briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

It’s Wednesday, May 15, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler and this is the Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Days before election, Australian Prime Minister is asked about his views on homosexuality and hell: What his answers reveal about the future of Christians in the moral revolution

Americans are already massively concentrated on the 2020 presidential election, but we need to note that there is another very important election taking place on Saturday. It is the federal election in the nation of Australia and what is unfolding there is a story very much worth our attention. For example, the liberal candidate that is the head of the Liberal Party who hopes once again to be prime minister Scott Morrison. He was asked questions about same sex marriage and about hell. Now we need to remind ourselves that the Liberal Party in Australia is actually the conservative party. How could that be the case? Well, it’s because it hearkens to older liberal values that are now so out of date in the minds of progressive’s that they aren’t liberal anymore. They’re conservative, but the party still has that name.

Meanwhile, the Labor Party is the leftist party there in Australia amongst the two major parties. The Labor party, like the Labor Party in Great Britain is to the left. It has been at least associated with ideas of socialism and there’s no doubt that the election that is taking place on Saturday is going to be very important for the future of Australia. Something else to keep in mind is that Australia has compulsory voting. Adult citizens of Australia are required to vote. What will happen Saturday we’ll determine of course, which party has a majority in the 46th parliament to be seated after the election, and the majority party’s leader generally becomes the prime minister. If the Liberal Party, the more conservative party wins, Scott Morrison will be continued as prime minister. If it loses, then the prime minister is likely to be Bill Shorten. But what’s the controversy to which we need to pay attention?

Well, consider this headline from the Guardian. A London newspaper “Scott Morrison claims he now back same sex marriage, but dodges question on hell.” Now let’s be blunt. It’s not that shocking these days that a major federal candidate and a country like Australia would be asked about same sex marriage, but hell? Well we have to understand that Scott Morrison is publicly identified as a Christian. He’s a member of a generally charismatic megachurch there in Australia. His religious beliefs have come up before and they have been a matter of controversy, especially since Australia is fast secularizing. The article in the Guardian began this way “Scott Morrison has claimed he now supports same sex marriage because it has allowed people to get on with their lives and he always supports the law of the country.” Now that’s what the British might call dodgy. It’s not a direct and candid answer to the question and we have to keep in mind the Scott Morrison in previous years was known as an articulate opponent of legalizing sex marriage, but he was against it then.

He’s evidently for it now and you might say that he is in this sense trying to get on the right side of history just in time for the election on Saturday. But it’s interesting also to notice how he explained his new support for same sex marriage. He says he supports it because it has allowed people to get on with their lives and he went on to say he always supports the law of the country. Well, that’s interesting. Both parts of that argument are interesting. First of all, the idea that it is now to be supported because it allows people to get on with their lives, conceivably that’s the dodgiest part of his answer, simply saying it appears that it’s working, so let it work. I was against it before but I’ll just be for it now. All the moral concerns fall aside. It is at the very best or rather pragmatic answer, but the second part of that saying that he always supports the law of the country.

Well that’s very easy to say, but that would imply that one never tries to change the law of the country. Saying that you’re for the law of the country is actually no answer at all. When it comes to the question as to what should the law be. That was really what was behind the question, but it emphatically was not what was behind the answer given by Scott Morrison. Later, the Guardian reports that Morrison made the claim at a press conference in Perth “Brushing off questions about whether his personal views have changed since his vocal opposition to marriage equality during the marriage law postal survey in 2017,” the Guardian continues “Morrison at Pentecostal Christian who attends the Horizons Church said he doesn’t mix religion with politics and evaded a question about whether gay people go to hell and apparent reference to the controversy surrounding rugby player Israel Folau.”

