The Briefing 01-28-15

The Briefing 01-28-15

The Briefing


January 28, 2015

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


It’s Wednesday, January 28, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Mormon church offers LGBT rights support in exchange for religious liberty protection

This morning’s edition of the Washington Post reports a story that is being widespread across the nation’s media and newspapers; the headline in the Post, Mormon Church Announces Support for Legal Protections for Gay People. Michelle Boorstein and Abby Ohlheiser report,

“After years of behind-the-scenes meetings between LGBT advocates and top Mormon leaders, church officials Tuesday announced for the first time general support for legislation to protect LGBT people in areas such as housing and employment – as long as accommodations are made to protect the freedom of religious people who oppose such measures.”

Almost immediately, even after yesterday, the LDS church had held a press conference making this announcement. And with the presence of some of his most high-profile leaders, people on both sides of this issue responded that the proposal appears to be rather strange; strange in construction and strange in timing. It’s an understandable kind of proposal coming at this point in America’s moral revolution. The understandable part is this: here you have a major religious body – in this case the group officially known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly known as Mormons, often shortened to the LDS church – what you have here is a major religious organization in America that is claiming it can support the movement for gay rights and for the civil rights of gays and lesbians, as is now commonly defined in terms of the moral revolution, so long as respect is given for religious liberty.

The lead paragraph in that article in this morning’s Washington Post gets right to the point when the reporters write that the church has announced general support for legislation to protect LGBT people in areas such as housing and employment, but the next words are especially crucial,

“– as long as accommodations are made to protect the freedom of religious people who oppose such measures.”

Now, once again, almost anyone who understands the scope and scale of today’s moral revolution will understand why such a proposal might be made. But if you’re looking at the landscape of America today this appears to be a proposal that comes rather too late to be genuinely helpful. And perhaps the response to the proposal yesterday helps to make that point more than anything else.

I’ve had the privilege of meeting with several top Mormon leaders; speaking at Brigham Young University and meeting with some of the very people involved in the public announcement yesterday. I was always treated with great dignity and respect, and I was given an opportunity for a very honest exchange of conviction. When I was meeting with these Mormon leaders I was able to affirm common concerns when it comes to both the protection of marriage and the protection of religious liberty. At the same time, as I made clear in both of my lectures at Brigham Young University, there is a great theological chasm between biblical Christianity and the LDS church. As I said in both of those lectures, I don’t believe we are going to heaven together, but I do believe we’re at risk of going to jail together. It’s that second concern in some sense that drove the announcement coming from the LDS church yesterday. But almost immediately it was clear that the leadership of the LGBT movement isn’t going to buy this kind of bargain.

As Fred Sainz, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign said,

“As a matter of policy, there’s no ‘there’ there. ‘The so-called religious exemption is the size of five Mack trucks.’”

He went on to say,

“It entirely neuters their proposal.”

In a way that is at least partially parallel to the situation in the Roman Catholic Church and Pope Francis the first, yesterday the LDS church made very clear there is no change in the basic doctrine of the church – a doctrine that identifies marriage as exclusively the union of a man and a woman and identifies all sexual activity outside of marriage as wrong and sinful. That is, again, the very position that the Roman Catholic Church now appears to be taking even as Pope Francis is declared to have a new openness to the issue; the church continues, officially to teach, in terms of its dogma, that same-sex relations are always and in every case intrinsically disordered and thus sin.

Even as that HRC spokesman said there’s no ‘there’ there, Andrew Rosenthal of the New York Times this morning says, what the Mormon Church wants is freedom to discriminate. Now what I want us to note in this statement coming in the New York Times is the fact that the proposal that was made, apparently in good faith by the LDS leaders yesterday, is being rejected out of hand and what is being rejected is that there’s any credibility to their claim to support LGBT rights in any sense if they then claim a religious accommodation or exception. This is what Rosenthal had to write,

“The Mormon church is now willing, news accounts says, to support anti-discrimination legislation in the realms of housing and employment. In return, all the Mormons want are laws that ‘protect religious freedom.’

We already have that. It’s called the Bill of Rights. So what is the church really after?”

So what is the church really after? He goes on to say that the bottom line in the LDS press conference is,

“…what they want is legal permission to use their religion as an excuse to discriminate.”

What I want to note is just how far the moral revolutionaries have pushed this issue. Because what we’re looking at is the LDS church basically asking for what almost anyone in the gay-rights movement would have been ready to grant as recently as 2 to 3 years ago – certainly 5 to 10 years ago. What’s really ominous in Rosenthal’s column is where he writes, citing the Associated Press,

“Mormon leaders still want to hire and fire workers based not only on religious beliefs, but also on behavior standards known as honor codes that require gays and lesbians to remain celibate or marry someone of the opposite sex. The church [and again this is the Associated Press] also wants legal protections for religious objectors who work in government and health care, such as a physician who refuses to perform an abortion, or provide artificial insemination for a lesbian couple.”

