Problems with David Gushee’s column at Baptist News GlobalPosted: November 10, 2014
This post is largely a record of feedback to David Gushee’s column at Baptist News Global in 2014, about homosexuality. The column coincided with a bit of a stir in Christian media and gay media outlets, eg here. The series of columns was eventually republished as a book, titled “Changing Our Mind”. This caused such concern that previous colleagues expressly repudiated some elements.
Over a dozen editions of the column were published, each allowing online public feedback for a small time. Most of the feedback to the column seemed critical of what Gushee had written. Then suddenly all feedback on the first dozen or so posts, disappeared. Yep, vanished. That’s the feedback in the Disqus section, AND in the Facebook section – two systems wiped. So Im now keeping a record of my feedback here, where it is less likely to go missing. This means I can also easily paste my feedback back again, as I have now done for many of the entries that vanished, however Ive found that Baptist News Global do not retain my feedback.
Gushee openly states that in some respects he follows in the footsteps of gay sex apologist Dr Brownson (http://baptistnews.com/opinion/columns/item/28943-what-exactly-is-the-issue-the-lgbt-issue-part-2). Gushee also notes in part 2 that “My goal is to think through this issue from a Christian perspective and in public with the hope of increasing “convictional clarity,” and “for those readers who have already worked through these issues and come down firmly on the full affirmation/acceptance/revisionist side, please try not to lose patience with those who have not made that journey and/or need to think about these issues from the ground up, and maybe for the first time. That is the audience I am primarily aiming at in this series.” IE this seems to mean that he is trying to persuade the reader to commit to the “affirmation/acceptance/revisionist side”. Gushee has noted elsewhere that –
Evangelical Christians, such as Denny Burk and Robert Gagnon, are criticizing me because I’m now “pro-LGBT.” They want to shift the discussion immediately to the debate on same-sex relationships and the proper interpretation of those six or seven most cited Bible passages. I want to move right back to what really matters the most to me — loving this particular 5 percent of the population in exactly the same way that Christians are called to love everyone. That means attending to what most harms them and doing something about it. And that means offering full acceptance of LGBT people, ending religion-based harm and contempt, helping families accept the sexual orientation of their own children, and helping churches be a safe and welcoming place for every one of God’s children.
Does he realise that such a position puts him at odds with common understanding of what it is to be evangelical? You cant be evangelical, and not care much about what the Bible states! Yet he continues to be referred to as ‘evangelical’ in media articles, and to call himself ‘evangelical’. In this column and elsewhere, he likes to affirm the scriptures which bring comfort, and to downplay the Scriptures which portray homosexual relations as being sinful. When discussing the Scriptures which refer to homosexuality, he will tend towards obfuscation in an effort to dismiss them as being unclear, while he will oversimplify other Scriptures where it suits him. He likes to portray scholarly interpretations of Scripture as not opposing homosexual relations and he likes to portray those who disagree with him, as being closed minded and less educated. Like Vines, he is a little incoherent in the sense that on one hand they both say that we should be “open minded” about whether the Bible teaches that homosexual relations are inherently sinful, and yet at the same time, they contradict this open-mindedness, by saying that the Bible does not teach that homosexual relations are inherently sinful.
However some of his more recent work has been criticized by Gagnon as being “amateurish and unworthy of a scholar” with accusations that Gushee sometimes “deliberately ignores the array of counterarguments to his own ideological position”. This observation has also been made by others with some former colleagues and students now expressly repudiating points where they feel Gushee has been unscholarly and unfaithful to the Christian Scripture that he claims to uphold. More well known Christian ethicist Russell Moore has implied that Gushee is not a true evangelical.
Here is the record of my feedback (some of it slightly modified the second time I added it) –
I wonder whether this issue is without precedent in regards to a groundswell movement that is so determined and goes to such lengths to reinterpret Scripture in order to redefine a sin as not being a sin? Is there a precedent of comparative scale? I also posted again, writing – The sentence “This new literature is producing resistance among those who seek to refute the particular claims of evangelical revisionists and try to define them ipso facto as no longer evangelical, or Christian” troubles me. Surely it’s unreasonable to portray the reported rejecting of the label ‘evangelical’, as an ipso facto act. There is reasoning behind the rejection of the label. IE those who claim the revisionists are no longer evangelical, explain that the revisionists are not Biblically compliant. Entire books have been written detailing this reasoning. That’s hardly ipso facto. And since there is controversy over whether the revisionists are evangelical, shouldnt this article take an unbiased approach? In examining the very question, why does the article take a side and continue to refer to them as ‘evangelical’? What happened to unbiased reporting?
