October 28, 2014

Gushee Endorses LGBT Agenda

Jonathan Merritt at Religion News Service is reporting that prominent evangelical ethicist David Gushee is set to enter the gay rights fray by publicly announcing a change of mind on the full inclusion of LGBT people in the church. The announcement coincides with the release of his new book Changing Our Minds: A Call from America’s Leading Evangelical Ethics Scholar for Full Acceptance of LGBT Christians in the Church. Gushee’s work is the latest example of a new literary genre—a sort of “conversion narrative”—that marries an account of intellectual epiphany with a political manifesto designed to cause the church to rethink centuries of settled doctrine.

Despite his self-appointed status as “America’s leading evangelical ethics scholar” it’s unclear whether Gushee’s change of heart will impact the evangelical world much at all. Jonathan Merritt’s rather sensational lede suggests that the evangelical world will be rocked: “At a moment when American churches and politicians are warring over gay rights and same-sex marriage, each side needs every soldier it can muster. Conservatives are about to learn that one of America’s leading evangelical ethicists is defecting to the opposition.”[1] Yet, it’s far from clear whether the evangelical world will even pay heed despite HuffPo’s salivation at the prospect.

In reality, this shift is the latest in a series of intellectual shifts that has moved Gushee increasingly out-of-step with the evangelical mainstream. Recently, in 2012, Gushee participated in a conference called “Sexuality and Covenant” cosponsored by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Mercer University. The validity of same sex relationships and marriage was a prominent theme despite Gushee himself not–at that time–explicitly stating a view on the matter. The paper he presented argued for the priority of covenant while not explicitly limiting to a man and a woman only. It’s impossible to tell why he did this, but it seems likely that his participation in the conference came during his period of discernment.

In addition, at the height of the war in Iraq Gushee was a vocal critic of the Bush administration’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which Gushee characterized as torture. He founded an evangelical organization dedicated to protesting the use of torture by American forces and security services. Reasonable minds can disagree on whether the practice Gushee described constitute torture, yet its fair to say that—for good or ill—the issue of torture didn’t attract much evangelical attention at the time. In addition, his views on the environment and especially on man-made climate change differ from the evangelical consensus, which is skeptical of human causation.

Consequently, it remains to be seen just what the effect will be on the evangelical movement. Since Gushee has increasingly moved into the progressive side of the broadening evangelical camp its likely that this move will affect only those already firmly in the progressive camp and always looking for another celebrity scholar to endorse their view.

Gushee is, however, an influential voice in the academy having established himself as a leading ethicist. Kingdom Ethics, a textbook he coauthored with the late Glen Stassen of Fuller Seminary, was named a 2004 Christianity Today book of the Year. His change of views will undoubtedly be noted across the secular academy where eyes will likely roll that it took so long for his intellectual capitulation and where the fall out can only be positive.

At the same time, evangelicals are—for better or for worse—not a people inclined to make much of the prognostications of academics. Had he been a prominent preacher the story might have been different. In reality Gushee is well known among progressive evangelicals and obscure among the movement’s mainstream. He is associated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a denomination widely acknowledged to be more progressive than it is evangelical. He teaches at a university known for its periodic conflicts with the conservative Georgia Baptist Convention (affiliated with Southern Baptist Convention), which voted in 2005 to sever ties with the university.

An advance copy of Gushee’s remarks for an upcoming GLBT event states: “I will join your crusade tonight…. I will henceforth oppose any form of discrimination against you. I will seek to stand in solidarity with you who have suffered the lash of countless Christian rejections. I will be your ally in every way I know how to be.” He intends to make himself available to the GLBT movement, especially to parents seeking to understand their homosexual children.

It is interesting to regard the event that precipitated Gushee’s change of mind. According to the RNS report, in 2008 Gushee’s sister came out as a lesbian. A Christian and a single mother, his sister experienced periodic severe depression and had been hospitalized. Gushee’s conclusion, “traditionalist Christian teaching produces despair in just about every gay or lesbian person who must endure it.”

It’s important to not too quickly skip over this sentence.

If traditional Christian teaching produces despair it is likely that such teaching has somehow been pressed or malformed to obscure the gospel. Whether one identifies as homosexual, bisexual, or heterosexual, the hope of the gospel is the same. In the words of Tim Keller, “We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” The profound experience of grace in the gospel provides the onus to a life of faithful discipleship. The homosexual need not stop experiencing same sex attraction in order to “earn” salvation just as straight people need not stop experiencing opposite-sex attraction. What he must do is remain chaste, an ancient word with little currency in today’s culture.

