Friday, July 1, 2011

Homosexuality: I Agree with Tom Elliff

Since the SBC Annual Meeting in Phoenix, AZ, a lengthy conversation has ensued regarding homosexuality. The conversation has been complex, muddled, and surprising. The contentious question of the cause and origin of homosexuality in human beings has been at the forefront of the conversation.

Thankful for all Southern Baptists and for our leaders who have consistently demonstrated both compassionate gospel concern for people engaging in homosexual activities and conscientious fidelity to the indisputable condemnation of homosexual sex acts repeated emphatically in the Bible, I offer you a simple and clear statement of what I believe on the subject. It comes from Dr. Tom Elliff, who appeared on the PBS Newshour on June 18, 1997. (transcript)

A brief excerpt appears below:

We [Southern Baptists] believe that homosexuality is a choice. We believe it's a very bad choice, with serious consequences.

Amen, Dr. Elliff. Amen. What you said that day can only be described as the truth.


Dave Miller said...

I think it is an apples and oranges thing, Bart.

Is homosexual behavior a choice? Of course. Eliff and Mohler and all of us would agree.

Is having homosexual desires and temptations a choice? Do homosexuals just decide one day that they want to be interested in people of the same sex.

I think that is the issue.

Bob Cleveland said...

What Dave said. I seriously doubt that homosexual desire is any more a choice than heterosexual desire is. And I think that may have been one of Dr. Mohler's points.

Also, the big backlash to that thought may well indicate just how big the problems he mentioned truly have been, in the Church

Bart Barber said...

I'm not taking sides on Dr. Mohler's comments, gentlemen. That conversation has been highly complicated. Rather, I've highlighted a simple quote with which I agree.

Bart Barber said...

In other words, to attempt greater clarity on my position: I know that I agree with Tom Elliff. I know that I disagree with Jonathan Merritt. I'll know whether I agree with Mohler or not when his views have been more clearly expressed. I suspect that I agree with him. I'm confident that he will eventually help us all to understand him—particularly with regard to his use of the word "lied."

Joe Blackmon said...

Here's the thing that I find unfortunate--I think I agree with Dr. Mohler if I understood what he said like I think I do. I've known people who've made it seem like homosexuals just need to flip a switch in their head and all of a sudden they won't feel like that anymore or that they really don't feel like that anyway but they just don't realize it I also don't think some people in churches show compassion towards those people caught in homosexual sin that they show to other people, kinda giving the vibe of "Christ will take you just as you are, unless you're gay inwhich case nyou better clean that up before you dare step in here". I'm not saying most people feel that way, but I think there are people who do.

What I find unfortnate about Dr. Mohlers comments is that they have given cause for rejocing by enemies of the gospel. When Brian McLauren and Jennifer Knapp are giving you atta-boys, that's not something to be happy about.

I wish he would clarify his statements further.

Bart Barber said...


From the clarifications up to this point, I think I understand what Dr. Mohler is saying about "choice" (he thinks orientation is not a choice but behavior is) and about "a form of homophobia" (he thinks that Southern Baptists have been afraid to dialogue with homosexuals face-to-face, although numerous examples refute that assertion).

What remains without acceptable explanation, as far as I can tell, is how Southern Baptists have "lied" about these things.

volfan007 said...

Amen, Dr. Eliff....


Anonymous said...


Thanks for the info on Dr. Eliff. I think he's essentially correct. Going beyond Scripture on the nature of homosexuality if filled with dangerous pitfalls.


With that, I am..

D.R. said...


Mohler has clarified his statements. I wonder if some have chosen to ignore his clarification. Here's the link:

Bart, would you agree with his statements here?

Bart Barber said...


It is a great article. I cannot see that it is a clarification of any way in which Southern Baptists or evangelicals have made deliberate statements contrary to fact regarding homosexuality. Could you direct me to the paragraph that clarifies this particular statement?

Bart Barber said...

