I am part of the 2%.
According the polls released by the Barna Group gathered from research immediately after the Supreme Court ruling extending federal marriage equality to same-sex couples, only 2% of evangelicals strongly support the decision.
Evangelicals, compared with all other denominations, and with all adults in general, are identified as the least supportive group of same-sex marriage. They see little potential for its positive impact on society (5%). An extreme minority believes same-sex marriage is morally right (10%). Also, the minority of evangelicals believe the U.S. Constitution protects marriage equality for same-sex couples (15%). Generally, only 24% of evangelicals believe they can support marriage equality while still affirming a traditional religious definition of marriage as one man and one woman.
Clearly, these are not encouraging statistics to those who celebrate the extension of marriage civil rights to potentially 10 million Americans. Within the general adult population, 49% favor the Supreme Court decision, 37% anticipate a favorable impact on society, and 52% believe same-sex marriage is morally right and protected by the Constitution,
Not surprisingly, evangelicals hold the least inclusive views across denominational lines as compared to Protestants (both mainline and not), Catholics and all other Christian faiths.
What is the root of the extreme exclusive beliefs?
Having spent the last eight years engaged in conversations in faith communities, all while entrenched in the LGBT Christian community, the polarized views are more stark than I may have predicted.
It is only by using the understanding gained from researching and writing Walking the Bridgeless Canyon – Repairing the Breach Between the Church and the LGBT Community that I can begin to make sense of Barna’s findings.
Here is my most concise view (covered in almost 300 pages of my book) of more than a century of the history or cultural and religious discrimination of the LGBT community in America:
- The concept of homosexuality and heterosexuality became a medical differentiation at the beginning of the 20th
- Equal status same-sex attracted people came minimally into the public consciousness in the 1920s.
- During the 1930s and early 1940s, psychoanalysts took Freud’s questions about how homosexuality may have come about, and, without any research, designated homosexuality (then called sexual inversion) as a mental illness.
- Isolationism and nationwide paranoia over Communism in the late 1940s and 1950s conflated the mysterious homosexuals with Communists. The government took legal steps to persecute, isolate and oppress its gay citizens.
- Medical professionals wrangled with their assumptions of what caused homosexuality and emerging information through the 1950s to the early 1970s.
- Medical designation of homosexuality as a mental illness, having been found ungrounded, was lifted in 1973.
- The LGBT community began a slow movement towards coming out from under the decades of cultural, governmental, legal and medical oppression.
- The Religious Right merged with the political right in the late 1970s and needed a wedge issue to move voters from the Democrat party to the Republican party. There had been a drain of Catholic voters with Kennedy and born-again voters with Carter. Millions of conservative voters had eschewed politics since the mid-1920s.
- Anita Bryant galvanized both conservative religious voters and the emerging gay rights movement in 1978, which resulted in the Moral Majority. The challenge was to capture them as Republican voters.
- The gay community presented the perfect wedge issue to engage and register GOP voters and get them to the polls, especially when the AIDS crisis hit, tacitly indicating God’s disapproval of gays and support of the new Moral Majority.
- Conservative social and religious leaders found a good scapegoat in the LGBT community and re-ignited cultural discrimination which had been decreasing, now adding religious discrimination.
- Bible translations, never before so laser focused on homosexuality, simply seeing the language to indicate immoral behaviors, or abusive sexual control, were retranslated to include homosexuals, now even including lesbians.
- Movements within evangelicalism informed their followers that gay people were sexually broken or rebellious against God and could and should “fix” their attractions.
- Since the 2004 elections, same-sex marriage, and other LGBT associated issues (ENDA and DOMA) have been used as a tool to keep conservatives coming to the voter booths.
The impact of cultural and religious discrimination on evangelicals
Before the 1970s, there was almost no organized oppression by people of faith on LGBT people. Once LGBT people popped their heads up to breathe in freedom from cultural oppression in the 1970s, there stood the Moral Majority, and all who would listen, with their Whack-a-Mole sledges to bang them back from a level playing field.
Their toxic messages about the LGBT community dug their heads into our consciousness like ticks. We may attempt to pull the wrong beliefs out, but the poison remains. And festers, even today.
When the Obama administration decided not to federally defend the Defense of Marriage Act any longer, it signaled the inevitability of marriage equality.
