Thank God For Albert Mohler

Thank God for Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, for laying down the gauntlet and clearly articulating the evangelical view of "homosexuality."

He focuses his lastest “On Faith” guest column for The Washington Post on how conservative Christians should respond to the fearsome idea that “the full normalization of homosexual relationships seems just around the corner”:

Evangelical Christians have every reason to feel left behind. Thoughtful evangelicals must realize the depth of our predicament. Political parties have platforms, but Christians must be driven by biblical convictions. Platforms may change, but convictions remain. Evangelicals do not believe that homosexuality is sinful because it is part of our platform, but because it is a conviction drawn from Scripture.

Later, Mohler proclaims this stance will push them to the margins. As even an evangelical friendly organization like the Boy Scouts move toward LGBT equality, they will continue to find themselves even more be out of sync with the secular culture:

Thrown back to a posture of working from the margins, evangelical Christians will find themselves in familiar territory. Our task will be to bear witness to the truth, to tell the Good News about Jesus Christ, to be faithful in our marriages, to raise our children and to reach out to a world filled with people—gay and straight—who desperately need our message of God’s redeeming love.

Progressive evangelicals continue to insist that Mohler does not speak for all evangelicals. However, I am continually troubled by the insistence by porgressive evangelicals who claim to love their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters but hold firm, like Mohler, in their biblical interpreation that homosexuality is a sin.

Jeffrey Hoffman, Executive Director of BJUnity, an affirming alternative for LGBT alumni and students of Bob Jones University, articulated the problems with this view in a response to Mohler's article. In his comment, Hoffman challenges the way evangelicals like Mohler demonstrate “God’s redeeming love” to gays and lesbians:

Evangelicals have spent the last four decades demonizing gay people. Millions of dollars in fundraising resulted from declaring war on the "homosexual agenda." Trouble is, many LGBT+ people come from evangelical and fundamentalist homes. It seems clear to all (or at least many) who know us well that we didn't choose our sexual orientations and/or gender identities, given the vicious rhetoric of our childhoods. 

I am not a sex act, an agenda, or a lifestyle choice. I am a human being, created in God's image, loved by God, and redeemed by Jesus Christ.

It is no wonder that many of us who are LGBT+ have migrated to churches that affirm our human dignity and focus on the teachings of Jesus rather than 6 disputed verses of the over 30,000 verses in the Bible. Most Evangelicals certainly have not observed the laws of Leviticus with anywhere near the fervor they wish to impose on LGBT+ people, by cherry-picking a single injunction in the midst of many they freely ignore. The word "abomination" is used in relation to men who share the marital bed with a spouse in her menses, a farmer who grows more than one crop in the same field, anyone who eats pork or shellfish (or cheeseburgers, for that matter), and those who wear clothing made from blended fibers, to name but a few of the very strict laws that are found in the exact same section in Leviticus. 

It is no wonder, likewise, that many LGBT+ people growing up in homes and churches where this hateful rhetoric is spewed have abandoned Christianity altogether. Evangelical Christianity is supposed to be defined by the word "Evangel" which means "a bearer of good news." The last forty years of evangelical activism have NOT been good news to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and other queer people: our relationships have been trivialized, our lives threatened, and our human rights ignored. If Evangelicals want to be effective Christians, they need to take Matthew 25 seriously once again and follow in the way of Jesus.

Here Mohler and Hoffman offer two clear alternatives for evangelical Christians to ponder. 

In the nearly two years since Sojourners rejected a Believe Out Loud welcoming ad, I have not seen much shifting in terms of advocating for full, legal inclusion of lesbian and gays in our churches and society.

So far, the majority of those progressive Christians have chosen to ignore Mohler's aforementioned post. Maybe they hope he'll go away and stop portraying evangelicals as anti-gay and out of touch. Perhaps they wish to exert their efforts on other noble efforts like immigration and poverty, a move that conveniently ignores how other those issues also impact the LGBT community.

Silence speaks volumes. If progressive evangelicals do not agree with Mohler's position on homosexuality, it is time to articulate an alternative theology that addresses the concerns of the LGBT community.

If there is no response, we can only assume that the evangelical community supports statements from leaders like Mohler, an indication that Christian evangelicism will stand still in time as the rest of the nation embraces progress. This is why in December 2012, I declared right wing evangelicalism dead after select leaders blamed both Hurricane Sandy and the Sandy Hook shootings on the gays, and I failed to see the evangelical leadership rise up to challenge this hate-filled speech.

