Al Mohler is Right: We Have Not Loved Gays As We Should

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:

About Timothy Dalrymple

Timothy Dalrymple was raised in non-denominational evangelical congregations in California. The son and grandson of ministers, as a young boy he spent far too many hours each night staring at the ceiling and pondering the afterlife.
 
In all his work he seeks a better understanding of why people do, and do not, come to faith, and researches and teaches in religion and science, faith and reason, theology and philosophy, the origins of atheism, Christology, and the religious transformations of suffering

  • http://www.sequimur.com/banditsnomore Richard H

    Another question worth considering, if only because everyone already knows the answer, is “What is homosexuality?” Or to put it differently, among the various ways of characterizing what it is (orientation, practice, expression of sexuality, preference, god-given gift, etc.), is there some way that is better than another? If we misunderstand WHAT it is (assuming there really is such a thing), we are almost surely going to misunderstand what to do about it.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Very good suggestion, Richard. I may do just that. Thank you.

      -Tim

  • http://www.peterlumpkins.com peter lumpkins

    Dr. Dalrymple,

    Thanks for the link.

    Interestingly, you write “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” (embolden added, of course).

    I’m curious as to why you spiked the punch, so to speak, with characterizing me as a “flamethrower” who was “upset” and issued a “threat.” Why would you introduce drama into your piece which, in most all accounts, is a fairly good rendition of what went on from a person not attending? I was certainly was not “upset” when I queried Dr. Mohler. Nor was the factual statement I offered to JM and Al Mohler made in the sense of a “threat”–especially in inflicting to either of them harm (political or otherwise). Instead my mention of going to the convention was more along the lines of pressing the seriousness about which I view the issue, in the very same sense of urgency you expressed when you suggested homosexuality stands as “one of the most important and explosive topics in the church today.” That’s all.

    Finally, I did my best to avoid any language which suggested Merritt “lied” about Mohler’s words. One blogger literally but slanderously placed the explicit words on my lips–”Lumpkins asked Mohler if Jonathan Merritt lied”–a complete fabrication as the video reveals. With you, I very much appreciate the clear distinction between lying and being mistaken about one’s interpretation or even careless ignorance concerning contextual matters in dealing with documents. The former is indicative of moral infraction but the latter two represent ignorance. Even so, the weight of what I’ve written concerning Jonathan Merritt shows decisively I did not frame the question in terms of Merritt’s forked tongue but mistaken quotations.

    I look forward to your series.
    With that, I am…
    Peter Lumpkins

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Hi Peter. Thanks for leaving the comment. I wondered if you’d read the post, and I was anticipating a response along these lines, partly because I knew I was opening myself to this line of criticism. You certainly make fair points.

      First, I did not mean “upset” in a pejorative sense, but I was referring to the several posts prior to the SBC annual meeting in which you criticized Merritt’s approach to the gay community and strongly suggested that he was misrepresenting Mohler’s words. Whether you were actually upset when you queried Mohler is another question, but I think it’s fair to say that you were upset by Merritt’s piece and the quotation from Mohler. I don’t see anything sinful in that. Sometimes it’s right and proper to be upset, of course. And I certainly grow upset over any number of issues, and would be upset if I believed that someone was misrepresenting the words of a respected thought leader, or twisting those words out of context and away from their usual meaning. So please take no offense to the “upset” wording.

      Second, I actually think that “suggest[ing] Merritt might have lied” is not far off. Sometimes, careful though we are with our wording, the overall impression comes across pretty strongly. In this case the implication seemed clear that Merritt had been less than honest, that he was misrepresenting Mohler, taking his words so far out of context that they changed the meaning, or etc. You pressed for a hard copy of the interview and chided him for refusing the request. While it’s clear you did *not* suggest that Merritt was simply making up the quotations out of whole cloth, the implication was that he was either mistaken in what he heard or dishonest in how he represented what he heard. So, note I didn’t say that you claimed he had lied. I said you “suggested” it. I still think that’s a pretty fair characterization, but I grant that whether ‘dishonesty’ is the same thing as ‘lying’ is a matter for legitimate debate.

