The Briefing 03-17-15

The Briefing 03-17-15

The Briefing


March 17, 2015

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

It’s Tuesday, March 17, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Gordon College affirms biblical view of sexuality, still faces challenge of perseverance

For some months now Gordon College in suburban Boston, Massachusetts has been in the crosshairs of controversy over the issue of same-sex relationships and sexual orientation. As Joe Carter reports for The Gospel Coalition yesterday,

“Last fall, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) discussed whether Gordon College’s traditional inclusion of ‘homosexual practice’ as a forbidden activity in its Statement on Life and Conduct was contrary to the Commission’s standards for accreditation.”

According to Carter,

“Prior to the NEASC meeting, Gordon College President Michael Lindsay submitted information about Gordon, its mission as a Christian institution, its evangelical Christian identity, and its ‘history [and these are the words of the Gordon President,] of respectful self-critique and dialogue with individuals of diverse backgrounds.’”

Now the controversy emerged several months ago when Gordon’s President Michael Lindsay signed a letter that was signed by several other higher education Presidents from Christian institutions asking President Obama to be respectful of the rights of those institutions in establishing an ENDA policy by the executive branch of the government. ENDA is the Employment Nondiscrimination Act that has not been passed by Congress, but a similar form of policy was put into place last year by Pres. Obama by executive order related to those who are contractors for the federal government.

You can understand why Christian institutions would be particularly attuned to a problem here because even as some educational institutions will be considered by the government as “contractors” when it comes to delivering education, the question will be whether or not the federal government would respect the unique Christian identity of those institutions. Pres. Lindsay simply attached his name to that letter and yet when it went public, the Boston area erupted in immediate controversy. A controversy that led to the city of Salem nearby the institution denying the historic Christian school access to a city property that it had not only been using but had actually renovated and was protecting on behalf of the city. At least one local school system decided that Gordon students would not be allowed to serve internships and in-service appointments in that school system. Not because of Gordon’s new policy – it didn’t have a new policy –  but because the president of the institution had merely signed a letter asking the President of the United States to be respectful of religious institutions in the establishment of his policy.

But the controversy grew more urgent and more important last fall when the regional accrediting agency, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, demanded that Gordon College explain itself. And they demanded that Gordon College report back to the accrediting agency that it was not violating the accreditor’s standards when it came to nondiscrimination. As part of its response yesterday Gordon College released a statement. I read now directly from the statement, which includes these words:

“Gordon College announced last fall that it would engage in a period of reflection to analyze how the campus might improve its care for students around human sexuality. As part of the process the College’s leadership assembled a working group of school administrators, students, faculty, staff and trustees that provide ideas to the institutions governing board. The findings of the working group were presented to the College’s trustees in February and many of the recommendations were incorporated into the new initiatives.”

The following words are the most important words in the College’s statement released yesterday; and I quote,

“At that time the board also unanimously reaffirmed its support for the College’s traditional theological commitment on matters of human sexuality and standards for Christian living as they apply to members of the Gordon community as expressed in the college’s statement of life and conduct.”

Now that’s particularly important because here you have a college under fire declaring that it is going to stand by the Bible’s very clear affirmations and expectations concerning human sexuality. This is not a college that was taking a dispassionate academic look at these issues, it was under and is under sustained cultural pressure, sustained legal and accreditation pressure, and yet its Board of Trustees unanimously reaffirmed a very clear statement of biblical sexual morality. And the fact that they did so in March of 2015 is extremely significant. The statement that came yesterday comes at something of the midpoint of the colleges period of 12 -18 month period “of discernment” on the issue of same-sex behaviors, relationships, and sexual orientation. As the statement makes very clear, the College is owning the responsibility to serve it students and also to conduct a robust discussion of these issues. No Christian institution should fear that kind of discussion.

It is extremely encouraging that the college’s board unanimously reaffirmed the historic traditional biblical teachings and expectations of the school on matters of human sexuality and explicitly on issues of sex outside of marriage. Gordon College’s statement of life and conduct under the section marked Behavioral Standards includes this statement,

“Those words and actions which are expressly forbidden in Scripture, including but not limited to blasphemy, profanity, dishonesty, theft, drunkenness, sexual relations outside marriage, and homosexual practice, will not be tolerated in the lives of Gordon community members, either on or off campus.”

