Thursday, March 7, 2019
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Thursday, March 7th, 2019. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
The sexual revolution chooses to live to fight another day: Why Colorado dropping a lawsuit against Masterpiece Cakeshop isn’t an end to the war on religious liberty
An epic battle over religious liberty that concern the state of Colorado and the Christian who owns a bake shop in the state, that came to a conclusion of sorts as was reported in the Denver Post yesterday, "Masterpiece Cakeshop and state of Colorado agreed to mutual ceasefire over harassment and discrimination claims. The man at the center of this story is Jack Phillips, he's the owner of the Masterpiece Cakeshop. Phillips is known as an artist in making cakes and he found himself at the middle of a national controversy when he had refused to make a cake that required him to use his artistic expression to affirm an LGBTQ lifestyle. We are looking at one of these big and inevitable collisions between religious liberty and the new sexual revolutionaries.
Jack Phillips in the very beginning had made clear he did not discriminate in the selling of baked products, but he did feel that he could not make a cake celebrating a same sex wedding that would require his own artistic expression without violating his Christian convictions. Now, this led to the fact that he was charged with what amounts to a criminal offense by the civil rights commission, there in Colorado. This was eventually appealed all the way to the United States Supreme Court where Jack Phillips, won big. Last year, it was a seven, two decision in his favor by the United States Supreme Court. It was what is called a narrow ruling, that doesn't mean that it's unimportant. It does mean that the justices ruled on a specifically narrow legal question. The seven, two majority found that the state of Colorado Civil Rights Commission had infringed upon Jack Phillips religious liberty rights by prejudicial statements that have been made by some of the members of that commission.
The court did not rule, at least did not rule directly on the wider question as to the rights of citizens when it comes to religious liberty and some form of coercion or demand that they use their artistic expression in violation of their deepest religious convictions. But then almost instantaneously with his victory at the United States Supreme Court, he found himself facing a second charge. A transgender customer went into the store and demanded a cake honoring the anniversary of the gender transition. It was calculated, this was a strategic effort to put Jack Phillips back in the cross-hairs of the sexual revolutionaries and it won. The Colorado Civil Rights Commission, again, filed charges against the cake baker. But as was announced by the Denver Post yesterday, the state of Colorado and Masterpiece Cakeshop had agreed to drop all suits. And that means most importantly, a victory for Jack Phillips.
What he is dropping is a lawsuit against the state for violating his religious liberty. What the state is dropping is the threatened action by its Civil Rights Commission. Now, LGBTQ activists are quick to say that this has not changed the law in Colorado, than absolute nondiscrimination law. They have announced the fact that they intend to go after any other business that might take a similar move, but at this point, the state of Colorado through its own attorneys indicated that this was not a battle worth fighting, and thus the state be it what we might call a hasty and strategic retreat. The importance of the case is indicated by the fact that the state's comment came from none other than the state's Attorney General Phil Wiser who said in a news release Tuesday, "After careful consideration of the facts, both sides agreed it was not in anyone's best interest to move forward with these cases. The attorney general also insisted the larger constitutional issues might well be decided down the road, but these cases will not be the vehicle for resolving them."
Now in dropping this case, the state of Colorado avoided what almost certainly would have been a return to the United States Supreme Court and Christians looking at this case though very glad that Jack Phillips is no longer facing the kinds of draconian threats that had come from the Civil Rights Commission. He's no longer facing legal action from the state. There is a missed opportunity here to have the basic constitutional issues adjudicated in what is a very clear case of the violation of religious liberty. Indeed, I will register the concern that the state of Colorado and hand in hand with LGBTQ activists may well have understood that this case was likely to go against them and thus they dropped it in favor of waiting for a case they think might be more likely to go in their favor at the expense of religious liberty. Thankful for the fact that the state had dropped the charges against him, Phillips made a statement saying, "I have and always will serve everyone who comes into my shop. I simply can't celebrate events or express messages that conflict with my religious beliefs."