      As for “flamethrower,” I grant that’s a gratuitous ad hominem comment, whether or not it’s an accurate description. If I can be honest with you, Peter, I get frustrated with people who seem to be frequently on the attack in their online writings. You may not know that that’s how your writing comes across — pretty aggressive, pretty attacking, and not especially gracious. I hope you can hear these words just as a point of feedback, and accept the words if they fit and reject them if they don’t. I read about 10 of your blog posts, most of them about this issue, so my exposure to your blog is limited. But what I saw did seem to represent the kind of camp warfare that is, I fear, more divisive than constructive within the church and its online community.

      I don’t know Jonathan, for instance, but your posts did seem unfair to him, aggressive and insinuating, and ad hominem. So I think the reason some folks responded happily to your “spanking” (as they saw it) was because they felt that you have perpetuated the kind of ‘culture of intimidation’ that you rightly lamented in your post. (You have to see, for instance, how it comes across as a threat when you say that you will press this issue into the most public of arenas, and even the way in which you framed your question to Mohler seemed more designed to convict than to inquire. Of course it was not a physical threat, but a threat to be exposed in a harsh light is no less intimidating. I’m not saying you couldn’t have had the right motives inwardly, but outwardly those things come across as threatening and attacking.) Anyway, if you think folks are wrong when they view your blog as overly aggressive and attack-oriented, then say a prayer for them and move on. But if you perhaps were not aware that’s how it comes across, then, well, in my opinion that is how it comes across.

      Many thanks for expressing your thoughts charitably here and I hope we can continue the dialogue in some form or another. Blessings,

      Tim Dalrymple

      • http://www.peterlumpkins.com peter lumpkins

        Prescript: I apologize in advance for verbosity. And, I’ll understand completely if you choose not to post this tome guaranteed to clog up your thread (personally I’d think long about posting a comment similar in length on my blog from anyone else). My genuine hope is, whether or not you choose to post it—or even part of it—you’ll personally consider at least some of the more personal aspects which, in some ways at least, explain why I do what I do, aspects of which you’ll find no where else I assure. Lord bless, brother…

        PART I

        Dr, Dalrymple

        Thanks for the return and the spirit with which you composed it.  I will leave this one response (hefty I realize) and take your advice—move along. Know I appreciate the opportunity. I’ll deal with the minor responses before the major.

        First, thank you for the clarity on the “upset.” Perhaps my reaction to your description of my being “upset” reveals my Southern culture, for so often when it’s stated somebody is “upset” it’s to be taken quite literally.

        Second, you correctly assert I pressed Merritt for a hard copy of the interview but incorrectly charge I chided him for refusing the request. To the contrary, Dr.Dalrymple, it was Merritt who chided me for asking. To my initial query about a hardcopy, Merritt replied: “If I desired to spend my time jumping through others hoops, I’d join the circus.” And, yes I pressed but only after I felt it certain Merritt had no intention of producing the manuscript. Indeed I got more aggressive when his essay vanished from The Christian Science Monitor. I only ask, is suspicion when something is just not adding up unreasonable at this advanced point in understanding what’s going on? For me, I think not.

        Third, you assert the way I framed my question to Mohler seemed more designed to convict than to inquire. Well, Dr. Dalrymple I don’t know rightly how to respond. I suppose it could be viewed as you suggest (obviously it can or you would not view it that way). From my standpoint, however, this is just being nitpicky on your part. I set the question up as factually as I knew how. I had to be thorough, or I’d look like a buffoon asking a question which made no sense, since many of those listening had no information about this and had not read Merritt’s article (for the record, I’m fairly confident I looked the part of the buffoon to many nonetheless;). And, as the video reveals, I made it clear I was asking if Merritt was either mistaken in his perception of Mohler’s alleged (at that time the words were still ‘alleged’) words or were Mohler’s words interpreted apart from key contextual factors. You assert my framing of the question was “designed to convict” more than “inquire”. But you would only know that through raw speculation on your part, Dr.Dalrymple; the words themselves do not explicitly or, by necessity, implicitly bear your interpretation. I did not state my design for framing my question. Hence, you could only speculate on my thinking about my design, hardly a reasonably objective inference.

