Wednesday, October 4, 2023
It's Wednesday, October 4, 2023.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
A Loud Signal from the Vatican: Pope Francis Points to Future Blessings for Gay Couples
Pope Francis is back in the headlines and once again he is back in those headlines precisely because he is at least suggesting a significant shift left for the Roman Catholic Church in both doctrine and in practice. Now, some may say it's actually more in practice than in doctrine, but we as evangelicals know those two are always inseparable. They are intrinsically inseparable and so we need to look very closely at what's going on here.
Now, why would Evangelical Christians in particular take a development in the Roman Catholic Church like this with such seriousness? Well, I'm going to begin by saying we do so for a couple of reasons. Number one, even though as evangelicals we don't recognize the papacy, we do pragmatically recognize that there is vast influence that comes from the pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, an official Roman Catholic Church teaching on issues of the sanctity of human life, the definition of marriage, the understanding of gender and sexuality, that has been a part of Christian teaching consistent through two millennia of the Christian tradition. And the Pope, insofar as he has upheld those doctrines has had massive influence, not only over the millions who consider themselves Catholic, but also in the larger culture, the Pope carries a very big platfore; and when it came to the last two popes, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, we had two Titanic figures on the world scene who function both theologically and politically.
Now, once again, evangelicals don't believe in the papacy is an office, and we certainly don't believe that as head of state there needs to be such a combination of authority as is claimed by the Vatican state and is claimed by the Pope, both a secular and that is to say a head of state role and the religious role and that is as the pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. We don't accept that combination. But nonetheless, it has been at times very important on the world scene as the Roman Catholic Church has functioned as something of a door stop on at least the progressivist and relativist moral teachings that have taken hold of so much of the culture, the redefinition of sexuality, marriage, and of course the teachings and the policies that have led to such an assault on unborn human life.
So on a number of issues, the Roman Catholic Church has been very influential and in ways that have been consistent with the Christian tradition on these key moral issues. But Pope Francis who came into that office in 2013 is a very different pope then either John Paul II or Benedict XVI. Pope Francis, the first Argentinian pope and also the first Jesuit pope is considerably more liberal and more lax when it comes to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church than his two predecessors. And that does change the cultural landscape. But right now, we are looking at a theological crisis developing in the Roman Catholic Church over these very questions, questions related to marriage, questions related to sexual morality, questions related to gender, and in this case, the precipitating force is largely liberal Catholics in more liberal European nations and in particular liberal bishops. And if you're going to specify one country, that one country would have to be Germany.
We've talked about this, how the German bishops or at least the majority of the German bishops are pushing the Roman Catholic Church and are seeking to influence Pope Francis into recognizing the legitimacy of LGBTQ relationships, even blessing same-sex unions basically giving moral sanction to homosexual same gender behaviors and relationships. Pope Francis in an answer to what is known as a dubia, that is to say in an official request and set of questions sent by a set of bishops to the Pope, the Pope has answered and in his answer and the letter was released by the Vatican, the Pope has actually taken the step of suggesting that there might be a way for the Roman Catholic Church officially to bless same-sex unions.
The actual language used by Pope Francis says that this cannot be called marriage, because marriage is and can only be one thing according to the Roman Catholic Church, but he says it might be possible given the flexibility of Catholic moral teaching and Catholic dogma to come up with a way to bless same-sex unions in a way that will at least affirm those relationships.
Now, once again, we're in the same terrain we discussed yesterday on The Briefing. We are looking at an argument that is directly contrary to scripture, and here's where we also as evangelicals, as Protestants need to say, when you are looking at the Roman Catholic Church making a claim about doctrinal flexibility, that is exactly what we as evangelicals believe, well, it's a right the church doesn't have and that's why sola scriptura in the Reformation is so vitally important. That formal principle of the reformation that says that the sole final authority for understanding doctrine, theology, the worship of the church, morality, Christian ethics, the sole final authority is scripture. And remember, it's sola scriptura, it is scripture alone and thus the Roman Catholic Church, especially during the 20th century, adopted an official understanding of doctrine that is unfolding under the supervision of the papacy and the official teaching office of the church, the larger magisterium, and that's not particularly new in the 20th century. It was updated in the 20th century.
The ground of that in many ways was found in the Council of Trent in answering the Lutheran and the reformed Protestant reformations with the argument that doctrine develops and the magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope at the head of that magisterium is the steward of that doctrinal development. Now, it's really interesting because both John Paul II and Benedict as popes made statements that they thought carrying official magisterial authority, that is to say the official teaching authority, the Roman Catholic Church would bind the church for at least the indefinite future to an understanding of marriage, to an understanding of sexual morality, to an understanding of gender. But here's where there are big lessons for all of us. New pope, well, you have the opportunity for a new theology, and that's exactly what the Roman Catholic Church is facing.
Now, observers looking at this, recognize there are some really tricky questions here. For one thing, the word Catholic, it basically means universal. It is a claim by the church of Rome that it is the universal church. And the claim is that that universal church finds its unity in the faith and in the papacy, in the magisterial authority of the Roman Catholic Church. But as you look at Catholicism worldwide, well, you're looking at a lot of diversity. You look at the bishops in Germany, they're demanding official recognition and church blessing of same-sex relationships. If you go to the global south as it is known, and you go to many places in Asia and virtually all of Africa, and you try to make that argument, you're going to run into bishops who say that the Roman Catholic Church must never change its teaching on the issues of marriage and gender and sexual ethics.
And so the Pope is in a very difficult position, but it's only a very difficult position if the Pope basically defines his job as being the steward of the development, the forward development of changing Christian doctrine over time. This is only a problem because the Pope thinks he's the pope. And what you're looking at in this Pope is the fact that as a liberal, well that stewardship of doctrine is going to be very different than what was understood by his two immediate predecessors, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II.
Now, I mentioned the global south on the one hand and I mentioned the German bishops or at least the majority of German bishops on the other hand. What about North America? What about the Catholic bishops in the United States? Well, one interesting thing is that if you look at the bishops, and that includes also the cardinals of the church in the United States appointed by or to use the more proper term elevated by either John Paul II or Benedict, what you see is pretty stalwart conservatism. So stalwart that from the very beginning of his papacy, Pope Francis is basically seeing the bishops in the United States of America, the Roman Catholic bishops as antagonistic and representing a very deep institutional indoctrinal conservatism that he has seen as an obstacle to where he wants to see the Roman Catholic Church to go.
But over the course of the last 10 years, remember, he became pope in 2013 so we're looking at a 10-year period. Over the course of the last 10 years, Pope Francis has been able to appoint an incredible number of bishops and he has elevated cardinals so that the elector cardinals that would've been appointed by John Paul II and Benedict are now a minority in the College of Cardinals. Many of them have died, others have aged out of voting and others are now among senior ranks but they can be outvoted by so many of the cardinals that Francis has appointed. Many of them from parts of the world in which these issues are not so clear as the American bishops have been.
And you're looking also at the fact that many of the liberal Catholics in the United States, they are just giddy over this letter that has come from the Pope, and it's clear that the instigation was this rebellion in the German church. The Reverend James Martin, a liberal Roman Catholic who often speaks to these issues in the national media said "Many progressive Catholics look to the German church for a hopeful sense of where the church might be going." Now, it's important to note that the issues at stake right now are not just related to LGBTQ issues, related to the potential blessing of same-sex unions, it also has to do with issues related to whether or not women can be priests or the extent to which women in the Roman Catholic Church may exercise some priestly role and sacerdotal function. And the Pope raised those issues, addressed those issues also in this recent letter, but also living in the background is that right now and over the next several days, a Synod is going to be held in which the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church are going to be considering these issues and talking about them out loud.
Now, the Pope releasing this statement, the Vatican, I should say releasing the Pope's statement, it really sets the stage for very radical conversations indeed. So it's going to be very interesting to see what happens in the Roman Catholic Church over the next few days. But even as we discussed what took place in at least putatively evangelical context with Andy Stanley on yesterday's edition of the Briefing, now we're talking about the Pope. And I just want Christians to understand there is no neutral space on these issues. There is enormous cultural pressure, and what we're looking at is the fact that those churches, those pastors, those theologians, those institutions, those denominations that hold to a biblical, remember sola scriptura, who hold to a biblical understanding of gender, sex, marriage, and the larger set of issues, we're going to be increasingly isolated in a society that is clamoring for any institution--so it's not just the church, but any institution--to get in line with the revolution and sexuality and morals that is now so central to our civilizational project. And this is where we just have to look each other in the eye and speak to each other and be very clear. There is no way to retreat on these issues without abandoning the scripture, without abandoning the Christian tradition and without betraying the gospel of Jesus Christ. So lot's on the table here, lot's at stake here. We'll be tracking what happens at the Senate of the Roman Catholic bishops, but it is not incidental. It's absolutely urgent that we understand that the release of this statement from the Pope, as the Vatican has released it, is sending a very loud signal and you don't have to read between the lines, you just have to read the words to figure out what signal is being sent.
Anthropology Goes Woke: American Anthropological Association and Canadian Anthropology Society Cancel Conference Panel on Biological Sex
But next, it's not often that anything significant in terms of reference on The Briefing emerges from the Canadian Anthropology Society or the American Anthropological Association. But on September the 25th, that's just a matter of days ago, both announced that they were canceling a panel discussion at the national meeting of the two organizations of anthropologists. The panel discussion they canceled was entitled, "Let's Talk About Sex Baby: Why biological sex remains a necessary analytic category in anthropology." So let's just understand what's going on here.
The two organizations had approved a panel that was entitled, again, Let's Talk About Sex. They're going to jazz this up a little bit, why biological sex remains a necessary analytic category in anthropology. So what's going on here? Well, you had some anthropologists saying, it's really hard to do anthropology if you lose track of male and female. If you unearth an ancient body, it's going to show up as, "Oh, I don't know, male or female." But City Journal's reporting on this and the reporter is Colin Wright pointing out that these organizations have already moved according to critical theory and we'll just call it wokeness. They've already moved into a posture in which they say that anthropologists are now ethically obligated to give attention not only to sex but to gender.
Now, the organizers of this panel have just been canceled. They pointed out that the two organizations that actually approved their panel just a matter of say recent history as they were putting together the schedule, and furthermore, the ethical standards that are at stake here say that anthropologists give attention to both sex and gender, but evidently all they meant was gender, not biological sex. So here's the bottom line. If you are going to be an anthropologist in the United States or in Canada and you believe that biological sex is even important, then you're on the outside. You're going to be canceled. You can't hold your panel. And furthermore, the bigger issue here is the guild of anthropologists is just circling the wagons in order to make sure that if you are unwoke, you are unrecognized and you're not going to be speaking at their conference.
As Colin Wright went on to explain, "The panel would've featured six female scientists specializing in biology and anthropology to address their professions growing denial of biological sex as a valid and relevant category." The article continues "While terminological confusion surrounding the distinction between sex and gender roles has been a persistent issue within anthropology for decades, the total refusal of some to recognize sex as a real biological variable is a more recent phenomenon." The end of this paragraph says, "The panel organizers eager to facilitate an open discussion among anthropologists and entertain diverse perspectives on a contentious issue considered the joint conference of the Canadian and American Anthropological Associations as that conference was to be 'an optimal venue to host such a conversation.'"
Well, clearly, it's not going to happen and it's not going to happen because this is the way that the cultural revolutionaries are circling the wagons. This is the way they're building the walls. This is the way they're filling the moat with water in order to prevent any kind of rational discussion from taking place. And of course, it's all being repackaged, and we've seen this before, with the language that allowing these arguments to be made would make some of the members of the society unsafe. They would feel unsafe by those who made the argument that biological sex--now, remember, they're not even saying, they weren't even trying to argue that biological sex is the trump issue, that that is the issue that trumps all other issues--they were just trying to say it's still a valid issue, but it's not anymore. It's really interesting when you see the kinds of things that we're going to be discussed.
For instance, one of the panelists was going to discuss with the title, "No Bones About It, skeletons are binary. People may not be." So in other words, this is simply a statement that skeletons are binary, which by the way, skeletons are, and by the way, you put flesh on the skeletons, guess what? It gets very visibly binary. I can still recall a lecture I heard when I was a college student by a professor who simply said, "If you look at these two pelvises, one is a classic male pelvis and one is a female pelvis, and you look at those two different pelvises, a baby can make its way through only one of them. There is simply no way a full-term human baby is going to get through a male pelvis. It is impossible."
Now you can say that the gender here is assumed to be male because the person feels male and is presenting as male and even has surgery say on well surgically applicable parts in order to claim a male identity, but there is no reproductive capacity that goes with it. God's plan in creating us was that sex came with not only physical and biological distinctives but also with reproductive capacity. This is a denial of reality.
Now, in a debate on this, years ago, I made a point to which I'm now going to return, and yet I'm going to have to do so carefully because I had actually been referencing archeologists and maybe they're next on this. But the fact is that if you go as I have gone just in the last 24 hours into a medieval cemetery, I've had that honor and frankly was at St. Andrews, Scotland yesterday. I was walking among graves of those who were buried in even the very early medieval period. And you know what? If you exhume those skeletons, a visual observation of those skeletons is going to say male or female.
Just a few days ago I was in London at the British Museum. The British Museum has mummies. The British Museum has human remains that were found in digs and archeological sites, including some that are identified as you look at this, and I'm not going to raise the whole issue of historical epics here, I'm simply going to say the museum claims that they are of the Neolithic period, and guess what? The skeleton's identified as a man, and that's because the skeleton is a male skeleton. But you have to wonder how long can the British Museum hold out on that. You have to wonder how long will archeologists be able to say that the bodies that were found on the top of the military parapet were male skeletons. How long are they going to be able to say that?
Furthermore, reading this article, and I appreciate City Journal for running this, they're doing some really good work along these lines. You simply have to ask yourself the question, how exactly would you deal with gender in a lot of say, well, old anthropological questions? I mean, you are looking at a skeleton. That skeleton is not presenting as male or female, it's in gender that is to say it's presenting itself as male or female as biological sex. How that person presented, well, frankly, I think we know throughout most of human history that was a pretty simple straightforward matter. But furthermore, if you're finding a skeleton, let me just point out you have no idea how that person supposedly presented and that's going to be true.
Here's the point I made in that debate years ago. I said, "Look, you can have people who claim that even as they're biologically male, they claim that they are female in terms of their gender identity. They can even go through so-called gender affirmation surgery. I'm just going to use the term they use. You can go through that and you can die and be buried. And if the Lord tarries and someone's doing an archeological dig several hundred years from now, guess what? All they're going to find are bones that say male."
Well, we're looking at a very convoluted story here, and it doesn't end there. For one thing, we are looking at the fact that this is not an accidental nonsense. This is something else that I think we need to think about from time to time. Sometimes you encounter accidental nonsense. Accidental nonsense is something that's frankly ludicrous, nonsensical and untrue, but it's held by someone fairly innocently. But this is not accidental nonsense. This is intentional nonsense. This is ideological nonsense. This is pre-planned premeditated nonsense, but this nonsense has carried the day at the American Anthropological Association and the Canadian Anthropology Society, and we have to end on even one further note on this issue.
Those two organizations have come out not only canceling this panel, but castigating those who had proposed a panel that after all they had previously approved as being outside the ethical boundaries of the practice of anthropology. So that tells you how this works. It's not enough to say it's not just sex, it's also gender. You turn around next and you're saying, "Okay, it's not even sex at all, it's just gender." And then you turn around and say, "We're going to redefine an entire profession in order to meet the demands of the gender revolutionaries." And make no mistake, they're coming for your profession as well.
An Unprecedented Development in U.S. History: Kevin McCarthy Ousted as Speaker of the House of Representatives
Okay, one final note on The Briefing today. Yesterday in a move without precedent in the United States House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy was removed as speaker after a motion that was brought by one member of Congress. And it was a fairly narrow vote, but regardless of the numbers, the fact is this was a successful removal of a Speaker of the House of Representatives, and at this point, it looks like the insurrectionist who brought this motion had plan A, which is remove Kevin McCarthy as speaker. It's not at all clear what plan B is, but it's going to take some time for the dust to settle on this. I want to make reference to it today. Obviously, this is a huge political development in the United States, and it's one that quite frankly is going to take a bit of time in order for us to understand.
It is not clear what this means for the future of the very narrow Republican majority in the House of Representatives, but furthermore, remember, we are right now speaking in October of 2023. Every single member of Congress is up for election or reelection in November of 2024, and everyone understands if you look at an hourglass in terms of the electoral clock, the sand is running out, and so we're going to be looking at some very important developments that are going to have to come in a fairly short period of time. We're not at this point going to anticipate what those developments might be, but we do need to reflect upon the fact this is very big news, and frankly, it is at least one step toward redefining the role with Speaker of the House. We'll stay tuned on this one and try to think about what's important for us to think about as we reflect upon these headlines.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter and go 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 Edinburgh, Scotland, and I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.