Monday, November 10, 2014

The Gospel, Homosexuality, & the Future of Marriage Conference: Mohler on "Moral Revolution"

To read about Rosaria Butterfield's talk at "The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage" conference, click here. To read about Denny Burk's talk, click here.

The Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission hosted a national conference entitled "The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage" in Nashville, TN on October 27-29. The conference focused on issues surrounding sexuality, marriage, and the LGBTQ community, as demonstrated by its workshop offerings. The ERLC website offered a glimpse at the conference's conversation on America's "moral revolution surrounding homosexuality".
"Are you and your church prepared for the moral revolution surrounding homosexuality and same-sex marriage happening across America? While human sexuality and social institutions are being redefined before our very eyes, the Bible presents marriage as an unchanging picture of the gospel through the union of one man and one woman. The gospel announces that the story of Jesus is greater than the sum total of our sexual desires."
Videos of the conference are available at the ERLC website, and I listened to several talks in order to hear what messages were being shares at the gathering. My first selection was a talk entitled "Aftermath: Ministering In A Post-Marriage Culture", in which Albert Mohler discusses how evangelicals are to respond to changing societal attitudes on LGBTQ persons.

Mohler cast advances in LGBTQ rights as a "moral revolution" in which what was once condemned and what was once celebrated have swapped places. At the 4:27 mark, he cites Theo Hobson while discussing how U.S. culture has changed. The implication, it seems, is that LGBTQ status was once condemned but is now "celebrated", and that conservative Christians who refuse to celebrate their LGBTQ neighbors are now condemned, to their chagrin.
"Theo Hobson says that moral revolution is different than a moral shift or a moral change because it does change everything in the culture. The culture becomes completely realigned on the other side, and he says in order for this to happen, three things have to take place ... The first thing that has to take place for a moral revolution, a massive U-turn in the culture is that what was condemned has to be celebrated ... Something that was nearly universally condemned is now nearly universally celebrated. It's normalized ...

That's just the first of three necessary dimensions of the moral revolution. The second comes when that which was celebrated is condemned ... You think about the definition of marriage, and you think about the moral response to same-sex relationships and same-sex acts, when you think about it in the context of the sexual revolution in general, it's not just that what was condemned is celebrated, but that which was celebrated is now condemned. And so, in much of our society today, the sin is not certainly homosexuality, but what is simply dismissed as homophobia ...

Hobson says there's been a third dimension that becomes necessary, and that is ... thirdly, those who refuse to celebrate are condemned. And that's where we are, and we sense that, and Gospel-minded Christians who are seeking to serve under the lordship of Christ and under the authority of scripture are wondering, how in the world did this happen?"
I found this interpretation of history unsatisfying, because it assumes that our society is monolithic in its views. Condemned by whom? Celebrated by whom? Mohler's comment about "what is simply dismissed as homophobia" also troubled me, as it suggested that he did not take homophobia seriously. Anti-gay bigotry is very real, as demonstrated by the condemnation, discrimination, and violence that LGBTQ people still endure.

Nevertheless, Mohler is not alone in his bewilderment at losing the culture war. Like other fundamentalist Christians, he realizes that not all Americans share his views, and struggles to understand what the next step is.

Mohler's attitude toward transgender persons was not reassuring either. At the 9:27 mark, he pointed out that gender identity issues have triggered as many social upheavals as sexual orientation. Mohler suggested that transgender persons spring from a post-Fall world in which "confusion" and "rebellion" reign.
"In the transsexual, transgender revolution, the revolt against the fixity of gender, that we're also looking at a testimony to what happens in a Genesis 3 world east of Eden. When we're now entering a level of confusion that Biblically would be defined as a form of rebellion that at the level of identity should leave us very humbled by what this tells us about humanity at large."
Mohler quoted from Romans 1 (which condemns same-sex intimacy as shameful, among other sins), using it to launch a discussion about the righteousness of God as revealed in scripture. Despite God's truth, all humans still suppress truth and succumb to confusion, he argued, and that Romans 1 is an indictment of all sinful humans, not just those who engage in same-sex behavior. Mohler disagreed with preachers who claimed that America's immorality would cause God to give up the nation to sin, arguing that humans have already been given over to sin since the Fall at the 19:19 mark.
"Here's a real problem again with evangelical preaching. A lot of evangelical preachers will preach a text like [Romans 1] and they'll say, 'America, you better wake up because otherwise, God will give us over. If America doesn't turn from its wicked ways, and if America doesn't get itself right and in accordance with the law of God, then God's going to give us over just like he gave over so many empires and civilizations and nations before.' It's too late! We were given over in Genesis 3. This is not something that just might happen. This is something that just did happen with Adam and Eve, our first mother and father."
As I listened to Mohler, his interpretation of Romans 1 sounded like an elaborate way of saying "Gays are sinners, but then again, we're all sinners." He failed to realize that casting sexual orientation and same-sex intimacy as sinful are still homophobic, and that such attitudes are still destructive to LGBTQ people. Whether or not we're all sinners, sexual orientation and gender identity should not be cast as something negative.

