Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, made headlines at the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix when he openly affirmed quoted words by Jonathan Merritt: "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" (//link). In response to whether those words were accurately quoted, Mohler said: >>>
"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. "
Though Mohler spoke on for some time about his view on homosexuality after he affirmed the statements were quoted accurately, he failed to address how "we've lied," practiced "homophobia," and used "choice" language since it remains "clear" that "sexual orientation" is not "merely a matter of choice." Some immediately came to Mohler's defense, agreeing wholeheartedly without qualification. Others thought Mohler was entirely confusing. Left- wing evangelical theologian, Brian McLaren, commended Dr. Mohler for his courageous stance in loosening his language on gayness by affirming Mohler was taking a "step in the right direction" and hence pleading with him—"please don't back down." Award-winning Christian singing artist, Jennifer Knapp, who only recently came out as a "lesbian Christian" tweeted to her thousands of followers:
In light of the chorus of confusion surrounding Mohler's words, to suggest Mohler was clear in expressing his thoughts hardly remains convincing. However, as renowned professor of psychology, Warren Throckmorton indicates: "I think it is going to take awhile for Rev. Al Mohler's words about evangelicals and homosexuality to sink in – even for those who say they agree with him" (//link). Awhile indeed.
Since the initial media furor over Mohler's original confusion at the Southern Baptist Convention, we've publicly heard from Dr. Mohler on three different occasions clarifying what he meant in The Christian Science Monitor (CSM) article which spawned the question at the Phoenix convention, including Mohler's call for Southern Baptists to "repent" of their alleged homophobia.
First, Baptist Press offered an explanation a little over a week after the incident. And, while BP's initial silence on this newsworthy item severely lacks basic comprehension, Mohler nonetheless is quoted concerning his words from the CSM article and the convention. Baptist Press associate editor, Michael Foust, quotes Mohler as saying that while we have practiced a certain form of "homophobia", Mohler defines "homophobia in the church" as being "afraid of the conversation and afraid of the issue" of homosexuality. Dr. Mohler denied he was using the word "homophobia" in the context that many others use it.
We're glad to know Mohler was not employing the term the way others use it. However, why didn't Mohler say so at the convention? He had plenty of time to do so. And, he was asked directly about the term "homophobia." Given "homophobia" is such a provocative term, a term having a fairly consistent usage, why would Dr. Mohler risk creating misunderstanding and confusion which is precisely what took place afterwards? One could understand if Dr. Mohler was a novice rather than a veteran public communicator. Aside from this, however, it makes little sense why Mohler would employ "homophobia" in a special sense apart from giving his audience a "heads-up" about his meaning.
Even so, Dr. Mohler will be hard-pressed to find the term "homophobia" being employed with his peculiar nuance. The fact is, Dr. Mohler's usage of "homophobia" toward evangelicals will surely encourage confusion in an already chaotic cultural debate. Not to mention his special usage of "homophobia" now requires Mohler to explain to his critics why he is not "homophobic" in the way his critics charge him to be but only in the sense he and other evangelicals confess "homophobia" toward themselves. Note how Mohler elsewhere frames the wretched descriptor when it's pitched toward conservatives:
Those who are in revolt against the church's condemnation of homosexual activity must resort to interpretive acrobatics... To this they add the technique of hurling the epithet "homophobe" at everyone who challenges their revisionist agenda... As a major public relations manual for the homosexual movement suggests, activists attempt to portray those who oppose their cause as driven by an unreasonable fear of homosexuals, rather than by convictional opposition to homosexuality itself... the manual calls for activists to portray “such institutions as antiquated backwaters, badly out of step with the times and the latest findings of psychology" (The Christian Index, 2/13/92; embolden added)
Yet, Mohler said the "homosexualization" of culture has occurred while the church has slept: "The church has hardly responded to the homosexuality issue with a certain sound... The evangelical community is charged with homophobia and homo-hatred when it responds to the issue of homosexuality in scriptural terms, Mohler noted. "If the evangelical church has a hangup on homosexuality, then so did the apostle Paul"... A people who grow tolerant and comfortable with homosexuality are a people who have grown distant from this holy and righteous God who reveals himself in both love and wrath... That is what Sodom and Gomorrah are are all about," Mohler warned... "We may be labeled as intolerant, but we must be intolerant of sin as we seek to preach the gospel to sinners... "The first act of compassion is telling the truth... It is critical believers realize homosexuality is not just another sin among others... And while there are many sectors of sin, the issue of homosexuality is not ancillary issue. It hits at the heart of what is wrong in our culture (Al Mohler, preaching at SEBTS, Baptist Press, 03/01/1995)
Reflecting on the words above, can anyone seriously deny the possibility--perhaps probability is not too strong--there exists a seismic shift in Dr. Al Mohler's understanding concerning this issue? Whatever the case, Mohler creates a needless tension for himself speciously pleading the usage of "homophobia" as he does toward his brothers and sisters in Christ. Hence, does this sound like the polished orator from Southern seminary with whom we've become accustomed to read and listen? I think not.
