Times had a front-page article entitled “Democrats Put Cultural Issues in Their Quiver.” This tells us a great deal also about moral change and how this plays into the electoral situation, or you might reverse it and say, the nations consideration and conversation about the upcoming election reveals the true contours of the moral change taking place around us. If the earlier articles are about the fact that Democrats aren’t making headway with economic issues, this headline story in the New York Times says that they are making headlines with cultural issues. Now the background of this article is really interesting because in recent election cycles, going back at least three decades, Democrats have been running from, rather than towards, cultural and moral issues. That has been the political terrain of the Republican Party, and by and large, it is played into the fact that there have been electoral victories time and time again when Americans have gone to the polls to defend traditional marriage, to vote for a constitutional amendment, or to support a candidate who defines marriage as the union exclusively of a man and a woman. But in the fast-paced moral change we are currently experiencing, there has been a turning of the tables. As the New York Times says, those cultural issues are now working for the Democrats rather than for the Republicans and their working on the opposite side of the moral equation. Now the Democrats are capitalizing on the fact that increasing numbers of Americans support the normalization of homosexuality and the legalization of same-sex marriage, and the Democrats are counting on the fact that if they’re having a hard time with their economic message, they’re going to be making a moral message and they’re going to be making it loudly.

Senator John Warner of Virginia, a Democrat running for reelection in that state, says,“The public has moved,” making very clear the fact that the public is moved in a more liberal direction. This article New York Times makes the point that Democrats are recalibrating their message to women voters, shifting from economic to moral, or cultural, arguments and we need to track very clearly, very closely the fact that many of these Democratic candidates are arguing that a vote for them means a vote for women’s health. Of course that’s now a euphemism; it’s a euphemism primarily for abortion and what is packaged as reproductive health services. But the word health in there betrays the fact that for the unborn child, it’s not about health, it’s about abortion. The 2014 midterm elections are still a matter of a few weeks away and a whole lot can change between now and then. One of the messages of all these articles put together just in recent days is that a major change in the world situation can change the terms of debate almost immediately. But the enduring message of these articles to Christians should be this: we are experiencing a time of vast moral change and when it comes that moral change, those arguments now appear to have even more traction for the Democratic Party than do the economic arguments that party is basically built its political strategy on for the last 30 to 40 years. Furthermore, those moral and cultural arguments the Democratic Party now sees as the future direction of their political strategies are premised upon the fact that a moral revolution isn’t just happening, but that it has happened. And regardless of how the election turns out in a matter of weeks, at least in terms of the big moral picture around us, they think they’re on the winning side.

2) Sexual revolutionaries underestimate the strength of Scripture’s sexual ethic

As a matter fact, shifting to another issue – a large percentage of Americans believe that it is important to be on what they call the winning side of history. Those who are arguing for the legalization of same-sex marriage come back again and again to the fact that all right-thinking people are moving in their direction, that the cultural momentum is in support of their arguments and that eventually anyone’s whose outlier, anyone who disagrees with the normalization of homosexuality, and the legalization of same-sex marriage, is merely going to be written off. And furthermore, they really believe, and numerous authorities make this very clear, they really do believe that everyone eventually is going to have to come to terms with this. In response to that, Pascal Emmanuel-Gobry, writing in the newsmagazine The Week, is trying to explain, as a Christian, why, as he says, so many Christians won’t back down on gay marriage.

As he begins his essay, he gets right to the heart of what he sees as a secular misunderstanding. He writes,

“A majority of Americans already favor same-sex marriage — and most everyone agrees that same-sex marriage will continue to be accepted by an ever-bigger majority. In many urban and progressive circles, it’s beyond impolitic to oppose gay marriage. Indeed, there’s a movement underfoot to make opposition to same-sex marriage akin to support for racism. That is to say, anyone who expresses opposition to same-sex marriage would be ostracized, with many progressives hoping to employ a variety of social and governmental means of coercion to force gay-marriage opponents to the margins of society.”

He goes on to say that it appears that strategy is working, at least in terms of the larger culture. In making his argument Gobry  argues that the secularists, and those who are pressing for the legalization of same-sex marriage, those who believe that even the Christian church is eventually going to have to bend the knee to this new moral argument, he says they operate on a false script. He says,

“The false premise goes something like this: Christianity, as a historical social phenomenon, basically adjusts its moral doctrines depending on the prevailing social conditions.”

