The Briefing

Documentation and Additional Reading

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New York Times

Same-Sex Marriage Is a Religious Freedom

by Steven Paulikas

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The Briefing

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Tags: Audio

Transcript

It's Thursday, October 27th, 2022.

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

 

Part

So, Does a Christian’s Right to Live by Christian Convictions Violate Someone Else’s Religious Liberty? You Need to Watch This Argument

We're looking at the inevitable and for that matter, almost daily collision between the morality of the sexual revolution, the LGBTQ revolution on the one hand, and religious liberty on the other hand. But have we reached the point where all this is playing out in some very unexpected ways? I mean, here's what we as Christians have come to understand. We're looking at the necessity of fighting for the religious liberty of Christian churches, Christian schools, Christian institutions to hold to biblical convictions on sexuality, sexual behavior, and gender. We're also looking at the fact that we've had to go to court to fight for businesses controlled by Christians and also Christian artists in particular, cake bakers, photographers and others, to say that they cannot in conscience use their creative ability, their artistic skills in order to endorse something like same-sex marriage, which they believe to be not only unbiblical but actually just wrong.

Well, as you look at this, you come to understand it is now being argued from the other side that restrictions on say, abortion or restrictions on any kind of sexual expression are themselves violating someone's religious liberty. Now, in the aftermath of the Dobbs decision, there were those particularly some female Jewish rabbis on both sides of the country, by the way, who filed suit, saying that a legal restriction on abortion violated their religious liberty according to their very liberal interpretation of Judaism. It was a clever argument, having seen how the religious liberty argument has fared before the United States Supreme Court with a conservative majority far more likely than previous eras on the court to affirm the necessity of honoring religious liberty, they decided to turn the argument on its head. Now, it's not at all clear that they're going to make any headway in the courts, and I'd argue, as I said when this story first broke, that it should make no headway in the courts because it's an intentional distortion of the logic and the constitutional language of religious liberty.

But we need to understand that this pattern of argument is not going to go away. And just recently it appeared not on the issue of abortion, but on the issue of same-sex marriage, and we need to look very closely at this argument. Not by accident, it appeared as a major article in the print edition of the New York Times. The headline of the article is, "Same-sex Marriage Is Religious Freedom." Stephen Polikis is identified as the author and Episcopal priest and rector of All Saints Church in Park Slope, Brooklyn. He's writing thus as an Episcopal priest and as an Episcopal priest married to another man, he says that it is his exercise of religious liberty to have his marriage to another man recognized regardless of anyone else's religious convictions.

He begins his article like this, "As an Episcopal priest at a parish in Brooklyn, I've officiated its scores of weddings. At each one I stand and wonder at the divine presence that envelops couples as they make their solemn vows to each other. At my own wedding though, I learned that there's a difference between seeing and doing. Now it was me standing across from another human being, making unthinkably difficult promises, holding his hand as we committed to walking into the vast unknown cloud of the future together." I can only imagine, I insert here what those vows sounded like. After describing the ceremony further, he writes, "Our wedding was an exercise of the freedom not only to be married under equal protection of the law, but also to practice our religion. And yet a powerful political, legal, and social movement is poised to prevail in its mission to relegate the marriages of LGBTQ people to second class status in the name of religious freedom. It seems its true goal was not to advance its advocates' religious freedom, but to restrict ours."

Again, I told you this is going to be a very interesting argument. He plays it out further, "Marriage, perhaps the most personal public institution uncomfortably straddles the divide between religion and state. At the conclusion of every wedding I officiate, I sign both the church register and the state issued marriage license. The Supreme Court's 2015 ruling in Obergefell versus Hodges, which required states to perform and recognize same-sex marriages reflected an affirmation of marriage equality that was already taking place in religious institutions." He goes on, "Today, same-sex marriage is a fully integrated part of some 15 religious traditions, including most mainline Protestant churches and three prominent Jewish movements claiming millions of members throughout the country."

