The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

It’s Tuesday, November 15th, 2022.

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

Part I

No Genuine Conservative Can Support This: The U.S. Senate to Vote on So-Called ‘Respect for Marriage’ Act to Codify Same-Sex Marriage as Law of the Land

Marriage is an institution established in creation, established by God, defined by God, made clear in scripture, but it’s also made clear in God’s revelation in creation. Creation order shines through to the extent that virtually every civilization throughout the history of humanity has found its way to rightly define marriage as a union of a man and a woman, and to privilege that relationship, especially when established in a public covenant above all others.

Now we discussed the centrality of marriage yesterday on The Briefing because of the new research indicating that marriage and cohabitation are very unequal in economic terms. And we discussed the fact yesterday that that’s because marriage and cohabitation are profoundly unequal. But we return to the issue of marriage today out of necessity, and that is because yesterday the Democratic Majority Leader in the United States Senate, that would be Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, indicated that he would be moving towards the Senate voting on the so-called Respect for Marriage Act as early as Wednesday.

Thus, this issue skyrockets to the top of our concern because we are talking about the attempted redefinition of marriage. I’m going to continue to call it that the attempted redefinition of marriage because as we shall see, even as you’re talking about something like same-sex marriage, it’s simply even in a more profound way than when you come to heterosexual cohabitation, is not marriage, doesn’t look like marriage, can’t perform like marriage, doesn’t come with the fruits of marriage, but we’ll talk more about that in just a moment. Right now we need to answer the question, how did we get here this week? And the answer comes down to this. Even as it is not yet clear exactly what the count in terms of Republicans and Democrats will be in the United States Senate, it is clear at this point that the Democrats will be in control. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is expected to continue as majority leader.

The big question has to do with the last Senate seat, which is not yet settled, and that’s headed for a runoff in Georgia, a runoff between current Senator Rafael Warnock, who’s also pastor of the church that had been previously pastored by Martin Luther King, Jr. in Atlanta, and the Republican nominee football star, Herschel Walker an especially big name in football in the state of Georgia. But nonetheless, what we now know is that we are looking at what is called a lame-duck session of Congress. And even as you call it a lame-duck session, that doesn’t mean that it’s not active. As a matter of fact, there is a profound opportunity for a few weeks of mischief, political mischief, legislative mischief, and there are a couple reasons for that.

Reason number one, there are those who have been trying to avoid staking out a position on certain issues because of the looming election. Now that the election’s over, they feel free to identify themselves. But you also have another issue and that is the fact that the newly constituted Congress will not be exactly the same of course as the Congress that is now seated. And one of the persons who will be transitioning into retirement is Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, who is about to become a retired senator by his own choosing. And here’s where the story gets extremely interesting, and I assure you incredibly important. As Katy Stech-Ferek reports for the Wall Street Journal, “The top Senate Democrat is moving ahead on advancing legislation protecting same-sex marriage as lawmakers got back to work following the midterm elections.”

Now, the language there is itself loaded. The language according to the Wall Street Journal is that this legislation to be advanced will protect same-sex marriage. Now one of the issues we just have to continually remind ourselves of as Christians is that there is no such thing as same-sex marriage. There are certainly same-sex relationships and there are laws privileging and recognizing same-sex relationships, but the legislation cannot change the order of creation. Creation defies this legislation. But nonetheless, at least according to the law of the land, and in this case, the law is dependent upon the 2015 Obergefell decision by the United States Supreme Court. According to the United States federal government, same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states.

Now here’s where as Christians, we need to recognize something. A court declaring same-sex relationships to be equal to heterosexual marriage, well, the court may make such a declaration, but it can’t change creation order. You might have Congress or some other legislative body attempt to do the same, or for that matter, a policy making body. Say for example the Pentagon, the Department of Defense, it might say that according to its policies, marriage is this, and that would change at least the policy and perhaps with legal significance. But it can’t change the metaphysic. It cannot change the reality that marriage is and can only be the union of a man and a woman according to scripture.

Also, I just repeat myself according to creation. But here’s where we need to understand that the vote in the Senate is absolutely crucial. Just to remember that the so-called Respect for Marriage Act came into existence in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision reversing Roe v Wade. And then you had people in Congress saying, “Look, same-sex marriage rights are in danger being reversed the same way that Roe was reversed.” And by the way, they are based upon the same logic. But nonetheless, the political momentum erupted in which you had opportunists in the Congress saying, “Look, we need to codify.” That’s the word. And remember that’s the word they use about very radical pro-abortion legislation. They say they’re trying to codify Roe. Actually, their legislation would go far even beyond that.

