The Briefing 03-06-15

The Briefing 03-06-15

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 Friday, March 6, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) San Francisco archbishop criticized for having Catholic schools hold to Catholic beliefs 

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of the city of San Francisco has been discovered to be Roman Catholic. That’s evidently huge news to many people in San Francisco, at least in terms of the fact that the Archbishop has now been found guilty in the eyes of a secular society (and even of many liberal Roman Catholics) of holding to Roman Catholic teaching and expecting Roman Catholic schools to do the same.

Our concern this morning is not the Roman Catholic Church and its institutions per se, but rather what this story coming out of San Francisco represents in terms of our future; the future of evangelical churches evangelical denominations and those institutions that would serve the evangelical churches. Our concern is to watch what’s going on in San Francisco, and recognize this is almost exactly what we can expect will happen elsewhere – if not almost everywhere in the United States – in coming months and years.

The story is reported for the New York Times by Carol Pogash, and she writes this way;

“It is the issue that is stirring San Francisco: The archbishop has specified that teachers at four Bay Area Catholic high schools cannot publicly challenge the church’s teachings that homosexual acts are “contrary to natural law,” that contraception is “intrinsically evil” and that embryonic stem cell research is “a crime.” He also wants to designate teachers as part of the “ministry,” which could, under a 2012 Supreme Court ruling, strip them of protection under federal anti-discrimination laws.”

There is a great deal embedded in that paragraph, but what the New York Times wants us to do is to recoil in horror that a Roman Catholic archbishop is requiring Roman Catholic high schools in his diocese to teach Roman Catholic doctrine. In the eyes of the secular world around us that’s becoming increasingly scandalous. Indeed, they’re responding with shock and incredulity. How could it be that in the secular age, even a Roman Catholic archbishop would expected the schools in his diocese – the Roman Catholic schools – would uphold Roman Catholic doctrine?

As I said, our concern is not the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and the ability Roman Catholic schools to teach those convictions. But in another sense it is, because the blowback that is now being faced by this Catholic archbishop in San Francisco is the blowback will come for every single one of us in short order.

As Pogash reports for the New York Times,

“In this city that helped give birth to the gay rights movement, the backlash has been fierce. A top concern is that gay teachers could be fired.”

One senior quoted in the article – this is again a senior at a Roman Catholic high school in the Bay area –  Jessica Hyman said,

“Our community is in pain; our teachers are scared.”

According to the Times, the Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, made the changes this month and has been under fire ever since. As Pogash reports,

“Technically, what he has done is to change the handbook that covers the 318 faculty members in the schools in his jurisdiction, which are in San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo Counties and which educate 3,600 students. The new language about not challenging church teachings takes effect Sept. 1.”

There been several reports about this controversy in national media, but the most important of the reports is this article that appeared in the New York Times by Carol Pogash. And this article is really important because it tells us about two forms of the backlash against the Archbishop’s decision about this very important decision to uphold Catholic teaching in Catholic schools. Because the first blowback is from the secular community. Now, after all were talking about San Francisco, and as Pogash said this is the very city that claims to have given birth to the gay-rights movement in America. And that’s a pretty credible claim.

And so in San Francisco, you’ve got a pushback that is coming from the secular society, and that’s reflected in the fact that according to Pogash’s article in the Bay area, in addition to petitions in protest, “eight state legislators from the Bay Area have asked the archbishop to withdraw the clause as discriminatory.”

Even more shocking, two of the legislators, according to Pogash, called for an investigation accusing the Archbishop of using religion “as a Trojan horse to deprive our fellow citizens of their basic civil rights.”

This is one most disturbing things I’ve read in a long time, especially when it comes to religious liberty and especially because I read it as a seminary president. I’m reading it with the understanding that the challenge to the Archbishop of the Roman Catholic diocese of San Francisco is in effect a challenge to all of us. A challenge that there are those who are going to claim that we can’t discriminate even in terms of the hiring of professors in an expressly evangelical institution in terms of evangelical theology and evangelical conviction. The challenge that is represented by this is simply huge. You have eight legislators in the state legislature calling for the diocese to change its policy, and you have two of them who have officially called for an investigation. An investigation of the Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco for being Catholic and for intending to uphold Catholic moral teachings and Catholic doctrine.