Well now we’re back to a story we have already had to discuss twice on the briefing. The first had to do with the initial controversy concerning Israel Folau, a statement they had made most importantly on Twitter in which he did list a group of people by their sin who will not be going to heaven but instead will go to hell. What many people didn’t recognize, but Christian should certainly have recognized, is that Folau was actually citing 1st Corinthians chapter six verses nine through 11. Paul writes “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Do not be deceived, neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality nor thieves, nor the greedy nor drunkards nor revilers nor swindlers will inherit the Kingdom of God.” Paul went on to write to the Corinthian Christians, “And such were some of you, but you were washed. You were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by the spirit of our God.”

Now what Folau did was basically to paraphrase scripture there from 1st Corinthians chapter six, Christian should certainly have recognized that, but the secular culture responded in horror. Israel Folau was stripped of his position on the team and furthermore, he received outright condemnation from the virtual political spectrum there in Australia, including cultural leaders. They condemned him because he had issued what amounts to hate speech by their definition and he was so far out of bounds that he was condemned. We also on the briefing looked at the fact that Hillsong founder, Brian Houston went onto criticized Folau suggesting that Jesus didn’t come into the world to condemn the world but rather to redeem the world. But as we pointed out, the Bible is very clear and condemning sin and what he left out is that Jesus didn’t come into the world to condemn the world.

We’re told in John 3 because the world was already under condemnation, it is the avoidance of accepting the fact that the world is under condemnation, that sin is sin, and the Bible clearly says that those who commit such sins will not inherit the Kingdom of God. That’s a question of Basic Christian faithfulness. But isn’t it interesting, I guess interesting is a minimal word here, that the in the Australian federal election with Australia being so increasingly secularized that there is an open controversy amongst the two major candidates to be the prime minister over the question, as to whether those who practice homosexuality are going to hell, but as it turns out, there really isn’t all that much difference between the two candidates when it comes to the question of hell. You’ll notice that the article in the Guardian that was dated may the 12th said that Morrison now support same sex marriage, but he didn’t want to answer the question as to whether or not those who practice homosexuality, we’ll be going to hell?

In his response days ago to the question Morrison said, “It’s speaking of his faith. It’s always been something that has informed how I live my life and seek to care and support others. That’s what I seek to do. You know, none of us are perfect. None of us are saints in that respect. We always tried to do what’s right and we try and do what’s best and that’s what’s always sought to guide me in terms of my own personal faith.”

But then we are told that in the middle of this campaign, Labor seized on Morrison’s answer noting that the prime minister “Had refused to say that LGBT Australians don’t go to hell.” This controversy is greatly explained in an article that ran two days later in the Sydney Morning Herald, the reporters David Crow, he writes, “Prime Minister Scott Morrison has hit back at opposition leader Bill Shorten in an argument over whether gay people will go to hell, after both leaders fielded questions about Christian faith and gay rights. Mr. Morrison accused Mr. Shorten of a cheap shot over the question and made clear that he did not believe that gay people would go to hell one day after giving a less direct answer to the question.”

The article tells us that the prime minister, speaking of whether or not homosexuals will go to hell said, “No, I do not believe that.” The paper then explains, the prime minister issued the statement one day after being asked about his personal beliefs while campaigning in Perth, giving a response that led his opponent, Mr. Shorten, to warn against the “Madness of division and toxicity and the election debate on social questions.” After the prime minister at first gave his non answer to the question, his opponent was campaigning in Tasmania. He said, “I cannot believe in this election that there is a discussion even underway that gay people will go to hell.”

He continued, “I cannot believe that the prime minister is not immediately said that gay people will not go to hell.” When Shorten was asked directly if he believed that gay people will go to hell? He said, “No, I don’t believe gay people because they’re gay will go to hell. I don’t need a law to tell me that. I don’t believe it.” But then shorten went right after the prime minister saying, “I think if you want to be prime minister of Australia, you’re going to be prime minister for all people. And I just don’t believe it.” The nation has got to stop eating itself and this sort of madness of division and toxicity. This country really needs to lift itself and the political debate and coverage needs to lift itself in the next four days. And then the newspaper tells us, “Questions about personal belief and family upbringing have arisen on both sides of the election campaign, with Mr. Shorten speaking out about his mother and his Catholic family while Mr. Morrison attended a church service where he was photographed worshiping.

