In a tendentious puff piece about David Gushee (“Progressive” Baptist and Christian ethicist at Mercer University), Jonathan Merritt (senior columnist for Religion News Service) trumpets that Gushee’s defection from the orthodox stance on homosexual practice will do great damage to that position (“Leading evangelical ethicist David Gushee is now pro-LGBT. Here’s why it matters”). Mr. Merritt declares with the usual bias that we have come to expect from him when talking about homosexuality:
“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 impeccable credentials. He can add intellectual heft to what has largely been a youth-led movement, and is not someone who can be easily dismissed.”
Mr. Merritt goes on to agree with Dr. Gushee in characterizing everyone who concurs with Jesus’ stance on a foundational male-female prerequisite for sexual relations as a “hardline conservative” and a member of the “far right.”
One helpful point in the article, though, is the disclosure of the reason for Dr. Gushee’s departure from the overwhelming evidence from Scripture and nature: “Then in 2008, his younger sister, Katey, came out as a lesbian. She is a Christian, single mother, and had been periodically hospitalized for depression and a suicide attempt.”
I will respond to each of the last three paragraphs in order.
(1) Dr. Gushee's alleged "intellectual heft" on the issue of the Bible and homosexuality:
Dr. Gushee carries no “intellectual heft” on the issue of Scripture and homosexuality, for two simple reasons: (1) Dr. Gushee is heavily dependent on the “wet-behind-the-ears” Matthew Vine for his “exegesis” of biblical texts pertaining to the issue of homosexuality; and (2) Dr. Gushee has ignored nearly all the major arguments against his embarrassingly bad exegesis, even when I sent him links to online articles that summarize more extensive arguments in my published work.
In response to a request from FB friends, I looked at Part 11 of his series of articles posted on Baptistnews.com, entitled “Two Little Words: The LGBT Issue, Part 11,” on two terms in 1 Cor 6:9: malakoi (“soft men,” which I argue means, in context, effeminate men who serve as the passive partners in male homosexual practice) and arsenokoitai (“men who lie with a male,” formed from the Greek translation of the absolute prohibitions of man-male intercourse in Lev 18:22; 20:13).
Dr. Gushee was trying to argue that these terms had to do only with exploitative forms of homosexual practice. It was clear that he had no personal facility with Greek and was entirely dependent on Matthew Vines (who likewise has no personal facility in Greek). The research, such as it was, was amateurish and unworthy of a scholar.
I sent him a private message on FB, asking him that if he was determined not to take an hour or two to read my 33-page analysis of these two terms in The Bible and Homosexual Practice (303-36), he might at least look at a 5 page online summary of the 4 arguments for malakoi and 8 for arsenokoitai, arguments which indicate that these terms are inclusive of adult-committed male homosexual relationships (point 4 ofhttp://www.robgagnon.net/articles/RogersBookReviewed3.pdf). I asked him if he would revise his article by at least responding to these arguments, heretofore ignored. He thanked me and did revise his article, but not in light of my arguments; rather, only in light of the comments that others, who were not scholars, left below his online article.
In his revision, he not only ignored my arguments, but he also mischaracterized an important scholar’s view (William Loader) as supporting his (Gushee’s) viewpoint and opposing mine (the exact opposite was the case). He added a reference from “biblical scholar Michael Vasey” about the cultural milieu. Yet Vasey, who was not a biblical scholar but a gay Anglican priest who died at age 52 of HIV complications, was oblivious to the evidence for committed homosexual relationships in the ancient world.
Dr. Gushee followed this with an over-reaching theological claim about Paul that is unsustainable from the evidence. He claimed that God’s grace precludes the possibility that Paul could have warned sexual offenders, including homosexual offenders, about exclusion from God’s kingdom. Yet Paul’s offender list in 1 Cor 6:9-10 is precisely such a warning (“Stop deceiving yourselves: [The following] shall not inherit the kingdom of God”), where the larger context is the shocking case of a self-proclaimed Christian “brother” at Corinth in a sexual relationship with his stepmother. Paul has similar warnings about sexual immorality sprinkled throughout most of his extant letters.
So I asked Dr. Gushee a second time through private FB messaging to respond to the many counterarguments that I offered. He sent me the message, “I appreciate your comments. Thank you.” A day or two later Dr. Gushee blocked me from his FB page so that I couldn’t see or answer his public response on Facebook (a FB friend sent me a copy anyway). In it he lamented that adopting the LGBT stance “will cost me suffering, including public repudiations and stinging attacks from erstwhile friends and determined adversaries.” I’m quite sure that my work has received many times more attacks than his (by those long on vitriol and short on academic integrity), but I don’t cry about it. (And my first book on the Bible and homosexuality came out less than a year before tenure.) I rather investigate to see if the charges are merited.
He added that by Gagnon asking him to read 5 pages of material that differs from his preferred viewpoint I have demanded the impossible since he cannot spend his “entire life reading ancient Hebrew, Persian, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, Jewish, Greek, Roman, and Christian, laws, plays, poems, fables, and moral exhortations on sexuality, in the original languages, plus all associated scholarly literature produced in the last 40 years”; that he doesn’t have time to spend “his entire career doing [this] work.”
Does not everyone see the ridiculousness of this claim by the Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University? Could you imagine an undergraduate, let alone first-year M.Div. student, far from a tenured full professor, making that kind of remark? “No, professor, I can’t read a 33-page chapter of a key work, or even a 5-page summary of the chapter, from the principal scholar who disagrees with my agenda because I can’t spend my entire life reading Hebrew, Persian, Aramaic, Greek, etc., and all the scholarly literature produced in the past 40 years.” Well, I wasn’t asking you to learn again the Greek and Hebrew that as a professor of Christian ethics you shouldn't have let slide in the first place (let alone Persian and Aramaic), now was I? I was asking you to read an English-written 33-page chapter or just a 5-page summary.
Brave soul that he is, Dr. Gushee was resolute on his FB page: “I will continue to publish articles each week @abp/rh on this LGBT issue reflecting my best, highly fallible, time-limited effort to address the relevant dimensions of the problem…. I will not be intimidated or rebuked into silence. I will follow what I believe Jesus is calling me to do.”
Well, when did I ever want David Gushee to stop following Jesus? I just think that he shouldn’t be citing Jesus as justification for shoddy work that deliberately hides from readers the problems with his exegesis of Scripture. Apparently now “intimidation” occurs when one scholar shows the deficiencies of a poorly argued position by another scholar who has the intellectual wherewithal to do much better but refuses to spend even a half hour to investigate the counterarguments. Gushee, like Vines and Justin Lee of the “Gay Christian Network,” is an intellectual coward (I’m sorry to say). By that I mean that he deliberately ignores the array of counterarguments to his own ideological position and sometimes even misrepresents the views and credentials of scholars in order to advance that position.
Dr. Gushee has recast bad scholarship as martyrdom. According to his FB post, there are only two kinds of people in the world: Those who care for same-sex attracted persons and those who don’t. He feels that love for same-sex attracted persons demands that we twist Scripture to mean what it can’t possibly mean, read in its historical and literary context, so that such persons can now enter into homosexual unions free of any societal reservation or stricture. Never mind that Paul viewed such behavior as a dishonoring of the integrity of one’s gender vis-à-vis one’s own sex; or that Jesus viewed a male-female prerequisite for sexual relations as foundational for sexual ethics according to God. All of that must be dispensed since it can’t possibly be loving to believe such things. Dr. Gushee apparently thinks that he is a better, more compassionate ethicist than Jesus.
I later looked at his Part 9 posting on Sodom and Gomorrah. It was as badly researched as his piece on 1 Cor 6:9. Again, he ignored all the counterarguments that I put forward more than a decade ago regarding interpretation of the Sodom narrative (The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 71-91). I point readers to a shorter online summary of the arguments athttp://www.robgagnon.net/homosex7thDayAdvArticleSodom.htm.
(2) Regarding Mr. Merritt's and Dr. Gushee's extreme description of those who disagree:
As I noted earlier, Mr. Merritt, in agreement with Dr. Gushee, refers to everyone who agrees with Jesus’ stance on a male-female prerequisite as a “hardline conservative” and a member of the “far right.”
Mr. Merritt and Dr. Gushee must be correct in their pejorative labels because we all know that drawing the conclusion that the appropriate sexual counterpart to a man is a woman and to a woman a man is completely obscurantist. Why should the views of Jesus, the apostolic witness to him in the New Testament, the Old Testament witness from Genesis on that precedes Jesus, the witness of early Judaism, and the united witness of the Church Fathers, the Reformers, and everyone of note in the Judeo-Christian tradition until only the last few decades be regarded as a centrist theological position? We’re not just “right”; we’re “far right.” We’re not just “conservative”; we’re “hardline conservative.” I guess that using such extreme nomenclature helps Mr. Merritt and Dr. Gushee to deceive themselves into thinking that they are in some sort of moderate theological middle relative to worldwide Christianity.
