David Gushee is a “Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics,” a title that (in my view) brings with it a good number of justified assumptions about its bearer, mostly because of the “university professor” part. On the other hand, he appears to be a prayerful and seriously intentioned thinker, so reaction to the stain of academia ought to be tempered.
That said, I do think he misses something very serious in a recent column in which he reacted to responses to a New York Times article that quoted him, about which I heard via a Rod Dreher essay titled “Christians ‘Must Be Made’ to Bow.” Given what Gushee misses, I still think my tweeted question to him justified: What is the conversion rate of being mentioned in the Times to pieces of silver?
In his column, Gushee presents Professor Alan Brownstein as a sort of moral center for encouraging people on divisive issues, like same-sex marriage, to “find workable common ground… based on… the pragmatic realization that the ‘other’ is not going away any time soon.” Rule number 1 on Brownstein’s list: “One side must not suggest that the other side does not exist.”
Gushee then enters into a summary of the cultural battle that anachronistically begins with the implementation of religious freedom legislation, which “conservative legislatures” passed, only to find “ferocity” in the “resistance, not just from the LGBT community but also from the behemoths of corporate America.” This amounted to “public pressure” to change the legislation.
Then there were the reverbs: Traditionalist Christians felt deeply alarmed, angered and, in a sense, shamed. I say shamed, not ashamed; and shaming is very powerful and upsetting. The laws, those who favored them, and those states that passed them were shamed, that is, treated as shameful and worthy of opprobrium and social rejection. The array of corporate, political, media, sports, entertainment and other voices standing in iron opposition to this legislation made traditionalist Christians feel marginalized and shamed.
This is where, I’d suggest, Gushee utterly fails to understand the objective lay of the battlefield. To make its giant stride, over the last decade, the same-sex marriage movement has conducted itself so dramatically in contrast to Brownstein’s admonition as to justify the characterization of fascist. The cultural voice has been that of the elite, and as somebody deeply involved in the debate in the early years, I’ll testify that its argument was most strongly defined by doggedly ignoring the actual arguments of its opposition. The most important advances have been accomplished through various judiciaries, often overruling democratic decisions about what “marriage” should be, based on flimsy legal reasoning that has all but proven the rule of law to be a meaningless blob where the elite’s preferences conflict with the will of the people.
As the tide turned, we found, it appears, the IRS leaking traditionalist donor lists. A high-tech CEO was made an example of, when he was forced to resign after it was disclosed that he’d made a donation to a traditional-marriage group.
It wouldn’t be far off the mark to describe the entire strategy of same-sex marriage advocates as an exercise in creating the illusion that the opposition does not exist. In accepting the right-side-of-history narrative, Gushee implicitly follows the pattern. He may claim that he does “not believe that traditionalist Christians should be coerced to change their mind about this issue,” but in selecting the time line of his argument, he ignores the vast degree of coercion already exercised. He references “the fading public support both for traditionalist views on homosexuality and for religious-objection/liberty protections,” but he does so in a way that pretends the real argument doesn’t exist. (He links to a poll that found Americans not thinking a business should not “be allowed to refuse to provide products or services to individuals because they are gay or lesbian,” which is very different from the question of whether they ought to be forced to participate in specific types of ceremonies.)
The thugs are out with their long knives. People in public positions face targeted attacks if they express the wrong opinion. And the likes of Professor Gushee stand to the side treating the thuggish behavior as simple persuasion and thinking themselves magnanimous for encouraging the thugs to wait and see if the beatings they’ve delivered will prove to be adequate.
Indeed, Gushee’s argument appears to me to be directly contrary to Brownstein’s point. Gushee encourages leniency on the part of the culture-war victors because, in part, “with public opinion going your way in most communities and the country as a whole, it is probable that the conscientious baker, florist, and premarital counselor who make clear they will not serve gay couples will eventually reap a smaller clientele composed solely of like-minded religious believers.” In other words, contra Brownstein, “the ‘other’ is… going away [sometime] soon.”
In keeping with the deliberate actions of the Left, the “other” is being systematically silenced, and it’s difficult not to conclude that Gushee’s just fine with that, as long as he can carve out a narrow space in which to feel like he’s stricken a moral balance.