Acceptance of LGBT people is on an undeniable upswing nationwide. Slowly but surely, conservative Christians are catching up. And every time a prominent Christian voice “comes out” for LGBT equality, the potential for change grows.
In an article for the Washington Post, evangelical minister and ethicist David Gushee writes about how his views on homosexuality have undergone a complete about-face in the last few years, and now he’s ready to tell the world.
This is especially a big deal because he was formerly a huge advocate for using the Bible to tear down LGBT people:
For Christians, the LGBT debate has always been framed as a question of sexual ethics. Our argument has centered on six or seven biblical passages that appear to mention homosexuality negatively or appear to establish a heterosexual norm: the sin of Sodom, the laws of Leviticus and the list of “the unrighteous” in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. For most of my career, these ideas formed the foundation of my views and teachings as an evangelical minister and professor of Christian ethics. I co-authored a popular textbook that stated this position flatly: “Homosexual conduct is one form of sexual expression that falls outside the will of God.” I wasn’t mean about it. But I said it.
But lo and behold, something has changed! Here’s his thesis:
In recent years, my moral position has shifted. It has dawned on me with shocking force that homosexuality is not primarily an issue of Christian sexual ethics. It’s primarily an issue of human suffering. With that realization, I have now made the radical decision to stand in solidarity with the LGBT community.
Right off the bat, I generally feel weird when anyone suggests that supporting a gay person is “radical.” Especially when we’re talking about a person whose life’s work is meant to welcome and uplift people. Of course, the world exists outside my comfort bubble, and in many belief systems, supporting an LGBT person is still radical — in the Catholic Church, for instance, the faith’s most revered document still proclaims that LGBT people are mentally ill.
While Gushee doesn’t acknowledge outright that it’s messed up for basic human decency to be considered “radical” in some spaces, he does say that the church’s preoccupation with literal translations of the Bible interferes with the supposed unconditional love they should be offering.
I now believe that the traditional interpretation of the most cited passages is questionable and that all that parsing of Greek verbs has distracted attention from the primary moral obligation taught by Jesus — to love our neighbors as ourselves, especially our most vulnerable neighbors.
I also now believe that while any progress toward more humane treatment of LGBT people is good progress, we need to reconsider the entire body of biblical interpretation and tradition related to this issue.
These are the two most important sentence in the whole piece for me. Religious conservatives who mask their homophobia with a “Jesus said so!” shield have nothing to stand on when those few verses are eliminated from the discourse. Without a couple of questionable passages to point to, there is no religious justification for anti-LGBT sentiments.
Except, of course, the prejudice that’s already there, hidden under the (somehow) socially acceptable excuse of religious conviction. See also: “Gay people are icky.”
Gushee attributes his change of heart to a number of experiences. After moving to Atlanta a few years back he developed close friendships with LGBT people, especially LGBT Christians. His youngest sister is gay and has struggled in the same churches where he worships. He’s also reflected on the civil rights struggles of the past, particularly how discrimination and hatred that we now consider inhumane was the norm for, say, Jewish people during the Holocaust, or African Americans during the worst of our country’s history of racially-based violence and segregation.
In the LGBT rights case of today, he says, much of the hatred has come from churches.
Since the 1960s, when the gay rights movement began in America, Christians and their leaders have struggled to figure out how to respond to the growing tolerance of same-sex relationships. Most in Christianity have responded by offering endless debates over how to interpret that handful of biblical passages. Books erupted. Congregations fought. Denominations split.
For me, the answer to this debate has become simple: There is a sexual-minority population of about 5 percent of the human family that has received contempt and discrimination for centuries. In Christendom, the sexual ethics based in those biblical passages metastasized into a hardened attitude against sexual- and gender-identity minorities, bristling with bullying and violence. This contempt is in the name of God, the most powerful kind there is in the world.
Responding to criticisms from Evangelical Christians like Denny Burk and Robert Gagnon to his new “pro-LGBT” stance, Gushee says he doesn’t want to talk about the details just yet. In fact, it’s a glaring omission in his piece that he doesn’t endorse marriage equality, doesn’t denounce the private schools that needlessly fire LGBT people, and overall doesn’t call for any other kind of action that directly benefits LGBT people. That’s why this change of heart isn’t so radical to me; simply put, Christian love doesn’t grant hospital visitation rights or health insurance.
Anyway, Gushee isn’t ready to talk politics like his critics are.
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.
These are absolutely excellent goals to strive for, but they’re lofty, even coming from a prominent voice like Gushee’s, and lack a direct call to action. Words like “accept” — especially with regards to LGBT Christians and LGBT children — are too vague. Does “love the sinner, hate the sin” count as acceptance? What about “I accept your gayness, but not your marriage”?
He closes with another historical comparison:
I am pro-LGBT in just the same way I hope I would have been pro-Jew in 1943 and pro-African American in 1963. I stand in solidarity with those treated with contempt and discrimination. And I do so because I promised in 1978 to follow Jesus wherever he leads. Even here.
I am 100% on board with born-again Christians being born yet again into a mindset of acceptance and love for their LGBT brethren. But let’s be clear: Acceptance is one thing, advocacy is another. Open hearts are a good place to start, but there’s much more to ending religious-based discrimination than some Christian scholars changing their minds. And it’s up to them to get the ball rolling.
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