Evangelicals Moving Toward Support for Marriage Equality

Evangelicals Moving Toward Support for Marriage Equality January 19, 2015

Time magazine has a cover story about the changing views among Christian evangelicals toward same-sex marriage. To the surprise of no one who has studied history, now that it appears all but inevitable, support for equality is growing even among the group most likely to oppose it.

Every day, evangelical communities across the country are arriving at new crossroads over marriage. My magazine story for TIME this week, “A Change of Heart,” is a deep dive into the changing allegiances and divides in evangelical churches and communities over homosexuality. In public, so many churches and pastors are afraid to talk about the generational and societal shifts happening. But behind the scenes, it’s a whole different game. Support for gay marriage across all age groups of white evangelicals has increased by double digits over the past decade, according to the Public Religion Research Institute, and the fastest change can be found among younger evangelicals—their support for gay marriage jumped from 20% in 2003 to 42% in 2014.

Here are few of the topline findings of my reporting. (To read the full story, click here.)

This winter, EastLake Community Church outside Seattle is quietly coming out as one of the first evangelical megachurches in the country to support full inclusion and affirmation of LGBTQ people. It is almost impossible to overstate the significance of this move. EastLake is in many ways the quintessential evangelical megachurch–thousands-strong attendance, rock-music worship, Bible-preaching sermons. But pastor Ryan Meeks, 36, is on the front wave of a new choice. “I refuse to go to a church where my friends who are gay are excluded from Communion or a marriage covenant or the beauty of Christian community,” Meeks tells me. “It is a move of integrity for me—the message of Jesus was a message of wide inclusivity.”…

Then there’s the growing slew of evangelical LGBTQ activists pushing for change. Matthew Vines, 24 and founder of the Reformation Project, represents new momentum to change the evangelical tide. He hopes to raise up affirming evangelicals in every evangelical church in the country. He holds conferences and training sessions for evangelicals, has staff in three states and representatives in 25, and has raised a projected $1.2 million for 2015 to press ahead. Brandan Robertson, 22, is the national spokesperson for Evangelicals for Marriage Equality, an effort started by millennials to help evangelicals support civil gay marriages, if not marriages in churches. Justin Lee, 37, of the Gay Christian Network hosted his 11th annual conference last week in Portland, Ore., and 1,400 people attended, double the number who came last year. Lee’s friendship with Alan Chambers, the former head of the ex-gay organization Exodus International, was one of the key factors that led Chambers to apologize for the hurt his organization caused, and the organization shut down.

This fits quite well the patterns of history, only it’s happening considerably faster than it has in the past. While pretending to have the One Eternal Truth, religions evolve in response to shifting societal attitudes and beliefs and they always have. Texts are simply reinterpreted, then everyone moves on as though there were no such reinterpretation at all, as if they had believed that all along. It happened with separation of church and state, with slavery, with women’s suffrage and with civil rights for blacks. There are still holdouts on all those things, of course, and there always will be. But the patterns are clear.

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