As more states affirm same-sex marriage, U.S.
evangelicals continue to wrestle with homosexuality, setting boundaries for
what’s acceptable and what’s not, and setting the stage for a heated fall
A new group called Evangelicals for Marriage
Equality launched September 9 and is collecting signatures from
evangelicals who support same-sex marriage. Its advisory
board includes author and speaker Brian McLaren, former National
Association of Evangelicals vice president Richard Cizik, and former USAID
faith adviser Chris LaTondresse. Cizik resigned from his NAE position over his
support for same-sex civil unions.
“Our organization is not taking a theological
position on the issue of the sacrament of marriage,” said spokesman Brandan
Robertson. “We just want evangelicals to see that it is possible to hold a
plethora of beliefs about sexuality and marriage while affirming the rights of
LGBTQ men and women to be civilly married under the law.”
Testing evangelical boundaries didn’t work well
for World Vision earlier this year when it decided and then reversed its
position on same-sex employees. The new marriage equality group is already
facing challenges from evangelical institutions. An ad it placed with Christianity Today, World and Relevant magazines was rejected
by all three evangelical mainstays.
The organization, founded by two straight
evangelicals, Josh Dickson and Michael Saltsman, will join other groups
planning to dialogue on same-sex marriage this fall.
The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and
Religious Liberty Commission will host a conference in Nashville, Tenn., in
October on “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of
Marriage,” urging faith leaders to oppose same-sex marriage.
At the other end of the spectrum, author Matthew
Vines will lead a gathering in November in Washington focused on LGBT inclusion
in churches. Vines is hopeful the new group might change evangelical minds.
“We still haven’t arrived at a sea change among
evangelicals, but the tone and passion around the issue of civil marriage
equality has certainly been changing as more evangelicals are accepting that
same-sex marriage will soon be the law of the land, whether they are pleased
about it or not,” Vines said. “I think they have a chance to persuade more
evangelicals to lay down their arms in this culture war battle that has been so
harmful to the primary mission of the church.”
The group’s arguments may sway younger evangelicals
who are more open to the idea that theology shouldn’t dictate public policy,
said Eric Teetsel, director of the Manhattan Declaration, a conservative
movement focused on life, marriage and religious freedom issues.
“It’s ironic that you have a group of politically
liberal Christians who have made a name for themselves specifically by using
theological principles to advocate political ends,” Teetsel said. “If you told
them that what the Bible says about caring for the poor shouldn’t be applied to
foreign policy, they would dismiss it. I’m confused to why they draw this line
when it comes to marriage.”
Research on evangelicals suggest that younger
evangelicals are more likely to support same-sex marriage than those of an
older generation, though many still resist it.
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