The Briefing 09-30-14

The Briefing 09-30-14

The Briefing


September 30, 2014

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


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

1) Supreme Court maneuverings on same-sex marriage reminder that the political is often personal

Yesterday the Supreme Court of the United States began its new term and the court did not begin by hearing cases, but rather by meeting in secret – as the justices began the process of deciding which cases they will take. And virtually everyone looking at the issue of same-sex marriage, especially the leaders on both sides of this contentious issue, expect that the Supreme Court of the United States this year will take up one big case – one case, at least, having to do with the legalization of same-sex marriage. And the end result of the Supreme Court taking that case is that by the end of its term, on the last day of June in the year 2015, it will have decided – one way or another, whether there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage that applies to all Americans in all 50 states. Now most Americans watching the trajectory of this issue know that virtually everyone, including the opponents of same-sex marriage, believe that the Supreme Court is poised to legalize same-sex marriage, or what is now called same-sex marriage, in all 50 states.

Just back in 2013 by a narrow vote, the Supreme Court struck down the federal government’s Defense of Marriage Act. Simultaneously, on a technicality, it allowed the striking down of California’s proposition eight to stand. The net result was that the court sent a signal on the issue of same-sex marriage. As justice Antonin Scalia said, we’re just waiting for the shoe to drop. And that shoe is expected to drop this term and almost no one expects that it will drop in defense of traditional marriage; rather the court is set itself out by the trajectory of its own presidents to legalize same-sex marriage. And if anything, what we now see in retrospect is that the court was ready to do that back in 2013 as many of us have suspected, but lacked the political nerve to do so. And now, given the fact that there are been at least 30 court decisions at the federal and state level since those decisions handed down by the highest court in 2013, almost all of them have gone in favor of same-sex marriage; and that now puts the court a different political situation. Note carefully the use of that word; the court is in a different political context, it is not in a different legal context – nothing has changed in the law or in the legal facts to make a change from 2013 to 2015. But the political context has changed, and this this court has shown that it is, if anything, exceedingly political.

On the issue of this upcoming term and the likelihood of a major landmark case and decision, David G. Savage said,

“After fighting state by state for more than 20 years, the same-sex marriage movement is riding an extraordinary wave of legal victories as the Supreme Court prepares to decide whether gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry nationwide.”

Irv Gornstein, a law professor at Georgetown University who heads that University’s Supreme Court Institute said,

“It’s a near certainty the court will decide it this term and definitively answer”

Evan Wolfson, one of the major proponents of same-sex marriage and an activist early on this issue said,

“There is no question we are winning, but winning is not won. It’s time for the Supreme Court to finish the job.”

And even though the two sides in this argument could not be further apart on the basic question, both acknowledge that 2015 now looms as the key year at the US Supreme Court. And both are now saying, rather openly, that the Supreme Court has the responsibility to settle this issue and that the court can no longer duck it as it did back in 2013.

Utah’s Attorney General, defending his states legislation and amendment against same-sex marriage, made this comment,

“It all comes down to this: Thousands of couples are unconstitutionally being denied the right to marry, or millions of voters are being disenfranchised of their vote to define marriage. Either way, the court’s review is necessary. ”

Well regardless of the fact that the Utah Attorney General was speaking out of an obvious urgency, it’s hard to see that there’s really any mystery about which way the court is likely to rule in this case. We need to say this early and we need to say it often: the Supreme Court has set itself up in 2015 to rule in favor of same-sex marriage nationwide, and to do so not because of a change in the law, but because of a change in the politics; showing us once again that the branch of our government that is supposedly least political, is still political after all.

And speaking of the issue of same-sex marriage and the Supreme Court, for at least two justices of the court, this is not merely a theoretical or hypothetical issue. It’s a very personal issue. That was made clear when Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in recent weeks both conducted the ceremony for a same-sex marriage – both of them doing so, making a statement personally, but also professionally because they did so in their capacity as associate justices of the United States Supreme Court. So while we’re making our case, there really isn’t much mystery about where the court is going – just consider the fact that at least two justices of the Supreme Court have already gone, in terms of going so far as to preside at same-sex marriages. As the feminist said back in the 60s and 70s, the personal is the political, but as these two justices have also shown – the political is often the personal.

