June 13, 2014
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday, June 13, 2014. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
A view of the future after the homosexual revolution is made clear in the metro section of last Friday’s edition of The Washington Post. There in that story we’re introduced to David Catania, who’s one of the candidates for the mayoralty race here in the DC later this year. And the article also introduces us to Jake Hudson. He’s a man in a same-sex marriage here in the District of Columbia, and he did not participate in last weekend’s gay pride parade here in Washington, DC. That parade did draw an approximately 150,000 participants to the nation’s capital last weekend, but Jake Hudson didn’t go because he says it isn’t necessary anymore. “I hate to say it, but we have just about everything we could want.” He said, “In DC, we live life and there’s nothing really stopping that. We’re post-whatever—post gay strife. It’s just not an issue here anymore.”
What makes this interesting to The Washington Post is the fact that David Catania, an independent candidate for the office of mayor here in the District of Columbia, is an openly gay man, and yet he might not even receive the preponderance of openly gay votes. That’s a very interesting development. It caught the attention of The Washington Post and for a reason that should have our attention as well. After the moral revolution normalizing homosexuality here in the District of Columbia, being an openly gay candidate might not be even that remarkable anymore. As Aaron Davis of The Washington Post reports, what it means if the District is indeed “post gay” remains unclear in the race between Catania—he’s an independent at-large member of the DC Council. He’s running against another member of the DC Council, Muriel Bowser, and she is the Democratic nominee. But, as Davis writes, one thing remains clear. Catania’s openness about his sexual orientation may no longer guarantee the votes of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender residents here in Washington, DC.
Interestingly, Davis also reports that the District of Columbia’s LGBT community might account for as many as 10% of all voters this coming November. That’s one out of ten voters in the District. Commenting on the upcoming mayor’s race, one resident, Bob Summersgill said, “I’m not going to vote for David because he’s gay or Bowser because she’s black or a woman.” He went on to say, “Either one is going to sign any gay-rights legislation that gets to their desk. I’m not worried about any of that.” In other words, right now in the District of Columbia, what’s actually inconceivable is that any viable candidate within the District, running for the office of mayor, will have to do exactly what Summersgill says, and that is sign any gay-rights legislation that gets to their desk.
With reference to the gay-rights parade that took place this past weekend, Davis writes that when that District of Columbia event took place (the 39th annual), it took place as same-sex marriage fights are still roiling states from Pennsylvania to Oregon. He says the District looms as the backdrop for a coming series of federal court decisions that could decide the same-sex marriage issue permanently. The next paragraph is crucial:
But for parade organizers and aging icons of the District’s gay rights battles, this year’s festival is getting underway amid a growing sense of inevitability that same-sex marriage is coming to all states — and that gay rights are no longer a political driving force.
That’s one of the most interesting insights from this particular article. Once homosexuality is normalized and same-sex marriage is legalized, there’s a moral reset for the entire culture on the other side, and the District of Columbia, our nation’s capital district, is a microcosm of the American future in this regard. The kinds of issues and debates that would be highly divisive and controversial in other parts of the country are simply not here. As Davis says:
[This is] a city where gays for five years have easily married, robust laws prohibit discrimination and two transgender women sit on the city’s Commission on Human Rights.
As he summarizes:
The District’s advanced evolution on gay rights can be traced to an early start. The first group to seek anti-discrimination laws formed in 1959.
This has led to a very interesting debate in the LGBT community. Once these things have been normalized and legalized, is there any issue that still remains? One person quoted in the article said, “A lot of folks might view same-sex marriage as the quintessential issue, but there are a lot of elements that are important.” But as this article makes clear, it’s not at all evident what those issues might now be.
And that leads to another insight from this article. The gay-rights community, summarized in those initials LGBT, will not remain a sexual minority community with just those initials. There are other sexual minorities launching similar efforts to normalize and legalize their behaviors and relationships, and that means that the next battlefront, the next cultural divide in America, once those who are pushing for the normalization of homosexuality and the legalization of same-sex marriage have their way, is that there will be other lifestyles, other behaviors, other relationships, other sexual minorities, who will be wanting to add their initials to this list. And that is what we have to look for in the future.
Shifting to developments in our churches and denominations, this week the Southern Baptist Convention met in Baltimore, Maryland. And in the course of that meeting, the messengers (as they are called) to the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution that has made headline news around the world. That resolution stated a very clear biblical understanding of gender roles and the issue of the transsexual revolution. The resolution, overwhelmingly adopted by those messengers, made very clear that God as Creator has created human beings as male and female and that gender or sex designation is a part of the goodness of God’s creation. That actually goes back, of course, to what the church has affirmed in terms of the gender identity and gender role issue from the very beginning. But it also goes back to the year 2000, when the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a revised confession of faith that stated very clearly that gender is a part of the goodness of God’s creation. In other words, it is not something that is merely biologically imposed upon us. It is a gift of our Creator, who created us male and female for His glory and as a basic pattern of human flourishing.
The Southern Baptist Convention voted that way on the resolution in a way that surprised no one. But it came with a clarity that is altogether rare in terms of denominational and church debates on this issue. The Southern Baptist Convention registered a very clear biblical and theological position and, at the same time, called for a gospel-driven, compassionate pastoral ministry to those who are struggling with confusion over gender identity; what is now designated in the psychiatric and psychological world as gender dysphoria. That’s one of those very difficult things for the church to do: to accomplish simultaneously sending a very clear message from the Scriptures that declares the rightness of one understanding and thus the wrongness of any other, and, at the same time, calling for compassion.
But that points to one of the most basic affirmations of the Christian worldview, and that is this: that compassion and truth are never at odds, but, rightly understood, are exactly the same. That is to affirm something that is absolutely counterrevolutionary in today’s cultural context. We understand that the truth is itself compassionate; that we know the truth because God loved us so much that, as the late evangelical theologian Carl Henry put it, He loved us so much that He forfeited His own personal privacy to reveal Himself and His ways to us in order that we would know Him. In other words, when you have someone who suggests that compassion should come at the expense of truth, it isn’t genuine compassion. And when someone says that the church should be declared in a way that isn’t compassionate, that’s a fundamental misunderstanding of truth. The gospel itself comes as just this kind of compassionate truth. The gospel is very clear about the reality, indeed, the specificity of human sin, declaring our sin in order that we would know ourselves to be sinners and then to declare the goodness of God, His grace and mercy towards us, in that, as the Scripture says, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” The gospel is itself the perfect microcosm for the compassion of truth, and Christians must always recognize that whenever we face a controversial issue or a very vexing pastoral situation, the truth, rightly understood and rightly applied, is indeed compassion, and compassion is the truth.
Summer is traditionally the season for denominational meetings, and even as the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention have gone home to their churches from Baltimore, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA is going to be meeting in just a few days in Detroit, Michigan. The PCUSA is a liberal Presbyterian denomination and it has been moving steadily left on the issue of homosexuality and same-sex relationships for the last several decades. But now, as Madeleine Mysko reports for the Baltimore Sun, when the assembly of the PCUSA meets in the next few days in Detroit, Michigan—and approximately 5,000 of them, by the way—they’re going to be voting on marriage equality. They’re going to be voting on the normalization of same-sex marriage as a ceremony recognized by their denominations. As she writes:
Decisions made at this General Assembly will affect the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) couples in the denomination who want their marriages to be blessed with the same joy and affirmation as the marriages of other couples in the church.
Madeleine Mysko is writing a commentary piece for the Baltimore Sun, and she tips her hat when she says that this church, to which she’s belonged for more than 30 years, should change its policies to allow same-sex couples to marry in the church. She says:
It is not such big news anymore that marriage equality is up for deliberation. In state after state, in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, courts have been overturning laws against same-sex marriages in rapid succession. At the same time, it is difficult to keep count of all the states — to date, 17 and the District of Columbia — that have legalized same-sex marriage.
The next paragraph is very clear:
But when religion is often seen as an obstacle to marriage equality, it is big news that a denomination of over 1.8 million members in the U.S. may well say a clear “I do.” And make no mistake: Marriage equality isn’t appearing on the docket at this assembly [which is going to take place in Detroit] merely as an aftershock to the cultural change rolling forward outside the church doors. In fact, Presbyterians have been deliberating over the inclusion of LGBTQ persons for decades.
She then says:
I would argue that the effects will ripple out from there, and those effects should matter to all of us. What’s happening among Presbyterians this year isn’t as much about defining marriage, or about the marriage rights of same-sex couples, as it is about discerning what is right with respect to human relationships.
Now, oddly enough, as someone who’s on exactly the opposite side of the issue, I agree with her about what’s at stake, and that is discerning what is right with respect to human relationships. But it’s clear that Madeleine Mysko is deciding that what is right is what is right in terms of the prevailing cultural moral climate. That’s the problem for the PCUSA. Long ago, it unmoored itself; it unhinged itself from biblical authority. It did so when revising its confession of faith way back in the 1970s. And now, in the year 2014, it is on the threshold of absolutely blessing same-sex unions and revising not only its long-standing policy, but the policy of the Christian Church and the understanding of Christians for two millennia. That is no small matter. So when the PCUSA and its general assembly come together in Detroit, they’re not just going to be contemplating reversing their denomination’s stand, they’re going to be standing over against the consistent teaching of the Christian church for two millennia. And also note this: even when the PCUSA, as is expected, takes this decision, it’s going to be standing over against the vast majority of Christians living on the globe today. That’s something that is often missing in terms of the secular analysis of this issue in the nation’s press, but it’s also something that is altogether missing from the discussion of this issue in many churches and denominations.
So in terms of the discussion thus far, no one is surprised when the Southern Baptist Convention, a very clearly conservative evangelical denomination, takes a stand that is established clearly in terms of the teachings of Scripture. And we’re really not surprised that a liberal Protestant denomination, such as the PCUSA, takes the almost exactly opposite approach, not referencing Scripture in this case, but rather the prevailing moral climate. But what’s really interesting in terms of the discussion right now is what might happen in United Methodist Church.
As Michelle Boorstein reports for The Washington Post, hundreds of United Methodist pastors have signed a proposal aimed at avoiding a schism over homosexuality in a denomination that has, until recently, largely sat out the gay equality movement. This new proposal, signed by dozens of pastors, indeed, hundreds of United Methodist pastors, is entitled “A Way Forward.” It, according to Boorstein, offers churches and regional bodies the option to make up their own minds on issues as affirming gay clergy and same-sex marriage. But make no mistake, the United Methodist Church’s doctrine clearly says, “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”
That raises the obvious question: How can a denomination say that it officially teaches that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching and then allow what amounts to a local option to defy that very clear teaching? Boorstein reports, the proposal reflects a hope on the part of those who signed the document that the country’s second largest Protestant denomination won’t let itself fall into multimillion dollar litigation over church properties the way other faith groups, including the Episcopal Church—and we might add the PCUSA—have on the issue. One Methodist pastor quoted in the article, Tom Berlin of Florus United Methodist Church in Herndon, Virginia, said, “Like your family, you can disagree but not breakup over it. The issue of homosexuality seems to have an unusual hold over America and, in particular, the church in America.” Boorstein then summarizes:
United Methodists, like much of mainline Protestantism, have become increasingly accepting of equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. White mainline Protestants account for the most support of gay equality in any Christian group in the United States, but United Methodists, unlike most other denominations, is global and is seeing its more conservative branches in Africa and Asia quickly growing and becoming more influential.
This is a really crucial issue. As I said, the PCUSA, if it votes as expected to normalize same-sex relationships and begin to offer same-sex wedding ceremonies, if it does so, it’s going to set itself over against not only two millennia of Christian teaching, but the position and conviction held by the vast majority of Christians around the world today. But the PCUSA involves only Presbyterian churches, mostly now liberal Presbyterian churches, in the USA. The United Methodist Church is a global church. That was a decision made by Methodists decades ago and it has now put the liberals in that denomination in a very awkward position. It is expected that in 2016, when the next big conference, that is, the general conference of the United Methodist Church is held, non-American delegates will outnumber the delegates from America, and when that happens, there will be virtually no chance that the United Methodist Church will normalize same-sex relationships. This has put the liberals in that denomination in the position of trying to press as fast as possible for some allowance for them to do exactly what they know their church is not going to allow by the time it comes to 2016. But the interesting thing that is going on in the United Methodist Church is that that church held a much-publicized trial of a clergyman for performing a same-sex marriage ceremony and defrocked him last year, and then fast on the heels of that church trial, another United Methodist bishop decided that he would not try yet another Methodist clergyman who had also performed a same-sex marriage ceremony—in this case, the retired dean of the Yale Divinity School. And that has put conservatives in the United Methodist Church into an absolute outrage, and that outrage has changed their disposition towards this controversy.
As Sarah Pulliam Bailey reports for Religion News Service:
A group of 80 pastors [on the conservative side] is suggesting that the nation’s second-largest Protestant denomination is facing an imminent split because of an inability to resolve long-standing theological disputes about sexuality and church doctrine.
This represents a revolutionary position on the part of conservatives in United Methodist Church. Just ten years ago, most of these leading conservatives said that they did not want their church to split over the issue, but now, even as the liberals have been pressing so hard for the normalization of homosexuality and are now in outright rebellion against the doctrine and discipline of their denomination, conservative leaders have changed their mind. One of the most significant and respected of these conservative leaders is the Reverend Maxie Dunnam, who is a retired United Methodist pastor and also a retired president of Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky. He said, “We can no longer talk about schism as something that might happen in the future. Schism is already taking place in our denomination.” This, as Sarah Pulliam Bailey reports, is a drastic departure from where that same Maxie Dunnam was just ten years ago. In 2004, after that year’s general conference, that same Maxie Dunnam said, “I don’t want us to talk about separation. That’s not a game where our energy needs to be focused.” But, as we might say, that was then and this is now. What’s changed is the fact that liberals and the denomination have declared an outright rebellion against the doctrine and discipline of the church, and in that regard, Maxie Dunnam is profoundly right. When you have liberals in the denomination in outright rebellion against the discipline of the church, and the doctrine of the church clearly stated in its confessional materials, you don’t have the possibility of a schism, you don’t have the potential of schism, you have, as Maxie Dunnam rightly says, a schism. It has already happened. Now it’s a matter of whether or not the denomination is going to declare it to be so.
Furthermore, Maxie Dunnam and the other signatories to this statement from conservative pastors also make another profoundly important point:
Talk of a middle way or of agreeing to disagree is comforting and sounds Christlike; however, such language only denies the reality we need to admit. Neither side will find agreeing to disagree acceptable.
Why is that so profoundly true? It is because what we’re talking about here is not an issue that can be nuanced one way or the other. There is not a middle position. No matter how comforting and compassionate that might be advertised to be. The church will decide whether it will or will not acknowledge and recognize same-sex unions. The denomination will decide whether it will or will not allow pastors to perform same-sex ceremonies. There is no middle way. These conservative pastors worked for the last decade to find a middle way and now they’ve discovered that middle way simply does not exist. In that sense, the United Methodist Church’s gift to the larger Christian world may be the honest acknowledgment that schism is inevitable if you have two positions like this that are directly at odds: one standing on 2,000 years of Christian testimony and clear biblical authority; the other standing in defiance to that tradition and that truth, and standing, instead, in lockstep with the revolution now going on in the culture. Between those two sides, the pastors are exactly right in this statement. Agreeing to disagree will simply to neither side be acceptable.
The biblical worldview profoundly affirms the fact that truth unites, but the Bible also makes the opposite clear. When it comes to the infinite difference between what is true and what is false, the truth also inevitably divides.
Sunday is Father’s Day in America; a holiday that perhaps more than any other points to the tremendous confusion that is now writ large across our society. Our society seems to know how to celebrate Mother’s Day, but Father’s Day is an altogether different matter. I wish to you and yours a very happy Father’s Day. But we need to be watching very closely as we detect the confusion that is now so pervasive about fatherhood in this society. On Monday, we’ll look back at the lessons learned from our culture’s confusion and celebration of fatherhood on Father’s Day.
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. Remember that we’re right now collecting questions for the upcoming new season of Ask Anything: Weekend Edition. Just call with your question in your voice to 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058. I’m speaking to you from Washington, DC, and I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.