Monday, May 10, 2021
It's Monday, May 10, 2021.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Martin Luther Wouldn’t Recognize the Evangelical Lutheran Church Today: Lutherans Elect First Transgender Bishop in United States
Sometimes major theological and moral change takes a very long time to unfold, sometimes you're looking at centuries. And other times it seems like the change takes place very fast. More recently, we've seen a lot of very fast, particularly in what remains of the mainline Protestant denominations. Long ago compromised by theological liberalism, they've been hemorrhaging members now for a matter of decades, they were once known as the mainline Protestant denominations because in the United States, they fulfilled a main line or mainstream purpose, not so much anymore. But still, it is fascinating to look at the unfolding parable of liberal Protestantism.
And right on time, yesterday came news that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has the nation's first openly transgender bishop. Let's look for just a moment at the dates that are significant here. First of all, we're talking about the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. What is it? Well, I'm just going to state very openly, it is not by any kind of theological definition evangelical. Evangelical in the name of the ELCA refers to its historic designation as a church out of the Lutheran reformation. But this particular denomination, as I say, goes back to 1988. The Lutheran reformation goes back of course, to the 16th century.
But in 1988, you had three liberal Lutheran denominations in the United States that came together and formed what is now known as the ELCA, and has according to its own count about 3.3 million members. The denomination has something just short of 9,000 congregations. And now you're looking at the fact that it has made headline news yet once again for electing the first openly transgender bishop of any church in the United States. Quite a milestone to be sure, but a few other dates are also very important.
The ELCA and its precursor denominations have really ordained women to the ministry for about a half century. That half century mark was last year, you're going back to about 1970. So you're looking at the fact that Lutheranism began in the 16th century. The Christian Church began in the first century. All the way through the history of Christianity, through the 16th century, and all the way from the reformation in the 16th century to about 1970, or 70% into the 20th century, you do not have ordained Lutheran women as pastors, but all that changed about 50 years ago. But it didn't take long for the next shoes to drop.
That was the ordination of women, about 1970. But then by the time you get to the year 2009, the denomination is allowing the ordination and service in ministry of openly partnered LGBTQ clergy. In 2013, the ELCA announced his first openly gay bishop. So again, you're looking at 1970, and then fast forward 2009, and then 2013. And here we are 2021, all the way in just the period from 2013 to 2021 from the first openly gay bishop of the ELCA to the first openly transgender bishop. You suspect there's a story here. Oh, I assure you there is.
Yesterday Paul O'Donnell of Religion News Service reported, "The Reverend Megan Rohrer was elected bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's Sierra Pacific Senate on Saturday, becoming the first transgender person to serve as bishop in the denomination or in any of the US's major Christian faiths." The story goes on, "Rohrer, Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in San Francisco and Community Chaplain Coordinator for the San Francisco Police Department, was the first transgender person to be ordained in the ELCA in 2006. And the first to serve as a pastor when called to Grace Lutheran in 2014." There's more, "Well known for advocating for LGBTQ rights in street activism, preaching, and writing, Rohrer, 41, who uses the pronouns they and them is also recognized for their work with the homeless."
So before you even think about the first openly transgender bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, just consider what amounts to verbicide here, that is the killing of the English language by the use of the plural pronouns for an individual. And this is just a linguistic way of trying to drive this new moral revolution deeply into the civilization by driving it deeply into the language, even if that means the basic ruin of the language. Because if we cannot tell the distinction between plural and singular pronouns, well, we lose track of the entire language, but maybe that's the point.
The new bishop declared, "It's an honor to be called to serve the Sierra Pacific Senate during this time when some imagine trans people at their worst, Lutherans have once again declared that transgender people are beautiful children of God. Thank you to everyone who's been praying for me and my family as I accept this call." The reports explained that the new bishop had attended the Lutheran Augustana University that was not so friendly to the LGBTQ identity, according to the new bishop, but later, the future bishop moved to San Francisco to attend a seminary there, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, but then transferred to an institution identified specifically as, "the LGBTQ-friendly Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley."