Now, the proponents of the so-called Respect for Marriage Act say that they’re trying to do the same thing in order to establish same-sex marriage. And they say they’re doing so as a matter of justice. They’re doing so as a matter of equity. They’re doing so they say as a matter of political necessity because of what they hold the best, the threat that the Supreme Court would reverse its decisions on same-sex marriage just like it has reversed Roe v. Wade. And I go back to the fact that the political reality is that 47 House Republicans voted for the so-called Respect for Marriage Act. That’s Orwellian, of course. It does not respect marriage, at least in terms of the same-sex component, and it is deliberately intended to legislatively redefine marriage, something which by the way, the liberals, the progressives couldn’t do back in 2015. That’s why they pressed for a Supreme Court decision very similar to Roe v Wade.

But here’s where we need to remind ourselves of the rules of the Senate. Senate rules require 60 votes in order to achieve cloture. Now let’s just remind ourselves, cloture is the process whereby a super majority in the Senate votes to allow the issue to come to the floor. 60 votes are necessary. That points to the issue right now. There are only 50 Democratic senators. That means that at least 10 Republican senators would have to vote for cloture in order for the bill to come to the floor. And by the way, at that point it wouldn’t take 60 votes to pass. It would just take a majority. It takes the 60 votes to reach the floor in the first place. But let’s be very direct and very honest. It’s the cloture vote that really matters because once the issue hits the floor, it is going to pass. Even if it passes by a smaller number than the cloture vote. It won’t matter. It will then go back to the house for some modifications. And then President Biden has indicated he is eager to sign the bill.

Now here’s where we need to understand that those who are the proponents of this bill, well they understand that this legislation would codify same-sex marriage. It would do that. It would do so by the legislative process. It would thus become the law of the land and it would be so expressly through legislation, not just through a decision of the United States Supreme Court striking down state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage. This would be a massive political achievement for the pro-LGBTQ movement, particularly the pro same-sex marriage movement. It would be something of a capstone and it tells us something, that in this case, the vote would come during a lame duck session of Congress. There’s more to that. We’re going to get to that in just a moment.

One of the main concerns that we have had about the so-called Respect for Marriage Act, and remember it is actually demonstrating a profound disrespect for marriage in creation order. But nonetheless, one of the big issues has been the threat to religious liberty and in particular the threat to religious institutions. And that means, in particular, Christian, and you could also add to that Jewish and Muslim organizations that can’t by definition, by theological conviction, endorse same-sex marriage, those institutions including religious schools, seminaries, colleges, foster care agencies, adoption agencies, childcare ministries, and all the rest, they would face the threat of having their 501(c)(3) tax exempt status by the Internal Revenue Service canceled at some point or threatened certainly, modified at some point.

And thus, you had the announcement coming just in recent days, that a team of four senators have negotiated a mutually agreed upon text that supposedly resolves the religious liberty concerns. But it doesn’t resolve those concerns. It doesn’t resolve the 501(c)(3), the tax exempt status issues. It doesn’t resolve other issues as well. By the way, among those other issues is the fact that the House bill, perhaps accidentally but recklessly to be sure, would actually offer no federal protection against the recognition of polygamy if you had a state that legally legislated or recognized polygamy. And there are those who would say, “Look, that’s just scare language.” But just look at the fact that same-sex marriage, which was supposedly scare language just a matter of a few years ago, is now very much a reality. And polygamy is something that has already been put into legal recognition by at least some cities, some communities, particularly in the American Northeast.

The group known as the Alliance Defending Freedom has run point on so many of these issues speaking out in defense and often legally representing Christian and other religious causes in order to make clear that religious liberty is in so many cases under direct threat. And this legislation represents one of those threats. In response to the new version of the House Bill to be considered, you have this statement from the Alliance Defending Freedom. “The Bill, one, threatens the freedom of faith-based organizations to live out their religious views about marriage. Two, jeopardizes the 501(c)(3) status of non-profits that exercise their belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. And three, would require the federal government to recognize any sort of relationship, polygamous or multi-party or otherwise deemed marriage by any state.”

So even as there are supposedly modifications to the bill, the fact is those modifications are more window dressing than anything else. The ADF attorneys pointed out by the way, that when you look at the supposed fix on polygamous marriages, it would fix a marriage in which there are supposedly say three or four persons or for that matter more in the marriage, that might be prevented by the new language. But what wouldn’t be prevented would be, say, two marriages that would include one single party. Let’s say one individual married to one person over here and then married to another person over here, but the other two people not married to each other. According to some definitions that would not be a plural marriage, it would be two marriages. Again, when you tamper with creation order, all you do is get an avalanche of further problems.

