The Briefing 04-08-15

The Briefing 04-08-15

The Briefing


April 8, 2015

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


It’s Wednesday, April 8, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) TIME cover story on religious liberty confirms significant cultural transition occurring now

There are certain signals that take place that announce a cultural moment. That moment has arrived when, for example, the cover story one of the major weekly news magazines make such an announcement. And there is no more prominent and influential among those magazines than TIME magazine; which is why we draw attention to what’s taking place right now in this week’s cover story of time magazine. The cover includes a rainbow background indicating the LGBT movement and at the center the cover is a cross, inside the cross the words: freedom fight.

What we find here is a set of three articles, all on the issue of the great moral transition we are now experiencing. The main article is by veteran journalist David Von Drehle and it’s looking at the situation in Indiana with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act there and the controversy, coming to the conclusion that this does represent a very crucial turning point in terms of the nation’s history; a very important transition moment in the great moral revolution taking place around us.

The other two articles are on opposing sides of analysis. Rod Dreher writes about the attack on believers (that according to the cover), whereas Jonathan Rausch, another veteran author, writes about the attack on gay rights. This is a very important set of articles, not just because what’s included within the articles but because the placement of this cover story tells us we are indeed at a very significant moment.

David Von Drehle’s cover story includes his analysis that what we have learned from the controversy about Indiana in recent days is that, in his words,

“…corporate America has decided that in the U.S., gay rights are the future.”

Now in the main what he’s talking about here isn’t so much a company like Apple headed by Tim Cook who himself is openly gay, but rather other businesses that would be more traditionally cautious when it comes to reading the cultural moment. And, at least in terms of the evidence, Von Drehle’s onto something here because it does appear that a very important tipping point is taking place in corporate America.

It wasn’t just Apple that registered outrage over the Indiana law it was also Walmart that indicated concern about similar legislation in the state of Arkansas – that corporations home state. Von Drehle went on to write that,

“Another lesson could be drawn from the whiplash that traditional religious Americans may be feeling in the last weeks before one of the world’s central institutions–marriage–appears set to receive its official revision in the Supreme Court.”

That’s the judgment of David Von Drehle as found in this article. He goes on to say,

“This revolution has been 25 years coming, but a quarter of a century is a finger snap in the millennia of human history.”

That’s one of the most important sentence to appear in TIME magazine in a very long time, and it’s a sentence that includes not only a great deal of moral wisdom but an honest historical assessment. David Von Drehle is exactly right. This is a point we have made over and over again. The velocity of this moral revolution is simply breathtaking and even if the gay-rights revolution has taken 25 years, David Von Drehle is exactly right when he says that is just a “finger snap in the millennia of human history.” He goes on to say,

“And for half of those 25 years, the traditionalists had reason to believe that they were winning.”

But he goes on to say,

“When advocates for same-sex marriage were a small but vocal minority, they were at pains to say that they weren’t interested in changing the religious definition of marriage–only the civil laws. The Battle of Indiana shows how difficult it is to draw such a clear line. Scripture speaks to every historical hot-button issue, from slavery to dietary laws, from veils to virginity, from vengeance to forgiveness. The sacred texts bump up against the civil law, not always gently.”

Again, that’s a very honest assessment. It is something that you often do not see in the mainstream media – more about that in just a moment. David Von Drehle goes on to say that there must be limits upon religious liberty. He goes so far as to cite one of the attorneys for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, who said,

“Nobody in her right mind says that religious liberty is unlimited,”

Now we should agree with that statement; no liberty, not in a fallen world, is ever unlimited.

The attorney, Kevin Seamus Hasson went on to say,

“Freedom of speech is limited by laws of defamation. Freedom of the press is limited in the same way. So is freedom of religion. The difficult question is not whether there’s a line, it is how you draw it.”

But then David Von Drehle says,

“Freedom of religion protects the Jehovah’s Witness who sits through the Pledge of Allegiance and the Muslim prisoner who refuses to shave his beard. But it doesn’t protect the Muslim or Mormon man who wants to marry multiple wives or the biblical literalist who believes that God ordained slavery and racial segregation. On which side of the line is the conservative Christian or Orthodox Jew who believes that homosexual behavior is a sin and sin is to be shunned?”

