Tuesday, August 4, 2020
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Tuesday, August 4, 2020. I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
The Pace of Moral Change in America: Legalized Polyamory Isn’t on the Horizon—It’s Already Here
One of the dimensions of life we try to understand on The Briefing is the pace of moral change. This turns out to be a hugely important issue, especially as we are right now, as a civilization, going through a massive revolution in morality, a moral revolution. This is most graphically demonstrated in the LGBTQ issue spectrum, but as we've often discussed, those letters are not going to stay constant. Other letters are going to be added to them.
Another issue we need to keep in mind is that moral change doesn't happen evenly. It often occurs when you have a very unexpected development coming from a place that you weren't even observing, you weren't looking for this development. Well, in a larger sense, we were looking for the development of the acceptance of polyamory or polygamy, but we weren't looking for it from Somerville, Massachusetts. Nonetheless, that's the dateline of the news story that appeared a few weeks ago in the New York Times.
Now, as you're thinking about the dateline for a news story, understand that when a reporter files a story, the story is filed from a particular location. We're used to datelines being places like Paris, Moscow, Washington, or someplace like Beijing or London, not Somerville, Massachusetts, but that's really the point. A moral revolution often occurs in a local situation like this that becomes a catalyst for accelerating momentum and a major change in morality. In this case, having to do with multi-partner unions, polyamory, polygamy. We'll get to the definitions in just a moment. Ellen Barry is the reporter for the New York Times, she tells us, "At the tail end of a City Council meeting last week, so quickly and quietly that you could have easily missed it, a left-leaning Massachusetts city expanded its notion of family to include people who are polyamorous or maintaining consenting relationships with multiple partners."
Now, there's so much to think about here. I'm reading from the print edition of the New York Times. It's dated Sunday, July the 5, 2020. The headline, “A City Gives Family Rights to Multi-Partner Unions.” It appears on page 21 in the front section of the New York Times. Now, it appears in the front section, meaning it's news, but it does appear on page 21 in the print edition, meaning that the New York Times isn't sure it's really big news, but it is big news. As Christians, we have to understand it's very big news and it's alarming news.
We're talking here about a municipality identified as a liberal city in Massachusetts. That's in many cases an oxymoron. But we're told that in this case, this liberal city has decided at the tail end of a business meeting to go ahead and define the family in a way that would include polyamorous or consenting multi-partnership unions. "Under its new domestic partnership ordinance, Somerville now grants polyamorous groups the rights held by spouses in marriage, such as the right to confer health insurance benefits or make hospital visits."
One of the city's counselors identified as J. T. Scott said, "People have been living in families that include more than two adults forever. Here in Somerville, families sometimes look like one man and one woman, but times it looks like two people everyone on the block thinks are sisters because they've lived together forever. Or sometimes it's an aunt and an uncle or an aunt and two uncles raising two kids."
Now, before this sounds like just something invented in a demented fairy tale, let's remind ourselves this is a news report from the New York Times. In this case, we're talking about a city in Massachusetts that has now redefined the family in a way that goes beyond—but as we have often said in the past—predictably beyond the letters LGBTQ. And we're also looking at the fact that this city in terms of the action undertaken by its council is saying that it is just acknowledging reality.
"This is simply allowing that change. Allowing people to say, 'This is my partner and this is my other partner.' It has a legal bearing so that when one of them is sick, they can both go to the hospital." Now, one thing to note here historically is that this was part of the argument for the recognition of, and eventually the legalization and normalization of same sex marriage.
It was argued that this is important for rights such as representation and hospital visitation. It would be easy to look at a news report like this and say, "Well, this is just one liberal municipality in Massachusetts, it's not indicative of a trend." But of course we already know that it is.