In addition, Mohler says we "play into" the popular usage of "homophobia" when we demonstrate ourselves to be "afraid of the conversation" about being homosexual. Foust rehearses Mohler's words:
"Too many churches, Mohler said, have not handled the issue of homosexuality well and have created an atmosphere whereby those struggling with homosexuality are too fearful to talk to someone and request help. Those churches, Mohler said, have spoken the truth but not in love. … But would we honestly say that our churches are a safe place for a young person struggling with same-sex attraction to come and say, 'I am a devoted follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. I want to live in faithfulness to Christ. What do I do with this? How do I handle this?'? The fact that that does not happen regularly in our church when we know that there are persons struggling with such a sin -- and a sinful predisposition -- should tell us that we are not being faithful and effective in holding forth the very Gospel we proclaim"
Several things may be said in response. First, Dr. Mohler's assertion that too many churches have not handled the issue of homosexuality well could be said of a litany of other issues as well—abortion, euthanasia, depression, drug addiction, among many others. The question is, how is this relevant to the issue of homosexuality alone? Second, how does Dr. Mohler know too many churches lack someone with whom to talk about their private struggles or that counsel does not happen regularly in these churches? Unless Mohler is specifically suggesting too many churches lack an atmosphere for public confession of these very private, vulnerable struggles, I am scrambling to make sense of this. Surely, Dr. Mohler is not being critical because the church fails as a "safe place" for publicly divulging ones private sexual struggles within one's own heart. If he is, then I think he has created even more questions toward precisely how a "safe place" atmosphere like that is supposed to also be a spiritually healthy atmosphere.
Finally, if may I be candid: perhaps Dr. Mohler may not the best guide for giving pastoral advice on how to deal with people who struggle with excruciatingly difficult issues. Dr. Mohler is a theologian, cultural critic, and professional, God-called educator. He is not a pastor. Nor has he ever been a pastor for any length of time. And no amount of light in a calling other than pastor may substitute for the God-anointed position of pastor. Hence, to make such bold proclamations not having the experience or calling to do so, seems to me at least, to warrant caution in taking his advice wholesale on this particular aspect of homosexuality.
Foust quotes Mohler further indicating Christians have told about "half the truth" regarding homosexuality and went on to say it's "clear" that homosexuality is "more than a choice"—that is, "not something that people can just turn on and turn off." Apparently this is Mohler's explanation of what he meant by "we've lied about the nature of homosexuality." Presumably, "half the truth" is the biblical revelation we've accurately proclaimed—i. e. homosexual acts are sin. Hence, the other half of the whole truth which appears we've failed to proclaim—the half which apparently justifies Mohler's allegation "we've lied"—concerns the nature of homosexuality itself. That is to say, the clear truth that homosexuality is "more than a choice" which people cannot "just turn on and turn off." Or, in the words Mohler affirmed from the CSM article, homosexuality's nature is a "sexual orientation" indicative of a "deep inner struggle" which makes homosexuality hardly a mere "matter of choice."
Again, several things may be said in response. First, if this is Mohler's explanation of why he thinks evangelicals (and, by implication, Southern Baptists) have "lied" about the "nature of homosexuality" it fails to deal with his actual language. Mohler accuses us of intentionally deceiving people. Who in their right moral mind is going to believe and/or accept this thorough-going moral insult hurled at them? Indeed even if Mohler is correct that evangelicals (and, by implication, Southern Baptists) have not fared so well on the praxis or "application" of their belief, how could this be morally construed as lying? How curious such an allegation. More curious still are failed attempts to rescue Moher from his unjustified moral charge against evangelicals (and, by implication, Southern Baptists).
Next, while Mohler is quick to affirm evangelicals (and, by implication, Southern Baptists) in their proper biblical interpretation concerning homosexuality, he judges the other half of the whole truth about which we've been negligent in affirming as apparently necessary for us to embrace. That is to say, for Mohler, it seems non-negotiable to suggest any understanding about the nature of homosexuality other than it is a "sexual orientation" which cannot be explained by "matter of choice." Consequently a homosexual cannot "just turn on and turn off." If I am correct, Mohler's call for Southern Baptists to repent presumes his understanding of homosexuality alone constitutes the gospel-centered view which evangelicals (and, by implication, Southern Baptists) lack. Presumably, therefore, we must repent and embrace homosexuality as "sexual orientation."
The question is, where in Scripture is it revealed to us that homosexual behavior is anything other than a choice? Can Dr. Mohler show us from the Word of God that homosexuality is a "sexual orientation" which one cannot "just turn on and turn off"? Are these biblical affirmations about the nature of homosexuality or extra-biblical assumptions brought to bear on homosexuality? If these premises about homosexuality are not gleaned from Scripture itself, how can Dr. Mohler make them into non-negotiable truths we must proclaim or else become liars in need of repentance if we do not?
Again how can Dr. Mohler charge us with telling "half of the truth" if we choose only to speak where the Bible speaks? What happened to the sufficiency of Scripture concerning the issue of homosexuality? Consider carefully Mohler's words quoted above: "The evangelical community is charged with homophobia and homo-hatred when it responds to the issue of homosexuality in scriptural terms." But aren't adding "sexual orientation" and "not merely a matter of choice" going beyond Scriptural terms pertaining to homosexuality? Understand: it's not that we may not use extra-biblical knowledge to our advantage as we learn all we can about a particular issue no matter what the issue is. Rather it's that our failure to embrace extra-biblical notions surely cannot be taken as legitimate reason to accuse us of lying about a particular issue.
Finally, a real problem for Dr. Mohler, at least from my perspective, is his determinative language. By that I mean Mohler speaks of homosexuality as if it is definitively inherited. I realize Mohler denies he embraces biological determinism. Nonetheless he speaks the language similar to biological determinists when he suggests homosexuality is a "sexual orientation" which is not "merely a choice" and cannot just be "turned off and on." This is the language which causes a lot of people I know—Calvinist and non-Calvinist alike—to become, shall we say, nervous when they hear Mohler speak like this.
With that, I am...