Last year Dr. Al Mohler responded to questions about comments he made concerning Evangelicals and homosexuality. He remarked,
But we as Evangelicals have a very sad history in dealing with this issue. We have told not the truth, but we’ve told about half the truth. We’ve told the biblical truth and that’s important, but we haven’t applied it in the biblical way. For instance, we have said to people that homosexuality’s just a choice. Well it’s clear that it is more than a choice. That doesn’t mean it’s any less sinful. But it does mean it’s not something that people can just turn on and turn off.
Yesterday in his patterned “all things lead to liberalism” logic, Mohler calls out North Point Community Church pastor Andy Stanley for a lack of clarity regarding his, and the church’s position, on homosexuality. At issue is a sermon Stanley recently preached giving an illustration of the very complexity Mohler describes in the quote above. Mohler calls for Stanley and North Point to remove any ambiguity and correct the notion that grace and truth are in tension. Maybe he should have continued to listen to the next Stanley sermon. At the 2011 SBC Annual Meeting, Mohler sounded the call for compassion when addressing homosexuality. Yesterday he called out Stanley for a lack of certainty even as Stanley was describing grace and compassion. Which is it? While it seems Mohler wants to hold to both, his dislike for all things postmodern disallows a both/and in his either/or world unless of course you hold to both his way.
What really struck me is how ethics works in the Southern Baptist Convention, especially when its leaders decide it is time to write or to speak. It is fine for Mohler to talk about the slippery slope to liberalism in mega-churches when facing the complexities related to homosexuality, gender roles, human sexuality, etc. But, the public silence of the leading Evangelical Theologian, who appears to desire the de facto spokesperson position for all things related to cultural analysis and ministry, on the Richard Land-Trayvon Martin/Zimmerman-racial profiling-plagiarism incident calls into question the very way he works through the Andy Stanley-megachurch-make it clear Andy please-keep us from liberalism piece.
Dr. Mohler asserts,
The Gospel is robbed of its power if any sinner or any sin is declared outside its saving power. But the Gospel is also robbed of its power if sin — any sin — is minimized to any degree.
In today’s SBC, it is perfectly in bounds to call out a local church, mega-church, pastor, but we let slide another entity head. I will resist describing the way this illustrates the unspoken magisterium that exists in Southern Baptist life.
To date, Dr. Land has stood by his words that people are justified in their fear of black people because statistically a black man is more likely to harm you than a white man. We simply misunderstood his words. And, Land’s failure to give attribution for long quotes from other sources has been played off as a lapse. Keep watching the stories on this. It may be discovered that this is a long term habit, not the result of ambiguous rules regarding plagiarism and radio shows. Actually there is no ambiguity. Mohler’s silence on the matter could well be construed as minimizing the sin.
Source criticism, as some have taken up as a euphemism for stealing other people’s words, seems hardly the weighty matter. That is, until you apply the same logic Mohler applies to Stanley’s sermon. If the leading Southern Baptist ethicist can steal another person’s words – plagiarism – then why could we not say that such a move leads to grand theft/larceny and thereby liberalism. Thou shalt not steal is one of the Ten Commandments. Love your enemies is in the Sermon on the Mount.
Where is inerrancy when you need it? Here we have another irruption of the real. Inerrancy becomes nothing more than an empty signifier allowing the bullying of some and the indulgence of others.
Those with short term memory should take note of Mohler’s description of the role megachurches played in the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention. He writes,
Within the Southern Baptist Convention, megachurches played an essential role in what became known as the Conservative Resurgence — the movement to return the Convention and its institutions to an affirmation of biblical inerrancy. The most intense years of this controversy (1979-1990) saw the Convention elect an unbroken stream of conservative megachurch pastors as SBC president. In the main, the megachurches provided the platform leadership for the movement, even as the churches themselves became symbols of denominational aspiration.
One of those megachurch pastors elected during that storied movement, Charles Stanley, pastored/s First Baptist Church, Atlanta. I remember watching the young Andy Stanley preach when he was on staff at FBC, Atlanta. He was a good preacher then, whatever it means to call a person a good preacher. The eventual schism between father and son resulted in the younger Stanley starting his own church is not simply a tangential event. I could not find any public statement by any Southern Baptist leaders on the matter. But, the late Chuck Colson’s summary point was described this way,
For the “credibility of the entire evangelical church,” Colson’s radio commentary calls on fellow Christian broadcaster Stanley to honor his promise to resign now that divorce is final.
Mohler traces the genealogy of the way homosexuality is now handled to the way divorce was handled by the church,
The homosexuality question was preceded by the challenge of divorce.
Was Mohler offering a veiled critique of the older Stanley’s ethics? If so, why not name it? Be clear. Call out the father if you are willing to call out the son. If he is interested in the genealogy of Andy Stanley’s “liberal slide,” why did he not start with the kettle rather than the pot? Mohler wants to be prophetic then why not put your finger on the utilitarian ethic prominent in the SBC when the issue is power and control? Riffing on Andy Stanley seems a much safer course. Good soldiers get rewarded. And, they obtain special privileges. Minimize? Who?
Surely we would not find anyone teaching at Southern Seminary who would suggest we minimize the theft of another person’s words in our preschool and children’s ministries, much less that we treat another person differently because or their skin color. My wife teaches 1st and 2nd graders in our church. I assure you she helps those youngsters understand the value of the other person and their things. At no point would she suggest it just a small thing to steal their neighbors toys or be fearful because someone looks different.
But, when Dr. Mohler quickly responds to Pastor Stanley publicly but fails to speak to Dr. Land’s words and actions weeks later, he seems to have given Dr. Land the alibi he needs. It just isn’t that important.