Changing Our Mind by David Gushee

51wvfera9sl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Summary: A Christian Ethicist makes a case for full inclusion of LGBT Christians within the church.

This is the second of my books trying to explore the arguments for and against full acceptance of LBGT Christians within the church. I finished this over a week ago and I am not sure how to write the review.

As a book I think this is overall better than Matthew Vine’s God and the Gay Christian, although the one thing I thought that Vine’s book did better was trace the cultural category of ‘gay’ over time.

Gushee is an ethicist and an Evangelical historically. The second edition of Changing Our Mind, which is what I read, ends with the text of a speech where he traces the history of how Christians changed their views about the status of non-Christian Jews theologically after the Holocaust. That brief description (it was Gushee’s dissertation project) is a good summary of the book as a whole.

Gushee, in the main book, has 20 short chapters (in 149 pages) that lay out his biblical, cultural, ethical and historic case for why the church should reject its historical teaching about homosexuality as a categorical sin and instead fully welcome gay Christians that are committed to monogamous covenanted (married) relationships or celibacy outside of marriage.

I think most Christians now agree on the last point. Gay Christians that are committed to celibacy are not particularly controversial as church members. Wesley Hill is a good example of someone that has made a call for gay Christians to live as life long celibates. It is the first part of Gushee’s call that is controversial.

Gushee deals with the biblical passages. But I do not think that it will be all that convincing, at least as a whole, for many that hold to the traditional understanding of Christian sexual ethics. I have read a number of complaints about Gushee rejecting scripture. That charge does not seem accurate. Gushee is putting forth an alternative reading of scripture to its historical interpretation. That alternative reading is not so different from the type of alternative reading that other scholars like NT Wright put forth on other issues. But Gushee does not shy away from the fact that he is advocating a different reading from the historic teaching of the church in some areas. And that does matter.

I read a review of Preston Sprinkle’s People to Be Loved (the next book I will read in this series and one that presents a more traditional view) that said that progressive Christian biblical arguments were more well developed than traditional biblical arguments because traditional arguments have been assumed for most of Christian history. That seems right to me. Most serious scholars biblical do not think that Sodom passages are really about homosexuality as a modern understanding, but about oppression of the stranger and a lack of generosity. So Gushee and several other LGBT inclusive advocates have a fairly easy case with several of the biblical passages. But several passages have to be interpreted away as cultural constructions (in a similar way to Women must not speak in church for those that advocate Women as pastors.)

I think Gushee’s illustration of Christian’s views toward Jewish people after the Holocaust is more helpful that Matthew Vine’s illustration of the change of the theological place of the world after the Copernican Revolution. Both are changes that came about because of external understanding of the world that changed the way that we as Christians read scripture. But I think that Gushee’s is more accurately describing the real factors (social oppression).

In the end, Gushee will likely change few minds. Those that are already likely to agree with him, will find support for their positions. Those that are likely to disagree with him will find a good explanation of opposing views and several areas of agreement, but will likely not find anything that changes their minds for the long term.

Changing Our Mind: A Call from America's Leading Evangelical Ethics Scholar for Full Acceptance of LGBT Christians in the Church by David Gushee Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition

3 Comments

I’d qualify the statement about the progressive reading of the texts. They aren’t any better, they just conveniently ignore different things. For example, Judges 19 is multi-layered and the type of sex implied adds to the extremely of the offense. So though the top layer is about hospitality, there is a clear layer in which homosexual behavior is condemned. So the case is really that the so-called traditional reading of the relevant texts focused on some features and not others, and the same is true of the newer readings. But the newer readings allow people to avoid unpleasant cultural conflict and feel better about themselves. After all, Jesus was all about avoiding conflict and accepting common cultural practices of his day. (Ahem)

    Gushee isn’t shy about that. One of the reason I think this is a better book than Vines is that he is more open about the weaknesses of his reading. It just won’t answer all the questions. He still is convinced that it is a better reading overall, and he won’t convince many to change their minds. But he is far less dogmatic, at least here, about his reading being the only option.

    In other places he has basically said, the battle is lost. Everyone else might as well get on board, which didn’t help his argument. But I also think many of the offended didn’t really pay attention to the nuance of what he was trying to say. I think he was trying to say descriptively, this is the way things are so you might as well get on board. Most negative reaction seemed to read him as proscriptively saying “you must change and become like my understanding.” Nether was particularly helpful. But the second wasn’t really what he was saying.

      Interesting. Since 15 yrs ago when I was more involved in this issue when I was teaching in the Episcopal church, I get irritated that the “progressive” side continues to claim the Bible while actually demoting it to a place of lower priority in the task of theology. I understand the rhetorical reasons for doing so, but the fact is people should be aware of how much their overall theology is changing in principle (though probably not a lot in practice, since this is just one of a multitude of issues where biblical trajectories are ignored out of convenience or self-interest).

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