Last Thursday, in my post Southern Baptist pastor accepts his gay son, changes his church, I published a letter to me from Danny Cortez, pastor of New Heart Community Church, a small Southern Baptist church in Los Angeles. Pastor Cortez’s moving testimony concerned his son, Drew, coming out to him as gay not long after the pastor had come to understand that there is nothing inherently sinful about homosexuality.
Pastor Cortez said:
[My church] just voted two Sundays ago, on May 18, 2014, to not dismiss me, and to instead become a Third Way church (agree to disagree and not cast judgement on one another … .) This is a huge step for a Southern Baptist Church!!
Albert Mohler is the most prominent leader of the Southern Baptist Convention (or simply “Southern Baptists,” as the denomination is commonly known). The SBC is the nation’s largest Protestant body, with a total membership of 15.7 million.
Mr. Mohler is not happy with Pastor Danny. Largely in response to Danny’s letter to me, Mohler today published on his blog, There Is No ‘Third Way’ — Southern Baptists Face a Moment of Decision (and so will you). In his essay Mr. Mohler explicitly and repeatedly rejects the idea of a “third way” for Southern Baptists:
There is no third way on this [the gay] issue … the issue is binary. A church will recognize same-sex relationships, or it will not. A congregation will teach a biblical position on the sinfulness of same-sex acts, or it will affirm same-sex behaviors as morally acceptable. Ministers will perform same-sex ceremonies, or they will not.
Like my friend Tony Jones, I agree with Mohler about the unviability of a “third way” when it comes to relationships between the church and LGBT people. And (despite Mohler’s observation, “It is interesting that those on the left now understand the issue in the same ‘binary” terms’”) I have felt that way for years. Two years ago almost to the day, in fact, I published Christians and LGBT Equality: There Is No Middle Ground*, in which (as obnoxious as I know it is to quote oneself) I wrote:
When it comes to the issue of LGBT equality, there is no middle ground. There can’t be. The Christian/LGBT issue is a moral issue. And moral issues are by definition about right and wrong. And this particular moral issue is one of no small consequence. There couldn’t be more at stake with it. The Christians on one side of this debate are claiming that, in the eyes of God, those on the other side are less than human.
So me and my ol’ pal Al (for years he and I were fellow bloggers on the Christian website Crosswalk.com) agree that when it comes to the relationship between Christianity and LGBT people, a middle or “third” way is no way at all.
But where I count on people’s consciences (not to mention their ability to simply reason) to sooner or later tip them to fall to the left side of the proverbial fence upon which they may be balancing, Mr. Mohler prods them rightward with the long arm of the law—the Southern Baptist law, that is. He writes:
Now, the Southern Baptist Convention also faces a moment of unavoidable decision. A church related to the Convention has officially adopted a gay-affirming position. The Baptist Faith & Message, the denomination’s confession of faith, states that homosexuality is immoral and that marriage is “the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime.” Furthermore, the Convention’s constitution states explicitly that any congregation that endorses homosexual behavior is “not in cooperation with the Convention,” and thus excluded from its membership.
So, there it is. When it comes to marriage, Southern Baptists, bound by their allegiance to Jesus Christ, must adhere to the letter of the SBC law, as laid down in the denomination’s Baptist Faith & Message. That is Mr. Mohler’s message today. (And, notably, it’s one he delivers with unsubtle threats which he knows will not be lost on small SBC churches across the land: “There will be no place to hide, and no place safe from eventual interrogation. The question will be asked, an invitation will be extended, a matter of policy must be decided, and there will be no refuge.” His threat is, indeed, in the very title of his essay. And, btw, speaking of … well, totalitarian fear-mongering, yes, the image above is from the [new, I believe] header of Mr. Mohler’s blog. Why he chose such a full-on Nazi look I have no idea.)
Except … wait a minute. As we have just seen, the Baptist Faith & Message defines marriage as “a covenant commitment for a lifetime.”
For a lifetime.
This can mean but one thing: every Southern Baptist church is morally obliged to reject from its membership any person who has ever been divorced. And any church that does contendedly count among its members those who have ever chosen to end their marriage cannot be “in cooperation with the Convention, and must thus be excluded from its membership.”
But that’s not what SBC churches do, is it? And why might we suppose that is? Why does the SBC so vociferously cling to the first half of its apparently critical law on marriage, while so utterly ignoring that same law’s second half?
Well, duh. Because the SBC knows that if it ejected from its membership all divorced people its churches would be half-empty before they could say, “Wait! Come back! Just like we finally renounced our endemic racism in 1995, we’ve rethought divorce!” (Sure, that takes a little time to say. But not much!)
Wallets, of course (and especially, alas, those belonging to the professionally pious) are the Kryptonite of moral fortitude: the closer the two draw together, the weaker grows the fortitude.
So divorced people get to stay in church, but gay people and their professed allies must leave church.
Now, far be it from me to presume to teach Dr. Albert Mohler anything about the Bible. But one cannot help but wonder if he is aware of Jesus’ words at Luke 16:18:
Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
Or of Jesus’ words in Mark 10:
“A man [said Jesus] will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”
And is Dr. Mohler also unaware that in all of the New Testament Jesus says literally nothing about homosexuality? Nothing? Ever? Not once? For a moment? Total silence on the matter?
Since when does what Jesus didn’t say trump what Jesus does appear to say?
(To be clear: I think the idea that divorce is a sin belongs in the same fetid trash heap as the ideas that women are chattel, black people should be slaves, and Jesus had a pet stegosaurus. It’s too much to go into here, but of course divorce is no sin—and Jesus is not, in fact, saying that it is. My only point for now is that if you’re going to insist on playing the idiot game of Literal Bible, then at least stick to the rules.)
Albert Mohler postures himself as resolutely defending God’s law. But what he is so aggressively brandishing is not God’s law. It is instead man’s bigotry. To purposefully and willfully twist the Bible into a harmful weapon is as unbiblical, and as unchristian, as it gets. That he and the SBC continue to do so is a crying shame, and certainly nothing less.
*Christians and LGBT Equality: There Is No Middle Ground is included in my book UFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question.