Evangelical Christian Leaders Are Taking Baby Steps Toward LGBT Acceptance June 9, 2015

Evangelical Christian Leaders Are Taking Baby Steps Toward LGBT Acceptance

We know the culture is shifting on LGBT equality.

We also know Christians — certainly evangelicals — are being left in the dust as more people appreciate equality and want nothing to do with the sort of bigoted rhetoric you often hear from those pastors.

Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times has a fascinating look at how Christians are dealing with the rapid transformation of society, playing catch-up on the easiest moral issue of our time:

As acceptance of same-sex marriage has swept the country and as the Supreme Court prepares to release a landmark decision on the issue, a wide variety of evangelical churches, colleges and ministries are having the kinds of frank discussions about homosexuality that many of them say they had never had before.

Youth ministers and chaplains are studying how to respond to students struggling with their sexual identities. Governing boards are re-examining their policies on allowing openly gay people in Bible studies. And pastors are preaching and writing about, rather than ignoring, the recent books arguing that the Bible can be read to support same-sex marriage.

That’s not to say they’re suddenly accepting LGBT people. Of course not. They’re gonna stand firm in their intolerance until there aren’t enough people left in their churches to pay the bills and their salaries.

But they can’t pretend like this change isn’t happening. They’re not just being pressured from those of us outside the church; even younger Christians wish their churches would get with the program already:

[Openly gay Christian activist Matthew Vines] also visited the campus of Focus on the Family in February, at the invitation of Mr. Stanton, and talked with more than 20 staff members about the psychic and spiritual damage inflicted on young gay Christians by ministries like Focus. The organization kept the encounter quiet until now because it did not want to be perceived as wavering in its stance.

Coincidentally, the article was published online the same day that evangelical Pastor Tony Campolo posted his own statement calling on Christians to be more welcoming to LGBT people:

It has taken countless hours of prayer, study, conversation and emotional turmoil to bring me to the place where I am finally ready to call for the full acceptance of Christian gay couples into the Church.

One reason I am changing my position on this issue is that, through [my wife] Peggy, I have come to know so many gay Christian couples whose relationships work in much the same way as our own. Our friendships with these couples have helped me understand how important it is for the exclusion and disapproval of their unions by the Christian community to end. We in the Church should actively support such families. Furthermore, we should be doing all we can to reach, comfort and include all those precious children of God who have been wrongly led to believe that they are mistakes or just not good enough for God, simply because they are not straight.

I am old enough to remember when we in the Church made strong biblical cases for keeping women out of teaching roles in the Church, and when divorced and remarried people often were excluded from fellowship altogether on the basis of scripture. Not long before that, some Christians even made biblical cases supporting slavery. Many of those people were sincere believers, but most of us now agree that they were wrong. I am afraid we are making the same kind of mistake again, which is why I am speaking out.

I love that he’s saying that. There’s no doubt that Campolo is firmly in the evangelical camp and has the respect and ears of many Christians in the country.

I also think he’s about a decade too late.

Where was he when these battles were still being fought instead of being a foregone conclusion?

Where was he when younger Christians were pleading the very same thing, before they just left the church altogether, frustrated by the church’s intransigence on the matter?

Where was he when countless gays and lesbians killed themselves in part because they felt like they were upsetting God, their families, and their communities?

I think my Patheos colleague (and evangelical Christian) Brandan Robertson has a good point:

It is not enough that Christian leaders simply step forward and announce their support for gay and lesbian Christians. It’s also important that they acknowledge the harm that has been caused by their use of an un-affirming theology and that they publicly repent for their sin of exclusion. This is a key move that many Christians leaders who have changed their mind have not considered, but is perhaps even more important than announcing their support for inclusion and equality. In order for LGBTQ to find the healing that we need, the acknowledgement of the oppression and harm we have faced at the hands of Christian pastors, teachers, and theologians is essential.

Like him, I’m glad Campolo is saying this, but he doesn’t deserve applause for it. That ship sailed a long time ago.

Pastors such as him are like the last dominoes to topple in a long chain: You’re happy they’re falling but the credit really goes to all the ones who did it earlier.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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