Why Christianity Will Become Less Anti-Gay

While the battle rages over equality for LGBT people it may be difficult to see how much things will change over the next couple decades, but as Amanda Marcotte correctly points out, it is almost a certainty that Christianity will become less and less anti-gay as time goes by.

Douthat is right about this much: The more unfashionable and distasteful anti-gay bigotry becomes, the more religious people will cut it out. Some will come up with theological rationalizations for their change of mind, which is probably the best solution. Some will simply recede to muttering about the gays behind closed doors as they slowly die off. Preaching homophobia from the pulpit will increasingly become taboo. It’s true that Douthat, as Beutler accuses, doesn’t have the confidence that the supposed rightness of religious bigotry will be enough to allow believers to hold fast in face of changing tides. That shows Douthat has little faith, but he does actually understand the real world in this.

I just want to point out that the reason that Douthat knows this is how it goes is because this is how it went down when it came to the end of Jim Crow and segregation. In the decades leading up to the Civil Rights Act, it was common for Christian preachers to rail from the pulpit about the evils of race-mixing. As Ian Milhiser explained, much to most of the justifications for segregation were religious in nature. The KKK, like many anti-gay groups now, held itself out primarily as a Christian organization dedicated to preserving the family. Brown v the Board of Education was largely battled out on religious grounds, with Christian groups starting private schools for the purpose of excluding black students on religious grounds…

Since then, a lot has changed. Like I said, I heard religious justifications for racism from people in the 90s, but these were things people uttered breathlessly behind closed doors, instead of bellowed from the pulpit. While there’s a lot of de facto segregation still, what used to be unthinkable in conservative Christian circles—racially mixed congregations, desegregated religious schools, acceptance of interracial marriage—have all become normal and accepted. What used to be a prime motivator for the religious right—resisting desegregation—has become a dirty secret of the past that they try to pretend never happened.

This is what Douthat clearly and openly fears will happen on the question of homophobia. He knows that churches will never be forced to marry gay couples. They aren’t forced to marry interracial couples now. But the cultural tides shifted in the wake of anti-discrimination legislation, and most churches that would have balked at marrying interracial couples 40 years ago wouldn’t bat an eye at doing it now. That’s why his hand-waving over how these situations are so different is so utterly dishonest. He knows the reason that the reason “remaining adherents” to a homophobic worldview “can be marginalized, set against one other, and encouraged to conform” is because that’s exactly what happened to the people who tried to hold fast to the notion that racism was also biblically mandated.

As historical patterns go, this could hardly be more plain. Until the last half century, American Christianity was largely (though not entirely) convinced that racism and segregation were demanded by their religion. Until a century ago, it was largely convinced that the Christian position on women’s suffrage was to oppose it. Until a century and a half ago, it was largely of the view that slavery was a divinely-commanded institution. There were liberal Christian churches on the right side of all those battles, of course, but the weight of institutional Christianity was squarely on the wrong side.

But today those religious beliefs are consigned to the dustbin of history and now exist only on the extreme fringes of society. Christianity has evolved, like every institution does. It has been humanized by contact with Enlightenment ideals of liberty, justice and equality and that evolution continues today. They will evolve again, finding fanciful theological means of reinterpreting those anti-gay verses in the Bible just as they’ve reinterpreted, and largely done away with, the curse of Ham and other justifications for bigotry. And then they’ll start pointing to Gene Robinson and other pro-equality Christians and claiming it was their idea from the start, quickly erasing all the relevant facts of history in the process.

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  • Dave Maier

    Christianity will become less and less anti-gay

    Or that the anti-gay will become less and less Christian.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    How could Christianity possibly be less anti-gay? According to Damon Linker Christianity gave us gay marriage.

  • Sastra

    Ah, perhaps one day the Christians will evolve and be claiming credit for atheism. “Well, WE knew there was no God long before the secular world caught up to us!”

    Ah. Perhaps not.

  • gAytheist

    As is so often the case, Mark Twain said it best:

    The world has corrected the Bible. The church never corrects it; and also never fails to drop in at the tail of the procession — and take the credit of the correction. During many ages there were witches. The Bible said so. the Bible commanded that they should not be allowed to live. Therefore the Church, after eight hundred years, gathered up its halters, thumb-screws, and firebrands, and set about its holy work in earnest. She worked hard at it night and day during nine centuries and imprisoned, tortured, hanged, and burned whole hordes and armies of witches, and washed the Christian world clean with their foul blood.

    Then it was discovered that there was no such thing as witches, and never had been. One does not know whether to laugh or to cry…. There are no witches. The witch text remains; only the practice has changed. Hell fire is gone, but the text remains. Infant damnation is gone, but the text remains. More than two hundred death penalties are gone from the law books, but the texts that authorized them remain.

