Transcript and Commentary: Al Mohler On Homosexuality at the SBC

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Dr. R. Albert Mohler, President of Southern Seminary, recently answered a question from Dr. Peter Lumpkins concerning alleged comments he made about Evangelicals and homosexuality. The question was answered from the floor of the 2011 Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting during his report on Southern Seminary. Dr. Mohler confirmed that the statements in question were his and further expressed some of his views on the topic of Evangelicals and homosexuality. His answer has attracted much attention in parts of the internet world. For example, Al Mohler’s Response to Peter Lumpkins: The Complete Video at SBC Voices received over 350 comments before being shut down.

I have transcribed Mohler’s answer to Lumpkins below. For those interested in the full exchange please click through the SBC Voices link above . First, I’ll offer the transcript and then some commentary on how I understand Mohler’s comments.

Transcript

This is part of the greatness of the Southern Baptist Convention. We get to have a conversation and this is the kind of conversation worth having. I’m thankful for the question, my brother. And I’m glad to tell you that I was asked that question and I made those statements. They’re not alleged statements. They’re actual statements. And there is no way that anyone can in fair-mindedness be confused about what I believe about homosexuality because I’ve published over 200 articles on the subject. Not that I’d expect you to go home and read them all this evening.

When I was asked that question I responded as I did because I believe then, and I believe now with my whole heart that that is a part of our challenge as we now face the responsibility not only to speak 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, whether we want to acknowledge this or not, who are struggling with this issue.

The reality is that we as Christian churches have not done well on this issue. And I think if we’re unwilling to admit that it is further to our shame. For instance, 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 the its comprehensive presentation, that fact that homosexuality, not only is not God’s best for us as some try to say, but it is sin. It is particularly identified for instance in Romans chapter one as a sin indicative of the total wickedness and sinfulness of humanity as a whole. The point of Paul in Romans chapter one [is] that if people will do this and rationalize it that human beings are able to do anything in terms of sin and come to terms with it.

But we as Evangelicals have a very sad history in dealing with this issue. We have told not the truth, but we’ve 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. For instance, we have said to people that homosexuality’s just a choice. Well it’s clear that it is more than a choice. That doesn’t mean it’s any less sinful. But it does mean it’s not something that 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. The gospel is what we stand for and the gospel is the only remedy for sin. And we have also exhibited a certain form of homophobia of which we must, absolutely must, in gospel terms repent precisely because we believe in all the Scripture teaches about homosexuality and all that the Scripture teaches about sin. We must recognize that our job isn’t done until our churches look exactly like the church described in 1 Corinthians 6 where those very sins are articulated. And then it says “but such were some of you, but you were washed.” Our job is not done until sitting in the pews among us are those of whom it is said – I once was that. As we say – I once was something else. We are sinners saved by grace. Until there are those who are trapped in that sin sitting among us, we know we’ve got a gospel job to do.

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the honor in answering that question.

Commentary

First, Dr. Mohler has several articles on homosexuality on his personal site for those who wish to learn more about his perspective on this issue. Also, Mohler’s answer from the Convention floor isn’t exactly new ground. For example, on October 4, 2010 in the article Between the Boy and the Bridge — A Haunting Question he wrote the following.

Yet, when gay activists accuse conservative Christians of homophobia, they are also right. Much of our response to homosexuality is rooted in ignorance and fear. We speak of homosexuals as a particular class of especially depraved sinners and we lie about how homosexuals experience their own struggle. Far too many evangelical pastors talk about sexual orientation with a crude dismissal or with glib assurances that gay persons simply choose to be gay. While most evangelicals know that the Bible condemns homosexuality, far too many find comfort in their own moralism, consigning homosexuals to a theological or moral category all their own.

The major complaints about Mohler’s answer has to do with the language of choice as it pertains to homosexuality, homophobia and half-truths. Mohler’s dissenters want to know what he meant by homosexuality being more than a choice, homophobia and precisely how Evangelicals have told half of the truth (lied?) about homosexuality. It is not difficult to understand why he did not define half-truths and homophobia in the short amount of time available. However, might there be examples those issues in the context of Mohler’s answer? Even in the above quote it may be understood that the “homophobia” written about may be those responses which are “rooted in ignorance and fear.” And though it is not mentioned in the above quote, a few “half-truths” may be that “gay persons simply choose to be gay” and that of “consigning homosexuals to a theological or moral category all their own.”

