The Briefing 01-15-16
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday, January 15, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Anglican Communion sanctions Episcopal Church on homosexuality, reaffirms biblical marriage
Rather stunning news came late yesterday out of Canterbury in England where the Primates of the Anglican Communion have been meeting. Those are the heads of the various national churches that are represented within the Anglican world, those churches that are related historically to the Church of England. It was the head of the Church of England, that is the spiritual head Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who called the meeting in a spirit of urgency, knowing that the Anglican Communion has been at the point of breaking up now for over a decade over the issue of biblical authority, the historic faith of the church, and the explosive fuse on the bomb—and that is the issue of homosexuality. But the big news that came yesterday was truly unexpected; as a matter of fact it was not to be announced until the Archbishop of Canterbury held a press conference in Canterbury later today. But news this big was very difficult to conceal, and it broke out late yesterday, so much so that the Archbishop of Canterbury decided to release the full statement of what the Primates had adopted, in his words, “unanimously.”
The bottom line is that conservative primates at the meeting succeeded in censuring the Episcopal Church USA for its liberal position on a host of issues, but most particularly the whole array of LGBT issues and the church. As the Church Times reported, and its the official newspaper of the church of England, reporter Paul Handley wrote,
“The Episcopal Church in the United States is to spend three years out in the cold because of its support for same-sex marriage.
“In a surprise move, a statement was posted on the Primates’ website at 5.30 p.m. on Thursday, a day before the planned press conference, in order to counter speculation that had begun to circulate during the afternoon.”
As Handley reports,
“The statement speaks simultaneously of walking together, and of a ‘significant distance’ between some of the provinces. No mention is made of the walk-out by Uganda.”
Now hold onto that for just a moment. The press release that came out yesterday from the Church of England says that the Anglican Communion has avoided breaking up over these issues by taking a stance of judgment on the Episcopal Church U.S. Now let’s keep in mind that it was way back in 2003 that the American Episcopal Church defied the authority of Scripture and the authority of church teaching in order to consecrate the first openly gay bishop. In just the last several months, the Episcopal Church USA, often known as “ECUSA” for short, completed its task of revising its canon laws to allow for same-sex marriage, and for the ordination of openly gay and openly gay married priests. As the Church Times reported,
“The US Church is censured because of its departure from the traditional teaching on marriage, the statement says, and because it acted unilaterally despite various commitments by the Primates to mutual accountability.”
“As a consequence,” he writes, “the Episcopal Church is required, for the next three years, to withdraw from ecumenical and interfaith talks where it represents the Communion; members cannot be elected to the Communion’s standing committee; and, although it can be represented on the “internal bodies of the Anglican Communion” — essentially the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) and possibly at a future Primates’ Meeting — it “will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.”
Now as the Primates are meeting we need to keep in mind that this is not what was expected. But we also need to look beyond the headlines and we need to look at the statement itself. The actual statement that was released by the Anglican Communion says that the heads of these churches had decided unanimously “to walk together.” That’s the language that’s used,
“…to walk together.”
Now remember that the Bible asks the straightforward question, how two can walk together unless they be agreed? The statement, as Handley indicates, also recognized a significant distance between the churches on issues of very deep and basic conviction. It’s hard to get more basic than issues of biblical authority and the integrity of the gospel. But what we do need to recognize is that at this point it is the Episcopal Church U.S. that has been officially designated by the Anglican Communion as being out of bounds. That’s not insignificant, and it wasn’t expected. We need to take note that this is a very strongly worded statement, at least in this respect—the statement that was reported to have been adopted unanimously states,
“The traditional doctrine of the church in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds marriage as between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union. The majority of those gathered reaffirm this teaching.”
