March 27, 2014
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, March 27, 2014. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
An historic and much welcomed announcement came from World Vision U.S. yesterday afternoon. The letter came from Richard Stearns, the President of the American division of World Vision. He wrote, “Today the World Vision U.S. board publicly reversed its recent decision to change our national employment conduct policy. The board acknowledged they made a mistake and chose to revert to our long-standing conduct policy requiring sexual abstinence for all single employees and faithfulness within the biblical covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.” He went on to say:
We are writing to you, our trusted partners and Christian leaders, who have come to us in the spirit of Matthew chapter 18 to express your concern in love and conviction. You share our desire to come together in the body of Christ around our mission to serve the poorest of the poor. We have listened to you and want to say thank you and to humbly ask for your forgiveness.
In the world today, there are countless surprises and many, many disappointments, and when you have a letter like this to arrive, it is a singularly happy event. What you have here is a major Christian organization correcting an error, doing so publicly, doing so very clearly. In this letter that comes from Richard Stearns, the World Vision U.S. board makes very clear that it is not just making an expedient effort to try to get back to the previous policy; it is acknowledging that it made a mistake. And the most important portion of this letter is where it acknowledges that the mistake was made. In the fourth paragraph of Richard Stearns’s letter, he writes:
We are brokenhearted over the pain and confusion we’ve caused many of our friends, who saw this decision as a reversal of our strong commitment to biblical authority. We ask that you understand that this was never the board’s intent. We are asking for your continued support. We commit to you that we will continue to listen to the wise counsel of Christian brothers and sisters, and we will reach out to key partners in the weeks ahead.
While World Vision U.S. stands firmly on the biblical view of marriage, we strongly affirm that all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, are created by God and are to be loved and treated with dignity and respect.
Well certainly that last statement is true. Every single human being, who is now alive and will ever live or who has ever lived, is made in the image of God and is to be loved and treated with dignity and respect. But the first portion of that paragraph is so very important where Richard Stearns writes that there were many people who saw the decision that they announced earlier this week as a reversal of “our strong commitment to biblical authority.” Well, indeed, that’s exactly not only what it was seen to be; that’s what it was. And even if that portion of this letter might not have been written as strongly, in terms of its wording, as it could have been, it does send the signal very clearly and it doesn’t attempt to evade the central issue, which is that the authority of Scripture was directly at stake.
And that next paragraph makes that point dramatically clear when Richard Stearns writes that World Vision U.S. stands firmly on the biblical view of marriage. That is a crucial phrasing, a crucial series of words because in the statement that World Vision released earlier this week announcing that they were changing their policy to allow for the employment of openly gay employees in legal same-sex marriages, the board had made the statement that the issue of marriage and sexuality, the homosexuality issue wasn’t clear in Scripture. Now they’re making a very clear statement that they see the issue clearly and that Scripture is clear on the issue. They refer to the biblical view of marriage.
That is a very significant statement and, as I said, this is a very happy development. We need to express appreciation to the board of World Vision and to Richard Stearns for making this statement so clearly and in such a timely manner. There are those who have immediately come back to say they must have been under intense pressure. Well, of course, they were, but it’s not enough just to say that they did this because of the pressure. The way they wrote the letter requires us to give not only the benefit of the doubt, but a sincere word of appreciation to World Vision U.S. for making this statement yesterday in such a clear and unequivocal manner and, indeed, a manner that demonstrated a great deal of grace as well, even thanking their critics in the spirit of Matthew chapter 18 for helping them to see the issue more correctly.
This statement made by world vision also immediately helps so many Christians around the United States and the world who are wondering what in the world to do in light of the earlier policy announcement; the policy change to accept the hiring of those who were openly gay, who were living in legal same-sex marriages. Now there were many Christians under that situation, under that policy who were asking the question, “Can we continue to fund World Vision?” and the immediate issue here was the tearing of the conscience between the knowledge there are so many people, including many children, who are in such dramatic need and the question as to whether or not you are actually doing what ought to be done, in terms of the responsibility of Christian stewardship and generosity, by giving to an organization that had adopted such an unbiblical policy. Now this statement coming yesterday from World Vision alleviates not only its donor base of that moral quandary, but also so many other Christians who can now support World Vision and support the children and others who were assisted by this ministry without the concern that they would’ve been required to violate their conscience on the authority of Scripture and on that the Bible teachings of sexuality in so doing.
