May 6, 2015
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, May 6, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
1) Pressure for religious groups to conform to culture on sexuality opposes biblical fidelity
Before you can have a massive moral change in a society, you have to have a more fundamental change that comes first – that is a worldview change and, at its very base, that’s going to be a spiritual change. It’s going to be in its essence a theological change. The theological convictions that establish the plausibility structures of a society have to change before the definition of marriage can change, before the prevailing sexual morality can change.
We’ve been witnessing for the better part of the last five or six decades a sustained effort to transform America’s sexual morality – it didn’t begin with same-sex relations and it certainly didn’t begin with same-sex marriage. Those are the presenting issues now, but the larger sexual revolution that began in the 1960s was both a sign of, and a driver of, and was itself evidence of, the kind of fundamental spiritual change that had to come before. But on the other side of that moral revolution there has to be a theological argument that buttresses the revolution and helps to keep it in place, that helps to create in the minds of the public the plausibility structures that make the new moral revolution appear to be just the commonsensical morality.
So here’s a pattern that we need to watch. On the other side of this great sexual revolution, in particular on the other side of the normalization of same-sex relationships, and on the other side of the legalization of same-sex marriage, there is going to be intense pressure to reform theological conviction to match the new cultural reality. And the evidence of that comes in an unexpected place, and that is the editorial page of the New York Times. And it comes not from a theologian, at least not explicitly so, but from a law professor at Yale Law School. The law professor is William N. Eskridge Jr., he’s the author of the book “Dishonorable Passions: Sodomy Law in America, 1861-2003.” He has been one of the major legal theorist when it comes to the moral revolution around us, and we need to note that in the larger cultural conversation in which we are all a part we are facing not only moral issues, and legal arguments, we’re also facing theological arguments as well. Rarely in such an undisguised form as that found in this article that appeared just a few days ago in the New York Times.
Eskridge begins by looking back last week to the oral arguments before the Supreme Court in the same-sex marriage case and he says that the plaintiffs in that case were, in his words, committed gay couples who were seeking the right to marry and they had the opportunity to bring their case to the Supreme Court. And as they did so, various groups filed supporting arguments known as amicus briefs before the nation’s highest court. As he points out, those brief were offered by American corporations, by a good number of American law professors and other academics, by players in the NFL, and as he says, by a past chairman of the Republican national committee. But the real point of his article comes in the second paragraph when he writes,
“Religious groups are on their side, too. While several prominent religious organizations have filed briefs in opposition, leaders in the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the official organizations of conservative and reform Judaism, and more than 1,900 theologians signed a brief urging the court to legalize same-sex marriage.”
The importance of this article that appeared in the New York Times by a law professor at Yale is that you have in the larger culture, even on the other side of this moral revolution now progressing so far and at such velocity, the apparent and explicit need for them to make theological arguments. To put the matter bluntly, they need the church to get in line.
And their examples of churches that have gotten in line with the new moral revolution are, at least in part, the very churches that professor Eskridge notes: the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Episcopal Church, and the United Church of Christ. He also points to other religious groups that you would think would oppose same-sex marriage, at least if you’re looking at the names on the groups, including conservative Judaism. But the point to think about when it comes to conservative Judaism is that that is not Orthodox Judaism. The conservative Jewish movement is not theologically conservative in this sense. Reform Judaism is the most liberal of the organized major branches of Judaism, and it has been in support of the legalization of same-sex marriage and the normalization of homosexuality now for some time.
Writing as if all of this is a surprise, this law professor says,
“That’s not where religion is supposed to fall. American religion is, in the view of many, stubbornly wedded to traditional one man, one woman marriage and is at war with efforts to expand civil marriage.”
But his whole point here in this paragraph is that’s what you’re supposed to think is going on but he argues that’s not what really is going on. Instead he says there is a great theological revolution taking place and he’s pointing to the trajectory that American churches and synagogues and mosques, American religion in general, is going to get in line with this new moral revolution. He then writes,
“The faith traditions supporting marriage equality are telling the court that religions, like American families, are diverse. An increasing number of Bible-based faith communities have an inclusive attitude toward gay families and marriages.”