Now a closer look at the actual press release that came out yesterday raises a host of questions. One of them is where exactly is the unanimity? The statement says that the archbishops or the Primates, the heads of the churches, were unanimously agreed to walk together. It appears that that might be the extent in one sense of what was actually unanimously affirmed. But the statement also makes very clear that a majority of those spiritual leaders present did move to make very clear that the historic tradition of the Christian church, based not just in that tradition itself, but rather more importantly in the authority of Scripture, defines marriage very clearly as exclusively the union of a man and a woman. The timing behind this is also interesting. It was just this past summer that the Episcopal Church USA revised its canon law to come up with ceremonies to unite same-sex couples. That might have been one of the precipitating factors in what brought about the latest crisis. But there should be no question, furthermore, that this is in one sense just a delayed fuse on a bomb. Three years is just the blink of an eyelash in denominational terms, and the issue is this—there is no reason to expect that the conservative archbishops who were present there, primarily from Africa, but also from elsewhere, including the head of the Anglican Church in North America now—there is no reason to expect that they are going to go soft on this issue in the next three years, that they’re going to somehow join the more liberal position. Likewise, there is no reason to expect that the Episcopal Church USA, one of the most liberal denominations on planet earth, is going to reverse itself when it has taken such a very clear stand in support of the normalization of homosexuality, and for that matter, the whole array of LGBT issues.
Tellingly there was absolutely no reference in the documents released yesterday to what is supposed to happen three years from now when neither party, neither side in this controversy, has changed its mind. But then that makes this that delayed bomb. The fuse has set; three years is the time limit. Something else is going to happen in three years. There is actually no question that the conservative leaders there in Canterbury forced this issue, but they did not get everything they wanted. What they did get was a very clear statement coming from this body of bishops and national church leaders that the Bible is very clear, as is the historic tradition of the church, and in particular the Anglican tradition, that marriage is and must be only the union of a man and a woman. These days in the year 2016, that’s no small thing; and it is a very significant development that it is the Episcopal Church USA that was singled out by its sister churches in the Anglican Communion as the outlier, as the one that is outside the bounds, the one that has violated the authority of Scripture, the one that has violated not only the Anglican understanding of collegiality, but more importantly, the faith of the church.
Britain's quest for genetically-modified embryos diminishes dignity of human life
Next, also out of England, there was other big news, very dangerous news, on a very different topic. As The Independent, one of London’s major newspapers, reported yesterday,
“The first genetically-modified human embryos could be created in Britain within weeks.”
Steve Connor, the Science Editor for The Independent writes,
“The first genetically-modified human embryos could be created in Britain within weeks according to the scientists who are about to learn whether their research proposal has been approved by the fertility watchdog.”
He goes on to say,
“Although it will be illegal to allow the embryos to live beyond 14 days, and be implanted into the womb, the researchers accepted that the research could one day lead to the birth of the first GM [that is genetically modified] babies should the existing ban be lifted for medical reasons.”
From time to time we are repeatedly warned in the public arena against slippery slope arguments. Those are arguments that violate a basic point of logic, and that is that one thing does not necessarily lead to another thing unless causality can be proved. But that’s exactly the issue; we’re not looking here at a slippery slope argument at all. We’re looking at the inevitable argument that once you make something legal and it is technologically possible, it will happen; and we also know there are scientists around the world who have announced they have no moral scruples whatsoever towards moving forward with genetic modification of human embryos, the steps towards creating designer human babies. And we shouldn’t underestimate—indeed, it’s very hard to overestimate—the moral importance of what we’re talking about here. This is turning human beings into consumer products, and it is turning the laboratory into a laboratory for destroying human dignity. Now note even what we learned in the second paragraph here. We learn that the researchers will not legally be allowed to let the embryos live beyond 14 days. That means the embryos will be destroyed in 14 days.
Furthermore, in the report we are told that the researchers are going be doing these experiments on what are called “excess” or “extra” human embryos. That in itself tells us a great deal. We’re talking about human embryos that have been created for medical research and are considered now to be “excess,” no longer needed, not going to be used unless they are deployed in this new experiment towards genetic modification. The language of this article in The Independent is absolutely bracing. We are told,
“Scientists at the Francis Crick Institute in London said that if they are given the go-ahead they could begin work straight away, leading to the first transgenic human embryos created in Britain within the coming weeks or months.”
Christians looking at this have to understand what’s at stake. This is the kind of headline that many Christians would simply ignore. They will simply jump over the science and technology headlines and move to something they think is more interesting. But when it comes to human dignity, and when it comes to the Christian worldview, it’s hard to come up with anything more important than this. We are talking about scientists daring to create human embryos in the laboratory, and then to take those human embryos with no concern whatsoever for their human personhood, for the fact that they are embryos that are human beings made in the image of God, and to tamper with them genetically in order to find out just how far they can go towards the ideal—this is their goal—of genetically modified human beings.
