Monday, February 12, 2018
Monday, Feb. 12, 2018
Tags: Audio, CBF, Kansas, LGBT, Pornography
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Monday, February 12, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Today we’ll see the shape of theological disaster. We’ll look at our cultures tragic surrender to pornography, and we’ll see why Kansas may well be the state to watch in the upcoming election. Here's a hint most of the declared candidates for governor are teenagers.
The shape of theological disaster: A denomination speaks with two minds and two moralities
One point is clear throughout church history theological disaster almost never strikes out of the blue. Trouble seems to build and build, and disaster is somehow averted again and again. But any one with eyes to see knows that eventually time is running out. Time has now run out for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. The CBF as it is most popularly known emerged in the early 1990s as churches aligned with the more liberal wing of the Southern Baptist Convention, self-identified as moderates, forged a new organization to replace the SBC in which they no longer felt at home. From the beginning the CBF was largely funded by congregations that were not necessarily theologically liberal at least self-consciously so, but they nonetheless disagreed with the Southern Baptist Convention's determination to affirm and to enforce the inerrancy of Scripture other issues for catalysts including the SBC's confessional principle against women serving as pastors.
The CBF had a more explicitly liberal wing, but the most leftward of the former Southern Baptists had left earlier forming what was then known as the Alliance of Baptists. There was a time when the SBC and the CBF were locked in the competition for the loyalty and financial support of major congregations. In turn those churches were often divided internally by the very same conflict. Over 20 years later that competition is long over the SBC in the CBF have each moved through history according to their chosen trajectories, and over time each became the proof positive of the argument of the other. That's to say that the CBF looks to the SBC and says that's exactly what we do not want to be, and the SBC looks at the CBF and comes to the very same conclusion. The two groups have grown steadily apart.
The Southern Baptist Convention solidified its conservative convictions and commitments while a younger generation of leaders emerged in the CBF, a generation that did not long for a return to the SBC of the past but identified with a far more liberal vision of theology and moral issues. The identity crisis of the CBF was evident from the beginning, so was the fact that the LGBT revolution would be the fuse that would eventually detonate the CBF and its identity. In June of 2000 the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a revision of its historic confessional statement known as the Baptist Faith and Message. The confessional revision was a first in modern church history, the first time that a major denomination had adopted a more conservative confession than it had previously held. The statement explicitly defined the office of pastor as limited to men. It affirmed the inerrancy of Scripture and a host of other conservative convictions.
Daniel Vestal then coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship predicted that 5000 churches were then ready to leave the SBC and to join the CBF in reaction to the confession. In October of 2000 the CBF was under pressure to answer criticism that it was leaning leftward on the question of homosexuality and its coordinating Council adopted what they called a statement of organizational value that precluded the hiring of non-celibate homosexuals for CBF staff or missionary field appointments. The move was immediately criticized even then by many within the CBF and especially those identified with its theological schools. We should note historically that no such exodus by the way from the SBC to the CBF ever occurred.
Within a decade momentum was clearly building for a change in CBF policy. It was well understood that the main factor holding the leadership from such a change was financial. The loss of support from churches outraged by any policy condoning homosexuality would have been devastating. The conflict we should note was largely and is still largely generational. By 2012 an elected moderator of the CBF would openly call for a removal of the policy forbidding the hiring of non-celibate LGBT personnel. Again and again calls for such a change were answered with delay. Then came the wider LGBTQ revolution, the legalization of same-sex marriage and open floodgates of moral revolution. More conservative forces in the CBF refused to join the revolution, but others mostly younger saw the current CBF policy as morally wrong and oppressive. Now they see it as even more so. Most of the seminaries and divinity schools serving the CBF joined the LGBTQ revolution long ago, and their graduates have been demanding that the CBF join the revolution as well.
David Gushee perhaps best equipped of all to observe the CBF over the course of a generation noted and I quote,
“Over these 25 years, CBF life has produced far fewer leaders and people who could be described as evangelicals or moderate-conservative Baptists, and far more who could be described as something like mainline Protestants. Meanwhile,” he wrote, “the original founding moderate-conservatives–often based in Texas, interestingly enough–are aging out. The CBF,” he argues, “has become an uneasy coalition of moderates,” and those he describes as real life liberals.
