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.

To read Gushee’s address to the conference, go here.

Artist and Author David Hayward on Waterfalls, Leaving Religion and the Art of Coming Out

It was a dream about a waterfall that finally gave David Hayward the peace of mind he needed after leaving his career as a pastor in 2010 after almost thirty years of service.

Religion had been Hayward’s life from the beginning. Originally baptized Anglican, he grew up in the Baptist church but turned to Pentecostalism in his teens. He attended seminary and was ordained as a Presbyterian minister and went on to pastor Vineyard and independent churches before his questions about traditional Christianity led him to give up his career and leave the church.

The beginning of the end came in 2005 when he began his Naked Pastor blog. A moniker, Hayward told Whosoever Magazine during a recent interview, that means, “I’m going to bare my soul. I wanted to reveal what pastors really think about what we go through and be honest about it.”

In 2006, he added daily cartoons to his blog, calling himself “A graffiti artist on the walls of religion.”

The topics for the cartoons vary widely, but all tend to deal with current events within the church, religion and politics — skewering everyone from disgraced Mars Hill Church pastor Mark Driscoll to prosperity gospel preachers.

“I try to address what’s going on in religion and challenge the abusive, erroneous, silly and toxic aspects of religion,” Hayward said. “I challenge it not because I hate it but because I love it and I think people have the right to be spiritual, religious and to gather together but for God’s sake, let’s do it in healthy ways.”

The members of his congregation had little motivation to keep up with his blog when it began. Then, Hayward’s increasingly unorthodox views on Christianity began to get noticed by outsiders.

“Ever since I can remember I’ve always struggled with the exclusivity of religion,” he said. “Christianity in particular which teaches the only way to God the Father is through Jesus Christ the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. Although it sounds wonderful, it is exclusive. I met nice Jewish people and Buddhist and Roman Catholic people and atheists who are better people than I am and I wondered, ‘How would they deserve eternal punishment and I wouldn’t?’ It was a mental anguish of the kind that was unbearable.”

When word of what Hayward was blogging about — those tough questions he was posing about traditional Christian spiritual beliefs — got back to his congregation and church leadership, they began to question his commitment to the faith.

He and his congregation parted amicably enough, but Hayward found life difficult after the pulpit.

“When your whole life and identity is wrapped up in something like that and you leave it, cold turkey, it’s a tough go,” Hayward remembered. “I nearly self-destructed. I nearly lost my wife, my family and myself. You lose friendships, networks, income, career, religion. We had to file for personal bankruptcy. It was just the perfect storm.”

It was during that perfect storm that he dreamed about a waterfall. In the dream, Hayward is standing at the bottom of the waterfall. He realizes this is a symbol of reality. Looking up, he knows that, above the rim, is God in whatever form — or no form — we may imagine that higher power to be.

The water coming down was the manifestation of that universal source and the water hitting the ground was the Holy Spirit “engulfing and integrating everything,” Hayward said.

“It had a Trinitarian structure to it, but I knew we are all experiencing the same thing but we are all understanding it and articulating it through our own paradigms and language. That’s the only difference,” he said. “I knew this immediately that there is nothing worry about. The atheist, the Buddhist, the Hindu, the Jew, the Muslim were all experiencing the same thing but we have our particular paradigm and language that seems to separate what we’re experiencing into exclusive ideologies or religions, but it’s only an illusion.”

In that moment, he felt what he called “a theological peace,” and then realized that he was probably not the only one who felt this way — trying to come to terms with a spiritual life after leaving organized religion. Many people who choose to leave the church, he said, feel like gypsies or refugees without a safe and supportive place to deconstruct their beliefs and build new ones.

It was that thought, and his own craving for safe community, that led him to found The Lasting Supper, an online community for people who have left religion but still want to retain their spiritual orientation.

“A lot of people who leave religion realize the risks and they quickly jump into something else that provides community such as yoga or other wellness movements. None of that is bad, but sometimes I wonder what would happen if people kept pressing to find their own spiritual identity. I’m trying to provide a safe place for people to process in a healthy way,” Hayward said.

Among those who flocked to his new community were lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who had found themselves on the receiving end of so much abuse at the hands of the church. They have been welcomed into the diverse community which includes people who are married, divorced, atheists, agnostics and people who have left the church and don’t want to return.

Many of the cartoons that Hayward has produced over the years have been aimed at revealing some of that abuse LGBT people have suffered in traditional churches. He’s taken 100 of those cartoons and put them in a new book called The Art of Coming Out: Cartoons for the LGBTQ Community.

The book is divided into three chapters: The Discrimination, The Struggle and The Affirmation that traces both the fear and love that LGBT people have experienced in their spiritual journeys.

Hayward hopes that his images of Jesus fully accepting LGBT people as they were created will help others achieve the same theological peace he found when he dreamed of that image of the waterfall of God’s all-inclusive love spilling over into the world.

“There is something magical about an image,” said Hayward. “You can say to somebody, ‘Jesus loves you as you are.’ But, when you show them a picture of it, people can understand that it’s true! It’s another way of truth telling.”

Use this link to purchase The Art of Coming Out and David’s other books.

To learn more about The Lasting Supper, go here.

Listen to a podcast with David Hayward.

Jesus, Interrupted

If you have a chance, I highly recommend that you pick up Bart Ehrman’s latest book “Jesus, Interrupted.” Ehrman’s last book “Misquoting Jesus” took on the mistakes (intended and not) that biblical scribes have made over the years and how its changed the text of the Bible. Here he takes on the many contradictions found in the text.

Salon has a great new interview with him. Here is an excerpt:

Ehrman’s new book, “Jesus, Interrupted,” will not lead many evangelicals and conservative Christians to invite him to talk to their Bible study groups. Picking up where “Misquoting Jesus” let off, it goes beyond the Bible’s textual problems to look at deeper doctrinal inconsistencies and contradictions. Ehrman points out that Mark and Luke had radically different attitudes toward Jesus’ death: Mark saw him as in doubt and despair on the way to the cross, while Luke saw him as calm. Mark and Paul saw Jesus’ death as offering an atonement for sin, while Luke did not. Matthew believed that Jesus’ followers had to keep the Jewish law to enter the kingdom of Heaven, a view categorically rejected by Paul. The conventional response to this is to try to “harmonize” the Bible by smashing all four Gospels together. But as Ehrman argues, this only creates a bogus “fifth Gospel” that doesn’t exist.

Ehrman’s critique is far from over. He points out that many of the books in the New Testament were not even written by their putative authors: only eight of its 27 books are almost certain to have been written by the people whose names are attached to them. He writes that scholars have tended to avoid the word “forged” because of its negative connotations, but argues convincingly that much of the Bible is, in fact, forged.