The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

It’s Wednesday, April 14, 2021.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

The Constitutional Right of Religious Liberty Squares Off Against the Newly Invented “Rights” of the LGBTQ Revolution at the Supreme Court

We are in between times. Now that’s true in various ways, but in one specific way, we are right now in April 2021. In that in-between time between when the Supreme court of the United States here as oral arguments in a case and when it eventually hands down to decision, generally months later. The oral arguments in this case, and the decision to be expected, have to do with whether or not Catholic Charities in Philadelphia has a right to operate on the basis of Catholic conviction. The reality is that the case came to the Supreme Court, and we’ve talked about it when the oral arguments were held precisely because the city of Philadelphia has said that Catholic charities would have to surrender its Catholic convictions on issues of sex, gender, and marriage if it were to continue as a Catholic charity to participate in the city’s program of foster care and adoption.

We need to recognize that this case has importance far beyond Philadelphia and far beyond Catholic Charities, because both sides and our cultural controversy recognized that the Supreme Court is going to establish a very important precedent with this ruling. And it will come down to whether or not religious liberty is going to be respected when it comes to religious organizations operating on the basis of their religious conviction. But here’s where we also just need to pause for a moment and recognize that throughout most of American history, Catholic charities operating on the basis of a Catholic conviction was uncontroversial. Just about everyone in the society would have deferred to the right of a Catholic charity to operate as Catholic. The basic issue is religious liberty.

Now what has changed in our country that all of a sudden the situation as Catholic Charities in Philadelphia has gone from just about everyone in society recognizing the right of the charity to operate as a Catholic charity until now, when this is a very live issue before the Supreme court. And not only that, ii’s Catholic Charities that has lost in previous court cases and has now had to appeal to the nation’s highest court. How did we get here? The short answer is the LGBTQ revolution. And in the course of that revolution, in particular, the legalization of same-sex marriage, we all saw coming this inevitable collision. Now, in one sense, this collision didn’t wait until the Obergefell decision in 2015. It’s not brand new coming before the Supreme court in the year 2021.

It goes back years earlier to when the state of Massachusetts became the very first state in the United States to legalize same-sex marriage. And in so doing the state of Massachusetts made discrimination against same-sex couples, a reason for withdrawing any designation as a state recognized charity involved in foster care and in adoption. Therefore Catholic Charities in Massachusetts basically had to make a decision many years ago between maintaining its Catholic conviction and identity or continuing and adoption and foster care. And Catholic Charities decided it would keep the conviction and it would have to forego the adoption and foster care ministries. Children, we need to note, were the big losers. Here we also need to recognize that when we’re talking about Catholic charities in Boston or in Philadelphia, we’re talking about a religious ministry. And in legal terms, you could basically insert any Christian ministry or any religious organization into the same situation.

But you also notice something else. The LGBTQ revolutionaries are so intent upon transforming the entire society and bringing every dimension of the society into convergence with their moral agenda, that they are willing to make children go without the adoption and foster care ministries that organizations, Christian charities, Catholic charities had been providing. Or the requirement is, those organizations are going to have to get in line with the new morality of the LGBTQ revolution. Now there’s a lot to be considered here, for example, when you consider the plight of the Catholic charities in Philadelphia, that organization is not the only foster care and adoption agency in the city. You have others as well. For example, when you had the city of Philadelphia crack down, originally, Bethany Christian Services was identified as an evangelical ministry operating on evangelical biblical conviction, but it quickly folded there in Philadelphia deciding that it would continue the foster care and adoption work even if that meant forgoing the Christian convictions concerning sex and gender and marriage.

As we have seen more recently, that organization has decided basically to surrender to the revolutionaries even nationwide, not just there in Philadelphia. But in this very interesting in-between time, it is extremely interesting to listen to the national conversation. One way to do that, even before the Supreme Court hands down its ruling is to look at the conversation in the media. For example, an article that appeared just in recent days at the Los Angeles Times by David Savage, the headline, “Supreme court conservatives may reset balance between LGBTQ rights and religious liberty.” Very interesting headline. We are told that the new dominant majority of conservatives on the Supreme court bolstered by the addition of Justice Amy Coney Barrett late last year might, and hear are the headline words, reset balance between LGBTQ rights and religious liberty. Reset the balance? What would that balance be?

