Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019

Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019

The Briefing

January 23, 2019

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

It’s Wednesday, January 23, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Meet Lady Gaga, the theologian: Pop star joins shaming of Karen Pence for teaching at Christian school

The media cycle works according to a predictable pattern. First there is a story. If it’s a big enough story, there is often more to the story. An even bigger story means there is now a story about the story. It’s as if you were throwing a rock into a pond, circle after circle after circle. It all depends upon how big the rock is.

Well, it was a big stone indeed when you think about the controversy that emerged in recent days when Karen Pence, the wife of the Vice President of the United States, merely announced that she was returning to part-time teaching, teaching art to children, at Immanuel Christian School in suburban Washington DC. Now Karen Pence had taught at that school for a matter of about a decade back when her husband was in Congress. She now, often referred to as the Second Lady of the United States, is returning to a part-time role teaching.

So what’s the controversy? The controversy, as you will remember from The Briefing, has everything to do with the fact that Immanuel Christian School is, now brace for it, actually a Christian school. It holds to the historic Christian teachings, not only on the matter of biblical doctrines concerning God and Christ and to the Gospel, but also when it comes to a biblically revealed morality. And when it comes to the LGBTQ revolution, well, that is simply unacceptable. The unacceptability was made abundantly clear with the media outcry and the controversy in the larger culture.

It is simply unthinkable, unacceptable, it cannot be left to stand that someone with cultural authority, such as the wife, the Vice President of the United States, would dare to stand for what Christians have believed and stood for for over 2,000 years.

In yesterday’s edition of The Wall Street Journal, William McGurn write an article with the appropriate headline, “The Shaming of Karen Pence.” McGurn pointed to the cultural reaction, including the fact that CNN’s John King, as McGurn says, “suggests that what Mrs. Pence has done is so grievous, maybe tax payers shouldn’t fund her secret service security protection.” As he continues, “The American Civil Liberties Union says she is sending a terrible message to students.”

Later in the article, McGurn asks the question, “So what is this terrible thing Mrs. Pence has done?” He explains, answering his own question, “She plans to teach art part-time at Immanuel Christian School in northern Virginia. This is,” he says, “a small, private K-8 academy where Mrs. Pence has taught before.” Here is the key sentence, “It adheres to a biblically rooted view of human sexuality.”

Now McGurn is pointing to the fact that secular culture writ large, but in particular, the journalistic elite in Washington DC, New York, and elsewhere simply seems to be profoundly shocked that there could be even the existence of such a school that would dare to teach the historic Christian doctrines and to adhere to a biblical understanding of sexual morality.

As he writes, “A mob of secular puritans has targeted Mrs. Pence for teaching at a Christian school.” Now, it’s also really important to understand that the shaming that William McGurn is talking about here is going to be a pattern that we will see over and over again. We’ve seen it already. We’ve seen the calling out in the digital culture, in the social media space. We have seen the kind of virtue signaling and shaming. But this kind of response, as McGurn is simply implying here, is something that is now to be expected and, as we had mentioned on the The Briefing, he points back to the fact that at least one major hinge of history in this regard is the Obergefell decision legalizing same-sex marriage back in 2015.

As he writes, “In the narrow sense, the vilification of Mrs. Pence makes prophetic Justice Samuel Alito’s prediction in his descent in the Obergefell vs. Hodges. Justice Alito,” McGern reminds his readers, “said that there would be a perilous future for those who would oppose same-sex marriage.” He wrote, “I assume that those who cling to the old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they will risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools.”

Later in the article, McGern writes, “When Obergefell was decided, it was sold as live and let live, but as Justice Alito foresaw, today some sweet mysteries of the universe are more equal than others. In other words,” wrote McGern, “it isn’t enough for the victors to win, the nuisance of justice requires that those who still don’t agree must be compelled to violate their deepest beliefs.”

Now, as I have often discussed on The Briefing, and specifically in the aftermath of the Obergefell decision, we are looking at the inevitable collision between religious liberty and the newly defined and aggressively asserted sexual liberties.

The response to Karen Pence in this case is illustrative of the larger pattern that we are now observing in the entire culture. Consider, for example, that yesterday’s edition of USA Today, on the front page of the Life section, had a column entitled, “They said what? The star’s best quotes.” What would be the best quote of the stars that would be listed in yesterday’s paper? It would be this, “To Mike Pence, who thinks that it’s acceptable that his wife works at a school that bans LGBTQ, you’re wrong. You’re the worst representation of what it means to be a Christian.” Now, what major star theologian might have said those words defining what Christianity is? Well, it would be the famous theologian, Lady Gaga.

