The lament of the Southern Baptist

R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, reacts to the rapid progress on gay rights:

From the Boy Scouts to the British Parliament: Left behind? Conservative Christians and the gay revolution

The piece seemed interesting to me for its sad, resigned tone — the tone of a man who feels lost. It reminded me of something that struck me on election night, as I left my yoga class and got caught up in the joy explosion on Capitol Hill. Same sex marriage was winning, pot legalization was winning, Obama had already won re-election — it was so triumphant it didn't feel real. It was like the end of a Spielberg movie.

The sense of unreality caused me to think about how this moment would look five-ten-fifteen years down the road, in history books and retrospectives on the twenty-first century. I realized that, to some people, it didn't look like victory. It looked like the end of the world. In that moment I pitied them. I imagined them old and scared, hiding in a dismal cave forever because they refuse to believe it's okay to come out. I imagined them as the people in The Great Divorce who won't get on the bus to heaven.

The writer uses a couple of phrases, "The pace of moral change has been breathtaking" and "The pace of this moral revolution is just that swift." The phrases could easily describe, as I think they do, a moral awakening, a change toward GREATER morality. It's not what the writer means. But in choosing those phrases, is he betraying himself? Does he know, on some level, that he's wrong, and just can't bring himself to admit it?

Where does this leave America’s conservative Christians? Just over eight years ago, the nation re-elected an openly evangelical president. This past November, America elected an avowed and determined advocate of the full normalization of homosexual conduct and relationships.

Note the fancy-dancing on semantics — he doesn't outright SAY that Obama isn't a Christian, merely contrasts him with the "openly evangelical" George W. Bush. And he sort of implies that the nation elected GWB because the nation as a whole shared his evangelical beliefs, and that the nation as a whole has changed its mind. This ties in to the idea I've seen coming from the political arm of the religious right that they lost more than an election cycle in November — that it was the end of an era.

When Mitt Romney became the Republican nominee for president, I predicted an existential crisis among the conservative evangelicals on the religious right. These are people who, at least back when I left the church, considered Mormonism a cult, and did not believe that Mormons were Christians. I thought they would have to grapple with whether they were primarily about religion, or primarily about politics, and finally admit that they were primarily about politics.

During the election cycle, I saw no overt signs of that crisis. Maybe they were able to go into "suck it up until we win" mode. But they lost. So, maybe the crisis is coming now — but it still doesn't appear to have been triggered by Romney's Mormonism per se. It's certainly not addressed anywhere in this essay. The contrasted politicians are Obama and GW Bush, who, you might recall, did not actually run against each other. In 2012 it wasn't a choice between a liberal Protestant and a conservative evangelical, it was a choice between a liberal Protestant and a conservative Mormon.

In terms of the cultural tide, evangelical Christians have every reason to feel left behind.

Hey, is that a Jenkins and LaHaye shout-out?

Thoughtful evangelicals must realize the depth of our predicament.

Thoughtful evangelicals? No such thing.

Okay, I'm being flip. But, seriously, there are many reasons I no longer associate with the evangelical church, and "lack of thoughtfulness" is definitely one of them. Evangelical culture does have a recent history of anti-intellectualism and science denial. They aren't prone to introspection, changing their minds based on facts, or any of the other things that might make a person "thoughtful." But again, maybe he's betraying himself. Maybe he already knows that thoughtful evangelicals are thin on the ground. Maybe he recognizes it's a problem?

Political parties have platforms, but Christians must be driven by biblical convictions. Platforms may change, but convictions remain. Evangelicals do not believe that homosexuality is sinful because it is part of our platform, but because it is a conviction drawn from Scripture.

Ow. The twisty thinking here makes my head hurt. For one thing, I think church doctrine and political platforms actually have a lot in common. But then, it's a common evangelical trick, to pretend that they don't have a doctrine. They claim that their interpretation of scripture isn't an "interpretation" at all, and is merely the plain and obvious meaning that anybody would pick up if their brains weren't clouded by SATAN. And they think this even though their own interpretation on key points has changed over time.

Further, he was just talking about politics, about the influence of the religious right with GW Bush in office. He started this essay talking about how secular authorities and the diverse voting public have embraced equal rights for gay people. It's really disingenuous of him to pretend now that the church is somehow above and beyond politics. If they truly were, there would be nothing to talk about. Some religious sects, including Christian sects, embrace gay rights. Some don't. The law, which is for everyone regardless of religious conviction, has started to embrace gay rights. The end.

Evangelicals cannot join the moral revolution on homosexuality

Sure they can. They can leave the church. Join up with the more liberal Lutheran synod, or whatever. Or — because "evangelical" is a vague catch-all that describes many sub-varieties of Protestant — they can become a different sort of evangelical.

