The GOP/ Evangelical Quiet Revolution on Gay Rights

The Washington Post has a useful analysis of what it calls The GOP’s quiet evolution on gay rights. This has obvious and fundamental importance for gay politics and (marriage equality in particular) in the US. It has wider significance because it is also mirrored in a parallel quiet revolution towards queer inclusion in the Christian churches – a movement that is now becoming visible in some traditionally conservative denominations, as well as the more liberal Mainline Protestants.

In the Evangelical churches, this has sometimes been seen in the emergence of some prominent straight allies speaking up for inclusion on theological grounds, or a handful of openly gay pastors and welcoming churches  – but these remain rare (for now). On the other, there are also some who do not specifically advocate on behalf of gay and lesbian Christians, but are actively promoting a greater degree of dialogue and understanding, a toning down of the rhetoric and virulent homophobia. (This is a trend that I believe to be occurring also in the Catholic and Mormon Churches). Both of these trends are welcome. One of the second group is Philip Yancey, said to be one of the world’s most successful evangelical authors:

Breaking down barriers is what Yancey was doing last weekend in Victoria at Epiphany Explorations, where more than 500 evangelical-to-liberal Christians gathered for four days of talks and performances at First Metropolitan United Church.

Even though he was educated in evangelical seminaries, the author of The Jesus I Never Knew regrets his “fundamentalist” upbringing in the early 1960s, in which his pastor referred toRev. Martin Luther King as “Martin Lucifer Coon.”

Yancey is appalled that U.S. evangelicalism has become associated with the Religious Right, including American power, aggression and intolerance.

Wary of understandable stereotypes about born-again Christians, Yancey was a longtime advocate of Christian anti-poverty projects in Chicago, and is trying to walk a new line on the wedge issue of homosexuality.

“It’s odd that this whole gay issue is such a barrier” between conservative and liberal Christians, Yancey says.

The cultural assault on gays, he said, could be a product of “fear-based fundraising” by evangelical media outlets, such as Focus on the Family.

“One theory is people need a ‘necessary demon’ to raise money,” he says -and homosexuals could have been turned into that figurative devil after the fall of Soviet communism.

Since he’s trying to be a peacemaker, Yancey said he avoids taking a formal position on the “explosive” issues of gay ordination or gay marriage, even though that frustrates people on both sides.

“I choose my words carefully,” he says. Yet he is clear about saying he has gay Christian friends.

And he goes so far as to declare: “I personally have no problem at all with civil unions.”

The last thing he wanted to do was go to the Gay Christian Network event to judge people. He doesn’t believe Jesus would have done so.

“The gay community has gotten so much hatred and vitriol from the evangelical community. And I’m not going to add to that.”

full report at Vancouver Sun

Politically, the increasing support among some Republican politicians was neatly illustrated last week when a proposal to recognize same sex civil unions in a form close to traditional marriage narrowly failed in committee. The failure, in a legislature dominated by the GOP, was unremarkable. What was interesting, was that the defeat was a narrow one, after two Republicans on the committee voted in favour, and another who is not a committee member spoke in support. Clearly, although the proposal did not progress to the full House, it could have done – and will do so in future.

This increasing willingness of Republican legislators to come down on the side of equality could be the deciding factor in advancing marriage equality elsewhere. In New York for instance, there will most likely be another attempt to introduce a marriage bill to the State Senate later this year.  In spite of the GOP takeover last November,  there is widespread speculation that the chances of it passing are much stronger than they were in the debacle in 2009. A couple of the most prominent opponents of marriage in that battle, from both major parties, lost their re-election bids, and others faced unexpected opposition. civil unions elsewhere).  New York politicians now know that opposition to equality is no longer an electoral asset, and may be a liability. In some districts, it is support for equality that will now win votes.

Much the same is possible in Maryland, where full marriage is likely to be approved, and perhaps in Colorado, where state legislators are introducing a bill for civil unions.

These two trends, in the religious and political worlds, are not independent of each other. They are both the result of mounting public pressure, especially from the young, to rethink historic automatic assumptions – and the resultant recognition by many that these assumptions were wrong, and the conclusions drawn from them flawed.  They also reinforce each other.  When even Evangelical Christians disagree on the morality of homoerotic relationships, the supposedly religious arguments in favour of discrimination lose all credibility in the political sphere.

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