September 19, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, September 19, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
We will see why a Catholic theologian’s cancellation at a Catholic seminary should have our attention, why the LGBT revolution is inevitably a theological revolution, and why it matters that China now says it is no longer doing what it said it never did.
Why a Catholic theologian’s cancellation at a Catholic seminary should have our attention
At first glance it might seem that a national media controversy about a Catholic priest not speaking at a Catholic theological seminary might not be a story that would be very relevant to the Christian worldview. But I assure you it is. This is a story that lands very close to home. It gained a good deal of attention over the weekend. One illustrative article appeared in the New York Times yesterday. David Gonzalez is the reporter. He writes,
“The Rev. James Martin knew his latest book – which urges a dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics who feel estranged from it – would be provocative. Even though the book was approved by his Jesuit superior as in line with church teachings and was endorsed by several cardinals, he did not expect everyone to agree.”Show Full Transcript
According to Gonzalez, James Martin said,
“That’s fine … That’s why dialogue was needed.”
James Martin is well-known as a Catholic journalist associated with America Magazine. He is also as is now well-known a consultant to the Vatican. He’s a very well-known voice in liberal American Catholicism. His new book entitled,
“Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity”
has indeed consumed a great deal of the headline news in terms of Roman Catholic discussion in the United States over the last couple of weeks. The immediate controversy has to do with the fact that the theological College of the Catholic University of America, we should inject at this point that is an official Vatican institution of higher education, rescinded an invitation for the Reverend James Martin to speak and that of course is what has occasioned the controversy. In the Catholic world, people lined up on both sides suggesting that either Reverend James Martin has been wronged or is seriously in the wrong. But the most important thing about this controversy is that both sides in terms of the Catholic debate, not only in this controversy but in the larger issue, understand that the most basic issues are now unavoidably in view. Why? Well when it comes to this particular book, the reason why it has obtained so much controversy has really little to do with the fact that it’s about bridge building. It is the specific proposal for bridge building that has put Reverend James Martin, well-known for his liberal stances over the years, now very much in the crosshairs of Catholic controversy. We’re talking here about a veteran Catholic journalist, very well-known, who would have been considered on the outside of influence under the two previous popes, but now very much in influence when it comes to the more liberal papacy of Pope Francis.
The most urgent controversy among Catholics has to do with whether or not this invitation should have been given and then should have been rescinded. But unavoidable are the big issues that Reverend James Martin raises in his book. I want to get to the biggest of those big issues. In the book recently published, he makes this argument about how to be sensitive towards LGBT persons within the Catholic Church. He says,
“One way to be sensitive is to consider the language we use. Some bishops have already called for the church to set aside the phrase ‘objectively disordered’ when it comes to describing the homosexual inclination. The phrase relates to the orientation, not the person, but it is still needlessly hurtful. Our sexuality, in a sense, touches everything that we do, including the way that we love, even when sexual expression of that love is neither involved or even contemplated. So to call a person’s sexuality ‘objectively disordered’ is to tell a person that all of his or her love, even the most chaste, is disordered. That seems unnecessarily cruel. ”
“Setting aside such language was discussed in the Senate on the family, according to several news outlets. Later in 2016, he cites an Australian Bishop Long Van Nguyen who said in a lecture,
“we cannot talk about the integrity of creation, the universal and inclusive love of God, while at the same time colluding with the forces of oppression and the ill-treatment of racial minorities, women and homosexual persons.
He went on to say,
“It won’t wash with young people, especially when we purport to treat gay people with love and compassion and yet define their sexuality as ‘intrinsically disordered.’”
Part of sensitivity Martin concludes,
“is understanding this.”
In an interview with Religion News Service before his book came out, Martin made some of the same points. He called for a change in the official catechism of the Roman Catholic Church saying that the language used in the catechism needs to be updated. He went on to say updated,
“given what we know now about homosexuality.”
