With all the excitement in the Anglican Communion over issues of sexuality, we failed to note a quite interesting development on these issues in Evangelical circles. David Gushee, distinguished university professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University, is a self-described Evangelical centrist. He has written two columns for the Associated Baptist Press about homosexuality.
The first column focused on how the church treats GLBT persons:
I’m one of the few leaders in Baptist life with the freedom to talk openly and honestly about the complex theological, moral, pastoral, and public policy issues raised by homosexuality without destroying myself professionally.
Because I hold a tenured professorship in Christian ethics at Mercer University, I am one of those rare souls who can talk candidly about this hot-button issue. And these days I’m finding it hard to avoid the nagging and unsought conviction that this freedom now demands responsible exercise.
. . .
In light of the hatred, mockery, loathing, fear and rejection directed at homosexuals in our society -- and in our churches -- I hope to God that I am not and never have been a perpetrator. But I fear I have indeed been a bystander. I am trying to figure out what it might mean to be a rescuer.
There are always very, very compelling reasons to be a bystander. Mainly these revolve around self-interest. You live longer when you are a bystander. People like you more. And even if you entertain nagging questions of conscience about your inaction, in the end it is easier to stay out of it. And so the hated group keeps getting thrown under the bus.
. . .
I want to begin a dialogue in this column by simply calling for the rudiments of Christian love of neighbor to extend to the homosexual. And the place to begin is in the church -- that community of faith in which we have (reportedly) affirmed that Jesus Christ is Lord.
The second column, published earlier this month, seems to move much further in the direction of affirmation:
In moments of grave moral conflict there are always such competing narratives about what’s really going on. The question becomes how we discern God’s will, how we read the signs of the times, how we figure out whose narrative is the right one.
Consider: 1850, United States: Slavery is either a biblically mandated practice or an abomination before God. 1938, Germany: The church is either called to accommodate itself patriotically to Nazi rule or to resist it even to the point of imprisonment and death. 1963, United States: The Civil Rights Movement is either a great Spirit-led force for liberating oppressed black people or a bunch of misguided rabble-rousers destroying public order. 1980, South Africa: Apartheid is either God’s plan for keeping the races separate or a grave violation of God’s will for justice. 1990, Southern Baptist Convention: Full equality of women in church leadership is either direct disobedience to Scripture or a long-delayed fulfillment of God’s will.
Those caught in the midst of such profound moral conflicts have three options: they can clearly side with one narrative, they can clearly side with the other narrative, or they can seek a kind of in-between position in an effort to take some of the rough edges off of the debate -- and, in doing so, perhaps prevent irreparable divisions in churches and denominations.
But in the end, as the examples above indicate, on the most significant issues, the middle-of-the-road position almost always fails.
. . .
The deeper question is posed by the competing narratives presented above. Either homosexual behavior is by definition sinful, or it is not. If it is sinful by definition, then presumably it must be resisted like any other sin. If it is not sinful by definition, then the homosexuality issue is a liberation/justice struggle for a victimized group.
Probably the right answer to this question will be very clear to everyone (that is, to 99% of all reasonable Christian human beings) in 100 years, as the proper positions on slavery and Nazism and civil rights and Apartheid are to modern-day Christians. But in real time, right now, it is tearing churches and denominations apart here and around the world.