Tuesday, March 2, 2021
It's Tuesday, March 2nd, 2021.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
The “Pivot” Away from Biblical Christianity — Bethany Christian Services Announces It Will Not Hold to Biblical Definition of Marriage
The word of greatest interest today is the word "pivot." Pivot can serve as a noun. Oxford Languages defines the word as a noun this way, "The central point, pin, or shaft on which a mechanism turns or oscillates." The key issue here is turning or oscillating. The word can also be used as a verb, and the definition of the verb is to turn on as if on a pivot. That is to turn utterly, to change direction.
A pivot becomes the mechanism whereby a major change happens. And when the word pivot is used in this sense, we're talking morally about a very big change indeed. One phrase from a news story released yesterday caught my particular attention. It came down to a two word sentence, "Bethany Pivoted." In this case, the organization is Bethany Christian Services, that had been one of the nation's largest evangelical adoption and foster care agencies. And the pivot has to do with the LGBTQ issues.
In particular, the fact that yesterday it was announced that Bethany Christian Services is going to now begin providing services to LGBTQ parents nationwide, this is according to Ruth Graham of The New York Times. And that effective immediately, this is defined in The New York Times, article as "a major inflection point in which the fraught battle over many faith-based agency's longstanding opposition to working with same-sex couples." We'll be looking more closely at that language.
The words that are used by The New York Times are inflection point, that's very similar to pivot, but the word pivot was explicitly used in a statement in a Religion News Service report. And it's attributed to Robin Fretwell Wilson, a professor of law at the University of Illinois at Champaign. We're told that this professor had advised Utah lawmakers in drafting a bill that was known as the Fairness for All bill. But speaking of Bethany Christian Services, we're talking about basically a turn, at least in terms of national policy.
And it was in response to that that this professor celebrated the capitulation of Bethany by simply saying, "Bethany Pivoted." Now, here's what I want us to look at. This is exactly the pivot that is demanded of us. The world is now demanding, the moral revolutionaries are now demanding that every single individual in this society, every single institution, every single school, every single religious denomination, every single adoption and foster care agency must pivot. And the pivot, in this case, means capitulation.
It means absolute surrender to the demands of the LGBTQ community, and now we're just talking about, generalized, the political left in the United States. We've been looking at this coming for some time, talking about the Equality Act. In recent days, I've been talking about how we are looking at the society consolidate its energies of coercion in order to serve the cause of the moral revolutionaries. That's the way a moral revolution works. Eventually the government, all the major sectors of society join in an effort to coerce the new moral understanding.
And in this case, what we have seen is a head-on collision, not just in general between the newly invented sexual liberties and religious liberty, we are now seeing a head-on collision between organizations like Bethany Christian Services that have been very committed to a Christian understanding of marriage and the family and human sexuality and gender.
We are now seeing a head-on collision between what had been at least historically Christian foster care and adoption agencies, child service agencies, a head-on collision between those Christian agencies and governments, state governments in some cases, the federal government in other cases, local governments in the main so far in cities such as Philadelphia.
We saw the same thing writ large across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the State of Massachusetts acted when it legalized same-sex marriage to say that it would not do business with any organization that did not accept its definition of marriage now, including same-sex marriage. And that meant that even then the largest adoption and foster care agency in the state of Massachusetts that had been doing noble work for a matter of many decades, Catholic charities had to cease its operations, because it had a choice.
It was forced into the choice. It could either stand for Catholic doctrine and theology, or it could continue its ministry. And it decided to keep the Catholic part of Catholic charities. But what see here in the case of Bethany Christian Services is that the part they've given up is actually the Christian convictional part. The part they have decided to retain is the with governments at the state and local and, for that matter, conceivably at the national level that are now meeting the demands of the moral revolutionaries.
Most importantly, we're looking at the fact that this is a national decision. As Ruth Graham told us, one of the country's largest adoption and foster care agencies announced that it's going to be making this change. It's presented in The New York Times as a change in policy to begin "providing services to LGBTQ parents nationwide effective immediately." Notice the way the press puts this. This is a decision to begin providing services to a group. And in this case, though, we're talking about LGBTQ parents.
But here's where we have to note that this really does require us remembering the fact that the word "parent" here doesn't mean exactly the same thing as human beings have traditionally meant the word parent in the past. For example, several paragraphs into the story in The New York Times, we read this, "Adoption is a potent issue in both gay and conservative Christian communities. More than 20% of same-sex couples with children have an adopted child, compared to 3% of straight couples, that according to a 2016 report from the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law."
Now, again, just think of the numbers there. 20% of same-sex couples with children have adopted children, but that's where we have to think about just what it takes actually to bring a baby into the world, and a same-sex couple doesn't have together what it takes. But what we're looking at here is that Parenthood has been redefined as marriage has been redefined, but here's where Christians have to understand. If you're redefining marriage, if you're redefining parent and family, you are redefining civilization. It's just that ambitious.
It's also just that inevitable. Eventually you are redefining everything. The announcement made by Bethany Christian Services, and it made the press yesterday, is going to be one of those historic moments. And I go back to that statement that was made by the law professor, Bethany Pivoted. Yes, they did pivot. In some cases, they had already pivoted. Back in 2018, when this controversy arose in the City of Philadelphia, Bethany basically surrendered.
They changed their policy rather than to run into conflict with the authorities there in Philadelphia, who were forcing them to make a very clear choice, either continue with your Christian convictions or continue in the adoption and foster care enterprise. Now, of course, all of this is going to be framed as a way to continue helping children. And let's be very clear. We believe in helping children. Christians have actually formed, established, and sustained most of the most effective childcare services and philanthropies in the history of Western civilization.
They have been established explicitly by Christians on Christian grounds and Christian commitment driven by Christian law. But now we're seeing a situation in which Christians are being told, "You have to forfeit your Christian doctrine, your Christian biblical commitment, even your Christian understanding of the gospel if you're going to continue in this childcare enterprise." A little bit of history here is also important.
In the year 2007, Bethany Christian Services had at least by then adopted a position statement saying that, "God's designed for the family is a covenant and lifelong marriage of one man and one woman." Now, let's just state the obvious. In previous generations, no one really had to define marriage this way because virtually everyone defined marriage this way. This policy statement that's dated 2007 was only required because the moral revolution was already beginning.
The issue of same-sex marriage was beginning to be a part of the national conversation. But just to remember the calendar, this was 2007 when this statement was adopted. The Obergefell decision came in 2015, the Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage coast to coast. That set up the conflict, but then we find out something else, and that is that Bethany Christian Services has adopted a rather comprehensive restatement. And that policy that was adopted in 2007 has now completely disappeared. It's not there.
Now, looking at the reports, it becomes clear that Bethany Christian Services has not adopted a statement endorsing same-sex marriage. It just doesn't refer to marriage at all in that sense. Now, this is something we really have to watch. That means that the pivot can be unannounced. Eventually this kind of news did break and it broke yesterday. But in reality, the fundamental change at Bethany really didn't take place yesterday or even last week or last month.
It took place some time ago, at least in terms of 2018 when we saw the organization there in Philadelphia capitulate. By the way, we also need to note that the City of Philadelphia and this issue is now before the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court going to be ruling on this issue, and we have some reason to have at least some hope that the Supreme Court will rule in favor of the religious mission of adoption agencies and foster care, especially in the City of Philadelphia. Here's something we need to note.
Bethany Christian Services surrendered even before the war been fought. Nate Bolt, identified as Bethany's Senior Vice President of Public and Government Affairs, told Religion News Service, "This decision implements consistent inclusive practices for LGBTQ families across our organizations." He went on to say, "We've had a patchwork approach for the last few years."
In other words, there've been some places where Bethany's already decided to expand to including same-sex couples, LGBTQ identified couples, but there've been other areas in which that has not yet been the case. This nationalizes and standardizes the entire policy, but you'll notice the kind of language that's being used here. It is used in the language of implementing "consistent inclusive practices."
Now, those are intended to be very positive words, but let's just consider the fact that when you're looking at inclusive here and consistent, this means a consistent capitulation to the moral revolutionaries, a consistent abdication of any institutional identity that is connected with Christian conviction or biblical teaching concerning the very nature of what it means to be male and female, the very nature of marriage.
And remember this, these Christian organizations were put in place by Christians on Christian commitment because we genuinely believe that a child deserves a mother and a father. We genuinely believe that marriage can only be the union of a man and a woman. These are not just positioned statements that the Christian church has decided to adopt. We believe, and you can check the Bible for yourself, this is biblical Christianity. This is demanded of us.
It's also very telling that the Religion News Service article tells us that before at least announcing the national decision, Bethany had commissioned the Barna Group, identified as a Christian polling firm, "to ferret out the views of Christians about LGBTQ adoptions." Very, very interesting. They hired a polling firm to decide how much latitude they really had in order to pivot, the keyword that's used in this article. They pivoted, but they had polling data behind the pivot.
The New York Times article by Ruth Graham includes this paragraph, "Bethany's new approach is something of a tight rope act, an attempt to establish a clear consistent policy of inclusion that does not rattle its core constituencies, including the churches that are its primary venue for recruiting parents. The inclusivity resolution passed in January eliminated the 2007 position statement on marriage being between one man and one woman. But the new statement does not endorse same-sex relationships. In fact, it does not even mention them."
Now here's what I want us to note. You don't have to say we're endorsing same-sex marriage if you abandon your convictional statement that marriage can only be the union of a man and a woman. It's not as if the world doesn't understand what we're doing, and it's not as if Christians don't understand what Bethany here has done. They've not taken no notice. They have taken a very clear position identified here as consistent inclusive policies. What's gone is the position statement on a biblical understanding of marriage. It simply disappeared.
What Will You Do When the Culture Demands That You Pivot? The Pressure Continues to Increase for Every Christian Congregation, Ministry, and Institution
But the statement that was released by the organization and its 14 member national board also stated, and this goes back to a statement released on January the 21st, "Christians of mutual good faith can reasonably disagree on various doctrinal issues about which Bethany does not maintain an organizational position." That's extremely slick language. Now that sentence is self-evidently true. When you're an adoption agency, you don't have to take a position on the rapture, on the millennium. You don't have to take a position on eschatology.
That would be a doctrinal issue in which Bethany does not need to maintain an organizational position. But if you are operating as a Christian institution and you are dealing with adoption and foster care, not having a biblical definition of marriage is not the same thing as reasonably disagreeing on a doctrinal issue. But there's more to it than that. Just how expansive can we follow any argument that says that Christians of good faith can reasonably disagree on various doctrinal issues?
Again, are we talking about some kind of doctrinal dispute that might divide say Methodist from Baptist, or Presbyterians from Methodists? Are we talking about something as large as what would separate Protestants from Catholics, or Catholics from the Orthodox churches? No, we're not talking about that kind of doctrine. Here, the only doctrinal issue that is at stake is the Christian Church's has definition of marriage, about which every single major Christian Church throughout the two millennia of Christian history has been absolutely United.
This has not been a doctrinal disagreement. The New York Times is unquestionably right in saying that Bethany Christian Services is here trying to achieve something of a tight rope act. But here's where Christians need to understand that this is not just about looking at one institution's pivot or capitulation on this issue. It's understanding the pressure that is brought on and be brought on every single Christian, every single Christian congregation, every single denomination, every single Christian institution or ministry period.
And the demand is going to come just what the argument that you see here, "Serving children," one person connected with the organization said, "shouldn't be controversial." No. Serving children shouldn't be controversial. But then again, it is when you have to ask the question into what kind of family can Christians support children being placed?
Eventually you have to answer that question and it does come down to whether or not you believe that the Bible offers what is not only a doctrinally binding definition, but what is actually good for, even necessary for, the human family to flourish. But this is exactly the kind of arguments going to come, helping people means that you need to help more people, even if that means forfeiting your Christian convictions, even about what it means to help people.
It means that if you have a homeless shelter, you can help more homeless people if you will abandon your Christian convictions and no longer maintain any commitment to a biblical standard of morality. That might lead a state or local government to say, "We won't partner with you if you hold those convictions." So abandon the convictions in the name of helping people. Expand this to Christian higher education.
Think of how many more students you could teach and how many more people you could reach within your institution and, by the way, charge for tuition, if you abandon your Christian convictions in the name of just teaching more people. Yes, you can understand the argument that's being made here, but we need to recognize that what it is is a recipe for the absolute dissolution of Christianity in the United States in terms of any real witness, not only in the public square, but frankly, even within our own ministries.
But all of this in the context we face right now, with the threat of the Equality Act now politically hanging over us in an imminent way, considering the forces of coercion from higher academia, from Hollywood, from just about every sector coming in on us, and understand that the pressure to pivot is going to just increase exponentially nearly with every passing hour or day or week or month.
And eventually every single Christian, every single Christian ministry, every Christian school organization, college, university, every denomination and congregation is going to have to make a decision about what we will do when that ultimate demand for a pivot point comes. We have to decide if we will pivot or not. And at this point, I simply want to quote scripture and a scripture that's familiar with you. As for me in my house, we will serve the Lord.
When it comes to Christian institutions, including institutions such as the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College, I think I can speak for it not only my own role as president, but for the board of trustees and behind that, the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention to say that if this is demanded of us, we will not pivot. We need to say that in advance. We need to mean it in advance. We need to understand that the demand for that pivot point will come. But I'll also say something else.
