Monday, December 9, 2019
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Monday, December 9, 2019. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
The Clash Between Religious Liberty and the New Sexual Liberty Continues: Fairness For All Legislation Introduced on Friday
The collision between religious liberty and the newly invented sexual liberties is already a hotly contested battle zone, and the battle front is lengthy, covering issues from higher education and student loans to, of course, hospitals, foster care agencies, adoption ministries. You go down the list, including, now, local congregations, Christian colleges, schools, seminaries, and, of course, we are also looking at how this issue is playing out in the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
But an historic turn took place at the very end of last week, which, as we will note, is a bit unusual, but more on that aspect in just a moment. The timing was strange. But it was on Friday that a United States congressman announced the entry of legislation known as Fairness For All. A member of the House of Representatives, Representative Chris Stewart of Utah, initiated the legislation and is its chief sponsor at this point. As of this morning, the full text of the proposed legislation was not publicly available. The Deseret News of Salt Lake City, offered a leading story with the headline, “Why Utah Representative Chris Stewart and a Coalition of LGBTQ and Religious Groups Support Fairness For All (and Why Others Don't).” Matthew Brown and Kelsey Dallas, reporting for the paper, said this, "Under cold, gray skies, a coalition of religious and LGBTQ organizations gathered outside the capitol building Friday to introduce a bill they say can solve the growing conflict between religious freedom and gay rights."
Now before we go any further than this, let's just consider some of the words that are already in play. For one thing, the legislation is called Fairness For All. ‘Fairness’ is a positive word. So is the word ‘all’. You put ‘all’ and ‘fairness’ together, it sounds very positive. But we are talking about the title of legislation here, which means we had better look very carefully at who is defining fairness, and what that definition would be, and who exactly would be included in ‘all’. If a bill says ‘all,’ you can almost count on the fact it doesn't really mean all. Representative Stewart said on Friday, "This legislation allows us to settle the legal questions and get back to the business of loving our neighbors." He went on to say, "There's enough goodness in people that we can find a compromise that will protect basic human rights, reduce the stress, reduce the strife, and at the same time protect basic civil liberties of religious freedom."
Now, if only a piece of legislation could do that, but most assuredly this particular legislation will not. That's a big story. Now, what is very interesting, as I mentioned, that the bill was announced on a Friday. What's unusual about that? Friday is generally a day in which politicians dump news. With the weekend looming, they dump generally bad news, bad reports, bad economic surveys on a Friday afternoon, because it is very difficult to sustain media interest over a weekend. It's extremely odd for any kind of legislation like this to be announced, as the Deseret News said, “under cold gray skies,” on a Friday. Congressman Stewart certainly has a very positive view of the legislation he has initiated. After all, he said it will reduce the stress, protect basic human rights, reduce the strife, and as you'll recall, in his own words, at the same time, protect basic civil liberties of religious freedom.
Now, why should we take a closer look at this bill? Well, it is because that term Fairness For All was not basically introduced to the public, and certainly to those who have active concerns on these issues, last Friday. It has been in the public discourse for some time. It's also not a coincidence that it was a United States Congressman from Utah who initiated this legislation, because in some ways the moral and political impetus, in so far as there is such an impetus for this legislation, has come from Utah, where just a matter of a few years ago, the Mormon authorities and LGBTQ activists reached a truce of sorts that was identified under this rubric fairness for all. Furthermore, at least some evangelical colleges, universities, and ministries have indicated that this is a matter of their own urgency. They want to see this legislation passed.
Why should we look at it more carefully? Well, let's go back to those two words we mentioned at the beginning, fairness and all. What does fairness mean? In the Utah Compromise, as it was known then, fairness meant that LGBTQ activists got some of what they demanded. They got most of what they demanded. They got a sexual orientation and gender identity bill, a nondiscrimination bill, added to Utah's laws, and the only price of getting that legislation was a limited set of religious exemptions. Those religious exemptions basically were tied to religious congregations and institutions that are integrally related to those organizations, congregations and ministries. That Compromise, as it was called, was immediately hailed as a breakthrough, but it is very, very interesting to see the limited legislative traction that that proposal has had.
And the main reason is this: LGBTQ activists don't believe that they have to compromise at all, and any compromise to which they agree is a compromise basically for now. That is the exact language we looked at, just in recent days, with the news coming, again from Utah, that the Utah governor was going to be issuing a new set of regulations, a new rule, as it is known, through the Utah Department of Commerce and its division of Occupational and Professional Licensing, that would render illegal all conversion therapy, or as many in the media said, so-called conversion therapy. And especially when it comes to those who were involved in the therapeutic professions, there are limited exceptions, and most of those exceptions make sense when you consider the fact that the rule was endorsed by and agreed to by Mormon authorities, as well as LGBTQ activists.