That’s an extremely revealing paragraph. A closer look at it reveals that Von Drehle is openly asking the question: is an Orthodox Jew or a conservative Christian who believes that homosexual behavior is a sin actually on the right line of where the line must be drawn when it comes to the extension of religious liberty? That is an astounding question, even to articulate in this way, in the pages of a magazine with the influence and reputation of TIME magazine.

It tells us, perhaps more than anything else in this article, where we now stand. The rights, in terms of religious liberty, even when it comes down to operating on an understanding of something as basic as sin, drawn upon what is recognized even in this article to be a biblical authority ,that is now an open question in the culture. Do Christians, or for that matter Orthodox Jews, have the right to hold to such a position with any public consequence, or for that matter public protection, in the age of this new moral revolution?
As I said there are two other articles that are companions to David Von Drehle’s report in TIME magazine. The first is by columnist Rod Dreher of The American Conservative. As we would expect from Rod Dreher, it is a very thoughtful and insightful piece. In one online edition for TIME Dreher’s article is headlined, For Christians the Handwritings on the Wall; in the print edition of the magazine the headline is: Are these Laws Necessary? Rod Dreher answering yes, traditional Christians find themselves under siege. Dreher writes this,

“What is so alarming about the opposition’s moral panic over the law [that is the opposition we should point out to the RFRA law in Indiana] is its inability to accept that there could possibly be a legitimate religious defense of discrimination at all. To progressives, we are all Bull Connors,”

Harking back to the racist who famously led the oppression of African-Americans during protests in Birmingham in the early 1960s. Dreher then writes,

“I understand that most liberals view homosexuality as entirely analogous to race. Abrahamic religion does not see it that way. Sexual expression has moral meaning that race does not. You don’t have to agree with Orthodox Jews, Muslims, and traditional Christians, but this goes down to the foundational beliefs of our religions.”

Now, one of the things we need to understand by the fact that this article has appeared is that Rod Dreher is not only accurately saying that many on the left don’t even believe that there could be a legitimate religious argument, but he has to explain – in terms of the secularization of the culture – that these arguments are actually core beliefs of the religions of Judaism and Christianity and Islam.

But then he makes a very interesting statement. He’s writing to the secular left saying, suppose traditional Christians, Muslims, and Orthodox Jews are wrong about this; he says,

“We may be wrong. But the Constitution gives us the right to be wrong. It is a right so precious it was guaranteed in the First Amendment, alongside free speech.”

He then goes on to write very important words,

“Religious liberty, like free speech, is not an absolute right, but it is at the core of what it means to be an American. And like free speech, it matters more when the religious expression is unpopular”

The other article coming from the other side was written by Jonathan Rauch. He’s also often a very insightful writer and in one of his books published over the last decade or so he actually called for those who are behind the LGBT movement to be very respectful of those such as Christians and Orthodox Jews and Muslims who will not be able to join the revolution. But in this article he writes against the religious liberty law as it was adopted in Indiana and instead suggests that a better model is what took place in the state of Utah.

You’ll recall we discussed on The Briefing the fact that Mormon leaders in that state worked with political leaders and with leaders in the LGBT community to draft legislation that on the one hand offered civil rights protections as they were defined for those in the LGBT communities, and also wrote in what were also described as being generous protections for religious organizations.

The big issue here however is the fact that it is almost certain that there will be challenges not so much to the new civil rights as they are defined, but rather to those supposedly very generous exceptions written in for religious institutions. And almost anyone looking at the landscape of American law of politics today knows that those exceptions are on very shaky political ground.

Jonathan Rauch writes,

“There’s a better path. We saw it taken in Utah just a few weeks ago.”

He goes on to say,

“That win-win, negotiated model, not Indiana’s heads-I-win, tails-you-lose model, is the path to a social consensus that safeguards religious freedom. And in America, lest we forget, real civil-rights protections, the kind that last, come not from laws or courts but from consensus.”

At that point I would simply say to Jonathan Rauch, for whom I have a great deal of respect in terms of his writings, I would just suggest that if he is certain – as he appears to be certain, and I think has grounds to be certain, that this culture is shifting its moral consensus on these issues – he has every reason than to extend very ample and very strong religious liberty protections to those he knows will disagree with the moral revolution.

