The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, October 22, 2020

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

It’s Thursday October 22nd, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Pope Francis Supports Civil Unions for Homosexual Couples: The Pope Undercuts the Teaching of His Own Church

Big news again about Pope Francis. Headlines all across the world, particularly in the liberalizing cultures of the West, the Wall Street Journal headline, “Pope Francis backs, civil unions for gay couples in shift for Vatican.” Throughout much of the world where it could have been at least to some extent translation issues at stake. It was often reported that Pope Francis had endorsed the legalization of same sex unions, and that would have implied same sex marriage. It’s not true at this point, even though the moral logic is clear and that would lead to the legalization of same sex marriage, for rather technical and important theological reasons the Pope didn’t go that far.

But it is important to note that according to the mainstream media, and again, we’re talking about the Guardian, the Times of London, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post. We’re not talking about fringe periodicals. We’re talking about the most mainstream secular press. The headline such as in the Wall Street Journal turned out to be true. Pope Francis backs civil unions for gay couples in shift for the Vatican. Francis X. Rocca, who is the veteran Vatican reporter for the Wall Street Journal tells us, “Pope Francis endorsed civil unions for same sex couples in a move that is likely to intensify already heated controversy over the Catholic church’s teaching on homosexuality.” According to the Wall Street Journal from the documentary transcript, the Pope said this, “Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or made miserable because of it.” Furthermore, the Pope was quoted as saying, “What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered.” He says, “I stood up for that.”

Now some reports say that, that “I stood up for that,” is a reference to the year 2014, when it was reported then that Pope Francis had advised authorities in Buenos Aires in Argentina, his home–remember he is the first Pope from Argentina–where he had been Archbishop and Cardinal. The reports in 2014 said that he had advised the government in Argentina to compromise, not by legalizing same sex marriage per se, but by adopting a somewhat middle position and that is the legalization of civil unions. Same sex couples given rights to an institution like marriage that is not marriage. Now let’s just step back for a moment. What should Christians think about this? Well, we’re going to jump over at first, the entire issue of the papacy. Let’s just look at what Pope Francis said. He said, according to this documentary and according to his own words in the transcript, he said that he is in favor of legalizing civil unions.

Now what would that mean morally? It would mean giving sanction, state government sanction to same sex relationships. And according to those relationships, a formal recognition that would include virtually all of the rights of marriage, but without the name of marriage. Now, how exactly did that turn out, for instance, in Western nations? Well, it didn’t turn out to be very stable and we predicted it at the time. These halfway measures, indeed, they’re more than halfway, but not all the way to declaring marriage at this point, they were unstable. They’re unstable because even though they did grant to same sex couples, the opportunity for a legal recognition, it was not a legal recognition that was exactly the same as marriage. Now you go to the Supreme court of the United States. One year after the Pope is reported to have made those statements about endorsing civil unions. In 2015, the United States Supreme court handed down the Obergefell decision legalizing same sex marriage in all 50 States, it was a legal and moral atrocity.

For example, the majority opinion written by the swing justice, as he was known, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that forbidding same sex couples from having legal access to marriage with the word marriage was an injury to their dignity and to the dignity of their families as experienced by their children. This dignity argument turns out to be very important. So what am I predicting here? I’m predicting that even though LGBTQ+ activists will celebrate this as a revolution on the part of the Roman Catholic Church, they will not be satisfied with it because they will not be satisfied until they have the same moral valence, the same moral status as is declared with the word marriage.

But then let’s think about Catholic theology for a moment. When you talk about Catholics and marriage, you’re talking about marriage as an official sacrament of the church. That puts the Roman Catholic Church in the position of looking at one of the sacraments of the church by their own definition; now I’m a Baptist, so I don’t hold to a sacramental theology, but nonetheless, the Roman Catholic Church is essentially established upon a sacramental theology.

And if you’re talking about marriage, you’re talking about a sacrament, which the Roman Catholic Church declares was instituted by God. Now we as Protestants, as Evangelical Christians ground our definition of marriage in Holy scripture as the final sole authority and in the order of creation as is revealed to us in the Holy scripture, both the old Testament and the new. Both made very clear in the book of Genesis in the opening two chapters and as affirmed by Jesus Christ himself as he addressed the issue in the gospel of Matthew. But when the Roman Catholic Church is talking about sacrament and same-sex marriage, it’s not ready to go there. So instead the Pope has proposed, evidently, in the context of this documentary, a halfway measure or a moderating or compromise measure, it is going to be unsatisfactory to everyone.

