Thursday, April 8, 2021
It's Thursday, April 8, 2021.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Arkansas Is Currently Ground Zero for the Moral Revolution: Christians Must Speak with Clarity on What is at Stake (Even If No One Else Will)
Ground zero in the moral revolution right now is the state of Arkansas. As you look at the major media just about every major media source has a headline story on Arkansas, generally decrying the state of Arkansas for the fact that the state legislature overrode a veto from Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and put into place legal restrictions on so-called medical treatment for transgender youth, adolescents, and children.
Samantha Schmidt reporting for the Washington Post put the story this way, "Arkansas state legislators voted Tuesday to pass the nation's first law banning gender-affirming medical treatments for transgender minors, overriding a veto from their governor and intense opposition from major medical organizations across the country." Now, one of the reasons on this program I go to a media statement like that to understand what we're really facing is because in almost every one of these cases we're looking at two realities. The reality on the ground, what's actually happening, but the second level is the analysis or how this is framed or presented to the public.
Looking at this Washington Post story, just look at the language, "gender-affirming medical treatments." Gender-affirming. You'll notice that that is itself a very calculated rhetorical strategy. By saying gender-affirming you're saying that the surgery is affirming the gender, but how does that happen? Well, you're talking here about the ideology of the transgender revolution that claims that there is a distinction between biological sex and gender identity. And one of the things to note is that even as that distinction is deeply problematic from any biblical worldview, the implication of this, indeed the moral imperative of the revolutionaries is that the gender identity is actually more important than the biological reality. So much so that when you're talking about a surgery which is at least presented as changing the gender identity of a person in a physical form, you have the phrase here, gender-affirming.
Now, that itself represents a transformation because just a matter of a very short time ago this was described as gender or sex reassignment surgery. Now, that's a language that if anything is at least a bit more honest and that's one of the reasons why it is now been largely repudiated because it points to the fact that you are talking about what's claimed to be a sex reassignment. But of course the ideology of the transgender revolution is that personal identity trumps even biology, even a genetic structure. As we often say, it is the claim now that personal autonomy trumps ontology which is actually being, matter, DNA, the structure, actual reality in flesh and blood.
But that statement was not just that Arkansas has passed the nation's first law banning gender-affirming medical treatments but it is banning those described as gender-affirming medical treatments for transgender minors, that is, those who are under age 18 who identify as transgender. But you'll notice here that identity is now positive, it's just stated as a moral fact. But we need to understand as Christians this is not a moral fact, which is to say that we actually do not believe based on a biblical worldview that there are transgender individuals.
There are people who identify as transgender, yes, there are people who present themselves as transgender, yes, but we operating on a biblical worldview actually believe that being as a part of God's good gift to us in creation determines our identity, to the extent that we understand there are people who are confused about their gender identity. We understand that we're living in a societal moment that is very confused and every culture represents sin in some way, distorting the goodness of God in creation. But nonetheless what we're looking at now is the fact that Christians may be the last people on earth who simply cannot accept the fact that there is a genuine identity as in identity politics, the modern structure of personal identity and autonomy that can rightly be described as a transgender individual, much less a transgender minor.
But the moral outrage in this story is about the state of Arkansas through its state legislature putting this into law even as we said, overriding a veto, a rather surprising veto in the political context from the Republican Governor of Arkansas Asa Hutchinson. Hutchinson had vetoed the bill saying that it represented a "vast government overreach." He encouraged the legislators to take a more restricted approach. As the Post said, "He said that if signed into law the bill would interfere with physicians and parents 'as they deal with some of the most complex and sensitive matters involving young people.'"
Well, here's a news alert to the governor, that's the intention of the bill. That's not a side effect of the bill, that's the very legislative intention. That is to say that it puts the State of Arkansas in the position of saying, "We are not going to recognize this ideology in the laws and in the government reach and practices of the State of Arkansas." Something else to note is that the vote in Arkansas wasn't close. The legislators voted 25 to 8 in the Arkansas Senate and 71 to 24 in the Arkansas State House to override the governor's veto. Again, 25 to 8, 71 to 24, that's just overwhelming.