2) Rapidity of moral change evident in perceived obsolescence of conservative values

One of our major ongoing concerns is the scope and velocity of moral change taking place all around us, and sometimes it takes someone on the other side of that moral divide to make the point most emphatically, if sometimes also most clearly. That’s the case in the opinion pages of the New York Times yesterday, but not just the opinion page but the editorial page because this was an official editorial, an official statement by the editors of the New York Times; the headline, “The Tide of the Culture War Shifts.” The editors of the New York Times declared that the times are changing and so are the political campaigns. And whereas it had been Democrats who had been on the defensive in so many moral issues in recent decades – issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion – now they say the tide has turned, the culture war has shifted in the opposite direction. No longer is it Democratic candidates who are on the defensive, now it’s Republican candidates who find themselves under attack by their Democratic opponents, and also well-funded special interest groups, because of their stand for something like human personhood or the sanctity of human life or the definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The editors acknowledge that the reason why many of these campaigns have turned on these issues is because Democratic candidates are trying to get the support of women, especially, as the editorial notes, single women. At the same time however, they argue

“It is also a reflection of the growing obsolescence of traditional Republican wedge issues in state after state. For a younger generation of voters, the old right-wing nostrums about the ‘sanctity of life’ and the ‘sanctity of marriage’ have lost their power, revealed as intrusions on human freedom. Democrats ‘did win the culture war,’ Alex Castellanos, a Republican strategist, admitted to The New York Times recently.”

What we talked about that article, in which Mr. Castellanos made that statement, the article was a story by Jonathan Martin published on the 15th of September.  The headline of that article was “Democrats Put Cultural Issues in Their Quiver.”  So in this case, journalistically, there’s an interesting pattern here.  The New York Times runs a big news story, and then several days later, it runs an editorial in which is very clear that the paper was thrilled with what was revealed, or what was presented at least, in terms of the new story. There’s no doubt that on these issues The New York Times editorial board is exceedingly thrilled to be able to say, or least to claim, that the culture war has shifted, but they are a couple of other very interesting aspects of this editorial that appeared in The New York Times yesterday. For one thing, you had the editors of The New York Times using the language ‘sanctity of life’ and ‘sanctity of marriage’ but put in quotation marks known as scare quotes around both of those expressions, as if they’re merely expressions of art – there’s no real argument behind them – there’s no substance behind them.  And evidently, the editors of The New York Times believe just that.   These are nothing more than, well, let’s use their words, “old right-wing nostrums.”   In other words, the moral worldview of the editorial board of The New York Times is so distant from those who believe in the sanctity of human life and the sanctity of marriage, that the editors can only even use those terms in quotation marks, as if the language is so bizarre and so odd that the normal average reader The New York Times wouldn’t understand them, or might even be scared by them, that the editors didn’t try to neutralize them somewhat with those quotation marks.

Recall also that the editors describe the sanctity of life and the sanctity of marriage as, well let’s just look at their words “the old right-wing nostrums,” – nothing more than outdated moral language. Again that tells us something. It tells us something we need to know and something that should frighten us. Here you have the editorial board of the most influential newspaper in the United States speaking of the sanctity of life and the sanctity of marriage, using those very terms, putting the within scare quotes, and then say the nothing more than old right-wing nostrums – they can simply be dismissed now as something that is so out of date they are no longer even meaningful. The last words of the editorial are similarly important and concerning. The editors concluded their statement with these words,

“The shift in public opinion might not be enough for Democrats to keep the Senate this year. But over time, it may help spell an end to the politics of cultural division.”

