Southern Baptist Leaders’ Rhetoric Unclear and Unhelpful
Southern Baptist Leaders’ Rhetoric Unclear and Unhelpful
Written By Laurie Higgins   |   10.08.15

In recent years, leaders in the Southern Baptist denomination have been among the most stalwart and unequivocal faith leaders on the issues of homosexuality and gender dysphoria. In particular, Dr. Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, have demonstrated exemplary courage, wisdom, and grace in addressing the pagan sexuality that threatens to destroy the family, children’s rights, public education, church unity, and constitutional protections. Unfortunately, in the past year, both Mohler and Moore as well as Southern Baptist theologian Denny Burk have made statements that harm the cause of truth and, if not clarified or corrected, undermine the credibility of their leadership.

Since clarity is becoming a rarity, I want to be clear: Mohler, Moore, and Burk all believe that homoerotic activity is a serious sin that Christians are not permitted to engage in or affirm, and that marriage has a nature, central to which is sexual differentiation and without which a union is not a marriage.

Dr. Al Mohler

Dr. Mohler made this comment in 2014 at a conference held by the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission:

Now early in this controversy, I felt it quite necessary, in order to make clear the gospel, to deny anything like a sexual orientation. And speaking at an event of the National Association of Evangelicals twenty-something years ago, I made that point. I repent of that.

It was a confusing statement to many, in large part because the press took it out of context, omitting most of what Mohler said about “orientation.” Because the term “sexual orientation” means different things to different groups, it is confusing when a Christian leader like Mohler uses it. It’s even more confusing when the press dishonestly exploits his use of it.

“Sexual orientation” is innocuous if or when it is used as a kind of shorthand term simply to describe a powerful, seemingly intractable feeling or desire that arises non-volitionally. Christians could reasonably appropriate it in this usage to succinctly identify any type of besetting sin. Christians could refer to a “pride orientation,” a “polyamorous orientation,” a “minor-attraction orientation,” a “covetous orientation,” or an “idolatrous orientation.” We could tack “orientation” on to any powerful, deep-seated, unchosen, unwanted predilection to engage in any kind of sin, but Christians commonly don’t because they understand the unbiblical connotations and political implications embedded in the term “sexual orientation.” Dr. Mohler should understand that as well.

“Sexual orientation” is the language of “LGBTQQIAP” activists who more effectively utilize language than do conservatives. Embedded in the term are the arguable assumptions that homosexuality is immutable and innate, and because it’s innate, it’s—in their view—inherently good. Christians, like Mohler, also acknowledge a kind of innateness to homosexuality in the sense that humans have inherent fallen, sin natures and our sinful natures manifest in all kinds of powerful, persistent, unchosen disordered desires including homosexual desires. Here is what Mohler said that the secular press and homosexual activists largely did not report:

Biblical Christians properly resist any suggestion that our will can be totally separated from sexual desire, but we really do understand that the will is not a sufficient explanation for a pattern of sexual attraction. Put simply, most people experiencing a same-sex attraction tell of discovering it within themselves at a very early age, certainly within early puberty. As they experience it, a sexual attraction or interest simply “happens,” and they come to know it.

Given the depth of the Bible’s teachings on sin and this fallen world, this should not surprise us. In some sense, each of us finds within ourselves a pattern of desires — sexual and otherwise — we did not ask for, but for which we are then and now fully responsible. When it comes to a same-sex attraction, the orientation is sinful because it is defined by an improper object — someone of the same sex. 

Christians also believe that the bondage to our innate sinful natures that grips us is broken by the broken body of Christ. Christ frees us for holiness. So the meaning of “orientation” by Christians would be very different from the meaning it holds for homosexual activists.

While the Holy Spirit sanctifies our corrupt natures, conforming us to the image of Christ, complete eradication of some sinful desires may not come until our next life, which leads to another problem with statements from these well-respected Southern Baptist leaders.

Evidently heavily influenced by the work of Heath Lambert, associate professor of Biblical Counseling at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, they are rejecting what they call “secular reparative therapy” as ineffectual for facilitating change in unwanted homoerotic attraction, largely because it does not offer redemption.

Reparative therapy (RT) is a non-coercive form of counseling that helps clients—including minors—who desire to reduce homosexual attraction and explore their “heterosexual potential.”

