The Briefing 08-05-15
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, August 5, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Support of same sex marriage within religious groups example of religious secularization
Here’s a new stories in the New York Times in recent days, “Push within Faiths for Same-Sex Marriage gets Little Attention.” Well, that’s a very debatable headline to say the very least. Several liberal Protestant denominations and much of institutional Judaism has been cheerleading for the normalization of homosexuality and the legalization of same-sex marriage for some time. But this article that appeared in the New York Times by Samuel G Freedman indicates that there are many in the secular media who are themselves ready to be cheerleaders for religious organizations, denominations, and churches that decide to move forward in joining the sexual revolution.
“From the moment the Supreme Court ruled last month in favor of a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, opponents placed the decision in a very specific analytical frame. Here, they contended, was an egregious example of secular culture triumphing over religious values and religious freedom.”
For instance, the national conference of Catholic Bishops described the Supreme Court decision as “profoundly immoral and unjust.” Meanwhile the Orthodox Union, identified as the national association of Orthodox Jewish congregations, declared its emphatic and unalterable religious opposition to same-sex marriage.
But Freedman goes on to say,
“Yet the discussion of secularism versus religion is incomplete. It ignores or elides the growing number of theologians and religious scholars in a range of faiths who, over a half-century, have been assembling and espousing scriptural arguments in favor of gay rights and ultimately marriage equality. The debate about same-sex marriage that has gotten too little attention is the intrareligious one.”
The juxtaposition that Freedman presents here is a secular worldview on the one hand and a religious worldview on the other. But the most important worldview insight for us is that it is entirely possible to have a secular religious worldview. That is in essence what liberal Protestantism and liberal Judaism are all about. They are largely secularized worldviews. All the major truth claims of Christianity or Judaism largely put into the background if not openly denied, and a rather humanistic, secularistic religious form is what remains.
That’s at the forefront of what Freedman here is talking about when he says the most interesting discussion or the one that’s being missed by the mainstream media is the discussion about homosexuality in a pro-homosexuality position from inside religious groups. He’s predominantly, if not exclusively, talking about the far left of those religious organizations and faiths. In particular, Christianity and Judaism.
The fact that you can have largely secularized forms of religious faith is something that is not only of interest to theologians, but also the sociologists. The greatest living sociologist of our time is almost undoubtedly Peter Berger. Now writing still in his 10th decade of life, having a long career – most recently at Boston University. Berger was one of the prophets of secularization. And back during the 1960s and 70s he was one who promulgated the theory that Western advanced societies would increasingly become secularized, which means they would become less religious. And yet he lived long enough to correct his theory – or least to revise it radically – suggesting that there was a third possibility he really hadn’t seen. And that was the fact that many of these religious groups can secularize from within.
Once again, to a theologian that’s no surprise. That’s liberal Protestantism. An organized effort to try to say the way to make peace with the culture is to let the culture set the terms. If the culture doesn’t accept the supernatural, does not except resurrection from the dead, doesn’t accept the fact that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man, doesn’t accept that he walked on water, doesn’t accept the was born of a virgin, then all those truth claims can on the one hand just be sublimated and unspoken, but even more emphatically they can be denied in order to meet secular acceptance. What that basically means is that these religions have become themselves secularized.
And the interesting thing about this article in the New York Times. It actually provides evidence of that very fact. Because the arguments that are being used in this article and the faith groups that are being represented are those that are precisely the most secularized versions of the religious traditions they claim to represent. Liberal Protestantism in the United States going back at least to the beginning of the 20th century was already ready to overthrow virtually every Christian truth claim and every issue related to the authority of Scripture. The same thing is largely true in a parallel form in terms of the more liberal variance of American Judaism. And at this point that represents the majority of synagogues in the United States, if not the growth trend in Judaism itself (which is by the way heavily concentrated amongst the most Orthodox). Also indicated in Freedman’s article is a concerted effort to try to push the sexual revolution amongst those who believe themselves to be religious. Cited in the article is Rabbi Margaret Moers Wenig, identified as instructor in liturgy and homiletics at Hebrew Union College in New York. She made this argument,
“Religious arguments in support of or against marriage equality matter to those for whom religious language is the language we use to examine, articulate and pass on our values,”
That’s a rather interesting sentence, because in it you have this professor suggesting that for those whose worldview takes religion seriously, religious objections to homosexuality are going to have to be overcome in order for the larger worldview to change. From a Christian worldview perspective that’s a very interesting affirmation of the fact that theology matters, even for people who don’t think themselves theological.
