Author Archives: Matt Barnum

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.


Will GOP Voters Get “Finessed” on Gay Marriage?

By Lori Heine

A headline in the March 27 Washington Examiner declares, “Evangelical leader shows how GOP can finesse gay marriage.” Such a prospect is something of an ink-blot test. Straight evangelical Republicans past a certain age may view it with hope, or even excitement. Gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender Americans may react with apprehension. They may even be inclined to think, “Not again!”

The article’s author, Byron York, notes that “it’s hard to see a gay-marriage-supporting candidate make it through the GOP primaries.” He asks if it might be possible, however, “to imagine a Republican nominee who finds a softer way to oppose gay marriage without alienating either his party’s older voters, who continue to overwhelmingly disapprove, or the millions of Americans who now support same-sex unions”.

Many polls now indicate that Americans increasingly distrust government in general and politicians in particular. This article is unlikely to rekindle their trust. It is highly possible that by the time they cast their ballots in 2016, they will be in no mood to be “finessed.”

Cynical sports-page-style political reportage may have sufficed in the past. Perhaps once it was enough for us to know who’s up and who’s down, who’s in and who’s out, who’s hot and who’s not. As people – especially the young – leave the churches in droves, articles advising evangelicals on how to fool voters into supporting their pet causes may not play as well as they used to, either.

York shares the latest wisdom from Southern Baptist Convention president Russell Moore. The “finessing” of which Moore speaks involves understanding “the public good of marriage” (for heterosexuals), not being “hostile to evangelical concerns” (at least, not of those who oppose same-sex marriage) and being willing to “protect religious liberty and freedom of conscience” (for those who interpret Scripture the way he does). The religious liberty and freedom of conscience of those who believe they should marry their same-sex partner, instead of merely live with him or her in what they regard as sin, gets no respect from Mr. Moore whatsoever.

But wait – there’s hope! “Missing from Moore’s answer,” says York, “was a firm requirement that a presidential candidate be a vocal opponent of gay marriage.” The article goes on to say that “there’s little doubt [Moore’s] putting new emphasis on liberty and less on manning the barricades against gay marriage.”

It is possible that this – dare I use the word? – evolution will please voters in both camps. It’s also possible that it will alienate everybody. There has never been anything stopping those who disapprove of same-sex marriage from disapproving of same-sex marriage, nor have they ever been required to marry people of the same sex. Indeed, they need nobody else’s permission to go right on the way they have been.

York quotes Tim Carney, another journalist at the Examiner, as he, in turn, quotes theoretical evangelicals: “You guys won your gay marriages, permissive abortion laws, taxpayer-subsidized birth control, and divorce-on-demand; let us just live our lives according to our own consciences.” Totally setting aside the fact that evangelicals are as likely as anybody else to avail themselves of birth control and divorce-on-demand, as nobody ever stopped them from living according to their consciences before, it’s hard to believe they’ll count it as much of a victory that they can go on doing it.

“I don’t think the culture wars are over,” Moore says, “but are moving into a new phase.” York sums up his article by declaring that evangelicals (especially younger ones) “appear no longer likely to require that a political candidate go to war over the issue” of same-sex marriage – “and more likely to insist that leaders protect the faithful’s beliefs.”

Polls also show that Republicans (especially younger ones) are becoming more libertarian in their attitudes toward government. It will be interesting to see if they’ll accept the notion that they need government to “protect” their beliefs. Time will tell whether such silliness, broadcast from the pulpit, will succeed in packing the pews. Whether voters will buy it from candidates for political office is another question entirely.

CPAC and the gays – the soap opera continues

By Lori Heine

Every year, political junkies wonder:  will they, or won’t they? Will the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) include gay Republicans in formal participation, or will it keep them, once again, on the outside looking in?

As it turns out, CPAC’s ban – which does not keep gay conservatives from attending the conference, but only from speaking, serving, sponsoring or participating on panels – remained in force in 2014.  In an opinion piece in the Daily Caller, Log Cabin Republicans Executive Director Gregory T. Angelo attempted to clear up any confusion about this:  “Log Cabin members attend every year, as paying guests.” 