Now on what authority does a law professor at Yale, whose been a major legal theorist for the gay-rights movement, have – in arguing – that it is “Bible-based religions” or as he says here “bible-based faith communities” that are joining the revolution? Well let’s just say that that requires a radical redefinition of the phrase Bible-based.
When you look at the very organizations and denominations that William Eskridge cites, he’s pointing to those denominations that are decidedly not Bible-based in any sense of understanding the Bible as the revealed word of God. Rather they are Bible-based only in the sense that they claim some continuing allegiance to the stories and to the narrative of the Scriptures. And that’s exactly what we’re talking about on Monday in the article that appeared in the Washington Post on Christianity without Christ. Evidently you can also add Judaism without torah. At least without the torah understood as the revealed word of God.
Now we ought to pay attention when an article like this appears in the pages of America’s most influential newspaper, and we should also note the irony, indeed the oddity, of a law professor at Yale instructing us on theology when it comes even to the exegesis and interpretation of the New Testament. This is what he writes and I quote,
“In his teachings, Jesus emphasized love for one’s neighbor and tolerance for the many kinds of people in the world. Jesus instructed his followers, ‘Judge not, and you shall not be judged; condemn not, and you shall not be condemned.’ These are not lessons that ought to inspire disrespect for two women in a committed partnership who have four adopted children — two of whom have special needs — as one of the plaintiff couples in Obergefell v. Hodges do.”
My point, he says,
“…is not that the Bible must be read in a gay-friendly way; it is simply that the Bible is open to honest interpretations that refuse to condemn or that even embrace such families. I am doubtful that Scripture speaks with one voice about how to define civil marriage.”
Now those are some complicated sentences, but the bottom line in all of this is that here we have a law professor at Yale who has been a major theorist for the gay-rights movement instructing us about how we are to understand the teachings of Jesus. And yet, what’s even more important is that he feels that he needs to. And what’s equally important is that the New York Times felt that it was important to its cause to run this article. That really tells us something.
When we look closer at the argument he is going back to where Jesus says, ‘judge not and you shall not be judged,’ it is clear that Jesus is not telling his disciples not to make moral judgments. After all this is the very same Jesus who is revealed throughout the New Testament and especially for instance in a passage such as in the gospel of Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount in which he is teaching his disciples how to make moral judgments. He is making a very clear statement that we are in no position as sinners to condemn other sinners to damnation – that is God’s business. He is not telling his disciples that we are not to make moral judgments. And when it comes to the definition of marriage, Jesus was abundantly clear in the very same gospel, in the gospel of Matthew, he pointed out that through Moses God gave the definition of marriage in the law as a man and a woman and it was always intended to be so. Jesus, by the way, doesn’t root the authority for that definition of marriage in the law, but rather in creation as he says, ‘from the beginning.’
In a really interesting section of this law professors article he says,
“Assume that I am wrong and that the Bible unequivocally demands that marriage be defined as one man, one woman. Does that require people of faith to disrespect and exclude gay couples? No, it doesn’t. A recent example is telling.”
He then goes to the Bible’s very clear condemnation of adultery and to Jesus’ very clear condemnation of divorce. He then writes,
“A generation ago, many Christian churches followed these biblical admonitions and would not sanction what they viewed as ‘adulterous’ second marriages. Today, in large part because of the power of changing social norms, it is no longer common for most Protestant churches to refuse to marry a woman to a man who had divorced his previous wife. And few churches would exclude or disrespect a couple because either spouse had married before.”
Well is what he says true or false? Well to a considerable extent what he says there is true and we need to note exactly what he’s arguing. He’s arguing that America’s Protestant churches in the main joined the moral revolution when it comes to divorce, and in that sense evangelical Christians simply have to concede guilty as charged. Far too many American churches and denominations have done exactly what this law professor accuses us of doing, and that is accommodating morally to the divorce culture long before the issue of same-sex marriage or the normalization of same-sex relationships came along.
