After Orlando, “I’ve learned that none of us can walk away. This is a calling we must be ready to respond to every day, for the rest of our lives.”
Dr. David Gushee
By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine
Dr. David Gushee is one of the nation’s leading Christian ethicists—as is evidenced by his election to help lead the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Christian Ethics. He is now a vice president in both of these nationwide groups and, within a year, is slated to become president of those organizations.
He also dared to publish his major book, Changing Our Mind, a rare case of a senior Christian scholar reversing himself on a key position from his earlier work. In this book, Gushee explains why he decided to change course and support Christian inclusion of LGBT men and women. In the year since publication, he devoted himself to barnstorming the country—talking at churches, colleges and other venues about the need to break down traditional Christian barriers against inclusion.
Then, given the extremely busy arc of his career, Gushee says he hoped to walk away from this topic, because there are so many other issues in Christian ethics that need to be addressed around the world.
This week, he says, “I briefly and foolishly thought that work was done—but obviously that is not the case. The Orlando slayings have surfaced LGBT issues in a horrifying new way that has just demands a response.”
Orlando wasn’t the only danger signal that pushed Gushee to change his mind once again—and step back into the public spotlight as an advocate for inclusion. While stressing that he is not a partisan political activist, Gushee says that the unrelenting anti-minority rhetoric coming from Donald Trump has become a dangerous appeal to the darkest fears and simmering hatred that are smoldering nationwide.
“I’ve decided that I need to speak faithfully and regularly now about the dangers in this current moment,” Gushee says. “Jim Wallis approached me and said, ‘Some of us need to say some thing more systematic about why the rise of Donald Trump is so serious.’ And I agreed.”
‘CALL TO RESIST’
The result of that collaboration—and a wide appeal to other Christian leaders coast to coast—is “Call to Resist,” a public appeal to church people to turn away from the anxiety, anger and animosity that have become major themes in the Trump campaign.
“The statement is about the overall tenor of a campaign that’s based on inflaming fear and is appealing to some of the baser instincts of white Americans. This is not a case of garden-variety political differences, where we all can sit on the sidelines and wait to see what happens. I hope people will read and seriously consider what we have written,” Gushee says.
He and Wallis are not alone in posting this appeal. Co-signers include leaders within the Armenian, Baptist, Methodist and Reformed traditions, the United Church of Christ, the Catholic peace group Pax Christi, Catholic University of America, several seminaries as well as David Neff, an influential evangelical voice from Christianity Today.
The online ‘Call to Resist’ manifesto says in part:
We are seeing the very worst values of our nation and its history on display with a vulgar message and style. A direct appeal to the racial, religious, and gender bigotry that is always under the surface of American politics is now being brought to painful public light.
The ascendancy of a demagogic candidate and his message, with the angry constituency he is fueling, is a threat to both the values of our faith and the health of our democracy. Donald Trump directly promotes racial and religious bigotry, disrespects the dignity of women, harms civil public discourse, offends moral decency, and seeks to manipulate religion. This is no longer politics as usual, but rather a moral and theological crisis, and thus we are compelled to speak out as faith leaders. This statement is absolutely no tacit endorsement of other candidates, many of whom use the same racial politics often in more subtle ways. But while Donald Trump certainly did not start these long-standing American racial sins, he is bringing our nation’s worst instincts to the political surface, making overt what is often covert, explicit what is often implicit.
WHY PEOPLE OF FAITH MUST RESPOND
Throughout Gushee’s long career, he has studied the impact of faith on ethics and public attitudes in many ways. Among other subjects, he is a recognized expert on the rise of Naziism and the struggle of “righteous” men and women during the Holocaust era. In his book, Changing Our Mind, he writes movingly about the connection between that research and his decision to speak out for inclusion—and accept the angry and sometimes threatening responses of those opposed to his work.
After the Orlando shootings, Gushee says, he feels compelled to remind Americans that people of faith bear a collective responsibility to speak out—because religious traditions themselves are at the core of anti-LGBT attitudes.
“It’s religion itself and by that I mean Christianity, Judaism and Islam in their traditional forms that create most of the baggage people are carrying when they condemn gay and lesbian people,” Gushee says. “People pull from sacred text and sacred tradition in trying to justify their treatment of people within this minority.
“This is one reason the change to inclusion is so difficult for many people. They see this appeal to inclusion as not just asking someone to change what he thinks—but asking that he change how he knows what is true, what is right. This is a crisis in authority. It’s an epistemological crisis for many and that’s because the attitudes are largely rooted in religious authority.
“So when you find yourself as a religious person, particularly now speaking as a Christian, suddenly on the defensive because of what religion is doing to gay people—and you find that because society has moved so rapidly toward inclusion—then this is a very, very difficult position.
“We’re in a period where civil rights and social acceptance for LGBT people have moved ahead of the attitudes of a substantial minority of the mainly religious population. People are left disoriented by all of the progress people are achieving and, while many of them may want to move toward inclusion, they’re not able to get fully to acceptance theologically. So, we’re in an era when we’re going to keep hearing these public calls against acceptance—ranging from hateful and odious appeals to ongoing polite but firm differences over theology.
“It’s now clear to me that all of us who are allies for LGBT people will be required to help sensitize the many Americans who are struggling to accept what is unfolding. I’ve learned that none of us can walk away. This is a calling we must be ready to respond to every day, for the rest of our lives.”
Care to do more?
If you haven’t already read his book, consider ordering a copy of Changing Our Mind, a landmark in publishing that already is regarded a modern classic in Christian ethics.
Religiously diverse memorial services, reflecting on the one-year anniversary of the Charleston church shootings and the Orlando mass murders, are popping up coast to coast. If you are in Michigan, an unusual memorial gathering is taking place at North America’s largest mosque: the Islamic Center of America. This diverse memorial—open to the public—is hosted by the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit on Monday, June 20, 2016, at 5 p.m.