Tuesday, Aug 21, 2018

Tuesday, Aug 21, 2018

The Briefing

August 21, 2018

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It’s Tuesday, August 21, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Trinity Western University changes direction on student covenant. What’s at stake for religious schools?

Back in June, we talked about the development that took place in Canada where that nation’s Supreme Court ruled against Trinity Western University–that’s the most comprehensive Christian University there in Canada–and ruled instead that law societies in several Canadian provinces have the right not to recognize the graduates of the new Christian law school at Trinity Western University precisely because the law school, as well as the university, writ large requires a moral covenant that excludes homosexual behavior and same-sex marriage of all students and faculty and administrators.

Jim Bronskill for the Canadian press reported on June 15, and I quote, “Trinity Western University, a private post-secondary institution in Langley, was founded on evangelical Christian principles and requires students to adhere to a covenant allowing sexual intimacy only between a married man and woman.”

Back on June 15th, administrators at Trinity Western University indicated their disappointment in both of the decisions handed down by Canada’s highest court, but then just about two months later, last week in August, the University announced that it is changing the policy.

Elizabeth Redden reporting for Inside Higher Education tells us, “An evangelical Christian university in Canada has announced that students will no longer be required to abide by a ‘community covenant’ barring same-sex relationships or any other form of sexual activity ‘that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.'”

Redden went on to say that the decision by Trinity Western University’s board of governors comes about two months after decision handed down by the Supreme Court. Furthermore, she reports that in a statement released last week, Trinity Western University president Bob Kuhn said that the decision to make the covenant non-mandatory for students was taken with the view that it would, in his words, “successfully position us to better fulfill the Trinity Western University mission.”

Now listen carefully to the actual language adopted in the policy change by the board of governors of this Christian university. “In furtherance of our desire to maintain TWU as a thriving community of Christian believers that is inclusive of all students wishing to learn from a Christian viewpoint and underlying philosophy, the community covenant will no longer be mandatory as of the 2018-19 academic year with respect to admission of students to, or continuation of students at, the university.” The story then goes on to tell us that Trinity Western officials indicated that the covenant will remain mandatory for faculty, staff, and administrators.

A statement by the university president was posted to the university’s website where he went on to say, “Let there be no confusion regarding the board of governors’ resolution; our mission remains the same. We will remain a biblically-based, mission-focused, academically excellent university, fully committed to our foundational evangelical Christian principles. We will continue to be a Christ-centered community, one that is defined by our shared pursuit of seeking to glorify God by revealing His truth, compassion, reconciliation and hope to a world in need.”

Now, all evangelical Christians should have sympathy for this evangelical institution in Canada forced into a very difficult predicament, a predicament in which the University is forced to choose between its Christian convictions on behalf of its students and their moral behavior and the potential accreditation for the law school. If it is accredited, it would become the first accredited Christian law school or the first accredited law school in a Christian University in Canada.

But there are some very subtle and troubling shifts that are reflected in this story. Just track the biggest shift of all. It is a shift from a university that holds all of its students accountable to the Christian worldview in their own behavior to a university that defines itself now as attracting students of a diverse background that are coming to a university that teaches according to a Christian worldview. That’s a fundamental distinction. It’s a distinction with a massive difference, and we need to understand what’s going on here.

A university or an academic institution, that would include a seminary, is defined not only by its president and not only by its board and not only by its faculty but also necessarily by its students. The students to a large degree define the character of the institution. It’s a form of circularity, of symbiosis, of reciprocity. Eventually, the faculty and the student body reflect one another. The student body is attracted by the faculty and the faculty is hired in order to attract a certain student body. The character of the student body and the character of the faculty eventually, necessarily go hand-in-hand. In the case of Trinity Western University in order to meet the expectations of the government, in order to escape the predicament into which they were forced by the nation’s Supreme Court, they are changing the policies related to the student body, and the redefinition of that student body is incredibly significant.

I go back to the statement that was released by the university, a statement of the intention, “to maintain TWU as a thriving community of Christian believers that is,” notice these words carefully, “inclusive of all students wishing to learn from a Christian viewpoint and underlying philosophy.”

Following the logic of this secular pressure in Canada, it is now impossible in Canada to have a Christian institution that would be marked by a student body held to Christian moral principles. You also have to note the draconian power of government and bureaucracy and the judicial arm there in Canada, when it comes to this case, because the presenting issue, the lawsuit, specifically had to do with the law school but now the policy has been changed for the entire University.

Now when I speak of this concern, I want to be concrete, I want to illustrate how this concern works. Just consider the news out of Canada and add to that news reported out of Indianapolis, Indiana over the weekend. The headline is this: “Catholic students fill stadium with rainbows in support of suspended counselor.” You can pretty much figure out what the story is about. It’s about a Catholic high school in Indianapolis, where a guidance counselor was discovered to be married to another of the same-sex, engaged and involved in a same-sex marriage. Evidently, this had been the case since 2014, but according to the press reports, it only rather recently came to the knowledge of school administrators.

