The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

It’s Tuesday, January 17th, 2023.

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

Part I

‘They’re Trying to Cancel My Whole Existence.’: Psychotherapeutic Ideology and Identity Politics Meets in the Moral Revolution and its Transformation of Language

Recurringly we come back to the fact that we are undergoing a major moral revolution in this culture, a transformation of morality. And it’s not just a shift from one morality to something slightly different. It’s a major shift. It’s a radical shift indeed, as measured by the continuity not only of western civilization, not only of American culture, but of basically all human civilization throughout all of recorded history. And as we know from a biblical worldview, there’s a good reason for that continuity. What we are witnessing now is a radical discontinuity than that ought to come to us as a moral alarm. Now, every once in a while we get a signal from somewhere in the culture that we’re the people who are now out of step.

And just recently, the New York Times ran a major article. It spanned more than two pages in the print edition with the headline, “What It’s Like to Be Queer In Alabama.” Now, when I was growing up, that word was derogatory, but now it’s a word of pride for the revolutionaries. They claim this word for themselves. Lydia Polgreen is the reporter on the story. She’s identified as a columnist for this particular piece, and even as she tries to answer, “What it’s like to be in Alabama”. We see how the major moral terrain, the landscape of our age has been reshaped and is even now being reshaped before our eyes. The article begins, “It was an unusually chilly Thursday night in December, and a drag queen named Miss Majesty Divine was putting the final touches on her show makeup. She was about to go on stage for her regular gig at a basement tiki bar, one of the last performances before Christmas.”

Now just looking at those words taken by themselves, let’s just understand this is something that reflects a moral revolution not only of just the last several decades, but in one sense of just the last couple of years. Let’s face it, the whole controversy over drag queens and drag queens becoming a symbol of LGBTQ pride and identity, this is pretty new. Not to mention the controversy over drag queen story hours for children in public libraries, but nonetheless, this is in Alabama. That’s where this story comes from, and that’s actually the point. Because in the pages of the New York Times, Alabama plays the role of the backward state. The state that’s happened to be dragged into a world of inevitable new moral progress. And in this case, what is described in this article about homosexual, LGBTQ, transgender even drag queen life in Alabama, it tells us a lot, not so much about Alabama, nor even about the LGBTQ issues, but about how the opinion shapers in our society think we ought to think.

And they think that inevitably we will have to think this way, and if we don’t think this way right now, we will be made to think this way. But one of the clues about where all of this is going is the fact that first of all, we are talking about a drag queen in Alabama. By the way, remember the name Miss Majesty Divine. We are told that Miss Majesty Divine likes to go by the nickname Maj. How predictable is that? Maj, we are told is unfazed by controversy in the state of Alabama or elsewhere for that matter. But we’re also told that Maj was known in the classroom as a teacher named Mr. James Miller.

As the story unfolds, and this is also pretty predictable, James Miller was outed as the drag queen known as Miss Majesty Divine. That didn’t go over well at Alabama, and so it’s not said that he was forced to retire, but nonetheless, he did retire. “In the middle of the school year, the teacher, 52 years old abruptly put in his papers. His career was over.” And Maj, remember this is James Miller, the former teacher said, “It’s funny, all these people who complain about cancel culture and now they’re trying to cancel my whole existence.”

Now full stop there because we need to note something, and this is a transformation in the language and the language is indicative of where the culture is going. The language has incredible moral significance just in itself. You’ll notice the argument here, and this is something that goes back to the 1990s, but it wasn’t available. It wasn’t pushed in the culture the way it is now. You’re trying to deny, you’re trying to cancel my entire existence. What does that mean? Well, that is the language of the current psychotherapeutic and identity politics intersection telling us that if you tell someone you will not, cannot accept everything they say about who they are, then you’re trying to cancel or deny their entire existence.

Now, that’s political language by the way. It’s the language of representation and it’s the language of a claim to power. And make no mistake, this is a claim to power. The power we need to note to overthrow an entire order of gender as male and female and an entire moral order based upon what they were criticized as heteronormativity. Now what heteronormativity means, you figured that out is the normativity of heterosexuality. Which we’ll just point out has been taken for granted throughout virtually all of human history. Now, before even going further in this article, what we need to know is that this is extremely powerful language in political terms. It also puts the critic on the defensive. In this case, it puts the defender of any kind of basic metaphysical, ontological, reality based understanding of male and female immediately on the defensive because we don’t want to deny anyone’s existence.

