For those of you who don't know of him, Al Mohler is the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, the flagship seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention. In some Baptist circles he is almost venerated, in others, well... not so much.
My step-grandfather, Wendell Garrison, is the former president of the Illinois Baptist State Association and served on the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee from 1976-1984. He has long been a leading moderate voice among Southern Baptists, and is perhaps the most respected Southern Baptist pastor in Illinois. He is also no fan of Al Mohler, seeing him as more of a politician than a pastor, and more of a polemical bully than a scholar. In his mind, Mohler represents everything that has gone wrong with the Southern Baptist convention.
Living in Louisville, however, I didn't need my step-grandfather's growing frustration to poison me to Al Mohler. I just need my own eyes and ears. Mohler's often-inflammatory rhetoric, rhetoric that paints his opponents as little anti-Christs seeking to ruin "Biblical" Christianity, is enough to make any fair-minded Christian sick to their stomach. Worse, too many of his disciples treat him as a quasi-God, a semi-divine being whose utterances are as close to the Word of God as humans ever get. I've seen too many star-struck students fawning all over him not to wonder what it is, exactly, that they serve in the seminary's cafeteria.
This year around Christmas I had the exquisite pleasure to spend a few days with my grandparents in their home in Swansea, Illinois, just on the Illinois side of St. Louis. Wendell and I spent long hours talking theology and church politics before we finally, and quite nervously, broached the divisive subject of homosexuality. While my views on the subject have changed a great deal over the past few years, as I've moved from a fundamentalist/literalist position to my current theology, I was never quite sure how to talk to my step-grandfather. After all, not only is he a fairly old man now - which in my mind has always unconsciously (and wrongly!) been associated with conservativism - he is also a retired Southern Baptist pastor. In all my life I'd never met a Southern Baptist who publicly professed anything other than that homosexuality is a vile sin, condemned unequivocally by the very Word of God.
Wendell eased into the subject by talking about how much Southern Baptists have changed during his lifetime.
We've always had a strong concept of the separation of Church and State, he told me, but now that we're starting to taste some political power we're selling out our most treasured ideals.
He moved from that to the subject of Biblical literalism, saying that Southern Baptists today have wedded themselves to a thoroughly modern reading of the Bible, a reading that he thinks is unsupported by the text itself. On the subject of inerrancy, he said,
Tell where the Bible itself says that it is inerrant! It isn't there. You can't say that the Bible is your primary religious authority, and say that the Bible is inerrant, because the Bible itself makes no such claim. And I don't feel like making claims about the Bible for the Bible. If it doesn't think that it is inerrant, I see no reason to impose that view on it.
Then we finally got where he was trying to take us. I think that he had guessed my evolving views on human sexuality before the conversation even started. He had, after all, helped talk me through my crisis in faith after I'd left pastoral ministry. He knew that, in the current climate in evangelical denominations, there was a deeper reason why I was allowing a bad situation at a single church to keep me from further pursuing my pastoral career. So he asked me bluntly:
What do you think about homosexuality?
I gave some half-hearted cowardly answer, not wanting to risk discussing such a divisive issue with a family member. He patiently listened to me stammer, before he replied,
I remember thinking about it as a young man. It occurred to me then that I hadn't chosen my sexual orientation, so it seemed unlikely to me that gays would have chosen theirs, either. And, if they haven't chosen to be the way that they are, then God must have made them that way. How, then, could it be sinful?
Al Mohler, it seems, has finally come around to seeing at least the first half of my step-grandfather's point. BluegrassReport.org, a progressive blog on Kentucky politics, in a scathing editorial pointed me to a post on Al Mohler's blog. In it he all but concedes that the phenomenon of same sex attraction is genetic rather than volitional.
However, rather than take the next step, and argue that because homosexual inclinations are not volitional they - and at least some of the behaviors that arise out of them - must not be sinful, he clings to his "Biblical" view that all homosexual acts are sinful, and must be roundly condemned. This places him in a difficult position, though there is no evidence in his post that he grasps the difficulty of his position. In this difficult position he advocates the use of genetic treatments to eliminate homosexual tendencies.
As Mark Nicholas points out in the BluegrassReport.org piece, that position is a difficult one for someone who has in the past roundly condemned kinds of genetic therapy for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other diseases. While I acknowledge that, from Mohler's point of view, there may be a difference between stem-cell therapy and the kind of genetic treatment that he thinks might be possible for homosexuality, taking his positions together I am forced to wonder if he really thinks that being gay is a more serious "disease" than any of the actual diseases that could be treated by stem-cell therapy.
This viewing of human sexuality as so seriously pathological that it demands an invasive intervention that fundamentally alters one's genetic make-up strikes me as more than a little disturbed. I highly encourage you to read Mohler's post for yourself, and to read it as charitably as possible. Especially look at his ten points at the end, which include, after some preliminary theological concerns, statements like:
If a biological basis is found, and if a prenatal test is then developed, and if a successful treatment to reverse the sexual orientation to heterosexual is ever developed, we would support its use as we should unapologetically support the use of any appropriate means to avoid sexual temptation and the inevitable effects of sin.
We must stop confusing the issues of moral responsibility and moral choice. We are all responsible for our sexual orientation, but that does not mean that we freely and consciously choose that orientation.
What do you make of this view?
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