Monday, November 11, 2019
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Monday, November 11, 2019. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
There Is No Refuge in Ambiguity: Why Christians Must Always Be Prepared to Give an Honest Answer
Christians understand the responsibility to be clear, to be always ready to give an answer and to give that answer directly with clarity, not with confusion. And we understand that even as confusion is to be avoided and clarity is to be demonstrated. We understand that the worst form of confusion is an intentional confusion and intentional ambiguity. That was raised recently in the headlines coming from Canada, where the leader of the Conservative Party there is in hot water for refusing to answer an important question directly. As you know, Canada held a recent federal election and even though the Liberal Party there did not win a majority of the votes, it did win strategically a majority of the seats in parliament, and thus it is the Liberal Party leader, Justin Trudeau, the current prime minister who will continue in that role.
This was a setback for the Conservative Party, which had been expected perhaps to topple Trudeau but didn't and that is blamed on the leader of the party as is usual, Andrew Scheer. Thus, in recent days, the conservatism Canada had been meeting to decide if Andrew Scheer is to continue as the party leader. They decided that he was, but that's to be reviewed early in 2020. But the big point of the headlines is that Andrew Scheer was asked the question, “Do you believe that homosexuality is a sin?” Now that's an interesting question for a political leader to be asked, not so much being asked these days about anything related to the LGBTQ array of issues, but rather being asked if one believes that homosexuality is a sin. Let's just face it. There are so many in our society who do not want that question even to be asked, but in this context, the asking of the question was intended to embarrass Andrew Scheer and to force him to answer the question one way or the other.
The predicament for Andrew Scheer is that he is well identified as a Roman Catholic. And the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church is that even though all persons should be treated with respect, not only homosexual behavior, but same-sex sexual desire is unnatural. It is objectively disordered. Thus homosexuality is a sin, which means that Andrew Scheer, if he answered on behalf of the church of which he is a member would have answered, “Yes, homosexuality is a sin.” But he refused to answer one way or the other.
Colby Cosh writing for the National Post based in Toronto summarized the situation this way, "Andrew Scheer is being pursued by journalists and criticized by Conservative colleagues because he will not give a straight answer when asked if he thinks homosexuality is a sin." Now, the interesting thing at that point is to recognize that the criticism coming to the Conservative leader from some of his Conservative colleagues is not disappointment that he did not answer in a truly conservative way, but the fact that so many who are identified as members of the Conservative Party are by no means conservative, nor for that matter is the party when it comes to social issues.
As I discussed last week on The Briefing in the run up to the election, it was clear that the Conservative Party in Canada is trying to create as much distance as possible from any conservative positions on controversial social issues. Thomas Walkom writing from the left as a columnist for the Toronto Star mentioned that Scheer is being now lambasted "for allowing the liberals to drag him into a debate over abortion and same-sex marriage.” That's extremely interesting, but it's also extremely accurate. The pressure is now on Scheer because he did not avoid being dragged into this controversy. Now, how did so many of his colleagues want him to avoid it? By saying that there is no question that the Conservative Party is and always must be absolutely pro-abortion, absolutely pro-LGBTQ. The thing to note is that Andrew Scheer basically said just that, but evidently he did not say it with enough emphatic force to please even his Conservative colleagues.
One of the issues to note here is that the political situation in so much of the Western world — Canada here is an illustration that political change — that moral change is now happening so fast, that there is now a shadow on any party that may have at any time held to any position that might now be described as socially conservative. But when you consider the controversy now swirling around the Conservative leader in Canada for not giving a direct answer, and as we know, that really means the right direct answer in the view of the media and the culture. You should remember a similar controversy from Great Britain in 2017, when Tim Farron had to resign as head of the Liberal Democratic Party there because he was identified as an evangelical Christian. And the issue came in 2017 in Britain, that if you are a member of an evangelical church that believes in any way that homosexuality is a sin, then you are unfit for major political office and certainly unfit to lead a major political party.
