Wednesday, October 5, 2022
It's Wednesday, October 5th, 2022.
I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
What Will It Profit a Man to Retain His Job but Forfeit His Soul?: Australian Football Club CEO Fired (After One Day) for His Church Membership
How long will it be before they come for your job? How long will it be before they come for your church? These questions have come very much to the fore with headline news coming to us from the Nation of Australia. It has to do with a sports franchise there and with the fact that that franchise had announced just a matter of Monday of this week had announced a new executive, but that executive is now out and out because of a scandal, out because of a controversy. What was the scandal? Well, it turns out that he was not only a member of an evangelical church there in the Melbourne, Australia area, but he also was chairman of its board. Now that becomes a complicated issue, but it's an uncomplicated challenge.
The challenge is this, in a rapidly secularizing society in which so many of the most important institutional levers are now in the control of those who either are a part of, or serving, the LGBTQ+ revolution and with other issues out there ranging from abortion to an entire range of other moral and political issues. The fact is that membership in an evangelical church can get you into big trouble and can indeed cost you a job or a job opportunity.
Now, we've seen that already in the United States. Just think of Kelvin Cochran, who had been the fire chief of Atlanta. He was basically forced out over Sunday school curriculum he had written for young men in his Bible study class in an evangelical church. What was the offense? It upheld a biblical understanding of marriage and sexuality. Evidently, you can't be the fire chief of Atlanta, Georgia if you're going to be a member of an evangelical church that holds to that kind of doctrine, much less dare to teach it.
When it came to the integrity of marriage and biblical standards of sexuality, it turned out that that was incompatible with being the fire chief of Atlanta. Again, the big issue there is to remember we're talking about Atlanta, Georgia, which a matter of just say a generation ago was often described as, "The buckle on the Bible Belt." Not so much anymore, and that's the process of moral change. Atlanta now, is far more like Manhattan than it's like rural Georgia, especially in these respects.
Australia is more highly secularized because frankly, it was less congregationalized than most of North America in the first place. Now, there are some very strong evangelical churches and institutions in Australia, but they tend to be more located in the area of Sydney, more commonly there rather than in Melbourne. Melbourne is the capital of the state of Victoria there, within Australia, and it's the locus of this story. It's a big story.
It is again the story of the new chief executive of a major Australian sports franchise who lasted exactly one day on the job after this hideous scandal was discovered. The scandal is, of course, he attends an evangelical church and actually leads its board as a layperson. We need to pay very close attention to this story whether we're in Australia or the United States or elsewhere because this story tells us a very great deal about the velocity of social and moral change and the challenges that certainly will face Christians, if not immediately, then very quickly. If not in your generation, then certainly in the generation of your children and grandchildren.
Honestly, it's not going to wait for your children and grandchildren in most cases. The executive who lasted just one day is Andrew Thorburn. He had pretty significant executive experience. The Essendon Football Club, one of the most venerable sports franchises in the nation of Australia and the sport as Australian rules football. Well, Thorburn was announced as the new executive of the team that had been described as having a recently troubled history...turmoil on the team.
Now, this new executive, Andrew Thorburn, came with pretty vast executive experience. He had been the chief executive of the National Australia Bank known as NAB. Now that's a huge bank and it also included some controversy during the time that he was its chief executive officer. But nonetheless, the team announced that Essendon would be the new executive officer and that he would bring stability. That stability lasted... well, something less than 24 hours. Almost as soon as Thorburn was announced as the team's executive, controversy erupted over his membership and his lay leadership in a congregation known as City on a Hill. Now that's best described as an evangelical Anglican multi-site church that though relatively young, has already attracted controversy over its teachings on the sanctity of human life and the sinfulness of same-sex behaviors.
Now the team plays Australian rules football. By now, you know that on The Briefing, I do not claim any particular expertise in sports or athletics, but I had to do a little research and I'll share some of that research with you just in case you didn't know. It turns out that Australian rules football is played with a ball that looks very much like a football. It's oval in shape. It's also played on an oval-shaped field. Now that would appear to be a very interesting coincidence. I'm told that that's all it is. Frankly, I find that somewhat suspicious.
