Why Professor Gushee is Wrong About How to Handle Same-Sex Marriage
Over at The Washington Post, Professor David P. Gushee has penned a provocative piece in which he concludes that he is now “pro-LGBT” and that his (Evangelical) church (and presumably all Christians) should be as well. His reasoning, however, is unsound.
His main argument is as follows:
In recent years, my moral position has shifted. It has dawned on me with shocking force that homosexuality is not primarily an issue of Christian sexual ethics. It’s primarily an issue of human suffering. With that realization, I have now made the radical decision to stand in solidarity with the LGBT community.
Nowhere in his piece does Gushee explicitly state what he desires for his newly adopted community or what he ultimately wishes to see come of his “stand[ing] in solidarity with the LGBT community”—but one gets the overwhelming sense that it has to do with the factious idea of “marriage equality.” Because Gushee has gotten the reality of the historical, orthodox Christian understanding of marriage so twisted in his own mind, it becomes a foregone conclusion that he should come to misunderstand authentic Christian love and its consequences for the relationships between God and Man, Man and himself, and Man and his neighbor. As a result, he then becomes entirely willing to publically advocate throwing out the Bible’s explicit, consistent, and emphatic admonitions and teachings concerning the natures of sex, marriage, the nature of human beings, their ultimate purpose, and Man’s relationship to God—as well as to compromise logical, moral, and spiritual consistency (to his own detriment) in order to satisfy his own need for group-emotional stability and continuity—in short, to fit in.
Where I want to press Gushee (and perhaps raise the moral character of this dialogue upward, as well as propel it forward) is in regard to his means and endgame. He writes:
I want to move right back to what really matters the most to me [when critics try to move the debate back to same-sex relationships and the proper interpretation of those six or seven most cited Bible passages]—loving this particular 5 percent of the population in exactly the same way that Christians are called to love everyone. That means attending to what most harms them and doing something about it. And that means offering full acceptance of LGBT people, ending religion-based harm and contempt, helping families accept the sexual orientation of their own children, and helping churches be a safe and welcoming place for every one of God’s children.
I wholeheartedly agree with Gushee on these noble goals: Christians must learn to be more Christ-like pastorally and personally to people in difficult, vexing, and tricky life situations—especially Same-Sex Attraction (SSA) people, considering the abuses that they have suffered throughout history, as Gushee does well to point out. And this was, I believe (if I may in this instance be so bold as to speak for him), Pope Francis’ intent in calling the Extraordinary Synod on the Family this past October: to soften the rhetoric and reinstate in the minds of people the world over the image of the Church as Mother of us all.
Gushee’s heart, motivation, and will are all very good and pure, and it is clear that they have been touched by God in His infinite love and mercy. I cannot help but think—as I read Gushee’s desires—of one of the most touching verses in the Bible, where Jesus says, “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…” (Matthew 23:37). It is clear that Gushee desires to emulate the tenderness of God, gathering all the broken and forsaken into his soon-to-be warm and welcoming houses of worship, and he should be lauded for that desire, but his implicit end goal is all wrong. He is well-intentioned, but good intentions do not (solely) for a sound moral position make.
Gushee’s position is a strange synergy of the desolating cultural ruin, disarray, and confusion that burst onto the scene in the wake of the Sexual Revolution beginning in the 1960s; its accompanying, long-lasting and residual libertinism in sexual ethics (and in morality more generally); and his intense desire to confirm, in love, all types of people from all walks of life. Put simply, our culture (Gushee included) wants so desperately to tolerate, respect, and love everyone … but neither can claim to know how to do these things properly.