Let's stop there for a moment. Is that true or false? No, it's true. Liberal Protestantism has largely and with enthusiasm embraced the entire LGBTQ revolution, and they've also embraced, of course, something like same sex marriage, same-sex marriage rights, same sex marriage ceremonies, liberal Protestantism, complete surrender.

The only holdout right now, in terms of official policy on this issue is the United Methodist Church. And as we have discussed, it's just about to split over this very issue. It is impossible that in one church body you can have people who say, "I believe same-sex marriage is right. I'm going to throw out 2,000 years of the church's tradition. I insist on performing same-sex ceremonies and then being recognized by the church." And those who say "Marriage according to scripture and the tradition of the church can only be the union of a man and a woman. Period." Those two positions cannot exist side by side in any religious body, certainly in any Christian denomination for any amount of time. And I'll also go on and say as a Christian theologian, that a church that embraces unbiblical teachings like this and would corrupt marriage as these liberal denominations have done, I do not believe that they can continue to claim any historic tie to biblical, orthodox Christianity, and it's not by accident.

We should note that when a church holds liberal positions on these issues, you can almost, if not entirely be convinced that they hold liberal positions on other theological questions as well. This is not just an outlier issue. This Episcopal priest writing the article then goes on to lament so many of the decisions recently made by the Supreme Court upholding the right of Christians and other religious believers to operate on the basis of sincerely held religious beliefs and not to be forced or coerced into the endorsement of or the performing of or the recognition of same-sex marriages, especially when it comes to products such as say, the services of a wedding photographer. But you're also looking at a far deeper issue here, because the LGBTQ revolution isn't just coming for your camera, it's coming for your church school, and it's coming for the absolute requirement that every single human being, every single citizen, every single participant in our culture is going to have to be an enthusiastic supporter of the LGBTQ revolution, or you're going to be left behind.

Speaking to this issue, this Episcopal priest writes, "To be honest, my husband and I wouldn't have hired a web designer or a baker who didn't want to celebrate with us, but that's not the point. If the law allows same sex couples to be treated differently from other couples, then our religious freedom to be married is not complete. The court is not being asked to rule whether members of the clergy should be forced to perform weddings that conflict with their beliefs or whether houses of worship should be mandated to welcome LGBTQ people. As a member of the clergy in charge of a church, I would defend the first amendment right for religious institutions to conduct themselves without government interference, even if I vehemently disagree with another tradition's practices. Rather," he says, "the question here is whether my God-given right to be married to my spouse matters as much in the eyes of the law as someone else's?"

Well, that's a very interesting statement, but even as this writer says I'm not going after your church or your synagogue, the reality is that when you look at institutional and administrative law in the United States, you look at policies, say, when they're established for colleges and universities by the U.S. Department of Education, the distinction he makes here is not going to be made there. It is interesting that the author of this article directly takes on organizations such as the Alliance Defending Freedom, that's a Christian association of lawyers who litigate on behalf of religious liberty and do a very good job at it. That's why this writer is so opposed to the ADF and all that it represents.

But we do need to recognize that this is a far larger challenge. It's a challenge to the very notion of religious liberty and how it functions constitutionally, legally and in terms of policy in the United States of America because there has been a mythology about religious liberty and there are many Christians who have basically fallen into this mythology and that is that any religion making any claim at any time has an equal claim upon the society as any other religion. And the fact is, that has never been so.

Just ask Mormonism when it was basically required by the United States government to abandon its doctrine of polygamy, the doctrine and the practice in order for Utah to be admitted to the union as a state, that was a very clear unmistakable requirement. Now, how exactly does that fit into the Supreme Court's jurisprudence or this kind of argument? The issue of polygamy, by the way, brings up the entire issue of marriage because polygamy is a corruption of marriage. That is why the government of the United States made that requirement and why at least until recently, poly polygamy has basically been understood to be immoral and illegal, not only in Utah but in all 50 states.

