The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, January 26, 2023

It’s Thursday, January 26th, 2023.

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

Part I

Church of England Will Not Authorize Same-Sex Marriages But Permits Clergy to Bless Same-Sex Unions ​— This is Moral Cowardice and a Theological Disaster

Anglicanism came out of the Reformation in the 16th century. The Church of England, Anglican by the way, refers to its Englishness. The Church of England was officially established when King Henry VIII made a formal break with the Church of Rome, and more directly even, with the Pope. Breaking with the Pope, which Henry VIII, by the way, had defended until he needed his divorce and the Pope was recalcitrant, there’s a lot to unpack there, but the breach between the English throne and the Papacy eventually led to the establishment of a separate church in England and that in the context of the Great Reformation of the 16th century raised the huge question, what kind of church will it be?

Would it be a Protestant church? It couldn’t exactly be a Catholic Church because of the breach with Rome. After all, if it’s Catholic as in Roman Catholic, then the Pope in Rome must be recognized as its supreme head. But that’s the one thing that Henry VIII, of course, would not and could not do, therefore just driven by historical circumstances, his own ego and ambition, and furthermore, driven by the logic of the Reformation, which was outpacing his own ambition, the reality is that Henry VIII ended up establishing something like a reformed or reformation church known as the Church of England within England during the 16th century.

But from the beginning, it was clear that Henry VIII intended for the Church of England to be something of an ego-centric church and he was the ego at the center of it. He defined Anglicanism more or less by his own needs and wants at the time and it really fell to his three immediate successors to try to hammer all of this out. His successor, his immediate successor became King Edward VI. Edward VI was famously a boy king, he actually died in his teens, but during his very brief reign, Edward VI sought to reform the church in a way that was far more Protestant, far more reformed, far more ambitious than his father had ever been.

One of the most interesting questions is what would’ve happened to the Church of England had Edward VI continued through a long or at least longer reign? We never will know because he did die as a boy king and he was followed by his older half-sister who became Queen Mary, better known in history as Bloody Mary, and it was Mary who attempted to return England to Catholicism and to the Papacy. It was a bloody struggle to be sure, but she was unsuccessful.

When Mary died, she was succeeded by Henry VIII’s other daughter, that would be Mary’s half-sister and that would be the queen who became Gloriana, Queen Elizabeth I. Now Elizabeth I is perhaps one of the most famous of all British monarchs and she had a very, very long reign. She saw England through the travails of the 16th century, eventually dying at the advent of the 17th century in the year 1603. But one of the attributes of Elizabeth is that she was of iron mind and iron will to defend England and she understood the necessity of defining the Church of England in a way that would hold together her realm. That was no small challenge.

In order to do that, Elizabeth helped to foster what became known as the identity of Anglicanism as a middle way. A middle way between what? Well, some of the people at the time during the Tudor age felt that the Church of England was threatening to either revert to something like Catholicism, and that meant actually to revert to Rome, or to fall into the hands of more radical and consistent reformers and thus become a thoroughly Protestant nation with a thoroughly Protestant church, exactly how thoroughly became the great debate. And Elizabeth understood, and this was concretized through actions including the development of the famous prayer books during her reign, she fostered an identity of Anglicanism as a middle way, a via media, a way between Roman Catholicism and what she saw as Protestant anarchy.

Elizabeth wanted a church that was genuinely reformed and genuinely Protestant, but just not too much so, certainly not too much so when it came to destroying order and hierarchy within the church, her church. The king, after all and in her case the queen, the monarch was the supreme governor of the Church of England and she intended to act as the supreme governor, and she not only intended to, she did. When the church’s bishops were referenced by Elizabeth, she referred to them as her bishops, the same way she referred to her nobles, and that’s the way the Tudor monarchs understood the Church of England.

But looking backwards in history, it is clear that the Tudor’s insistence upon a via media, a middle way is actually what has defined Anglicanism perhaps better than anything else. If you look at the Anglican communion today, you can look at very conservative, very evangelical churches. You can find very conservative, very Protestant, very evangelical bishops, but you can also find those that are not decidedly Protestant. You can find those who are, to use language that came later, Anglo-Catholic, very traditional, high church. The Church of England underwent various movements including the Tractarian movement in the 19th century.

The bottom line is that both the high church and the low church have vied for influence in the Church of England, but what they didn’t see coming is what has basically divided more than anything else the Anglican communion at the present, and that is the advent of theological liberalism and the basic relativization of all Christian theology into something that, at least most orthodox Christians would say, is not even distinctively Christian.

The Anglican communion includes those churches which are identified with the Anglican tradition and with the Church of England, but they are located in other parts of the world, some of them, indeed most of them national churches of one sort or another, but the Church of England is, after all, the mother church and the bishops of the Church of England have inordinate influence over the Anglican communion and the bishops of the Church of England have just made a statement, which is the very definition of Anglican attempts at a via media, at a third way or a middle road.