  • eric


    If your only goal is ensuring that support for traditional marriage diminishes as rapidly as possible, applying constant pressure to religious individuals and institutions will probably do the job. Already, my fellow Christians are divided over these issues, and we’ll be more divided the more pressure we face. The conjugal, male-female view of marriage is too theologically rooted to disappear, but its remaining adherents can be marginalized, set against one other, and encouraged to conform.

    The first claim is utterly wrong: AFAIK, no gay rights supporters are trying to diminish support for straight marriages. In fact, given that gay rights support is up in the 40-60% range (I believe – didn’t fact check) and the number of actual gays in the population is in the 1-10% range, I think its safe to say that the majority of gay rights supporters support straight marriage to such an extent that they will try it themselves.

    Secondly, AFAIK nobody is actively trying to set Christians against each other or divide them. Yes, gay rights supporters want other people to support gay rights. But that fact is utterly unrelated to ones’ religion. We pretty much want everyone to accept it, regardless of religion. If someones’ newfound support for gay rights puts them at odds with the other members of their church, well, that certainly may be a problem for them, but its not a problem anyone intentionally set out to create.

    As for marginalization and encouragement to conform: freedom of speech means I have the freedom to object to your speech, loudly and vocally. To treat your rallys like KKK rallys, to vote against your candidates the way I would vote against David Duke, to not buy your magazines as I don’t buy racist trash rags, and so on. If that is what you consider marginalization, yup, we’re going to do that.

  • eric

    Ah, first sentence of my last paragraph may be construed as supporting censorship. I don’t. My message was: I have the freedom to object to your beliefs as expressed by your speech. I do not object to you being able to speak your beliefs.

  • khms

    It has been humanized by contact with Enlightenment ideals of liberty, justice and equality

    … and let’s not forget that those are also values the Church was originally strongly opposed to. See “absolute monarchy”, “god-given rulers”, and so on. These days, both Christians and anti-Christians often claim those are originally Christian values (and, depending on pro or anti, superior Christian values or cultural imperialism). No, they are not.

  • John Pieret


    According to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll:

    … 59 percent of Americans now support the legal right to same-sex marriage. And 81 percent believe that businesses owners should not be able to discriminate against LGBT clients – even if they say it violates their religious beliefs.

    Even 72% of Arizonan opposed the bill Gov. Brewer just vetoed.

    Another recent report by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) finds:

    a majority of white mainline Protestants now support marriage equality, and so do a majority of white and Hispanic Catholics. Jewish Americans overwhelmingly back the issue, too. And although support for LGBT rights remains low among evangelical Protestants, a look at Millennial church-goers reveals that increasingly, evangelical young adults have begun to favor same-sex marriage. PRRI says they’re twice as likely as their older, equally religious peers to support marriage equality.


    Wall of Separation correctly entitles its article about the polls: “Stick A Fork In It?”

  • wscott

    There were liberal Christian churches on the right side of all those battles, of course, but the weight of institutional Christianity was squarely on the wrong side.

    Does anyone have any actual data on the bolded part? I have an ongoing disagreement with a friend who thinks the balance (both now and in the past) isn’t as heavily skewed against progress as we might believe. There’s no question that a lot (even most) of today’s anti-gay rhetoric is coing from the religious, just as much/most of the anti-miscegenation was a generation ago. But that’s not the same thing as saying that most Christians, or most churches, are anti-gay, or were anti-civil rights. I have lots of anecdoctal evidence I can point to, but we all know that the loud, fringe groups on any issue tend to be overrepresented in the media. So it’d be nice to have some real data to bring to the conversation.

  • Abdul Alhazred

    Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.

    Not premature triumphalism.

  • Abdul Alhazred “Not premature triumphalism.”

    If you’ve got premature triumphalism, try thinking about baseball.

  • lofgren

    I’ll just go ahead and register my usual counterpoint to these “inevitability” arguments which is that Ed’s timescale is pathetically short. The last 50 years? Bitch please. The Catholic church plays its game on the scale of centuries. Looking at the last 150 years and declaring a historical pattern “obvious” is like looking outside and declaring that global warming isn’t happening because there’s snow on the ground. If gay people are consistently treated equally from now until, say, 2250, we can start to talk about historical patterns.

  • lofgren

    Until a century and a half ago, it was largely of the view that slavery was a divinely-commanded institution.


    Let me reiterate that for a moment. The Catholic Church had slaves as late as 1996.

  • OT, but I got an ad dialog three times in a row just now that said it was from ib.adnxs.com and read, “Your Android is infected with a virus. Press OK to disinfect.” (From memory, probably not exact words. )

  • sugarfrosted

    @14 glad that’s not just me. I’ve been seeing those too.

