Tuesday, March 21, 2023
It's Tuesday, March 21st, 2023.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Sexual Liberation Requires a New Religion: The Free Fall of the Liberal Churches from Historic, Orthodox Christianity
It's really important at times to understand the American religious landscape and the major changes, even transformations that have taken place in recent decades in that religious landscape because it has a great deal to do with how we place evangelical Christianity and our predicament or paradox of living in the modern age within that context. So let's just go back several decades.
If you go back, say half a century, the most establishment church of the most Protestant establishment in the United States was the Episcopal church. And the Episcopal church was at the top of a very rarefied heap you might say. Now, the Episcopal Church was never that large in terms of numbers, but it was very large in terms of influence. If you look at how the elite in society operates, and they're always is an elite in every society, as George Orwell said, "The thing about all animals being equal is that some are more equal than others," and that was an accurate parable about how elites work.
There's going to be an elite, you might call the elite, the poet bureau, or you might call it well, the establishment, but nonetheless, there's an elite somewhere and in the United States, in the Anglo-American tradition, in the tradition of English-speaking civilization, well, the Episcopalians were at the very top of that pyramid, and even as I say, they didn't have that many numbers, they had all kinds of influence. If you look for example, at the denominational identification that's associated with members of Congress throughout the last, say 200 years, outsize influence for the Episcopal church. When you look at the big Eastern establishment in the United States that basically ran the country for the better part of say almost 200 years, you're looking at Episcopalians sitting very much in the driver's seat, the Episcopal church being the epitome of the Protestant elite in the United States, which was dominated by a Protestant culture.
And thus, when we're talking about the so-called seven sisters of the old Protestant mainline, we're talking about the old seven brands of American Protestantism in which was certainly concentrated cultural authority, political power, and economic might in the United States. Those seven sisters of the old Protestant mainline, by the way, were the Episcopalians, the Congregationalists now called the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterians, particularly what's now the PCUSA, the United Methodist, the disciples of Christ, Northern Baptists, and the more liberal Lutherans in this case known as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
And those historic churches had outsize importance in shaping the culture. The word mainline wasn't an accident. They were the mainline religious establishment in the United States, but they're not now. And that shift is of enormous consequence for the United States of America, but there still are signs that that old establishment used to be there.
One of the signs is the fact that the passing of a former presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church U.S.A. was given virtually a half page in a recent print edition of The New York Times. That's very rarefied journalistic real estate. That tells you something. Now that's particularly true when you fast-forward to the present time and see that all of those denominations, yes, all of them, have been in precipitous decline and they have been so for quite a while now. The culture has been secularizing. And what made those churches main line was the fact that they intended to move with the culture, and they did. They basically decided to secularize with a secularizing culture and all have been effectively in the hands of theological liberals for so long that it's hard to remember a time when they were not, at least in terms of the elite in the denomination and the leadership, monolithically progressive, if not just outright, undeniably heretical. Those denominations still punch above their weight.
And when it comes to media attention, this obituary is a recent sign. The obituary was for the former presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, Frank T. Griswold III, and the headline in the obituary described him as a bridge building bishop. Now I think it's important to note the Bishop Griswold must have looked like a presiding bishop sent by central casting in Hollywood. He had attended the ultra elite St. Paul School in New Hampshire, originally a school for boys. Then later, co-educational. It's the elite of the elite. He then went on to Harvard. He was already aiming for the Episcopal ministry. After Harvard, he studied at General Theological Seminary in New York City, but he received his basic theology degree from Oriel College at Oxford, just making the Anglophile tradition all that more apparent. Before Bishop Griswold was Bishop Griswold, two of his fairly close relatives were already or had already been prominent bishops in the Episcopal church.
And of course Bishop Griswold would serve as presiding bishop of the Episcopal church from 1998 to 2006. That's the top of the heap at the top of the heap, but those dates turn out to be really important. Let's think about the years 1998 to 2006, what was going on? Well, it's important that we recognize at least most urgently what was going on in the Episcopal Church. It was in the year 2003 that the Episcopal Church made headlines all over the world by consecrating the first openly gay bishop of the entire history of Anglicanism.
Furthermore, it's basically the first consecration of an openly gay bishop in all of we'll say the history of bishops going back about two millennia, and that led to disastrous consequences for the Episcopal church, but it didn't come out of nowhere. The Episcopal church had already been moving in such progressivist and liberal circles that this just became the next inevitability. But the leadership at the time made it inevitable and Bishop Griswold was very much a part of that leadership.
