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.