He goes back to remind that those who are called moderates back in the day were actually labeled moderate conservatives. That indicate something of the shift in the CBF, but Gushee went on to write,
“The latter,” that is the real life liberals, “are mainly, though not exclusively, younger, and among the clergy, most are products of the new Baptist seminaries.”
In the last decade or so some CBF churches have become fully LGBTQ affirming, some perform same-sex ceremonies and some have called openly LGBTQ ministers and pastors. Push came to shove as the CBF announced in 2016 that it would move forward through what it called an “Illumination Project” that would allow for a new direction for the CBF on LGBTQ issues. Last week, that project’s report was released, and at the very same time the fuse was detonated. The report entitled,
“Honoring Autonomy & Reflecting the Fellowship,”
has infuriated LGBTQ proponents, and it has simultaneously alienated more conservative churches. Its recommendations offer a ridiculous and unstable policy. The report and related news reports reveal that the proposed policy will allow for the hiring now of openly LGBT CBF personnel in some positions but not in positions of leadership or missionary field assignment. The new policy, if adopted, would create a dual morality – one for an estimated 80% of CBF staff and the other for supervisory staff and field personnel. The two moralities contradictory by definition would supposedly coexist within one structure.
With amazing candor the report released last Friday states that,
“global partners (within and without Baptist life) have decisively rejected movement toward hiring or supporting LGBT field personnel or the inclusion of LGBT persons in ordained leadership.”
In other words, international churches, with very rare exceptions, will not cooperate with the CBF if it sends LGBT personnel to field assignments. The report also acknowledges that again I quote,
“less than a handful of our congregations have called pastors who identify as LGBT.”
Nevertheless it's hard to see how the CBF can survive with such a house divided and such an incoherent policy. One openly gay woman pastor of a CBF congregation responded over the past weekend by accusing the CBF of creating what she called and I quote,
“a tiered caste system where the opinions and lives of wealthy straight people are worth more than anyone else.”
We've seen the same pattern throughout mainline liberal Protestantism. The moral revolutionaries push and push until the denominational middle gives way or dies out. This drama is playing out a bit later on the stage of the CBF but its end is clear enough. In the meantime, the “Illumination Project” has been truly illuminating.
This is the inevitable result of the abandonment of the full truthfulness and authority of Scripture. The CBF was born of controversy within the Southern Baptist Convention precisely and mainly over the inerrancy of the Bible. On July 9, 1991, the CBF (which would adopt that name the following day) approved what they called an “Address to the Public” that included one and only one clear theological statement, and that statement rejected the inerrancy of Scripture. The statement said and I quote,
“The Bible neither claims or reveals inerrancy as a Christian teaching.”
Well once the truthfulness and trustworthiness of the Bible are abandoned, theological revisionism is inevitable. The CBF report does not even attempt the exegesis of Scripture. This is also the logical consequence of adopting a hermeneutic that allows for the service of women as pastors. For many CBF congregations that was the key issue of outrage at the Southern Baptist Convention. The same negotiation and “reinterpretation” of the biblical text that allows for the service of women pastors will logically lead to the acceptance of the LGBT revolution. How can it not? Individuals and congregations may refuse to take this step, but they have surrendered the only binding argument that would offer an objective truth claim. Eventually, the revolutionaries will win, and they know it. Clearly, some appear now unwilling to wait.
Finally, this is what happens when autonomy trumps biblical authority. The moral revolution was only possible because of the great and unsustainable shift to personal autonomy in the larger culture. The CBF was birthed in a rejection of stricter doctrinal requirements within the Southern Baptist Convention, and one of their cherished principles is and was congregational autonomy at the expense of confessional unity. Well, in response to the “Illumination Project” report, the married lesbian pastors of Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, DC expressed their moral outrage that more conservative CBF churches and international partners were holding back the full acceptance of LGBT personnel. In a pastoral letter they released in response to the illumination project report, the pastor stated and I quote,
“Autonomy of the local church is not some mucky individualism that means every church can think and oppress however it wants.”