Earlier this week I published an article at albertmohler.com very critical of World Vision for having taken that step announced earlier this week that would’ve violated the authority of Scripture and the Scripture’s teaching on marriage and sexuality. I now need to come back with equal clarity to what was demonstrated in this letter from World Vision and say that they have changed their position. They have gone back to affirm a biblical understanding and that is clearly good news, and I want to make my judgment on that fully clear.
The aftermath of the Supreme Court’s oral arguments held on Tuesday in the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods cases—those are cases, of course, dealing with the ObamaCare mandate for contraception coverage. The reverberations continue to be very revealing; two in particular. The first is an article published in The Washington Examiner by Timothy P. Carney. Carney writes that there is the possibility of peace in this front-of-the-culture war if the left wants it and would have it. That has to do with the fact that there is a misconstrual of what’s actually a stake here. There are many on the left who are writing as if what’s at stake in this controversy is the access that women might have to contraception. As Timothy Carney argues very persuasively in this article, that’s hardly at stake. Contraception is available virtually everywhere. The only issue at stake before the Supreme Court in these two cases is whether the government can compel a company to pay for that contraception coverage in that health care coverage that is offered by the employer to the employees. Those are two very different questions, but you wouldn’t know that from much of the media coverage. But that’s where Timothy Carney gets to the issue at stake and he nails it. He absolutely gets to the heart of the issue. He says the problem is that the left doesn’t want to see this as anything other than a direct assault upon contraception access, and he says that’s so because if we think this is merely over the issue of birth control, we miss how the left has elevated that issue to an issue of its own religious commitment. He writes:
The Pill is not just a pill to them [speaking of the cultural left]. It has become something holy. And they won’t tolerate any burden between them and their Blessed Sacrament. The culture war isn’t religious versus secular. It’s a clash of two faiths.
At the level of worldview analysis, that is a powerful and perceptive statement. That is exactly what we’re looking at. The dimension of the culture war, as Timothy Carney gets exactly right, isn’t between a secular side and a religious side, but between two opposing sides, both of whom have essentially religious commitments. On the one side, you have Christians and other people with very clear religious convictions who are very troubled by not only birth control in general, but especially by the potential that any form of birth controls could function at least at some time as an abortifacient causing an abortion. On the other side, you have people for whom the birth control pill is now a symbol of an entire worldview of sexual liberation and they raise that to the level of an almost sacramental importance. As he writes, they won’t let anything get between them and their “Blessed Sacrament.” The issue isn’t religious versus secular. It’s a clash of two faiths.
Now, from time to time, we make this point by going back to Thomas Sowell, the Stanford Hoover Institution economist who makes this point in his book, The Conflict of Visions. As he says, every single individual, whether that individual regards himself or herself as religious or secular, liberal or conservative, operates on the basis, as he says, of a certain vision of life and that vision of life is what we would call a worldview. And he writes about the fact that it isn’t accidental that if you can predict someone’s position on issue A, you can probably at least anticipate their position on issue B, C, D, E, F, and so on. He asked the question, “Why is that so?” It’s because they don’t disagree on those issues alone; they disagree on a fundamental understanding of reality, and anyway you define that, it’s essentially theological. In this sense, even a secular worldview is far more theologically-oriented than those who hold it might want to think. And Timothy Carney’s exactly right: what we have here, in terms of this controversy, is something that reveals a very deep commitment that goes beyond what most cultural conservatives and Christians understand. As a matter fact, it points to a fundamental political reality. If the Obama Administration wanted to accomplish making certain that women through ObamaCare had unrestricted access to free contraceptive care, they could have done it without requiring employers to violate their convictions in so doing. In other words, that part of the law, that requirement seems, in essence, a premeditated assault upon religious conviction in order not only to get something accomplished, but to make a point in so doing. And that’s what explains why these cases were before the Supreme Court on Tuesday.
But I said there were two articles that are very revealing in this cultural conversation that continues to reveal so much. The other is an article by Tal Kopan, published at Politico, having to do with California Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer. She asked a very interesting question in a television interview in which the Supreme Court debate and conversation and oral arguments became the topic of conversation. She was asked what she thought about the cases before the Supreme Court. She said:
I have never heard Hobby Lobby or any other corporation, I could be wrong, or any other boss complain that Viagra is covered in many insurance plans, particularly all of them, or other kinds of things, you know, for men, which I won’t go into.
