In his June 15 comments at the SBC meeting, Mohler -- president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. -- said Christians have "not done well on this issue," have told only "half the truth" regarding homosexuality and have practiced a "certain form of homophobia." He went on to say it's "clear that it's more than a choice" and is "not something that people can just turn on and turn off." He also said homosexuality is a sin.
"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," Mohler told messengers.
The three-plus minute answer -- in response to a question by Georgia messenger Peter Lumpkins -- has received support 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.
But Mohler's comments were called confusing in some circles, with others saying they wondered if he had changed his beliefs.
Baptist Press requested an interview with Mohler to ask him to expand on his remarks. Confusion over his remarks on "choice" could be just a matter of semantics, he said. Humans, Mohler said, don't choose their temptations but they do choose whether to act on those temptations.
"To simply use the word 'choice' fits the question of behavior," Mohler told BP. "In other words, each of us makes a choice concerning what we are going to do in the face of temptation. We are fully accountable and fully responsible for that. So when it comes to the question of homosexual acts, 'choice' is a fully legitimate category. But when it comes to that pattern of temptation, the reality is that all of us struggle with some kind of temptation that we have simply known from our earliest self-understanding. It could be gluttony, it could be dishonesty, it could be any number of things. But every single human being past the point of puberty has some form of sexual temptation, and we need to be honest about the fact that that pattern of sexual temptation is something that will represent a lifelong struggle."
The same would be true, Mohler said, of someone who grew up in a family of alcoholics and faces a culture of alcoholism. Despite the temptation, he said, that person is "responsible for his or her own decisions related to drinking and to drunkenness."
Mohler defines homophobia in the church as being "afraid of the conversation and afraid of the issue" of homosexuality. He said he was not using the word "homophobia" in the context that many others use it.
"The gay activists have used that word as a battering ram for ideological purposes," he said. "They try to insist that any negative judgment on homosexuality is rooted in fear. Well, that is absolute nonsense. But we play in to that when we do demonstrate ourselves to be afraid of the conversation."
Too many churches, Mohler said, have not handled the issue of homosexuality well and have created an atmosphere whereby those struggling with homosexuality are too fearful to talk to someone and request help. Those churches, Mohler said, have spoken the truth but not in love.
"The biggest problem that we have right now is not failing to state publicly what we know about the sinful status of homosexuality," Mohler said. "Thankfully, most evangelical Christians are not following the trajectory of liberals in denying biblical truth and accommodating to the culture. But would we honestly say that our churches are a safe place for a young person struggling with same-sex attraction to come and say, 'I am a devoted follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. I want to live in faithfulness to Christ. What do I do with this? How do I handle this?'? The fact that that does not happen regularly in our church when we know that there are persons struggling with such a sin -- and a sinful predisposition -- should tell us that we are not being faithful and effective in holding forth the very Gospel we proclaim."
Mohler's comments during the annual meeting came after Lumpkins, the messenger at the annual meeting, asked him about an article that quoted Mohler as saying, "We've lied about the nature of homosexuality and have practiced what can only be described as a form of homophobia," and, "We've used the choice language when it is clear that sexual orientation is a deep inner struggle and not merely a matter of choice." Lumpkins asked Mohler if the comments were his, and Mohler responded by saying the quote was accurate.
Chambers, of Exodus International who struggled with same-sex attractions while growing up, said he was fearful of telling anyone of his battle. Exodus is the nation's largest Christian organization dedicated to reaching out to homosexuals.
"I grew up in a Southern Baptist church, and I am eternally grateful for what I learned there -- the truth that I learned and the biblical foundation that I have," Chambers said. "But there was no way that I was ever going to tell anybody in my church growing up that I struggled with these things. I am very thankful to say that that has changed .... But we've still all got to do better."
Chambers added, "I didn't make a choice as to how I feel, but I do have a decision to make based upon those feelings."
Mohler was speaking a "Gospel message" at the annual meeting, Chambers said.
"It's certainly the same one that Exodus proclaims and shares and takes to the churches," Chambers said. "I think what he said was spot on. I love that he had the credibility and the ability to share what he shared in a very necessary venue."
Stith, the SBC's national strategist for gender issues, said evangelicals "should at least acknowledge that we have not responded well" to the need to reach out to homosexuals. The truth about homosexuality's sinfulness must be proclaimed, Stith said, but it must be done with compassionate love. There is a great need, he said, to be "proactive and redemptive."
"I can only evaluate my own experience but my approach was almost entirely negative and harsh," he said, reflecting on his days as a full-time pastor. "One of the results of this was that no one dealing with this issue would ever have come to me for help. After God changed my heart, I discovered that several members of my congregation had family members dealing with this and they had never felt free to discuss it with me. I've since talked to many, many strugglers who said they would never have approached their pastor for help. Oftentimes we don't even realize what it is we've done or said that has wounded them."
Saying that Mohler's views reflect his, Stith said his beliefs on the church's approach to homosexuality was influenced by conversations with hundreds of people struggling with homosexuality -- as well as parents of those struggling with it.
"While I don't believe in the genetic arguments at all, I do believe in predispositions -- which is not the same thing as predetermination," Stith said. "As Bible-believing Christians we shouldn't be surprised at this since the Bible makes clear that we are all born into sin, that we are by nature children of wrath. The bottom line is that we must be about the best ways to bring people into the fullness of Christ."
Chambers said the tone used when presenting the truth matters. Also, he said, actions -- or the lack thereof -- speak loudly.
"We've got to recognize that we have really missed it at times with how we've talked about people," Chambers said. "We've gotten it right on the truth, but how we present the truth and how we share the truth is as important as sharing the truth. I don't think the way we've shared it is oftentimes the way it was shared with us."
That does not mean Christians should abandon their stances in legislative, judicial and cultural debates, but it does mean they should use a Christ-like tone and not elevate those engagements above Gospel outreach, Chambers said.
"I think with regards to the politics and legislation and those types of things, I think we as Christians have a duty and a responsibility to be involved in those things, but I think we have put politics above people's hearts," Chambers said. "... Here in Florida, I voted for the marriage amendment . I am not saying we shouldn't do that. But we raise money and we raise our voices and we get all red-faced about issues when we don't care as much about peoples' hearts."
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. Watch Mohler's answer at the SBC meeting at http://bit.ly/jTv0qj. The Southern Baptist Convention has a ministry to homosexuals. Find more information at http://www.sbcthewayout.com.
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