David Gushee’s Recent Shift on Homosexuality

Preston Sprinkle

As you may have heard, leading Evangelical ethicist, Dr. David Gushee, has shifted his views regarding same-sex relations. That is, Gushee now holds to an affirming view, which says that the Bible does not prohibit loving, monogamous, same sex couples from getting married.
Before I comment on Gushee’s new stance, let me first say both David and I share a lot of the same passions, including our stance against torture and violence. And it was a great

pleasure to join arms with him in DC last year as we participated in a meeting that sought to improve America’s death penalty laws. In any case, as you all probably know, I ultimately disagree with his shift regarding LGBT related issues—though I can’t stand calling it an “issue” since we’re talking about people; real people created in God’s image.

For some reason, I’ve known about David’s “new” view for quite a while, so I’m not sure why this is just now hitting the internet. In any case, here are a few thoughts.

First, if you claim to be a Bible-believing Christian, then your first thought should not be, “what a heretic!” If you believe the Bible, then you should be asking, “how valid are his biblical arguments used to justify his new position?” Non-affirming evangelicals have some catching up to do in this discussion. For the last 30 years, biblical scholars have been making the case that the Bible does not condemn same-sex relations, and they’ve given non-affirming Christians many arguments to wrestle with. However, most non-affirming Christians I know often respond by simply quoting the Bible—or they don’t refer to the Bible at all—when arguing against the affirming view. But this doesn’t help the discussion in anyway.

Folks: Everyone knows what the Bible says. The debate is over what the Bible means: The debate concerns interpretation not simply quotation.

To legitimately disagree with someone’s interpretation of the text, you have to consider, evaluate, and refute their arguments. Is Gushee wrong? Maybe. But saying he’s wrong or getting upset as his view doesn’t make him wrong. Or saying, “I’ve seen this coming” isn’t an argument, just a reaction. It just makes the one disagreeing look like he’s relying on prepositions and assumptions, rather than the actual Bible. If Gushee is wrong, then one needs to do the hard work of showing where, how, and why he’s wrong.

Disagreement doesn’t equal refutation.

Now, as far as Gushee’s arguments go, I honestly haven’t been very impressed. (Important caveat: I have been somewhat impressed with the arguments by other affirming writers like James Brownson and Matthew Vines; impressed, though I still disagree. And yes, I’ve done the work of refutation.) I haven’t read all of Gushee’s articles, so maybe I’ve only looked at a bad sampling—articles written on an off day. In any case, most of his arguments are either not very fair or they are recycled from other affirming writers—writers who have been roundly refuted by other scholars.

For example, in his article “God made them male and female,” Gushee looks at Jesus’ conversation about divorce in Matthew 19 and rightly points out that Jesus was not addressing the LGBT question. I’m with you, David. You’re right. However, while you note that Jesus cites Gen 1:27 here, you pass over the significance of this. In talking about marriage, Jesus tethers Gen 1:27 to 2:24: “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them ‘male and female’, and said ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife…’” (Matt 19:4-5). Yes, of course, Jesus is talking about divorce. But significantly, Jesus highlights gender difference—”God made them male and female“—as he’s talking about marriage. Gender difference is, in itself, irrelevant to the question of divorce. That is, it’s irrelevant if gender makes no difference in marriage. (Jesus could have simply talked about becoming one flesh without mentioning the male and female bit.) If Jesus didn’t think that gender difference is essential for marriage, then his quotation of Gen 1:27, which talks about gender difference, is unnecessary and superfluous. But Jesus does mention it, so it would seem that male/female pairing is part of what marriage is, according to Jesus.

Now, I’m not saying it’s a slam dunk. I’m not saying that Gen 1:27 in Matt 19 ends the discussion. Not at all. But why leave this out? It just feels like he avoided mentioning the rather glaring male/female statement since it works against his argument. It just smells fishy.

Also, Gushee’s work on the Greek terms malakos and arsenokoites in 1 Cor 6:9 was okay but still didn’t seem very fair. It’s true, both terms have been wrongly translated as “homosexuals.” That’s a terrible translation. I agree. And I could not agree more with Gushee’s final remark: “I deeply lament the damage done by certain questionable and sometimes crudely derogatory Bible translations in the lives of vulnerable people made in God’s image.” Gushee: I stand with you on this.

But Gushee doesn’t seem to be aware of the extensive work done on these two terms by David Wright. I know you can’t read everything; I get that. I can’t read everything either. But Wright’s article has yet to be refuted (Peterson tried but fell flat; Martin’s attempt is very weak). For many reasons, which will be made clear in my forthcoming book, arsenokoites rather clearly refers to men who have sex with other men and does not have a specific form (pederasty, prostitution, etc.) in view. Relying on older, recycled, and long-since-refuted alternative views doesn’t help the discussion.

Should we translate arsenokoites as “homosexual?” Absolutely not! Should we translate it as “men who have sex with men.” Yes. That’s what the word means. If you don’t know what the difference is, then go ask your gay or lesbian friend. If you don’t have a gay or lesbian friend, then go find one.

I know that Robert Gagnon has stirred the pot on more than one occasion regarding the question of homosexuality. But the simple fact is: No one has thoroughly refuted his arguments. No one. David Gushee continues to repeat assumptions and arguments that have long been refuted by Gagnon. James Brownson may have challenged a couple points in Gagnon’s work (re: gender complementarity and some other interpretations in Gen 1-2), but even if we say that Brownson is right on these couple points, there are dozens of other exegetical conclusions that he didn’t address or didn’t convincingly refute. Vines didn’t deal very well with Gagnon’s work (didn’t even cite Gagnon in his chapter on 1 Cor 6 and 1 Tim 1) and Justin Lee misrepresented him. And now, David Gushee repeats the error by tip-toeing around Gagnon’s ever-growing scholarly work on the topic.

The fact is, until affirming scholars can actually deal with and refute Gagnon’s arguments, or at least a good portion of them, their view will not be considered as a credible biblical option by those who have studied the (LGBT)  question more broadly. And by relying on previous affirming arguments—ones which have been thoroughly refuted by Gagnon and others—“new” affirming voices are entering the rodeo on a crippled pony.

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