The Briefing 05-26-15

The Briefing 05-26-15

The Briefing


May 26, 2015

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


It’s Tuesday, May 26, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Irish landslide for gay marriage shows breakdown of cultural shaping power of Catholicism

There have been several important headlines of the last several days; the most important comes from Ireland where the nation of Ireland became the very first on the planet to legalize same-sex marriage by vote. In this case by a vote of the people, by a referendum. As the Associated Press reported,

“Ireland’s citizens have voted in a landslide to legalize gay marriage,”

and what we’re looking at here is – as the Associated Press reported – “a stunningly lopsided result that illustrates what Catholic leaders and rights activists alike called a ‘social revolution.’”

Indeed it is, of course, a social revolution and behind that it is more fundamentally a worldview and a moral revolution. Looking at the way the Economist reported from London, as they said,

“The sizeable majority reflects a dramatic shift in public attitudes in Ireland, a socially conservative country where 84% of the population regard themselves as Catholic.”

Now one of the interesting aspects of all this is that there is a theological dynamic that simply has to be noted here. For instance, you have a distinction between Catholicism in Ireland and Catholicism in the United States. Irish Catholics have higher rates of attending church than do Catholics in United States by statistics, and one of the most interesting things about Ireland is how much lower the divorce rate there is among practicing Roman Catholics. The very heavy Catholic influence in Ireland has been a fundamental fact of its moral and social existence. So much so that Ireland decriminalized homosexuality only in 1993, and only under pressure of other European nations and the European Human Rights Court. Ireland still has very restrictive divorce laws and very restrictive abortion laws. And so in this case, the legalization of same-sex marriage is something of an outlier or – as at least some in Ireland are beginning to argue – it is an indicator of other votes yet to come. Of larger moral change that is taking place of which the legalization of same-sex marriage is only a leading indicator.

Well, time will tell on that, but right now there are some very interesting theological issues at stake. In the first place there is that distinction that marks Irish Catholicism from over against American Catholicism just in terms of the fact that American Catholic don’t go to churches much of the Irish, and at the same time American Catholics indicate a greater propensity to break with the teachings of their church on issues like divorce. But now it’s Roman Catholics in Ireland – one of the most traditionalist Roman Catholic cultures in the world – that has reversed the influence of the church in that area and its official opposition to same-sex marriage, voting in what is rightly described as a landslide last Friday to legalize same-sex marriage.

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said that when the most interesting aspects to him was the loss of the grip of the Roman Catholic Church not only on the nation of Ireland but in particular on the young. Before looking to Archbishop’s comments it will be important to note just how overwhelming the vote was: younger Irish citizens voted by the rate of 71% for the legalization of same-sex marriage. Speaking of those very young people the Archbishop said,

“I ask myself, most of these young people who voted yes are products of our Catholic school system for 12 years. I’m saying there’s a big challenge there to see how we get across the message of the church.”

Now let me just state the obvious here in terms of the lesson for evangelical Christians. By the time you hold a referendum like this and 71% of the young people, most of whom – the vast majority of whom, accorded the Archbishop – attended Roman Catholic schools then you have already lost. The challenge the Archbishop identified saying “there’s a big challenge there to see how we get across the message of the church,” the big lesson here is the failure of the church to get across that message at least in a convincing way. Now one of the most interesting and important things for evangelicals the ponder at this point is the question as to just what kind of argument these young people in Ireland had even as they were Catholics attending Catholic schools when it came to the institution of marriage as a biblical ideal, and also is it comes to same-sex marriage as a challenge to that ideal – a notion that according to the logic of Scripture is absolutely impossible, that is a same-sex marriage.

The Roman Catholic Church in Ireland faced other major realities as well, including the fact that many of the church’s own priests and nuns broke with the official teaching of the church and with the instruction of their bishops, and publicly supported the legalization of same-sex marriage. Looking at this merely from the political and not from a theological perspective, the Economist of London said,

“The lesson political parties will draw from the referendum campaign is that young people will turn out to vote if an issue captures their interest.”

