By Drew Griffin For many decades Christians in America have enjoyed a privilege rarely experienced by their brothers and sisters around the world. American believers have been afforded the privilege of being in the cultural majority. They were the silent majority in the late 1960’s and the moral majority in the 1980’s; but regardless of their political manifestation, they enjoyed a majority position in the culture. As the years passed, though, a myriad of issues began to expose a growing fissure between American Christians and the culture they at one-time controlled. First among these issues has been the topic of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. This single issue; which at its heart encompasses a number of issues such as sexual ethics, gender politics, familial relations, and theological interpretation; this one issue has successfully created a division with the cultural majority on one side and Christianity (especially Evangelical Christianity) on the other. This divide is confirmed both statistically and anecdotally.
Recently Gallup released its latest poll concerning the view of the American public regarding same-sex marriage. Since 1996, Gallup has asked the following question to respondents: “Do you think marriage between same-sex couples should or should not be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriage?” The shift in support has been overwhelming. In 1996, 68% of Americans believed that same-sex marriage should not be recognized. According to the latest poll released by Gallup that number has shrunk to 45%, representing a loss of 23 percentage points. Meanwhile, as one might expect, the number of Americans that support same-sex marriage has increased from 27% in 1996 to 53% in 2013.
Four times in the last four years a majority of Americans has indicated that they believe that same-sex marriage should be valid. For evangelicals who uphold the traditional view of marriage and advocate against “marriage equality” these numbers are disheartening. For while numbers can lie, and statistics can be read and spun in a myriad of ways, but these statistics have power. Christians use and have used the persuasive power of numbers for years. And I would venture to guess that for many Christians there is no small measure of comfort or confidence in knowing that the statistics affirm your position. Then the crisis arrives and your confidence is shaken when you no longer have the statistical majority.
There is mounting anecdotal evidence to confirm Gallup’s statistics. The proliferation of gay characters and gay marriage on T.V. and in the media bear witness to a consumer culture that is comfortable with the concept of same-sex marriage. Politically, same-sex marriage continues to gain approval with Minnesota becoming the 12th state to legalize same-sex marriage. The proliferation of new values and this new normal is reaching into the heart of churches and institutions of evangelical education. In March 2013, Sarah Pulliam-Bailey reporting for the CNN Belief Blog, shed light on a growing number of LGBTQ student groups forming at prestigious evangelical colleges and universities advocating for gay rights. Her article, “At Evangelical Colleges, a shifting attitude toward gay students” profiled several colleges struggles to come to grips with this issue. Wheaton College in Illinois, Biola University in California, Eastern university in Pennsylvania, and George Fox University in Oregon to name just a few, have all experienced the effects of this grassroots sexual revolution.
Pulliam-Bailey reports that,
“Evangelical colleges likely face generational differences in attitudes toward sexuality as younger evangelicals develop friendships with people who are gay, says David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, a Christian market research firm.
“There has been a shift from rightness to fairness,” Kinnaman said. “There’s a real sense in which their institutional loyalty and their loyalty to theoretical morals and ethical choices are trumped by their peer relationships.”
About 40% of evangelicals between the ages of 18 and 29 are likely to say homosexuality should be accepted by society…”
This growing trend is forcing these covenantal institutions and others to ask serious questions about their commitment to covenants over and against the changing culture.
The culture has shifted so far to the left on this particular issue that Christians who hold positions contrary to popular opinion are beginning to hold their tongue for fear of retribution. John Blake, writing for CNN’s Belief Blog describes “When Christians become a ‘hated minority.’” He cites Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council concerning the recent uproar surrounding the comments of ESPN commentator Chris Broussard.
“Sprigg and other evangelicals say changing attitudes toward homosexuality have created a new victim: closeted Christians who believe the Bible condemns homosexuality but will not say so publicly for fear of being labeled a hateful bigot.”
The Broussard episode and others are just growing signs of the increased marginalization of the Christian viewpoint concerning this particular issue. While we should expect this marginalization to increase and continue; how can we as Christians make sense of our new place in the minority of culture?
In part two we will examine three roads we as Christians can take to address our new reality.
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