Once again, that’s a very clear statement. There’s nothing new about that statement, it is an absolutely clear statement and summary of the historic Christian understanding of what the Bible teaches on sexual morality. Pres. Lindsay declared that it is the college’s expectation that it will conduct “respectful self-critique and dialogue with individuals of diverse backgrounds,”  but when it comes to the institution’s statement of faith, it draws a very clear tie between biblical authority and the very expectations of the school – which identifies itself, unabashedly, as a Christian college. The statement of faith says,

“The 66 canonical books of the Bible as originally written were inspired of God, hence free from error. They constitute the only infallible guide in faith and practice. A careful translation, such as the New International Version, is sufficiently close to the original writings in text and meaning to be entitled to acceptance as the Word of God.”

So from a Christian worldview perspective, the most important development here is that an historically Christian college has made a very clear statement of affirming the historic Christian tradition when it comes to understanding what the Bible expects of Christians in the arena of human sexuality. And one of the most interesting things about the actual behavioral standards of the college is how clear the college is in demanding these expectations of every member of the community. That would include not only students, but also faculty and administrators, and with the explicit statement that the expectations extend to all behaviors on and off campus.

In an interesting statement made by the President of the institution, Michael Lindsay, in the statement released yesterday he says,

“We remain as committed as ever to historic Christian teaching on this topic…while recognizing that members of the Gordon community hold varying perspectives. I am confident that this process and these initiatives will enhance our ability to care for all Gordon students while we continue to foster spiritual and academic transformation, which is the hallmark of the Gordon experience.”

So here’s what to watch: there ought to be a bit of concern when the president of the institution indicates that on campus there are varying perspectives on these issues. Now in some sense, varying perspectives can mean a very narrow spectrum of opinion. But when it comes to media reports coming from both faculty and students at Gordon College, there are several who have indicated that they do not support the college’s policies. That in itself is quite problematic.

One of the key questions for any Christian institution holding to a biblical standard on these issues is for how long. And we are certainly encouraged by the fact that Pres. Lindsay and the board at Gordon College has stated so emphatically that they stand as firmly as ever with the biblical standards of human sexuality. But there are certainly questions about how long that standard can be perpetuated into the future if varying perspectives on these issues begin to mark those who are in both the student body and the faculty of the institution. That raises the question of how long varying perspectives may mark the Board of Trustees as well. We can surely hope and pray that when it comes to Gordon College the kind of very brave and courageous stance they took yesterday will be perpetuated far into the future. And not only for Gordon College, but for every institutional that would claim the name of Christ and certainly would claim the very clear evangelical identity.

The statement released by Gordon yesterday indicates that there will be a succession of speakers – some of them have already spoken – representing varying perspectives on these issues who will speak to the Gordon community. One of the speakers identified as “upcoming” in terms of speaking to the Gordon community is David Gushee, who in recent months has very clearly become an advocate not for keeping but for revising the church’s historical and biblical understanding of human sexuality. Now the thing to watch here is not that there could be a debate about these matters on the campus, the thing to watch is whether the campus’s commitments are themselves up for debate.

2) Elton John boycott of Dolce & Gabbana affirms basic human dignity of IVF children

Next, in terms of a headline that could only have appeared in our very modern times, yesterday the Washington Post reported with a headline, Elton John is boycotting Dolce and Gabbana for calling children conveived with IVF ‘synthetic.’ Reporter Soraya Nadia McDonald reports,

“This year, Italian designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana unveiled a celebration of motherhood at Milan Fashion Week, sending models down the catwalk who were visibly pregnant or carrying little chubby-cheeked bundles of joy.”

But controversy ensued, not because of the designs from the fashion house but because of words that came from Dolce and Gabbana. As the Washington Post reports, the problem came when they opened their mouths. The designers Dolce and Gabbana, who are themselves openly gay men, gave an interview to an Italian magazine known as Panorama, as translated by the Telegraph, in the interview the couple stated,

“We oppose gay adoptions. The only family is the traditional one. … No chemical offsprings and rented uterus: Life has a natural flow, there are things that should not be changed.”

Domenico Dolce also said,

“You are born to a mother and a father,”

He went on in a statement I will not read explicitly to talk about rented wombs and purchased gametes. He then says quote,

“The family’s not a fad. In it there is a supernatural sense of belonging,”

But now rock star Elton John is leading a boycott of the high-level fashion house because he, along with a man identified as his husband David Furnish, they have two children that were conceived through in vitro fertilization. And as the Washington Post says, Elton John and David Furnish are furious:

“How dare you refer to my beautiful children as ‘synthetic,’”

Elton John wrote angrily, says the Washington Post, in an Instagram caption accompanying a photo of the two children.

