January 10, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, January 10, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
A tale of Protestant liberalism: Historic Baptist church in D.C. calls lesbian couple as co-pastors
Sometimes a headline simply crystallizes what is at stake. That was the case yesterday afternoon with this headline in the Washington Post.
“Married lesbian couple to lead prominent D.C. Baptist church.”Show Full Transcript
Lauren Markoe, reporting for the Washington Post, writes,
“Calvary Baptist Church, a progressive Baptist landmark in the heart of downtown Washington, has named a gay couple as co-pastors. Sally Sarratt and Maria Swearingen were presented to the congregation during worship services Jan. 8 and are set to begin their new jobs Feb. 26. A spokeswoman for the congregation said she didn’t know whether a gay couple leading a church was a first for Baptists. ‘We look for the best people in the world and that’s who they were,’ said Carol Blythe.”
The Washington Post then goes on very quickly to report,
“The 155-year-old church severed ties with the Southern Baptist Convention in 2012: It was at loggerheads with the group on several issues, including the SBC’s stance against homosexuality. Calvary Baptist still affiliates with American Baptist Churches USA. American Baptist Churches USA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.”
The Post reports that the married lesbian couple came to Calvary Baptist Church from Greenville, South Carolina, “where Sarratt has been serving as associate chaplain for behavioral health in the Greenville Health System and Swearingen as associate chaplain at Furman University.”
The press is also reporting that Sarratt has been serving as what has been called a sabbatical minister at the Greenville Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. The Washington Post reports that the two women met at the First Baptist Church of Greenville, South Carolina, and that they were both ordained there after the Greenville church adopted and implemented a nondiscrimination policy concerning LGBT persons in 2005.
Bob Allen, reporting for Baptist News Global, says that,
“Calvary isn’t the first Baptist church to hire an openly gay minister or even to have lesbian co-pastors, but challenging the status quo is nothing new for the congregation started by abolitionists in 1862.”
He then reports notably that,
“In 2014 the congregation ordained what is believed to be the first transgender Baptist minister, Allyson Robinson.”
Allen reports that Robinson is a George W. Truett Theological Seminary graduate—that’s at Baylor University—“who previously had been ordained as a man.”
The Baptist News Global report also tells us that Calvary Baptist Church “remains affiliated with American Baptist Churches USA, the Alliance of Baptists, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the District of Columbia Baptist Convention.”
Now as I’ve said, this news story raises a host of issues, and it does crystallize the moment. Here you have a church, Calvary Baptist Church, one of the most historic congregations in the nation’s capital, that has now called a legally married lesbian couple as co-pastors. Now a closer look at the story reveals some very important patterns. The overarching pattern is the trajectory of American Protestant liberalism. That liberalism began as an impulse to try to modify Christianity so that it would fit better in a modern age. Indeed, some of the earliest of the Protestant liberals in the United States preferred the term modernist to liberal, and of course this required overthrowing a great deal of what the modernists saw as theological baggage, and that meant a great deal of biblical Christianity.
But, of course, the modernists in the early 20th century could not have conceived of the sexual revolution that would come. Even the most liberal of the modernists were upholders of marriage, and in general they were stalwart opponents even of liberalizing divorce laws. But what they had done was to undercut the biblical foundations of Christianity. Once biblical authority had been denied and significantly reduced, the door was opened that could not easily be closed. So the modernist leaders of the early 20th century, who could not have foreseen a legally married lesbian couple in the first place, much less as co-pastors of a congregations, nonetheless set the stage for that very development by undercutting the only authority that could prevent it. And that is the authority of biblical Christianity.
But we also see the pattern of some very familiar names that come to play here. One of those names is Furman University. Maria Swearingen, we are told, has been serving as an associate University chaplain at the University in Greenville, South Carolina. Furman, of course, is one of the most venerable names in the Baptist tradition. Richard Furman, the namesake of university, was a stalwart champion of theological orthodoxy. But by the time you reach the end of the 20th century, Furman University had decidedly broken with the Baptists in terms of authority and governing control. The Furman University Board of Trustees officially broke with the South Carolina Baptist Convention in the early 1990s. Furman University had been for some decades by then dedicated to its own trajectory of theological liberalism.
