When the evangelical establishment comes after you

Print More

Eugene Peterson. Screenshot from Youtube

(RNS) — Eugene Peterson discovered painfully that the evangelical establishment will immediately seek to destroy anyone who breaks with their understanding of orthodoxy on LGBTQ issues.

Nothing he did before mattered. Nothing else he believes mattered.

The guns were turned on him, posthaste, in a choreography of rejection as public and painful as possible.

This has happened so many times before that the real wonder of events last week was that Rev. Peterson somehow did not anticipate that it would happen to him:

This is evangelical nuclear deterrence, and it works very well most of the time to beat wonderers and wanderers into submission.

But when it fails, and someone strays, those body blows from former evangelical friends are enough to make most anyone shake at the knees.

  • Look at sturdy old World Vision, which also was beaten into submission just a few years ago on the gay marriage issue;
  • Look at the persistent attacks on those who won’t be beaten into submission, dissenters like Jen Hatmaker and Rachel Held Evans;
  • Look at all the pastors I hear from who tell me they would announce their own change of heart if they didn’t have to fear the consequences.

If you do decide to make the break, you have to be spiritually ready. You have to know what’s going to happen. You have to count the cost before saying anything. You have to understand that those who stand with scorned and marginalized people will be scorned and marginalized.

“Still Christian” by David P. Gushee. Image courtesy of Westminster John Knox Press

You have to realize that whatever abuse you are taking from evangelical authorities is nothing compared to the abuse that LGBTQ people have taken from pastors, teachers, parents, and “Christian friends” every day of their lives.

Then that all has to get connected to your Christian discipleship. You have to reach a place where you see that being abused by religious authorities for standing in solidarity with those they deem unclean is exactly what happened to Jesus, the One whom you have pledged to follow, imitate and obey.

In my new memoir, “Still Christian,” I tell the story of what happened to me when I published my 2014 book, “Changing Our Mind,” which called for inclusion of LGBTQ Christians in the church on the same terms as everyone else. The memoir is to be published on Sept. 1. Here is an excerpt:

From conservative evangelicals as a whole, I received rejection. In every way that people communicate right now, people communicated: anonymous letters in the mail with lots of vile photocopied materials, angry emails, Facebook posts and direct messages, tweets, critical reviews, invitations to debate, Twitter bomb attacks when I refused to debate. It was sometimes substantive engagement. It was often ad hominem attack.

Within days, I experienced a first: disinvitations from scheduled speaking appearances. Hardin-Simmons University, Campbellsville University, Vose Seminary in Perth, Australia—I can’t even remember them all…

The beat went on. The disinvitations continued—indeed, a few still continue. In 2015, after completing the monumental task of revising “Kingdom Ethics” with InterVarsity Press, I received a polite call from the editorial director who told me that the press would no longer be able to carry the book—not because of its new content on LGBT issues, but because I was now a problematic author for this prototypical evangelical organization to publish.


But a bit later I say this:

It has been a humbling honor to be so often in the presence of gay Christians and ex-Christians driven out of the church in the name of the Bible. To be entrusted with their stories, and sometimes with their hope for a better future for the next generation of gay kids, has been profound. My sense of solidarity with them has only deepened, while my resistance to rejectionist (and bystander) Christianity has only intensified. For the first time in my life, I have come to a personal experience of what it is like to have the full force of (white-straight-male) Christian orthodoxy used against you. It has certainly deepened my sympathy for others who have long had just that experience.

Today I would much rather stand with rejected LGBTQ Christians than with those who reject them. I have therefore turned in my evangelical ID badge and moved on to do just that.

So don’t worry about me, or about the rough week Eugene Peterson had. Do worry about those LGBTQ Christian kids who continue to experience stigma, rejection, and even contempt in their own Christian homes, churches and schools. Worry about what the events of last week taught them.

(David Gushee writes the “Christians, Conflict and Change” column for RNS)