August 17, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, August 17, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Today we’re going to look at controversy over same-sex marriage in Australia. There and elsewhere we’re going to see the inevitable collision between the new sexual liberties and religious liberty. We’re going to understand why the future isn’t secular, and we’re going to understand why, according to the Christian worldview, our ultimate authority is Scripture and not our own eyes.
Australia moves toward same-sex marriage vote as sexual and religious liberties collide
We have seen that the nation of Australia is just the latest now to struggle politically with the issue of same-sex marriage. Australia in this sense is a bit behind several other major English-speaking nations. A fact that has been used by many in terms of the international media to try to shame Australia into getting with the program. But the current Australian government is taking a unique approach, turning to the Australian people and asking the question by means of a plebiscite as to whether or not the legislature and the government should go on and approve and legalize same-sex marriage. Reporting from Sydney, Australia, Jacqueline Williams writes for the New York Times,
“Polls show broad public support for same-sex marriage. Politicians say they’re determined to let the people have their say. So why are so many Australians who want the law changed unhappy with plans for a national vote on it?”Show Full Transcript
She goes on to explain,
“The government this week called for an extraordinary mail-in vote on whether gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to marry.”
And on Thursday of last week Australians were given until August 24 to register for their ballots. The voluntary vote by mail, which is now being challenged in Australia’s highest court, went forward after the Australian Senate rejected opening the polls for a mandatory in person vote as is normally required for Australian elections. Now there are those who see this as a brilliant move on the part of the majority government, and there are those who see it as a matter of political cowardice or evasion. Any way you look at it, what’s interesting is that the proponents of same-sex marriage in Australia don’t have the confidence that becomes very clear in this story and in others that the people of Australia will actually responded to this mail-in survey involved in support of same-sex marriage that other polls say they’re radically in support of. But that’s the problem.
The lead paragraph in this article said that,
“polls show broad public support for same-sex marriage.”
But, as was the case in the United States, even where if it’s a simple question are you opposed to legalizing same-sex marriage or do you approve of it, there was a significant percentage changed just in the several years between 2005 and 2015. What was also clear is that it’s not simply a question that comes down to yes or no. For instance, Americans if they had the opportunity to define the issue would likely have defined the issue in many different ways. That seems to be a part of the complexity that now concerns the proponents of same-sex marriage in the nation of Australia.
Just to make that point clear, even in the New York Times article, the reporter tells us that same-sex marriage is a very controversial issue in Australia. Now note that’s not exactly consistent with the lead to the article that said there was broad public support. Which way is it? Well once again what we have here is Australia being put in a cultural situation under international, political, and media scrutiny, being told to get with the program, and thus as we saw in the United States there was an exaggeration of the level of public support. Just to make that clear in the United States remember that same-sex marriage was legalized here, not by legislative action of the federal level, but by court action. If there had been such broad public support it would have been reflected in a legislative action and victory not in the recourse to the courts taking it basically out of the hands of the legislature and the people.
Interestingly at the end of the article an Australian academic refers to Ireland where in that nation there was a vote in 2015 that legalized same-sex marriage, a vote on the part of the people. That was unique in terms of how nation have moved in this direction, but even that was complained about as being harmful to the LGBTI or the LGBTQ community. Speaking of one person in Ireland who referred to that problem,
“He did talk about the damage that it did and the harm that was caused to the L.G.B.T.I. community through having such a public, vitriolic debate about whether they’re equal and worthy of being allowed to marry.”
Now just ponder what that means for a moment. Now we’re being told that even a public debate about whether or not same-sex marriage should be legalized is now to be understood as in itself a form of harm to individuals in the LGBTI community. That’s very revealing. But what’s also incredibly revealing is the fact that in Australia already even before the vote in any subsequent government action is taken we can already see the inevitable collision between same-sex marriage and religious liberty this time again in Australia. Paul Kelly, reporting from the Australian tells us,
“While the flawed postal vote plebiscite has provoked furious rival responses, the pivotal problem is just emerging. The failure in any draft bill by coalition or labor members of Parliament to fully protect religious freedoms once same-sex marriage is legislative.”