But let’s just step back for a moment and understand what we’re being presented with here. It’s astounding that the issue of hell has now emerged as a major issue of controversy in the upcoming Australian federal election. We’re living in the modern age, we’re living in an increasingly secularized culture in the Australians even more so. Hell we are told is an odious doctrine that the modern world got rid of centuries ago. How in the world does it keep showing up? How does it show up in a national controversy in Australia and how is it linked to homosexuality? Well, let’s just state the obvious. When you put the words almost sexuality and hell together, you have an extremely volatile cultural equation, but of course it’s also a test of conscience and conviction for Christians.

The fact is for Christians, the basic question comes down to, do we or do we not believe that the Bible is the word of God and that when we see an unconfused double texts such as 1st Corinthians chapter six verses nine through 11 we really do believe that it’s not just the apostle Paul here writing to the church at Corinth. It is the Holy Spirit of God speaking to the church throughout all the ages. That’s the crucial question. It’s a question I have to say that the prime minister of Australia failed and failed massively. He failed even as he has claimed an evangelical identity. He failed even as just a matter of a couple of years ago. He was very clear about his opposition to the legalization of same sex marriage. He failed precisely because he appears to be embarrassed about the accusation that he might actually come at least somewhat close, even by an angular issue to believing that the Bible is the word of God and the Bible’s clear teachings on homosexuality are still to be believed and affirmed, even if he just said so according to his personal belief.

But what’s also important for us to recognize is what this tells us about the current political reality. It tells us this, it is politically untenable. It is culturally unthinkable that someone who would be the head of a major political party in Australia could now believe in what the Bible says about the sinfulness of homosexuality and the consequences of sin. That may be the biggest insight here. It is now so unthinkable that Scott Morrison was presented with a clear choice. Does he signed with the scripture? Or does he side with this political party? In light of the election, the party one, the scripture lost, but at the same time, Morrison defends religious liberty for Christians even in the face of the LGBT revolution. And thus it really will make a difference in the upcoming Australian federal election, if his party wins or if the more Liberal Party wins. If the Labor Party wins, you are likely to see the religious liberty rights of Christians increasingly compromised if not trampled upon in Australia. So here’s the strange quandary of Australia and evangelicals and moral conservatives.

They are going to have to vote for the party of the guy who just decided to join the moral revolution when faced with a question about homosexuality in hell. Because if they do not, they are likely to elect a party that is actually going to be even more antagonistic against the religious liberty rights of Christians and other Australian citizens. We’re looking at the fact that if the Labor Party wins the majority in Saturday’s elections, we are likely to see the pressure on Christians increased in Australia and the threat of government coercion commensurately increased. But we really are looking at an incredible development that reveals so much about Australia, but points to the same kind of changes, the same kind of charges, the same kind of headlines and controversies assuredly coming to the United States. How far are we from reaching the point where it is politically unthinkable that the presidential nominee of one of our two major parties could possibly say that he or she agrees with the scriptural verdict concerning homosexuality?

And remember for Christians that Biblical teaching is not primarily about establishing policy when it relates to the nation. That’s not irrelevant, but that’s not the primary issue. Paul was speaking theologically with the Gospel at stake. He was speaking inspired by the Holy Spirit to make very clear that we must share the gospel, the only power that saves with all persons, and we must understand as Paul writes, that there are certain sins that are particularly illustrative of rebellion against God and the need for the Gospel. We need also to note that the Apostle Paul continued in verse 11 to speak to the Christians in Corinth. After reciting that entire list of sins he said and such worst, some of you but you were washed. He goes on to say you were justified by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s the power of the Gospel. We are really looking at the fact that Christians may be put on the line to choose between functioning in the culture or remaining faithful to the gospel.

