March 25, 2014
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, March 25, 2014. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Eventually, and quite quickly, every single Christian organization, every Christian church and congregation, every individual Christian will have to declare a position, a public position, on the issue of same-sex marriage and the larger context of the sexual revolution. And when it comes to at least one very large and influential Christian organization, the wait is no longer. Yesterday, World Vision announced in a statement coming from its leader of the United States branch that it will no longer require its more than 1,100 employees to restrict their sexual activity to marriage between one man and one woman. The story was broken by Celeste Gracey and Jeremy Weber of Christianity Today. As they write, abstinence outside of marriage remains a rule for World Vision employees. The policy change announced yesterday will now permit gay Christians in legal same-sex marriages to be employed in one of the largest Christian charities in the United States. In an interview given to Christianity Today, World Vision U.S. president Richard Stearns explained the rationale behind what was identified as a condition of employment at World Vision. He said that it actually was a “very narrow policy change.” He said that it should be viewed by the evangelical community as “symbolic not of compromise, but of Christian unity.” According to Christianity Today, Stearns also said that he hoped the decision made by World Vision would “inspire unity elsewhere among Christians.” Stearns explained that the decision adopted by the board, not unanimously but overwhelmingly, was intended to avoid the division he saw as currently “tearing churches apart” over same-sex relationships. Christianity Today explained that his motivation was to attempt to solidify its long-held philosophy as a parachurch organization to defer to churches on theological issues so that it can focus on uniting Christians around serving the poor.
As Christianity Today rightly reports, there is a long list of issues that World Vision has been undeclared on, at least in terms of taking a position. That includes questions of divorce and remarriage, baptism, and female pastors, but what World Vision appears not to understand or perhaps disingenuously not to accept is that the adoption of this policy does not mean that the organization is not taking sides. It is now going to involve every single one of its donors in supporting the employment of those who are gay Christians in committed same-sex relationships so long as they are solemnized into legal marriages. Stearns said:
It’s easy to read a lot more into this decision than is really there. This is not an endorsement of same-sex marriage. We decided we’re not going to get into that debate. Nor is this a rejection of traditional marriage, which we affirm and support.
That language is not understandable. You can’t say that it is not an endorsement of same-sex marriage; you just decided to allow your employees to be involved in it. Indeed, you’ve gone on to state that you believe that this policy should be accepted and emulated by other Christian organizations. You can’t say that this is a rejection of traditional marriage which we affirm and support, if you affirm traditional marriage only as one choice of kinds of marriages among others. Defensively, Stearns said, “We’re not caving to some kind of pressure. We’re not on some slippery slope. There is no lawsuit threatening us. There is no employee group lobbying us.” He then went on to say something that should have our attention in the most vocal way. He said:
This is not us compromising. It is us deferring to the authority of churches and denominations on theological issues. We’re an operational arm of the global church. We’re not a theological arm of the church.
That is a false dichotomy that is fatal to any Christian enterprise. There is no biblical distinction between the operational and theological dimensions of the Christian faith. As a matter fact, if the operational extension of the church’s mission is not based in the gospel and in a clearly and robustly theological understanding, then whatever’s operating isn’t Christian. It’s just an operation that may have Christians involved in it or may claim a Christian identity. He says, “This is simply a decision about whether or not you are eligible for employment at World Vision U.S. based on this single issue and nothing more.” Well he may hope that that’s true, but, of course, it will not be true because now World Vision becomes an employer that says we take no position whatsoever on whether you are involved in marriage as defined as between a man and a woman or between a woman and a woman or man and a man. And by saying that it is no longer an issue that applies in its employment policies, it is accepting the legalization of same-sex marriage, which is to say it is also accepting, in this context, the morality of same-sex marriage.
This is not something, we should note, that has been forced upon the board of World Vision. As a matter fact, their statement makes that statement emphatically. As Stearns said, “We’re not caving to some kind of pressure. We’re not of some slippery slope. There is no lawsuit threatening us. There is no employee group lobbying us.” In other words, the board came to this decision, and it came to this decision in such a way that it tries to say it’s not taking a position, but by not taking a position in this sense, they are taking a position. There is no way around the fact that they are now offering organizational endorsement to same-sex marriage. Furthermore, by allowing that they’re going to be setting a stage for churches and denominations to set their own policies, they will simply as an operational arm try to be inclusive of the entire church, well there we find the problem. If you’re going to define Christianity in such a way that it involves everyone that may call themselves a Christian church and denomination, if you’re going to extend your employment pool and your donor base to that kind of broad and comprehensive understanding and identity, then you’re going to be accepting many things that are theologically incompatible with the Christian faith. This is not the same kind of issue as talking about the debate between egalitarians and complementarians in the church. This is not the same kind of debate as the conversation about divorce and remarriage. Here we are talking about the radical redefinition of marriage in our time, which is all about the normalization of homosexuality as a sexual behavior.
