April 27, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, April 27, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Britain debates "no-fault" divorce. But a quick look to America reveals it's a disaster.
The moral world is full of evidence of unintended consequences and also moral cause-and-effect that need to be traced back further than many people actually do. When we’re looking at the sexual and moral revolution around us, a lot of people start with the issue of same-sex marriage. After all, it’s right there in every paper’s headlines, virtually every day; it’s right before us on television and by every other available medium. But when you look at the issue of the moral revolution, you can’t just trace it back to same-sex marriage. You have to take it back a great deal further, at least to the opening decades of the 20th century—there began the first evidence of an organized sexual revolution. It began amongst the elites before it spread to popular culture. It began on the issue of contraception and birth-control. If you go back to the beginning of the 20th century, not one Christian denomination believed that it was moral to use birth control. By the time you reach the midpoint of the 20th century, all that is beginning to change.
The effective arrival of the separation of sex and procreation with the development of the pill in the early 1960s in one sense offered a massive technological assist to the sexual revolution. To put the matter simply, you really couldn’t have a sexual revolution if there was always the potential or the likelihood of having a baby with sex outside of marriage. The pill changed all of that. But after the pill, the big moral development was no-fault divorce, and that came in the late 60s and especially during the 1970s.Show Full Transcript
As I said, this is a law of unintended consequences. The people who were behind the idea of no-fault divorce believed, or at least claimed they believed, that they were serving the cause of families and long-term happiness and flourishing. The argument was this: divorce law, as it existed before no-fault divorce, required the evidence or proof of the breakdown of the marriage in terms of bad behavior, in particular of an extramarital relationship, and definitively of adultery. In order to dissolve the marriage before the arrival of no-fault divorce, one party in the marriage had to be proved to be guilty of violating the marriage vows, and the argument was made back in the late 60s and 1970s that that rips families apart in terms of requiring a public airing of this kind of behavior. And thus, when you look at the arrival of no-fault divorce in the United States, especially in the early 1970s, it was often argued to be—and here’s the key category—more humane than the older divorce law.
Well, hold that for just a minute when you consider a headline that just appeared in The Telegraph, a major British newspaper. In Britain there is still no such thing as no-fault divorce. In Britain it is still a matter of law that someone has to prove in the court that one of the spouses has violated marital vows in order for the marriage to be dissolved. There has to be some legal recognized grounds for the dissolution of the marriage. But as The Telegraph reports yesterday, there are those who are now arguing on the very same basis as the revolution that occurred in the United States that that is an inhumane approach to divorce law. Ayesha Vardag, writing for The Telegraph, tells us that Britain is now considering liberalizing its divorce laws and, once again, the argument is to make the experience of divorce more humane. She writes that in the case of Britain’s divorce culture, the problem “lies deep within the system itself.”
The problem she says is this:
“The system is designed to be difficult. If you want to get a divorce, our legislation is built to make you suffer. We don’t do “irreconcilable differences” in England,” she says.
Now just to note, that phrase is put in quotation marks, “irreconcilable differences” because in the vast majority of American states, that’s one of the grounds for dissolving marriage. That has been the central language that led to the development of so-called no-fault divorce. You don’t have to say anyone violated the marriage vows, all you have to do is say that the marriage is breaking down, because just one of the spouses says they have reached the point of irreconcilable differences. But as Vardag writes in The Telegraph, in Britain right now,
“You have to put down that bad thing [that is the violation of marriage vows] on your divorce petition and you have to be ready to prove it.”
Now to show you how the moral argument here works, consider this paragraph. Vardag writes,
“This forces couples to denigrate each other, sometimes completely artificially, to support the profoundly wrong notion that one of them has to be at fault for their parting.”
Now just consider that moral reasoning. Here you have someone writing with a completely straightforward style that the current British law—this is not no-fault divorce—requires someone to be found to be wrong, and she calls that a profoundly wrong notion. In other words, when she looks at the issue of divorce, there is no necessity of anyone of either party being wrong. Vardag writes,
“This is as antiquated as it is cruel. It leads us into a blame game, which can shred the last vestiges of love and respect which a couple has for each other, often making it impossible to remain friends or effective co-parents.”