But as we noted twice in a single news story, LGBTQ activists said that they are satisfied with this for now. You can count on the fact that for now will not even mean for long. The Deseret News, that has a relationship with the Mormon Church, wrote, "The Fairness For All act would ban discrimination against gay and transgender Americans in most areas of public life, while also protecting a variety of religious organizations and individuals with traditional faith-based views on marriage and gender identity." The paper went on to note it comes six months after the House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, which would accomplish the first goal, but reduce legal remedies available to religious objectors. Authorities of the Seventh Day Adventist Church approved the proposed legislation, calling it a principled approach. That church said, "The Seventh Day Adventist Church endorses this balanced and principled piece of legislation because it affirms two essential components of our belief system, honoring God and loving our neighbor."
Of course, the Mormon Church has also indicated its support of the legislation, no surprise given the pattern there in Utah and beyond. A document released Friday by Congressman Stewart's office includes a statement from the Mormon Church. It reads, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints commends the introduction of federal legislation that seeks to preserve religious freedom and protect LGBT individuals from discrimination. We are grateful for the leadership of Utah representative Chris Stewart and other congressional supporters of this cause. The nation is more united when diverse individuals and groups can work cooperatively to advance sound policy, alongside other religious organizations and denominations and important leaders of the LGBT community. The church endorses this balanced approach that fosters greater fairness for all." There's the language all over again.
Now, when the Utah Compromise was announced, I pointed out that what it would mean for many Christians is that they are effectively thrown under the bus immediately by this legislation. That is the result of the fact that the limited exemptions that are required in this compromise in defense of religious liberty defend only the religious liberty of religious organizations and ministries, and those that are directly related to them in employment or in ministry. Those who are involved as Christians or other people of religious conviction in the public square are denied as individuals, as professionals, as employees, and as citizens, that same understanding and respect for religious liberty. Furthermore, the very structure of sexual orientation and gender identity legislation requires that the state will now define these issues and these identity questions exactly as the LGBTQ community demands.
That is the background reality that might be even more fundamentally important than any of the words of the legislation or the so-called Compromise itself. When the state adopts this kind of legislation, often known as SOGI, sexual orientation and gender identity, it codifies and therefore begins the process of coercing the entire culture to adopt the same definitions and the same basic structural understanding. What does that mean? That means that the state of Utah, for example, in its own Compromise, now defines sexual orientation and gender identity exactly as the LGBT community had demanded. The limited exemptions are not only limited, they are timestamped. They won't last, and they can't last.
Just think of the logic behind this. It's the logic of saying, okay, the government can adopt this set of definitions. It can begin to coerce that set of definitions throughout the entire society, but we will carve out just a few little islands where that definition will not be coerced. But you'll notice the fact that we don't actually exist as islands. No organization does, not even a Christian denomination or congregation. It may think itself an island, but it's not an island. It comes under employment law. It comes under zoning regulations. It comes under all kinds of coercive and regulative government influence.
But the danger is even more immediately urgent for people such as medical professionals, who would now have to deal with the fact that not only are their professions moving towards the regulation of these issues, perfectly in keeping with the LGBTQ agenda, but the law of their state, or the law, in the case of this kind of legislation, of their nation would do the same. This would mean that if this SOGI legislation were to be passed, then the definition of gender identity, including everything that is in the T of the LGBTQ revolution, would then be codified with the force of federal law.
The Infectious Logic of the Fairness For All Act: Why This Proposed Legislation Actually Weakens the Case for Religious Liberty
Now in worldview analysis, there are a couple of issues I want to raise here you're not likely to see raised elsewhere. The first of them comes down to this: it is not likely that this legislation will ever be passed. There's not much likelihood that it has a chance, whatsoever, in the United States House of Representatives. It probably wouldn't have much of a chance in the United States Senate. Why? Well, first of all, as I have said, the LGBTQ activist community is in no mood to compromise, and with the wind at their backs in the cultural revolution, they see no need to compromise. Speaking of the so-called Fairness For All proposal, Alphonso David, identified as the president of the Human Rights Campaign--that's perhaps the most influential LGBTQ organization at the national level-- said, "For LGBTQ people living at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities, this bill is a double whammy of dangerous rollbacks and discriminatory carve-outs. This bill is both wrong and harmful and we strongly oppose it."
