Dr. Albert Mohler is a prominent Southern Baptist, serving as the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has always, in my experience, been an uncompromising advocate for the authority of Scripture on matters great and small, including human sexuality.
However, he seems to have been drawn into the gravitational pull of Russell Moore, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), who has already admitted defeat in the culture war over the definition of marriage, and seems to believe the best we can hope for is to be left with some vestiges of religious liberty which we can exercise furtively inside the four walls of our churches.
Dr. Mohler gave a major address at Dr. Moore’s recent ERLC conference, “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage.” His full speech can be heard and seen here.
The first 29 minutes of the speech was an unflinching affirmation of biblical truth on human sexuality. But then he began to make statements that are somewhat confusing and call for clarification.
During his speech (at about the 29:40 mark), he said the following (emphasis mine):
“One of the things we should not be embarrassed to say is that we are learning. One of the embarrassments that I have to bear is that I have written on some of these issues now for nearly 30 years, and at a couple of points I have to say ‘I got that wrong,’ and we have to go back and correct it, correct it by Scripture.
“Now early in this controversy, I felt it quite necessary, in order to make clear the gospel, to deny anything like a sexual orientation. And speaking at an event of the National Association of Evangelicals twenty-something years ago, I made that point. I repent of that.“
I’m not sure how to read this in any other way than that he believes there is such a thing as a homosexual orientation, and that it is wrong and unbiblical to believe otherwise.
He then seems to veer into averring that people can be born this way.
“I believe that a biblical, theological understanding, a robust biblical theology, would point to us that human sexual, affective, um, profiles of who we are sexually, is far more deeply rooted than just the will, if that were so easy.
“But Genesis 3 explains that, helps us to understand that this complex of same-sex challenges coming to us is something that is deeply rooted in the biblical story itself, and something we need to take with far greater seriousness than we have taken it in the past, understanding that that requires a far more robust gospel response than anything the church has come up with heretofore.
He sets up and knocks down a straw man along the way, since I don’t know anyone who says the process of overcoming unwanted same-sex attraction is easy.
He sets up and knocks over another straw man when he accuses biblical adherents of believing that misdirected sexual impulses are not rooted in something deeper than the will. But a plain reading of Romans 7 tells us that every sinful impulse, including the impulse toward homosexual conduct, is rooted in our fallen humanity.
But more dangerously, he states plainly that the church has never, in 2000 years, gotten the issue of homosexuality right. What’s required, Dr. Mohler says, is a far more “robust” response than the church has ever, in its entire history, articulated.
Although Dr. Mohler would certainly reject this characterization, his view logically seems to require us to adopt a view somewhat along the lines of, “If Paul and Jesus only understood what we know today about the complexities of human sexuality…”
In fact, the homosexual lobby, in setting aside the plain teaching of Scripture, often uses the argument that the writers of Scripture didn’t know anything about the modern concept of “sexual orientation” because they lived in a darkened and unenlightened time. Now that we know so much more than either Jesus or Paul about the complexities of human nature, they say, we can safely set aside their benighted teaching on sexuality as an archaic relic of an uninformed past. Dr. Mohler, I’m afraid, has a laid a trap for himself here.
Shortly thereafter, however, in the same speech, he said this:
“I don’t believe the Christian church has misread Scripture for two millennia. Uh, I don’t believe that, uh, that, that, that there was information lacking to the Holy Spirit that would have changed the meaning, uh, of these texts, information that’s now available to us.”
This is confusing at best. Has the church not misread the Scripture for two millennia, or has it failed to ever articulate the “robust” response homosexuality requires?
Other observers think Dr. Mohler’s meaning was quite clear. Here is what Chelsen Vicari of the Institute on Religion & Democracy took away from the speech, according to OneNewsNow:
“I was very surprised by Dr. Mohler’s changing tone. And I was very thankful that he took time during his speech to actually confess that he had gotten sexual orientation wrong earlier in his career and that he is willing to say that there are individuals who are born with an innate sexual attraction to the same gender.“
Dr. Mohler’s views appear to have undergone a subtle but noticeable revision since 2011. Here’s what he had to say about reparative therapy in 2011:
This means that Christians cannot accept any argument that suggests that a fundamental reorientation of the believer’s desires in a way that increasingly pleases God and is increasingly obedient to Christ is impossible. To the contrary, we must argue that this process is exactly what the Christian life is to demonstrate. As Paul writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” [2 Corinthians 5:17]
Here, however, is what he says now, in 2014. (You will note that while there is a rejection of the efficacy of secular reparative therapy, there is no explicit affirmation that Christ-centered reparative therapy can work. There is a vague assurance about the only remedy for sin being the gospel, but does that remedy include re-orientation of homosexual desires? Dr. Mohler doesn’t say.)
