The Briefing 04-17-15

The Briefing 04-17-15

The Briefing


April 17, 2015

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


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

1) Rubio’s openness to attend gay wedding result of mixing approval of people with ceremonies 

This is one of the spring weekends when no doubt there will be thousands of weddings across the United States, and in more than 30 states there can be same-sex weddings this very weekend.

That led one of most interesting political conversations as America went into the weekend, but it’s not only political is deeply moral. And for Christians there are very deep biblical issues at stake the controversy ensued mostly on the Republican side of the ledger – the question’s not really open on the Democratic side. When Republican declared presidential candidate Marco Rubio, United States Senator from Florida, said in an interview that he would attend a same-sex wedding even though he is against same-sex marriage.

Almost immediately there were other Republican candidates (or potential candidates) who responded saying that they either would or wouldn’t attend a same-sex wedding. But this is one of those issues that almost every American will eventually confront. And from a Christian worldview perspective this is one of the most interesting. Interesting because there will be those whose immediate moral intuition will be to do something other than I believe faithfulness to the Scripture will require. How does that work? Well let’s look at his statements as reported yesterday by Politico. The senator said,

“If there’s somebody that I love that’s in my life, I don’t necessarily have to agree with their decisions or the decisions they’ve made to continue to love them and participate in important events.”

He went on to say,

“Ultimately, if someone that you care for and is part of your family has decided to move in one direction or another or feels that way because of who they love, you respect that because you love them.”

He went on to say also,

“If someone is divorced I’m not going to stop loving them or having a part of our lives.”

Now from a biblical perspective, with full sympathy to the senator being in a very hot spot when he answered this question, we need to look at the fact that from a biblical perspective he has mixed categories here. One of the two categories: one is, how we relate to people regardless of their sin? And the second is: what kind of ceremony do we attend and get public approval to? Those are two different questions. One of the things we have to keep in mind over and over again is that when you’re looking at a ceremony like a wedding you’re looking at something that actually anticipates and requires consent –  affirmation – in order to be present. That’s why even as you look at the venerable language of the Book of Common Prayer from the Church of England, the language that is used in almost every Christian wedding in the United States, you had the declaration that if anyone knows any reason why these two individuals should not be united in holy matrimony – you know the language – “let them speak now or forever hold their peace.”

That means that everyone in attendance at a wedding is assumed  – by the very fact of their attendance – that they know no reason why these two should not be united in what is called holy matrimony, or otherwise marriage. So by our presence in a wedding we are stating our approval of the union, and not only that, our attendance of the wedding means that we are approving and affirming the very fact that this marriage is taking place. And specifically, that these two individuals are coming together in what they will declare to be marriage.

That’s why I will argue again and again that Christians cannot attend a same-sex wedding without thereby affirming same-sex marriage. So what we see here is a senator trying to get to a position that might be understood by the public while appearing to be sensitive and caring on the one side, even when it comes to his own family members, and yet also to take a principled stand when it comes to same-sex marriage.

Sen. Rubio’s not alone in this. Virtually every American will at one point find himself or herself in the same situation and receive the same kind of invitation. This question became a matter of Christian controversy about two years ago when Houston megachurch pastor Joel Osteen appearing on CNN stated that he didn’t believe that same-sex marriage was God’s ideal or God’s plan, but then saying that he would attend a same-sex wedding ceremony if he loved the people who were getting married. Now, as was pointed out by so many at the time, that’s an inconsistent position. That is the mixing of two categories. But if the first category is can we give assent to an affirmation to a same-sex union –  the answer that is no – the second category is how we show love the people? This is the right impulse behind what Sen. Rubio was addressing. He makes very clear in the statement that I read. Let me go back to his words. He said,

“Ultimately, if someone that you care for and is part of your family has decided to move in one direction or another or feels that way because of who they love, you respect that because you love them,