“And shame on you for wagging your judgmental little fingers at IVF — a miracle that has allowed legions of loving people, both straight and gay, to fulfil their dream of having children. Your archaic thinking is out of step with the times, just like your fashions. I shall never wear Dolce and Gabbana ever again.”

Well there is a sense in which this is exactly the kind of story I would not talk about on The Briefing because at least in terms of the headline, it looks like something that belongs in the tabloid world. But there is a fundamental issue here of both importance and urgency in human dignity is at stake. This is an issue we simply must address. And that is the statement made by Domenico Dolce in which he says,

“I called children of chemistry synthetic children,”

But here’s the urgent, the very important issue that is at stake: it is human dignity. Because when you look at the comment made by Domenico Dolce you’ll notice that there’s a shift in the consideration of the morality, away from the technology of the assisted reproduction toward the child itself. That is a mistake we must never make. The Christian conscience should weigh very carefully the grave and great moral issues involved in in vitro fertilization. We should also face the fact that it is this reproductive technological revolution that has allowed for the breakup of the family in so many ways and for sex to be nearly totally severed from both marriage and procreation. There are huge problems of human dignity involved in these technologies. I’ve written about them, this is not the place to talk about them extensively. What must be addressed is the accusation that these children are somehow synthetic children.

Now at this point, surprisingly enough, it’s Elton John who is right about the kids. He’s not write about homosexuality, he’s not writing about homosexual marriage, he’s not right when he cavalierly celebrates all these new reproductive technologies – including things that should certainly weigh very heavily on the Christian conscience, most importantly surrogate mothering and the commercial sale gametes and the IVF technology – those have to be taken very seriously, but the children who are produced by these technological revolutions are not synthetic. Every single one of them is made in the image of God, every one of them bears the same dignity as everyone who has come out of the womb by a natural process of conception, born to heterosexual parents and coming out of the womb without any artificial reproductive technology involved at all. There is no difference whatsoever in the theological, biblical, and moral status of the child.

These two Italian designers no doubt have a very confused worldview. They’re right when they talk about the importance of the family, they’re actually right when they point out that children are to be born from a mother and a father, that’s simply something that is right and biblical. But they are wrong when they point to the child, regardless of the relationship that produced the child and regardless of the technology that may have assisted the bringing about of the birth of the child, they are wrong to shift the moral issue to the child. The child is a human being made in the image of God – every single child you or I will ever see.

And this is not the first generation to confuse this. It didn’t take advanced reproductive technologies for people to get confused on this issue. Throughout human civilization there has often been a moral taint placed upon children who were born outside of wedlock, and horrifying words and accusations were made against those children. But there was nothing deficient about those children whatsoever. They bore no responsibility whatsoever for the conditions into which they had been born or by which they were born. It is absolutely essential to the Christian worldview that we make clear that when we look at any child and when we look at every child we are seeing a child made in the image of God and a child that deserves our absolute respect; a child that holds infinite human dignity simply because of the image of God, a child that is being received as unmitigated gift, regardless of the circumstances of birth, a child that is to be seen, first of all, as one of us.

3) Rising number of Bible-based shows still fall short of power of actual biblical accounts

Next, an article that deserves our attention recently from the New York Times; the headline is More Networks Jumping on the Biblical Bandwagon. It’s written by Neil Genzlinger and he writes in the critic’s notebook column of the New York Times. He writes,

“Television is largely a godless place, some would say, but not this month. Programs with biblical or other religious themes are sprouting up, some in places where you might not expect them. If nothing else, costumers who traffic in robes and sandals are doing a booming business.”

Now Genzlinger is simply on to the obvious here. As we are leading up to the celebration of Easter – as the society calls – as we’re heading up to the major Christian celebration of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, there is an enormous interest in the media in trying to draw every connection they can possibly draw to the story of Jesus – even if they are not affirming the story, even if they are raising questions rather than telling the story itself.

