This week, Eliel Cruz interviewed evangelical ethics professor Dr. David Gushee for his LGBT-faith column at the Religious News Service. I’ll either share or comment on that interview when it’s live.
Gushee, who teaches at Mercer University in Atlanta, hit the national papers earlier this fall after declaring that his theology had changed and he could no longer support the abusive marginalization of LGBT people in or out of the Church.
At a Reformation Project regional conference in Washington, D.C., Gushee told attendees: “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.”
And he’s just published a new book that describes his change process and how evangelicals might re-engage the scriptures and freshly engage the LGBT community affected by their scripture-reading and doctrine-making. I didn’t know about the book until yesterday, but am not even mildly surprised.
Eliel invited the #FaithfullyLGBT tag to contribute questions for Gushee—and I shared a few, which I’ve amplified for this post:
- Anticipated Peer Group: Which affirming Christian organizations will Gushee now be working with, and why?
This question establishes the fact that he’s not exploring undiscovered country; he’s new to a 50-year lineage of scholarship, activism, marginalization, and service without praise.
- Influences: Which books and/or people does he credit with helping him understand the limits of his former position?
This question acknowledges that we’re all products of our network, not intrepid isolated heroes or Thomas Carlyle’s “Great Men.”
- Issue Framing: What does he think is the biggest obstacle to the Church embracing its born and raised LGBT members?
This question addresses the fact that LGBT people are native to the Church not Other to it and that the evangelical community could very naturally embrace its own but resists. I’d like to hear Gushee explore why that is.
- Significance/Unique Contribution: The tide has already turned legally & in the mainline community. What can evangelical affirmers like him uniquely add now?
This question assumes that Gushee would self-define as an “affirmer”; I told Eliel that I wasn’t entirely sure about that.
- Intention: What message does he want LGBT current or former Christians to hear? What about him does he want us to understand?
This question gives Gushee an opportunity to clarify his intentions and his core message—primarily for LGBT people in and beyond the Church and not just for his heterosexual evangelical peers.
In just the last two years, a whole series of prominent male evangelicals has shifted on sexuality, mostly to suggest that LGBT people might also enjoy the ability to marry their beloved ones. Examples include Rob Bell, Jim Wallis (though Jim didn’t understand the intersection of sexuality and US immigration), the UK’s Steve Chalke, and Ken Wilson and Danilo Cortez, both local pastors who proposed what they call a “Third Way” approach in their congregations. Cortez lost his denominational affiliation and 40% of his members over that move. Wilson, who like Gushee has written a book about his process, escaped with a 90 page rebuttal from the church association he co-founded and complete erasure from his former church’s website.
In the Adventist corner of Christianity, Herb Montgomery lost donors and supporters over open solidarity with the LGBT community earlier this year. Yet the caravan has kept progressing alongside the closure of US-based Exodus International, early professional ex-gay campaigner John Paulk’s apology, and the Church of England including Accepting Evangelicals, a 10yo inclusive network, in its deliberations.
Each of the questions I shared with Eliel this week cracks open a different door, and every door opens up a whole room of reflection that I’d recommend new supporters visit, sit down in, and meditate in slowly. Yet I’m not a publisher or a gatekeeper. I’m not the manager of the New Ally Pipeline. I’m only a small part of the community that Dr. Gushee would like to support. And Eliel may have had a different set of priorities for his interview than to make sure someone like me had her questions answered.
I’m at peace with that.
If any just-out supporter did seek me out for a word, I’d have a few notes of caution to sing. Some of us are wary of those who seem to lead with optics and branding, not substance or human/humane care, and who use the community to shore up their visibility, relevance, or credibility with others. FYI: bristling about my last sentence, laundry-listing one’s many acts of kindness to Those People, or reflexively denying their application in any specific case won’t mitigate that communal wariness in any way.
The only thing that mitigates community wariness is consistency demonstrated over time. And there’s no way in heaven or earth for a new supporter to accelerate the passage of time.
In the meantime, I’ll choose to trust the steady progress of the Earth around the Sun, even if I note human variability out of the corner of my eye. And I’ll hope that community members with a far broader vision of the future than the one the status quo dreams of can speak to Gushee in language he can understand.