Tuesday, Sept 25, 2018

Tuesday, Sept 25, 2018

The Briefing

September 25, 2018

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

It’s Tuesday, September 25, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Azusa Pacific University removes ban on LGBTQ relationships, marking complete reversal on historic Christian understanding of romance

Back on March the 27th of this year, Tom Gjelten of National Public Radio reported a story with the headline “Evangelical Colleges are Tangled in Their Own LGBT Policies.” Gjelten began his report with these words, “Conservative Christian colleges, once relatively insulated from the culture war, are increasingly entangled in the same battles over LGBT rights and related social issues that have divided other institutions in America.”

The essence of Gjelten’s report is that several institutions … Actually, it’s more than several, colleges and universities historically identified as Christian, they are struggling with how to handle the entire array of issues under the description LGBT or LGBTQ. When Gjelten speaks of these institutions being entangled in their own LGBT policies, he’s pointing to the fact that at least some people on these campuses, and increasingly this means students in particular, but now also faculty and others related to the university, are pressing to change the institution’s behavioral, moral, and sometimes even doctrinal expectations and requirements.

As you look at Gjelten’s report, several institutions named in the article indicate that they are acknowledging the struggle, the struggle of their current entanglement with historic policies, policies we should note that have, in the main, been consonant with a Christian biblical sexual morality. But that sexual morality has now run into a head-on collision with the LGBT morality. Of course, that’s increasingly the established and coerced sexual morality and gender identity within the United States, especially within worlds as regulated and with such tight expectations as American academia.

The pressure of the American academic context is absolutely massive, and that’s reflected in this article as well. But toward the end of this article, which ran on the 27th of March, Christine Guzman is quoted. She’s the Title IX coordinator at Azusa Pacific University in California. She said, “Sex has to do with identity and your gender and with who you are, so if there’s a student who is feeling discriminated against because of their gender, then yes, absolutely, I’m going to apply that law.” Gjelten then reports, “So far, at least, Guzman is attentive to gay and transgender students despite her school’s official belief that human beings are created as gendered beings and that heterosexuality is God’s design.”

Well, just in recent days, Azusa Pacific University has not announced that it is taking that language out, but it is announcing that it is fundamentally changing its understanding and its expectation when it comes to students on that campus in Azusa, California. A week ago today, that institution’s student newspaper released a story with these words, “Effective this Fall 2018 semester, Azusa Pacific removed language from its student standard of conduct agreement that prohibited public LGBTQ+ relationships for students on campus.” The statement continues, “As an evangelical institution, Azusa Pacific University still adheres to the biblical principles of sexual morality, the belief that sexual union,” this is a direct quote, “is intended by God to take place only within the marriage covenant between a man and a woman” and, we are told, it remains a cornerstone of the university’s foundation.

But as this story makes clear, even as that language is being retained, a fundamental worldview is being changed. The news report goes on to say that the change is the result of dialogue between students and administration. “For years, LGBTQ+ students at APU have run an underground support group called Haven. However, because they weren’t endorsed by APU as an official club, they couldn’t gather on campus or advertise their meetings.”

Well, as it turns out, there has now been an official conversation between Haven and the Azusa Pacific University administrative board and, furthermore, it’s been with the intervention of an organization known as Brave Commons. Now, you turn to where this is going. Erin Green, co-executive director of Brave Commons and a recent alumnus of Azusa Pacific University, said, “We thought it was unfair to single out queer folks in same-sex romantic relationships while it is impossible to enforce or monitor whether other students are remaining abstinent. Queer students are just as able to have romanticized relationships that abide by Azusa Pacific University’s rules.” The code that has been reversed, she said, “falsely assumed that same-sex romances always involved sexual behavior. This stigmatization causes harm to our community, especially those serious about their Christian faith.”

Responding to the announcement about the change of policy, the university’s associate dean of students, Bill Fiala, said that as the board had evaluated the code of conduct, they wanted to be, and this is the word in the statement, “attentive to equity.” The associate dean went on to say, “The changes that occurred to the handbooks around sexual behavior creates one standard for all undergraduate students as opposed to differential standards for different groups. The change that happened with the code of conduct is still in alignment with our identity as a Christian institution. The language changed, but the spirit didn’t. Our spirit is still a conservative evangelical perspective on human sexuality.”

Well, that’s what is being claimed, but the entire article, the entire statement from Azusa Pacific University, betrays that claim. You can’t claim that you are fundamentally changing Christian sexual morality on your campus but then, at the same time, not fundamentally changing Christian sexual morality.

