Learning from how many evangelical Christians support same-sex marriage while opposing homosexuality
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”.
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.
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.
An even larger dimension gets highlighted when looking at this situation. Those who are part of the “Messy Middle” are not harboring viewpoints that are I opposition to each other in their minds. The views held in the middle are not really different views about the same place, but rather are different views for different places. The “Ambivalent Evangelicals” are not ambivalent at all. What they are doing is holding one view for how individuals should act and a different view for how individuals should be treated.
Thinking about this in other contexts, can help us realize that it is okay to have one view in our interpersonal actions but yet to support the rights of those who do not act in the way we approve of in the general society context. In this way, the possibilities for relationship are preserved. People are being loved as people and not only being valued based on whether or not they engage in the “right” acts.
Parents do not withdraw their love from their children just because the child has done something that is disapproved of. Parents are able to draw a distinction between opposing an action and continuing to allow the child to get the love that they need. This is not that different from what the ”Ambivalent Evangelicals” are doing, and we can learn from our surprise at the publication of this report. When we do this, we will understand that our views and beliefs are not as conflicted as we think. As we examine this and determine where we feel called to be, based on our own spirituality, we will find ourselves in a place of greater wholeness and peace.
Note: Language used was kept as close to the language of the report and the report language's scope among the LGBTQ community was not clear and probably relied on the interpretation of those surveyed by the study leaders.