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Prominent SBC Leader Albert Mohler Talks ‘Drama And Decision’ At Annual Meeting

“I think there is no way that IVF can be performed without huge moral error.”


When Albert Mohler called at 9:30 p.m., he had just arrived home from four 20-hour days at the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) annual meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a towering figure in American evangelicalism for decades, has witnessed dozens of annual meetings. According to him, “drama and decision” defined this year’s gathering.

“Our grandchildren were with us at the convention this year,” Mohler said in an interview with The Federalist. “I said to a [very large group of pastors] last night, I said, ‘Don’t mess up. Don’t mess this up. I’ve got grandchildren. They need faithful pastors and faithful churches and it’s our job to make sure that happens.’”

Female pastors, sexual abuse policy, and, by Mohler’s initiative, in-vitro fertilization (IVF) were all on the ballot this year.

“This meeting was so filled with moments of drama and decision,” he noted. “We had, you know, elections go into a third ballot. I mean, that’s a very unusual thing. But you know, the spirit of the convention was still very good.”

Mohler drafted a resolution condemning IVF and put it to a vote at the annual meeting. He had a classroom-worthy lecture prepared on the subject, fitting for a seminary president.

“I think there is no way that IVF can be performed without huge moral error,” Mohler said. “Quite frankly, even on the floor of the Southern Baptist Convention today, there was evidence of the fact that there are people who [are] untroubled by the creation of so many — and I use this term only because it’s used in the [media] — excess embryos. Imagine saying excess human beings … it just shows you the depersonalization of the embryo.”

Mohler covered a range of ethical issues with IVF, including the millions of embryos discarded and abandoned in freezers, the eugenics of embryonic screening, and what he calls “the commodification of human beings.”

He was, at one moment, self-conscious of his enthusiasm — “I’m using too many words here” — but the next moment returned to his point.

“Far too many Christians … are basically disengaged from the issue and I think, quite frankly, just haven’t been thoughtful in any Christian sense about the reality of IVF,” Mohler said. “You have the pro-abortion position coming on with even more extreme arguments … just as another means of pushing their extremely radical agenda, which is at almost every level subversive of human dignity.”

Mohler’s resolution affirming the sanctity of life and precluding IVF passed, but not without a fight. 

Detractors pleaded with the convention, some through tears, citing their own children as examples of IVF’s positive impact. Far from unsympathetic, Mohler says their pain was once his own. 

“I, we, know the pain and frustration of being unable to have a child and wondering if you’re ever going to have a child,” he said. Mohler and his wife, Mary, struggled with infertility for years.

“It seemed everybody around us was having babies,” Mary Mohler previously told Southern Equip. “I would host baby showers for people, and then everybody would go home, and we’d be surrounded with the stuffed animal decorations. It was just painful.”

Mohler, still, is uncompromising. Asked if IVF is more accessible now than it was then, he rejected the premise.

“Accessible? I’m not correcting you, but it’s not just accessible. It’s a consumer market. There are vast billions of dollars to be made in an industry of IVF,” Mohler said. “It’s being presented not only now as something that could help married couples in their 20s and 30s, struggling to have kids. It’s being marketed now as a consumer product, frankly, independent of marriage. Of course, this also fuels the LGBTQ redefinition of the family because you have a man and a man or a woman and a woman using the language that they are having a baby. And that again, I think, shows the grave danger from the Christian perspective of alienating or separating human reproduction from the conjugal relationship with marriage.”

Decades of advocacy by Mohler led up to the pro-life victory. He did not, however, consider it the meeting’s most important moment.

Mohler awarded that distinction to the removal of the First Baptist Church (FBC) of Alexandria, Virginia from the SBC over its advocacy for female pastors. 

“I believe that the Southern Baptist Convention can only maintain doctrinal integrity and, frankly, a consistent ecclesiology if we hold to a complementarian position as taught in Scripture, and as our confession of faith says,” Mohler said. “That means affirming that the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture … the overwhelming vote on First Baptist Church of Arlington, I think, shows that the conviction of the denomination is very strong.”

The vote came as the convention also considered the “law amendment,” which would have amended the SBC’s governing documents to ban churches who employ women “as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture.” 

The amendment failed to pass, but not before it created a spectacle in the media and a very public disagreement between Mohler and former SBC president J.D. Greear, an outspoken opponent of the measure.

Greear agreed with Mohler’s theological defense of complementarianism and opposes female pastors, but disagreed with the mechanism and principle of the amendment given the convention’s “historic principles of cooperation.”

“He and I came down on different sides,” Greear told The Federalist. “We had a pretty, I don’t want to say testy … let’s just say it was a fairly substantive exchange right before the vote happened on this panel we were on.”

“The last words after we stood up on the panel, I said, ‘Man, I love you. You’re a mentor.’ And he goes, ‘I love you, too. J.D.’” Greear said. “We have been in some long, heated conversations. I want to make that very clear. But I feel as close of a friendship to him and as much of an affection for him on this side of those discussions as I did before… the very minor places we disagree, it doesn’t change how he feels about the respect he has for me or the respect I have for him.”

The two even joked about the amendment’s failure: “I ran up to him and screamed ‘in your face’ — just kidding … you know I’m not serious, right?”

Another critic, FBC Alexandria’s senior pastor Robert Stephens, previously called the proposed restriction “not intended by God.”

Mohler maintains that the New Testament term presbyteros, translated as “elder” or “pastor,” designates a church office restricted to men based on the scriptural teachings found in 1 Timothy and Titus. FBC Alexandria did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Dr. Mohler is also no stranger to doctrinal drama. 

He was a key player in the prodigal SBC’s return from theological liberalism. In 1979, desperate to counter the leftward drift that included affirmation of abortion, rejection of Biblical inerrancy, and doubt about Christ’s divinity, a group of pastors met in an Atlanta hotel room. They planned to systematically elect theological conservatives to leadership offices, calling it the “Conservative Resurgence.”

“I was a young minister during that earlier period,” Mohler said of the infamous power struggle. He’s underselling it. Resurgence leaders installed him as president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1993. He required all faculty to sign a theologically conservative confession, prompting mass resignations and student protests. By the late ’90s, the SBC had achieved what Mohler has called a reformation “achieved at an incredibly high cost.”

A survivor of complete doctrinal upheaval, Mohler knows the threat of theological liberalism still looms. A quick review of the trajectory of mainline Protestant denominations confirms this is not paranoia. Some historians say the conservative resurgence ended at the turn of the century, but Mohler looks to his grandchildren and knows the work is never over.

“I’m [a] grandfather, and that really shakes my thinking,” Mohler said. “I want to do everything I can to make certain that my grandchildren and other children and other people’s children and grandchildren are taught the Word of God faithfully, introduced to Christ, and presented with the gospel.”

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