Last week, I raised the question concerning Andy Stanley’s perplexing story about a gay couple in his church. I wrote:
Stanley tells the story of a couple who divorced while members of his church. The issue was, the husband had fallen in love with another man... The problem is, not once in the entire story did Stanley question the homosexual relationship the two men experienced. Instead he questioned whether or not the men could serve in their Buckhead branch since one of the men was still married... Stanley questioned the adulterous relationship but their not homosexual relationship. In fact, every indication was, the men could still serve in their Buckhead church once the man divorced his present wife (//link)
In a stunning post today entitled “Is the Mega Church the New Liberalism?” Southern seminary president, Dr. Al Mohler, raises the identical question I asked pertaining to Stanley. After rehearsing the same story in Andy Stanley’s sermon, Mohler queries:
What does Andy Stanley now believe about homosexuality and the church’s witness? We must pray that he will clarify the issues so graphically raised in his message, and that he will do so in a way the unambiguously affirms the Bible’s clear teachings… Biblical faithfulness simply does not allow for the normalization of homosexuality. We desperately want all persons to feel welcome to hear the Gospel and, responding in faith and repentance, to join with us in mutual obedience to Christ. But we cannot allow anyone, ourselves included, to come to Christ — or to church — on our own terms.
Not only did Mohler question the uncertain song Stanley sang about homosexual acceptance, but the seminary president had an academic choir warming up with him. Danny Akin immediately posted on the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary blogsite a recommendation of Mohler’s post as a “must read”:
“My close friend Al Mohler has written a crucially important blog on the Megachurch...he addresses how we must faithfully, lovingly, graciously and truthfully address the issue of gender and homosexuality and how the Church must respond...It is a must read for those who love Christ, His Church, and the gospel.
In addition, Denny Burk recommended Mohler’s article as a “must read”: “Albert Mohler has a must-read article today that I can only describe as shocking..."
Understand: I join in singing the same chorus lamenting the ever-shifting theological sands of modern evangelicalism. From my perspective, conservative evangelicalism is, for all purposes, dead in midstream. Evangelicalism remains little more than theological driftwood being carried along by the strongest cultural current. Let’s face it: post-evangelicals are all that’s viably left of the postmodern rubble. Hence, both Akin and Burk are correct to applaud Mohler and point people toward his challenge to megachurch pastor, Andy Stanley.
Even so, I contend Dr. Mohler places far too much of the blame for the present crisis upon the back of the megachurch movement. After comparing today’s megachurch challenges and cultural challenges which spawned early 20th century Liberalism, Mohler hopes megachurches won’t spawn an entirely new liberalism. “Once again, the megachurches are on the leading edge. We must pray that they will lead into faithfulness, and not into a new liberalism,” Mohler writes.
But while megachurches must be critiqued where critique is due, Dr. Mohler cannot escape the moral conundrum he himself created on the homosexuality issue. In other words, Dr. Mohler should examine the log in his own eye before pointing out the speck in Stanley’s. Let me show you what I mean.
Last year about this time I was busily defending Dr. Mohler contra a statement on homosexuality Jonathan Merritt insisted Mohler made. According to Merritt, the following words were spoken in an unsubstantiated interview:
“We’ve lied about the nature of homosexuality and have practiced what can only be described as a form of homophobia,” Mohler says. “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”
Since I had followed MohIer’s cultural arguments through the years—including his strong, consistent stance against homosexuality—I challenged Merritt’s contention concerning the words. I unapologetically argued “Mohler has been too clear on his cultural commentary on the gay agenda” to speak the words Merritt attributed to him (//link). And, since Merritt refused to clarify the comments, I fully expected to be exonerated when I asked Al Mohler at the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix to clarify the words.
What I heard from Al Mohler shocked me, however. As the video linked reveals, Mohler unequivocally owned the words Merritt said, and went on for five minutes or so chastising Southern Baptists for their own form of “homophobia” they’d practiced. The media quickly picked up on Mohler’s correction to Southern Baptists for being too hard on homosexuals (see here, here, here, and here). Even Liberal-emergent theologian, Brian McLaren praised Mohler for his perceived softening of condemnatory rhetoric against gays, encouraging Mohler not to back down. Regardless of the mass media confusion Mohler’s words created, he spoke not a single clarification concerning the issue. Indeed his words remain ambiguous to this day.
What is more, Dr. Mohler once again stirred up confusing mud on homosexuality at the recent Together for the Gospel conference. Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press, quotes Mohler:
“I’ve gotten in a little bit of trouble for people deliberately misconstruing my words, but I’m going to repeat them again,” Mohler said. “We are guilty of our own form of homophobia. We are guilty of our own form of ridiculing rather than acting with redemption”
“We have written books of which the evangelical movement needs to repent,” Mohler said. “We have preached sermons which should be an embarrassment to us. We should recognize that one of the responsibilities of a gospel people is to speak accurately and truthfully.”
Mohler said Christians “sin against people who are struggling with same-sex attraction” when they tell them, “You just chose this.”
“Well, they know good-and-well they didn’t choose this,” he said. “The problem is this is how they’ve come to know themselves. Do we tell them that’s because of Genesis 3, or do we tell them it’s just because that’s who they are and they need to celebrate it?” (//link)
One must ask whether Andy Stanley is really more confusing on the homosexual issue than Al Mohler.
