An Open Letter to Al Mohler on Taking a Transparently Meaningless Stand on Reparative Therapy

Dear Al,

I want to offer my congratulations on your recent conversion to advocacy against conversion therapy (see what I did there?)--that discredited form of therapy that seeks to turn LGBTQ folks into “normal” people. It takes a great deal of courage to jump off a train as it hurtles toward a cliff. But you’ve proven yourself just that fearless.

You and the good folks at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary have just held a conference for the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. (Although one wonders from the name about what exactly a “Biblical Counselor” counsels and just who it is that “certifies” them, I’m sure it’s all on the up and up.)

I know you held this conference, because I was there yesterday protesting it.

Now, before you get all defensive about the whole protesting thing, let me apologize. I admit, I didn’t really believe you’d changed your mind about “reparative therapy,” and I felt compelled to take a stand in front of the seminary to say so. But then I read the fine print in which you said you’re definitely opposed to “reparative therapy” of the “secular” variety. Loudly. Flatly. Unequivocally opposed.

Then I thought, “Well, heck! I’m opposed to secular reparative therapy too! Al and I are on the same page.” Of course, the fact that almost no one cares about “secular” reparative therapy, let alone practices or supports it (since most reparative therapy is fueled by religious belief), doesn’t make your recent opposition to it any less brave. There’s no shame in dipping a toe in the pool after science and public opinion have broadcast that it’s safe to go in the water. And don’t let anyone tell you different. Stay strong, my friend.

Nevertheless, I’m going to have to say a difficult word here. But bear with me; I’m in your corner.

I found the explanation about the distinction you and Heath Lambert, executive director of ACBC, made between “secular reparative therapy” and your alternative “Certified Biblical Counselor” therapy to be a bit of rhetorical tap dancing. The way you present it, secular reparative therapy seeks to convert LGBTQ folks “to heterosexuality,” while what you’re advocating for is a therapy that seeks to convert LGBTQ folks first to Christ, after which point, I guess, Jesus will help ensure that they start acting like “normal” people. I’m not quite sure here. The whole thing gets a little muddy after you denounce “secular reparative therapy” and start laying out the alternative.

Help me with this. You seem to be saying now, in contradistinction to your past position, that there is such a thing as “sexual orientation,” because “the will is not a sufficient explanation for a pattern of sexual attraction,” and that those patterns of sexual attraction are deeply rooted, and therefore unchangeable by secular forms of therapy. (Yay! I’m with you so far.)

However, you also seem to be saying that while those damn secularists have got it all wrong on sexual orientation and the extent to which it can be altered, the folks who support their friendly neighborhood “Certified Biblical Counselors” can convert LGBTQ people to Jesus, who can then (you hope?) alter their sexual orientation or gender expression. At least that seems to be the import of your quote when you talk about a “hopeful answer to sin”:

At the same time, our 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. Christians know that the only remedy for sin is the atonement of Christ and the gift of salvation. The only hopeful answer to sin, in any form, is the Gospel of Christ.

So, here’s the hard word: If you’ll excuse me for saying so, that sounds pretty weaselly. I mean, it feels like you’re trying to have it both ways--you get to appear to walk back your now discredited confidence in reparative therapy by qualifying it with the word “secular”--which makes it sound like you’re ready to usher in the twenty-first century (kudos!)--while still clinging to the basic assumption that defective LGBTQ people need to be fixed through conversion to Christianity. In other words, no counselor can de-gay-ify or un-transgender-ate you, except Jesus; but we have “counseling that is uniquely biblical,” and we can hook you up so you don’t have to settle for your defective orientation or gender expression.

You can see how this is a little confusing.

But other than that, congratulations! I find your “conversion” on this issue extremely heartening. For some years you and I have been at loggerheads on the issue of how the church should respond to LGBTQ people (see here and here). And I find it wonderfully affirming to see your beliefs evolving, coming closer to mine over time (sorry, that was a little self-serving). But my congratulations aren’t primarily about your moving closer to a more enlightened view of human sexuality, as gratifying as that is (sorry again, see above). No, I want to congratulate you on being such a visible illustration of the progress we’ve made in our understanding of LGBTQ people and the dignity their lives should rightfully be afforded.

What do I mean?

Well, I take your evolution on this issue to be an extraordinarily positive thing. I mean, think about it: when even Al Mohler is embarrassed to talk about “reparative therapy” in straightforward terms everyone understands, it means that cultural standards are evolving toward greater hospitality to our LGBTQ sisters and brothers. That you feel compelled to couch your beliefs about conversion therapy in terms that suggest you’re against it (when we all know you’re really not, wink-wink), indicates that, while not yet finished, the work on behalf of LGBTQ inclusion for full participation in our culture is clearly moving in the right direction.

Put more simply, when someone as anti-LGBTQ as you’ve been is afraid of looking as anti-LGBTQ as you used to, that’s monumentally huge, dude! You’re helping us show the world that becoming less bigoted and more inclusive is actually possible. I can’t even tell you. Congratulations! And thank you for doing your part!

We’re all praying for you.

All my best,

Your pal, Derek