Now, as you’re looking at this, the language becomes extremely important. For example, the associate dean said, “The language changed but the spirit didn’t. Our spirit is still a conservative evangelical perspective on human sexuality.” Well, what does the word spirit mean there, exactly? Does it mean an attitude, or does it mean the substance? In substance, you can’t deny this is a very big change. If there were not such a large change, there would not have been a news story.

This makes us return to the very opening paragraph in the statement from last week, where even though APU is identified as an evangelical institution which is still adhering to what are identified as biblical principles of human sexuality, well, it turns out that in that statement, those principles are reduced to a physical act of sexual union. That, we are told, is still restricted, according to APU’s belief, to a marriage covenant between a man and a woman.

But what we are looking at here is the fact that the change at Azusa Pacific means a change in the fact that same-sex couples will be able to be identified romantically as same-sex couples and to be involved in the full life of the campus as same-sex couples and, furthermore, as openly LGBTQ+ individuals, and that the only restriction, well, it comes down to whatever might be defined as this physical act which expresses sexuality.

But in the context of this announced change, when you look at the statement, certain words and certain terms take on what can only be described as an explosive significance. For example, the associate dean of students is cited as offering the fact that the university’s response was at least in part predicated on a desire to be, “attentive to equity.” Well, what in the world would that mean? What does the word equity mean in this context? Here, it can only mean an equity between students who are not LGBTQ+ and students who are LGBTQ+ when it comes to establishing romantic relationships short of what’s described here as sexual union.

But then we also have to go back to that statement that was made by Erin Green, co-executive director of Brave Commons, the facilitator of this conversation. She said, listen to these words again, “We thought it was unfair to single out queer folks in same-sex romantic relationships while it is impossible to enforce or monitor,” and then in brackets, “whether other students are remaining abstinent.”

Now, here you see the equity that’s being invoked. It’s a very strange notion of equity, but it’s one that is being pushed by the LGBTQ revolution. What does it mean? Well, it’s straightforward in that statement, if you heard. What it means is that those who are in same-sex or otherwise described LGBTQ+ relationships should be considered on par with the relationship between a young man and a young woman when it comes to the legitimacy of that romance and that romantic relationship short of what Azusa Pacific University is identifying as sexual union.

Well, let’s face the facts squarely. That’s not a small change. That’s a complete reversal and repudiation of the historic Christian understanding of what romance is to be, as defined by Scripture, and what is appropriate as sexual and gender identity, as defined by Scripture. What you have here is something else we have seen campus after campus, college or university, one after another. Once there is the acknowledgment of an official group on campus or of alumni but otherwise related to the college or university that has an official status of conversation with the administration or with the board of trustees, openly identified as LGBTQ or, in this case, LGBTQ+, then what you have is a process that can only end, one way or another, either sooner or later, in the abandonment of a biblical sexual morality and understanding of gender.

But here we also have to notice that justice is being invoked. The word isn’t used here, but when the word equity is used, justice is the only meaningful context. They are arguing that justice demands, otherwise they wouldn’t be making this change and statement, that those who are same-sex identified somewhere on that spectrum of LGBTQ+ in their romantic relationships are to be considered as equal to, having equity with, heterosexual romantic relationships.

Part II

Can the word ‘evangelical’ rightly be applied to a university that embraces the sexual revolution?

But there you see another problem. This is one of those halfway positions that won’t stay halfway. To state the matter bluntly, though not graphically, what Azusa Pacific University is saying right now is that it is all right for same-sex couples … And remember, this is more than same-sex couples, given the consonants that are invoked in this particular list. But same-sex couples are now going to be allowed, you would have to say even encouraged given the notion of equity, the development of romantic relationships.

But even as heterosexual romantic relationships can eventually be consummated in marriage, that is not the case for these same-sex relationships, not to mention the other relationships that are beyond even what we can define as same-sex. Thus you begin to see the problem. This is implying an equity that fundamentally is not equal and can never be equal. The statement also says that the university is moving forward with a pilot program which involves the administration and students on the campus, “to co-create a pilot program to provide a safe space for LGBTQ+ students on campus.”

Now, as you look at what these safe spaces mean on other college and university campuses, well, it can only be described as a way for that gender and sexual identity, and again, there’s more there in this entire list, to be expressed in a way that is to be normalized within the institution’s life. There’s just no other way to describe it. Then explaining this, the associate dean is quoted as saying, “Our hope is that the students who come experience respect, justice, grace, and understanding. If you look at our mission,” he said, “it’s consistent with Christianity. Our values for the pilot program are inclusivity, love, bravery. Our goals are care, connection, and conversation. These all seem like Christian values to me,” he said. “I believe that our program’s mission is alignment with the values of the university in caring for students and creating conversation about difficult topics.”

