David P. Gushee is Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter: @dpgushee.
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Reading the Classics May Save White Souls
TO UNDERSTAND THE TRUMP PHENOMENON, which is at least in large part about race, I decided to read. Instead of reading more white people wrestling with what has gone wrong with white people, I, a white man, focused on African-American sources, mainly novels.
This move was first suggested to me by womanist ethicist Katie Cannon, who read the novelist Zora Neale Hurston as a primary source. I, too, began with Hurston, and then couldn’t stop. For two years, I have been reading classic novels by African-American authors, seeking an answer to these questions: How do black characters experience white people? How do they describe white Christian people’s morality and religion? The answers are clear—and devastating.
The Trump Prophecy
I REMEMBER THE EXACT DAY I discovered that some conservative Christians are not all that into democracy. It was 20 years ago. My daughter asked me for help with her social studies homework. I discovered that her Christian school taught a neo-Puritan civics curriculum, which proclaimed that God’s design for human government is rule by “godly Christian men” applying scripture under the sovereignty of God. I was shocked.
In the Trump era, we again witness a conservative Christian flirtation with authoritarianism. These conservative Christians compare Donald Trump to Cyrus of Persia—both authoritarian rulers, both “friendly” to but not part of God’s people, both supposedly used by God—and Trump is lauded as the president of divine providence in shlock films such as Liberty U.’s The Trump Prophecy.
Meanwhile, a quote attributed to Russian Orthodox priest and monarchist St. John of Kronstadt that “in hell there is democracy, in heaven there is a kingdom” is making the rounds on social media, occasioning much comment leaning in the direction of authoritarian rule. John of Kronstadt died in 1908 before the Russian revolution and likely associated democratic tendencies with atheism.
Escaping The Bonds Of Privilege
REBECCA TODD PETERS offers here a concise treatment of the major moral concern of a large part of Christian social ethics: the structures of globalized economic life and their manifest injustices and unsustainability. She also offers a moral framework to guide the thinking of unjustly, and often blindly, privileged First World Christians about the moral situation in which we find ourselves.
She proposes concrete action guides for how such First World Christians can gradually and intentionally empty ourselves of these privileges in order to stand in solidarity with those whose lives are harmed in the delivery of our advantages. In the end what emerges is a kind of liberation ethics for those who didn’t know they needed to be liberated—in this case, from their own advantages.
EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANITY has changed significantly over the last 40 years on issues of gender, race, and nation. But until now it has not changed on homosexuality. Until the last five years, any self-identified evangelical Christian (in the United States, at least) suggesting that Christians might need to change some aspect of their teaching about same-sex-oriented people and their relationships has been (metaphorically, so far) banished by the evangelical community.
But that reality has begun to shift. Five books, all published in 2013-14, represent the newest wave of U.S. evangelical reflection on LGBT matters. Evangelical New Testament scholar James Brownson published Bible, Gender, Sexuality in February 2013. Vineyard pastor Ken Wilson unveiled A Letter to My Congregation in February 2014; Matthew Vines posted God and the Gay Christian last April; Wendy VanderWal-Gritter’s Generous Spaciousness came out in May; and evangelical Presbyterian Mark Achtemeier released The Bible’s Yes to Same-Sex Marriage in June. And my own Changing Our Mind came out in October.
Brownson’s work reveals that at least some of those who tackle questions about LGBT people and evangelical Christianity are scaling the great mountain of biblical scholarship and related literature on sexuality. In an early chapter he takes on in a broad way “traditionalist” Christian scholarship, notably in the work of Robert Gagnon, a mainline conservative at Pittsburgh Seminary. Gagnon’s primary claim is that the Bible’s consistent message about sex reveals a God-given design in creation (Genesis 1-2) involving physical/biological sexual complementarity between male and female. Gagnon argues that this creation theme underlies Paul’s condemnation in Romans 1:24-27 as well.
Tackling the Hard Questions
YOU CAN'T TURN AROUND these days in Christian circles without bumping into questions around gays and lesbians and the church. It has become the hottest of all hot potatoes in evangelical Christianity, as it has in much of U.S. and global culture.
Long-term consensus evangelical positions and practices on various aspects of “the gay issue” are being challenged at every turn. Indeed, some have already given way.
It used to be that anyone with same-sex desires was considered willfully perverse; but now many evangelicals acknowledge the clinically/medically recognized category of same-sex attraction (SSA), or sexual orientation, as a mysterious but globally recurring pattern among 3 to 5 percent of the human family.