But nonetheless, knowing basically nothing about Australian rules football, I do understand what's at stake in the moral lesson and in the cultural pattern that we are detecting here. The team needed a new chief executive. It went to someone who had pretty vast and well understood executive experience. He was announced and then the controversy erupted. The controversy wasn't over his previous leadership position. It was over his current church membership. As it turns out, membership in the church known as City on a Hill, which is again, a very warm-hearted evangelical Anglican church there in Victoria State.
Well, it turned out that was just too much. The church had indeed attracted controversy over its teachings... Biblical teachings we would underline, on issues such as the evil of abortion and the sinfulness of same-sex sexual behaviors. Now, the church itself did not appear to put up a great deal of material on these subjects, but the press and others calling for the removal of the new executive of this football club, well, they found a sermon archived on the church's website from 2013. They found some other materials having to do with moral declarations on biblical authority on issues such as the sanctity of human life and the integrity of marriage.
In any event, it was just too much. The chief political official there in Victoria State that would be the Premier, Daniel Andrews, he referred to the church based in Melbourne and its views by saying, and these are the premieres very words, "Those views are absolutely appalling. I don't support those views, that kind of intolerance, that kind of hatred... bigotry. It is just wrong." Now remember, that's the premier, the chief government official there in Victoria State, and by the way, he was raised and educated as a Catholic, but very clearly he got over that.
In this case, by the way, the Roman Catholic Church holds to the same moral teaching as the City on a Hill. You'll notice that the direction here of the antipathy is towards the evangelical congregation. That is because most politicians in most nations, at least right now, they dare not take on something so direct in this sense as the Roman Catholic Church because they fear the repercussions. Let's be clear, the Roman Catholic Church and the evangelical congregation, City on a Hill, in the case of the definition of marriage and the sanctity of human life are on the same doctrinal page. They're not when it comes to the gospel and other issues, but they are there, and this is the afront right now.
You'll notice there's a bit of political cowardice on the part of the left in taking on Roman Catholicism, not so taking on evangelical Christianity. Almost as soon as the controversy erupted... Let's just remember that the entire tenure of this executive lasted about 24 hours. The team's president, Dave Barham threw Thorburn and his church under the bus. Now, he misnamed the church. What he said was, "As soon as comments relating to a 2013 sermon from a pastor at City on the Hill came to light this morning," the church, by the way, is City on a Hill, not City on the Hill, but nonetheless the president of the team went on to say, "That as soon as those comments from the 2013 sermon at the church became clear," speaking for the team, he said, "We acted immediately to clarify the publicly espoused views on the organization's official website, which are in direct contradiction to our values as a club."
Now, that's something interesting to watch, by the way. Politically, who would call the Roman Catholic church an organization? But that is how this evangelical congregation within the Anglican communion is being dismissed. It's not even being acknowledged as a church. You'll notice this is not just a matter of public relations, this is a matter of culture changing rhetoric. The statement released by the club went on to say, "Essendon is committed to providing an inclusive, diverse, and safe club where everyone is welcome and respected." Now remember that's even as they're kicking out their CEO for being a member of an evangelical church. They nonetheless want to be a diverse, inclusive, and safe club where everyone is welcome and respected except those who are not.
The Board went on to say, "Despite those not being views that Andrew Thorburn has expressed personally and that were also made prior to him taking up his role as chairman," that means chairman of the board there at the church, "he can't continue to serve in his dual roles at Essendon Football Club and as Chairman of City on the Hill."
The next statement, "The Board respects Andrew's decision," which means he's out. The Board's statement was also strangely and eerily defensive as if to say, "We didn't know anything about this when we hired this man, so the blame should be on the church, not on us." The statement went on, "I want to stress that neither the Board nor Andrew was aware of the comments from the 2013 sermon until we read about them this morning. I want to stress that this is not about vilifying anyone for their personal religious beliefs, but about a clear conflict of interest with an organization whose views do not align at all with our values as a safe, inclusive, diverse, and welcoming club for our staff, our players, our members, our fans, our partners, and the wider community."
