EDITOR’S NOTE: In what follows, R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, discusses his book We Cannot Be Silent with Towers editor S. Craig Sanders.
CS: Shortly after the June 26 Supreme Court decision, you wrote about our Christian duty to speak truth in the face of a moral revolution. How does what happened on that day strengthen the case for your book and its message?
RAM: What changed that day was the urgency. Because on that day, due to the acts of the Supreme Court, same-sex marriage became a reality in all 50 states. And in many cases, that means there was a complete redefinition of marriage in a matter of minutes or hours. And it also brought at least a judicial conclusion to a moral revolution that even many Christians were doing their best to think might not happen.
CS: For those who’ve read your other works, the first thing they might notice is the implied reference to the title of your book on preaching, He Is Not Silent. How is the theme of expository preaching connected to the theme of We Cannot Be Silent?
RAM: In the most Protestant sense, that’s what we are left with — the expository preaching of the Word. Now we are also to make arguments to help frame reality, to defend Christian truth, to speak and minister with compassion to people struggling with these issues. But at the end of the day, we are thrown back on our most basic conviction, which is that the means by which the Holy Spirit brings transformation in lives is the preaching of the Word of God. I guess the best way I know to put this is that’s the proper order: We cannot be silent, but that’s because he is not silent. And not only has God spoken and revealed himself in his Word but he has called out preachers to preach that Word and assigned the responsibility to every Christian to be ready to give an answer for the hope that is within us.
CS: Contrary to some of your critics, you have not abandoned your concern over divorce in our culture. In fact, you list it as one of the key factors in paving the way for this sexual revolution. So how can the church reclaim a holistic sexual ethic to tackle all of the issues you set forth in your book?
RAM: Those who try to argue that evangelicals have ignored the divorce revolution are basically ignoring the fact that many evangelicals did not. And long before same-sex marriage was on the moral horizon, many of us were making clear that the divorce revolution was one of the central engines of the breakdown of marriage as an institution and as an ideal and one of the great facilitators of the liberation of sex from the bonds of marriage as the union between a man and a woman. And I’m glad to say the record is very clear on this: I had written a small library on divorce before the issue of same-sex marriage ever emerged. Furthermore, in the book I make clear that the divorce revolution is one of the two or three antecedent moral revolutions that made the revolution on homosexuality and same-sex marriage possible. You can have heterosexual divorce without legalizing same-sex marriage, but you really can’t legalize same-sex marriage until you’ve passed the moral threshold of normalizing divorce.
But you asked the question exactly the right way, “How do we return to a holistic Christian ethic?” and the answer to that is the Bible’s sexual ethic is stunningly simple to comprehend. It is not as though the Bible offers a sophisticated argument against specific sexual sins as if it is an abstract ethical or moral argument. Instead it begins at creation with man, with humans created in God’s image as male and female and with the gift of marriage as the normative institution for the enjoyment of the sexual gift and the fulfillment of the sexual promise and the procreation and raising of children, which is, according to the biblical worldview, not only multiplying and filling the earth, but filling the earth with God’s glory, with the progeny who are image-bearers. So multiplying God’s image as seen in the human creature. Basically, returning to a holistic sexual ethic is to go right back to Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 and understand that God’s plan for human sexuality, for his glory and for our good, is the extremely simple, concise declaration that “therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and cleave to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.” And the affirmation to which we add to that, “what God has joined together let no one tear asunder.”
Of course, Genesis 2 is followed by Genesis 3, which explains why sexual sin happens and how we should trace it back to the original sin of our first father Adam and our first mother Eve. Evangelicals can hardly claim any biblical high ground if they have failed to confront the reality of premarital sex and the sin of fornication, of lust and its deadliness as Jesus made clear in the Sermon on the Mount, of divorce and of adultery and of promiscuity and of the entire range of deviations from the marital norm that the Scripture presents. But every one of those sins in Scripture, including most importantly the seventh command, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” goes right back to the fact that we know what is right by the definition of what marriage is. The Bible’s message is not that some forms of sexual expression other of marriage are wrong, but that all forms of sexual expression outside of marriage are wrong.
CS: You describe the forward momentum of the transgender movement and how the church might not know how to address it now that it’s here. It’s important to note that you wrote the book before Bruce Jenner identified himself as a woman. What are your thoughts on the transgender movement now in light of the Jenner saga and how should the church respond?
