Mohler Misstates Christian Support for Same-Sex Couples

Timothy Kincaid

October 20th, 2008

In second part of his series about same-sex marriage, Dr. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary seeks to make two points.

The first is a rather bold assertion that only a small minority of Christians see room within Scripture to allow for a cultural recognition of same-sex unions. The second is that only a small portion of the world’s nations offer such recognition. He presents each as evidence of the other.

Dr. Mohler relies on a premise that is troublesome to those who recall the history of Christian faith. He implies that majority interpretation equals correct interpretation. This approach to faith is not one that I would like to apply to the history of Christianity or theological positions ranging from indulgences, papal infallability, slavery, the divine right to rule, or the civil routing of heresy, all of which held strong support within Christendom at various points.

But, perhaps more difficult for Dr. Mohler’s argument, is that it is based on false assumptions.

Same-sex marriage is, for now, legal in three of fifty states in the United States. Beyond our borders, it is legal in the Netherlands, Spain, Belgium, South Africa, Canada and Norway. This represents a very small percentage of the world’s population. Same-sex marriage is, by any measure, the exception rather than the rule. Even when legalized civil unions and domestic partnerships are thrown into the mix, the countries that consider same-sex unions and heterosexual marriages to be equal before the law represent a small percentage of the world’s nations.

Mohler’s discussion is centered around Christianity and cultural effect.

And, considering such, we should only apply his reasoning to Christian nations and those strongly impacted by Christian thought. Surely, the cultural decisions of Quatar or Thailand have no reflection on whether Christianity as a whole accepts or rejects same-sex unions.

So then, the question is whether Christian nations have accepted or rejected same sex couple recognition. And in that question, Mohler is overly optimistic, both currently and with all reasonable projections.

Eliminating nations in which Christianity is not the dominant cultural force – Asia, North Africa, the middle east – we have the following geographic areas to consider (generally, though with some exceptions): Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, Australia, and the Americas.

In Europe, nearly all of the nations in Western Europe offer either marriage or other recognition of same-sex partners. Ireland and Austria are in the process, and only Italy is a hold-out. Eastern Europe and the Baltic States are less gay-friendly, but they are also significantly less influential in world affairs or in the establishment of theological trends. There may well be a seminary in Moldova that will direct Christian thought for the next millenium, but I rather doubt it.

Sub-Saharan Africa is indeed hostile to its gay citizens. With one notable exception. South Africa is by far the dominating influence in Southern Africa. Its economic productivity towers overs its far poorer neighbors and its neighbors are impacted by its weath and culture. And in South Africa, marriage is recognized between same-sex couples.

Australia is in the process of instating a national registry to recognize same-sex couples. New Zealand has such a registry in place.

South America is a predominantly Catholic continent. Yet it is surprisingly becoming a welcoming place for same-sex couples. The nations of Ecuador and Uruguay both offer civil unions recognition, as do states in Argentina and Brazil. If trends continue, it is likely that much of South America will provide civil protections to same-sex couples within the next decade.

North America is comprised of three large nations, several small Carribean island nations, and a sting of nations connecting the large North American landmass with South America. And it is this continent that draws much of Mohler’s attention – and ours as well. Canada recognizes marriage. One of the states in Mexico offers civil unions, as does Mexico City. In the United States, three States offer marriage and seven others provide civil unions, domestic partnerships, or reciprocal benefits. And additional three recognize out-of-state marriages. Currently 92 million Americans, or 30%, live in a state in which they can obtain recognition for their same-sex relationships.

So if we look collectively at Christendom, we do not see a picture of rejection of same-sex couples. We see, instead, that the more affluent and industrialized a Christian nation becomes, the more likely it is to value its gay citizens. We see trends indicating that soon most of Europe, Australia, and the Americas will offer some form of recognition to same-sex couples. One might even argue that the more “Christian” a nation is (as opposed to Muslim or other religions), the more accomodating it is to gay couples.

Dr. Mohler may wish to warn the nation that recognition of gay citizens places it among a minority in the World. But he fails to mention that others in that minority are Canada, Great Britain, Australia, France and Spain while his “vast majority” of nations includes those that are not Christian – such as Iran, China, and Libya – or are, shall we say, less influential nations such as Latvia, Jamaica, and Nigeria.

If the States continue to refuse recognition of same-sex couples, they will soon be nearly alone among their close friends to do so.


October 20th, 2008

There’s an unspoken subtext to that article, especially the last line.

LGBTs punch above our weight financially in most Western nations: amongst the middle- and lower-income brackets, we earn more on average than straights, and we pay more tax. We usually also have more expendable income, so we plough more money back into the local economy while using fewer taxpayer-funded services like education for children.

But we’re also unlikely to stay where we’re unwelcome – cities like San Francisco, London and Sydney have large gay populations because they’re relatively safe for LGBT people to live and work, and because there are a variety of legal protections in place that don’t exist in other areas. We’re most welcome in countries or states which have some form of marriage or equivalent – such as most of western Europe, the Left Coast, Canada or New England. Conversely, homophobic areas typically have fewer LGBT people because (for good reason) we’re less likely to want to live there.

The longer the US holds out on providing recognition of same-sex relationships and greater protection against physical threats, the more likely it is for LGBT Americans to leave the US over the long term. For example, it’s often easier for an American to move to their foreign partner’s country because they have better immigration rights; alternatively they may choose another country because they prefer the greater social and economic benefits from that country’s gay marriage or civil union laws; or they may prefer living in a country with better protections against hate crimes and discrimination (including discrimination by the police and medical staff).

All this adds up to one of America’s most valuable economic resources, its LGBT citizens, being not merely squandered but actually encouraged to leave – to the benefit of the nation’s competitors.


October 20th, 2008

There are deeper and inherent flaws in Mohler’s argument.

One is the traditionalist assertion. Basically, the Bible is not that clear about or all that interested in gay people. (It doesn’t like salacious or abusive sexual behaviors, and it correlates but does not strictly link homosexuality with those two things.) People like Mohler have to invoke “tradition” to warrant a claim of actual authoritative Biblical prohibition. It’s as bogus as a three dollar bill, because “tradition” is often code for “taken from ancient pagan religions, not the religion of Jesus and the Apostles, but we’ll pretend to it being legitimate”.

Secondly, all the Biblical passages that are (mis)used concern themselves with male homosexuality if they concern themselves with homosexuality at all. Female homosexuality isn’t condemned or condoned anywhere. With the lopsided numbers of lesbians wanting to marry and gay men choosing not to, ironically enough Mohler and the rest really don’t have a Biblical case to oppose female-to-female marriage.

Then there is the traditionalist fallacy, i.e. giving the Past a vote in the present but then not allowing the Future one. There is no true doubt that gay marriage is going to become legal everywhere in Europe and North America eventually- the religious conservatives elites are pretty sure of it among themselves, more so than GM activists.

It is extremely embarrassing to American religious conservatives to be told that their beliefs are realized in Nigeria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, China etc. The ugly hidden truth of the matter is that they quietly believe that only white people are ‘real’ Christians, so pointing out how Europe is permitting gay marriage really pains them. And while they’ll point out to others how Christian Africa or Asia have (supposedly) become, they really don’t believe that matters because that won’t be the Christianity that they possess, own, control.

Their only solace is that Eastern Europe is holding out (for now). But the trends in EE say that people there will pretty much go over to Western European social views and start staying away from the conservative churches in droves.


October 20th, 2008

Not “Equador,” Ecuador

Timothy Kincaid

October 20th, 2008

Thanks… I’m really going to have to lecture the proof-reading staff.


October 20th, 2008

“Their only solace is that Eastern Europe is holding out (for now).”

Quite possibly not for much longer – the wording of the CT ruling is such that it could be used as legal precedence over here and, combined with upcoming EU legislation prohibiting discrimination within and by EU member states, the 24 EU states that don’t yet have gay marriage could be forced to legalise it by the Court of First Instance or European Court of Justice. Those 24 states have a combined population of around 425 million. Importantly (and unlike in the US) a legal decision that grants a civil right cannot be overturned by a referendum – the European Court of Human Rights would prevent it.

The keys are the precise wording used in the EU legislation (I’m trusting the EU Parliament to stand their ground on this one) and getting the CFI/ECJ to accept the CT ruling as precedence.


October 20th, 2008

Any Catholic or Protestant argument from tradition is hypocritical because Christian tradition is only truly followed by Orthodox Christians who believe such “liberal” ideas from the ancient Fathers like Jesus’ death not being a substitution for sin, that hell is not punishment, and that humans can become One with God.

And I guess Mohler forgets that the Bible’s interpretation has constantly changed (in Protestant tradition) with liberal scholars (Luther, Calvin, Anselm, etc) pushing an agenda (and they did have an agenda!) and in light of contemporary developments like astronomy, eugenics, better translations, and access to older copies of the Bible than ever before. There’s nothing new under the sun.

But Mohler is just preaching to the choir (a Baptist paper), not trying to create an apologetic. That rhetoric is for rallying the troops and cannot possibly convince anyone who doesn’t already agree with him.


It’s sounds like you have a heavy axe to grind against Christians and are more concerned about that than what Christianity or the Bible hold true. I do agree with your basic conclusions, I just think you get there all wrong. Among your basic errors are implying that Christian history/tradition has anything BUT an extremely negative view of homosexuality and that its negative view was imported from paganism; the Protestant church does not much like Eastern European Christianity which is Orthodox and have had a strong “missionary” presence trying to convert them into more American/W European ideas both religious and social; “Mohler and the rest really don’t have a Biblical case to oppose female-to-female marriage” you really think that? And I do not think at all that Christians only count whites as “real Christians.” While we’re as racist as non-Christian Americans, we’re rejoicing at the current upsurge in Christianity in South America now and Anglicans favorite priest right now is from Africa.


October 20th, 2008

Regarding China, it’s obviously not the most pro-gay country in the world, but I would hesitate to list it alongside the likes of Iran and Libya. Most of the problems gay people face there are cultural, not the result of pervasive government-sponsored persecution. They got rid of sodomy laws in 2001, and there has been talk of same-sex marriage in the National People’s Congress; the government has been doing a lot lately to try and address the AIDS epidemic among gay men, too.

I’m out to all of my friends over there, and I’ve known a lot of Chinese people who are out their friends and families as well.

Emily K

October 21st, 2008


I would say that your statistics most likely apply only to uncloseted homosexuals. IMHO, gays are more likely to be closeted in the working class, in rural areas, and generally in areas that one might consider “less developed” or “less educated.” And those gays definitely are no less gay, and they certainly don’t make as much money as Ellen or that Merrill guy from Merrill-Lynch.


October 21st, 2008

Emily, you’re right – those stats were probably regarding out LGBTs rather than both out and closeted LGBTs. But it seems to me that you just underlined my point rather than anything else – closeted gays in homophobic areas are likely to earn less than straights because of the stress of staying closeted. They’re less economically productive and (because stress can cause secondary health problems) more likely to need medical care.


October 21st, 2008

“LGBTs punch above our weight financially in most Western nations: amongst the middle- and lower-income brackets, we earn more on average than straights, and we pay more tax. We usually also have more expendable income, so we plough more money back into the local economy while using fewer taxpayer-funded services like education for children.” [Emphasis mine]

Actually, that’s not true. I was at the Out for Work conference a few weeks ago, and one of the presentations was on demographics and earning. Studies show that with only one exception, gay people generally earn less than their straight counterparts, with the exception being white lesbians, who generally earn more than white straight women (this does not hold true for women of color).

The fact that we (may) often have affluence or more disposable income is more often due to our not having children or other expenses that straight people/couples have.


October 21st, 2008

“This approach to faith is not one that I would like to apply to the history of Christianity or theological positions ranging from indulgences, papal infallability, slavery, the divine right to rule, or the civil routing of heresy, all of which held strong support within Christendom at various points.”

Papal infallability was only defined in the 19th century. It is part of Roman Catholic doctrine today, while you make it seem like an ancient and outdated belief in Christian circles.

Are you taking the position that this Catholic teaching is wrong?

A.C. Thomas

October 21st, 2008

Ephilei you make a great point about the evolution of Christian doctrine and the consistency of the eastern church. The problem with fundamentalists is that they fail to see a distinction between their interpretation of the Bible and what the text actually means. For them, it’s clear that what we say = what God says. If it were so “clear” there would be near uniformity (as there are on many other issues).

Also, Dr. Mohler’s argument is an argumentum ad populum. Simply because a majority of nations do or do not support it does not determine the ethics of what should be done (I need simply to refer to the majority “Christian” opinion of the 19th century that was pro-slavery). Fundamentalists need to be confronted with their distortions of reality as it may, as was the case with myself, provide them the realization someday that they are not part of the elect few who have been illuminated as to what the Bible “really says.”


October 22nd, 2008

I’m sympathetic with you, Ephilei, and I appreciate the nuances you bring up. But you don’t persuade me to other conclusions.

You separate American conservative religion from American right wing political commitments. That may be true for quite a few people, but the overlap/coincidence in my experience is substantial enough- around 50% in the places and churches I have been.

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