Kelly goes on to say this is set to become an explosive issue within the coalition parties, but the alarm has been sounded. And he writes,
“If as expected the plebiscite returns a yes vote, it will be triggered.”
Later in the article Kelly refers to this as the great dilemma, the dilemma in terms of religious liberty and the legalization of same-sex marriage. We’re also told that religious freedom is now a very controversial issue in this light. One statement in the article says that behind the campaign lies the great dilemma. The proposition is lethal that it would constitute an historic betrayal of the values of the coalition parties if they were seen to back a bill after the plebiscite on same-sex marriage,
“that exposed individuals and institutions to retaliation for their beliefs because the government failed to strengthen Australia’s woefully inadequate laws on religious freedom and protection.”
Kelly’s article is very extensive, but the bottom line in the article is that the very collision in terms of religious liberty and the newly defined sexual liberties that we have seen in the United States is almost certain now to arrive in Australia with the legalization of same-sex marriage there. Kelly goes on to tell us that the political class in Australia is in his words split on the issue or split on these protections,
“with the prospect that passage of same-sex marriage will have a second and far more important consequence, an assault on religious freedoms made possible by inadequate laws that will see a major shift in Australian society.”
What becomes very clear in this article is that no legislation is yet proposed to legalize same-sex marriage really deals with this issue, much less offering adequate protections. One of the bills was introduced by Senator Dean Smith, and later Smith said that he didn’t want the religious freedom issue to interfere with his bill or the passing of same-sex marriage. Instead,
“he wants this as a separate discussion.”
We need to recognize just how insidious, how subversive of religious liberty, how dangerous that is to make it a separate discussion. That’s disastrous and the disaster lies in the fact that once you have legalized same-sex marriage without these religious liberty protections it becomes extremely difficult even to have what this Senator describes as a separate discussion. In all likelihood, it won’t happen. The casualties of this absence of religious liberty protection can be quantified. They’re even mentioned in this article in the Australia, the intimidation of Trinity Western University in British Columbia in Canada, the closure of all Catholic adoption agencies in England and in Wales. Similarly, this also took place in the United States in the state of Massachusetts. There Catholic charities that had been the largest adoption and foster care agency in the state had to get out of the business simply because they were given the choice by the state of Massachusetts get with the program and endorse same-sex relationships and marriage or get out of the service in ministry of adoption and foster care.
Kelly’s article gets particularly interesting at its conclusion because he summarizes the situation. He refers to the resistance to the religious liberty protections that he discusses. He says this,
“The resistance falls into three categories: those who care only about achieving same-sex marriage, those who think protection around the ceremony is the only issue that matters, and those,” listen to these words very carefully, “those like the champions of progressive ideology who see this social change as an integral step in driving religion from the public square.”
Make no mistake, this third group that’s identified here, this third category of those who were opposed to religious liberty protections, they include those so well described by Kelly in this article. Those who are the champions of a progressive ideology in their own definition,
“who see this social change as an integral step in driving religion from the public square.”
‘Nones’ on the rise in Australia, but the future isn’t secular
Next when it comes to religion and what we might call the private square, well here we’re talking about the fact that Australia is becoming radically more secular and the change in terms of secularization there is happening very quickly. Research has recently indicated that in terms of those who are without a religious affiliation by their own definition in one lifetime, Matt Wade writes for the Sydney Morning Herald, the percentage of those who have in Australia no religious affiliation has changed from one out of 100 to one out of three. Now that’s not just stunning. That’s absolutely seismic in its significance. In one Australian lifetime the percentage of those without religious affiliation has gone from about 1% to about 33%.
But what makes this particular article so interesting is the headline, the headline,
“Australia might be losing its religion, but the world isn’t.”