The theological left also indicated its immediate rejection of the proposal. The Deseret News article cites Rabbi Jack Moline, the president of what's known as The Interfaith Alliance, who said that the bill would endanger the lives of gay and transgender Americans. He went right at the religious liberty question. Remember, he is representing a group known as The Interfaith Alliance. He said, "So-called carve-outs for religious exemptions in commerce, family definition, medical care, or other legal and legally defined benefits of citizenship, are by any other name a repudiation of the very principles of equality that are foundational to the United States." In other words, religious liberty, the nation's first liberty, simply has to surrender permanently in light of the newly declared sexual liberties. Earlier this year, in another article published at Deseret News, the same rabbi said, "Claiming a religious right to discriminate is the antithesis of genuine faith commitments and moral teaching."
Now when anyone takes recourse to that kind of generalized language of genuine faith commitments and moral teaching, that means that they don't want to deal with any specific genuine faith commitment or moral teaching. That particular comment was made in reference to the second reason that this legislation has virtually no chance in the United States Congress, and that is that the United States House of Representatives, under the new Democratic leadership elected in 2018, has already pushed through and approved the so-called Equality Act, which is a far more radical piece of legislation that denies explicitly even the limited religious liberty exemptions and protections that are included in the Fairness For All legislation. That Equality Act, if eventually adopted also by the Senate and signed into law by a future president of the United States, would urgently and directly undercut the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and even reduce the limited protections of religious liberty that are currently ensconced in United States law.
Back in March, the same team of reporters for Deseret News wrote about the Equality Act, "What stands out about this legislation is that it also seeks to weaken the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a federal law aimed at ensuring that the government won't substantially burden someone's religious exercise, unless it has a compelling interest to do so and can't find a less restrictive way to protect that interest." LGBTQ activists, back in March, told the paper that the Equality Act would, in the words of one activist, "Clarify that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act cannot be misused to allow entities to discriminate and violate civil rights laws." Now notice that that is language very cleverly created, that means that entities that would discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity--and that would mean any organization, ministry, or even congregation, any church or religious denomination that would hold to a biblical understanding of sex, sexual behavior, sexual ethics, marriage and gender identity--would find itself in violation of civil rights laws.
To put the matter simply, this comes down to whether or not Christian colleges can hire only Christians who believe in Christianity to teach on their faculties, whether or not Christian colleges and universities can limit their admissions to students who also hold to a traditional biblical understanding of sex, marriage, and gender identity, whether or not eventually churches would be able to hire ministers who agree with and affirm historic biblical Christianity. You could go down the list. But just in case you think that all of this might be hypothetical, just remember the Democratic presidential debate held just a few weeks ago, in which one of the leading candidates at the time, former member of Congress, Beto O'Rourke, actually said openly that “Yes, churches and other ministries that discriminate,” to use his word on this basis, “should lose their tax exemption.”
But there's more to it than that. And back in March, the Deseret News got right to the point, and this is going to be key as we go forward in our consideration. The Deseret News said, "This clarification could lead to significant consequences for religious objectors to same-sex marriage, according to opponents of the Equality Act. For example, faith-based schools, which have always been a part of America's diverse higher education system, might have to sacrifice their religious convictions in order to be eligible for federal aid money." Now, keep that in mind when you recognize that among the statements endorsing the so-called Fairness For All legislation, was one that comes from Shirley Hoogstra. She's the president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. She said that she and the organization supports fairness for all, "As a solution-based approach that addresses the cultural tension surrounding religious freedom and LGBT rights." She went on to say, "Without compromising the orthodox Christian convictions held by Christian colleges and universities, Fairness For All underscores that all persons are created in the image of God, implying dignity, value and worth."
Now again, consider this language. It implies that those who disagree with the Fairness For All legislation are not implying that every person is created in the image of God, implying dignity, value, and worth. I would simply say in response to that statement, if only the legislation were actually well-summarized in these words. It is not. Later in the Deseret News article, this point becomes very clear, as tied to the question of funding. The News reports, "One Fairness For All stakeholder, most anxious about the time frame for solving the conflict, is Hoogstra, from the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. She said billions of dollars in federal student aid and research grants are at stake, unless a solution is found for faith-based schools that base their hiring, conduct codes, and housing, on religious teachings that come in conflict with LGBTQ rights." She said, "We have a lot to lose."
