briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, February 10, 2020

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

It’s Monday, February 10, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Silencing Christian Convictions in Switzerland? Swiss Vote to Pass Referendum that Criminalizes ‘Public Homophobia’

News out of Switzerland yesterday—the voters of that nation decided to criminalize public homophobia. That’s the headline in the New York Times. Similar international headlines use phrases such as the fact that the Swiss voters had decided to “criminalize homophobia.” Criminalize, penalize—what are we actually looking at here?

Well, the first thing we need to recognize is that this is a species of what is called hate speech legislation. It is a law criminalizing certain speech. In a rather ironic and intellectually dishonest move, the Swiss government authorities assured voters that even though this is a curtailment of free speech, it is not actually a curtailment of free speech. In other words, there is speech that will now be the object of criminal sanctions there in Switzerland. But don’t worry, it is not an infringement of free expression, which the Swiss say is an inviolable principle.

Now, you recognize that’s a contradictory argument, but it also points to the very heart of the problem with hate speech legislation. Clearly as Christians we understand that both hate and language are real. We understand that hate is the opposite of that to which Christians are called and we also understand that the Bible privileges language as extremely important. The Bible tells us that it is actually out of the mouth that the heart is revealed. The Bible makes very clear that we are to watch our words even as we guard our hearts. So Christians should never under any circumstances give themselves to anything that would actually be theologically defined as hate speech.

But on the other hand, what we’re looking at in this new political regime on the other side of this vast revolution in morality, what we’re looking at is the fact that now a traditional defense of biblical Christianity can well be defined as a criminal act in Switzerland. Imogen Foulkes reporting for the BBC from Baron in Switzerland said this, “Voters in Switzerland have backed a proposal to make discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and sexual identity illegal. The vote was 63.1 in favor to 36.9 against.” And as the BBC said, it is a “huge boost for Switzerland’s LGBT community.”

Now, looking at Switzerland, one of the things to realize is that Switzerland, nestled there in the heart of Europe, has actually been considered a rather morally conservative country. That’s not necessarily because of strong theological traditions. Those were basically abandoned writ large in Swiss society some time ago. But as you’re thinking about Switzerland, it has represented a certain form of European moral conservatism. Just not long ago, for instance, there were major gay rights organizations who were scoring Switzerland well below 50% when compared to other major European nations.

And furthermore, one of the things we need to recognize is that even as the Swiss government right now is considering legislation to legalize same sex marriage, at this moment, even at the moment the voters of Switzerland were voting on this referendum on Sunday, the fact is that same sex marriage is still not legal in Switzerland. So here’s an interesting question: After the referendum that was adopted yesterday becomes law, would it be actually an act of hate speech, an act of public homophobia to be criminalized, to speak against the legalization of same sex marriage?

Well, that’s the logic even though there are authorities in Switzerland saying that the church doesn’t need to worry because religious liberty is still going to be recognized. The fact is that even if there are explicit protections for religious speech or religious institutions, individuals speaking from religious conviction, you can be absolutely confident that those exemptions will not long last and it’s because of the logic of this kind of legislation. The logic of this legislation is to declare that anything short of the public total comprehensive embrace of the LGBTQ movement is a form of hatred. It is rooted in homophobia.

Now, this takes us back to the origin of that word. It’s not an accident. One of the things we need to keep in mind is that that language emerged mostly in the public consciousness during the 1990s. It was used sporadically before then, but it was used by the agents of the moral revolution in order to argue that any opposition to the normalization and legalization of homosexuality, anything short of the endorsement of same sex marriage and the entire array of issues now included in LGBTQ is rooted not in any form of legitimate worldview difference, not in any form of genuine religious conviction, not in any publicly accessible argument, but only in some kind of psychological or psychiatric fault, some kind of phobia. It was a brilliant linguistic strategy, we have to recognize it. It basically comes right out of classic propaganda theory. You take those who oppose you and you posit in the public mind that they are actually motivated by something other than what they say. They are actually motivated by something as base, as sinister, and as suspicious as a phobia.

By the way, there was another aspect of this that was extremely successful and that was the fact that if you go back to the early 1970s, both the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association were in uniform agreement that any form of homosexuality was a form of deviance and it was rooted in some kind of psychological or psychiatric problem.

But all of that changed due to political activism, both in the APA of psychologists and the APA of psychiatrists. By the way, all of that is well documented. I deal with it explicitly in my book, We Cannot Be Silent. The reality is that this led to a massive flip in the public equation. Now it is those who are opposed in any way to the LGBTQ revolution who are described as having some kind of phobic reaction who are operating out of a position that is to be suspect rather than those who are pushing this revolution in morality. This is just extremely significant and it goes a long way in explaining the momentum and velocity of the LGBTQ revolution, which even for those who were seeking to drive the revolution has gone far more quickly than they ever could have imagined.