In terms of news on this front, the Episcopal Church in the United States has been one of the most liberal on the issue of homosexuality and same-sex marriage for some time. But as the Associated Press reported, it was during this summer that Episcopalians and the church’s general convention in Salt Lake City voted to allow religious weddings for same-sex couples, solidifying the church’s embrace of gay rights.
As the Associated Press reported,
“The vote eliminates gender-specific language from church laws on marriage so that same-sex couples could have religious weddings. Instead of "husband" and "wife," for example, the new church law will refer to "the couple." Under the new rules”
says the Associated Press, the clergy are not obligated or required to perform same-sex weddings, but they are fully authorized to do so and now have authorized language to use in the ceremony. Very revealing is the last sentence in the Associated Press report. It reads like this;
“On the eve of Wednesday's vote, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, spiritual leader of the world's Anglicans, issued a statement expressing deep concern about the move to change the definition of marriage.”
Now just to remind ourselves, the Archbishop of Canterbury is the spiritual leader of what’s called the Anglican Communion. Its most historic church is the Church of England over which he is the primate. He has a spiritual influence over the other Anglican churches that are basically defined by their national identity. The Episcopal Church in the United States is the most historic of those churches. But now we had the Archbishop of Canterbury “expressing deep concern” about the Episcopal Church’s vote.
A point we need to make your emphatically is that when you’re facing a theological and moral challenge of this magnitude expressing something like ‘deep concern’ is hardly an adequate response. Nor did it have any impact on the Episcopal Church’s deliberation. The spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion didn’t appear to have much spiritual leadership when it came to the deliberation of the Episcopal Church.
And evidence of that comes in the very magazine of the denomination, which reported,
“The Archbishop of Canterbury [on June 30] expressed deep concern about the stress for the Anglican Communion following the US Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops’ resolution to change the definition of marriage in the canons so that any reference to marriage as between a man and a woman is removed.”
That according to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s website. The Archbishop went on to say,
“While recognising the prerogative of the Episcopal Church to address issues appropriate to its own context, Archbishop Justin Welby said that its decision will cause distress for some and have ramifications for the Anglican Communion as a whole, as well as for its ecumenical and interfaith relationships.”
The next sentence of the magazine’s report coming officially from the Episcopal Church records these words,
“The Archbishop’s concerns had no clear effect on the House of Deputies.”
The point to make here for all of us and for every church and denomination is that when you’re facing something like a complete theological and moral rebellion on the issue of sexuality of marriage, and in particular here of homosexuality, it is hardly a fitting response to speak of ‘deep concern’ and ‘possible distress’ and ‘potential ramifications.’ That is a recipe for disaster. It’s also recipe for being completely ignored, which is as the magazine of the Episcopal Church said what the Archbishop of Canterbury was when he tried to respond with a warning using that very mild language.
The ultimate importance of this issue is made clear in an article that appeared in the magazine The Week written by W. James Antle III. He wrote “I’m worried that my church will cease to exist altogether, or at least in its present form.” He was speaking of the United Methodist Church and he was speaking about this very issue. Writing about his own church, the United Methodist Church, he writes,
“The United Methodist Church is the largest mainline Protestant denomination in America. Following decades of steep membership losses across all these historic churches, that's kind of like being the tallest building in Topeka.”
He also writes,
“Almost alone among mainline Protestant churches, the United Methodists have remained committed to orthodox Christian standards of sexual morality. Clergy must be celibate when single and monogamous in marriage, which is defined as the union of a man and a woman. Methodist pastors are not permitted to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.”
Well, so good so far, Mr. Antle is exactly right that this is the discipline and the law of the United Methodist Church. What he acknowledges shortly, however, is the fact that many United Methodist clergy are defying this law – they are performing same-sex ceremonies and they are in many cases getting away with it. The church law is simply not being upheld. In some cases bishops are deciding not to enforce the law of the church, and in others church juries have found for the pastor, alleviating him of any responsibility for having violated the law and discipline of the church. Antle acknowledges that even more likely to happen after the Supreme Court vote.
“While Methodist bishops have emphasized that the Supreme Court ruling doesn't alter the denomination's position on marriage, dissenters will have more opportunities to violate church law now that same-sex marriage is permitted in all 50 states. The end result could break up the United Methodist Church.”
