Al Mohler is President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, an intellectual leader of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), and one of the pillars of theological and social conservatism within the denomination. Yet he’s fallen in hot water with recent comments condemning the ways in which conservative Christians have spoken of homosexuality. Here’s what he told Jonathan Merritt in an interview:
“We’ve lied about the nature of homosexuality and have practiced what can only be described as a form of homophobia…We’ve used the ‘choice’ language when it is clear that sexual orientation is a deep inner struggle and not merely a matter of choice.”
SBC flamethrower Peter Lumpkins, upset, roundly condemned Jonathan Merritt’s approach to the gay community and suggested that Merritt might have lied or misconstrued Al Mohler’s words, or else Mohler had a lot of explaining to do. Lumpkins issued this threat: “Jonathan must also understand this: I am prepared to take this issue all the way to the floor of the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix.”
Which he did. After Mohler delivered a report on the state of the seminary, Lumpkins took to the microphone and asked Mohler to confirm whether or not he had said those words, and — if he did say them — to explain how exactly Southern Baptists have lied about homosexuality and misused the language of “choice”?
Mohler’s response was not uncharitable, but several of the attendants said Lumpkins was “Mohlerized” or received a “well-deserved beatdown” or a public verbal “spanking.” Lumpkins afterward condemned the “culture of intimidation” that stifles debate, and said he would be “digesting” Mohler’s response for a long time. While Lumpkins makes a fair point about the “beatdown” and “spanking” comments, it does bring to mind a certain saying regarding pots and kettles.
So what did Mohler say? “I’m thankful for the question, my brother, and I am glad to tell you, that I was asked that question, and I made those statements. They’re not alleged statements; they are actual statements…[While] there is no way anyone in fair mindedness can be confused about what I believe about homosexuality” — because he has written over 200 articles explaining the historical biblical view that homosexual acts are sinful and marriage is intended for a man and a woman — “I believed then and I believe now with my whole heart that that…we now face the responsibility not only to preach the truth about homosexuality but to minister to a very militant community of homosexuals, and also to a large number of persons in our churches…who are struggling with this issue. The reality is that we as Christian churches have not done well on this issue.” He goes on:
Evangelicals, thankfully, have failed to take the liberal trajectory of lying about homosexuality and its sinfulness…We know that the Bible clearly declares – not only in isolated verses but in the totality of its comprehensive presentation – the fact that homosexuality not only is not God’s best for us, as some try to say, but it is sin…But we as evangelicals have a very sad history in dealing with this issue…We have told not the truth, but we have told about half the truth. We’ve told the biblical truth, and that’s important, but we haven’t applied it in the biblical way.We have said to people that homosexuality is just a choice. It’s clear that it’s more than a choice. That doesn’t mean it’s any less sinful, but it does mean it’s not something people can just turn on and turn off. We are not a gospel people unless we understand that only the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ gives a homosexual person any hope of release from homosexuality.
Churches have not done their job until “there are those who have been trapped in that sin sitting among us.” Southern Baptists, Mohler has said, need to repent for their treatment of gays. Even at the SBC, one of the most conservative sectors of American evangelicalism, Mohler’s comments received strong applause.
Lumpkins professes to be “confused” by Mohler’s response, but I think the points he’s making are fairly clear. Mohler rejects the notion that is homophobic and bigoted to hold the historically orthodox view that homosexuality and same-sex marriage are against God’s design. It’s not wrong to say homosexuality is wrong; it’s wrong to say it in the way Christians have said it. Christians are right to uphold biblical truths; Christians are wrong, even sinful, in the scorn and prejudice they have too often exhibited toward homosexuals.
It may be unnecessarily inflammatory to say that conservative Christians have “lied” about the nature of homosexuality. It is one thing to be mistaken, and another to lie. Also, I’m not a fan of the language of “homophobia,” because it’s conveniently applied to anyone who believes homosexual acts are sinful. It is (as Mohler agrees) not always hateful or fearful to tell a person that he has gone down a wayward path; sometimes, when the heart is right, this is the most loving thing one person can say to another. Yet there are homophobes in the church. The church does need to repent for the fear and enmity that gays have too often received from Christians.
I’m going to use this occasion to begin a series on Christianity and homosexuality. This is one of the most important and explosive topics in the church today. It stands at the fault-line between warring theological, political, and social-cultural camps in the church, and it generates a great deal of the animosity between them. Thoughtful, humble, charitable engagement with this issue is paramount for the future of the church.
This will be a lengthy series, so I strongly recommend you subscribe via RSS or email. These will be the first six parts. (1) Have Evangelicals Loved the Gay Community? (2) Why “Is Homosexuality a Choice?” is Not the Right Question. (3) Is Homosexuality Voluntary? (4) Is Homosexuality Wrong? (5) Is It Possible to Leave Homosexuality? (6) Is it Wrong to “Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner”?
PS. You can see the video of Lumpkins’ question, and the beginning of Mohler’s response, here: