briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

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

It’s Tuesday, December 3rd, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Mormon Church Supports Utah’s New Ban on Conversion Therapy: The Moral Revolutionaries Won’t Stop with This New Policy

TIME Magazine gives us the headline, “Why The LDS Church Joined LGBTQ Advocates In Supporting Utah’s Conversion Therapy Ban.” That’s an awful lot of initials. LDS means Latter Day Saints. It would otherwise be known as the Mormon Church because until recently, the Mormons called themselves by the term Mormonism. But no more, as the first president of the church declared recently and he had had a revelation directly from God that required a change in the church’s name. You see many in the media trying to struggle with exactly how now to represent it, and the initial seem to be an easy journalistic way to say LDS and move on.

LGBTQ, well, just about everyone listening to The Briefing knows that that refers to either lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning, or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer, depending upon who’s using the LGBTQ.

But TIME reports, “When Utah governor Gary Herbert proposed a new rule banning licensed therapists from practicing LGBTQ conversion therapy on minors last week, it was supported not only by LGBTQ advocates, but also the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.” That is the name of the Mormon Church that the current first president insists upon the media, and in particular Mormons using. TIME goes on to report, “The support of the LDS church, formerly known as the Mormon church, didn’t come easily. The process of banning conversion therapy has taken months of back and forth between church leaders, the LGBTQ community, and state policymakers. As recently as a month ago, the church opposed the governor’s rule change.”

The background to this is important. The governor of Utah is a Republican, Gary Herbert. He and his administration had indicated in recent months that it intended to push through a rule change that would eliminate the possibility legally of anyone who holds a state license as for instance, a therapist of some sort, from engaging in conversion therapy, particularly when it comes to minors. But the other background is the state of Utah and the fact that Mormonism has an outsize influence in that state. It began as the Utah territory originally called by Mormon settlers as Deseret. Once it entered the federal union in the late 19th century, it had to change some of its policies, including the church’s teaching on polygamy. But even as it is true that Utah has been growing as a part of the inner mountain West, and its population has been expanding, it’s still true that the Mormon church includes millions of Utahns, and has a massive influence within the state, and that includes a political influence as well.

As you’re looking at this story, you have to recognize that it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for the governor of Utah to continue with the proposal of this rule change if he and the government were to face the overt opposition of the Mormon leadership. But that didn’t happen. It appeared to be happening earlier in the process, but by the time the governor’s office made the announcement at the end of last week, the Mormon church’s leadership was on board. The governor’s office was able to declare this rule change with the support of both the LGBTQ community and the Mormon authorities.

How was that possible? Well, consider the fact that there is already a parallel development. Several years ago, the leaders of the Mormon church worked, at least in some kind of cooperation, with the LGBTQ community in framing legislation that became known as Fairness For All. This legislation was effectively a non-discrimination law when it comes to LGBTQ issues, but it also provided certain exceptions that the Mormons insisted upon. But upon reflection, it turned out that those exceptions were limited to the ministries and the organizational dimensions of the Mormon church itself and its schools. This meant that the Fairness For All basically threw under the bus anyone who was not covered by those exemptions, and that means especially those who are engaged in business, even privately held businesses, who hold to religious beliefs contrary to the normalization of the LGBTQ revolution.

Sadly, there had been at least some evangelicals who have suggested that the Fairness For All legislation should serve as a model. But again, it is a compromise that fails on two essential points. The first of these points is, it’s not going to last. LGBTQ activists have settled for the legislation with these very limited exemptions for now, but the crucial words are “for now.” This is a holding position that will not hold for long. But the larger problem is one of principle. It fails at the level of principle because it sacrifices individual believers and for that matter, even Christian organizations that might not be defined in a way that would meet the exemption language, and instead it protects the interest of the Mormon church and some others who might come under that kind of exemption language, restrictive though it is.

It appeared back during the Fairness For All debate that the Mormon leadership was determined to stay in some kind of centrist position there in Utah, that did not identify itself too much one way or the other on the issue. But the quandary there is the fact that the Mormon church officially still teaches that homosexuality is a morally deficient behavior and the Mormon church doesn’t recognize same sex unions or same sex marriages. And in the interesting theology of Mormonism, which is not a variant of Christianity, but which is a different religion entirely, marriage takes on even more than what the Roman Catholic church claims marriage to be as a sacrament. The sealing ceremonies that take place in Mormon temples actually create a different ontological existence for the marriage couple according to Mormon theology. So the precedent already exists, and the announcement that came last week about the fact that the LDS church has joined LGBTQ advocates in supporting this rule that comes from the governor’s office, it tends to make sense.

But the problem I identified with the Fairness For All proposal also shows up here. Consider this paragraph from the TIME report, “Troy Williams, the Executive Director of LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Utah tells TIME that the ban is significant because Utah is ground zero for conversion therapy. The idea that sexuality could be changed has pervaded among LDS members since at least the 1960s when LDS apostles published Miracle of Forgiveness, which described gay sex as a crime against nature and said that sexual orientation could be changed through prayer.” Williams said, “We are pleased that the new rule will mirror the legislation that was drafted and introduced earlier this year. We have no doubt the adoption of this rule will send a lifesaving message to LGBTQ plus youth across our state.” And then TIME said, “When the rule goes into effect as early as January 2020, Utah will be the 19th state to ban the practice.”

Now that paragraph from TIME includes a very interesting statement saying that the Mormon church has held at least since the 1960s that sexuality could be change, identifying gay sex as against a nature — by the way, that is taught by the apostle Paul very clearly in Romans 1 — and saying that sexual orientation could be changed through prayer. Well, that’s an interesting argument, but what is in the background here is the fact that any argument taking any form that sexual orientation can be or even should be changed by any kind of means, in any case, that is now considered to be anathema by LGBTQ activists and increasingly by the larger culture, the allies of those activists. All this becomes even clearer in this paragraph from the TIME report, “While the LDS church has repeatedly affirmed that it does not condone or implement conversion therapy, which GLAAD,” that’s a gay activist group, “GLAAD defines as ‘any attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.’” TIME goes on to say, “LDS teachings are still regarded as largely conservative on LGBTQ issues.”

Now, what’s so important for us to note there is that the activist group GLAAD has here defined conversion therapy as, and these words are absolutely crucial, “any attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.” Any attempt. And notice what’s included in this identification of conversion therapy, this definition. It includes sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

But that’s a far more expansive definition of conversion therapy than what was found in the proposed legislation that is now taking the form of the rule change from the governor’s office. The statement from the governor says that the rule will use the language from House Bill 399. I’m now holding House Bill 399 in my hand, and it defines conversion therapy as a practice or a treatment that, in the first place, claims that therapy will result in a complete and permanent reversal in the patient or client’s sexual orientation; in the second place, a search that a complete and permanent change in the patient or client’s sexual orientation is necessary; in the third place, subjects a patient or client to physical discomfort through adversive treatment that causes nausea, vomiting, or other unpleasant physical sensations; or in the fourth place, provides electric shock or other electrical therapy including electroconvulsive therapy or transcranial magnetic stimulation.

The point here is that the rule language, detailed as it is, is far more restrictive than the definition of conversion therapy that was offered by GLAAD. But notice that it is that definition that was specifically cited in the TIME magazine article. The point is this: even as the Mormon authorities have cooperated in the creation of this rule, this rule will not last because LGBTQ activists are not satisfied with it, nor are the exemptions, or in this case the specific language used in the definitions going to stand scrutiny or the test of time.

The governor’s new rule is eventually going to come from the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing, and the point here is that you can watch the same kind of process be used on the LGBTQ agenda, profession by profession, licensure by licensure. If you control the process of licensing professions, then you can eventually control the future of the culture.

So who might be exempt? Well, it turns out that the exemptions would be two. First, “a clergy member or religious counselor who is acting substantially in a pastoral or religious capacity and not in the capacity of a mental health therapist,” or second, “a parent or grandparent is a mental health therapist with respect to counseling a child or grandchild of the parent or grandparent.” The point here is that, that exemption language is basically limited to a member of the clergy or a religious counselor operating specifically in that context.

It was apparently also pressure from the Mormon church that led to an exemption in the definition of conversion therapy, so that the definition does not include, “exploring the patient or client’s assumptions and goals by permitting a patient or client to decide how to self-identify and live out the patient or client’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and that it also is not defined as discussing with a patient or client, the patient or client’s moral or religious beliefs or practices, or finally in this sense, providing acceptance, support, and understanding of a patient or client’s moral or religious beliefs or practices.”

