(Matthew Vines is the author of “God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships.” The opinions expressed here are his own.)
By Matthew Vines
June 26 (Reuters) - Evangelicals are starting to change their minds about gay marriage. In recent months, three large evangelical churches - EastLakeCommunity Church in Seattle, Washington, GracePointe Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and City Church in San Francisco, California - have announced that they no longer believe all same-sex relationships are sinful. Leading evangelical ethicist David Gushee changed his position on the issue in a landmark speech last fall, and celebrated pastor Campolo did the same in a statement on his website earlier this month.
This new pro-gay movement among evangelicals is still a minority, and staunch conservatives have been pushing back. But bit by bit, the number of American evangelicals who support marriage equality continues to rise.
A new poll released by evangelical research firm LifeWay Research in April demonstrated this shift. True, it showed that 66 percent of American evangelicals, fundamentalists and born-again believers say that same-sex relationships go against God’s will. While that is a super- majority, it is a substantial decline from just three years ago, when the same poll found that 82 percent held this view.
In part, that shift can be explained by the same forces that have changed much of the rest of American society. More evangelicals have openly gay friends and loved ones and, according to LifeWay, those who do are nearly twice as likely to support marriage equality as those who don‘t.
But relationships alone are rarely sufficient to change conservative Christians’ minds on issues that are both political and theological. After all, evangelicals have based their opposition to gay rights on the Bible since the LGBT movement began. For years, even many sympathetic Christians have felt unable to embrace the LGBT community because of Scripture.
But while the Bible doesn’t change, interpretations of it can. Today evangelicals have access to stronger theological arguments for same-sex relationships than ever before. A representative example is New Testament scholar James Brownson’s book Bible, Gender, Sexuality, which is making a deep impact among theologians and biblical scholars.
Add in the decline of the “ex-gay” movement, and the door opens further for long-term change. Exodus International, the largest organization promoting the idea that gay people can change their sexual orientation, apologized for the harm it had caused and closed its doors in 2013. Its former president even called for a ban on reparative therapy earlier this year.
Some evangelicals remain reluctant to acknowledge the reality of sexual orientation, but their numbers are on the wane. The new answer many are proffering - lifelong celibacy for all gay people - seems both practically and theologically unsustainable.
Churches are being forced to grapple more deeply with the human consequences of their beliefs, particularly because teenagers are coming out at younger ages than they have before. That’s leading still more to reconsider their interpretation of Scripture, as Southern Baptist Pastor Danny Cortez publicly did last year after his teenage son came out to him as gay.
In my case, when I came out to my dad five and a half years ago, he was distraught. All he’d ever heard on the issue was that the Bible condemned homosexuality in no uncertain terms. But rather than rejecting the Bible or rejecting me, he ended up changing his interpretation of several passages in Scripture. Today, he’s both a fully committed evangelical Christian and a vocal ally of the LGBT community.
These changes aren’t rapid, nor do they erase the significant harm many conservative faith communities continue to cause in LGBT people’s lives. But along with the Supreme Court’s ruling Friday to legalize marriage equality nationwide, this slow religious shift does provide many gay Christians with a much-needed hope.
It gives them hope that, not only does their government now treat them equally, but, one day, their families and churches will, too. (Matthew Vines)