Christianity,  Theology/Bible

What David Gushee’s change of heart really means

Jonathan Merritt reports for Religion News Service that David Gushee no longer believes homosexual, bisexual, or transgender behavior to be sinful. Who is David Gushee? He is an ethicist that has been a part of the evangelical movement for many years—which is why Merritt has splashed his story. Merritt puts forth Gushee’s change of heart as a decision of great consequence for the evangelical movement saying, “It is difficult to overstate the potential impact of Gushee’s defection.”

Several thoughts come to mind in response to this report:

(1) This is no surprise for those who have been following David Gushee’s career. He’s been on a leftward slide for many years now on a range of issues. That he is making this announcement now shocks no one. In fact, earlier this year Gushee endorsed a book making revisionist arguments about the Bible and homosexuality. This is not the kind of announcement that sends shockwaves through evangelicalism. For those who know about Gushee (which may be a precious few), this has been a long time in coming.

(2) I hope that Gushee’s change of heart doesn’t harden his heart against evangelicals. The reason I say that is because his rhetoric suggests that he is about to embark on a “crusade” against the very Christians he used to identify with. In a statement to a pro-LGBT group, he writes:

I do 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… Traditionalist Christian teaching produces despair in just about every gay or lesbian person who must endure it… It took me two decades of service as a married, straight evangelical Christian minister and ethicist to finally get here. I am truly sorry that it took me so long to come into full solidarity with the Church’s own most oppressed group.

I don’t know how else to read this except as a statement against Christians who believe that homosexuality is sin. He seems to identify “traditionalist Christian teaching” as “discrimination.” In effect, Gushee is adopting the rhetoric of Christianity’s fiercest critics who routinely accuse us of being bigoted and hateful simply for believing what the Bible says about sexuality. I cannot understand why Gushee would stake-out such an uncharitable and intolerant stance against Christians who hold the very same views that he once held. I wonder if Gushee would have accepted the charge of “discrimination” ten years ago when his own views were different.

(3) Jonathan Merritt claims that Gushee’s change of heart gives gravitas to what has otherwise been a young movement among evangelicals. He writes:

While other pro-LGBT Christian activists — including Justin Lee of the Gay Christian Network and Matthew Vines, author of “God and the Gay Christian” — have been dismissed in some circles as wet-behind-the-ears youngsters without formal theological training, Gushee, 52, is a scholar with impeccable credentials. He can add intellectual heft to what has largely been a youth-led movement, and is not someone who can be easily dismissed.

This is actually backwards. Pro-gay revisionist readings of scripture have been around for decades, and they were pioneered by “Christian” scholars. Evangelical scholars have decisively answered those revisions going back at least three decades. The conversation among religious scholars has gone under the radar of the larger public, but it has been there. And all of those old arguments are now showing up in the work of popularizers like Matthew Vines and Justin Lee. This has not been a “youth-led” movement. It’s been a “youth-led” warming-over of discredited heresies. Gushee doesn’t add any scholarly gravitas. We’ve had scholars advocating this heresy for decades.

(4) I get the feeling that Jonathan Merritt regards Gushee’s defection as some kind of bellwether for evangelical views on sexuality. If that is what he intends, I think he is mistaken. Gushee is not the future of evangelicalism. He is the future of ex-evangelicalism. He joins a chorus of others who have left the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3) and who no longer represent what evangelical Christianity is all about. Anyone who looks to figures like Gushee to understand evangelical piety and faith will be inevitably misled.


  • Tim

    Thanks for filling in some more of the information on what’s happening with Mr. Gushee’s upcoming speech. It helps to round out the analysis, importance and effect of his most recent pronouncements on his developing stance on LGBT issues. As you – and others I’ve read today – say, this speech will not be a surprise to anyone who has read Mr. Gushee’s writings on the subject.

    One other point: in Jonathan Merritt’s article (which you link to above) he notes:

    “But [Gushee] doesn’t expect this to change the minds of Mohler and other hardline conservatives. He only hopes that those on the far right will help end the bullying of LGBT persons, stop using harmful rhetoric, and resist laws that are punitive against sexual minorities.”

