Friday, June 26, 2020
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Friday, June 26, 2020, I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Can You Be a Conservative and Officiate or Attend a Same-Sex Wedding?
Not every political story—and there are so many of them—comes with great worldview significance. We try to give primary attention to those stories that do have real worldview significance. And sometimes, you actually are looking at a small political story that ends up having big worldview significance, such as the case with the story coming from Virginia. It is a story that begins in politics, and that takes us back to the 13th of June, just a few days ago, where in a specially devised process for determining the nominee, the Republican nominee, for the race for the fifth district congressional seat in Virginia, Denver Riggleman, who is the incumbent Republican Congressman actually lost the Republican nomination to a challenger, a man by the name of Bob Good, a former staffer at Liberty University there in Lynchburg, Virginia.
Lynchburg may be the most recognizable city when you're looking at the fifth district in Virginia. And as you're looking at Denver Riggleman, he had been considered a very conservative member of Congress. It's a pretty conservative part of the Virginia territory, you could expect it would be both a Republican and a conservative holding this seat. When it comes to some of the ratings services by liberal and conservative groups, Congressman Riggleman, had about a 90 to 95% conservative rating. And by some liberal rating services, he rated a zero. He would look like a shoo-in, but he wasn't. And the question is why?
Well, the why comes down to a photograph and the reality that the Congressman had presided over a same sex wedding of two young men that he had known as friends, the picture emerged of him officiating at the wedding, and he did so in his capacity as a member of Congress, solemnizing the wedding. And he did so in a way that eventually lost the Republican nomination for the fifth district there in the state of Virginia. That's just days ago.
Now, as you're thinking about 435 members of Congress, and as you're thinking about the giant political issues of our day, this might not appear to be such a big story. But upon reflection, it is a big story, and it goes far beyond the fifth district, it goes far beyond Congress. It comes down to, can you really be a conservative if you officiate at a same sex wedding?
That's the issue I want us to address on The Briefing today. I'm going to cut to the quick. I do not believe that you can really be described as conservative if you are subverting marriage, which is the first of the very structures of society that it is our responsibility to conserve.
This gets us real quick into controversy, and it requires Christians to think very, very carefully. Let's start long before the Congressmen presided at a same sex wedding. Let's go back to the arrival of so-called gay marriage, as it was called then, or same sex marriage, as it is called now. As it arrived, questions began to come to Christians. "Could we, should we ever attend the same sex ceremony? Should we attend to the solemnization of what used to be called a civil union amongst the same sex couple? Should we attend a same sex wedding? What does it say if we do attend? What does it say if we do not attend?"
Well, I've been making the point over the course of all of these years in which this issue has arisen, that Christians should not attend a same sex wedding. We shouldn't attend a same sex ceremony. The reason for that is actually very deeply rooted, not only in the Christian understanding of marriage, but in the Christian tradition of a marriage ceremony. A tradition, by the way, at least parts of which have been adapted even by secular culture. That's another story in itself.
But as we think about the Christian understanding of marriage, let's just get this straight. The consistent testimony of Scripture grounded all the way, and God's act in creation all the way through the gospel of redemption, all the way through even eschatology, is the fact that marriage comes down to the union of a man and a woman. When confronted with a question of marriage, it was Jesus, in the gospel of Matthew 19, who responded that it was God's intention from the beginning as was made clear in Genesis, even in the books of Moses, that marriage was to be the union of a man and a woman for a lifetime.
Christians have to be exceedingly clear about this and we also have to understand something else. In order for Christians to come to an adjusted understanding of marriage, say, as to include same sex couples, we don't just have to revise the Christian doctrines concerning marriage, we have to completely revolutionize the entire Christian faith, the entire doctrinal structure. This is something that conservative evangelical Christians must understand, we cannot misunderstand this. If we are in any way unclear about this, then we're putting a stake, not only what some might term, the Christian understanding of marriage, we're putting at stake, our entire understanding of reality.
This is something, again, that requires very careful, theological and worldview attention. We do not have a view of marriage, we have a view of life. As James Orr, a towering evangelical mind in the English speaking world in the 19th century put it, Christians have a biblical view of God and the world. We have a view of life, an entire vision of the meaning of life and of ultimate reality of creation and fall, and redemption, and consummation. We do not have disconnected doctrines or teachings.