Now in framing the issue that way, we are indebted to Jack Phillips for clarity. He has expressed what should be the rightful Christian approach to these kinds of questions. It is not the fact that Christians should or will claim the right that customers should not be served on the basis of their sexual orientation. We should agree that it would be wrong for a restaurant owner, it would be wrong for a grocery store manager, it would be wrong for someone that is serving in a profession that doesn't require expression to deny services to someone simply on the basis of gender or sexual orientation identity. On the other hand, it is wrong to require persons who are Christians or for that matter who hold by religious liberty to any other belief system to violate their own deepest convictions in what amounts to artistic expression. This is the key distinction.
It's one thing to have a cake in the case, anyone should be able to walk in the store and buy the cake. There should be no discrimination in saying, "I will sell you the cake, but I will not sell this other individual the cake." There's no excuse for that, but it's different when the artistry is involved to decorate the cake and when the artistry is sending a message that could include words, it doesn't have to include words. Looking at cakes, celebrating a same sex wedding or celebrating a gender transition anniversary, those are going to be expressive of a moral argument. There's a big difference between selling someone a cookie, selling a pair of socks, selling a gallon of gas and being required to use ones expressive and artistic abilities against conviction. Now, this expressive and artistic issue that includes moral messaging is why you have people who are cake bakers, and florists, and wedding photographers. Others involved in similar kinds of endeavor where there is no question, it's not simply selling a service or a product. It is being deeply involved in the moral message that is being sent by the event.
Another illustration to think through these issues would be someone who sells t-shirts. Let's say that you have a firm that makes t-shirts or at least prints messages on t-shirts. Let's assume we're not talking about the sexual revolution, let's assume we're talking about something else. Without going in too far with our imagination, we can quickly understand that there could be anti-Semitic messages that someone might demand on a t-shirt. There could be openly racist statements that someone might demand on a t-shirt. We should honor a maker of such a shop who would refuse to do so on the basis of conviction, and if that's true, then it also has to be true if you're talking about a message that violates conviction on another account, in this case, perhaps the gender or sexuality issues. Now, a part of the background to this is that we live in a free and expressive society in which persons are free to express their opinions in accordance with the First Amendment, but they are not free to coerce someone else to do the same.
But here's where we also, before leaving the story need to recognize why this is such an obsessive issue on the part of the sexual revolutionaries. As we've noted before, it is because if they allow any exceptions to their demand for an absolute surrender to every claim made by the new moral revolution, then that becomes a precedent for some other exception, and thus this is why there's been so much energy expended to go after a single cake baker in Colorado, that would seem nonsensical given the scale of our nation and the issues at stake. But if you are trying to drive a moral revolution, if you're trying to drive the absolute coerced normalization of sexual minorities as they are called, the LGBTQ, IA and so it goes spectrum, then you can't let anyone off. You can't let any case go and that's why it is big news that the state of Colorado has retreated on the case of Jack Phillips. But don't take too much comfort here, because even as Jack Phillips is not now going to face charges, the question is who will and how long will it take?
Heartwarming stories of babies successfully operated on and returned to womb are rare exceptions in the culture of death
Next, a very important and indeed very heartwarming story from the United Kingdom. The Independent, a major London newspaper reports a story with a headline, "Baby operated on outside of womb for groundbreaking operation." The article in the independent tells us about the diagnosis of prenatal diagnosis of a baby as being diagnosed with Spina Bifida, and we are told that the doctors then responded to the parents giving them three options there in Britain, to continue the pregnancy, to terminate the child or to opt for a fetal repair surgery. The parents decided upon the surgery. Now, we need to stop for a moment and recognize that there have been precedents for operations, major surgeries on babies inside the womb. Just in recent months, the New York Times reported on a spectacular case in which a baby in the United States was also removed from the mother's womb, operated upon quite successfully and then returned to the mother's womb for the remainder of the pregnancy. This is has now taking place in the United Kingdom. We need to note what is morally at stake before we even continue with the heartwarming part of this story.
