August 6, 2014
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, August 6, 2014. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
1) Federal circuit courts begin considering state same sex marriage bans
Massive moral and cultural shifts generally take a great deal of time. Indeed, moral shifts on huge issues of ethical and cultural importance generally take centuries, at least generations. But the first nation to legalize same-sex marriage, the first nation on the entire planet, was the Netherlands – where same-sex marriage became legal in the year 2001. The first American state to legalize same-sex marriage was Massachusetts, where the first same-sex marriages took place in the year 2004. So in the space between 2001 and 2014, that is just 13 years, the momentum for the legalization and the normalization of same-sex marriage has been nothing less than lightning speed, in terms of its velocity. Keep that in mind as today in a courtroom in Cincinnati a US Federal Circuit Court of Appeals will consider, in just one day, challenges to the constitutionality of bans on same-sex marriage in the states of Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. As Amanda Lee Myers reports for the Huffington Post, challenges on the issue of gay marriage are now flooding the federal courts, and not just the federal court to the district court level but the US circuit courts of appeal. As she writes,
Federal appeals courts soon will hear arguments in gay marriage fights from nine states, [now just keep in mind here, that represent almost 20% of the United States, she concludes her sentence] part of a slew of cases putting pressure on the U.S. Supreme Court to issue a final verdict.
She then explains,
If the appeals judges continue the unbroken eight-month streak of rulings in favor of gay marriage, that could make it easier for the nation’s highest court to come down on the side of supporters. [But she says,] If even one ruling goes against them in the four courts taking up the issue in the coming weeks, it would create a divide that the Supreme Court also could find difficult to resist settling.
Well we need to observe that both of her points are very valid. Her first point – that the unanimity of all these recent court decisions increases the chance that the Supreme Court will find it easier to take up the case – that’s valid point. But it’s even more valid when she makes her second point, and that is that if even one court rules in the opposite way – upholding a state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage or even a law prohibiting same-sex marriage – that will put the Supreme Court in the position of looking at split verdicts in terms of the US Circuit Courts of Appeal and that is something that the Supreme Court generally cannot abide. It can hardly resist the responsibilities the nation’s highest court, to settle an issue that has a divided question at the level of the appellate courts.
But is not just what’s going to be taking place today in Cincinnati at the sixth US circuit Court of Appeals, we need to note also that there will be similar hearings August 26 at the Seventh Circuit in Chicago – that will cover bans on same-sex marriage in Wisconsin, and Indiana. On September 8, the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco, the nation’s most notoriously liberal court, will take at the same question for bans in Idaho and Nevada. The Fifth Circuit, seated in New Orleans, is expected to set a date in the very near future to consider challenges to the ban on same-sex marriage in the state of Texas. And then as Myers notes,
The flurry of arguments means an upcoming spate of rulings, possibly all issued this autumn, that could profoundly alter the nation’s marriage laws.
Well, if her previous statements were valid, this is not only valid but an extreme understatement. Not only will this set of hearings set up a set of decisions that will likely reset the nation’s marriage laws – we’re talking about a virtual avalanche of court decisions that will cover so many states that it will mean that the likelihood of same-sex marriage nationwide grows that much more seemingly inevitable.
That takes us back to the United States Supreme Court in June of last year when in the Windsor decision the majority opinion, written by justice Anthony Kennedy, set the stage for this avalanche of cases. This was indeed the prophetic warning offered in his scathing dissent by justice Antonin Scalia, who said that given the Windsor decision all that remains is for the other shoe to drop. And even as we consider that issue today, we recognize that the other shoes is about to drop at the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati even today.
I made reference back to the Netherlands legalizing same-sex marriage in 2001, the first nation on the planet to do so, and Massachusetts doing so in 2004, the first American state to do so, just to make clear how recent this phenomena is. Indeed you may remember that in the oral arguments for the Windsor case, it was Justice Samuel Alito who pointed out just how recent same-sex marriage is in terms of human history. He pointed out the marriage has existed for millennia but same-sex marriage, he says, isn’t even as old as the cell phone or the Internet. Pointing out just how modern and innovation same-sex marriage actually is. And of course even our language betrays us, because in previous generations the language of same-sex marriage wouldn’t even make moral sense, for that matter, it would make linguistic sense. It doesn’t make any kind of sense – moral, legal, linguistic, or otherwise – for those who understand that marriage isn’t simply some kind of human invention, some kind of sociological technology to which human beings arrived in our accumulated wisdom, but rather the gift of a loving God who gave it to us for human flourishing, for human good, for the solidity of human society, for the raising of children, and all the other gifts and goods that marriage provides – by God’s hand. We recognize then in when we talk about same-sex marriage what we’re really thinking about is something that might be described as so-called same-sex marriage or what others call same-sex marriage. But as existing court precedents made clear and as these looming cases now threaten even to expand, our government is going to be increasingly defining same-sex relationships in terms of same-sex marriage – and that is a fundamental change in society’s most foundational and fundamental institution. And so in this case, as in so many others, a seemingly small change in the nomenclature leads to a massive change in the moral reality.