Here are some of the issues that RT seeks to address:

The RT therapist does not simply accept at a surface level the client’s sexual or romantic feelings and behaviors, but rather, invites him into a non-judgmental inquiry into his deeper motivations. The RT psychotherapist always asks “why” and invites the client to do the same.

The gay-affirmative therapist, however, typically addresses this clinical material regarding homosexual attractions “phenomenologically” (i.e. accepting the attractions at face value without questioning their origins). This is a highly unprofessional omission.

The RT therapist must go much deeper: he recognizes, for example, that a teen may believe he is gay for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with his core sexual identity. His sexual feelings may be rooted in a need for acceptance, approval, of affection from males, or may reflect his loneliness, boredom, or simple curiosity. He may engage in same-sex behavior for adventure, money, peer pressure; or to express hostility against male peers, or general rebellion. He may also find himself reenacting an early trauma of sexual molestation by another male….

A higher-than-average percentage of homosexually oriented men were sexually abused in childhood by an older male. One study found that 46% of homosexual men compared with just 7% of heterosexual males reported homosexual molestation. The same study also found that 22% of lesbians reported homosexual molestation compared with just 1% of heterosexual women (Tomeo,, 2001). In these cases where the person was molested in childhood, homosexual behavior reenacted in adulthood can represent a repetition compulsion.

Indeed, a teenager may become convinced that he is gay through the influence of a persuasive adult– a gay-affirmative therapist, mentor, teacher, or even his own molester. Such influential adults could succeed in swaying an uncertain youth that homosexuality, is for him, simply inevitable.

Homosexual behavior may also reflect some kind of developmental crisis that has evoked insecurities, prompting the fantasy that he can receive protection from a stronger male. Anxieties and insecurities regarding approaching the opposite sex (heterophobia) may also prompt the search for the perceived safety and ease of finding a partner for same-sex behavior.

Environmental factors such as incarceration in a prison, or living in a residential treatment facility where young males sleep together and are isolated from females, may promote same-sex behavior and consequent gay self-labeling. In addition, gay self-identification may represent a political or ideological statement to the world, as seen in radical-feminist lesbianism in the women’s movement.

On Monday, just before the start of the “Homosexuality: Compassion, Care and Counsel for Struggling People” conference, Dr. Mohler made a number of troubling statements to the press, including these unhelpful, confusing, and ill-conceived statements:

We don’t think the main thing that is needed is merely repair but rather redemption.

The Christian Church has sinned against the LGBT community by responding to this challenge in a superficial way….It’s not something that is so simple as converting from homosexual to heterosexual, and from our Gospel-centered theological understanding that would not be sufficient.

[O]ur biblically-informed understanding of sexual orientation will chasten us from having any confidence that there is any rescue from same-sex attraction to be found in any secular approach, therapy, or treatment.

First, a therapeutic protocol need not offer redemption in order to be helpful and healing.

Second, what is Mohler’s evidence for his implicit charge that RT therapists promise conversion from homosexual to heterosexual or that they suggest such a shift is “simple”?

Third, might a deeper understanding of the environmental factors that may contribute to the development of same-sex attraction be helpful even in the absence of complete change in sexual desires and despite the absence of redemption? Is it possible for “secular” counseling like RT to provide such help–help which, like medical interventions for other health issues, is limited in scope?

Russell Moore

Mohler’s anti-reparative therapy sentiment is shared by Russell Moore who in 2014 described RT as “severely counterproductive,” telling the press that “The utopian idea if you come to Christ and if you go through our program, you’re going to be immediately set free from attraction or anything you’re struggling with, I don’t think that’s a Christian idea….”

It’s unfortunate and surprising from a sophisticated thinker like Moore that he chose to  mischaracterize RT by implying that RT therapists promise something they don’t. Proponents of RT do not suggest clients will “be immediately set free from attraction or anything” they’re “struggling with.” In implicitly alleging that they do, Moore is demonstrating either that he woefully ill-informed or that he is dishonest. I hope it’s the former.

