Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Tags: Abortion, Audio, Homosexuality, Pope Francis, Roman Catholicism
It's Tuesday, May 22, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
With a wink and a nod, Pope Francis’ reported comments signal new level of acceptance of homosexuality
On the one hand, this headline seems to come over and over again concerning the Roman Catholic Church and Pope Francis, and the temptation is to say, "That's just the Catholic church, we don't need to pay any attention." But saying that, doesn't make it so. And that's why we need to pay attention to a flurry of headlines just recently, once again, concerning Pope Francis, this time on the question of homosexuality. The most important lead sentence in the major media was that reported by The L.A. Times just a couple of days ago. The headline in the story is this, "Pope's supported comment to a gay man may indicate a new level of acceptance of homosexuality." The writer of the story is Tom Kington. He begins with these very important words, "Pope Francis has reportedly told a gay man that God made you that way and loves you as you are. Apparently," said the reporter, "pushing the pontiff's acceptance of homosexuality to a new level."
Similarly, the headline in The Associated Press story was this, "LGBT community cheers Pope's 'God made you like this' remark." The Associated Press story began with these words, "Pope Francis's reported comments to a gay man that, 'God made you like this,' have been embraced by the LGBT community as another sign of Francis's desire to make gay people feel welcomed and loved in the Catholic Church."
Now, before we look further at the articles, let's just consider what we have at this point. We have reports that are now in the major media. These are not infringed publications. We're talking about the Associated Press, the Guardian, and The Telegraph, and London, we're talking about the Los Angeles Times. We're not talking about the kind of press that might be misrepresenting the story, intentionally creating a story where there isn't a story. At this point, we simply have to understand that if the Los Angeles Times and other major media around the world are reporting the story, that in itself, is a story. But there is something else in the background here.
The question is where would these comments have been made and what's the credibility of the comments? In this case, it originates in a Spanish newspaper known as El País. Where did the quotations that are attributed to the pope originate? They originated from a man cited as Juan-Carlos Cruz, identified in the L.A. Times as, "A Chilean victim of priestly sexual abuse who had recently spent days with the pope at the Vatican to discuss his ordeal as the pontiff and the Vatican move to tackle decades," we are told, "of cover ups and ostracism of victims in the Chilean church."
Now back up for just a moment. Here once again, we have statements attributed to the pope, but the statements are not coming from the Vatican. This is not the transcript of something the pope said in one of his weekly audiences. This is not an official papal document. So should we pay attention to it? Should we give credence to these sentences? But here's where we need to go back and recognize a pattern that by now is very familiar with this pope. The pattern is this. He makes major statements by words that are attributed to him that are reported by others without the official seal of the Vatican. Why do we take these seriously? Well, first of all, because they are so widely sourced now in the international media.
But there's another reason to take these statements very seriously and to see them as both authentic and as representative of the pope and the Vatican. What's that evidence? The fact that the Vatican, now days later, well aware of these statements, has emphatically not denied them. Now, that sounds somewhat medieval and Machiavellian, well, welcome to watching the papacy. This is how this works. The modern Papacy is itself a product of the medieval papacy, and the medieval papacy played these games for centuries. In my recent thinking in public of Ross Douthat of The New York Times, he points out that Pope Francis has often indicated his position with something he refers to as the equivalent of a papal wink.
As we have seen in recent controversies concerning what Pope Francis believes about hell, the pope was supposedly making statements dismissive of hell, statements that implied the theory of annihilationism that's directly in conflict with not only biblical teachings, but also the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. Once again, the statements came in that situation from an elderly atheist reporter. So why do we take them seriously? Because the Vatican itself has emphatically not denied that the pope made the statements.
The Vatican and its press operation are extremely quick to make corrections where they believe a correction should be made. What does that tell us? What we're seeing here is another nod, another wink, and the secular media understand how the game is played. For example, the Los Angeles Times takes us back to 2013 when returning to the Vatican after his first international trip as pope, Pope Francis said, "If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with goodwill, who am I to judge?" That same year he said to another interviewer, "A person once asked me in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality." He said, "I replied with another question, 'Tell me, when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn the person?'"
Now, you might think that it is the business of the pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church to answer questions rather than to ask them on such major issues in which it is the responsibility. The Roman Catholic Church claims, and the authority it claims of the pontiff and of the magisterium of the church to answer such questions definitively. But of course, this is what makes this pope so interesting. He doesn't answer many of these questions definitively. He effectively raises questions, to move. But this is where we have to watch closely the winks and nods, because when it comes the Roman Catholic Church, a wink and a nod will be ample permission for many to change their pastoral practice, and for many others to claim this is a doctrinal change within the Roman Catholic Church.