One of the most interesting aspects of this World Vision decision is that it claims that single persons must remain abstinent, but now married persons may be involved in sex even when that marriage is of same-sex couples. In other words, openly homosexual persons will be accepted on the same basis as all others within World Vision and its employment scheme so long as they are legally married. This board and this president cannot possibly believe that that is not a major transformative moment for World Vision. Stearns told Christianity Today that World Vision has never asked employees about sexual orientation. It is simply held to its policy that single employees must remain sexually abstinent and committed to be so; married couples are treated as married couples. But, of course, that means that until yesterday those who are involved in any form of homosexual behavior could not be employees at World Vision; all that changes with the policy that was handed down yesterday. Now openly homosexual employees can be sexually active so long as they are legally married.
In terms of the comprehensiveness of World Vision, in terms of its donor base and its employees, CT remarks that World Vision has staff from more than 50 denominations and at least several of those have officially endorsed the legalization of same-sex marriage. They include the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and Presbyterian Church USA. This kind of comprehensiveness may have worked in a previous age, in which the churches were basically united on at least some theological and moral essentials, but this is no longer the case and it has not been the case for a very long time. Stearns said that World Vision and its board have faced in recent years a difficult question, “What do we do about someone who applies for a job at World Vision who is in a legal same-sex marriage that may have been sanctioned and performed by their church? Do we deny them employment?” Well that raises a huge question: what then is the theological or confessional boundary for World Vision? It turns out that it is either the Apostles’ Creed or World Vision’s Trinitarian Statement of Faith. What becomes very evident from this news release and from the decision handed down yesterday is that nothing in those statements is read as precluding the acceptance and legalization of same-sex marriage and the acceptance of employees in those same-sex marriages. To make the situation clear, Stearns told Christianity Today, “Under our old conduct policy that would’ve been a violation. The new policy will not exclude someone from employment if they are in a legal same-sex marriage.” In another very revealing comment he made to Christianity Today, Stearns said:
Denominations disagree on many, many things—on divorce and remarriage, modes of baptism, women in leadership roles in the church, beliefs on evolution, etc.—so our practice has always been to defer to the authority and autonomy of local churches and denominational bodies on matters of doctrine that go beyond the Apostles’ Creed and our statement of faith. We unite around our Trinitarian beliefs and we have always deferred to the local church on these other matters.
Well raises a very core issue. The churches that are encompassed within the employment base of World Vision, including those denominations I mentioned—well they include the United Church of Christ and the Presbyterian Church USA and the Episcopal Church—those churches have routinely allow violations of the Apostles’ Creed and of the doctrine of the Trinity. In other words, this statement assumes a shared theological basis that is manifestly and obviously absent. Speaking about the issue of same-sex marriage and the larger issue of the morality of homosexuality within the churches, Stearns said:
It’s been heartbreaking to watch this issue rip through the church. It’s tearing churches apart, tearing denominations apart, tearing Christian colleges apart, and even tearing families apart. Our board felt we cannot jump into the fight on one side or another on this issue. We’ve got to focus on our mission. We are determined to find unity in our diversity.
In other words, they say they’re not taking a side on the issue, but they are going to accept the legalization of same-sex marriage and hire employees who may be in legal same-sex relationships. They say they don’t want to take a side, but, of course, they have taken a side and the entire watching world knows the side they’ve taken.
Shifting the scene to Great Britain, we turn first to the book of Leviticus 18:21: “You shall not give any of your children to offer them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.” Molech was a pagan deity in Canaan and according to the Canaanite religion, the way to appease the wrath of Molech was to give that pagan god children to be burned in the fire. And these were most often children under the age of two and they were burned in the fire in a human sacrifice to try to assuage the wrath of Molech. And here in the book of Leviticus and throughout the Old Testament there is the condemnation of this pagan deity and of his murderous worship, and there is the instruction to Israel that above all things it must never offer its own children to the fire.
