The Briefing 10-21-2014

The Briefing 10-21-2014

The Briefing


October 21, 2014

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

It’s Tuesday, October 21, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Political shift on same sex marriage result of moral and underlying theological revolution

The cover story of The Economist this week simply tells the story of the gay rights evolution. And the article on the United States has a very simple and straight forward title – actually it’s just four words – “So far, so fast.” The editors then go back just 10 years, just a single decade, to the year 2004 when Massachusetts became the first state in the United States to legalize same-sex marriage. As the magazine acknowledges, most people back then, just in 2004, believed that Massachusetts was an outlier; that it would be unlikely that a good number of other states would follow. Meanwhile it certainly seemed that the cultural and moral momentum was with the defenders of marriage as the union exclusively of a man and a woman. But that was 10 years ago and reviewing that period (the last decade) from 2004 to 2014, the magazine writes,

“Marriage traditionalists crowed that the people would never accept a hare-brained idea foisted upon them by homosexual activists and their elitist friends. Rare and brave was the politician who supported gay marriage. Barack Obama opposed it in his 2008 presidential campaign, despite what he promised would be his ‘fierce advocacy’ of gay and lesbian equality. Yet today [writes the magazine] gay marriage enjoys solid majority support, a change in popular opinion unforeseen by equality supporters and opponents alike.”

The magazine then makes the acknowledgment that the United States of America is a country in which, traditionally and generally, major change on social and moral issues has come slowly. But the moral revolution in human sexuality, homosexuality in particular, has not come slowly. And as the editors of The Economist points out,

“…one is hard pressed to think [now] of any precedent.”

They also point out that public policy has swung very sharply. They write,

“In 2012, after Mr Obama renounced his own opposition, gay marriage was approved by plebiscite in three states, and the one attempt to ban it failed.”

They end that paragraph by writing,

“For homosexual Americans, it is not just a new era. It is a new country.”

The central importance of this cover story in The Economist is the fact that it serves as a milestone in the same moral revolution that it actually covers. And it’s not the first time that the magazine has done this. Back in 1995, almost two decades ago, The Economist ran one of the first cover stories advocating the legalization of same-sex marriage. The cover was a wedding cake that showed two men upon it with the words “Let them Wed.” But now the magazine serves another purpose; one of the most respected magazines in the world in terms of journalism and opinion, this is an Economist cover story that tells us that the moral revolution isn’t just now taking place, it is basically already accomplished. That is exactly the vantage point taken by the editors of the magazine. They ask the question, what happened? Then they write this,

“Social change so marked and rapid can come only from a confluence of causes, but the most important was probably a change in moral judgment.”

That’s profoundly important because here you have a secular authority, not someone writing from within the Christian worldview, but someone looking at it with some dispassionate secular interest, writing that the legalization of homosexual marriage, that the normalization of homosexual relationships, could only become possible because of an underlying – indeed a vast underlying – moral change. They then write,

“Moral disapproval underlay not just opposition to same-sex marriage, but also support for the whole panoply of laws and customs that have historically discriminated against gay people. As it waned, support for same-sex marriage waxed. By 2013, nearly 60% had no moral problem with same-sex relations. Given that America, like most places, has viewed homosexuality as wicked since more or less the beginning of time, approval by a wide majority represents a watershed not just in contemporary politics but also in cultural history. This reversal, even more than sentiment about marriage as such, was the seminal change in public opinion. No anti-gay policy is likely to withstand it.”

Of all the news coverage and analysis concerning the moral revolution on homosexuality, this may well be the most important single paragraph published as yet. Once again, the issue is the fact that The Economist, writing from a secular worldview, points to the fact that there has been a vast moral change. That’s a very significant insight because many people looking at the revolution of homosexuality want to suggest that it came about by merely legal or political means. But Christians understanding how worldviews operate and how cultures are formed understand that the politics and the courts are actually the product of a moral culture; it never works the other way around. The courts and the politics may influence the moral culture, but particularly in democratic governments eventually it is the morality that produces the politics. And in this case, that is exactly what has happened and importantly, The Economist recognizes it. After all, the magazine uses the straight forward language of morality; suggesting that the previous condemnation of same-sex marriage (even as a proposition) was due, in the magazines language, to moral disapproval of homosexuality itself. And thus, the affirmation of same-sex marriage requires the affirmation of homosexuality. And that is exactly the great moral revolution we have experienced in just the last several years – perhaps in just the last decade.