        And, you are correct, arguably there may exist a valid distinction between “dishonesty” and “lying” which could produce a fascinating dialog in other contexts. Nonetheless, it is not necessary to conclude from my words what you do: “the implication was that he was either mistaken in what he heard or dishonest in how he represented what he heard” (my emphasis of course). Mistaken yes; but dishonest, no. It’s perfectly reasonable to assume someone could consciously de-contextualize (not akin to post-modernism’s usage) a snippet of information without the least intention toward dishonesty. Through sloppiness or excitement…through impulsiveness to find the right quote or whatever, I’ve done so myself with no intention whatsoever toward being dishonest. And, as bright and talented as Merritt was/is (and I sincerely mean that in no patronizing way), he nonetheless was/is capable of ignoring context not necessarily because of dishonesty on his part, but because he may have been sloppy, absentminded, anxious, or simply ate too much tofu! Nor is what I am getting at here to be convoluted as being “mistaken” which I’ve already mentioned. The two are distinct. By mistaken above, I mean mistaken about the concept itself; here I’m speaking about mistaking the context which is quite distinct.     

        Fourth, thank you again for granting “flamethrower”  to be but a “gratuitous ad hominem comment.” In my own mind, I confess, I somewhat associated “flamethrower” with what’s been well-known for sometime now as flaming, hardly a mere gratuitous ad hominem descriptor but what I consider to be a hopelessly redemptive insult. My deepest apologies, Dr. Dalrymple (assuming, of course, you did not mean to connect the dots).

        Nor will I deny my writings are, in large part, aggressive in tone. From my standpoint, the religio-political dimension I find myself so often addressing in my denomination in transition, makes it, I think, just one pint shy of impossible to avoid aggression. Our subcultural, intramural exchanges over precisely what must change in transition among Southern Baptists breed strong polemics whether or not it best suits us. That’s the way I see it anyway.

        And, just for the record, I do not see myself primarily on the offensive side; or, as you put it, Dr. Dalrymple, “frequently on the attack.” To the contrary, I mainly run defense. My role, as I see it, is to protect the wall, so to speak. I realize this makes me vulnerable to being misunderstood, as if I’m sworn to protect my religious tradition no matter the cost to biblical revelation. So be it. The bottom line for me in this present exchange is, I’m only attempting to be candid concerning the psychological trajectory inspiring my online writing. Hence, by coupling the literary psychology I just confessed to the empirical reality that few others–in my specific religious subculture of the Southern Baptist Convention–are addressing the issues I raise on SBC Tomorrow, I honestly hope, colors the edges of my image in softer tones. 

        Know I’m not singing my own note by saying, “Look at me; I stand virtually alone,” Dr. Dalrymple. I’m sad I have to stand at all for certain issues I presumed Southern Baptists settled long ago, but worse still, to stand against my own Southern Baptist brothers and sisters! I take no pride nor ease in this at all. I’m not a warmonger looking to fight. Truth be told, I’m a fairly open guy when dealing with most any provocative issue among parishioners. As a relevant example, I’ve personally sat down with groups of homosexuals for Bible study. My wife and I lived in their neighborhood in downtown Atlanta. I’ve had lunch with gay people, and we’ve, on different occasions, had gay people over to our loft for entertainment. My heart was so heavy for them when we lived in downtown Atlanta, I sought assistance from our Home Missions Board in planting a church right smack in the most populated area of the homosexual community. While my proposition failed to grab my denomination’s attention, I continued to minister to my gay neighbors and acquaintances as best I knew–though admittedly I saw little fruit personally (to my knowledge only one person was both converted and forsook the gay lifestyle as a result of my ministry to them—and she is still a strong disciple of Jesus Christ I happily report!).