Look, folks, I want to make some things absolutely clear:

1. Al Mohler has been one of the greatest statesmen Southern Baptists have ever known regarding cultural issues.

2. I'm an enormous fan of his body of work and am very thankful for the totality of his ministry.

3. I do not think that he has "flipped" on homosexuality or that he needs any sort of dressing-down.

He and I may not agree about the particulars of how a person comes to engage in homosexual behaviors. I do not require that we agree on these extra-biblical matters. It remains unclear whether he requires that the rest of us agree with him. Is he suggesting that all who differ with him about the "choice" question are liars? That is one possible interpretation of his statements at this point.

It makes 100% sense to me that Dr. Mohler could believe that people have no choice about homosexual behavior and yet are responsible to God for it nonetheless. I mean, if God creates people to be damned to Hell, is it that big of a deal if God creates people to be homosexual? So, the denial of "choice" could be more compatible with biblical Christianity the more Calvinistic a person is. i don't think that Southern Baptists should necessarily make a big deal of it if Mohler is indeed saying that people cannot choose not to "be homosexual."

i do not believe, however, that Mohler or those who agree with him ought to act as though their position is the only tenable position on the question of the origins or causes of homosexual behavior. Elliff's position seems to be different than Mohler's But Elliff is not a liar. I agree with Elliff.

The point of the post is simply to demonstrate that another prominent, respected, and intelligent Southern Baptist leader has said that homosexuality is a choice, to express my agreement with this point of view, and to assert that there is room for such a point of view within the SBC without disparaging it as somehow dishonest.

Anonymous said...

What this may demonstrate more than anything is that denominational agency reports and questions regarding them should be directed to the work of that agency and how the agency is accomplishing what the SBC desires of it.

It sounds like the report turned into an opportunity to ask Dr. Mohler a question about an article that had to do with his personal views.

Bart has pointed out that apparently Dr. Mohler and Dr. Eliff disagree on a point related to homosexuality, and Bart has made the point that that question, while very interesting to many of us, is not central to SBC cooperation.

It's not that such questions are not interesting or that our agency heads have thoughts about them, but I am wondering if digging out such statements is really the business of the convention.

I am not fussing at anyone. Mohler speaks on a lot of topics, and when you do that, people will have questions, as they did here.

I just wonder if the convention is the best forum to handle that?

I understand that the questioner says he tried to contact Dr. Mohler before the convention, so I am not upset at him either. Mohler was on stage, so he wanted to ask a question. Sounds fair to me.

But going forward, is this something we want to do? Should the bylaws be amended or the chair began to enforce a rule that the questions that are asked of agency heads have to do with SBC business, and not personal thoughts about a variety of subjects?

What do you guys think?


Bart Barber said...


I appreciate the spirit of your suggestion. Certainly there have been times in the past several years that I thought it would be inappropriate for people to attempt to steal away the time of thousands of messengers in order to pursue what seemed to be personal agendas.

However, the more I think about your suggestions, the more a few problems with them arise in my mind:

1. What exactly is the business of the seminaries? There is the official program assignment, but the seminaries also function unofficially as a sort of collection of think-tanks for the convention. Certainly Dr. Mohler has engaged social issues in his capacity as president of Southern and has seen this sort of activity as compatible with—part of, even?—his job. If Dr. Mohler is ready to leave public policy discussions entirely to Dr. Land, then we could probably limit these questions to the ERLC report time. It seems that the restrictions upon messengers' questions should be no narrower than the restrictions upon denominational employees' activities.

2. Are the theological beliefs of denominational employees not the business of the convention's messengers? Would we consider a man's views on homosexuality in deciding whether to hire him as the head of one of our agencies? I certainly wouldn't put that out-of-bounds. It seems to me that, if we would possibly act on the basis of it, we ought to be able to discuss it. Deciding upon any course of action is better accomplished with the right to full discussion, I believe.

