Wednesday, September 27, 2023
It's Wednesday, September 27, 2023.
I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Now They Are Taking Names: The Oxford Safe Churches Project Releases Report Rating Churches on LGBTQ Acceptance
I've been warning for a long time that this is coming. And in one sense it came classically in a page of the Times of London. It was published last Friday. There's an update to the story and I'll give you that too, but here's the story and it's a bombshell. Headline's this, "LGBT ratings for churches." The story is simple, it's very short. This is it. "Oxford students have rated local churches based on how safe they are for gay and transgender Christians. The students awarded scores of 1 to 5 after analyzing sermons and blog posts and speaking to worshipers." Jayne Ozanne, an LGBT rights campaigner who sits on the Church of England's general senate, said that she hoped "the exceptionally important project would be" in her words, "replicated by grassroots groups across the country."
So here's what we've been saying is coming. People are going to be taking names and they're going to be keeping score. You're going to have those who are pushing this kind of progressivist agenda, particularly when it comes to LGBT issues, deciding that they're going to separate themselves and advertise publicly the separation between those they see as the sheep and those they see as the goats. And the entire criterion for being declared on the right side of history, so to speak, is full unequivocal support of the normalization of all LGBT behaviors, relationships, the entire agenda.
Now, I've been saying they're going to be taking names and I think some people have thought, "Well, that has to be a long way off." But this is where we have to understand that when you have an agenda like this and you have the advent of modern media, social media, and you have an activist community fueled by identity politics, this is exactly what you're going to see happen.
Now again, that article in The Times, that's one of the most influential, indeed many would say the most establishment London newspaper, it's short. It's offered by the Religious Affairs Correspondent for the paper. It's short. It's on the bottom right-hand of the print edition of the page as if, "Maybe we need to put this in because it might be important." We understand that it is indeed important. Indeed it's something like an alarm going off. It's a siren that's now being heard. And I think we should all recognize the fact that even though this is about an effort undertaken and now publicly acknowledged in Oxford, England, it's coming for your town. It's coming for your state. In one sense, it's coming for your church.
Now, once I saw that report, I said about some investigation to try to get the underlying documents. Over the last couple of days, I've been able to obtain a full copy of the report along with local coverage indeed by the student newspaper there at Oxford University and other press reports as well. A full look at the report is actually quite an education in itself. You have these activists, who without making any announcement, went into these churches and they were clearly looking to find out according to their understanding who's been naughty and who's been nice. But they're also, and this is actually kind of baked into the cake of this process, it's of necessity, they have to be exactly clear about what they believe a church should teach and should not teach. They have to be very clear about the attitude a church should take and the attitude of church should not take according to their view. And they're unabashed. They use all the language of this intersection of identity, politics and modern sexual ideologies. You'll notice they use the word safe.
Now, the word safe has been transformed. We've noted this on The Briefing over time. The word safe has been transformed into acquiescence to the demands made by some group according to identity politics. If you do not meet their demands, then they are unsafe. A further extension of this kind of logic and linguistics is found when they say that you render people invisible. That's a particular term that is used ideologically by those pushing the transgender agenda. If you deny my gender, you are making me invisible. Of course, they are not invisible, they are just horribly confused. But the church must not be confused on these issues. And the keeping of a list like this and the announcement of a list like this just tells us a great deal about where we are. And again, I think there are people who thought this might be inevitable at some point in the future, but I believe we're going to know where every church stands on these issues in very short order.
So what would the student newspaper at Oxford University say about this? A report in the Oxford Newspaper by Etienne Baker said this, "The Oxford Safe Churches Project, run by a coalition of LGBTQ+ organizations and churches in Oxford, have published their first faith report titled Attitudes to Queer Christians in Oxford Churches. The report, published on Friday, September 22nd, uses a 'traffic light' system," that's put in quotation marks, "to rank the LGBTQ+ inclusivity of churches in Oxford. St. Aldates Church and St. Ebbe's Church, both located next to Pembroke College in the center of Oxford, are ranked in the lowest rate of inclusivity and have a notable amount of evidence suggesting active displays of both homophobia and transphobia."
