David Gushee–the missing link

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by D. G. Wakeford

There is no room middle ground on same sex marriage according to Professor David Gushee of Mercer University. In an RNS column he writes,

It turns out that you are either for full and unequivocal social and legal equality for LGBT people, or you are against it, and your answer will at some point be revealed. This is true both for individuals and for institutions.

Neutrality is not an option. Neither is polite half-acceptance. Nor is avoiding the subject. Hide as you might, the issue will come and find you.

He continues, describing how religious conservatives are responding to the great sweeping tidal wave of justice:

They are organizing legal defense efforts under the guise of religious liberty, and interpreting their plight as religious persecution.

There can be little doubt that what Gushee writes is coming to pass. He is one a number of people who once described themselves as evangelical who have “evolved” on issues of “justice” Gushee is–if you will–the missing link, the transitional species, between fundamentalists and evangelicals, on the one hand, and equality-loving progressives, on the other. He’s trying to “[defend] the Religion of Jesus from intolerant ideologues” who believe that what Jesus taught is amplified, clarified, and applied in the writings of the Apostle Paul and others.

Critics have chided Gushee for implying (with relish and delight) that the days when genuinely-held, religiously-motivated beliefs can be accommodated in the public square are coming to an end.

His essay concludes with three sentences that are reasonably (although not necessarily) understandable as a value judgment: “Sometimes society changes and it marks decadence. Other times society changes and it marks progress. Those who believe LGBT equality marks decadence are being left behind.”

Gushee, in response, claims chides them for not reading his article carefully and for being captive to a persecution narrative that is not rooted in reality:

Did you notice how I described my post, up there in the first line? That was exactly what I was attempting to do in my article on Monday. In my allotted column space of about 750 words I was attempting to sketch changing realities, based on new information since I last wrote about this issue. I was describing. Not prescribing. D-E-S-C-R-I-B-I-N-G. Together with a bit of predicting, which is describing what you think will happen in the future. Lots of people describe and predict. It’s fun. Everyone should try it.

One would presume that an academic of his stature would be a little more adroit with words. He continues later:

Those digging in their heels against any rethinking of the LGBT issue believe they are standing with the saints and martyrs of the ages and facing persecution for doing so. As they set their faces like flint and narrow their steely eyes to peer into a hostile future, they feel brave, strong, and courageous, and they maybe look brave, strong, and courageous to the constituencies they are trying to please. Suffering for Jesus has its rewards.

Whether or not the first article was merely descriptive matters not. Gushee’s dismissive response tells us all we need to know. What we suspected in reading the first article is confirmed in reading the second. The dismissive attitude evidenced by Gushee’s response is endemic in the mainline denominations despite claims to respect individual consciences.

At the end of the day, it matters little to me what Gushee–or the broader culture, for example– makes of the issue of full social and legal equality for any class of person.

One of the central historical differences between liberals and conservatives is the belief of the former that God is less a personal being than the spirit of the age, subjectively experiences in a “religious sense.” Today’s progressive are the inheritors (intellectually) of yesterday’s liberal and romantics. Gushee is a fine example of this since his ‘conversion’ took place almost exclusively as a result of seeing the suffering of a gay relative. Cognition followed subjective experience.

On the other hand, conservatives do not disavow subjective experience but we subject it to revelation–seeing that Scripture shapes and interprets our experiences. Of course gay people suffer and have been wronged. We should name that and repents of the ways in which we have not honored the image of God in all people. At the same time, we offer a vision of life in which sexual expression is not the highest and best form of identity open to people, gay or straight, bisexual or transgender. As heretical as it might be to write: sex is necessary but sufficient to human-ness. We cannot re-phrase Descartes, “I am therefore I copulate.”