April 25, 2014
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday, April 25, 2014. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
We’ve been watching and continue to watch the unfolding of the moral revolution on the issue of human sexuality that has dominated the headlines and so much of our national attention for some years now, especially in recent months. As a matter of fact, most of us pick up the daily newspaper or begin the look at the news feed on social media with the sense that it is likely that virtually any day there could be a major revolutionary development on these issues because we all have the sense we’re living in a revolutionary age. The new evidence of this comes in the fact that the landscape on this entire question is changing. For the last several years, the landscape has been predictable. There’ve been two sides in a cultural conflict. One has defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman and only as the union of a man and a woman, and that segment of the population has had behind it two millennia of Christianity and beyond that multiple thousands of years, multiple millennia of human wisdom. And add to that the fact right now that most of the people around the world do not find this even to be a controversial question. For most people around the world right now, marriage means only one thing, which is the union of a man and a woman. But on the other side of the cultural conflict there have been those who have been pressing to advance and extend the moral and social and sexual revolution that has been a characteristic of American culture since the 1960s, with the normalization of same-sex behaviors and relationships as the current front leading edge of that revolution and, of course, the legalization of same-sex marriage as its leading policy aim.
But there has also been a political dynamic to this, and that political dynamic has meant that in the United States with two major political parties, one party has at least since 2012—note, by the way, how recent that is—since 2012—that’s just two years ago; not even quite when it comes to the election itself—that party, the Democratic Party, has at least for about the last 18 months put itself on the side of the legalization of same-sex marriage, putting that affirmation in its 2012 party platform. Whereas, on the other side, that is on the other side of the political and moral landscape, the Republican Party had adopted at its convention in 2012 a platform that actually repudiated and opposed the legalization of same-sex marriage. So you had two political parties with two platforms. They faced off at opposite points, not only on this issue, we should note, but also on abortion as well.
But now we have a changing political and moral landscape. Or perhaps we should put it this way: the changing political landscape indicates what came before it, what came prior, and that is a changed moral landscape. Jennifer Rubin, writing in The Washington Post, tells us that the strident anti-gay marriage and anti-gay rights forces on the right, especially in the Republican Party, having lost their grip on public opinion, now can’t convince fellow Republicans of their views. She offers two pieces of evidence. Number one: a group of Republican officials, as reported by the Associated Press, want to oust former Illinois GOP Chairman Pat Brady for his statements supporting same-sex marriage laws. They, rather than the party chairman, have been replaced in their party positions. In other words, in the Republican Party, a party that less than two years ago had an official platform statement against the legalization of same-sex marriage, members of a party organization have now been removed for holding to the very position the party advocated in its platform less than two years ago. The chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, remember this is the Republican Party in Illinois, said that the party, in terms of that platform, is “on the wrong side of history.” Remember, you’ve heard that argument before. So, as Jennifer Rubin reports, Republicans are turning away from opposition to same-sex marriage. When, as one poll showed last year, she says, nearly two-thirds of millennial evangelicals support gay marriage, you know the party is shifting.
Then we come to the second piece of evidence she brought forth, and it is this: she says, “Few conservatives want to defend blatant bias against or unsubstantiated generalizations about gays.” And she pointed to a recent conversation that took place on the ABC news program this week. Now the point is how she ends the article:
The opposition to gay marriage is crumbling on the right, as it is everywhere. The true sign of progress is the deafening silence on the topic in the run-up to the 2014 elections.
Now I’ve mentioned this before, we have to come back repeatedly to make the point that the political parties follow political changes in opinion. The Democratic Party in 2012 endorsed same-sex marriage only after the vast majority of Democrats, as evidenced by polls and state organizations, had already gotten there. Now the same thing is happening on the Republican side, which is to say that as you watch this—and we’re learning the lesson from a worldview perspective. How do moral revolutions happen? Moral revolutions happen just as is evidenced in this kind of report. There is a change in opinion. The change in opinion takes place in the culture at large. Eventually, the change in the culture at large begins to affect the entire landscape, and before you know it, the political parties, each in its own way and on its own timetable, respond to this change in opinion by changing their official platform statements if necessary and adjusting themselves to the new moral reality.
What does this tell us from a Christian worldview perspective? It tells us the political parties are—here’s the shock—political parties. In other words, they will do whatever they think they have to do in order to get elected and stay elected. Generally speaking, if a political party thinks that a position, as might be evidenced by a candidate or in a political platform, is costing it votes and if eventually it comes to the conclusion that it’s costing it so many votes it is endangering its electoral results, then that political party is almost assuredly going to change the position. Which is to say, when we’re thinking of political parties, we shouldn’t confuse position with conviction, and as you know, in a political context it’s often hard to tell what someone actually believes. At the end of the day, history may well record that the Democratic and the Republican Parties both came to make peace with the legalization of same-sex marriage at different times, but those same historians may record the timing was just separated by two years. That’s how a moral revolution happens and that’s how fast this moral revolution is shaping up.
And speaking of moral revolutions, long before the issue of same-sex marriage was speakable or even imaginable, another moral revolution on the issue of sexuality was taking place, and that was the mainstreaming of sexually explicit material and the sidelining of the very categories of profanity or obscenity. And at the center of that moral revolution was a trial that was held in London in 1960. It was known as the Lady Chatterley’s Lover Trial, and had to do with the fact that the British government was preventing the publication of an unexpurgated edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which was the last novel written by the British novelist D.H. Lawrence. And as it happened, there was an appeal. As Paul Vitello reports:
Richard H. Hoggart, a pioneering British cultural historian who was most widely known outside academia as the star witness for “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” in a 1960 trial that ended British censorship of that novel, died on April 10 in London. He was 95.
So here we’re looking at an obituary that has vast, indeed, immense worldview significance. It is the obituary for a rather obscure literary scholar in Great Britain named Richard H. Hoggart, who died earlier this month at age 95 there in Great Britain. But as The New York Times reports, his death, as announced by Goldsmiths College at the University of London, reminds us of the moral transformation, that moral revolution that took place now more than a generation ago. As The New York Times reports:
Professor Hoggart was a senior lecturer in English literature and the author of a seminal analysis of changes in working-class culture in England when he was summoned to testify in a London courtroom in defense of Penguin Books. It had been charged [that is the publisher] with violating British obscenity laws by printing 10,000 unexpurgated [that is unedited] copies of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” D. H. Lawrence’s last novel.
As the paper says, “Though professor Hoggart was not the most renowned literary figure called, his testimony was widely credited as the most persuasive in convincing a jury of nine men and three women thay [D.H.] Lawrence’s graphic descriptions of sex [in the novel] were not obscene,” were not pornographic. Now here’s what’s really interesting. We have to understand the testimony of Professor Hoggart and why he was successful. He ended up arguing—and this is a logic that seems almost impossible and implausible to most people, but it won the day. He argued that nothing could be obscene if by the obscenity it actually makes the sex act or the sex language being expressed more common. In other words, if you’re able to say it, it can’t be obscene. He actually talked about the sex scenes in the book and the language used and he said:
The first effect, when I first read it, was some shock, because they don’t go into polite literature normally. Then as one read further on, one found the words lost that shock. They were being progressively purified as they were used.
In other words, if you say something dirty often enough and over and over again, it’s not dirty anymore because by using them, you’re purifying them. Of course, that’s a nonsensical argument, but as the newspaper makes clear, it was the argument that won the day, effectively nullifying the obscenity laws in Great Britain and having a massive impact in this country as well; where eventually in this country it also became very, very difficult to define what in the world pornography or obscenity might be. In a famous obscenity trial here in the United States that went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, Americans heard Supreme Court associate Justice Potter Stewart say back then, “I can’t define pornography, but I know it when I see.” Well if you can’t define it, you can’t outlaw. And even though most Americans probably agree they know it when they see it, if you can’t legally define it, you can’t eliminate, you can’t prosecute it, you can’t write a law against it.
So as Richard H. Hobart at age 95 died in Great Britain last year, what died with him also was the knowledge of most people about the fact that just a generation ago, it was possible to outlaw a great deal of sexually explicit material as being obscene or pornographic. But a legal revolution that was a disguised moral revolution made that nearly impossible, leading to the mainstreaming of this sexually explicit material today. But if people think it’s always been that way, they’re simply wrong. It was a moral revolution that brought about that result and that result now shapes our entire culture. So it will also be with the moral revolution we’re experiencing now. There is simply no way to know how far reaching the impact will be, but remember now, we’re not talking about literature; we’re talking about marriage. And that should tell us something about why this revolution is more important even than that one that shook the world back in the 1960s.
Next, we’re accustomed by now to a very familiar pattern. As the church celebrates the resurrection or the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ in those holidays known largely in the culture as Easter and Christmas, you can expect the major media are all of the sudden going to wake up and start giving some attention to religious issues, even explicitly Christian issues. And thus we’re not surprised when the cover story in Time magazine this week, dated for Easter (that’s the issue dated April 28, 2014), is about a religious subject timed for the Easter celebration. And yet the cover story in Time magazine is not of something that reflects light, but rather darkness. It’s a picture of a railroad track receding into the darkness. The headline is “Finding God in the Dark.” The subtitle is this: “Beyond Enlightenment, Acclaimed Preacher Barbara Brown Taylor Argues That Strength, Purpose and True Faith are Found in the Shadows.” The cover story is by reporter Elizabeth Dias. As you look at the story, it really tells you something as much about Time magazine and about the larger culture as it does about Christianity. And that’s largely because this story is about someone identified as a preacher who actually has left Christianity and in the article speaks of leaving Christianity. As Dias writes, most spiritual seekers spend their lives pursuing enlightenment, but this Easter tide, Taylor (that’s Barbara Brown Taylor), who ranks among America’s leading theologians, is encouraging believers and nonbelievers not only to seek the light, but to face the darkness too, something that 21st-century Americans tend to resist.
That’s a very interesting article. You know, Christians throughout the centuries have discussed the distinction between light and darkness and have applied spiritual meaning to both the light and the darkness. But the Bible did this long before Christians began to consider it. And in the Old Testament and in the New, the distinction between light and darkness is always very clear. It is light that God speaks when he says let there be light and He separates the light from the darkness, and it is the light, not the darkness, that is His gift. In the New Testament, Jesus speaks of His own, speaking of the children of light in the midst of the children of darkness. The process of our salvation is described in the New Testament as coming out of darkness into His marvelous light. The process of seeing is described as enlightenment, and the gospel itself is described as light, and God’s love is described in terms of the light of His love. In other words, there is nowhere in Scripture where darkness is held up as something that is to be preferred over the light or is to be seen as morally neutral. It is always seen as something that is morally suspect, if not actually symbolic of that that is morally evil.
But it’s really, really interesting that Time magazine chose to feature an author, a preacher whose left the church and left Christianity, in order to talk about a spirituality of darkness. As Elizabeth Dias reports, Taylor has always inhabited the edge of mainstream Christian spirituality. She questioned biblical narratives as a child. Her first short story, written when she was eight, pondered the naming of the animals in the Garden of Eden, why some things got feathers, others got scales, and still others got skin. It goes on speaking about her marginal Christianity and then it writes about the fact that she left her church, she left a pastorate, and she has largely left the doctrinal structure of Christianity in whole. In her memoir, written in 2006, entitled Leaving Church, she spoke about leaving that pastorate, but she also spoke more metaphorically and generally of leaving Christianity. She aid this, “I cannot say for sure when my reliable ideas about God began to slip away, but the big chest I used to keep them in is smaller than a shoebox now.” In her new book she writes:
After years of teaching other people what words like sin, salvation, repentance, and grace really meant, those same words began to mean less and less to me. But since the religion I know best has a lot to say about losing a precondition for finding, I can live with that.
In the article, she’s described as far from faithless. She prays to the Holy Spirit, whom she sees as both the universally divine and the hardest to understand. She attends church two or three times a month, rarely at the same place twice. Her spiritual guides include naturalists and cosmologists, everyone from physicist Chet Raymo to Tibetan nun Pema Chödrön. In her 2006 book, Leaving Church, she wrote, “In practice, this means that my faith is far more relational than doctrinal; although I’m guilty of reading Scripture as selectively as anyone. My reading persuades me that God is found in right relationships not in right ideas.” In her new book, published just in time to be featured in this cover story in Time magazine, she writes about leaving the Christian faith in terms of its language. She says:
After years of using this language to pray, teach, preach, and celebrate the sacraments, I fell out of love with it—not just the words themselves, but also the vision of reality they represent. It was a huge loss; as full of grief as any other. The language had come as such blessed relief at first, naming the tug-of-war going on both inside and outside me.
So what does this tell us? What from a worldview perspective do we learn from this? We learn this much: that one of the nation’s central cultural institutions, Time magazine, in its issue dated for the very week when Christians around the world would be celebrating the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, on that very week, in the cover story of the magazine for that issue, Time magazine would decide to feature a preacher who has left Christianity, who has decided to speak about the spirituality of darkness, rather than the gospel of light.
The issue here is not really Barbara Brown Taylor. It’s not really just Time magazine. It’s a culture for which this is now largely symbolic; a culture made up of people, at least many of whom see the darkness as plausible as the light, and the secular as plausible as the sacred, who see departing from the faith as much a liberation as a loss, and who understand Christianity to be receding into the background and into the darkness, even as the railroad tracks pictured so metaphorically in the cover story of Time’s issue.
But also revealed in the article in this cover story in Time magazine in a statement that Barbara Brown Taylor made–and I’ll quote it here—“The one thing most emerging Christians will say is that the faith they inherited from their elders is all worn out.” What we learn here also is the theological and spiritual exhaustion that comes from trying to hold to a form of Christianity which is devoid of its doctrinal content and somehow tries to hold onto to its spirituality and its hope. But as the Apostle Paul made very clear in, for instance, First Corinthians chapter 15, read by so many Christians this past Lord’s Day, if indeed these doctrinal truths are not true, if Christ is not raised from the dead, then our hope disappears; it is in vain. But, indeed, Christ has been raised from the dead and that’s the good news not only of the festival of the resurrection, but of every Christian, every day, every second, every moment, and that is the ground of our hope. And perhaps also as we close we need to consider the fact that sometimes out of darkness has come the greatest revelation and victory of the light; for instance, in the Reformation of the 16th century. Remember the motto of that Reformation? Post tenebras lux: after the darkness, light. So may it be. So should we pray.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. Remember the weekly release of Ask Anything: Weekend Edition. A new edition will come out tomorrow morning. Call with your question for an upcoming edition in your voice to 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058. 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 on Monday for The Briefing.