But here's where we notice the unraveling of all of this. And here my purpose is not particularly to speak to the constitution or constitutional law. I'm not making an argument that lawyers will and should make in court and particularly before the Supreme Court of the United States. I'm simply saying there are theological issues here at stake, and two of them need to be mentioned. One of them is this. When you're dealing with marriage, you are dealing with what Christians clearly understand to be apolitical institution, which is to say it was given to us by God and creation. It has been recognized in its form as a conjugal union of a man and a woman honoring that union and their responsibility in rights in the upbringing of their own children in offspring.

This is another indication of the fact that when a society does not recognize that its responsibility is to respect marriage rather than to transform marriage, well, you understand that's where we have a huge problem. If you have a government that denies the pre political reality of marriage and thinks that marriage is just something it can litigate, legislate, and change, well then there will be no limit to those permutations and there will be no limit to the number of people who will show up.

And by this I basically mean groups that will show up to say, "We have a religious angle on this and given religious liberty, you're going to have to accept it." But the other theological observation I want to make is that when you are looking at something like same sex marriage, you're looking at something like this article, you recognize this could only come from the precincts of theological liberalism.

Theological liberalism is found within Judaism, theological liberalism is found within Protestantism, and where you find Roman Catholics arguing for the same, theological liberalism within Catholicism. The one common issue there is the theological liberalism and the theological liberalism denies both the binding authority of God's revelation in Scripture and the binding authority of creation.

It denied the Scripture first, but eventually the denial of the Scripture opened the door for the denial of creation order.

Don't miss that pattern.

Part

Anglican Church Comes to Crossroads Over Teaching on Homosexuality (Again): Can Two Completely Incompatible Moralities Exist in One Church?

But then this takes us back to an article that also ran in the Times just a matter of a few weeks ago, and the headline tells you a lot about how the mainstream media messaged this kind of story.

The headline in the article by Pete McKenzie is this, "Anglican Church Delivers A Kick In The Guts To Gay Parishioners." Now, the Anglican Church is the larger communion that began with the Church of England, thus Anglican and includes the Episcopal church in the United States. That's the more liberal body here now, but also some Anglican groups, and that includes some far more conservative and evangelical Anglican congregations here in the United States. But the big story in Anglicanism is that you have a smaller group of incredibly liberal Anglicans, particularly in Europe and in North America, and at least in some places in the South Pacific, particularly some dioceses, but not all, in the nations of New Zealand and Australia. But you'll notice this theological liberalism is overwhelmingly a first-world reality. As you look at the rest of the world, particularly the largest population group in the so-called third world, well, there you find even or particularly within Anglicanism, much more doctrinal and theological conservatism.

Years ago, I was invited to a meeting in which several of the African archbishops of the Anglican churches were present. And let me tell you, they were staunch defenders of biblical truth, unbending, and for that matter horribly offended at the elitism and the condescension and the political maneuvering of the theological liberals, particularly in places like the United States and Great Britain. But you're also looking at the fact that the Anglican church has a split within it that simply at this point appears to be unbridgeable and irreconcilable. But Pete McKenzie in this article, which was date-lined from Wellington in New Zealand basically is unabashed in arguing that it's the conservative Anglicans who are holding the church back, and they are doing great harm.

Again, the article's date-lined from New Zealand. That's where the article begins, "Craig Watson has spent his life searching for a church that accepts him fully as a gay man after having left the Baptist church. Mr. Watson thought he had found it within the famously progressive Anglican faith in New Zealand. Then came what Mr. Watson called a kick in the guts. Last month, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury and global leader of the Anglican Church known in the United States as the Episcopal Church, affirmed as church policy a 1998 statement that rejects homosexual practice as inconsistent with Scripture. 'We were looking for allies,' Mr. Watson said, 'and they are not an ally.'" Meaning the Anglican communion. McKenzie then explains, "Divisions over the acceptance of homosexuality, of raised doubts about whether the Anglican church can remain united, a conflict that has played out on both a global level and inside even liberal leaning countries like New Zealand where some Anglicans have broken away to preserve traditional teachings."