Now, what we need to note is the absence of any distinctively Christian truth claim, any reference to the teachings of Scripture, or the content of Christianity other than character attributes that the associate dean cites. But later in the article, he makes an even more telling statement. Speaking of the conversation about these issues that this pilot project is supposed to engender, he said, “I’m not a big fan of who’s right and who’s wrong in this conversation. I’m a big fan of caring for people, so my hope would be that we treat each other that way.”

Well, notice what’s happening here. It’s an absolute subversion of the question about what’s right and what’s wrong before you even get to who’s right and who’s wrong. But the associate dean, and I want to use his very words again, said, “I’m not a big fan of who’s right and who’s wrong in this conversation.” Well, that’s actually the responsibility of any authentically Christian institution, to know what’s right and what’s wrong, and thus, by making the arguments, who’s right and who’s wrong. This doesn’t mean that we treat one another without respect, but it does mean that we speak to one another biblical truth, Christian truth, the Christian consensus on these issues of biblical sexuality and gender identity in the entire history of the church until very recently.

But we see this spreading institution by institution, even as the powers of coercion continue to bring pressure on all Christian institutions. The question is how many can withstand this pressure. Let’s consider what kind of pressure we’re looking at here. First of all, there is external pressure, pressure coming, well, in that first article by Tom Gjelten, one of the officials at Azusa Pacific was identified as a Title IX coordinator.

That means Title IX, the federal regulations in effect for academic institutions in which there’s participation with federal student funding. Title IX has been increasingly pressed by some, especially in the Obama administration, to include gender identity and sexual orientation. That’s still an open question, and the Trump administration has pressed back on that expansion, but make no mistake, that expansion is likely to come sooner or later, one way or another, by court action if not by the action of a presidential administration.

Then there’s the question of the tax-exempt status of universities that claim a Christian identity. Then furthermore, there is external pressure also coming from organizations such as the NCAA, again making moral statements and making very clear its changing moral expectations.

Then there are internal pressures, and in those internal pressures you see the pressure coming from students. You see the pressure coming from faculty members, increasingly liberal on these issues, pressing for change in the institution. You also see internal pressures that are financial. It’s really clear that Azusa Pacific, along with other universities, faces a massive amount of debt. Furthermore, it faces the need of getting parents to pay tuition bills for students and, of course, that comes down to pressure when it comes to recruiting students. We are talking here about an institution in California. There is, no doubt, massive cultural pressure for Azusa Pacific to get in line with the moral revolution if it wants to be able to pay its bills.

Over time, as I have argued again and again, this kind of financial pressure both as you’re thinking about the pressure from consumers and the pressure from debt, turns out to be a massive factor towards secularization. Finally, on this story, we have to look at the continued use and claim upon the word evangelical. But this makes us look back and ask just how big a tent is modern evangelicalism. Just how elastic can that term be?

Well, as you look at the history of Azusa Pacific University, it goes back to the fact that it was established by Quakers, by the Society of Friends or at least those on behalf of Quakers. Eventually, as the Society of Friends moved leftward, the university took on a more evangelical direction. But at the same time, it has also been closely identified with the Wesleyan Holiness tradition, and its graduate school is clearly identified with a Wesleyan and Arminian theology.

But it is really important as we think in theological conviction and content to understand that this university was begun with a very minimal theological commitment. Then it took on a more evangelical identity. But the big question is to what extent can the word evangelical still be applied to a university which is changing a policy this important, and furthermore, how important is it to Azusa Pacific University to claim with credibility that kind of evangelical identity? Those are crucial questions, and sadly, many of those questions appear to be answered with this announcement about a change in policy for the Azusa Pacific University student handbook. Over time, this story is likely to appear to be even more significant than it may appear to be right now.

Part III

Vatican concedes to communist government in China on appointment of bishops, strikes deal that hands over massive authority

But next, we turn to an announcement made by the Roman Catholic Church and the Communist Party in China. Jason Horowitz, reporting in a front-page article for the New York Times, tells us, “The Vatican said Saturday that it had reached a provisional deal with the Chinese government to end a decades-old power struggle over the authority to appoint bishops in China. It was the communist country’s first formal recognition of the Pope as leader of the Roman Catholic Church in the world’s most populous nation,” that according to Vatican officials.

In looking to the agreement, the story tells us, “It gives the church greater access to a huge population where the growth of Protestantism is far outpacing Catholicism.” But the story continues, “For critics loathe to share any of the church’s authority with an authoritarian government, the deal marked a shameful retreat and the setting of a dangerous precedent for future relations with other countries.”