As I said, you’re going to have conservatives however, in the Roman Catholic Church who are going to recognize this as a half surrender on the way to a full surrender. You’re going to have others who are going to look at this as a halfway measure, that doesn’t go far enough and that’s going to be coming from liberal Catholics and from secular authorities demanding that the Roman Catholic Church, along with all forms of what would be considered institutional Christianity would get with the program and get on the right side of history.

Now, what about what this says about the intrinsic morality of same-sex acts and same-sex relationships? Now just keep in mind something, the Pope’s responsibility is to maintain sealed doctrine, the stability of doctrine for the Roman Catholic Church. That’s the point of having a Pope and the magisterium of the church. But when you’re looking at Pope Francis, he has been playing a game for a very long time of leading change in the church and not admitting that that’s what he is doing and effectively undermining the actual official teaching of his church, the official doctrinal teaching of the Roman Catholic Church today, October 22nd, 2020, is that all homosexual desires and acts and relationships are intrinsically disordered.

Now, what does it mean when they say they are intrinsically disordered? That means something akin to what the apostle Paul says in Romans chapter one, “against nature.” Now that’s not a mild statement. That’s not an equivocating statement. That’s an extremely clear statement, but we’re talking about a Pope that is trying to take the clear and make it as fuzzy as possible. Now the Pope is not the only person doing that. As you look through the history of Protestantism, the Protestant liberals attempted to make things fuzzy when they had been clear, but the fuzzy was then clarified in a position that contradicted the truth claim in the beginning.

So in other words, you have the true claim of say the virgin birth. The liberal said, “We shouldn’t be talking about the virgin birth because there are people who simply don’t believe in it. We’re in a modern culture. Modern people don’t think in those terms. So let’s not talk about the Virgin birth let’s instead, just move on to other parts of the Christmas story.” But then before long, the same liberals were denying the virgin conception of the Lord, Jesus Christ. And that’s the way it works. And that’s exactly what’s going to happen to the Roman Catholic Church. If you create this kind of halfway position and embrace it before long, you’re going to have to go all the way into the abdication of the previous truth claim. Otherwise historically known as biblical Christianity, when it comes to the definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman, when it comes to the scripturally prescribed sexual behaviors and the scriptural indictment of sexual misbehaviors, when it comes to gender identity, once you begin to make those issues fuzzy, you eventually lose all conviction.

And before long, the sexual revolutionaries will simply demand that you must go all the way and deny what had the historic teachings of your church. Now, even when it comes to same sex unions, you need to recognize that in 2003, the doctrinal office of the Roman Catholic Church, then under Cardinal Ratzinger later, Pope Benedict the 16th, it had released a statement again in 2013, that stated very clearly, “Respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behavior or to legal recognition of homosexual unions.” By any measure, that would include civil unions along with same sex marriage. That is still standing right now, the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.

LGBTQ activists in the Roman Catholic Church, including most prominently, the Jesuit Reverend James Martin said, “This is the first time as Pope he’s making such a clear statement. I think it’s a big step forward. In the past, even civil unions were frowned upon in many quarters of the church. He,” meaning Francis, “is putting his weight behind legal recognition of same-sex civil unions.” Again, fuzzy. It’s not just true that the Roman Catholic Church in some quarters has frowned upon civil unions. As I said, that’s an official statement of the doctrinal office of the Roman Catholic Church issued in 2003. And furthermore, the Reverend Martin says that the Pope has made a clear statement. Actually, it’s not clear. And even people close to the Vatican are now trying to defend the Pope’s statement by saying it was really not so clear. That’s an operation we also understand.

Part II

Three Big Lessons Evangelicals Should Learn From the Pope’s Latest Statement on Homosexuality

Pope Francis, who had been the Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires until his elevation to the papacy in 2013, is indeed a rather liberal Pope. Now there are those who are glad to claim him as a liberal Pope and there are those who try to say, “No, he’s not so liberal as he appears.” Now, remember the two words liberal and Pope do not go naturally together because of the very Catholic definition of the papal office. But nonetheless, shortly after he became the Pope, there came interviews with journalists, such as the atheist journalist Eugenio Scalfari, in which the Pope basically said things that were contradictory to or subversive of Catholic doctrine. But it was often said by the Vatican, “Hey, he said that in the course of an interview. Nobody has the notes. It’s not a direct transcript. So it’s not an official statement.”

Well, here’s something I just want to point out politicians play the same game and it comes down to this. It’s one thing to say, that’s not an exact right quote or that’s not an official statement. It’s another thing to say, “The conversation never took place. And the Pope never said such a thing. That’s a categorical distinction.” You’ll notice you’re not hearing the latter. And by this time, when the Pope has given numerous and repeated interviews, when this kind of thing has happened, any sane person can only come to the conclusion he wants these headlines to happen. There is no other possible explanation.