Rex Murphy, a columnist for the National Post in Toronto, points to the fact that there is some irony in the fact that Andrew Scheer was asked about this sin when, as he points out, other political leaders are not ask about other sins. Murphy describes the controversy this way, "The point the sin question did have was to continue the line egregiously put out by his Liberal opponents that Scheer was going to smuggle his religious views on same-sex marriage and abortion into law should he win the election. It was the oppo-politics," that's opposition politics, "chaff, and a really cheap brand of that reliably cheap stuff."
But looking at all this, what is the point from a Christian worldview? The point is this. First of all, to recognize the changes in the culture taking place around us, not only in Canada but in the United States, where it is becoming more and more unthinkable that anyone in public office or public influence could hold or could ever have held to a view that is in conflict with the LGBTQ revolution. We're watching that happen all over the Western world. But we're also noticing something else of even more fundamental importance for Christians. Christians must be ready to give a direct and honest answer when we are asked a question about sin. That might come, indeed it will come with a considerable political cost, but failing to answer the question comes with an even deeper cost to both theology and doctrine and to personal ethics.
But there's a third observation and that is this: Even being a member of a church can now make someone a marked individual. In the case of Andrew Scheer, it’s the fact that he identifies as Roman Catholic. In the case of Tim Farron, he identified as some form of evangelical Christian. Before long, you can count on the fact that just about every politician in the United States or any candidate for office is going to be asked, "Do you belong to a church that might hold in any way that anything in the LGBTQ or expanding array is in any dimension sinful? If you believe that, then you must be disqualified for office.”
You Can’t Have Your Cake and Eat It Too: There is No Refuge in Accepting Ambiguity as Policy
But while we're looking at that issue from Canada, we need to look to yet another. And the importance of this issue is by no means limited to Canada. It becomes an illustration that is important for all of us. The Toronto Star on Friday ran a front-page story with a headline, "Archdiocese backs inclusive changes to Catholic board's anti-discrimination policy." Isabel Teotonio is the education reporter for the Toronto Star.
She writes, "The archdiocese of Toronto, the Catholic church's spiritual leadership in the GTA has weighed in on the side of inclusivity after a much heated debate at the Catholic school board over gender issues." The story continues, "A report submitted at a Toronto Catholic District School Board meeting Thursday evening says the archdiocese would support the board in changing its code of conduct policy to include controversial terms, gender expression, gender identity, family status, and marital status. Those terms are identified in the Human Rights Code, that is of the nation of Canada, as prohibited grounds of discrimination."
The report reads, "The archdiocese will accept the terms provided that the amended policy be interpreted through the lens of the Catholic faith as articulated by the teachings of the church and protected in legislation." What does that mean? Well, the point is this: It doesn't mean anything very clear. That the school board was under political pressure is beyond question, intense political pressure and legal pressure as well because of Canada's Human Rights Code, that does indeed use that language and requires that language in nondiscrimination policy. This put the Catholic schools there in Toronto on a collision course with that federal policy. And what you have here is the archdiocese negotiating with the Catholic School Board in a way to accept the language while saying that it does so only in keeping with the official teaching of the Catholic church and "through the lens of the Catholic faith as articulated by the teachings of the church and protected in legislation.” That's the kind of language that represents some way to try to meet the non-discrimination language while still maintaining some liberty of the schools and the archdiocese to operate as Catholic institutions.
But as we're thinking about the necessity of clarity and the danger of confusion, evangelical Christians need to keep very much in mind that language is never neutral and that's the whole point here. The reason why this language was demanded by so many in the LGBTQ community, and the reason why that legal pressure was brought on the Catholic School District there is precisely because the language changes the reality. If you accept the language, you are effectively accepting a new moral reality as represented by the new moral language that you are using.
As the article says later, "Under the section called Standards of Behavior, the proposed language states all members of the school community must respect and treat others fairly regardless of, for example, race, ancestry, place of origin, color, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status or disability." Now what we need to note here is that the acceptance of that language is actually quite incompatible with the official teaching of the Roman Catholic church. But this is not a predicament by any means limited to Roman Catholic schools and institutions because we see some evangelical schools and certainly many other schools with different religious heritage and identity trying to find the same way out.
In worldview analysis, the biggest problem here is the assumption that you can accept language without accepting the new moral reality that the language brings, especially this kind of language. The second issue is to recognize that when you accept this as part of a so-called non-discrimination policy, then you are saying that you will not discriminate on these bases that have just been named and that discrimination along these lines with us be wrong.
