Long-time readers of Baptist News Global will remember that this book originated as a series of posts on this site beginning in the summer of 2014. People often ask me what led me — a straight, married, Christian — to write when I did and how I did about LGBTQ inclusion. The simple answer is that I felt compelled, responsible and free.
Compelled: The “LGBTQ issue” kept coming at me, in my family, school, church, the lecture circuit and public life, and I felt summoned finally to address it in a serious way.
Responsible: As a seasoned Christian ethicist who identified as evangelical, seeing the hash that evangelicals were making of LGBTQ inclusion, and knowing that I had not seriously addressed the issue, I believed finally that I had a responsibility to make use of my platform to address the effort.
“I believed finally that I had a responsibility to make use of my platform to address the effort.”
Free: I was confident that my employer’s understanding of academic freedom was ironclad, and that my church would be supportive. Thankfully, Mercer University and First Baptist Church Decatur came through for me as expected, and so I had the (rare) freedom to address LGBTQ inclusion without fear. I knew that very, very few scholars or pastors who identified as evangelical had that kind of freedom. It contributed to my sense of compulsion and responsibility.
It was my kairos moment. It was time.
It was also somewhat foolhardy. I had a Tuesday deadline each week. I just started writing, in public, week by week, addressing the inclusion issue from the ground up, doing the best I could within deadline constraints and while teaching full time.
I also was dealing with the decline and eventually the death of my beloved mother. Ironically, this seems to have made me more fearless, as this pretty-traditional Catholic mother had taken the path toward inclusion with my own sister. After a while, the series began to feel like a tribute to her. I do not recommend writing a closely watched, highly controversial series of articles on a week-by-week deadline while a beloved family member is dying. But that is what happened.
Without any foreordained plan on my part, the series began taking on the feeling of a book. This was noticed by David Crumm, Michigan-based journalist, editor and publisher, a fellow dissident evangelical, who proposed to turn the articles into an almost-instant book when I was through. Thus, 19 articles became Changing Our Mind in October 2014. The book was launched at the Reformation Project meeting in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 8, 2014. There I gave a speech called “Ending the Teaching of Contempt,” which besides being an unforgettably moving experience rather quickly became the 20th and final chapter of the book.
“Without any foreordained plan on my part, the series began taking on the feeling of a book.”
Changing Our Mind essentially has three parts. The first eight chapters are context-setting and basic, describing the situation of Christian rejection of (our own) LGBTQ minority against the backdrop of broader clinical and social acceptance, the grave tensions in the churches, the history of Christian demagoguery and discrimination, and the need to set at least a baseline minimum of decent behavior toward LGBTQ people.
The next eight chapters deal with the “Big Six” passages usually cited for anti-LGBTQ theology, from Sodom to Genesis 1-2. I concluded (and still believe) the primary biblical issue that goes beyond parsing a few scattered Hebrew and Greek words is creation theology. That is, whether Christians can integrate the diverse and complex reality of human beings as they actually exist in the world with a primal creation narrative/theology/ethic in which humans come in exactly two types (male and female) and with exactly one sexual orientation (heterosexual). Especially if one holds on to a marital-covenantal sexual ethic, as I do, pretty much the entire “LGBTQ issue” comes down to a classic faith/science, Scripture/reality, text/human being problem.
The third part of the book zooms out to meta-reflection on issues such as whether transformative encounters with real human beings should affect Christian thinking, how growing social acceptance of LGBTQ people should be interpreted by Christians, and what historical comparisons are most appropriate and relevant. I argued that God wants to teach us through human encounter, that social acceptance of LGBTQ people does not mean social decadence, and that the best historical analogies are with previous times when groups of Christians did not treat all human beings as equal in worth and dignity. In other words, this is not about combating moral and cultural decline, but overcoming Christian failure to truly love all our neighbors as ourselves.
“This is not about combating moral and cultural decline, but overcoming Christian failure to truly love all our neighbors as ourselves.”
Eight years later, I still feel the scars of what the book cost me — I was harassed, rejected and cancelled in many circles I once valued. But by now I mainly think about the hundreds of letters I have received from all over the world that have said things like these (used with permission):
“I’m a (late middle age) man. I remember the countless trips to the altar I made as a teenager, the troubling nightmares I had of going to hell, the desperate fear I had of being found out, and total confusion I had when, as a Christian, I chose to come out only to find that there was no one there.”
“I’m a pretty damaged guy who still struggles with bitterness toward my church and I haven’t really decided if I want to ever fully embrace Christianity again. … You brought me to tears when you asked forgiveness for taking so long to realize how the church should treat LGBTQ people. It made me envision what it would sound like and feel like if I ever heard that from my parents or church — it made it seem possible, even if only remotely. I pray that I hear it one day, sooner than later.”
“I am the Christian mother of a gay son. God has taken us on such a journey. I just can’t tell you how my life has been changed for the better with my acceptance of our son. I felt like for far too long I needed permission to love my own child. Our son has been so hurt that I’m not sure where he stands with Christ currently. Breaks my heart that people felt they had the right to say who can and can’t be loved by God.”
“Just seeing the amount of gay people (including my daughter) who really do want to seek and honor God but are stopped from doing so by well-meaning Christians … It breaks my heart to see how many have been afraid to enter a church. I am committed to stay in our church to respectfully work on this and my pastors seem to be willing to as well, but I’m sure they are very afraid, too.”
“I am a psychologist and I have many times found myself sitting across from a homosexual client who has been ostracized by their religious community and family. I hope your thoughts will contribute to a more sensitive understanding of the LGBTQ community.”
Professors do a lot of stuff that is soon forgotten: lectures, assignments, committee meetings, papers, grading.
Writers do a lot of writing that few people read and that is also soon forgotten.
Quite beyond any intentionality on my part, I was given the opportunity to write a book that, according to some of its readers, has reconciled parents to their own children, pastors to some of their most vulnerable congregants, and LGBTQ people to themselves, to life, and to Jesus.
For this, I am truly grateful.
This article first appeared on Baptist News Global.