  • leonardschneider

    “Until the last half century, American Christianity was largely (though not entirely) convinced that racism and segregation were demanded by their religion.”

    Thank you for the qualifier. Keep in mind that MLK was Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, a preacher for the American Baptists. I’m not a fan of the Baptists in any form, but King’s faith was what drove him to do what he did.

    I feel like a broken record here, since I’ve said it before, but if you’re looking for outspoken champions of gay rights in American Christianity, you’ve got the Episcopals, the Methodists, the Congregationalists (United Church of Christ) and the Unitarians (which is not a Christian church, but certainly has a lot of Christians in it). See? Didn’t have to look too hard at all. And those are just the ones I know about, there could be more.

    (I’d also throw in the Reformed Jews, too, but um, they aren’t Christian, and for once I’d like to stay on topic. However, the San Francisco and Oakland synagogues march in the Pride Parade every year, so that can’t be bad. The organizers would have the Unitarians wedged between the Episcopals and the Jews; the joke was the Unitarians were there to act as a buffer: the Jews might take issue with how similar the Episcopals are to the Catholics — in liturgy, anyway — so the Unitarians would prevent any unpleasantness from breaking out between the two.)

  • doublereed

    It doesn’t stop the fact that the opposition to the gay marriage referendum in Maryland was spearheaded particularly by the black churches. It was the churches that spread the message of hate throughout the state, and it’s always been the churches that do so.

    And I’m sorry, but I’ve met too many Methodists who are against gay marriage to think that the Methodist Churches are actually for it. I know they’re supposed to be a liberal branch, but I’ve met too many conservative Methodists to put much stock in that.

  • leonardschneider “However, the San Francisco and Oakland synagogues march in the Pride Parade every year, so that can’t be bad.”

    That’s my team! I love the Oakland Synagogues! They’re going all the way to the World Series this season, mark my words!

  • whheydt

    Now assuming that the Christians generally (there will always be some exceptions) drop their anti-gay stances…who will they hate instead? They have to have *some* group to hate, after all…

  • pixiedust


    Yeah, but the High Holy Days fall in the post-season, which means the Synagogues are going to forfeit at least one game when the whole damn team refuses to play on Yom Kippur.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    eric @ # 5: … AFAIK nobody is actively trying to set Christians against each other …

    Pay attention: the one group working on that project is called “Christians”.

  • Crudely Wrott


    …who will they hate instead? They have to have *some* group to hate, after all…


    Have you glanced at a mirror lately?

  • coragyps

    Wscott, I don’t have data but do have an anecdote. My daddy was a (white) Southern Presbyterian minister who migrated to the (more northern) United Presbyterians in the early ’50s – partly over race issues. He preached and campaigned for civil rights in the 60s in Arkansas, and lost a few parishioners over that. What little I recall from those days was that the United Presbys were ahead of the curve on social justice in the South back then. ‘Course, it was pretty easy to be ahead of the Southern Baptists.

  • Dave Maier

    I don’t have data either, but like coragyps’s dad, my dad was a white Presbyterian minister (Northern variety), and he was at the big civil rights rally 50 years ago (and saw the “I have a dream” speech). Before that, he was booted from his first church when they didn’t like his pacifist preaching — during WWII (!). He also subscribed to every lefty magazine there is, from Z to In These Times to Mother Jones. He was into Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, and Alexander Cockburn (and do NOT get him started on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict).

    He used to say he was a political liberal but a theological conservative: that is (my paraphrase) that the angry OT God, with all the authority He can muster (that is,a/o/t a kumbayah hippie Jesus), commands us on pain of divine displeasure (not to smite the gays or whatever, but instead) to love each other, beat our swords into plowshares, and defend the poor and oppressed against the depredations of the rich and powerful. For what it’s worth.

  • Pseudonym

    Until the last half century, American Christianity was largely (though not entirely) convinced that racism and segregation were demanded by their religion.

    Further to leonardschneider’s point, thank you for the qualification “American”. That’s a rather important point that’s often lost.

  • dingojack

    See here.

    Any other questions, or will we here more “my dad’s a [fill religious group in here] and isn’t quite a raging bigot – so therefore….” anecdotes?


  • freehand

    Well Dingo, my grandpa was a Southern Baptist preacher and he was a raging bigot.

  • lpetrich

    Sastra #3, tee hee.

    They might state it as taking credit for Metaphysical Naturalism, the notion that the Universe is fundamentally impersonal, operating according to impersonal natural laws. They may even moan and groan that it’s a terrible smear of them that they believe that the Universe is controlled by some anthropomorphic superbeing.