Again, this is evidence of how moral change takes place and you'll notice how the language and the rhetoric are there to support action taken in judgment against an evangelical congregation in the name of making the club safe for everyone and in the name of inclusion and diversity. If nothing else, let's just see how much of a lie that really is.
There's another side of this I also want to note. Andrew Thorburn was not exactly a profile and doctrinal courage throughout the ordeal. You'll recall that in the statement I just read the team said, "Look, when we hired him, he didn't even know what his church taught on the issues of abortion and same-sex marriage or homosexual behavior." If you think that's plausible, well, I'm just going to have to say evidently you think that's plausible. He went on to say himself, "My faith is a very personal thing." He said, "I think my faith has helped me become a better leader because at the center of my faith is the belief that you should create community, and care for people, and help people be safe, and respect them as humans." Let's just say that's not quite the Apostles Creed. If that's his summary of what it means to be a Christian, it's not much of a summary because it's not very Christian.
Furthermore, when he was directly confronted with the language on abortion and sexuality from his own church's website, and again, he's not just someone who attends, he's the chairman of the board. Thorburn himself, demured saying, "I've never heard these things expressed in my time. I've been on the board two years. I'm not a pastor. My job in a governance role is to make sure it's run well. I don't always agree with what's said." Well, as I wrote in an opinion piece published at World Opinions this morning, we can hardly escape the suspicion that this executive could well lose two jobs at once. He's clearly out as the CEO of the Essendon Football Club, but how do you remain as chairman of the board of a church when you basically say you don't always agree with what's said? And furthermore, you evidently don't know much of what's said at the church of which you are chairman.
Now, the point is that he did lose his job with the team and after only one day. Understand that the signal is now sent. It's not just sent in Australia. The signal is this, "You better get with the moral program, you better get with the revolution or you're going to get out of a job." When it comes to someone like Andrew Thorburn, who after all had held very high executive office on Australia, he is basically now a marked man. This is the shape of the future, the canceling of Christians because of our church membership. It won't be limited to Australia nor to Australia rules football or 'Footy' as it's known there. It's not going to be limited to sports.
Already law firms and other professional organizations have been doing background checks, including suspicious church membership for years already. You can count on the fact that the media, and that means the old and the new media, or we might say the social media and the even more anti-social media, they'll be looking for incriminating evidence in the form of church membership disclosures.
Don't miss the other big lesson here. When it comes to Andrew Thorburn, the big lesson is it's not enough when it comes to the progressive left, when it comes to the LGBTQ activists and when it comes to the very craven leaders in the culture who basically have become a full part of the moral revolution. It's not enough to distance yourself from a church. You're going to have to repudiate it, you're going to have to renounce it. That's what was demanded here. But even that might not have been enough. In this case, probably not. Trying to distance yourself from your church won't work unless you're willing to renounce your preacher and to deny your church's teaching.
That's a bit harder to accomplish, let's just say when you are listed as chairman of the board on the church's website, but you don't have to be chairman of the board. In any event, renunciation and denunciation will be the new demands if you get caught as a member of the wrong kind of church. This is where we are right now in the United States. It doesn't matter in this case that we've got very robust religious liberty protections in the U.S. Constitution. When it comes to professional organizations, when it comes to hiring, when it comes to admission to elite academic programs, when it comes to getting contracts or not getting contracts, Christians may not be able to prove in many cases that it was their membership in a church that was the deciding or disqualifying issue. Sometimes, no doubt, we'll be told that to our face. More rarely, it's going to be a background issue, but it's going to be a very important issue and don't make the mistake of thinking that this can be postponed indefinitely in the United States.
This is not happening only in Australia, it's already happening here, now. If you want above all, is job security, let me just suggest, you ought to go join a liberal Protestant church. Something like a progressive Episcopal congregation, and even better join a church that flies a rainbow flag right out front. You'll find your job more secure and your position in the culture more secure as well.
On the other hand, you will find yourself in great spiritual peril and in direct opposition and contradiction to the inherent, infallible word of God. This is how the issue in our world is now shaping up, and it will be a huge test of Christian faithfulness. Your church may cost you your job, but your job may demand your soul.