And yet before we draw a one-to-one correlation between that issue and the arrival of same-sex marriage, we need to recognize that even when it came to a marriage after a divorce, even when it came to a marriage after adultery, the Christian church never said that those marriages themselves cannot be a marriage – instead they said that those marriages are disordered marriages. That’s a fundamentally different argument, and that’s where the Christian church now, on biblical authority, cannot then look to same-sex couples and declares them to be married even in disordered marriages. That’s because if you have a biblical definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman, you can then understand that there are some marriages between a man and a woman that are disordered, according to Scripture. But they are not, by that definition, not married.
But when it comes to same-sex a couple, that is a fundamentally different argument. It’s also interesting here that when you have this law professor making this argument, he’s pointing mostly to liberal mainline Protestant denominations. He can’t say this about the Catholic Church because it has not changed its position on this, at least in terms of its doctrinal teaching, and he completely misconstrues the issue when he draws a one-to-one correlation between the kind of marriages he says that most Protestant denominations have come to accept and same-sex marriage. The acceptance of which he is clearly arguing will be in evitable by most churches. The argument he is making is that if we could fast forward in history just a few years, he suggest you will find most religious groups having come to terms with the moral revolution and with the legalization of same-sex marriage.
But we need to note two other paragraphs in the law professor’s article. In one he writes,
“Some congregations will double down, not only reaffirming their understanding of traditional marriage but denouncing gay people even more fervently. The First Amendment gives them the right to react this way.”
One thing we need to note there is that he is equating those who hold to a traditional biblical understanding of marriage and what he calls the denunciation of gay people. Now we need to remember that what’s being demanded is not just the legalization of same-sex marriage, but the celebration of same-sex relationships – that’s embedded in that paragraph. He then writes and I quote,
“But if all 50 states issue marriage licenses on an equal basis, more same-sex couples will choose to wed. Some religious communities will take this as an opportunity to reconsider their views of those committed unions, and quietly welcome these families into their houses of worship.”
He’s onto something in that paragraph and he points to the way that some churches and denominations will surrender on this issue without ever publicly declaring that they are doing so. They will just quietly make their piece with same-sex couples and except those in same-sex relationships into the fellowship of their churches and denominations without any kind of public statement.
The most important thing that those operating from a biblical worldview need to understand from this article is the very fact that it happened. And that it comes from a law professor at Yale University, a major legal theorist for the gay-rights movement, it isn’t even coming from someone who is a theologian or anyone from within the world of the mainline Protestant denominations and the more liberal groups that he’s describing here. His real target audience is the larger culture and what he’s saying is, ‘just wait, most religious groups will get in line and make their peace with this revolution.’
That raises a big issue for biblical Christians, is it going to be true? And this is where we have to understand that the cultural pressure will be enormous. We have to understand that the coercive power of the society around us will be pervasive, and we have to understand that there is only in the end one authority that will keep us from surrendering on this issue from advocating an understanding of marriage the Christian church is held for two millennia, and that is the authority of Scripture itself.
If the Bible is not the revealed word of God, then we can indeed join the revolution – and there is no fundamental reason why we would not. But if the Bible is the word of God, and if God defined marriage in the Bible as he does, then we have no choice but to obey and to receive that definition of marriage and to understand that we are not merely bound by biblical authority – as Martin Luther made very clear – it is biblical authority that liberates us to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ because it is on the authority of Scripture and Scripture alone that we even know what that gospel is.
Before leaving this issue, Daniel Burke at CNN has written another article; the headline is, Poll Shows Growing Religious Support For Same-Sex Marriage. This too doesn’t really come as a surprise. He writes for CNN,
“In 2003, when the Massachusetts Supreme Court became the country's first to legalize same-sex marriage, less than 30% of religiously affiliated Americans supported gays' and lesbians' right to wed.”
That’s back in 2003, let’s just remember that’s not ancient history, we’re talking about 12 years ago. He then says,
“By 2014, that number had climbed to 47%, according to a survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute. That's more than the 45% who said they opposed same-sex nuptials.”