Now, as you're thinking about the moral reality we now face in this country consider again just how geographical it is. We're talking about the state of Arkansas. Just compare, for example, if this were to imagined as the state of Oregon, it would not be the same imagination. In the state of Oregon this kind of bill would not be politically plausible, not to mention when you're looking at votes like 25 to 8 and 71 to 24, geography still matters in this country. And that's because as we often mentioned on The Briefing, the closer you get to a coast, the closer you get to a city, the closer you get to an academic campus, the more liberal the culture becomes.
Now, a part of that is just the reality of a more secularized culture. And to put the matter bluntly, the culture in Oregon is far more secularized than the culture in Arkansas. There is still in the culture of the state of Arkansas a deep biblical instinct that is traced to biblical Christianity. And of course the biblical worldview begins with the fact that gender, our assignment as male and female by the creator is a part of the goodness of God's creation, that language by the way drawn from the Baptist faith and message, that is the confession of faith of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Once again moral conservatives in the United States have faced the reality that elected supposedly conservative Republican governors have backtracked on legislation that they would have been expected by their own population to sign, including some of their closest political allies. Kristi Noem in the state of South Dakota vetoed in what was called a style and form veto, a law that would have made very clear that biological males cannot play on sports teams against biological females facing intense controversy. She later tried to at least respond by issuing an executive order, but that executive order is temporary and she's very much on the line. Now, as the voters of South Dakota are going to be watching to see if she will actually support legislation that will fulfill the state's intended purpose.
But now it's Asa Hutchinson in the state of Arkansas and once again conservatives in this state are extremely disappointed, and once again there is some degree of shock and surprise. But before leaving this issue Christians need to understand what we're really looking at here, and that's something that you're not going to be getting from the national press. Let's understand what is really classified as medical treatments that supposedly are gender-affirming.
Now, it doesn't include just surgery. As a matter of fact Governor Hutchinson pointed out that gender reassignment or gender-affirming surgery, that's the language that's used, it's not the right language but that's the language that is now used, those surgeries are now not undertaken when it comes to minors in the State of Arkansas, that in itself is good news. But puberty-blocking hormone therapies are used in the state of Arkansas with young people in the state. Let's just point out that puberty-blocking drugs really aren't a matter for people who are not young people and teenagers in the state.
But we need to face at least the moral reality of what's happening in those so-called treatments. The natural, normal process that a young person undergoes in puberty is blocked, it is stopped. The entire process is effectively put on hold. Now, one of the things we need to recognize this is something that many Christians don't think about but this is actually very important to the Christian worldview. When you're considering the morality of medical treatments, one of the moral issues that comes to fore is the question as to whether or not a medical treatment would attempt to align with a natural process or to deny or to delay or to block a natural process.
The Christian worldview assumption is that as a natural process is put into place by God as a part of what He means for human beings to grow, and for that matter to function well, then something that would interfere with that rightful functioning would itself be morally suspect. Perhaps I can put it this way. If someone has an injury to an arm there is every moral reason to repair that arm. There's every moral reason to justify medical treatment that would restore the natural functioning of the arm. But if there were some kind of treatment that was intended to disarm or to disable a healthy appendage such as an arm, that would itself be morally suspect and I think we all understand that.
And that's as you're looking at medical treatments in a Christian worldview perspective, treatments are rightful in their proper context if they are undertaken to restore, to heal, to preserve, to enhance when it comes to physical ability and natural processes in God's design. It is and always has been morally suspect to do anything that could be described as a harm that's even in the ancient Hippocratic oath, even in ancient Greece they understood that. That's been foundational to the medical worldview and an understanding of medical ethics.
But when you're talking about puberty-blocking drugs you are talking about the use of hormone therapies and think about just how powerful those therapies have to be to interfere with the normal process of puberty. And that is intended so that the person who is taking the puberty-blocking hormone therapies will not continue along the path that is actually encoded in the DNA that would turn a boy into a man or would turn a girl into a woman and that means the development of both primary and secondary sexual characteristics.
This is tough material for us to talk about but it is after all exactly what is germane to the consideration of the controversy in Arkansas and it is something that is now unavoidable in terms of the Christian conscience. And we do find ourselves standing in an awkward position saying to the world we actually do not believe that a male can become a female or a female can become a male. We actually don't believe that someone who is born biologically male can be a girl or can be a woman and vice versa, we just don't believe that.
