It’s one thing when liberals support LGBT rights. It’s quite another when a prominent pastor of an evangelical church calls for inclusion of gay and lesbian people in evangelical churches—and, even more, publishes a book about it. The pastor is Ken Wilson, his church is Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and his just-released book is A Letter to my Congregation.
My question this week in OurValues is: Is this book an historic moment in the trend toward more tolerance and respect?
Ken’s book describes the soul-searching journey he took and that changed his mind and heart on the matter. Christian author Phyllis Tickle calls it “one of the most exquisite, painful, candid, brilliant pieces…that I have ever seen.” Ken says that he used to “regularly tell potential new members that anyone in an active homosexual relationship should end this relationship (with pastoral help) before joining.” However, over time and through an arduous intellectual, emotional, and spiritual process, he “came to the conviction that the practice of exclusion, including categorical disqualification from ministry for gay, lesbian or transgendered people was too harmful to continue. It didn’t pass the love test.” The issue is still a “disputable matter,” but not one that should divide the church.
Ken makes his argument as polls document historic shifts in public opinion about the acceptance of gay and lesbian people in society. But his argument also arrives amidst considerable conflict, such as the conflict between same-sex marriage and religious beliefs. Today, a slim majority (51%) of Americans say that same-sex marriage goes against their religious beliefs, according to a just-released report by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). That’s an 11-point drop in opposition since 2003.
But we see big differences when we look at religious affiliation and beliefs about same-sex marriage. Ken is the pastor of an evangelical church, so let’s look there first. Over three-quarters (78%) of white evangelical Protestants today say that gay marriage goes against their religious beliefs, according to PRRI. Ken’s church is multi-racial, so let’s look at PRRI’s results for black Protestants (noting, of course, that not all are evangelical). Here, 61% say there’s a conflict. In fact, all religious groups except white mainline Protestants say that same-sex marriage conflicts with their religious beliefs.
Where do you stand on these issues?
Should all churches embrace gay and lesbian people?