Now you must recognize there’s more going on here than meets the eye, but she gets right to it in the next paragraph.
“You might start out with an amicable couple, wanting a gentle, “conscious uncoupling”, but by the time they’ve read a petition from the other side containing a litany of complaints about how they were controlling and bad-tempered, denied sex and were rude to their mother-in-law, they’re feeling a lot less co-operative and a lot more like going for the jugular.”
Well, here you have the argument for no-fault divorce. Let’s just get over the fact that there needs to be any objective reason for divorce, that there needs to be any acceptance that bad behavior is at the center of the divorce, and instead let’s aim for what is called here a “conscious uncoupling.” That phrase was made famous in America’s Hollywood by celebrities who said that their divorce was actually something of a growth experience, that they expressed themselves by means of the divorce a “conscious uncoupling” where the couple decides they’re no longer going to be married to one another, but they’re still going to remain friends. Just consider what that says about marriage.
But the bigger issue is this: we need to look at the United States and recognize that it is our laws that are inhumane, and the effect of this is now very clear. You might state that at least from a secular worldview back in 1970s, the argument for no-fault divorce was at least plausible. Again, I say from a secular worldview. That means if all you’re really looking at as some kind of question of cause-and-effect, then you might argue that maybe it would be more amicable if couples did not have to end their divorce on objective grounds, but rather just by irreconcilable differences. That was the argument that was made back in the 1960s and 70s in the U.S. and it was the argument that won. Many people will be surprised to know that one of the first and most liberal of the no-fault divorce laws was signed into law by the-then Governor of California, Ronald Reagan. The state of California basically led this revolution in no-fault divorce.
Ronald Reagan himself had been divorced, and he had been divorced during the old law that required one of the parties to be found guilty of violating the vows of the marriage. And in this case, Ronald Reagan said that had caused a great deal of distress within his family and even amongst his own children. He argued that it would be more humane to redefine divorce in terms of just irreconcilable differences in which there was no fault found—that is, no-fault divorce.
But if you’re looking at it from a secular perspective, here’s the bottom line. The no-fault divorce revolution has brought untold misery, not happiness. It has not produced a more humane divorce system, it has led to the virtual breakdown of marriage and to incalculable misery on the part of children either born outside of marriage or made vulnerable by the divorce, sometimes the serial divorces of their parents.
The arrival of this story from Great Britain, timed interestingly decades after the American divorce revolution, leads you to wonder if people in Great Britain are even looking at American history and understanding that they don’t have to take a risk on discovering where no-fault divorce will take them. All they have to do is look at American culture. They need to look at the fact that marriage has been breaking down and it has not led to a more humane society, it has not lead to greater flourishing in a more humane context for raising children, it has made the lives of untold millions of children more vulnerable and has brought great harm. It also tells us something about the pace of moral revolution when you consider that Great Britain is considering, by this argument, moving from an understanding of divorce based upon marriage as an objective institution to no-fault divorce, and virtually at the same time to what is described in this article as “conscious uncoupling.” What you have here in Britain is a fast race to go from a traditional understanding of marriage and divorce to so-called no-fault divorce to conscious uncoupling all in a matter of weeks and months. The evidence of the harm brought by no-fault divorce is very clear. But it’s also clear that the sexual revolution does not intend to reverse itself, and no-fault divorce is at the very center of that revolution.
But finally, from a Christian worldview perspective, we can’t merely look at the secular evidence, we can’t merely look at cause-and-effect, we have to go back to what the Scripture says, and in this case the Scripture is very clear, defining marriage as a monogamous institution between a man and a woman that is intended to last for a lifetime. But what makes that really interesting is this: that means—and this is what we have to think about very seriously—any effort to look at what God has given us even in a fallen world and say that we can take God’s gift to make it more humane, that tells us we’ve got a big problem with our logic from the first point. And that’s where the problem always begins.
The faithful Christian understands we can’t improve upon God’s plan. We cannot improve upon God’s definition of marriage and the family. Redefining these gifts that God has given us will not lead to greater human happiness, but rather to greater human harm. This article tells us that in Great Britain the argument is that it’s just too hard to get a divorce. But of course the opposite problem is even more significant, when divorce is made just too easy.