There can be little doubt that traditional Christians often communicate to gays that they must somehow stop experiencing same sex attraction in order to make themselves acceptable to God. This is not the gospel. There is nothing than we can do to make ourselves acceptable to God. What the Bible asks of us is, however, to recognize that sexual relationships with people of the same sex violates God’s intention for human sexuality. The Christian tradition directs us in one of two equally valid directions: celibacy or heterosexual marriage.

Reasonable people ought to respect Gushee’s right to change his mind and to do so publicly. However, it’s important to note that Gushee’s capitulation is not the only possible response to the precipitous change in cultural attitudes toward sexuality.

A more faithful response is for orthodox Christians to gently and humbly insist that ‘baptizing’ our sexual appetites (gay or straight)—that is affirming them without condition—does not redeem them nor does it lead to human flourishing. In the end our sexual appetites must be ordered and rightly expressed in the God-given covenant relationship of marriage between a man and a woman. The other option, just as valid, is the commitment to live a celibate life. What is more, traditional Christians have a powerful opportunity to simply continue to affirm what the church has always affirmed and yet to do so with generous grace toward those who struggle with same sex attraction. By acknowledging this as a real and legitimate experience for some Christians, the church need not endorse homosexual practice as normative. However, it does provide opportunity both for the pastoral care and for modeling a faithful alternative to culture. In responding to Gushee’s announcement Pittsburgh seminary professor Robert Gagnon echoed this alternative stating: “All of us have one or more areas of life (some of an even more serious nature than same-sex attractions) where we are called on by God to let the “dying of Jesus” become manifest in our body so that the “life of Jesus” might likewise become manifest (as Paul mentions in 2 Cor 4:7-11). Nobody gets a pass from a cruciform life, out of which resurrection follows.” Amen.

[1] Available online at: http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2014/10/24/david-gushee-lgbt-homosexuality-matters/ (accessed October 25, 2014).

26 Responses to Gushee Endorses LGBT Agenda

  1. Semp says:

    The New Testament versus some left-wing professor.

    Don’t think too hard about this one…

  2. republicantreehugger says:

    Sorry to hear of this. We need voices that speak well on things like “torture” (which, of course, is how most Americans would identify water boarding and the like before “our guys” started doing it) but tribalism works both ways, and it is sad to see Gushee get swept up in the rainbow tide.

    On a sidenote, I did not realize that there was an “evangelical consensus” on climate. It is interesting that IRD would in the past go to great lengths to dismiss any notion of a “scientific consensus” on climate and now rather blithely tosses around the idea of an “evangelical consensus.” It is probably true that there is a higher percentage of skeptics in the evangelical world than the public in general, but that does not a consensus make.

    • Mark Byron says:

      I recall a 2006 evangelical climate change document Gushee was onboard with that included quite a few non-liberal evangelicals like Rick Warren and Jack Hayford and my old boss at Warner University. It didn’t include many Baptists other than Gushee nor did it include any of the usual suspects of the “religious right” but it wasn’t mostly folks in the Sojourners orbit, either.

      Thus, there isn’t a huge consensus in evangelical circles on climate beyond political conservative’s distrust of liberal causes and of the stereotypical Gaia-worshiping environmentalist. A majority to be sure, but not quite a concensus.

  3. fredx2 says:

    Oh, wow. someone no one has ever heard of has come out for gay marriage. The earth is rocking on its axis!

  4. mbarker12474 says:

    The Secular Progressive movement has had great success in rejecting God with two amazing pillars of belief: 1) men and women are interchangeable and/or equivalent, and 2) man controls the climate of the earth.

    The first is at the core of feminism, with a tangent off into the issue of homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

    The second is a rejection of creation, ultimately. The climate issue is of course mostly a political scam, but the intellectual basis for it is the Progressive rejection of God.

    Our friend Gushee seems to have bought into these two remarkable feats of human hubris.

    • MarcoPolo says:

      If you think the Climate issue is just a political scam, you’ll be one of those surprised when your air and water are so contaminated or scarce that you’ll have to survive on your pride.