Well, of course there is a lot to lose there. Just consider the summary of billions of dollars in federal student aid, and also in research grants, and the recognition that these are at stake, and of course they are at stake. But I would argue that this does not even come close to justifying support for legislation that would protect the economic interest of Christian colleges and universities at the expense of other Christians. It is neither a principled nor an enduring compromise, and furthermore, it's not even a compromise that the other side is going to agree to. And the other side has already made that clear. Instead, the Fairness For All approach actually compromises any defense of religious liberty rights, whether it's of a Christian college, or a Christian institution, or another religiously-based ministry--not to mention religiously motivated people, as they are citizens in the public square and in their professional lives.
It is extremely interesting to see how political response to the legislation will line up, and eventually there will have to be a political response, because it is proposed legislation. But it is legislation proposed by a Republican member of the House, in a House dominated by Democratic leadership, that has already pushed through the Equality Act, so it isn't likely that this legislation will make any headway whatsoever. But the greater danger--and that which justifies the lengthy consideration of this issue today--is that it is the logic of this legislation that might be more infectious and, in the long run, more influential. I do believe that this will be a key dividing line, even in the evangelical community. And those who support the Fairness For All legislation and that general approach, are going to be identified as taking one position, and those who oppose this kind of approach, as I do, will find ourselves on the other side of this dividing line.
This has already led to the organization of a new alliance of Christian colleges and universities, known as the International Alliance for Christian Education, which will not support the Fairness For All approach. The Deseret News story comes from Utah, as does the sponsor of the legislation, and it was interesting that the paper went to both Utah United States senators, Senator Mitt Romney and Senator Mike Lee, to ask for their response. Senator Romney spoke of his respect for the intentions and the coalition behind the bill, but Senator Mike Lee said, "The Fairness For All Act, like my own First Amendment Protection Act, is a good faith attempt to accommodate both religious liberty and the LGBT community. However," said Senator Lee, "the Fairness For All would so narrow First Amendment protections that I must actively oppose it."
Getting in Line with the Sexual Revolution: The Problem of a Theology of Subsequent Revelation
So with time running out for our consideration today, I want to end by going to an even deeper issue, and that deeper issue behind all of this is whether or not religious conviction is dependent upon or modified by revelation subsequent to scripture. Keep that in mind. That is a huge question. One of the biggest questions for Christians today is whether or not we truly believe that the Bible is the Word of God, and whether or not we truly believe that the Bible is sufficient. That is to say, we are not in need of any subsequent revelation. And I'll go further to say that I think we can predict that, over time, any religious body that does believe in subsequent revelation to scripture-- much less a living, continuing revelation from God as spoken through a prophet or a pope or any other--it is likely that that organization will find some way to modify its moral teachings so that it is not in so much of a direct collision with the LGBTQ revolution.
I'm stating that as respectfully as I can. When you look at Mormonism, you are looking at a theological claim of subsequent revelation to Scripture that is even more authoritative than Scripture, and you are also looking at the claim that the church has a living prophet through whom divine revelation now comes in an unfolding pattern. Thus, eventually, Mormonism, given its own concept and theology of revelation, could have revelation that effectively reverses its judgment right now on the immorality of homosexual behavior and the impossibility of same-sex marriage. The Roman Catholic church does not explicitly claim continuing revelation, but it does claim that the magisterium of the church, under the authority of the Pope, has the stewardship for the unfolding of doctrine and dogma over the course of time, as the church interprets, by means of the magisterium and the papacy, the meaning of divine revelation.
In its own way, historically, the same has been true of Adventism, particularly a Seventh-Day Adventism.Thus, it's not a coincidence that you see a constellation of interests here. And what's important for Christians is to understand that there is a deep theological explanation for many of the patterns that we see here. All this just reminds Christians that we have nowhere to go, other than the authority of Scripture. It is the Scripture that is God's word, and we hold to the church's principle that when the Scripture speaks,God speaks. And we also hold to the sufficiency of Scripture, meaning the Scripture is not going to be superseded by, or corrected by, any subsequent truth claim. This means that we're absolutely dependent upon what the Bible says about what it means to be made in God's image, what it means to be made male and female. We are entirely dependent upon the Bible, and we are tied to the Bible's clear revelation concerning what it means to be sexual, and God's intention for sexual morality, what marriage is and what marriage was intended to be.
There'll be many other issues this week that will demand our attention on The Briefing, issues of vast worldview significance, including a major national election in the United Kingdom on Thursday. But this issue is so big, and the timing was so urgent that we had to give primary attention to this issue on this edition of The Briefing before we can move further into the week ahead. Any way you look at it, it's going to be a fascinating week.
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'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.