RAM: You know, I don’t claim to be a prophet by any means, but over 20 years ago, I made the prediction that the transgender revolution would be far greater and more devastating in its effects, more potent in terms of its moral confusion, more complex when it comes to its pastoral challenge than homosexuality and even same-sex marriage. And the reason for that is with same-sex attraction and same-sex relationships, same sex-sexuality is — according to Scripture — a disordered manifestation of human sexuality, but mainly it is not a denial of personal identity in terms of being male or female. It’s often an exaggeration of that. But when it comes to the transgender revolution, it goes right to the heart of what it means to be human beings made in the image of God, and whether or not our bodies are part of God’s intention for us and also reflect his glory and his purpose for us. And whether or not we are to understand something so basic as being male or female, man or woman, as a matter of constant, fluid negotiation or as an eternally significant divine gift.
CS: For average Christians in the workplace who do not have a public platform, what is their responsibility?
RAM: I don’t think Christ is asking us to wear a sandwich board to the office. I’m certain the Lord is not expecting us to be rude in jumping into a conversation and sticking our finger into people’s faces. I am certain that we are to be ready to give an answer when we have the opportunity and not to shrink from the defense of what we know is not only for God’s glory but for human flourishing and for human good. That’s something many evangelicals miss and many of those never had to think about. We are not seeking the imposition of biblical morality, or at least that’s not what we should be seeking, simply as a matter of imposing biblical morality. It’s a deeper concern because as Jesus said, we’re first to love God and love neighbor; and then we come to understand that biblical morality is intended by our Creator for the good of our neighbor, and thus if we love our neighbor, we will want our neighbor to know what marriage really is and not to be misled by legislation or judges to believe marriage is something else. We should seek to keep marriage intact as the union, we should seek to perpetuate marriage as defined as the union between a man and a woman and to keep those marriages intact. We should encourage parents to raise their children and to aim them and ready them for marriage. We should live our lives before the world such that the people need to ask the question as to why we would live this way, and we’re ready to give an answer.
CS: What was your goal behind the hard questions in the last chapter?
RAM: Interestingly, I asked a group of Christian leaders to ask the hardest questions they felt needed to be answered, and I had some interns working with me and said, “Take all these questions and write how many times every one of these questions was asked.” We said, rather than arbitrarily decide which questions they’re going to ask, we’re going to let the people who are asking the questions, by the very fact that these were the most often asked questions, set the agenda. So that’s why I answered the questions that I otherwise wouldn’t have sat down to answer because it’s clear these are the hard questions people are dealing with.
CS: How can theological education address the challenges of the sexual revolution?
RAM: The subtitle of the book has to do with a culture increasingly denying the difference between right and wrong. And that’s a big part of this, the fact that you can’t have had a sexual revolution until you had already denied the fact that we can know the truth and the truth can set us free and that the truth is known by means of revelation. I think it’s important to recognize that this is not the first major challenge like this the Christian church has faced in the last century and it won’t be the last. So it adds a great deal of urgency to theological education. I’ll also affirm something else, that in any of these issues if you strip away the first level of politics what you’re left with is inherently theological. It’s the definition of what it means to be human. It’s the purpose for which human beings exist. It’s whether or not there is a right and wrong independent of our own human moral sensibilities. It seems to me a theological seminary is the exactly the right place to be reminded of that.
CS: What do you hope this book accomplishes for the church and the culture?
RAM: I am confronted daily with Christians who are asking one of the most basic questions, and that is, “What happened?” I think Christians are living with a kind of moral emergency they sense and see about them. And it’s not just what they see on the headlines and on the Twitter feeds. It’s what they hear from their kids and it’s what they see in their own neighborhood and it’s what they might see in their own church. And they’re trying to say, “How did this happen and what does this mean?” And I think they’re also asking the question, “What does the Bible teach and what does Christ require of us?” And those are very good questions. And then I think beyond that I think there are people who are saying, “Okay, if I understand how this happened, and if I know what the Bible teaches and what Christ requires of us, what kind of arguments do I need to have at hand? What kind of questions do I need to be ready to answer? What kind of issues are around the corner?” That’s why I wrote the book.