I think the author of this column is correct that Christians must take into consideration the findings of psychological research and clinical conclusions. But I think the challenge that many of us face, is distinguishing genuine and valid psychological insight, from politics and bias. In the same way that this column was written by someone with a gay sister, so often when we hear medical pronouncements about homosexuality, the news is filtered not only by the medial practitioners, but by journalists and editors who are seeking to persuade. So often the news is transformed into a biased account; one that fits the ethos of the media outlet, and what they think their audience should or wants to hear. In this column we see doubt expressed about whether the relevant Bible scriptures should be interpreted at face value. But do we seem the same level of scepticism when a news article states or implies that homosexual marriage is equivalent to heterosexual marriage, despite all the evidence to the contrary?
The line “Side A Christians believe it is possible for gay believers to enter covenantal same-sex relationships with God’s blessing” seems misleading. Especially when it follows the line “I, for one, have been deeply changed not just by meeting and getting to know numerous gay Christians, but by discovering that some of them are theologically more conservative than I am.” Sure there are some Christians who are same-sex attracted, who are very theologically conservative. And sure, there are some Side A adherents who believe it is possible for gay believers to enter covenantal same-sex relationships with God’s blessing. But such a conservative position is not a balanced characterisation of the mainstream of Side A adherents. The majority of Side A adherents are at least as liberal as those who regard themselves as straight Christians. IE they believe that they can get away with sex outside of a committed relationship, and their behaviour is consistent with that belief. And a not-insignificant proportion of them are not even committed to monogamy.
In part 7 we are told that; “The least interesting interlocutors are those who seem to have learned nothing from our own conflicted history, and who therefore repeat that history over and over again in their certainty that their reading of a text is God’s Own Truth.” And now in part 9, we are told dogmatically that Jude 6-8 and the parallel text in 2 Peter 2:6-7 about Sodom, are not about homosexual sex but rather “represent fragments of tradition referring to unholy human interest in sex with angels, a theme derived from the book of Enoch, with reference back to the mysterious Genesis 6 story about the Nephilim.” The author is now contradicting the advice he provided in part 7, about their reading of the text being the only correct version. I note that as above, the author points to the angelic nature of the desired victims, as being a key explanation of why the events were regarded as sinful. But in the second to last paragraph, the story is portrayed as being all about ill-treatment of men. So is it about ill-treatment of angels or of men? We see the dogmatism again in the closing paragraph where it states; “Genesis 19 and Judges 19 … have nothing to do with the morality of loving, covenantal same-sex relationships.” Certainly there is a vast difference between violent rape, and a loving expression of homosexuality. But to claim that one has “nothing to do” with the other, is dismissive of the fact that Scripture presents the events of Sodom as being particularly heinous, thereby at least raising suspicion that the same-sex element of it was part of the problem. A suspicion that is reinforced by common readings of Jude 7. It is also dismissive of how the story presents Lot’s belief that rape of his own daughters is better than the rape of the visiting men – again giving a sense that same-sex intercourse might be being condemned. The author explains away common readings by appealing to the experts; “But now few serious biblical interpreters think this story is about ‘homosexuality’ at all.” And yes there is an element of truth to this claim. Theologians recognise that the sins of Sodom were various. And we dont tend to see contemporary experiences of homosexual orientation play out as is illustrated in the story of Sodom. But I question whether a majority would feel the story is not about homosexuality “at all”. If few serious biblical interpreters think this story is about homosexuality at all, could we have some broad statistics to back up this claim please? Otherwise how do we know it’s accurate?
