LGBT Trends: Are churches ready to welcome gay and lesbian people?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series LGBT Trends
Photo of the Rev. Ken Wilson by Julia Huttar Baile. Used with permission.

Photo of the Rev. Ken Wilson by Julia Huttar Baile. Used with permission.

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.

An interview with Ken is the Cover Story in ReadTheSpirit magazine this week.

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?

LGBT Trends: Have you seen the great generational divide?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series LGBT Trends
To read the entire PEW report, click on this chart.

To read the entire PEW report, click on this chart.

In stable, traditional societies the values of the young don’t differ from the values of the old. In societies like the United States, there can be vast differences in values between the generations.

How wide are the generation divides with regards to same-sex marriage?

Wide.

Back in 2003, there was a 33-point difference in opinion between the youngest adults (ages 18-33) and the oldest (68+), according to the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). Just under half of the youngest group (45%) supported same-sex marriage, versus only 12% of the oldest group.

All age groups have become more tolerant over time, but the wide generational gap persists. PRRI reports that today 69% of Millennial Americans (ages 18–33) are in favor of same-sex marriage, while 37% of Silent Generation Americans (68+) are as well. The gap now is about the same as the gap was a decade ago.

We see vast generational differences even when we look at Republicans and white evangelical Protestants. For example, half of Millennial Republicans (50%) support same-sex marriage, while only 18% of Silent Generation Republicans feel the same way. Four of ten Millennials who are white evangelical Protestants (43%) favor same-sex marriage, compared to 19% of Silent Generation Americans.

Ken Wilson talks about the generational gap in evangelical congregations. In his newly published book “A Letter to My Congregation” he relates his journey that led to his call for inclusion. At one point, he says: “Exclusionary practices have consequences—many of the young in these congregations find them abhorrent. Abandoning the exclusionary practices has consequences—many of the long-time members find this equally abhorrent.” That, he says, is a disputable matter.

Are your views about same-sex marriage the same as your age peers?

Is the generational divide driving greater tolerance of same-sex marriage?

LGBT Trends: Who still thinks AIDS may be ‘divine punishment’?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series LGBT Trends
2014 PEW report on LGBT related attitudes

TO READ THIS ENTIRE PEW REPORT CLICK ON THIS CHART.

In 1992, over a third of Americans (36%) said that AIDS might be God’s punishment for immoral sexual behavior. Over time, public opinion has become more supportive of gay rights and even legalized same-sex marriage. Has this trend also lessened the opinion that AIDS could be divine punishment for immorality?

The percent of Americans who now agree that AIDS is God’s punishment has dropped considerably, according to the just-released report by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). But a sizable minority—14% of all Americans—still believe that AIDS is divine punishment.

We see big drops in the “divine punishment” theory across the board. In 1992, the majority of white evangelical Protestants (51%) subscribed to this explanation of AIDS; today, the percent is 24%, according to PRRI. Similarly, 50% of black Protestants in 1992 said that AIDS was God’s punishment for immoral sexual behavior, but that figure has fallen to 20% today.

Only 7% of white Catholics today perceive AIDS to be divine punishment, 10% of white mainline Protestants, and 8% of the religiously unaffiliated.

We also see differences by political party affiliation. One of four Tea Partiers (24%) today subscribe to the theory of divine punishment. About two of ten Republicans (19%) agree. Support for the idea that God uses AIDS to punish immoral sexual behavior is the lowest for Democrats (13%) and Independents (14%).

Do you agree or disagree that AIDS is God’s punishment for immoral sexual behavior?

What explains the trend towards fewer and fewer Americans believing that AIDS is divine punishment?

LGBT Trends: Is same-sex marriage a Constitutional right?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series LGBT Trends
Click the graphic to visit the Washington Post website for the entire polling story.

Click the graphic to visit the Washington Post website for the entire polling story.