What’s really ominous is what Andrew Rosenthal then writes; I quote his words directly,

“Substitute the word ‘black’ or ‘Jewish’ or ‘Catholic’ or, say, ‘Mormon’ for LGBT in these statements, and everyone would be outraged.”

So now you have Rosenthal drawing an absolute parallel and it’s a very ominous parallel. We also need to note that the Associated Press report that he cites points out, for instance, that there are those who have long been contending for conscience clauses for people such as physicians to allow them to exercise their conscience not to perform an abortion. The very clear implication, indeed is not an application it’s basically an outright statement in Rosenthal’s column, is that that is in a legitimate form of discrimination. And that’s where we see the collapse of the religious liberty that Rosenthal says is so well protected by the Bill of Rights.

Christians need to remember at this point that the Bill of Rights is a series of words; it is a matter of language, it is a matter of syntax and grammar. It does not have an army; it doesn’t come with its own method of enforcement. It is only as good as the society ready to protect it, and that means to protect every citizen when it comes to that Bill of Rights. What we are now witnessing is a radical acceleration of the movement to redefine religious liberty so that means almost nothing – or as Frank Bruni’s column said a couple weeks ago in the New York Times, ‘if it means something, it’s only in the pulpit, only in the home, and only in the heart. Not in the public square’

2) Gordon College fallout reveals shocking velocity of leftist history towards intolerance

No one has made this point more graphically in recent days than David French writing in the pages of National Review magazine; the title of his article is The Persecution of Gordon College. You’ll recall the fact that we’ve talked about this in weeks and months passed. Gordon College in suburban Boston, Massachusetts; it’s president simply signed a letter in his personal capacity in which he wrote to the President of the United States as President Obama was poised to issue his order on basically what is called ENDA, or the Employment Nondiscrimination Act. The President issued an Executive Order having to do with the federal government and vendors to the federal government and all of its parts.

Michael Lindsay, the President of Gordon College, wrote these words,

“We have great appreciation for your commitment to human dignity and justice, and we share those values with you. With respect to the proposed executive order, we agree that banning discrimination is a good thing. We believe that all persons are created in the divine image of the creator, and are worthy of respect and love, without exception. Even so, it still may not be possible for all sides to reach a consensus on every issue.”

Michael Lindsay’s letter, in which he was joined by many other institutional presidents, called upon the President to allow for a religious exemption in terms of these policies for colleges, universities, and others that would have genuine conscience issue when it comes to this kind of question of discrimination. The President’s Executive Order did not include that kind of clause.

This is where David French’s article is really important. French writes,

Indeed, the letter did not ask the President to halt the planned order. Instead, it merely asked for an exemption for religious institutions contracting with the federal government. An exemption that was actually [and this is what’s important] narrower in its impact than one Democrats had passed overwhelmingly through the Senate with the support of none other than Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts’ junior Senator, an undisputed champion of the left.”

How recently was that? Was it way back in 1825? No, it was back in 2013. Not exactly yet a vintage year.

French writes,

“In 2013 Warren voted for the Employment Nondiscrimination Act [that’s the ENDA legislation that the president tried to mirror], a proposed federal law that would ban sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in workplaces across the United States, encompassing tens of thousands more employers than President Obama’s planned Executive Order. Yet, ENDA contained a robust religious exemption, flatly exempting houses of worship and providing broad protections for religious employers who require employees to adhere to statements of religious orthodoxy.”

ENDA passed the Senate. It made no progress in the House, it passed the Senate in November 2013. That’s barely over a year ago. President Lindsay signed his letter eight months later. This is where what French writes is really important, as he writes,

“A lot can change in eight months. The arc of leftist social history moves quickly and it bends toward intolerance.”

So what we see are moves made against a college and its president and now a flat rejection of these exemptions – the kind of exemptions that the LDS leadership called for just yesterday – by the very people who voted for those exemptions a matter of just less than a year and a half ago. When we’re talking about the arc of history, when we’re talking about the speed of this moral revolution, Christians had better come to terms of the fact that this accelerated revolution is gaining velocity virtually day by day.

And finally as we leave the issue for today we need to know that Andrew Rosenthal’s response to the LDS statement yesterday was one that goes beyond even what the Mormon leaders were talking about when it comes to LGBT issues and religious liberty. He brings up the question of abortion by citing that Associated Press article, and immediately after he does so he rejects any such claim.