    Regardless of one’s theological stance on the issue, this is one more important issue to discuss. After all, bullying people does not advance the cause of Christ. Building friendships with people does – whether those people also happen to be LGBTQ or not. And in regard to those friendships, I think God is actually quite pleased with my own gay relationships.

    • Esther O'Reilly

      No Tim, I’m afraid that wouldn’t be good enough for Gushee and Co. All that stuff about “ending bullying” and “resisting laws that are punitive against sexual minorities” is code talk. When they say “ending bullying,” they really mean helping to PROMOTE bullying against people who are refusing to bow to the homosexual agenda (by doing such horribly bigoted things as, say, not letting a boy who think he’s a girl use the girls’ room). And the “laws” they’re referring to presumably would include standing affirmations of the uniqueness of heterosexual marriage. And “harmful rhetoric” probably would include the entire paragraph I just typed, because I used phrases like “the homosexual agenda,” or “a boy who thinks he’s a girl,” instead of “the fight for LGBTQEW()* rights” or “a transgendered individual.”

      These people don’t really play nice. Hoping to appease them in some way will only lead them to have more contempt for us.

      • Roy Fuller

        Well, that comment certainly contributes to the widely held belief that there is no middle ground, no place where principled Christians can reject both bullying, punitive laws against homosexuals, and still affirm their beliefs and contribute to public policy discussion and actions. “These people” – what people specifically, Gushee (and Co)? Activists who embody your opponents? Lumping them altogether? And people wonder who can’t “play nice.” You sound as if you have been hurt for expressing your views, but don’t take it out on all “these people.”

        • Tim

          “the widely held belief that there is no middle ground, no place where principled Christians can reject both bullying … and still affirm their beliefs …. .”

          Exactly, Roy. Any believer in Jesus who won’t stand up for someone being beaten up or even killed for their sexuality needs to take a closer look at who Jesus is. And in my job I still deal with cases where people are hurt for no reason other than being LGBTQII.

          • Esther O'Reilly

            But Tim, the problem is that when activists refer to “taking a stand against bullying,” they are NOT simply referring to homosexuals being beaten up or killed, something which any supporter of human rights should support as a given. They are clearly talking about something that goes beyond real, actual bullying, into merely their definition of bullying. This includes things that manifestly should not fall into that category—things that are just normal, human expressions of the truth that homosexuality is abnormal, that gender is binary, and so forth. What you’re showing is that you don’t believe this to be, culturally, a zero-sum game, when in fact that’s exactly what it is. By all means, speak truth into the lives of your friends with this orientation, but be under no illusions about the future of civil liberties when it comes to this issue.

            • Tim

              The fact that some people might have hidden agendas is beside the point, Esther. No matter what they mean by bullying, what I mean is that people are being hurt and even killed for nothing more than being LGBT. That has to stop and Christians should be in the lead stopping it.

              • Esther O'Reilly

                I agree that we should oppose real violations of human rights wherever they are occurring. However, if we throw our support behind the kind of generic “anti-bullying” programs that we see on level of the government and the schools, we need to understand that we will be supporting much more than the simple attempt to make sure kids don’t get physically beaten up for being gay. Because of the expanding definition of “bullying,” the hidden agenda is indeed very to the point when it comes to these major programs. I’m not quite sure whether you’re suggesting that Christians should support these kinds of programs anyway, start their own movement that’s more narrowly focused, or simply take individual stands against actual bullying with homosexual people in their own lives.

      • Tim

        Esther, my point was not an effort to appease anyone. It’s about people being hurt, killed even. That has to stop, and Christians should be at the forefront of taking action to make sure it never happens again. Read the article linked through my name above if you want to read one way Christians can have gay and lesbian relationships that honor God.

        • Daryl Little

          So…aside from Matthew Sheppard, who we know was not killed by some homophobic bunch of guys (quite the contrary) who, on this continent, has been killed simply for being gay?

          I’m unaware of any. Not that that means that none have been. Just that I’ve not heard of it.

          Help me out here.

            • Daryl Little

              Crazy and horrible. I agree, Christians should be at the front of defending anyone who is treated like that, for any reason.

