David Gushee is calling upon the Christian church to abandon a belief it has held from its inception. In fact, given that Christians believe God’s truth has been revealed to man from the beginning, we are speaking of a conviction that has been held now for about 3,400 years. Of course, in the minds of the modern generation, that is irrelevant, since, of course, until the iPad, no one really thought anything through—their collective beliefs and opinions on matters of morality and ethics can be dismissed with a wave of the hand. But Gushee has joined the tsunami in calling upon the Church to ignore Matthew 19:4ff in favor of a new sexual ethic, all because of the supremacy of—suffering.
A few days ago Gushee published an article in the Washington Post. Here are the first few paragraphs:
For Christians, the LGBT debate has always been framed as a question of sexual ethics. Our argument has centered on six or seven biblical passages that appear to mention homosexuality negatively or appear to establish a heterosexual norm: the sin of Sodom, the laws of Leviticus and the list of “the unrighteous” in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. For most of my career, these ideas formed the foundation of my views and teachings as an evangelical minister and professor of Christian ethics. I co-authored a popular textbook that stated this position flatly: “Homosexual conduct is one form of sexual expression that falls outside the will of God.” I wasn’t mean about it. But I said it.
In recent years, my moral position has shifted. It has dawned on me with shocking force that homosexuality is not primarily an issue of Christian sexual ethics. It’s primarily an issue of human suffering. With that realization, I have now made the radical decision to stand in solidarity with the LGBT community.
The first thing that struck me in reading these words was that this “leading ethicist” had made the same mistake many others have made regarding this topic—a basic, foundational mistake that we simply cannot afford to keep making. He is right, of course, that there are about six primary texts that specifically mention homosexuality as a sin in God’s sight. But no serious thinking reader of the Bible can possibly conclude that these six texts exist in a vacuum. They are the negative, “law side” of the massive, pervasive, over whelming positive presentation of the Bible: that God is our Creator; that God has a purpose in creation; that the male/female dichotomy is central to God’s creative purpose and to the happiness and flourishing of mankind; that maleness and femaleness are good and right and proper and to be celebrated and honored; that marriage is a divine institution and is holy in God’s sight; that there is positive, purposeful, holy meaning in words such as husband, wife, father and mother; and that the parallel of Christ’s relationship to the church in the divine institution of marriage is a well-spring of deep and eternal truth. The prohibition of homosexuality, along with incestuous relationships, bestiality, and the like, is merely the negative, “law” side of the positive reality that God created men and women to find fulfillment and happiness in following His ways and walking in His statutes.
Basing, then, our stance solely or even primarily upon the negative law commandments, rather than the positive life-producing and affirming statutes of God’s Word, is a glaring error. Abandoning the 3,000+ year old conclusion of God’s people on this matter means abandoning the positive life-affirming truths of God’s creational intentions, the goodness of manhood and womanhood, and the only possible meaning of husband, wife, father and mother. It requires us to overthrow a massive portion of the biblical revelation. So what basis does David Gushee give us for doing this?
Suffering. Yes, the ethical argument of suffering. You see, when you do not affirm homosexuals (or those confused about their gender or who act or attempt to function as a gender they are not, biologically) in their sexual confusion you cause them pain. You cause them to suffer. You should never cause anyone to suffer, therefore, you should always affirm homosexuals in their homosexuality, that is, if you are a kind and loving person.
If you are less than moved by the argument, you are either heartless, or, you realize the argument is empty of meaning. The reality is, for anyone choosing to dwell in the darkness, shining the light causes suffering. If I love darkness, I will be offended by those who shine light into my darkness. The thief “suffers” at the hands of those who dare say it is wrong to take the property of others. The glutton “suffers” at the hands of all of those who dare point out their lack of discipline and their destruction of their own bodies. The liar “suffers” when truth is extolled and the demand is made that they speak in accordance with the truth. The adulterer “suffers” when the marriage relationship is exalted and honored and their behavior is decried. The murderer “suffers” when life is honored and he is punished for his violation of God’s law. Truth causes error to “suffer.” Those living in falsehood are offended by truth.
But, of course, an ethicist like David Gushee knows all these things! So what makes homosexuality different? It can hardly be questioned that the fundamental assertion that has triggered his reasoning on this topic is the same assertion that has been accepted throughout our society, at all levels: that homosexuality is a natural, in-born “orientation,” something completely beyond the control or choice of those who experience same-sex attraction. Therefore, to stigmatize homosexuality is to stigmatize the person’s very essence, what makes them who they are. This causes suffering, and hence is morally wrong.
Of course, there are those who make the same claim about sexual “orientations” like pedophilia, bestiality, incest, etc. But those claims have not yet garnered sufficient positive Hollywood screen time to become a dogma of our society. Likewise, the naturalistic materialist could argue that most things condemned in Scripture, such as murder, adultery, theft, anger, slander, injustice, etc., can be seen as “natural” actions and “orientations” on the part of those engaging in such activities. But importing a naturalistic/materialist interpretation into the texts of the Bible will always lead to confusion, for the authors of those texts were not materialists. But this leads us to the real problem with Gushee’s new “discovery”: it requires us to abandon a biblical view of man in favor of a materialistic one. We have to accept the idea that homosexuals are defined by their sexual desires—whether there is a natural explanation for those desires or not. There may well be all sorts of scientific/natural explanations for the whole range of human desires. There may be a genetic impetus to alcoholism amongst a certain people group; another might have a stronger desire for food, or sex, or power over others. But only by embracing the “man is a cosmic accident without transcendent purpose” view can such things become morally relevant. If we are made in the image of God, we are more than the sum of our desires. We have the ability to control those desires and to act as—men, rather than animals. We can choose what will define us. We do not have to be defined by our sexual desires, or any other desires.
I would like to suggest to David Gushee that his new “suffering ethic” is not a Christian ethic at all, for it requires the adoption of a non-Christian view of what defines man. And I would further suggest that the path upon which he has started would, eventually, if pursued to its destination, lead to a form of moral anarchy. But that issue aside, the real problem with Gushee’s position is that he presents it as a call to the Christian church. His call would require us to abandon the very heart of our view of man, and the very heart of our view of God’s purposes in man’s life. As such, it is not a new, insightful advance in ethics. It is a horrific collapse and abandonment of the only message that can truly give hope and guidance in a world rushing headlong into moral night.