Methodical opposition commenced at increased levels. Every objection to marriage equality that has been raised and re-hashed has been engaged in lower courts. Those who do not agree with extending civil rights to same-sex couples have had ample opportunity to offer salient and valid reasons and research. As adamant as they were, those objections have not been found compelling enough to block marriage equality.
How do we begin to crawl out from under ideology disguised as theology?
Now, specifically to my fellow evangelicals – the ones who do not agree with me.
I can fully understand why you may believe anything other than a heterosexual orientation is inherently broken, and even anti-God. We were taught that. It was drilled into us. First by the culture, then by the unholy merger of conservative faith and politics beginning in the late 1970s.
No research had ever been used to designate homosexuality as a mental illness in the 20th century, and no new theological anti-gay information emerged in the late 1970s to put a target on the souls of LGBT people. Yet, the both injustices certainly did happen.
It is difficult for evangelicals to imagine the the potentiality of positive impact same-sex marriage might have on the society. We logically know that commitment and protections of families has no down side. But, most evangelicals have little or no personal intimate relational interactions with same-sex couples and families from which to apply this wisdom. Seeing a gay couple walk their dog in your neighborhood and saying “hello” does not count as relationship.
How can we come to know the similarities and humanity of same-sex couples and families if we have driven them from our churches and from our own social lives that intrinsically revolve around our church lives?
Until the dissonance between what I believed and what I saw in the lives of LGBT people I was in relationship with was great enough to force me back to studying Bible verses in context, I could not imagine that I may have misunderstood the passages used to exclude LGBT people from Christianity.
I have tried to help others who are in a similar place of dissonance by making it simple to understand that there may be a different way to look at those passage and still respect the integrity of Scripture.
Finally, as to the lack of apparent distinction between what is legal marriage in the U.S., and what may be a personal understanding of marriage. Marriage is a legal contract between two adults who affirm their desire to accept both the rights, benefits, responsibilities, obligations, and protections of their social union.
Different faith traditions will fight to attach their dogma’s guidelines to the contract, but marriage in the U.S. is a civil contract.
And, marriage has not “always” been between one man and one woman, or about love, or about a place raise children.
Recent equal access to same-sex couples has not “redefined” marriage. Its definition has gradually shifted over the last five millennia, but never so much as it has in the past fifty years. Breaking with thousands of years of tradition, in the late 19th century, marriages started to be based on love and companionship. Before that, couples married for political and economic reasons.
The women’s rights movement, along with the commercial availability of birth control in the 1960s, caused the next major modification to marriage. Suddenly women had greater access to legal rights, education, better paying jobs, birth control, and divorce.
It was heterosexual couples that altered the marriage landscape with cohabitation, single parent families, and divorce.
While viewing marriage as the ideal context in which to create children may be sentimental, by taking the long view of history, we understand it is not accurate.
I have created resources to address the main objections evangelicals voice concerning same-sex marriage. They may be helpful in addressing objections to Christian same-sex and civil marriage.
What is happening within the 98%?
I listen intently to the grassroots shifting of evangelical views concerning inclusion of LGBT Christians in their congregations. Parents of LGBT children are choosing to educate themselves in order to overcome their own deeply entrenched notions they believed to be truth.
Pastors, seeing sacred fruit in the lives of people in their congregations coming out as gay or trans are allowing their hearts to question how they have come to formulate their own theology.
Folks like me are meeting LGBT people and are willing to cut through the rhetoric to establish relationship and ultimately using the Bible and relationship to challenge their biases.
Yesterday, I attended services in a local church pastored by someone with whom I have been establishing relationship over the past two years. It was the day the pastor decided to introduce the possibility of hosting more loving and open conversations about accepting LGBT people for who they are, for who the pastor now sees them to be.
What a risk that is in so many congregations!
I know from the work I do, from the people advocate along with me, from the mail I get, and from knowledge of behind the scenes conversations going on, many leaders are ready open respectful and humble conversation in their churches. It takes courage to do this.
I am in the 2%.
But with education, revisiting Scripture, conversation, and relationship, I am confident those who are fully affirming of marriage equality and full LGBT inclusion in churches can help overcome the cultural and religious discrimination that has falsely informed the 98%.
 Evangelicals are defined as people who meet nine conditions of belief: personal commitment to Jesus, their faith is important in their daily lives, that belief will get them to heaven when they die, they have a responsibility to share the Gospel, they believe in the existence of Satan, salvation is available through grace only and not works, Jesus life on earth was sinless, the Bible is accurate in its teachings, and God is all-knowing and the Creator.