Majority support for legalizing same-sex marriage has reached a record high, according to a brand new Washington Post-ABC News survey. Almost six of ten Americans (59%) now say they support giving gays and lesbians the right to legal marriage.

How many also say that the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right? What would the framers of the Constitution have to say?

Support for legalizing same-sex marriage has reached a new high, but this support is not equally shared across demographic, religious, and political lines. For example, women (63%) are more likely than men (54%) to support legalized gay marriage. Eight of ten religiously unaffiliated Americans support it, while just three of ten white evangelical Protestants agree. Eighty-two percent of liberals support legalized same-sex marriage; only 39% of conservatives feel the same way.

Obviously, the U.S. Constitution doesn’t say anything explicitly about same-sex marriage. Judicial interpretations of the U.S. Constitution strive to divine the founders’ original intent, or view the document as a “living constitution” that changes according to the times in which it is interpreted.

Whether the Constitution is a living document or it should be strictly construed, most Americans have an opinion about whether or not it supports legalized same-sex marriage. Here’s the exact wording of the poll question. What’s your answer?

“Regardless of your own preference on the issue, do you think that the part of the U.S. Constitution providing Americans with equal protection under the law does or does not give gays and lesbians the legal right to marry?”

Half of Americans (50%) say that equal protection under the law does give the right for same-sex couples to marry, while 41% say it does not. (The rest didn’t have an opinion.) Here, we see the same pattern we saw before—a lack of agreement about this issue across demographic, religious, and political boundaries.

Do you support or oppose same-sex marriage?

Do you think the Constitution does or does not give the right for same-sex marriage>

What would the framers of the Constitution have to say?

LGBT Trends: ‘Could you see yourself performing a gay wedding?’

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series LGBT Trends
Click the book's cover to learn more about it.

Click the book’s cover to learn more about it.

We are witnessing a sea-change in attitudes and policies about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons. Record numbers of Americans now support legalizing same-sex marriage, members of Congress (including prominent Republicans) have come out in support of it, and Pope Francis says that the Catholic Church could support civil unions. But same sex-marriage is still a contentious issue and Americans are divided on it. Few questions are more anxiety-provoking than this one for a religious leader: “Could you see yourself performing a gay wedding?”

We began this week with an introduction to Pastor Ken Wilson’s new book, A Letter to My Congregation. In it, he explains the thoughtful and arduous journey that led him to change his mind about the place of gays and lesbians at his evangelical church. We examined the great generational divide in opinions about same-sex marriage, Americans who believe that AIDS is “divine punishment” for immoral sexual behavior, and how many Americans see same-sex marriage as a Constitutional right.

Today, we end the week with Ken’s answer to the question about performing a gay wedding at his church. If any question is the litmus test for a member of clergy, this one is it.

“I could see myself doing that,” Ken writes. “But ‘Could you see yourself performing a gay wedding?’ calls for an imagined response to a future scenario in the abstract. The fact is, I’ve not been asked to perform such a ceremony yet. What if we sharpened the question…to the more categorical ‘Would you perform a gay wedding?’ ”

Ken goes on to say that he doesn’t believe in “giving a categorical answer to a question like this in the abstract.” This might seem like a cop-out. But, in fact, it’s another example of the rigorous spiritual and thoughtful process Ken has taken. He would use the same policy that he applies to remarriage. He would have to discern, with the couple, whether this particular union should be sanctified or not.

Other religious leaders have been asked the question of “Would you perform a gay wedding?” Brian McLaren is one. Brian is a public theologian, activist, church founder, and writer (he wrote an insightful and gracious preface to my book, United America, which you can read right now on the book’s resource page). In 2012, Brian helped to officiate at his son’s same-sex wedding, leading a “commitment ceremony.” This led to considerable controversy and media coverage. (You can read more about Brian and his work at his popular web site.)

If you a member of a church, temple, or mosque—could you see your religious leader performing a gay wedding?

Would you support or oppose it?