This compilation of chapter summaries and discussion questions was written by members of the Deacon’s Openness Task Force after reading the book. Feel free to use this in whatever way is most helpful for you. These summaries and questions are not exhaustive, just a starting point that you may use to help structure your book study, and initiate meaningful thought/discussion.
- Foreword (by Brian McLaren)
- Preface (by Phyllis Tickle)
- Introduction (by Matthew Vines) – A brief introduction from the perspective of a millennial who is gay, on the urgency felt by many in his generation for churches to address this topic.
Preliminary Discussion Questions:
- Does UBC’s desire to attract more young families and college students impact our willingness to have potentially uncomfortable conversations?
- Do we all have to agree on these questions in order to be a loving church family?
Chapter 1: David Gushee is an evangelical ethicist, preacher, and professor who spent the first 27 years of his calling advocating for the traditional evangelical position on LGBT (no moral acceptance of gay and lesbian sexual relationships). This book relates his personal narrative and theological discussion about how he came to think differently. He believes that some traditionalist readings of certain texts in the Bible are implausible and that the Gospel message is broad enough to embrace gays and lesbians.
Chapter 1 Discussion Questions:
- Gushee speaks of transformative encounters with gays and lesbians who are Christians. What transformative encounters have you had in your life with members of the LGBT community?
- Gushee describes his transformative encounters or unexpected breakthroughs as being the work of the Holy Spirit of God. Share a personal testimony of a time you have felt the Holy Spirit at work in your life.
Chapter 2: Historic Christian family and sexual morality holds marriage sacred–all sexual activity is limited to marriage, divorce is forbidden, marriage is designed for procreation and child-rearing. Gushee acknowledges the cultural pressure on the church about LGBT rights but csites a strong Christian history of saying “no” to culture in order to say “yes” to Jesus Christ. LGBT people should not be welcomed due to cultural pressure but because changing our attitude toward LGBT people to acceptance would be consistent with historic Christian convictions about the Gospel and the Church.
Chapter 2 Discussion Questions:
- Gushee describes the severe hurt LGBT people, especially young LGBT people, have faced as a result of their treatment in the church. Share a story of a person you know who has felt marginalized by the traditional teachings of the church (not necessarily UBC).
- What do you think Gushee means by the statement, “A church that offers hospitable welcome to LGBT people as grateful recipients of God’s saving love in Jesus Christ is in fact a church that is faithful to the Gospel?”
Chapter 3: Churches and individuals respond to questions about the LGBT community in three different ways, and these responses can be categorized roughly as:
Chapter 3 Discussion Question:
- In what ways are questions about the LGBT community causing conflict in your life?
Chapter 4: Historic Christian understandings of sexuality are being re-evaluated due to research, mental health efforts, and evidence offered in the lives of those who do not fit the historic heterosexual norm. Sexual-orientation-change therapy/programs (prayer, repentance, moral effort, therapies, etc) have been found to be ineffective and harmful.
Chapter 4 Discussion Question:
- In what ways have you witnessed traditional sex-and-gender paradigms being challenged in recent decades?
Chapter 5: Research indicates that 3-5% of the population are persons of same-sex orientation: their orientation is not willful perversity, a choice, or something that is changeable. LGBT people should not be stigmatized or treated with contempt; there is no space in church life for their dehumanization and mistreatment.
Chapter 5 Discussion Questions:
- 65% of Americans report having a close friend or family member who is gay. What are your personal experiences with gay friends or family members?
- How have your personal relationships with members of the LGBT community shaped your beliefs about LGBT issues?
Chapter 6: The chapter title “Gay Christians Exist” pretty much sums it up. Gushee notes terminology defining two types of Christians, with the key difference being whether they believe gay Christians can enter covenantal same-sex relationships with God’s blessing.
Chapter 6 Discussion Questions:
- What explicit or implicit connections do you perceive between categories such as “gay” and “liberal”? How have those connections changed in recent years?