I think he’s got exactly right. I think that is the false script that many secularists believe is true of Christianity, and that’s why they believe that we will eventually have to move their way – or get out of the way. But as evangelical Christians we also have to concede they have an argument for their position. If it is a false script, it’s false for orthodox Christians, for those who intend to be faithful to Scripture and all the Scripture teaches, but is the very manifesto what is known as Liberal Protestantism. Liberal Protestantism did exactly what those in the secular aside now believe Christianity’s going to have to do – that is, basically bend to what are called here, the prevailing social conditions. As a matter fact, through the high profits and priest of Protestant Liberalism said, that’s exactly what the church must do in order to be rescued from its predicament in the modern age. Now we’re simply hearing those arguments again about a century later.

But in confronting that false script, Pascal Emmanuel-Gobry goes on to write this,

“Christianity’s opposition to homosexuality is not the product of some dusty medieval exegete poring over obscure Old Testament verses. From the beginning, what set apart the new and strange sect called Christians from the rest of their culture was their strange sexual ethic. They refused polygamy. They refused the sexual exploitation of slaves by their owners. They refused prostitution, premarital sex, divorce, abortion, the exposure of infants, contraception — and homosexual acts.”

The point is clear, he said,

“From the start, Christians embodied a different way of life. From the start, they understood a particular sexual ethic to be a keystone of this way of life. And they understood the logic of this ethic as prohibiting (among other things) homosexual acts.”

Now looking at this article, I want to make a couple of observations. First of all, this is a brave article. It’s straightforward in its argument and, even as what he is arguing is transparently true, this is exactly the kind of message many people don’t want to hear – not only in the secular left, but on the Protestant left as well. In concluding his essay Gobry writes,

“Today, many gay-marriage proponents don’t just want a live-and-let-live relationship with Christianity — they want to force Christianity to affirm same-sex marriage. They do this, [he says] I think, because they believe very strongly in the rights of gays to marry, but also largely because they think that it will only take moderate prodding to get Christianity to cave in. History and Christianity’s own self-understanding suggest, however, that such an outcome is not in the cards.”

This is an important article coming from one who is not an evangelical, but who identifies with a classical historic Christian tradition of theology and moral reasoning. And he’s exactly right, if the church is to reverse his understanding of the morality of same-sex acts and same-sex relationships, it doesn’t have to change just the recent teaching of the church over the last several decades, or the last century, or over the last two centuries, or even just the modern age, they would have to go back all the way to the beginnings of the church with the apostles and say we’re going to reverse everything that is revealed to us about a sexual ethic in the New Testament. That’s an immensely important argument, and it’s one that evangelical Christians should look to with a particular interest, and also a particular sensitivity. Because when you add to the fact that we’re not merely arguing on behalf of the consistent moral tradition, but more importantly arguing on behalf of obedience to Scripture, that raises the stakes considerably and makes the point that even if other churches and denominations may try to find some way to accommodate themselves to this moral revolution, those who remain committed to the inerrancy and infallibility, the total authority of Scripture, the fact the Scriptures totally true and trustworthy, have no mechanism for making that kind of adjustment. It’s not just the church tradition that stands in the way, more importantly; even more fundamentally, it’s Scripture that stands in the way.

3) Pope officiates marriage of couples his doctrine excludes, softening doctrinal convictions

But about those other traditions, just in recent days I had to discuss an argument being made that the Roman Catholic Church is evolving on the issue of homosexuality, and there’s evidence that that church is evolving, especially if you watch and listen to the current Pope – Pope Francis I. And those who are either hoping for or fearing an evolution of the Roman Catholic Church on the issue of homosexuality and same-sex marriage, they have to be looking warily or on the other hand hopefully to an event that took place Sunday in the diocese of Rome where the Pope himself married 20 couples. Now it’s been a long time since there’s been a papal wedding ceremony, that is a wedding ceremony presided over by the pontiff. As a matter fact, for the Roman Catholic Church, marriage is not just a sacred rite; it is considered one of the sacraments of the church whereby grace goes to the participants by means of the priestly ministration of the one who is conducting the marriage ceremony. In this case, no small matter, no mere symbolism, that it was the Pope himself. But the fact that the Pope was presiding over this kind of wedding ceremony in the diocese of Rome was not newsworthy merely because it took place, but because of who was married.