The Senate version of the bill is to include language such as this quote, “Nothing in this act or any amendment made by this act shall be construed to alter or abrogate a religious liberty or conscience protection otherwise available to an individual or organization under the Constitution of the United States or federal law.” Now, the most stunning realization about that language is that it simply saves something that would be true in any case. The next statement from the lawyers is this. “This new provision does not ameliorate the bill’s adverse impact on religious exercise and freedom of conscience.” Indeed, that language is actually as the lawyers indicate from ADF here, that represents a tacit acknowledgement of the possibility that the bill as written will indeed infringe upon religious liberty.

Part II

A Direct Assault on Religious Liberty: The So-Called ‘Respect for Marriage’ Act — We Need to Take Names on Who Is Behind Republican Moral Relativism

But I told you there’s a story behind this and that story turns out to be really important. There are four senators who are very involved in seeking to bring this back to the Senate and to get it to the floor for a vote. They include Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin. When she was first elected. She was often referred to as the first elected United States Senator who was openly gay. You also have in this quartet of senators, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, on social issues, a very liberal Republican one of the last, but we are talking about New England, so as you think about that particular part of the country, and it is overwhelmingly liberal in social terms. Well, Susan Collins has often been rather insistent that she make clear on abortion as well as on LGBTQ issues that she’s on the liberal side of the ledger. That’s two of the four.

The other two are also Republicans, and that makes the issue just even more interesting. One of them is Tom Tillis, Republican senator from North Carolina. And his involvement in this, well, he’s going to have to explain it himself. He is identified in terms of his Senate biography as Roman Catholic. And let’s just remind ourselves that the Roman Catholic Church and its official teaching does not allow for anything that could be described as same-sex marriage. Catholic law and Catholic doctrine are extremely clear on marriage as a heterosexual union, which can only be a heterosexual union of a man and a woman, period. But of course, we are accustomed to those who claim even as they are public officials, that they have a religious or church identity, but then they seem to feel absolutely no responsibility to vote or to contend for the convictions of their own religious faith.

But then we have to turn to Rob Portman. Rob Portman is a Republican Senator from Ohio. On fiscal issues, pretty conservative, but he’s retiring from the United States Senate and he himself represents what can only be described as a moral and cultural soap opera on this issue. When it comes to same-sex marriage, Rob Portman was a staunch opponent of any state or government recognition of same-sex marriage. But just about a decade ago, he did a 180 degree turn. He turned from being a staunch opponent of same-sex marriage to being a proponent of same-sex marriage. And back at the time, I described that with the term that I will use again here. It is Republican moral relativism. Now by that I don’t even mean the kind of say ideological moral relativism that just claims that all morality is relative. There are no objective moral truths. No, it’s not even that mentally serious.

In the case of this kind of Republican moral relativism, it simply means that a relative has come out of the closet and thus there is a change in public policy all of a sudden. In the case of Rob Portman, it was his son Will, who was then 21 years old, and who then announced to his parents that he was gay. And then all of a sudden Senator Portman became a proponent of same-sex marriage because he said he knew the benefits of marriage that he and his own wife had experienced, and he did not want to have one of his children deprived of those same benefits of marriage. In 2016, Senator Portman gave an interview in which he said, “I hadn’t expected to be in this position, but I do think, you know, having spent a lot of time thinking about it and working through this issue personally, that, you know, this is where I am for reasons that are consistent with my political philosophy, including family values, including being a conservative who believes the family is a building block of society. So I’m comfortable there now.”

We just need to look at that statement and understand that if conservative means anything, it is contradicted by seeking to redefine the most basic unit of human civilization. And furthermore, he goes on to say that he believes in family values, but again, he is redefining that term and those values right before our eyes. Senator Portman, by the way, is listed as a member of the United Methodist Church on several congressional listings. Big headlines have been made by the way in recent days by several leading United Methodist congregations who are leaving that church over the fact that it will not uphold its biblical convictions on human sexuality, the entire array of LGBTQ issues.

Going back to the proposed legislation, again, it is known as the Respect for Marriage Act, and that’s the way so much legislation is titled. It is named or given a title in such a way that it will attract maximum political support while in many cases offering also maximum confusion about what the bill will actually be about. It’s also very interesting to see that the Respect for Marriage Act at least addresses two major issues related to marriage. One of them has to do with, again, legalizing or so-called codifying same-sex marriage at the federal level. But the other thing it does is that it offers federal protection for interracial marriage. Now if anything, that part of the legislation is just a bit late. It should have been put in place a long time ago.

