Do shivers run down your spine when you hear that word? Well, there’s no getting around it – repent is an important biblical word. But as opposed to emphasizing how horrible we sinners are, the word simply means “Change your mind.” So, what happened when the leading American Evangelical ethicist repents? He asked the whole Church to change its mind, too.
That’s what David Gushee has done in his latest book, Changing Our Mind: A Call From America’s Leading Evangelical Ethics Scholar for Full Acceptance of LGBTQ Christians in the Church. Gushee challenges the Church (yes, capital C) to repent and change its mind to fully accept the LGBTQ community. And, of course, Gushee means more than the Catholic Church. Gushee’s call is bigger than changing our individual minds. Gushee claims that he titled the book, Changing Our Mind, “because I believe the question that matters is whether the collective mind of the Church universal can and ought to change.”
I agree with Gushee that the Church needs to change its mind. Why? So that the Church can be the Church!
Much has been said about the Church dying in American. I believe that as long as the Church is involved in scapegoating, bullying, and excluding a certain segment of humanity, the Church deserves to die because it’s not being the Church.
Why do I make such a radical claim? Because the Church is the Body of Christ. If the Church doesn’t act like Christ, if it uses religious laws to exclude and marginalize people as opposed to include and love them, then it has no business calling itself “Church” because it is not acting as the Body of Christ. As Gushee claims,
…if what we are talking about is carving out space for serious committed Christians who happen to be gay or lesbian, to participate in society as equals, in church as kin, and in blessings and demands of covenant on the same terms as everyone else, I now think that has nothing to do with cultural, ecclesial and moral decline, and everything to do with treating people the way Christ did.
The reason that full inclusion of LGBTQ community in the church is the biggest hot button issue of our day is because the theological stakes are high. I believe that those on different sides of this issue actually believe in different gods. One side believes in a god who justifies sacrifice and exclusion. The other side believes in a God who desires mercy and inclusion.
Gushee knows that Jesus changes our understanding of God on a fundamental level. He claims that, “…for the early Jewish and then Gentile Christians, their transformative encounter with Jesus led them to a huge paradigm shift, so huge it is better to call it a paradigm leap.” Jesus calls us to repent of our understanding of God as being violent and exclusionary. For many of us who grew up with an understanding of a violent and wrathful god, this repentance requires a paradigm leap in our understanding of the true nonviolent God of love revealed in Jesus. Because of Jesus, this leap means that Christians should not use God, or biblical verses, to justify excluding others from our midst.
Gushee explains this paradigm leap by referring to Acts 10. Peter believed that religious principles claimed that “it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile.” Peter used religious justifications to exclude Gentiles from being fully included into the religious community. But God would have not of that. In a vision, Peter saw a large sheet fall from heaven. On the sheet were all kinds of animals that his religious tradition told him not to eat. But God led Peter on a paradigm shift by saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” Peter replied, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” God then said, “What God has made clean, you must no call profane.” Apparently, Peter was pretty dense because Luke, the author of Acts, tells us that God had to tell Peter this “three times, and [then] the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.”
But Peter repented. He changed his mind. Of course, that story is about so much more than food. For Peter, it was about full inclusion of those whom he previously thought should never be fully included – the Gentiles. In fact, God was telling Peter that using religious principles, even biblical verses, to exclude another segment of humanity from full inclusion into God’s community is to work against the will of God. And make no mistake, when anyone uses religious principles and biblical verses to exclude the LGBTQ community from full inclusion into the Church they are working against the will of God.
And yet, what about those biblical passages? It’s important to note that Gushee intimately knows the biblical arguments against including the LGBTQ community because he has made those arguments in the past. He formulates that biblical argument like this:
Genesis 1-2 + Genesis 19 + Leviticus 18:22/20:13 + Judges 19 + Matthew 19:1-12/Mark 10:2-12 + Romans 1:26-27 + 1 Corinthians 6:9/1 Timothy 1:10 [+ Ephesians 5:22-33 and all other biblical references to sex and marriage assuming or depicting male + female] = a clear ban on same-sex relationships.
Gushee used to believe that formula was valid, but no longer does. He takes each passage and explores them from their literary, historical, and cultural context and concludes that the Bible is not talking about same-sex relationships in the sense that we talk about loving and committed same-sex relationships. Gushee does an excellent job of deconstructing the use of those verses to justify excluding same sex relationships from full inclusion in the church.
But more to the point are Gushees personal stories about his friendships with people who identify as LGBT. Because of those relationships he has discovered that “The fact that traditionalist Christian teaching produces despair in just about every gay or lesbian person who must endure is surely very relevant information for the LGBT debate.”
When “The Good News” produces despair in anyone, it is no longer Good News. When the Church spreads despair to a certain segment of humanity, telling them that they are second class citizens at best and shamefully disordered human beings at worst, the Church deserves to die.
That’s why it is so important for the Church to listen to Gushee’s words. The Church must repent and change its mind to fully include the LGBT community and all people who experience scapegoating and exclusion, or it will fail in its divine mission to participate in the Good News of God’s reconciliation of the world.