Let’s understand what’s at stake and that second point. If we deny that homosexuals or anyone else on that list swindlers, revilers, the greedy. If we deny that anyone in the kind of list you see in Romans chapter one if we deny that every single human being is a sinner deserving of sin and the Bible indicts us by making that send specific, if we deny that we are actually denying the gospel, that’s what’s at stake here. Because if we tell people that what they are doing, which is sin is not sin, we are telling them they don’t need Jesus. They don’t need the gospel for that.

Part II

The audacity of moral revolutionaries who claim sinners will not go to hell: How our culture determines theology based on emotion

But remember that even as the Australian prime minister failed this test of conviction, his political opponent failed it, if you can imagine even worse. Look back at his statements. Bill Shorten said, “I cannot believe in this election that there is a discussion even underway that gay people will go to hell.” Well why can’t he believe it is because he doesn’t believe in hell? He doesn’t believe that homosexuality is a sin? He doesn’t believe that sinners will go to hell? He doesn’t believe that politicians should be speaking to this?

Here’s what so telling about Bill Shorten statement. He is simply pontificating as if he can decide who goes to heaven and hell or for that matter if Australia and lawmakers can, am I exaggerating? No, just go back to his comments. He said, “I cannot believe that the prime minister has not immediately said that gay people will not go to hell.” Now what’s implied in that though not set out right is that somehow anyone, including the prime minister of Australia, can decide who does and doesn’t go to hell. If Morrison had rightly answered the question, making clear that sinners do go to hell. He might have made clear that’s not because he’s decided this, but because God has revealed this, that God is the judge, not the prime minister of Australia. But the man who is now heading the Labor party and running against the prime minister insinuates by answering the question the way he did, that the Australian prime minister should simply say that homosexuals will not go to hell, meaning presumably that hell doesn’t exist or all right thinking people have simply outgrown the idea of hell or that God would send sinners there.

But here’s where we need to note something else, which is far more important even than the Australian federal election. It is the fact that what you see here is not just political manipulation. It is what is rightly called doctrinal emotivism. It is the reduction of doctrinal statements to what is believed to be an acceptable emotional intention or content. It is reducing all doctrine from being a truth claim to being an emotional statement. What we see now in the Australian context is the assertion that if you have the right emotional intention, you will certainly say, because doctrines merely a statement of emotional intention, what you would do if you were God. If you were God, you would not send homosexuals to hell. That’s really what’s going on here and what’s most important for us is understanding that an incredible number of Americans, millions and millions of Americans, including many Americans who consider themselves Christians and go to church, they basically understand doctrine in emotivist terms.

They do not understand doctrine as being matters of right and wrong, true and false. They don’t understand the distinction between Orthodoxy and heresy. They are really making a distinction between doctrinal statements that they believe reflect the rank emotional intention or have the right kind of emotional content or those that do not. That’s all they really understand doctrine to be. But there’s a final issue on the Australian story we need to see. We are told in the City Morning Herald “When Mr. Shorten was asked if he believed gay people go to hell? He said, “No, I don’t believe gay people because they’re gay will go to hell.” The most important issue is what he said next, he said, “I don’t need a law to tell me that. I don’t believe it.” Well that’s really interesting and potentially extremely ominous.

Is he suggesting perhaps that there are some people in Australia who are on the wrong side of this question, who really do need a law to coerce them and tell them that they can’t say that homosexuality is a sin, that sinners go to hell and the homosexuality being a sin homosexuals will go to hell for that behavior?

Is that what we’re looking at here? The context would suggests it is exactly what we’re seeing. This helps us to understand that in almost every major election, there’s always far more at stake then who will lead the government? The real question is what ideas will shape the culture and that’s why just about every development in this case from Australia is one that concerns us, but one is likely to lead directly to the curtailment of religious liberty in Australia. And what we should see is that the same thing could happen very quickly right here.

Part III

Have the arts replaced Christianity as the primary change agent of society?