2) Vast shifts in social values a massive missiological challenge for Christians
Monday’s edition of the New York Times included an article by John Harwood entitled “Democrats Seize on Social Issues as Attitudes Shift.” Our interest is not primarily the partisan angle of this article, but rather the attitudinal shift that is the occasion for why the article is written in the first place. John Harwood writes that what is taking place in America, in terms of the trajectories undertaken by the Democratic and Republican parties, reflects a massive shift in the attitudinal structure of the American people. In his reading, a very valid reading I think, back in the 1980s the American people shifted in a rather conservative direction on social and moral issues that benefited the Republican Party. With candidate such as Ronald Reagan running against crime, running for a clear distinction between right and wrong, running for a sense of cultural righteousness as demonstrated in the sanctity of life, in the stability of the family and in any number of other moral and cultural issues. But now as Harwood writes, the momentum is shifted in the precise opposite direction, and the Democratic Party (rather than the Republican Party) is now poised to benefit by this title, “attitudinal shift.” At one point in his article he explains the shifts this way,
Now the values wedge cuts for Democrats. Demographic change keeps shrinking Nixon’s “Silent Majority.” President Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress overhauled welfare. Fear of crime has receded enough that members of both parties propose more lenient sentencing. American households have changed significantly. Nearly half of adults are unmarried. Fully 10 percent of opposite-sex married couples are interracial or interethnic. Acceptance of same-sex marriage has expanded with astonishing speed.
He goes on to point issues such as the rapid normalization, and legalization in some jurisdictions, of marijuana. He then writes,
Democrats profit politically — among young voters, college graduates, single women, blacks and Latinos — from the sense that they welcome these cultural shifts while Republicans resist them.
That’s a very interesting analysis. The most important issue here is of course that massive attitudinal shift. And we didn’t need the New York Times on Monday to tell us about this shift. The shift has been documented and well demonstrated in terms of massive sociological and empirical research – the kind of research reported by the Pew Research Center and the Gallup Organization, NORC at the University of Chicago and so many others – but more fundamentally, that attitudinal shift is something that most Christians, most Christian families, and most Christian congregations, have already noted. That massive attitudinal shift represents not only a cultural and moral challenge, of course the issue in this article is really a political challenge, but for the Christian church it’s a missiological challenge – add to that, that it’s a public engagement challenge, a theological challenge and an apologetics challenge. We face the challenge of looking at a vast change in our culture, a vast change in the way the people in that culture think and believe, feel and emote, and understand that our responsibility to be the people of the gospel, to teach and preach and share the gospel, to represent the gospel and teach the implications of the gospel, to be very clear about issues of truth that we believe are not only important because first of all they are true but also because their the means of leading to human flourishing.
What we are looking at is a massive challenge that hasn’t been faced by this generation of Christians now living. In order to look for precedents in Christian history – for this kind of massive challenge, this kind of unprecedented set of challenges – we have to look at massive shifts in the past; such as the challenges presented to the Christian church by the fall of the Roman Empire, or by the dawn of the modern age. And as we look to those epics of Christian history, we understand that there were massive failures, there was mass confusion, but there also was a continuing remnant to those who were faithful. But that faithful remnant had to learn very quickly how to think biblically, how to think Christianly, how to operate out of what we would call a Christian worldview, and Christians had to learn very quickly how to demonstrate true Christianity, authentic Christianity, in a time of massive change in confusion, even chaos. That’s exactly the challenge Christians in so many parts of the world now face. Once first sure step is knowing what we’re up against.
3) Surrogate motherhood exposed as presenting great moral danger and injury
A frankly horrifying story appeared in recent days in the pages of The Guardian, a major newspaper published in London, England. The reporter is Suzanne Moore, and she takes us to a 21-year-old surrogate mother, Pattaramon Chanbua, she already has two children as she lives in a seaside town southeast of Bangkok; her children her age 6 and 3. It is an extremely hard existence that she lives, she was offered $16,000 American dollars to become a surrogate mother for an Australian couple and in that offer she saw way out.
The money that was offered was a lot for me. In my mind, with that money, one, we can educate my children; two, we can repay our debt.
But as Suzanne Moore makes very clear, we only know about her because of a baby boy named Gammy, one of the twins that she carried for an Australian couple. Seven months ago she gave birth to twins, one a girl in one a boy, for the Australian couple who hired her. Well Gammy, the little boy has Down syndrome and congenital heart condition and according to this surrogate mother, the Australian parents took Gammy’s twin sister but left him. Suzanne Moore then writes
All of this is heart-rending: fertility tourism at its worst. In countries where there is very little regulation I suspect there are a lot more stories like this. Many couples travel to Thailand for IVF and surrogacy, which the Thai authorities are now saying is illegal but has clearly been thriving. Surrogacy [she says, rightly] is a moral and legal minefield. In the UK [that is Great Britain] it is legal, but [as she says] with the vague and strange proviso that no money other than “reasonable expenses” should pass hands, with an agreement drawn up by individuals.