He cites the language even present right now in the official catechism of the Roman Catholic Church that identifies homosexual orientation not homosexual persons but homosexual orientation as objectively disordered. Martin says in the interview, but as I say in the book saying that one of the deepest parts of a person that part that gives and receives love is disordered is needlessly hurtful. He then concluded in this context,
“A few weeks ago I met an Italian theologian who suggested the phrase differently ordered might convey that idea more pastorally.”
So if this sounds technical, well just consider what’s really going on here. Here you have a proposal being made by someone who is known to have great influence in the Vatican who is now making his argument in public, not only in interviews, but in book form, saying that the catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, is insensitive. He doesn’t say it’s wrong. He says it’s insensitive and thus should be changed. But note the change, the current catechism of the Roman Catholic Church describes not homosexual persons, but homosexual orientation as intrinsically disordered. And by the way that is deeply rooted not only in Catholic teaching, but also in the historic understanding of Christians of every major branch of Christianity. It’s because it’s consistent with Scripture.
The LGBT revolution is inevitably a theological revolution
But here you have James Martin suggesting in this book and in interviews that intrinsically disordered should be changed to differently ordered. Now what’s the significance? It means overthrowing the entire tradition of the Christian church over 2000 years in understanding how sexual orientation is to be rightly ordered. If you say that LGBT sexual orientation is merely differently ordered, you have actually not only changed the catechism in this specific case of the Roman Catholic Church, you have changed the Catholic Church’s understanding of the doctrines of creation, of humanity, of sin, of redemption, of the church. It is an entire re-orientation of the Catholic faith.
Now at least to give some persons credit there are those who are making this proposal who understand exactly that. There are liberal Catholics who are saying the way to change the Roman Catholic Church from top to bottom comprehensively is to drive this issue because this particular issue will lead to a total transformation of the entire Catholic faith. Well it’s easy for evangelicals to hear that and say well that’s an interesting intramural Catholic discussion. But of course it isn’t merely an intramural Catholic discussion. The very same argument is being made in some Protestant churches and even in some evangelical circles. The most important thing for us to realize is that when you are looking at this radical a proposal, which is at least to be given credit for candor and honesty, you’re looking at a straightforward call for the entire faith to be reconceived.
So speaking of this in evangelical terms, let’s just speak about the fact that to normalize homosexuality and homosexual orientation we’re not again speaking of homosexual persons, we’re not speaking of LGBT persons, but rather of a pattern of sin and a pattern of orientation if that is then normalized and meant to be merely a different aspect of God’s intention in creation, then we’re looking at having to revise, once again, everything we know about creation from Genesis 1 onward, revising what we understand sin to be. But that also means revising how we understand how we know what sin is, which means inevitably, this means a collision with the doctrine of Scripture with its authority, its interpretation, its trustworthiness. And of course it relates to the doctrine of salvation. How are we to understand our salvation from sin if we have now redefined what sin is?
When it comes the Roman Catholic controversy about James Martin, one of the most pressing questions addressed to him is the next step in his argument because it’s an obvious question that will have to be answered. What do you say to persons who are not merely speaking about a same-sex orientation, but they’re demanding that what they describe as their form of love – that’s the very language that Reverend Martin uses in the book – that their form of love is to be celebrated within the church? Now when you ask that question, you understand it’s unavoidable. There is no way Reverend Martin or anyone else who poses these questions can avoid answering them. James Martin has at least been pretty candid about the fact that what he’s calling for is the full inclusion of practicing LGBT Catholics.
And that’s where we also need to note the shifting landscape of this debate and conversation because what’s going on in terms of this controversy in Catholicism has already gone on in terms of mainline Protestantism. Where the logic went first, we need to be inclusive of those who are indicated by a same-sex sexual orientation now the entire umbrella LGBTQI and it goes on. And then the argument came well it’s not enough to include and to celebrate a sexual orientation that may be different we’re going to have to allow for the full practice of that sexual orientation or we’re being inconsistent. And now we see within Protestant ranks, especially mainline liberal Protestantism, but also on the periphery of some who at least call themselves evangelicals, we see a similar shift in the argument.