Crisis in the professions: How can a Christian counselor offer marital counseling to same-sex couples?
Next, in terms of the moral revolution, one of the biggest challenges we’re going to face is the question of Christians in the professions. What makes a profession? A profession, at least in part, is that there is a credentialing body who decides who is inside the profession and who is not. This is true for engineers; it’s true for lawyers; it’s true for architects; it’s true for doctors; it’s true for all professionals that are defined by the fact that they are a part of a profession. One of the hallmarks of a profession is that the profession gets to set its own standards. That’s what has made group such as the American Medical Association and the American Bar Association so very powerful. But it’s also leading to an inevitable collision between Christian identity and conviction on the one hand and the increasing secularization of the professions on the other hand. And that’s because that secularization is pointing to the fact that many of these professions, like major American corporations, are doing their best to become active agents of the moral revolution.
Now that means that it is going to become increasingly difficult for Christians who operate on the basis of Christian conviction and who have a very clear Christian identity to gain entrance into some of these professions. That’s because the code of ethics that is undertaken by the profession may be now in direct conflict with biblical conviction.
A story coming out of Missouri makes that very clear. It’s not a new story, but it has taken a very new twist. A young man who had been a student at Missouri State University studying for a counseling degree, his name is Andrew Cash, ran directly into this problem when he was told by authorities in his degree program at the University that his on-site hours at the Springfield Marriage and Family Institute, a Christian organization, would not count towards the required experience for his counseling degree. Furthermore, he had to redo some coursework, and it all came down to a collision between his Christian convictions and the secular professional ethics that have been adopted by this counseling program at the University.
The issue at the center of this was whether or not Andrew Cash would be willing to counsel a gay couple—that is, in particular, a married couple concerning their marital or romantic relationship. Now keep that in mind when you consider the fact that the state of Tennessee has been considering legislation that would shield mental health professionals, in particular counselors such as this, from being sued because they could not or would not serve same-sex couples in terms of marital therapy and other services. But this is exactly the kind of challenge we’re going to be facing. Now just consider this question. How in the world can a Christian counselor who defines marriage as exclusively the union of a man and a woman and does not believe that a same-sex couple are either living together properly nor actually married—how can someone who believes that homosexuality is a sin be forced into the professional situation of counseling a couple concerning their romantic and marital situation? The whole point of marital counseling is to try to bring togetherness to a couple who are considered to be together, or in this case, legally married.
But this shows you exactly where these collisions are likely to come. If you have a Christian counselor who is genuinely Christian and you have a same-sex couple come and request or demand marital therapy or marital counseling, that Christian counselor cannot deliver that counseling without violating Christian conviction. Furthermore, you would ask the basic question of why in the world a couple who is a same-sex couple would want to receive marital counseling from someone who doesn’t believe that same-sex marriage is right or even that same-sex marriage, in terms of a moral reality, even exists?
But that points to the inevitable collision we’ve been witnessing here. We’re going to have a direct collision between the professions and Christian conviction. In this case it came down to an educational program, and in terms of that program, Andrew Cash discovered that he was not going to be able to proceed in that program, given his Christian convictions, and be able to progress in the program because of the secular ethics that had been undertaken by the counseling program there at Missouri State University. For example, this student was told that his internship hours with this Christian counseling institute known as the Springfield Marriage and Family Institute would not count toward the degree and that the student, having been affiliated with this organization, would be required to arrange a “remediation plan.”
Now here’s what we’re looking at. We’re looking at the fact that this is almost like the Communist Party in the Soviet Union requiring a forced indoctrination, even what the communist called a “reeducation” of someone who is outside the moral norm. In this case, it is the Christian student who was considered outside the moral norm. What this student said in a lawsuit filed just in recent days is that the school effectively was requiring him to reject the tenets of the Christian faith. In November 2014, Cash was told in a meeting with the Dean of the school that he was being expelled from the program. In the documents filed with the court, it also becomes apparent that the school became alarmed primarily when they had an explanation from someone at the Christian counseling center of how that counseling was actually conducted. The Thomas More Society, a group of attorneys representing the former students said this,
“Traditionally, universities have been places for free exchange of ideas and values, both religious and secular. Unfortunately, Missouri State University departed from its mission by denying educational opportunity to Mr. Cash simply because he expressed in an academic setting sincerely held religious beliefs, which his advisor deemed hostile to her own and therefore unacceptable. An educator,” said the statement “should not permit her own ideology and agenda to ruin the educational opportunities of her students. We feel the responsibility on Mr. Cash’s behalf to try to correct this.”