Now why would they do this? Well, in one sense we would be told they would undertake these experiments in order to try to engineer out certain genetic illnesses, certain diseases that are carried in the human genome. That is the promise they hold out and that is why so many people are ready to overcome almost any moral scruples in order to approve this kind of research. But what isn’t acknowledged is the other side of this, and that is that what we’re looking at is the potential of complete designer babies. Because learning to tamper with the human genome means not only that there is the potential for engineering out certain genetically-based diseases; there is also the same opportunity to say we will simply order a baby that has blue eyes or brown eyes. We will require a certain IQ, as if we’re buying a car and picking out accessories. We will decide that this child is acceptable and another is not. And if the embryos don’t turn out exactly as we want them by pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, we’ll simply destroy them and start over again. This is the brave new world in which we had been warned for the better part of a half-century. And now this headline coming from The Independent tells us that the brave new world isn’t somewhere out there in the future, it could be just days or weeks away, at least in terms of the research that is proposed to be undertaken in Great Britain.
When we’re thinking about what it means to live in a post-Christian culture, this is one very clear sign. In any age that was dominated by the Christian worldview, it would be impossible to suggest that it would be right to create human embryos by will, to destroy those human embryos by policy, and to treat human beings at any stage of development as if they simply do not matter. Furthermore, we’re looking at the denial of the biblical worldview here, the contradiction to the biblical worldview, in treating human beings not as good in themselves, because they are created in the image of God, but rather as consumer goods to be wanted or unwanted according to current desires. This is a very dangerous step. The Independent was right to break the story and to draw our attention to what just might happen just around the corner in Great Britain.
But we also need to note that this kind of major step doesn’t come out of the blue. It comes after, incrementally, step-by-step, issue by issue—the sanctity of human life has been denied and compromised and buried behind all kinds of new moral arguments that promise that we can make a new humanity if only we will set these scientists loose in order to create this new humanity with these new breakthrough technologies. But Christians need to wait just a moment. We’ve heard those promises before, and those promises have always ended in grotesque moral disaster. Christians operating out of a biblical worldview need to keep something very interesting in mind. The more we talk about the opportunities of human enhancement, the less valuable every single human life becomes. The reason for that is easy to understand. When we decide that human life is worth whatever attributes are present—or is discounted by whatever attributes might be absent—if we decide that human dignity is tied to beauty or intelligence or ability or any other attribute, then that means that every single human being is now going to be graded in terms of their worth and value to society by whether or not they meet those qualifications. In the quest for human enhancement we actually diminish the dignity of every single human life.
Nancy Pelosi's doublespeak on abortion vexes both pro-choice and pro-life movements
Next, shifting to America, a story with very big importance, but one that could be just in political terms a footnote. Politico reports,
“NARAL Pro-Choice America is going after longtime ally Nancy Pelosi for using rhetoric that it says is more line with opponents of abortion than its supporters.”
Nancy Pelosi said in an interview with Roll Call,
“I don’t believe in abortion on demand.”
In the interview she argues,
“I have never believed in abortion on demand.”
Well, that’s something that any observer of Nancy Pelosi and her political career would find quite puzzling. Melinda Henneberger, writing for Roll Call tells us,
“House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi sees the recent Republican attempt to defund Planned Parenthood as an ‘insult to the intelligence and judgment of women.’”
Henneberger then writes,
“Asked if she had watched any of the undercover sting videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing harvesting fetal body parts for use in medical research — the tapes that reinvigorated the recent push to withhold federal funds from the country’s largest abortion provider — she said she’d only seen what had been shown on the news.”
She went on to say,
“Told that the report Planned Parenthood itself had commissioned had not actually found that the tapes had been doctored — on the contrary, it said it found ‘no substantive video manipulation” and “no evidence of audio manipulation’ — she said, ‘I did not sit down and watch their doctored versions of what may have happened, and I still say they’re doctored.’”
In other words, don’t worry about the evidence, she still says “they’re doctored.” She’s made that argument before in the aftermath of the controversy over the Planned Parenthood videos. But what really got the attention of Roll Call, Politico and others is where Nancy Pelosi said,
“I don’t believe in abortion on demand, I don’t believe in abortion on demand. I’m talking about the health of the mother and the child and this is not a decision that a politician should be making. This is about a woman’s judgment.”