But Christians understand something even more fundamental; the morality itself is produced by a theology, even amongst those who do not believe themselves to be theological. It’s because basic judgments about reality before morality, basic judgments about the existence of God and the meaning of humanity are required for the formation of moral judgment.  And for that reason, when you have a revolution in morality, it also requires something that preceded it; and in this case, it is undoubtedly the pattern of the secularization of the culture. The secularization of American culture, falling rather fast on the heels of Europe, demonstrates the absolute loss of the binding authority of the Christian conscience, the Christian worldview, and most particularly of the Christian Scriptures; the Bible. The moral disapproval of homosexuality was rooted deeply in the Christian tradition and in the ongoing influence of Christian morality. And thus Christians understand the formula, taking it one step further than The Economist. The Economist points to the political and legal change and says ‘that required a prior moral change,’ but Christians say not only is it true that the political and legal revolution first required a moral revolution, we also understand that the moral revolution itself required a theological revolution – and that, at the very base – is the most important issue of all.

2) Supreme Court’s inaction on same-sex marriage fosters further legalization and confusion

As we have said, another one of the milestones in terms of the gay marriage revolution was what took place on October 6, 2014; and of course, as you will remember, what took place was something that didn’t happen. That was the Supreme Court of the United States declined (indeed refused) to grant an appeal to all of the states that had sought such an appeal after lower courts had struck down their state amendments or legalization defining marriage exclusively as a man and a woman.  But now, just two weeks later, it is very clear that the supreme courts inaction was just as momentous as it appeared at the time. It might have been a rather cowardly act, but it is one that will have momentous consequences. The editors of Businessweek, writing of the Supreme Court’s decision back on October 6 writes,

“By inaction it effectively legalizes gay marriage in most of the United States,”

Indeed, just over the last week several states have been listed now in the majority of states that have legal same-sex marriage. It now appears very likely that all 50 states will have legal same-sex marriage in fairly short order. As the editors of Businessweek summarizes,

“The tide of legalization will not be reversed.”

And in that statement the editors of Businessweek are likely to have stated the truth. But now, as we said, two weeks after that October 6 development, there are key questions about the constitutional health of the United States Supreme Court behaving in this way.

Richard Wolf writing over the weekend for USA Today writes,

“The Supreme Court opened its 2014 term this month with major actions on same-sex marriage, voting rights and abortion — all handled in private, without explanation or even a breakdown of how the various justices voted. No oral arguments were held. The two sides in each dispute submitted lengthy briefs summing up their arguments, but when it came time to rule, the justices did not return the favor. It took the court just 17 words Friday to clear the way for gays and lesbians in Alaska to get married. Nor [wrote Wolf] did the justices explain their actions or publicize their votes on the 11 new cases they decided to hear this winter, or the more than 1,900 they turned down. They simply issued lists of grants and denials, leaving it to the lawyers and journalists who follow the court to speculate as to the whys and wherefores.”

Richard Wolf is on to something of great importance here. It isn’t healthy, not in a democracy, for the nation’s highest court to operate on such monumental issues with no explanation of its decisions. Eric Segall, a law professor at Georgia State University, the author of a book soon to come out entitled Supreme Secrecy, he writes,

“All of America wants to know what they’re thinking, and they refuse to let us know,”

But as Wolf points out, there could even more severe consequences than curiosity because the lower courts, guided by the Supreme Court, are now left to wonder of the reasoning behind the Supreme Court’s decision – even when the decision is a non-decision, or when the action is a non-action; as it was with the case of same-sex marriage.

Meanwhile, before leaving this issue, I want to draw attention to an important article by Mona Charen of the Ethics and Public Policy Center that ran in several newspapers across the country, including the Sunday edition of the Birmingham News. Charen writes about the appearance on Fox News Sunday, back on October 12, of lawyer Ted Olson, one of the two lawyers in the appeal of the California Proposition 8 case.