Now, this Catholic high school in Indianapolis holds itself to Catholic doctrine when it comes to the definition of marriage and human sexuality. We are told that the guidance counselor “was placed on paid administrative leave last weekend after school and church officials were presented with evidence of her 2014 same-sex marriage. School officials defended the action, saying its contract requires teachers to uphold the teachings of the Catholic Church, including marriage between a man and a woman.”

Well, there you see the parallel in this Catholic high school in Indianapolis where faculty and administrators are required to adhere to a specific understanding of marriage and human sexual conduct, but students evidently do not have to affirm that historic Catholic teaching. Instead, the entire new story is about students of the Catholic high school joined by students at yet another Catholic high school at a football game between the two schools where the students were campaigning on behalf of the guidance counselor, not on behalf of Catholic teaching.

We have seen a similar kind of trajectory in Christian colleges and universities that begin to recognize openly identified LGBTQ groups on campus. Eventually, there is pressure from the student body, a student body after all paying tuition and helping to fund the institution. There is pressure for the college or the university to change its historic commitment to a Christian biblical understanding of marriage and sexuality. When you change the student body, it is just a matter of time until you change the tenor, the character, and the convictional commitments of the academic institution as well. That’s true of a Catholic high school in Indianapolis. It’s true of a Christian university or college wherever it is found.

Once again, we fully understand and sympathize with the predicament, but this is the kind of change coming under secular pressure that eventually will threaten to undermine all of the commitments of any convictional institution.

Part II

In a frighteningly short amount of time, Scotland becomes a strikingly secular nation

Meanwhile, as we’re rethinking about the progression of secularism in a society, it turns out that one of the most important test cases is across the Atlantic in Scotland. Just last year, the BBC, that is the British Broadcasting Corporation, reported that a majority of Scots now say that they are not religious. The story begins just under a quarter, that’s 23.6% of Scots said they are religious, while 72.4% said they were not.

Now, the original research was funded by the group known as the Humanist Society Scotland. That might make us slightly suspicious about the nature of this research, except as it turns out the research is quite credible, and it’s backed up by other academic research. There is here a claim that the majority, and here we’re talking about, the vast majority over 70%, 72.4% of Scots in 2017 identified themselves as being not religious.

Now as we know, there are different ways to interpret the self-designation as being nonreligious, but the one thing we do know is that such a self-identification is incompatible with anything close to theism or belief in Christianity. This is a quite significant finding. Just a matter of days ago, a similar report was released, and it came to the very same conclusions. The numbers are slightly different, but the bottom line is the same: Scotland has become a remarkably secular nation in a frighteningly short amount of time. In a historical perspective, basically a blink.

The results of the report earlier this month indicate that most people in Scotland self identify as nonreligious. Women are more likely to be nonreligious than men, that 62% to 55%. That’s somewhat different than the pattern we find in North America. Most people, we are told, in Scotland do not believe in life after death. The majority, the Scottish public do not believe in angels, evil spirits, divine miracles from God. Most people in Scotland never pray. Now here again, that’s a radical distinction with how people define themselves and their practice here in North America, especially in the United States. 60% of those in Scotland reported they had never attended church outside of weddings or funerals, but then we come across a stunning fact as the kind of fact that’s embedded in a study like this but it all of a sudden leaps out and grabs us.

Here is the fact: “Last year, Humanist Society Scotland conducted more marriages in Scotland” that is more weddings, “than any other religious group, including the Church of Scotland.” Now, I’m rather custom over time to looking at all the documentation of secularization and its progress throughout Western societies. I’m used to seeing the release of these reports, either from groups like the Pew Research Center or Norcare in the United States, or when you’re looking at Canada and Great Britain and the rest of Europe, similar kinds of academic research centers.

But when you’re looking at a report from a government concerning the conducting of weddings, then you were really looking at a fact that cries out for attention, and when you have a nation like Scotland, a nation historically connected to very high rates of church attendance and a very clear theological identity, especially when you think about the reformation and legacy of John Knox. When you’re talking about that nation now having a government that records more weddings conducted by humanists than by any other religious group, including the Church of Scotland, then you’re looking at one of those facts that simply tells us the world has changed, and this world has changed in the most incredible way in Scotland.