At the 26:36 mark, Mohler discussed 1 Corinthians 5:9-10, arguing that Christians should not shun "sexually immoral people" and questioning whether that would even be feasible in our society. Instead, Christians should be a "gospel people" to "sinners of every single variety".
"Paul says in [1 Corinthians] chapter 5 they were not even to have fellowship -- he says, 'I wrote to you in my letter' --that's the one we don't have, one of the two we don't have -- he says, 'I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people'. I was taught that as a boy in Sunday school and church. We're not to associate with sexually immoral people. No one ever got to the next part of that verse. In the text in chapter 5 he says in verse 10, 'not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers or idolaters, then you need to go out of the world'. I think the evangelical church I knew as a boy was fairly happy with that, with being out of the world, if that meant not having to deal with this. 

We're not living in a situation in which that is possible. We're not living in a situation in which that can correspond in any way to gospel faithfulness. The clear distinction here between the church and the world is made abundantly clear by Paul. We're not to associate with sexually immoral people inside the church, but in the world, we're to be a gospel people, and that means we're in contact with sinners of every single variety."
Even though Mohler did not seem to accept same-sex intimacy and transgender status, he claimed that he was evolving on issues of sexuality. At the 29:23 mark, he repented of his prior anti-gay statements and admitted that "human sexual affective profiles" are more complex than he thought.
"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 thirty years, and at a couple of points, I have to say I got that wrong, and we've got 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. Speaking at an event for the National Association of Evangelicals, twenty-something years ago, I made that point. I repent of that. I believe that a Biblical, theological understanding, a robust Biblical theology would point to us that human sexual affective profiles, 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's deeply rooted in the Biblical story itself, and something we need to take with far greater seriousness than we've taken in the past."
His repentance notwithstanding, it soon became clear that Mohler was still clinging to a right-wing understanding of sex, relationships, and reproduction. At the 31:48 mark, he claimed that divorce, cohabitation, and contraception have contributed far more to the alleged "subversion of marriage" than same-sex marriage.
"We come to understand that rupture in the universe, that rip in creation of human sin and sexual sin in particular, we come to understand that now we are seeing the flowering of virtually all this simultaneously. We need to admit it didn't start with same-sex marriage. We need to admit it didn't start with same-sex relationships. It didn't start with those who are advocates for normalization of homosexuality in various forms. It didn't start with the transgender movement. It started with heterosexual sin. It started with the heterosexual subversion of marriage ... 

If you were to rewind history to the beginning of the 20th century, not one Christian denomination of any sort had anything but absolute theological opposition to contraception, and it was the Anglican church that was the first to break on that in the  early pre-war period between World War I and World War II. And quickly things happened and a lot of it happened without much forethought whatsoever ... 

And then came the divorce revolution. The divorce revolution has done far more harm to marriage than same-sex marriage will ever do. Long before the proponents of same-sex marriage showed up, heterosexuals showed how to destroy marriage by making it a tentative, hypothetical union for so long as it may last, turning it merely into a contract to be treated as any other contract, as a consumer good to be continued so long as it brings both parties mutual benefit. And then cohabitation. I mean, now we're looking at the fact that the census bureau tells us that the first intimate relationship, the first residential relationship for most adults is cohabitation ... The inevitable social pathologies that come from that are just massive."
Americans are increasingly rejecting these rigid beliefs, and as a result, fundamentalist Christianity no longer holds the power over society that it once did. Mohler grieved for this loss of power, complaining that his ilk no longer had the credibility and dominance they once did. At the 38:15 mark, he encouraged listeners to recognize the current state of affairs.
"We are accustomed to ministry from the topside of the culture, not from the underside. We are accustomed to speaking from a position of strength and respect and credibility, and now we're going to be facing the reality that we are already, in much of America, speaking from a position of a loss of credibility, speaking from the underside, speaking from the wrong side of the moral equation ... This is something all of us now have to face, because if we're involved in Christian ministry now, this is what's staring us, right now, in the face, this moral revolution."
For all Mohler's talk about learning, repenting, and living as "gospel people", his beliefs about sexuality remain stagnant. Despite his soft words, he still looked askance at LGBTQ status, divorce, cohabitation, and contraception, much like other Religious Right voices. Indeed, his talk seemed more focused on coping with the growing acceptance of these things than on cultivating a more enlightened understanding of Christian sexuality. Having listened to the first of the ERLC conference talks, I'm not optimistic about what the other talks will offer.

To read additional commentary, visit the following links.

The Advocate: Southern Baptist Conference Wrap-Up: Shifting Rhetoric, Maintaining Anti-LGBT Beliefs

Religion Dispatches: LGBT Christians Respond to Southern Baptists’ Call For Kindness, Understanding

Think Progress: How The Southern Baptists Are Still Completely Failing Transgender People

Think Progress: Three Days In Nashville Talking To Southern Baptists About Homosexuality


  1. it smells to me of but another attempt to get inside to and to try to destroy from within...much as the "moral majority" went back to the drawing board and quietly started to get elected at the local level where they could influence school curricula and town ordinances...

    1. Sherry -- Fortunately, I don't think the SBC will get far. Most people recognize the agenda of these efforts for what they are and will keep the SBC at arm's length.

  2. Stubbornly narrow-minded people are capable of twisting anything into a defense of their own opinion.

    1. Donna -- Their mental gymnastics are breathtaking to behold.


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