Well, it’s hard to imagine how Catholics will look at this statement as anything other than shameful, because here you have the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church making a deal whereby the Chinese Communist Party will recognize him as the Pope but will no longer recognize some of the bishops that he, as Pope, has named. Now, remember in Catholic theology the importance of the bishop, and even the definition of the church. Instead, some of the bishops that have been chosen by the Communist Party are going to be imposed upon the Catholic Church in China.

Furthermore, even as we are told by the Vatican that this is going to ensure that the Pope continues to have authority and influence, later in the articles it turns out to say that the Pope will, “have a say.” It isn’t specified what kind of say the Pope will have. Francis Rocca, who reported from Rome, and Eva Dou, reporting for the Wall Street Journal from Beijing, summarized it in this paragraph, “The agreement also means the Vatican will no longer approve the ordination of bishops in China without Beijing’s permission, meaning all new leaders of the Catholic hierarchy there will be men acceptable to an avowedly atheist government.”

That’s a stunning paragraph. Now you have the Pope agreeing to the appointment of bishops in coordination with the atheistic Chinese Communist Party. The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal over the weekend released an editorial statement which reflects not so much a concern about the Roman Catholic Church as a concern about the authority that is granted here to the Communist Party in China. The editor’s statement begins with these words, “Imagine if Donald Trump insisted that the Catholic Church give him the right to choose the list of men from which Rome would select American bishops. Ridiculous. So why does it make more sense for the Vatican to concede that right to communist leaders in China?”

Well, this is where evangelical Protestants need to note a pattern that has been demonstrated throughout Christian history. The Roman Catholic Church, in making the claim of universality, has had to find the way through the centuries to make peace with regime after regime, king after king, monarch after monarch, leader after leader. Also remember that the Vatican State claims to be just that, a state, a church-state with diplomatic relations.

It’s important to note that the retired Catholic archbishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal Zen, stated, “A church enslaved by the government is no real Catholic Church.” He accused the Vatican’s statement of putting Catholics in China in a communist-controlled cage. He also accused the Vatican of selling out. Cardinal Zen understands exactly what is happening, and at least he had the courage to call it by its proper name.

Part IV

Why postmodern architecture didn’t just change the American landscape, it changed the American mind

Finally, we turn to an important recent obituary. This one appeared in the pages of the New York Times. It has to do with the death of an influential American architect. Fred A. Bernstein, reporting for the New York Times, tells us of the death of Robert Venturi at age 93. Venturi is described as the influential architect and theorist whose buildings and best-selling books helped inspire the movement known as postmodernism, described as a movement in which historic elements enliven contemporary forms. He died a week ago at his home in Philadelphia. Again, he was age 93.

As the New York Times obituary is recognizing, Robert Venturi is important really not so much because of the buildings he designed but because of the impact he had on the larger culture. He was in so many ways the first major American architect to identify with postmodernism. Although later he rejected the word, there can be no doubt he was a major figure in bringing postmodernism to the scene in the United States of America.

He did so through his buildings. He did so through his lectures. He did so through some of his books on architecture, which had a very wide influence. One of the things we need to keep in mind here is that postmodernism in the larger culture appeared in many societies first in architecture. Postmodernism came on the heels of modernism. You’ll remember those huge modernist buildings, the rather featureless skyscrapers in modern American and European cities.

The postmodernists argued that historic classical elements should be mixed together with these modernist elements, and they did so by describing this kind of mix as a pastiche. It was a denial of an objective set of rules of architecture and instead a playful mixing of elements old and new. Now, of course, there’s more here than just a matter of architecture. The postmodernist architecture included buildings now very familiar across the American landscape in which there would be a classical element on top of a modernist element, alongside some other kind of element. The point is this. It was an intentional breaking of rules and the denial of an objective order.

Now, as I’ve often pointed out, you could have a postmodernist architect with all this playfulness, but your building wouldn’t stay up unless you had a decidedly non-postmodernist engineer. The building has to stand, and that building has to stand according to, well, the order of nature, the laws of gravity, and all the other laws of nature as well. But even as postmodernism first showed up in that language, in architecture, in several societies, it didn’t stay there. In the academy, it became an acidic worldview that denied all objective truth, or at least the knowability of objective truth, and transferred all truth claims to being disguised claims of power.

Marxism combined with this kind of postmodernist analysis, along with the claim that the individual was the ultimate authority and not the texts, not the rules. All this simply reminds us that when you’re looking at a building, you’re never looking at just a building. You’re looking at a worldview, a philosophy of life, translated into some kind of constructed form. When it comes to postmodernism, beginning with postmodernist architecture, let’s just be really clear. This movement didn’t just change the American landscape. It changed the American mind. There is no recovery from the impact of postmodernism without the open embrace of objective truth.

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.

I’m speaking to you from Toronto, Canada, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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