Last Friday, our old friend , Dr. Albert Mohler, took to the “pages” of the Washington Post to declare and end to the culture wars:
Evangelicals cannot join the moral revolution on homosexuality, but it seems unlikely that we can stop it, either. 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.
I am unsure where to begin on this piece, it is one of the least helpful I have ever had the “pleasure” to read. While Dr, Mohler has a commanding public presence, and leads a large group of people, he has has been one of the more problematic public figures in the life of this blog. With this particular hopeless, moribund piece I have finally reached the end of my rope regarding Mohler. I have not wanted to write him off, I have wanted to try and cultivate him as an ally, even though correctives have been required. But no more. With every change in the public space, Mohler keeps compounding his mistakes and harming the Christian in public life, not helping them.
There are many issues in Dr. Mohler’s public stances that deserve criticism, even dismissal. I will; however, limit my criticism to this particular WaPo piece. I find five enormous problems with the piece.
The quote above is immediately followed by these words:
This is already the case in secular Europe and, increasingly, in Great Britain and Canada as well. 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.
What in the world does that mean? Do such Christians find themselves in small leper-colony like encampments outside of the main cities? Is their tax status different than churches that are accepting of homosexual practice? (In some European nations, those with official state churches, such disparate tax status is the norm and predates these issues, but has it changed as a result of these issues?) In a world where African Christians are being bombed and dragged into the streets for execution, and missionaries to China must pretend to be there for other reasons of face jail – what precisely does Mohler think we are losing? Is it really that high a cost?
What Dr. Mohler fails to acknowledge is that even those that want to be so open and publicly accepting of things like homosexual practice largely live their own lives within the bounds of common Christian practice – that is to say cross-gender marriage, kids and all that. What we have lost is the media and the acknowledgement of the church as the source of the values MOST people live by. Which leads me to my second problem with the piece.
Evangelicals appear to be headed for some kind of marginalization, and this will hurt.
Oh deary me – we’re going to made fun of. I try not to do this on this blog, but there is only one way to respond:
James 1:2-4 – Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Simply put – Christians don’t lose. The victory we win may not be the victory we wanted, but that’s only because we have a smarter leader than they do and our Leader knows that sometimes a tactical loss helps win the strategic war. I will not pretend to know what God has in mind, but I will tell you it will be good.
Not to mention that fact that we are winning many, many other battles. Things are happening on the local and state level and in the courts that are cause for celebration. The so-called “gay-agenda” is but one front in a much broader war.
Its failure to prescribe a way forward.
The closest Mohler comes, after declaring our defeat, to telling us how to respond is:
Thrown back to a posture of working from the margins, evangelical Christians will find themselves in familiar territory.
Well, that’s certainly helpful – “we’ve been here before.” That’s a palliative, not a prescription. If, as I stated, Christians don’t lose, then it is incumbent on Christian leadership to talk about where we are going and what we are doing. Oh sure, Mohler has some trite, “Sunday School” pronouncements that he ends the piece with – but we’ll get to those when we close this post.
And here we get to the point where I find I must control my temper. Just three paragraphs from the end of the piece, we find this:
Oddly enough, liberal Protestantism seems to be riding in the saddle again. They may have lost multiple millions of members, but the old Protestant mainline seems to stand in the cultural mainstream once again.
That’s good, in his declaration of a loss he decides to take potshots at other Christians. Look, I disagree with my mainline liberal Protestant church’s stance on homosexual practice – and so do a lot of other people inside my church, and the other churches that are where the PCUSA is. Apparently, those of us that are fighting the good fight are to be dismissed. It is this sort of slice-and-dice infighting that has,in large part, cost us the political clout that Mohler seems to bemoan the loss of in this piece. From Mohler’s ambivalence (the kindest word I can find) concerning Romney’s faith in 2008 and his utter silence in 2012, Mohler and his “I’m right and you’re wrong” attitude is a large factor in the voter apathy that so harmed us in the last election.
“My precise way or the highway,” seems to have been and is increasingly becoming the mantra of a significant portion of the religious conservative caucus. If anything, the current state of affairs demonstrates that such is exactly the wrong response to our situation. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Perhaps if Mohler saw fit to try and build bridges with other “errant,” if you must, Christians the nation would be in a very different place. Which brings me to my final objection.
Its failure to understand the nature of the totality of Christianity.
Mohler ends with those trite phrases we mentioned earlier:
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.
Christianity is true, but it is so much more than truth. Christianity is more than the simple salvation message. It is even more than maintaining the common nuclear family. Christianity is about character, which we discuss often here. It also about all the things that contribute to culture – the arts, education. And there is a supernatural component to Christianity; it is God after all.
But one of the reasons we have lost culture is because we have failed to contribute to it. We do not create anymore – we mimic. We take a form of music that developed “out there” and attempt to sanctify it by making the lyrics vaguely “Christian.” If Hummel figures sell well, we copy them and have the little lederhosen-wearing boys and girls holding scripture cards. That’s NOT contributing to culture, that’s stealing it.
I know many good Christian folks that could not declare a theological “truth” if you placed them under torture. But their faith is so evident in all aspects of their lives, not just their families – how they do business and what they create. Mohler seems to think that such people’s Christianity is in doubt because they lack “truth.”
In conclusion I will preach just a little. Love is one of the most misunderstood concepts in the world today. Some people think it is sex. Others think it is tolerance. Both of those things are elements in the broader definition of love, as is truth. Sex expresses love in certain, appropriate situations. In other situations, there are even deeper expressions:
John 15:13 – “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.
Tolerance and truth temper each other in the context of love. Love tolerates while declaring the truth. Somehow Jesus was able to tell a shamed Samaritan women getting water during the heat of the day when others were seeking shelter that she was more-or-less a slut in a way that made that woman ask Jesus more probing questions. That’s balancing tolerance and truth in a way most of us still need to learn how to do.
The truth of Christianity and the behavioral responses to that truth in Christians matters. But something matters more:
1 Cor 13:1-2 – If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
Gongs and cymbals attract a great deal of attention. At times it seems like they drown out the entire orchestra. But any worthy piece of music is bigger than such noises. The cannon fire of the 1812 Overture would just be another war without the rest of the piece. That’s how we are going to win the culture war in the end. Not with individual instruments, but with the orchestra.
If only we can all play together.