Here we see the fact that given modern prenatal diagnoses, it is possible to know so much about unborn babies, but that knowledge comes with immense moral responsibility. We also note that in the age of hyper modern medicine and especially in an age of depreciated human dignity, the commands or at least the guidelines given to doctors and the suggestions given to parents, the options presented to them are often predicated upon the fact that if the baby is found to be in any way unacceptable according to whatever standards of acceptability the parents may provide, then the baby can simply be aborted and the couple can start all over again. Better luck next time. In this case, the specific diagnosis was Spina Bifida. Now, Spina Bifida is not a fatal condition. There are thousands and thousands of people in the United States and around the world who are living quite fulfilling lives with Spina Bifida. Now furthermore, we also have to recognize that human dignity and the sanctity of life doesn't depend upon the absence or presence of any diagnosis. It is simply there because they creator declared it to be there.
Just over the last several days, my wife and I were with a wonderful Christian family and a daughter in that family, beautiful, intelligent and incredibly gracious is diagnosed with spinal bifida. That family could never imagine being without her and could never imagine even the option of aborting a baby in the womb on the basis of such a diagnosis. But the shocking reality is that that is now standard fare in modern medicine. As a matter of fact, it is often the implied, if not the explicit advice given to parents when faced with this kind of prenatal diagnosis. On The Briefing, I have remarked about the fact that there is a radical decrease in the number of babies in the United States born characterized by down syndrome. And that's not because of some change in the genetic order, it is because Americans are now routinely conducting search and destroy operations in wombs. Babies that are diagnosed with down syndrome are now overwhelmingly being aborted. Similarly, this article in The Independent tells us that 80% of babies are terminated when their parents are told that the baby is diagnosed with Spina Bifida.
But before leaving this story, heartwarming as it is, the case of this baby removed at about 20 weeks of gestation from the mother's womb successfully treated by surgery and then returned to the child's mother's womb in order to continue the pregnancy to full term. As heartwarming as that is, we also need to note something very carefully and that is the language used in this news article in The Independent, the headline again, "Baby operated on outside of womb for groundbreaking operation," it didn't say fetus, it says baby. Furthermore, in the second paragraph we are told that the diagnosis was of the child. "The child's spinal cord had not fully developed." So in the headline we have a baby, in the second paragraph we have a child. Two paragraphs later the surgery is described as repair of the baby's spine. Again, the word is baby. Furthermore, in the discussion of the percentage of unborn babies that are terminated when the parents are told of the diagnosis, again, The Independent reports it with the words, 80% of babies in England are terminated under such conditions.
Now notice the consistency of language: “baby,” “baby,” “baby,” “child.” Why? Because that is the only language that makes basic, honest, moral sense, “baby” and “child.” But notice on the other hand that it should have our attention precisely, because the same people who will use the word baby and child in this article, at least some of them will only refer to the very same baby, the very same child as a fetus if it is unwanted. Now that shows you the deep moral corruption and confusion of our day. It shows us how the culture of death has even transformed our operational language. It tells us that we are now rather accustomed to hearing an unborn baby described merely as a fetus, but who calls it a fetus? Someone who doesn't want to call it a baby. There is the rejection of the personhood, of the dignity and sanctity of that unborn life. There is a steadfast refusal to call that unwanted unborn child, a child. But it comes to in a story like this, a story in which a secular newspapers celebrates this medical achievement and clearly it's expected to be a heartwarming story.