Organized groups pressing for the rights of so-called polyamorous or polygamous, they've been growing in number and in influence. And furthermore, polygamy is a much older, recognized relationship in human history than anything like same sex marriage. The other thing we have to recognize is that predictably, if you're going to redefine marriage, that basic molecular unit of civilization, if you're going to redefine it in a way that defies millennia of human experience, and you're going to say that a man can marry a man and a woman can marry a woman, if you're going to deny the monogamous conjugal nature of marriage itself and you're going to do so in gender, it is arguably a less imaginative leap to go to the number of the union. After all, there have at least been historical precedents for polygamy.
But the important thing here to recognize is that in the flow of biblical history and in the flow of human history, polygamy has been marginalized. It has been understood to be illegitimate in terms of morality and oppressive in terms of its structure. That's the very argument that was used, for example, by the government of the United States of America in requiring the Mormon church to change its position on polygamy in order for Utah to enter the union.
You have Jesus Christ himself in Matthew chapter 19 making very clear that it is creation order that is at stake in which the fact is that God made evident in creation and of course in the book of Genesis, as consistently repeated throughout Scripture, that his intention is for the union of a man and a woman. And of course that means a conjugal union, that means a reproductively-oriented union that is to exist for so long as the two partners shall both live, the man and the woman, the husband and the wife.
Now, looking at this article, it becomes very clear that there are some who want to immediately champion it. You have those who are going to say, "This is exactly what should be taking place." One man identified here as Andy Izenson, a lawyer with what's called The Chosen Family Law Center, he is representing, by the way, an organization that builds itself as a non-profit organization that provides legal services to polyamorous and other non-traditional families. He said that the ordinance could be put to a judicial test if health insurance companies reject the city's "more expansive definition of domestic partnership.” But the news article goes on to tell us, "Under the ordinance domestic partners, whether in groupings of two or more would not necessarily be romantic partners."
Now, if you put all this together, it's a massive confusion, that's actually the point. But it's not just a confusion. There is a point of clarity here. This is a rebellion against any traditional, organic, normative definition of both marriage and the family. And you can also see the setup here for the kind of cultural, moral, and legal revolution that would be required to have a policy like this nationwide.
You can foresee another justice like former Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the infamous 2015 Obergefell majority opinion, legalizing same sex marriage, you can see a future justice of the Supreme Court saying, and by the way, it could be someone on the court right now saying, "Look, it's a matter of injuring the pride and the dignity of people in these non-traditional unions not to recognize them as being on an equal par with a man and a woman who aren't legally wed." As a matter of fact, that kind of dignity harm argument is exactly what Anthony Kennedy used. And that's exactly the logic behind all of this.
Completely missing from the moral universe of this news report, by the way, is the acknowledgement that societies worldwide throughout human history have recognized the privileged exclusive union, the permanent union of a man and a woman known respectively as husband and wife in whatever language applies as a privileged relationship that is beyond the scrutiny or invasion of the law and is to be respected by the entire society because the entire society depends upon functioning marriages, mothers and fathers having children, producing the next generation and then investing in them and raising them, not only on behalf of themselves, but on behalf of the larger society, and as Christians understand, in the nurture and admonition of the Lord for the glory of God.
Liberal Denominations Welcome the Transgender Revolution: A Rejection of Biblical and Biological Reality
But another lesson for us to consider is that when morality begins to unravel itself and to do so quickly, it does so comprehensively. And this takes us to the recognition, and we've discussed this many times of the fact that if you look at those letters right now, LGBTQ, the deepest revolt against creation and the deepest moral revolutionary energy is in the T, because the T begins to unravel the entirety of creation.
This takes us to a recent news story from Religion News Service. The headline: “As Seminaries Welcome Openly Transgender Students, Church Lags Behind.” Now, the thing I want to notice about the headline is that the headline implies a moral point. And that is that the seminaries are on the cutting edge, in this case, liberal seminaries, and the churches are lagging behind, which means they ought not to. They ought to catch up.