Rohrer's ordination was officially accepted by the church in the year 2010. San Francisco, by the way, has declared a day, specifically August the 12th, as Pastor Megan Rohrer Day. I guess I'll have to update that to Bishop Megan Rohrer Day. The gender confusion that is deliberately driven through this story was made very clear in an article published at Crosscurrents for the radio station, KALW there in California. The then pastor said, "You can kind of tell from 20 feet away that I'm gender queer, trans, or a big diesel dyke, which isn't how I identify, but it's how I look from the outside."
The RNS story, by the way, also noted, "While gay bishops have served in mainline Protestant denominations since Bishop Jean Robinson was named a bishop in the Episcopal Diocese in New Hampshire in 2003, transgender priests and ministers are only slowly finding acceptance." The article goes on, "In 2007, Drew Phoenix was permitted to remain as pastor of a Baltimore United Methodist parish after coming out as transgender. The United Methodist Church appointed its first transgender deacon in 2017. The Episcopal Church approved transgender priests in 2012."
The new bishop of this Senate in California will be bishop over 180 congregations there in the northern portion of the state, which also includes sections of northern Nevada. Just one more quotation from the newly elected Bishop. Rohrer told National Public Radio, and listen carefully to these words, "I am honored and humbled by the Senate's affirmation of my leadership skills. And I am delighted that my election points to the unending love God has for their fabulously diverse creation."
Just work backwards for a moment. There you have deliberately the pronoun their used for God, and that's a refutation in this context of monotheism, but actually it's also a reflection of the ambition to try to destabilize not only the language, but to destabilize how we speak of God. And that means destabilizing the doctrine of God or our theology as well. But that's where Christians, Evangelical Christians committed to Scripture, have to understand that is always what is at stake even when it is not so clear. What's at stake is our understanding of God, because ultimately you're going to have to change not only your understanding of scripture, but of the God who gave us scripture if you're going to get anywhere close to any of the decisions that are mentioned here, especially by the time you get to the ordination of openly gay and then openly transgender pastors and then partnered pastors.
And then by the time you get to openly gay bishops and openly transgender bishops and, well in the United States, we arrived there evidently this past Saturday. You can't get there without fundamentally redefining Christianity beyond the bounds of any kind of orthodox, not only that, beyond the bounds of any theological sanity. And time and time again, we have to come back to the fact that what we see here is a new religion. This is not a new step for Lutheranism. This isn't even Lutheranism as Martin Luther might recognize it.
This is a new religion that maintains the name Lutheran, no doubt will maintain some kind of historic claim to Lutheranism, but when you're talking about the understanding of God, the understanding of sin, the understanding of humanity, the understanding of Christ, the understanding of the atonement, the understanding of salvation justification, the understanding of the church, the understanding of Scripture, everything, well, you're not looking at anything Martin Luther, the great reformer, would recognize because it was Luther who said that his conscience was bound not by a moral revolution which he could not even have imagined, rather his conscience is bound by scripture.
And that statement by the way, made by Martin Luther, was made just 500 years ago just a few days ago. That diet of worms statement in defense when his life was on the line by Martin Luther was the statement that popes may err, councils may err, but the word of God will never err. It cannot err. You might update that to say, not only may Popes and councils err, but you're also looking at the fact that contemporary moral authorities may err. Indeed, they clearly do err, but the word of God has no error. It cannot fail. It cannot err.
The Southern Baptist Convention Faces a Familiar Test: Women Pastors, Women Preachers, and the Coming Test of the SBC
Next, it's a very different issue that confronts the Southern Baptist Convention, but still it was very clear over the past week, indeed over the past weekend, that some very significant challenges of theological definition exist also within the nation's largest Baptist denomination. For example, you have the fact that over the past week, the church known as Saddleback Community Church in Southern California issued a statement on Instagram that it had ordained its first three women pastors.