Well, interestingly, the limits of autonomy is a central doctrine are becoming clear even to some of the CBF, and revealingly so. One way or another the upcoming CBF assembly in Dallas this coming June will be historic. For Southern Baptist and other Evangelical Christians this “Illumination Project” as it is known should serve as yet another reminder of what becomes inevitable once the full authority and truthfulness of the Bible are abandoned. There is nothing to celebrate here … only sadness. This is an “Illumination Project” that truly illuminates, but in ways its authors surely never intended.
What a moral surrender to pornography looks like
Next, we shift to a 1-2 punch on the issue of pornography in Sunday's edition of the New York Times, most importantly the cover story in the New York Times Magazine. Now I just have to tell you right up front that I'm not going to be able to say much about this article which is the cover story in the magazine. It is simply far too explicit. It's too explicit even for a magazine like the New York Times Magazine to a run just a few years ago but that just tells you something about how the moral context of our country has changed utterly and decidedly just over the last several years. The important thing to recognize here is that the catalyst for the moral change we are observing on this issue is the arrival of the digital revolution and the near continuous and universal access to pornography.
The cover story's main point has to do with the fact that it has argued in the article that pornography has become the main vehicle for sex education amongst American teenagers. Maggie Jones writing the article tells us that many teenagers are fully aware of the fact that pornography is omnipresent in their lives. And many of these teenagers do not appear to be particularly happy about it. But access to pornography, consuming pornography, appears to be such a given in terms of the adolescent experience in America today that the New York Times Magazine article is mostly important because of its central message. It’s a central message to Americans, including American parents, this is simply a reality you're going to have to find a way to deal with it.
It's incredibly telling that in this article the main point is actually not a moral verdict on pornography at all. It’s as if as a society we’re really past the ability to render this kind of moral judgment, but it is a cry of concern about what this is doing in the actual lives of teenagers not only when they are adolescents but when they become young adults. And it's a warning that this has been particularly damaging to young women. Amongst the things mentioned in the article is the fact that pornography has changed utterly the sexual expectations of boys and young men.
The statistics about the pervasiveness of pornography in the article are really these days no longer shocking simply because we have seen the same statistics over and over again. One new number included in this article however is the fact that American parents by a very wide gap underestimate both whether and how often their own children are viewing pornography. Without going into the numbers, the citation is from a report done in Indiana University in 2016, I simply quote this,
“Half as many parents thought their 14- and 18-year-olds had seen porn as had in fact watched it.”
Where morality does enter into the consideration of this article in the New York Times Magazine, it mostly has to do with the impact that there is a different impact on males and females, and that women are particularly vulnerable as our young girls. The implication here is that the main moral principle of concern would be the presence of sexism and the perpetuation of sexism by means of pornography. But the shock value of the article presumably even to readers of the New York Times is the fact that the point of the article is that parents should consider how to educate their own teenagers not so much in whether to view pornography but how.
In one amazing paragraph in the article, it actually suggests that the moral issue is not whether or not teenagers are looking at pornography but what kind of pornography they are viewing and whether or not it brings out a certain form of sexism in them. One source cited in the article said and I quote,
“I think porn can be a good thing to have as an outlet. I’m not scared by explicit sex per se. I’m afraid of the bad values.”
Now just consider the moral universe in which those sentences can be put together in which it's an affirmation of pornography at the same time arguing that the concern would be bad values in pornography. The assumption here and we should note is the argument that parents should direct their teenagers toward pornography with better values rather than worse.
The article basically champions an approach that is known in some places as porn literacy in which teenagers are taught how to view pornography in a more discriminating fashion. I'm going to leave the New York Times Magazine article at that. There's really not much more I can say about it, but I did need to say that much because you are looking at a major milestone in the moral context of our culture. When you're looking at the moral revolution, it's one thing to consider how these kinds of issues are addressed to adults. It’s yet another thing to consider how parents are here being told that they need to join the revolution when it comes to pornography with and for their own children.