She goes on to explain that many European countries ban it outright. In the United States laws vary dramatically from state to state; California maybe the most surrogate friendly state in the United States, but the reality is that the United States is known as the Wild Wild West of advanced reproductive technologies and in most states surrogate motherhood is in some sense a legal reality. If it is not a legal reality, in terms of state law, there are other states very nearby where Americans, or people from elsewhere in the world, can obtain a contract for surrogate mothering.
The Guardian is perhaps Great Britain’s most liberal major newspaper, and that makes it all the more interesting that Suzanne Moore, in the pages of The Guardian, summarizes this story with this sentence,
This is the liberal ideology in full flow, with a baby as a consumer choice.
She goes on to explain that this is become popular among many celebrities; Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick used surrogates, as did Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban. Kidman, in “bizarre celeb speak,” she says, expressed her gratitude to “In particular our gestational carrier.” Suzanne Moore than writes,
Yes, that makes me queasy. A woman as mere gestational carrier: the renting of wombs.
In her piece in The Guardian, Suzanne Moore goes on to say that when you look at this issue, you’re looking at a baby that was left behind as “damaged goods.” She then says trading wombs and babies on the free market devalues women – it devalues life. She also says
This is a twisted version of slavery in which the bodies in impoverished women are disposable receptacles for the privileged
This is something that is been troubling the Christian conscience, or at least should of been troubling the Christian conscience, from the beginning and yet even as many of us have argued that surrogate parenting violates most basic Christian principles, there been those who tried to argue for it simply on the basis that there is nothing in Scripture that explicitly prohibits it. But even as the United Nations is looking at the whole issue of surrogacy, raising the question as to whether surrogate mothers, or gestational carriers is some try to call them, are actually sex workers. Christians need to understand that their basic principles of Christian thought, of Christian truth and Christian thinking, that need to come in to play here. One of the most basic principles of Christian moral understanding drawn from Scripture is that when God gives his human creatures goods, he intends those goods to be received as he gave them. In other words, the gift of reproduction is to be understood as being most holy most sacred and most right within the context of marriage. And when you’re looking at the gift of how children are given, through the biological process of reproduction between the man and the woman – in the Christian that understanding the husband and the wife – you understand that to, even in the one flesh union, points to the perfection of God’s gift. The Christian moral understanding has always been that when one tampers with this gift that God has given tries to divide the goods or tries to deliver these moral goods, in terms of an artificial context, great moral injury and moral danger then enters the picture. And that’s exactly what we are looking at here.
But what’s really interesting in this article is not just what’s there but what’s missing: there is no affirmation here of the fact that this baby isn’t “damaged goods.” This little baby is a human being in full, made by the creator in his image, and to him is been given the gift of life, and he is been given as a gift to all of humanity. The fact that this Australian couple left him behind as
“damaged goods,” seems to be appalling at least by the implication of this article because the context of surrogacy. But actually it’s appalling because the context of human life and the sanctity of every single human life and it is an insult to the creator and not only to this child that the child is described as “damaged goods.” Only the Christian worldview can affirm why every single human being, in every condition, at every single point of development, is made in God’s image and why thus every single human life deserves full protection – is understood to have the full measure of the sanctity of human life, and is understood to be in every single case: a gift.
4) Former Presidents Carter and Robinson call for recognition of Hamas as legitimate political actor
Finally, there is yet another cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip appears now to be holding tenuously. We need to recognize that this morning a major article appear by former United States President Jimmy Carter and former Irish President Mary Robinson. In their article release this morning they argue that the international community, including the United States and Israel, must recognize Hamas as what they call a legitimate political actor. In their article the two former presidents write,
[Hamas] cannot be wished away, nor will it cooperate in its own demise. Only by recognising its legitimacy as a political actor – one that represents a substantial portion of the Palestinian people – can the west begin to provide the right incentives for Hamas to lay down its weapons. Ever since the internationally monitored 2006 elections that brought Hamas to power in Palestine, the west’s approach has manifestly contributed to the opposite result.
This is an absolutely morally reprehensible argument. The 1988 charter for Hamas states that the organization “strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.” The Hamas charter, also known as the Hamas covenant, also states that its members are to be Muslims who “Fear God and raise the banner of jihad in the face of their oppressors.” The charter also states “Our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious.” the charter also calls for the creation of an Islamic state in what the organization calls Palestine, and for the elimination of Israel as a state. The charter also includes language like this “The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews and kill them, until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees which will cry ‘O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him!’” Earlier this year the deputy chairman of the Hamas Political Bureau said, “Hamas will not recognize Israel. This is a red line that cannot be crossed.” For many years now, continuing right up to the present, the United States, the European Union, and many other nations identify Hamas is a terrorist organization – and rightly so. Something has gone horribly wrong when two former presidents, of Western nations, the nations of the United States and Ireland call for a terrorist organization like Hamas to be recognized as “a legitimate political actor,” that in itself is an outrage.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. 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.