The thing is, even among conservative evangelicals, opposition to gay rights is starkly generational. When today's young people are the ones leading the church, the church probably WILL have joined that moral revolution — or it the church in its present form will have died out entirely — or, perhaps it will have become a small fringe group populated by the aged and the weird.

The issue of homosexuality, by itself and in tandem with other moral issues, may well lead to the marginalization of evangelical Christians within the larger society.

Hmm. What does he mean here by marginalization? Does he mean that evangelicals will find it difficult to vote, or acquire jobs or housing? Does he mean they'll find it necessary to hide their evangelical identities in mixed company, lest they face violence and discrimination? Does he imagine evangelical-bashers ambushing worshipers as they leave their churches? Or people engaging in violence or vandalism toward those churches? Citizens banding together to limit where evangelical churches can be constructed?

It is, frankly, difficult to imagine any of that happening. So I can only think that what he means by "marginalization" is this: conservative evangelicals will no longer call the shots around these parts. They will no longer be the single most powerful religious voice in our nation. They will no longer have the kind of influence that gets secular authorities to deform their activities just to please conservative evangelicals. They will no longer get special meetings where they whisper in the ear of the president. Oh, waaaaaaaahhhhhhhh……

But you can see his confusion. He laments the fact that they will no longer have the political influence they once did, while at the same time lamenting that they aren't a political party with a platform that can be changed. So which is it? Do you regret being a political party, or not being a political party?

Churches and other groups that cannot accept the full normalization of same-sex relationships will find themselves driven further and further from the cultural mainstream.

The phrase "driven from the mainstream" creates an image of people with whips, cracking them over the heads of the poor evangelicals as they have no choice but to flee. But that is not how it works. They are simply being abandoned by the mainstream. The mainstream moves on, conservative evangelicals stay where they are. He got it right just a few paragraphs earlier, when he descibed it as being "left behind."

But, evangelicals, here's something I really don't get — and I say this as one who was raised among you — why do you treat homosexuality so differently from divorce, adultery, and premarital sex? You don't officially approve of any of those things, either. Yet you seem to be okay with tolerating them in the larger society. You aren't out there having some big existential crisis over the increasing social acceptance of divorce. I mean, you were a little angsty about it back in the day, but it didn't seem to be that big of a deal. You didn't waste a lot of effort on it. Crusading against it didn't become a defining part of evangelical identity. You accepted divorced members with only the lightest whiff of disapproval.

What makes homosexuality different? Why is that the hill you wanna die on?

And don't wave your Bible at me and say it's in there. You know full well it isn't. There's nothing in the text that marks out homosexual relationships as especially forbidden. Your "proof text" in Leviticus is in the context of a bunch of Kosher laws that I know you don't even try to follow. Your "proof texts" in the New Testament are both 1. Not from Jesus directly, and 2. In a larger context of sexual sins, with nothing singling out homosexuality as particularly and eternally beyond the pale. Using the text, it is actually easier to make the case for same-sex marriage than for opposite-sex divorce. So I'll ask it again — why are gay rights your breaking point? Your Waterloo? Your line in the sand? Of all the moral compromises you've been willing to make, in the name of political influence and social expedience, why is gay rights the last straw, the one thing?

Are you willing to engage in introspection over this? Are you willing to be thoughtful? Imagine yourself standing before God at the end of time — as evangelicals like to do. Imagine God himself asking you this. Why were you so obsessed with homosexuality? Why did you take it upon yourself to police the sexual and romantic behavior of others, even people who were not members of your church? Why did you devote so much of your energy and resources toward something Jesus never even mentioned, and so little to doing the things he actually did talk about?

I was naked and you did not clothe me. I was hungry and you did not feed me. I was in prison and you didn't visit me. I was gay and you tried to make sure I was lonely and full of self-hatred.

This is going to be particularly difficult for America’s evangelical Christians. We are accustomed to standing within the political and cultural mainstream, comfortable in an America that shared much of our moral worldview. Those days are over.

Ah. yes. Comfortable. He has identified exactly the problem. Evangelicals have been comfortable there — far too comfortable, comfortable to the point of becoming smug, lazy, and cruel.

Much has been made of the fact that evangelicals are losing political clout, but the much greater loss is measured in cultural influence. Furthermore, the reason for this loss of influence in the culture goes far beyond the issue of homosexuality. Evangelicals are increasingly out of step

I have been trying to think about what issues other than homosexuality he could be talking about. Is he alluding to the rise of the religiously unaffiliated? Women's reproductive freedom and other rights? Or is he talking about some of the weird evangelical obsessions that even they have a hard time making a moral case for? Seriously, what kind of Christian moral or ethical principle is served by creationism?