‘Everyone Who Isn’t a Homophobic Weirdo Should Go See Bros’: Producer of First Major Homosexual Rom-Com Upset About Its Box Office Bomb
As we're thinking about how the culture is changing around us, I need to turn to another headline story. This time, from here in the United States.
Now, let me just tell you up front, we're going to be able to talk about this in a way that you're not going to have to turn the volume down. We're talking about a movie known as Bros. It's being billed as the first gay romantic comedy or romcom to be released by a major Hollywood studio. It was released this past weekend, and it was...not to put too much of a spin on it, a bomb. A bomb at the box office. It brought in less than $5 million in its opening weekend on the big screen.
Now that made news. It didn't make the kind of news that the moral revolutionaries want. What we're going to be watching is how they can turn even this to the advantage of their moral revolution. Let's look a little deeper at the story. The Hollywood reporter tells us, "Actor, Billy Eichner, didn't hold back when taking to Twitter on Sunday to comment on the dismal box office opening of his new comedy, Bros. The Universal Film," this report tells us, "which marks the first gay romantic comedy released by a major Hollywood studio, debuted to a dismal $4.8 million after doing little business in much of middle America and the south."
As the movie opened, Eichner himself who wrote and starred in the movie tweeted, "Everyone who isn't a homophobic weirdo should go see Bros tonight. You will have a blast. And it is special and uniquely powerful to see this particular story on a big screen, especially for queer folks who don't get this opportunity often. I love this movie so much. Go Bros!" That was the end of his tweet.
Even the secular media there in Hollywood are pointing out what a bomb the movie was. It wasn't expected to do all that much, but nonetheless, the worst case scenario had estimated something between $8-10 million dollars at the box office. It brought in again, 4.8. So, Hollywood and other cultural mavens are trying to scramble to figure out why? What does this mean? I'm going to suggest in just a moment what I think it means and what's revealing by a Christian, in biblical worldview, as it comes to the failure of this so-called romantic comedy.
The point is Americans really didn't want to see it. And even as Americans are supposedly much more liberal on these issues than ever before, I'm going to suggest that that liberalism is something like a surface phenomenon. That doesn't mean it's not real, it doesn't mean that a majority of Americans don't now say that they at least support same-sex marriage. But when it comes to the essence of homosexuality, which after all is going to have to be depicted in what's claimed to be the first gay male romcom to be released by a major studio... Let's put it this way, Americans don't want to watch it. They're certainly not going to pay to watch it. I think that itself is morally revealing and I'm going to tell you why.
David Oliver, writing at USA Today, and again, I just have to point out how pro-LGBTQ USA Today consistently is. Oliver wrote, "We finally got it: A splashy, gay, big-studio romantic comedy, Bros that features an all-LGBTQ principal cast." He then went on to say, "At a moment when support for gay marriage has never been higher at 71%," he says, "If you judge the film success only by its box office total - which, let's be real, that's 99% of what Hollywood executives will care about - it's a failure." He goes on to say, "It's a failure, but Hollywood must keep making LGBTQ movies anyway," and that's because his agenda is not... It's not financial, even as the studios eventually must reckon with the financial reality. His point is moral.
That's the point we need to understand. The big issue here is summed up in the word that is now so commonly used in cultural circles, and that is the word representation. The claim is that there is a morality of representation, and so many of the people, especially from the LGBTQ activist community and from Hollywood speaking about this movie, say that the great victory, the great achievement of this movie is after all that it's a form of representation. That representation is ideological. By the way, it's also mathematically impossible. One of the claims made by so many is that everyone needs to be able to see him or herself... Or non-binary self, according to the new revolutionaries, represented in Hollywood, in strength, in authenticity on the big screen. Let's just remember that we are talking about LGBTQ+++++. It's mathematically impossible that everyone is going to see everyone represented according to this ideology of representation on the big screen.
It's even less plausible that Americans are going to pay to go see whatever it is. Oliver, at USA Today, tells Hollywood, "You would you just had to keep making these movies even if they bomb because, "People need to watch themselves have a main-character moment instead of settling for another interpretation of the sassy sidekick. That way," he says, "we can make room for LGBTQ people of color, particularly trans women of color, to land leading roles, too."