Put simply, most people experiencing a same-sex attraction tell of discovering it within themselves at a very early age, certainly within early puberty. As they experience it, a sexual attraction or interest simply “happens,” and they come to know it.
The concept of sexual orientation is not only helpful, it is in some sense essential. Even those who argue against its existence have to describe and affirm something tantamount to it. There is a pattern of sexual interest and attraction that is discovered in early adolescence. It is not something that is, in itself, freely chosen.
At the same time, our biblically-informed understanding of sexual orientation will chasten us from having any confidence that there is any rescue from same-sex attraction to be found in any secular approach, therapy, or treatment. Christians know that the only remedy for sin is the atonement of Christ and the gift of salvation. The only hopeful answer to sin, in any form, is the Gospel of Christ.
If something is “discovered,” that means it was there all along. That’s why the California Gold Rush of 1849 was not caused by the invention of gold but by its discovery. It had been there all along, since the dawn of time, and was only revealed during California’s adolescence. I’m not sure there is any way to interpret Dr. Mohler’s statement other than that he believes, along with Lady Gaga, that homosexuals are “born that way.”
Now if people are “born that way,” then it’s like hair color or eye color. It’s not something you can change. Perhaps it is something you can control, but not something that you can change. Thus, it’s a logical extension of Dr. Mohler’s position to write, as I did in my column, that Dr Mohler was “repenting of the thought that it is possible for homosexual sinners to change their orientation.”
Now if Dr. Mohler does believe that individuals can be born that way, he is certainly wrong. Despite decades of fruitless research, no gay gene has ever been identified. Even pro-homosexual researchers have thrown in the towel. Research done on identical twins reveals that the concordance rate for homosexuality, which should be 100% if homosexuality is genetically determined, is only between five and seven percent.
If Dr. Mohler is not saying homosexuals are born that way, then what exactly does he mean by the term “orientation?” And does he believe that an individual’s sexuality can be re-oriented to bring it in line with God’s design for humanity? These are straightforward questions.
The Associated Press recently ran an article which declared that Dr. Mohler believed that sexual orientation can never change, an article which the AP subsequently updated as follows:
“In a story Nov. 26 about evangelicals with gay children, The Associated Press erroneously reported a statement by the Rev. Al Mohler about same-sex attraction. Mohler said same-sex attraction can’t change through secular therapy but can change through the Gospel, not that same-sex attraction can never change.”
I was contacted via Twitter by Mr. Smith, who is Dr. Mohler’s chief spokesman, and a conversation ensued. I was hoping Mr. Smith would be as forthcoming with me as he apparently was with the Associated Press. Yet my efforts to elicit answers from Dr. Mohler’s spokesman, James Smith, were unsuccessful. (You can read the full exchange below.)
What was striking was the refusal of Mr. Smith to give straightforward answers to two simple questions: are people born with a homosexual orientation, and is reparative therapy something Dr. Mohler believes should be pursued by those in the homosexual lifestyle? The refusal to respond is puzzling and perhaps even disturbing.
Sadly, it appears that Dr. Mohler has been pulled into Russell Moore’s orbit. We can hope that’s not the case, and I remain happy to print Dr. Mohler’s answers to these basic questions. But I need to receive them first.
Bonus reading: for the curious, I have reproduced below my entire Twitter exchange with James Smith. Our conversation did not consist of direct messages but were part of the feed on my public Twitter account. I’ve included the time stamps for each of my Tweets and each of Mr. Smith’s replies. (They can be viewed on my Twitter account here.)
James A. Smith Sr., Twitter profile: Executive Editor/Chief Spokesman @SBTS
7:46 PM – 28 Nov 2014
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9:42 PM – 28 Nov 2014
9:57 PM – 28 Nov 2014
@BryanJFischer And, what Dr. Mohler said at the ERLC conference is publicly available. Here’s a recent related post
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(Unless otherwise noted, the opinions expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Family Association or American Family Radio.)
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