Angelo noted that “Anyone can attend CPAC as a paying guest – CPAC has never Continue reading

Arizona GOP tryin to ‘save’ Christians from the gays

By Lori Heine

Arizona, the Grand Canyon State of Crazy, is famous for its boiling temperatures.  It is also notorious for its political lunacy.  Not surprisingly, it is here that the cauldron of nationwide hysteria over the same-sex marriage “menace” is threatening to blow its top.  While measures to protect the “religious freedom” of anti-gay Christians are failing elsewhere, here the steaming stew is almost ready to be force-fed to all Arizonans – whether they want it or not.

“Arizona is the first state to pass a bill on religious freedoms specifically addressing LGBT rights,” notes Jaime Fuller in The Washington Post, adding that similar bills in other states “have fizzled out in the last few weeks.”  

If Governor Jan Brewer signs SB 1062 into law, Arizona Continue reading

“Religious Freedom” Bill Makes Some Republicans Wish they Weren’t in Kansas Anymore

By Lori Heine

Advocates of smaller government often remind big-government devotees that legislation may have unintended consequences.  A tsunami of public backlash is giving the Kansas state legislature a baptism into that reality.  Fearful that the wave of judicial decisions now rippling around the nation may result in repeal of its laws against same-sex marriage, Republicans in the land of Dorothy, Toto, and Fred Phelps hurriedly cranked out a bill to protect the “religious freedom” of workers objecting to gay marriage on religious grounds.  Now the Kansas GOP is struggling to stay afloat.

This might be considered a “come to Jesus” moment.  It certainly is a “What were they thinking?” moment.  The Republicans in the Kansas legislature have stirred up holy hell.

If they want to prevent anti-Christian discrimination, they have a strange way of going about it.  What they didn’t seem to be thinking about was the fact that their kids – many of whom have nothing against gay marriage, and who are already struggling Continue reading

From Celibacy to Marriage: Some Gay Christians Make the Shift

By Lori Heine

In The American Conservative, Eve Tushnet discusses her experience as a celibate lesbian Catholic.  She says that the “first shift” in the Church’s treatment of gays has been “away from the ‘ex-gay narrative.’”  It has at least accepted the reality that gays cannot change their orientation, though Roman Catholic doctrine admitted as much long before the Evangelical camp was willing to accept it.  Tushnet compares celibate gay Christians to Jesus, calling Him “the preeminent model for gay Christians.”

This may strike some people as a rather peculiar theology.  We thought Jesus was supposed to be “the preeminent model” for all Christians.  Evidently to Tushnet, the celibate part only applies to gays.

The Roman Catholic Church, like some other churches, welcomes gays into the pews – as long as we accept celibacy.  Traditionally, however, celibacy was understood to be a calling each individual could discern only for him or herself – not a sentence forced upon us by others.  Straight conservative Christians claim that they respect tradition.  Apparently they only respect it when it suits them.

Rod Dreher, also writing in The American Conservative, seems Continue reading

Vladimir Putin has very special imaginary gay friends

By Lori Heine

We’re accustomed to thinking of the Olympics as a magical time.  For two weeks, the host city becomes a magical place.  This may be especially true this year, because the president of Russia, hosting the Sochi winter games, recently revealed that he is on “friendly terms” with gay people.  Given his government’s antagonistic attitude toward gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, this seems an astonishing revelation.  Many will find it hard to believe Putin’s very special gay friends are anything but imaginary. Putin even apparently expresses admiration for openly gay entertainer Elton John, who Putin calls an “extraordinary person, [and] a distinguished musician.”

“I myself know some people who are gay – we are on friendly terms,” Putin declared to BBC journalist Andrew Marr on Sunday.  He has told George Stephanopoulos of ABC the same thing.  The Russian president took pains to say, “I am not prejudiced in any way.”  As proof of this, he cited awards he has given to LGBT Russians who “achieve great success.” Continue reading