              I don’t think it’s a legitimate reason for using anti-bullying campaigns to smuggle the gay agenda in schools, nor, it is a reason to treat bullying on the basis of a lifestyle choice as different from any other bullying (I doubt there are many people out there who haven’t been bullied for one reason or another at some point in their lives).

              The doesn’t lessen the tragic nature of an attack like that. Bullying is always wrong. Whatever the reason.

              • buddyglass

                I’d argue most of the victims of “anti-gay” bullying were not, in fact, gay. Anyone boy who doesn’t fit a certain ideal is potentially a target, regardless of whether he’s attracted to other boys/men. Maybe in high school this is different. Especially now that many high school kids have come out of the closet. When I was in school, though, and especially in the lower grades, kids were mocked for being “gay” and it had nothing to do with actual sexual attraction.

      • Bob McDougal

        Wow Esther. what a truly informed understanding and explanation of what “those people” are and their “homosexual agenda”. You really hit the nail on the head. (Hitting the nail on the head as to why Gushee felt the need to issue an apology from Christians regarding the treatment of LGBT people in this country.) And we wonder why people are fleeing the church in America today? Maybe its because we talk exactly like the pharisees and talk and act exactly opposite of Christ’s example that he set. What were the most important commandments. 1. Love your God with all your heart and 2. Just as important as the first, Love your neighbor as yourself? (And no, love your neighbor does not mean calling their struggle for civil rights “the homosexual agenda” or using the government, through laws, to make them criminals and oppress them)

        The last time I checked. Christians weren’t being “bullied” in this country because they are the majority in this country, and as such, we dont get to make such claims. Further, the fact that those in the church cannot acknowledge science and reality to the point of calling gay people as “living a lifestyle or a choice” is incredibly damaging to LGBT people. It would be like telling african americans to just stop being black. Its who they are and once you open your eyes to the fact that thats how God made them, it might become clearer why many of us in the church have had to reconsider our positions on these issues.

    • Sue Oliver

      It may not seem that there is little impact on Gushee’s work but I assure you from the ranks of the common church-goers there is MUCH impact. I have read and disected Gushee’s book because a relative had announced the status of homosexual last year and I was trying to educate myself as a Christian on what should be my response. My church and the scholars are either avoiding the issue and/or writing very superficial responses to his book. WHERE are all those scholarly, well researched biblical studies on this subject?

      The Catholics originally taught that sexual relations was for the purpose of procreation…now, with the population explosion and the knowledge of how to block procreation …suddenly it is not sinful or immoral to practice birth control (not speaking of abortion but medical birth control) …things change! Those of us who are educated and well-read need to hear and read and learn and study some more what God’s Word says and means in 21st century America.

      It is NOT being addressed other than to say that homosexuality is an abomination….often being voiced by some who are killing their brothers and sisters in their hearts by words or thoughts.

      I’d love to read the works of those who have studied Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Aramaic and have and prayerfully considered God’s Holy Word! Speak up and share!
      Currently my highly educated family is going with Gushee because his written word has depth and substance…’s not just a surface look.

      But, I continue to pray for us all, for our Christian chruches and for God’s wisdom and guidance on this.

  • Curt Day

    Before the rush, I stated in one of my blogposts that the Conservative Christian’s tight association of calling homosexuality sin with marginalizing gays in society by denying them full equality would cause some to change regarding the Biblical morality of homosexuality. And the dynamics here are easy to understand. By making the marginalization of gays required if one was to call homosexuality sin, we put people who know that that marginalizing gays is also sinful choose their poison.

    So we have a choice, we could either be like the pharisee in the parable of the two men praying and exalt ourselves while pointing out the sins of others or we could be like the publican who went home justified because he confessed his sins and cried out for God’s mercy. Certainly homosexuality is sinful as defined by the scriptures, but so is marginalizing people. Just perhaps, if we would not work to marginalize homosexuals while preaching the Gospel of repentance to them, that is that we preach to them as fellow sinners and as equals, then we might not put people into a position of choosing between Sin 1 and Sin 2.

  • revbart

    The “gravitas” argument is also backwards because the people truly vindicated by this are those who warned about this slippery slope long ago (and were lampooned by so many on the left for doing so).