As a matter of fact, we want to affirm their existence as a human being made in the image of God. And by the way, not coincidentally made male or female. But in this case the language is extremely important. It’s picked up by the media, it’s picked up by the academic authorities. It is increasingly being picked up by the courts and therein lies a big problem. But let’s go back to this particular piece in the New York Times.

The author writes, “I traveled to Alabama last month to try to understand the state of queer America today, to try to understand this unsettling whiplash I’ve been feeling lately as a queer person. The world watched a gay congressman lead the vote to codify national recognition of same sex and interracial marriage and the grandees of the LGBTQ community gathered at the White House to watch President Biden sign that bill into law and to listen to Cindy Lauper croon ‘True Colors.'”

At the same time, the author goes on to say, “Queer people are being hounded by vigilantes and targeted by bigoted laws. On TV, I watch queer people as protagonists, but also hear them vilified as groomers and child molesters by right wing media and lawmakers. A web designer would rather go all the way to the Supreme Court than make a wedding website for a theoretical queer couple. Queer spaces from clinics serving transgender youth to nightclubs are under attack. These past few years have been a time of head-spinning backlash.” Now let’s again look very close at this language because it’s really important. In the very beginning of this section, we are told that the author was experiencing this “unsettling whiplash I’ve been feeling lately as a queer person.’ The last sentence in the paragraphs I read was this quote, “these past few years have been a time of head spinning backlash.” So whiplash and backlash. What exactly is going on here? Well, the word backlash is another word of extreme moral importance.

On the landscape of our culture and in current debate, we need to understand how this whiplash and backlash language is working. I’m not the first to note this, but it is extremely powerfully displayed in this kind of argument. The word backlash implies a direction of history. The history is going towards progress. Backlash is an understandable, if regrettable conservative effort to try to slow down or reverse the inevitable progressive arc of history. And so there’s a backlash. If you do not celebrate the LGBTQ revolution, you’re a part of the backlash. If you oppose any extension of LGBTQ ideology in the culture, in the law, in the courts, in the public schools, for crying out loud even at children’s story hour in the public schools, then you’re just demonstrating backlash. The problem is you. You are unable to come to terms with the new enlightened morality.

You are a throwback and you are a problem because you are creating not only a blockage or a barrier to political progress, you are a reminder of the fact that the revolution and the revolutionaries still have work to do. You will be made to come to terms with the new morality, but there’s something else here we need to notice. And that’s the fact that geography plays a huge part in this article because this is the New York Times published in Manhattan. The very ground zero of the Moral Revolution in so many ways, and yet it is about what can only be described as kind of an expedition into Alabama. An anthropological exploration into backward America, into the Bible belt, into a more rural area in the United States. And what do you find there? Well, you got the answer already, whiplash and backlash. But think about the geography for a moment.

It reminds us that worldviews are not evenly distributed in the American population. Now, certainly globally, you knew that already. Worldviews are not evenly distributed and that’s why you have major classifications of worldviews even in the basic distinction between an eastern and a western worldview, an Asian and a European worldview. But when it comes to the United States, the progressivist revolutionary worldview. Now these days largely due to the media and higher education is found to some degree almost everywhere, but it’s by no means evenly distributed. Manhattan, again, very high concentration of very eagerly and active people in the moral revolution and a backlash there is almost inconceivable. This paper, the New York Times really can’t imagine any kind of organized opposition in the state of New York, not to mention in the borough of Manhattan, to what is seen as inevitable LGBTQ progress. How could anything stand in the way?