Well, again, what he stated here includes a kernel of truth. And that truth is that we love people even when they sin. Even when they fall short not only of the law of God, when they fall short not only of God’s glory, but when they fall short of our own expectations. And we do understand that we do not want to cut off relationships if there’s any possibility of sustaining relationships. Not just because we have relationships with friends and family, but because we hope for those relationships to be redemptive when it comes to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

So Sen. Rubio is spot on when he says that we need to do our very best to maintain those relationships and that we don’t stop loving people when they make decisions that we believe to be wrong and even sinful. But he mixes the category when he says that therefore he would attend a same-sex wedding if the people who are in that wedding are the very people whom he loves. That’s the mixing of two different categories. And it’s the kind of thing that can happen to any Christian who’s thinking on the spot and in a context of political immediacy in the context perhaps even of a social immediacy, in which any of us might find ourselves and we have to make a decision right there immediately without thinking it through, and thinking through clearly. Almost any one of us can imagine that a microphone might be trust in our face and we would feel the need to say something just like Sen. Rubio said.

But when it comes down to Christian faithfulness this just won’t work. And eventually there is an inconsistency here it will have to break one way or another. Attending a same-sex ceremony is by definition saying ‘I am celebrating what’s taking place here.’ That’s the problem. One of our great challenges as we look to the culture taking shape before us is how to say to people, ‘I love you. I continue to love you even in the midst of this. But I can’t love you by celebrating what you now call a same-sex wedding.’

Christians again and again are going to have to go back to that very last verse of Romans 1; Romans 1:32 when the apostle Paul says that one of the greatest signs of our sinfulness is not just that we do such things even knowing God’s penalty on sin, but that we give hearty approval to those who do them. That’s one of the most significant verses that we must always keep in mind. Even as we speak the truth in love, even as we know that we are to love those who are sinners, even as we understand ourselves to be sinners. And even as we understand that we can’t do what the apostle Paul here once this we must not do, and that is celebrate what we know to be sinful and wrong. Even by our attendance, throwing rice or otherwise.

2) Perception politics of primary reveal Americans unsettled in values for candidate

Speaking of Sen. Rubio, who made his announcement that he would be a candidate for the Republican nomination for president earlier this week, on Wednesday the New York Times ran a brilliant piece of political analysis by Patrick Healy entitled, “Normal versus Leader-like in the Perception Primary.” Written in the political memo column, this really is a very insightful piece because it points to the fact that Americans aren’t settled in themselves as to what they’re looking for in a president. This is one of the things that becomes revealed in the Democratic experiment such as a presidential election cycle. Americans say two contradictory things at the same time. They say ‘we want a world-class leader. Someone we can picture sitting in the Oval Office and being the leader of the free world.’ And then they say something that is almost especially contradictory. They say, ‘we want someone just like ourselves.’ They say we won a normal American! And then they say we want someone with very abnormal, very special abilities and character traits.

Patrick Healy writes,

“On one side is a crowd of Republicans trying to look presidential. On the other side is a lone Democrat trying to look normal.”

That really is, just in two sentences, pretty much a nutshell right now where the presidential process stands in this cycle. They’re trying to appear before the American people – especially in early decision states – looking like presidents. They’re trying to look in terms of how they speak, how they present themselves, even look on television – they’re trying to appeal to the American people saying, ‘I look like a president, I sound like a president.’ And yet on the other side you’ve got the sole Democratic candidate – that is former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – who isn’t saying ‘look how special I am,’ she’s saying ‘look how normal I am.’

Patrick Healy gets right to it when he talks about the Republicans trying to appear on the world stage as the masters of the issues and the masters of events. So that’s why Republicans – and he’s very insightful on this – are trying to outdo one another in looking like a statesman. They’re trying to outdo one another (and they will be in the months and weeks ahead) when it comes to policy proposals and the intricacies of government and statesmanship. Then on the other side you’ve got, just as Patrick Healy writes,

“Hillary Rodham Clinton, on her road trip to relatability, ordering a chicken burrito bowl at a Chipotle outside Toledo, Ohio.”