Notice the fact that one of the criteria here is marital status. Well, what exactly does that mean? Well, Canada has legal same-sex marriage. So if one is committed not to discriminate on the basis of marital status, then at least in appearance, there seems to be a commitment here not to discriminate on the basis of whether or not an individual is married to someone of the same gender.
The official teaching of the Roman Catholic church and a logic evangelical Christians must accept as well is that same-sex marriage is actually rightly understood as an impossibility. It is recognized legally, but it can't be recognized by any church that would stand on historic Christian teaching concerning marriage and for evangelicals more importantly, upon biblical authority. Christians can surely understand that we are to respond to and to treat all persons with respect, but that cannot mean in biblical terms, accepting someone's identity as claimed by themselves contrary to Scripture, or accepting someone who demands to have a same-sex marriage recognized, especially as legitimate when it comes to something like a Christian school, not to mention a Christian congregation.
I fully understand and sympathize with the pressure brought upon this Catholic School Board and the archdiocese, and it's going to be very interesting to see how this new policy is interpreted by the larger community, and how long it stands as something of a halfway house.
When I was a little boy, I was often befuddled by some of my mother's expressions, several of them as a matter of fact, which often falls to children, but one of them in particular. She would sometimes speak of someone trying to “have his cake and eat it too.” I couldn't understand the difference between having and eating, because when she offered me a piece of cake she would say, "Would you like to have a piece of cake?" Only later did I figure out that what she actually meant was someone having the cake as in keeping it or saving it, and eating it at the same time. That's the contradiction. “Trying to have your cake and eat it too” is thus a metaphor for trying to have it both ways. It is impossible.
And we can see on so many of these issues where there are denominations and Christian institutions and schools and even school districts, that are effectively on this moral challenge trying to have their cake and eat it too. Or they're trying to avoid at all costs, having to make a decision that will cost them one way or the other. But the lesson for us all is that that cost is going to come inevitably.
It is very clear when you look at Andrew Scheer or you look at this school policy or you look at other instances all over the place these days, it is very, very clear that there is no refuge in ambiguity. It is very clear that the moral revolutionaries will not accept no answer as an answer. And at the end of the day, even as you might try to say, "I'm going to accept the language, but I'm going to define the terms myself," that's not going to work. Because the people who are determining the words that are mandated eventually will also determine the mandated meaning of those words.
Moral Change Typically Occurs Through Generational Change, Except on the Issues of Marijuana and Same Sex Marriage, But Why?
But next, as we're thinking about moral change, a very, very interesting article that appeared in the November 2nd edition of The Economist, very influential news magazine from London. The headline: Talking about my generation.” The subhead: "Societies change their minds faster than people do." The entire point of the article is about moral change taking place in Western societies. The graph looks at issues of public opinion on questions such as abortion or government spending or homosexuality. And the point being made in this article is that people generally do not change their minds. Moral change generally and usually does not happen as it turns out by people changing their minds. It happens by some people dying and other people being born.
After documenting a leftward drift in the society that's rather unquestionable, The Economist states, "Over time, public opinion has grown more liberal but this is mostly the result of generational replacement, not of changes of heart." In the main, The Economist demonstrates, moral change takes place by demographic shifts, one generation dying and another generation being born, and the generations in between moving successively through phases of life.
So as you look at moral change in the United States, you can look at the radical distinction right now between people over 70 and people under 30. That is one of the most clarifying distinctions. A recent headline by the way, said that the most important division in the Democratic Party looking to the 2020 presidential nomination, it isn't geographic, it is demographic and it is the dividing line of age. Again, the crucial distinction in that case 60 and over and 30 and younger.
But this research report in The Economist is of even greater importance for Christians as we're trying to understand the world around us now, because this article argues that there are two exceptions to the rule that was just demonstrated — the rule being that generally moral change doesn't take place by individuals changing their minds, but rather by one generation passing off the scene and another generation coming onto the scene.