A morally-serious response in morally-unserious times
But as I said in the New York Times Sunday was a 1-2 punch the New York Times Magazine article was punch one, but the second punch comes from columnist Ross Douthat who in an article responding to the magazine in the very same day’s edition of the paper ran a column entitled,
“Let's Ban Porn.”
Now the point made by Ross Douthat is that there can be no question that when you're looking at pornography you are looking at very negative impact in very real human lives. And so we openly ask the question, if we are still capable of moral outrage, why do we not turn that outrage into something that would actually make a difference such as outlawing pornography? With typical clarity, Douthat writes,
“For anyone who grew up with the ideals of post-sexual revolution liberalism, there is a striking pathos to these educators’ efforts. The sex education programs in my mostly liberal schools featured a touching faith from the adults in charge that they were engaged in a great work of enlightenment, that with the right curricula they could roll back the forces of repression and make sexuality a place of egalitarian pleasure and safety for us all.”
He then continues,
“Compared to those idealists, the people teaching ‘porn literacy’ have accepted a sweeping pedagogical defeat. They take for granted,” he says, “that the most important sex education,” now takes place by pornography.
And he says,
“that the purpose of their work is essentially remedial, and that there is no escape from the world that porn has made.”
He points out that this moral surrender was not always the case. If you go back just well less than a generation, there was a strange coalition of political and moral conservatives in this country on the one side and ideological feminists on the other, and they basically agreed on the moral wrong and of the moral harm of pornography. But much if not all of that coalition and that argument was culturally and politically speaking swept aside by the digital revolution. But Douthat makes a very strong argument that there is no reason why pornography should be allowed to take over the culture. This was in essence a surrender, and it's one that he calls an open question. But it's interesting that in this context Ross Douthat is actually accomplishing something further than that. He is after all referencing a cover story in the very same day’s edition of the New York Times Magazine. He is effectively saying if we really are so troubled about this than what we are going to do about it? Put up or shut up.
You put these two articles together, and it’s a pretty revealing moment in the New York Times in Sunday's edition just this past weekend. You are looking at an article saying that porn is pervasive and parents just need to deal with it. Parents even need to educate their children on how to watch good pornography rather than bad pornography. Ross Douthat simply responds by saying if you are taking it seriously as a moral issue that is not taking it seriously. Taken together those two articles are in very different ways devastating.
Why Kansas may be the state to watch in the upcoming election
Finally when it comes young people in the United States, the most interesting story of the last several days may come out of Kansas, and it turns out that the Kansas gubernatorial election may be this year the most interesting to watch. Why? Because no less than six teenagers, too young to vote, have discovered that in Kansas there is no constitutional minimum age to run for the state's highest elected office. As of Friday at least six teenagers, all young men had registered to run as governor of Kansas, and there was another also too young to vote who announced that he was going to join one of the tickets as the candidate for lieutenant governor. As of Sunday there was word that yet another teenager also too young to vote was going to enter the field of candidates for the state's attorney general. It turns out that the Attorney General of Kansas doesn't need to be either an adult or an attorney.
What’s also interesting in the article, and I'll give it to the New York Times for writing a pretty comprehensive account, it turns out that some existing in office political authorities there in Kansas are trying to find some way to stop these adolescents from running for the highest offices in the state. But at this point it appears there's going to be little to prevent them from entering into the election. And in today's political America, who knows what might happen? One of the young man said and I quote,
“The day a 17-year-old wins governor of any state will be the day pigs fly.” But, “hey, we’re here, we’ve got ideas.”
Another teenager who has announced that he's running as one of the six filing for governor said that he actually believes that adding a minimum age would be a reasonable move. But he went on to say,
“I am 100 percent trying to win. If you’re not trying to win there’s no point in doing this,”
Well at least he understands how politics works, and evidently there’s some young people in Kansas who decided to do what it appears the adults had not done – actually read the state's constitution.