There are other churches, not only in the Baptist world, but in the larger evangelical world, that seemed to be evidencing some desire to redefine Christian doctrine, Baptist polity, Baptist principles, and Evangelical understandings of ministry in light of the gender revolution. But the fact is that the Baptist faith and message, the confession of faith of the Southern Baptist convention is very clear about this issue. The Baptist faith and message states clearly, "While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture." There's no real question about what the Baptist faith and message says.
Furthermore, the constitution of the Southern Baptist Convention states, "The convention will only deem a church to be in friendly cooperation with the convention and sympathetic with its purposes and work when that church has a faith and practice which closely identifies with the conventions adopted statement of faith." It could not be stated more straightforwardly than that.
This was one of the major issues that roiled the Southern Baptist Convention back in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, it was only settled in the year 2000 when the Southern Baptist Convention overwhelmingly adopted a revision to the confession of faith, known as the Baptist Faith & Message, which makes very clear that the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.
There are very clear scriptural texts behind that affirmation, including 1 Timothy 2, 1 Corinthians 14, very clear statements from the Apostle Paul, and of course there are many other in Scripture as well, that make clear that the teaching office in the church is limited to men. Similarly, you look at a passage like 1 Timothy 3 or Titus 1 describing the pastor, and once again you have men and only men in that office. The one who holds the teaching office is described as the husband of one wife.
Furthermore, and more comprehensively, there's an entire biblical theology that goes all the way from Genesis to Revelation, let's just remind ourselves, it begins in Genesis with the very clear statement that God made human beings, male and female, and from Genesis onward, the Bible also makes clear that God's purpose is for distinctive roles for men and women both in the church and in the home.
What became very clear in the Southern Baptist Convention by the 1980s is that the denomination could not hold together while having two contradictory positions when it came to whether or not women should serve in the teaching office, should serve as pastor. The Southern Baptist Convention at the level of the local church was really never very confused about this, even though the relatively small, but very loud leftward wing of the SBC at that time, they've since left, even though they were eagerly advocating women serving as pastors, the fact is there weren't very many churches that were ever open then or now to calling women as pastors. Even those who said that they were open to women serving as pastors generally must have meant it for some other congregation because they did not and have not called any woman as pastor of their church.
In the last story, we were talking about this most recent development, even atrocity, in mainline Protestantism, but it's also known as liberal Protestantism. The Southern Baptist Convention made a very clear statement in the 1980s that it was not going to go in that direction. It was not going to follow the trajectory of mainline liberal Protestantism. Instead it was going to be very clear in its evangelical commitments, beginning with the inerrancy of Scripture, pointing to the total truthfulness and trustworthiness of the Bible as the word of God, making very clear that the authority and inspiration and interpretation of Scripture were absolutely foundational to the Convention's theological identity.
Beyond that, the Convention followed with a full embrace of the faith once for all delivered to the saints, making that not only a statement of consensus, but a binding statement upon all of the entities of the denomination. The movement towards the ordination of women began with two different streams. The first was the stream that was driven by second wave feminism. It even went back to first-wave feminism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but the main impetus came with second-wave feminism. The declaration that women must be treated as equal with men and that would mean equal access to every profession and every office and the fulfillment of every public function.
The second stream feeding into this movement was one that was clearly at the expense of the authority of Scripture. It was driven by theological liberalism and by different forms of a liberation theology. In this case, a feminist deliberation theology. But at the center was the fact that there are clear biblical texts that one is going to have to reckon with. And especially as one is dealing with this issue, dealing with women, dealing with the pastorate, looking at the clear biblical teachings, there are really only two ways around that teaching.
Either you say that the church has misread those texts, wrongly read the texts for about 2000 years, that's not possible. Or you say that the biblical text is itself evidence of a form of discrimination and oppression. Put bluntly you have to say something like, "The Apostle Paul was just wrong." Well, clearly that's not what Southern Baptist wanted to say, that's not what they did say. They wanted to say exactly the opposite. And that's why we adopted the Baptist Faith & Message in its revised form in the year 2000, becoming the first major denomination in centuries to define its confession in more conservative terms than previously.
