“When The Full Force Of (White-Straight-Male) Christian Orthodoxy Is Used Against You”
By Dr. David P. Gushee
(Excerpted with permission from the book Still Christian: Following Jesus Out of American Evangelicalism)
For a year after the publication of Changing Our Mind, I went on an unplanned speaking tour. Crisscrossing the country, I spoke to congregations, universities, and denominations that either already agreed with my view or were looking for some help in their internal wrestling. It was an incredible year. What I will most remember about it were the pastoral conversations before and after sessions. There are so many hurting LGBT Christians and ex-Christians. They are everywhere. And they came out to meet me and tell me their stories. I was blown away.
Probably the event that most touched me was when the heavily gay Grace Cathedral in San Francisco asked me to preach at its vesper service on the Thursday after the 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage. The Gay Men’s Chorus of San Francisco—led, it turns out, by a rejected former Texas Baptist music minister—provided the music. It was stunning.
It has been a humbling honor to be so often in the presence of gay Christians and ex-Christians driven out of the church in the name of the Bible. To be entrusted with their stories, and sometimes with their hope for a better future for the next generation of gay kids, has been profound. My sense of solidarity with them has only deepened, while my resistance to rejectionist (and bystander) Christianity has only intensified. For the first time in my life, I have come to a personal experience of what it is like to have the full force of (white-straight-male) Christian orthodoxy used against you. It has certainly deepened my sympathy for others who have long had just that experience.
Every so often an issue comes along that requires a choice be made: for or against slavery, for or against women’s ordination, for or against racial integration, for or against rescuing Jews during the Holocaust, for or against using government power to force better working conditions, for or against mass deportations of undocumented immigrants, and so on.
At the moment in which the moral pivot points occur, strong arguments can be made on both sides, and strong passions always arise. At least for Christians, these arguments and passions are always buttressed with Bible quotations. Only later does authority, or history, declare who had it right and who did not. Meanwhile, in that instant, morally responsible people have to make their leap and trust God with both the consequences and divine judgment.
So there you have it. In about four months of grief-fueled writing, I managed to make myself every (conservative) evangelical’s least-favorite liberal ex-evangelical. I managed to get my name taken off the invitation list of pretty much the entire evangelical world I described in the last chapter. My stance was publicly rejected by the leaders of both Baptist schools that I had once served. Most of my former students and many former colleagues looked on with disapproving incomprehension.
I had left an entire world behind.
If I had it to do over again, I probably would have done two years of research before writing the articles that became the book. I probably would have waited for my grief to settle down. And I would have more realistically anticipated the cost of taking this stand.
But, to use some old-school evangelical vocabulary, that is not how God worked in me at that particularly fateful moment. The book ended up being something unlike what I had ever done before. It became a handbook for regular people struggling at the LGBT/Christianity intersection, as well as for gay people themselves, their families, and their siblings. Unlike most books written by academics, it was comprehensible to people without doctorates. But mainly, it was what God gave me to say at the time.
If I had had two years to bulk up my research, two years to refine my arguments, two years to prepare my rebuttals, I don’t think that my basic conclusions, or the reception of my book, would have been much different.
On this issue, it is increasingly clear—you are either fully with LGBT people, or you are not. You are either fully heartbroken over their suffering, or you are not. You either see Jesus as just the kind of Savior who sides with rejected people like this, or you do not. In most cases, pivotal personal experiences involving relationships with LGBT people make a huge difference. But even then, you have to be the kind of person who can integrate such experiences into your reading of the Bible such that your prior view of the entire issue gets transformed. That involves a way of being religious that is foreign to many religious people.
I believe that the story I have told so far in this book is largely a story of privilege. At every step of the journey, I had the various kinds of resources needed to flourish, including money, education, mentors, job opportunities, and a recognized voice. For a long period, I enjoyed the acclaim and privileges that go with being an authority in both religious and academic communities. And, of course, I was (almost) never treated with scorn based on race, color, religion, gender identity, nationality, or sexuality.
So getting slapped around a bit for standing with gay people was undoubtedly good for me. It was just the smallest taste of what they have experienced their whole lives. It helped me identify with marginalized people in a much more visceral way than I ever had before.
And to everyone who still thinks I was wrong and would like further opportunity to tell me so, I say this: We’ll sort it out when we all meet Jesus.
Dr. David P. Gushee is Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University and the author of Still Christian: Following Jesus Out of American Evangelicalism