A YouTube version of Dr. David Gushee's Nov. 8 presentation entitled "Ending the Teaching of Contempt against the Church's Sexual Minorities" became available this week. So I sat down to watch what is seen by many as a strong affirmative statement from a noted evangelical protestant scholar that might aid efforts by LGBT people to find a place in that wing of the church.
Gushee, also a noted Holocaust scholar, is of Southern Baptist origin, but now would be better described as a moderate and serves as director of the Center for Faith and Public Life at Georgia's Mercer University, once a Southern Baptist institution, now independent although loosely affiliated in things theological with the more liberal Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
The presentation was keynote during an early November conference in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Reformation Project, an organization launched by young evangelical LGBT activist Matthew Vines and others aimed at reforming the church's contemptuous teachings, advocacy and actions related to gay people.
I liked the presentation --- it is skillfully done, compelling and most likely will aid the causes of an increasing number of moderates within evangelical circles who wish to be seen as less hateful and more welcoming, even in some cases as affirming.
Gushee, like many others who have changed their hearts and minds, acknowledged that the simple act of getting to know LGBT people had been a major factor in his shift in thinking. He discovered that one of his sisters was gay, then became acquainted with LGBT people for the first time after moving outside the walls of conservative evangelical academia, theology and worship.
I was interested in some statistics that he cited --- not that many years ago, when queried, only about 22 percent of Christians acknowledged knowing someone who was gay; now, that percentage is up to something like 64. The most subversive thing gay people have done is merely to tell their stories and become visible.
Much of Gushee's presentation --- he is a Holocaust scholar, after all --- involves parallels between the experiences of Jews in relation to the Christian church and those of gay people --- locating a scapegoat, justifying its persecution with scripture, then building a two-millennia tradition of hatefulness. Those parallels have their limits, obviously, because the focus on gay people is far more recent and the results, far less apocalyptic.
In the case of Jews, the Christian tradition was appropriated by the Nazi state, leading to the slaughter of millions --- as Christians for the most part merely looked on.
In the aftermath, out of shame and most likely the impulse for self-protection, Christians of all varieties reinterpreted scripture, repudiated the old traditions and to one degree or another repented. To a lesser degree, the church has adopted similar tactics in regard to racism, enslavement and the oppression of dissenters, women, ethnic minorities and others.
That, Gushee argues, would be the appropriate response for Christians in relation to LGBT people, too, and a way to move forward.
It is a compelling argument --- but begs the question: When the church has finished repenting for centuries of wickedness will there be anything of value left to salvage?