We also understand that the secular backlash means that there in the San Francisco and Bay Area communities there are those who are responding with abject horror that the Roman Catholic archbishop would’ve taken this position. So far as they see it, this is a throwback to something like the Inquisition of the Middle Ages. This is something that in the worldview of so many who live in the Bay Area is virtually unthinkable. And thus they are shocked; seemingly genuinely shocked that a Roman Catholic archbishop would expect the schools in his jurisdiction (the Roman Catholic schools) to teach Roman Catholic conviction, Roman Catholic official doctrine.

But a closer look at the revisions that the Archbishop forced in the handbook for faculty indicates that he actually arguably didn’t even go that far. A look at the actual language indicates that what he is requiring of those who will teach and Roman Catholic high schools is that they will not publicly defy or deny official Roman Catholic teaching on these crucial, very important moral issues. That’s where we have to face the fact that the Roman Catholic archbishop here is playing something of defense with in his own schools within his own diocese, and therein is the second form of blowback.

It’s one thing (as we might expect) for a secular society such as the Bay Area like San Francisco to press back on a decision like this as being something that is simply unthinkable. But what we need to note very carefully is the second form of blowback that the Archbishop of San Francisco is receiving. And that is blowback not from the secular culture, but from some Roman Catholics. It’s one thing to have the pushback from the secular world; it’s a very different thing, a more ominous thing for the Roman Catholic Archbishop to have a pushback from Roman Catholics.

But we now know by ample documentation that there are millions of Roman Catholics in the United States who are openly defying Roman Catholic teaching on these issues. And we need to note that there is huge political pressure that is represented in the blowback coming from Roman Catholics on their own diocese. But turning to our own evangelical context, the question would be this: if the president of an educational institution that is sufficiently committed evangelical doctrine, the evangelical worldview, and even to an evangelical confession of faith would make very clear, the determination to hire only teachers who would hold to that faith – especially in terms of the school that is explicitly evangelical in terms of the total worldview – would there be adequate support coming from evangelical churches for that decision? We can certainly hope so, but honesty compels us to ask that question.

What if this were not the Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco? What if this were a seminary president or Christian college president? What if this were a pastor of a local church very clearly committed evangelical conviction when it comes to the Christian school that is operated by that church? Herein is another lesson coming from this story.

Why did the Roman Catholic archbishop in the city of San Francisco have to make this decision in 2015? Glaringly and obviously it should of been made of very long time ago. And even now there’s a certain amount of elasticity that seems to be built into the policy change and the archbishop’s determination. As the Times reports,

“Expressing surprise at the strong reactions, Archbishop Cordileone said this week that he would form a committee of theology teachers to help “contextualize” the morality clause. But he said that he had no intention of deleting his wording, and that the committee’s recommendations would retain “what is already there.””

The Archbishop then added, “This is been a very trying time for all of us.”

Well, one lesson for evangelicals is that the Catholic archdiocese bears at least partial responsibility for bringing this crisis upon themselves by not having the policy in place long, long ago. Why did the archdiocese wait until the year 2015 to state very clearly tht teachers in its Roman Catholic schools would have to uphold Roman Catholic doctrine? What about all the years preceding? If this policy would be directed at teachers were already in the schools (as clearly the policy is), then they should of had the policy long ago, because they have very clearly hired people they should not of hired.

As I said there are huge lessons here for evangelical Christians. How many of our own institutions supposedly committed evangelical conviction have been hiring teachers who actually are not committed to the same convictions? And, furthermore, we would have to ask in some institutions, how would you know? Without a confession of faith that is explicit, without a contract that is absolutely clear how would one know unless a problem arises?

One of the lessons for all of us is if you wait until a problem arises you’re waiting far too long and far too irresponsibly. But the big story here is that the fact that the Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco is now requiring all teachers and Roman Catholic schools under his jurisdiction to uphold Catholic doctrine makes the pages of the New York Times, thousands and thousands of miles away. That tells us something about the reality of the challenge we face in this increasingly secular age.

