Last March the Christian gay rights group Soulforce has sponsored the Equality Rides to challenge LGBT discrimination in many of the Christian colleges across the nation. This is part of a growing group of Evangelical Christians who are challenging the homophobia within the Evangelical church and are fighting for the fair treatment of LGBT people in the Evangelical church. A younger generation of Evangelicals are challenging longstanding assumptions among older evangelicals on social justice issues, gay rights issues, environmental issues and immigration issues.
An article in the May 5, 2012 edition of the Economist entitled “Lift Every Voice, the growth of non-white evangelicals and the changing attitudes of a younger generation of Evangelicals are leading to growing challenge to the conservative Republican politics of the majority of Evangelicals today. The article states:
To Latino evangelicals, says Mr Salguero, caring for the poor and “the stranger among us” are moral and religious issues, and collectively they trump similar issues, such as abortion and gay marriage, on which they might find common ground with white evangelicals. “We’re a pro-life community,” Mr Salguero says, “but when we talk about being pro-life, we’re also talking about quality of life, which includes quality of health care, standing against the death penalty, against torture and against pre-emptive war.”
In a similar vein, Mrs Sullivan says that the evangelical right’s focus on abortion and gay marriage “overshadows broader social justice issues”. She insists that among evangelicals of her generation such views are not unusual, and the data back her up. In a 2008 poll, a plurality (44%) of young evangelicals characterised their “political views on social issues (health care, poverty)” as “liberal”. Younger evangelicals are more likely than older ones to favour environmental protection and same-sex marriage. And although they remain overwhelmingly pro-life, nearly one-third of them voted for Mr Obama, suggesting greater willingness to vote for a candidate who believes that abortion must remain a matter of choice.
Then there are the more numinous trends. In 1968 Martin Luther King called Sunday morning “the most segregated hour of Christian America”; today there are a growing number of multicultural evangelical churches, largely driven by young Christians. Soong Chan-Rah, a Korean-American pastor and professor of evangelism at Chicago’s North Park seminary, says the rise in multicultural evangelical churches coincides with a decline in the numbers of traditional white evangelicals, and that the newer kind practise a form of evangelical Christianity distinct from the “white, middle-class and Southern” version. These churches, he says, “don’t have that sense of triumphalism, that sense that America has to be a great Christian nation.”
This change can be seen in the growing number of Evangelical Christians who are supporting gay rights. Several Evangelical groups, like Soulforce, Faith In America and the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists are dedicated to fighting religious based bigotry. On February 25, The Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists (AWAB), The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America and The Alliance of Baptists began its “Many Voices, One Love” campaign by hosting three LGBT marriage equality conferences throughout the country. Last year the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) began a serious conversation on homosexuality within the Baptist church. Faith In America has recently called upon Bryant Wright, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, to apologize for incendiary speech that compared affirmation of gay and lesbian people to Nazi propaganda during World War II.
Along with Christian groups, individual Evangelical Christians are showing their support of gay rights.
Kathy Potts, an Evangelical Christian conservative who recently served as the Republican committee chair for the Rick Perry for President campaign, wrote an editorial supporting marriage equality in the Cedar Rapids Gazette. She wrote:
I support marriage for gay and lesbian couples and have been vocal about my support, even when it hasn’t always been the popular thing to do in my party.
I heard a lot of rhetoric about gay and lesbian Americans that didn’t fit with what I know to be true and what many Republicans believe. As an evangelical Christian Republican, I know many people who hold conservative values like equality and freedom, but those voices were lost this year. However, I believe in my heart that things are changing. If it weren’t for the loud voices of a few in our party, I do believe more Republicans would stand up in support of marriage equality.
I didn’t always feel that way and my journey toward full support has been a long and intensive one. One of the things that changed my mind on this issue was my children. I used to watch my kids and wonder why equality is a non-issue with them. They love and support their friends, regardless of their sexual orientation, race, gender or religion.
Then I realized that I was tired of watching adults judge each other while my children could embrace the differences in their friends. After all, that is what being a Christian is all about.
Evangelical Christian Kathy Baldock wrote a blog about her own journey to supporting gay rights:
I know that as recently as 2004, when asked, I did not believe I would see any gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people in heaven.
Relationship, along with my own questioning and doubts on other personal issues caused me to wonder if what I had been told about the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (glbt) communities was accurate. I was in an open space that doubt often causes and it was here that I was more receptive to the calling by God to be sensitive to the heart and voices of His glbt children.
After six years of ministering in this very messy spot in and out of the churches, I am now an advocate to the glbt for equality and inclusion in Christian churches. I write, speak, educate, listen and dialogue. Oh,there is lots of dialogue! I am open to engaging church leaders and staff in conversation about the treatment and inclusion of glbt people into the Kingdom and Family of God with equality.
So, why is this ministry called “CanyonWalker Connections”? I hike a lot in some canyons near my home in the Northern Sierra. I’ve done this daily for a few decades. It is on these canyon dirt and snowy trails that I talk to and listen to God and the Holy Spirit. Trails have become my sacred place. In the spiritual realm, I also seems to walk, but, in the not-so-lovely space between two groups: the church and the glbt Christian communities. I bring the message of a non-discriminating, Biblical Jesus, the Grace Giver Supreme in that place of dialogue and tension that many of us have ignored or feel uncomfortable in.
Evangelical Christian Brent Childers explains his support of gay rights in the October 7, 2009 edition of Newsweek
So what it is that would bring someone from a place where he once declared himself a “Jesse Helms Republican,” a man who condemned homosexuality as a threat to children and society, told his own son that being gay is a ticket to hell, to travel from Hickory, N.C., to the West Lawn of the Capitol building on Oct. 11, 2009? How can one travel from the seemingly impossible road of bigotry to one of acceptance and love for our LGBT brothers and sisters? The answer is one that I hope religious leaders such as Pat Robertson and James Dobson (and most importantly, their followers) will hear.
It’s because something deep inside told me that I needed to step out in faith onto a bridge of knowledge and understanding. I didn’t know where this bridge would take me but something was telling me it was a path I needed to walk. My own mother challenged me in 2003 to look at my beliefs and the true intent behind the teachings I held in blind faith. “Do you think your views are Christ-like?” she asked me. Her question was dead on: once I walked away from the Church’s teachings of rejection and condemnation, my relationship with God transcended to a higher spiritual plateau. I realized an unparalleled sense of spiritual clarity when I opened my heart and mind to a genuine expression of love, compassion, and acceptance of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
This new voice—Christ’s voice—became the core principles of my faith: love, compassion, and respect. That voice I now realize was desperately wanting to be heard, a voice no longer comfortable with the place in which I had chose to confine it for so long—a place of bigotry, prejudice, fear, and misunderstanding.
The walk across that bridge wasn’t very strenuous but it was at times painful. The pain came as I began to realize for the first time that I had been using my faith to bring harm to others. That’s not a pleasant realization for anyone who marches under a Christian banner of love, respect, and compassion.
David P. Gushee, professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University, wrote an article for the June 2, 2009 issue of Christian Century in which he wrote:
Christ’s command that we love our neighbors, especially the most despised and rejected, means that we must respond immediately to the crisis outlined in this book. Such love requires not only that we be vigilant about the impact of individual and congregational words and actions, but also that we consider seriously the broader ramifications of Christian activism that seeks to oppose all social advances for gay and lesbian people. Many Christians act as if opposing gays and lesbians is fundamental to the church’s mission, which leads many gay and lesbian people to perceive Christianity as their mortal enemy. Is this how we want to be perceived?
…We who are Christians must love our homosexual neighbors. We must treat them as we would want to be treated. We must remember that as we do to them, we do to Jesus (Matt. 25:31ff.). We must oppose their harassment and bullying in schools, churches and clubs—everywhere. We must rebuke any Christian who speaks or acts hatefully toward gays and lesbians. We must teach Christian parents of gay children to communicate unconditional love and under no circumstances evict them from either their hearts or their homes, no matter what they believe about the moral significance of homosexual inclinations. We must seek opportunities in the church to build relationships with those who so often have encountered Christian hatred.
Jared Byas wrote a blog entitled “Evangelicals for Gay Marriage” where he wrote:
But instead, evangelicals seem to be very good at making sure people who are not Christians know that they are “breaking the rules” of Christianity. And as such, we have gained the reputation for being judgmental, a moniker well-deserved for the most part. It is God’s place to judge the world, it is our place to love it. And just like the story we find in Adam & Eve, when we put ourselves in God’s place, we make a mess of things.
Secondly, then, what is the best way to love the world? And remember, love is not an emotion, but, as DC Talk profoundly says, “love is a verb.” One way I know is to show people the love of Jesus by supporting them in their fight for equality, to stand with them. It doesn’t matter if I agree with their lifestyle or not (it’s not my place to judge, remember). My main goal as an evangelical Christian is to reflect the resurrected Christ and his Kingdom. And I believe Jesus is on the side of those without power and his kingdom is one of equality, where no one is a second-class citizen, whether that be conservative Christian, drug addict, homosexual, atheist, or politician. We all bear God’s image in this story.
Thirdly, I don’t want to be on the wrong side of history again. I am not sure Christians realize that they were, for the most part, on the wrong side of the slave issue. The Bible was used weekly during the Civil War to support slavery as morally acceptable. Not only that, but by taking care of the “less than human blacks,” the white slave owners were being quite compassionate, taking care of a race that couldn’t survive in the civilized world on their own. It was so “obvious” that the Bible supported slavery. . .
And, lest we forget, it was a Christian culture that kept women from being able to vote until only 100 years ago. I am ashamed that a “Christian” culture didn’t support or even acknowledge the equality of women until . . . well, in some Christian circles, they still don’t.
So, the way I see the text of the prophets, the life of Jesus, and the trajectory of the New Testament, I would much rather be held accountable to God for fighting for the equality and dignity of all humans (sorry God, I assumed I should fight for the rights of those who didn’t have them) than to be held accountable to God for excluding rights from people for the sake of religious rules (sorry God, I thought I was supposed to tell the world how sinful they are and that my government should privilege Christian culture at the expense of other people).
A youtube video of Reverand John Reitan and his wife Dorothy Reitan supporting a Washington law recognizing civil marriage of people of the same sex
A youtube video of Evangelical Kathy Baldock talking about her journey to supporting gay rights
A youtube video of Dr. David Gushsee talking about seeking common ground on matters ranging from abortion to gay and lesbian issues to religion in the public square
A youtube video of a March 25th meeting of EQUAL (Empowering Queer Activists and Leaders) welcoming the 2012 Soulforce Equality Ride to Kansas City
A youtube video of The Evangelical Network, a network of gay affirming Evangelical Churches, Ministries and Christian Workers, speaking out about gay marriage and the churches response
A youtube video of a Chuck Colson, Greg Boyd, and Shane Claiborne discussion of evangelical attitudes towards homosexuality
A youtube video of a spoken word at the Life Rally in Love Park, Philadelphia