Albert Mohler’s Conversion Fraud Factory

By Wayne Besen (art by Bruce Garrett)

It’s difficult to understand how Rev. Albert Mohler calls himself a Christian in good conscience.  As president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he had a front row seat in the collapse of Exodus International, which was the world’s largest “ex-gay” ministry until it dissolved in 2013 because no one was successfully “changing” from gay to straight. At the time, Exodus President Alan Chamber’s admitted that 99.9-percent of his clients had not changed.

Chambers apologized to the LGBTQ community for his actions: “I have heard many firsthand stories from people called ex-gay survivors. Stories of people who went to Exodus affiliated ministries or ministers for help only to experience more trauma…. And then there is the trauma that I have caused…I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents…”

The Southern Baptist Convention was a primary driver of clients to Exodus prior to its demise. Many, if not most, of the people harmed that Chambers was referring to were Southern Baptists. They were recruited by men like Bob Stith who was on Exodus’ Board and served as the SBC’s national strategist for gender issues.

Reacting to the closing of Exodus, Mohler told the Baptist Press, “Sadly, it appears that this rethinking has resulted in something like a surrender to the cultural currents of the day.”

Actually, Exodus surrendered to reality. Their clients were not successfully “praying away the gay” and becoming depressed and suicidal when the “cure” didn’t take. What’s actually sad is that Mohler is impervious to evidence and refuses to acknowledge that his “ex-gay” experiment failed miserably. He continues to defend the discredited practice and turns a blind eye to the people destroyed by his doctrine, as if their mental health is mere collateral damage in his selfish culture war.

Mohler’s arrogance personifies the old adage that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Instead of apologizing for the lives he’s personally decimated, Mohler is aggressively fighting against a bill in Britain that would prohibit conversion therapy. He is demanding that Prime Minister Boris Johnson not extend a proposed ban beyond the psychiatrist’s couch to include religious “ex-gay” ministries.

Of course, this would gut the bill and ensure that any conversion therapy law enacted would be a Band-Aid rather than an actual ban. Virtually all conversion efforts these days are done under the auspices of religion. So, not including religious conversion practices would turn a “ban” into no more than a symbolic show pony law with practically zero effect in the real world. No doubt, Johnson and others would celebrate this Potemkin Village of vacuousness as an advance for the LGBTQ community, while British citizens would continue to be exploited by the church and harmed by charlatans hawking bogus conversion cures.

In a series of articles and a podcast this week, Mohler offered weak straw-man arguments, with the requisite histrionics about Christians losing their “religious liberty” if they are no longer allowed to offer “ex-gay” superstition in the guise of science. First and foremost, all conversion practices –religious or otherwise – are consumer fraud. Any time a preacher or therapist promises a person, for a fee, that they can alter sexual orientation or gender identity, they are con artists ripping off consumers. Religion does not give Mohler or others the right to use the Bible to bamboozle. It does allow the good reverend to fleece his flock – like he did with his support for Exodus International’s doomed efforts.

Second, this has absolutely no bearing on religious liberty. Mohler and his followers can pray to whatever God they want, whenever they want and in whatever venue they want to. No one has proposed taking this right away. What they can’t do, is profit from deceiving others with false claims of “success” and parasite programs that vacuum up peoples’ money without delivering the promised results. As I pointed out earlier, Mohler already knows that his magic cure has a zero percent success rate. That he continues to push this Big Lie, in spite of the evidence he witnessed firsthand, says more about his character than religious liberty.

It seems the “religious freedom” Mohler seeks, is the ability to con without consequence. This is similar to the immunity the Catholic Church wanted when they were found to be molesting children at alarming rates and then covering up their crimes. Sorry, but abuse is abuse – and when faith healing leads to mass hurting, as it does with conversion practices, it ought to be banned and those who dispense the abuse must be punished.

The state, of course, already agrees that religious liberty is not a license to recklessly inflict pain and suffering. The faithful must spare the rod. They aren’t allowed to wantonly beat their children because they believe the Bible tells them to do so. They can’t deny their children blood transfusions or other life-saving medical services because of how they interpret their Holy Book. The church also no longer stands in the way of divorce, even though the Bible is explicitly against it.

Contrary to the “sky is falling” hysterics on the extreme right, laws banning “ex-gay” therapy –including the religious variety (which is the vast majority) — don’t force anyone to agree with homosexuality. Preachers can still give hateful sermons that demean, degrade and dehumanize LGBTQ people. However, religion must be included in conversion therapy bans to ensure that charlatans can’t peddle fraudulent products with false promises that wreck peoples’ lives. It’s really the Christian thing to do.

Wayne Besen is the Executive Director of Truth Wins Out. He is the author of the upcoming book, Lies with a Straight Face: Exposing the Cranks, Creeps and Cons Inside the “Ex-gay” Industry.