Friday, Feb. 23, 2018
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday February 3rd, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing. A daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
The interesting story that one church-state group doesn't want you to know
The boundary between church and state, as it is often defined, has been some of the most hotly contested terrain in the United States for the last century and more, particularly the last 40 or 50 years. The particular catalyst for why that has become such contested territory, is the sexual evolution and the increasing circularization of the society.
In an interesting story that run just recent days at the Washington post, to the newspaper tells us, that for the first time a woman and non-Christian is going to lead a group that thinks, this is a headline, that governments is too involved in religion. In this case the organization is known as Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. That sounds very innocuous because the general language that is used here about a separation of church and state, sometimes described as a wall of separation between church and state, is some of the most familiar language in our culture today amongst those who are thinking about the relationship between religion and culture and the church and the state.
The language about a wall of separation from church and state is not constitutional language. It’s language that does go back to the nation’s third president, Thomas Jefferson, and a letter than he wrote during the time that he was president. There is no wall of separation between church and state in the United States constitution. In the first amendment to the constitution, there are two clauses known as the free exercise clause ad the no establishment clause. That language about a wall of separation isn’t there. The wall may have existed in the mind of Thomas Jefferson, who without doubt was one of the most intelligent men ever to serve as president of the United States, but a man who was himself post Christian in terms of theology, and a man who never underestimated his ability to arrive at the right position regardless of whether or not the constitution or the law indicated the same point.
The Washington Post describes the group, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, as one of the most prominent advocacy groups in the country pushing, ‘to protect the boundaries between religion and government’. The new leader of the organization, the reason for the news story, is Rachel Laser. She’s identified in the second paragraph as a lawyer and long-term advocate on issues related to reproductive freedom, LGBT equality and racism, and she’s now the new executive director. She’s a woman, the first woman leader of the organization. She is Jewish, the first non-Christian leader of the organization. There can be no doubt about the kind of activism that Americans United for Separation of Church and State will be adopting under her leadership.
The post makes clear that Laser has built her reputation in recent years as an activist on behalf of abortion rights, and also on behalf of LGBT rights and issues. The post also makes clear that this new appointment comes in the contest of an increasing secularization, even arising secularism in American society. It marks the fact that this is a historic transition between Laser, who is taking over the reins, and the man known as the Reverend Barry Lynn, who served as the leader of the organization for about a quarter century. He was almost always known in the media as the Reverend Barry Lynn. That was very important because he used that ordination as a way of establishing religious credibility, even though his own world view is exceedingly secular.
In electing Rachel Laser to this new position, we can say that the group known as Americans United for Separation of Church and State, is in effect taking the gloves off. It is making very clear the kind of activism and advocacy we can now expect. As you might expect, there’s an important story here behind the story. There’s a big story that isn’t being told by the media even in reporting on this new appointment.
The appointment of a new executive director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State would, at first glance, be quite essential inside the Beltway story in Washington DC. It’s a story about an executive director for an activism and an advocacy group when it comes to public policy in Washington. There’s a reason why those outside the Beltway should pay attention to this story. The reason has little to do with the fact that this new executive director is either a woman, or Jewish, or an activist for abortion and LGBT rights. Those things are not insignificant, but what’s more significant is the history of the group that is now known as Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
The group is actually traced back to the year 1948, when shortly after the end of World War 2, it was established by major protestant leaders, mainly the leaders of liberal Protestantism in the United States, officially as Protestants and Others United for Separation of Church and State. You don’t find the Americans United pointing to that history when they talk about their current plans and expectations.
Why was it called Protestants and Others United for Separation of Church and State? It is because, back in 1948, there are just about the midpoint of the 20th century, protestant liberals decided that a secular context was far preferable to a context informed by theology. More than anything else, the theology they feared was the influence of the Roman Catholic Church. The group was known as Protestants and Others United for Separation of Church and State, at least originally, because it represented a confluence of interest among liberal protestants, those very committed to a liberal theology, liberal Jewish groups and those that were self-avowedly secular. At that time, those self-avowedly secular groups were quite small. The main influence came from the fact that there were liberal protestant, mainline denominations as they were known, which threw their prestige and their funding behind this organization.
Amongst the first efforts of the organization was to stop, at whatever cost, the influence of institutional Catholicism and most importantly the spread of parochial schools in American, catholic schools. The great fear of Protestants and Others United for Separation of Church and State was the tax money. Particularly federal and state tax money, would find some way into catholic schools. Now the remedy, according to this originally strangely named group, Protestants and Others United for Separation of Church and State, was to insist that that wall, that imaginary wall between church and state, will be raised ever higher and higher in order to prevent any kind of overt and dangerous theological influence in the United States.
