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Al Mohler’s ‘erotic liberty’ is an offensive misnomer for LGBT rights

Al Mohler’s “erotic liberty” has nothing to do with the porn industry. It’s an offensive stand-in for “LGBT rights” that reduces a fight for equality to mere animalism.

  Photo courtesy of Emil Handke/Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Al Mohler

The Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Photo courtesy of Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr.

In June, I schooled Southern Baptist leaders on the differences between “gender identity” and “biological sex.”

Now they’re suddenly obsessed with “erotic liberty.” Back to the classroom.

When I first stumbled upon this phrase — “erotic liberty” — I assumed it was being applied, positively, to freedom of expression within the porn industry.

Turns out it’s just SBC superstar Al Mohler’s offensive shorthand for LGBT rights, one that’s gaining undeserved and often uncritical play in religious liberty debates.

Last week, responding to the Atlanta fire chief controversy/nontroversy, Mohler went all-in with the headline, “Religious Liberty vs. Erotic Liberty — Religious Liberty is Losing:

“Liberties do not exist in a vacuum. In any historical moment, certain liberties collide with other liberties. We are now witnessing a direct and unavoidable collision between religious liberty with what is rightly defined as erotic liberty — a liberty claimed on the basis of sexual identity and activity …

…Erotic liberty is new on the scene, but it is central to the moral project of modernity — a project that asserts erotic liberty, which the framers never imagined, as an even more fundamental liberty than freedom of religion. The logic of erotic liberty has worked its way from law schools and academia into popular culture, entertainment, public policy, and Supreme Court decisions…

…erotic liberty — the newly asserted liberty that is now trampling or endangering religious liberty.”

Mohler often uses grand and ambiguous phrases (“the new sexual revolution,” “the moral revolution,” etc.), but now he’s gone a step further, putting a deliberately misleading phrase in direct opposition to his notion of religious liberty.

It’s a clever move. Replacing “LGBT rights” with “erotic liberty” reduces the myriad of LGBT experiences and issues to what he presumably sees as a matter of sexual promiscuity, depravity and perversion, something many of Mohler’s followers will agree is bad, wrong, unnatural. It dehumanizes a community seeking civil rights into a gaygle of sexual beasts.

But the “LGBT rights vs. religious liberty” debate, if we’re going to keep Mohler’s battle narrative afloat for a minute, is about so much more than sex. Is eros a component? Sometimes. But the real fight is one for equality.

Pitting “erotic liberty” against “religious liberty” in Mohler’s terms seems to imply that the two are inherently at odds and mutually exclusive, but there’s a simple solution to this conundrum. Stop defining all liberties in oppositional terms.

I’ll have my “erotic liberty,” whatever that means, and you can have your religion or beliefs. Better yet, let’s both have both. I’m sure individuals and societies can make it work without coming to blows if we reconsider what’s really at stake.

“Erotic liberty” as a phrase has promise — for the porn industry. I hope they claim it before Mohler’s current usage gains any credibility.