One section of the BBC report stated this, “There was opposition to,” that means to the law, “from some religious groups, although Switzerland’s Reformed Church backed the new law. The Swiss Evangelical Alliance, which has significant support in rural areas, was skeptical.” Marc Jost, who is the general secretary of the Alliance said, “Our churches see the marriage of a man and a woman as the only couple they want to marry. We just want to be free to say,” and as he continued, “Okay, we want to privilege the marriage of a man and a woman. And we don’t want to be at risk if we share this opinion, and treat other couples in a different way.”

The head of the Swiss Evangelical Alliance went on to say that he and fellow evangelicals are not comfortable with the moves to legalize same sex marriage. Now, there could well be some language transmission and translation issues here. It could be that the head of the Swiss Evangelical Alliance spoke more clearly than it comes across in English, but nonetheless we get the point. He is stating a concern that there could be, for Christians, a risk if Christians articulate the historic Christian biblical understanding of sexuality and especially when it comes to homosexuality and the question of marriage and beyond that of course the question of gender as well.

One little footnote here, at least at this point, the T in LGBTQ, transgender is not included in the measure that Swiss voters approved yesterday, but that is probably simply due to the technicality that the language wasn’t clear. It was thrown out by a judge. It is likely to be put back in very, very quickly. It is very interesting to look at a series of news reports on the Swiss vote yesterday and see statements such as the one coming from the Swiss interior minister saying that free speech will still be allowed and respected so long as that speech does not injure another’s human dignity.

But just consider that equation for a moment. Who’s going to make the decision as to whether or not a statement injures another’s human dignity. And just keep in mind the fact that that actual moral language found its way into the majority opinion of the United States Supreme Court in Obergefell decision legalizing same sex marriage. Former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy who wrote the majority opinion in that five-four decision made clear that he was basing his argument on a dignity assertion, the fact that denying same sex couples the right to marry was an affront to their dignity.

Well, now you see the very same logic. You can see how that can be extended right to the matter of language, and Christians had better understand that that can get right to the issue of what the church teaches and preaches on the basis of the Word of God. And it will get very quickly to efforts to silence individual Christians in the public square, especially in corporate life or higher education or just about any other conceivable arena from speaking on the basis of that citizen’s own Christian convictions.

Another interesting twist on the story from Switzerland, reports that as Switzerland was going to the polls, a major American corporation, or at least a major international corporation that began in and is headquartered in the United States, the Coco-Cola Corporation has “made the bold move of supporting calls to make the anti-gay hate speech illegal.” As Forbes makes clear, Coca-Cola was into the effort in a very big way.

A statement from the company said, “For a Switzerland of living together, it’s no coincidence that Coca-Cola is campaigning today for a colorful and indiscriminate Switzerland. Because Coca-Cola’s credo—worldwide and here in Switzerland—is unquestionably equality, diversity and tolerance. We are steadfastly committed to equal rights, diversity, and tolerance. Discrimination and exclusion is not acceptable to us in any form.”

Now, as I have stated over and over again on The Briefing, that particular statement is one of the most straight forwardly, obviously, intellectually dishonest that is imaginable. Every single sane human being discriminates on some basis. Every single corporation makes discriminatory decisions all the time. They hire this person and not that person. They’re discriminating on some basis. They’re not just rolling dice or casting lots as to where they’re going to buy their advertising, whom they’re going to hire, or anything else.

When you’re looking at this kind of language, it means whatever right now a general consensus in the community stipulate is wrongful discrimination. Right now we’ll use words like “exclusion” and “intolerance” and we’ll use them because we know they are now safe marketing tools and a company like Coca-Cola can just hide behind those words.

But it’s also very interesting to see that in this particular issue, Coca-Cola describes its credo, that is its creed. A company has a creed. This company has a creed. It has a creed and as the company said, worldwide and in Switzerland, the creed is unquestionably equality, diversity, and tolerance. Equality, diversity and tolerance—and all this time we thought that Coca-Cola was making billions and billions of dollars selling fizzy brown water.

But once again, what we see is the fact that major American and international corporations are very clearly trying to position themselves on the right side of this moral revolution while there is time. Coca-Cola is evidently quite efficient at this goal. The human rights campaign, its business equality index has since 2006 given Coca-Cola a 100% continuous score.

Part II

Archbishops of the Church of England Apologize for Statement Upholding Historic Christian Conviction: Where Does the Church Go From Here?

