Christianity and the unavoidable tide of gay rights

By Matt Barnum

Are Christians immune to the rising tide of LGBT acceptance? That’s the thesis of Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry’s piece for The Week from a couple weeks ago. In it, Gobry argues:

Christianity’s opposition to homosexuality is not the product of some dusty medieval exegete poring over obscure Old Testament verses. From the beginning, what set apart the new and strange sect called Christians from the rest of their culture was their strange sexual ethic.

Today, many gay-marriage proponents don’t just want a live-and-let-live relationship with Christianity — they want to force Christianity to affirm same-sex marriage. They do this, I think, because they believe very strongly in the rights of gays to marry, but also largely because they think that it will only take moderate prodding to get Christianity to cave in. History and Christianity’s own self-understanding suggest, however, that such an outcome is not in the cards.

Note Gobry’s reference to “Christianty,” as opposed to “Christians.” Christianity of course is not a thing that is any way independent of its adherents and leaders, so it’s unclear what Gobry means precisely when he says Christianity.

But let’s take Gobry’s theological explanation at face value; there’s a problem. The question of whether Christians will support homosexuality is an empirical question, rather than a theological one. Theology may of course drive the empirical reality, but it’s bizarre that Gobry’s piece is devoid of any empirical basis, particularly because his hypothesis can be tested so easily.

Check out this Pew survey trend data on religion (third figure down if you click through). As you’ll see, all Christian demographics have seen significant increases in their support for same-sex marriage in just over a decade.

  Support for SSM 2001 Support for SSM 2014
White Mainline Protestants 38% 62%
Catholics 40% 59%
Black Protestants 30% 43%
White Evangelical Protestants 13% 23%

Gee, it sure seems like Christians of all stripes are either changing their minds on same-sex marriage and/or being replaced by a younger, more tolerant generation of believers. Even (the still disturbingly low) support among Evangelical Christians is nearly twice what it was in 2001.

It’s possible that Gobry was referring not to Christians but leaders of Christianity who dictate church’s official policy. Fair enough — after all, most Catholics now support same-sex marriage equality, but church doctrine has yet to follow suit (though the church is making at least rhetorical shifts in a pro-gay direction).

Even if we look at official church doctrine though, Gobry’s thesis fails. A new study finds that more and more religious denominations are accepting gays and lesbians as members and leaders. The study is not all positive – there have been fits and starts – but it’s indicative of an indisputable trend.

And no amount of theology can stop it.

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