Though they lag behind other denominations, evangelicals are steadily becoming more supportive of marriage equality:
Over the past decade, evangelical support for gay marriage has more than doubled, according to polling by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute. About a quarter of evangelicals now support same-sex unions, the institute has found, with an equal number occupying what researchers at Baylor University last year called the “messy middle” of those who oppose gay marriage on moral grounds but no longer support efforts to outlaw it. The shift is especially visible among young evangelicals under age 35, a near majority of whom now support same-sex marriage. And gay student organizations have recently formed at Christian colleges across the country, including flagship evangelical campuses such as Wheaton College in Illinois and Baylor in Texas.
Even some of the most prominent evangelicals—megachurch pastors, seminary professors and bestselling authors—have publicly announced their support for gay marriage in recent months. Other leaders who remain opposed to gay unions have lowered their profiles on the issue. After endorsing a gay marriage ban passed in California in 2008, Rev. Rick Warren, pastor of one of the country’s biggest megachurches, said in 2009 that he had apologized to all “all my gay friends” and that fighting gay marriage was “very low” on his list of priorities. Just last month, the Presbyterian Church, a Protestant denomination with a significant, though declining, minority of evangelicals, voted to allow ministers to perform same-sex weddings in states where they are legal.
What can this mean, I wonder? I’d like to think that arguments like Matthew Vines’ about how the Bible verses related to homosexuality have been misinterpreted are behind it. And for any major shift to occur, I think those arguments will have to gain adherents. But what we have here, I’d say, is a shifting understanding of what homosexuality is, as a result of huge social and cultural changes.
For the longest time, evangelical Christians associated gay people solely with deviant sex – and the fledgling gay community, understandably entranced with sexual liberation, did little to dissuade them. But as the culture has shifted to see gay people as actual human beings whose lives encompass so much more than sex, and as gay couples have movingly expressed their desire to commit to one another, and as gay citizens continue to volunteer in the armed services with distinction and honor, the very idea of homosexuality that informed most evangelical conversations on the topic has changed. Even those within the evangelical or traditional Catholic orbits – like the dedicated gay celibates who call themselves B-Siders – have shifted away from shame or self-loathing toward something different: