June 20, 2014
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday, June 20, 2014. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
1) PC(USA) affirms same-sex marriage, repudiating Scripture as membership declines
The big news in the Christian world took place yesterday in the city of Detroit where the Presbyterian Church USA decided to allow gay weddings within the church. As Lauren Markoe of Religion News Service reports, it makes it among the largest Christian denominations in the United States to take an embracing step toward same-sex marriage. The vote was decidedly lopsided: 76% to 24%. One of the reasons for that is of incredible interest. The main reason is that so many conservatives left. Over the last several years, there’s been a virtual exodus from the PCUSA, a denomination that was formed by the merger of southern and northern Presbyterian denominations in the 1980s, with the headquarters relocated to Louisville, Kentucky. But the denomination has been hemorrhaging members for the better part of the last three decades and that exodus of members has continued for the third straight year. It’s not only members, but congregations. The number of dismissed congregations increased in the past year, having been twenty-one in 2011, 110 in 2012, and 148 in 2013. In other words, approximately 300 churches have left the PCUSA just in the last three years. According to data compiled by the PCUSA’s Office of the General Assembly, by the end of 2013, membership was about 1.76 million—that’s compared to 1.84 million by the end of 2012. As the Presbyterian Church USA General Assembly met in Detroit, just about everyone knew that the issue would be central to the denomination’s agenda, and as the question loomed, some of the convention, according to Niraj Warikoo of the Detroit Free Press, were very concerned that it would affect the perception of Presbyterian missionaries in more conservative parts of the world where the church works, such as in the Middle East. According to this report, there are 315 Presbyterian churches in Egypt alone. Conservative Presbyterians said they were concerned that approving same-sex marriages would further accelerate decline in the Presbyterian Church. Once again, it has seen a 37% decrease in membership since 1992, and that’s a drop of more than one million members. Going back to 1992, it had 2.78 million members. Now just 1.76 million, but the denomination forecasts further mentorship losses in this year.
Lauren Markoe’s report for Religion News Service described the debate as both emotional and polite. She said it was a “debate in which opponents of the motion said it conflicted with Scripture and would cause Presbyterian churches abroad to break relations with the PCUSA.” The new rule is very clear. Presbyterian ministers in states where same-sex marriage is legal—the count on that is now nineteen states—are now authorized to offer same-sex weddings. But no minister in the denomination is by this change compelled to participate in a same-sex wedding, but, as most observers have already indicated, the pastors who are least likely to perform same-sex marriages are the ones who are most likely already to have left the denomination.
According to media reports, the debate at the PCUSA General Assembly was not only emotional and polite; it also followed the same kind of logic and rhetoric that we’ve heard in so many debates like this before. For instance, Nathan Sobers, identified as a ruling elder with the Presbyterian Church in Seattle—he’s also identified as being married to a man he’s been with for 27 years—said, “The gospel is about fairness. Jesus, moreover, never said a word about loving same-sex couples. His message was about love, about celebrating God’s love for everybody, and not just for those who are like me, but for everybody.” That statement has everything going for it except the clear text of the New Testament. Nothing in the New Testament is more clear than when Jesus stated that God’s intention for marriage from the beginning is that it would be one man and one woman for a lifetime.
Responding to the decision, the conservative Presbyterian Lay Committee’s Board of Directors said:
In the name of 1.8 million Presbyterians nationwide, the General Assembly has committed an express repudiation of the Bible, the mutually agreed upon Confessions of the PCUSA, thousands of years of faithfulness to God’s clear commands and the denominational ordination vows of each concurring commissioner. This is an abomination.
That’s a very strong word, but it certainly is an appropriate word, and here you have the Presbyterian Lay Committee making very clear exactly what the PCUSA’s General Assembly has done. They have, to go back to this statement, repudiated the Scripture. They have repudiated the confessions of the church. They have turned their back on thousands of years of faithful Christian witness, and they have also violated the ordination vows of every commissioner that was there present at the General Assembly. Thus, they’re absolutely right: this is an abomination.
Perhaps more than anything else, this development helps to establish the clear divide now not only in American culture, but also in what is called American Christianity. That very clear divide puts on one side those who stand with 2,000 years of Christian witness and on the very clear statements of Scripture, and, on the other side, those who stand with the moral revolution of the era; stand with the culture and it’s now very increasingly absolute moral standards—moral standards that call for and demand the legalization of same-sex marriage and the celebration of same-sex behaviors and relationships.
Interestingly, on the very day before the PCUSA’s General Assembly took this decisive action, the Pew Research Center came out with a report entitled “Where Christian Churches and Other Religions Stand on Gay Marriage.” The interesting thing about the listing in this report from the Pew Research Center is the fact that still, on this date in 2014, the vast majority of Christians and Christian churches, not only around the world, but even in the United States, are still clearly and firmly opposed to same-sex marriage. The Pew Research Center divides the churches and religions into four different categories. On the left, those that sanction same-sex marriage. Included there is the movement known as Conservative Judaism, the Reformed Jewish Movement, the Society of Friends (otherwise known as Quakers), the Unitarian Universalist Association of Churches, the United Church of Christ, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church (that’s the ELCA, the more liberal mainline Lutheran denomination). The next category is denominations that sanction blessing at same-sex unions and there are only two Christian denominations listed: the Episcopal Church and, as of yesterday, the Presbyterian Church USA.
The third category of those churches that prohibit same-sex marriages (and that’s the long list): the American Baptist churches, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Islam, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, the Orthodox Jewish Movement, the Roman Catholic Church, the United Methodist Church, and the Southern Baptist Convention. The fourth category is those religions that have no clear position. Included there are both Hinduism and Buddhism.
But the interesting thing is still that third category: the religions and churches that still prohibit same-sex marriage. It’s the long list; it’s the big list. It’s where the vast majority of the human beings counted in any way in this chart are to be found, but you would not know that from the coverage in the mainstream media. Watch carefully; you’re going to see all kinds of news coverage of the PCUSA’s vote and it’s going to be trumpeted as a very major denominational development, and, in that sense, it is of course, and, just as clearly, it is the abomination as it is described by the Presbyterian Lay Committee. But what you will not see in the media is the fact that the vast majority of those who are religiously involved in any religion anywhere, and specifically in Christianity everywhere, are still very clearly opposed to same-sex marriages and they are involved in denominations that do not recognize in any way what is called same-sex marriage. That should tell you something, but you’re not going to hear it from the media.
2) ‘Obvious Child’ abortion rom-com an effort to change American emotions on abortion
Next, we shift to Hollywood. If you’re concerned about worldview, as you are, then you’re concerned about how that worldview begins to work its way out into the most influential sectors of society. And the capital of the entertainment industry, Hollywood, is one of those places where you see the worldview wars meted out. And so when Hollywood takes up an issue such as abortion, it should have our attention, especially when it comes to new Gillian Robespierre movie entitled Obvious Child. This is obviously something we need to be talking about. It stars Saturday Night Live alumnus Jenny Slate, and it has to do with the fact that there is a young woman, who is a comedian, who finds herself pregnant after a one-night stand and in the end decides to have an abortion. But the film is described as a comedy, a romantic comedy, leading at least one observer to say, “Here’s a new oxymoron, even for the liberal media: abortion comedy.” Of course, there’s nothing at all funny about abortion, which makes this particular story very revealing to us because what’s taking place in Hollywood is not just the attempt to make a romantic comedy of which abortion is a part of the storyline, but it is straightforwardly an effort to try to use a movie to change the way Americans think and feel on the issue of abortion.
The importance of the movie is underlined by Dana Stevens, writing at Slate. As she says about the movie:
Whether you regard it as a social ill, a moral wrong, or a basic human right, the termination of unwanted pregnancies is a thing that happens—to around 1 in 3 American women…Yet this simple demographic reality is all but absent from mainstream popular culture, where abortion sometimes seems to have attained the status Hillary Clinton envisioned for it in the platform of her 2008 presidential campaign: “safe, legal, and rare” (emphasis on the rare part).
Stevens goes on to write, “Insofar as the possibility of abortion can be mentioned at all onscreen…it must be gingerly forestalled at the last minute,” as in recent movies such as Girls or Juno. “The degree to which the onscreen abortion taboo is stronger now than in the ’80s or ’90s,” she says, is also very clear. She describes it as “an index of how far we haven’t come as a nation on this enragingly intransigent topic.” What this article and so many others like it about this movie now make clear is the fact that the cultural left, those who are pushing a pro-abortion agenda, clearly see Hollywood as a necessary ally, an ally they clearly want on their side in terms of telling the abortion story, even in something that’s now called abortion comedy, so that Americans will change their mind on the basic morality of abortion.
There’s something else very interesting in that statement I just read from Dana Stevens at Slate magazine, and that’s this: those who are pushing the pro-abortion agenda think that, in terms of the larger culture, they haven’t been gaining ground in recent decades; they have been losing ground. If you listen carefully to what she said, she makes the interesting point that in recent years, Hollywood has been very hesitant to present abortion in any way, and when it has presented abortion, it has done so with the recognition that it is a very weighty and heavy moral issue. That’s exactly what they’re trying to get over with the very idea of an abortion comedy.
Director Gillian Robespierre told The Washington Post that when Hollywood generally addresses the issue of an unplanned pregnancy, the movie ends with either childbirth or adoption. “We hadn’t seen a feature film talk about it in a way that lifted the stigma and let it be complex and let it be difficult and let it be also safe and actually end with the abortion procedure,” in which, The Washington Post explains she said, “The main character is not filled with shame and regret.” Well there’s the agenda laid bare. The agenda is extremely clear. We don’t have to read the agenda onto what they’re doing here; they just told us what the agenda is. They’re looking to make a movie that will be watched by millions of Americans that will let abortion be “safe” and let it be “complex” and let it be “difficult,” but let it above all things end with an abortion.
Another revealing statement comes from Ann Hornaday’s review of the movie in The Washington Post. She writes:
Seen through another lens, [the characters in the movie], their swearing and nattering on about sex and other bodily functions resembles a group of little kids seeing just how much they can get away with before being sent to permanent timeout.
Let me just interject at this point: almost every reviewer has indicated that this is one of the most pornography-filled and sexually-explicit movies of recent years. But Hornaday continues:
That immaturity is at the core of “Obvious Child,” in which Donna gets dumped, loses her job and faces an unplanned pregnancy after a drunken one-night stand. The whole point of the film is that she’s unformed, using her 20s to experiment and make mistakes and, in the case of deciding whether to terminate her pregnancy, make the decisions that will ultimately create—[listen to this very carefully]—ultimately create a more experienced — maybe even wiser and more compassionate — adult human being.
In other words, this is a movie that is intended to show that the central character grows, develops, matures, and becomes a better human being by murdering the unborn child within her.
Chris Vogner, reviewing the movie for The Dallas Morning News, says, “Obvious Child smartly and economically presents comedy as a sacred act, a means to communicate what otherwise goes unsaid.” Now just think about that for a moment. Here you have a human life being destroyed, murdered in the womb, and yet this reviewer says that what the movie really demonstrates is comedy as “a sacred act.” That tells us a great deal about the worldview of Hollywood and just how entertainment is understood to convey deep moral meaning, but a very subversive moral meaning as well.
Judy Berman, writing for Flavorwire, an observer of Hollywood, says that the purpose of this movie is actually to do for the issue of abortion what Hollywood has been so successful in doing in recent years on the issue homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Berman points to the obvious fact that Hollywood has been essential to the agenda to normalize homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Hollywood’s entertainment products have been incredibly influential, so much so that a recent edition of USA Today said that when most same-sex marriages are held, Hollywood ought to be the honorary best man. Getting right to the point, he writes quote:
I’m not sure I believe it’s possible for a single movie to effect large-scale political change, and even if it were, Obvious Child isn’t going to be that movie. But I think it has the potential to change individual minds, to make people understand that there are good women who have abortions for good reasons.
So there you have the agenda again: good women who have abortions for good reasons. In other words, to make abortion the obvious answer to what this woman believes is her problem: an unexpected and unwanted pregnancy.
Credit goes to Mother Jones magazine for the blockbuster reporting on this issue. Reporter Asawin Suebsaeng makes very clear that Planned Parenthood, that plays a part in the movie, also had basically had vetting rights on the script of the movie and is extremely pleased with the final result. She writes:
On the other side of the reproductive-rights debate, people are certainly enjoying, and endorsing, the film. “Honest portrayals about abortion in film and television are extremely rare, and that’s part of a much bigger lack of honest depictions of women’s lives, health, and sexuality,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “This film is a major breakthrough—not just because it shows a woman deciding to have an abortion but because it shows her as a full and complete person making the serious decision to end a pregnancy and still having a full and fun life.”
So there you have it again: a woman who, in the words a Cecile Richards, decides to end a pregnancy, which means, of course, kill a child, and, as she says, “still have a full and fun life.”
The next statement by Asawin Suebsaeng is especially important. As she reports:
Planned Parenthood also consulted on the development and production of Obvious Child, vetting the script and allowing them to shoot in a clinic in New Rochelle, New York. “They were so supportive, a real friend of the film,” Robespierre says [that’s the director]. “They read a draft of the script, they loved it, and they were so enthusiastic that we were making a movie that sort of takes away the stigma of the choice. The character is not hard on herself, and she’s not ashamed, and not judgmental. And it’s a positive, safe procedure.” Planned Parenthood then offered a few notes on the screenplay (what a nurse at one of their clinics would say to a patient, for instance). A few Planned Parenthood employees can be seen in the film as extras.
Well that is blockbuster reporting. I’m not even sure the reporter understands exactly what she has reported. She has just told us that this is a movie that was basically made in cooperation with and with the approval of Planned Parenthood, with Planned Parenthood coming right out and saying that the agenda of the film was to present a character having an abortion who “is not hard on herself and she’s not ashamed, not judgmental. It’s a positive, safe procedure.” That’s an amazing statement when you think about it; when you consider the fact that that does not take into account at all, to any degree, not even to reference the fact, that one life in this picture is terminated; one is killed. For the baby, it certainly is not a positive and safe procedure; it is the engine of death.
Given the importance of the issue, the release of Obvious Child is quite obviously a very important issue; perhaps even a landmark development in terms of how worldviews are revealed in Hollywood’s entertainment culture. But, on another level, it’s even more important issue. Why? Because we have straightforward statements from those who are approving and producing and celebrating this film of exactly what the agenda is, and it is the culture of death presented in what is horrifyingly called an abortion comedy.
Finally, just consider what all this says about the opportunities for Christian parents, Christian families, and Christian churches to discuss the worldview that is revealed in various forms of the entertainment culture. Something that would greatly help young Christians think through these issues is if, for instance, their parents suggested a conversation about what’s just been watched on television or seen on the big screen or heard, for that matter, on the radio or the podcast. That’s a good way to help Christians think through these issues, understand the implications, and tie them to the totality of a biblical worldview. And a lot of this is best gained by means of conversation, the kind of conversation that you and your loved ones, your fellow church members, perhaps your parents and your children, can find time for this coming weekend. That, you can be sure, will be a conversation worth having.
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 right now we’re taking questions for the upcoming new season of Ask Anything: Weekend Edition. Just call us with your question in your voice to 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058. I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.