- Do you find yourself identifying with “Side A,” “Side B,” or something else?
- Question taken directly from p. 36: “If we acknowledge the existence of a small but persistent percentage of the human–and Christian–community that is not heterosexual, or solely heterosexual, what do we do now?”
Chapter 7 presents six options churches can take to respond when gay couples begin to participate. Gushee notes that the “first four options require no direct reconsideration of Christian moral tradition or sexual ethics” but that “these approaches leave unexamined issues to move up the chain, where they surface later.” It is plain that the rest of the book will address Gushee’s argument in favor of the sixth option, “normative reconsideration.”
Chapter 7 Discussion Questions:
- Which of these is closest to where you find yourself? Which is (or which are) closest to where you think UBC is?
- Which of these will serve UBC best in the long term? Which will serve God best?
- Gushee did not include an option allowing for gay Christians to have pseudo-memberships that exclude them from leadership positions, ordination, and staff service. Should that be an Option 7? Why do you think so/not?
Chapter 8 outlines seven claims that Gushee thinks most readers should be able to agree on, even if they cannot agree with the “normative reconsideration” option from Chapter 7. Gushee then implores readers to do seven things to improve their own understanding of the LGBT community and their congregation’s welcome to the extent theologically possible.
Chapter 8 Discussion Questions:
- How do these two sets of seven make you feel? Are there some that make you bristle?
- Are you willing to commit to pursuing all seven from the second list?
Chapter 9: The Bible has obvious evidence of human authorship and historical contexts, but Christians regard it as divinely inspired and authoritative, and there is always an element of interpretation or dot-connecting (“integrating head and heart”) to apply it to our lives today. Biblical interpretation has changed over the millennia for many issues.
Chapter 9 Discussion Questions:
- Gushee emphasizes: “Because humans see through a glass darkly, there is no way for us to avoid struggles over competing truth claims and how they are authoritatively grounded.” How have you seen/experienced such struggles in the past? How has UBC addressed them?
Chapter 10: The first of the chapters addressing scripture, the first half of this very brief chapter outlines the traditionalist view of same-sex relationships and summarizes, without much commentary, the Bible verses on which that view is based. The second half provides recommendations for those interested in normative reconsideration regarding how not to argue against traditionalists or dismiss their views.
Chapter 10 Discussion Questions:
- How have you used the arguments Gushee advises against using (if you’re a “progressive”), OR how have they been used against you (if you’re a “traditionalist”), OR how have you heard them used (if you’re neither or would rather not say)?
- What is Gushee suggesting that his “progressive friends” do instead of making these arguments against the traditionalist method of connecting the biblical dots?
Chapter 11 presents the Sodom and Gomorrah story and how it relates to the LGBT discussion. Gushee asserts that while this text has traditionally been referenced as an indictment of homosexuality, it is currently understood by many scholars as “a narrative with huge implications for the ethics of war, prison, gender, violence and rape… but… [has] nothing to do with the morality of loving, covenantal same-sex relationships.”
Chapter 11 Discussion Questions:
- Stories we are taught as children, and the morals that go along with them, often shape how we interpret the same stories as adults. Do you remember learning about this story (or its morals and implications) as a child?
- When you consider the story of Sodom and Gomorrah now, does it impact how you view people in loving, stable same-sex relationships?
Chapter 12 explains two texts that refer to same-sex relationships in Leviticus (Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13), and addresses the complications of applying texts from Leviticus at face value today.
Chapter 12 Discussion Questions:
- Did you learn anything new in this chapter about Leviticus?
- How dDid reading this chapter cause you to reexamine your understanding of Levitical texts?
Chapter 13 delves into the meaning of two Greek words (arsenokoitai and malakoi) used in Paul’s writings in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy. Gushee discusses the difficulty of determining their meaning in Paul’s context, and the numerous different translations over time.
