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:

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Queer Inclusion in Church: Evangelicals Ask, “What Would Jesus Do?”

Church debate on full inclusion for lesbian, gay and trans Christians has become commonplace in the US mainline Protestant denominations, and in some European churches. A few denominations already ordain openly gay or lesbian pastors in commited, monogamous relationships, or are engaged in regular debates on moving towards that goal. Others already provide for either full church weddings for same-sex couples (where local laws allow it), or accept church blessings.  Among these denominations, it is becoming ever clearer that full inclusion, for both marriage and ordination regulations, will soon become widely accepted, if not (yet) universal.

It is less well-known, but is slowly becoming evident, that a similar process has also begun in other more surprising denominations.

Toby Huckaby’s address on gay inclusion to a Catholic college is just one sign of the increasing debate in the Catholic Church, as is the number of bishops who have followed Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna in quietly asking for a rethink, or at least a more compassionate approach – and are not being repudiated.  A recent panel discussion in Utah is another indicator that churchmen and women are questioning the old assumption across a wide front. A report on this broadly based rethink at CNN has drawn my attention to yet more evidence that this new open-mindedness is also having an impact elsewhere, in some evangelical circles:

In Denver, an evangelical Christian pastor has split with his former church and started his own evangelical church that fully welcomes gays as worshipers and leaders.

The Rev. Mark Tidd says he does not see a discrepancy between the Bible and accepting members of the homosexual community.

“There’s times when we change how we approach scripture because we observe how God is making God’s self known in creation,” he said.  “We don’t consider it a sin to be gay and we don’t consider it a sin if you are gay and seek a relationship which is the only natural one you can have which would be someone of the same gender.”

Video: Colorado candidates debate same-sex marriage issue

Lisa Crane and her husband Ryan left their more traditional evangelical church for Tidd’s church, and have no plans to go back.

“Do we ever worry like, ‘Oh God am I wrong about this?’ and ‘Am I going to get to heaven and God is going to be like – No, you weren’t supposed to let the gays serve communion!'” Lisa said.

“You know, I don’t think so. That doesn’t jibe with the Jesus that we learned about from the Bible”

-Read the full report

My answer to the “WWJD” question is simple: there is no need to consider what Jesus “would” have done. Just look at what in fact he did do.  His ministry was deeply characterised by His conspicuous outreach to the oppressed and marginalized of all kinds, whom he accepted on fully equal terms with all other disciples. He also quite deliberately agreed to cure the Centurion’s “servant”, and even to enter the Centurion’s home, even though there would have been at the very least a popular assumption that in keeping with common Roman military custom, the Centurion would have had a sexual relationship with this servant.

 

Those Evangelical Allies, Again.

The word “evangelical” is a troublesome one in religious discourse, as it can mean so many different things, and is used indifferent ways.   Polling firms reporting on social policy issues routinely use it as a contrast to Protestants, as in Catholics, Protestants and Evangelicals – by which they really men Mainline Protestants and Other Protestants. Press releases though have never been given to verbal precision, and we have become accustomed to the usage. To complicate matters further, some of the “Mainline” churches, especially the UK Church of England, are described in news reports in terms of their “evangelical” or “liberal wing. In more theological, less politicized terms, there are many in the Mainline churches who would insist that they too are inherently “evangelical”,  in its true sense.

Further complicating the issue is the repeated research finding that it is the “evangelical” wing of Christianity, in the sense of non-mainline Protestant, that is the most implacably opposed to LGBT equality or inclusion in church, which leads to the assumption that one leads necessarily from the other. There is growing evidence though that even in this sense, some evangelical leaders, like many Catholic theologians, are now recognising the fallacies and mistaken assumptions in the Christian opposition of the past few centuries. I have reported on some of these in the past – there are many more.

However, it is the more theological meaning of “evangelical” that Janet Edwards is using when she argues at “Religion Dispatches ” that gay rights  are an “evangelical thing”.

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More Queer Progress in Church

The progress to acceptance in the ECLA and Episcopalian churches is well-known: both were all over the news back in the summer. There is progress across the board though, low-key and incremental rather than large-scale and dramatic – but progress just the same. This is evident even in some evangelical churches, which are usually seen as the harshest foes. We must not allow the fundies’ argument that “Christians” necessarily oppose homoerotic relationships to take hold: it’s just not true. Take a look at these recent news reports:

Evangelical church opens doors fully to gays

DENVER — The auditorium lights turned low, the service begins with the familiar rhythms of church: children singing, hugs and handshakes of greeting, a plea for donations to fix the boiler.

Then the 55-year-old pastor with spiked gray hair and blue jeans launches into his weekly welcome, a poem-like litany that includes the line “queer or straight here, there’s no hate here.”

The Rev. Mark Tidd initially used the word “gay.” But he changed it to “queer” because it’s the preferred term of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people invited to participate fully at Highlands Church.

Tidd is an outlaw pastor of sorts. His community, less than a year old, is an evangelical Christian church guided both by the Apostle’s Creed and the belief that gay people can embrace their sexual orientation as God-given and seek fulfillment in committed same-sex relationships.

(More from Washington Post)

In Michigan, there is an organiZed program by faith-based LGBT Christians to promote inclusion in churches: Read the rest of this entry »