A very revealing statement. Senator Boxer has been known for making some statements that have required a great deal of head scratching and consideration. Add this one to the list. She seems to lack any understanding whatsoever or at least she refuses to make any acknowledgment of the fact that there are serious moral issues held by many people, including the leaders of her own church, about birth control and about contraception and about a potential abortifacient effect. She doesn’t even deal with that. She simply says, “It’s a male-female issue. I don’t hear anyone complaining about paying for Viagra,” as if that’s somehow an equivalent issue. The question of whether or not Viagra should be included in government mandated healthcare is, so far as I see, a very legitimate question. It is just a question that has nothing to do with something that has the moral significance of birth control and especially any birth control that could be potentially abortifacient in effect. Senator Boxer proceeded to deal with the issue after the host of the program Chris Jansing pressed her on whether she could rightly compare Viagra and birth control. She said quote:
I’ve never heard them put any type of moral objection, remember, this is a moral objection to men getting Viagra, but they have a moral objection to women getting certain types of birth control. What’s their next moral objection? Do they objective to vaccinations? Where do you take it from here?
But it’s hard to know where to take the discussion from there because where it stands in terms of her comments is an abject refusal to understand even what’s at stake. Even the Obama Administration has at least responded to the issues, acknowledging that there could be serious moral issues at stake. The position of the Obama Administration, as put forward by the Solicitor General Donald Verilli before the Supreme Court on Tuesday, was that even though there are legitimate moral objections, these are trumped by the responsibility of the government, they claim, to make such services available to all women without cost. Indeed, it’s hard to know now how to talk about many of these issues in the public square where you have some people who won’t even accept the fact that there are serious moral issues at stake. As Tim Carney writes in his column, it’s as if many on the left think that religious people are making up these objections and concerns as we go along. All Barbara Boxer would have to do in order to settle that issue would be to talk to one of the bishops of her own church, but, then again, she would probably get quite an earful.
The intersection of our entertainment industry and morality is sometimes a very messy thing. That’s one of the reasons why I steadfastly try to give as little attention to Hollywood as possible in terms of the kinds of things that are likely to generate the scandal sheets. But every once in a while something happens in Hollywood that simply can’t be ignored because it points to something far more important and far more pervasive than anything Hollywood might even recognize.
The announcement came yesterday in USA Today and other major media announcements that actress Gwyneth Paltrow, age 41, is separating from her husband Chris Martin, the lead singer of Coldplay. As USA Today reports, they’ve had a troubled marriage ever since they were secretly married back in 2003, and now the announcement has come that they’re going to be breaking up. But that announcement taken alone wouldn’t explain why we’re talking about this issue today on The Briefing. No, what explains that is the fact that the announcement about this divorce was made on the website, that’s Gwyneth Paltrow’s personal website, along with an explanation that does demand our attention. The title of her article was “Conscious Uncoupling.” She writes
It is with hearts full of sadness that we’ve decided to separate. We’ve been working hard for well over a year, some of it together, some of it separated, to see what might have been possible between us, and we have come to the conclusion that while we love each other very much, we will remain separate. We are, however, and will always be a family, and in many ways we are closer than we have ever been. We are parents first and foremost to two incredibly wonderful children, and we ask for their and our space and privacy to be respected at this difficult time. We’ve always conducted our relationship privately, and we hope that as we consciously uncouple and co-parent, will be able to continue in the same manner.
It was signed Gwyneth and Chris. Now just that one paragraph taken by itself is filled with all kinds of material of worldview significance. First of all, you have here the very use of the phrase “conscious uncoupling” to describe the divorce, that is, the breakup of the marriage that is here announced. Then you have the statement made in public, made right in this statement by these two people that “in many ways we are closer than we have ever been.” That’s the kind of almost postmodern nonsense that only makes sense if you consider the fact that it must’ve been at least assisted by some kind of public relations agent as a way to describe the breakup of this family. And then you have the fact that here’s a Hollywood couple claiming that they need private space to deal with their private lives, but the reality is that if they were merely private people, we wouldn’t be having this discussion in the first place. Those in the entertainment industry, whether it’s Hollywood or the music industry, live off of the fuel of publicity, and even as that certainly impinges upon their private lives in very dangerous and deleterious ways, they can’t simply turn off the faucet of public attention when they make an announcement such as this, and, furthermore, they did make an announcement. They intended for the announcement to get attention and now they say that don’t want any attention, which leads to the problem of Hollywood writ large.
But what’s really significant about this is the fact that that one paragraph statement by Gwyneth and Chris was followed by a rather long essay by Dr. Habib Sadeghi and Dr. Sherry Sami entitled “On Conscious Uncoupling.” They write this:
Divorce is a traumatic and difficult decision for all parties involved. And there’s arguably no salve besides time to take that pain away. However, when the whole concept of marriage and divorce is re-examined, there’s actually something far more powerful and positive at play.
Well, let your worldview alarm bells go off. When someone writes that there’s something positive about divorce, you better listen pretty carefully. They then launch into this:
The media likes to throw away the statistic that 50% of all marriages end in divorce. It turns out that’s accurate. Many people are concerned about the divorce rate and see it as an important problem that needs to be fixed, but what if divorce itself isn’t in the problem? What if it’s just a symptom of something deeper that needs our attention? The high divorce rate might actually be calling to learn a new way of being in relationships.
Well buckle your seat belts; these two doctors are going to tell us about this “new way of being in relationships.” Dr. Sadeghi and Dr. Sami write:
During the upper Paleolithic period of human history, the life expectancy for human beings at birth was 33. By 1900, it was only 46 for men and 48 for women. Today, it’s 76 for men and 81 for women. What does this have to do with the divorce rate? For the vast majority of history, humans lived relatively short lives and, accordingly, they weren’t in relationships with the same person for 25 to 50 years. Modern society adheres to the concept that marriage should be life-long, but when we’re living three lifetimes compared to early humans perhaps we need to redefine the construct. Social research suggests that because we’re living so long, most people will have two or three significant long-term relationships in their lifetime
As if we missed the point, they write:
To put it plainly, as divorce rates indicate, human beings haven’t been able fully to adapt to the skyrocketing life expectancy. Our biology and psychology aren’t set up to be with one person for four or five or six decades. This is not to suggest there aren’t couples who happily make those milestones. We hope that we’re one of them. Everyone enters into a marriage with a good intention to go all the way, but this sort of longevity is the exception rather than the rule.
Well rarely do you see such a straightforward suggestion that the entire understanding of marriage that is at the basis of Western civilization, indeed all human civilization, needs to be comprehensively rethought. An interesting angle on this is the fact that many who have been pressing for the legalization of same-sex marriage, especially from the side of the same-sex advocates, have been suggesting that one of the necessary impacts of legalizing same-sex marriage is that the entry of so many same-sex couples into the institution of marriage will redefine it, and one of the ways, at least some of them have suggested, that it will be redefined is by making it more of a term contract rather than a life-long commitment to a monogamous relationship.
Now you have these two people in the public eye, Gwenyth Paltrow and Chris Martin, saying, “We’re going through a conscious uncoupling. We’re closer than we’ve ever been in many ways and we’re simply going to announce that it’s time that we move on.” One of the interesting arguments made by these two supposedly doctors—identified in the media as New Age theorists—one of the interesting points they make is that we’re simply not programmed anymore for this kind of longevity in terms of marriage and we shouldn’t see it as a tragedy then when there is a conscious uncoupling. I guess the tragedy would be if there’s an unconscious uncoupling, but these two argue right out in public that the skyrocketing divorce rates simply aren’t a problem. Not if you understand that the problem is the fact that divorce is made necessary by those who suggest it, rather irrationally, evidently they think, that marriage should be the union of one man and one woman for one lifetime.
Later they write:
To change the concept of divorce, we need to release the belief structures we have around marriage, the great rigidity in our thought process. The belief structure is the all or nothing idea that when we marry it’s for life. The truth is the only thing any of us have is today; beyond that, there are no guarantees. The idea of being married to one person for life is too much pressure for anyone.
Well there you have it, but I’m back to Tim Carney’s point that what we have in the culture war is not two different positions, described one as religious on one side and the other as secular. What we have are two rival religions. And when it comes to this divorce story or this conscious uncoupling story, when it comes to this marriage article, what you really have, again, is the conflict of absolutes; as Thomas Sowell would say, the conflict of visions. You have the conflict of two different religions. One that says that God has ordained marriage as one thing for His glory and for human flourishing, and the other who says, you know, marriage is going to evolve along with the rest of human society. Our evolving longevity means we’re going to have to redefine marriage and if we do so, we won’t see divorce as a problem, much less as a sin. We won’t see skyrocketing divorce rates as something to be overcome. We’ll simply see them as a signal that the problem is we’ve been thinking wrongly about marriage. It needs not to be lifelong monogamy, no longer any of this “till death do we part,” no, let’s just make it some kind of term project. We’ll see how long it goes, and then afterwards, we’ll just consciously uncouple. Quite honestly, it’s hard to imagine anything more revealing coming out of Hollywood, and that’s really saying something.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. Remember Ask Anything: Weekend Edition. The phone number is 877-505-2058. Call with your question in your voice to 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.