The Guardian, a major newspaper in London, decided that the statement by Lady Gaga was worthy of an entire news story. Ben Beaumont-Thomas writes, “Lady Gaga has criticized the US vice-president, Mike Pence, and his wife, Karen, over her role teaching art at a school that excludes LGBT students and parents. On stage at her Las Vegas concert residency, Gaga said,” and again, the quote, “You say we should not discriminate against Christianity; you are the worst representation of what it means to be a Christian.” Gaga continued, “I am a Christian woman and what I do know about Christianity is that we bear no prejudice and everyone is welcome. So you can take all that disgrace Mr. Pence and you can look yourself in the mirror and you’ll find it right there.”

Now, it’s hard to know where even to begin in taking this apart, but The Guardian goes on to note, “Gaga, who defines as bisexual, has long been a champion of gay rights.” One famous dress she wore was “a statement on the anti-LGBT policies in the US military, and her hit single Born This Way was a celebration of LGBT identities.”

So we are now a culture in which not only do we have the existence and the celebrity of an entertainer named Lady Gaga, who defines herself as bisexual and presents herself as a champion of gay rights, but we should note we also have a major celebrity of pop culture who is making arguments about the very essence of human nature, human identity, sexual identity and sexual morality, in a single that’s actually entitled, Born This Way. Now again, just consider the kind of metaphysical claim that’s being made there, in what’s being presented as a pop music single.

But then go on to imagine the audacity of someone like Lady Gaga reversing 2,000 plus years of Christian wisdom, standing in contradiction to scripture, telling someone who actually does hold to a biblical understanding of sexual morality that they are “the worst representation of what it means to be a Christian.”

Part II

Is sexuality a choice or are people ‘born this way’? Why even secular people making secular claims cannot avoid theological arguments

Not to be outdone, Marcie Bianco, writing at NBC THINK, that’s NBC, the historic television network’s website entitled THINK, she wrote an article entitled, “Karen Pence, LGBTQ discrimination and the Christian right’s embrace of victimhood.” The sub-head, “Willfully ignorant about the harmful cultural messaging of her actions, Pence is the perfect symbol of ‘good,'” good is put in scare quotes, “Christian, white America.”

This is the kind of article that really wouldn’t merit serious attention except it was published at a website by NBC. Bianco declares it’s the latest in the fight for America’s soul. She tells us about Mrs. Pence resuming her teaching, and then tells us that civil rights and LGBTQ activists, including most recently, Lady Gaga, have criticized Mrs. Pence’s new position “because the school explicitly ‘refuses admission’ to students who do not live according to the ‘biblical lifestyle,’ which means no rough-and-tumble homosexual or bisexual activity. Likewise,” she says, “the school discriminates against job applicants who do not ‘live a life of moral purity;’ disqualifying conduct includes everything from ‘lesbian sexual activity’ to ‘transgender identity’ to ‘heterosexual activity outside of marriage.'”

Imagine that. And of course, that’s not an exhaustive list. The Christian school holds to a very predictably biblical understanding that restricts the proper exercise and expression of human sexuality only within the covenant of marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

In the most important portion of her article, Bianco writes, “Legally, Immanuel Christian School can discriminate against the LGBTQ community. Virginia,” she writes, “in addition to 38 other states, does not prohibit private workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”

We need to assert here very quickly that what’s missing from Bianco’s acknowledgement is any recognition of religious liberty. This is a Christian school, it’s not merely a private employer.

But then she continues, “The ethics of such a move are a different matter. Still,” she says, “so-called religious freedom advocates have moved quickly to leverage the backlash, portraying criticism as yet another instance of liberal overreach.”

But of course that’s exactly what it is. It’s not merely the way that Christians are portraying the response to Mrs. Pence, that’s exactly what the response represents. And Bianco’s article goes a long way in making that case without any opportunity to miss the message.

She writes, “Increasingly, this is the desperate defense of those who find themselves on the wrong side of history, as well as societal and legal norms.” Again, notice the argument, we are on the wrong side of history. Now we are engaged in a desperate defense. But she says we’re not only on the wrong side of history, we are also on the wrong side of societal and legal norms.

Hold that thought for just a moment. She goes on to say that the holdouts here are represented by one pocket of America. She means here biblically minded Christians who are “now attempting to hide its own historical privilege in the language of the oppressed.”