Well we can also say, looking at the same data, that one of the most important things we can face is that if young people do not have a strong moral and biblical – indeed, a theological – argument against the legalization of same-sex marriage, they’re almost assuredly going to be for it. Which is to state it otherwise, if they are not committed to a biblical notion of marriage because they believe that it is biblical and because they believe the Bible is the word of God, then we cannot expect that they will be able to resist the tidal pressure of the culture around us when it comes to redefining marriage. And we should note, not just on these terms.

Another very important theological dimension of this the story was made clear by Mark Silk, a columnist now for Religion News Service. He wrote,

“The stunning vote of the Irish to legalize same-sex marriage will be taken as one more indication… of the collapse of the Catholic Church in a country where it once bestrode the sod like a colossus.”

That’s poetic, but it’s also quite accurate. Silk went on to point out that even though Ireland is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic by the identification of its citizens, and even as it’s a country where a higher proportion of Catholics go to mass than in United States, even there every Irish political party, he says, supported the referendum. And the citizens of Ireland voted in favor by a 62-38 margin. He then asked the leading question: What gives? It’s his answer to his own question that is really important. He writes,

“What gives, in part, is that Catholicism, understood as a religious culture rather than as a set of official doctrines, is far more amenable to same-sex marriage than is generally thought. Unlike Protestantism, it never valorized the nuclear family as the church in miniature. Catholics have, by contrast, exercised their analogical imaginations in understanding nuns as married to Jesus and bishops to their dioceses. Priests are fathers; abbeys are governed by mother superiors; monks are brothers; nuns are sisters. In Catholicism, there have always been different kinds of holy families that love makes — and so, why not add one more? It’s no accident that Catholics in the U.S. — white, Hispanic, and otherwise — support same-sex marriage at the same rate as the Irish voted.”

There’s a lot of theological insight in Mark Silk’s article. It will be very interesting to see how Catholics respond to Silk’s proposals. But what’s really interesting at the most fundamental level here is not just the continuing distinction on so many issues between evangelicals and Roman Catholics, but rather the fact that here you have Mark Silk talking about Catholicism – let me just use his words,

“understood as a religious culture rather than as a set of official doctrines.”

Now that raises a very important issue. It is possible – indeed most of us know this almost firsthand –  it is possible for many Catholics to live in a Catholic culture that is not bound to Catholic moral teachings or to larger Catholic theological and doctrinal teachings at all. One of the most interesting aspects of Catholicism throughout the centuries is that it can and often does exist as what Mark Silk calls here a religious culture rather than as a set of official doctrines. Now, the culture shaping power of Catholicism is legendary. Just look at Ireland.

But the breakdown of that culture shaping authority is now also going to be legendary; just look at Ireland.

But there are two big issues here for evangelical Christians. The first is this: evangelicalism simply can’t exist not even sociologically as a religious culture rather than as a set of official documents. Evangelicalism is more than doctrines, but it can never be less than doctrines. And fundamentally, that’s not just unique to evangelicalism, but is specific to evangelicalism because of our claims to a continuing theological identity with the Reformation which by its very essence was an argument that Christianity cannot exist as a religious culture without not only a set of official doctrines, but the right set of official doctrines. The second thing to see from this is a point that I’ve made over and over again and one to which will return many times, no doubt. And that is this: what marks evangelical Christianity a part in terms of our understanding of marriage is the authority for coming to that determination. It is in essence a biblical authority. And that is what’s going to set evangelicals apart even from those who are especially more cultural Catholics when it comes to the issue of marriage. It is because culture can evolve. But the Scripture doesn’t change. There are so many lessons coming in from the Irish referendum – of course there is a lesson about the young. And if we do not start with the young people in our own homes and in our own churches, we can’t possibly hope to have any larger influence on the young people outside of our homes and outside of our churches. That affirms once again the importance of teaching our own children, teenagers, and young adults the faith once for all delivered to the saints on a biblical authority. And giving those young people arguments and reasons whereby they can defend their claim to Christian truth.