We've been saying for a very long time that when you look at the LGBTQ+ continuum, the "T" is the one that stands out as the most glaring refutation of creation order. It's not alone of course. When you consider same-sex sexual attraction and same-sex relationships and behaviors just think of a text like Romans chapter one that makes very clear that a woman with a woman or a man with a man is representing a defiance of creation that which is against nature, says the Apostle Paul. At the individual level what is the Christian response? It has to be a response of compassion, compassion to those who are struggling with these kinds of identity issues. There is also a sense of indignation at a culture that is now foisting these questions, the very basic questions of human identity upon not only citizens who are adults but teenagers, adolescents, and even young children.
Just consider the fact that we are living in an age and not just that, and it's a very, very thin slice of human history, paper-thin over against the expanse of human history in which boys and girls are supposedly to be asked how they identify and what they would choose as their personal pronouns. A part of the security that God intended for human beings is not having to ask that question. That's another part of the moral logic of our day we need to consider. If the logic is, this is a question that some people should consider and answer on their own terms, then you have to universalize that and say then it evidently is a question that all people are at least to ask and at least to consider on these moral terms.
But before leaving this just consider the fact that you're going to be looking at coast to coast, a level of opposition and indignation and moral horror that's going to be addressed to Arkansas, and especially now the Arkansas state legislature. But one thing to note is that the people who are largely going to be bringing that outrage and they are representing the outrage of the moral revolutionaries, they do not want to speak honestly of what is actually at stake. That's very foundational to biblical Christianity, we have to call a thing by what it is and use the language that is right and using that language is itself very clarifying.
The Leader of Britain’s Labour Party Apologizes for Attending a Christian Church that Believes in Christian Morality: Why Is the World Shocked When Christian Churches Adhere to Christian Doctrine?
But next the scene shifts to Great Britain where the leader of the main opposition party in parliament found himself in hot water for having attended an evangelical church that holds to biblical teachings on human sexuality, marriage, and gender. He found himself on Good Friday at the church, not only visiting on Good Friday but making a video congratulating the church known as Jesus House for its philanthropic work, including a food bank in the community.
But almost immediately, LGBTQ activists and others, especially within his own party, the Labour Party, responded with outrage that he had attended the church and he had to posted the tweet and he had put up the video in which he seemed to align himself with even the slightest amount of appreciation with a church that holds to abhorrent doctrine. That is, that doctrine which represents classical Christianity. Jesus House is itself an interesting congregation, charismatic, Pentecostal. Like so many of the large congregations there in London these days it has its roots in Africa and it is one of those churches that draws a large number of immigrants to its congregational meetings.
On Good Friday it was a political act when the leader of the Labour Party went to the church and expressed appreciation and posted the video. It was certainly a political act when he took the tweet down and then apologized for it. Kevin Rawlinson reporting for The Guardian, a London newspaper, introduces the story this way, "The Labour leader Keir Starmer has apologized for visiting a North London church that has faced criticism for homophobia." Now, there again watch the language. This is a church that has faced criticism for homophobia. That was a deliberate effort that is traced back to the 1970s, an effort to try to remove legitimacy from any moral judgment against homosexuality by stating that it's not really based in reality, it is just based in fear, phobia, as in arachnephobia, the fear of spiders. Homophobia, the supposed fear of homosexuality or homosexual persons.
But of course we're looking here at what is actually just classical Christian doctrine when it comes to the definition of marriage, the understanding of male and female and sexual morality as revealed in scripture. And what we're looking at here is very interesting. It's one of those hinge moments when you're going to be able to look back in time to come and say, "Oh, that's when the British Labour leader had to apologize for even attending an evangelical church because it holds to evangelical doctrine."
Now, to be honest, I am not charismatic or Pentecostal and I would likely have many areas of theological disagreement with Jesus House, but where we would be in agreement is over the plain teachings of scripture concerning what it means to be male, what it means to be female, what it means to be human beings made in God's image, what it means on the basis of scripture to understand marriage and the rightful expression of sexual behavior amongst human beings only within marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
In light of the controversy about his visit Keir Starmer tweeted, "I completely disagree with Jesus House's beliefs on LGBTQ+ rights, which I was not aware of before my visit. I apologize for the hurt my visit caused and I've taken down the video. It was a mistake and I accept that." Now again, notice he's apologizing for hurt for going to a Good Friday observance at a church in his own constituency in order to thank that church not for its theological positions, not for its moral positions when it comes any number of issues, but rather to its helpfulness in the community as a vaccination site and offering a food bank.