Now there’s so much to look at here describing millions of Bible-believing Christians. And, by the way, in this respect of moral judgment, you would also have to include tens of millions of Roman Catholics as well, and furthermore, you would have to include Orthodox Jews and you would also have to include any kind of Orthodox Muslims, at least in this moral judgment. But if you look at this article, all of the tens of millions of Christians in America who agree with this biblical morality, are simply dismissed as being a resistant pocket of America.

Later in the article, Bianco writes, “Through a manipulation of First Amendment language, freedom of religion currently serves as code for bigots to justify not only their discriminatory beliefs but the continuation of verbal and physical violence against minority communities.” Just look at that kind of language. There is no substantiation here. There is merely an assertion. It’s an assertion that she assumes the readers of this website will simply take for granted as self-evidently true.

There’s yet something else to notice just in that paragraph. She accuses those who defend religious liberty as manipulating the language of the First Amendment. But wait just a minute, the language of the First Amendment actually explicitly guarantees religious liberty. There is no reference whatsoever in the Constitution to the invented liberties that are now so prized as the sexual liberties of the moral revolutionaries.

Another point we need to observe closely is that the moral revolutionaries, even if they declare themselves secular, are actually making theological assertions and doctrinal judgments. Consider this paragraph from Bianco, “This is most apparent in the ridiculous language of ‘love the sinner, hate the sin,’ a notorious Christian idiom, which,” she writes, “egregiously severs the connection between action and identity. And,” she says, “as I have written elsewhere, sexual identity is a construction that is fundamentally based on action, in the personal history of one’s sexual actions and behaviors.”

Now, what in the world is she saying there? Well, you’ll recall she wrote the words, “as I have written elsewhere.” So I decided I would go find out exactly what she had written elsewhere. What is the article she’s citing here? She links to it. It’s a 2016 article entitled, “Yes, my sexuality is a choice: Why I reject the ‘born this way’ narrative.”

Oh, this is interesting. Because Lady Gaga is being celebrated for “Born This Way,” but now this person who cites Lady Gaga for her insight in condemning Karen Pence goes on to tell us that as a sexual and gender theorist, she actually rejects the “born this way” narrative.

There is no way on The Briefing I can cite much of her article published in 2016, but she does write this, “I am an atheist and harbor no religious ascetic values like shame or guilt about who I have sex with or how I have sex.” That’s all I’m going to read from the article.

She goes on to argue that the LGBTQ revolution has been argued on a false thesis, including the “born this way” argument. She says that sexual orientation is just what you do. There should be no moral concerns about what you do. You are what you do, period.

A little research indicates that Bianco is associate editor of the Stanford Social Innovation Review and is identified as formerly editorial and communications director at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University.

But note, when she goes at language such as “hate the sin, but love the sinner,” she goes on to make theological arguments, just remember when secular people claim to be secular, an article like this reveals the truth they have to make, they will eventually make theological arguments. Oh, by the way, if you do look at her article from 2016, maybe the most interesting thing about it is her implicit criticism of the major LGBTQ movement for trying to offer some kind of moral justification for that moral revolution. In her view, there should be no moral justification necessary.

But you’ll also notice, the only way she can make that argument is by at least asserting that she is an atheist. Therefore, no moral judgment needed. You might also say, as we evaluate the atheistic worldview, no real moral judgment possible. But she does make moral judgments. She’s made the clear moral judgment that Lady Gaga is right and Karen Pence is wrong. That Christians standing on biblical authority are actually standing on the wrong side of history.

But before leaving this story, let’s look at a couple of very important considerations. First of all, you are looking at the fact that the secular world, just thinking about Immanuel Christian School, is revealed as finding it virtually impossible to understand what a confessional Christian school is, a school or any kind of institution, a denomination, or even a church that would dare to believe specific doctrines. That would make those doctrines regulative, would expect everyone to believe those doctrines, especially those who would teach, and everyone to abide by those doctrines, especially those moral doctrines. An agreement by covenant that indeed, if we’re going to join this church, if our congregation is going to be a part of this denomination, if we’re going to accept admission to this school, or if we are going to certainly accept hiring to its faculty, we are actually going to believe and we’re going to teach the confession of faith that is established by the church, the denomination, the institution or the school.

But the second dimension we can’t miss is that the major issue here is divine revelation. The question as to whether or not (a) there is a God, and (b) that God has spoken. The entirety of the Christian authority, when we speak to these moral issues, define marriage, talk about gender or sexuality, is the revelation of God. The very concept that morality might be revealed and thus objectively true, given and not humanly constructed, that’s increasingly unimaginable to the secular mind. Thus, when the secular observer hears Christians speaking about Christian morality, they assume that it’s just a matter of our moral preference. They’ve simply excluded the possibility of divine revelation and they certainly find it virtually incomprehensible that real, live, intelligent human beings would dare to believe in divine revelation, much less to believe that we are obligated to obey it.