But next, even as you’re keeping the developments in Switzerland in mind, we shift to the United Kingdom. The Belfast Telegraph reported the story, “Church apology after guidance declares sex only for straight married couples.” The bottom line in this is that the two highest ranking archbishops in the Church of England have now issued a public apology for a guidance released for clergy that had, of all things, affirmed the historic Christian biblical understanding of sexuality and of marriage.

As the Belfast Telegraph reports, “The archbishops of Canterbury and York have apologized after the Church of England declared only heterosexual married couples should have sex.” The story continues, “Archbishops Justin Welby and John Sentamu said they took responsibility for releasing their Church of England statement last week which they acknowledged had ‘jeopardized trust.'” The newspaper goes on to tell us that the pastoral guidance had been issued to Church of England clergy after a recent change in British law allowed straight couples to tie the knot in a civil ceremony instead of traditional marriage. And this, we are told, following a lengthy British legal battle.

But the Church of England went on to insist that if heterosexual couples entered into this kind of civil ceremony rather than entering into the covenant of marriage, then the relationships should extend no further than “sexually abstinent friendships.” Well, as you might imagine, given the scale of the moral revolution and the direction of that revolution in the United Kingdom, that became a bombshell, and a bombshell from which the two highest ranking leaders in the Church of England decided as quickly as possible to run.

The Archbishop of Canterbury and York said, “We as Archbishops, alongside the bishops of the Church of England, apologize and take responsibility for releasing a statement last week which we acknowledge has jeopardized trust. We are very sorry and recognize the division and hurt this has caused.” Now, what kind of language would have been in this pastoral guidance that would have been so hurtful?

Well, here are the sentences that attracted greatest controversy. “With opposite sex civil partnerships, and with those for same sex couples, the Church’s teaching on sexual ethics remains unchanged.” Here we have to say, so far, so good. The statement continued, “For Christians, marriage, that is the lifelong union between a man and a woman, contracted with the making of vows, remains the proper context for sexual activity.” Again from an evangelical Christian perspective, so good so far, except if anything it isn’t strong enough. The statement should have said that marriage remains the only proper context for sexual activity. But nonetheless, these are the sentences that attracted so much controversy and were later apologized for by the two archbishops.

The next sentence says, “In its approach to civil partnerships the Church seeks to uphold that standard, to affirm the value of committed, sexually abstinent friendships and to minister sensitively and pastorally to those Christians who conscientiously decide to order their lives differently.” Well, that’s a rather convoluted statement. Actually, theologically, it isn’t very strong. But the bottom line is: it was far too strong, it was simply too biblical in that sense, it was simply too deeply rooted in the traditional biblical Christian understanding of sex and marriage, to be allowable.

The House of Bishops had also released, in a pastoral statement, the language, “Sexual relationships outside heterosexual marriage are regarded as falling short of God’s purposes for human beings.” Indeed, that’s true. It is even now the language of the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer. It is unquestionably, indubitably the historic tradition of every single branch of the Christian Church wherever it has existed, whenever it has existed until extremely recent times when liberal churches and denominations have acted in violation of Scripture and decided to join the sexual revolution by affirming the entire array of issues LGBTQ.

But the big issue here to recognize is that when there was an outcry against that language coming from the bishops of the Church of England, the church’s two most important senior leaders, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York, they both apologized forever having said such a ridiculous thing. Actually, in fairness to use their language, they apologized for what they said was an acknowledgement that they had “jeopardized trust.” In their language, “We are very sorry and recognize the division and hurt that this has caused.”

Now, as news reports have also reminded us, the Church of England is right now working on a proposal to respond to the issues of same sex marriage and whether or not the Church of England would endorse same sex relationships and of course same sex couples marrying. Well, that report is not yet out. It is expected later this year, but all the signals being sent by the two senior leaders of the Church of England point to an absolute collapse and surrender. They have absolutely apologized for holding to historic Christian conviction and they have acknowledged that that had jeopardized trust.

Well, let’s just consider that language for a moment. The one responsibility with which the church must be most trustworthy is its witness to Christ, its witness to Scripture, and its preaching of the gospel. All of that requires dependence upon, belief in, an affirmation of everything that is revealed in Scripture. The church ought to be trustworthy, first of all, for maintaining the trust that the apostle Paul described when he said to Timothy that Timothy was to “maintain the pattern of sound word,” that he was to “guard the deposit that had been invested in him.” That is actually the responsibility of leaders of the church.

And when you’re looking at the Archbishop of Canterbury and York, you are looking at those two senior leaders, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the most senior of the leaders in the Church of England and in the Anglican communion, he’s considered the primate of all England. And after the Archbishop of Canterbury in seniority and rank comes only the Archbishop of York, who was considered to be the primate of England. They are the only two archbishops of the Church of England.