The other thing we have to understand is that if our definition of marriage and our understanding of what marriage is and must be is drawn from anything other than Scripture, and if we understand Scripture to be anything other than the word of God, then we will not hold to this definition of marriage for long. The secularization of the culture around us explains why the culture in the United States and in so much of northern Europe is following a predictable pattern, losing its grip on the biblical definition of marriage because long before that it lost its confidence in the authority of Scripture as the word of God.

Finally as we leave this particular story and we leave Ireland there’s another irony in all of this. You would think by the headlines that Ireland is joining the vast majority of nations in legalizing same-sex marriage. Actually it becomes the very first to do so by referendum, and even in Europe it joins only about a dozen other countries. If you look at the total number of countries on earth, and you consider how many of them of legalize same-sex marriage it is a very tiny minority. But even if these countries represent a very small minority of all the nations on earth, they are a very influential minority.

And that is a parallel situation to the cultural and intellectual elites in the United States. They are also a small minority of Americans. But they are completely outsized in terms of their influence, dominating in the media, in the news, in entertainment, in politics in academia. That culture shaping class has determined that the normalization of homosexuality and the legalization of same-sex marriage simply must happen, and must happen fast. And they’re willing to use almost any form of coercion to make that happen.

2) Boy Scouts leaders urges capitulation to call for gay leaders to preserve national presence 

The most recent sign of this kind of capitulation came in a headline that also appeared over the weekend. As the New York Times reported “Scouts Head Calls for End to Ban on Gay Leaders.” Erik Eckholm reporting for the Times tells us the Robert M. Gates, the president of the Boy Scouts of America and former Secretary of Defense called to end the Boy Scouts’ blanket ban on gay adult leaders, warning the group’s executives that “we must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be.”

You’ll recall that up until 2013 the Boy Scouts of America did not allow for the involvement of openly homosexual boys or Scouting leaders. That changed in 2013 when the Boy Scouts of America at the national level rejected what the group acknowledged was the majority position expected by parents in the organization, and opened Boy Scouts to the involvement of gay Scouts. But they said they would not open Scouting to the involvement of gay leaders.

Now I pointed out at the time that that was not a sustainable, that was not a justifiable position. It was a halfway position that was on the way to exactly what Robert Gates called for last week. And Robert Gates had already indicated this because when he became head of the Boy Scouts of America, the former head of the CIA and the former Defense Secretary had said that he thought this compromise position was not sustainable, and that eventually the Boy Scouts would have to be open to the involvement of gay Scouting leaders. This is a really, really important story. And I say that as a former Boy Scout and one who is highly valued the Scouting program.

Over the course of the last couple of years we’ve had to return again and again to the Boy Scouts because they have put themselves in the headlines over this issue. Up until 2013 the Boy Scouts held to a principled membership criterion. They said that they had a moral objection to homosexuality involving Scouts or Scouting leaders. They also said in 2012 through their own spokespeople that the vast majority of the parents of Scouts expected them to maintain that policy. And yet just six months after announcing in 2012 that they would not review the policy, they reversed course and not only reviewed the policy but changed it. They changed it to that compromise position saying that they would allow for the active involvement of openly gay Scouts but not of openly gay Scouting leaders.

Even in the months immediately following that compromise the fractures were already apparent. Some Scouting organizations in California openly defied the ban on gay . And similarly just a matter of weeks ago Boy Scouts in New York announced that they had hired an openly gay young man to work as a counselor at a Scouting camp.

We need to pay particular he just how Robert Gates brain to this argument as he reported to the annual meeting of the Boy Scouts, this time meeting in Atlanta. He said (according to Eckholm) that,

“cascading events — including potential employment discrimination lawsuits and the impending Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage, as well as mounting internal dissent over the exclusionary policy — had led him to conclude that the current rules “cannot be sustained.”

If the Boy Scouts don’t change on their own, he said the courts are likely to force them to do so, and “we must understand that this will probably happen sooner rather than later.”

Reading from the text of his statement that was released by the Boy Scouts of America, Gates said,

Nor can we ignore the social, political and juridicial changes taking place in our country – changes taking place at a pace over this past year no one anticipated.”