But now we've reached the point in British politics where the leader of the Labour Party can't even go to a church and thank that church for doing good works in the community because this church is now toxic, that's the point. The church is now so toxic that the leader of the Labour Party has had to apologize for ever having had the stupid thought that you ought to thank the church publicly for its good work.
But tellingly, this isn't the first time that the leader of a major political party in Great Britain has found himself in controversy over this question. Back in 2017, Tim Farron, who was the head of the Liberal Democratic Party, that's what remains of Britain's old liberal party as it was known, he found himself in the position of being accused of belonging to an evangelical church that might hold to a biblical understanding of human sexuality and thus he was asked in public if he believed that homosexuality is a sin. His answer was not convincing.
He went on to say that he did not believe that homosexuality was a sin but he was actually attacked and eventually had to resign his position because the church with which he was associated at least included some people who did believe that homosexuality is a sin and his denunciation of that was actually traced back to the fact that he had to be asked the question according to the revolutionaries and that might mean that he really did not sincerely believe such. He eventually in a matter of weeks had to resign as the head of the Liberal Party, making the statement that he basically had to choose between some understanding of evangelical identity and the political responsibility of leading a party in Great Britain.
By the way as we're looking at Great Britain understand that all three of the major parties, or really two major parties, when you think about the Conservative Party, it's not all that conservative on moral issues anymore. You think about the Labour Party, for most of its history basically a socialist party it's far on the left. That's the party of Keir Starmer. The Liberal Democratic Party, well, the liberals were very much one of the two big parties in the beginning of the 20th century but they shrank to almost nothing of great political significance by the end of the 20th century.
But we also have to understand that we are witnessing the shrinking of political leadership on both sides of the Atlantic in Arkansas and in London. Where are those politicians who are willing to say, "I believe this is the truth?" Where are those politicians who are willing to say, "I believe that this is what is actually right and good?" You simply don't have much of that courage to pass around these days.
On this issue I appreciate the point made by Brendan O'Neill in The Spectator, also published in the United Kingdom. He wrote this, "The Christians at Jesus House are guilty of nothing more than holding traditional Christian beliefs. Just look at the coverage of this daft controversy," he says. He points to The Guardian's headline. O'Neil said that the basic offense is that the headline should be written, "Starmer Criticized for Visiting a Christian Church that Adheres to Christian Doctrine." But that's the point, isn't it? Christian churches now find themselves facing opposition and for that matter marginalization because of the shock of people who discover that Christian churches hold the Christian doctrine. Of course we still have to hold out the hope the Christian churches will hold to Christian doctrine, that's called Christianity.
Is Complementarianism a First, Second, or Third Order Doctrine? An Unavoidable Issue, Current Confusion, and Respectful Christian Disagreement
But finally, today I have to turn to theological controversy within my own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention. It began yesterday on social media in the most immediate sense, but by late yesterday Religion News Service had run an article with a headline Beth Moore Apologizes for Supporting Complementarian Theology that Limits Women Leaders. The RNS story says, "For some evangelicals, complementarianism is a line in the sand. Those who questioned it are seen as undermining belief in the Bible. Moore," that means Beth Moore, "said that it was wrong."
She tweeted these words. "Let me be blunt. When you functionally treat complementarianism, a doctrine of MAN," that's man capitalized, M-A-N, "as if it belongs among the matters of 1st importance, yea, as a litmus test for where one stands on inerrancy & authority of Scripture, you are the ones who have misused Scripture. You went too far." She went on to say, and I quote, "I beg your forgiveness where I was complicit. I could not see it." I assume that means complementarianism, "For what it was until 2016. I plead your forgiveness for how I just submitted to it and supported it and taught it."
Complementarianism is the affirmation of biblical doctrine that there are distinct roles for men and women both in the home and in the church. It's impossible to summarize all the issues on the program today but they are fairly well understood. To be honest, you're looking at the fact that the role of the teaching office in the church is restricted to men as qualified by Scripture. You're looking at the fact that that basic distinction between men and women is understood not just to be a matter of cultural construction but as a matter of biblical teaching.
