MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Southern Baptists are believed to be this country's largest Protestant denomination. Certainly, it's the largest evangelical denomination. But this year's annual convention begins in Dallas on Tuesday under an unusually public and painful cloud - allegations about sexual misconduct and complaints about how women have been treated in the church. And while critics of the group's theology and political stances have come in the past, this year, those complaints are coming from within. A protest is even being planned.
The Reverend Albert Mohler is the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a prominent voice in the evangelical movement and he's been writing and reflecting on all this, and he is with us now. Reverend Mohler, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us on what is normally a day of reflection and prayer for you. It's very much appreciated. Thank you.
ALBERT MOHLER: Well, it will be that, but I'm glad to join you for this conversation as well, Michel.
MARTIN: So to review some of the issues at hand here, a prominent seminary president - or now former president - has been accused of responding in a wildly inappropriate way to rape allegations in two separate instances. A sermon of his from some years ago recently resurfaced that included advice that a battered woman remain with her husband under most circumstances. Other comments suggested it seemed to be acceptable to make sexual comments to women and girls. And there are other cases which have emerged of people in a pastoral role behaving in ways that are just considered unacceptable.
Now, you wrote recently in a blog post that sexual misconduct is as old as sin, but the avalanche of sexual misconduct that has come to light in recent weeks is almost too much to bear. What did you mean by that? Is it too much for you, too much almost to absorb? What did you mean by that?
MOHLER: Well, I guess part of that was just deeply personal. It seems so overwhelming with so many revelations coming in our own denomination and circle of churches just in a matter of days, hours and weeks. It's just been a devastating blow. It's emotional, it's spiritual, it's theological. And, of course, it calls for action.
MARTIN: You wrote in your piece - and I thought it was actually very candid of you to say this - that you, at one point, had believed that Southern Baptists or evangelicals were immune to this kind of conduct that had been observed in other denominations, in part because you felt, well, you know, we don't have the requirements of other churches - like, for - say, priestly celibacy. And so you said that we can't even point to an organized conspiracy of silence within the denominational hierarchy. No, our humiliation comes as a result of an unorganized conspiracy of silence. Why do you think that is?
MOHLER: Well, you know, if you look at some other religious groups, they're hierarchical in structure, and so you could have something of an organized effort to try to keep something quiet. In the Southern Baptist Convention, organization is something of a myth in the first place. We're a fairly loose confederation of churches. And it just didn't seem likely that there could be the same kind of conspiracy of silence.
What we've learned is that this kind of silence can be just as dangerous if unorganized. And so, to our embarrassment, we've discovered that it has been so. Things have not come to light that should have long ago come to light.
MARTIN: But the question is, why do you think that is? I mean, certain people looking at this...
MARTIN: ...Problem say that it is a consequence of your theology, which they believe elevates men to the detriment of women. I mean, it's considered to be complementarianism, which is a belief that the Bible reveals that men and women are equally made but that - in God's image but that men and women have different roles. And there are those who say no, this is a consequence of a belief that whatever you call it, it really means that men are put in an elevated position of authority and that women are demeaned.
MOHLER: Well, we do hold to a complementarian theology, but rightly understood, it's not demeaning. It points to God's gift and glory and creation of making male and female both equally in his image but with distinct roles. But one thing that any reading of the Scripture makes clear is that the abuse of anyone is always wrong.
And when you ask how this could happen, I'll tell you, Michel, what we now know is that many women were mistreated and did not feel that it was safe to make clear their mistreatment and to seek help. That's a big problem. And there are some structural issues we have to address just to make certain that in every one of our churches and in every one of our institutions there are mechanisms where anyone who might be abusing is identified and dealt with.
MARTIN: But for those who argue that if women are told that they must graciously submit to men, and that is a theological perspective that is sort of embedded - you know, how can women feel safe ever if they are told, really, it is their kind of godly duty to be submissive?
MOHLER: Well, we - I need to be clear and say that there - we do not believe that women generically are to submit to men generically. That's not the case. That's a reference in our confession of faith specifically to marriage, not to society writ large. And that same confession of faith in that same scripture says that men have the responsibility as husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church. And that makes abuse impossible by that same confession of faith if it's held rightly. So we've got to make sure we are teaching both parts of that biblical truth all the time, everywhere.
MARTIN: Has this caused you to - this crisis caused you to question anything about the way you've conducted...
MARTIN: ...Your ministry, anything that you've taught over these many, many years that you've been in leadership?
MOHLER: Well, it has caused me to realize that I have to do what I just said then, which is to make clear that I am saying everything the Bible says on this issue and not just what might be summarized as complementarianism. I hold without reservation and will defend complementarianism as revealed in Scripture. But also revealed in Scripture is God's concern for the vulnerable and God's hatred of abuse. So we just have to make that clear. I think - I've been president of this institution for 25 years. I've learned a lot every single year.
One final thought on this, Michel - if you look at the Me Too movement and the larger issues in society, obviously, we've all got a lot to learn, but I'm thankful that, as Southern Baptists, we look to the Bible as the Word of God believing that our issue and responsibility is to obey it. That's a higher standard than anything the secular world might hold out as expectation.
MARTIN: That's the Reverend Albert Mohler. He's the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. We reached him in Dallas, where the convention is about to get underway this week. Reverend Mohler, thanks so much for speaking with us.
MOHLER: Good to talk with you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.