But this research in The Economist is a particular interest to Christians because the argument in this article is that even as in the main moral change does not take place by individuals changing their minds, but rather by generations replacing one another. The argument is that right now there are two exceptions. And as in almost every case, exceptions are more interesting than the rule. What would the exceptions be? Those exceptions would be the legalization of marijuana and the legalization of same-sex marriage.
As we have noted on The Briefing before, these two issues often appear in parallel and this is very interesting as revealed in The Economist because we are told that those two issues represent exceptions in this way. Individuals have changed their minds on these two issues. That raises the question, what kind of process, what kind of social pressure brought about a radical change of thought on those two issues amongst persons who are still living? They were opposed to it twenty years ago. They say they're for it now.
The Economist, does it actually answer that question. It does validate the fact that those two exceptions do stand out and require some explanation. And I think from a Christian worldview perspective, the big issue here is understanding that the tectonic plates of our culture have changed so fast when it comes to matters of human sexuality, that it is now the case that the legalization of same-sex marriage is approved by people who in their own lifetimes, even in their own adult lifetimes, even just a matter of a decade ago disapproved of it. That indicates the massive pressure being distributed throughout the entire society by the moral revolutionaries.
Nothing Exists as an Island, Not Even an Islamic Monarchy: The Liberalization of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
But then I turn to a headline article in Tuesday's edition of The Wall Street Journal last week by Karen Elliott House with the headline, "Saudi Arabia is changing fast." The point of this article is that the historically conservative Islamic culture of Saudi Arabia is itself liberalizing fast. The argument made in this Wall Street Journal article is that even as the forces of moral liberalization have begun there in Saudi Arabia, it appears to be nearly impossible to believe that they can be checked, much less reversed.
The moral change in Saudi Arabia is happening so fast that one nervous Saudi told The Wall Street Journal, "We are all riding in the backseat of a speeding car. We can't see where we are going. We just pray the driver knows so we avoid crashing."
But the most interesting and important section in worldview analysis of this article is this paragraph, "The regime," meaning the Saudi Arabian monarchy, "no longer worries about the erosion of the kingdom's distinctive culture. Its view is that in a world of ubiquitous social media, all cultures are destined to blend and it is no longer feasible, let alone desirable, for Saudi Arabia to shut itself off from an extractable global trends." That's stunning. It stands in absolute contradiction to the stance taken by the Saudi royal family ever since the establishment of the kingdom.
But it also tells us a very great deal about how moral change takes place because even in the famously conservative culture of Saudi Arabia, the kingdom's leaders have now come to the conclusion that in an age of global social media, which represents global nearly simultaneous moral change according to this theory, there is no way for Saudi Arabia not to blend in with all of the other cultures of the world eventually in moral terms.
Now, just remember the fact that right now there are beheadings in Saudi Arabia for various crimes. Thieves can have their hands cut off. This is by no means a liberal regime, but this story in The Wall Street Journal says eventually it's going to be because even Saudi Arabia cannot exist as an island.
The article also tells us how money is involved in this equation, "This most puritanical of Islamic societies is increasingly mirroring Western mores as the government seeks to attract foreign tourists and investors whose money is needed to diversify the kingdom's oil dependent economy." The Saudi monarchy understands that the oil economy is going to run out not only because of climate change, but also because of the fact that other producers of oil and other sources of oil are now replacing the dependency upon the Middle East and Saudi Arabia in particular.
But the point here for Christians I hope is very clearm and it comes down to this, we do not exist as an island. We exist ourselves, our churches, our denominations, our schools. But I hope the worldview point of all of this becomes clear for Christians. It is true that we ourselves, our churches, our schools, our denominations, our congregations do not exist as islands any more than Saudi Arabia does. But our response can't be the response of simply resigning ourselves or capitulating to the fact that we are just going to have to join the moral monoculture. We can't do that.
But all these stories taken together today demonstrate just how difficult indeed, just how expensive remaining faithful to biblical Christianity is going to be in our lifetimes. The effect of all of these apparently disconnected headlines reminding us of the same essential point — all of these things arriving in a matter of just days — that should underline the predicament in which we now find ourselves and the challenge that we now face. If we are not very careful, we will become just another part of the monoculture.