But maybe we need to look at this another way. If they are now becoming out of step, then at one time in the recent past they must have been in step, correct? Except — and this applies to both the political and the religious wing of the conservative movement — I'm not sure they were ever quite as in step as they thought.

Think of it like this: you're a minor and you live at home out in the middle of the suburbs. You don't have any of your own money, or much autonomy at all. So, most things you do are filtered through your parents. Maybe you do things you otherwise wouldn't do — go to church, or youth group — because your parents insist on it. Maybe you give lip service to concepts that please them, because you get more stuff or fewer hassles that way. Now you move out, maybe go to college, and everything changes. Your parents think college turned you into a liberal gay-loving heretic, but really, it was their influence preventing your fundamental liberal gay-loving heretic self from expressing.

Every four years, a new crop of young people is old enough to vote.

Evangelicals appear to be headed for some kind of marginalization, and this will hurt.

Oh, poor baby.

Thrown back to a posture of working from the margins, evangelical Christians will find themselves in familiar territory. Our task will be to bear witness to the truth, to tell the Good News about Jesus Christ, to be faithful in our marriages, to raise our children and to reach out to a world filled with people — gay and straight — who desperately need our message of God’s redeeming love. We don’t need a slot on the inaugural platform in order to be faithful to Christ.

This all sounds very nice, except that he has already made it clear that his version of "God's redeeming love" does not include gay people who want romantic relationships, and if you are gay, the "Good News" is that you have to live your life completely celibate.

Yeah, good luck with that.


  1. This is very interesting and, um, thoughtful. I may actually be able to keep my cool better at extended family gatherings by keeping your paragraph about the scant scriptural evidence for certain activities being “sins” in mind. Carry on.

    1. Author

      I hope it does help.

      When I was around 13-14 years old I was, for a while, afraid I might be gay. This is what got me searching for the real Biblical position on the matter (details here: , and I concluded that there was some highly debatable support for the idea that gay Christians should be celibate. But overall it seemed in line with some of the more esoteric debates, like about whether women should cover their heads in church, or whether all Christians should first choose celibacy if they were at all capable of it, or the endless Protestant/Catholic debates over things like “begotten from above” and transubstantiation and so on.

  2. In 2012 it wasn’t a choice between a liberal Protestant and a conservative evangelical, it was a choice between a liberal Protestant and a conservative Mormon.

    I was also brought up in an evangelical church, and my mom still attends one, despite the fact that she’s (gasp!) a Democrat. What I’ve learned through her is that for too many evangelicals, it wasn’t a choice between a Mormon and a Protestant, it was a choice between a conservative Mormon and a socialist Muslim intent on destroying the American way of life. I do think a lot of evangelicals still see Mormonism as a cult, but for them, a Mormon was still the lesser of two evils, because the far-right media has done such a thorough job of smearing Obama’s name with lies and misinformation. It’s just another example of that anti-intellectualism you referenced.

    What makes homosexuality different? Why is that the hill you wanna die on?

    I’ve wondered that myself, and I think it just comes down to sheer bigotry. There’s really no other explanation for it. I think you’re right that they’re either going to have to open their doors to admit a wider range of beliefs, or they’re going to disappear into irrelevance.

    1. Homosexuality is more squicky than divorce, taxes (render unto Caesar), greed, envy and almost all the real issues. So it has been a tool to raise hatred and point it toward a target. Hitler did the same thing with several groups – including gays.

      I truly love and admire this new generation coming of age – so nice to see the pendulum swing back to sanity!

      1. Author

        Homosexuality is more squicky

        I do think that’s a good point. It’s natural to be a little squicked by the thought of sexual activity that you personally wouldn’t want to participate in — and anti-gay rhetoric often really emphasizes that aspect of it. I’ve seen anti-gay-bigot preachers working up a crowd and they always get into that kinda “well I wouldn’t want to kiss a man!” kinda stuff. But as a heterosexual woman, I instantly saw the problem with that line of thinking. Anti-gay attitudes often go hand in hand with misogyny.

        With my parents, shaking off the more conservative evangelical viewpoint much later in life, I know that the key for them was realizing that they didn’t have to worry about what two guys or two women did in the bedroom. That the issue of fairness and justice had nothing to do with that. Other people’s sex lives are none of your business anyway.

        Evangelical culture is very emotional, especially the more pentecostal varieties, and they like their two minutes’ hate.

