Wednesday, November 10, 2021
It's Wednesday, November 10, 2021.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
A ‘Renaissance of Side B’ Christians? A Challenge to Christian Faithfulness
As the Christian church has sought to deal rightfully and biblically with the LGBTQ challenge, one of the things we often have to think about is how we ought not to think about these issues. That is to say that sometimes, one of the most important steps towards clarifying our understanding based in scripture about gender, sexuality, sexual morality, the entire array of issues that are now identified as LGBTQ, and don't forget that plus sign, as we think about what we know are wrong approaches that helps us to understand how we are to address the issue in biblical terms. Now, just recently, Religion News Service ran an article, here's the headline, "Traditional 'Side B' LGBTQ Christians Experience a Renaissance."
Now, wait just a minute, those words in that headline raise a host of issues we need to confront and to confront very clearly. Number one, we're told here about traditional Side B LGBTQ Christians, right there in the headline. Now, those are three different claims. First of all, traditional, secondly, Side B, and then LGBTQ Christians. Now, one of the things that I've tried to argue for biblical Christians is this, we cannot buy into two developments in the modern age that put together are particularly, explosively toxic. The first of those is simply identity politics. Identity politics argues, and this is a political term, very much a part of our contemporary culture in the United States, identity politics is the claim that our primary identity is found not biblically in being created in God's image, and then for Christians, being redeemed by Christ, rather, our primary identity is in some kind of earthly designation.
It might be ethnic, it might be political, it might be national, it might be something related to skin color, it might be related to what is now claimed to be a sexual identity or a sexual orientation. Identity politics, in whatever form, is absolutely toxic. Identity politics, in whatever form, is contradictory to the gospel of Jesus Christ. But secondly, the other big issue here that comes into this explosive context is the modern construct of sexual and gender ideology. There you have that entire sequence, LGBTQ. But the suggestion here in the headline, Traditional Side B LGBTQ Christians, implies that there is an appropriate way to speak of LGBTQ Christians. Now, let's just take the headline, let's just pause for a moment. Should we refer to people as LGBTQ Christians?
Well, once we understand identity politics and the newly reigning sexual ideologies, we recognize that that's a very dangerous language. If it's not an unfaithful language, it's extremely close to being outright unfaithful. Now, it is not unfaithful to talk about Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction or with any number of other temptations, but it is wrong to define ourselves by those temptations and it's particularly wrong to identify with the modern ideologies and constructs of sexual orientation and all the rest as something that is either good or morally neutral, because that is not sustainable biblically. The pattern of temptation, the pattern even of attraction, well, that's something we can understand.
But to put together in a headline traditional Side B LGBTQ Christians, implies that there are those who are Christians who rightly, faithfully identify by identity politics in the modern sexual ideologies as LGBTQ. And then you have the word traditional. What does traditional mean here, especially when we're talking about a sexual revolution that is the very contradiction of traditional, biblical, sexual morality and the Bible's revealed understanding of marriage, the family, the conjugal union, all the rest? Well, it is an effort to try to say there are those who want to identify with traditional Christianity and they want to identify as LGBTQ Christians. But there was a phrase, there was a term in the middle here, Side B, what does that mean? Well, it turns out that this refers to an ongoing attempt to try to say there are two different kinds of people who are identified as LGBTQ.
These two arguments come down to the Side A and its argument says, "Look, let's just completely deny, discard the Bible's clear teaching on gender, sexuality, marriage, and all the rest. It's outdated. The Apostle Paul didn't know anything about our modern understanding of sexual orientation." Some effort is made to overcome clear passages of scripture. And by the way, it's not just passages of scripture, it's the full witness of scripture. But nonetheless, Side A says, "We're just going to deny, discard traditional, biblical, and Christian understandings of sex, marriage, gender, sexual morality, et cetera. Side B says, "Now, we're going to identify with LGBTQ orientation and identity, but we're going to say that holiness requires that we accept some form of celibacy." That's the argument made by Side B.
It is important that we recognize that those who identify as Side B say they understand the Bible's clear restriction of sexual activity to the conjugal union of marriage between a man and a woman. They say they accept that any violation of biblical sexual morality is sin. But they deny that sexual orientation, according to the new sexual identity politics, just say LGBTQ and at many points in between, they deny that the orientation itself is sinful. Furthermore, they often go forward, they go further to say that they believe that there was something positive even in same-sex sexual attraction. Now, I hope that you as Christians understand we are looking at a very dangerous claim. We're looking at a very unstable position. We're looking at a position that's inconsistent with the gospel and that denies Scripture.