In 2003 with the full support of presiding Bishop Griswold, the Episcopal church elected the Reverend V. Gene Robinson as the first openly gay bishop of the church. Now again, back then that still made headline news, the elevation of an openly homosexual man as bishop reversed 2000 years of church teaching and practice through the world of churches claiming Episcopal succession into turmoil and basically tore the Anglican communion asunder. That's no small thing. It turns out that the date 2003 is lasting in importance and it's not accidental that Frank T. Griswold III was the presiding bishop of the Episcopal church. Now, at the time, the presiding bishop said that when it came to Bishop Robinson or Bishop elect Robinson or select Robinson, he saw in his words no impediment to the consecration of Gene Robinson to the Episcopate.
He said it was yielding to the vote of the diocese of New Hampshire. When Robinson was installed as Bishop Bishop Griswold who was presiding, literally, he was presiding, he stated, "As Anglicans, we are learning to live in the mystery of communion at a much deeper level end." Well, we might say some Anglicans were. Other Anglicans, not so much. The consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson was the final straw for many Anglicans around the world. Soon after Bishop Robinson's election, I sat between two Anglican archbishops from Africa at dinner. They were bold to accuse Bishop Robinson of heresy and the Episcopal Church of apostacy. They minced no words and they never recognized him as a bishop.
And furthermore, this led to recent developments in the Anglican communion in which several of the African churches have stated they no longer even recognize the Archbishop of Canterbury. Within a few years, the entire global Anglican communion would be divided and the Episcopal church would see the defection of many of its more evangelical and traditional Episcopal parishes they would seek and they would find communion in new Anglican circles and in new churches.
What about the scriptural teachings on sex, gender, marriage and ministry? Well, Bishop Gene Robinson, who by the way, had divorced his wife and he eventually married a man later divorcing him too. And so in most historic Christian denominations, there would be frankly no end to the reasons why he would not be selected as a bishop.
But nonetheless, Bishop Gene Robinson had an answer to Scripture. This is what he said, "We worship a living God, not one locked up in the scripture of 2000 years ago" now, I think you understand why I wanted to look to this issue today. We sometimes just need to see reality framed in such clear language. Here you have the bishop of a church, clearly apostate, who basically describes orthodox biblical Christianity as having locked God up in the scripture of 2000 years ago.
Here's the great dividing line in religious institutions, and in particular, in historic Christianity. You have one group that decides with historic Christianity and another that has basically invented a new religion to put in its place. I just want you to look back at these words from Bishop Gene Robinson of the Episcopal Church, the first openly gay bishop, "We worship a living God, not one locked up in the Scripture of 2000 years ago."
Now methodologically, let's just understand that if you are saying that God is no longer to be understood solely and definitively and sufficiently in terms of his self-revelation in scripture, then you're basically just inventing God as you go along. And that's the great experiment of modern liberal theology. It's the invention of a new God, simply using the language and claiming the authority, wearing the investments and, in many cases, installing the bishops as if this is the same church. It isn't.
Now, what about Bishop Griswold? What was he saying about all of this? Well, at one point he said that he saw human sexuality is, "A free ranging force that can overwhelm reason and is therefore dangerous." That's a very Anglican kind of statement, but he went on to say this, "Some people feel that if sexuality isn't carefully circumscribed, it will subvert all sorts of things."
Well. I'll simply say that that sounds precisely like the sort of thing taught in Scripture. That is to say that sex, gender, marriage and all the rest is precisely defined, and denying that does indeed subvert all sorts of things, including not only the institution of marriage but the entire order of creation. And you also have to consider the fact that the denominations that have gone down the liberal road on these issues, they can't stop at LGB. They're enthusiastically now giving themselves to T. And of course remember that there's a plus sign at the end of that because there has to be. Even they don't know what's coming next, but therefore it.
Bishop Griswold thought he had a way out of this box. He made this comment, "In the gospels, Jesus said, 'I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.'" He said that suggests to him that God's truth is always unfolding. He continued with these words. "If we can accept that there are new truths that science brings us or new discoveries in medicine, why is it when it comes to sexuality, there is no new truth?" Now, it's just important sometimes for us to hear words like that and understand what we are looking at in those words. We're looking at a theological revolution. If indeed the church is to be looking to new truth that's always unfolding even when it comes to something as basic as gender human identity when it comes to marriage and human sexuality, then Christianity, to use the words of another philosopher, simply isn't a thing. It's not a thing at all.
It's many things and theologically that means ultimately it is no thing. By now it has to be clear to all that there's no masking the divide between biblical Christianity and this new religion that blesses all things LGBTQ plus. That divide comes down to whether or not you see God as a constantly updateable divine metaphor that in the words of Bishop Robinson rejects a God locked up in the Scripture of 2000 years ago. Those words were a strange admission. I think we have to see this. Those words were a strange admission that the new religion of sexual liberation requires a new god.
That new religion requires the rejection of Scripture and the elevation of modern gender and sexuality ideologies to the driver's seat. Now, note this very carefully. The Episcopal church did not start down its liberal free fall in 2003. A lot of barriers had to fall, a lot of steps had to be taken, a lot of doctrines had to be bent. A lot of texts of Scripture had to be denied before the events of consecrating an openly gay bishop in 2003.
But that act of consecration was a clear and determinative crossing of a bar. Now, here's another very humbling realization. As yet, as yet, in the year 2023, there is not a single historic Christian denomination that has gone down this road of theological insanity that is returned to the biblical faith. Without a full return to biblical authority there is simply no way back. We just need to understand that. There is no way back but a return to the Scriptures.
The Push For Religious LGBTQ Allies: The Big Tent of the Sexual Revolution Vies for Support – Unless You Hold to Biblical Christianity
But next, thinking about all these things, you realize that there is a larger theological conversation going on. And this is not of ultimate consequence for your local church, your congregation, probably for your Christian school or your denomination, but it is important in understanding the larger cultural conversation going on outside of us.
And here's where we need to understand something. Those who are trying to push the revolution in sexuality, gender, marriage, and all the rest, they are trying to identify as many religious allies as they can. So even in local debates, such as right here in Kentucky, you have people who will show up and say, look, there are liberal denominations that have endorsed same-sex marriage, that have affirmed the entire LGBTQ array. It's not fair to say. They say that Christians are monolithic or united in terms of a consensus based on Scripture on these questions.
But there's an even larger cultural context we need to watch. And that context is seen, for example, in an article that ran over the weekend in The New York Times. The headline in the opinion section is this, "Everyone is a created being of their own." Now, by the way, just looking at those words, everyone is a created being of their own that wouldn't have passed the copy editing process at The New York Times just a matter of a few years ago because their doesn't go with everyone in what was then considered standard English.
But then that was back when boys were boys and girls were girls. Elliot Kukla, the author of this piece, identified as a rabbi who provides spiritual care to those who are grieving, dying, ill or disabled. But there's an interesting story behind this, and Rabbi Kukla goes on to tell us that story. He goes on to tell us, "I'm transgender and non-binary, and as a rabbi I've offered bereavement spiritual care for the past 17 years. In recent years, I've accompanied mourners through the losses of many more very young trans people than in the past. Each of these funerals was heartbreaking, but taken together they were terrifying. I am," he says, "the parent of a four-year-old gender-nonconforming kid, and I know there will be more deaths unless something changes."
Now we're looking at a massive issue here. It's a massive challenge to biblical Christianity, and I would say also a challenge to creation order. It's a moral and political challenge as well. Of course, it's also a challenge when it comes to looking at arguments like this. Just understand how this is being presented and it's not accidental. As you go back into the beginnings of the LGBTQ Liberation Movement, the claim was that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality, but there's something wrong with believing that there's something wrong with homosexuality. If you go back historically, the belief has been that the harm was homosexuality and that homosexuality brings harm.
But there was a moral flip in the argument by deliberate public relations strategy, and it was overwhelmingly successful. It was successful in changing the harm from being sexual deviancy, judged by society and identified in Scripture to being those who would hold to moral sanctions against what were then described as just alternative sexual lifestyles, behaviors and relationships.
But right now, we are looking at a crisis when it comes to the mental health of many young people. And by the way, there's no reason for Christians to deny or even to suspect that there would be a rise in the number of young people who are describing emergencies and perhaps even self-harming behaviors based upon some involvement in the LGBTQ array. And in particular, the identities summarize by transgender and non-binary.
But here again, we just need a very careful understanding from a Christian perspective of what the harm would be and who would be responsible for that harm. You need to understand that the clear implication of this article is that there's nothing wrong with transgender or non-binary ideologies. They have no negative effect upon young people who may be troubled because after all those ideologies are presented as liberation. The argument here is that those who would dare oppose those ideologies represent the threat or the harm. Let's put it a different way.
This rabbi who is himself transgender and has a non-binary child because the rabbi tells us about it, this rabbi is actually arguing that those who suspect the transgender ideology, those who can't go enthusiastically forward into celebrating this, that we're the ones doing the harm. Here's what we need to understand. We're not denying that there is harm. We're very concerned about the young people suffering that kind of harm, but we have a very different source to blame. We would blame those ideologies and those who are pushing those ideologies themselves, not those who are pushing back on the ideologies.
So again, let's just underline this. We're not denying the harm, the harm that is coming with great regret into the lives of so many young people. But Christians would look and say, we believe the harm is those who are subverting creation order, those who are placing a deep fragility in the hearts and minds of so many young people, those who are lying to them by means of ideology and seducing them into what can only create a very deep brokenness.
We don't deny the brokenness, but we think we know where it comes from, and it's not coming from creation order or Scripture.