  • Roy Fuller

    Burk’s statement, “I cannot understand why Gushee would stake-out such an uncharitable and intolerant stance against Christians who hold the very same views that he once held” reveals that he really cannot understand what Gushee has come to understand, namely that, “Traditionalist Christian teaching produces despair in just about every gay or lesbian person who must endure it.” I realize that may not be the intended result of advocating and promoting the traditionalist position on this issue, and that persons feel called and compelled to speak their truth and stand for righteousness (as they understand it, and how it has been understood). But failing to understand Gushee’s stance, when Gushee so clearly articulates it, after much grappling with the teachings, interpretations, and applications of Scripture, tradition, science, and culture, as revealed in his series on articles on this topic published by Baptist News Global (formerly Associated Baptist Press), reveals the inability of many persons of the traditionalist view to understand how persons on the “other” side have come to their understanding. I don’t offer these comments as an indictment, as much as a sad commentary on how divided the Christian community is on this issue, and the alienation some Christians (and non-Christians) have experienced. Like Gushee, I don’t expect to change the views of those who hold to a traditionalist position on homosexuality, but there must be another way to convey one’s truth without causing the collateral damage we are seeing.

    • Richard Klaus

      Hello Roy,

      You mention his “grappling with the teachings, interpretations, and applications of Scripture, tradition, science, and culture” but this is called into question by Robert Gagnon’s comments and interactions with Dr. Gushee-

      It doesn’t appear that Dr. Gushee is willing to engage with the best biblical scholarship which disagrees with him.

  • buddyglass

    “Gushee is not the future of evangelicalism. He is the future of ex-evangelicalism.”

    Perhaps the future of evangelicalism, or, at least, many who now consider themselves evangelicals in the same way Gushee once did, is ex-evangelicalism.

  • Bob McDougal

    So, Denny first tries to marginalize David Gushee and his work in the past. Then, Denny takes comments made by Gushee to a pro-LGBT audience and turns them into strawman indictment of traditional evangelicals. Then, he tries to explain why Gushee is wrong by simply stating that his definition is correct and all others are heresy.

    Wow, I’m just glad it wasn’t someone from outside of the church as the pridefulness, judgment, and hatred might have been overwhelming. Nice work Denny, you have succinctly demonstrated why the church is in decline with just this blog post. The churchgoers have been carrying on while having left Christ and his message a couple miles back up.

  • Dillon Andrews

    “I will be your ally in every way I know how to be… Traditionalist Christian teaching produces despair in just about every gay or lesbian person who must endure it”

    I thinking of the sins we could replace with ‘every gay and lesbian person..’ Traditional Christian teaching produces despair in a lot of people. Dr. Gushee is now finding out that embracing sin will produce a lot of despair for him as well. I suppose a lot of people will welcome him to the party. Congratulations I guess.

    • Larry Geiger

      Thank you Dillon

      Here, let me help you…
      Traditionalist Christian teaching produces despair in just about every thief who must endure it.
      Traditionalist Christian teaching produces despair in just about every liar who must endure it.
      Traditionalist Christian teaching produces despair in just about every adulterer who must endure it.
      Traditionalist Christian teaching produces despair in just about every greedy person who must endure it.

      So what is that “despair” all about? Sin. Recognize the sin, confess the sin and then repent of the sin. Repent as in turn away from the sin. Confessing sin to God and asking him to remove the “despair”. The “despair” goes away when we turn away from the sin and lead a Godly life.

  • Jerry Pierce

    Thanks for bringing some clarity to the issue, Denny. I would guess most evangelicals have never heard of any ethicist, much less Dr. Gushee. Most pew-sitting evangelicals have never heard of Carl Henry or J.I. Packer, either. I liked that Dr. Mohler made sure to note that he was grieved. We should all be grieved each time a professed brother compromises his faith for the vain philosophies and emotional reasoning that the world so easily clings to. While we grieve, we should pray that Gushee and those like him who profess Christ find their way back to obedience to Christ and His Word, narrow as it is. Homosexual attraction may be a complex issue, but the question as to whether or not the practice of it is unhealthy and spiritually deadly is simply, clearly answered in Scripture and in nature.

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