Changing Relationships: What happens when religious values clash?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series changing relationships
United Church of Christ banner in a pride parade

Some religious groups welcome LGBT men and women. This United Church of Christ banner was part of a gay-pride parade in 2013. Photo provided for public use by NathanMac via Wikimedia Commons.

The right to make and break relationships is a defining feature of modern society.

Through most of human history, a person was born into a fixed matrix of relationships. Today, many people enjoy unprecedented freedom of action and choice when it comes to their relationships with one another and to institutions like religion, family, and community. But we don’t have complete liberty—values shape and influence the choices we make.

When values change, what happens to relationships?

One area of change involves religion and relationships with those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered (LGBT). Public opinion has shifted in favor of same-sex marriage, but it is still a divisive issue—a majority of Americans support gay marriage, but a near-majority do not. For many churches, it’s an even more divisive issue.

Most LGBT adults feel that religious groups are generally unfriendly toward them, according to a Pew survey of the LGBT community. For example, at least eight of ten LGBT adults say that the Muslim religion, the Mormon Church, and Catholic Church are unfriendly toward them. Three-quarters view Evangelical churches as unfriendly.

It is noteworthy, then, when a prominent evangelical ethicist changes his mind about the church’s relationship to the LGBT community. The ethicist is David P. Gushee, who is Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University. Throughout most of his professional life, he took the traditional line on the church’s relationship to LGBT people. Now, in his latest book, he argues for “full acceptance of LGBT Christians in the Church.”

Gushee’s book about changing his mind is changing many of his relationships. The new book’s official publication date is this week, but news about its message already is bringing him new allies, including friend requests on social media, and new opponents, some of them former friends. (You can read a new interview with Gushee in ReadTheSpirit this week.)

Given David Gushee’s pedigree and credentials, however, he cannot be easily dismissed.

To what extent will religious institutions change their relationships to the LGBT community?

In the religious institutions you know, what happens when values clash?

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