Can the context of Mohler’s answer from the SBC floor provide, at the very least, a limited explanation of homosexuality being more than a choice, the charges of half-truths and homophobia? I believe that a charitable understanding in context may provide such explanations. One thing to keep in mind is the limited time that Mohler had to answer the question.

The original quotes in question were in the context of Evangelicalism at large rather than toward Southern Baptists in particular even though Lumpkins’ question was on the floor of the SBC. The context of Mohler’s answer also pertains to Evangelicals in general and not Southern Baptists in particular. So when Mohler used the term “Christian churches” and “Evangelicals” he was not targeting the SBC, but  this point seems to be lost on many. Given that he was speaking so broadly it makes sense that Mohler would use general “we” language. This is not uncommon when one speaks to groups of like-minded individuals. Southern Baptists do this to an extent when voting on resolutions. Take the much needed 1995 Resolution On Racial Reconciliation, for example. One of its statements is -

Be it further RESOLVED, That we apologize to all African-Americans for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime; and we genuinely repent of racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously (Psalm 19:13) or unconsciously (Leviticus 4:27);

Not only did resolution pass, but it has each person affirming the resolution admitting they have individually and systematically practiced racism in their lifetime either consciously or unconsciously. Is this absolutely true of all affirming voters? Or is it generally true enough that it can be affirmed? Also, if it’s possible that this sin was committed consciously or unconsciously then why not others?

The first point of contention in Mohler’s answer is the claim that Evangelicals have told “about half the truth” concerning homosexuality. The truth Evangelicals have held to is that homosexual activity is a sin. The half truth from Mohler’s own words seems to be the lack of biblical application to the sin of homosexuality and that homosexuality is “just a choice” that people can just turn on and off. While one may not agree with Mohler his answer does identify some half-truths.

Concerning choice, Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International, wrote 6 Misconceptions about Homosexuality in which he identifies two of the myths as follows: “Myth 2: Homosexuality Is a Choice” and “Myth 4: Homosexuality Is Genetic.” This seems to comport with Mohler’s claim that homosexuality is not “just a choice” but “more than a choice.”Anyone who struggles with sin should be able to attest that sinning vs. not sinning is not as simple as choosing to turn the sin on and off, especially, if this is done without the power of the gospel using pure will-power.

In the same article, Chambers quotes another Christian who displays an attitude that may be considered a form of homophobia. He writes, “Alan, what do I tell Sister Helen when the gays you’re ministering to start coming to church and sitting next to her in the pew?” This question clearly displays discomfort with the thought that a gay person may actually come to a worship service. Note I did state that this may be a “form of homophobia” which is the same claim the Mohler made.

But what is homophobia? Some who promote homosexuality and oppose the biblical view that homosexuality is sinful may claim that viewing homosexuality as such is a form of homophobia. The simplest definition may be from Merriam-Webster which defines homophobia as “an irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals.”

Since Mohler holds to the biblical view that homosexuality is a sin then he clearly would not fall into the category of one who promotes homosexuality. The form of homophobia Mohler seems to be speaking about may be similar to the above quote by Chambers. Mohler states that the “gospel is the only remedy for sin” which includes, of course, homosexuality. My reading of Mohler here goes back to the full context of his answer touching on the lack of applying biblical truth in a biblical way. What I understand him to imply is that Evangelicals must rely on the gospel to change the homosexual rather than trying to get the homosexual to simply choose to stop their sinful living so they can then come to Christ. In this case, the sin of homosexuality would be discriminated against in light of other sins. Further making this point is Mohler’s reference to 1 Corinthians 6 which states:

[9] Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, [10] nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. [11] And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV)

This Scripture indicates that the cleaning of those sins comes from God’s grace through the gospel. I suppose Mohler’s point is that our churches should look like the above Scripture and that many Evangelical churches do not have, or do not know if they have those who used to practice homosexuality in their churches because a form of homophobia has been practiced.