Nonbinary Gender Is Central to Understanding Judaism?: Transgender Rabbi Contends Gender Spectrum Has Always Existed in Judaism
But we need to go back to Rabbi Kukla's article here.
And by the way, there's no real indication of what the biological sex is here. By the time you enter into this article, the confusion is so circular it's actually hard to get at anything. But that's another point. You are looking here at the fact that there's no evidence that could be brought into this particular argument that would in any way cause this rabbi to somehow change position on this issue. But there's a particular theological twist when it comes to the argument made by this very liberal rabbi. By the way, he's identified with reformed Judaism that has basically no particular doctrines whatsoever, and even includes atheist and agnostic rabbis among its list of official and recognized rabbis.
And this particular rabbi, Rabbi Kukla identified as the first openly transgender rabbi of this particular movement. If you think about Judaism in the United States, basically there are three major branches on the right, the Orthodox, on the left, the reform, and somewhere in the middle, it had previously been more conservative, but now it's actually more liberal, is the group known as conservative Judaism. So Orthodox on the right, then Conservative, not so conservative these days. And then Reform, which can include almost anything theologically.
And when it comes to anything, recognize this is a massive article in a major newspaper, making a rather bizarre argument. I quote, "This legislative attack," that means conservatives here, "This legislative attack is often framed as a battle between traditional religious values and modern ideas about gender. But we are real people, not ideas, and we have always existed," that means trans people, he's saying, "including within age-old traditions."
The Rabbi continues, "In my own tradition, Judaism, our most sacred text, reflect a multiplicity of gender. This part of Judaism has mostly been obscured by the modern binary world until very recently end." Are you interested? Well, I think you should be. Let's read on what the Rabbi writes, "There are four genders beyond male or female that appear in ancient Jewish holy texts hundreds of times. They're considered during discussions about childbirth, marriage, inheritance, holidays, ritual leadership, and much more." He continues. "We're always hiding in plain sight.
But recently, the research of Jewish studies scholars like Max Strassfeld has demonstrated how non-binary gender is central to understanding Jewish law and literature as a whole." I'm not going to go any deeper into the precise argument. I just want to point to the argument. And by the way, this points to the fact that when you're looking at Judaism, you'll notice he makes reference to Scripture and he's clearly not talking about the Bible.
That is because according to much Jewish tradition, there's authoritative status given to other works such as the Mishnah, and there are specific references to the Mishnah, a medieval work that's identified here. All this also reminds us that there have been strands of Judaism deeply involved in, and I mean very deeply involved in, what can only be described as mysticism far beyond scripture. If you're talking about Genesis, well, both Jews and Christians understand what we're talking about in the text.
But it's important to note that many Jewish scholars around the world in many Jewish groups, including reformed Judaism, hold that there's no particular authoritative interpretation at all. Actually, the interpretation of rabbis in the past takes on an authority, which in many ways exceeded the scripture. And that was something confronted by Jesus himself, and he named it for what it was even at the time.
But what's really interesting in this article is not what it reveals about Judaism, it's what it reveals about a secular culture determined to try to find as many fellow travelers when it comes to its ideologies as is possible, and it will publish the most outlandish religious arguments and say, look, they're religious people who agree with us too.
But there's something else here that just reminds us is Christian, that biography is a very clear indicator. If you start out the biography with a transgender rabbi who has in his home a gender non-conforming child, where in the world do you think this argument is going to end up? Well, oddly enough, for reasons we just explained, it ended up very prominently published in one of the nation's most influential newspapers over the weekend. Why? Again, it's because those who are pushing this revolution are looking for as many fellow travelers as they can possibly claim.
The Numbers Don’t Lie: President Emmanuel Macron Survives No Confidence Vote
One final observation for today about how politics works.
Just watch this because it's working out right before our eyes. Very quickly, just think about France. You had the French president, Emmanuel Macron doing the math. The pension system doesn't add up. And so he brought what was considered to be a government supported plan to raise the retirement age in France from 62 to 64. Labor unions protested. The vast majority of French people said they would live with the bad math even if the numbers don't add up. They didn't want their retirement age raised.
And then the French president at the end of last week used one of the provisions in the French constitution, not found in the U.S. Constitution for the President basically to act as an absolute monarch, which he did. Absolutely. And then just yesterday, Macron's government faced a vote of confidence before the French Parliament and the government didn't fall.
Now, here's what I want you to note. This gives people in parliament and many political leaders all over France the opportunity to say they were against this proposal, but they could not stop it. At the same time, they do know the math and they do know it was necessary. So just another reminder of how politics works out in a fallen world. There are people who were for it before they were against it, and now that it is passed, they'll say they're against it, when in reality the numbers are all for it and they know it.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at Albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again tomorrow or The Briefing.