One Roman Catholic figure who has been in his own controversy concerning his calls for a rapprochement to a bridge building between gay Catholics and the Vatican, Father James Martin, who is himself an American Jesuit, he told the Los Angeles Times, "This is a big deal. I cannot remember the pope making a comment about gay people being born that way." He went on to say, "Pope Francis has repeated what all reputable biologists and psychologists say, 'You don't choose your sexual orientation.' And," said Father Martin, "that is a great comfort to many gay and lesbian Catholics who have been told by priests that they have chosen their orientation and are therefore guilty."
Now, here's where we need to note as evangelicals, the importance of the argument for us is watching these words very carefully. Because in this case, James Martin has drawn a dichotomy between two realities as he posits them. On the one hand, an individual is made in a certain orientation by God's own creative act, on the other hand, one simply chooses one's sexual orientation or pattern of sexual attraction. Now that's a very interesting rhetorical approach, but we simply have to note, those are not the only two options. That does not by any means exhaust the possibilities for our theological and moral understanding.
We also have to note that Martin stressed to the L.A. Times that the pope's comments were not announced by the Vatican but merely reported. He said, "We have to distinguish between something the pope said on the record and a conversation." Well, once again as evangelical Christians, we need to understand the vital importance of saying the same thing on the record and off the record, in public discourse, an announcement, and in private conversation. It makes no moral sense, according to the Christian worldview whatsoever, to have one moral position in a conversation and another moral position in terms of official teaching. That would be to state the very least, a matter of confusion, if not intentional confusion. And not only that, how in the world does one hold to two different positions on an issue of this fundamental importance? We're not talking about a minor issue, or an issue in which there could simply be endless theological speculation, we're talking about an issue of very real human urgency, and we're talking about a moral question to which Scripture speaks emphatically and categorically.
So we've been watching as this pope has followed the kind of dichotomy between official church teaching and pastoral application. Now we have another dualism, the dualism between official church teaching and personal or private conversation. Neither of those dualisms will fit when it comes to a biblical understanding of ministry. Not at all.
How are evangelical Christian to think about homosexuality and sexual orientation?
But this is where we have to go back to the pope's reported comments and understand there are massive issues here that require our own moral reasoning, our very careful worldview thinking from the Scriptures. For example, according to the statement made by this man, the pope said, "God made you that way," meaning gay, "and loves you as you are."
Now, is that true, or is that false? Of course, we start in the biblical worldview saying to every single human being, "God made you," and a very great deal of what God made you to be and celebrates in you is revealed in your creation, something as fundamental, by the way, as sex, whether or not we are male or female. God's sovereignty in our creation has a great deal to do with the fact that we are born to particular parents at a particular time. In space and time in history, we are fixed. We didn't choose to be born, we didn't schedule ourselves. A sovereign gracious divine creator gave us the gift of life and gives that gift of life to every single human being, every one of whom is made in God's image, and thus is to be received and respected and celebrated as another image bearer of the Creator, God.
What about the words, "as you are"? Well, that's a problem, because we have to understand here that the Bible also tells us that "as we are" reflects not only the goodness of God's act in creation, but the effects of the fall and of human sin. We can't simply look at ourselves even look at our own pattern of temptation related to sexuality or anything else, or look at our own confusions or identity crisis, or anything else and say, "God made me this way, and then loves me just as I am." The scripture doesn't say that God loves us just as we are. The scripture says that God loves us, He loves us so much that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him might not perish but have everlasting life. God loves us to the extent that He sent Jesus as our savior. He loves us as we are as sinners, and the way the scripture describes, telling us that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. But he does not love us as we are, as we are defined by sin.
The Associated Press reports of the pope's statements as reported in El País, that Spanish newspaper, also quoted the pope as saying to this man that his sexuality, "does not matter." Now, that simply flies in the face of the clear revelation of God in Scripture. But we need to know it also is a direct contradiction of the current official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. And because the Roman Catholic Church's official teaching takes the form of a catechism that we can read ourselves, we ought to turn to it and ask, what does the Roman Catholic Church teach right now, officially regarding these things? There we look at the Catechism, a paragraph 2357, and there we read that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. Now, in that statement in the Catechism, it's reflected that that is actually a continuing statement from received Catholic doctrine.
