The Briefing 11-16-17
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, November 16, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
We’ll look at a very strange vote with a very clear outcome in Australia. We’ll see why moral revolutions ride on weak political leadership and opposition. We’ll see that religious liberty now becomes the leading edge of the moral battle in Australia and in the United States, and we will see that the Church of England now wants children to bear responsibility to determine who they are.
A very strange vote with a very clear outcome in Australia
For the last several weeks we've been watching as a most unusual vote has taken place in the nation of Australia. It has been a postal vote, a vote by mail on the part of Australian citizens, a vote about the question of legalizing same-sex marriage. Well now the vote is in. As of yesterday the Australian government reported that 12.7 million Australians had participated in what was described as a survey, 61.6% voted yes, 38.4% voted no. That's not only a conclusive victory on the part of the forces that had been pushing for the legalization of same-sex marriage. It is also a vote that really can't be denied in terms of the legitimacy. That's because the Australian government reported that 79.5% of all voting age Australians took part in the postal vote. Now when you look at this, we have to understand that the bottom line is that we're going to see the legalization of same-sex marriage in Australia.
Over the summer we watched as Australians in particular came under sustained pressure, pressure largely from the outside world as well as from internal activists to legalize same-sex marriage. We saw as very morally significant the argument that was made from outside Australia to Australia that that nation needed to get in line and get with the program, joining most of the other English-speaking nations in legalizing same-sex marriage. We saw the same kind of energy and the same kind of argument coming from inside Australia that tells us something of how moral norms change and can change rather quickly. Once momentum is behind this kind of revolution in morality, the sexual revolution in this case, it seems almost unstoppable or at least unstoppable amongst the nations, the peoples and the cultures who compare themselves with each other. There is no doubt there is a certain commonality in the English-speaking world. But when you put all this together, there is also an increasing commonality which can even be traced to what you could outline on a globe of nations that have decided to join the sexual revolution and those who have steadfastly decided not to, at least for now.
We have also seen in Australia some genuine profiles of courage when it comes to this question. But we've also seen some profiles of what can only be described as a lack of courage. And at the top of that second list is the current Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull, whose idea it was to turn to the people of Australia to vote in this kind of postal survey, rather than for himself to put his entire governing coalition on the line in order to push through politically the legalization of same-sex marriage. But there is no doubt that the Prime Minister wanted the vote to turn out as it did, and not only that he has been enthusiastic about legalizing same-sex marriage. And as we will discuss in just a moment, he has been quite reserved in terms of his acknowledgment of the problems this will pose for Christians and other religious communities there in Australia, the inevitable collision with religious liberty. Greater courage was demonstrated by Tony Abbott, a former Prime Minister of Australia, who spoke both in that country and in ours and in public warning against the legalization of same-sex marriage, speaking up on behalf of the definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman and warning quite pointedly about the crushing of religious liberty once marriage has been fundamentally redefined.
It's always interesting to see how the mainstream media report this kind of story. Adam Baidawi and Damien Cave for the New York Times reported from Melbourne, Australia, this way,
“A solid majority of Australians voted in favor of same-sex marriage in a historic survey that, while not binding, paves the way for Parliament to legally recognize the unions of gay and lesbian couples.”
Why moral revolutions ride on weak political leadership and opposition
Now as we’re thinking about profiles of courage and the lack of courage, we should note that liberal religious leaders in Australia were almost uniformly for the measure and the proposal to legalize same-sex marriage. And of course they are not very concerned about a collision between religious liberty and the sexual revolution precisely because they have joined that revolution. There were some courageous voices inside the religious communities of Australia. They included much of the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church in Australia and at least the evangelical wing of the Anglicans there in Australia, generally centered in the archdiocese of Sydney. A couple of insights concerning the voting pattern: it was clear that the vote in terms of the basic pattern was pretty uniform all the way across Australia. But it's also clear as the Washington Post reported that a close look at the data would indicate that the urban communities there in Australia provided the greatest impetus in momentum towards legalizing same-sex marriage. In his report for the Washington Post, Odysseus Patrick pointed to this particular pattern by writing,
“Opposition was concentrated in suburbs with high numbers of working-class immigrants on the suburban fringes, including locations popular with Islamic communities. The largest levels of support,” he said, “were found in the wealthy urban hearts of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.”