Well let’s think about those last words, they’re suggesting that this cultural shift – away from the sanctity of life and the sanctity of marriage – may spell politically what they call an end to the politics of cultural division – but at what cost? At the cost of the fact that the sanctity of life and the sanctity of marriage simply cease to be active moral or theological issues at all. That’s clearly what their hoping for. But not only do they hope for it, they think they see it, they think this is the New Age coming – an age in which there is no longer even a conversation about the sanctity of life and the sanctity of marriage. And so this editorial that appeared in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times has yet another function, this one a function for us, for those who believe in the sanctity of human life and the sanctity of marriage; because we are being told here that our time is running out, perhaps even that it has run out. And in terms of making the arguments while there is time, that’s a warning we need to hear.

3) Role of doubt in Christian life raised by Archbishop Welby’s confession of doubt

Next we turn to some very interesting and concerning developments in the Church of England. In recent days the Archbishop of Canterbury, the head not only of the Church of England but also the entire global Anglican communion, he was cited by the BBC, that’s the state British Broadcasting Corporation in an interview as having said that he has doubts at times as to whether there is a God; the headline in the BBC was simply this: “Archbishop of Canterbury admits he has doubts about God.” Well that headline can be leading or misleading so let’s look more carefully at the story. In this case, in an interview with BBC Bristol there in Great Britain, the Church of England leader said he doubts “in lots of different ways.” He said,

“There are moments, sure, when you think, ‘Is there a God?’ ‘Where is God?’”

The BBC reported the Archbishop has recently completed a tour there in Great Britain; he made his comments at an event called Standing Room Only at the Cathedral in Bristol. When asked about doubt by Lucy Tegg, who was the moderator of the event, he said quote

“It is a really good question. I love the Psalms, if you look at Psalm 88 that’s full of doubt. The other day I was praying over something as I was running [said the Archbishop], and I ended up saying to God ‘look this is all very well, but isn’t it about time you did something, if you’re there? Which is probably not what the Archbishop of Canterbury should say.”

I think of course that something of an understatement, and evidently so did the editors and producers of the BBC who gave attention to this comment rather than the archbishop’s other sayings. And also the fact that it became a story that went rather viral in the United Kingdom almost immediately after it was posted. For the Archbishop of Canterbury, after all, the very head of the church in terms of being its head cleric, for him to say that he has serious doubts about the existence of God is sending quite a signal and that’s an understatement for sure. The Archbishop went on to say as it is possible to be a faithful Christian even if you have doubts. He said,

“The extraordinary thing about being a Christian is that God is faithful even when we’re not.”

By the way that statement is entirely orthodox, but on the other hand it doesn’t actually deal with the sum and substance of the shock over his comments. He went on to say,

“When we get into the wrong place he comes alongside us and says, ‘Right let’s go from here.'”

Well, this raises a very interesting question – a question that applies in some way, at some time, to every intelligent Christian. What is the role of doubt in the Christian life? I think they’re basically three kinds of doubt, or we might say three responses to doubts. One is to ignore it, that’s not biblical – we’re not called to ignore our doubts. As a matter fact, we are to doubt many things. If we didn’t doubt most idols, we would be polytheists rather than believers in the one true and living God. Furthermore, we need to be dubious about so many things that turn out to be absolutely false. When we hear a teaching, we need to be dubious about it, we need to respond to it was some doubt until we see that is clearly revealed in the word of God. So ignoring doubt is not a good Christian practice, it may be something that many people would advise because of fear, but it doesn’t correspond a Christian faithfulness, it doesn’t lead to an active and deeper discipleship.

But the second option when it comes to doubt is to embrace it. And quite frankly, in the past two centuries there have been many Christians, or those who have identified themselves as Christians, who have suggested that the proper response to doubt is simply to embrace it; to give up on any kind of certainty, to suggest that these questions are just so large, that faith is so complex, that we are so distant from the events that took place in the times of the Scriptures and we find ourselves in the modern age asking such new questions. Questions that strike at the very heart of theistic belief, that we merely need to embrace doubt and develop what we might call a ‘discipleship of doubt.’ But of course, that is hardly faithful to Scripture. And we are told in Scripture these things are written that you might know; in other words the goal of the Christian disciple should be a proper certainty, not a certainty that isn’t tested by doubt – that can confront honest and pressing questions – but a certainty that comes on the basis of the realization that there is a God, and that He has revealed himself in His word and that He has sent His Son for our salvation.