Once again, "Basing itself on sacred scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law," says the Catechism, "They closed the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine effective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved."
Now, look at that very carefully. It's hard to imagine how anyone can misunderstand any single word, much less the pattern of the words that appear in those very clear, unambiguous, propositional sentences. There is the official declaration of the Roman Catholic Church. That, to say the very least, is not what the pope said in his statement as now reported in the international media. But then we have to ask the question, well, was the pope talking about a pattern of sexual attraction, or was he talking about merely sexual behaviors? Well, it can be argued from the context that the pope was talking about a pattern of sexual attraction, what is often referred to now in the language of a sexual orientation.
Well, does the Catechism speak to that? Indeed, it does. Paragraph 2358, that would be the very next paragraph. There we read concerning homosexual tendencies, "This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them, that means persons who struggle with such an orientation, a trial." The Catechism goes on to say, "They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives, and if they are Christians," says the Catechism, "to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's cross, the difficulties they may encounter from their condition." The very next statement by the way is this, "Homosexual persons are called to chastity."
What's so important for us to recognize given the importance and the urgency of these questions, is that the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church stands in direct opposition to what the pope of the Roman Catholic Church declared, even in these most recently reported statements. But for us that's not even the most important issue. The most important issue is the distinction that is made here in the official Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church between homosexual acts, which in the words of the Catechism are intrinsically disordered, that means contrary to nature, but also the fact that the Catechism makes a distinction when speaking a sexual orientation, a pattern of sexual attraction.
But you'll notice that the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church is not that that is morally neutral, rather, the very words that are used in the current Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, words that are not quoted from a previous doctrinal authority, and thus are to be rooted in this modern statement, the understanding, the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church is that, "This inclination is objectively disordered." So same sex acts are intrinsically disordered. Same sexual attraction is objectively disordered.
Again, it's very difficult to understand how you can misunderstand this teaching. Of course, the reporting here, the big story here is not the charge that the pope has misunderstood the official teaching, rather, it's that the pope is changing the official teaching with another wink and another nod, another statement attributed to the pope that the Vatican says didn't come with the Vatican's approval, but most importantly, hasn't come with the Vatican's denial.
But then for us, the most basic issue, how are we to think about these things? And the answer is, the evangelical Christians based upon Scripture have come to the very same conclusions that the Roman Catholic Church teaches in its Catechism, in the paragraphs that I cited. The reason for this is quite evident. The Bible speaks abundantly to this moral reality. The Bible speaks specifically and clearly to God's pattern of gender and sexuality, and of sexual expression and sexual behavior. The Bible's unambiguous. The only legitimate sexual attraction, the only legitimate sexual activity is between a man and a woman, one man and one woman within the covenant of marriage as a lifelong monogamous union. But here we have to go back to where we were some time ago in looking at the dichotomy that was made by Father James Martin between someone who is born that way or doesn't choose a certain sexual orientation,, and the position on the other side that sexual orientation is entirely chosen. As I said those are false alternatives. They're not pastorally or theologically helpful.
A biblical understanding of our sexuality reminds us that we do not fully know ourselves, we do not even know ourselves well enough to know where something we may desire comes from. That is to say that we as sinners in all kinds of dimensions, may experience temptations that we did not ask for. And this comes to patterns of sexual attraction as well. Sexual attraction is not something that is so simple as to say, we chose it, but that also doesn't mean that we're not responsible for it. And it certainly does not mean that all desires are simply, by the fact that they are desires, good. The Bible makes that option not possible.
If same sex acts are, as the Catechism says, intrinsically disordered, and if the orientation is also objectively disordered, what we need to understand is that if the scripture says that something is sin, to desire that same sin cannot be but sinful. Does this mean therefore that we turn to LGBTQ people and say, you have an orientation as sinner, that is uniquely sinful and in contrast to others who are not so sinful? That is not what scripture teaches. This is where we have to go back to scripture and remind ourselves that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. That is to say, to be born a sinful human being is to be born with a sinful orientation, a comprehensively sinful orientation. Everything that we touch, everything that we do, everything that we are is corrupted and tainted by sin, including our self-knowledge, such that we are, of all creatures, actually the most incompetent in understanding why we are, who we are as sinners.
