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The Grace of Shame: Al Mohler’s homosexual orientation error (1)…

The Grace of Shame: Al Mohler’s homosexual orientation error (1)…

This is a chapter excerpted from the new book, The Grace of Shame: 7 Ways the Church Has Failed To Love Homosexuals.


He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man in the day when they were created.

Genesis 5:2

The Bible says God “created them male and female.” Jesus repeated this statement: “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female?”[1]

Male.

Female.

Two sexes only. One for the other.

Yet now, some within the church have begun to claim there is something more to sexual identity than male and female. They call this third category of sexuality “sexual orientation,” telling Christians this third rail exists independent of the male or female God made us from our beginning—at the moment of our conception. They are abandoning God’s two for the mélange of LGBTQ “gender identities.”

Take, for example, Dr. Albert Mohler who serves as president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. For quite a while Dr. Mohler has had high visibility as a defender of biblical sexuality. Recently, though, Dr. Mohler repudiated his prior positions on a matter homosexualists have put at the top of their revolutionary agenda—sexual orientation.

On October 28, 2014, Dr. Mohler gave a speech apologizing for his past denial of homosexual orientation:

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 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 for the National Association of Evangelicals twenty-something years ago, I made that point. I repent of that.[2]

A couple weeks later, Dr. Mohler tried to calm the waters by issuing a blog post explaining the conference and what he had said there:

I recently addressed a major national conference on “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage” held by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. As expected, the conference was one of the most responsible and edifying meetings yet held of Christians concerned about these issues. This is exactly what would be expected of the ERLC and its leadership. The conference was both helpful and historic. I had the honor of delivering the opening keynote address entitled “Aftermath: Ministering in a Post-Marriage Culture.”[3]

In his keynote address, Mohler made these claims:

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 is deeply rooted in the biblical story itself, and something that 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.[4]

Apparently, the conference was “historic” because it began to lead the church into a new and “far more robust Gospel response” to homosexuality “than anything the church has come up with” over its 2,000-year history.

Listening to the address, we got the sense that Dr. Mohler realized he’d set some of his listeners’ teeth on edge and tried to nuance his sweeping condemnation of the church’s witness concerning homosexuality:

I don’t believe the Christian church has misread Scripture for two millennia. I don’t believe that there was information lacking to the Holy Spirit that would have changed the meaning of these texts, information that’s now available to us.[5]

So what does Mohler believe? In his follow-up blog post, he writes:

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. . . .

. . . 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.[6]

Here’s how Bryan Fischer, graduate of Stanford University and Dallas Theological Seminary, and host of the radio show Focal Point, responded to Dr. Mohler’s 2014 statement:

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 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. However, rather than answering them, Dr. Mohler demanded through his spokesman that Pastor Fischer retract what he had written.[7]

The truth is, if Dr. Mohler had answered Pastor Fischer’s question and clearly denied that some people are “born that way,” his recent statements about the existence of homosexual orientation would have become meaningless.

Following this reversal on homosexual orientation, Dr. Mohler changed other parts of his approach to homosexuality. He abandoned his support for conversion therapy, calling on Christian pastors to stop providing it.[8] Also, Dr. Mohler’s Gospel Coalition has begun promoting the gay Christian lobby LivingOut.org[9] and ran a headline on its website claiming that “godliness is not heterosexuality.”[10]

This change of strategy arrived at the same time a tsunami of support for gays, lesbians, and gay marriage washed across North America. The Supreme Court took the occasion to issue their Obergefell ruling which legalized homosexual marriage.

There wasn’t a pastor in the country who missed the new spirit sweeping our land. Past firmness had to go. If Christians were going to continue to have a voice in our national conversation, we were going to have to finesse our previous positions.

It seemed like good strategy to back off everything but the fitting together of body parts. Thus was birthed the new sweet spot of Christian witness in the face of gay liberation. We would still say that homosexual intercourse was forbidden, but we’d now endorse homosexual orientation and condemn any counseling that seeks to lead souls away from it.

Homosexualists celebrated these changes. In an open letter to Dr. Mohler published on HuffPost Gay Voices in October 2015, homosexualist Derek Penwell wrote:

I want to congratulate you on being such a visible illustration of the progress we’ve made in our understanding of LGBTQ people and the dignity their lives should rightfully be afforded. . . .

. . . I mean, think about it: when even Al Mohler is embarrassed to talk about “reparative therapy” in straightforward terms everyone understands, it means that cultural standards are evolving toward greater hospitality to our LGBTQ sisters and brothers. . . .

