briefing, Albert Mohler

Friday, February 28, 2020

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

It’s Friday, February 28, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Polyamory in Evangelical Headlines? A Signal We Can’t Miss and a Challenge We Can’t Avoid

Christianity Today, often identified as the flagship magazine of American evangelicalism, ran an article a few weeks ago with the title, “Polyamory: Pastors’ Next Sexual Frontier.” Now, as we seek in worldview analysis to understand cultural and moral change, we need to recognize that sometimes that change is signaled by how and when and where an argument appears. In this case, we’re talking about Christianity Today.

We’re not talking about a conversation about polygamy or polyamory that is taking place in the larger society. This is not even the flagship magazine of liberal Christianity, that would be The Christian Century. Rather, this is Christianity Today, and thus the appearance of this article and the aftermath of this article turns out to be very interesting. The writers of the article are Preston Sprinkle and Branson Parler. Sprinkle is identified as President of The Center for Faith, Sexuality & Gender. Parler is identified as Professor of Theological Studies at Kuyper College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The article begins by telling us about a couple, Tyler and Amanda. They’re married to each other, and yet, there enters into their relationship another man, and Amanda develops a romantic relationship with this second man. They began, “Exploring polyamory.”

Then, the article tells us, “Making the situation even more complex, Tyler and Amanda sought counseling from a Christian counselor who advocated polyamory.” Now, let’s just stop here for a moment. Anyone identified as a Christian counselor, who advocates polyamory is doing so against the very clear teachings of Scripture. Whatever Christian counseling is supposed to be in this context, it is not Christian and it is wrongful counseling. That should be obvious to anyone beginning this article.

Then, the two authors, Preston Sprinkle and Branson Parler go on to tell us about what polyamory is. They acknowledged that it seems so extreme and rare, “That there’s no need to talk about it,” but they say, “It is much more common than some people think and it’s growing in popularity.” They go on to cite statistics, indicating that there may be as many as 5% of Americans who are, “Currently in relationships involving consensual non-monogamy.” Later, the figure is that nearly 70% of non-religious Americans identify between the ages of 24 and 35, “Believe that polyamory is okay even if it’s not their cup of tea.” Now, these kinds of numbers always require a closer look.

For one thing, the first issue was defined as consensual non-monogamy. Given the sexual confusions of our age, that’s not all that surprising, but then you also have the advocacy of what’s identified as polyamory, that is persons with multiple loves, more than one romantic and sexual attachment, and we’re being told that about 70% of non-religious Americans believe that it’s okay. Again, look at the numbers. Not all that surprising. We are talking about non-religious Americans.

The next statistic, however that they cite tells us that roughly 24% of church-going people believe that, “Consensual polyamorous relationships are morally permissible.” That number is itself shocking. I’m not sure exactly how church-going Americans is defined there, but it comes from a good source, a respected source who is Mark Regnerus at the University of Texas. As the article continues, what becomes most interesting is how polyamory is defined within this article at Christianity Today. For example, you have one sentence in which the question is raised as to whether or not people involved in polyamorous relationships will be accepted and affirmed at church.

The authors write, “How can pastors and leaders prepare to address questions related to polyamory? Several pastors tell us it’s becoming more common for people who identify as poly to ask about their church’s view on the matter. Will they be accepted and affirmed?” They go on to write, “The discussion is still young enough that most pastors have some time to construct a robust, compassionate, thoughtful response to the question, ‘Is your church inclusive of people who are poly?'” Now, this is a very strange approach for an article to take that will be published in Christianity Today, but it gets stranger when the authors write, “Another important pastoral step is to distinguish elements of polyamory that are in violation of God’s will from elements that are simply culturally unfamiliar to us.”

“When we want to lovingly call people to repentance,” they write, “We should be precise about what needs repentance and what relationships or elements can and should be sanctified in Christ. For example,” they continue, “The notion of kinship in polyamory is a secular echo of the way Scripture calls the church to function as a new family. In cultures that idolize individualism, but actually isolate individuals, polyamory’s focus on relationship, care, and affection could have a powerful pull.” They continue, “And in churches that idolize marriage and the nuclear family, polyamory’s focus on hospitality and community can be an attractive alternative.” This paragraph concludes, “We can acknowledge that many of the elements that draw people to polyamory, deep relationships, care for others, hospitality and community are good things.”