3) Shifting Middle East political scene exposes harsh reality of leaders worse than dictators

In recent days we have been talking about worldview and the governments that are the product of such worldviews. We’ve talked about the change in government that is taking place in such nations as Greece and Saudi Arabia and how to work backwards from those developments to the worldview that simply makes such regimes and governmental systems possible. But these developments also raise important issues, such as the one that Gerald Seib addresses in yesterday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal. His headline US Faces a New Mideast as Strongmen Fade. Gerald Seib’s a veteran observer of foreign affairs and he’s really onto something of worldview significance here. It gets to a big question; what is better? A strong man, an autocrat, a dictator on one hand or something else on the other?

As Gerald Seib makes clear, an honest, moral evaluation is ‘it depends on what the alternative just might be.’ He also points to the fact that the disorder that we’re now experiencing throughout the Middle East is in the aftermath of what had been very strong leadership by people who had been more often than not allies of the United States. And they had been strongmen – uniformly men – who had held power for a very long time, until recently.

For instance he cites King Hussein, ruler Jordan for 47 years. Muammar Gaddafi, the leader of Libya for 42 years. He was sometimes a friend of the United States, more times not. King Hassan, ruler of Morocco for 38 years, Hosni Mubarak, President of Egypt for 30 years – one of America’s closest allies as also King Hussein of Jordan had become in his later decades. Hafez al-Assad, President of Syria for 29 years – it’s his son Basshar Assad who is now in power in Syria, very controversially so. And then finally Saddam Hussein, President of Iraq for 24 years until, of course, removed by military efforts of the United States of America and its allies.

Well you look at that list and Saddam Hussein at 24 years had the shortest term of any of these Middle Eastern leaders. The longest was King Hussein of 47 years. There’s currently still want in this alumni class who is ruling. That’s Kuwait’s 85-year-old ruler Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah. He is the latest in a line of family members, says Seib, but he’s also ill. He is indeed 85 years old, and he recently underwent surgery.

Seib then writes,

“Most of these long-lasting rulers were friends of the U.S. Some—Jordan’s King Hussein, for example—were relatively benign. Others—Hafez al Assad, Saddam Hussein—were both unsavory thugs and largely hostile to America.”

He then writes,

“But one thing they had in common is that they used their power and personal authority to quell unrest and the region’s tide of Islamic extremism.”

He also writes – there’s always an ‘on the other hand here,’

“What these rulers also did, though, was bottle up the growing political dissent and religious fervor in their lands, pushing those forces below ground, where they quietly built steam.”

Now this raises a genuinely interesting moral question. Of course, it’s also a pressing political question: what’s better? A dictator or something else? And the clear answer once again is, it depends on what that something else is. Right now, if something else is the Islamic State, most people would morally go back to a dictator who at least had some kind of basically benign rule. In other words, there’s a big difference between a strong man who no doubt puts a lot of people in jail and maybe does worse, and a group such as the Islamic State that is killing people by the thousands and beheading innocent hostages just in order to make a point.

But from a Christian biblical worldview analysis there’s no easy answer to this question. You can’t feel good about a dictator. You can’t feel good about a totalitarian rule no matter how basically benign it may be. But here’s the point: you can feel worse and rightly morally judge something to be worse that is the alternative to that totalitarianism.

This is not a new question. It was a question faced by the United States in the context of the Cold War, when one of most clear thinking political strategist was a woman by the name of Jean Kirkpatrick who later became the United States Ambassador to the United Nations under President Ronald Reagan. She wrote a book back during the Cold War entitled Dictatorships and Double Standards in which she said any honest government such as the United States must have an honest a double standard when it comes to dictators. There are the bad and there are the worse.

I know you hear me say this over and over again, but the only explanation for this kind of moral quandary is the fact that we live in a world that is fallen such that every government is in some sense . The question is which shows the devastation of the fall more graphically? Which government is more dangerous?

The kind of article offered yesterday by Gerald Seib destroys the utopian temptation, the temptation to believe that there could be out there somewhere the kind of utopian dream that would be a government free from the effects of sin. There is no such government. That’s why we have a divided government, the separation of powers by our Constitution. And that’s why when you do not have that and unite all power in a dictator you have a recipe for certain trouble. The big question of course in this very very sinful world is what could be worse than that, and the answer is evidently many things.

4) Marcus Borg, Jesus Seminary scholar, dies as ‘progressive Christian’

Finally an obituary that appeared in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times, it’s by Laurie Goodstein. Here’s the headline; Marcus Borg, liberal Christian scholar, dies at 72. As Goodstein reports,

“Marcus J. Borg, a scholar who popularized a liberal intellectual approach to Christianity with his lectures and books about Jesus as a historical figure, died on Wednesday … He was 72.”

She goes on to write,

“Professor Borg was among a group of scholars, known as the Jesus Seminar, who set off an uproar with its very public efforts to discern collectively which of Jesus’ acts and utterances could be confirmed as historically true, and which were probably myths.