But how can we not agree with their labels for us as extremists? After all, it is not at all obvious that anatomically, physiologically, and even psychologically men and women are sexual complements. (What was St. Paul thinking when he referred to this as a deliberate suppression of the truth?) And it is not at all self-evident that the absence of a true sexual complement in homosexual unions results in disproportionately high rates of measurable harm in male homosexuality and female homosexuality but at different rates for each group that corresponds to gender type.
Then, too, it is certainly clear that claiming congenital influences on homosexual development constitutes a great moral argument for endorsing the behavior arising from those desires. We all know that innate urges with a biological basis are usually or always good and should be promoted (like a polyamorous orientation, greed, pride, envy, jealousy, etc.). Don't we know this?
It is also crystal clear that the arguments used to endorse homosexual unions have nothing to do with undermining sexual standards on adult-consensual forms of polyamory and incest. It is not as if the twoness of the sexual bond has any relationship to the twoness of the sexes (as Jesus thought) or that the elimination of a principle of sexual otherness has any bearing on the elimination of a lesser principle of kinship otherness, right?
We can all be thankful for these extreme descriptions of us by Mr. Merritt and Dr. Gushee ’cause us far-right hillbillies recently began walking upright and still subscribe to Soldier of Fortune magazine, right?
(3) Regarding the impact on Dr. Gushee of his lesbian sister:
I sympathize with the struggle of Dr. Gushee's sister Katey and with the struggle of all those like her. Yet I disagree that the solution to the problem is to put one’s own desires over the will of God clearly expressed by Jesus, the apostolic witness to him in Scripture, and indeed the entirety of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation (to say nothing of philosophic nature arguments and science, both of which lend further support to the overwhelming biblical witness). All of us are called to take up our cross, deny ourselves, and lose our lives, and follow Jesus. None of us gets an exemption.
To be sure, I don’t struggle with same-sex attractions like Katey, though I am honored to be close friends with many who do and who nonetheless continue to live a life of faithfulness before the Lord. All of us have one or more areas of life (some of an even more serious nature than same-sex attractions) where we are called on by God to let the “dying of Jesus” become manifest in our body so that the “life of Jesus” might likewise become manifest (as Paul mentions in 2 Cor 4). Nobody gets a pass from a cruciform life, out of which resurrection follows.
The church is called by God to come alongside all those who suffer and to encourage such in the midst of hardships and deprivations that God’s grace will in the long run prove itself sufficient even in the midst of hardships and deprivations, because knowing God is so great that it more than makes up for life's deficiencies. In fact, God’s power is brought to completion precisely in the midst of our weaknesses. Consequently we can even delight in these weaknesses because through them we learn what it is to rely on the God who raises from the dead (2 Cor 12; 1).
We have no right to short-circuit the work of God, who through the Spirit is in the business of transforming us into the image of his Son, by assuring people falsely that God does not regard this or that behavior as an egregious violation of the divine will. I do not fault Dr. Gushee for sympathizing with those who suffer. I fault him for distorting the message of Jesus and the apostles through bad exegesis and, worse still, for playing the role of God in granting immunity from divine judgment for behavior against which God gives grave warnings.
When Mr. Merritt and Dr. Gushee pejoratively label such responses as “hardline conservative,” “far right” “backlash,” it is relatively transparent that they are using manipulative rhetoric to cover up the problems with their position and, ultimately, the lack of true love in that position. When Paul began his moral exhortation (paraenesis) to the Roman believers, he stated, “Let love be without phoniness [or: pretending, play-acting],” immediately adding: “abhorring [or: detesting, strongly hating] what is evil, joining [or: gluing, attaching] yourselves to what is good” (12:9; my trans.). Unfortunately for Gushee, one can’t really do the first without attending to the second and third. When one calls what God declares an evil to be a good, one's "love" is phony, a mere pretense, a play-acting. Love must be genuine, which means (with Jesus) that one's outreach to the lost includes a call to repentance and to discipleship.