Al Mohler’s theology is stellar. Al Mohler’s character is beyond reproach.
And yet, I said in Monday’s episode of the Pulpit & Pen Program that if Al Mohler launches first thing Monday morning with a rebuke to Danny Cortez of the New Heart Community Church that I’ll have to put him in the Daily Downgrade segment. Well, he did. And that’s why Mohler will grace tomorrow’s Downgrade segment. Here’s why.
As we reported on Friday, the New Heart Community Church in La Marida, California voted to stand behind their pastor in spite of his recent change of opinion regarding the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality (although dissenting members left the fellowship, to their credit). Culminating with his son’s public announcement of his homosexuality, the pastor did an hour-long sermon on why he now views the homosexuality of Paul’s day to be different than the homosexuality of our day, thereby absolving modern homosexuality from the sin with which Paul charged those in Romans 1.
Today, Al Mohler has posted an article (predictably) challenging the church’s new views and leveling charges of unclear and contradictory reasoning by claiming (A) homosexuality is not sinful and (B) the church isn’t taking a side in the matter. Of course, as Mohler rightly points out, Cortez and his church are taking a side. With the Bible-believers leaving his congregation after losing the vote, Cortez has divided the sheep and goats and clearly picked a team. And Mohler is 100% correct in everything his article asserted – as always. Mohler is dependable asset to the SBC, a gift to our Convention, and he is a legendary and metaphoric machine when it comes to articulating a Biblical worldview on behalf of Southern Baptists. It’s no wonder that he frequently makes lists of the most influential evangelicals in America
The only thing more predictable than Mohler’s inevitable public and vocal stance regarding Danny Cortez is the heat I’ll take for putting Mohler in the Downgrade. I have benefited from his leadership (as all Southern Baptists), learned from his laser-sharp doctrinal focus and I’ve been entertained by his quick wit. After all, the clip of Mohler’s interaction with Peter Lumpkins is one of the best of all time. To Downgrade the man is to make me a Judas Priest. I get that. But understand the hypocrisy here.
First, understand that this isn’t the first time Mohler has called for denominational action toward a church that needs discipline (or needs to do discipline).
In 1998, Al Mohler argued that Immanuel Baptist Church of Little Rock, Arkansas should have disciplined their most famous member, President Bill Clinton. As reported in the Baptist Press…
Mohler, in a monthly commentary piece in Religion News Service, wrote Aug. 24 that Immanuel has enabled Clinton to ‘claim to be a Southern Baptist’ while continuing his ‘public display of serial sin’ because it has not practiced biblical discipline. ‘Southern Baptists will be watching the Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock to see if it musters the courage to make clear its own convictions,’ Mohler wrote in commenting on President Clinton’s Aug. 17 admission to the nation that he had not been honest in court testimony and in comments to the American people about having had a sexual affair with a young White House intern.
Taking heat for wading into the affairs of an independent and autonomous church, SBTS faculty members drafted a resolution in defense of Mohler’s assertion:
“Dr. Mohler’s urgency about discipline exactly conforms to the biblical principles and Baptist practice of corporate holiness. Exhortations from individuals and associations of churches have been prominent in Baptist history and constitute no violation of church autonomy.”
I would agree with Mohler and the SBTS faculty entirely. To exhort individuals or associations of churches (or churches themselves) is not a violation of church autonomy. Mohler issued a rejoinder to the criticism…
“But it is by no means improper to call upon this church to exercise this most basic responsibility. Southern Baptists at the end of the 20th century have a very odd understanding of local church autonomy. Records of associational minutes and other Baptist documents demonstrate that Baptist bodies did openly encourage (in the past) churches to exercise discipline in cases of public sin. Unfortunately, the church has grown accustomed to a level of worldliness and seems to have lost all courage in church discipline.
Again, Mohler is spot-on. So here are two instances (the only two, at least that I know of) in which Mohler has waded into the affairs of a local church. The first was due to the unrepentant sexual sin of one of a church’s members. The other case is a pastor’s approval of his congregation’s unrepentant sexual sin. Mohler is right for using his influence as a Southern Baptist leader to call both churches to repentance and to imply there should be consequences for fellowship if these churches persist in condoning sin. It is, as Mohler said, “by no means improper.”
Although both of Mohler’s public rebukes of local churches are accepted within the realm of Baptist polity and both very needed, one has to wonder if the only sin that the SBTS president can climb upon the soapbox to publicly rebuke is sexual sin. Are critics of the SBC correct? Are we only interested in sexual sins? Maybe throw in abortion, female pastors or alcohol, and you’ve got the sum total of vocal outrage among Southern Baptists when it comes to sin – or at least, so the criticism goes. Is there anything to it?
