The retreat of religious homophobia

The inexorable move towards tolerance of homosexuality across the developed world is taking hold even among the fundamentalist Christianity

Slate writer Will Saletan reports on a high profile forum on ethics and public policy and the extent to which the right side of the Culture War is losing the will to continue fighting against tolerance for LGBT individuals:

The next morning, we had our final session, on the culture wars. Molly Ball, the Atlantic’s terrific political writer, summarized the trend toward acceptance of same-sex marriage. Forty percent of Republicans and 61 percent of Republicans under 30 now favor it, she reported. So do 57 percent of Catholics and 55 percent of mainline Protestants. Even among the core opposition group, white evangelicals, acceptance is taking hold. “In the past 10 years, the number of white evangelicals who support gay marriage has gone from 11 percent to 24 percent,” Ball observed.

The session’s featured speaker, Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, continues to view homosexual behavior as sinful. But he conceded that even among evangelicals who still hold to this doctrine, there has been

a change in terms of tone and the way that we … speak about the issue, largely because there was the sort of evangelical belligerence, often, in the last generation, that spoke, for instance, about the “gay agenda,” in which there was this picture, almost as though there is a group of super-villains in a lair, plotting somewhere the downfall of the family. That—I almost never hear that in evangelical churches anymore. Instead, issues of sexual morality are being addressed consistently across the board, recognizing that everyone in the congregation has gay and lesbian children or parents or neighbors or friends and that many of the people in our own congregations are same-sex attracted. That’s changed quite a bit, as well as the understanding of—I almost never hear in evangelical churches anymore the sort of easy-conversionism, “reparative therapy” understanding of gay-to-straight, that sort of caricature. It’s always more complex than that.

Maybe Moore and his remaining flock can sustain a moral case against homosexuality in the face of these concessions. But I doubt it. Once you accept the reality and persistence of the orientation, particularly within your congregation, you’re on the way to the crisis Gerson described.

Fundamentalists, contrary to their reputation, are pretty good at ditching unsustainable positions. Moore demonstrated this during the Q-and-A when he declared young-Earth creationism “not essential to evangelicalism.” Many, if not most, evangelicals no longer believe the earth is only a few thousand years old, he said. Their new line in the sand is Adam and Eve:

We may differ about when Adam existed. We may even differ about how Adam came to exist. But when science says, “There’s no way the human race descended from an original pair,” evangelicals are going to go with Scripture.

That’s how fundamentalists retreat. They relocate their fundamentalism to less vulnerable terrain—all the while proclaiming their defiant adherence to the literal word of God—until the new position, too, must be abandoned. In the case of homosexuality, my guess is that the relocation will happen in two stages. First, churches will find ways to acknowledge faithful same-sex relationships. Then they’ll decide that these couples ought to get married, because sex outside of marriage is wrong. The new fundamentalist position will be that sexual activity is moral only within the confines of marriage, gay or straight, just as the Bible always taught us.

This has a number of implications worth pondering:

  1. It is obviously a plus for the LGBT community and especially LGBT Christians if they don’t have to deal with rejection by major Christian denominations.
  2. It will presumably help the Churches retain and recruit members if they are not alienating younger generations with regressive views. Moving forward on female clergy would of course help too.
  3. While this will narrow differences within the Western Church, it will add to tensions within Global Christianity. These shifts in Europe and the Americas are not being matched by moves in the rest of the world. Therefore, I’d bet on the Anglican Communion finally splitting and even the Catholic Church coming under pressure.
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2 thoughts on “The retreat of religious homophobia

  1. Pingback: The gay Christians who’ve embraced celibacy | Matter Of Facts
  2. Pingback: Why Christians are so excited about Vicky Beeching coming out | Matter Of Facts

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