Evangelicals and Same-Sex Marriage: An Evolution

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….


  1. Cannot begin to tell you how much I enjoy reading your column….you are always on target. Lorraine Chase ( Paul’s Mom)

  2. We are all creatures of culture. We like to think that our beliefs are rational but we are steeped in the beliefs of others that we like to think are the same “kind” as us. There is male culture and female, American and Japanese, southern and northern, Indianapolis and New York, rich and poor, white and black.

    It was more useful in days of yore in passing on from one generation to the next learnings about what works better or worse. Sort of societal evolution. It’s less functional today when things change daily. In fact it is somewhat dysfunctional in that it tries to hang on to things whose time is over.

    Like physical evolution, there are cultural beliefs caught in the time period where the environment has changed and new potential adaptations are being sorted out to determine the best new fit. Awkward teenager type explorations in search of fit.

    Some day we will look back on some of the cultural dysfunctions of today and say “how quaint those days were” and we’ll have forgotten the pain caused by change.

    When I disparage conservative culture of today I hope that it’s based on actual results and experiences and accurate memory but of course I’m a slave to my own cultural stew.

    In the end the world will bump down the rocky road of progress barely keeping up with the need. All participants will be hopeful but uncomfortable and unclear as to the outcome.

    Now of course the way will be made even more dangerous because our numbers and technology threaten our only home in significant ways. We can produce environments toxic to our future existence. The cold war was our first opportunity to extinguish ourselves now global warming has added to it.

    Are we smart enough to continue to live today in ways that don’t compromise or eliminate tomorrows?

    I don’t know. I just don’t know.

  3. I’m a Christian in my 30’s and I think this is great news. I try to stay politically in the center, but I don’t understand why conservatives in general haven’t taken up marriage equality as a conservative issue. Especially if abortion is ever going to be restricted, we need people to raise those unwanted children.

    Personally, I would like the current incarnation of the Republican Party to go away with the crusty old Reagan-era evangelicals and be replaced by a fresher generation that is more relevant. Fortunately, outside of the radical wing that dominates the news, I think this is actually happening. It just doesn’t get a lot of press, so thanks, Sheila, for posting this.

    I’m not an evangelical, but the young evangelicals I know give me some hope (and I also think there’s been some major progress in the Catholic Church over the last decade). I recently wandered into the Dallas Theological Seminary’s podcast series on YouTube, just by chance. My own stereotypes about these people were pretty much blown away. They were definitely not the hicks I half-expected to hear.

    I think the evolution of the science of sexuality, too, is having a good effect on the way we perceive gays and lesbians. Even my own non-religious, thoroughly secular mother thinks that homosexuality is a choice and that gay marriage isn’t a great idea. Frankly, that was a dominant view in mainstream psychology until pretty recently. Not just a religious view, to be fair.

  4. That also goes for me on behalf of my brother, Paul, and all people who deserve to be recognized equally. Once again, thank you Sheila !!!!!

  5. Maybe this is all consistent with the aging of the generations. Gives me hope that at some point in the future, gay marriage (and similar issues) will cease to be political fodder and just fade away.

  6. Question.

    Will the day ever come when culture loosens it’s hold on us because it adds less value to our lives? We’d certainly hope never for things like the golden rule, love, parental responsibility, forgiveness, charity, duty, lifelong learning, service to tomorrows, neighborlyness, etc.

    My impression is that dysfunctional culture will go away very slowly as their value declines but much slower than the rate of decline in value. I hold the middle east as a major example, and the Westboro Baptist Church as a more local example.

  7. Extreme views of some Christians receive more media attention than the voices of moderation, but the moderates are there and thankfully becoming more visible. For a breath of fresh air, take a look at Sojourners’ website at http://sojo.net/blogs?page=1. Jim Wallis of Sojourners has received some network media attention over the years but not nearly enough. He believes we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers and should treat gays, women, minorities, immigrants, the poor, and those of other religions as we all wish to be treated.

  8. Jim Wallis, of Sojourners, has been on John Stewart and interviewed by Terry Gross and many others, but he’s not one of those “leads because it bleeds” folks. He and his folks are just out there doing good things, advocating for social justice and for the common good. Interesting that the media loves to focus on the crazy stuff from Pat Robertson and and the right wing hypocrites (who love to call themselves “Christians”), but you don’t hear about Jim Wallis unless you are the recipient of the care and social justice for which he advocates. These are just good people.

    Thanks for dropping the link.

Comments are closed.