The fact is that all signs seem to be pointing to the fact that the Church of England is going to reverse its historic position on the matter of human sexuality and if it’s going to do so, it’s probably going to have to go all the way to total affirmation of the LGBTQ revolution. There will be no gain for the church in going halfway. They’re going to have to follow the example of the other liberal denominations here in North America and elsewhere in totally abdicating biblical authority. There is no halfway house. It simply isn’t stable. It won’t stand.

Other bishops of the church jumped on the issue. The Bishop of Worcester, John Inge, posted on Twitter, “I commend this statement wholeheartedly.” That was by the way, not the statement of conviction, but the statement of apology. The bishop went on to say, “I want to emphasis that God’s love extends to everyone, whatever their sexuality and how they express it, and that everyone is welcome in church. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York spoke for all the bishops when they apologized for the tone of the first statement about marriage and civil partnerships. Nobody should have expected the traditional teaching of the Church on marriage to be changed at a stroke, but the tone was unfortunate, to put it mildly.”

Well, the tone was actually mild. The issue here is that this bishop says that no one should have expected the church to change its position on marriage at a stroke, which means, stay tuned, you’re not going to have to wait long.

Part III

An Argument That Won’t Go Away: Incoming Archbishop of York Argues the Church Will Lose Evangelistic Credibility If It Holds to the Biblical Teachings on Sexuality

But next, I want to consider what is causing great concern amongst the evangelicals who remain in the Church of England and this is the fact that there is going to be a new Archbishop of York. Archbishop John Sentamu is retiring and he is to be followed by a new Archbishop who is currently the Bishop of Chelmsford, Stephen Cottrell. Stephen Cottrell was even before that the Bishop of Reading and he is, if anything, likely to encourage a rather radical shift in the Church of England on matters of human sexuality.

The newspaper, Evangelicals Now in Great Britain, a much respected evangelical news source ran an article by Ruth Woodcroft in which she reports, “On 17 December the deeply controversial appointment of Stephen Cottrell as Archbishop of York was announced.” She goes on to say that in the press release there were carefully selected quotes that made him sound evangelical, saying things like, ‘What binds us together is our faith in Jesus Christ.’” However, as Woodcraft goes on to report, the same bishop had expressed views “that are at odds with the traditional teachings of the church and more importantly with the Bible.” Well, in her extensive news report, she makes very clear that that is certainly not an overstatement.

But from our perspective, the most important issue here is the language used by the incoming Archbishop of York concerning why the church must change its position on human sexuality and join the revolution. He said this, “Same sex relationships and same sex marriage are not only considered normal,” he means in the society, “but positively taught and encouraged in many homes and schools as a social good. It would be particularly foolish,” he said, “for us to ignore the missiological damage that is done when that which is held to be morally normative and desirable by much of society and by what seems to be a significant number of Anglican Christian people in this country is deemed morally unacceptable by the church.”

Well, notice that moral argument. He says, “If the church holds to a position that is contrary to what many people in the society believe is actually moral, then the church is going to impair its evangelism if it holds to that position.” It’s actually the most amazing and straightforwardly candid statement coming from a bishop and now to be archbishop of the Church of England, that the Church of England has to find its moral authority in England, not in the Word of God and not in even the tradition of the Church of England, not certainly in Scripture, but rather it has to be found in the moral consensus of the British people.

That moral consensus in Britain is now progressive, liberal on the issues of sexual morality. And here’s the really insidious part of his argument: he argues here explicitly that the church will damage its evangelism by holding to the Bible’s clear teachings on human sexuality.

Now, what we need to note is that that was exactly the argument made in the early 20th century by the theological liberals in this country who said the virgin birth is an obstacle to evangelism. The bodily resurrection of Christ is an obstacle to evangelism. You get rid of those odious doctrines and people will come to Christ. But of course the Christ they come to is neither virgin born nor raised from the dead, which means as the apostle Paul makes clear, he can’t save.

David Baker in an insightful column inside the newspaper Evangelicals Now, the same edition, quoted Melvin Tinker as stating that the new archbishop of York “combines the worst of two theological worlds, the authoritarianism of Catholicism and the subjectivism of liberalism.” The reference to Catholicism there has to do with the fact that the incoming archbishop of York is a member of the society of Catholic priests. He’s also a member of the group known as Affirming Catholicism. That means he is a leader in the Anglo-Catholic branch of the Church of England. That is the branch that is most resistant to the reformation and most friendly to the Roman Catholic Church.

In this case, they argue that the Church of England should be considered a part of Catholicism. But please listener, pay attention to this argument made by the incoming Anglican Archbishop of York who is arguing that the church is going to lose its opening for evangelism if it holds to biblical Christianity. Watch that argument closely because it didn’t actually start in York and it certainly won’t end there.

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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