First, who deliberately misconstrued Mohler’s words on the homosexual issue? Did the media do this? Or, was Mohler himself the unintended source of "misconstrued words" because he employed confusing language concerning the issue? Second, Mohler invites confusion when he uses “homophobia” toward those who desire to retain a strong moral position against the social normalization of homosexuality, the very thing about which Mohler implores us to stand strong. Hence, those of us who maintain a strong position against the social normalization of homosexuality risk being chastised by Mohler for practicing what he dubs a form of “homophobia.” Why Dr. Mohler apparently does not perceive this tension remains curious.
Third, let Dr. Mohler produce the evidence that Southern Baptists particularly or evangelicals generally ridicule homosexuals rather than attempt to redeem them. This kind of generic judgmental rhetoric is both cheap and vacuous. Fourth, what books on homosexuality would Dr. Mohler list which ought to prod us toward repentance? Could he explain why? Can Dr. Mohler point us to a sermon which represents the embarrassment he insists we all should experience? And, since Mohler claims to have written over 200 articles on the subject of homosexuality1, which of those 200 articles would produce embarrassment for him? Or, more significantly, are there any articles about which Dr. Mohler himself should repent?
Finally, Dr. Mohler forcefully suggests that homosexuality is not a chosen lifestyle. Indeed Mohler says we sin against homosexuals who struggle with “same-sex attraction” by telling them, “You just chose this” when the fact is, “they know good-and-well they didn’t choose this.” Several things may be said in response to this. First, where does Dr. Mohler get the concept of “same-sex attraction”? The way he is using it, it apparently comes from modern socio-psychological disciplines not from Scripture. Second, I fear Dr. Mohler will lose most people at this point because of the absurdity in standing strong against the social normalization of a practice a person did not choose to begin with. If they didn’t choose it, who did? Are homosexuals products of social engineering? Genetic codes? Divine determinism? Just what is Dr. Mohler getting at? If we’re all “sexually broken” in the same way, then should we also similarly suggest adultery is not chosen either? Dr. Mohler never tells us. Hence, his moral log may very well be bigger than Stanley’s ethical speck.
Even complicating matters more, Dr. Mohler publicly questions Andy Stanley on capitulating to homosexuality but one of his own adjunct professors at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary2 gets by without a peep from Mohler. Dr. James Merritt is past two-time president of the Southern Baptist Convention and is presently Senior Pastor at Cross Pointe Church, Duluth, GA. Dr. Merritt’s son, Jonathan Merritt, frequently chastises evangelicals for their “anti-gay” rhetoric in similar ways to Mohler himself.
Of particular interest Andy Stanley’s Gwinnett satellite church is hosted by James Merritt and Cross Pointe. And, displaying the bond of Stanley and Merritt's spiritual kinship, the two congregations will enjoy communion together led by Dr. Merritt.
Consequently, Stanley’s questionable sermon was preached via satellite from Merritt’s own pulpit area. And, while Merritt’s church does not technically fit the attendance profile of a megachurch3, why is James Merritt, an adjunct professor at Southern, not also named along with Andy Stanley for potentially capitulating to the homosexual agenda? While leaving aside Merritt’s questionable public support of what appears to be a financial scam, perhaps Dr. Merritt should clarify his position on homosexuality along with Andy Stanley. Perhaps also Merritt can explain why he allows his son to continue preaching in his pulpit while catering to the gay agenda in public media.
What is more, Danny Akin routinely has Dr. Merritt at Southeastern4. And, since Dr. Akin thinks Mohler’s latest piece is a “must-read,” then perhaps he can explain why Andy Stanley needs to clarify his position on homosexuality when James and Jonathan Merritt are continually coddled by both himself and Mohler. Consider: if we are going to put North Point Community Church and Andy Stanley under the scrutinizing microscope, should not Merritt and Cross Pointe church also be under our magnifying glass—at least in some sense--since Stanley’s confusing message with comments on homosexuality was apparently piped through Cross Pointe church via satellite?
Denny Burk closed his commentary with these words:
“I’ve just finished listening to the story, and it is ambiguous at best. At worst, it’s a complete capitulation to the spirit of the age. I hope that Andy Stanley will come forward and offer a clarification that affirms the Bible’s teaching on human sexuality.”
Sorry, Dr. Burk. It’s not just Andy Stanley who is ambiguous at best and a complete capitulation to the spirit of the age at worst. A quagmire of confusion surrounds the homosexual issue, and megachurch pastors aren’t alone wading through the swamp. Unfortunately, representatives from Southern Baptist academia have preceded them—even encouraged them--by their markedly confusing words and duplicitous calls for accountability, accountability too often demanded only from those outside their “good-old-boy” networks.
1Dr. Mohler made this claim at the 2011 SBC. Of course, the over 200 articles he mentions are overwhelmingly blog posts not academic or scholarly articles. In fact, it’s doubtful if Dr. Mohler, as brilliant as he is, has ever written a peer-reviewed article on the issue of homosexuality
2on p.54 James Merritt is listed as an adjunct professor
3Cross Pointe may have surpassed the 2K mark at one time, but attendance has been steadily declining over the past few years
4Dr. Merritt only recently preached in chapel