And furthermore, even as it is now more than 24 hours after this news broke, the Vatican has not denied that the Pope made this statement. In a conversation with me for thinking in public, back in 2018, Ross Douthat columnist for the New York times and who was the author of a book released it just about the same time entitled To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism, speaking of this move, he called it the rule of ambiguity. And then he said this, “Which is to say that if you’re the Pope, the theory of the papacy is that the job of the Pope is an effect not to change, right? That the papacy, all its claims of authority, that it has of course defended against Protestants for low these 500 years. Rest on the idea that the Pope has all these awesome sealing powers. And yet they are actually incredibly limited because the Pope, his authority depends on the idea that he is a custodian, not a change agent.”

Douthat went on, “And so the Pope cannot stand up and say that he is entertaining a different hypothesis about hell than the official teaching of the church. And Francis is well aware of that, but what he has done several times now around that particular issue is he gives these interviews to an Italian journalist who is in his nineties, who was a secular atheist left wing journalist with whom the Pope is friendly. And then the interviewer,” Douthat tells us, “whose name is Eugenio Scalfari publishes these interviews and the Vatican essentially washes his hands of them and says, ‘Well, these are reconstructions. He doesn’t take notes. There is no transcript. And you can’t take this as a sort of what the Pope is literally saying.’ And in these interviews, Scalfari quotes Francis as entertaining, various theological hypotheses, that sort of skirt, the bounds of orthodoxy.”

Douthat gets even more clearly to the point when he said on my program, “This is sort of a characteristic of the Francis method. He is smart enough. It underestimates him wildly to imagine that he doesn’t know how these interviews are received. He doesn’t know that they will generate headlines around the world. And so on. He keeps going back and doing these interviews. He’s not being somehow duped by this journalist.” But the bottom line in the Catholics situation is this the Pope’s comments on civil unions or same sex couples reveals yet another sign of the recklessness of this papacy and demonstrates the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, undermining the truth, claims doctrine, and moral logic of his own church.

As a conservative Protestant, I can say what conservative Catholics might not say: this Pope is a disaster for the Roman Catholic Church and given the influence of that church worldwide, it will weaken Christian witness to marriage and sexuality and gender, according to God’s will and God’s word. For anyone watching Pope Francis, this is a typical move, undermining his own church’s teaching in the context of an interview or documentary. Furthermore, the logic of Francis has comments points, not only to civil unions, but eventually to same sex marriage. We will all be watching the spectacle of Vatican officials trying to “explain” the Pope’s comments incoming days.

But now let’s address the other issue. I’m speaking as an Evangelical Christian. The final authority for Evangelicals is not the papacy or the magisterium in which we do not believe–we don’t believe there are biblical offices–but rather is in the word of God. That’s the essence of the Protestant scriptural principle that comes down to sola scriptura. The Scripture alone is the final authority within the Christian Church. Martin Luther, the Diet of Worms said famously, “Pope’s may err, councils may err, but the word of God will never err.”

So Protestants don’t believe in the papacy first of all, we don’t believe in the sacramental system of the Roman Catholic Church secondly, and we don’t believe in any papal doctrinal authority either to affirm or to deny or for that matter to change doctrine. That’s the responsibility of the faithful church under the Lordship of Christ and under the authority of God’s Word. But Evangelical Christians have to recognize that the moral influence of the Roman Catholic Church around the world is a massive issue. And if indeed the largest church, as the secular world would count the Roman Catholic Church, changes its position on marriage or on the morality of homosexuality, if it does so either implicitly or explicitly, that will add a great deal of momentum, an incalculable addition of momentum to the moral revolution.

So for Evangelical Christians, the big take home issues are these: number one, our final authority is the Word of God. The Word of God does not change. It is not up for doctrinal reformulation.

Secondly, we have to watch when Evangelicals or Protestants, other non-Catholics, use the Francis method we’ll call it, to apparently say something that they then try to walk back slightly trying to increase doctrinal or moral ambiguity at the expense of biblical clarity.

The third thing that we have to note is that the number of people willing to stand up for historic Christian understandings of marriage and gender and sexuality, that number is decreasing. And now you’re looking at the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church who is adding to the problem. So let’s watch this closely. The only way the Pope can fix this in one sense is to deny that he said those words, but I’ll predict right now, there will be no such denial forthcoming.

Part III

Will There Be Any Major Party on the American Political Scene That Doesn’t Surrender to the Moral Revolutionaries?