This throws us back on our absolute dependence upon Christ and the Gospel, our absolute dependence upon God's unerring revelation in his word. This is where we have to point ourselves and all persons to the unyielding authority of the word of God and God's love for us by telling us in His word, how we are to live and how we are to love. No one, understanding a biblical conception of sin, would believe that anything so powerful as sexual orientation, or that kind of sexual attraction is something that a sinner can simply turn on and turn off, or switch as if it were a dial. No sin is so easily dealt with. But this is where we also have to point all persons to that simple biblical truth that points us to the heart of the Gospel. Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.
This is where we also simply have to confess and humbly so, that we will never speak about these things in a way that is absolutely right. That too is affected by our sin. But this is where Christians, evangelical Christians standing upon the authority of the Gospel, biblical Christians standing upon the authority of Scripture, have to be engaged in a continual conversation in which we teach one another from scripture, and we encourage one another, every single one of us as one another to holiness. But this is where we also have to remind ourselves over and over again that pastoral or personal sensitivity simply is not served by being unfaithful to scripture. Where the Scripture speaks so clearly, we dare not speak ambiguously.
Why an unborn child shouldn’t be recognized as an unborn child only when that unborn child is wanted by his or her parents
Finally, I want to turn to an incredibly sad but very important article that appeared in last Friday's edition of The New York Times. It's one of those articles that you might not at first recognize as coming with massive worldview's significance. It does certainly come with massive personal meaning. Ashley Southall reporting the story tells us, "Earlier this year, the Tony Award-winning actress, Ruthie Ann Miles and her husband were preparing for the birth of their second child. The family was dealt a tragedy in March when the couple's five-year-old daughter, Abigail was killed and Ms. Miles was critically injured by a driver who lost control of her car in Park Slope, Brooklyn. The couple's grief swelled last week, we are told, when their unborn daughter died as Ms. Miles's due date approached, that, according to a lawyer for the family.
The article, with heartbreak, goes on to report, the child, whom the family planned to name Sophia Rosemary, died on May 11, and at that point, Ms. Miles was 39 weeks pregnant. "Doctors believe Sophia's death was the result of her mother's injuries from the crash."
The story turns even more tragic as we continue reading, "Ms. Miles was walking with her friend Lauren Lew and their two young children across Ninth Street on March the 5th, when a car rolled through a red light and accelerated. Abigail died along with Ms. Lu's one-year-old son Charles who was in a stroller. At the time, the police said that Abigail was four. Criminal charges were filed against the driver. The Brooklyn district attorney said last week that no additional charges will be filed against the driver, who is now being held on Rikers Island and faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted of manslaughter."
So, here's a news report with undeniable heartbreak, heartbreak that directly affected two families in the deaths of now, three children. The news reporter tells us that it all goes back to a car that ran a red light in Brooklyn and not only ran the light, but then accelerated, hitting the pedestrians. Our hearts certainly go out to both of these families, and you sense the grief in this article in The New York Times. But there's something that ought to catch our attention and shouldn't be missed. It's the headline in the article. The headline in the print edition of the article, published last Friday is this, "Actress loses unborn child, months after Park Slope crash." Again, the headline, "Actress loses unborn child, months after Park Slope crash." Unborn child? Don't miss that.
How in the world did this particular unborn child become a headline of The New York Times? An unborn child. Why is this child, not according to The New York Times, merely a fetus. The context of the news article reminds us that even as the New York Times is aggressively pro-abortion, and even as, in its own official editorial statements, the New York Times editors have argued time and time again that there is no constitutional right that pertains to the unborn child's existence at all. Even though the New York Times has argued editorially over and over again that the unborn child is not a person and is certainly not a person until that person is born, when it comes to reporting on this situation, the New York Times itself did not choose the word "fetus", but rather used the word "child". Again, "Actress loses unborn child, months after Park Slope crash."
Then what's the distinction? Is it the age or the development of the child? We're talking about 39 weeks of pregnancy here. Well, you might make that argument except for one fact, The New York Times editorial board has argued against even any kind of legislation that would limit partial birth abortions right up to the very moment of birth. So that must not be it. So what must be the issue? What comes in the article clearly as grief is the fact that these two parents wanted this child. So is that the issue? Is a wanted unborn child a child, and an unwanted unborn child merely a fetus? It's sad to reflect that upon analysis, that has to be the only distinguishing issue. An unborn child that is wanted, ends up being referred to as a child. An unborn child that is not wanted is simply dismissed as a fetus. That's the great tragedy here. It's not the fact that this unborn child is recognized as an unborn child, it's the fact that so many tens of millions of other unborn children are not recognized as who they are, also unborn children.
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'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.