Put more simply, when someone as anti-LGBTQ as you’ve been is afraid of looking as anti-LGBTQ as you used to, that’s monumentally huge, dude! You’re helping us show the world that becoming less bigoted and more inclusive is actually possible. I can’t even tell you. Congratulations! And thank you for doing your part![11]

A similar response came from Chelsen Vicari of Washington DC’s conservative think tank, the Institute on Religion & Democracy:

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.[12]

Listening to Dr. Mohler, one would expect him to make some reference to the longstanding division in the gay world between the essentialist and the social constructivist views on homosexuality. Homosexual orientation continues to be debated among gays and lesbians, and many of them say there’s no such thing. On one side of the conflict are those who say there are homosexual ways of acting and living and copulating, but there are no homosexuals. These are the social constructivists. On the other side are those who say there are homosexual ways of acting and living and copulating, and these ways are characteristic of the homosexual. These are the essentialists.

Here’s how scholar Thomas Hubbard summarizes the division:

The field of Gay Studies has, virtually since its inception, been divided between “essentialists,” those who believe in an archetypal pattern of same-gender attraction that is universal, transhistorical, and transcultural, and “social constructivists,” those who hold that patterns of sexual preference manifest themselves with different significance in different societies and that no essential identity exists between practitioners of same-gender love in, for instance, ancient Greece and postindustrial Western society.[13]

This debate has been going on for decades and is illustrated by this excerpt from an interview with bisexual author Gore Vidal, published by Fag Rag:

Fag Rag. You’ve said that you didn’t think that anyone was a homosexual.

Gore Vidal. I’ve always said it was just an adjective. It’s not a noun, though it’s always used as a noun.[14]

Vidal affirms there are homosexual sensibilities, homosexual aesthetics, and homosexual acts, but he denies there are any homosexuals. A man may have homosexual sex, but having homosexual sex doesn’t make him a homosexual because there is no such thing as a homosexual. And if there is no such thing as a homosexual, the notion of homosexual orientation itself makes no sense.

Note carefully that a significant part of the homosexualist world denies the existence of any “essential” homosexual “identity.” Embracing homosexual orientation necessarily means to endorse one camp within the divided homosexualist world.[15]

But why would Christians do that? Our Lord said,

Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female?

When we declare in favor of homosexual orientation, we stake out a third sexual category that’s a function of a man’s psychological composition and identity—not his body parts. Those who believe in this third category claim that the hardwiring of God’s sexual bifurcation of mankind into male and female isn’t sufficient to encompass man’s experience of sexuality.

Of course, no Christian in his right mind would disagree with Dr. Mohler’s statement that “the only hopeful answer to sin, of any kind, is the Gospel of Christ.” But note how his statement begs the question: What is the Gospel of Jesus Christ for those who claim to be the in this third sexual category possessing something they call the “homosexual orientation”?

If we all agree that Jesus is not calling us to embrace effeminacy and men lying with males (nor women lying with females), why would we turn around and affirm these sinners’ justification of their sins by claiming they were made with a “homosexual orientation”? Why bother objecting to the perverse acts that trample on the genitalia God gave us and calls us to live in accordance with, then turn around and endorse the perverse identity that tramples on the male mind and heart God gave us and calls us to live in accordance with?

Instead, we connive at this wickedness by speaking sympathetically about how God gave such souls their homosexual orientation and they should not think it will change because it was there in them from the very beginning. That their homosexual orientation is merely one more aspect of the brokenness we all suffer in this fallen world.

Before we declare how robust and historic it is for us to announce that homosexuals are born with a homosexual orientation, let’s look at the secular research on the subject.

A recent survey of the literature, titled “Sexuality and Gender: Findings from the Biological, Psychological, and Social Sciences,” addresses the question of whether people are “born that way” as follows:

The most commonly accepted view in popular discourse we mentioned above—the “born that way” notion that homosexuality and heterosexuality are biologically innate or the product of very early developmental factors—has led many non-specialists to think that homosexuality or heterosexuality is in any given person unchangeable and determined entirely apart from choices, behaviors, life experiences, and social contexts. However, as the following discussion of the relevant scientific literature shows, this is not a view that is well-supported by research.