Now in a story like this about a lawsuit filed, a couple of caveats are always in order and Christians should keep these in mind. Number one, there’s almost always more to the story than we see here. But what that also tells us is that it is now up to the University to prove that this claim is wrong and the meaningful part about that is this: going back to 2014, the University seemed to confirm that the essential claims in this lawsuit were real, and we’re seeing this repeatedly elsewhere. That’s the second point. What we’re looking at here is not an isolated case. We’re looking at an expanding pattern. It’s not just this one student and this one University, it’s not even this singular profession. When it comes to law and medicine, social work, counseling, any number of professions, it’s going to become more and more difficult, we already know, for Christians to even enter into those professions, much less to fulfill them faithfully according to the increasingly secularized tenets of those professions.
Over the last several days, several persons involved in the public schools in several different states have reported to me similar kinds of concerns that are coming now with an increased velocity. One of the lessons we should learn from this is that when we are undergoing this kind of a social transformation, it shows up in unexpected places. It shows up when you have debates at an organization like the NCAA and you ask the question, what does sports have to do with the moral revolution? Evidently a great deal. It shows up at the Boy Scouts and you ask the question, why would the Boy Scouts of America be a key arena for moral battle? Well, the last few years have made clear the Boy Scouts of America have become just that. And when you think about the professions, you can ask the question, why would there be an inevitable collision between the professions and Christian conviction? But stories like this are telling us that it has come down to precisely that.
The unstoppable power of the Gospel: China poised to become largest Christian nation by population
Finally, also looking to The Telegraph in London, some really good news that’s encouraging about the power the gospel. Tom Phillips reports from China that China is now poised to become the world’s most Christian nation within 15 years. Now in using that terminology, what it actually means is that China is almost certainly going to have the largest single Christian population on the planet in terms of any country by the year 2015. Now what’s going on here? Well, it comes down to this. We’re looking at the spread of Christianity in the face of the opposition of the Communist Party now for well over half a century. There’s a big lesson to be learned here. The power of the gospel is such that even the power and coercion of the Communist Party in China has not been able to stamp it out. As a matter of fact, Christianity has grown under the situation of this repression and persecution.
Indeed, the stunning news is that now, not just 15 years from now potentially, but right now there are assuredly more Christians in China than there are members of the Communist Party. Now as I said, this is really good news. It affirms the power of the gospel. If you go back to the communist revolution in the late 1940s and follow repressive decades of the 50s and the 60s with Mao’s cultural revolution into the 70s and the 80s and the 90s and beyond, you’re looking at successive generations of oppression and persecution, but you’re also looking at the fact that no one would have predicted back when the communist revolution took place that it would be possible that there will be more Christians in China than members of the Communist Party. But we’re seeing here is not only the failure of communism, that’s becoming more and more apparent, we’re looking at the power the gospel.
The fact that even in the face of repression and loss of privilege, even with the fact that in many Chinese communities churches are forced into houses not even able to meet in public, even when we have seen much-publicized crackdowns by the Communist Party in terms of churches that have had buildings, at least in provinces and in cities that had allowed such, even when we have seen the Communist Party try to do its very best to paint Christianity as a foreign ideology that is to be expunged in the name of Chinese nationalism, the fact is that Christianity continues to grow.
Speaking of this unexpected turn in China, Professor Fenggang Yang, who teaches sociology at Purdue University, he’s the author of the book Religion in China: Survival and Revival under Communist Rule, said,
“It is going to be less than a generation. Not many people are prepared for this dramatic change,” speaking of the vast increase of the number of Christians in China.
But then he made this statement,
“Mao thought he could eliminate religion. He thought he had accomplished this. It’s ironic – they didn’t. They actually failed completely.”
In terms of political, economic and military might, it’s hard to come up with any power much stronger than the Communist Party in the nation of China. But it turns out that the Communist Party is not more powerful than the gospel of Jesus Christ.