I think we can see in this the very limited exemption language in defining conversion therapy and then in defining who’s covered by the policy. But again, the fact is that even these very narrow exemptions will not last. This takes me back to the TIME magazine article that cited Troy Williams identified as the Executive Director of LGBTQ advocacy group, Equality Utah. Almost at the end of the TIME Magazine article we read, “When asked if he felt the rule changes went far enough to limit conversion therapy, Williams insists that it went as far as legally possible without infringing on individual rights.” But he didn’t stop there. Williams went on to say, and I quote, “They’re not exemptions. They’re clarifications. That’s the important part. And yeah, clergy are exempt. Life coaches are also exempt because the state doesn’t regulate churches. The state doesn’t regulate life coaches. Right now, the state only regulates state licensed therapists. Right now, a lot of people are coming to me and saying, that’s not enough. That’s what’s consistent with the First Amendment and the Constitution of the United States.”

Now as if we could miss it, he not only uses the expression “right now” once, he uses the expression “right now,” twice. Does this go far enough? Well, the LGBTQ activist says it goes far enough for now, but even right now, he says he’s under pressure from those who say that these exemptions shouldn’t exist. Right now, this is as far as the rule change can go. Right now, as in right now.

One final thought on this issue for biblically minded Christians, we do not, as gospel-minded Christians believe that therapy is the ultimate answer for a deeply theological problem. We are talking about the problem of sin. This doesn’t mean that therapy can’t mitigate many situations, but it does mean that when we are looking at conversion therapy, we do believe most emphatically in conversion. We do not believe in what might be called conversion therapy, that is any kind of salvation by therapy.

But we also have to be very clear, emphatically clear, that we do believe that conversion and the new life in Christ brings about re-generation and progressive sanctification, and that the new believer is immediately united with Christ and Christ is not united with sin. Biblically minded Christians cannot accept any limitation upon our belief in the fundamental change that does come by the gospel and must come by the gospel. And we cannot accept any rule, any legislation, any effort by the larger culture to tell us that we cannot preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and we cannot teach all that the Bible reveals about God’s intention and design and the law for human sexuality and what the Bible reveals about gender and gender identity.

This story hasn’t received the national attention nor certainly the attention from Christians that it deserves, but for a second time, the state of Utah offers us an example of the kind of problematic legislation, or in this case, political negotiation that A, will not stand, and B, does not stand on principle in the first place.

But finally I have to go back to the fact that the TIME Magazine article cited the definition of conversion therapy from GLAAD as, “any attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.” In some very real sense, that should put every single biblical congregation in direct violation of what is claimed to be and presented to be, this new policy. And the governor may well declare victory. But the definition of conversion therapy cited by TIME Magazine wasn’t his, but rather GLAAD’s.

Part II

Moral Liberalism on the Ballot in New Zealand: The Secularizing Nation Will Vote on Legalizing Abortion, Euthanasia, and Recreational Marijuana

But next, we’re going to shift from Utah to New Zealand and we’re going to look at the confluence of secularization and moral change in that nation, and especially in recent political developments. The New York Times reports with the headline, “New Zealanders To Vote On Hot Button Issues.” The subhead: “Liberal Priorities Break With Global Trends.” Charlotte Graham-McLay is the reporter. She tells us, “While conservative populism is now ascendant in some of the world’s leading democracies, New Zealand is rushing in the opposite direction, taking on several liberal social issues all at once. Next year, the country will hold public referendums to decide whether to legalize assisted suicide and recreational marijuana. Separately, law makers in New Zealand are considering a bill that would decriminalize abortion.” Later in the article we’re told, “New Zealand is a socially liberal country, though it is not clear where New Zealanders will fall when the three issues come up for consideration in the months ahead.” Tackling them simultaneously could in the words of Bryce Edwards, a political commentator and lecturer at Victoria University in Wellington, could “foster an already growing culture war in New Zealand.”

The prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern has, as the paper says, built a global reputation for her brand of cordial, inclusive liberalism. And make no mistake, this is a very ardent form of moral liberalism. In one sense, moral liberalism has been ascendant in the West for the last several decades. Moral liberalism is the movement that defines human liberation as requiring a change in the basic moral code, a liberalizing of that code, especially when it comes to issues such as sexuality. And thus when you look at America, you see the redefinition of divorce and then the widespread acceptance of contraception. And you see that that sets the stage for the legalization of abortion and eventually the legalization of same sex marriage and the normalization of just about everything that is covered right now by those initials, LGBTQ, and of course the list of letters is expanding.

But the very essence of moral liberalism is the idea that human beings are autonomous individuals, and it comes down to basically the fact that no one should tell me how I have to live. But moral liberalism can only survive within a context that is largely secularized. And that’s exactly what you see here in New Zealand. Later in the article, we are told, “New Zealanders are often wary of religion. The 2018 census revealed that those who say they had no religion, 49% of the population had overtaken Christians at 38% for the first time.