Here again we need to think carefully about how rightly to make the argument. The argument should not be made in such a way as to say that anyone who is wrong, biblically wrong on this issue repudiates the entirety the Christian faith. Rather we should understand that any theological position that compromises Scripture and subverts clear Christian biblical authority on this issue will inevitably lead to a total transformation of the Christian faith. And evidence of that comes not only from Catholicism, but I want to remind us of a new story from July 2013. In this case, the speaker was an Anglican, not just any Anglican, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the retired Archbishop of the Anglican church in South Africa, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, who made a statement back in 2013 that he didn’t want to go to heaven if heaven was as he described it homophobic. Now again just to define his terms, he was saying that if homosexuality and the entire array of LGBT issues and affections and behaviors is not going to be celebrated in heaven then he doesn’t want to go. He said,
“No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place.”
He went on to say,
“I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this.”
So what you have there tragically enough is testimony of the fact that this moral revolution when it works its way inevitably to the hardest theological questions means as Desmond Tutu understood a total redefinition of the doctrine of God. I’m sure we will be reminded of this totality in terms of the theological revolution, but it’s important at this point to recognize what this does tell us is that a story about a Catholic priest not speaking at a Catholic theological seminary really is a story that hits much closer to home.
China no longer harvesting organs of prisoners, which it said it never did
Next we turn to China, a story that ran over the weekend in the Washington Post. It’s by Simon Denyer. The headline,
“China used to harvest organs from prisoners. Under pressure, that practice is finally ending.”
Now as you look at the story I can tell you what the bottom line is. The communist government of China after decades of denying that it was actually harvesting organs from executed prisoners and selling them. Now says that what it wasn’t doing it will stop. That’s the kind of argument that any parent is likely heard from a child at one point, hopefully a very young child understanding that there is an incredible admission in the denial. That’s been the case in China for decades now. It has been well-known by human rights activists and also by the United States government that the nation of China has been executing prisoners and then selling the organs that had been harvested from those executed prisoners.
Now when you look at this, of course we’re looking at a complex of issues, not only capital punishment and the integrity or the lack of integrity of the Chinese judicial systems, you’re also looking at the great need for organs for human transplantation. There are all kinds of ethical issues. But by any measure of human morality it is wrong to create a system in which a government has a financial incentive to kill people in order to make what’s recognized as millions upon millions of dollars by selling their harvested organs in an international market. The Washington Post story tells us that after the decades of China doing this even as they were denying they were doing this activists within China and also pressure from without is leading to the fact that Chinese medical and ethical authorities are now declaring that the practice has ended. But even the Washington Post in the article that ran September 15 points out that there are questions as to whether or not the practice has totally ended, and furthermore, the market for illegally obtained organs for human transplantation is even larger now than it was when the controversy over China began. Denyer reminds us just how relevant and timely the story is when he tells us that just last year the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning,
“‘state-sanctioned forced organ harvesting’ in China,”
and the U.S. House in its resolution also openly accused the Communist Party in China,
“of killing prisoners of conscience — held in secret, outside the usual criminal prisons — to feed the transplant industry.”
Now just let that sink in for a moment. Here you have a resolution adopted by the United States Congress in this case the House of Representatives openly indicting China for this practice and furthermore for extending it to the fact that China was executing prisoners of conscience precisely in order to then sell their organs for transplantation. In terms of worldview analysis the most important and urgent issue is this we have to understand that behind this story is a conception of human dignity, what a human being amounts to, what kind of recognition or respect has to be extended to every single human being simply because that individual is a human being.
The story coming out of China makes very clear that if you reject or if you undermine the Christian understanding of the dignity of humanity based upon the fact that every single human being is equally made in the image of God then you’re going to inevitably compromise human dignity in order to meet some other urgency or even to set loose some even more evil motivation. The admissions that the Chinese government is making in this story are frankly breathtaking. It’s alarming that so many people around the world won’t even give it any notice. That in itself is a story.