  5. Noel Weymouth says:

    Traditional Christianity induces “despair” in gays and lesbians? Hey, guess what – it induces despair in everyone! That’s the right response of a sinner to a holy God – I’m a sinner, I’m ashamed and sorry – save me, Lord! Christianity puts us all on the same level – sinners in need of salvation.

    Sorry to break it to you, Professor Gusher, but “feel good about yourself” is not a Christian doctrine.

  6. MarcoPolo says:

    The way the author so quickly glossed over the Torture activities during the (illegal) Bush-Cheney-Iraq War, should reveal some indifference to human souls. But sadly, that too will be lost to the Evangelical zeal for domination.

    We could all live in a healthier society, if the Evangelicals would wake up to reality. But I’m not going to hold my breath!

    • DD says:

      Who exactly are we evangelicals trying to “dominate”? We are big in numbers but have zero influence on the culture, so looks to me like you just enjoy believing in a boogeyman.

      FYI, Bush and Cheney have no been in office since January 2009, so you might want to hit that calendar.

      • MarcoPolo says:

        Have you forgotten who started the mess in Iraq? Surely we can’t forget who’s to blame…thus, the reference.

        Perhaps domination is too strong a word.
        It just feels that the Religious Right pushes their agenda in ways that seem overstepping.
        But then, that’s probably how the Religious Right feels about we secularists?

        No harm, No foul!
        See you in Hell, as they say! LOL!

        • DD says:

          Hmm, so evangelicals are the cause of the war in Iraq?

          That’s very enlightening. Do you also believe in UFOs?

          FYI, I honestly don’t have a clue what you’re talking about, because I see no connection between the war in Iraq and evangelicals. Also, whatever Obummer is, he is NOT an evangelical. It’s 2014, I doubt an evangelical has set foot in the White House since January 2009. Like I said, hit that calendar sometime.

      • Karmasue says:

        Wait…what? You say “We are big in numbers but have zero influence on the culture”.

        Zero influence?

        Just for starters evangelicals have at least 233 members of the House, and half the Senate, who are trying to make all US laws reflect the fundamentalist’s version of biblical law.

        Evangelicals have effectively spiked the SCOTUS with SC Justices who have turned monolithic corporations into “persons” in order to pour billions into the election process – specifically to load the right-wing religious caucuses.

        And if that wasn’t influence enough…that same evangelical wing of the SCOTUS gave the “christian” corporations the power to enforce religious doctrine – over US law – onto their non-christian employees.

        Fundamentalists have been slowly injecting their adaptation of christian liturgy into our educational
        system for years – in order to insure the enculturation of America’s non-christian
        youth. And with the advent of billionaire-backed christian zealotry – it has become overt and invasive.

        Evangelism is
        not just a set of beliefs, it is also a pervasive style of life. Evangelicals have been working tirelessly to exert influence over every
        segment of American life since this country was founded.

        Fundamentalist christian evangelism is, by its very nature, dominionism.

        They don’t don’t see that they are paving a dangerous path… because if America succumbs to religious rule, it then becomes a battleground for Which Religion Rules.

    • Karmasue says:

      I noticed that gloss-over as well, Marco. But the part that really stood out in this article was the sentence that followed:

      “Reasonable minds can disagree on whether the
      practice Gushee described constitute torture, yet its fair to say that—for good or ill—the issue of torture didn’t attract much evangelical attention at the time.”

      Really? These violations included physical and sexual
      abuse, torture, rape, sodomy, and murder, just to name a few. <— what? Rape isn't torture?

      Sodomy? Isn't that the most blasphemous sin of all? Maybe even worse than murder if you were to read all the evangelical anti-gay articles and comments.

      They need to read the Abu Ghraib transcripts, and look at the photos again – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abu_Ghraib_torture_and_prisoner_abuse

      – and then tell me what "reasonable mind" could even consider that any of those actions are not torture.

      • Namyriah says:

        You sound confused. Do you oppose sodomy, or not?

      • Jeff Gissing says:

        Thanks for commenting. My comments concerning torture were necessarily limited since that was not the focus of the article. My intent, however, was not to gloss over torture but simply to point out that some practices that are torture at law don’t meet the popular definition.

  7. Namyriah says:

    My my, what a drama queen –
    “the lash of countless Christian rejections.”

    Funny, I don’t remember lashing any gay guys, but if a distinguished and compassionate college professor says so, it must be true.

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