I will continue to look hopefully toward those evangelicals who choose to walk away from this toxic theology and march forward in faith, creating communities that truly welcome all. For those evangelicals who feel they are walking alone, check out the Believe Out Loud guide to finding a welcoming community, and find out how you can lend your voice of support for ALL.

Photo via flickr user James Thompson

Comments (12)

I agree that the evangelical church, especially the leaders, should be doing more to counter the nuance-less and inflammatory rhetoric of people like Mohler. It's frustrating to see his words showing up everywhere when I find them so troublesome. Simultaneously, though, it's just a fact that media outlets (ie HuffPost) will instantly post any story about a Pastor making disgustingly homophobic comments (even if the church is small and fringe) but will almost certainly overlook a sermon wrestling with the texts and encouraging the church to greater love and grace. Thus, the silence isn't necessarily due to the complete absence of evangelical voices, though I think we fail to have sufficient volume and repetition due to our general failure to really understand the magnitude of both LGBTQ suffering (historically and presently) and the ugliness of our public perception. Nor do I think we realize how much our silence (and culpability) in regards to the former is a primary cause of the latter.

Many within the conservative evangelical church (myself included) cringe at the language of "homosexuality is a sin" because the way Mohler uses that word "homosexuality" is so broad and unspecific that it can only cause horrible problems. Does he mean attractions to the same-sex are sinful? Just same-sex sex? Would going to a wedding of a same-sex couple be sinful because one is supporting "homosexuality"?

My problem with Mohler is not just that he says a lot of ignorant things, it's that he's been saying them for so long and hasn't changed his language even though I'm positive he doesn't want it to come across as it does.

I wonder if we've moved past the point where the conservative evangelical ethic (which I guess means different things within that demographic) can ever be seen as "good news" even if it is divorced from the homophobia and stigma that plague it.

Jordan

I'm not sure how you define "silence." The blogosphere is full of evangelicals espousing a queer-friendly view of scripture. Rachel held Evans and Dianna Andreson are good places to start.

I can tell you that Mohler's column didn't receive much attention because it got lost in the online news cycle. LIberal evangelicals have spent the bulk of the past week or so discussing and debating purity culture and its underlying misogyny, and that pushed other issues aside, especially since the boy scout issue had already been discussed last month.

Mohler says offensive things on a regular basis, and after a while what seems new and shocking to you becomes white noise to us. But if you search online you'll find a lot of liberal evangelicals discussing and defending homosexuality on theological grounds.

The majority of arguments on both sides are bogus Neither side uses their best Christian argument. Instead they pluck emotional strings that the New Testament specifically renders illegitimate in Christian dialogue.

The professional anti-gays dwell on the disgust/purity aspect of human moral thinking and on the sanctity of marriage. Jesus spit on mud and anointed a blind man's eyes. Even today, that's pretty disgusting. Eating with non-believers was disgusting in His day, but God went further in Acts 11, by declaring all the unclean foods of Jewish law to be acceptable. As for the evangelical worship of marriage and family, Jesus removed those from the center of religious life. Being part of a community, but without a significant other for comfort or distraction, is what we see and Paul's oft-quoted preference for celibacy. Add the evanglicals' acceptance of divorce among their ranks, and the whole thing reeks of hypocrisy.

Meanwhile gays direct their arguments toward individual liberty and equality with others. While these are great American arguments, they would have little resonance in the New Testament. Freedom to indulge one's passions--for sex, for food, for drink, for material possessions--is considered slavery to sin to the "things of earth," which not only distract us from helping others but put us on the path to use others in that indulgence. The fact that the "other" may also be indulging is not considered a mitigation, but rather another sin--just as when the drug dealer's desire for money is matched by the addict's desire to pay for drugs. Each is seen as reinforcing the sin of the other. Christianity, though personal, is not an individual religion.

The anti-gay's best argument is "Your sexuality is not the most important aspect of your life." Of course, they'd fly in the face of hundreds of years of Western art and literature and in the evolutionary imperative to breed, which presents its own difficulties since many don't believe in evolution.

The gay's best argument is "If I am welcome in the congregation, trust God to reveal any sin in my life to me as I'll trust Him to reveal yours to you."

What this article is dismissing as "right wing evangelicalism" is actually historic, mainstream Christianity. "Progressive evangelicals" have not supported the LGBT agenda because they recognize that to do so is to violate their commitment to the truthfulness of Scripture (Hoffman's tired screed notwithstanding). What Hoffman and the author of this piece are offering is not an alternative to evangelicalism, but a deviation from the historic church. No wonder so few follow... We can welcome all without affirming all of who they are and do.