. . . Any attempt to infer a stable, innate, and fixed identity from a complex and often shifting mélange of inner fantasies, desires, and attractions—sexual, romantic, aesthetic, or otherwise—is fraught with difficulties.[16]

Concerning the idea of a young man attempting to find the answer to the enigmatic question, “Does this mean I’m gay?” the study goes on to say,

Current research from the biological, psychological, and social sciences suggests that this question, at least as it is framed, makes little sense. As far as science can tell us, there is nothing “there” for this young man to discover—no fact of nature to uncover or to find buried within himself.[17]

Citing secular studies can only get us so far in this debate, but it’s worth noting that the secular scientific evidence does not back up Mohler’s reversal and new assertion that there is such a thing as homosexual orientation.

Turning to Scripture, let’s note how Jesus led the Samaritan woman to repentance. He didn’t avoid or excuse her adulteries. Rather, He exposed her sin in all its horror, and this was used by the Holy Spirit to turn this dear woman to faith and repentance.

Plain speaking did not turn the Samaritan woman off to Jesus or His Gospel. Naming her guilt and shame was no obstruction to her repentance. Just the opposite. Remember what she said to the other villagers: “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?”[18]

The Samaritan woman was a sexual sinner—an adulteress. Jesus exposed her sin, and she repented. If, with Al Mohler, we turn and embrace the legitimacy of homosexual orientation, will we present the Gospel to homosexuals in the same way Jesus presented His Gospel to this adulteress?

To see why not, let’s apply our biblical test. In Scripture, the sin of homosexuality appears alongside incest.[19] Suppose we argued for an “incestuous orientation.” Let’s try it out by changing Dr. Mohler’s statements above only at the naming of the sin:

Put simply, most people experiencing an incestuous attraction tell of discovering it within themselves at a very early age, certainly within early puberty. As they experience it, an incestuous attraction or interest simply “happens,” and they come to know it. . . .

. . . The concept of an incestuous 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 incestuous interest and attraction that is discovered in early adolescence. It is not something that is, in itself, freely chosen. . . .

Our biblically-informed understanding of incestuous orientation will chasten us from having any confidence that there is any rescue from a sexual attraction to one’s siblings 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.[20]

It doesn’t work, does it? The statement becomes ridiculous, but only because our culture still views incest with disgust.

If we say no to an “incestuous orientation,” why say yes to a “homosexual orientation”?

If the whole point of homosexual orientation is to get Christians to understand how early the onset and intractable the temptation of homosexual sin is, we could all agree. There are many sins that have an early onset and a terrible tenacity.

But if the onset and tenacity of the sin is the heart of our concern, we could stop talking about “homosexual orientation,” and speak instead about “homosexual temptation.”

“Homosexual temptation” brings back the very moral judgment “homosexual orientation” so preciously works to exclude. If our goal in coming out in support of “homosexual orientation” is to be perceived as a kinder, gentler sort of Christian, “temptation” blows our cover because it returns homosexuality to the arena of moral judgment and sin.

In a short 2015 book by Southern Baptist theologians Denny Burk and Heath Lambert titled Transforming Homosexuality, the authors address this issue. They write:

When sexual desire or attraction fixes on any kind of non-marital erotic activity, it falls short of the glory of God and is, by definition, sinful.[21]

They drive the point home with this statement by nineteenth-century Princeton theologian, Charles Hodge:

All Christian churches receive the doctrines of original sin and regeneration in a form which involves not only the principle that dispositions, as distinguished from acts, may have a moral character, but also that such character belongs to them whether they be innate, acquired, or infused. It is, therefore, most unreasonable to assume the ground that a man can be responsible only for his voluntary acts, or for their subjective effects, when our own consciousness, the universal judgment of men, the word of God, and the Church universal, so distinctly assert the contrary.[22]

This is why, in the end, Burk and Lambert fundamentally question the concept of homosexual orientation:

For these reasons, same-sex orientation as an identity category is problematic. From a Christian perspective, it invites us to embrace fictional identities that go directly against God’s revealed purposes for his creation.[23]

To conclude this chapter, we must point to an important tenet of the homosexual-orientation argument. This is the claim that homosexuals have no choice. Instead, people allegedly “experience a same-sex attraction” or “discover it within themselves.” It arrives “in early adolescence” and “is not something that is, in itself, freely chosen.”

Such arguments serve to minimize, if not deny, the moral agency of those with the “homosexual orientation.”

Examine the claim that homosexual orientation comes at a very early age, noting the accompanying denial that homosexual orientation is freely chosen, and we see the project more clearly. In the end, claiming that it is homosexual orientation that leads to homosexual sin comes down to blaming nature, and thus nature’s God.