But nonetheless, what we're looking at is an argument that according to Religion News Service, just in recent days, it's an argument that is experiencing a renaissance. The subhead in the article, The largely virtual community sits in a rare liminal space between two sides of a culture war. Now, my argument is going to be that this position is unstable, untenable, it can't stay on two sides of a culture war. And there's some very clear signs of that evident even within this article. Notice carefully that Kathryn Post in the article begins by writing, "When Grant Hartley first discovered he was gay at age 13, he adopted what he calls an ex-gay mindset. He saw his attractions as sort of a test, something he could overcome with faith. But no amount of prayer changed him." Grant Hartley is then quoted as saying this, "I started to think of it more as a gift, as a strength."
He's now identified as 28 years old and openly gay. "Maybe there is something about the beauty I am able to see that straight men are not able to see." Now, that's a troubling statement. It becomes even more troubling when we look at it more closely. But the article goes on to tell us, "This kind of evolution isn't unusual among the roughly four million LGBTQ Christians in the U.S. But perhaps less commonly since coming out, Hartley has also chosen to pursue celibacy." So, let's just stop there for a moment. We're being told that there's a count of something like roughly four million LGBTQ Christians in the United States. Now, again, I'm going to contest that we even know what that's talking about. But nonetheless, we are told that a minority within that number feels called to pursue celibacy.
But then the article also tells us that Hartley, the young man identified already, sees his gay identity as something that goes beyond just sex. "I would never say that I'm grateful for same-sex sexual desire," but he goes on to say, "it also includes aesthetics, culture, and worldview." Later the article tells us, "Hartley is part of a small group of openly LGBTQ Christians who, while embracing their sexual orientation, also believe God designs sex and marriage to occur exclusively between a man and a woman. This group," says the article, "called Side B, as opposed to Side A Christians who celebrate same-sex marriage and sex, is a largely virtual community," and as the headline said, "sits in a rare liminal space between two sides of a culture war." Kathryn Post goes on to tell us that many people trace this movement back to Wesley Hill, now an associate professor of New Testament at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan.
He, we are told, is one of the first to outline this Side B perspective. Describing that Side B perspective, we are told that, at least in general terms, the group accepts that LGBTQ is a God-given identity even as they seek to uphold a traditional stance on sex and marriage. Let's just stop for a minute. Again, a God-given identity. Well, there are huge theological issues here. As a matter of fact, there are huge issues related to the Bible and even how we read the Bible. One of the points that I've sought to make over and over again in recent years on The Briefing is that one of the questions Christians have to ask in a biblical sequence is where the same-sex attraction emerge. If it emerges in the garden before sin, then it's a part of the goodness of God's creation.
But instead, I think the Bible's very clear, that kind of same-sex orientation which is against nature, that's Paul's term in Romans chapter one, it means that that comes as Paul makes clear in that very same passage, Romans chapter one, it comes after the fall. Thus, it is not something that is a part of the goodness of God's creation. But even as you're thinking about that, Wesley Hill was cited then we are told that a part of his argument is in favor of what's called spiritual friendship. It's defined in this article as "a deeply committed relationship that's more spiritual vocation than casual Facebook acquaintance. Hill says these sorts of intentional, celibate friendships deserve public recognition and support. Side B folks were told, also find community by creating chosen families, mutual support systems made up of non-related members or in the case of Eve Tushnet, through communal acts of service."
Now, listen to this next paragraph, "'There's a wide range of ways to give and receive love,' said Tushnet, a gay celibate, Catholic writer and speaker with a forthcoming book. 'For me personally, my friendships are a huge part of that, and my volunteer work. I volunteer almost exclusively with women. That was the first thing I sought out when I was trying to figure out how am I going to lead a life that is in some ways shaped by the love of women.'" Notice what's going on here. Notice the fact that this is actually a seismic theological argument. It's arguing that same-sex sexual attraction is a good thing. It is a part of creation, it is a gift of God. Just think about that. Even though at least some are saying, they're reluctant to say it's a gift, if you say it's a part of the goodness of God's creation, then whether you use the word or not, that is exactly what you are arguing.