However you go to another portion of the United States, particularly where there are more rural inhabitants and you also have a greater disconnect with the politics and with the media ecology? Well, that’s where you find the people who are basically profiled in this article as the problem, those who represent the backlash. So let me put it another way. There’s absolutely no chance whatsoever that this kind of article with this kind of cultural and moral reaction to the LGBTQ revolution and to what’s explicitly celebrated here as queer identity. There’s no way this story could be date lined in Manhattan or anywhere close. They had to go a long way to get a dateline for this article. They had to go all the way to Alabama. The article tells us about Maj or Miss Majesty Divine telling us that as James Miller, he was challenged to take on a drag personality because as I quote, “You’ve got a big mouth and a bad attitude.”

Now we’re told that he took on this particular suggestion and built a loyal following. “Performing at local nightclubs and at charitable events.” But then this and I quote, “As drag grew more popular with broader audiences, he started performing its story hours for kids. Now, let me just stop here for a moment. Remember, this is in Alabama. “He said he took care to tailor his performance to the audience, keeping it PG whenever children were around though, like any kid’s entertainer, he said he liked to slip in double entendres that would fly over the children’s heads, but give the grownups a chuckle. It was a fun side hustle.” Again, just a minute. What in the world are we looking at here? We’re looking at a drag entertainer telling us that like any good entertainer, he likes to use a little Friesian, a little double entendre to go over the heads of the children to the parents.

And remember, we are told that he kept his particular act as Miss Majesty Divine as a rather PG entertainment for the kids. But all I have to say is you look at the picture and the very idea of a drag queen with exaggerated features let’s just say, this is hardly PG. I’ll leave the rest of your imagination. But reflecting on the revolution in morality, this particular author and remember, she also identifies as LGBTQ. I’m not going to use the word she used again. But this author asked a question. “How did we get here? Looking back, I cannot help wondering now whether what looked in the 2000 tens like an unstoppable march towards mainstream acceptance of gay and lesbian people was perhaps more of a wobble. Perhaps the wanton cruelty, the Trump era uncorked something that was there all along. Right wing nativist parties espousing what they described as traditional values have made electoral gains across many continents and almost all of them have found queer people an easy target to use to whip up support for their agenda.”

Stop again, and now just understand what’s going on here. Now, we’re being told again that this inevitable arc of history and we’re told that opposing it is nothing less than cruelty. Something cruel was uncorked in the last several years. But then you also have this reference to moral conservatives espousing “what they describe as traditional values.” So now the very notion of traditional values is described as nothing more than a part of the backlash. But here we need to turn around and say, you know, when you reference traditional values, you at least reference even if you don’t want to moral tradition. And that moral tradition is pretty much univocal. That is to say it’s in one direction, one voice, one affirmation, one understanding of yes, what is now derided is the ideology of heteronormativity. But the fact is that there is no honest historical reflection that can come up with anything other than that the moral tradition says no to everything a drag queen represents.

And amplify that a thousand times over when you’re talking about children and so-called drag queen story hour. Now at this point, I’m going to interject something I’ve never mentioned aloud on The Briefing before, but I think it’s germane here. And I want to point out that in a weird way, and this is also something that’s affirmed in a biblical worldview. In a very weird way, moral reality is underlined by exaggeration and even sometimes by perversity. What I mean by this, it’s simply this. You don’t have drag kings virtually anywhere. No one is paying money to go watch biological women dress up as men because let me just state it bluntly as a man, such a thing would be absolutely uninteresting. And when you have a drag queen that is to say a biological male, a man presenting as a woman, well, the fact is it’s an exaggerated picture. And it’s an exaggerated picture of a distorted, intentionally distorted femininity.

I’m going to have to move on from this article, but I also want to mention that one of the indictments of this article is towards the mainstream LGBTQ movement that made an error according to the logic of this piece by not pressing enough for more radical change. So let’s just acknowledge, they’re making that argument out loud. I gave this article this much consideration on today’s edition of The Briefing because I think it goes a long way towards demonstrating where we stand and where the cultural elites in this country want to push the culture quickly and who they see as the opposition. The people who simply represent what’s described here is the backlash. Those who will not go along and even further the ends of the revolutionaries. If you stand in the way, even just a little bit, if you are trying to hold on to something morally stable even just for a second, then you are the problem.

You’re part of the backlash. You have to be overcome. But the article ends with this confidence they will overcome. And given the circumstances in this culture, it’s actually hard to argue against that.