But then let's ask the obvious question, how can a story that in this context is heartwarming, not be heartbreaking when we are talking about the reduction of the infant, here identified as baby and child as merely a fetus or an unwanted product of conception when the issue isn't surgery but abortion. It isn't the surgical recovery of the child, it is the surgical destruction of the child. Language betrays the reality and here's what we need to note, the abortion-rights movement could never gain even political traction if it had to refer honestly to the unborn child as a child. If it couldn't use the word fetus and had to use the word baby, that would be moral honesty. But the pro-abortion movement in the United States has not written to it success on moral honesty, but rather on a very careful, strategic and intentional shift in the language. Because if you can shift to the language from child and baby merely to fetus, then you have already by your vocabulary done the service of the culture of death.
When clear Scriptural teaching is nullified to ordain women in ministry, consistency indicates it inevitably must be nullified for LGBT inclusivity as well.
But next, we stay in the United Kingdom for a story that ran just over the last several days by the Anglican news service. The headline is, "Archbishop of Canterbury celebrates 25 years of women's ordination in the Church of England." Now indeed, this is a big anniversary. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the senior cleric in the Church of England, and is the head of the Anglican communion worldwide. The issue of the ordination of women, though 25 years old in actuality in Great Britain is still controversial in the Anglican communion. And as we shall see, it has spawned additional and even deeper controversy. But first back to the anniversary, the 25 year anniversary in the Church of England, the Anglican new service tells us, "A service has been held in the chapel of Lambeth Palace, the official London residents of the archbishops of Canterbury to celebrate 25 years of the ordination of women in the Church of England. But then bishop of Bristol, Barry Rogerson ordained 32 women in Bristol Cathedral on the 12th of March 1994 in the first of many ordinations that year.
A message from Bishop Barry, we are told, was read to more than 80 female priests who were invited to last Friday's service. The guests included many women who were among the first to be ordained in 1994 as well as some of the late people who were active in the campaign for the ordination of women. The story goes in some length, but in the story, the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby is quoted as saying, "Many of those here today have been pioneers as they work out what it means to be an ordained woman in the Church of England, not just for themselves and to their communities, but for the whole body of Christ. Today," said, the archbishop, "Let us bear witness to those who paved the way in 1994 as well as upholding those whose way into ministry has been opened up since." Now, those are loaded words more loaded than they may at first appear. First of all, let's deal with the fact that we're talking about the 25th anniversary.
We're talking about 1994, it was in 1994 that the Church of England, one of the oldest Christian churches in all of Christendom, first ordained women to serve as priests. What's the first thing that's noteworthy there? That means that it was only in the very late 20th century that any woman was ever ordained to the priesthood or the ministry in the Church of England. What does that tell us? It tells us that throughout virtually 2000 years of Christian experience, the Christian Church, wherever it was found in every name, and every organization, and every historic church all across Christendom, every single one of those churches understood that the Scripture excluded women from serving as ordained clergy, as ministers or in the Church of England as priests. But all of that began to change with the feminist revolutions that came in the middle and the end of the 20th century. Denomination by denomination, church by church, many of the liberal denominations, first and most liberal, and then moving to others eventually came to terms with feminism and began to ordain women.
Why are we talking about this now? It's not just the 25th anniversary of the ordination of women in the Church of England. It is because looking at this particular story at that quarter of a century anniversary and looking at the Church of England, we see that it will never end with the ordination of women. Current controversies in the Church of England are not over women serving as priest or even more recently women serving as bishops. It is now over whether, or not openly gay, LGBTQ persons should also be considered on equal ground to serve as priests and ministers within the Church of England. And here's where intelligent Christians need to understand that these issues are never fully separable. They're not really separate issues. I mean by that, this quite bluntly. If you look at arguments for the ordination of women to the ministry, you are looking at arguments that require going around indeed driving through very clear teachings of Scripture.
This is called hermeneutics, the method whereby a text, in this case, the Scripture is to be interpreted and what we have been looking at amongst liberal denominations is the fact that they have found a way to say yes, that is what the text says. That is what the words mean, but in our contemporary context they will mean something else. We will find a way to get around that text. We'll find a way to get around the apostle Paul, we'll find a way to get around the pastoral epistles. We'll find a way to get around the actuality of the gospels, we will find a way to say there's actually a hidden message within the New Testament, or we're going to make the argument that we're just going to be as some call themselves red letter Christians. What they mean by that is they're only going to give authority to words that are believed to be in Scripture, directly spoken by Jesus.