But we need to look at these arguments even more closely and directly. For one thing, you have the argument made by at least some in this movement that, again, same-sex sexual attraction, and even an aesthetic, a sense of beauty that comes out of the same-sex attraction or a dimension of friendship that out of these same-sex relationships that are amongst those who identify as LGBTQ, we're told that these are basically gifts, these are something the Christian church should celebrate. But that is something that is incompatible with the biblical understanding of what it means to be in Christ. So, let me be blunt about this. There are those who are arguing that even for a woman to sense some sexual desire for another woman can actually be a good thing, a dimension of understanding beauty and bringing something into the world that otherwise wouldn't exist.
I don't believe Christians can believe that, I don't believe we can affirm that. I'm actually quite certain about that. Similarly, you have the argument amongst some gay men that homosexual attraction, even to the point of sexual attraction and aesthetic attraction, can be a good thing. But I don't believe that's compatible with biblical Christianity. I don't think that's compatible with our understanding of sin and our responsibility to flee sin, much less the grave danger of identifying with a specific kind of sin in a merger of what becomes a theological compromise and modern identity politics. But there's something else here that's very troubling, and that is the argument that the Christian church puts too much emphasis upon the normative expectation of Christians to enter into marriage as the union of a man and a woman, Christian marriage, and then to enter into having children and raising those children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Back during the Revoice Conference in 2018, there was a criticism of the evangelical churches' idolatry, basically, of what was called the nuclear family. Rightly we should call it the natural family. And let's just note that from Genesis onward, the clear expectation for human beings is that we will be united in marriage and giving ourselves to the good of civilization and to the glory of God in having in raising children. And we come to understand that the very survival of civilization, not just in a political sense, but in a Genesis 1, Genesis 2 sense, depends upon that. Now, at the same time, the New Testament is clear. The Apostle Paul valorizes those who are given the gift of celibacy. But it's not just a gift that is given for no purpose. The Apostle Paul is extremely clear in 1 Corinthians 7, in speaking of the fact that that gift is given for Christian service, in order that someone would be free in missions or another Christian service unencumbered by family, even as the Apostle Paul points to himself as an example.
But you just look at the New Testament writings. The very clear expectation, even in the household codes found in the letters of the very same Apostle Paul that make clear that marriage and family would be the normative expectation. But finally, before leaving this issue, this is going to be a question that will confront every evangelical church and every evangelical denomination. The RNS story tells us that this is a movement that is experiencing a renaissance. But here we need to recognize that every single Christian church, every Christian institution, and every evangelical denomination is going to have to face the question of the Side B argument. I believe that this is an unfaithful argument. I believe it is an untenable, unstable argument. And by the way, that becomes clear even in that RNS article where we are told that Side B Christians, even Side B Christians who identifies the evangelical, are divided over two questions.
The first of them should be obvious. What do you do when one of your Side A friends decides to get married? Do you go to that same-sex marriage? We're told in this article there's a divide over that issue. That should be a glaring, flashing warning light. The second thing is when it comes to the "T" in LGBTQ. Now, when you're thinking about the argument about sexual identity and all the rest, well, there is no clear application of what that means for the acceptance of the transgender ideology in the church. But Christians have to understand that the scripture is abundantly clear about God's gift of sex, that is to say biological sex, which means also at the same, gender as God made us in His image as male and female. Confusing that can never be to the glory of God. And furthermore, it can never true be, in a biblical perspective, an exercise of love. You cannot love people by misleading them when the truth is very clearly revealed in scripture.
And that scriptural truth is not only true, it's not only pointing to the glory of God, it is because of the goodness of God also pointing to the only means of human happiness and joy and fulfillment, which is in obedience to God's plan, not in rejection of it. In recent years, denominations including the Southern Baptist Convention and the Presbyterian Church in America have had to confront these issues. The PCA received a white paper on this issue that was very, very clear about affirming a biblical understanding of sex, gender, and gender identity, and even more recently in this general assembly, the church affirmed that understanding and related it to ministry. It's extremely important that the Presbyteries now affirm and adopt that measure or those two measures in order to make clear the biblical stance of the Presbyterian Church in America.