And that leads us to the third response to doubt which is to settle doubt in a renewed and deepening conviction. This is the hallmark of a healthy Christian life. That healthy faithful Christian life involves the discipleship of the mind, as well as the discipleship of every other aspect of life. And the intelligent Christian doesn’t run from questions, rather the intelligent Christians should run at the questions – running at the questions with the full measure of Christian conviction, with the full confidence in the word of God, and with the absolute confidence that God does not mean for us to be stranded in an island of doubt but rather to move into a deeper discipleship, a deeper faithfulness, and even a deeper conviction.

So it turns out that ignoring our doubt isn’t the right option. It might be convenient, but it really doesn’t last – especially on the big questions. But it certainly turns out also that embracing doubt is fatal to Christian faithfulness. But on the other hand, using doubt as an opportunity to look more carefully at the word of God face, to face the questions very courageously, to know that were doing so from the full wealth of Christian conviction, to bring everything we can learn from the Scripture to answering the question, to look at the full wealth of the Christian tradition, and how faithful Christians have struggled with these questions over the centuries. These are the proper ways to respond when there is an occasion of doubt. And that’s the kind of doubt that leads us into a deepening faith and a deepening discipleship based upon a deepening understanding of our key convictions. That kind of deepening of convictional certainty should be the aim of every Christian so long as we live – not running from the questions, but running at the questions. But not running at the questions unarmed, but running at the questions with the full wealth of Christian conviction.

The Archbishop of Canterbury seems to have understood that he made a major error in the interview when he said, “Which is probably not what the Archbishop of Canterbury should say.”

Sure, the Archbishop just like any other Christian will have certain moments of doubt, but they shouldn’t be shared in such a way as to inflict those doubts upon others. And in this dangerous post-Christian age, it’s malpractice for a Christian minister or Christian leader in any capacity to get up and try to inflict these kinds of doubts upon others. Well it remains to be seen what will be the final impact of the Archbishops comments.

4) Crisis of Church of England’s survival is theological, not demographic

But just days after, not having anything to do with those comments in particular, the church met in its General Synod in York and at least several of those who were speaking suggested that the Church of England “will be dead in 20 years.” Tim Ross, the religious affairs editor writing for the Telegraph, a major London newspaper, writes

“The average age of its members is now 61 and by 2020 a ‘crisis’ of ‘natural wastage’ [that’s the very term used by these Church of England leaders] will lead to their numbers falling ‘through the floor’, the Church’s national assembly was told [just in recent days].”


As Ross reports, the church was compared to a company impeccably managing itself into failure. The warnings follow an internal report of the Church of England, calling for an urgent national recruitment drive to attract more members. In the past 40 years, the number of adult churchgoers has been cut in half; the number of children attending regular worship has declined by four out of 5, by 4/5. And that make some of the comments made in this general Synod comments that they thought were comments of concern rather underwhelming. The Reverend Dr. Patrick Richmond, a Synod member from Norwich, told the meeting that some projections suggest that the church would “no longer be functionally extant,” – that’s rather interesting language – in 20 years’ time. Well let’s look at the numbers as they stand right now. The church has just acknowledged, in this very meeting, that over the last 40 years it is lost half of its attenders when it comes to adults and four out of five of its children.

Speaking of the church in 20 years’ time being no longer functionally extant is suggesting that it’s functionally extant now – which it doesn’t actually appear to be. By some reports right now, no more than 2 to 3% of the population there in Great Britain attends a Church of England service in any given month. Furthermore as Ross reports,

“’The perfect storm we can see arriving fast on the horizon is the ageing congregations.”

The average age of an attender at a Church of England service right now is 61. And many congregations have averages far above that.

“Another 10 years on, [said one of the leaders] some extrapolations put the Church of England as no longer functionally extant at all.”