        The truth is, I have never shared this snapshot of my life online before (as I recall). Perhaps my critics will make me wish I didn’t now. Who knows. My reason for being candid, Dr.Dalrymple, is not to dispute with you; rather it’s to perhaps offset somewhat the perception you received by pursuing my blog and concluding I’m “frequently on the attack.”  The contextual era I find myself in (denomination in transition) coupled with the almost non-existent public (internet) dissent from one-sided answers on many questionable issues arising among Southern Baptists—at least within the sphere of the net I personally surf—heavily affects the aggressive polemics you find.

        continued…

        • http://www.peterlumpkins.com peter lumpkins

          continued from above…
          PART II         

          Finally, even though I’ve been decidedly verbose thus far, I’m afraid I went overboard still in my response below. My main contention with your response, Dr.Dalrymple, is your insistence on re-asserting your suggestion that my words reveal ‘”Merritt might have lied” is not far off.’  Consequently, the statements below—which I think is close to exhaustive–fairly represent my skepticism toward the Mohler quotes leading up to the convention. I add the embolden text so the reader may scan easily. To my knowledge, this represents all I’ve directly mentioned about Merritt’s usage of Mohler’s words:

          “… I don’t believe for a minute these words accurately represent the context in which Jonathan says…”

          “I do not believe Al Mohler said…"[we] lied about the nature of homosexuality" and have practiced "homophobia" apart from serious qualifications, qualifications so serious, in fact, as to moot any legitimate use Jonathan Merritt could have gleaned from their use without contorting the original usage…”

          “I questioned Merritt’s use of…Al Mohler’s words, believing, as I still do, Jonathan either misunderstood or misused Mohler’s alleged statement…”

          “we have a right to know… according to Mohler’s alleged words which Jonathan claims Mohler himself indicated were not taken out of context…”

          “To Jonathan’s credit, he responded to my challenge toward his use of Dr. Mohler’s words expressing my firm reservation that Dr. Mohler would have uttered the words he claimed without serious qualification(s)…”

          “I strongly challenged Merritt’s reading of Mohler, suggesting he skewed the president’s position—whether intentional or unintentional is presently beside the point—to which Jonathan insisted he did not and possessed the interview transcript to prove it”

          “Curiously, Jonathan’s essay is now pulled from The Christian Science Monitor If Mohler’s quote was as authentic as Merritt insists, why would the essay be pulled?”

          “My gut tells me JM has no official "interview" transcript with Dr. Mohler. Instead they may have unofficially talked,… [and that] statement kinda got broadened a bit into the generic "we’ve lied…" Or, another possibility is, he does indeed have a transcript. However, the contextual cradle for Mohler’s words does not lend it self to Jonathan’s looser interpretation” (these words I wrote are in a comment stream on the post which logged the disappearance of JM’s original essay from The Christian Science Monitor)

          While some statements are stronger than others, I do not think a reasonable case can be made from the actual words above—nor surely from the actual question I made at the SBC—that I abused Merritt or was unfair to him by either suggesting he lied or was even dishonest. My consistent refrain up until Al Mohler settled it was, Merritt botched Mohler’s words but the skewing was not necessarily dishonest, and certainly I didn’t accuse Merritt of deceit. Even more to your point, Dr. Dalrymple, my assertions, collectively as a whole, do not even lend themselves to describing my approach as “not far off” from suggesting Merritt lied. Of course, he “might” have lied; but I never pursued that option as the collective record above shows.

          I’ll move along now and let the readers decide if you post this or, if not, perhaps you can personally consider it.

          Thank you, Dr.Dalrymple. I think we may be on different frequencies about the issue at hand, but that’s only a guess from what I’ve thus far read. Even so, you’ve been more than helpful in your response to me and bore a godly spirit in your criticisms, something we all need to pursue. Yes, brother, including me…especially me.

          Grace…Peace

          With that, I am…

          Peter Lumpkins,

          Carrollton, Georgia  

          • Timothy Dalrymple

            Peter, I’m happy to post your comments. And I appreciate the thoroughness of the response. I’ve never been accused of brevity myself, and these are important matters, worth fleshing out.

