This leads us to the Twentieth Century, where we saw some of the most egregious desecrations of life occur. The most explicit example being the Nazi program of Adolph Hitler, to which Gushee devotes an entire chapter. Now, you might think he’s going to blame Hitler’s views on Nietzsche, but he doesn’t. It’s true that Nietzsche sets the stage, but Hitler’s views are variegated. They emerge in part from his own life experience, a sense of personal failure combined with a sense of worth derived from his military service in World War I. To those who seek to distance Hitler from Christianity, Gushee notes that Hitler saw himself as an expression of God’s will. He rarely spoke of Jesus, but he saw himself as part of the church. Of course, he embraced a theology that de-Judaized the faith, and he changed it in ways that removed an ethic of sacredness of life. Power became the important goal. He saw himself as a messiah, and his bastardized version of Christianity turned the message of Jesus on its head, placing violence at the center. It was a message of purity of race and nation, and anyone, anything that tainted this purity must be annihilated. Thus, Jews, Gypsies, the mentally ill, the disabled, and homosexuals were deemed subhuman and worthy of destruction.
So if the Twentieth Century saw such brazen examples of desecration, how do we honor human life and the creation itself in the twenty-first century? It is here that Gushee deals with a wide range of issues from abortion, which he opposes, but with a good dose of realism; bioethics, for which he has concerns; the death penalty, which he opposes on a biblical basis; human rights; nuclear weapons [he notes that “according to the Bible, we are the sole species to whom responsibility for the fate of the earth and its inhabitants has been entrusted. There are between 5 million and 100 million species on the planet; 1.7 million have been identified and named. There is just one species that is responsible not just for its own well-being but also for the wellbeing of all others” p. 378) And that species is us!]; and women’s rights.
One of the issues that Gushee wants us to consider is our relationship to the rest of creation. He notes in the beginning that for some, the idea of human sacredness must come at the expense of other creatures. He’s not of that opinion. In fact, he believes that if we truly are concerned about humanity, if we’re truly desiring to fulfill the command to love our neighbor, then we will be concerned about the welfare of the earth, and all its inhabitants. After all, we share DNA, and thus we’re kin. For evangelicals who are wrestling with these issues, and thinking that they don’t matter to God, they should read this chapter. It is a powerful defense of ecology, and the principle that God does care about all of creation. And just to makes this clear, he makes his case on the basis of Scripture.
Gushee, as noted earlier, is an Evangelical and a Baptist. He opposes abortion, but he also opposes the death penalty. He may oppose abortion, but he is a strong advocate for women’s rights. In fact, he makes it clear that Evangelicals who assume that the defense of women’s rights makes one pro-abortion is simply wrong-headed and damaging to the cause. Whether you agree on all issues, and I’m ambivalent about abortion, and I’m more sanguine about the benefits that biotech offers us than is he, you will benefit from reading this book. Indeed, it’s my opinion that this is a must read book, especially for preachers. It is a profound exploration of a biblically rooted ethic of life, one that insists that all human life is equally sacred in the eyes of God.
I don’t do this often, but I will encourage you to purchase this book. Read it closely and ponder David Gushee’s message. You won’t be disappointed. In fact, I guarantee that your vision of life will be at minimum enhanced, and more likely revolutionized!
Bob Cornwall is pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Troy, Michigan, and author of Ultimate Allegiance: The Subversive Nature of the Lord’s Prayer. He blogs at Ponderings on a Faith Journey.