But we also need to note before we leave the story behind, that the story will not be left behind. This is a story that will arrive in its own way at every single evangelical school, every evangelical college and university, every evangelical seminary, there will be no place to hide. If this story about the Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco being after all Catholic makes the New York Times is a major new story, brace yourself for when the newspaper also discovers that there are evangelical Christians who expect their evangelical schools to uphold evangelical conviction and evangelical doctrine. Just wait for the scandal, for it is almost surely to come.

2) Story of priested twins points to importance of grounding our children in doctrine

A very different new story has my attention as it appeared in Wednesday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal. It’s found in the personal Journal section. The headline is “When we quit one faith for another.” Claire Ansberry, reporting for the Journal tells us that more than half of US adults change religions. She goes on to tell what she calls a tale of twin brothers and their paths  to different churches. Now before looking at the tale of these twin brothers, when you look at the claim that half of all US adults change religions. As Asberry writes,

“More than half of the U.S. adult population has changed religious affiliations at least once during their lives, most before they reach 50, according to a 2009 Faith in Flux report by the Pew Research Center. In many cases, the move is from one major religious tradition to another, say, Protestantism to Catholicism…but it also includes those who leave organized religion altogether.”

Well, having looked at the report itself I’d also have to point out that the claim of changing religions would include some of the changes from a Baptist to a Methodist, or from a Lutheran to a Presbyterian, by theological definition we certainly wouldn’t say that’s changing religions. But according to this report, it would be. So as we’re looking at the claim now widespread in the media, having look at the report I can simply say that it’s an overstatement of how much change is taking place. But is still comes as an affirmation of the fact that all lot of change is taking place and that’s the reason behind the story. The loosening of the religious identification generation by generation is something that should certainly have our attention, and I’ll return to that in just a moment.

But first let’s look at the two brothers Chad and Brad, the twins that grew up in the first Baptist Church of Elkin, North Carolina. As they are described here, they had the experiences during their childhood that most evangelical children would expect to have, and certainly most Southern Baptists. We’re told they went to Vacation Bible School, they went to Sunday school, they sang in the choir, and they did so along with extended family.

But now Brad, age 43, is a Roman Catholic priest in the diocese of Charlotte and Chad is an Anglican bishop in Atlanta. Let’s just say those are very different trajectories. Somehow you start out with two twin boys who are growing up in a stable evangelical context, in a very stable community in North Carolina ,being raised by parents who clearly identify not only is evangelical Christians, but specifically as Southern Baptists, and somehow you end up nearly a generation later with one of the twins being a Roman Catholic priest and the other being an Anglican bishop in Atlanta. What in the world happened here? Well, as the story unfolds and as it is reported in the Wall Street Journal, the brother started asking some very deep theological questions, and those questions led them to the people who were talking about those questions. As becomes very clear in the article the twins ended up in different places because even though they had a common quest for a deeper theological knowledge they found themselves in very different places; one a celibate Roman Catholic priest, the other an Anglican bishop with four children.

As Ansberry tells the story,

“Like many kids, in their early teen years they began questioning things, including the teachings of the Baptist Church, she says. [She says this speaking of the mother] Their curiosity was piqued in large part by an older, much-respected cousin, who lived in Greensboro and had recently converted to Catholicism. During one visit, their cousin took the boys, then about 12 or 13, to Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church. It was their first time inside a Catholic church. That Sunday morning remains 30 years later one of their most vivid memories.”

She goes on to report,

“The beauty of the building itself—the vaulted ceilings, marble steps, intricate woodwork, statues and stained glass—the smells of burning incense and the sounds of bells had a mystical quality that is hard to explain, says Father Brad. What struck Bishop Chad was watching the priest standing in front of the altar and elevating the Communion host.”

Ansberry then writes,

“For them, the Catholic liturgy made the invisible God palpable and tangible to the senses. Their own Baptist Church, where the walls are white and flat, the altar austere, and the worship focused largely on Scripture alone, didn’t.”

