File this under Things I Never, Ever Thought I’d See.
According to Religion News Service, there’s a new organization called—I am not making this up–Evangelicals for Marriage Equality. It was launched on Tuesday, September 9th, and immediately began collecting signatures from evangelicals who support same-sex marriage. Its advisory board lists several evangelical luminaries.
It is immensely heartening to see prominent evangelicals recognize that, if opposite-sex marriage is good for society, same-sex unions should be equally good for the social fabric. This new organization is yet another expression of a growing recognition that fidelity and stability in relationships require social acceptance—that when you demonize people, when you deny them respect and equal civil rights, you are encouraging the destructive behaviors you claim to deplore.
So—you may be late to the party, Evangelicals for Marriage Equality, but we certainly welcome you.
That said, there may also be an element of self-preservation in this sudden turn-around.
Over the past few years, membership in conservative churches has been declining. Young Christians, especially, have increasingly rejected a theology that seemed to place homophobia at the very center of its belief structure.
Polling has confirmed that the demographic split that characterizes the broader American society is equally pronounced among conservative and evangelical Christians. Young evangelicals may not be leading the charge to embrace equal rights for their LGBT peers, but they are demonstrably less homophobic than their elders and changing (for the better) with dizzying speed.
In 2012, Pew found that 29 percent of young white evangelicals (age 18-29) expressed support for allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally, higher than older evangelicals at 17 percent. That’s far below the level of support for same-sex marriage expressed by young adults as a whole (65 percent).
A 2014 Public Religion Research Institute survey suggested that white evangelical Protestant millennials are more than twice as likely to favor same-sex marriage as the oldest generation of white evangelical Protestants (43 percent compared to 19 percent).
Other polling has confirmed that continued culture-war messages–and especially anti-gay rhetoric—coming from the pulpits of these churches is a significant element in the disaffection of young evangelicals. A change of message and a softening of that rhetoric can only help rebuild dwindling congregations.
At the end of the day, whether the change of at least some evangelical hearts is prompted by a sincere rethinking of old shibboleths or by a savvy eye on the future, really doesn’t matter.
What matters is that at least some of the most adamant opponents of equality have decided to reconsider a theological tenet requiring belief in an omnipotent god who would create people he disapproved of.
What’s next? Acceptance of evolution? After this, nothing would surprise me….