You can't just look at a file under marriage and say, "Let's take that file out of the drawer, let's revise that one and put it back in," as if nothing has happened. That won't work. It undoes our very doctrine of creation, it redefines a biblical anthropology. It requires an entire rewriting and rewiring of the biblical understanding of morality. It requires a redefinition of a biblical vision of human society. It redefines not only marriage, but parenthood and reproduction, and sex, and family. You go down the list and understanding how a biblical theology holds together, that means that you now have to redefine our understanding of the fall and sin. It requires a redefinition of the very act of God in redemption, because that after all follows our understanding of sin. You also have to understand that a picture of the gospel itself, a picture of the relationship between Christ and the church is the picture of marriage.
You have to then look at the entire experience of the early church. You're going to have to make the mistake that Paul was wrong in his teachings about marriage and sexuality, and you're going to have to redefine our expectation of the kingdom of Christ yet to come in its fullness. That's all.
Now, as you think about this, it also means that we have to redefine our entire understanding of human society and the structures of human existence. But what does it mean when we jump from marriage to a wedding? Now, it's really interesting that weddings come rather early in human experience. The reason for that is pretty easy to understand. There is no particular form or format for a wedding that is dictated in Scripture. Furthermore, we're not even told in Scripture that a wedding is absolutely necessary in the Western sense of the kind of formalized ceremony. That's all been added to our understanding of marriage, but the biblical understanding of marriage is that it is socially recognized. It is a public statement, it is a public commitment, it is a public covenant.
The wedding has become the way of making that covenant, of making that statement, of making that commitment in public form. That's the reason why, if you look at the historic language, for example, of the Book of Common Prayer, it indeed talks about that public context, even to the point of saying that if there be anyone present, who knows any reason why these two should not be legally and rightfully wed, let him speak now or forever hold his peace. That just is a reflection of that public nature. This is a commitment, a covenant declared in public. If you know any reason why it should not, or could not be made, speak now or forever shut up.
But there's even more to the context of a wedding. And that is that a wedding is a celebration. Traditionally, those who not only preside, but attend at a wedding are called the celebrants or the co-celebrants. They are celebrating the wedding. You don't go to a wedding if you're not celebrating the wedding. Your very presence at the wedding is the most tangible sign that you are celebrating this marriage. It is impossible, actually, to attend a wedding while acting as if you do not approve of the union. That's the whole point, and it gets back to that language again. If there be anyone present who knows any cause by which these two should not be legally wed, rightfully wed, let him speak now or forever hold his peace. Are you going to speak up and say, "Oh, by the way, I'm here, but I actually don't believe this is a wedding. By the way, I don't believe this is a marriage. I'm here, but I'm actually not here." No, that's impossible.
I got into this debate some years ago, when on CNN, Joel Osteen, pastor, prosperity preacher in Houston, Texas, had said on a television program that he and his wife were not going to approve of same sex marriage at that time point, but that they might attend a same sex wedding. And he said, "In doing so, I would just be being a friend more or less." Well, here's the point. You can't attend a wedding without saying, "I'm all for this, this is right, I'm going to celebrate with this couple as they are wed."
But now, I want us to bring ourselves into 2020 and update this thinking for just a minute, either I'm right or I'm wrong. But I know on this, as I stand upon the long history and consistent teaching of the Christian Church, this is right. It's wrong to attend a same sex wedding, because attending is approval. But there's more going on here even than that.
And that comes down to this political headline, going back to the 13th of June, here, you had a Congressmen recognized as being politically very conservative. As he ran for re-nomination and reelection, he was supported not only by President Donald Trump, he was supported by Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University. His challenger, however, had been a former staff member at Liberty University, and he criticized Congressman Riggleman for having presided at the same sex wedding, saying that no true conservative could do any such thing. I'm arguing that Mr. Good, in this case, was absolutely right. I am arguing that one of the issues we're going to have to watch in America are those who claim to be conservative, but are actually becoming facilitators of a revolution that will undermine the very essence of conservatism, which is to conserve, most importantly, virtues and truths, and institutions without which human society cannot flourish. And that for Christians, we understand if no one else understands, begins with marriage and the family.
But this is actually a bigger story than just the fifth district in Virginia, and the contest between these two contenders for the Republican nomination. By the way, on the 13th, again, Mr. Good won the party's nomination, and he will then move to the general election. But I want to point to an article that appeared in The Washington Examiner. The Washington Examiner is considered a conservative news magazine. It includes both news and opinion, but The Washington Examiner wrote an article covering this particular race. The author was Nicholas Clairmont, and he wrote about his special insight into this situation, because the two men who were married in this same sex marriage that was undertaken by and officiated by the Congressman were his friends. One of them, a particular friend he had had from the time they had shared at Yale.