One example of homophobia may be found in my recent post Ethics: Which Pastor, Anger or Homosexuality? which is based on Christians admitting their bias towards homosexual sin. Other examples of some forms of homophobia, which are provided below, may be found in the archives of Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention. In How is homosexuality being normalized in American culture? Bob Stith writes that “too often when those who struggle with homosexuality have reached out for help, the church hasn’t known how to respond as it should. Our churches must become lighthouses for those who struggle with sexual brokenness.” The implication being that churches have not been places for homosexuals to get help.

In answering the question Can a person be a Christian and a homosexual? Stith expresses that Christians do treat homosexuality differently.

This question demonstrates the difficulty many Christians have in seeing homosexuality differently than other sins. I know some Christians who collect speeding tickets the way Carl Lewis collected gold medals. Some have radar detectors to help them avoid “speed traps.” But the Bible tells us to submit to the laws of our country. Can a person who continually ignores traffic laws be saved? Are we responsible only for the laws we deem reasonable?

Mike Goeke points out in What can my church do to address homosexuality? that “Huge strides in ministry will be accomplished when homosexuality is demystified and the world sees the church treating all sin equally.” Again, this implies that the sin of homosexuality is treated differently than other sins in the church.

Finally, one last example of a form of homophobia may be found in an article by Alan Chambers on the ERLC website – How Will You Respond to Homosexuality? Chambers shares a story he has heard many times. A gay man accepted Christ, went to a local church and shared his situation with the pastor. Chambers writes, “The pastor responded, “We don’t have room for fags in this church.” In his letter, the man shared that he was grateful to her, but that being a part of “The Church” was just not possible.”

As I see it Dr. Mohler provided an understandable, biblical answer in the time available. Even if one does not agree with his positions on these issues pertaining to Evangelicals and homosexuality it was not difficult to understand what he meant in the context of his answer.

For what it’s worth…

Mark

PS: As I was finishing this article the Baptist Press published Mohler: homosexuality comments reflect Scripture in which Dr. Mohler clarified his comments from the Convention floor. The article includes supportive comments from “Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, and from Bob Stith, the Southern Baptist Convention’s national strategist for gender issues and the representative of the convention’s Task Force on Ministry to Homosexuals.”

PPS: Dr. Mohler answered brother Les Puryear via email and gave him permission to post the reply Read it here: Dr. Mohler Clarifies His “Liars” and “Homophobes” Statement. Dr. Mohler’s explanation agrees with what I said above about who he was addressing.



{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dave Miller June 24, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Excellent article, Mark.

2 Andrew June 24, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Purposefully have not followed the aftermath of the Q/A…but it seems to me that this is yet another example from this year’s Annual Meeting of fear trumping grace in our discussions and positions. (Other examples would be the hurriedly-passed NIV and the overly-debated immigration resolutions).

Two outcomes, neither favorable:
1) Mohler has to back-pedal and we have lost our “Nixon goes to China” opportunity of having a clearly conservative Christian leader starting a dialogue with the LGBT community
2) Mohler is deposed or put on the back-burner and we make the implicit statement that “You freaks, get off the grass”

NOTE: the anti-spam word was HUMILITY…something we all need in this kind of discussion!

3 Mark June 24, 2011 at 2:56 pm

Dave, thanks brother. In some sense I am just pointing out the obvious.

I appreciate your reading it too as I know it was long. :)

4 Mark June 24, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Andrew, I hope the two outcomes you listed will not become a reality. Given Mohler’s follow-up comments in the BP article I don’t think he will, or he shouldn’t, have too many more complaints going forward.

I think his comments may have opened up some eyes and the opportunity for gospel dialogue. I hope anyway.

5 Mark June 25, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Dr. Mohler answered brother Les and gave him permission to post the email with which he replied. Read it here: Dr. Mohler Clarifies His “Liars” and “Homophobes” Statement. Dr. Mohler’s reply agrees with what I said above when I noted that – The original quotes in question were in the context of Evangelicalism at large rather than toward Southern Baptists in particular even though Lumpkins’ question was on the floor of the SBC. The context of Mohler’s answer also pertains to Evangelicals in general and not Southern Baptists in particular.

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