Evangelicals Becoming More Accepting of LGBTs, Study Finds
Evangelical Christians are becoming more tolerant of gays and lesbians and supportive of civil unions, according to a new study by Baylor University.
The study, conducted by researchers at the Christian college in Waco, Texas, surveyed more than 1,700 respondents across the country and found that almost a fourth of evangelicals surveyed were not opposed to civil unions, even though they morally opposed homosexuality.
The findings come a few months after evangelical "ex-gay" ministry Exodus International apologized to the LGBT community and closed its doors for good.
Evangelical churches might seem like an unlikely -- if not the least likely -- battlefront in the fight for LGBT equality, but a silent shift in attitudes is gaining momentum, according to one evangelical activist.
"There’s a stirring underneath the surface in the evangelical churches. People in the pews are asking questions because kids in the churches are coming out now, and pastors’ kids are coming out," said Kathy Baldock, an evangelical Christian from Nevada who has gone from condemning homosexuality to becoming an outspoken ally and advocate for the LGBT community. Today she travels the country speaking at churches on behalf of her nonprofit CanyonWalker Connections.
"It’s a switch -- gay kids didn’t use to stay in church," Baldock told EDGE. "But these kids have positive role models and places they can go online before they even start talking to anyone about it. They start challenging their faith right where they’re sitting."
Baldock herself still worships in a non-LGBT affirming evangelical church, and visits many across the country.
"I’m in the trenches and I see what others don’t get to see. I get letters and emails from pastors and parents asking me questions behind the scenes. They know their kids are Christians, and they know what they’re being told is not the truth," she said. "I think in 10 years, the bulk of evangelical churches will have shifted to affirming and do gay marriages. That’s a big statement, but I’m surprised by how fast it’s gone already."
Evangelicals aren’t the only Christians changing their attitudes about homosexuality.
Last year, the Mormon Church launched MormonsAndGays.com, a website reaching out to gays and lesbians in the church. Only four years earlier, the church was a player in securing California’s now-overturned gay marriage ban.
"A lot of us were astonished that the Church would use that URL because the use of the terms ’gay’ and ’lesbian’ were sort of frowned upon. The Church favored terms like ’same-sex attraction’ and now for the first time, it’s using the terms ’gay’ and ’lesbian,’" said John Gustav-Wrathall, senior vice president of Affirmation, a national organization supporting LGBT Mormons.
He says the Proposition 8 effort actually backfired on the Church and now more Mormons are accepting of gays and lesbians than ever.
"I see it basically as a huge blessing in disguise because at the time a lot of people were deeply discouraged by what the Church had done, especially when they themselves knew gay and lesbian people in relationships -- they really wrestled with that," Gustav-Wrathall told EDGE.
Although he was excommunicated from the Church in 1986, Gustav-Wrathall is active in his south Minneapolis ward.
In spite of the Prop 8 effort, the Mormon Church has made several high profile statements on homosexuality in the past decade. Gays and lesbians are welcome in the church, but they are taught to practice celibacy (the only place for sex, the Church teaches, is in heterosexual marriage).
Since Mormon theology is more receptive to change, meaning church leaders can receive new revelations and teachings, Gustav-Wrathall thinks it gives Mormons an advantage in evolving its views.
"In terms of polling data, we’re seeing a very dramatic shift in attitudes across the board. If you came of age after the year 2000, you are overwhelmingly supportive of marriage equality," he said. "In next 20 years, those are the people who will be running the Church."
Last month, Pope Francis made headlines when he made remarks suggesting he would not judge gay priests. It was a radical departure from his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI’s condemnation of homosexuality.
"I’m thrilled that the pope is more concerned with what I think is the heart of the Church versus the rules, regulations and hierarchy," said Marilyn Pires, who’s been active in LGBT ministry at St. Matthew’s Parish in Long Beach, California, and the broader Archdiocese of Los Angeles since the early ’90s. "I think if that spreads, it will help the Church, and it will help people who share that feeling to worry less about the rules and regulations and get to the core of the Church’s teachings."
According to a June Pew Research poll, the majority of American Catholics support same-sex marriage.
Pires said like many issues -- contraception, premarital sex, divorce -- most Catholics are personally accepting of gays and lesbians.
"I think that most Catholics think that people should go by their own conscience. There are many rules and regulations that the Church asks people to live by that they either can’t or don’t, but they still believe in the core values of the Church," Pires told EDGE. "For some reason being gay has more of a stigma than being engaged and having sex, or being divorced and re-married."
The Episcopal Church not only ordains gays and lesbians, but it recently voted to ordain transgender people.
The problem with the Episcopal Church is we succeeded so much that many times we become complacent," said Tom Crowe, head of the LGBTQ & Friends ministry at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Long Beach. "But we’re not here for ourselves, we’re here to ask forgiveness of the LGBT community."
His ministry group has participated in gay pride since the 1990s.
"It’s important I think that churches and the Episcopal Church in particular needs to say we’re sorry for the pain we’ve caused the gay and lesbian community over the centuries. The churches need to ask for forgiveness."