    2. Author

      my mom still attends one, despite the fact that she’s (gasp!) a Democrat

      My parents stopped going to their evangelical church during the GWB years — although I’m not entirely sure why that was their breaking point for them. I remember complaining about Bush v. Gore to them, and they weren’t exactly Bush supporters, but they didn’t seem to share my outrage yet. Then after 9/11 I was outraged about how everybody was giving GWB a free pass even though he was the incompetent who allowed it to happen, and they were caught up in that “no, you have to support the president” zeitgeist of the time. I don’t remember them having a strong opinion on the Iraq invasion when I complained about that.

      But somehow by the 2004 election they had flipped around and were starting to complain to me about how everybody in church acted like you couldn’t even be a Christian if you didn’t vote for GWB. And I was, like, “welcome to me in 1988.”

      1. And I was, like, “welcome to me in 1988.”

        THIS, so very much. The notion that “the pace of this moral revolution is swift” astonishes me. Where was this man for the last 40 years, throughout all the culture wars? Remember Queen Nation, “silence = death”, “GRID” (as AIDS was first labeled: gay-related immune disorder); remember the hopefulness that accompanied Bill Clinton’s election in the LGBT community and the massive let-down (betrayal, really) of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and ENDA? And what about the wars over abortion, which is supposedly what kick-started the rise of fundamentalists to activism and power in the 1970’s?

        I’ve always maintained that most Americans, when you average things out, are more middle of the road than either the Far Right or Far Left (in which I include myself): most Americans don’t seem to get excited about any issue unless it affects them personally, or they are looking for a “purpose” or a “scapegoat” upon which to focus their own anxieties. But most Americans aren’t as vengeful or hateful either. I think you’ve got it right when you say that the fundamentalist platform has not been the “majority” opinion of most Americans, or rather those lines (gun control, abortion, gay rights, civil rights, feminism) are not as rigid. Most people don’t follow hard lines, or as a friend of mine says “Every person has their own politics.” It always disturbed me, and does still, that a small fraction of people have been allowed to dominate the conversation and represent “Christianity” to the mainstream.

        Hearing your perspective as someone who used to be “inside” is interesting – my S.O. grew up Southern Baptist in the 1960’s, with much older parents whose attitudes were reflective of older teachings. She describes the brand she grew up with as “fire and brimstone” and to this day refuses to have anything to do with any organized religion.

        Every four years, a new crop of young people is old enough to vote.

        And it’s not just young people, either, or at least IMO. My S.O.’s family in TN (her sister, BiL, and their kids) are certainly “fundamentalist” or at least conservative southern Christians, and yet they love my sweetie very much. The first time I met her sister she hugged me without reservation, have welcomed us into their home repeatedly; we’ve shopped and cooked together, and the sisters have bonded more as they’ve gotten older and over a lot of old hurts. We may disagree on a lot of things but they have demonstrated “Christianity” to me in the best sense. And my best friend abused me of the notion a long time ago that “Christian” necessarily means “narrow-minded”.

        Evangelicals appear to be headed for some kind of marginalization, and this will hurt.

        It would hurt a lot less if they let go of the need to control, the desire for power and attention.

        “Marginalization”? Try being forbidden, by law, from marrying the person you share your life with, while at the same time being told that you are incapable of forming familial bonds (i.e., of experiencing real love); from being able to file taxes jointly, from collecting survivor’s benefits, from adopting children, etc; try being told you’re evil, full of sin, of the Devil; try having your life reduced to one facet of your existence – your sexual expression – with voyeuristic, horrified glee. Then talk to me about “marginalization” and “hurt”.

        Oh, waaaaaaaahhhhhhhh……

        Laughter puts it all into perspective, doesn’t it?

        But as a heterosexual woman,

        What, you’re not “family”? Oh pooh *sniffs* That’s ok, I love you anyway hon. You’re one of the good ones, and your analysis of the issues is spot-on and to-the-point.

        Anti-gay attitudes often go hand in hand with misogyny.

        *nods* See also: abortion and the ERA.

        1. Author

          What, you’re not “family”? Oh pooh *sniffs*

          Sorry! I can’t help how I’m made!

          Of course, if you read my comment above, you’ll note that when I was a young teen I actually did worry for a while that I might be gay. It was my realization that, if I had been, there would have been not one single thing I could do to change it, that sent me down this road.

          Then my best friend in high school was gay, although he was still not entirely sure, so he would flirt with me, then shut me down. I was so relieved when he formally came out to me in college! Although it took a lot of Absolut vodka first…

  3. +1 bijillion! I agree with every word you say – and I hav e said more than a few of them myself. This is awesome – thank you!

Comments are closed.