The “dictatorship of relativism” (Benedict XVI’s phrase, not mine) that was installed several decades ago impressed onto the minds and consciences of people the dangerous and rife-with-error notion that there exists no objective truth—and it continues to this day. Debate was reduced to a mere exchange of opinions and feelings. The cardinal rule was not to offend anyone. Inclusion and emotional validation were stressed as the litmus test of debate and good character—if were rude, then you must be wrong. The pursuit of truth via reason was shunned as impossible; and besides, someone’s feelings would get hurt, so best not to venture into those dangerous and murky waters. And Gushee fits this mold perfectly. He writes, “I co-authored a popular textbook that stated this position flatly: ‘Homosexual conduct is one form of sexual expression that falls outside the will of God.’ I wasn’t mean about it. But I said it.” (It is obvious that Gushee feels that even this simple, straightforward declaration was too “mean” to have been acceptable, despite the fact that he says that it wasn’t very mean; else, why even bother defending your action with the “mean” qualifier all these years later?) So, it is from this swirling typhoon of confusion, general error, and sin—this secular orthodoxy—that Gushee arises, ready to shock the world with his great revelation—but he does no such thing because his position is simply the logical endpoint of someone who allowed himself to be so influenced by and receptive to the cultural, spiritual, and intellectual poison of yore. It is boring. It is expected.
Gushee’s problem is that he desires to welcome and love all people—homosexuals included—and this is as it should be, but he mistakenly believes that having the State issue same-sex couples marriage licenses and granting them some tax benefits—in short, allowing them to marry and to have their sexual desires fulfilled in a more socially legitimate way—does this. Sex is not our highest end, but many who have folded on this issue seem to be hinting that it just might be. Instead, giving and receiving love is actually our highest calling, but this does not necessitate that we accept people’s infirmities, concupiscence, and wickedness as givens, never call them to anything more, and then allow them to continue on their merry way. These people must be transformed by their encounters with us Christians. He forgets that after each and every one of Jesus’ personal encounters with or parables about sinners—the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, the prodigal son—was the admonition to “go and sin no more.”
Christianity is experiencing a crisis of character at this juncture in its life. The Christian faith—its allure, what has always made people flock to it—has always stood or fallen, risen or declined, in direct proportion to how faithfully it bears witness to its Founder’s vision. Jesus Christ stressed love/mercy and rules. It is a both/and relationship, not an either-or relationship, or a this-one-a-bit-more-than-the-other-just-when-it’s-convenient-or-politically-expedient relationship.
We are at a unique point in our journey. The powers that be—academia, governments, secular society, and non-religious individuals—are seen by the marginalized, outcast, and oppressed as having more compassion than individual Christians and the Christian faith. This is deplorable and sad. When secular society outperforms us in loving the unlovable, embracing the outcast, and caring for the needy (in whatever way—spiritual or material—they require that care), it is time for us Christians to take a hard look at ourselves: where we came from, what we’re doing, and where we’re going. The world offers these people a whitewashed, narrow, and reductive view of human sexuality, of marriage, and of ultimate human purpose. That is not what these people desire—what they crave—above all. No. They want Jesus and his holy Bride, the Catholic Church. They thirst for her, but they do not know it. They have been blinded by the silky lies of Satan, transmitted by the world, and accepted readily by the flesh. We are losing them, and if we do not act to stem the confusion and desolation, we will shoulder the blame when we one day stand before Almighty God at our judgment.
We need to be brutally honest and ask ourselves: are we doing the best job we can to love people, to be merciful toward them and not, as Pope Francis said, harping on and waxing eloquently and incessantly on “small things, in small-minded rules” as though they were all the Church had to offer? We must not, as the pope also said:
[I]nsist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. … [W]e have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the Church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the Church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. … [Otherwise] even the moral edifice of the Church is likely to fall like a house of cards.
Giving people what they want is not love. Giving people what they need, however, is. Do what people desire sometimes line up with what they need? Sometimes, sure, but oftentimes, they do not. This is what makes love hard: it is a continual process of dying to oneself, a constant reforming and reshaping of oneself ever closer to the image of God. We naturally resist this dynamism, this tending toward the infinite and the Perfect. Stasis is much to be preferred over the prospect of an uncomfortable journey.
May we give a resounding yes! To God, choosing His Truth. May we never back down from the truth about marriage, typified in the words of Christ Himself, the teachings of Saint Paul and other Apostles, 2,000 years of Catholic Tradition and constant magisterial teaching, and writings by some of the early church Fathers (which actually predate the canonization of the Bible in some cases)—all of which condemn the practice of homosexual acts but not homosexual persons as sinful, disordered, and contrary to natural law and God and His holy will. And may we do all this with the tenderness of Christ Who, as the Good Shepherd, when he finds His lost sheep before taking it home to safety, “lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing” (Luke 15:5).
Photo courtesy of Jason de Villa.