Chad told the Wall Street Journal,

“We weren’t theologians. We were children. But as children we had open hearts and minds to it and were very receptive.”

When I look at this new story I see it as hugely important, and for the following reason; It points out the fact that we are losing far too many evangelical young people as they reach older ages because they are simply not adequately grounded theologically in the Christian faith. They may go to vacation Bible school, they may go to Sunday school. But the question is, are they really grounded in the Christian faith? Are they well-grounded in the beauty of Scripture? Are they well-grounded in a knowledge of the deep theological convictions that define us as Christians. When these two boys, identical twins, were asking deep theological questions, who was there to help them? Who was there to guide them? Who was there as an evangelical thinker, apologist, theologian, friend, pastor, and guide to help them to understand these questions?

As I read this news article, it comes as judgment; judgment upon all those who missed the opportunity in failed in the responsibility to ground these young boys as they were then in the Christian faith, in the truth, and the beauty of evangelical Christian doctrine. In the theological principles that based upon long biblical consideration and the long argument of the church have met the differences between the Roman Catholic Church and evangelical Christianity. The differences between the understanding of a Scripture-centered Christianity and one that is centered in the sacraments (as is the Roman Catholic system and at least much of Anglicanism). This is a huge question. It’s a haunting question.

I raise this article simply because every single evangelical parent needs to take it as a serious challenge. Because every single evangelical church has to understand this story telling us in one sense what were up against, because the story of these two identical twins can be replicated thousands and thousands of times over, and surely will be if we fail now in the responsibility to raise up the next generation in the faith, to defend the faith once for all delivered to the saints.

Now when you look at this news article, we come to understand that the shift of one of these twins to becoming an Anglican is quite a different shift than the one became a Roman Catholic. Because becoming an Anglican doesn’t necessarily mean, in any sense, the denial of the very essentials of the gospel that would be at stake in terms of the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, in terms of those Reformation principles that we believe to be in the very heart of the gospel. Of justification, by faith alone, by grace alone, by the work of Christ alone, knowable by the authority of Scripture alone, and ultimately to the glory of God alone.

We impoverish our children if we don’t ground them in the grandeur of Christian doctrine. And we also set them up for an enormous vulnerability to be led by their senses –  remember the exact tale told in the story – rather than by a theological understanding grounded in the explicit teachings of Scripture.

Thanks be to God, there are a very good many evangelical Anglicans, and we can only hope that this bishop in Atlanta is one of them. The ways described in this article makes me think that it may well be so. But when we’re looking at the other identical twin becoming a Roman Catholic priest we need to recognize that – well it go back to the theme of the story by changing religions. In terms of the faith and judgment of the Reformers, that’s exactly what they would say this one identical twin indeed did.

According to the Wall Street Journal report the parents of these two twins don’t seem to be very upset about the trajectories that their sons of chosen. Surely that must be part of the story as well, in terms of how their boys ended up as man where they are now. I know nothing in terms of direct knowledge of the Baptist Church in which these boys were participants when they were younger (especially back in those days I know of no specific failing). What I do know is this; this story appears as judgment and is challenged every single one of us –  as pastors, as parents, as youth leaders, as those who care about the perpetuation of the faith once for all delivered to the saints. If we do not ground our children in the faith, then they are going to find the answers to their questions elsewhere.

There may be indeed there will be some who were well taught who at some point later in life will depart from the faith. But for those who are not well taught, it’s not just a possibility, it’s a probability. And this article in the Wall Street Journal makes that point very, very clearly. Perhaps we should end on this note, our great hope and determination is churches should be to make certain that the young people and children who are sitting in our churches today will be featured in an article like this in a generation yet to come.

Thanks to listen to The Briefing. For more information 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

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Podcast Transcript

1) San Francisco archbishop criticized for having Catholic schools hold to Catholic beliefs 

Morals Clause in Catholic Schools Roils Bay Area, New York Times (Carol Pogash)

2) Story of priested twins points to importance of grounding our children in doctrine

When We Leave One Religion for Another, Wall Street Journal (Claire Ansberry)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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