But next, we shift back to the United States Monday’s edition of USA Today had a very different article. This headline “Stars celebrate the right to bear arts.” That’s right, not the right to bear arms, the right to bear arts. It’s a new theme undertaken by many who are celebrating the arts in the United States.

Rasha Ali reports, “The Creative Coalition hosted its annual right to bear arts gala and fashion show Thursday in Washington DC where celebrities, artists and politicians gathered to show support for the arts.” The gala we are told was co-hosted by USA Today, which explains probably why the news coverage appeared in USA Today and in no other major newspaper. But the article continues telling us that the gala was also sponsored by Oncology Company Novocure and brought out Hollywood advocates such as Steve Howey of Shameless, Caterina Scorsone of Grey’s Anatomy, Tim Daly of Madam Secretary and Wendi Mclendon-Covey of The Goldbergs. This was a big celebration by artists of artists and art and the power of art in the society. It was a celebrity event after all, we are told that it was a gala and that it attracted an astounding number of celebrities. What’s most important in this article is how you have a focus here on the fact that art is the most important institution or reality in the culture.

It is the pivotal catalytic power in the culture. We are told one of the most clear statements were made by Tim Daly, the actor. He said, “The arts are the most powerful and effective change agent known to mankind.” Now just take that in for a moment and hear it again. Tim Daly said, “The arts are the most powerful and effective change agent known to mankind.” Now what we are looking at there is again, a testimony to the secularization of the culture and the fact that the culture is going to worship something and it’s going to have some kind of religious observance, even if it is not theistic. And in this case, what we are seeing over and over again in the culture is that the energy that would have in a previous century been directed towards theism, that is the belief in God and the worship of God, is now being reformulated and re-channeled into a celebrity-ism, a cultural focus, celebrating the arts and artistic expression is the sacraments with gatherings of celebrities and artists now becoming the replacement for the great religious festivals of previous centuries.

You can see here that the religious fervor continues, but the religious fervor and their religious observance are being completely transformed. You also see that there’s a transformative power that is being confessed and acknowledged in preached here. But what does that transformative power, in this case, it’s the transformative power of the arts. Now you can step back and say, “This is just artists in an incredible display of unembarrassed self-congratulation.” It is that, but you also have to understand that there are vast segments of our culture where the belief that the arts are the most transformative power in society is mainstream. You also have to concede that in vast segments of our population that is probably close to being true. The only transformative power they might know, is the transformative power of some form of art. They’re deeply moved by movies in a way they’re not moved by anything else.

They have an absolute loyalty to and commitment to certain celebrities and entertainers. They have their own iconic symbols of their new religious faith and furthermore, it works out in just about every dimension of their lives and increasingly of America’s popular culture. It’s also interesting that at the gala there another statement made by one of the celebrities who said, “I think many people who don’t live here in Washington DC really are seeing this polarized country right now, but actually being here and talking to people, you saw that there was a lot of camaraderie and a lot of understanding across the aisle.” But here’s where we need to note, that when you are looking at the engines of cultural productivity, when you’re looking at the celebrity culture and the cultural elites, there really isn’t any across the aisle. Of course, there was camaraderie there, because Hollywood and the other aspects of the left already enthusiastically and virtually unanimously committed to the moral left, to moral liberalism, to what they style as progressivism.

No wonder they don’t see polarization at their events. There is no one representing a contrary worldview. I want to go back to Tim Daly. You recall he said, “The arts are the most powerful and effective change agent known to mankind.” He continued by saying, “They are the custodians and emissaries of our culture. They are the common language of our humanity.” Again, the most important thing to recognize here is that, in virtually any previous century of human civilization, especially of Western civilization, especially as you were considering the last 20 centuries, the two millennia of Christianity in western societies, the answer would have been given that it is the Christian faith that actually provides what is being declared as the domain of the arts here—that is, the custodian and emissary of culture, the common language of our humanity. But what this does reveal is that in the eyes of many, the power of the arts has moved in when the power of Christianity has moved out. You might say, that’s not what they said, but it does seem that’s what they meant.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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