In an article that ran just several days ago from the Guardian, that’s a rather liberal but major newspaper in London, we read by Severin Carrell: “Robyn Hewatt and Andrew Downie were married with all the trappings of a traditional Scottish wedding: Hewatt’s father walked her down the aisle; she had maids of honor and Downie had a best man. A piper played at the door. But there was no priest, minister or registrar to lead the ceremony. Like thousands of Scots, Hewatt and Andrew Downie were legally married by a humanist celebrant. For the first time last year,” reported the Guardian, “in what was once a famously religious country, the Humanist Society of Scotland married more people than the Church of England.”

Now before we go further in the story and look at greater depth of this issue, we need to remind ourselves that humanism is not synonymous with secularity. It’s not synonymous with secularization. Secularization can take many forms, but when we talk about humanism, we’re talking about a particular form of a more secularized worldview that has specific cognitive, intellectual content, and that places it in what we might consider to be the left edge of the more secular worldviews. Because it’s not just based in something like agnosticism, it’s based in a very clear argument about the absence of God. That is, an atheism that is joined to the elevation of human beings. That’s the very issue of humanism.

Thus when you go back to the 1970s and 80s, American evangelicals were largely introduced to the alternative worldview to Christianity, the Francis Schaeffer, amongst others, defined as secular humanism. In this case, you don’t even have to put secular in front of humanism. The humanism is just explicitly secular and aggressively secular. This tells us that the situation in secular Scotland is more radically changed than even we might have imagined, because it will be one thing to say that there are more secular weddings undertaken in Scotland than weddings under the auspices of the Church of Scotland, but that’s not what is claimed here. That’s not what is reported by the Scottish government. The government here is not reporting nearly secular weddings, they can be conducted by government officials, but rather humanist weddings that are conducted by those who have credentials by the Humanist Society in Scotland.

The reporter Severin Carrell for the Guardian tells us: “Scotland categorizes humanist weddings as a non-religious belief ceremony, with the same legal status as church-based and civil marriages. Humanists include atheists and agnostics, and those who say they are spiritual but who dislike organized religion. They embrace same-sex marriage, too, unlike most mainstream churches. And since 2005 they have mushroomed: in 2017, there were 5,912 humanist weddings with 3,283 conducted by the Humanist Society celebrants compared with just 3,166 conducted by the Church of Scotland.” Notice those numbers. That means the Church of Scotland comes not only behind those identified as humanist weddings but behind those explicitly recorded as being celebrated or conducted by the Humanist Society specifically.

Caroline Lambie, who conducted the wedding of the couple here under the auspices of the Humanist Society, speaking of a couple said, “Being secular makes sense for most couples I deal with. These couples say to me that they would feel hypocritical if they did have a church wedding as they have no religious beliefs.” The report then cites one of the major scholars of secularization. That’s Callum Brown at the University of Glasgow who said, “Scotland is leading the world in nonreligious belief weddings. I know of no other country where it is anywhere near so high.”

The Church of Scotland has been busy liberalizing its own understanding of marriage. The Guardian article cites the Reverend Dr. George Whyte identified as the principal clerk at the Church of Scotland who claimed that his church had failed to market its increasingly liberal approach to weddings. The Church of England, we are told, by contrast, has a slick and cheery website devoted to selling its religious marriages. That’s the website yourchurchwedding.org. So here you have an official with the Church of Scotland blaming the issue of an increasing number of secular weddings on bad marketing by the Church of Scotland.

Other research underlines the unprecedented speed of secularization in Scotland. An academic article entitled Scotland, religion, culture, and national identity by David Brown, published in the International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church states it this way: “What is certainly the case is that, despite Scotland being a country that was as late as the 1960s still far more committed to religious observance than its southern neighbor,” that would be England, “it has now become much more secular than England. Already in some Scottish cities the majority of funerals are secular, a surprising fact given that one might have expected such trends to impact on the elderly last.”

Patterns we need to note here. Patterns that demand our attention include the changed position of Scotland and England when it comes to secularization. It’s taken place just within my own lifetime. Back in the 1960s, Scotland was far more religious than England, but now it is far less so. Scotland has secularized such a rapid pace that it is now far more secular than England, a fact that seemed almost incomprehensible just a matter of a couple of decades ago.

The other pattern to note here is that even as we were talking previously about secular weddings, now we’re talking about the fact that in Scotland a majority of the funerals are also secular. Now, one of the points that just about any sociologist of religion will underline is this: when you’re talking about weddings and you’re talking about funerals, you’re talking about the least secular moments traditionally in a society. If weddings and funerals have become secular, what that really tells you is that the entire nation is trending radically secular.

Now before leaving Scotland, there is a bit of good news, clarifying news for us to consider here. Because even as in Scotland, the nation is becoming radically more secular, the Christians who remain, especially young churches and the evangelical churches, are becoming much stronger theologically than they had been in the past. This is encouraging, but it also tells us something of vital importance. Under the pressures of secularization, it’s the middle that first disappears. It is the mildly customarily, culturally religious, who ceased to be religious.