Now, that is a direct assault upon the integrity of Scripture, upon the authority of Scripture, the divine inspiration of Scripture, because we are not given merely the so called red letters as God's word. We are given the entire Bible, old and new testaments together as the inerrant infallible word of God. In order to believe that women should serve as pastors, as those with teaching authority in the church, in the Church of England as priest, you have to decide to nullify the authority of some very, very clear texts of Scripture. Now, here's the point. Once you do that, you can't stop there and that's why the normalization of the entire LGBTQ spectrum within the church, including its ministry in Liberal Churches, that has become inevitable because if you apply that hermeneutic to the question of women, then you're going to have to apply that hermeneutic if consistent to the question of sexual orientation.
If you can find a way around to the clear teachings of Scripture when it comes to questions of being male and female, then it's going to be charged as inconsistency if you do not find the same way around or over text or Scripture that deal with questions of human sexuality, the definition of marriage and well you name it. And what we're looking at here is the fact that one compromise does lead to another, and sometimes we're told that's a slippery slope argument. Well, in this case you're looking at a quarter century. You're not just looking at a slippery slope, you're looking at a very short slippery slope. From the top to the bottom, it's just something like a quarter century. And then when I raise this, I want to get quite personal in talking about the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose words I cited at this service celebrating the 25th anniversary of the ordination of women as priests in the Church of England.
I was reminded of the fact that just about two years ago, back in 2017 the very same archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby was asked by journalists, Alastair Campbell, if he believed that homosexuality indeed homosexual sex was sinful. The archbishop responded, "You know very well that is a question I can't give a straight answer to. Sorry, badly phrased there. I should have thought that one through." The story then tells us when he was pressed to give an answer, the archbishop said, "Because I don't do blanket condemnation and I haven't got a good answer to the question, I'll be really honest about that. I know I haven't got a good answer to the question. Inherently within myself, the things that seem to me to be absolutely central are around faithfulness, stability and relationships and loving relationships." Now, let's just be candid. At that point, the archbishop of Canterbury gave away the store.
First of all, what kind of religious leader says that he doesn't have an answer to the question as to whether something as basic as homosexual relationships and homosexual sex are sinful. The archbishop said, "That is a question I can't give a straight answer to." He did understand the ridiculousness of not giving an answer on that basis, that's why he said, "Sorry, badly phrased there. I should have thought that one through," but he doesn't think it through. He never by the end of the interview gives an answer. So a couple of big lessons here, if you can't give an answer to a straight forward question about whether, or not sexual acts that are condemned in Scripture are sinful, then to what can you give a straight answer? Second observation, if you can't give a straight answer to that question, how in the world do you speak truth? Do you offer the Gospel or do you even give pastoral advice to people within your church who come and ask you the question? If you can't give an answer, then who will?
Furthermore, third, if you can't give an answer and Scripture does give a clear answer, then at least be honest that you are not living or teaching in accordance with Scripture. And fourth, under these circumstances, understand that if you have found a way to celebrate getting around Scripture on the question of the ordination of women, then you're going to have to be if consistent very quickly finding your way around clear teachings of Scripture about homosexuality. Church by Church, liberal denomination by denomination, that is just what is going on, the game is being played out right before our eyes.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can find me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'm speaking to you from Sun Valley, California. This evening I'm going to be delivering a plenary message to the Shepherds Conference here in Sun Valley. It will be live video cast at 5:30 Pacific Standard Time, 8:30 Eastern Standard Time. Again, the session begins at 5:30 Pacific, 8:30 Eastern. You can watch by going to shepherdsconference.org.
I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.