Part II

Holy Scripture Must Give Way? Bishop Calls for Church of England to Change Its Doctrine on Sexuality and Marriage

But now at an even deeper level, we’re going to look at a letter issued by a bishop of the Church of England telling his diocese in the larger world that he now wants to be an enthusiastic advocate for again, what I would describe as the LGBTQ revolution, but this time in the church. The bishop in this case is simply known as Bishop John Inge and Bishop John is currently the bishop of Worcester. That’s a diocese there in England. Bishop John, given the tradition the way he introduces and identifies himself, he’s written an open letter to the diocese there in Worcester, “Setting out why he believes that the celebration and honoring a monogamous faithful same-sex relationships by the Church of England would be consonant with the scriptural witness.”

Now, what an amazing statement, especially given the context of church history. The Bible’s really clear about gender and human sensuality. So how exactly do you get to an ecclesial affirmation of saying sex marriage and say it’s consonant with scripture? Well, you’re going to have to find one way or another to say the Bible doesn’t mean what it appears to mean, and that’s exactly what this bishop does. Early on, he raises this saying that he should, “perhaps respond to those who wondered why I am questioning church doctrine when as a bishop I should be upholding it.” He continued, “I want to make clear that I consider it my duty to uphold church doctrine even when I argue for it to be changed. I would not marry a same-sex couple in church any more than I would’ve taken part in the ordination of a woman as a bishop before the Church of England allowed it. I did, however argue at that time for a departure from what similarly had for centuries been the general understanding of what Scripture and the tradition of the church required.”

I just want to say that I detest the theological approach taken by this bishop, but I do appreciate his candor is quite helpful at the moment. He claims simultaneously to be upholding church doctrine while stating that he personally believes it is wrong. Now, it’s hard for me to imagine a church that would allow that, but the Church of England has allowed that for a long time. I uphold this doctrine, but I actually believe it’s wrong. I’m going to contend for it to be changed, but until it is officially changed, I’m at least going to physically in space and time and history abide by this doctrine, a doctrine that I believe is absolutely wrong. And as he makes clear in this article, he believes is wrong biblically in terms of his own understanding, a biblical interpretation and authority, but also brings harm to people.

The current Bishop John mentions one of his predecessors there in the diocese of Worcester, that is Charles Gore. Who in 1889 cooperated in the authoring of a book entitled Lux Mundi, and he wrote a chapter entitled, “The Holy Spirit in inspiration,” meaning biblical inspiration. And it caused a furor even as the current bishop recognizes one more conservative respondent to the argument made by Bishop Gore “wrote that the temper of mind, which had called Lux Mundi into life ‘finds or thinks it finds that its own discoveries cannot be reconciled with holy Scripture and that of the two holy Scripture is the one that must give way.'” Now, I mentioned that quote because it really does summarize the modern temper in theology. The idea that if there are two authorities that appear to be irreconcilable, then the modern authority would be one and biblical authority would be the other.

Then the Bible’s going to have to give away. That in essence is the very definition of liberal theology. The current bishop writes about how the church basically settled with the theory of evolution. And then when it gets to LGBTQ issues, he writes, “Until recently, it was thought by many that the expression of homosexuality was simply a perverse lifestyle choice. Though as yet, there is no scientific certainty about what factors determine sexual orientation. There is general consensus that it is not a choice.” He goes on to say, “Much has been made of the analogy between the present debate over same-sex relations and the grudging acceptance by the Church of England of contraception and marriage of divorcees in church as well as the long battle for the acceptance of women’s ministries, priests and deacons.” He says he is going to go back to these. But he says, “I think the analogy with the 19th century biblical criticism in the light of scientific progress is at least as strong.”

“My understanding” this is absolutely crucial as I quote here, “My understanding of Anglican polity is that we are bound by the scriptures interpreted within the living tradition of the church through the application of reason and experience. Reason and experience have caused me to come to the scriptures anew and reassess my reading of them. Scientific insight is part of that experience. In the very next paragraph, he speaks about some people involved in same-sex relationships, “Which I cannot believe to be inherently sinful.” Again, he cannot believe this. Is it because of the scripture that he cannot believe it? No, it is because his interpretation of scripture is being transformed by factors and authorities external to scripture. And reason and experience and tradition, well, they’re explicitly cited. This is sometimes referred to as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, going back to John Wesley, better known as the founder of Methodism. The idea that there are four basic authorities in religion; scripture, tradition, reason and experience.