Then he goes on, however, basically to blame those he calls ‘traditionalists’ or ‘conservatives’ in the United Methodist Church for being the great threat to breaking up the denomination. It’s a very interesting argument. But one of the things we need to note is that for a long time there’s been an effort amongst conservatives in the United Methodist Church to recall their denomination from theological liberalism. And this has not been without some successes. The United Methodist Church is indeed virtually alone among the mainline Protestant denominations in not affirming same-sex marriage. But the question is for how long. And the point being made by conservatives inside United Methodist Church is that it really doesn’t matter what the church discipline says if that discipline is not upheld. What they are now threatening to do is to leave – many of them at least – if the church will not live up to its affirmations of doctrine and discipline.
In a really interesting paragraph Antle writes,
“As a defender of the current Book of Discipline who is nevertheless tired of the constant debate over homosexuality in the church, I understand the desire for a split. But traditionalists stayed in the United Methodist Church after its seminaries went liberal, and after ordained clergy and even bishops expressed skepticism about the virgin birth and the divinity of Christ.”
That statement leads to a very important insight, and that is this: if indeed the denomination has embraced theological liberalism to the extent of allowing the denial the virgin birth and the effective denial of the inerrancy and authority of Scripture, what possible ground of recovery could there be?
But the most important insight to be gained from this article is the observation that when it comes to an issue of this theological importance – when it comes to an issue in which you have many clergy defying the doctrine and discipline of their church - it is the conservatives, the traditionalists, committed to upholding the faith once for all delivered to the saints, upholding the doctrine and discipline of their church - they find themselves being accused of being schismatic and divisive for upholding the faith. That tells us a great deal about where we stand in an increasingly post-Christian America.
Rising support for polygamy reveals there is no end to tampering with marriage once begun
Shifting to the issue not only of same-sex marriage, but of polygamy, there been recent articles indicating what many of us have seen for a long time. And that is that the legalization of same-sex marriage can’t possibly stop with the legalization of same-sex marriage. For example, writing in the New York Times an opinion piece was Professor William Baude. He teaches law at the University of Chicago. The open question raised by his opinion piece published above the fold in the New York Times: “Is Polygamy Next?”
“Now that the dust is settling from the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which recognized a right to same-sex marriage, there are new questions. In particular, could the decision presage a constitutional right to plural marriage? If there is no magic power in opposite sexes when it comes to marriage, is there any magic power in the number two?”
Baude then cites the fact that the Chief Justice of the United States, John G. Roberts, Jr. raised that very question, using essentially that very language in his dissent in the Obergefell case. As he writes,
“[Chief Justice Robert’s] question, intending to show how radical the majority’s decision could become. But the issue was hard to discuss candidly while same-sex marriage was still pending, because both sides knew that association with plural marriage, a more unpopular cause, could have stymied progress for gay rights.”
Now, once again there’s a very interesting thing we need to observe here. In the immediate aftermath of the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage, two things happened. In the first place, those who would denied prior to the decision that there would be threats to religious liberty and there were be an inevitable collision between religious liberty and gay-rights before the decision was announced, in many cases after the decision said ‘oh, yes, by the way we acknowledge there are going to be such collisions.’ In the second place, just as Professor Baude says here, there were those who before the Supreme Court decision said, it’s ridiculous, it’s an illegitimate slippery slope argument to go from same-sex marriage to polygamy. Some of the same people in some of the same newspapers are now saying, well now wait a minute, maybe it will inevitably open the polygamy question.
In his dissenting opinion, by the way, the Chief Justice wrote this,
“Although the majority randomly inserts the adjective “two” in various places, it offers no reason at all why the two-person element of the core definition of marriage may be preserved while the man-woman element may not. Indeed, from the standpoint of history and tradition, a leap from opposite-sex marriage to same-sex marriage is much greater than one from a two-person union to plural unions, which have deep roots in some cultures around the world.”
To his credit, at least in terms of candor this is an argument that has been for many years openly made by Jonathan Turley who is the Shapiro professor of public interest law at George Washington University. He was the lead attorney in a case that overturned Utah’s law against plural marriage just back in 2013. There’s something really, really important embedded in Turley’s argument. In an article he wrote back when that decision was handed down, he wrote,
“It’s true that the Utah ruling is one of the latest examples of a national trend away from laws that impose a moral code. There is a difference, however, between the demise of morality laws and the demise of morality. This distinction appears to escape social conservatives nostalgic for a time when the government dictated whom you could live with or sleep with. But the rejection of moral codes is no more a rejection of morality than the rejection of speech codes is a rejection of free speech. Our morality laws are falling, and we are a better nation for it.”