Failure to do that will mean not only a vulnerability for the church, but over time, an instability from which it will be difficult to recover. The same thing is true when you think about, for example, the Southern Baptist Convention. Thankfully, time and again, the Southern Baptist Convention has had to affirm through resolutions, through doctrinal statements, and through its ongoing witness what it means to affirm a biblical, clearly biblical, unreservedly biblical understanding both of ministry and of the truth of God's Word when it comes to gender, sex, sexual morality, gender identity. But it's never over. These issues are going to come him back again, and again, and again. The Side B argument is going to come to every major denomination.
The question of faithfulness and the question of love of neighbor will come down to whether or not we are willing to stand for what we know the Bible to teach and thus God to tell us about these essential questions. That will forever more be a fundamental challenge.
The Principle Of Abstraction And The Dangers Of Modern Technology: After IVF Procedures, Two Couples Discover Their Embryos Were Swapped
But next, we're going to switch to another story. It's not the same, but it's related and it's going to raise a very important principle of Christian theological and moral thinking, and it's good for us to think about it. It has to do with a story that appeared in Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post about two couples in California who had received babies, given birth to babies by in vitro fertilization. And it turned out that the embryos had been switched. Only after birth, some time after birth, did the two sets of parents come to that realization. They eventually determined, and now the genetic testing has proved that at some point, to be legally determined the embryos had been switched. The point is, the two couples had what they would define as the wrong babies, and indeed had given birth to the wrong babies by those embryos.
What do you do now? Well, these two sets of parents came up with their own arrangement and trust me, they are suing those who were behind this in terms of the IVF treatments, but they came up with their own system whereby they eventually arranged to have in their home the baby that was their own embryo, at least in terms of the in vitro fertilization. What's the Christian principle here? Well, this is a horrible confusion. You're looking at two couples who have gone through enormous pain. You're also looking at excruciating biomedical issues. To whom do these children belong? And the word belong here is being used in the strongest sense, to parents A or parents B. But there are other issues here, it's not just the biomedical ethics. From a Christian worldview perspective, here's the issue we need to think about and just very briefly, I'm going to spell it out. It comes down to the danger of abstraction.
The Christian theological principle is this, when God gives a gift, he gives that gift in a context. The further you abstract from that context, the more ethical moral danger you bring into the situation. Which is to say, God's gift, originally, in terms of God's perfect plan, was for a man and a woman to come together in the conjugal union and through that conjugal union to bring new life, which is to say babies into the world. In that context, without sin, there's no question, there's only glory. In a situation in which sin enters the world, abstraction becomes even more dangerous. I am not saying that Christians cannot use in vitro fertilization technology. I've written about that, I've written very candidly about the dangers. But the reality is, the danger is made really clear in this article, because the abstraction from the context of marriage, it doesn't mean that the technology is itself totally evil and without use.
And indeed, you can point to babies and happy couples that have come about by in vitro technology, but you do have to understand it comes with very grave risk. And at the very least, Christians need to understand those risks. And by the way, the risk in the main is not the unusual situation of a confusion of embryos. It is instead the routine destruction of human embryos in the process of in vitro fertilization. There are, we now know, millions upon millions of human embryos that are either in storage, almost certainly to be destroyed in the future or have already been destroyed. That in itself is an assault upon human dignity, it is the destruction of human life, and that, more than anything else, should be a first line moral concern to biblical Christians.
Forcing Religious Institutions To Become Coercive Extensions Of State Power: Why The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Is Suing The Federal Government Over The Biden Administration’s Vaccine Mandate
Finally, one additional matter on The Briefing, the institution I serve as president, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has filed suit against the Biden administration's vaccine mandate. The case is now formally known as The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary vs. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The suit has been filed before the Sixth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals. Now, we entered that suit along with the sister institutions to take a stand for religious liberty. Because that vaccine mandate, handed down by the administration, would effectively turn religious institutions into coercive arms of the administrative state.
Without any exemption for religious employers, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary would be put in the position of taking a stand on behalf of the administrative state, on behalf of the federal government, on an issue that is conflicted on religious opinion within our own denomination. That is wrong. It's an infringement of religious liberty, and in defense of religious liberty, we had to take our stand. Again, our case is now before the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and were being represented in this case by the Alliance Defending Freedom. Numerous challenges to the vaccine mandate have now been entered into various federal courts at the circuit level and these events are certain to be unfolding in days, weeks, and months ahead.
But just remember this, if religious liberty is on the line for any institution anywhere, it's actually on the line for all religious institutions and for all American citizens everywhere. Trust me, we'll be tracking this issue with you.
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.
Today, I'm in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.