Chapter 13 Discussion Questions:
- How should we respond when Scriptural texts contain words with ambiguous interpretations? How are these passages viewed in the larger context of Scripture?
- Gushee writes on page 80, that “most of the translations we got, read as if every homosexual person was being condemned – to eternal fire. This overly confident translation decision then shadowed the lives of all LGBT people, most sadly gay and lesbian adolescents rejected by their mothers and fathers (and pastors and youth ministers) as hell-bound perverts.” Given the powerful impact that our theological interpretations can have on young people, are we called, individually or as a church, to create a community that is safe for gay and lesbian teenagers?
Chapter 14 addresses the most significant theological/ethical issue in the church’s conversation about gay Christians: God’s design for sexuality in creation. Gushee cites Genesis 1-2, Matthew 19, and Romans 1, and details how these texts remain pivotal in shaping Christian thought about LGBT relationships.
Chapter 14 Discussion Questions:
- How have you heard these texts used as part of the conversation about gay Christians?
- Do you find your own experiences and beliefs line up more with the traditionalist understanding, or with alternate interpretations that Gushee presents in this chapter?
- Read the second-to-last paragraph in the chapter (page 90). Is there anyone in your life who causes you to reflect differently on Paul’s writing in Romans?
Chapter 15: Gushee asserts that theologically, the crux of this issue is how to respond to “the very important claim that God’s design in creation rules out any legitimate same-sex relationships”. Acknowledging the importance of related biblical texts, he offers three differing approaches to reconciling arguments about God’s purported design in creation.
Chapter 15 Discussion Questions:
- Have you ever applied one of these proposals (or similar rationale) to other questions of biblical interpretation?
- Which of these three options resonates with you and your biblical understanding AND your experience with friends/acquaintances who are gay?
Chapter 16: Gushee starts with a discussion of the scriptures that are often cited to support the argument that LGBT persons should not have romantic relationships and points out that many were written to directly attack debauchery such as gang rape or were questionably translated. He feels that the Genesis creation account of sexual complementarity to be the strongest “why” on the traditionalists’ side. However, this marginalizes and even allows for hounding of and cruelty to those of the LGBT community who have been excluded from full acceptance as Christians.
Our western culture has developed three main camps when it comes to sexual ethics. The first is, in Gushee’s terms, the “mutual consent ethic.” This says that as long as no one gets hurt that anything goes. The second is the “loving relationship ethic” which holds that one finds a person to love and restricts sex to that person for as long as the relationship lasts. And the third is the view that Christianity has traditionally held, that a man and woman make a binding lifetime covenant with each other in front of God, church and state and to remain faithful to that covenant, including fidelity and exclusivity, until one partner dies a natural death. Gushee calls this the “covenantal marital ethic”. This has gradually collapsed during the 20th century such that it is rare to see marriages that last – especially over 50 years. This has been disastrous for our children. The question being asked here is whether devout gay and lesbian Christians might be able to participate in the covenantal marital ethic – one person for life, faithful and exclusive.
Chapter 16 Discussion Questions:
- Does this question make you look at marriage in a different way?
- Given that it is now legal in all 50 states for gay and lesbian persons to be married, should the way Christian churches consider marriage change as well?
Chapter 17: Jesus was a surprising Messiah. The Jewish people certainly did not expect a baby to be born to deliver Israel, and then to die naked on a cross. But for the early Jews and then Gentile Christians, their transformative encounter with Jesus led them to a huge paradigm shift – so large it should be called a “leap.”. Transformative encounters with God, and with those who have been made in God’s image but who have suffered and been marginalized or rejected, especially when by God’s own people, often lead to paradigm leaps. Sadly, never for everybody. And people who make them are often accused of abandoning the Gospel. Jesus came as the Savior for the entire world.
Chapter 17 Discussion Questions:
- Was there a time in your life when your perception of a person you just met became very different once you spent time with them?
- Did empathy play a part in your change of heart?
