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David Gushee

Biography

David P. Gushee, Ph,.D. is a noted Christian Ethics scholar, professor, pastor, author, and public intellectual in the United States.  Gushee went through a significant period of introspection and re-examination in the 2000s regarding the evangelical Christian Church’s rejection of LGBTQ+ people, a view that he had previously shared and taught to others.   In 2014, he publicly called for full acceptance of LGBTQ+ people by the Christian Church, and published a book, Changing Our Mind: A Call from America’s Leading Evangelical Ethics Scholar for Full Acceptance of LGBT Christians in the Church.[1]  The book had a major impact on his life and career.  Since that time, he has been a staunch ally and prominent advocate for LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church. 

Gushee’s academic interests and focus extend to numerous subjects in the field of Christian Ethics.  He recently published a book, Defending Democracy from its Christian Enemies. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2023and has two books forthcoming in 2024, The Travail of Job. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books; and The Moral Teachings of Jesus. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock.   This profile focuses solely on his work regarding LGBTQ inclusion in the Christian church.

Gushee was born on June 17, 1962, in Frankfurt, Germany.  He grew up in Vienna, Virginia, located just outside Washington, DC, and was raised Catholic.  His father worked for the Congressional Research Service doing policy analysis, and his mother was a stay-at-home mom.  David was the eldest of four children.  According to Gushee, by the age of 15 he was on a spiritual search.   That search took him into a Southern Baptist church one day in 1978.  Shortly afterward, he became a born-again Christian convert. 

Gushee graduated from William & Mary University in 1984, and enrolled in Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, a conservative southern seminary.  He graduated with an M.Div. in 1987 and became an ordained Baptist Minister.   He then enrolled in Union Theological Seminary (“UTS”), a progressive seminary, where he received a Ph.D. in 1993 in Christian Ethics. {2}

 Even though UTS was progressive, Gushee described himself at that time as center left evangelical.[3]  After graduation from UTS, Gushee served as a Baptist pastor with a variety of churches in youth and pastoral ministry, along with his academic teaching role in Christian Ethics.  He taught for 14 years in conservative southern Baptist schools.  Then, moved to Atlanta to begin teaching at Mercer University, formerly a Georgia Baptist school.  Mercer provided Gushee with a freer environment in a school committed to academic freedom that also carried the values of its heritage, but not all the restrictions.  

After moving to Atlanta in 2007, Gushee felt compelled as an ethicist to take on the question of LGBTQ+ inclusion.  He was regarded as an evangelical ethical thought leader at that time and found himself in numerous meetings and other gatherings where discussions inevitably turned to the question of LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church.  Gushee stated that at that time he felt he may have been ducking the LGBTQ+ issue, and it was a subject that needed to be discussed in a more thoughtful and comprehensive way. Although others in the evangelical community had greater familiarity with LGBTQ+ issues, Gushee believed that many people were afraid to say anything because it would cost them their jobs.   So, he decided to write a series of articles for his column in a Baptist newspaper. 

In a talk he gives fairly frequently, “Ten Steps and How I Changed my Mind,” Gushee discusses in greater depth what led him to write the articles. At the beginning he described a process of getting to know LGBTQ+ Christians and ex-Christians, hearing their stories, and seeing both their suffering and their faithfulness to Christ.  He said that up to that point in time, he had managed to get through the first 14 years of teaching without knowing a single out gay Christian because the context was so repressive it was not safe to be out. Through these experiences he became ready for change.  

The articles added up to a book, Changing Our Mind, which first came out in the fall of 2014, with the third edition published in 2017.[4]  The book was the major statement about LGBTQ+ inclusion by an evangelical intellectual of that time, and it caused Gushee to lose friends, publishing contracts, speaking engagements, and followers in the evangelical community.  LGBTQ+ people and others supporting LGBTQ+ inclusion gave Gushee’s book an extremely warm welcome. 

Gushee hoped the book would help evangelicals think more deeply and clearly about the issues and that his stature as an academic might help people be more willing to listen.  Gushee commented: Well, you know, one of the things I’ve reflected on is that there are certain kinds of respect, honor and privileges that go with being a published academic….  And, all of that counted for nothing when the book came out.   What had been given could be snatched away in an instant.  And what I concluded at a spiritual level, through a lot of pain, were two things - one was that honor, status, and privilege can be spiritually and morally dangerous, and that having them taken away was good for me.  The other was that this gave me just a bit of the taste of what it may have felt like to be an LGBT person treated contemptuously by others.   I was able to taste the bitter taste of rejection, and it made me more able to understand the woundedness of the people I was writing for and about.  Also, as I read Jesus’ story in the gospels, he also stood in solidarity with those who were pushed to the margins and he also was pushed to the margins for doing so.  So, I felt like I was where Jesus would want me to be.[5]

Because the book began as a series of articles, Gushee stated that he did not know what the outcome would be or what his conclusions would be at the end of his writing.  He took a step-by-step Biblical approach.  When he got to the so-called “Clobber Passages,” which he never studied closely before, he realized that there were not very many of these passages and he now viewed their interpretation to exclude LGBTQ+ people from the church as much more debatable than he had realized.   