3. I appreciate the weight that you give to my opinion about what is and what is not central to cooperation in the SBC, but isn't that in itself a question for the messengers? Wouldn't it be difficult and necessarily injurious to the rights of the messengers for us to prescribe to them what is or is not central to their cooperative relationship with one another?

Bill said...

"It makes 100% sense to me that Dr. Mohler could believe that people have no choice about homosexual behavior"

Dr. Mohler has said nothing remotely close to this. In fact, just the opposite.

How are you defining homosexuality?

Some, (most in fact) including Dr. Mohler, are using the term for people with same-sex attraction, regardless of whether they act on that attraction. Are you using the term in the same way? I have heard some say that one isn't homosexual unless they are sexually active. That isn't really the correct definition, but it might clear up some of the confusion.

So do you know how Eliff is using the term? Or do you simply believe that SSA and homosexual behavior are both choices and are therefore sinful?

Bart Barber said...


Sorry. I didn't mean to offend. Also, I didn't say that Mohler said that. I said that it makes sense to me that Mohler COULD say that. My point, in that context, was to show that Calvinism, the further it is taken, makes discussions about "choice" different than they are outside of a Calvinistic theology.

The attempt was to give a "greater/lesser" argument. Mohler could even say that homosexual behavior is not according to choice, and it could be compatible with continuing to maintain that they are sinful. When I got around to actually hinting (very carefully) at what Mohler seems actually to said, my words were: "if Mohler is indeed saying that people cannot choose not to 'be homosexual.'"

Is that fair, or have I misconstrued him? I certainly do not wish to do so.

Bart Barber said...

Bill asked for more specifics about my viewpoint.

I'm prepared to believe that people are engaged in homosexual behavior for a lot of different reasons. I have seen no evidence convincing me of the existence of any "gay gene."

Of the dozen or so people whom I know well who are living a homosexual lifestyle, for at least ten of them I can identify major issues in their upbringing that must at least play some part. Do we choose our response to trauma in our lives?

Are choices always easy to "switch off"? If I am a heroin addict, I am one because I have chosen to be one, but that doesn't not mean that my choice to cease being a heroin addict is going to be an easy choice.

I also believe that the New Testament word άκαθαρσἰα ("impurity") refers to the changes in my nature and temperament that are wrought by my sinful actions. Sin pollutes my nature. Once I sin, my future choices may be tainted by the impurity of my now-soiled nature.

I think it is possible that some people begin with heterosexual sexual deviancy, come to have a polluted nature as a result, and then find themselves moving into homosexuality as the law of diminished returns kicks in.

I predict that, as soon as all barriers to homosexuality have fallen in our culture, we will hear more and more about sexual orientation being fluid and not fixed.

I am also entirely open to the possibility that there are people for whom homosexual behavior is just one of the temptations to which they are more susceptible.

All of these are possibilities. All of these have some evidence behind them. I'm the one saying that I'm not entirely sure which is the case (or even that we can pick one to be the case for every last person tangled up in homosexual behavior).

Jonathan Melton said...

I'll appeal to the Bible in Romans 1:26,27 as to whether homosexual desires are biological:

"For this cause God gave them up unto VILE AFFECTIONS: for even their did CHANGE the NATURAL USE into that WHICH IS AGAINST NATURE: And likewise also the men, LEAVING THE NATURAL USE of the woman, BURNED IN THEIR LUST ONE TOWARD ANOTHER; MEN WITH MEN working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of error which was meet.

Bill said...

Bart: I don't think there is anything in your last comment that I disagree with. You seem to be saying, as did Dr. Mohler, that SSA is more complex than simply a choice. I agree. I also agree that all sexual behavior is a choice. As of now, I see no reason to believe that homosexuality is genetic, but I do agree with Dr. Mohler that even if some scientific evidence emerges that suggests that it is, the biblical prohibition against homosexual intimacy is not affected.