One of the issues of our concern here is the question of how intelligent Christian should look at this kind of programming in the first place. Here you have been Genzlinger pointing out that virtually everybody’s trying to get in the Jesus business when it comes to television entertainment products that are intended for this season of the year. In my view I guess the most surprising of the programs he highlights is one that is known as “Top 10: Bible Weather,” found at the weather Channel. He says it is,

“…an awkward mix of biblical natural disasters and recent meteorological calamity”

We can only imagine it’s an awkward mix. Even that sentence it itself an awkward mix. He then goes on to say,

“Ten calamities from the Bible are paired with equivalent phenomena from our time, with re-enactments standing alongside news footage and such. Dust storms, darkness, lightning, floods — God used them back then, and they’re still around today.”

Well once again I can’t say it better than the columnist did when he described this as an awkward mix. Roma Downey and Mark Burnett are out with what they’re calling “A.D.: The Bible Continues,” this is a follow-up on their history Channel mini-series known as “The Bible.” As Genzlinger points out, that mini-series known as “The Bible,” caught the television world by surprise back in 2013. But then he writes this,

“‘A.D.,’ which is scheduled to begin on April 5 on NBC and concerns the time after the Crucifixion, will no doubt make a ratings splash, too, especially with believers who like their Christianity loud and full of suffering.”

At that point Genzlinger quotes Mark Burnett who said, and I’m not making this up,

“This is ‘Game of Thrones’ meets the Bible,”

So people who are looking for “The Game of Thrones” meets “The Bible,” have just been told that series is coming for you starting in just days. As for myself, I’ll take the Bible without “The Game of Thrones.”

Genzlinger also tells us that CNN is in the midst of a six part series called “Finding Jesus: faith, fact and forgery.” According to Genzlinger, earnest scholars describe biblical stories and related matters much as they would narrate a history of the civil rights movement or world war with studied urgency meant to convey credibility and importance. He goes on to say,

“The scenes are re-enacted by sweaty actors using their best facial expressions, often those signifying pain.”

The UP Network on March 22 is going to give it hand to what it calls “Noah’s Ark.” “Nova” on PBS is rebroadcasting in March; what’s known as “the Bible’s buried secrets.” Genzlinger simply says this is the “smartest of the program summarized here,” he says,

“It’s still full of somewhat cheesy re-enactments, but it has a scholarly heart, exploring the origins of the Bible itself and of the concept of a single God.”

On March 27 the Smithsonian Channel is offering “Siege of Masada” which is a narrative, it’s an account we need to note that isn’t found in the Bible itself. And then at the end of this month the National Geographic Channel is going to offer “Killing Jesus,” which is based upon the bestseller in 2013 written by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. Genzlinger simply ends his article with these words,

“We already know how broad the market is for “Bible”-like shows; in the next few weeks, we’ll learn how deep it is as well.”

No we won’t. We don’t have to wait. What we already have, even in these summaries, is an indication of the fact you can’t improve upon the way the Bible tells its own story. You simply can’t improve upon the Bible by trying to dramatize it. But the thing we as Christians, thinking intelligently about these matters and critically when it comes to the artifacts of the culture, we need to understand very carefully these are not being done with an evangelistic intent. They’re being done with a commercial intent. It isn’t an accident that these programs appear this time of year and it’s not an accident that several of them are highly sensational and none of them can actually adequately portray the biblical text.

I’m not saying that the story of the Bible can never be told in dramatic form, I’m certainly not saying that it can never be told in broadcast form, I’m not saying that this shouldn’t ever be done. I’m simply saying we shouldn’t ever confuse an artistic interpretation of the Scripture with the Scripture, and we should never count on Hollywood to tell the story that is our business to tell. When even the weather channels trying to join what the New York Times calls the “biblical bandwagon,” that’s telling us something. The fact that even the New York Times understands that it is a bandwagon, that tells us something even more important.


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Podcast Transcript

1) Gordon College affirms biblical view of sexuality, still faces challenge of perseverance

Gordon College Reaffirms Sexuality Policy, Launches Taskforce, The Gospel Coalition (Joe Carter)

Gordon College reaffirms its policy prohibiting homosexual behavior on campus, Boston Business Journal (Mary Moore)

Life & Conduct, Gordon College

2) Elton John boycott of Dolce & Gabbana affirms basic human dignity of IVF children

Elton John is boycotting Dolce and Gabbana for calling children conveived with IVF ‘synthetic’, Washington Post (Soraya Nadia McDonald)

Elton John’s Dolce and Gabbana boycott is not as simple as good versus evil, The Telegraph (Graeme Archer)

3) Rising number of Bible-based shows still fall short of power of actual biblical accounts

More Networks Jumping on the Biblical Bandwagon, New York Times (Neil Genzlinger)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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