Albert Mohler recently published a highly charged blog post about the mess with A&E, Duck Dynasty and Phil Robertson’s interview in GQ. He titled his entry, “You Have Been Warned—The ‘Duck Dynasty’ Controversy,” and in typical Mohler fashion, works to inflame folks on both sides of the homosexuality debate. Mohler loves a controversy. Even more, he loves a fight.
After reading his “Warning,” I was left unsettled. I am an evangelical and am uncomfortable again and again as people like this present positions that don’t represent me or many of the evangelicals with which I work and worship. So, here are some warnings I would like to issue in response to Mohler's post.
1. Mohler represents a very vocal presence in evangelicalism that seeks to confront and control culture. These folks are isolationists, working from the edges of culture by means of power and politics in a misguided attempt to coerce the culture into abiding by a set of values that they deem are appropriate. As an illustration, Mohler has counseled all Christians to pull their children out of public schools. The strategy is to withdraw, to fight evil at every opportunity and to somehow transform society into a holy “city of God” by getting as many conservative Christians together as possible and then into positions of power.
The warning: Christians are not called to be people of power, force or coercion. This has been a failed strategy throughout the history of the church. In fact, the church has grown most fervently when it has endured suffering, persecution and marginalization. Indeed, this is all the church knew for the first 250 years of its existence. Christ continually called for and demonstrated humility, sacrifice and service to those around. Our goal should not be to control culture (an ill-conceived and impossible task), but rather to serve those we live alongside. Our acts of sacrifice will demonstrate the kingdom in far greater ways than power and coercion ever could.
2. Mohler is an angry man. He, and others like him, justify this as a “righteous anger.” We must be angry at sin, they say, because it is destroying our society. They point to passages in the Old Testament where God’s anger was seen in his judgment, or in Christ’s disapproval in the Gospels.
The warning: In general, the anger expressed by God in the Old Testament is almost always directed at his own people—and specifically at religious leaders—for their own sin. Christ echoes this practice, often getting angry, not at the “sinners,” but at the Pharisees. He demonstrates patience with tax collectors, lepers, prostitutes, and others who were considered “unclean” by the religious leaders of his day. He consistently directs his anger at those in leadership contexts. Paul does the same, calling people to accountability for their sin, not in the culture at large, but within communities of faith, the local churches to which he ministered. Furthermore, his harshest words are reserved for the leaders of those churches. If there is anger today over sinful practices (and let’s include all of them, like gluttony, selfishness, slander, gossip, etc.), let’s direct that anger at ourselves.
3. Mohler defines sin and the reaction to it in ways that are not representative of all Christians, and he does so in very elitist and self-assured ways. However, he is not the only voice on the issue of homosexuality. Christians hold a broad spectrum of positions. Even Mohler’s own denomination is experiencing a diversity of views. Russell Moore, a key leader in the South Baptist Convention, has called for a reduction in rhetoric, moving away from the aggressive and hostile approach previously adopted by the denomination.
The warning: We don’t need any more Christians arguing and fighting with each other over definitions of sin, and we certainly don’t need a leader with strong-arm tactics defining it for us. What we need is conversation. There is no way we’ll make any progress in our understanding of homosexuality as long as we constrain ourselves to overly simplistic and reductionist arguments about whether it is right or wrong. It’s time for a full discussion of human sexuality, a topic that has been far too taboo in the church (except in the popular practice of pronouncing homosexuality as wrong).
Mohler’s article is scary because it positions Christians (evangelicals) as enemies and combatants of those who disagree with them, justifies an aggressive stand against homosexuality from a posture of anger and defines sin as a narrow slice of morality without concern for dialogue or context. In writing a post like this, I run the risk of being labeled as a liberal on the issue. Label me if you like, but that’s not the point (notice that I didn’t take a stand on the issue). I’m more concerned with the way that people like Mohler—old men desperately scared of losing the moral and political empires they’ve spent their lives building—continually portray evangelicals.
Using Mohler’s own rhetoric, “You have been warned”: The Gospel is not a manifesto for some great battle against the world. It is “good news” for a world that is war-weary, tired and oppressed. I just pray that we Christians aren’t the oppressors.