Now, just to remind ourselves, it was about a decade ago that associate justice Antonin Scalia the Supreme Court said that what we’re witnessing in this country is the demise of all morals legislation. And that’s essentially what we see here. But the key line from Turley’s article is one of want to remind you of, when he said that social conservatives are nostalgic “for a time when the government dictated whom you could live with or sleep with.” So does that mean the Jonathan Turley, the defender of same-sex marriage and now the defender polygamy, is arguing that there should be no laws? Let me just cite his words again in which government would dictate “whom you could live with or sleep with”? Well, not hardly. He’s not even consistent in terms of his own argument. One of the things we need to note is that there never will be a time and then never will be a government in which the government does not state at least some laws and hold up some legal issues related to matters of sex, cohabitation, parentage, and all the rest.
After saying that it social conservatives who are nostalgic for a time when government might have some laws on the books related to sexual practices and relationships, in the same article he writes,
“Still rightly on the books are laws against bestiality, which involves an obvious lack of consent as well as manifest harm. Likewise, incest bans are based on claims of medical, not moral, harm.”
The main point to be gained from this is this: when you start to tamper with marriage, you will not stop tampering with marriage as a society. Once you unleash this kind of moral anarchy there will be no end to it. Right after stating in this very article that government should not be dictating terms when it comes to sexual relationships in sexual acts, even Jonathan Turley comes back and uses the phrase ‘still rightly on the books are laws against bestiality and incest.’
You’ll notice that he reduces everything here in terms of the laws that should remain on the books to the issue of sexual consent or to something that is related to medical (not moral) harm. Specifically, speaking thereof incest. But let’s just make the point bluntly, that is rooted in the fact that marriage would lead to procreation. But the very moral revolutionaries who’ve been arguing for same-sex marriage argue that procreation isn’t essential to marriage whatsoever. So even if there is some kind of medical argument to be used against two twenty-somethings getting married as siblings, what would the medical argument be against two 80-year-old siblings getting married? That’s just the absurdity of the moral revolution that Jonathan Turley here is championing, at least up to a point .
My point is this: you can’t champion this revolution only up to a point. That point is going to be moving. It’s going to be constantly moving. Right towards disaster.
So when the New York Times asked the question is polygamy next, the answer to that is almost assuredly yes. And then there will be a new next after the last next.
Cecile Richards denounces Planned Parenthood videos as depraved over privacy issues, not content
Finally, as controversy continues to spin around Planned Parenthood, and as the Center for Medical Progress released a fifth horrifying video yesterday having to do with Planned Parenthood’s involvement in the harvesting of organs and tissues from aborted babies, on Monday Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, gave an address at the organization’s headquarters in which she actually cited the founder of Planned Parenthood Margaret Sanger. Claiming her as a heroine, saying she was arrested 99 years ago for pamphleteering about birth control. What she doesn’t mention of course about Margaret Sanger is that Margaret Sanger was not only in favor of abortion, but she was also a eugenicist. She argued for abortions of those she saw as unfit to have children. It was an openly racist comment that you do not see Cecile Richards citing. But if you’re gonna cite Margaret Sanger and you’re gonna claim her as a heroine, then you’re going to have to take all of her. Because her worldview was a whole.
But the main point in terms of this article that appeared in the New York Times about Cecile Richards’ address is the fact that she used the word ‘depravity.’ Speaking of the Center for Medical Progress and its videos, she said,
“The depravity of these tactics and the invasion — the willingness of this group to invade the most personal, private space and to violate the medical relationships — I’ve never seen anything as low.”
If we’re going to consider the depth of the worldview divide in this country just over the issue of abortion and the sanctity of human life, just consider the fact that Cecile Richards defends the ripping apart of human infants in the womb and the sale of their tissues and organs, and yet of the videos and the group that produced them she uses the word depravity, going on to say “I’ve never seen anything as low.” So the president of Planned Parenthood sees depravity in very revealing videos. Not, we need to know in what the videos reveal: the murder of unborn human infants.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College just go to boycecollege.com.
I’m speaking to you from Nashville, TN, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.