Among the 20 couples married by the Pope this past Sunday included cohabitating couples, and at least one couple that had a child from a previous sexual relationship before the marriage actually took place. Now why is an interesting? Well as Elisabetta Povoledo of the New York Times reports, the Pope in this case was “looking past tradition.” Now one of the key issues we’re going to have to watch very carefully as evangelicals is this – as I have argued over and over again, there are multiple arguments for the church’s position on same-sex marriage and on homosexuality, there is an argument from natural law, there is an argument from Christian tradition, and there is an argument from Scripture. The argument from Scripture for evangelicals is all that is necessary and yet as Scripture makes very clear, God has revealed himself. As Paul says in Romans 1, even his invisible attributes are clearly seen; he has revealed marriage in the morality of sexuality even in the larger world. But we understand that Scripture is the ultimate authority, and that what you have in nature is a testimony to the truth is revealed comprehensively in Scripture. When it comes to natural law, evangelicals need not to fear natural arguments but instead even to understand how to use them but to use them to apply Scripture, not as an alternative to scriptural reasoning. But the big issue we’re going to have to watch is this: how long will it be before arguments based upon mere Christian tradition give way? How long will it be before arguments made on mere natural law begin to collapse? Because as it turns out – I’ll simply make this statement as straightforwardly as I know how – only Scripture will hold. Only in obedience to Scripture will hold a church to the church’s historic understanding of sexuality because that sexual morality isn’t something the church came up with, it’s not even something merely the church has affirmed, it’s something the church has obeyed; that’s a fundamentally different equation. And that may mean that evangelical Christians find ourselves relatively alone, in terms of this new cultural moment, finding ourselves bound by Scripture alone in terms of defying the current moral revolution.

That may well be a very lonely place, but those who are looking for indications of evolution in terms of other Christian traditions have to be looking what took place Sunday in St. Peter’s in Rome as evidence of the fact that this Roman Catholic pontiff appears to be considerably softening his church’s historic teachings on these issues. By the way, one of things we’re going to have to watch, especially as this new extraordinary Synod of Bishops as it is known takes place in a matter of just a few weeks in Rome, one of things we’re going to have to be watching is this, the Roman Catholic Church can make a distinction between its dogmatic teaching and it’s pastoral ministry. In a glaring example of that came in a recent phone call disclosed whereby the Pope himself made a pastoral call to a woman in Argentina and gave her a dispensation so that she could attend the mass, even as she had married a divorced man in violation of church teachings. The Roman Catholic Church continues to say she should not be admitted to the mass, but the Pope gave her a dispensation – pastorally. That’s the kind of thing we might be looking for very carefully; a church that divides its pastoral ministry from its doctrinal teaching is a church that can find a way to negotiate through this kind of controversy. As for evangelicals committed to the authority of Scripture where the issue is obedience or disobedience, we have no such dispensation, we have no such priestly ministry, and we have no such way out of this equation.

From an evangelical perspective there is another interesting question here and that is this, how is conscience bound? As you know, as children or even as teenagers often times are conscience is bound by parents. We simply have the inherited moral authority of that which is taught to us by our parents, and extended family, and the larger society. Sometimes are conscience is bound by a word that comes from an authority such as a preacher, or a teacher, or professor, sometimes our conscience is bound by the force of civil law where we actually know that we have done something that is wrong by violating civil law or by being tempted to do so. But ultimately, and here Protestant evangelical Christianity has answered uniformly, are conscience is bound ultimately only by Scripture. The only way the conscience can be adequately bound is if it’s bound by the question of obedience or disobedience to the word of God. Standing in the Diet at Worms, Martin Luther the reformers articulated this classically for every single evangelical who would ever follow. When an answer to those who could’ve taken his life, Martin Luther simply said, “here I stand. I can do no other, God help me my conscience is bound by Scripture alone.” We will soon find out as this moral revolution unravels all around us – which churches and which Christians are, and which are not, bound by Holy Scripture.

4) Scottish independence vote today could lead to crumbling of modern nation-state

Something to watch for today in Scotland, people going to the polls to decide if Scotland will remain in the United Kingdom or whether it will secede – breaking a 300-plus year tradition of being united under one realm and one crown. It’s not a small question because as the modern age progresses, what we’re seeing is something that none of the foundational architects of the modern age could’ve imagined – and that is the potential crumbling of what is known as the nation-state. We’ll be watching to see how the voters in Scotland vote, because it won’t just be about Scotland, there are people all over the world waiting to hear what signal is sent – answering the question, will the United Kingdom remain united?

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’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.


Podcast Transcript

1) Primacy of cultural issues in electoral discussions reveal moral contours of our society

‘Security Moms’ Are Back—and That’s Bad News for Democrats, The Atlantic (Peter Beinart)

World Events Muffle Democrats’ Economic Rallying Cry, New York Times (Michael D. Shear and Carl Hulse)

Democrats Put Cultural Issues in Their Quiver, New York Times (Jonathan Martin)

2) Sexual revolutionaries underestimate the strength of Scripture’s sexual ethic

Why so many Christians won’t back down on gay marriage, The Week (Pascal Emmanuel-Gobry)

3) Pope officiates marriage of couples his doctrine excludes, softening doctrinal convictions

In Weddings, Pope Francis Looks Past Tradition, New York Times (Elisabetta Povoledo)

4) Scottish independence vote today could lead to crumbling of modern nation-state

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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