It really is a very interesting article. It was occasioned by the recent meeting, which is known as the Lambeth Conference that is held generally every 10 years. COVID interrupted that a bit, but there were 650 of the bishops who met together and Lambeth Palace is the Archbishop of Canterbury's historic palace there on the Bank of the River Thames in London. But you'll notice here that one of the big issues in this story are the archbishops who did not come, and they were largely the conservative archbishops from Africa who didn't want anything to do with the meeting. Evangelicals in the biblically orthodox in any Christian church can celebrate what we hear here: "The archbishops of Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda did not attend Lambeth and protest of what they called biblical revisionism by liberal churches. The paper also tells us some other conservatives attended, but refused to take communion alongside clergy with same-sex spouses who were welcomed to the conference for the first time."

Now, I remember my dad and mom telling me when I was a child, "You can't have your cake and eat it too." Now, I'll admit that confused me tremendously because when I spoke of having a piece of cake, I thought that meant eating it, but they meant you can't save the piece of cake, you can't have it. You can't keep it and eat it at the same time. So make a choice. That's a good lesson in life, even if the language was a bit confusing.

But in this case, the Anglican communion can't have their cake and eat it too. They're either going to go full bore into the enthusiastic celebration of everything LGBTQ and ongoing with that plus sign, or they're going to have to return to some kind of objective moral judgment based upon biblical authority. And as this article makes clear, the Anglican communion doesn't seem to have the fortitude to go in either clear direction, and it's basically finding itself split apart inch by inch, church by church, issue by issue.

That kind of straddling is represented in this article with this language, Archbishop Welby, that would be Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby "aimed to bridge the gap. He said at Lambeth that churches with liberal views on homosexuality would not be punished, but he also sought to mollify conservative bishops who represent a majority of Anglicans worldwide by affirming the 1998 statement calling homosexuality inconsistent with Scripture." So where does that leave the Anglican communion? Well, the liberals who want full LGBTQ normalization and celebration, you heard it in their own words. This was a kick in the guts. But on the other hand, you have the conservatives who say, "My goodness, if you're going to allow the official teaching of the church to be flaunted, then don't come back and just read us from the book as if you intend to make that stick, because the Archbishop of Canterbury profoundly shows no intention of wanting to make that doctrinal language stick."

By the end of the article, one observer is saying that Anglicans conservative and liberal wings might be irreconcilable. I'll simply add, you think? And that a formal split might be good. This individual said, "There's a sadness in that, but a hopefulness too, it might allow a liberal church to explicitly affirm LGBT people. As for the Archbishop of Canterbury whose charge is to maintain unity in truth, according to this article, he himself has wondered aloud whether Anglican unity can be achieved." In his own words, "We should seek with passion the visible unity of the church, but this is very difficult." Yeah, it's impossible. It's not just difficult. It's impossible. If you intend to keep in your church those who intend to hold to the historic teaching of your church and those who seek to defy it.

That's impossible. But you knew that up front.

Part

A Parable of Protestant Liberalism's Hermeneutics: It’s Revealed in an Obituary

But finally, all of this becomes crystal clear in an obituary in the same newspaper. In recent days, the Times reported the obituary, the death of Mary Odelia McLeod 84, the first female bishop to head to lead an Episcopal diocese. Ed Shanahan's the author of this obituary, and he tells us, "The right Reverend Mary Odelia Rosmond McLeod, the first female bishop to lead an Episcopal diocese died at her home in Charleston, West Virginia. She was 84."