As I said in the final analysis, the issue isn’t so much what is found within these articles but the fact that the articles found their way into a major and very strategically timed cover story in TIME magazine. As much as anything else this tells us that we are living, right now, not just in terms of this century or this decade but right now in terms of these months, perhaps even these weeks and days, living in one of these very important transition times towards the future of our civilization. We can feel the earth changing; we can feel it shifting under our feet. This cover story in TIME magazine tells us that we’re not imagining what we sense.

2) Mormon leaders affirm traditional marriage, revealing importance of theology to view of marriage

Next, it was very interesting that Jonathan Rauch pointed to the example in Utah and that example cannot be told without reference to the influence of Mormon leaders – that is leaders of the church that calls itself the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints that so dominates life, culture, and politics in the state of Utah. Now we remember, over and over again, how much theology matters. Keep that in mind when you look to the Guardian and to a report from the Associated Press coming from Salt Lake City where the headline is this: Mormon leaders decry a same-sex marriage and “counterfeit lifestyles.”

Now recall that Jonathan Rauch is pointing to what he calls the win-win situation there in Utah. You’ll recall that when that development took place in Utah I pointed to the fact that the agreement between Mormon leaders and political leaders and the LGBT community in Utah was something that seemed to be based more in hope than in reality. And the hope seemed to be invested mostly on the part of Mormon leaders who claimed that there were very important religious liberty protections built into the new law. As I just stated, those exemptions are not likely to go unchallenged and that something that has to be recognized.

But the other thing we need to understand is that when Mormon leaders are speaking to the issue of marriage they mean something very specific, and that means something that is based in the theology of the latter-day Saints. That becomes very clear in this article. The occasion for the Associated Press article was the Mormon Church’s semi-annual conference. And as the Associated Press reported at that conference taking place in recent days, Mormon leaders outlined the Mormon faith’s commitment to the believe that marriage is an institution exclusive to a man and a woman. The Mormon authority cited in the article was L. Tom Perry, he is indeed a very high ranking leader in the LDS movement and according to the Associated Press he,

“…cautioned Mormons Saturday not to be swayed by a world filled with media and entertainment that makes the minority seem like the majority and tries to make mainstream values seem obsolete.”

Elder Perry, as he is known in Mormonism, said that strong traditional families are the basic units of a stable society, a stable economy, and a stable culture of values. He said that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would continue to be a leading voice on the issue.

The reason I bring particular attention to this article is the fact that the Associated Press ran the story because it considered it newsworthy. The fact that the Mormon Church believes that marriage is exclusively the union of a man and a woman, not a man a man or woman and a woman, is not headline news. The fact that it is headline news in this case is explainable only because the semiannual conference came after that agreement between Mormon and political leaders and the LGBT community in Utah. That’s what seems to interest the Associated Press.

I have met Elder Perry, a very gracious man. He is cited in this article as going on to make a very important theological point. Mr. Perry, who is considered one of the 12 apostles of the Mormon church, went on to note that there are several religions that are united in the shared belief that the importance of marriage is that it be defined as between a man and a woman. But he then went on to make very clear that what makes Mormonism distinct is its understanding that marriage and families are for eternity. He said and I quote,

“Our marriage ceremonies eliminate the words ‘till death do us part’ and instead say ‘for time and for all eternity’,”

That’s a really important statement because it affirms several things we need to note. The first is that every understanding of marriage is deeply embedded in a worldview. The Christian understanding of marriage and the Jewish understanding of marriage historically are rooted in a biblical understanding.  The Catholic understanding of marriage is rooted in that understanding, added to the entire structure of natural law as affirmed by the Catholic Church. Even the secular worldview, the worldview that is increasingly affirming what is called same-sex marriage, also operates out of a worldview. In this case a worldview that is marked by an understanding that morality is changing, relative, and progressive and an understanding that the ultimate great good is unfettered human autonomy.

But we need to note very carefully how much theology matters when it comes to even an issue like marriage and inescapably so, because it is true Mr. Perry was exactly right as he was representing the beliefs of his church. The Mormon Church does teach that marriage is not for this life only but, as he said, for time and for all eternity. He’s right. The Mormon ceremony of marriage replaces that venerable and honored Christian language, most famously from the Book of Common Prayer, ‘till death do us part’ and replaces it and as Mr. Perry said, ‘for time and for all eternity.’ That’s because according the Mormon teaching, as is centralized in the ceiling of marriage in a Mormon Temple, those marriages are for eternity; they have eternal significance. This is place within the larger background of Mormon eschatology and the Mormon understanding of the family and of marriage and of reproduction.