We're not going to surrender before the fight. We're going to see the fight through all the way to the end. And if at the end we have to leave the building to bats, we'll do that rather than to pivot away from clear biblical doctrine. For almost 30 years now in this role, I have said that out loud. I have said it in public. I've said it on the record, and I've said it with others of equal conviction and determination. And we need to say this out loud. We need to make this affirmation clear and public.
We need to be on the record before someone calls us to put us on the record. And if necessary, someday we might have to play this back for ourselves just to remind ourselves, this is the commitment. This is the truth. This is where we stand. This is decidedly where we will not and cannot pivot.
If You Control the Language, You Control the Culture: What the White House's New Vocabulary Tells Us about the Way a Revolution Works
But finally, on The Briefing today, I want to point to an article that appeared in The New York Times. It's by Michael D. Shear. And the headline is this, "'Alien' is out, and so is 'coal,' as Biden recast U.S. policies."
Now there's a lot of news here, but the most important issue I want us to look at is how language functions in the middle of all of this. Now, we looked at language as it functioned in the announcement that was made concerning Bethany Christian Services. But this particular article puts it in a political context with the Biden administration replacing the Trump administration, and with the Biden administration replacing much of the language of the Trump administration.
Now, for instance, we read this, "At the Department of Homeland Security, the phrase 'illegal alien' is being replaced with 'noncitizen.'" The Interior Department now makes sure that mentions of it stakeholders include "Tribal" people (that's with a capital "T" as preferred by Native Americans), we're told.
The most unpopular two words in the Trump lexicon "climate change," that's according to The New York Times, "are once again appearing on government websites and in documents; officials at the Environmental Protection Agency has even begun using the hashtag #climatecrisis on Twitter." But then here's the next paragraph. "And across the government, LGBTQ references are popping up everywhere. Visitors to the White House website are now asked whether they want to provide their pronouns when they fill out a contact form: she/her, he/him, or they/them."
Now here's what we need to note, that isn't even necessary. Personal pronouns are not necessary in leaving what's effectively an email at the White House, but this is an order to make a statement, and we need not to miss the statement. The New York Times didn't miss the statement. This is a front page article in the print edition. And the most important sentence was where I read "LGBTQ references are popping up everywhere."
Now, just to remember, last week on The Briefing, we discussed the fact that less than 6% of Americans identify as LGBTQ and that by national research that was released last week. But just consider that when you are looking at the fact that the White House is now driving an effort, such that references to LGBTQ pop up everywhere. What does that tell you? It tells you who's in control of this administration and what kind of message, what kind of signal they're trying to send. But for Christians, it means something else.
It means that we understand that language profoundly matters, at least a part of what it means to be human is to have the capacity of language. And we believe that is not unrelated to the image of God. We, as humans, are made in the image of God. God speaks to us. We pray to God. At least a part of what is required for human beings, according to God's plan, is the ability to communicate. Language then becomes very important. And if you control the language, you do to a considerable extent control the culture.
And that's what this is all about. The shift in language in an administration has happened before, but never on this scale. The New York Times writes, "But rarely has the contrast been quite so stark as it is between Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump. The rhetorical overhaul is underway in all corners of the government as executive orders are drafted, news releases are modified, scores of federal forms are tweaked, and online portals are revamped." And so in The Briefing today, I end where I began, oddly enough, with the dictionary.
I mentioned the dictionary definition of the word pivot both as a verb and as a noun. But now we come down to the fact that whoever does control the dictionary, controls the future. Whoever controls the dictionary, controls the language. You control the language, you control the meaning. You control even the possibility of expressing propositional statements and truth claims. You control the language that is used in the narratives, the stories told by a society.
You change the language in the portal, the White House, to enable persons to choose their own preferred personal pronouns. You're sending a very clear signal through the entire society. This article in The New York Times makes it very clear, it's not by accident. It's being driven by an agenda. Now, case-by-case, people of goodwill actually can argue about how certain words should be used, what kind of language is acceptable or unacceptable. But note, what we're really talking about here is not just that.
We're talking about an effort, a deliberate, strategic, comprehensive effort to try to change reality by changing the language. And the reality that, at least in part that makes the front page The New York Times, they are trying to change is the reality concerning human gender, sexuality, marriage, you can go down the entire list, LGBTQ with other letters soon to follow.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to 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 tomorrow for The Briefing.