Furthermore, if you’re going to use the language of balance, how could you possibly achieve what you would consider to be a balance? One other things we are noting here is that you have an established fundamental right of religious liberty mentioned in the first amendment to the United States constitution. And you have the new leaf synthetic and artificial right of same-sex marriage and all that goes with it. And you’ll notice that the moral revolutionaries consider that it is the new artificial right that actually has to take superiority and trump the established constitutional right of religious liberty. But Savage begins with these words, “The Supreme Court is set to decide soon whether conservative Christians have a constitutional right to refuse to work with same-sex couples while participating in a city-funded foster care program that forbids such discrimination.”

Now that’s not an inaccurate lede to the article because those are the issues that are at stake, but you’ll notice that the assumption in this lead is that when you have a city funded foster care program forbidding discrimination, even using the term discrimination is considered to be the rightful balance. That’s considered to be the policy as it should be. And you’re told that it is conservative Christians that have taken this issue to court. Conservative Christians? Very, very interesting. Usually when you see the phrase “Conservative Christians” used in a context like this, it’s pointing to evangelical Christians. That’s the issue. But in this case, yes, evangelical Christians have a lot at stake in this decision. But it’s not an evangelical Christian ministry that’s actually a party to this case. It is the Catholic Charities there in the city of Philadelphia.

But here’s where you notice something interesting also. When you look at the national media, and we’re talking about a generally very secular and increasingly very liberal media, one of the interesting things is that the media rarely will take on the Roman Catholic Church head on. Instead, it’s usually by some other means, talking about conservatives in the Catholic church, you have groups that identify, those that supposedly hold to an extremist position when it comes to biblical standards of sexuality. And that’s the rhetoric, propaganda language that is used. You’ll notice they generally do not use that language when they’re addressing or describing the Roman Catholic Church, which according to its own official teaching, is in a very clear position, identifying same-sex orientation and behavior as intrinsically disordered. This is a Catholic Charity at the center of this story. But you’ll notice that in the lede, “Catholic Charity” is taken out, “conservative Christians” is put in. Itself quite interesting.

The story goes on to tell us, “It is the latest and possibly most significant culture wars clash between the first amendment right to the free exercise of religion, which has been bolstered of late by the court’s conservatives, and the right-to-marriage-equality that was upheld in a five-four liberal decision in 2015.” Now, I want to give credit to this writer and to the Los Angeles Times for that paragraph, because it does make very clear that religious liberty is indeed in the first amendment to the U. S. Constitution. And the language is very clear, the first amendment, right to the free exercise of religion. The article also, in this paragraph, points to the fact that the so-called right to marriage equality was indeed upheld by a five-four liberal decision of the Supreme Court in 2015. I’ll give them credit for accuracy in that paragraph. But as this article makes clear, the reason will issue is whether or not you will have an understanding of a respect for, and an exemption for the religious organizations operating on the basis of religious conviction when it comes to this program.

Now, let me also back up and say, we are talking about government money and government programs when it comes to foster care and adoption. This is another major footnote. When you look at most of the adoption and foster care ministries in the United States, they were begun, no surprise here, by religious organizations. The vast majority were established either by Catholic or historic Protestant and evangelical charities operating on the basis of their own conviction. And caring of course, for children as a part of our spiritual responsibility. But the entire arena of foster care and adoption has been to use the sociological term rationalized. It has been largely overtaken by government and a regime of professionals. But here’s what you need to note. The government cannot adequately care for these children directly. The government has to turn to partners. And the available partners in so many cases. And furthermore, in so many locations across the United States right now are overwhelmingly religious charities operating on the basis of religious conviction.