So we just heard the report in the Times of London. Very short, but right to the point telling us that they're taking names. And now we have the Oxford student newspaper telling us that it's a group that is now going into churches. They've been listening to sermons and they're bringing their report. We're also told in the lead paragraph that two Anglican parishes, St. Aldates Church and St. Ebbe's, they are in the lowest rate of inclusivity. And then you saw the words, you knew they were coming, homophobia and transphobia.
The next paragraph in the report says this, "The introduction to the report states that it is intended to give LGBTQ+ people the tools to make informed decisions about what church to attend. It acknowledges that whilst ideally all churches would be welcoming places, spaces for LGBTQ+ people of faith, this is not the case. And it is important to help prevent queer people experiencing trauma caused by 'spiritual abuse'." Interestingly, that's put in quotation marks too. "A spokesperson from the group told us," remember, this is the newspaper reporting on the group, "told us, 'For a long time, students in Oxford have walked into churches not knowing how their LGBTQ+ identity will be received. We desperately want to stop this from happening. And this is what our report attempts to do'."
Now, what that statement expresses is the understanding that persons ought never to hear anything contrary to what they demand to hear. And the bottom line is that means that they should not/must not be confronted with biblical Christianity. But this is a part of the logic of identity politics and the new sexual liberation ideologies. It is the idea that it causes harm to people to hear any statement that contradicts their self-perception, or for that matter, their sexual identity ambitions or gender expression or sexual expression.
But now we need to take a look at the actual report. It's pretty thick, a lot of words in it, a lot of churches covered in it. The headline is Attitudes Toward Queer Christians and Oxford Churches. But underneath that headline is a trigger warning. "Trigger warning: homophobia and transphobia in the context of religious teaching and practice." So the way you're supposed to offer these trigger warnings is to say right up front, "There's likely to be some content here that will trouble you if this kind of content troubles you." Well, nonetheless, just think of the irony in this by the way, the report is only meaningful to the people who wrote it and for their purposes if the people who might be triggered by it read it. But nonetheless, this is how the modern ideology works.
The report begins by asking why this project. The answer is this, "It is worrying that for so long students in Oxford have unwittingly entered the life of churches where they are initially welcomed only to find that their LGBTQ+ identity is not. We watch," again, I'm quoting here, "We watch as LGBTQ+ students are drawn into these churches only to encounter theology, policy and practice, which oppose their queer identities and ask for repentance of their gender identity or sexuality."
Later is a heading that simply says the theology, "From the position of LGBTQ+ people of faith who hold affirming inclusive theology and pastoral practice, the definition of those who hold to the traditional beliefs of the Church of England can include numerous different churches and denominations. Importantly," and again, I'm quoting here, "an affirming theological perspective of the traditional view of marriage is that it is not in fact a form of ancient orthodoxy, but is in most cases an example of systematic homophobic theology from post World War II USA."
So let's just stand back for a moment. This is breathtaking. Here you have a group that is doing this investigation on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community at Oxford, and they are saying that, "When people use language about the historic Anglican position on marriage, they're not actually talking about anything that's inherently historically theological at all. It's rather a product of post World War II USA."
Now, let me just point out, I'm a product of post World War II USA. I'm pretty familiar with this argument. The argument is this, that the natural family, the so-called nuclear family and heterosexual marriage, is the invention of a post-capitalist modern society and it is itself an expression of oppression. Now we just need to recognize. I think number one, this is being written by smart people. You don't get to Oxford by accident. You're at Oxford because it's one of the two most competitive academic institutions in England. One of the most respected universities in the world. One of the most competitive admissions found anywhere. Students there have gone through many, many different sifts in terms of their ability to think and use ideas, or at least that would be the claim.
But here they are actually making the claim that traditional marriage, a union of a man and a woman as an exclusive lifetime monogamous relationship, is something that was invented in the United States after World War II. That's not smart. That's easily refuted by the millennia of human history that are accounted for and historically verified and well understood. All you have to do is go to a cemetery. As a matter of fact, just go to any cemetery and you will see a graphic representation of what the civilization understood marriage to be.