One of the patterns to note in terms of worldview analysis is something we've observed over and over again. And that is, the closer you get to an urban or metropolitan area the more liberalized and secularized it is likely to become. But the other thing we need to note that becomes very evident in this particular voting pattern is the fact that you have people closer to cities who begin to measure sophistication and cultural placement, cultural statement in terms of aspiration, by moral statements. In some sense, this is what’s referred to now as virtue signaling. But in an even more basic level, it is simply the implication that the kind of people who live in this kind of place are the kind of people who hold to this kind of new morality.
Religious liberty becomes the leading edge of the battle in Australia and the United States
Writing from Great Britain, legal expert Amy McGuire pointed to another very interesting linkage here. She points to the fact that Australia itself was just recently elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council. McGuire then writes,
“The government’s use of a non-binding opinion poll to drive decision-making about the rights of LGTBI people was soon after described as unacceptable by the UN Human Rights Committee.”
Now what's really interesting about that paragraph is the fact that here the pressure was brought upon Australia by the United Nations Human Rights Committee at the very time that Australia was finding national pride in being named to that body. But of course being named to that body speaks of Australia's own national moral aspiration to be seen as the kind of nation that would be a part of this kind of counsel. And once they were, you'll notice that the Council actually said that even putting this matter to a vote on the part of the Australian people was a violation of the human rights the Council is supposed to be supporting and defending. But of course as we have noted over and over again, the United Nations lacks almost any moral credibility to press the case for human rights on the terms that it chooses. Or to put it another way, the kind of nations susceptible to this kind of pressure from the United Nations, well, it's that kind of nation. The nations that are not susceptible to this kind of pressure they really don't care what the United Nations Human Rights Council thinks on anything.
But the bigger issue addressed by Amy McGuire in her major essay on the election and the larger issue is that as Australians have now said yes to marriage equality as she says the fight now shifts to a battle over human rights, which will take center stage. McGuire also points to another very important observation, and that's the fact that for Australia actually just changing the definition of marriage will turn out to be the easy part. The far harder part is going to be balancing, she puts that words in quotation marks, different claims about human rights, claims made on behalf of those who will now be able to marry someone of the same gender or sex in Australia and on the other hand, the human rights of those who will not endorse same-sex marriage and are in danger of having their consciences violated or for that matter their religious liberties trampled. This is made abundantly clear in the fact that two rival bills both legalizing same-sex marriage, both from within the governing coalition presented by two different senators. They represent two very rival understandings of how to protect religious liberty, or we might even say whether religious liberty actually is worthy of protection.
One of the bills is put forward by Senator James Patterson, the other by Federal Senator Dean Smith. But the Patterson bill failed because of opposition from the Prime Minister and that failure came even before it was seriously debated. Instead, the governing coalition is expected to go forward with the bill that had been submitted by Senator Dean Smith. Prime Minister Turnbull insisted that any legislation would not only redefine marriage but also protect religious liberty. But the Dean Smith bill as it actually reads would only acknowledge exemptions on the basis of religious conviction for three particular forms of exemption. First of all,
“permitting ministers of religion to refuse to solemnise marriages;”
“permitting religious marriage celebrants to refuse to solemnise marriages;”
“permitting a body established for religious purposes to ‘refuse to make a facility available, or refuse to provide goods and services, for the purposes of the solemnisation of a marriage’”.
As one member of Parliament pointed out, this isn't the protection of religious liberty. It’s an acknowledgment for religious liberty only in the context of a ceremony. It is merely a ceremonial acceptance and defense of religious liberty. To put it another way religious liberty is reflected at least in terms of this legislation only in the context of the ceremony of marriage and in no other context. Another major Australian leader has proposed amendments to the Smith bill that would acknowledge the right of parents to withdraw their children from instruction in schools that might go against their religious belief. The current law in Australia says that parents do have the right to ensure instruction of their children in schools that is in line with their religious and moral beliefs. The Morrison amendments would also recognize that organizations and institutions that in Australia currently receive public support or are recognized as holding charitable status under the nation’s tax act should not have that status withdrawn based upon,
“continuing to have a view which is consistent with their religious convictions.”
The third amendment coming from Morrison suggested people continue to hold,
“as indeed they will consistent with their religious convictions, traditional views. And then they should not be discriminated against.”
There is no assurance whatsoever that any of these amendments will find their way into the eventual legislation before Parliament. The Attorney General of Australia has also suggested that the protection of religious liberty must include an extension of the right of conscientious objection to performing a ceremony religion not just to official clergy, but also to civil officials who will be solemnize a marriages. He has also suggested that the bill should be amended,
“make it clear that nothing in the bill makes it unlawful for people to hold and to express the views of their own religion on the subject of marriage.”