Now, to give the authors credit, the next sentence states this, “The Scripture does clearly connect sex, marriage, and monogamy in ways that are violated in polyamorous relationships.” Speaking of Tyler and Amanda, the couple they referenced earlier, they say that the couple needs to be, “Called to repentance for the way they have committed adultery.” Well, indeed, the couple has committed adultery, but we need to note that adultery is not the only sexual sin that would be involved, even amongst unmarried persons in polyamorous sexual relationships, we’re facing a huge problem, whether it’s fornication or any form of sex outside of marriage or adultery. But the strangest and most significant part of the article is where they argue that there are dimensions or elements of polyamory that are culturally unfamiliar to us, but might point to something that is morally good. I quote that last sentence again, “We can acknowledge that many of the elements that draw people to polyamory, deep relationships, care for others, hospitality, and community are good things.”

Well, indeed, those elements are good things, but that argument, put in that way, could become a form of moral justification for any form of romantic or sexual relationship whatsoever. If you’re just defining in terms of deep relationships, care for others, hospitality and community, then you’re going to get into very big trouble. To be clear, they do identify any form of adultery or a disconnect between sex, marriage, and monogamy as a violation of Scripture, and they respond with a call to repentance. So good so far.

But later in the article, they challenged the church to construct, “A positive vision for what God intends.” They continue, “Instead of preaching about polyamory directly from the pulpit, consider constructing a positive vision for monogamy. Instead of addressing homosexuality, educate your people on the meaning of marriage and sexual expression. Instead of doing a sermon series on transgender identities, talk about what it means to be created in God’s image as male and female.” They conclude the paragraph and the article, “People are much more eager to follow a positive vision for marriage and sex than to adhere to a list of don’ts.”

Let’s just contrast that with the actual approach taken by Scripture. All you have to think about here is, well, the 10 Commandments, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Now, of course, the Bible does begin by revealing the most positive understanding of marriage and sexuality of what it means to be male and female, and of the integrity and glory of marriage, and indeed beyond marriage of the family, but the Bible explicitly over and over again, in both the Old and New Testaments explicitly identifies by name and by description what is a violation of that biblical vision. It turns out that the Bible’s approach is to understand that sinful humanity, and for that matter, even Christ’s church or the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, can’t be trusted to get to an adequate sexual morality by mere inference from a biblical vision that is merely positive, but rather, we require the law. We require the law to be specific. We require the command of Christ. We require the very clear vocabulary and the very clear, explicit descriptions and arguments and condemnations that are found in Scripture.

But as I said in the beginning, perhaps the biggest issue at stake in the appearance of this article is the fact that it appeared, and especially that it appears with the kind of argument that is presented by these two authors. I am perhaps most haunted by the question that is asked early in the article when speaking of those who are involved in polyamory and asking about the church, and whether or not in the church, “Will they be accepted and affirmed?” Buying into that kind of formula is extremely dangerous for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Of course, the two words are very positive, “accept” and “affirm,” and there is a sense in which we accept and affirm every single human being, but what is the acceptance and what is the affirmation? We accept and affirm every single human being as made in God’s image, but we also start with the presumption, made very clear in Scripture, that every single human being is a sinner in need of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. The authors of this article do not say that polyamorous persons or those in polyamorous relationships should be accepted and affirmed in the church, but by using the terms in this way and by framing the question in this manner, we are certainly left with the implication that the church is going to be at the very least on the defensive for arguing why it would not accept and affirm those who are in polyamorous relationships, and that means the polyamorous relationships themselves.

I do agree with the point made in this article that polyamory or polygamy represents the new front that all pastors and churches are going to have to deal with. We’re going to be confronted every single congregation one way or another by this challenge. This is just the latest front in the sexual revolution that we have been experiencing now for a matter of decades, and to be honest, many of us have been quite open and honest as we have seen it coming.

But the fact that this article appeared as it did, where it did, in the pages of Christianity Today is a signal to us about something beyond polyamory and polygamy. Christianity Today was itself established or that’s first issued October of 1956, it was intended to be a platform for and a demonstration of evangelical biblical Christian commitment, and of course, it was so, under its founding editor, Carl F.H. Henry. It was intended to be a conservative evangelical alternative to the influence of the liberal religious magazine, The Christian Century, that began publication in 1884. We are looking here at a signal we can’t miss and a challenge we can’t avoid.

