David Gushee's Gay-Switch, Biblical Scholarship, and Slanted Reporting

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the editorial opinion of The Christian Post or its editors.

In a tendentious puff piece about David Gushee ("Progressive" Baptist and Christian ethicist at Mercer University), Jonathan Merritt (senior columnist for Religion News Service) declares that Dr. 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"). Incidentally, Mr. Merritt's disclosure that Dr. Gushee has gone over to the LGBT side is not really "breaking news"; many, including moi and a number of his former colleagues, saw this coming years ago.

Mr. Merritt declares with some slant:

"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 using extreme terms when characterizing anyone who concurs with Jesus' stance on a foundational male-female prerequisite for sexual relations. Gushee, Merritt says, "doesn't expect this to change the minds of Mohler and other hardline conservatives. He only hopes that those on the far right will help end the bullying of LGBT persons...." There are no quotations around "hardline conservatives" or "the far right" to indicate that Merritt does not necessarily share these descriptors with Dr. Gushee. These are pejorative expressions.

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.

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(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 significantly 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 not willing 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 here). 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, according to some accounts), 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 (1 Cor 5). Paul has similar warnings to converts 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 say that I wanted 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.