But you know, let's be honest, as an American, I look at this and I understand what's going on here. You have the effort to blame conservative Christianity on post World War II America. One of the ways, in a context such as in Great Britain, that you might gain a certain kind of rhetorical advantage is by saying, "Look, this isn't historic Christianity. This is just an American invention." We can understand at least in part what's going on there. We need to call it what it is.
Okay, let's look at a couple of examples from the report. Number one, St. Ebbe's Church. The report is this, the bad news is that the church is currently a member of the Church of England, and the current rector is a part of a group of ministers "that sought to block the appointment of Canon Jeffrey John, who described himself as a celibate homosexual as the Bishop of Reading, claiming this would go against biblical teachings." So there's an historic reference. This is a big problem according to this group.
The next item in the report, "Current Rector Vaughan Roberts has been outspoken against same-sex marriage in the church, LGBTQ+ identities, and particularly against individuals living as their preferred gender in the church and outside of it." Later, among other issues is this, "Rector Vaughan Roberts was also one of the signers of the Nashville statement, which denies that 'sexual attraction for the same sex is part of the natural goodness of God's original creation, and that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is not consistent with God's holy purposes in creation and redemption'."
Indeed, Vaughan Roberts did sign that statement. I was one of the framers of that statement. And back when it was released, and we all put our names on that statement, we understood that one day that statement would be sought after and all the names would be released on just a list such as this. You could say right now that day has come.
So here's how the church is ranked. It is ranked level 1. Now, level 1 is the worst. Level 5 is the best according to this LGBTQ+ advocacy group. Rated number 1 is St. Ebbe's. Here's what the statement reads. "St. Ebbs and their leadership are outspoken in their beliefs on the impurity of same-sex marriage, relationships, and LGBTQ+ identity. There will be an expectation to remain celibate and as your gender assigned at birth, and this will be supplemented by guidance, prayer, and teaching as shown by their indirect support for conversion therapy and/or practices. For these reasons, St. Ebbe's is rated as a 1."
So there we recognize St. Ebbe's is here simply standing for historic biblical Christianity. It is not standing for some kind of sociological innovation developed in post-war USA. This is marriage, we simply need to point out. Perhaps this would be inconvenient as a fact for this group, especially since they're dealing with the Church of England. All you have to do is look at the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England to have consistent, abundant, comprehensive testimony to the definition of marriage. But then again, given this agenda, the Book of Common Prayer is going to have to go to.
Red Light, Green Light For the LGBTQ+ Revolution: Evaluating the Meaning of the Oxford Safe Churches Report
Now, let me remind you that the organizers of this report said they wanted to use something like a traffic light system in order to give affirmation or warning to LGBTQ+ students at Oxford. According to the report, the categorization comes down to level 1. This is the worst. Guess the color. Red. The statement is, "This is probably a church where there is public teaching calling homosexuality sinful. They're likely to use the clobber passages to argue that any form of homosexual sex within a same-sex marriage or otherwise is a form of sexual immorality and are likely to use this as a means of arguing for celibacy or conversion to a heterosexual lifestyle. It is also likely that trans and non-binary people are not openly affirmed."
The statement later is this, "We believe for some people, especially freshers and students, it may mean a high risk of spiritual abuse." Freshers in this case means freshmen, entering students. They are particularly warned. The second rating, and again, this is really bad. 1 is really bad. 5 is really good. 2 is pretty close to really bad. It's also colored red. "In this church, a diversity of sexuality is probably rarely mentioned, a heteronormative approach to life." Now, let's just pause there for a moment. Whenever you see the word heteronormative, you know you got a problem, because heteronormative means the wrongful assertion that heterosexuality and heterosexual marriage are normative. We believe that's actually a fundamental biblical, even creational assertion.
But nonetheless, that tells you where this is going, and you'll notice level 2. It's not in the opening statement of this description that a church here is straightforwardly teaching that homosexuality is a sin. Indeed, it starts out simply saying that the diversity of sexuality is probably rarely mentioned. Now, I'm just going to pause for a moment and say, this really tells you... Here's my own trigger warning of a sort. This also tells you that by the time you get to 5, you're talking about loud support for the LGBTQ+ agenda. You're talking about that all the time. You've got the rainbow banners and the rainbow flags absolutely everywhere. You get labeled red here for big danger simply if there is a diversity that is rarely mentioned in a heteronormative approach as thus implied.
According to this warning scheme, amber is in the middle. This number 3, quote, "In this church, it is likely that sexuality in relationships of any kind are not mentioned, although heterosexuality in cisgendered experience is the passively assumed norm. The minister may be personally either unsure of their theological stance on matters relating to LGBTQ+ people, or they may be personally affirming when asked but disinclined to speak publicly about it."
So let me just remind you, this is amber. This is still a warning that just set you up for number 4 and number 5. They're both green, but of course 5 is greener than 4. Number 4, "This is a church where there is at least some public support where LGBTQ+ people and probably a specific public welcome. Leaders are likely to be prepared to voice their affirmation and they may occasionally preach or write a blog or magazine article to explain their theological position. There may well be LGBTQ+ people in the congregation and in positions of leadership, agencies and resources which offer LGBTQ+ people support and allyship may be linked to and promoted."
So where is the possibility being further to the left? Well, I'm just going to cut and go to number 5. "This is probably a church which has internalized a queer identity. It may be that a large number of LGBTQ+ people attend or even that they started or lead the church. Straight and cis people attend as part of the diversity of the church rather than the assumed norm. If someone were to speak against inclusivity, others would be very likely to defend it. LGBTQ+ relationships and milestones are publicly celebrated." The last sentence in this, "Driving through a green light, you can be far more certain that the road will be clear and safe to drive." Like you couldn't figure out red and yellow and green lights.
I mentioned one other Anglican congregation that was held up as the other of the worst examples in this case, this is St. Aldates Church. I think I just said I walked right in front of that church in Oxford just yesterday afternoon. I had this report in mind. I prayed for the church as I stood there looking at its building. "This particular church, very close to Christ Church College there at Oxford, it is identified as a member of the Church of England. It is..." And then the next thing said is this, "On associate minister Simon Simon Ponsonby's podcast unscripted, which is advertised and supported by St. Aldates, he implies that any sex outside of a lifelong marriage between a husband and a wife is an impurity." And that was dated July 2023, as if that is a very odd and eccentric Christian teaching.
There are further points here, the same kind of thing as you expect. One of the latter bullet points is this, "Ex Minister for St. Aldates, Reverend Charlie Cleverly, signed the document as known as the Response to Transgender Welcome Letter in 2019, which describes the gender binary as in almost biological reality as part of God's creation and argues against gender transition recognition services." Now, again, that's just biblical Christianity. This ex minister, I guess that means former minister in this case, spoke of the universal biological reality of male and female. Now, again, if you mention that not only in an evangelical context, you mentioned that in a context of theological liberalism a generation ago, it would've been affirmed and well understood that gender is a universal biological reality. Men as Christians, we would say, with very deep theological significance and creation order revelation.
We're also told that this church has in other ways identified itself as coming up short in terms of getting anything like a green light. In the summary ranking, again, number 1, "St. Aldates, in particularly its leadership, has a history of campaigning against LGBTQ+ relationships and identities, including attempting to stop the appointment of a celibate homosexual bishop. The church has tried to remain silent on LGBTQ+ relationships since the arrival of Reverend Stephen Foster. Church leadership are unlikely to affirm LGBTQ+ people and may expect them to live celibate lives." On and on it goes. And this is more or less an example of what we should expect.
Now, I'm not going to take the time to look at the churches that rated 5. We were already told what they would look like, what they would teach, and again, unabashed celebration and central identity found in the LGBTQ+ agenda. I want some evangelicals to pay close attention to this report for one particular reason, and that is that silence doesn't buy you anything. Here's one of the big moral lessons. Leadership of course isn't silence, but in this case, silence is just understood as subversive. What's being demanded here is not silence on biblical sexuality and gender issues. No, it is absolute surrender, absolute acquiescence.
But you know, this is the year 2023. And it is the 100th anniversary of the publication of the classic work by the Presbyterian Theologian, Jay Gresham Machen, entitled Christianity and Liberalism. It is one of the most important books in modern Protestant history because Machen had the courage to say, when confronted by the Protestant liberalism of the early 20th century, that it is not a case that with orthodox Christianity and liberal theology, you have two versions of one religion. As Machen said, they are two separate religions. It is Christianity and some other religion.
And that's exactly what we're looking at here. I think there's so many lessons for us in this case. They are taking names, they're producing lists. In this case, it's Oxford University. And you might say, "Well, that's a long way away from my church.' But in this digital age, it's right next door. And furthermore, this is a pattern that is being urged upon other activist communities and other cities and towns. It just can't be long until eventually this kind of report is done on the churches of your town.
You better be ready right now. You better have the decision already made as to where you are willing to be found on this kind of investigation. The other thing is these churches were not told in advance that this report was being done. People went into the churches in order to look at the teachings, talk to church members and listen to sermons in order to gain documentation. Now, you might say that sounds something like one of two models. One is something like the Michelin Guide or the Travel Guide where someone goes in and says, "This is a particularly good restaurant, you should order this meal." But the other is the example of Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany where names were taken as enemies of the regime.
Let me just point out that the former doesn't work as the comparison here because this is not a matter of taste, this is a matter of truth. We are looking at the taking of names in order to identify those, both the ministers who are mentioned here, but particularly the churches that are the enemies of the regime. In this case, the regime is the regime of moral progressivism that is simply demanding nothing less than surrender.
Will Your Church Be Found Faithful On Issues of Gender and Sexuality? — We All Must Be Ready Because the LGBTQ Revolutionaries Are Ready to Rate Our Churches
I've given the entire edition of The Briefing today to this report because we have seen it coming, but let's face it, it's bracing when we see the reality of the arrival of this kind of report published in this kind of town in Oxford, England. And we understand also that it's a university community where this thing just might happen a bit earlier than in a community that isn't home to a great historic university. But the fact is, there is no place that is safe. There's not going to be a farm community in the middle of the Midwest that is safe from the taking of names. And it's going to be an orchestrated effort.
You know, I think we have examples from the Old Testament and the New. We have plenty of examples from the history of the Christian Church of the necessity of figuring out in advance whether or not you're willing to be listed as a one on this kind of report. I also want you to note what is necessary to be found as a 3 or a 4 or a 5. It's not a bit of modification, it's absolute surrender.
Now, we also need to say in closing that there are churches that sometimes have an unbiblical way of dealing with these issues even as they're confronting what they identify as sexual sin. Here's where we need to understand that this is not a test of attitude. This is not a test of friendliness. As a matter of fact, here's another absolutely haunting aspect of this report. The conservative churches in this report are not criticized because they were unwelcoming to LGBTQ+ people who came to attend a service. They're indeed warned against because they were welcoming. You'll notice the statement that it would be only after being there for some time that LGBTQ+ people as identified in this report would find the real agenda along.
I don't know every one of the churches in this report. I do know several of these churches by direct experience. I know several of these ministers. There are Baptist churches on this report. There are evangelical churches. One encouragement is that there are actually several churches. Indeed, more than a handful of churches in this report who are actually found guilty of teaching and contending for biblical Christianity. But you understand the agenda here. The agenda here is to out those churches and to exercise them and to find a way to publicly silence them, to use the modern language to cancel them. This is the effort of this report. It should be a wake-up call for Christians and churches everywhere. That's why we've given it so much attention today on The Briefing.
And in this case, let's end The Briefing with a reminder to each other that we need to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ and pray for churches that are fighting this kind of fight, knowing full well that this fight is going to come to us.
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'm speaking to you before a live audience in London, England.
And I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.