Appearing there on Fox News Sunday, Ted Olson offered his argument for the legalization of same-sex marriage and his justification for the Supreme Court taking its action. But, as Charen notes, Ted Olson made a fundamentally contradictory argument. She writes,

“Appearing on set Fox News Sunday to discuss the Supreme Court’s decision to let stand a number of judicial rulings overturning the acts of legislators and/or voters in 16 states, famed advocate Ted Olson offered the kind of reasoning that, in his former incarnation as a conservative, he would have scorned. ‘Over 59 percent of Americans now believe that marriage equality should be the law of the land,’ he proclaimed. Seconds later he seemed to contradict himself: “We have a Constitution and Bill of Rights precisely because we want protections from majority rule.”

Like Mona Charen, did you hear the contradiction?

Charen then writes,

“Which is it, a fundamental right that ought to be recognized without regard to majority views, or a popular view that deserves to be enshrined in the Constitution by the courts just because it’s polling well? [Charen then writes,] If it’s true that large majorities have changed their minds on same-sex marriage, why not leave the matter to state legislatures and voters rather than undemocratically taking the question out of their hands?”

Charen nails Ted Olson in his contradictory argument, and it’s something we ought to note quite carefully Because when we look at the arguments made by the advocates of same-sex marriage as to why it was so necessary for the courts to act on their behalf, they’ve made two arguments, but they’re absolutely contradictory. On the one hand, they say, ‘we need the courts to take action because we have to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination by the majority.’ But then they come back, just second later to say, ‘oh, but the majority is with us! The majority agrees with the legalization of same sex marriage!’

Well, in most realms of life, you can’t have it both ways. But, if you’re a lawyer making a case, as Ted Olson is so accustomed to making, you make whatever argument works. And in his case, both of these arguments together have served him well, even though few people seem to note they’re mutually contradictory. Either the people support same-sex marriage, or they don’t. If the people support same-sex marriage, if public support for same-sex marriage is as high as they claim, then you do not need the courts to act.

Charen also notes one very chilling aspect of Olson’s appearance on Fox News, and that is this; when he was pressed to define marriage and the purpose of marriage, he couldn’t come up with an answer. Pressed repeatedly, all he would do is change the subject. Again, to marriage as a fundamental right.

When it comes to the aims and purposes of marriage, he seems to be absolutely clueless. But that’s the kind of clueless that’s absolutely inexcusable.

3) Hillsong pastor’s vagueness on homosexuality points to value of Bible’s specificity on sin

Finally, shifting to New York City, Michael Paulson of the New York Times over the weekend reported,

“The pastor of one of the more influential global megachurches has declared that his church is in “an ongoing conversation” about same-sex marriage — saying that it is appropriate to consider the words of the Bible alongside the changing culture and the experience of people in the pews.”

As Paulson writes, the comments were made by Brian Houston, the senior pastor of Hillsong, and they immediately attracted concern from both the right and from the left. And as many denominations and congregations are struggling with how to respond to the rapid expansion of gay rights and the legalization of same-sex marriage, Paulson writes, Brian Houston found himself right in the midst of a controversy.

His church, based in Australia, now has a very prominent congregation in New York City, thus it drew the attention of the New York Times.

“The leaders of Hillsong [writes Paulson, have been avoiding confrontation on the issue of]homosexuality for some time, and the pastor of Hillsong’s New York City campus, Carl Lentz, has declined to take a public position on same-sex marriage.”

But at a news conference on Thursday in New York, Brian Houston (the senior pastor of the entire movement) said,

“The world we live in, whether we like it or not, is changing around and about us…The world’s changing, and we want to stay relevant as a church, so that’s a vexing thing.”

The very vexing thing was the fact that Mr Houston said he didn’t want to state what the position of his church was on the position of homosexuality, and on the issue of same-sex marriage. Later on Friday, the very next day, after a story ran in Religion News Service that caused a furor, a spokesman released a statement saying that Brian Houston lives by “what the Bible says.”