The margin he says is small, but statistically significant. And he says that is true not only because the survey included such a large pool of respondents, but because of the generational pattern that it reveals. That generational pattern especially has to do with the fact that as you go younger in the American population the percentages in favor of the legalization of same-sex unions and the normalization of homosexual relationships go up tremendously – and they do so in a very clearly identifiable pattern.
So the argument being made now by many is that inevitable American religious organizations are going to join the revolution because the younger adherence of every one of these faith traditions, as they are called in the secular media, will force this to happen. Once again we have to ask the question, will that be true? Well obviously time will tell. But what will really be revealing here is what younger evangelical Christians believe about the Bible and about the nature and authority, the inspiration and inerrancy, of the Scripture. And we come back again and again to the fundamental bedrock issue and that is this: it is always the bedrock question of whether or not God has spoken in his word because if God has spoken in his word, then we have his revelation in the Scriptures, in the Bible, and we have the definition of marriage and God’s pattern for human sexuality.
And even though we can understand, and indeed sympathize, with the fact the younger evangelicals are under even greater pressure than many on the other side of the age divide, the issue always remains, and it will ever be so until Jesus comes. The issue is do we believe the Bible to be the word of God? If we do then we simply have no option of exchanging the Bible’s definition of marriage for any other.
2) Journalist notes traditional religious convictions are the new moral sin of American society
Finally, just a few days ago Charlotte Allen wrote the houses of worship article for the Wall Street Journal and it has a very interesting headline all to its own: Modern Sin: Holding Onto Your Beliefs. She writes that the way to sin, in terms of contemporary postmodern American culture, is to hold onto religious convictions – at least any religious convictions that are tied to what the Christian church has taught for 2000 years and what is revealed in Scripture.
She writes about the moral revolution particularly on the issue of same-sex marriage, and she points out how the argument on the other side has changed just in the last several years – in the span of far less than a decade. She writes,
“The irony is that only a few years ago, when the legalization of same-sex marriage didn’t appear so inevitable, gay-marriage advocates eagerly assured a skeptical public that scenarios like those above would never happen. Typical was since-retired California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald M. George, who wrote in the 2008 decision legalizing gay marriage in that state: ‘Affording same-sex couples the opportunity to obtain the designation of marriage will not impinge upon the religious freedom of any religious organization, official, or any other person.’”
Well as Charlotte Allen says, that’s already happening contradicting what was promised just back in 2008. She then writes,
“The victors have dropped their conciliatory stance. Bubonic plague-level hysteria surged through the media, academia and mega-corporate America in March after Indiana passed a law—modeled on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993—that would enable religious believers to opt out of universally applicable laws under some circumstances.”
She points out that in the face of enormous cultural pressure the law was changed by the Indiana legislature at the request of the Indiana Governor. But she points out that when we look at the oral arguments that took place just last week – and you’ll recall that in that exchange just last week you had justice Samuel Alito ask the solicitor general the United States, if religious institutions opposing same-sex marriage might lose their tax exemption, and the solicitor general conceded it will be a question. She then writes,
“…in today’s mood of vengeful triumphalism among the progressive elites who rule public opinion, don’t count on many compromises.”
That’s a very important expression. Charlotte Allen has stated the situation exactly right, she’s done so with crystal clarity. She writes about what she calls the vengeful triumphalism now amongst the moral and intellectual elites, and she says if you just look at the concession made by the solicitor general of the United States in the Supreme Court chambers last week you will see that triumphalism. And when you look at the national media, such as the article I just cited earlier in The Briefing by the law professor at Yale, William Eskridge, you notice that same triumphalism. She says, and let me just repeat her words,
“…in today’s mood of vengeful triumphalism among the progressive elites who rule public opinion,”
Her final words are haunting,
“…don’t count on many compromises.”
As we have to say so often, we cannot say we were not warned.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For more information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College just go to boycecollege.com.
I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.