The author of this commentary asks “Do Christians quoting Leviticus 20:13 support the death penalty for those committing same-sex acts? If not, why not?” Given that much of this series is fairly in-depth, why does he pose this question and not suggest answers? Is he suggesting it’s a question without answers? It seems strange that he goes in-depth in some areas, but not in areas such as this one. Does he want to present the Leviticus text as problematic, inferring it’s too hard to deal with, meaning its sensible to sweep it under the carpet for now? My suggested answer to the question is that Christians follow Christ, and Christ demonstrated a disdain for the death penalty (John 8:1-22). So in general while we continue to regard the sins of the Old Testament for which the death penalty was prescribed (eg adultery), to remain sinful, we no longer apply the Old Testament penalty. See, that explanation wasnt hard, was it? It’s certainly not a question without answers. The author then moves on to ask how Christians should decide which laws of the Old Testament should remain valid. He suggests that there is no clear-cut method, again seeming to imply that it’s all to hard to worry about for now. Im not a theologian, but I actually do see his point to some degree. He writes “It is also not as simple as saying that Christians accept the moral laws offered in the Old Testament, just not the ceremonial, cultic, dietary or civil laws”. However, I also note that often Christian leaders DO claim that Christians ought to follow that very policy. The author objects that “Any differentiation of authority in terms of categories of Old Testament legal materials is foreign to the materials themselves.” Yes of course. But that is a Jewish perspective. From a Christian perspective, we see that Jesus and St Paul regarded elements of the Old Testament to be valid and other elements to be invalid. Logically modern Christians should take the same perspective. And as the New Testament depicts homosexual relations as sinful, the implication is that the Old Testament references to the same, are also still regarded as sinful. The author finishes this post, by writing “the two sentences in Leviticus (18:22/20:13) are duly noted. … But they do not resolve the LGBT issue.” So is the author going to largely raise questions and cast doubt on the utility of Leviticus and then simply move on, basically echoing the serpent of Genesis 3:1, who asked “did God really say?” I thought Christianity was about promoting faith and conviction, rather than promoting doubt and uncertainty like this?
It troubles me to see this tendency to take an element of doubt and to magnify it. Sure, some Greek words are difficult to translate. But it seems misleading to me, for Dr Gushee to talk of the word ‘arsenokoitai’ as being of unclear meaning, while not revealing to the reader that it’s comprised of the composite words ‘men’ and ‘bed’. Obviously a combination of ‘men’ and ‘bed’, gives an impression of males in an intimate situation. And am I being overly negative, or am I right to feel misled when Dr Gushee repeatedly cites from authors who are gay, without actually stating they are gay?
So in summary, this article consists of: 1) An argument that seems to disagree with 2 Tim. 3:16, by implying that Genesis is not “God breathed”, but is instead somewhat mythological. 2) An evaluation of the Genesis reference to Judaic marriage being inherently heterosexual, that misleadingly fails to state the highly pertinent point that Jesus affirmed that same reference as being authoritative and applicable for Christians. 3) A listing of possible reasons not to interpret Romans 1 at face value, followed by a conclusion that focuses on echoing gay theologians who argue that St Paul’s references to homosexuality are irrelevant to gay Christians today? 4) A conclusion that talks of “traditionalists, who link Paul’s teaching here to the other texts in the canon that we have explored, notably the creation/design theme, thus decontextualizing Paul’s teaching considerably”. Yet the framing of this article decontextualizes Paul’s words by not mentioning that Paul was preaching a theology which as per my point #2, is built in part on Christ preaching that Christian marriage is inherently heterosexual. There is scant reason to believe that Christ repudiated the well-established Jewish teaching that homosexual relations are sinful. And this article decontextualizes Paul by not observing that he repeatedly presents Christian couples as exclusively being in heterosexual relationships, and presents all references to homosexual activity as being unacceptable. If APBnews become a mouthpeace for gay apologetics, then I suppose the above is a balanced approach for meeting that goal. But if APBnews aims for a middle-of-the-road approach, can we now expect some material to be posted that provides balance, by offering the other side of the story?
There is a lot I like about proposal #3. Yes we do live in a fallen world. We are no longer in a Garden of Eden and not everyone is born as either simply male or female. Parts of the church need to have this pointed out. But we dont live in a Genesis 3 world either. Instead we live in a New Covenant world of the New Testament. As such, I suggest Christians should look to Jesus in this regard. Jesus and St Paul did not teach that everyone should marry the opposite sex. St Paul in particular advocated remaining single where practical (1 Corinthians 7) and Jesus perhaps inferred the same for those who felt unable to commit to lifelong monogamous heterosexual marriage (Matthew 19). It saddens me that a Christian website like this, downplays Christ’s perspective on these issues. Im less enthusiastic about proposal #2, which I interpret as basically being a call to not rely on Scripture for sexual ethics. Proposal #1 also concerns me. It implies that to truly comply with what Scripture teaches about sexual orientation, requires you to “[throw] out the stubborn facts, such as the reported experiences of real LGBT people, and related research”. What experiences exactly? What research exactly? I doubt that such a path requires throwing out facts. Lets consider that there have been and continue to be a few supposedly “scientific facts” about LGBT people that are actually quazi-scientific or are not scientific facts at all. Anyone remember the now refuted claims that 10% of the population are gay? Or that a gay gene was almost pinned down? Yes there are references in Scripture to the sun moving around the earth. That doesnt mean that Christians must refuse to accept that the earth revolves around the sun. We just accept that the Scriptural references were written from a standard subjective perspective – what we perceive as human beings each day, when we gaze skyward. Being quick to dismiss elements of Scripture, seems to be a foundational principle employed in this column.