In addition, Gushee wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on the Holocaust.  In his research he learned that 2000 years of Christian antisemitism was originally based on a reading of the Bible in which the Jews were considered problematic because they supposedly rejected their own Messiah.  Gushee came up against Bible verses that were used for 2000 years to hurt Jewish people in this regard.  He observed that the church really didn’t change its mind about its antisemitism until after the Holocaust.  So, Gushee realized that the church had gotten this type of issue wrong before, and that there were other issues for which the church similarly erred including slavery, the complete subordination of women, and the colonization of the Americas.  Therefore, regarding the Clobber Passages and LGBTQ+ people, Gushee concluded to his dismay and regret that a relatively small number of Bible passages had been read in such a way as to harm millions of people in violation of the best moral teachings of the church and the example of Jesus.  He concluded that this was one of those cases where the church got it wrong.  And once he reached that conclusion, it all snapped in place for him - there was no going back.[6]

Gushee noted that his sister came out as a Lesbian later in her life, and that his conservative Catholic parents were able to accept her and her relationships with women.  He also stated that one of the people most influential during the process of changing his mind about LGBTQ+ inclusion was a friend who had been a married fundamentalist evangelical pastor and lost his family and church after coming out as gay. Gushee’s friend spoke with him about how distressing it was for his own father to disown him and refuse to talk with him right up until his father’s death.  However, his friend noted, that kind of exclusion had been going on for a very long time.  He worked in healthcare, and advised Gushee that during the AIDS crisis he was one of those people who sat with AIDS patients dying alone because their families had rejected them.  So, Gushee noted, the deep systemic wounding withdrawal of family goes back decades and decades.  Gushee found himself asking the following question:
I mean, what has to happen in your heart in the name of God for you to not care for your own flesh and blood when they are dying?  One thing I learned in this process, well I knew this, but I didn’t know it to the core in the same way, is that Christianity can be the most powerful force for good.  It can also be a very powerful force for harm if it is weaponized against groups of people that are believed to be “wrong.”  It isn’t just we “disagree with you politely” – “we are not so sure we support your choices” – it’s more of an existential visceral condemnation unto death.   There is no worse way to treat a human being I think unless it is to murder them.   And so, when I hear the stories of people who have had that experience at the hands of their families, every fatherly and pastoral and Christian impulse has me want to go stand with them and next to them and say “no more of this.”  So, every time I have a chance to speak somewhere, I basically say, “No more of this.   This is wrong.  Make it stop.[7]

Gushee’s advice to others is that you cannot coast on this issue, and you cannot just decide not to decide.   He says that:
Eventually, somebody’s going to come across your path who is going to need you to be clear. It may be a grandchild, it may be a friend, it may be your own child, it may be you, it may be your spouse who comes out to you one day and you do not expect it.  You will come across someone who needs you to be clear about this.  We have a certain share of the human population that is LGBTQ+.  It just is.  The old answers were misguided and hurtful.  So, do the homework, talk to people who are out who will talk to you about their story.  Jesus said, “you will know them by their fruit.”  I think that, more broadly, you can know the impact of a teaching by its fruit.   The bad fruit here is epic.  Given the centrality of love and the centrality of persons in Jesus’ ministry, the harmful personally destructive implications of this teaching have to be taken seriously.” 


[1] David Gushee, Changing Our Mind: A Call from America’s Leading Evangelical Ethics Scholar for Full Acceptance of LGBT Christians in the Church (Canton, MI: Read the Spirit Books, 2017).
[2] https://www.davidpgushee.com/about/
[3] Confessions of a Reformer: A Podcast with Mike Maeshiro; Episode, Queer People in the Church, August 7, 2023, guest, David P. Gushee. https://ivy.fm/tag/gushee
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.

(This biographical statement written by Jacquelyn Boyden for a Queer and Trans Theologies class at United Theological Seminary with information from the sources provided.)


Biography Date: December 2023

Additional Resources

Tags

Evangelical | Author/editor | Ally | Theology | Activist (religious institutions)

Citation

“David Gushee | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed May 30, 2024, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/david-gushee.

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