Well that can only be partly true because Robert Gates himself indicated that these changes were coming. He said, “We can expect more councils to openly challenge the current policy.” He’s speaking of the councils within the Boy Scouts of America, in other words of that internal dissent or mutiny in the ranks that the group is experienced over the last year. He said,

“We have the authority to revoke their charters, such an action would deny the lifelong benefits of Scouting to hundreds of thousands of boys and young men today and vastly more in the future. I will not take that path.”

Now what we need to note is that the former Secretary of Defense has set up a situation now as head of the Boy Scouts in which he will apparently capitulate to virtually anything in order to preserve the Boy Scouts of America as a national organization. He actually made that point over and over again. Later in his address he stated as his goal to preserve the Boy Scouts of America “now and forever.” He then stated, “I truly fear the any other alternative will be the end of us as a national movement.”

Well, evidently that is his now singular and solitary goal: to preserve the Boy Scouts of America as a national movement. And is a former Boy Scout I can simply point out the what’s going to change is what the Boy Scouts are and always have been, regardless of what continues under that name as a national movement.

In a very strange and seemingly inconsistent portion of his address Robert Gates said that religious organizations that sponsor about 70% of all local Scouting units should be able to continue to establish their own leadership criteria based upon what he referred to as their First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom. And yet what we’re looking at virtually every day is an undermining of that religious freedom. And what we’re also looking at is the abdication by the Boy Scouts of America of a principled membership criterion in which they will simply leave these religious organizations to fend for themselves. And even as Robert Gates indicated that the moves made by the Boy Scouts of America put them into different legal terrain in terms of challenges to their criteria especially when it comes to antidiscrimination law with employment, it’s really interesting that now Robert Gates wants to tell these religious organizations that they can continue to establish membership criteria that I don’t believe he really believes will be continued for any real duration.

Caught in the crossfire now will be any religious organization that intends to sponsor a Boy Scout unit and to define marriage and it sexual understanding for leaders – not just for Scouts – in any terms other than that the demanded by the prevailing culture. Robert Gates and so many others, including the editors of the New York Times, pointed out that the policy adopted in 2012 was an unsustainable compromise. And we simply have to point out now that the policy proposed by Robert Gates is also unsustainable and inherently contradictory. Anyone looking at the situation from the side of gay activists will understand that the Boy Scouts of America will accomplish very little if it states that it’s going to change its national policy while allowing 70% of the local Scout units to continue to discriminate along these lines. Gay rights activists are already indicating they will not be satisfied with that policy.

The looming issue for America – not just for the Boy Scouts of America – is whether or not any organization like the Boy Scouts can even continue to exist. Not just as a national movement, but even as an idea. In this age of rampant gender confusion even to call an organization the Boy Scouts of America invites all kinds of challenges even to the wording of the organization’s name. And it was for that reason that the Girl Scouts of America found themselves also in recent days in much controversy over similar issues. But I have to close of the final word of warning to Secretary Gates. He stated to his organization, “we must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be.” Those a very interesting words. But if he is successful in allowing the participation of openly gay Scouting leaders in the Boy Scouts of America, it will be true that the Boy Scouts organization that he has left will be an organization that is as it is, not as he might want it to be.

What does it gain for an organization to preserve its stature as a national organization if it no longer has moral credibility in the views of Scouts, and the parents of those very Scouts.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to 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) Irish landslide for gay marriage shows breakdown of cultural shaping power of Catholicism

Ireland approves gay marriage, talks about a revolution, Associated Press (Shawn Pogatchnik)

Landslide, The Economist

Same-sex marriage: Catholic church needs reality check, says Dublin archbishop, The Guardian

Irish Catholicism supports same-sex marriage!, Religion News Service (Mark Silk)

2) Boy Scouts leaders urges capitulation to call for gay leaders to preserve national presence 

Boy Scouts’ President Calls for End to Ban on Gay Leaders, New York Times (Erik Eckholm)

National Annual Business Meeting Remarks, Boy Scouts of America (Robert Gates)

The Boy Scouts Fall Short, New York Times (Editorial Board)

Limping Between Two Opinions: The Moral Evacuation of the Boy Scouts of America, (R. Albert Mohler)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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