Moore demonstrated a similar lack of wisdom at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission conference last year when he offered an intellectually incoherent and theologically baffling response when asked if Christians should attend same-sex anti-weddings. He responded that they should not attend same-sex weddings, but they may attend the after-parties that celebrate anti-weddings, also known as receptions. Say what?

And then there was the Wall Street Journal article about Moore in which he shared that he meets regularly with a “gay pastor.” Of course, Christians should spend time with sinners as Jesus did, calling them to repentance. But should Christians meet regularly with church leaders who embrace sin and affirm and promote heresy? Would Moore meet regularly with incestuous pastors who embrace, affirm, and promote incest? Aren’t “gay” pastors among the false prophets and ravenous wolves disguised in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15) with whom we should not even eat (1 Cor. 5:11)? If they’re not, who is?

Denny Burk

Dr. Denny Burk admits that he too has “turned away” from RT. As mentioned, Mohler,  Moore, and Burk, have been heavily influenced by Heath Lambert whose reductionist critique of the theories and work of RT Dr. Burk cites as “the most thoroughgoing critique from an evangelical perspective” that Burk has seen.

Lambert first posits that the goal of RT is heterosexuality, which Lambert views as an unbiblical goal: “The Bible never says that heterosexuality, in general terms, is a good thing.” This smacks a bit of Leftist claims that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality.

There are several places in the Bible where we can reasonably infer that heterosexuality is a good thing, including in Song of Songs. As Lambert accurately asserts, the Bible neither commands nor commends heterosexual desire per se, but neither does it condemn it, and the Song of Songs account of marital love surely communicates the  beauty, goodness, and hence desirability of heterosexuality, which is an integral component of marital love.  

Lambert further argues that “Reparative therapists believe that male homosexuality is, in the main, a problem that comes about from a break in the parent-child relationship.” He then claims that because not all men who experience same-sex attraction have had dysfunctional relationships with their fathers and because some men who did have dysfunctional relationships with their fathers don’t experience same-sex attraction, reparative therapy theories are unsound.

But that claim itself seems unsound. Few doubt that many girls who have been molested in childhood become promiscuous. No one doubts the causal effect of molestation even though not all girls who have been molested in childhood become promiscuous and even though some girls who were not molested become promiscuous. Humans are complex critters with complex multi-factorial reasons for their feelings and behaviors.

Are Lambert, Mohler, Moore, and Burk asserting that there are no cases in which attraction to men that becomes sexualized in adolescence results from absent, distant, or abusive relationships with fathers? Would they argue that childhood molestation never results in same-sex attraction? Are they arguing that “secular” counseling can never help identify and heal childhood harm? Do they make this claim about “secular” counseling for other powerful, persistent disordered desires?

Burk rightly claims that “For Christians, the goal of change is holiness not heterosexuality.” But is it wrong to desire and seek both? If heterosexual attraction (and marriage) is good, is it wrong to desire and seek it? And might not the Holy Spirit work through “secular” RT to contribute to either a diminution of homoerotic desire and perhaps the development of opposite-sex desire? It seems that a false and severely counterproductive dichotomy between biblical counseling and RT has taken root among some Southern Baptist academicians.


Dr. Mohler issued yet another apology to homosexuals for the church’s failure to address the sin of homosexuality properly. I wonder if adulterers, zoophiliacs, sibling-lovers, minor-attracted persons, and porn-users are awaiting their apologies. Perhaps Dr. Mohler, Dr. Moore, and Dr. Burk should also consider issuing an apology to RT therapists for misrepresenting their work—work through which many men and women have been helped.

At such a time as this, when truth about sexuality is under siege, our Christian leaders should be much more careful with their rhetoric and thorough in their research or they risk giving aid, comfort, and an unholy, gleeful energy to the enemy.

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Laurie Higgins
Laurie Higgins became the Illinois Family Institute’s Cultural Affairs Writer in the fall of 2008. Prior to working for the IFI, Laurie worked full-time for eight years in Deerfield High School’s writing center in Deerfield, Illinois. Her cultural commentaries have been carried on a number of pro-family websites nationally and internationally, and Laurie has appeared on numerous radio programs across the country. In addition, Laurie has spoken at the Council for National Policy and educational conferences sponsored by the Constitutional Coalition. She has been married to her husband for forty-four years, and they have four grown children and ten grandchildren....
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