A sad note here connects Greenville, South Carolina, Furman University, and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Not only was Southern Seminary established in Greenville, South Carolina, but it was established out of the religion department at Furman University. At that time, James P. Boyce, the founder of Southern Seminary, was one of the most important faculty members on that religion faculty at Furman. So to look at Furman University today and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, you see two divergent and very distinct pathways in terms of American Protestantism: one clearly committed to evangelicalism, that’s Southern Seminary, and one very much committed to Protestant liberalism or what we might say remains of Protestant liberalism, and that’s Furman University. While the issue of confessional accountability is paramount here, of even greater importance is biblical authority. That is the very authority that that confessional accountability seeks to treasure and to ensure.
So one note in terms of an observation about this headline is that it tells us that once you reduce, modify, discount, and eventually deny biblical authority, the barn door is wide open. There is absolutely nothing to prevent the eventual headline that appeared yesterday in the Washington Post of a legally married lesbian couple serving as co-pastors of a church that is at present allied with the Alliance of Baptists, also affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the District of Columbia Baptist Convention, no longer of course the Southern Baptist Convention.
But that raises a huge issue, and this arrives most prominently at the door of the District of Columbia Baptist Convention. That convention has not been a paragon of theological conservatism to say the very least, but now they face a very dramatic challenge. If they do not expel Calvary Baptist Church from their membership, then they by very definition simply become a convention that will accept that, indeed, does accept a church that has legally married lesbian copastors in terms of their own membership.
In terms of the other denominational affiliations at stake here, there is no question that the American Baptist Churches USA has been allowing this kind of divergence from biblical teaching for some time. When it comes to the Alliance of Baptists, a group that split off about 30 years ago from the Southern Baptist Convention, the same has been true. The Alliance has been flying the flag of its progressivism on LGBT issues now for well over a decade. When it comes to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship—again a moment of decision—that group has announced a period of discernment on these issues, and it’s likely to adopt some kind of new policy in its assembly this coming summer, once again a moment of decision, once again not really much question about what that decision is going to be.
To put the matter very simply, the CBF already has a good many churches that are functioning in just this way and already faces a younger generation of leaders who will settle for nothing less than full acceptance on LGBT issues. And of course that sets that group in terms of a dynamic of conflict with some of the older and more generous churches in the CBF, but the CBF has undercut any ability in terms of biblical authority to draw the line here. And so it’s a simple prediction to say the line will not be drawn. In the CBF, the most immediate question is probably related to those who are employed by the Fellowship. But in terms of the theological, moral, and biblical issues at stake, the dynamic is very much the same.
Another pattern to note here is that when you have this kind of sexual revolt on the part of the denomination and association of churches or just one congregations, you can count on the fact that this kind of revolt on the issue of sexuality has not come about. This kind of headline could not have emerged without a prior theological compromise or, for that matter, a theological revolution in and of itself. One indicator of that has to do with what’s a relatively small part of the news article about the calling of these two women as the co-pastors of the church in Washington D.C.
We are told that Sarratt “currently sabbatical minister at Greenville Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, also works as associate chaplain for behavioral health in the Greenville Health System.”
It’s that reference to her service as “sabbatical minister at Greenville Unitarian Universalist Fellowship” that should have our attention, the Greenville Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. So here you have one of the two women, legally married lesbians, called as co-pastors of an historic church in Washington D.C. One of them currently serves as an associate chaplain at Furman University, where we are told the couple was married, and the other serves as, among other things, sabbatical minister at a Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. Just consider those first two words: Unitarian Universalist. We’re talking not about a branch of Christianity, but we’re talking about an openly heretical fellowship. All you need is actually the first word in order to get to that assessment, the word Unitarian. It is an open denial of the necessity of belief in the Trinity, of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Unitarianism in one form or another has been a persistent Christian heresy. It was one of the foundational movements in American Protestant theological liberalism. By the time you get to the early 19th century, Unitarianism has already marked the theological complexion of institutions like the Harvard Divinity School. The word universalism in and of itself points to the fact that everyone is included in salvation. It’s a universal salvation. It’s also described as the belief system that holds that every form of belief eventually leads to salvation. You add the Unitarians to the Universalists and call it a fellowship, and that’s what you end up with in terms of the Unitarian Universalist Association in the United States. One of these two women, we are now told, is currently serving as a sabbatical minister in a Unitarian Universalist congregation.