If we are not careful, then we will find ourselves morally and theologically — well, there it is — trying to have our cake and eat it too. If we are not careful, we will find ourselves faced with a microphone and asked the question, for example, do you believe that homosexuality is a sin? And then if we're not careful and if we're not biblical, simply looking back and blinking and staring, saying nothing. That, let's just say, is not a Christian option.
The United Methodist Church Might Not Be “United” for Much Longer: The Impossibility of Holding Together Those Arguing for Two (or More) Positions on LGBTQ Issues
But that then takes us to major developments just in recent days in the United Methodist Church, the second largest Protestant denomination in the United States, and the only one of the so-called mainline liberal Protestant denominations not yet to capitulate to the LGBTQ revolution. You may recall that earlier this year there was a special general conference of the United Methodist Church, and it led to a narrow but real conservative victory upholding the traditional teaching of the United Methodist Church against the ordination and the consecration as bishops of those who are identified as practicing homosexuals.
For many decades, homosexuality has been explicitly referenced in the discipline of the United Methodist Church as incompatible with Christian teaching. But of course also for decades, there have been liberals who are not only advocating against the policy, but repeatedly violating the teaching of their own denomination. That has led to the crisis in the United Methodist Church and to recent headlines, including this one in The Salt Lake Tribune, an article from Emily McFarlan Miller of Religion News Service. The headline, "United Methodist Churches Western bishops announced safe harbor for LGBTQ clergy."
Now this is on this issue, the equivalent of a so-called sanctuary city declaring that it is not going to cooperate with federal immigration authorities when it comes to those who are unregistered immigrants. Now you have these Western bishops of the United Methodist Church declaring that they are going to continue to operate in flagrant disregard and disobedience to the teaching of their own church, which means to their own ordination and consecration vows, and instead they're going to create this safe harbor for LGBTQ clergy.
But the most astounding statement from these bishops is this, "We do not believe the United Methodist Church has the authority or the power to impose limits on the movement of God's Holy Spirit in the lives of God's beloved LGBTQ+ children." That's simply astounding. Consider what this language is stating. It is stating that these bishops do not believe that their church has any authority to stand upon clear biblical teaching and to define marriage, human sexuality, and gender in biblical terms. Notice the language they use. Doing so, they argue, would be to try to “impose limits on the movement of God's Holy Spirit."
Notice the argument that you see in so many circles now, in which people argue that the Holy Spirit is moving in opposition to the revealed Word of God in Holy Scripture. Be ready to recognize and to oppose that argument whenever and wherever it is found and from whomever it shall come. Understand that it is absolutely contradictory to claim that the Bible is the Holy Spirit-inspired Word of God, and then to claim that the Holy Spirit is moving the church or moving individual believers in a way that is contrary to the Word of God. This is an effort actually to nullify Scripture. It's an effort to try to transcend biblical authority and instead use the authority of experience that is claimed to be by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in opposition to the clear teachings of Scripture.
Rarely do you see this bad an argument presented this straightforwardly, but the United Methodist Churches now come to this. And also in recent weeks, several bishops of the United Methodist Church have suggested that the only way out of this crisis is to split the United Methodist Church into at least no less than three different churches holding to three different understandings of human sexuality, marriage, and gender, and thus to have three different churches, ironically enough out of a denomination that was called the United Methodist Church. That is to say the United Methodist Church becoming inevitably over this kind of crisis ununited, disunited.
But that's actually inevitable because there is no way to hold together a church that has, on the one hand, bishops arguing that homosexuality is a sin and those arguing on the other hand that it's a sin to call homosexuality a sin. You can't hold together with bishops holding those two contradictory positions or as my mother would say, "You can't have your cake and eat it too."
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
Today, November the 11th is Veteran's Day, in which we honor all the veterans who fought on behalf of the United States of America since the founding of the nation in 1776, and it goes back to the armistice at the end of World War I that took place at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year, 1918. 101 years ago, today. It turned out the World War I, sadly enough, was not the war to end all wars, but it does remind us of the debt we owe to everyone who has fought in America's wars, everyone who has worn the uniform of the American armed services, and everyone who has risked everything in order that we would enjoy the benefits of freedom.
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'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.