That actually means they’re looking at being extinct in less than a decade. Andreas Whittam Smith, another Anglican leader there the general Synod, said that the Anglican Church now faces “a demographic time bomb,” which should be seen as a crisis. Well if a church leader is going to define their current problem as a “demographic time bomb” then they’re going look for a demographic solution. But the church’s problem, when it comes to the Church of England, is not a demographic crisis. The demographic crisis followed a theological crisis. This is a church that has been in theological crisis for the better part of a century. We’re talking about a church that began accepting unbelief into its clerical ranks, among its priests and its preachers, and its leaders almost a century ago, and is now reaping the bitter harvest of allowing itself to become secularized. And the demographic crisis comes down to this, there’s no reason for a secular society to attend any kind of worship in a secular church.

But both of those stories are actually just a prelude to the blockbuster, which is a story that appeared also in the Telegraph just in recent days; published on 28 September in which the Church of England’s Bishop of Buckingham claims that as many as a dozen of his colleagues as bishops are trapped in the “episcopal closet” because they are gay and cannot openly declare themselves to be so. John Bingham, the religious affairs editor of the paper writes,

“A serving bishop has issued a stinging public denunciation of “duplicity and hypocrisy” in the Church of England over homosexuality – claiming that around as one in 10 of his fellow bishops could be secretly gay but unwilling to speak publicly.”

The Bishop in this case is the Rt Rev Alan Wilson, he’s the Bishop of Buckingham, he accused the current episcopate of preaching a 1950’s Janet and John image of human relationships while adopting what he called an eyes wide shut approach to homosexuality in its own ranks and in the wider church. And here you have a sitting Bishop, writing about his fellow bishops, writing on the basis of his personal knowledge, that at least 10 to a dozen of them are actually gay. The Bishop has a book coming out next week in which he is trying to persuade the church to change its position on homosexuality and same-sex marriage. He declares that the Church of England has not adopted the gay revolution because of what he called “the tiny clique of reactionary activists” – otherwise known as evangelicals and orthodox Christians. He says they have effectively undermined the church’s position on the issue for decades. He spoke of the last Archbishop of Canterbury, and that is Rowan Williams, saying that the hope had been that electing a liberal intellectual would lead to a liberalization in the church on the issue homosexuality. But, about Rowan Williams, he said  “unfortunately, the institution ate the man for breakfast.”

Cleary, this is the kind of Bishop that is looking for controversy; perhaps like that controversial Bishop in the Church of England in the 1960s John A.T. Robinson who declared himself an atheist but continued to be a Bishop. Well you put these stories together, and you see a perfect storm – The Archbishop of Canterbury saying has doubts about God, a General Synod of the church declaring that they face a demographic crisis because they’ve lost half their adults and 4 out of 5 their children, and a sitting Bishop of the Church of England declares that church has to get on with the moral revolution; and furthermore need to acknowledge that at least 10 to 12 of its sitting bishops are also gay. But now the Church of England stands before us as a parable, not so concerned with being faithful, but with being, to use the words of this leader, functionally extant. But a church that sets as its aim to be extant isn’t going to remain extant for long.

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) Supreme Court maneuverings on same-sex marriage reminder that the political is often personal

Supreme Court meets to consider taking gay marriage cases, Chicago Tribune (Lawrence Hurley)

Gay marriage supporters, opponents alike eager for Supreme Court ruling, Los Angeles Times (David G Savage)

Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan Performs First Gay Wedding, NBC news (Associated Press)

2) Rapidity of moral change evident in perceived obsolescence of conservative values

The Tide of the Culture War Shifts, New York Times (Editorial Board)

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

3) Role of doubt in Christian life raised by Archbishop Welby’s confession of doubt

Archbishop of Canterbury admits he has doubts about God, BBC

4) Crisis of Church of England’s survival is theological, not demographic

 Ageing Church of England ‘will be dead in 20 years’, The Telegraph (Tim Ross)

One in 10 Church of England bishops ‘could be secretly gay’ – says bishop, The Telegraph (John Bingham)


R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me using the contact form. Follow regular updates on Twitter at @albertmohler.

Subscribe via email for daily Briefings and more (unsubscribe at any time).