There are other issues confronting the Southern Baptist Convention on this question. For instance, you have some who are trying to make a distinction between the office of pastor and the function of teaching or preaching to the congregation. As I've long argued, that's implausible because according to Baptist doctrine and Baptist historic practice, there is no distinction between office and function. If you hold the office, well, you're performing the function, but also if you perform the function, you are implicating the office.
I also need to be clear about this. The Southern Baptist Convention was effectively willing to split over this issue by the time we reached the end of the 1980s and into the 1990s. Conservatives were clearly in control of the denomination by the time you get to the late 80s and the early 90s. And by that time, it was very clear that the number of churches that were ever going to be open actually to calling women as pastors was very small, that percentage marginal. But at the same time, there were those who left the Southern Baptist Convention and formed organizations such as the Baptist Alliance and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, precisely because they said, "This is a definitional issue." Well, the SBC said, "Yes, we agree. It's a definitional issue." But they were in entirely different definitions.
Saddleback Community Church is one of the largest churches in the country and its founding pastor, Rick Warren, is extremely well-known. It is identified in some way with the Southern Baptist Convention, doesn't make a great deal of that in terms of its public presentation, but there are several other very large churches that at least are sometimes listed as Southern Baptist churches, but they are increasingly out of step with the Southern Baptist Convention on this very key issue of practice and doctrine.
There's much more to say on this issue, but the Southern Baptist Convention as we should expect over a process of time, faces the need to be very, very clear in its doctrine and very, very clear in defining and defending that doctrine. That's a challenge that this generation of Southern Baptists will not be able to avoid and certainly cannot avoid and maintain faithfulness. There's a lot more to be said on this issue, and I said a good deal more in an article that I published just this morning entitled, "Women Pastors, Women Preachers, and the Looming Test of the Southern Baptist Convention." You can find that with today's edition of The Briefing and at my website at albertmohler.com.
The Great Liberal Death Wish: There Are Deep Worldview Issues at Stake in the Decision of Whether or Not to Have Children
Finally, yesterday was Mother's Day in the United States, and as you might expect, there was some media attention to the issue of motherhood, the existence of mothers and Mother's Day. It was rather awkward, of course, because this society is increasingly committed to nothing more than a rather awkward and ironic understanding of motherhood. In many ways motherhood, like just about everything else, has become basically a matter of political controversy. But still as we know, as Christians must know, there's more to it. And when you're looking at the reality of God's gift of mothers, well you're also looking at the very structures of creation and you're looking at a rebellion against those structures of creation.
Sometimes, some really sweet messages shine through. For example, Elizabeth Bruenig writing for the New York Times ran an article, the headline, "I Became a Mother at 25, and I'm Not Sorry I Didn't Wait." It is a very important article. Elizabeth Bruenig did become a mother in her 20s and she found herself in the company of other first-time mothers who were considerably older and she indicates really considerably older, in their 30s and even into their 40s. And she writes about the fact that it is now becoming more normal in certain circles, particularly for young women, to wait. Some of them are waiting such that they actually have relatively few, if any, babies. They're waiting because there are other priorities that come first, priorities educational, priorities personal, priorities professional.
She writes about her own generation, the millennial generation, and tells us this, "Taken together, the trends listed compose a portrait of millennial delay. Highly educated professionals living in major urban centers, in other words people like me, a lily-white full-time writer with a Master's degree living within rail distance of New York City tend to postpone childbirth until their late 20s and early 30s. When surveyed, most young people report that they elected to put off having kids because they wanted to make more money first because of, inter alias she says, the high cost of childcare and the burden of student debt. Others cite the price of housing, political instability, and fear of a changing climate."
