Everyone has their own prejudices and preconceived ideas of what certain groups of people are about. At times we are more aware of these ideas; at times we try to hide them; however, when we are completely honest, we have to acknowledge how these affect our perceptions. Only in doing so, do we have the possibility of truly understanding ourselves and then be able to affect how we interact with others.
Recently researchers from Baylor University, a Christian institution with commitment to faith, reported the results of a study conducted that 35% of evangelicals were part “Ambivalent Evangelicals” on the issue of homosexuality. This group that has also been described as “The Messy Middle” oppose homosexuality from a moral perspective but support equal rights for individuals of homosexual orientation and practice. These results surprised were surprising as they go against the preconceived ideas we have about “the Religious Right”.
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In fact, it is even more surprising to learn that the socio-economic and theological background of “The Messy Middle” is essential the same as those identified as “gay rights opponents” and are distinct from those of the “cultural progressives” (who on homosexuality was 24 percent of the sample). This is not the case when it comes to abortion, where the majority of evangelicals still oppose abortion and still oppose any legal rights for others to get an abortion.
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Looking at these numbers, it is interesting to see that the majority of evangelicals in this study continue to practice a religion consistent with their evangelical Christian faith, yet they now support the legal rights of homosexuals within society, especially through civil unions. There are still clear portions of the evangelical church that are adamantly opposed to homosexuality, but this survey and other recent events (the closing of Exodus International and responses to statements within particular evangelical groups) indicate support for the rights of homosexuals within society. This support (even without the necessary changing of the moral conclusions on homosexuality) has developed since the 1990s. There has been a struggle expressed around this issue in how to “hate the sin but love the sinner” that has had a very different characteristic to it than another key issue with evangelicals, abortion.
To state it bluntly, there is a big difference between abortion and homosexuality. The difference does not come from the theological conviction behind views on them nor on the authority of these sources. Rather, the difference arises in their very essence. When an abortion occurs, it is a single act (or series of connected acts within a relatively close time frame). This judging of an instant is easier to do within a theological framework that can provide grace and forgiveness for something that can be placed in the past. However, when faced with a homosexual, particularly if the homosexual is sexually active, this container on the act or event does not exist. To engage positively with that person, a different level of tolerance is needed.