Can Evangelical Americans Sleep Through This One, Too? David P. Gushee’s Evangelical Winds-a-Blowing

Photo by Rev. Steven Parelli

A personal first-hand story: David P. Gushee’s address “Ending the Teaching of Contempt against the Church’s Sexual Minorities” delivered at The Reformation Project Conference in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 8, 2014

The hurricane I never heard, I never saw
Twice in my life now I have slept through what would have been two exceptional once-in-a-life-time experiences. I regret it on both accounts. The first occurrence was at age 17 when I slept the whole night long in a small room in a missionary’s home in the steep hills outside of the town of Robert, Martinique, while hurricane winds blew against the island so hard that it took two months of rehabilitating the necessary facilities before public schools could reopen.

When I asked everyone — from the missionaries to my traveling companions from Central New York — why they let me sleep through it all, they told me, with horror, that I was the lucky one.

The evangelical winds of change — gathering now?
Two nights ago, knowing in advance the ‘storm-winds of evangelical change’ gathering about, ready to descend from the lofty pulpit of the Washington, DC, National City Christian Church at The Reformation Project, I was psyched and ready to witness with my own eyes and ears the historical address that David P. Gushee, the featured speaker of the conference, would give in his defense for personally affirming and welcoming on all levels within the church the queer Christian community.

I totally missed it — well, almost all of it!
But I slept . . . through most of it, although I was in and out of sleep at times! I was exhausted from my days of conferencing for a week at ILGA in Mexico City and now three days here in DC. My husband’s jabs to my side did little to avert the sleep.

“Unchristlike!” — Say it again and again, 14 times!
But I did catch the force of his address, like when David Gushee said he wanted his listeners to note that he carefully chose the word “unchristlike” and that he would use it 14 times throughout his address.

Those by-gone Jewish-hate-verses of the Bible
From the very first words of his address, before sleep engulfed me, he pulled me in. The parallel between the church’s centuries of hatred for the Jewish people and their now like-hatred for the LGBT community was stunning. David said the pre-WWII Christian community, by-and-large, believed their anti-Semitism was scriptural, as the church now does in its animosity toward LGBT Christians. And then, I dozed off again.

Love — the central message of the Bible that brings change
I was momentarily awake when he said Gentile Christians who helped the Jews during the holocaust of World Word II did not do so because they could correctly exegete the often-cited Jewish-hate-verses of the Bible, but because they could feel, know and live out the Golden-Rule verses of the Bible.

An inter-generational movement
At one point, Gushee corrected his written manuscript: He had written that this was a youth movement. No, he said, as he assessed the actual age continuum in the audience before him, that this was an inter-generational movement. All he had to do was look out over his audience, his said, to see that! I believe we all clapped. I think I did. And then, this tired, 61-year-old LGBT Christian, from the other side of the millennium-divide, fighting back the sleep, dozed off again.

Telling my dis-believing daughter her local evangelical pastors will one day change their views
On Monday morning, talking to my daughter on the phone who loves “both her dads” but is not welcoming and affirming asked me why the event, if it was so historically significant, wasn’t, for example, on CNN news.

I told her Gushee is big in the evangelical academic world, and that while I can’t predict what will be the impact of his words (and his newly published book), it is a force that has to be reckoned with both in the world of scholarship and, at some point, even in the common pew.

So, how will the Rick Warrens and the Tim Kellers respond?
But then again, will the Rick Warrens and the Tim Kellers, pastors of the church-going evangelicals, undaunted and unimpressed, sleep through this one, too — like I did, when I slept through the night-long hurricane winds of Martinique? I hope not.

It’s time to awaken and say (as horrifying as the storm may be – and more accurately because it is already horrific for all presently engulfed by it) that evangelicals do not want to be (any longer) on the wrong side of history, not to mention on the wrong side of the gospel.