A Baptist theologian who supports full acceptance of LGBTQ Christians in the church defended openly gay presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg from attacks by evangelical leader Franklin Graham in a television interview April 25.
David Gushee, distinguished university professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University, commented on tweets by Graham, head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and the humanitarian agency Samaritan’s Purse, challenging Buttigieg’s claim that if people object to his sexual orientation, their quarrel “is with my creator.”
Graham, a leading evangelical supporter of President Donald Trump, posted a series of tweets questioning Buttigieg’s description of himself as a gay Christian.
“As a Christian I believe the Bible, which defines homosexuality as sin, something to be repentant of, not something to be flaunted, praised or politicized,” Graham said. “The Bible says marriage is between a man and a woman — not two men, not two women.”
“The core of the Christian faith is believing and following Jesus Christ, who God sent to be the Savior of the world,” Graham continued, “to save us from sin, to save us from hell, to save us from eternal damnation.”
Gushee — who in his 2014 book Changing Our Mind chronicled how after decades of defending the traditional evangelical position he came to believe that someone can be both Christian and gay — termed Graham’s remarks “hurtful and inappropriate” and said they represent “some kind of retrograde theology that continues to hurt people.”
Asked by CNN host Don Lemon — who is openly gay and recently announced plans to wed — why evangelical leaders don’t share his view, Gushee elaborated.
“Well, I think what we’re talking about here is a long history of selective biblical literalism that takes certain passages or sentences, strands of the Bible, severs them from the heart and example of Jesus and ends up using that selective literalism to hurt people,” Gushee said. “It’s a long history of that from anti-Semitism to grotesque sexism, support for slavery, colonialism, segregation, even the exclusion of divorced people from the church, and right now, the main battleground is LGBTQ inclusion.”
“It’s interesting to note that on a lot of those previous ones, conservative Christians eventually realized that they needed to change their mind,” Gushee said. “A lot of us have come to that same conclusion on this one, but Franklin Graham has not.”
“There are a lot of different ways the Bible can be interpreted, and in the past it has been interpreted to harm people,” Gushee said. “And in many cases, the conservative Christians changed their minds on those issues. But, right now, they’re digging in their heels on LGBT inclusion.”
“I think to the extent that Pete Buttigieg becomes a very serious candidate, this issue is going to be re-litigated, you might say, daily in coverage and commentary on his campaign,” Gushee predicted.
Prior to coming to Mercer in 2007, Gushee taught for more than a decade at Union University, a conservative school affiliated with the Tennessee Baptist Convention, and three years at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, where he earned his master-of-divinity degree in 1987.
His former boss, Southern Seminary President Albert Mohler, volunteered different views on Buttigieg’s ascension in the Democratic Party in Friday’s installment of his daily podcast, The Briefing.
“The candidate does invoke the fact that there is a Creator, but he also says that his sexual orientation is basically something that God has created: God created him this way,” Mohler said. “That’s an argument that’s increasingly common. How do we square that with Scripture? Well, you can’t.”
“You can’t simply say that something the Scripture forbids is somehow nonetheless represented by an orientation that is now made morally neutral or morally good by the fact that one discovered this and claims it as a birth, as a creation identity,” Mohler said.
“On issue by issue, there are people who want to say you don’t have to take the entire Bible as the word of God, you can simply abstract the words of Jesus or what you want to identify is the message of Jesus,” Mohler said. “You can retain that and be done with all the thou-shalts and thou-shalt-nots — all of the clear biblical teachings about gender identity, about what it means to be male and female, about the definition of marriage and God’s intention in restricting marriage from the very beginning.”
Mohler described Buttigieg’s description of his faith as “extremely amorphous.”
“We do know that Pete Buttigieg has declared himself to be on the liberal side of Christianity, as some of the rightful media analysis has indicated, he is influenced by liberation theology in the Roman Catholic tradition,” Mohler said. “There are various forms of liberation theology, but LGBTQ liberation theology is very much a part of that.
“It replaces the very clear authority of Scripture with the authority of human experience, and it understands the primal sin to be the oppression of those who are oppressed by the majority, rather than sin is a transgression against the law and character of God.