Just after Labor Day, I flew to Zurich to begin 10 days of meetings, podcasts and speeches in Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands. The event introduced me to the growing post-evangelical scene in Europe, as well as the situation facing LGBTQ Christians. I was struck by several profound similarities to our situation here in the United States, including the urgent need for the growth of an institutional infrastructure for post-evangelical Christians.
The centerpiece event on this trip was the “Coming-In” conference on Sept. 10 in a suburb of Frankfurt. This conference, somewhat reminiscent of the Reformation Project and Q Christian Fellowship gatherings here in the U.S., brought together 400 LGBTQ Christians and allies, mainly from an evangelical free church background, for speeches, workshops and mutual support. It was a tremendous experience to get to know the hundreds of mainly young LGBTQ Christians and to be a part of their effort to support one another and to declare their commitment to Christ, to one another and to their own wholeness and integrity.
I was given the gift of being one of two plenary speakers at this event. The other was a well-known evangelical leader in Germany named Michael Diener. A pastor, theologian and former head of the evangelical church leadership in Germany, Diener lost much when he argued for evangelicals to reconsider their stance on LGBTQ inclusion. At the conference, he focused his remarks on expressing repentance for the harm he had done as a Christian leader before he changed his mind and his teachings.
My talk focused on the theme of covenant. I described the centrality of covenant in the Bible and emphasized its radically egalitarian implications. When God makes covenant with Israel and with the church through Christ, all human covenant partners stand on level ground. All are invited on equal terms into the covenant, all have the chance to say yes or no, all are held to the same covenant obligations, and all have access to the same benefits of covenant community. There can be no first-class and second-class status within covenant community.
This equality in covenant life must apply to LGBTQ believers, just like everyone else. But that has not been the case within much of Christianity, including evangelicalism. In many Christian churches, as soon as someone acknowledges they are not heterosexual or cisgendered, they are rejected, shunned or shunted off to second-class status. I could offer you thousands of examples, but if you doubt it, just ask pretty much any LGBTQ Christian raised in a conservative church.
“Most queer Christians who have not given up on church altogether are only interested in churches in which they are not treated as second-class members of the covenant community.”
Most queer Christians who have not given up on church altogether are only interested in churches in which they are not treated as second-class members of the covenant community. That should not come as a surprise. Nor should it be a surprise that a great many cisgender and straight Christians find this to be a non-negotiable as well.
This is part of what is propelling the growth of the post-evangelical movement, it turns out, not just here but in Europe too. Because the majority of evangelical churches and other institutions are proving unwilling to reconsider their unbiblical second-class treatment of LGBTQ Christians, church life for those committed to LGBTQ inclusion comes down to two options — either one can create post-evangelical churches (and other spaces) where all are welcome on equal covenant terms, or one can align with existing church options that meet that standard.
I was most pleasantly surprised to find both in Zurich and in Frankfurt that older denominations, some of them going back to the Reformation, have become welcoming spaces not only for queer Christians but for building a post-evangelical movement. For example, the Reformed Church in Zurich now sponsors a promising church plant led by a gifted married lesbian pastor named Priscilla Schwendimann, and their administrative offices host gifted post-evangelical leaders like theologian Thorsten Dietz and podcaster/pastor/organizer Manuel Schmid, who runs the widely followed RefLab program of podcasts and publications. These folks have become dear friends of mine now, with a deep sense of Christian community and shared vision. What a gift.
Podcasts are crucial spaces for post-evangelical conversation in the U.S., and the same turns out to be true in Zurich and in Germany. In Frankfurt, I spent two hours in a conversation with the hosts of the rowdy and smart Hossa Talk podcast, which has been hugely influential in creating and informing the post-evangelicals of the German-speaking Christian world. Eventually, I think post-evangelicals are going to need in-person church spaces. Thus, I was thrilled to learn that a brand-new post-evangelical church startup is just now launching in Hamburg.
“In the very lands of the Reformation, a new reform movement is growing.”
Matthew Vines was perhaps more right than he knew a decade ago when he chose the motif of “reformation” for his new organization. In the very lands of the Reformation, a new reform movement is growing, and it is being supported by the churches, theologians and pastors of that 500-year-old movement. But meanwhile reformation is also happening, or being attempted, in Mennonite, Methodist, Baptist, Pietist, YMCA, nondenominational, Pentecostal and other evangelical contexts.
One might say the post-evangelicals are in some cases leaping back over the more recent history of name-brand, often American-exported ©Evangelicalism, and reclaiming some of the insights of Reformation Christianity itself. One of these is the radical equality of all believers in Christian covenant community.
David P. Gushee is a leading Christian ethicist. serves as distinguished university professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University, chair of Christian social ethics at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and senior research fellow at International Baptist Theological Study Centre. He is a past president of both the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Christian Ethics. His latest book is Introducing Christian Ethics. He’s also the author of Kingdom Ethics, After Evangelicalism, and Changing Our Mind: The Landmark Call for Inclusion of LGBTQ Christians. He and his wife, Jeanie, live in Atlanta. Learn more: davidpgushee.com or Facebook.
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