In his Institutes, John Calvin warns against our constant attempts to transfer the blame for our sin to God:

We must guard against singling out only those natural evils of man, lest we seem to attribute them to the Author of nature. For in this excuse, impiety thinks it has sufficient defense, if it is able to claim that whatever defects it possesses have in some way proceeded from God. It does not hesitate, if it is reproved, to contend with God Himself, and to impute to Him the fault of which it is deservedly accused. And those who wish to seem to speak more reverently of the Godhead still willingly blame their depravity on nature, not realizing that they also, although more obscurely, insult God. For if any defect were proved to inhere in nature, this would bring reproach upon Him.

Claiming that “homosexual orientation” is “experienced” rather than chosen amounts to blaming it on God. It’s the difference between saying, “This is the way I am,” and, “This is one of the ways I’m tempted.” More than that, it insults God for, as Calvin puts it, “if any defect were proved to inhere in nature, this would bring reproach upon Him.”

How should the faithful shepherd respond to men who claim the moral neutrality of homosexual orientation?

Calvin gives this counsel:

Since, then, we see the flesh panting for every subterfuge by which it thinks that the blame for its own evils may in any way be diverted from itself to another, we must diligently oppose this evil intent. Therefore we must so deal with the calamity of mankind that we may cut off every shift, and may vindicate God’s justice from every accusation.[24]

[1] Matthew 19:4.

[2] Albert Mohler, “Aftermath: Ministering in a Post-Marriage Culture” (keynote address, The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage, national conference of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, Nashville, TN, October 27–29, 2014), video, 29:22, October 28, 2014, http://erlc.com/resource-library/event-messages/aftermath-ministering-in-a-post-marriage-culture-albert-mohler.

[3] Mohler, “Sexual Orientation and the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” on Albert Mohler’s official website, November 13, 2014, http://www.albertmohler.com/2014/11/13/sexual-orientation-and-the-gospel-of-jesus-christ/.

[4] Mohler, “Aftermath,” 29:54.

[5] Ibid., 30:44.

[6] Mohler, “Sexual Orientation and the Gospel.”

[7] Bryan Fischer, “The curious case of Dr. Albert Mohler,” OneNewsNow, December 2, 2014, https://www.onenewsnow.com/perspectives/bryan-fischer/2014/12/02/the-curious-case-of-dr-albert-mohler. Fischer reproduces his Twitter exchange with Mohler’s chief spokesman James A. Smith.

[8] See chapter 8.

[9] See chapter 10.

[10] See chapter 6.

[11] Derek Penwell, “An Open Letter to Al Mohler on Taking a Transparently Meaningless Stand on Reparative Therapy,” HuffPost Gay Voices, October 6, 2015, accessed February 1, 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/derek-penwell/an-open-letter-to-al-mohl_b_8253224.html.

[12] Quoted in Charlie Butts, “Where are Southern Baptist leaders headed re: homosexuality?” OneNewsNow, October 30, 2014, http://www.onenewsnow.com/church/2014/10/30/where-are-southern-baptist-leaders-headed-re-homosexuality#.VHxkIzCJOuZ.

[13] Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: A Sourcebook of Basic Documents (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 2.

[14] Fag Rag (Winter/Spring 1974), reprinted in Conversations with Gore Vidal, ed. Richard Peabody and Lucinda Ebersole (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2005), 17.

[15] For a better understanding of the division among homosexualists between essentialists and social constructivists, see David M. Munsey, “The Love That Need Not Name Its Speaker,” https://www.ibiblio.org/gaylaw/issue3/munsey.html; John D. DeLamater and Janet Shibley Hyde, “Essentialism vs. Social Constructionism in the Study of Human Sexuality,” The Journal of Sex Research 35, no. 1 (1998): 10–18.

[16] Mayer and McHugh, “Sexuality and Gender,” 26, 57.

[17] Ibid., 57.

[18] John 4:29.

[19] For example, see Leviticus 20:11–14.

[20] Our replacements underlined.

[21] Denny Burk and Heath Lambert, Transforming Homosexuality: What the Bible Says about Sexual Orientation and Change (P&R Publishing, 2015), 48.

[22] Ibid., 32, quoting Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology.

[23] Ibid., 36.

[24] John Calvin, Institutes 1.15.1.

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About The Author

7

Tim Bayly has been senior pastor of Clearnote Church, Bloomington since 1996. Married to Mary Lee, the Baylys have five children and twenty-something grandchildren. Tim's book on fatherhood is titled "Daddy Tried" and he is co-author of a book on homosexuality titled "The Grace of Shame.’

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