The article at RNS is by Kathryn Post. And she begins by telling us about Austen Hartke, who arrived at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. "He knew it was the Lutheran seminary that didn't participate in his denomination's LGBTQ plus welcoming program. But as his awareness grew that he was transgender, so did his conviction that Luther was the right place for him." Luther in this case means Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota associated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, ELCA, which is not evangelical. It is the liberal mainstream Lutheran denomination. You have conservative denominations such as the Missouri Synod Lutherans and the Wisconsin Synod Lutherans. But when it comes to the ELCA, you can just put it together with the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church USA and many others.
But in this case, you have an individual identifying as transgender, who, by the way, thought that Luther was the right place for the student to be, but only declaring transgender identity when the individual was holding the diploma, "Because I didn't know what would happen."
Now, as the article in RNS preaches, and I'm simply going to say it does preach this new morality, the author cites the Reverend Alex McNeill executive director of the group known as More Light Presbyterians, an LGBTQ education and advocacy group who said, "Queer and trans folks are really helping to lead this next stage of the Reformation reforming what ministry can be and what ministry look like."
Now, let's just put an insertion here. Let's deal with that statement about the Reformation. It's ridiculous, of course, but it's worthy of attention because you have these very liberal denominations that have been historically Protestant—every one of them basically began as a confessional conservative Protestant denomination before they veered far to the left—they claim that they're doing so in the continuing unfolding of the Reformation. They'll even cite the Latin term, semper reformanda, “may the Reformation continue” or “always being reformed.” But the actual phrase that is consistent with the Reformation is always being reformed by the Word of God.
What you have here are denominations that long ago abandoned the Bible as the Word of God, they're simply reforming themselves according to the dictates of the culture. And in this case, you have this man saying that queer and trans folks are helping to lead this next stage of reformation. The whole point of the RNS article is that these liberal seminaries are getting with the program, welcoming transgender students. And by the way, they don't have that many students training for ministry in the first place. That's a symptom, not only of the decline of the liberal denominations, but of their theological seminaries as well.
This man went on to say, speaking of mainline Protestantism, of liberal Protestant churches, by the way, they're not nearly liberal enough. One of the points made in this article is that most of them have adopted very pro-gay and lesbian statements, even when it comes to clergy, but they have not yet been so bold on the issue of transgender identity and transgender clergy.
The RNS article cites the Reverend Jakob Hero-Shaw identified as senior pastor of The Metropolitan Community Church of Tampa, Florida. That's an historically LGBTQ group. He said, "People are solid on gay and lesbian issues, but not on trans." Again, let me insert something, that is because the transgender revolution represents an even deeper and even more direct unraveling of the entire creation order. There's a reason why even amongst those who are untethered from Scripture, there is still a reluctance to entirely join the transgender revolution.
And when it comes to clergy, even in liberal groups, the calling or appointment of a single transgender minister is now evidently worthy of a media article. Back last year in August, just a year ago this month, Baptist News Global ran a news article about the calling of Erica Saunders, a 2019 graduate of the Wake Forest University School of Divinity as pastor of the Peace Community Church in Oberlin, Ohio. Very liberal town, of course, which is the home of a very liberal school, Oberlin College. That was back in August of 2019.
But in order to put this into context, I want to take us back to the previous year, 2018, when Baptist News Global, associated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the more liberal split off from the Southern Baptist Convention, ran a news article by Mark Wingfield that had the headline, “Why Being Transgender Is Not A Sin.” You can look at the entire article, but basically it is offering an argument for the full normalization and recognition of transgender identity.
Interestingly, he makes what he considers to be a biblical argument. He writes, "Some people today identify as gender fluid, meaning they find in themselves bits of both male and female identity and cannot definitely say they are one or the other. While this may sound unsettling to some of us on first hearing, a return to Genesis might help. There we also learn that God created both night and day and that God separated land from sea. Yet we have no problem understanding the existence of dawn and dusk or marshes and Everglades. Also, the point of Genesis 1 is inclusion, not exclusion. The ancient text tells us that God created everything: ‘and,’ not ‘or.’"