In the words that she tweeted yesterday, she said she wanted to be blunt and again she said, "When you functionally treat complementarianism," she calls it a doctrine of man. But by the way, that could be said of just about any doctrine in one sense because when you're talking about the name of a doctrine say just the word Trinity, it is the doctrine most central and essential to Christianity but the word Trinity isn't found in the Bible but the truth of the Trinity certainly is. And not only is it found there it is the central foundational truth of biblical Christianity. But she went on to say, "As if it belongs among matters of first importance."
Well, I've given about as much attention to these issues as I know how as a theologian. I offered the article calling for theological triage, that meant a responsible biblical way of weighing theological issues and biblical doctrines understanding which are of first importance. That means if you don't believe these you are not a Christian. Those of second importance, which says there may be people who disagree about this and are Christians but these issues are important enough that they define our congregation and our denomination. An example of that would be the mode and method of baptism.
The third level issues are those in which there can be disagreement without threatening the unity or the faithfulness, the theological integrity of the church. There are third order issues, there are first order issues, there are second order issues. Complementarianism, that is the rightful ordering of the church and the home according to the roles for men and women is not a first order issue. I don't know of any responsible theologian who has ever claimed it is a first order issue. It's a second order issue. That is to say it is not a doctrine that has to be affirmed for one to come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not a doctrine absolutely essential throughout the history of the Christian Church to defining where you have the true church and where you find the false church.
But it is a second order issue, it's constitutive of the development of a congregation. A congregation is going to decide how it understands the respective roles of men and women, whether it believes that there is a biblical pattern which has to be obeyed or whether these matters are up for negotiation. But it's not just congregations that have to make this decision, it's denominations as well or associations of churches. Because those churches are actually making the decision and this is why you have denominations. Denominations exist not because biblically orthodox Presbyterians and biblically orthodox Baptists anathematized each other as not being Christians but because we actually have Presbyterian churches and Baptist churches.
Presbyterians in Presbyterian churches exercise their understanding of Presbyterian doctrine. Baptists in Baptist churches do the same. The Southern Baptist Convention in affirming complementarianism most formally in the Baptist faith and message in the year 2000 did not invent a new doctrine. The Religion News Service article cites Beth Allison Barr at Baylor University and the author of a soon-to-be-released book The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth, she says that "Beth Moore has just declared the beginning of the end of complementarianism." I don't think so.
Meanwhile, Kristin Du Mez, a professor at Calvin University and author of the book Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation, went on to say, "All the packaging that comes with it," that means complementarianism, "what it means to be a man, what it means to be a woman, that's a historical and cultural creation even as it's packaged and sold as timeless, inerrant and biblical." Let me be clear, there is always the danger that any church on any issue is teaching what is culturally created not which is biblically mandated. The answer to that is going to Scripture and then dealing with the Scripture honestly.
And here Beth Moore complains that treating complementarianism as an essential issue, for example, for participation in the Southern Baptist Convention or for, say, teaching on the faculty of a Southern Baptist seminary, it is she says, "A wrongful imposition of this doctrinal position." But here we have to note that even as she dismisses it as a doctrine of man this has been the general understanding, nearly universal in the Christian Church in all of its manifestations for more than 2000 years.
Complementarianism in its essence of seeking to obey the biblical teachings concerning the distinct roles for men and women in the home and in the church is not a modern invention. It is egalitarianism in the church, and especially within Protestant Christianity that is the innovation. Complementarianism biblically-defined is, I believe, the teaching of the Christian Church. I believe more importantly it is the teaching of scripture. It is the official confession of the Southern Baptist Convention in our own confession of faith. It's required of all those who had teach at any one of the six seminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention. It is not my ambition nor my intention to personalize any of these arguments but this is how the issue has been presented to us just in the course of the last several hours.
When there is a disagreement like this Christians need to respond with respectful disagreement. But respectful disagreement does not mean that the importance of the issue is undermined or denied. It is not a personal attack to respond to an argument by saying, "I believe this argument is wrong," but it will eventually be up to Southern Baptist to decide that issue if they want to decide it differently than they did in revising the confession of faith in the year 2000. But again, what they did in the year 2000 was basically to align the Southern Baptist Convention very clearly with the practice and teaching that was already overwhelmingly affirmed, and had been, no pun here, for about 2000 years already.
One of the hardest things for Christians is to understand that at times we are called to respectful disagreement. But that means two things, both respect and disagreement.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can find 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.