The via media in this case is a statement from the Church of England’s bishops that they will not at present move towards authorizing actual same-sex marriages by the priests and the ministers of the Church of England. They are not going to allow, at this point, the development of a right or a service for same-sex marriage, but they are, as they announced in recent days, going to allow officially ministers of the Church of England, the church’s clergy, to bless same-sex unions.

So yes, they’re not going to conduct same-sex weddings, they are not going to officiate at those weddings as a legal institution, the Church of England is not officially changing its doctrine, but it is going to allow, and allowing in this case means to encourage, clergy to bless same-sex unions. What kind of sense does that make? Well, to anyone who believes in theological consistency, it makes absolutely no sense at all. Politically, this has gone over like a lead balloon and predictably so, because there is no middle ground on this issue. There is no middle road. There is no via media. If you are blessing these unions and you’re not conducting the ceremonies, it is merely a lack of conviction and will, or perhaps a lack of political backbone in the Church of England.

If they are going to go towards blessing same-sex unions, what sense does it make to stop with a blessing? And furthermore, what exactly does that mean? Especially when we are talking about relationships that imply, in the vast majority of cases, sexual behavior and the Church of England actually has official doctrine on those issues. Not that many of its bishops appear to be overly concerned about that.

This is exactly the kind of theological disaster that you have to look at with a sense of amazement because it’s hard to believe that anyone might think this will actually work. I mean work in this case, not in being theologically acceptable or biblically faithful, but just even work in political plausibility. This is going to fail in every way and it should. Biblically-minded Christians need to understand that there is no middle way on this issue. There’s so many people who are saying, “There must be some kind of compromise. There must be some kind of middle way,” but the reality is you are either going to be for same-sex marriage or you are not, and it’s not going to be because of the issue of same-sex marriage, it’s going to be because of your prior commitment, A, to understanding what marriage is and B, to understanding the morality of human sexuality because those two things cannot be logically or honestly separated.

The clerical head of the Church of England is known as the Archbishop of Canterbury, and in this case it is the Most Reverend Justin Welby. By the way, when he ascended to that role, he was identified as an evangelical, but clearly not too much of an evangelical because he celebrated this move and told the press that even as it would not go far enough for some, it would go too far for others, and thus it might be exactly more or less, he implied, the right thing. Once again, a middle road, a third way.

Now we also have to insert a footnote here, which is more than just a matter of historical importance. The Church of England is the established Church of England. It is a system known as Erastianism. It is a state church there in Great Britain. Again, the monarch is the supreme governor of the church and when it comes to changing some of the most basic policies of the church, parliament has to concur. And the British government, that is the secular government, even has to concur in the appointment of the church’s bishops. You know that’s going to turn out well.

Part II

The Church’s Bishops are Corrupting the Church: There Can Never Be a Middle Way Between Same-Sex Marriage and Orthodox, Biblical Christianity

The document released by the Church of England’s bishops is entitled, “Living in Love and Faith,” and it includes an apology from the Church of England’s bishops for homophobia and for not treating homosexual persons, and by this they include the entire LGBTQ array, with the dignity with which they should be understood and affirmed. But the issue here again is affirmed. What exactly does affirmed mean?

Affirmed as human beings made in the image of God, we all biblically have that responsibility, but affirmed in their homosexual identity. And as the bishops acknowledge, that implies in the vast majority of cases, sexual acts and sexual relationships that the church, including the Church of England, has resoundingly condemned on the basis of the authority of scripture, until very recently.

But it’s just a matter of fact that the Church of England over the last several decades has allowed bishops, and some of the more liberal churches in the larger Anglican communion have done the same thing, they’ve allowed bishops to be what can only be described as heretics. That goes back even to the 1960s. And on this kind of issue, well, you have some bishops, including some of the leading bishops of the Church of England, who clearly will never be satisfied until the Church of England capitulates wholly to the LGBTQ revolution, and don’t forget the plus sign at the end because that capitulation is never ending.

The pastoral letter released by the bishops included statements like this, “We want to apologize for the ways in which the Church of England has treated LGBTQI+ people, both those who worship in our churches and those who do not, for the times we have rejected or excluded you, and to those you love, we are deeply sorry. The occasions on which you have received a hostile and homophobic response in our churches are shameful. And for this, we repent. As we’ve listened, we have been told time and time again how we have failed LGBTQI+ people. We have not loved you as God loves you and that is profoundly wrong. We affirm publicly and unequivocally that LGBTQI+ people are welcome and valued. We are all children of God.” So what is clear is that there is some spirit of an apology there, but it appears to be an apology that also represents a total capitulation of the church’s historic moral teaching on marriage, on sexual relationships, and on sexual behavior.