It is also tied to the fact that Mormonism has a distinctive view of revelation. That is a revelation that of course doesn’t end with the Scripture because as a restorations movement by its own characterization the Mormon movement claims that the Bible is succeeded by a Revelation that was necessary after the Bible. And that includes most especially what is known as the Book of Mormon.

Christians are always to be aware of the fact that theology matters, it always matters, it always matters greatly. Indeed it’s hard to come up with anything that would matter more. And even when it comes to the issue of marriage we need to understand that every understanding of marriage, no matter who may hold that marriage and no matter when they may hold it, they are holding it because of other larger intellectual and convictional commitments. In the case of modern secular Americans running headlong to endorsed same-sex marriage it’s because that endorsement is fully in keeping with their worldview.

And go back to what Rod Dreher wrote in TIME magazine. The fact that traditional Christians, the fact that Roman Catholics, conservative evangelicals, the fact that Orthodox Jews, Muslims, and yes Mormons believe that marriage must be the union of a man and a woman, that is based in worldviews that can be explained theologically, but so the Christian must insist. Is every other position on marriage, as it also reflects a worldview that is inescapably, in the end, theological, in one way or another? And that is no less true for the secular worldview that claims to be fully secular, but as we’ve seen over and over again isn’t so secular as it claims to be, because eventually even the secular worldview has to answer ultimate questions and those ultimate questions cannot be answered certainly in any consistent way in a purely secular worldview. That’s why secular causes almost always take on an almost tangible religious fervor. And that is certainly true when it comes to the moral revolution and the moral revolutionaries now reshaping our culture.

There is no way to explain the Mormon understanding of marriage in terms of contemporary political policy and legal issues without explaining those beliefs as rooted in Mormon theology. There’s no way to explain a Christian, a conservative evangelical, a biblical understanding of marriage without going into the theological framework that is even prior to the question of marriage; theological framework that would include an understanding of biblical authority and divine Revelation, of biblical and theological background that would explain God’s creation and his sovereignty over the created order, a theology that would explain that God has given us in creation institutions for our good that will lead to human flourishing even as they reflect his glory.

For Christians we need to be right up front about the fact that our definition of marriage is inherently theological. But that doesn’t mean that we believe it is only for Christians, rather as Scripture tells us, marriage was given by the creator to all of his human creatures and to all of his human creations in order that human flourishing would abound. Tampering with marriage thus we understand is not something that is simply a matter of changing cultural conventions, it’s a matter of rejecting what the creator has given us as the institution that when respected leads to increased human happiness.

In recent days the headlines have been dominated so much by this moral revolution and specifically the LGBT issues and the question of same-sex marriage. The controversy over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Arkansas and as proposed in Georgia, as passed and adopted in Indiana, there’ll pointing to the confluence of these issues at this particular cultural moment. And Christians aware of the fact that we are obligated by our commitment to Christ and by our understanding of the authority of Scripture to a certain definition of marriage have to understand that we are now looking at the fact that the worldview significance of the Christian faith is now flying right into the face of a cultural whirlwind.

If we believe that the Christian faith is something that we can simply revise and remodel at will, then we should do so. But if we believe that it is based upon divine Revelation, that there is indeed a faith once for all delivered to the Saints, that we are to receive, to respect, and to protect, than their we have to take our stand. On the other side of this whirlwind we will find out one way or another who really believes that marriage is something we know first of all by divine Revelation and by God’s intention in giving us the gift.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to  Remember we’re taking questions for  Ask Anything: Weekend Edition. Call with your question in your voice to 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058. For more information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For information on Boyce College just go to


I’m speaking to you from Destin, FL and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.


Podcast Transcript

1) TIME cover story on religious liberty confirms significant cultural transition occurring now

The Battle of Indiana, TIME (David Von Drehle)

The Writing’s on the Wall for Christians, TIME (Rod Dreher)

What Indiana Could Learn From Utah About Gay Tolerance, TIME (Jonathan Rauch)

2) Mormon leaders affirm traditional marriage, revealing importance of theology to view of marriage

Mormon leaders decry same-sex marriage and ‘counterfeit lifestyles’, The Guardian (AP)


R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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