When it comes to those who are believers, sincere believers, church active believers, convictional catechized doctrinally educated believers, they tend to become even more seriously Christian, even if in their numbers they are a smaller percentage of the larger population.

Part III

How long can you have faithful church members when you have a faithless church leaders?

But it’s also incredibly significant that we look at yet another paragraph in this academic article by David Brown where he writes: “Ironically, that period of sharp decline in religious belief not only corresponds with the life span of currently Scotland’s best known cleric, Richard Holloway, a former Primus or Primate of the Scottish Episcopal Church, but also with his own declension in belief.”

Now as we’re looking at Richard Holloway, we’re looking at a man who from 1986 to 2000 was the Bishop of Edinburgh of the Scottish Episcopal Church. Between 1992 and 2000, he was the primus, he was the chief cleric. That is, the chief leader, ministerially speaking, of the Episcopal Church in Scotland. That’s the church of England and Scotland. But what we read about in this article by David Brown is Bishop Holloway’s declension of belief. What does that mean? It means the Bishop’s abandonment of the faith while he was the Bishop of Edinburgh, while he was the primate of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

During that period, he abandoned not only all the historic doctrines of Christianity, not only any claimed biblical inspiration or authority, but he abandoned by any normal definition theism, which means belief in God. So here we’re talking about a nation that has experienced a decline of belief which oddly enough is documented by David Brown, runs just about parallel to the loss of belief of one of the nation’s most important, and according to this article, most famous religious leaders who’s now mostly famous or infamous for being nonreligious.

By the way, it was the system of issues related to LGBTQ, that were the catalyst according to Holloway himself for his decline of faith for his abandonment of historic Christianity. But he also went at an even more basic level at the fact that disagreement over LGBTQ issues relates to a far deeper disagreement about biblical authority, the entire shape of Christian theology, and even one’s belief about God. He went on to say, “One of the things that bedevils religion, is that it develops official truth, which is antithetical to real truth.”

Now just consider that juxtaposition. He says that religions are dangerous because they believe in religious truth which is antithetical to real truth. Now that’s a rather nonsensical statement, but it’s particularly stunning coming from a man who once held the senior clerical position in the Scottish Episcopal Church. We’re not talking about someone on the street. We’re not talking about someone well known for decades as a secular academic. We’re talking about a man who was the former Bishop of Edinburgh.

Back when he held both of the positions as the Primus of the church and also as the Bishop of Edinburgh, Holloway had written a book oddly enough entitled Godless Morality. If you look at the book, it’s an absolute catalog of just about every heretical teaching you could imagine. It is a direct assault upon, not only evangelical Christianity but any form of historic Christianity in theology and doctrine.

In this book, again published when he was a bishop, Holloway argues for what he calls an ethics or morality of consent rather than a morality of command. He calls for an abandonment of historic Christian morality, any form of biblical revealed morality, and instead, commends a form of ethical improvisation that he terms ethical jazz. It’s actually hard to imagine a more faithless book written by someone who held the title and the office of a bishop of the church, but there was one statement in this book with which I found absolute agreement. It’s a profoundly true statement and rarely do you see someone coming from the former Bishop Holloway’s direction that is this candid.

Here’s what he wrote and I quote, “If Christians do come apart over this issue,” he means sexuality, “it will be because of disagreements over theology and philosophy, not because of sex. The sexuality debate,” he said, “is a symptom or expression of a deeper, more substantive conflict about truth and the ways we apprehend it. So,” the bishop said, “if the Christian church does break up it will be because of profound, not superficial matters. It will be because of issues far more important than sexuality.” That is so fundamentally true.

What the bishop recognizes is that the issues really are not just the presenting questions. They come to us in the headlines. The issue is a basic question of truth, a basic understanding of the existence and nature and character of God. A basic question about the inspiration and authority of Scripture. A basic set of questions about the gospel in Christ. A set of questions that doesn’t begin with the headline issues of human sexuality but eventually cannot avoid them. But the bishop in this book entitled Godless Morality did understand that there are even more basic issues at stake and he should know. So you might ponder the question, just how long can you have faithful church members when you have a faithless bishop? Well, you should note the recent data coming from Scotland actually answers that very question.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You could 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.

Today, I’ll be delivering the opening convocation message at the formal beginning of the term for the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College. It’s a majestic event, and I invite you to listen. It will be streamed live at sbts.edu/live at 10 o’clock eastern time. I’ll be preaching from 1 Corinthians 4:20: “For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.” I invite you to join us 10 o’clock eastern time, www.sbts.edu/live.

I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me using the contact form. Follow regular updates on Twitter at @albertmohler.

Subscribe via email for daily Briefings and more (unsubscribe at any time).