But it doesn’t directly do that because the bishops of the Church of England are intentionally indirect here. They want to say something, they don’t want to say much, but they actually say a great deal. And what they say is very bad and extremely unbiblical. It is not wrong to say that Christians should love all persons including LGBTQI+ people, and I use the designation used in this report, it is not wrong to affirm that every single human being is made in the image of God and is to be respected as such. That’s absolutely right. The gospel is to be preached to all persons including LGBTQ persons. But when you have this affirmation, which is hand in hand with an apology for failing to adequately welcome and value in the church persons who are identified by that way, it implies that there is at least an openness to sexual behavior and sexual relationships that explicitly defy scripture.

Later in the same document, there is an explicit statement that goes like this, “Another question arises regarding sexual intimacy in relationships. The prayers of love and faith,” that’s a document they approve, “do not explicitly refer to sexual intimacy. They leave open the possibility that some may wish to enter into a covenanted friendship that does not involve sexual intimacy while for others, as in the case of most but not all opposite sex couples coming to be married in the church today, their relationship has been sexually active before they come to take part in a service of dedication, thanksgiving, or blessing. How the church responds to this reality in a way that continues to encourage holiness in holding faithfulness and commitment together with sexual intimacy is another area where convictions among us differ and where it is important to create a generous space for one another’s consciences.”

Now, it’s very difficult for me to use restrained speech at this point because that’s the kind of statement that can only be described as moral cowardice and theological evasion. There might be something inherently sinful and wrong with these relationships, but then again, we need to allow for conscience to believe otherwise. The Church of England has historically sided with the historic biblical tradition of the Christian Church in saying that marriage can be this, it can’t be anything else, and the church cannot thus bless other relationships as if they are marriage and, along the way, bless relationships and behaviors that are condemned in Scripture. But then again, what do we know? We’re only the bishops of the Church of England.

Now, I mentioned that the British Parliament and the bishops of the Church of England have to, at least engage one another often on these issues, and sometimes the Church of England is represented by the church’s commissioners there before Parliament, and there was a pretty interesting exchange that took place just two days ago there in the British Parliament. Some of the more liberal members of Parliament just accused the church of cruelty and of hypocrisy. And remember, this is coming from the left.

One particular person said that the bishops are trying to square everything off, but in the end, there’s a hypocrisy that will bless the individuals but not the relationship. He went on to say, “You can have assorted blessing of your relationship, a celebration, but you can’t be married. You can’t refer to the other person as your husband.” Well, of course that is the quandary. How in the world do you bless when you’re not really blessing? And you’re certainly not blessing in such a way that you are going to recognize any legal status for this relationship. But then again, maybe you are, just not when it comes to clergy in your church performing same-sex weddings.

A conservative member of Parliament, that is to say a member of Parliament of the Conservative Party, described the action by the Church of England’s bishops as, “a typical Church of England fudge.” But he thinks that might not be the worst thing. He says, it’s “all the more welcome for that because there are other fish that have to be fried.” So that conservative member of Parliament seems to be saying that the Church of England just tried to find some kind of muddy evasion here, but he says, that’s not the worst thing, after all, there are other issues we have to face. Just muddle or fudge on.

Throughout the history of the Church of England, there have been leaders who have advocated for what became known as Latitudinarianism that is basically allowing for a very, very wide spectrum of opinions, doctrines, moral judgments, and all the rest. And what you see here is at least in part the air of Latitudinarianism. There’s a lot of Latitude here, there’s not a lot of scripture here, but this is where we need to recognize that a church can’t go in two directions at once.

The Church of England in this case will please no one because it’s trying to construct a middle way that simply doesn’t exist, can’t exist, it is not theologically or biblically justifiable. And furthermore, it just doesn’t pass the simple test of how in the world you can say one thing on the one hand and another thing on the other hand and with a smile imply you mean both things at once. A man identified as the first Anglican vicar to be entered into a same-sex marriage, he told the New York Times, “This is the issue of today, 40 years ago, it was the ordination of women that was causing division. This is just the latest iteration of the church’s struggles to accommodate with a changed world.”

Now, this is where we need to understand that the church’s responsibility to be in the world, but not of it, means that we cannot merely accommodate the world. We cannot merely compromise with the world regardless of where the world is taking us, including in this case, the world and there’s no doubt about this, especially in the liberal west, pressing towards the entire required coerced celebration of everything claimed by the LGBTQI movement plus sign all the rest that is coming. Total capitulation is what is demanded. And even though the bishops of the Church of England say, “We haven’t totally capitulated. We’re not conducting same-sex marriages,” the fact is that if they are not, it is not because they would not allow it, but simply because they don’t have the means right now to bring it about and they don’t want to completely fracture the Anglican communion and their own churches in a time in which the Church of England is in such decline.

