- the Constitution officially dis-established Christianity (unlike England) in a country where Christianity remained “culturally established” (unlike post-Revolution France) and therefore still influenced legislation such that Christians didn’t feel threatened and weren't concerned to throw their weight around
- In the 1960s, Christianity divided into Left/Right camps, immigration increased religious diversity and secularization weakened the power of cultural-Christendom
- Today, roughly 70% of Americans still claim Christianity as their religion, but cultural-Christendom is fading and does not influence legislation in any pervasive sense (it still does in some regions on some issues). The government generally treats Christianity with “benevolent neutrality."
- Christians with a cultural-Christendom mindset react to the loss of power and deference in a number of ways: Emotionally - shock, fear and most of all resentment Politically – attempts to “take the country back” which mostly fail, or expansive religious liberty campaigns to help them “opt-out” of secularization
- We are now faced with a bewildering array of new religious liberty issues stemming from the collision of secular/liberal and traditional Christian convictions
- This is all fairly obvious to lots of people, but many secular people can still identify all sorts of religious influence and (they would say) privilege, in American life that imposes on their desire to live purely secular. I personally, tend to see the Constitution and 1st Amendment as establishing a "pluralistic" society, not a secular one.
In 2007, he was hired at Mercer University in Georgia, which is historically Baptist, but no longer a confessional school. While teaching Sunday School at his local Baptist church, Gushee began to encounter, engage and befriend a number of LGBT people that started showing up there. He hadn’t thought deeply about LGBT issues in his previous 20+ years of teaching Christian social ethics, being mostly concerned with issues of war and racial, religious, and political conflicts. However, these relationships forced him to think, and change his mind. Last year, he published an account of how he came to the following conclusions:
- Christians need to re-establish their commitment to covenantal unions as the proper context for sexual activity and expression, and:
- Christians need to welcome LGBT folks into full involvement in every area of the church, including Christian covenantal unions, leadership, etc.
1. Gushee gave a calm, moving and provocative account of the suffering of LGBT people, the cruelty of the church, and the way he saw the Fruit of the Spirit in LGBT Christians.
2. If Gushee was not LGBT affirming, I doubt that he would have been elected VP of the AAR; not that he isn't qualified, but because he is an ethicist. If he was a historian, it's possible that no one would care about his personal position on this unless he was very vocal about it (also; I'm not at all saying the change of mind was politically motivated for professional advancement. Gushee is nothing if not sincere.).
As it was, Gushee’s election was controversial because some people in the AAR think the organization should represent scholars who study religion using disciplines like history, psychology, sociology, anthropology, etc. Theologians are “doing” religion, and therefore they don’t really belong in the leadership. This election was especially controversial because the VP will become the President and this year both nominees were theologians. So, for some people in AAR, this is like having a research-subject (psychiatric patient) as the head of a psychiatric research association. It’s okay for religious people to be scholars of religion as long as their scholarship is not itself a form of religious practice. Religious scholars can (and do) have their own guilds. This is where the State of the Union and the State of the AAR converge. Even though a LOT of Christian seminarians, theologians, biblical scholars and other religious people are members of AAR and many AAR sub-groups are “religious” in nature, AAR has recently tended to reflect a post-Christendom context (the last 3 Presidents were not theologians of any religious tradition). But does it now? Is this a "victory" in some sort of culture-war?
I don’t know how Gushee feels about the resistance to his election or if he feels any resentment coming at him. He seems like a very gentle, reasonable person who would not hold any grudges, but after all he was elected, and maybe that indicates that AAR isn’t as post-Christendom as some people think. I anticipate a movement of non-religious scholars to "take back the AAR" in future elections. For conservative Christians in the AAR, Gushee's stance on LGBT folks in the church (still a clear minority opinion in Christian institutions) is still indicative of post-Christendom society or even secular ideals of individualism creeping in to the church. I don't know if Gushee feels any resentment coming at him from that corner of the AAR either.
However, I did run across one group of scholars at AAR who clearly felt resentment about being slighted in the religious development of Western post(?)Christendom. More about this in the next post.