One of the primary reasons young evangelicals appear to be walking away from their churches — if not the faith altogether — is because they accept LGBTQ rights while their church leaders don’t.
Yonat Shimron of Religion News Services highlights a couple of surveys that point to that conclusion:
A study last month by the Public Religion Research Institute found the number of Americans who identify as white evangelicals has declined dramatically, from 23% in 2006 to 14.5% in 2020. Those leaving in the greatest numbers are younger evangelicals whose attitudes toward sexual minorities are starkly at odds with their elders. Take same-sex marriage: While only one-third (34%) of white evangelicals age 50 and over favor same-sex marriage, 51% of younger white evangelicals ages 18-49 now favor it — a majority, another PRRI study found.
Anecdotally, there’s plenty of evidence backing up the idea that opposition to same-sex marriage, civil rights for LGBTQ people, and even trans rights are dealbreakers for many younger evangelicals. Shimron speaks with a number of Christians who left their churches over the pastor’s bigotry.
Conservative Christians as a whole have stubbornly made their opposition to civil rights an inflexible matter. It’s the easiest moral question of our time and they’re failing miserably. For an institution that links faith with morality, being so obviously cruel and heartless is a tough selling point for teens who grew up around gay friends, lesbian parents, trans colleagues, etc.
That’s all very good news. But it also raises a question of what the hell kept all these people in their churches until now. It’s not like this bigotry is new. Many churches opposed same-sex marriage long before they made up lies about trans people in bathrooms, and they opposed gay people long before the opposed same-sex relationships. So why the tipping point now? And why that issue alone? White evangelical churches are awful on so many things — women’s rights, science, climate, purity culture, sex abuse, social justice, racial justice, financial transparency, etc. So why is this issue the breaking point?
It feels a lot like former Republicans saying they’re leaving the party today because of the GOP’s opposition to mask mandates. I’m glad you’re leaving… but seriously, this is the thing that put you over the edge? What about EVERYTHING ELSE THEY’VE BEEN DOING FOR DECADES?
I’m thrilled that young people are leaving the church over LGBTQ rights. I don’t want to discredit how tough it is to walk away, and I recognize that people can put up with a lot of bullshit before they’re finally willing to leave, and I don’t want to complain about a result that’s overwhelmingly positive.
But also, I want those young people who have left their churches to explain why none of those other problems were ever breaking points for them. They refuse to be part of an organization that demonizes gay people — great! — but that implies that they would be willing to stay in LGBTQ-inclusive churches that still oppose sex education and fight to control women’s bodies and spread lies about evolution.
If the same kinds of biblical arguments used to challenge LGBTQ rights are used to challenge other social issues, have these young evangelicals changed on those issues as well? Or is their desire to leave just based on a single bad stance by church leaders?
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