Shanahan then tells us "Ms. McLeod was not the first woman to be ordained a bishop in the Episcopal Church of the United States, Barbara C. Harris, an American was in 1988. James Holmes Dixon was the second in 1992. Nor was she the first woman in the Anglican communion. The Episcopal church's worldwide parent body to lead a diocese. That distinction belonged to Penelope Jameson of the Anglican Church of New Zealand. But with her consecration in Burlington, Vermont, that what the Episcopal News Service described as an exuberant ceremony back in 1993, Ms. McLeod made history another way by becoming the church's first female diocesan bishop, meaning the first woman to lead a district of Episcopal parishes. Conservatives in the church at the time opposed the elevation of this woman as bishop, but nonetheless, the man who was then the presiding bishop of the Episcopal church in the United States, Edmund L. Browning asked the crowd, 'Is it your will that we ordained Mary Odelia as bishop?' The auditorium erupted, the news service reported jumping to their feet. They shouted, 'That is our will,' followed by sustained applause and cheers."

The article tells us that Bishop McLeod came from a pretty predictably Episcopal background, but she had been married, then she was divorced, and then her husband decided to enter the Episcopal priesthood, and she decided to follow him. The church law had been changed so that women could become priests. Eventually, she of course became a bishop. He continued in the priesthood. The obituary celebrates her leadership with these words, "As bishop, Ms. McLeod was credited with improving the Vermont diocese's finances, increasing its membership and generating enthusiasm among parishioners. She was a strong advocate for the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people both in the church and in society more broadly. As a bishop, she supported the legalization and the celebration of same-sex marriages saying, 'Homosexual persons choosing to live together in a lifelong union are not committing a sin and that God's great gift of love and the expression of that love cannot and should not be denied to those among us who happen to be homosexual.'"

Now, as I often point out, obituaries can be just incredibly, if not explosively revealing. This is one of those, especially when seen in light of the other two issues we talked about today, not a coincidence, and it's also a matter of hermeneutical trajectory. What do I mean by that? It is the trajectory of a way of reading the Scripture, and I'll simply point to this. If you look at this bishop's life just as reflected in this ordination, there are three issues here that run into direct conflict with historic Christian teaching, and the first actually is divorce. She was divorced from her first husband, married to a second, then she entered the ministry. That's as if that's just as normal as can be, even though there was no major Christian church that would've recognized any such possibility until fairly recent history, particularly in the more liberal churches.

But it's not just divorce. After that, it was overcoming the scripture's, very clear teachings concerning the fact that the office of pastor is to be held by men as qualified by scripture and not by women. Now, my point there, and it's a very clear point I want to make as simply and straightforwardly as I can. There's a pattern here. If you can find a way to justify disobeying Scripture when it comes to the issue of the pastor and to those who are in the teaching authority, hold the teaching office and the church, then it's a fairly short step to extending that, to overcoming the very clear teachings of scripture when it comes to LGBTQ issues. The logic of the feminist movement in terms of identity politics as we know that term now and the logic of the LGBTQ+ continuing revolution given the identity politics we know now, it's the same logic. It's just the next to get in line.

The big issue here is biblical authority. You either hold to it or you don't. And when it comes to the issue of the ordination of women to the teaching office, I'll come back again and again, regardless of what you will call that person, pastor or bishop or whatever, if you are defying Scripture in that sense in which scripture is so abundantly clear, then you will find it a very easy thing to go ahead and reject the authority of Scripture when it comes to issues of sexual identity, sexual orientation, and sexual identity politics as well. Even same-sex unions, even an Episcopal priest, a man married to another man, even an Episcopal bishop whose charge is to uphold the faith saying that a man and a man or a woman and a woman living in a committed relationship are not in sin. Scripture says exactly the opposite.

The fact is that when you look at churches and denominations that have taken a more liberal position on the ordination of women or putting women into the role in the teaching office, they tend not by accident, to be the very same churches that either have already adopted a full-on LGBTQ affirmation or are on their way to doing so.

One final thought about the obituary of this Episcopal bishop. I decided to go back and take a closer look at the dates. Divorced in 1970. Ordained, against the clear teachings of Scripture, I would add, in 1980. Full-on endorsing of the LGBTQ revolution in 2000.

1970, 1980, 2000. What does that tell you about trajectory?

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at albertmueller.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 Wilmington, North Carolina, and I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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