We really are talking about the reversal of a very long historic pattern in the United States. At one point in the article, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, David Cole, said this, “This claim”–that is the claim of Catholic Charities–“is more extreme than in Masterpiece Cake Shop.” You may remember that was the case that came before the Supreme Court when an evangelical Christian baker had been told by authorities in Colorado that he was going to face what amounted to criminal sanctions for saying that he could not in good conscience, create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. It was a narrow ruling on behalf of the cake baker. But going back to this article, we’re told that this case is more extreme, that’s to use the language of the ACLU, than Masterpiece Cake Shop.

There, the baker argued that he could not be compelled to make a cake to celebrate a gay couples wedding. Here by contrast, said ACLU lawyer David Cole, “Catholic Social Services is not compelled to do anything. They argue that they have a constitutional right to get millions of dollars from the city to perform a government function, but to do so while violating the terms of the contract.” Now there’s a lot behind that. But one of the most important things we need to recognize is that the care of children here is defined as a government function. That was not a decision made by religious charities. That was a decision made by the government. But it is a service the government cannot itself deliver. It has to have partners. And in most places, as I have said, those partners are going to be overwhelmingly religious in origin and in conviction. It is actually the ACLU that is here proposing the extreme position.

And it will be at the cost of services to the very children that the government says it is seeking to serve. Mary Baunato, she is a Boston based lawyer who had been very important in the fight for same-sex marriage in Massachusetts and nationwide. She said that she would be alarmed by a broad ruling, this according to the Times, that endorses a right to discriminate based on religion. So again, look at the word, discriminate. That’s the charge here. She said, “If the court were to allow exemptions from laws that are supposed to apply to everyone, and for the benefit of everyone in accessing goods and services, then there will be more discrimination against many people.” She went on to say, “There is a real danger of widespread refusals that goes back to treating LGBTQ people and couples as second class.”

So that’s where you see the logic. That’s the logic of the LGBTQ revolution. If you do allow Catholic Social Services in Philadelphia to operate in Catholic conviction, it will be a dignitary harm to LGBTQ couples. That’s the argument being made. All of this was clarified at the oral arguments for this case when justice Samuel Alito got to the bottom line and said this: “Look, if we are honest about what’s really going on here, it’s not about ensuring that same sex couples in Philadelphia have the opportunity to be foster parents. It’s the fact that the city can’t stand the message that Catholic Social Services and the Archdiocese are sending by continuing to adhere to the old fashioned view about marriage.” That is profoundly right. It was prophetically right. It is importantly right.

So interesting right now in this in-between times to listen to the national conversation. But of course, everyone is now waiting, and waiting with very eager anticipation, the eventual ruling by the Supreme Court, which is expected now in a matter of weeks. But we don’t have to wait for that decision to understand just how much is at stake, that much we know now.

Part II

A Shocking Reality Worth Grieving and the Tragic Results of Releasing a New Technology Upon a Society Redefining Marriage and Sexuality

But next, are we going to look at another development itself extremely interesting, tragic, no doubt, but incredibly revealing about the moral confusions of our age. And also the inevitability of many huge moral questions once you unleash technologies. In the case of our concern right now, modern reproductive technologies for human beings. Ginnie Gross and Maria Cramer, reporting for the New York Times, offer an article with this headline, “Latest Issue in Divorces: Who gets the Embryos?”

It turns out to be a really big issue. Divorce of course, is itself for Christians, on biblical terms, a very big issue. And of course, when you’re looking at divorce, you’re looking at a settlement. You’re looking at a division, a separation, not only your spouses, but a division of whatever it is that they own, this marital property. And now we are being told that one of the hottest issues on the front line of this settlement is the disposition of frozen human embryos. The article begins, “When Peter Golden, a 44-year-old communications director and his husband decided to start a family through in-vitro fertilization, they faced mountains of paperwork at the fertility clinic.” The article goes on asking the question, “What should happen to any remaining embryos if one partner dies or becomes mentally incapacitated, who would decide whether remaining embryos should be donated or destroyed, who would determine the disposition of remaining embryos in the case of divorce or separation?”

We are told that this couple, this is a same sex couple, two men, had used IVF or in-vitro fertilization technology in order to have a child in this case, a daughter. Now just pause for a moment. This is where Christians have to stop and say, “Wait, just a minute, we’re talking about two men. There is no authentic sense in which they can actually have a baby. There’s no biological process by which two men can have a baby. There’s actually no biological process by which a baby can come about without both the man’s contribution and the woman’s contribution in the egg and the woman’s womb. There is no technology that allows for that. There is no moral sense in saying that two men can have a baby.”