Once again, as we so frequently have to observe, we are reminded where we stand in this culture. And we’re either going to stand with Lady Gaga or we’re going to stand with scripture. It’s important that Christians understand it. It has to be drilled into our minds and if we dare we miss it, the secular world is going to do that drilling for us.

Part III

Can people change? As New York bans conversion therapy, sexual revolutionaries can’t keep their stories straight

Next, we turn to another story from yesterday. In this case, the print edition of The New York Times, Michael Gold reports. Here’s the headline, “A ban on conversion therapy, it passed after years of effort.” Gold tells us that now that Democrats have the governorship of New York state plus both houses of the state legislature, they’ve been able to make progress on several bills pushed, and this is the language of The New York Times, by an increasingly liberal state government. It includes a ban on so-called conversion therapy.

Gold writes, “As jurisdictions across the country began solidifying protections for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities, conversion therapy became part of the public discourse.” A bit belatedly, perhaps, The New York Times tells us that the New York legislature has now outlawed conversion therapy. It also adopted a bill known as the gender expression nondiscrimination act. It’s popularly known as Genda, we are told. And The Times reports that this bill will add gender identity as a protected class under New York’s discrimination and hate crimes laws.

We don’t have time to look at length at this story concerning the outlawing of conversion therapy in New York state. Suffice it to say that it is following the example of other governmental units. But the important thing to recognize is that we are looking here at a clash that’s more complicated than some might recognize.

There is no doubt that this bill is in the service of the LGBTQ community and at the demand of that community. There is also no doubt that this ban on conversion therapy is intended to continue to shut down any cultural conversation that might dare to insinuate that the LGBTQ orientations and behaviors are wrong, much less sinful.

There is also the acknowledgement in the article that it is Christians who are largely opposed to the idea of normalizing homosexuality, you have to look at the entire LGBTQ array in this light. But the interesting thing is that one of the persons cited in the article makes the larger point better than any of us might otherwise.

At the end of the article, one of the opponents of conversion therapy who was thrilled by the scale of the vote outlawing it said, “For me, conversion therapy is the source of all LGBT rights. It’s still that question of ‘Can someone change?’”

Now, that’s really the huge question. He’s right about that and he is demonstrating a rare honesty in telling us that as an advocate of the LGBTQ community, he sees conversion therapy as absolutely basic to the entire structure of what is now claimed as LGBTQ rights.

But the interesting thing here is that thinking biblically minded Christians committed to the Gospel of Christ, have to unpack this just a little bit. We have to understand that there is a distinction between conversion therapy and the larger question as to whether people can change. Change even at the most fundamental level. One of the principles of biblical Christianity is that salvation, the most fundamental change that is necessary for sinners, can never come by anything like mere therapy. There is no form of therapeutic redemption.

But we also are looking at the fact that when you have New Yorkers talking about conversion therapy, that last statement reminds us that many of them are simply talking about any claim that human beings can fundamentally change. And, of course, they’re pushing back against any notion that there should be change when the LGBTQ lifestyles, orientations, and behaviors are invoked.

This underlines for Christians the absolute necessity of insisting that human beings, as sinners, not on our own, not by therapy, not by willpower, but by the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ can indeed change. It is a violation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to argue that change is impossible. And it is a violation of scripture to argue that our sexual desires, whatever might be defined as our sexual orientation, cannot be directed in a Godward way.

We have to understand that it is impossible to normalize LGBTQ behaviors, relationships, and lifestyles without making the kind of argument that the legislators in New York state use to outlaw conversion therapy.

But as we leave this story, we also have to observe that the LGBTQ community is increasingly unable to keep its story straight on this. And we have some absolute dissonance between the letters L, G, B, T, and Q. At least T in this case is now often arguing that sexual identity, gender identity, sexual orientation is not fixed, but can be changed. And you also have some that are categorized as L, or lesbian, who have been very publicly making those claims.

So which is it? It can be changed? Or it can’t be changed? The sexual revolutionaries can’t keep their story straight. Christians must keep our story straight. We should never, ever minimize the difficulty of overcoming any form of sin. But we can never, ever deny the power of the Gospel to do just that.

At the very least, we have to affirm that the power of the Gospel is the promise that our lives can truly be Godward and by the power of Christ, honoring to God.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to

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

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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