Albert Mohler was a once-promising graduate student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary who sold his soul to fundamentalism and worldly political powers within the Southern Baptist Convention. He received in exchange the rewards and vanities of the world. How do you sleep, Al, and do you fear Judgment Day?

But since when does the Southern Baptist Church represent the modern Evangelical church?

It only represents Southern Baptists, a denomination that throughout history has found itself at long odds with the trending evangelical opinions. Especially when we look back at civil rights in the 50s, and recently the Iraq War.

I note that your blog calls for an alternative theology that addresses the concerns of the LGBT community. I believe that the Gay and Christian website (www.gaysandslaves.com) provides such an alternative theology.

Briefly, the website acknowledges the biblical condemnation of same-sex activity and says that this condemnation does not apply to gays and lesbians today, just as the biblical acceptance of slavery does not apply today. This is partly because our modern cultures are very different from the cultures of Bible times. It is also partly because love and sex between men, and between women, usually causes no more harm than love and sex between a man and a woman.

Evangelical and fundamentalist teaching is so "sex negative" for anyone not in a heterosexual marriage and in general for that matter, just like Roman Catholic sexual teaching. Single heterosexuals and homosexuals are condemned to eternal hell fire for having sex outside marriage - this is their literal interpretation of the relevant Bible verses, no matter how few there are in comparison to other Biblical prohibitions. The Old Testament authors, whomever they may be, or the author/authors of St. Paul, whomever he/they may actually be, in the New Testament LITERALLY do contain these injunctions against homosexuality. Cherry picking aside, how does a Biblical literalist in all honesty not interpret these verses as an injunction against homosexuality? They are committed to a literalist interpretation - they do not look at any of this as metaphor; as mere guidance from past "holy men" or teachers; they do not see the Bible as a record of ancient Hebrew social, sexual codes that apply only to the historical time they were written in; they see these as unchanging, God transmitted laws that are 'written in stone' as it were for the direction of mankind for all eternity. That is their world view.

It seems to me that the situation is akin to the Catholic Papal infallibility issue. The Pope is not about to change the teaching of the "magisterium" on homosexuality because it has been touted as part of infallible Catholic teaching. Remember Pope Paul VI's commision on birth control? They recommended an acceptance of birth control near the end of Vatican II Council in the 60s but Cardinal Otavianni, leader of the conservative wing of the College of Cardinals, reminded the Pope that up to that time the Church condemned to hell fire those using birth control. If the Pope were to change the teaching on contraception he in essence admits to error and his infallible power is lost before the People of God. People would start to question all of Catholic doctrine and hierarchal control that the Bishop of Rome and the Curia have assumed for centuries would end. Humanae Vitae continued the ban on birth control. Protestant evangelicals and fundamentalists have their 'set in stone' ways of viewing Scripture also - it would seem to me to be too threatening to re-interpret such clear but rare Biblical injunctions. And given their uncomfortableness with sexuality in general, especially with sexuality when others are engaging in it - women and gays and lesbians for instance - how do you expect them to change?

To be very honest here in your dialogue with the literalists aren't you telling them that their literalist view of the Bible is incorrect. You have obviously given up on the literalist view point of Scripture yourself, which I applaud you for doing. The literalist Abrahamic interpretation of religion of the three different branches, has been and continues to be, in my opinion, one of the most destructive scourges of the earth. And don't get me wrong, I am NOT referring to religion in general but to backward, ignorant religious LITERALISM among Jews, Christians, and Muslims. You are not just questioning the issue of homosexuality here and asking literalists to love their gay and lesbian fellow beings out of a sense of Christian charity and love, you are asking them to give up their literalist approach to understanding the Bible. Surely this is a huge threatening leap for way too many of them.

I am curious to see if you post my comment from the other day and whether you welcome voices of dissent.

Unfortunately for Colin, the analogy between the biblical perspective on slavery (and divorce for that matter) and homosexuality has been amply refuted by Robert Gagnon (see his website). Better analogies are incest, polygamy and other illicit sexual practices. So called alternate theologies are based on such flimsy foundations.

Two quick responses for Michael.
First, he dismisses the biblical prohibitions of homosexuality based in part on their scarcity. Why equate scarcity with lack of importance or relevance? Prohibitions of rape in the Bible are also rare. Probably because what was so commonly understood does not need to be repeated.
Second, he is dismissive of a "literal" reading of the Bible. I would like to hear him articulate what he means here, because I suspect that is a straw man. Also, are we to read his comment literally, or are we free to interpret it metaphorically in any number of different directions?

I'm sure Al doesn't fear judgement. Why would he. He's right!

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