Mohler’s viewpoint depends on a fairly rigid moral universe, one in which people are commanded by God to act in a specific way, including when it comes to sex acts, wearing “male” or “female” clothes, and embracing the gender identity associated with one’s biological sex. He laments that American teens are surrounded by a “peer culture more committed to tolerance than any other moral principle,” which highlights another fundamental tension: He believes self-derived morality is not sufficient, and that Christians have a moral obligation to guide the acts of others.
Even though this way of thinking seems directly at odds with a self-derived sexual ethic, there are some counterintuitive echoes between Mohler’s theological worldview and the vocabulary of the LGBT community. For example: When Mohler talks about the experience of brokenness, of recognizing one’s own sinful nature, it sounds very similar to descriptions of gender dysphoria. This is the feeling that one’s gender identity doesn’t match with one’s biological sex—a common experience among transgender people.
“We are indeed alienated from our true selves. In that sense, those who are struggling with the transgender issues, they aren’t wrong. They’re just being incredibly honest,” Mohler said. “According to the Bible, the world is not separated between those who are fully, wonderfully integrated selves, and those who are broken. No: The Bible says we are all broken.” The difference, to Mohler, is what you choose to do about it. Many in the LGBT community would support a transgender person’s decision to dress differently, carefully pursue hormone therapy, or get surgery. Mohler, on the other hand, believes “we find wholeness and resolution only in being the man or the woman that God meant us to be, or made us to be.”
It’s a strange kind of empathy: one that resolutely condemns the choices, lifestyles, and self-declared identities of LGBT people, but also resolutely affirms that their underlying struggle is real. Repeatedly in his book, Mohler calls on evangelicals to be more welcoming to people who feel an attraction to the same sex, or who feel that sense of gender dysphoria. “We must admit that Christians have sinned against transgender people and those struggling with such questions by simplistic explanations that do not take into account the deep spiritual and personal anguish of those who are in the struggle,” he writes.
Even this slight posture shift may be a big cultural change for many evangelicals, and one that won’t come easily. Mohler’s school, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, hosted a panel discussion earlier this fall billed as the “first evangelical conference on transgenderism.” Some of the conversation followed Mohler’s delicate model—standing firm against queerness while still trying to understand and not mock it—but other moments were rougher. A professor at the seminary, James M. Hamilton Jr., described visiting a college, somewhere in the SEC, and speaking to a group of young men. “And the whole time, I’m thinking to myself, these guys need to be told to man up … to stop looking like girls, in the way they walk, in the way they talk, in the way they wear their hats,” he said. “It was all just, it was gross. I think it’s our responsibility to say to the younger generation, ‘You need to knock that off, and you need to start acting like a man.’” No offense to anyone, he added.