Now I said that this group was led by and established by those who were committed to a liberal protestant theology, and in the main that’s exactly what they were. They included people like the eventual publisher and editor of The Christian Century magazine. That’s the flagship magazine that the protestants left. A united Methodist bishop, also of the left, later accused by congressional sources of being a communist. There was a Baptist as well, again a Baptist very committed to an America he would prefer to be secular than to show the overt influence of any kind of religious group, most especially Catholics, but others would likely be included as well. Something else you’re not going to hear from Americans United for Separation of Church and State, is just how much the group and its leaders set themselves to opposing the election of the first Catholic president of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, in the year 1960.
From a worldview perspective, the big story is this, this organization, an organization that is very clear in its historic lineage, an organization that changed its name very politically, we can understand why, from Protestants and Others United for Separation of Church and State to Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The worldview implication comes down to this, there was basically a deal made at the midpoint of the 20th century when those on the protestant left decided that it would be far better to have an officially secular society than to risk any theology, whether it be Catholic theology or any other theology, from infecting the public square.
Also, a vital importance from a worldview perspective is the main issue of illustration chosen by the Washington Post as they made this announcement about Rachel Laser’s appointment as the new executive director. The question is whether faith-based adoption agencies should be barred from refusing to place children with same gender couples, or with none Christina couples, specifically for a Catholic faith-based organization, non-Catholic couples? As you’re looking at this, you’ll recognize there’s really a lot at stake here.
Secularists present a choice: Abandon convictions or abandon children
This article in the Washington Post came as just in the same set of days came a series of articles: one from Georgia, one from Alabama, one from South Carolina, one from Texas, all about the same very question. The question is whether or not Christian or other faith-based organizations, ministries that are seeking to assist children by adoption and foster care, should be required to place children with same gender couples or with those who identify as LGBT, or in the case of Christian organizations, with non-Christian couples or families? Interesting in just the same days, in the very same week the story ran about the new executive director for Americans United, stories came from three different states related to that very question.
From the state of Carolina and The Greenville News, came an article telling us that the South Carolina’s governor, governor Henry McMaster, is siding with a Christian ministry in that state, which is according to The Greenville News, ‘embroiled in a battle with county officials over a requirement that foster families be Christian’. The governor is seeking to support this ministry known as the Miracle Hill Ministries. Is it a ministry? It’s right there in the name. It’s right there in the mission.
Furthermore, we are told that all was going well for 29 years that is not now because in 2017, the South Carolina department of social services, and I quote from the news, 'began interpreting federal and state regulations to say that Miracle Hill does not have the freedom to require families share its religious beliefs'. As was the case in Massachusetts, where Catholic was the largest adoption in foster care work in the state until it was forced to shut down in the aftermath of the legalization of same sex marriage over the very same issue.
In the state of South Carolina, Miracle Hill Ministries is one of the largest providers of care to children in that state serving eight counties in South Carolina. In recent days, the South Carolina department of social services has given the ministry 30 days to either abandon its religious convictions, or to shut down its ministry as a foster care placing agency. In a statement from Miracle Hill, it said that the ministry had been founded in 1937, and in the words of its mission statement, ‘is dedicated to providing extensive services to individuals and families in the form of food, shelter, clothing, counseling, personal development, addiction recovery, support and residential and foster care for children’.
Here you see the cost of this kind of secular worldview. At the expense of children being served, they will shut down a ministry, one of the main organizations serving children in the state, simply because the secular agenda cannot tolerate any kind of theological identity. In this case, a Christian ministry of all things daring to be a Christian ministry. Miracle Hills had a particular emphasis since 1988 on helping Christian foster parents and it establishes that mission in the scripture, in the book of James chapter 1:27.
Though the governor of the states says that he supports the right of this Christian ministry to continue as a Christian ministry, it’s clear that those who are largely in direction of the state’s bureaucracy have a very different agenda. What’s important, what’s rather alarming to recognize here is that we’re talking, not about the state of Massachusetts, we’re talking about the state of South Carolina. Similarly, the story came in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also this week, that in the state of Georgia, the state senate judiciary committee has given five two approval to senate bill 375, identified as a measure offering legal protection to faith-based child placement agencies that refuse to engage with LGBT couples.
Now what you need to keep in mind here again, we’re talking about the state of Georgia. We’re talking about a state, where the republican governor, governor Nathan Deal, vetoed similar legislation in the last session. One of the senators on the committee pointed out that in other states, I’ve already mentioned Massachusetts, but Massachusetts sadly is not alone, Christian ministries and other religious organizations have already been forced, in his words, "To chose between violating the tenets of their faith or going out of business.”
Finally, on the very same day that story appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, another story appeared in the Washington Post, but the dateline is from Texas. Eli Rosenberg reports, “A lesbian married couple from Texas is suing the federal government after they say that a Catholic non-profit, that receives taxpayers funding, denied them the opportunity to serve as foster parents for refugee children because of their sexual orientation.” This agency known as Catholic Charities of Fort Worth, requires all of the families participating in this foster care program to reflect the natural family and not a same sex couple.