His studies of the New Testament led him not toward atheism but toward a deep belief in the spiritual life and in Jesus as a teacher, healer and prophet. Professor Borg became, in essence, a leading evangelist of what is often called progressive Christianity.”

David Gibson, writing a similar obituary for Religion News Service wrote,

“Alongside scholars such as John Dominic Crossan, Borg was a leader in the Jesus Seminar, which brought a skeptical eye to the Scriptures and in particular to supernatural claims about Jesus’ miracles and his resurrection from the dead.

Like other scholars, Borg tended to view Jesus as a Jewish prophet and teacher who was a product of the religious ferment of first-century Judaism.”

And in a paragraph very similar to that of Laurie Goodstein in terms of the fact that Borg didn’t become an atheist, but a ‘progressive Christian’ to use their terminology, Gibson writes,

“But while Borg questioned the Bible, he never lost his passion for the spiritual life or his faith in God as “real and a mystery,” as he put it in his 2014 memoir, “Convictions: How I Learned What Matters Most,” the last of more than 20 books he wrote.”

The obituary of  Marcus Borg does bring to mind the legacy of what was known as the Jesus Seminar. It was mentioned explicitly in that New York Times obituary the group was led by man by the name of Robert Funk, and it began as a group of very leftist biblical scholars who gathered together to take a basically anti-supernatural, or nonsupernatural look to the Scriptures and in particular to the New Testament. In their most infamous process they took the four Gospels and they took them apart, basically using – and no, I’m not making this up – four different colored marbles to vote on particular statements acts and claims about Jesus to determine whether or not in their view such statements and acts were actually historically accurate. They came to the conclusion that very little of the New Testament was historically true. In particular, very little of historical content of the four Gospels. They actually published their own version of a red letter New Testament in which, since the words of Jesus they accepted were in red, there was actually very little red in their red letter New Testament.

They used four different colored marbles to vote by putting their marbles out on the table as to whether or not a statement of Jesus was ‘almost assuredly true,’ or ‘maybe true,’ or ‘maybe not true’or ‘almost assuredly not true.’ But as they make clear their own process, they began with the assumption that the Bible is simply an artifact of history. They rejected any supernatural explanation, any claim of divine inspiration, and the began with the assumption that Jesus was merely a human prophet – a Jewish prophet of the first century. And here’s no surprise; the Jesus that they came up with in their process is the Jesus that they defined when they went into that process.

Which reminds me of a statement was made about the so-called Quest for the Historical Jesus. The statement was made by Albert Schweitzer when he said those historical Questers, those who are trying to use the merely historical process to supposedly recover the historical Jesus, were people who were in effect looking down deep in a well and seeing their own reflection, and then claiming that that definition was Jesus.

But the other interesting thing about that New York Times obituary is how it says the Marcus Borg didn’t become an atheist, he retained his belief in something even as he didn’t believe that Jesus Christ was the very son of God, and even as he explicitly denied that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead.

It may well be the Marcus Borg was in no sense an atheist, but he was also in no sense an Orthodox Christian. Anyone who rejects the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is not meeting the very clear statement of the apostle Paul in Romans 10 when he says that salvation comes to the one who confesses with the lips that Jesus Christ is Lord and believes in the heart that God has raised him from the dead. A point that Paul – we believe by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit made emphatically in first Corinthians chapter 15 as well. But here you have evidence of the redefinition of Christianity into what is called ‘progressive Christianity.’ And so I simply conclude where so often I’ve had to go, quoting Gresham Machen, that great Christian scholar of the 20th century who, in the beginning of that century, pointed out the when you’re looking at liberal Christianity and biblical Christianity are not looking to variants of one religion but two very different religions. And the same is true of biblical Christianity and what is now called  ‘progressive Christianity.’


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) Mormon church offers LGBT rights support in exchange for religious liberty protection

Mormon church announces support for legal protections for gay people, Washington Post (Michelle Boorstein and Abby Ohlheiser)

Mormon Church Wants Freedom to Discriminate, New York Times (Andrew Rosenthal)

Mormon Leaders Call for Measures Protecting Gay Rights, Associated Press (Brady McCombs and Rachel Zoll)

2) Gordon College fallout reveals shocking velocity of leftist history towards intolerance

The Persecution of Gordon College, National Review (David French)

3) Shifting Middle East political scene exposes harsh reality of leaders worse than dictators

Generation of Long-Lasting Mideast Rulers Produced Stability—and a Mess, Wall Street Journal (Gerald Seib)

4) Marcus Borg, Jesus Seminary scholar, dies as ‘progressive Christian’

Marcus Borg, Liberal Scholar on Historical Jesus, Dies at 72, New York Times (Laurie Goodstein)

Marcus Borg, leading liberal theologian and historical Jesus expert, dies at 72, Religion News Service (David Gibson)

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).