The Pattern Is Clear: Surrendering Biblical Inerrancy Is Just the Start
Now, that's what is presented as a serious biblical argument on behalf of the normalization of transgender identity. That same year, in the month of January, that same news source Baptist News Global ran an article by Jeff Brumley with the headline, “American Pastor In Canada Doesn't Miss Culture Wars, Church Growth Pressures.” This is about a pastor who has left the United States and has left pastor positions with The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and had become pastor of a Baptist Church, Lorne Park Baptist Church, in Mississauga, Ontario in Canada.
And we are told that he didn't miss the American culture wars nor did he miss the pressure for a church to grow. The article tells us that he's very happy serving a congregation there near Toronto that "Worships in space appropriate for its attendance." In other words, there's no concern here for the gospel in reaching either Mississauga or Canada for Christ. There's no reflection of concern for lost people at all, or any kind of theology of gospel or conversion. Instead, it's just about the fact that he's happy to be in a church, which has a building that is comfortably filled and doesn't have any pressure therefore upon him to grow the church.
But that particular pastor made news in June of this year. On June, the 18th, Baptist News Global ran an article with a headline, “Pastor Reveals Her True Identity In Live-Streamed Sunday Sermon.” The article by Mark Wingfield again begins, "When June Joplin preached a sermon on June 14 about the pearl of great price, she became the modern day illustration of Jesus' parable on finding buried treasure. "She," and here I'm reading from the news report, "decided to tell her Canadian Baptist congregation the truth about herself. She is a woman."
Wingfield's article goes on, "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 the end of her live-streamed sermon from Matthew 13." The pastor 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."
The pastor continued, "Hi friends, hi family. My name is Junia, you can call me June, I'm a transgender woman and my pronouns are she and her." Now, this made news not only in religious circles, but also, of course, in the Canadian media. The pastor said that there was no clear expectation about what would happen after this announcement that in the context of COVID-19 came in an internet service rather than in person. But, "Whatever the outcome, she knows her witness is necessary because of the dire statistics about suicide and self-harm among transgender children and youth."
It's also significant to note that the website Vox gave considerable coverage to this pastor in the announcement. Emily VanDerWerff wrote the article with the headline, “A Trans Christian Minister Came Out In A Sermon Now She's Bracing For What Comes Next.” The printout of the article is 17 pages. We are told that this pastor realized at age 11 two things, and that had to do with transgender identity and a pastoral calling. It's all written as if this makes perfect sense.
We are also told that in 2017, during the time of service as pastor of this church in Canada, the pastor came to the conclusion that he would declare himself to be a she. And of course it comes with the entire worldview that is associated with this kind of transgender identity. But we come full circle when in this article at Vox, the same individual, Austen Hartke, that's the Lutheran Seminary student identified in the RNS story, now Lutheran Seminary graduate, Hartke identified as the head of Transmission Ministry Collective and the author of Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians, said this, this is just really important for us to hear.
"We don't teach stories like Deborah, the warrior, who went out to battle in Judges or Joseph, the gender non-conforming kid with his coat of many colors in Sunday School so people never learn them." This is after the Vox reporter wrote, "The Bible is full of gender non-conforming people if you know where to look for them."
Here's my response. No, it's not. No sane person would read the Bible that way. And throughout the history of Christian Church, no sane person has read the Bible in such a way. They weren't reading the Bible wrongly, they were reading the Bible rightly. The whole point about Deborah is that Deborah was a woman. There's no gender non-conformity there. That's a misreading of the text and it's a deliberate contortion, corruption, and misreading.
And when it comes to Joseph, "The gender non-conforming kid with this coat of many colors." Let's just note a few things. Number one, in the biblical account concerning Joseph, the boy whose father favored him and gave him the coat of many colors, Joseph was, let's just put it this way, not being fabulous. He was being the favored son of the father. And it was envy, not some kind of transgender or non-gender binary discrimination, that prompted his brothers to infamously mistreat him and eventually sell him into slavery.