Nicholas Clairmont, writing about the wedding itself, use these words in his three page article in the Washington Examiner. "In the moment, during the brief and poignant ceremony, I can't remember being uncomfortable, I just remember that transporting transcendent thing that happens at weddings in which a family is born into the world by the combination of two people's love and society's tradition, and everyone there can see it happen." Now, he's actually right, being there is in order to see it happen and to celebrate it. And he's basically writing about the fact that he and the Congressman celebrated the event, even as it was undertaken on behalf of the marriage of these two men.
Nicholas Clairmont also says that the Congressman is unapologetic about having officiated at the wedding saying at one point, "I don't want a party that's just small enough to fit in the bedroom." Well, that actually says a whole lot when you reflect upon it, but here's the point. You really can't conserve society, which is what conservatives do—you really can't conserve virtues, and truth, and institutions, if you simultaneously subvert them. And in this case, the Congressmen statements are that he basically dismisses this as even an important issue.
But the issue is far larger than Congressman Riggleman. It has to do with the fact that many prominent Republicans in Congress, both in the House and in the Senate, many prominent Republicans in think tanks, and even in the Trump administration and beyond think it rather natural to attend a same sex wedding ceremony and they do so. They post their attendance on social media. So do so many in the conservative intellectual class, they've done the very same thing.
Here's what I'm saying: many of them at the same time would seem to argue. And I don't doubt their honesty and arguing that they are personally opposed to same sex marriage, and that they actually hold to the definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman, but they see the political cause as lost. And for the sake of elections in the future, and for the future strength of the Republican party, they argue, "We must move on." Some of them go so far as to say that it is the social and moral conservatives, the Christian conservatives, who eventually will be holding the party back. That bedroom language used by Congressman Riggleman is a clue of the kinds of arguments we are sure to hear in the future.
I also genuinely believe that same sex marriage and the entire LGBTQ revolution have become the wedge by which all of society is being morally moved. And not just in terms of law, but also of institutions and policies, more importantly, in emotions and intuition. The article that appeared in The Washington Examiner is to me, prima facie evidence of how this is taking place. We'll certainly be thinking more about these issues in weeks and months to come.
Different Theology, Different Morality: The Transgender Revolution Comes to a Canadian Church
But I want to turn to another article. This one is datelined from Canada, but its relevance is immediate. This news story comes by Mark Wingfield published at baptistnews.com or Baptist News Global. The headline is “Pastor Reveals Her True Identity in Live-Streamed Sunday Sermon.” Very interesting. “Pastor Reveals Her True Identity in Live-Streamed Sunday Sermon.” Here's how the article begins: "When June Joplin preached a sermon, June 14, about the pearl of great price, she became the modern day illustration of Jesus's parable on finding buried treasure. She decided to tell her Canadian congregation the truth about herself, she is a woman."
Now, that's just a very short lead paragraph, but notice how often the word “she” or a feminine pronoun has been used in that very first paragraph. That point becomes very acute when in the next paragraph we read, "Before that moment, members of Lorne Park Baptist Church in suburban Toronto knew their pastor of six years as a male, only a handful of people knew what was coming at the end of her live-streamed sermon from Matthew 13."
I'm going to use the language of the press account in order to faithfully represent it. The article continues that having known a pastoral calling since age 11, “as an 11 year old boy, Joplin explained that she had followed only part of God's calling on her life." So notice the first person language here. An 11-year-old boy, we are told, called to ministry is then explained by a woman who later in life says she had not received or accepted all of God's calling in her life. Notice also, how the transgender identity here is described as a part of a spiritual calling.
In the language used in the message or announcement on Sunday, Joplin had said, "Friends, with the divine joy of one finally getting her hands on a most precious pearl, I want you to hear me when I tell you, I'm not just supposed to be a pastor, I'm supposed to be a woman." Joplin continued, we're told, "Hi, friends. Hi, family. My name is Junia. You can call me June. I am a transgender woman and my pronouns are she and her." No doubt a sermon that will be remembered.
Later in the article, we are told that Joplin doesn't know what her church already identified as a pretty liberal or progressive church there in the area of Toronto is going to do. The news story tells us that the church’s executive committee that very day, "Sent a letter to the congregation to say they too were surprised by the sermon, and would be determining how to respond." The next part of the report by Winfield says, "Most important to Joplin, however, was that the letter from church leaders used her correct pronouns and names. She saw that as a positive sign."