Once again, what this tells us is that prior to this kind of joining of the sexual revolution that made the headline, what really didn’t make the headlines and isn’t of much interest to the secular news media is the underlying theological compromise, or in this case outright heresy. This story will continue to unfold no doubt. On the website at Calvary Baptist Church, we are told that coming up on the 11th of this month is a meeting called Arise, a queer theology collaborative. That collaboration, we note once again, is scheduled for tomorrow.
Another final observation on this story: what this tells us, what the headline also clarifies is a limitation in our contemporary context of denominational labels. I serve as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. This is a church that is known as Calvary Baptist Church in Washington D.C. But to state the matter very clearly, invoking the authority of J. Gresham Machen, one of the most important conservative theologians of the 20th century, what we’re talking about here is a common denominational label that somehow can confuse the fact that we’re actually talking about two different religions. As Machen wrote in his epic book, Christianity and Liberalism, when we’re talking about Christianity and so-called liberal Christianity, we’re not talking about two variants of the same thing. We’re talking about two absolutely different religions: Christianity and something entirely different that is a fundamentally different religion. This is indeed a clarifying headline, and the response to this story wherever that response is to be found will be equally and tellingly clarifying.
In pro-life victory, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin signs into law legislation that protects the unborn
Next, we shift to the State of Kentucky where CNN reports,
“Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin on Monday signed two bills that put tighter restrictions on abortion, including one measure prohibiting the procedure at or after 20 weeks of pregnancy.”
The other bill requires ultrasounds for pregnant women seeking an abortion. Now as you look at this story, and again this time reported by CNN, what you see is one state out of the 50 states in the United States of America taking action in order to defend unborn human life. And the immediate response is exactly what you would predict. By the time yesterday was over, the American Civil Liberties Union had immediately filed a lawsuit, and it was calling for a preemptive action on the part of a court to block the legislation.
One of the lessons from this is, as we often note, elections have consequences. In the State of Kentucky, the recent election last November resulted in both houses of the General Assembly being in one party’s hands, the Republican Party. Also you have an elected Republican governor in Kentucky, Matt Bevin. Matt Bevin when he ran for office made very clear that he was running as a pro-life candidate, and he has done everything within his powers to fulfill that very identity and conviction. And now with the ability of the General Assembly to pass this kind of legislation, the Governor quickly signed it, and in this case, the signing of the law put it into effect immediately.
One of the lessons here is political courage. Often times, politicians will say that they are running on a platform that is pro-life, or at least is calling for restrictions on abortion, but they find a way to avoid either passing the legislation or in the case of governors signing the legislation. I’m very thankful that in the State of Kentucky that did not happen. A second observation on this story is that this kind of legislation is exactly how the pro-life cause is going to be fought out not only legislatively, state-by-state, but also in the federal courts and eventually all the way up to the Supreme Court. It was the Casey decision by the Supreme Court that opened the door for states to adopt restrictions on abortions. Many of these restrictions had not been recognized by the Supreme Court as constitutional until that decision, but now you have state after state beginning to pass legislation driven by the pro-life convictions of either a majority of the voters in the state or at least a very sizable percentage of the state’s population.
In any event, even if you just look at the headline coming out of Kentucky yesterday, one of the most heartening aspects of this is that it announces that the fight for the cause of the sanctity of human life is not lost in this country. Another thing to note is that when you have this kind of a headline, the immediate response to this story often included in the article itself is very revealing. In this case, Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards responded to the signed legislation in Kentucky by saying,
“A woman has the right to make her own personal, private decisions about her health and medical care. This bill takes that right away.”
Then she said,
“Make no mistake — Kentuckians flat out reject these abortion bans and attacks on reproductive health care.”