But here’s where we need to understand, that that deliberate mixing of those two issues does not make them parallel in any sense because when you’re talking about interracial marriage, you are by no means talking about the violation of any part of creation order. But when you are talking about same-sex marriage, it is in here. We have the authority of scripture all the way through. We have Paul in Romans 1 making this point directly. It is against nature. It is a contradiction of creation. Interracial marriage, not a contradiction. The marriage of a man and a woman. Same-sex marriage, a direct insurmountable contradiction.

Just wrapping up our consideration of this issue, it is monumental and it’s also politically urgent. In this lame-duck session of Congress, it is clear that Majority Leader Schumer and others believe they can get this through the Senate. They can get it through the House. And the House by the way will have to revisit it in order to approve the Senate’s approved version of the bill. And then it will go to President Biden, who you know will sign it with abundant public fanfare, and then it will become the law of the land. And then the battle will be joined when it comes to contradictions and compromises and challenges to religious liberty.

But it’s not just that. It is also important that we remember that most profoundly the law as a teacher. In this case with the codification or the federal legalization by legislation as same-sex marriage, the law would lie about marriage. It would lie profoundly about marriage and it will lie with consequences. And by the way, one of the issues, an insurmountable issue we just need to consider, is that one of the goods and purposes of marriage, one of the reasons marriage is marriage, and that according to scripture, is for the reproduction of human beings, for the increase in mankind according to the Book of Common Prayer. And this underlines the arrogance of this political and legislative proposal. The arrogance is this, believing that it can somehow redefine marriage. But when it comes again to one of the central definitions of marriage, a same-sex couple simply can’t get there. They can’t produce a baby.

And even if Congress produces this legislation, it cannot actually in truth make so-called same-sex marriage actually marriage. That is simply something far beyond the power or authority of the United States Congress or for that matter, any human government. Marriage is pre-political. Human governments do not create marriage. It is the task and responsibility of government merely, but importantly, to recognize and respect marriage. The so-called Respect for Marriage Act is a profound act of disrespect to marriage.

And finally, on the political point, if indeed there are 10 Republicans who will vote for this legislation in the United States Senate, we need to know exactly who they are. We need to take their names. And when they come back up for reelection, we need to remember this. Because if they will defy creation order in this sense, what would they not defy?

Part III

Be Fruitful and Multiply…Or Else: World Population Reaches 8 Billion People — Is It a Good Thing or a Cause for Concern?

But finally, for today, speaking of babies and speaking of human beings, and we all start as babies, Antonio Gutierrez, who is the Secretary General of the United Nations, recently wrote a piece for USA Today entitled, “What Eight Billion World Population Means For Humanity.”

It is estimated as the Secretary General says, “The world’s population will reach eight billion next week, a testament to scientific breakthroughs and improvements in nutrition, health and sanitation. But as our human family grows larger, it is also growing more divided.” Now I raise this issue now simply because when Secretary General Gutierrez recognizes eight billion human beings, we need to recognize that for decades people have been warning that that represents disaster.

To his credit, the Secretary General of the United Nations doesn’t say that the human population reaching eight billion is a bad thing. He simply says it comes with enormous challenges, and these relate to climate change, economic inequality. He goes down a long list. But the important thing to recognize is that there are many people who think the world would be far better off, not with more human beings, but with fewer human beings. There are those who’ve been arguing for a matter of decades that we’re facing an apocalypse when it comes to population.

But I would just ask you to look around the world and recognize that it is the societies with low birth rates, indeed, some with negative birth rates or total fertility rates that are in trouble. It is those who are not having children that represent not a profoundly positive future, but a gravely endangered future, and by the way, some of them so endangered that the present is now very much a matter of threat. And we’ve discussed on The Briefing, and I have written extensively about issues of modern reproductive technologies and all the rest. But let’s just set that aside for a moment and just remind ourselves of something that is related to our earlier conversation about same-sex marriage. It is indeed the first responsibility of any culture or civilization to reproduce. And reproduction simply depends upon at least a man and a woman, and no legislation has ever overcome that. Legislation may seek to redefine marriage, but it can’t produce a baby except with a male and a female contribution.

We are not threatened by a population explosion so much as by a population implosion in terms of falling human birth rates. They represent nothing less than an unmitigated disaster. And you don’t need the United Nations to confirm that point because that is exactly what is revealed in the very first chapter of Holy Scripture. Or just paraphrase the issue this way. Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth or don’t, and see you, and your family line, and your culture and your civilization disappear.

Basically, it comes down to this. Have babies and do what it takes to encourage couples, married couples, male and female couples to have babies, or on the other hand, turn out the lights.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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