- Regarding people in the LGBT community, have you had any “transformative encounters”?
Chapter 18: There are always two sides to every story, and Gushee’s first example is the Israel/Palestine issue – having gotten to hear it first hand from local women – one Israeli Arab and one Israeli Jew. He then talks about the moral decline of western culture and how the question of LGBT inclusion is framed as yet one more example of it. However, he goes on to discuss the marginalization of LGBT persons as indicative of our human tendency to pick out “the Other” for contempt, rejection and mistreatment. Christians have so often participated in this – with African-Americans, Muslims, immigrants, etc. In general, traditionalist Christians find much more credence in the argument connecting the LGBT movement with with the moral decline and connecting LGBT movement with it. However, Gushee says that his contact with serious gay Christians, many of them evangelical, many of them in covenanted relationships, has detached him from the morally declining narrative, at least as to these devout LGBT Christians, and led to his taking these brothers and sisters and their marginalization seriously.
Chapter 18 Discussion Questions:
- Have you ever had trouble seeing the other side of a particular story? What steps did you take to educate yourself and attempt to weigh both positions equally?
- What part do our preconceived opinions about LGBT persons play in our acceptance or lack thereof?
- Does what we have seen on TV or other media play a part?
Chapter 19: In this chapter, Gushee talks about his personal back- story – how his previous writings and lectures were based mostly in ignorance. While in Atlanta, he was in a church which became enriched by an influx of gay Christians. His younger sister, Katey, having struggled with self esteem issues all her life (along with depression and anxiety, largely because of her inability to acknowledge her sexuality) came out as a lesbian in 2008. The fact that traditionalist Christian teaching produces despair in just about every gay or lesbian person is very relevant to the LGBT debate. Becoming acquainted with many in the LGBT community made him see that Jesus was much more likely to be found in these gentle, hurting gay and lesbian Christians than among their adversaries. These encounters with real human beings has led him to hope for a new Christian paradigm and to work toward it.
Chapter 19 Discussion Questions:
- As we discuss the future of UBC, what steps would be helpful to you in evaluating this question and our place in it?
Chapter 20: This chapter is a speech the author gave at a conference in Washington, DC in November of 2014, shortly after publication of the 1st edition of this book. Without telling us who he is speaking of, he paints a picture of a group of people who were marginalized by the Christian church based on their reading of certain passages of scripture and in fact, the church’s disdain and complete rejection of them. Their was name calling and victimizing of these people because of who they were. The church’s rejection eventually erupted in state-sanctioned violence and by the time it was all over, 1/3 of them in the entire world had been murdered. He was talking about the Jewish people. It took decades, and concerted efforts by many, but probably none of us have heard the teachings of Matthew 27, John 8 and Acts 7 taught in the way they were taught for almost 2000 years – that Jews were Christ-killers, etc.
There are many parallels with the church’s teachings today about LGBT persons. Not genocide (of course), but in many places it is not physically safe to be an LGBT person. The analogy breaks down in another significant way – Jewish children could at least find support and comfort at home when faced with contempt. A gay child often finds a lack of support at home as well. GusheeHe goes on to describe how many young people are homeless and the striking percentage of these homeless youth who identify as LGBT, whose families have ostracized them. We must change the conversation away from specific scriptural texts and toward what it means to live the way Jesus taught us to live. We must listen for the Spirit of God.
Chapter 20 Discussion Questions:
- In what ways do you agree with the analogy of Jewish persecution with today’s’ LGBT issue? What parallels do you see? What differences?
- How does this historical perspective affect our path moving forward?
- How do we focus our thoughts on living a Christlike life?
Concluding Discussion Questions:
- What steps can we take to ensure that all participants at UBC take part in this conversation, and that all voices within our congregation are heard?
- At UBC, when a couple desires to be married, the question of whether or not to marry them has been left to the discretion of the minister. Is there any reason to reconsider this?