I’ll leave aside her nomenclature for the moment and just state the obvious: it can’t be so. Kentuckians actually elected a governor and now majority in the General Assembly who are decidedly pro-life. It makes absolutely no sense and amounts to nothing more than national political posturing for the head of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America to make that kind of comment.
But one final observation on this particular matter: she wasn’t really speaking to the people of Kentucky. She was effectively speaking over the people of Kentucky. She was speaking to a national audience, and she was trying to do her very best to send a signal to those who are motivated by her own convictions and who are associated with her own movement, that is to mobilize pro-abortion forces by drawing attention to what is taking place in Kentucky.
Perhaps the most important impact of Governor Matt Bevin signing these bills yesterday is that it puts Kentucky now on the list of the states that have refused to bend the knee to the Roe v. Wade decision handed down by the Supreme Court in 1973 and to the larger culture of death and its central act, which is abortion.
"Biology matters": LA Times column tackles the futility of gender-neutral parenting
Finally, Debra W. Soh, identified as “a sex writer and sexual neuroscientist at York University in Toronto,” Canada, over the weekend contributed a very significant article at the Los Angeles Times. The headline itself is critical,
“The futility of gender-neutral parenting.”
“In steadfast pursuit of gender equality and to promote nonconformity, it’s become popular in some social circles to start early, very early, by raising young children in a gender-neutral way: not revealing the baby’s sex at birth, dressing them and their bedroom in various shades of oatmeal, encouraging them to play with gender-neutral toys. There’s also pressure on corporations to help; parental complaints led Target to stop sex-segregating its toys, for instance.”
But then she writes,
“Offering kids the opportunity to pursue what they’d like, freed from societal expectations, is an undeniably positive thing — whether it has to do with toys, clothing, or their future aspirations. But the scientific reality is that it’s futile to treat children as blank slates with no predetermined characteristics.”
Then one sentence, just two words,
Here you have someone identified, interestingly enough, as a sex writer and a sexual neuroscientist who is telling us that biology simply does matter and that biology still comes down to male and female. And when it comes to toy preferences, it turns out that there is something in the biology even before there is the opportunity for culture to play any kind of a role. She goes so far as to say that being male or female in terms of the brain already makes such a biological difference that toy preferences emerge as innate, not, she says, socially constructed or shaped by parental feedback at least in terms of when they emerge. She writes this,
“Most girls will gravitate toward socially interesting toys, like dolls, that help social and verbal abilities develop. Most boys will gravitate toward toys that are mechanically interesting, like cars and trucks, fostering visuo-spatial skills.”
As a scientist, she tells us that the toy preferences are evidently so biologically innate that they emerge even before 18 months of age. Long before the child is even, she says, aware of gender distinctions or differences. She writes,
“I hear from many well-meaning parents who raised their children in gender-neutral homes and were surprised to find that they nevertheless gravitated toward stereotypical interests and toys. Little boys who were given pots and pans to play with turned them into makeshift toy cars, complete with self-generated engine sounds. Little girls turned to one another and started playing house.”
“Acknowledging inherent sex differences isn’t harmful or sexist; differences don’t necessitate one sex being better than the other.”
Now there’s no doubt that this woman is trying to signal that she is fully a member of the sexual revolution. But nonetheless, she’s also very honest when it comes to the matter of biology or to the fact as she says,
Responding to the LA Times article, Jesse Single points out that what some parents of both the right and the left have recently experienced comes down to a toy panic, the panic that somehow by the gift of their toys, or the choice of toys, or their child’s preference in toys, something is going to be misjudged, something’s going to go awry. It’s clear from the article that this is particularly true of liberal parents who are afraid that if little boys play with boy toys and the little girls play with girl toys their friends are going to think them socially regressive. But we also need to note that it is the parents who, as these articles attest, are prone to the toy panic, not the children. It turns out that when it comes to the kids, even at the earliest ages, they pretty much know which toys they want to choose, and there is a pattern. There’s a difference between boys and girls. The fact that the LA Times found this noteworthy is itself newsworthy. So simply matters that biology matters, but these days, even the two word sentence “biology matters” can come down to fighting words in a culture.