Bart Barber said...


I'd almost say that every choice in life is more complex than simply a choice. "Simply a choice"?! The philosophical debates about the nature of "free will" have convinced me that choices are not simple—no choices are simple. I am not convinced that homosexuality is different from any other sin as related to our choosing.

Jonathan Melton said...


If homosexual desire is determined by the Word of God to be a "vile affection", and also the "leaving of the natural use of the woman", then how could it be considered genetic?

volfan007 said...

Well, of course, the million dollar question is: Why did Dr. Mohler say that the SBC has lied about homosexuality? What lie has the SBC told?

Also, how has the SBC been homophobic?

I still dont understand how Dr. Mohler could make those statements. I'd like to hear how the SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION has lied and been homophobic?

But, putting aside all the things that influence the choices we make in life...sin is still a choice. Every time I've ever sinned in my life....I chose to do it. Nobody made me do it. The Devil didnt make me do it. That woman God gave me, didnt make me do it. And, even though Curly used to say, "I'm a victim of circumstance;" still, my environment didnt MAKE me do it... no matter how much they influenced me. I chose to sin.


Bill said...


I didn't say it was genetic. In fact I'm pretty sure my last comment made it clear that I didn't believe it is genetic.

Anonymous said...


Good thoughts.

What I am suggesting for discussion has a problematic side to it, for sure.

I don't want to limit the freedoms of SBC messengers in any way.

But if Eliff and Mohler don't agree, what if Mohler, Dr. Moore, Dr. Cabal and others don't agree on particulars.

We have issues where Dr. Mohler, Dr. Patterson, Dr. Land and others do not agree- i.e., the so-called 5 points of Calvinism.

They had a mini-conference, a Q and A, on that topic at a convention one year. It was off the floor of the convention, and it was done in a way that it didn't break out on to the floor of the convention.

Next year, will a messenger ask Dr. Mohler at the Seminary Report a question about a fine point of Dort? Or will someone ask Dr. Patterson why he believes it's o.k. to murder helpless animals on the African Plains?

These seminary leaders should be subject to questions. But the convention business is to hear reports on the seminaries. The question to Mohler was not at all related to the seminary or the seminary report.

Mohler should answer such questions, especially given his presence on such issues.

I am just wondering about the time and place of such questions and whether this incident gives us an opportunity to consider changes.

I do see the dangers you mention, however.

Just think. If the moderates had prevailed in the CR, Kirby Godsey would be President of Southeastern, and I bet the moderates would have so many rules constructed that even if Godsey had written the books he had written that the rules would forbid asking any questions except, "Is your name Kirby Godsey" and "Do you love Jesus?"

Jonathan Melton said...

"As of now, I see no reason to believe that homosexuality is genetic, but I do agree with Dr. Mohler that even if some scientific evidence emerges that suggests that it is, the biblical prohibition against homosexual intimacy is not affected."


However, you did not deny that it might be a possibility. You might be less inclined to accept that possibility than some others who have posted their comments such as Dave Miller or Bob Cleveland, but as Dave said, "that is the issue" being discussed in this thread.

Bill said...

Jonathan: All of creation fell along with Adam. So yes, a genetic basis for some disorders would not shock me. Children are sometimes born with physical characteristics of both sexes. I doubt the brain is immune from such genetic difficulties. Do you believe there are such things as mental illnesses?

Jonathan Melton said...


Yes, I do. And I don't attribute ALL psychological conditions to demon possession: Matthew 4:24 makes the distinction between "torments" and "those which were possessed of devils...". However, you cannot argue away what the Bible plainly says in Romans 1:26,27: that those who embraced VILE AFFECTIONS did CHANGE to THAT WHICH IS AGAINST NATURE, and BURNED IN THEIR LUST ONE TOWARD ANOTHER (same-sex). You either believe the Bible 100% or you do not. Romans 3:4 says: ...let God be true, but every man a liar..."