Matt Wade’s point in this article is to make very clear to increasingly secular Australians that they’re actually bucking the trend of the larger global picture, which isn’t becoming more secular. One of the patterns that Matt Wade deals with very honestly in this article is that this kind of secularization is found in rather limited areas around the globe, mostly in terms of northern hemispheres, mostly in terms of Europe and North America. And of course when you’re looking at Australia, New Zealand, you’re looking at two nations that had emerged out of that very culture, although in very different parts of the world. So what you’re looking at is Matt Wade telling readers of the newspaper in Australia that they ought not to think that the world is moving in their direction in terms of secularization, and the statistics that he offers are pretty stunning.
The big issue has to do with the link between birth rate and religious affiliation and what turns out to be the pattern is pretty predictable. Whereas earlier this week we looked at the worldview linkage between burial or cremation practices in worldview, here we see the link between birth rate and worldview. It turns out, and this is very predictable, that where you have religious identification and high degrees of religious belief you find much higher birth rates than in other parts of the world. So even as you think about the globe and you think about those most secular regions of the glob, they are also the regions almost country by country with the lowest birth rates, sometimes catastrophically so. Wade summarizes the issue in these words,
“those who opt for “no religion” on their census forms are heavily concentrated in places with aging populations and low fertility, such as China, Japan, Europe, North America and Australia. The majority of the world’s “religiously unaffiliated” are in China (61 per cent) and Japan.
For the last several decades, Japan is registered as one of the most secular nations on earth by many estimations the single most secular nation on earth, and China shows the long-term effects of state coerced atheism under the dictatorship of the Communist Party. Wade then writes,
“By contrast, populations in places with many religious adherents – mostly developing countries where birth rates are high and infant mortality rates have been falling – are likely to grow strongly. Much of the worldwide growth of Islam and Christianity, for example, is expected to take place in sub-Saharan Africa.”
The bottom line in Wade’s article is a message to secular Westerners that secularization is not the future at least where population is concerned. He also documents in his article that linkage between worldview and birth rates. That’s not only unassailable it is absolutely fascinating. The most succinct explanation is that secular people are far less likely to reproduce and those who hold to religious beliefs are far more likely to reproduce. We as Christians understand why.
Who can we trust? The future of truth in the new media environment
Finally, Sam Lessin writing for the website, the Information tells us that he is very concerned about the future of truth. His immediate reference is to the fact that new computer software is going to make it very easy and for that matter very inexpensive for people to corrupt photographic and other forms of evidence. They’re going to be able to manipulate photos such that you’re not going to be able to trust what you see. As he tells us, this isn’t entirely new technology. It’s been found in terms of where you have government in the military and very expensive industrial installations, but the ability to do this on a desktop computer, or on a laptop, maybe even a smart phone, that’s relatively new. And as he says it’s very threatening. Lessin is concerned with how in this kind of media environment persons will learn whom they can trust and how they can get to credible information. There’s a lot of discussion these days about fake news. And of course now we understand that a part of that can come with fake photographs.
From a Christian worldview perspective what interests me the most here is the fact that many people believe what they see. They believe that the evidence of what is seen is the most important evidence of all. And here you have the fact that at least in terms even of court evidence photographs have been considered almost conclusive in terms of evidence, until now. The crude efforts by the Soviet Union in the editions of the Soviet encyclopedia to excise people from history meant that sometimes you had these photographs that were obviously tampered with. Lessin’s concern is that technology already exists so that you’re not going to be able to tell if a photograph has been tampered with sometimes so that it tells an outright lie rather than the truth. This is where the Christian worldview reminds us of our dependence upon Scripture and of the fact that the most important evidence, the most important revelation, isn’t given in terms of what we see, but rather what we read and what we hear in Scripture. Visible evidence is not our ultimate authority. As the book of Hebrews in Hebrews chapter 11 beginning in verse one reads,
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation. 3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”
So what does that tell us? It tells us that even when we can no longer trust images and photographs we can always trust the Word of God. That’s a good word in any season.