It used to be that LGBT people were frequent targets of derogatory preaching and teaching, often so fierce that some church folks were motivated in the direction of hatred, contempt, and bullying; but now more and more preachers and teachers are moderating their language so as not to do harm.
It used to be that evangelicals sent those with SSA off to “reparative” or “ex-gay” therapies; but now those harmful and futile “treatments” have been discredited and are fading fast, as evidenced for example by Exodus International’s closure and apology in 2013 and its leader Alan Chambers’ statement that “99.9 percent” of the people they had tried to help had not experienced a change in their sexual orientation. More evangelicals are recognizing the importance of not harming their own gay and lesbian adolescents and family members. Family acceptance and suicide prevention are becoming important concerns.
The Stubborn Persistence of 'Jew-Hatred'
THE SHOOTINGS THAT took three lives this spring at a Jewish community center and retirement complex in Kansas are a reminder that deadly strains of what is usually called “anti-Semitism” remain with us. The fact that the shooter was a deranged white supremacist should not prevent us from coming to terms with the roots and survival of Jew-hatred in our culture.
Anti-Semitism is a made-up word that itself gives clues to the history of Jew-hatred in our civilization. The term was coined by German journalist Wilhelm Marr in 1879, one of a number of Jew-haters who were turning longstanding European Christian hatred of Jews into something modern and racial. The “Jewish problem,” therefore, became the “fact” that there was a racial group, the “Semites,” who were a mortal threat to another racial group, the “Aryans,” and therefore needed to be removed from Aryan societies. All right-thinking Germans/Europeans/Aryans, the argument went, needed to unite to combat the Semites through a scientific antisemitismus. The term is usually written “anti-Semitism” in English, but that usage profoundly reinforces the racist myth that there is a race of “Semites” needing to be opposed by “anti-Semites.” The term Jew-hatred is better because it refuses to participate in this mythology.
Modern racialized Jew-hatred flowed into the 20th century and crystallized most disastrously in Nazi Germany. There, over 12 terrible years, the 19th century anti-Jewish program was enacted, and then exceeded. Jews were to be “eliminated” from among the “Aryans,” a program that became annihilation after 1939, with 6 million Jews murdered.
A Tribute to Glen Stassen
Editor's Note: This piece originally appeared at ABPNews/Herald HERE.
My friend Glen Stassen died today (Saturday, April 26) in Pasadena. He was 78. But because he was born on Leap Day — February 29, 1936 — Glen liked to joke that he was only 19. Until an aggressive cancer took his vitality over the last year, and finally his life, Glen as 78-going-on-19 was totally believable. It is impossible to believe that he has gone to be with Jesus.
There are only a small number of people beyond family who deeply affect the course of one’s life. Glen Stassen was one such person for me, perhaps the primary person outside my family who shaped who I am and what I have become. Having him gone makes me feel like an orphan.
In the Name of Security
THE SAD RECORD of human history shows that torture has more often been the rule rather than the exception—in criminal justice systems as well as in interethnic, intercommunal, and international conflicts.
The use of torture in such situations—and brutalities that might fall short of torture but are nonetheless brutalities—can have many motivations. Torture demonstrates absolute power. Torture wreaks vengeance. Torture intimidates. Torture punishes. Torture coerces behavior change. Torture harms, and sometimes the sheer (perverted) pleasure of doing harm is enough motivation. And yes, torture is sometimes deployed to elicit information, confession, or “actionable intelligence.” (This was the main ostensible reason why the U.S. tortured after 9/11. But other factors on this list should not be overlooked.)
Torture appears to come all too naturally to fallen humanity. That is a still quite useful theological term that conveys the belief that humanity was created good by a good God but has fallen into sin and thus has suffered disastrous individual and collective damage to its character. Fallen human beings and human communities resort easily to torture.
So one way to talk about the ethics of torture and brutality is to start exactly here—with the historically and theologically grounded claim that torture has more often been the rule rather than the exception in human history, a dark but pervasive aspect of the behavior of fallen humanity. But what if we turn the discussion of torture upside down in what might be a constructive way?
Toward Life Abundant
Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation. Fortress Press.
Mr. Obama, Close Down This Jail!
Guantanamo reminds us of the fragility of constitutional democracy.
The U.S. Warfare State and Evangelical Peacemaking
Evangelicals are gearing up to be makers of peace. Are they ready for the serious responsibilities that entails?
In Pursuit of the Common Good
What does individualism have to do with Christianity? Not much.