Keep that in mind in this news story that comes from The Telegraph yesterday from London. According to The Telegraph, the remains of more than 15,000 babies in the United Kingdom were incinerated as clinical waste by hospitals in Britain; some of these babies used and burned as waste to energy in order to heat the hospitals. Sarah Knapton, writing as the science correspondent for The Telegraph, said, “The bodies of thousands of aborted and miscarried babies were incinerated as clinical waste, with some even used to heat hospitals” (that according to a recent investigation in Britain). “Ten NHS trusts have admitted burning fetal remains alongside other rubbish while two others used the bodies in ‘waste-to-energy’ plants which generate power for heat.” On Sunday night, the Department of Health issued an instant ban on the practice. The health minister Dr. Dan Poulter branded the practice as “totally unacceptable”—one of the most significant moral understatements of modern history. The 15,000 fetuses that were incinerated by twenty-seven different health service trusts were over the last two years alone. The investigation does not reveal how far back in time this practice goes and how many thousands of fetuses were burned in order to heat British hospitals. According to The Telegraph, one of the country’s leading hospitals in Britain, that’s Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge, incinerated 797 babies below 16 weeks gestation in their own heating plant. The mothers were told the remains had been “cremated.” Another waste-to-energy facility at a hospital in Ipswich, operated by a private contractor, incinerated 1,101 fetuses between 2011 and 2013. Again the health minister said, “This practice is totally unacceptable.” He went on to say, “While the vast majority of hospitals are acting in the appropriate way, that must be the case for all hospitals and the Human Tissue Authority now has been asked to ensure that it acts on this issue without delay.”
So how do we see this? Well we have to see this going back to the fact that legal abortion leads to just this kind of consideration. I mean, after all, if the fetus is merely unwanted tissue, then why should it be treated in any sense as a human being, and that’s the affront to the moral understanding that is obvious in this story. We are all appalled by this, even those who claim to be pro-choice and pro-abortion appear to be appalled by this, but why are they appalled? If this is merely a so-called “product of conception,” then why is there the outcry? There’s the outcry because we know that is not the case. We know that these are human beings who were terminated before they could be gestated and born. These were human beings who were not treated as human beings, but were murdered (those at least who were aborted) and then were burned in order to provide energy to heat the hospital.
It is hard to imagine how we consider ourselves to be morally advanced over primitive peoples when we compare this practice with what was going on in Canaan in the sacrifices to Molech. These babies were sacrificed all right—these in the United Kingdom. These babies were not sacrifice to a pagan deity in order to assuage his wrath; they were sacrificed to a modern sexual lifestyle and to a modern understanding of personal autonomy that says that if this baby is not wanted, it will die, and they are sacrificed nonetheless. But the treatment of these babies after they were dead points back to the truth of the fact that they were not treated as babies until they were dead, and now, all the sudden, there is an outcry at the fact that these babies were burned. It’s hard to imagine which among these comments is more outrageous: the fact that the health minister said the practice is totally unacceptable—you might say that about the fact that the floors were waxed wrongly. We’re talking here about the killing of unborn babies and the incineration of their bodies to heat hospitals. Then, furthermore, he goes on to say while the vast majority of hospitals are acting in the appropriate way, that must be the case for all hospitals. What’s the appropriate way? To kill the babies and then to dispose of their bodies in a more respectful sense. That’s hardly acceptable. That’s hardly the appropriate way. But we’re living in a time in which modern medical practice has been redefined against the sanctity of human life in such a way that you can use the words acceptable and appropriate meaning how to kill babies and then dispose of their remains.
This horror story was told last night on Britain’s television Channel 4, and the British people now have to face the reality that this was done in their nation. But before we smugly assume that this is something that happened in Britain and not here in the United States, we need to remember that the same destruction of human life, the same killing of unborn life, and the same kind of rationalization is taking place right here in the United States. The problem isn’t just how the remains are disposed of; it’s the fact that they were remains rather than babies, born and given the gift of life, respected as human, the human beings made in the image of God that they are. It’s a bit late to be outraged when you’re arguing over how to dispose of the remains.
Of course, here in the United States today is a big day. At ten o’clock this morning Eastern Time, the Supreme Court of the United States is going to hear oral arguments in the case of Sebelius versus Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods. These are very important cases being heard together at the Supreme Court. Religious liberty is on the line and we’ll be talking in coming days about how it is so and we’ll be listening intently to the oral arguments in order to hear the arguments as put forth by both sides in this case, and it will be very interesting to see how justices engage these questions in terms of the oral arguments. But this much is clear: it’s not just Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods, two corporations, who have their religious liberties riding upon these cases and the eventual decision of the US Supreme Court. We are all there. We are there along with these two corporations because whether we are corporations, congregations, Christian institutions, or individuals, the reality is that the state here is using its power, or has made clear its intention to use its power, to coerce acts against religious conscience. If that can be done at Hobby Lobby or Conestoga Woods, it can be done anywhere, and that’s the big issue now before the Supreme Court. The arguments being made by those who oppose Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods in this case are injurious to the very understanding of religious liberty that gave birth to this country. We’re going to be going through some very difficult days. Just how difficult they are remains to be seen, but if these decisions go the wrong way, these will be ominous days indeed. Much is at stake today at the US Supreme Court. So as you go through your day today, pray for the United States Supreme Court and pray for those lawyers who are going to be arguing on behalf of religious liberty. They’re not going to be arguing only for Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods; they’re going to be arguing for all of us.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. Remember Ask Anything: Weekend Edition. Call with your question in your voice at 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058. 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. I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.