But next, while we’re thinking about how moral change happens, one of the things I have tried to point out is that over time, political parties find their way toward the future, trying to guard their own electoral interests. And I mentioned the fact that the Conservative Party, or what calls itself the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom, the party that is now in power by the way, basically sold all moral conservatives out about half decade ago, by simply abandoning any opposition to say, same sex marriage, joining the LGBTQ revolution enthusiastically. And so, under the leadership of then Conservative leader and Prime Minister David Cameron, the Conservative Party basically just threw all the moral agenda away. It’s conservative right now, in some sense, mostly in being somewhat more conservative than the Labour party that had historically been socialist.

But when it comes to conservative positions on morality, the Conservative Party is just a little more conservative than the other parties. That’s not a stable position. And that is very bad news for those who hold to conservative, historically Christian, moral principles and convictions. By the way, the very same convictions that made Western civilization possible. The very kinds of moral principles and institutions that conservatives are trying to conserve.

Well, there is no doubt that the Republican Party in the United States is much, much more conservative than the Democratic Party in the United States. No surprise there. It is also clear that, at least right now, the Republican Party in the United States is more conservative, actually far more conservative in this sense than the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom. But there are also signs that it might not last for long. What would some of those signs be? Well, if we were to have some kinds of tests whereby we would be able to know just how convictional many Republican office holders are on say, the issue of abortion or same sex marriage, we might be very disappointed.

And disappointment came to conservatives, particularly to those who are driven by sincere moral convictions, when you had at least some in the Trump campaign, holding events in recent days, identified as Trump Pride. One official website related to the Trump campaign stated this, “President Donald J. Trump is the only president to openly support the LGBT community since his first day in office. President Trump stands in solidarity with LGBT citizens by supporting and enacting policies and initiatives that protect the wellbeing and prosperity of all gay lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans. Trump pride,” says the site, “is a diverse coalition dedicated to re-electing President Trump, the first president to begin his presidency in support of marriage equality.” Now that’s something a lot of conservative Christians don’t talk about. It’s true. President Trump has not opposed, either before or after his election, the legalization of same sex marriage.

Now on many other issues, it is clear that president Trump holds to very conservative positions. Most importantly, and yes, I underline that, most importantly, concerning the sanctity of human life. I can’t read his heart there, but I can read his actions, which have been very, very clear in support of the unborn. Remarkably so. Historically so. And when it comes to marriage or when it comes to the LGBTQ issues, on the positive side of what president Trump has done are two Supreme Court nominations.

But then again, we have questions now, given the Bostock decision in recent weeks about just how effective Gorsuch or Kavanaugh might turn out to be on those issues when it comes to judge Amy Coney Barrett, now coming before the Senate for confirmation, that appears to be an extremely strong judicial, or in this case, Supreme Court nomination, that is likely to be clear on the issues related to say, the legalization of same sex marriage. And we have seen Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, even in recent days, making very clear their belief that the Obergefell decision is first of all, unconstitutional and secondly, a direct violation of religious liberty.

Speaking in recent days of what was declared to be a Trump Pride event in Florida, the president’s youngest daughter, Tiffany Trump made this statement to a crowd of LGBTQ activists or at least representatives of the LGBTQ community, “I know what my father believes. In prior to politics. He supported gays lesbians, the LGBQIIA+ community.” Fascinating way she put it there, LGBQIIA+. She, by the way, left out the “T.” It was almost assuredly accidental, but activists called her on it almost immediately. But you’ll notice there are even more letters there than are commonly given: LGBQIIA+. And then, Tiffany Trump went on to say that she was going to have to respond to what she called fabricated lies against her father.

The whole point of this is simply to say that when we are looking at the moral revolution, we are seeing boundary after boundary transgressed. We are seeing defense after defense fallen. We are seeing the moral revolutionaries basically carry the day institution by institution, school by school, sadly, in some cases, denomination by denomination. And if we are not careful, it is going to be political party by political party. It is going to take an enormous effort to make certain that there is any major party on the American scene that doesn’t eventually, if not quickly, surrender entirely to the moral revolutionaries.

And this is where Christians must understand that being just more conservative, slightly more conservative than a more liberal party is not actually a conservative position. A conservative position begins in defining what must be conserved for society to thrive. And amongst the first things that must be conserved are objective definitions, rightful definitions of marriage and sexuality and gender. If that’s lost, no conservative position based on objective truth will survive.

There’ll be plenty of opportunities in the future, sad to say, for us to think these issues through, but the bottom line is that there is no such category as being almost or slightly theologically orthodox. Orthodoxy is not a sliding scale. Biblical fidelity is not graded on a curve. And the same thing is true when it comes to moral principles. You either hold to the moral principles that are essential for the survival of society, or you are eventually the enemy of those principles and convictions. Time will tell. And as the stories today make very clear, time is running out.

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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