She goes on with these words, "Millennials who had not yet had children and weren't sure if they would told the Times in a 2018 survey that they didn't want to sacrifice leisure time, that they hadn't found the right partner. Similar currents seemed to underlie the trend of later marriage among younger generations," writes Bruenig, "that they weren't certain they would make good parents."
Those are important observations, but at a very personal level, she writes later in the article, "One of the things they don't tell you about having babies is that you don't ever have a baby. You have your baby, which is to you, the ur-baby, the sum of all babies." Speaking of her daughter, she writes, "The moment they laid her damp rosy body on my chest, I knew she would envelop my world."
But finally the very same newspaper, the New York Times just last week in Thursday's print edition ran an article with the headline, "Women who Say No to Motherhood." The article is by Mary Katharine Tramontana And she writes about Zoë Noble, a photographer in Berlin who is, we are told, "capturing the lives of the consciously child-free."
Noble tells about the fact that she had an encounter in 2016 with a taxi driver in Berlin. Berlin is described as, "A haven for alternative family structures." The driver found it implausible that she was a married woman without children. He advised, "Have one and by the second or third you'll like it." Tramontana then writes, "Not long after that experience and others, Ms. Noble began photographing women who opt out of parenthood. And in January she began a new portrait series, "We Are Child-Free: A Continuing Collection of Photographs, Stories, and Podcasts Documenting the Lives of Women who Eschew Motherhood."
Meghan Daum, author of the book, Selfish, Shallow, and Self‑Absorbed, said, "Until very recently it was assumed that if you don't have children, it was a tragedy because you were unable to. Or," she said later, "there's something wrong with you psychologically. You were selfish." It's also interesting that this article about this photographer and this work being done in Berlin comes to the United States and mentions that in the United States, very different messages are sent on the Republican side. Ivanka Trump is quoted as having said, "The most important job any woman can have is being a mother." The insinuation is that would be a statement quite out of step in contemporary Berlin.
But this is a bipartisan issue in the United States, because the article also cites the fact that Michelle Obama, when First Lady of the United States in 2015, spoke at Tuskegee University and gave a commencement address in which she said, "Being mom in chief is, and always will be, job number one." The cultural expression that is the focus of this news article is very clearly saying those approaches are wrong. It's also clear that the photographer cited here in this article sees at least a theological issue at stake. The article says, "Ms. Noble said she believed that received ideas about how motherhood should be a desire of all women were largely influenced by patriarchal and religious ideology adhering to rigid gender roles."
And she went on to say, "This services everywhere from the doctor's office to ads, media, and entertainment." Several of the women featured in this series were also featured in the article. One woman, speaking of her decision to be child-free, said this, "The world is overpopulated. We have a climate crisis. If someone says they don't want kids, it should be like, "Cool," move on." Another woman explaining her child-free decision said, "People find my job flabbergasting. If you don't want kids, they think you must hate them. It all boils down to education, cultural differences, and religion. Women who don't have kids are threatening because it's a sure decision. People wonder what else is she going to want."
In one rather dark comment, another woman said, "People think that women without kids will die alone. Actually there's no guarantee that your children will care for you when you're old. And," this woman went on to say, "nuclear families are claustrophobic. This us versus the world thing leads to that American individualism where you have your little biological pod and everyone else be damned. I think ‘Golden Girls’ is a pretty good alternative model to that."
Seriously? “Golden Girls?” Christians listening to these words and looking at this pattern need to understand the deep worldview issues that really are at stake, the decision about whether or not to have children. And of course behind that, the question of whether or not to be married and even the understanding of what marriage is, all of this is part of a big picture that is inherently theological and inescapably so.
And that also leads, by the way, to a common sense assumption that should give us just a bit of hope. Those who don't have children don't have children to influence with their worldview that comes down to not having children. I mention often that it was Malcolm Muggeridge, the British journalist, who called that "the Great Liberal Death Wish." It's eventually, whether it's acknowledged or not, the desire that your own ideas will die.
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.