There are those who are asking, and this was an article in the Wall Street Journal decades ago, asking whether the Church of England, and in the United States, the Episcopal Church is going the way of the dodo. Just in case you don’t know what that means, it means headed towards extinction. There are evangelicals within the Anglican communion. There are stalwart bishops within the Anglican communion. And there are some evangelicals, I would say more or less trapped in one sense in the context of the Church of England. Some of them are decidedly Anglican. They are committed to the Anglican tradition. They point to the Book of Common Prayer and to the Anglican theological tradition. They point towards the orthodoxy that has been represented by some stellar leaders of the Church of England throughout the centuries, including some of its bishops.

Just think of Bishop John Charles Ryle, who was the Anglican bishop of Liverpool, the first by the way of that diocese, and who was a stalwart defender of biblical truth. There have been other stalwart evangelicals and defenders of orthodoxy within the Church of England, some of them very famously during the 20th century and some of them very courageously right now. But we need to understand something, and that is that the Church of England’s bishops are themselves corrupting the church. They are declaring their absolute determination, at least for now, to find a middle way, but there is no middle way between truth and the rejection of truth, between the biblical pattern of sexuality and those who would defy it, unravel it, and furthermore, even criminalize it.

Bishop Ryle, by the way, made the statement, “To maintain pure faith in the church, we should be ready to make any sacrifice to hazard peace, to risk dissension, and to run the chance of division.” The bishops of the Church of England have decided to take the opposite course of action, and I think it is very safe to say, disaster will inevitably follow. But then again, given the recent decades of history, the Church of England, and given even its origins in one sense in compromise, maybe this is predictable, but the very fact that it is predictable doesn’t make it any less tragic.

Part III

The End of Parenthood as It is Biblically Defined: Our Society Seeks to Supplant Parental Authority with the Authority of Public Schools

But finally, in recent days on The Briefing, I have discussed the emergence of one issue very much into the public square. We talked about an article in the Atlantic and a front page article in the New York Times basically arguing for young people, children and teenagers, to have the right to transition, to use different pronouns than their birth sex at school, and to keep all of this, including their so-called transitioning, secret from parents, for educators to have a role of acting as advocates in this case and parents being treated as the enemy and keeping the enemy in silence.

One of the things I mentioned is that when this kind of issue arises, sometimes it arises in several places, virtually all at once. There was no coincidence, the Atlantic and the New York Times gave it such prominence just in recent weeks, but the New York Times wasn’t finished.

Columnist Michelle Goldberg just a couple days later ran an opinion piece that’s just this week with the headline, Trans Students Deserve Private Lives Too. Well, private from whom? What she makes clear is that she means private from their parents. That front page article mentioned a school that had encouraged a young person towards transgender identity and acknowledged that identity at school and not acknowledging this at all to parents. And furthermore, the mother only found out when a paper was returned with a name other than her child’s name. Big surprise there. There was more surprise to await.

Michelle Goldberg writes this, “Her distress is understandable. I would be flabbergasted and frankly hurt if one of my kids took such a big step without my knowledge. Nevertheless,” as Michelle Goldberg, a very liberal colonist, but this is what she says, “nevertheless, the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that the school did the right thing. Teenagers deserve a measure of privacy and autonomy to work out their identities, gender or otherwise, even if some of their choices and decisions seem like bad ideas to the adults in their lives.”

But you’ll notice what we’re talking about here is not just seeming a bad idea to the adults in their lives, but school officials keeping the adults in their lives named parents intentionally in the dark. When you have a columnist like this advocating for adolescents to have private lives and a zone of privacy and autonomy separate from their parents, well let’s just understand what we’re facing here.

This is actually the end of parenthood as we have known it. It means the legal and social and moral redefinition of parenthood in such a way that parents are not those who have and are recognized to have primary responsibility for children. No, schools, school officials, teachers, and others may intervene, and furthermore, the child is to be recognized on LGBTQI issues as having privacy and autonomy, even from parents or as is implied here, especially from parents.

Goldberg’s article ends actually with a thunderclap. Just listen for it here, “It’s understandable that many parents are freaked out by the foreign gender landscape their kids are navigating and alienated by what can seem like rigid activist dogma. Telling these parents that their concerns are illegitimate is only going to send them careening rightward.” That means, let’s just insert here, in a conservative direction. “They’re entitled to their questions about their kids’ lives, but it’s not the role of the law to mandate they get answers.” In other words, the law should say that the schools, school officials, teachers, others who are not the parents of the child have the right to keep all of this secret from parents. It’s not the role of law, she says, to mandate that parents get answers.

Parents, I hope you’re hearing this and I hope you are ready to take the action necessary to make sure that this is not a story about your child or your children. Goldberg, by the way, actually describes parental involvement in this kind of situation as “a new kind of helicopter parenting.”

Christian parents, I simply beseech you, get in your helicopter and fast.

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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