There's a lot for us to consider here, this willful rejection of creation order and the revelation of God in making men and women, that is, human beings as male and female. And that being a part of the goodness of creation and a part of the identity that he has assigned every one of us. The logic of all of these articles supporting the transgender revolution is that somehow when it comes to our physical structure, that's an accident. It's our self-awareness and identity that is the reality.
Of course, the biblical worldview is the reverse, but let's get back into the sequence here. It was in June this summer that the pastor declared a transgendered identity and said that the pastor wasn't sure how this was going to turn out. The church appeared at the time to be shocked. And even though it's a very small congregation, evidently it needed to catch its breath. But the next headline of consequence comes on July the 23rd, 2020.
In this case, I'm going to look at the article as published in the New York Times and it tells you something. This made the New York Times. The headline, “Baptist Pastor is Fired After Coming out as Transgender.” The sub-heading on the article, "Junia Joplin, a Baptist pastor in Ontario, asked for acceptance in her sermon. ‘I want to be the person that God created me to be.’ The congregation narrowly voted to terminate her contract."
Now, let's just note something, we were told in the beginning of this entire sequence, in the news article about this pastor as a man, going to pastor the church, how happy he was to be in a more liberal setting, both in the city and the denomination and the congregation. But here's the point, the church isn't that liberal, not so liberal that is willing to keep a transgender pastor.
Now, it's very interesting that in the statement released by the church—the congregation, by the way, voted 58 to 53 to fire the pastor. If you're doing the math, that's 111 votes. The church said, "The church has journeyed for the past month through a process of attempting to discern God's will, it was determined for theological reasons that it is not in God's will that June remain as our pastor."
Now, that's a bizarre statement, not because the church said that they had reached a conclusion that having a transgender pastor, or at least, this transgender pastor was wrong for theological reasons, we have to assume it any transgender pastor, but it's also interesting that in the statement they used, they cited the new transgender or feminine name claimed by the pastor.
In a follow-up article after the pastor's dismissal that was published at Vox, we were told, "None of that will get Joplin her job back. However, she told Vox she is exploring her legal options. In Canada it is illegal to fire someone for being trans, but there are exceptions based upon religious grounds."
By the way, the article continues, "She also said that any severance payment from the church would likely come with strings attached that would make it harder for her to tell her story and build support for the next pastor to come out as trans to their congregation." Here's another major issue. We have to note that religious liberty is very much here on the line. And especially in the United States, we have to note, after the Bostock decision of the Supreme Court that came just weeks ago, even though in that majority opinion there was an acknowledgement of the right of religious institutions. And even as the Supreme court has strengthened that right, the right of religious congregations and institutions to operate on the basis of their convictions, you have to notice that the trajectory is to argue in the larger culture that that's illegitimate. That's implied in this Vox article.
Here, Christians just need to telescope back a bit and understand that what we're looking at here are not two rival interpretations of Scripture. We're not looking at two different theological traditions, we're looking at two completely different religions as Gresham Machen understood. We're looking at the fact that we do not share theological worlds at all. It's very telling that even as a division came in the Southern Baptist Convention with conservatives gaining control of the Southern Baptist Convention and more liberal people leaving, you can see that the logic of what it takes to sever oneself from Scripture and the inerrancy and authority of Scripture works its way out. It's just a matter of time.
You also see the very direct logic here that is in that RNS story we cited from the beginning telling us that the churches are lagging behind in accepting the T in LGBTQ. There's a moral imperative in that argument. “Get with the program. You've got to get with the entire program. Don't lag behind.” And of course, if you're going to follow this kind of cultural game, that's the kind of argument you've got to expect to hear.
But as we began The Briefing today, we didn't even begin with LGBTQ, we began with P, polyamory, which is a reminder of the fact that it's not going to be long predictably before at, RNS, Religion News Service or another mainstream media source, we see an article saying, "Look, the church has, pretty much the liberal church caught up on LGBTQ, but it's lagging behind on polyamory." That's the logic. We can see it working out right before our eyes. We're blind if we don't see it, and we're dishonest if we don't say it.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
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