Think of it like a square. But here’s where we need to understand that one of the most important in terms of method, the most important principle of reformation theology, and that’s not just scriptura, but sola scriptura. The fact is that the evangelical acknowledges that tradition and experience and reason are all factored into how we think, but it is the one authority of scripture. Scripture alone that trumps the others. Scripture trumps experience. Scripture trumps reason. Scripture trumps modern experience. Scripture trumps tradition.

The way theologians put, this is norm. You have norms. And when it comes to Scripture, as Luther put it, Scripture is norma normans non normata It’s one of my favorite statements from Martin Luther, the great Reformer. And it simply comes down to this, Scripture is the norm of norms that can’t be normed. That is to say it is the authority of authorities that cannot be compromised.

Part III

The Essence of Protestant Liberalism and Capitulation to a Secular Culture: It’s Sola Scriptura or Secular Wisdom, So Make Your Choice

Now, I’m going to speak as a proud son of the Reformation here, that one of the principles you see made very visible in this bishop’s pastoral letter, which is a revolt against historic Christian teaching and even more importantly, a revolt against biblical authority. It basically comes down to the idea and the recognition that if Scripture can be normed, well, I promise you this, it will be. If another authority can force you to change your understanding of scripture rather than scripture itself bearing witness, then I guarantee you, you are going to experience a lot of theological change because you’re going to be defenseless to resist it. And when it comes to your own moral judgment… And remember this, bishop said that he understood looking at some of the people in his diocese who were in same-sex relationships. He said that he could not, in his words, “I cannot believe to be inherently sinful.”

Well, if he can’t believe it, then I guess it can’t be true. Except I don’t trust this bishop’s intuition or moral judgment. I appreciate the moral and doctrinal tradition of the church, but I can’t trust it ultimately. I appreciate God’s gift of reason, but reason has fallen and corrupted by sin. I understand that we as human beings are deeply contextualized by experience, but reason, experience, and tradition are not authoritative. Scripture is, and this means sola scriptura, Scripture alone. It doesn’t mean that scripture is alone in the sense that we know nothing by any other source. It means that it is the sole final authority in all things. And if you acknowledge that when it comes to sexuality and gender and marriage, you are not going to be involved in debates over this issue for very long. Unless of course you’re just confronting those who are subverting Scripture.

Later in this document, this Church of England bishop puts it this way, “It will be clear from the above that I do not think there is anything wrong with reexamining the scriptures in the light of science and what is happening in the ‘secular’ world.” The word secular put in air quotes. “God is quite capable of speaking to the churches from outside them.” Now, as you look at that, you simply recognize that’s not just a crack in a door that is throwing the barn door wide, as you may have heard. Now, we’re simply going to have to summarize much of this, but you know that some of the most important arguments on biblical authority by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit made about the LGBTQ issues as they are envisioned today are made by the Apostle Paul.

But this bishop, and remember, this is a bishop of the Church of England writes, “Those who adhere literally to Paul’s injunctions have therefore lost sight of the spirit of the gospel.” Now, that’s the kind of argument I’ve heard for the better part of the last 40 years. It is the argument which is the essence of theological liberalism and is subversive to the authority of scripture. If you’re going to make the argument that to take the words of Paul literally is to miss the spirit of the gospel. Well, you have just bought into what the Apostle Paul himself would say is another gospel, a false gospel. One final word is this. You would think that creation order itself would be determinative and it ought to be because it also is God’s revelation to us. But in this pastoral letter, this bishop finds a way around that as well. Basically deriding the very idea of a creation ordinance.

All that to say, if you deny the revelation of God in creation, which after all is extremely clear and then you deny even more importantly, the revelation of God in holy scripture, which is abundantly clear. And by the way, covering the same territory, just think Genesis 1.

Well, then you can accept anything from the modern age, and as I just said earlier, it’s not just that you can thus accept everything from the modern age. The fact is you not only can, you will.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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