The very fact Healy wrote the sentence that way points to just how incongruous this is. About Clinton Healy wrote this,

“Mrs. Clinton also set out in a van for Iowa, making unannounced pit stops like an everyday American in hopes of impressing (and hopefully not freaking out) fellow travelers with her suddenly accessible self. It was not your typical American road trip: The Secret Service was driving, two aides sat where Bill and Chelsea might, and presumably no one asked, “Are we there yet?” or demanded to watch a Disney DVD.”

Healy then writes,

“The emergence of folksy Hillary and the ready-to-lead Republicans clearly signals the start of the Perception Primary, during which candidates seek to erase their deficits and persuade voters to see them differently.”

So from a Christian worldview perspective what are we looking at here? We’re looking at something that first of all reflects on ourselves as the American voter. We actually demand two things that you usually can’t have in one person. And that is someone who has experience and already has a legacy on the world stage, and someone that we feel like we can relate to as being just like us. There’s actually something healthy we also need to note in those contradictory American desires. There’s something healthy about wanting someone that we know was ready to sit the Oval Office. That’s not an irrational concern. But there’s s also something healthy about wanting – in our representative democracy – the one who sits as President of the United States to be like us, to have some connection to everyday life as we know it, to understand how Americans think, how Americans live.

But in the final analysis – and this we need to concede to ourselves, we need to be honest about this – we will almost assuredly trade off that normalcy for the sense of experience and capability that we actually know we need when that person sits in the Oval Office. By the time an individual’s running for President of the United States it’s unlikely that they actually will pass the legitimate test of being merely normal. That’s because by the time they have entered into the monomaniacal race that is required to run for President of the United States they have already decided to leave normal somewhere way in the past.

But the second thing we need to note – and Healy’s article is just spot on about this – is that it tells us that we are now in this so-called ‘perception primary.’ What we’re looking at right now is a primary about how we perceive the candidates. Not so much about actual positions, yet. Not so much about the big issues. Not even at this point just about the parties. But about the people. We’re watching candidacies and candidates take shape before our eyes in this perception primary. And remember the trying to make themselves look like what we want or what they think we want. That says something about the candidates, but it says something even deeper about us.

3) Disappearing established Church in Britain exposes its dependence on culture

Next, shifting to Great Britain, a very important article that appeared in the Guardian – that’s a liberal London newspaper which is often very interesting, and on issues of religion often very insightful. The article comes Andrew Brown who himself comes from the left. The title is this; “Faith No More: How the British are Losing Their Religion.” Now it’s one thing if this article been written by an evangelical Christian. It was not. It was written by someone from the Left. That’s what makes it even more interesting.

He writes,

“The British have lost faith in religion much faster and more completely than they have lost faith in God.”

He goes to a recent Win/Gallup poll in Great Britain that found that Britain appeared as one of the most irreligious countries on earth, with only 30% calling themselves in any way religious. But he says on the other hand only 13% said they are atheists. Compare that he says with the fact that 60% of those in China identify themselves as atheists. He says,

“It may be that the English, especially, regard atheism as a kind of religion, or at least a manifestation of an unhealthy interest in religious questions. But I think that the explanation is more complex. British Christianity is in trouble because Britain itself is disappearing.”

Now the Guardian itself has been talking about this for some time. Running a series of articles about the fact that Britain as a nation and a culture is basically disappearing in the span of a single generation. But it appears to be even more acute when it comes to England’s state church, established church, that is the Church of England. The Church of England is disappearing even faster than the rest of British culture. Churchgoing rates when it comes to Church of England parishes are now so low that many are having to be sold. They’re being turned into bars and hotels and even mosques.

But what we’re looking at in the disappearance of the Church of England, Andrew Brown says, is the fact that there are actually two forms of religion. He’s onto something here. There are two forms of so-called Christianity. He writes this,

“Immigrant religion is still thriving here, whether it is Christian or Muslim. But that is because it has an entirely different relationship to the surrounding culture. Religion comes in at least two sorts: cultural and counter-cultural. The second kind is all about belief. People who are religious in a counter-cultural way know what they believe, and could argue it out with people who disagree. This kind can be extremely strong, and it also draws strength from being in a minority. Someone whose beliefs, and still more clothes or habits cuts them off from wider society can often find their identity intensified and their belief more fervent as a result.”

