David Gushee’s most recent column at RNS is a sober looking glass into the future facing religious conservatives who refuse to accept the moral legitimacy of progressive sexual ethics.
According to Gushee, the coming marginalization facing religious conservatives is inevitable. What isn’t altogether clear from Gushee’s way of framing his post is whether the storm approaching religious conservatives is deserved. He ends his post by saying:
Sometimes society changes and it marks decadence. Other times society changes and it marks progress. Those who believe LGBT equality marks decadence are being left behind.
How are we to respond to Gushee’s column?
First, my friends Denny Burk and Rod Dreher have excellent responses to Gushee’s post, so read them both. Dreher is right to urge people to awaken from their cultural slumber and to prepare for the coming storm. Burk is right that the terms of this debate aren’t incidental to Christian orthodoxy. Christianity cannot sacrifice its sexual ethics because biblical anthropology is a structural component to Christianity’s doctrinal integrity.
Secondly, many of Gushee’s prognostications are indeed true. The Sexual Revolution promises to impact every area of American life, areas that no evangelical or other religious conservative will be able to remain unscathed. Moreover, Gushee is right that it is impossible to remain neutral on this issue. Whether you want to take a side or not, neutrality isn’t a long-term viable option.
Third, while I don’t believe that he is wrong in his forecasting about how bad the fallout is going to be, what I do reject is the facile assumption that Christian anthropology can be so wrong as to be deserving of such shame and reprisal. Who knows whether Gushee actually believes evangelicals are engaging in the same type of motivations and actions of racists, but his lack of offering any type of defense is telling. Surely there is a middle ground that can be reached that allows for coexistence. The question, however, is whether such a middle ground can be tolerated. Are we really at a place in society where progressivism can so easily throw the historic sexual ethic of Western civilization into the dustbin, and label it bigoted?
Fourth, the question that matters most, before the politics of it all, is this: Are religious conservatives actually wrong and comparable to racists on this issue? I would answer, “Absolutely not. Christians are holding to divine truths about human nature.” Gushee’s answer, however, is unclear but I fear it bends toward the affirmative. If religious conservatives aren’t wrong, then society has to reckon with us more deeply than just calling us bigots. I’m not saying that society will police itself so as to actually reckon with our beliefs, but the structural integrity of historic Christian anthropology has much more credibility and intelligibility than what Gushee’s categorizing allows for. The terms that Gushee’s article forecasts will require Christians to redouble their efforts at explaining the intelligibility behind their sexual ethics.
Fifth, Gushee’s column is indicative of how quickly the debate has changed. Especially from the progressive Christian perspective, how quickly the argument went from “there’s room to disagree” to “Unless you agree, you’re causing irreparable harm to the LGBT community.” How are you supposed to respond to a loaded statement like that?
There are good liberals out there that don’t think in such harsh binaries as Gushee. I know many. The question is what type of liberal is going to prevail on this debate.
I have several questions for Dr. Gushee that follow from his column. While I doubt he’ll answer them, they are questions that would offer clarity and understanding on what lies ahead for the future.
- Are Christians who hold to the historical position on sexual ethics engaging in invidious discrimination?
- Are Christians who hold to the historic position on sexual ethics holding the same type of beliefs and engaging in the same types of actions as avowed racists?
- Can there be actual disagreement on this issue that doesn’t impute to the other side the worst possible motivations?
- Can there be a state of mutual respect that allows for different people to reach different conclusions about the purposes of human embodiment?