Let’s just note that we are told that the unbelievers overtook Christians by self-designation for the first time in the 2018 census. But notice how lopsided the numbers are, with the unbelievers at 49% and those identifying as Christians of any form, at 38%. That’s not a close call. And then notice again the three issues. The first is abortion that will be undertaken by the legislature. There are 120 votes and they are overwhelmingly committed to moral liberalism. And then you have the other two issues, the legalization of marijuana and the legalization of euthanasia, both of them are going to be presented to the voters of New Zealand in the form of referenda because of a deal that allowed Jacinda Ardern and her party to form the government that required the participation of some smaller parties and they required these issues to be put to voters in the form of a referendum.

It’s also not a coincidence that the issues of abortion and euthanasia go together here, because there you see moral liberalism transforming itself into the culture of death when it comes to both the beginning and the end of life. It makes sense. It’s consistent. The New Zealanders are now basically poised to declare that abortion should be decriminalized because after all, human life in the womb can be negotiated away, and at the same time, they’re looking at legalizing euthanasia because by the same logic, of course, then at the end of life, human life can be discounted, and euthanasia and assisted suicide and any form it may take, can become a very logical option. And furthermore, the autonomous individual who may claim the right to an abortion at one point of life can now apparently claim the opportunity to end his or her own life at the other end.

But there’s something else we have to note about the developments in New Zealand, because we are told that the government there is concerned about “the quality of the looming public debate.” So how is the government concerned and what does it intend to do about those concerns? Well, it is concerned that there will be arguments made that the government doesn’t want made. Consider this portion of the report from the New York Times, speaking of the government, we are told, “It is acutely aware of the online misinformation campaigns that had been generated when other countries have put polarizing topics to public vote, such as Britain’s 2016 referendum on leaving the European Union.” In New Zealand the Times tells us, a team has been set up in the ministry of justice to combat manipulation of the public debate in the lead up to the referendums. Ministry officials we are told, are set to work to verify, “that if someone claims to have a highly authoritative piece of research, it is that, not some sort of highly partisan, highly skeptical, or dubious piece of misinformation.” That, according to Andrew Little, the justice minister in comments to radio New Zealand.

Now, just consider what that means. This means that a government agency is going to be censoring the debate and a government official is going to be deciding what is and is not a verifiable or credible or acceptable argument or study or research to be cited. But even that’s not enough for some of New Zealand’s left. One particular labor member of parliament said that she was appalled that the government was even going to be putting these questions to the public in the first place. The Times identified that member of parliament as Louisa Wall. And the Times said that, “She worried that pressure groups, particularly religious ones, might find more influence ahead of a public vote than they would if lawmakers were deciding the matter.”

That’s right. Here you have a member of parliament saying that the people of New Zealand shouldn’t be trusted in any sense with even deciding this question because the people of New Zealand might be susceptible to some kind of argument that might come from a religious source or authority. In subsequent comments, this particular member of parliament also made very clear that the only arguments that she considered acceptable were the arguments on her of the argument.

Part III

Nihilism in a Test Tube: Sperm Bank for HIV-Positive Donors Opens in New Zealand

But finally, also from New Zealand, an absolutely chilling headline, “HIV Positive Sperm Bank Opens In New Zealand.” This is coming from the BBC, the British Broadcasting Corporation, telling us, “the world’s first sperm bank for HIV positive donors has launched in New Zealand aiming to fight stigma surrounding the illness.”

Now, for all kinds of reasons, I’m not going into a great deal of specificity from this BBC report, but the bottom line is that the claim comes from the activist, that it is impossible given current medical treatments for the virus to be spread by means of the donated sperm, but it is also clear that the main agenda behind this is moral. We have to go back to the fact that we’ve already discussed the issues of abortion and euthanasia, they are the central sacraments of the culture of death, but when you look at this headline, it also tells us that a certain form of moral Nihilism tends to follow on the heels of this kind of argument, and as we said, it’s the convergence of secularization and moral liberalism. And now you have of all things, a sperm bank that is opened in New Zealand, that location not accidental given what we’ve just discussed, that will only take sperm from HIV positive donors.

This is one of those headlines you have to assume must be at first taking the form of parody. But it’s not. This is a news release from the British Broadcasting Corporation, the BBC. It is an absolutely serious news article that just underlines for us how absolutely serious are the challenges we face. But also just keep in mind that there will be many people pointing to these headlines in the future, not out of concern, but suggesting that they point the way to the future.

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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