Now when you read what is actually in the transcript, what’s clear is that Nancy Pelosi wants to say that she doesn’t believe in abortion on demand, she really doesn’t believe in abortion on demand, nor has she ever believed in abortion on demand and then she goes on to defend—you guessed it—abortion on demand. As a matter of fact, when she was asked straightforwardly if she would support any legislation in any way limiting abortion, she would not say yes. In other words, in inescapable words, she really believes in abortion on demand, the right of any woman, at any time, to have an abortion at any point in her pregnancy for any reason or for no reason at all. That is the very definition of abortion on demand. But that’s where the story gets even more interesting, because the headline is about NARAL Pro-Choice America, the leading abortion advocacy group in America condemning Nancy Pelosi for even using the words that she doesn’t believe in abortion on demand. NARAL pro-choice America issued a statement that said,
“‘At a time when our rights are under daily attack in the halls of Congress, on the campaign trail, in statehouses and in the courts, now more than ever, we need our champions to speak with a clear and strong voice in support of our legal right to abortion,’’ said the statement from NARAL senior vice president Sasha Bruce. ‘Unfortunately, Leader Pelosi’s recent comments fall well short of this standard.’”
What we’re looking at here is the moral absolutism of the abortion-rights movement. It is an abortion-rights movement that is so absolute in its demands that it here openly criticizes one of its main allies in Congress and one of the most pro-abortion legislators in American history. She violated the canons of orthodoxy of the pro-abortion movement by stating that she doesn’t believe, and that she never has believed, in abortion on demand. It doesn’t matter that she turned right around and supported abortion on demand. The very fact that she uttered those words is considered to be an absolute heresy in the church of abortion. And the archbishops in that church, NARAL Pro-Choice America were quick here to criticize one of their own as being dangerously close to heresy in stating, even when she contradicted herself by her argument, that she doesn’t believe in abortion on demand. That tells us a very great deal indeed.
Head of secular group claims to be Christian while denying central doctrines of the faith
Finally, just in the last couple of days, Kimberly Winston at Religion News Service put out a story, the headline of which is this,
“New Head of Major Secular Group is a Christian.”
Kimberly Winston, writing the story tells us,
“The Secular Coalition for America, a lobbying group with atheist, humanist and other nonbeliever member organizations, has hired a Christian as its new executive director.”
Now at face value that looks like big news. But as is so often the case, the story really isn’t what it appears to be at face value. That raises the obvious question, what kind of Christian would become the head of an organization that represents atheists, humanists and other nonbeliever member organizations? Well, you can pretty much figure out where this story is going. Winston writes,
“Larry Decker, 40, was raised in an independent Baptist church but now identifies as a ‘none’—one of the 23 percent of Americans who say they are religiously unaffiliated, according to the Pew Research Center. Like the majority of nones, Decker is not an atheist; he still identifies as a Christian, albeit a nominal one.”
Now, let’s just note the contradiction here. We are told that he is unaffiliated, but then we are told he is affiliated after all. He affiliates in some sense as a Christian. He went on to say,
“‘I was raised Christian but for years I have been unaffiliated because I cannot reconcile my values with traditional Christianity, including their concept of God,’ Decker told Hemant Mehta of the Friendly Atheist blog.
“’Right now, if I have to put a label on it, I would say that I identify as an unaffiliated Christian. And like millions of people in our country, my belief system continues to evolve and is entirely personal to me.’”
So what’s the bottom line here? Religion News Service and others are running a story that a major humanist, agnostic, atheist and secular organization has hired a Christian as its Executive Director. But it turns out this Christian isn’t really a Christian. He himself not only doesn’t make clear his Christian convictions, he undermines it by stating that he no longer believes in traditional Christianity, including the Christian concept of God. That kind of individual is not known as an unaffiliated Christian or a loosely affiliated Christian. A person who denies the central doctrines of the Christian faith is not a Christian, not by any logical or coherent definition of the term, not to mention any biblical or theological definition of what it means to be a Christian. So how do we answer the question? The kind of Christian who would agree to be the Executive Director of a humanist, atheist and secular organization is the kind of Christian you would expect—that is someone who says he identifies as a Christian who doesn’t believe in Christianity.
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 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 West Palm Beach, Florida, and I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.