This morning Dr. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky—a seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention—posted a commentary on a recent action taken by the church where I am the senior minister, Douglass Boulevard Christian Church. We voted without dissent as a congregation on Sunday, April 17 to speak a positive word to the LGBTQ people in our congregation about our commitment to treating all of our members equally, by refraining from signing civil marriage licenses until the state extends the rights and privileges of marriage to everyone—without regard to sexual orientation. The implications of our disagreement concerns more than just words, but I’ll offer a few words of my own as an initial response.
The tone of Dr. Mohler’s commentary, while generally fair, veers into dismissiveness when taking an apparent shot at the size of DBCC’s membership.
For many years, I have driven by this church in its present location. The congregation was once much larger, with many families attending. This article indicates that the congregation has followed the trajectory of liberal Protestantism right down to the dwindling numbers of both worshipers and weddings from within the congregation.
Two thoughts struck me as I read this paragraph:
- Dr. Mohler’s linking of liberal and decline conveniently ignores a particularly important statistic concerning his own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, which has experienced a consistent decline of its own since 2007. I raise this issue not necessarily to denigrate the efforts of my brothers and sisters who happen to be Southern Baptist, but to draw attention to, what I take to be, the faulty premise of drawing a bright line of cause and effect between liberal and decline. As the membership decline among the traditionally conservative Southern Baptists indicates, there’s more to decline than liberal theology.
- I also think that a linkage between faithfulness and the size of one’s community is a presumption that fails the most basic of hermeneutical tests–that is, the life of Jesus. Since the size of Jesus’ community dwindled considerably the closer he got to the ultimate act of faithfulness–which is to say, his crucifixion–it seems an idiosyncratic interpretative twist to equate the crowd size of the approving with the doing of God’s will.
To his credit, Rev. Penwell does not deny that the Bible condemns all homosexual behaviors as sin. Instead, he employs a trajectory hermeneutic that argues that new contexts require fundamentally different ways of understanding even what the Bible clearly addresses.
So, his argument is that the Holy Spirit may now be “revealing to us God’s true vision of the ways things ought to be with respect to homosexuality” — a vision very different from that actually found in the Bible.
And thus, the fundamental divide over biblical authority and interpretation is laid bare for all to see. The real issue is not same-sex marriage or even sexuality. The fundamental issue is the authority and interpretation of the Bible.