Part II

The Development of a New Blacklist: L.A. Election Gives a Glimpse Into How the Moral Revolution Marches On

Next, readers of yesterday’s print edition of the Los Angeles Times were confronted with an article with the headline, “Candidates Values Question.” Well, that sounds interesting. The article is by Emily Alpert Reyes, and the subhead in the article is this, “Councilman Lee Jabs Rival Lundquist for Teaching at an Anti-Gay College, She Cries Foul.” Well, this looks a lot more interesting.

The article tells us, “Los Angeles City Councilman John Lee is criticizing his campaign rival Loraine Lundquist for teaching at a college that did not welcome openly gay or lesbian students, arguing in a campaign mailer that, ‘These values don’t belong on the city council.'” The mailer included this statement, “Lundquist made a conscious decision as an adult to teach at and cash a paycheck from a school with a discriminatory policy. A spokesperson for the Councilman’s campaign said that his opponents, having taught at this college raised, ‘Serious questions about her character and judgment.'”

Before we go further, let’s just consider the loaded language here, values. You have the statement, “These values don’t belong on the city council.” Then, you have the accusation that the opponent in this race had made a conscious decision as an adult to teach at and cash a paycheck from a school with a discriminatory policy, raising questions, serious questions about her, “Character and judgment.” Now, this is the kind of language that tells us that we are indeed moral creatures because God made us in His image, and we just can’t help using this kind of moral language or misusing it, even abusing it.

But it’s also interesting to see how this story has unfolded. Lundquist, that is the challenger that is being criticized, “Says she openly opposed those policies as both a student and a professor and co-founded a student group that challenged them. In a message to supporters this week, her campaign called the mailer ‘Shockingly misleading.’” Lundquist said, “I have always been someone who stands up for what I believe is right, even when it may be unpopular.”

The story just gets more interesting when we are told that Lundquist is an astrophysicist and is now an educator at Cal State Northridge. As a college student, she had attended and graduated from Principia College, an institution in Illinois that describes itself as a “Christian Science community of practice.” Then, we are told that she later returned to her alma mater to teach physics in 2008 and 2009. The article then tells us that while she was a student and a professor at Principia College, the institution had, “An unwritten agreement among admissions and the administration against admitting or employing openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual students, faculty, and staff,” that according to an article that appeared in the college’s own newspaper. In response to the charges in this politically charged context, Lundquist declared that she was a member of a group known as Students Opposed to Bigotry and Discrimination, which had challenged the administration and institutional policy, and that as a professor in the institution for those two years, she had done the same.

The article tells us that the policy of Principia College was not altered until 2014, five years after Lundquist left as a professor, and at this point, we’re told that the institution has the rather typical, so-called welcoming and affirming policy found on most public and private university or college campuses. Later in the article, it is interesting to see the charges and countercharges spelled out further. At one point, the Lee campaign said of Lundquist that she, “Has made a deliberate effort to hide her association with Principia, leaving it off her biography and campaign materials because she knows it’s wrong and shameful.” Again, look at that morally laden language, “wrong and shameful.” We’re also told that in this context, running for the L.A. City Council, she has drawn attention to her PhD from the University of California at Berkeley, notoriously liberal, rather than her undergraduate degree or faculty experience at Principia College.

Well, we’re going to leave the article for a moment and just consider what we’re looking at here. Principia College is an interesting story unto itself. Founded in 1912, it has no integral relationship with the Christian Science Organization, though it is tied integrally to the movement. Students and faculty, we are told, are practicing Christian scientists and there are 480 students. By the way, the oddest fact I found about this college is that its rugby team is named the Thunder Chicken. I have no idea why.

Christian Science itself was established in 1875 by Mary Baker Eddy. It is rightly identified as a cult. It is not a form of Christianity. Christian Science is, as one of my professors said decades ago, like grape nuts, it is actually neither one. But as you consider Christian Science, the worldview implications are huge. Amongst the many false teachings of Christian Science and Mary Baker Eddy was the understanding that illness is merely an illusion, so is death, and the illness can be conquered by prayer alone as a mental exercise. The biggest problem with the Christian Science worldview as compared to Scripture is that it actually claims that material reality is not real. It makes a distinction between the material and the spiritual, arguing that the spiritual is real, but the material is false. Now, that’s in direct confrontation with the very first verse of Scripture, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The biblical worldview affirms that the material world is real, the cosmos is real, and that it is the theater of God’s glory. The interesting question to ask about Christian Science, which doesn’t even believe that the material world is real is, “How in the world it comes up with any kind of sexual ethic?”