Now pause just a moment. Consider the fact that that language is here even being proposed as necessary. That shows us what's at stake. Here you have the Attorney General of Australia suggesting that the legislation should include the preservation and the protection of the right of citizens of that country merely to hold and to express the teachings of their own churches and their own religious convictions on the issue even of the definition of marriage and the right understanding of sexual morality. Jeremy Sammut writing in the pages of the Australian version of the Spectator got it exactly right when he wrote,
“religious protections are still needed because rainbow activists do want to force the issue and single out Christian business. Any marriage equality law,” he says, “that does not include comprehensives protections for religious freedom will pave the way for anti-discrimination lawsuits that will single out and force Christians to act against their beliefs…” He pointed out that this is part of what he described, “as part of the broader campaign to delegitimise the place of religion in Australian life.”
So taking the measure of what has taken place in Australia just over the last several days, we see how a moral revolution continues even on an international scale and on a global frame of reference. We see how pressure is brought upon a nation both internally and externally to get with the program and join the revolution or simply be counted outside the list of nations considered to be respectable. We see now international institutions such as the United Nations, specifically the United Nations Human Rights Council, can be used again, both internally and externally, to try to bring pressure upon a nation such as Australia. We have also seen how political leadership sometimes actually doesn't turn out to be leadership at all. And we have seen, even are seeing right now, that religious liberty is far too quickly, almost immediately sacrificed by those whose chief priority very clearly is this sexual revolution.
Andrew Hastie, a member of the Australian Parliament, pointed out in a statement just after the vote that he was alongside 4,873,986 other Australians who voted no on the proposal. And as he made very clear, he would vote for subsequent amendments to the marriage act,
“to protect people who believe that marriage is between a man and a woman.”
Now what's notable there, very notable is the fact that this member of Parliament is insisting that such rights should be and must be respected. The fact that he knows that he has to make that argument is in itself the alarm for all of us.
The Church of England now wants children to bear responsibility to determine who they are
But trying to understand the big picture on these issues, we shift from Australia to London. Alan Cowell reporting for the New York Times tells us,
“In new rules to counter bullying in its 4,700 schools, the Church of England said on Monday that children should be able to “play with the many cloaks of identity” in the classroom, fueling,” he says, “a debate over the handling of gender among the very young.”
Now let's just look at this new policy for the schools of the Church of England very clearly. Looking at the policy itself, well, it's exactly as described here. It makes the centerpiece of the self, a sense of self identity. Then the policies point to the children suggesting that an essential part of childhood is to,
“play with the many cloaks of identity.”
And clearly these policies which have to do with transgender, gender identity, sexuality, they are implying that a part of the essential tasks of childhood is for the child to figure out whether the child is a boy or a girl, male or female, or at any point in between. Now the most important thing for us to recognize is that this isn't a secular authority offering secular guidance and guidelines. This is the church of England. And what makes it most important is to look at the actual language in which the new policy entitled valuing all God's children says that elementary school students, and I’ll quote,
“should be at liberty to explore the possibilities of who they might be without judgment or derision.”
Well let’s just take at face value what that means. That means that the child is now a sovereign in terms of determining who the child is actually going to be. Now one of the things we need to note is that we are shifting from a language about the fact that even a child should have the right to the implication now that every single child has the responsibility to determine who he or she is, even if he or she is a he or she. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, upon whose election had been identified as an evangelical said,
“We must avoid, at all costs, diminishing the dignity of any individual to a stereotype or a problem.” “Church of England schools,” he said, “offer a community where everyone is a person known and loved by God, supported to know their intrinsic value.”
Now the second half of that, there's absolutely no argument. We want every single child to know of his or her intrinsic value that they are a person known and loved by God. But to step back and say that we are now going to be basically worshiping an idea of human dignity in which, for example, the categories of male and female are just dismissed as stereotypes. Well at this point we’re inventing a whole new category of moral nihilism, and not only doing so, we are taking children, even very young children, elementary school-age children and effectively throwing them in the deep end of that pool.
You know at this point we simply need to reflect upon the fact that biblical Christianity is based upon the premise that a divine Creator made us, and before we know ourselves, He knows us. And a part of our Christian responsibility is to discover, according to God's gift, who we are. But this means that the Scripture tells us who we are and so any self-identity has to be based upon the very clear teachings of Scripture. It's also very important that Christian parents like the parents of Israel are actually given the responsibility to tell their own children this is who you are. That is made now virtually impossible and will add to children a crushing burden of having the responsibility even as very young children to determine at least for the moment who they are.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter at 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 Providence, Rhode Island, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.