A part of this ideology of representation was made clear by writer Michael Schulman, and he was writing for The New Yorker. The question asked by his article is this: "Will straight people go to see Bros?" But while Schulman and others make clear... And don't worry, I am not going to go into detail, is that this movie is celebrated by many in the gay male community for not pandering to straight interest, which is to say the sexual activity or activities portrayed in the movie, they're pretty graphic, and let's just say they are decidedly not... Here's the word for you, heteronormative. They are also not in any sense restrained.
Promiscuity here, gay male promiscuity, is basically presented as a form of authenticity. Even Kyle Smith writing a positive review about the movie for the Wall Street Journal tells us that portions of the movie are actually, "Filthy, but not especially funny." Now, if a major newspaper has to tell us that there are sections that are filthy but not especially funny, you could count on filthy meaning... filthy. Several reviews go to the trouble of informing us that this includes more people than two being involved and a host of other issues, that according to the review in USA Today, "Demonstrate the differences between straight and LGBTQ romances".
As Eichner is quoted within the USA Today piece, "It's fun for straight audiences to see the ways that straight relationships and gay relationships are similar and do overlap. And it's also exciting, fun, and fascinating to see the ways in which they differ. The issues we face are different. Our lifestyles can be different. That's interesting, and something we're celebrating instead of trying to paint us all in the same broad strokes."
‘The Yuck Factor’: Why Americans Didn’t Show Up to See ‘Bros’ — And Why That Moral Knowledge is a Good Thing
Now, I want to close by talking about a very important worldview principle. This came to light in the conversation I had with students in the Seminary Wives Institute at Southern Seminary as I was teaching one Thursday night. The opportunity came for the class to pose questions. A mother posed this question. She talked about being that very day in a Louisville public park with her three children, the oldest of which was a 10 year old boy. As they were walking through the park, this boy evidently saw something he had never seen before, and that was two gay men locked in an embrace and in a very romantic kiss. Being surprised by this and with what can only be described as a natural response, the boy turned to his mom and simply said, all too loudly for her taste in the moment, "Yuck".
Well, here's the interesting dilemma for Christian parents. Number one, the boy's response was morally right. This is what the University of Chicago, moral philosopher, Leon Kass refers to as the 'Yuck-factor'. There has to be the opportunity in every society for there to be an ordered way to understand that moral revulsion is often absolutely called for. At times, the only thing we can say in terms of a natural accurate response is, "Yuck". I'll talk about this further in subsequent additions with The Briefing. But sometimes the most important moral arguments don't come in words, but in pictures, and that works both ways. Understand that what Hollywood is trying to do, along with so many others in the cultural creative class as it is known, is flood us with pictures, narratives, films, movies, video clips that are intended to realign our moral intuitions and instincts.
And of course, every sane moral code says 'yuck' about something. In Australia, a good deal of the 'yuck' in Victoria State was expressed towards evangelical Christianity. We've shifted to talking about why the box office for this first openly gay romcom by a major studio, bombed? It's because no matter what Americans say, in terms of their beliefs or opinions, when it comes to same sex behavior, even when they tell up pollster, "They're all for same-sex marriage," well, the reality is, when it comes to going to watch something on the big screen, they don't show up to see this.
Now, to be sure, it was an interesting conversation with those seminary wives gathered together in that classroom, and especially with that mom, because we do not want children growing up in Christian homes to fail in the tests of the 'Yuck-factor'. What that boy said was natural because of creation order, and it was right. We don't want him to lose that moral knowledge. Hollywood is trying to rob him of that moral knowledge.
It's not just Hollywood, it's big education as well. How we express that on a walk in the park might be a matter for a good Christian conversation, but at the end of the day, there's just no way around the 'Yuck-factor'. That I would suggest, more than anything else explains why Bros was such a bomb at the box office. But even as you think about this, take a little comfort in it because Hollywood's not going to go away defeated. They'll be back with another story and with another big picture.
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.