Well, without going into detail, the sexual ethic of Christian Science, based upon the teachings of Mary Baker Eddy, it identifies marriage as the union of a male and a female, and includes the function of procreation, and thus, does not recognize same-sex marriage, and at various times, the Christian Science movement has also identified homosexuality as an illness that can be cured, and thus should be. That’s an interesting issue in and of itself.

But as we’re thinking about the central teaching of Christian Science, that the material world doesn’t actually exist and is illusory, I guess one of the issues that the Los Angeles Times doesn’t raise about this particular candidate for the Los Angeles City Council, Loraine Lundquist, is how in the world a Christian scientist committed to Christian Science as a worldview becomes an astrophysicist? That’s not the biggest issue of our concern. No, instead, we’re looking at the signal we’re being sent in this article.

Just forget Principia College for a moment. Just take the Christian Science issue away for a moment and recognize that the kind of attack used by this incumbent member of the city council in Los Angeles against a political rival is going to show up again, and again, and again. How long will it be before in a major American political race some candidate suggest that his opponent or her opponent cannot be trusted and is holding or revealed to be in an immoral position, or holding to an immoral concept for having taught at an evangelical Christian college or university, or having taught at an evangelical, biblically-based Christian worldview committed school system, or even sending children to such a school? You can see the development here of a new blacklist. This is how a moral revolution furthers its aims with a vengeance and with venom—a new blacklist.

Part III

Looking to the Stars for Life’s Meaning? Astrological Charts Are All Wrong . . . But Astrology Never Really Was about the Stars, Was It?

Finally, as we are thinking in worldview analysis, how interesting is it that an article appeared in recent days in The Wall Street Journal—the article is by Jo Craven McGinty, and the headline of the article, “Your Zodiac Sign Isn’t Aligned With the Stars.” What is this all about? Well, McGinty tells us, “If a romantic evening spent with an astrological match feels more like a misalignment of the stars than a perfect date, you could blame it on the Earth’s wobble.” She continues, “As the planet spins on its axis, it teeters back and forth like a child’s top, and after millennia of staggering along its path around the sun, it no longer aligns with the constellations of the zodiac on the dates that were established in ancient times.” McGinty gets right to the point when she concludes, “Because of that, Leo ain’t what he used to be, and neither are Aries, Taurus, Gemini, or any of the rest.”

She continues, “In astronomical terms, the wobble is known as precession, and it’s caused by gravity tugging on the Earth’s distended midriff.” Now, as the article continues, she tells us that this particular wobble requires an astronomical recalibration every once in a while. She writes, “For astronomers, this is mainly something to keep in mind when aiming a telescope.” However, she rightly understands that if it requires an astronomical recalibration, it actually points to a huge problem for astrologers. What they claim to be the meaning of the stars doesn’t even line up now with the stars.

The miscalculation at this point is actually off by a full month, as McGinty writes, “So, while an astrologer might tell me that I’m a tenacious, loyal, persuasive Cancer, the position of the Earth at the time of my birth suggests that I’m actually a gentle, affectionate, curious Gemini.” Now, all of this must come with a great deal of irony for Christians. The biblical worldview tells us that we are not to look to the stars for the meaning of the universe, nor the meaning of our lives. That’s actually dismissed and condemned in Scripture as a form of sorcery. Rather, we are to look to the stars and see the wonder of the cosmos that God has made, and we are to recognize that the stars are pointing us to the Creator. They’re not pointing back to ourselves.

But we are also looking at the fact that millennials, amongst others are increasingly turning to astrology for the meaning of their lives, and not only millennials, but older Americans by the millions have been doing the same, but the astrological charts that had been used by astrologers for so long, to tell us who we are by the sign of the zodiac based upon when we were born, well, it turns out they’ve all been off by a full month. I will make one prediction, this news will make no dent at all in the burgeoning enterprise of astrology, because at the end of the day, it never was really about stars.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’m speaking to you from Los Angeles, California, and I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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