That could almost come right out of the pages of the New Testament. But this was a written by a Christian, but by a secular observer of Christianity. He is exactly right. Christianity comes in two forms, we might say. The cultural and the countercultural. But from a theological perspective that means that Christianity really comes in one form; where Christianity is found in its biblical form it is always countercultural. Whether Andrew Brown realizes it or not he’s writing a severe indictment of the established church, writing about the fact that even as Britain is disappearing its established church is disappearing because if you have a state church – if you have an established church – it will never be stronger than the state, and may often be even weaker than the state. And that’s exactly the case when it comes to the Church of England.

But the main point in raising this article by Andrew Brown is to point out that he understands that when you have the difference between counter-cultural religion and cultural religion the big difference is that countercultural religion is based in belief. That explains why someone would take the risk and pay the cost of living in a countercultural way. The counterculture requires an explanation. And that is something again the comes right out in the New Testament. It comes right out of 1 Peter where Peter writes to the church he describes as being dispersed as resident aliens and says ‘let your behavior before the world be such that they have to ask a question asking ‘“why would people live that way?”’ And that’s exactly what Andrew Brown is talking about. He’s talking not only by Christianity in this sense, but he’s also talking about Islam and Orthodox Judaism. He says where you find the most fervent theological beliefs you find the resources to live in a countercultural mode. But in contrast, he says, where you find acculturated religion you find very little belief and eventually no belief at all. That explains – and it’s so interesting this is coming from the secular left – that explains he says, why the Church of England is disappearing even faster than Britain (which is itself as a culture disappearing).

Speaking about the secularization of British culture Andrew Brown writes,

“For the past two or three hundred years, at least since the civil war [he means the English Civil War], most British Christianity has been like that. Then, in the last 50 years, it fell off a cliff. In the last 30 years alone attendance at mainstream churches has just about halved. The way this has happened is also important: adults did not stop going to church, but they failed to transmit the habit to their children and now they are dying out. The culture has changed and the Christianity which was so deeply rooted in the old culture has had its roots torn up.”

So Christianity that makes itself comfortable in the culture – and we have to recognize that evangelical Christianity in America has done just that – now finds itself stretched when it has to choose between cultural acceptance and being in a countercultural mode. But the point by Andrew Brown that is of utmost importance is this; where you find a people who are willing to live against the opposition of the culture something has to explain that willingness. Something has to explain that willingness to pay the cost. And as he understands, that requires a robust theology. Acculturated Christianity doesn’t require any theology at all. Eventually doesn’t have much. But a countercultural Christianity – it requires a robust set of beliefs. A robust understanding of doctrine. A robust theology. A robust understanding of the authority of Scripture. A robust understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But then I will end exactly where Andrew Brown ends when he asked the question if the Church of England can recover itself. He says,

“The idea that it could somehow reinvent itself as a religion for outsiders and the marginal may be profoundly Christian, but it is sociologically incredible. The God that the English still more or less believe in is less and less likely to be found in churches, or at least in church services.”

The point for all of us as Christians is this; we may indeed lose our churches as England may lose its established church. But mark this: long before we lost the church we will have lost the faith.


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’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.


Podcast Transcript

1) Rubio’s openness to attend gay wedding result of mixing approval of people with ceremonies 

Marco Rubio: I’d attend a gay wedding, Politico (Nick Gass)

2) Perception politics of primary reveal Americans unsettled in values for candidate

In Perception Primary, It’s Folksy Hillary Clinton vs. Statesmen-Looking Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, New York Times (Patrick Healy)

3) Disappearing established Church in Britain exposes its dependence on culture

Faith no more: how the British are losing their religion, The Guardian (Andrew Brown)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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