There are all kinds of issues swirling around these stories, but the central question comes down to the one identified in that Washington Post article in the first place. Would a society be better off establishing a clear secular foundation even if that means that faith-based agencies, doing much of the necessary care for children, will be forced to either abandon their convictions or to abandon the children? What we need to note with care is that, in the state of Massachusetts the verdict was clear, abandon the children. At the very same time, we have rising needs in terms of adoption and foster care, we have more and more children in almost every state needing these services and needing families. We are now told that Christian organizations, that have been carrying much of the freight and doing much of the work for decades, are going to have to abandon their Christian convictions even if that does mean abandoning the children.
When you go back to that deal struck by the Protestant liberals at the midpoint of the 20th century, it makes a lot more sense now. For one thing, it demonstrates that even angelical organizations can be snared in the same net as Catholic agencies when it comes to the agenda of a secular society and it’s erstwhile defenders, which would rather stand on principle than serve the children. Make no mistake, that principle is the absolute separation of church and state. The absolute separation ultimately of religious conviction and any kind of public significance. The personal interest about this story may be concentrated inside the Washington Beltway. It’s sad to say the effects will not be limited, the effects will be nationwide. That’s the real problem.
No place to hide on LGBT issues for Baptist groups
Next, several days ago we discussed the move undertaken by the group known as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship through what has become known as it’s Illumination Project. A project that ended up with neither a yes or a no, but rather an attempt to find some kind of middle ground on LGBT issues and inclusion, right down to the issue of the hiring of LGBT individuals. Well, there’s an update of that story and it points to what we have underlined in The Briefing over and over again. On this question, once it is really defined, there is no middle ground.
In that Illumination Project— and I discussed it thoroughly in an article posted at albertmohler.com in recent days— in that project the group attempted to find some middle ground but its artificiality and its frigidity was immediately clear. There is no middle ground. The instruction or what’s called the implementation section of the Illumination Project makes clear that the plan calls for 80% of employee positions to be open to those who identify as LGBT but not the other 20%. The other 20% in supervision and also in field placement, especially with foreign Christian partners.
The ridiculousness of the proposal is clear even in first glance, but the political reality is also clear from its inception in the early 1990s. The CBF has tried to bridge, to combine those who are on the left and on the right. Those who are activists for LGBT inclusion and those who still hold to a traditional biblical sexual morality and definition of marriage. That’s the very definition of instability. As predicted, there has been a backlash, almost immediately, from both the left and the right. That’s because both sides honestly understand there is no compromise that does not compromise their convictions.
A bomb fell in recent days when the Baptist General Convention of Texas, that’s one of the two state conventions of Baptists in Texas, a group that had since the 1990s, allied more with the CBF. That organization’s executive board announced that it will no longer recognize the CBF as a mission’s giving conduit. It will no longer receive offerings from its churches that will be forwarded to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. The stated reason was very clear. Danny Reeves, a Corsicana, Texas pastor, the president of the BGCT said, “I am very grateful for the consistent steady way in which the BGCT has held God’s Word.” That was explicitly on the issue of the definition of marriage and upholding biblical sexuality.
The BGCT, had until the late 1990s, included just about all churches that had historically been involved with the Southern Baptist Convention. The theological controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention spilled over into Texas and it lead to the organization of a clearly conservative state Baptist convention known as the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention. The disappearance of this middle ground and the fact that every single Christian church, every single Christian, every single denomination, every single Christian ministry, is going to have to be declared on these issues, the LGBT issues, there’s no place to hide. That story was also made clear this week at the executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville.
As Baptist press recorded Wednesday, and I quote, “The Southern Baptist Convention executive committee has given the District of Columbia Baptist Convention known as the DCBC, 90 days to secure ‘the removal of any churches from its fellowship that have demonstrated a faith or practice affirming, approving or endorsing homosexual behavior’.” That was carefully written language adopted by the executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, but it is in effect another bomb. In this case, the warning to a convention, the District of Columbia Baptist Convention, that it too would be separated from the SBC if it did not take action to separate itself from churches in violation of scripture. This came after just last year, a prominent Washington congregation associated with the DCBC but not with the Southern Baptist Convention, called a legally married lesbian couple as co-pastors.
One of the things you simply have to observe is, if one had been watching these events for the last 20 or say 25 years, no one would have been surprised by the action taken by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. No one would really be surprised by the action taken by the Baptist General Convention of Texas. No one would be surprised by the action or inaction reflective of the District of Columbia Baptist Convention already known to be extremely liberal. No one should be surprised by the action taken this week by the executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention. We’re going to know, in very short order, where every Christian, every congregation, every denomination and ministry stands. It will be either a clear stand for biblical sexuality, the authority of Scripture and the biblical definition of marriage, or it will be advocacy for exactly the opposite.
As so often, I am reminded of the old gospel hymn, "On Christ the Solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand." Sinking indeed and sinking fast.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can find 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’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.