Now, here's the connection to our previous discussion about same sex weddings. If you are going to attend the wedding, you're saying, "I actually do approve of same sex weddings," or even if I don't use those words, my presence leads a social testimony to the fact that I am for a same sex wedding. But if you are in this sense, going to use a person who claims to be transgender, if you're going to use that person's new name and claimed pronouns in this sense, then you are in effect affirming. And that's exactly why this pastor says that there was affirmation in the sense that these church leaders saying that they were going to be determining how to respond to this, used the name and pronouns.
It's also interesting that as of the day this story broke going to the website of the church itself, Lorne Park Baptist Church, there near Toronto, the website listed the pastor as the Reverend Justin R. Joplin, lead pastor. Family described as married to Christy with two sons. Later in that paragraph, it tells us that the pastor had come from the United States.
In an article, also published at Baptist News Global, that is a news service that has been associated with more liberal Baptists who left the Southern Baptist Convention, Jeff Brumley ran an article about this pastor, Justin Joplin, with the headline, “American Pastor in Canada doesn't Miss Culture Wars, Church Growth Pressures.” An interesting article. In it, this particular pastor from the United States speaks of his satisfaction in going to this Canadian congregation because the congregation told him upfront, it didn't care if it never grew.
At least a part of what we need to understand here is that a pattern becomes very, very evident. That is to say, if you are a conservative evangelical congregation that makes clear your biblical convictions across the board on doctrinal issues and including, of course, marriage and sexuality, then you're probably not going to have this kind of announcement from the pulpit. But the church that was described here was already described as being progressive and liberal, already approving women serving as pastors. And as I pointed out many times before, the exegetical hermeneutical, that is the interpretive logic that is required looking at the New Testament to say, "We can have women serve as pastors," is the very same logic that leads others to say, "We can endorse homosexuality, we can affirm same sex marriage, we can even affirm the idea of having a transgender pastor." It really is all of a piece.
Another observation is the fact that we really have reached the point that this is an extremely clear and honest disagreement. We're not talking about issues in which there's much risk of misinterpretation. We're not talking about issues of whether or not we really understand the argument another is making. When it comes to the kind of Baptists represented by the Lorne Park Baptist Church near Toronto, and the kind of Baptist, for example, in the Southern Baptist Convention, we really are inhabiting completely different biblical, theological, and moral worlds.
In this sense, the word “Baptist” really doesn't have a lot of theological meaning, it really just points to a kind of historical tradition that is somewhat shared. That historical tradition no longer binds Baptists together or Lutherans for that matter, or Presbyterians or Anglicans. You're really looking at the fact that these issues of the moral revolution have made very clear, the great divide between more liberal, and more conservative, more heterodox and more orthodox members and congregations of those churches, those denominations, those designations.
And it's also healthy for us to understand once again, that the division lines here are not singular. It's not just over this or that, it becomes increasingly clear that the division is comprehensive. And that's because we are both operating out of different theological presuppositions, a different understanding of Christian truth, and even how we know Christian truth, and how we understand the Bible and define the gospel. We have very different understandings comprehensively, and thus, we are rather comprehensively moving in two very different directions.
The Culture Is Trying to Establish a New Normal: How Will Christians Respond?
A final thought, all of this presents a real challenge to Christian congregations, to Christian parents, to families, to those who are involved in collegiate ministries, many other aspects of Christian life and work. There is no escaping having to deal with these questions. Virtually every community, every family, in some extended sense, and every congregation is going to have to deal with the questions about a same sex wedding taking place in the community or some kind of similar ceremony, every single church, congregation ministry, every family, eventually in some extended sense, at least, is going to have to deal with those who are claiming transgender identity. We're going to have to think through these issues. Christians have all the equipment necessary to think through these issues, but it requires diligence, devotion, it requires respect and very careful thinking. Christians are called to that thinking. It requires very clear biblical preaching and teaching. And that means not only preaching and teaching the text rightly, it means helping the congregation to understand how this must be translated into faithfulness in everyday life.
Nobody said this was going to be easy, and day by day, it appears that it is just becoming more and more complicated. I have more Christian parents tell me regularly that they're having the most difficult conversations with the young people in their own families, sometimes their own children. And we come to understand that the society around us is in the process of a giant comprehensive reset. And if we are not careful, we're going to be reset right along with the culture.
Actually, you have to understand the culture is counting on it because that's how cultures operate, seeking to bring about a new normal, a new normativity, a new cultural consensus, a new stability, a new place in which to say, "The culture moves on from here."
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can follow 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 on Monday for The Briefing.