It seems to me that the thrust of this article is not to dissimilar to much other contemporary gay activism within Christian circles today. IE to first (legitimately) point out the Christians who experience same-sex attraction, find their homosexual circumstances to be quite a trial. But they then portray the relevant Scriptures as being of debatable interpretation, and conclude by recommending that the Church change to instead affirm homosexual relations. However this article seems to me to portray the problem in a grossly inaccurate way, using the sentence “Let’s say the total ban based on incorrect sexual orientation is provisionally lifted.” If there are any churches that have a total ban on homosexual orientation, surely such churches are a minority amongst most churches? Surely they are a minority even amongst conservative churches? Most conservative churches do not ban homosexual orientation. Rather they ban homosexual practice. IE celibate homosexuals remain welcome. This is the official policy of the Catholic church, for example, and the same is official policy for many denominations. The author of the article seems to be aware that it’s a strawman claim, as evidenced by the later contradictory sentence “We don’t do them any favors when our welcome to them comes accompanied by ….” Huh? Didnt the earlier sentence say they were not welcome? Im also troubled by the generalised comparison between gay and straight people, in the section worded as follows. “But there are also LGBT Christians who want to make — and some in fact have made — a lifetime covenant with one person, in an effort to be faithful to the witness of the Christian tradition. This is admirable, and far exceeds the moral rigor of most Americans, including many American Christians.” This seems to characterise LGBT Christians as wanting lifetime marriage convenants, in contrast with others who supposedly have less moral rigor. Such characterisations are belied by the statistics on the monogamy levels of gay people verses straight people. Of course generalisations have their limitations, as there are usually exceptions, but based on my observations, male Christians who are practising homosexuals tend to be just as non-monogamous in their relationships as non-Christian homosexuals. And research tells us that around half of gay men who marry each other report that they continue to be non-monogamous. The author encourages “dialogue and study” on this topic. Good idea. But lets keep it honest and balanced.
“Those of us who are in the process of making a paradigm leap toward full solidarity with LGBT Christians are sometimes accused of “abandoning the gospel.” This is a very serious charge. Are those who level it saying that the Good News that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19), and that “God so loved the world that he have his only Son, so that everyone who believes him may not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16) is compromised when Christians rethink the interpretation of six passages about sexual ethics, or move forward other texts for deeper consideration?”
No, those who level it are not necessarily saying that 2 Cor. 5:19 or Jn. 3:16 are compromised when Christians rethink the interpretation of six passages about sexual ethics, or move forward other texts for deeper consideration. There is nothing wrong with rethinking or with deep consideration, per se. But there is something wrong with a lack of balanced thinking. In this series, much of the thinking has been drawn from gay theologians and has been framed in ways that draw the reader into their way of thinking; into doubt about relevant Scriptures, sometimes without providing a reasonable counterbalance. In so doing, Jn. 3:16 is compromised, because it says that those who gain eternal life are those who “believe him” – something that is difficult to do in the face of being told that Scriptures probably dont mean what they appear to say at face value. It is highly relevant that this article cites Acts 10:34-36 “God shows no partiality but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him …. Jesus Christ — he is Lord of all”. IE God shows no partiality but in every nation any person of minority sexual orientation (or anyone else) who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him …. Jesus Christ — he is Lord of all. But for a person of minority sexual orientation (or anyone else), who does not do what is acceptable to Him, Jesus is not his Lord.
Again this column portrays a false dichotomy in regards to Christian attitudes towards gay and lesbian people. The final paragraph constructs two options; 1; “treating people the way Christ did.” Including treating gays and lesbians as equals and as kin. The broader context suggests this means regarding homosexual relations as being non-sinful. or 2; embracing an anything-goes ethic. But there are many Christians who already ideologically support much of option 1, without regarding homosexual relations as being non-sinful. Official doctrine of the Catholic church and other denominations is that those with same-sex attraction should be welcomed, loved, embraced, supported and treated as equals and as kin, so long as they do not actually engage in homosexual relations.