My friend from work says that “Christians shoot their wounded”. I believe she may have a point. The best example of this is David Gushee’s new book, a memoir, entitled, Still Christian, Following Jesus Out of American Evangelicalism. David Gushee, in my opinion is kind of a modern day prophet who follows Jesus as his Lord and King and points people to Jesus despite the culture that they are a part of, the church that they belong to and it’s subsequent subculture, and exposes the conflict within the church of how American Politics has hijacked our true calling as followers of Jesus. David Gushee is one of the greatest Christian Ethicists (kind of like a prophet) in American Christian Academia in the past twenty years. He has published books on Ethics, Kingdom Ethics (which was one of my text books at Trinity), and has been an outspoken opponent on torture in war, an advocate for a climate change, and a friend to the LGBQT community. Here is the point of his memoir.
So this is a book that will try to offer a fair rendering of the flawed people and institutions to be found across red-blue/conservative-liberal barricades of American Christianity. I think it will not be hard to show virtues of each strand of Christian I have encountered. But I will also be clear how simultaneously that virtues become vices. It seems impossible to have any significant virtue-such as a strong conviction-without simultaneously suffering its correlated vice, which is intolerance.
The gospel becomes maligned, mistreated, and overshadowed by American Politics which becomes religious politics. This became apparent in Gushee’s first teaching assignment at Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky when the new president Albert Mohler, Jr. (who still is president of the Seminary), declared that all women who taught at Southern had to resign or would be fired due to his belief and literal reading of scripture that women were not allowed to teach and preach in the church. Gushee’s mentor Molly Marshall was forced out of her teaching role at Southern (Kindle Location 940). Gushee writes about his experience with this new policy at Southern:
At an epic, miserable faculty meeting, the president (Al Mohler, Jr.) declared that those who believed that women should serve as pastors will no longer be hired, promoted, or tenured at Southern…This meant the end for pretty much all female faculty members. I vividly remember one of my young female colleagues getting up from the meeting in which the policy was announced, running from the room, and throwing up in the hall. Almost all faculty and staff members who did not agree with this direction or this kind of leadership looked for a way to leave..None of my mentors believed women were biblically banned from being pastors. I was loyal to them, I was also loyal to my female teachers and colleagues at Southern, most notably Molly Marshall.
Fortunately for David Gushee, David Dockery (now Seminary President at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) offered him a golden parachute to become a Christian Ethicist professor at Union Seminary in Jackson, Tennessee (another Southern Baptist Institution). Even at Union, Gushee became an outcast as he became outspoken for climate change and torture. He writes:
Running into trouble with an evangelical Christian college constituency for being too public and too effective in leading conscience-driven moral advocacy campaigns on climate and torture was both deeply revelatory and hugely disappointing. I can only conclude that predominantly white evangelical Christian higher education is about much more (or, perhaps, something quite other) than the integration of faith and learning and the graduating of students of strong faith and values. It is about creating an educational environment loyal to U. S. Republican presidents and their policies is not challenged in public. Christian college faculty sign doctrinal statements filled with all kinds of theological claims to which they promise adherence. They do not sign political loyalty oaths. (Kindle Location 1351)
Thus, Gushee left Union Seminary and landed at Mercer college in Atlanta which was more moderate Southern Baptist institution. Gushee at full academic freedom to write what was on his heart at Mercer. Yet in the past 10 years, the most sensitive subject in the church is about human flourishing, sex, gender, and sexual identity. This issue has split many congregations and denominations. Gushee wrote a book extensively how he became supportive and affirming of LGBQT Christians in his book entitled Changing Our Mind which after being published for a few years has come out in it’s third series with answers to his critics. He writes that supporting and affirming LGBQT Christians was the final nail in the coffin which he left American Evangelicalism:
I crossed the threshold when I argued that main biblical/theological issue was whether God’s created order could be viewed in a manner that did not require Christians to adopt a solely male/female gender sexuality paradigm, in light of the genre of creation stories, the evidence before eyes in human life, and the fact that Christians have been seriously wrong before in the claims they derive from a theology of creation…By the end, I had moved far beyond cautious rethinking of biblical passages into a full-hearted apology for my long complicity in teaching Christians, both gay and straight, a traditionalist Christianity that I now understood as doing actual, documentable harm to gay people and separating them for their rejectionist families and churches…I had become a full-throated advocate for LGBT Christians and ex-Christians. (Kindle Location 1758)
He then ends his book that he is still called to be a disciple of Jesus, a family man, pastor, scholar and a teacher. Just as Jesus stood up to the Pharisees and Sadducees, Gushee is standing up to the American Evangelicalism ideals and institutions. This book is his personal memoir of how he has left American Evangelicalism and to follow Jesus, his Lord and King. He finishes the book with this observation about Evangelicalism in America:
The changed religious and social context has something do with this transition that I am contemplating. The embrace of Donald J. Trump in 2016 by most white evangelicals (4 out of 5 voted for him) was just the latest sign either of the bankruptcy of evangelicals or the meaninglessness of the category. To the extent there is a real thing called American Evangelicalism, it is deeply damaged by now…. To the extent that (white evangelicalism) thing was just a rebranding of Protestant Fundamentalism and never a real thing at all, the rebranding failed. (Kindle Location 1852).
Overall, Still Christian, was a good quick read. Many of us including myself, are looking at the state of the church in America and seeing where we fit. Does the current status of Evangelical Churches in America line up with the gospel, or are they overshadowed by American politics which has become “religious politics”? Can I still be a follower of Jesus, but disagree with my churches position on some of the hot-button issues that have political overtones that have affected the church? I stand with David in the last few pages of his memoir:
I still believe in Jesus. Indeed, I believe in him more than ever. I need him more than ever. Some days the only thing I have left of my Christianity is Jesus. And that’s okay. I still believe in the prophetic religion of Jesus and of those before him and those after him who also shared it-a religion of justice, love, and compassion, a powerful source of good in this broken world. But, I no longer believe that the church, per se, knows or follows that religion. I no longer believe that the church, per se, is generally a source of good in the world. It depends. Sometimes it is quite the opposite. When it is the opposite, the only way to be a true Christian is to oppose the church (like Martin Luther). Yet I will never leave the church. (Kindle location 1896)