Audio was recently discovered of Ergun Caner at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also sat in on a panel discussion at SBTS the day after. In both cases, Caner told his gratuitous series of lies on the stage of Mohler’s seminary – with both Mohler and Russell Moore in the room. Mohler has been well aware of Caner’s lies, and yet hasn’t said so much as a peep about Caner. Some might argue that Liberty University (Caner’s employer at the time his scandal broke) was not a Southern Baptist School, and so it wasn’t Mohler’s business. Some might argue that Caner’s next employer, Arlington Baptist College, was not a Southern Baptist School, and so it wasn’t Mohler’s business. However, Caner’s membership has remained in Southern Baptist Churches. There has been no discipline for his ten-plus years of tellling a fabricated life story and telling the same repeated lies to hundreds of thousands of people over the radio and in Southern Baptist churches.
Clearly, “it is by no means improper to call upon” Caner’s church “to exercise this most basic responsibility.” Again, some would argue against the Mohler of 1998 that Baptist church autonomy should prevent him from publicly vocalizing the need for Caner’s repentance. The Mohler of 1998 would disagree with them. But with Caner telling his lies from behind Al Mohler’s pulpit at Southern Seminary, surely Mohler would feel the need to exercise this most basic responsibility to call him to repentance and insist upon his church to discipline him. And yet, we’ve heard nothing – not a peep. And when Caner was recently elected as a Southern Baptist seminary president in the state of Georgia (where Mohler once served as the editor of the Baptist newspaper, the Georgia Index), Mohler has remained silent.
What other scandal of sin has Mohler spoken out about? Bob Reccord’s forced resignation from NAMB for severe financial impropriety and waste of CP dollars, and giving kickback deals to folks like Johnny Hunt, wasting money on ice sculptures, and staff retreats to the islands with a 500k retirement package and a PR firm to re-build his reputation? No, Mohler hasn’t said a word. What about when current SBTS trustee and Louisiana Baptist Convention director, David Hankins, fired three [supposedly] Calvinist professors (one of whom was a Southern Seminary graduate) and issued a ban on hiring any more of Mohler’s students? A current SBTS trustee is engaging in a one-man Louisiana Inquisition to run off Mohler’s graduates, and Mohler hasn’t said a single word.
But then again, as David Hankins points out, Joe Aguillard hasn’t yet “been found in bed with a dead girl or a live boy.” If Reccord, Caner, Hankins or Aguillard had been found in bed with a dead girl or a live boy, I’m betting Dr. Mohler would have talked about it on The Briefing by now and urged for church disicpline.
How much leadership does it require to speak out on issues that 99.99% of Southern Baptists agree upon? How many of us really need to be explained why Cortez’ argumentation is lacking? Many people will view Mohler’s rejoinder to Cortez and call for disfellowship with the New Heart Community Church to be an act of bravery. I would ask, “Who is going to disagree?” It’s hardly controversial, and it requires no real conviction to lead in that direction.
It would take conviction to lead by pointing the finger at those who need repentance for other sins besides sexual deviancy. That’s low hanging fruit, and it seems that’s all our Southern Baptist leaders are interested in picking. In the mean time, I would suggest to you that homosexuals in the pew are less offensive than a pathological liar in the Southern Seminary pulpit.
Perhaps Al should first deal with the blasphemy that has come out of the pulpit at Southern Seminary before dealing with the blasphemy coming from the pulpit at New Heart Community Church.
Or else, the world may be right. The only thing we care about is sex.
[UPDATE: 3:07PM MST]
I continue to get notices from fairly reliable sources (for whatever that’s worth) that there exists an Aguillard-Hankins type confidentiality clause with a reciprocal stipulation to forbid public criticism between trustees (past or present) and SBTS administration. If so, this would prevent Mohler from publicly criticizing Ergun Caner, who once served as a trustee for SBTS. If this is the case, I’d like to assert two thing…
1) I would retract any of the above criticism of Dr. Mohler, and do so joyfully. I love the man. I hope (kind of) this is the case, and boy, would it explain a lot! His silence, for many of us, is simply a unfathomable. This would make it understandable.
2) If this is true, it speaks of how the culture of corruption grows in the SBC. The gag-order and confidentially clause forced upon Louisiana College trustees by David Hankins and Joe Aguillard was nearly unheard of among college trustee boards. Many have pointed out the extreme rarity of such, and rightly point out this allows sin to be done in the dark (for example, paying an extortioner 35k in a blackmail request because they have info on the college president). If SBTS has also implemented such a clause, it would absolve Mohler (unless he was instrumental in creating this clause), but would impugn the entire system. If that’s the case, expect a call for transparency in our entity boards within the SBC – it’s a necessity.
If you have information on whether or not such a clause exists in any contract between SBTS trustees and administration, please forward it to me. I’d love to verify it. Of course, it would seem to me SBTS could just confirm or deny this and it would make everything a lot more simple.
By the way, could you imagine Athanasius saying, “I’m sorry guys, I’d love to address Arius, but there is a clause in my bishopric contract that says I can’t”?