The statement also said,

“It’s very easy to reduce what you think about homosexuality to just a public statement, and that would keep a lot of people happy…but we feel at this point, that it is an ongoing conversation, that the real issues in people’s lives are too important for us just to reduce it down to a yes or no answer in [the media]. So we’re on the journey with it.”

In the written statement released to at least some in the media, Brian Houston said,

“My personal view on the subject of homosexuality would line up with most traditionally held Christian views. I believe the writings of Paul are clear on this subject.”

That’s an answer that isn’t an answer at all. Or, at least, it’s an answer that’s so sideways and vague that it’s hard to know exactly what Brian Houston means to communicate, if indeed he means to communicate anything clear at all. He well knows that there’s a great deal of controversy, given the fact that there are revisionist arguments about the apostle Paul. Is he talking about the traditional understanding of the apostle Paul? Or is he talking about embracing the arguments made by the revisionist, more liberal scholars who have turned Paul on his head? When he says that his personal view on the subject of homosexuality would line up with the most traditionally held Christian views, why didn’t he simply state what those views are?

This raises a huge question from the Christian worldview. A huge question that has everything to do with the gospel. Does the Bible’s very clear specificity on the issues of sin serve the purpose of helping sinners to understand their sin and thus their need for a Savior? That is what the Christian church has believed for two thousand years. The obvious alternative to that the Scripture’s specificity on sin is something of an embarrassment that we have to overcome.

This is a crucial issue, not just in terms of the question of the church’s position on homosexuality; it’s a crucial issue in terms of our understanding of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, and our understanding of the gospel. What is it that persons must repent of in order to come to Christ and be saved? What are the sins that point out our need for a Savior?

One of the grave dangers in terms of the moral revisionism, is that when we say that sin is not sin, or even – not even going that far – if we mitigate sin or even euphemize it, we confuse sinners about their peril. We do not help them understand their need for a Savior, we cloud that very question.

A quick look at a list of sins such as that found in Romans 1 points out the fact that the specificity of the Bible’s indictment of our sin is not unique to the sins of homosexuality, of same sex acts. But rather, to the sins of every single human being. By the time Paul finishes his catalog of indicted sins in Romans 1, every single one of us, every single human being, is indicted as a sinner. A sinner desperately in need of a Savior.

There are two other points that must be asserted here. In the first place, any church that tries to dodge the question will find not only that that fails in terms of ethical and gospel principle, but it also fails in terms of practice; it fails pragmatically. Because the world is not going to wait and assume that a non-answer is a satisfactory dodge.

The second point is well made by Andrew Walker of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Writing in response to Hillsong’s action, in terms of Hillsong’s statements, made in an article published in the Federalist, Andrew Walker points out the profoundly true point that a non-answer in a case like this is actually an answer.

A non-answer on a question of this volatility, of this contemporary relevance and pressure is indeed an answer. The non-answer means, ‘you know the answer we intend to give, or at least you know that the answer we will have to give is not one we’re comfortable giving.’ As always,  the fundamental issue here is the authority of Scripture, and of course the integrity of the gospel. But just consider the parallels in a couple of the stories we’ve considered today. When the Supreme Court decided to take no action, it was actually a profound action. And when a church says we’re not going to give an answer, in the end, they just gave an answer.

That’s true of course, not just for a congregation, but for every single believer, for every Christian. When asked a question of this importance, a non-answer is an answer.

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 speaking to you from Raleigh, North Carolina and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.


Podcast Transcript

1) Political shift on same sex marriage result of moral and underlying theological revolution

So far, so fast, The Economist

2) Supreme Court’s inaction on same-sex marriage fosters further legalization and confusion

The Supreme Court’s Decisive Indecision, Bloomberg Businessweek (Editorial Board)

Supreme Court’s 2014 term off to a stealthy start, USA Today (Richard Wolf)

Answering Ted Olson, National Review Online (Mona Charen)

3) Hillsong pastor’s vagueness on homosexuality points to value of Bible’s specificity on sin

Megachurch Pastor Signals Shift in Tone on Gay Marriage, New York Times (Michael Paulson)

Statement from Brian Houston – Senior Pastor, Hillsong Church Re: recent media comments on homosexuality, Hillsong (Brian Houston)

A Church in Exile, First Things (Andrew Walker)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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