NEW YORK (RNS)—Baptist ethicist and theologian David Gushee has changed his views on gay rights and same-sex relationships.
Gushee, a professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University, a Baptist-rooted school in Georgia, plans to announce he now affirms same-sex relationships in a speech to The Reformation Project conference, a gathering of pro-lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender Christians in Washington, Nov. 8.
“I do join your crusade tonight,” Gushee’s prepared remarks say. “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.”
The journey to his current position has been a long and winding one, Gushee says. During the first two decades of his academic career, he maintained a traditional view of sexuality and “hardly knew a soul who was not heterosexual.” As he worked on issues such as torture and climate change, his attention was drawn to other issues—slavery, segregation, defamation of Jews, subjugating women—for which some Christians once cited Scripture for their entrenched positions.
Then in 2008, his younger sister, Katey, came out as a lesbian. She is a Christian single mother, and she had been hospitalized periodically for depression and a suicide attempt. It made him realize “traditionalist Christian teaching produces despair in just about every gay or lesbian person who must endure it.”
A former student wrote Gushee his teachings had contributed to the painful struggle of understanding his sexual identity. Scientific data suggesting same-sex attraction is a naturally occurring form of human diversity sent Gushee back to the Bible. Years later, he concluded the Bible doesn’t actually teach what he previously assumed.
“It took me two decades of service as a married, straight evangelical Christian minister and ethicist to finally get here,” his speech says. “I am truly sorry that it took me so long to come into full solidarity with the church’s own most-oppressed group.”
New book outlines Gushee’s case
Gushee also has penned a book that makes a biblical and philosophical case for LGBT affirmation. The volume, titled Changing Our Mind: A Call from America’s Leading Evangelical Ethics Scholar for Full Acceptance of LGBT Christians in the Church, will be released by David Crumm Media prior to the speech. The book is based loosely on a series of articles Gushee published with Baptist News Global—formerly Associated Baptist Press—exploring the topic.
Going forward, Gushee hopes the book will become part of the growing body of resources and research that makes a case for Christian acceptance of LGBT relationships—but he also is making himself available to the movement itself. Among his top priorities—providing help for families trying to understand their gay and lesbian children, as well as materials for college and youth pastors.
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 strong credentials.
His Christian ethics textbook, Kingdom Ethics, written with the late Glen Stassen, is widely respected and was named a 2004 Christianity Today book of the year.
Association with CBF already ended
Some media reports identified him as theologian-in-residence for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a coalition of 15 theological schools, 150 ministries and 1,800 Baptist churches nationwide.
However, CBF Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter explained her organization contracted with Gushee to “create written materials outlining the biblical and theological basis for advocacy in each of the CBF mission communities.”
“As theologian-in-residence, his work has been limited to advocacy issues related to CBF mission communities—hunger, education, payday lending, immigration, criminal justice. He was not contracted by CBF to comment or work on LGBT issues,” she said.
Gushee completed the assignment prior to his Dec. 31 deadline, and his contractual relationship with CBF ended, she explained.
“CBF does not issue official positions on homosexuality or other social issues, because it violates the Fellowship’s mission as a network of individuals and churches. CBF values and respects the autonomy of each individual and local church to evaluate and make their own decision regarding social issues like homosexuality,” Paynter said.
“In seeking to follow the theme of Romans 15 and other New Testament Scripture commending Christians to unity within a large family of faith, CBF is important in providing a place where the tension is recognized and spoken in honest dialogue and yet fellowship remains.”
Change surprising ‘but not unexpected’
The organization’s leaders “were surprised” by the articles he wrote for Baptist News Global and by his leadership in The Reformation Project’s conference, she noted.
Even so, Gushee’s change of heart on LGBT issues is not entirely unexpected, some observers insisted. He has parted company with many fellow evangelicals on a number of issues.
Conservative colleagues, including Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where Gushee taught in the 1990s, may see his change of heart as treasonous. While Mohler said the decision is “tragic and causes me real grief,” the two have had ongoing disagreements dating back to Gushee’s time on the Louisville, Ky., campus.
“It was clear early on that he and I, and he and Southern Seminary, were moving in different directions, and those who’ve been watching David’s trajectory will see this as a logical conclusion,” Mohler said. “He’s now placed himself outside of employability at the previous institutions where he taught.”
That other institution is Union University, a conservative Baptist college in Tennessee where Gushee was a professor from 1996 until 2007. David Dockery, who served as president of Union during that time, said he was saddened by Gushee’s defection but declined additional comment.
Mohler: Gushee is ‘late to the party’
While Mohler acknowledged Gushee’s influence, especially among more progressive evangelicals, he doesn’t believe Gushee’s switch presents any new challenges to the conservative cause.
“David is not saying anything new, and he’s a little late to the party,” Mohler said. “When you look at the figures who are making arguments for same-sex marriage and relationships, there is an expanding literature that is as much as 20 years old.”
Gushee disagrees, saying many scientific studies on sexuality are new, as is using LGBT suffering as a logical starting point for the conversation. But he doesn’t expect this to change the minds of Mohler and other conservatives. He only hopes that those further to the right will help end the bullying of LGBT persons, stop using harmful rhetoric and resist laws punitive against sexual minorities.
In the end, Gushee says he doesn’t think much about the backlash headed his way from his newfound opponents.
“I still love Jesus and read the Bible and pray every morning, and I don’t really care what they say,” he said. “I’m willing to let God and history be my judge.”
See Related Article:
David Gushee’s Gay-Switch, Biblical Scholarship, and Slanted Reporting (From The Christian Post)