Except, we are claiming now as human beings with the advent of modern reproductive technologies and what amounts to a wild, wild West of a free market and human gametes, including sperm and egg, and with surrogate pregnancy and surrogate motherhood now being legal in the United States and most jurisdictions. We’re talking about the fact that you have people in this case, two men, who are claiming to be married and are also claiming to have had a baby. You’ll notice the New York Times over all of this as if that’s just in the background. But of course, for Christians, it’s never merely in the background. We’re talking here about a major redefinition of what it means for human beings to be related to one another and a major redefinition of what it means for human beings to have a baby. Christians understand that that is stupendous and its ramifications.

But in this case, the same sex couple divorced according to the law and in the divorce, the embryos that became a part of the contested settlement. It turns out that one of the men had signed a release saying that custody would go to the other man in the case of divorce. But once the divorce actually happened, it was contested after all. You have a statement being made by one of these men, “Nobody gets married with the intention of getting divorced, but it happens. And it happens all the time.” And indeed the advent of easy divorce is a facilitating event in the moral revolution. Just to put it bluntly and very quickly, you could not have the development or acceptance of same-sex marriage before you had the weakening of heterosexual marriage by the advent of easy divorce. And then you also have the article going on and saying, “In recent years, with the use of artificial reproductive technologies on the rise, more couples have been confronting the even stickier question of what to do with frozen embryos.”

The article in the New York Times goes on to cite some rather famous cases of these contested divorces. But the point for Christians is to understand that there’s no right answer for Christians once you pass a certain barrier. That is to say, when you’re looking at a contested issue like this, Christians understand the problem is prior to the settlement of a divorce. The problem is in claiming that two men can be married. The problem is in separating sex and reproduction. The problem is in separating human reproduction from the only context in which it naturally occurs, the context of marriage between a man and a woman. Once you break that picture into pieces, there’s absolutely no way to try to stitch it back together on the other side.

In this case, when you’re looking at a same-sex couple, getting a divorce, we believe that that is a legal fiction based upon the legal fiction that they were married in the first place. We do not contest, we do understand that the government around us defines marriage in those terms, but we cannot accept that those terms are right. One other issue that isn’t treated as if it has any moral significance whatsoever is the fact that in this article, the times cites authorities indicating that at present in the United States, there are 1 million to 1.3 million frozen humans embryos in storage. That’s up from about 500 to 600,000, just a decade ago. Here’s where Christians grieve the knowledge that told here, that there are approximately one to 1.3 million frozen human beings in the embryonic stage, somewhere in the United States, contested as property held in a frozen state of suspension, and eventually likely to be destroyed.

What does that say about how we as a society value human life? It tells us that at least at the microscopic embryonic stage, we don’t take it very seriously at all. And this is where Christians understand. If we do not understand the dignity and sanctity of life at the stage of the embryo, then it is discounted at every point thereafter. And when we say every point thereafter, we mean just that. At every point thereafter. Human dignity for every human life is subverted if human dignity is denied for any human life, even human life that we cannot yet see with the naked human eye.

Part III

Living in a Society at War: Why Christians Must Declare the Christian Truth about the Value of Human Life

As we come to an end for The Briefing today, we just need to recognize with very somber hearts, the reality that we are in a society that is at war with the most basic principles of human rights and human dignity, even with reality itself. We are surrounded by a civilization trying to convince itself that two men can have a baby, trying to convince itself that newly devised artificial rights, actually now trump established rights, such as religious liberty. We are looking at the fact that conservative Christians are here described as extremists. And those who affirm the moral revolution are just now considered as normal.

If nothing else, what this means for Christians is that we’ve got to do a lot of truth-telling to the world, yes, but also to ourselves. That truth telling has to begin in our own homes and in our own churches if we’re going to be taken seriously anywhere else.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’m speaking to you from Indianapolis, Indiana, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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