            The ironic thing is, I read the quotations from your multiple posts on the subject and feel like: “How can he not agree that he’s suggesting there may have been deceit here?” Again, I take “suggest” to be something different than “claim.” We can suggest all sorts of things — tacitly or overtly — without claiming that we know them for certain. When you say that Jonathan might have “misused” Mohler’s “alleged” statement, “contort[ed] the original usage,” “skewed” Mohler’s position, “intentionally or unintentionally,” it sounds a lot like suggesting (without claiming to know for certain) that he was dishonest. I could imagine giving a lecture in which I subtly suggested, over and over again for an hour, that person X might have been less than honest in his representation of X. Stating, in the last minute, “For all I know, he might have been telling the truth,” does not get me off the hook for suggesting that he was being dishonest. That’s how I see it, anyway.

            As for chiding him, I’m using chide in the sense of “to express disapproval of.” I thought this post expressed disapproval of Jonathan for not producing the hard copy. You implied that he either lacked a hard copy or else the hard copy would implicate him for misrepresenting what was spoken. Saying he “deliberately spurned” the request does seem to express disapproval, does it not? If you did not disapprove of his decision, then I suppose I was wrong.

            Later in that same post, if I were Jonathan reading those final paragraphs posing questions to his father/boss and Danny Akin, I would feel like someone was trying to get me fired. Of course, it’s easy to say that’s not what you intended. But that’s the kind of material I have in mind when I speak of an aggressive, attacking tone.

            I grant that sometimes aggressive, attacking tones may be necessary. Jesus spoke of a “brood of vipers,” after all. I guess we’d disagree on whether this is one of those times. I think a more gently inquiring tone would have been more helpful here. But again, I appreciate the civil conversation. We may never fully agree on these things, but I hope we’ve come to a little better understanding of one another.

            Thanks again,

            Tim

  • Gary Foster

    While it’s interesting to hear this from Mohler, he still remains very very conservative while he wants to sound more compassionate, the end result of what he thinks may not be. It just sounds to me like he wants his cake and eat it too. He wants to be seen as compassionate but firm on homosexuality as sinful.
    I just don’t see anything helpful coming from the fundamentalists at the SBC. I was part of them once and am most happy to not be any more.
    It’s a fact that societal attitudes have turned more sympathetically towards Gays. The fundamentalists are going to encounter a lot of difficulty in this now.The wind is no longer in their back and it’s going to be interesting to see how they deal with this. From afar.

  • Gary Foster

    I had a failure to adequately punctuate the above and it reads poorly. Sorry.

  • Jim Wilkie

    I think Gary’s comment sums it all up as far as Christianity in America (and now the SBC as well). Since ‘societal attitudes have turned more sympathetic toward gays (why the capital G?)’ and ‘fundamentalists are going to encounter a lot of difficulty’ we should all roller-over and abandon 2,000+ years of teaching and Biblical tradition. NOT HARDLY! Society, especially our sin-filled, ‘politically correct’ version must never dictate proper doctrine.

    It is a slippery slope and we must ‘guard the wall’. We can do nothing less for the One who was crucified for oue sins.

  • Matt

    Mohler also said this….in 2007: “We must be committed to being relentless in seeking to ground our thinking in biblical truth. The issues we face are daunting. The issue of homosexuality will not go away. Bromides and careless thinking will not serve the church well. Christian families are struggling with sons and daughters, brothers and sisters and a myriad of others who are themselves struggling with this sin or caught in its grasp. Many homosexual persons are waiting anxiously to see if Christians really love the sinner even as we hate the sin. When it comes to homosexuality, the Christian church has often violated its Gospel by appearing to hate both this sin and the sinners who involve themselves in homosexuality.” http://www.bpnews.net/BPFirstPerson.asp?ID=25194

    Seems like he’s actually been on the side of the angels (sorry) for a while now.


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