The Christian Bridge Too Far
The liberal Baptist theologian David Gushee makes if official: he has left Evangelicalism. He explains why in this column. Excerpt:
What happened? A love affair with Jesus that for the great majority of forty years was spent in Southern Baptist and evangelical contexts, until my own sense of moral and intellectual integrity forced me to take stands leading to my exit from those worlds.
Everybody’s story is different. Of course millions of American Christians remain quite happily situated in Southern Baptist and/or evangelical Christianity. I wish them only the best, and am done fighting with them.
But millions of others have made their exits, or had their exits made for them, and now wander in a kind of exile. I think that my story might connect with that of many others who find themselves post-all-of-that, perhaps helping chart a way forward.
I now believe that incommensurable differences in understanding the very meaning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the interpretation of the Bible, and the sources and methods of moral discernment, separate many of us from our former brethren — and that it is best to name these differences clearly and without acrimony, on the way out the door.
I also believe that attempting to keep the dialogue going is mainly fruitless. The differences are unbridgeable. They are articulated daily in endless social media loops.
He’s right about that. Andrew T. Walker, a conservative Southern Baptist, explains why.
I appreciate Gushee’s candor and agree with him: The dividing line between those who align with biblical and historical teaching around sexual ethics and those who do not, is incommensurable. This is not a debate about eldership versus congregational authority, or internecine squabbles on how the end times will occur. This is about what the true church confesses. This is about truth and error. This is about eternal destiny. Christians who hold to the historical biblical position believe that affirming individuals in homosexual sin has the consequences of eternal separation (1 Cor. 6:9-11). We believe affirming sexual sin in this capacity eviscerates the clarity and intelligibility of God’s special and general revelation that sees humans purposefully sexed and complementary — tenets upon which the social order and cultural mandate are founded. We believe the disavowal of sexual otherness obscures the greatest reality in the cosmos — the Christ-Church union. Progressives who have jettisoned the historical position believe that denominations like my own, the Southern Baptist Convention, are doing harm not only to LGBT persons, but to the Spirit’s movement in the world. Those are the terms of this contrast and we should not paper over the disagreements in order to serve some false perception of unity in the name of fellowship.
Moreover, Gushee’s words are a welcome reprieve from the voices of so-called “affirming” Christians that are attempting to make LGBT affirmation a welcome pillar of Christian orthodoxy.
Gushee is gambling with high stakes; unreasonably high stakes in my opinion. He’s asking the church — and by extension, the global church — to repent of two thousand years of biblical teaching. He’s asking us to journey with him accepting that the church’s entire witness, including the words of Jesus himself, have been misunderstood or wrong for the entirety of church history. He’s asking us to trust him on his journey and those like him — highly educated and predominantly Western social progressives — to speak univocally for the entire church.
This is the stark reality that evangelicalism must come to grips with. There is no “third way” possible. Everyone is going to have to pick a side. Sitting on the fence might be convenient for some people’s career, but the trajectory of where the West is headed will not countenance moderation when the canons of social justice require nothing short of celebrating LGBT orthodoxy.
If you really do believe, against clear Scriptural teaching and the unified witness of almost 2,000 years of the Christian church, that homosexuality and gay unions are blessed by God, then it is unjust to deny gays and lesbians full participation in church life (including marriage) without repentance — because what is there to repent of? If you’re especially broad-minded, you might sign on to an “agree to disagree” policy within the church, as a measure to protect unity until a clear majority within the church agrees with you. But you would do so with the expectation that eventually the entire church would unambiguously affirm the progressive policy. This makes sense, given your belief that this is a matter of human dignity and fundamental justice.
But if you affirm Scripture and tradition on the issue, then you must agree, finally, that this is an issue on which there cannot be compromise. Oh, you may have tried it for the sake of maintaining church unity (this is what the Anglicans have been writhing over for a long time), but that is no longer tenable. Your opponents within the church will no longer stand for it — and, if they are theologically and morally correct, they should not stand for it. There is no more middle ground: you have to decide. In truth, there never was any middle ground, and those who thought there was were deceiving themselves. If your side is correct, then it is time to quit playing games for the sake of a peace and unity that does not and cannot exist. As Andrew T. Walker says, the stakes are too high.
But if the other side is correct, then on what grounds should they tolerate unreasonable bigots like you (well, like us)?
The center is not holding because there is no longer a center on this issue, and in truth, never was.
Be grateful, at least, for the clarity David Gushee brings to the conflict. Which side are you on? You must decide. You do not and must not hate those who reach the opposite conclusion. But you must not pretend that we can share a church, unless one side is prepared to keep its views on the matter quiet, and stand down from contesting the issue within the church.