In this case, I don't really take any pleasure in saying, "I told you so," but it is always encouraging to have one's insights validated by others.
As the number of gay men and women coming out of the closet reached critical mass, there is no extended family in the United States that his not been affected. Most have ultimately reacted just as my friend did and come to acceptance and support of their young family member.
Our institutions, including our churches have faced the same decisions. Evangelical and Fundamental Churches faced with a growing number of their own young members coming out have had to face the fact that homosexuality has nothing to do with how one is raised or whether or not one is a Christian. Instead it is a much more complex and convoluted thing. Evangelicals and Fundamentalists are not noted for their reasoning ability or they wouldn't be Evangelicals and Fundamentalists but even with their limited willingness to reason, when faced with a growing issue from within their own ranks, they have reluctantly begun to realize that the issue must be addressed in new ways. That is what the following article is about.
I hope you read it with a new sense of optimism and hope for the future.
NASHVILLE, TENN. The Rev. Robert Jeffress has changed the way he talks about homosexuality from the pulpit.
The pastor of the 11,000-member First Baptist Dallas hasn't stopped preaching that homosexual sex is sinful, but he no longer singles it out for special condemnation. Now, Jeffress says he usually talks about homosexuality within "a bigger context of God's plan for sex between one man and one woman in a lifetime relationship called marriage."
"It would be the height of hypocrisy to condemn homosexuality and not adultery or unbiblica1 divorce," he said, explaining that the Bible-allows divorce only in cases of adultery or desertion. He also includes premarital sex on that list.
A new generation
The pressure to change the way homosexuality is addressed in evangelical churches is increasing as mainstream support for gay and lesbian issues increases. This support is especially strong among young adults, and researchers say they don't expect this group to become mote conservative on the issue as they age.
In a 2011 survey by the nonprofit Public Religion Research Institute, 62 percent of adults between 18 and 29 years old said they supported gay marriage and 71percent supported civil unions. Among adults 65 and older, those numbers were 31 percent in favor of marriage and 51 percent for civil unions.
Asked about the idea that "religious groups are alienating young people by being too judgmental about gay and lesbian issues, 69 percent of the younger group agreed.
Another-recent poll 'by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that nearly 20 percent of adult Americans now describe themselves as unaffiliated with any specific religion, and the problem for evangelical churches is apparent.
"Evangelicals have been sobered by studies that show people are dropping out of church in droves," said Bill Leonard, dean of Wake Forest University Divinity School; That has affected how they relate to marginalized people, including gays and lesbians,
"I'm amazed at the changes, the softening of the rhetoric to be more compassionate," Leonard said. "There's a realization that the idea of 'love the sinner, hate the sin' comes across as pretty cold."
Demographics isn't the only force driving changes in the evangelical response to gays' and lesbians. As it becomes safer for gays and lesbians to come out of the closet, it becomes increasingly more likely that evangelicals know gays and lesbians personally, researchers say.'
Meeting in the middle
"Over the last five to 10 years, evangelicals have been faced with the issue even more poignantly as their sons and daughters come out of the closet," Leonard said. " ... It has become more difficult to dismiss 'those people.'''
Justin Lee, founder of the Gay Christian Network, is one of those Children.
Like most evangelicals, Lee grew up believing the Bible was to be taken at face value but, in wrestling with the realization that he was gay, found a more nuanced way to read Scripture. Now, he works to foster understanding of gays within evangelical institutions.
"I do hear from church leaders and pastors, who say, 'I already know where I stand, but how can I be more loving and gracious to the gay community without compromising my convictions?'" Lee said. "There are a lot of things I say, but chief among them is that the the more you listen to the people and ask about their lives and stories, the more you are able to show grace and love, even if you don’t agree."
Jeffress, who has gay and lesbian members in his church tries to be compassionate. He said he is open to the possibility that sexual orientation has a genetic basis that cannot be cured or prayed away.
"I think we were too quick to dismiss the possibility of a genetic predisposition," Jeffress said.
But that hasn't altered his belief the Bible teaches that acting on homosexual desire is sinful, and he feels it is his responsibility to talk about it with his congregation.
31 ...If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 Certainly not God, who did not even keep back his own Son, but offered him for us all! He gave us his Son — will he not also freely give us all things? 33 Who will accuse God's chosen people? God himself declares them not guilty! 34 Who, then, will condemn them? Not Christ Jesus, who died, or rather, who was raised to life and is at the right-hand side of God, pleading with him for us! 35 Who, then, can separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble do it, or hardship or persecution or hunger or poverty or danger or death? 36 As the scripture says, “For your sake we are in danger of death at all times; we are treated like sheep that are going to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us! 38 For I am certain that nothing can separate us from his love: neither death nor life, neither angels nor other heavenly rulers or powers, neither the present nor the future, 39 neither the world above nor the world below — there is nothing in all creation that will ever be able to separate us from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord.
The Bible is not easy to read and harder still to understand, but there are places where the nature of God is imparted in a straight forward and unambiguous way. The verses from Romans above are one of those places. My contention has always been that if one knows and understand nothing about the Bible other than this one set of verses, he knows enough.
The verses are about the amazing power of God's grace and love for us. A love so strong that nothing can defeat it or change it. Unfortunately, Evangelicals and Fundamentalists spend most of their time attaching conditions to God's grace, a sort of "grace, but……." message. Reread the verses above. There are no conditions and no buts. All Mr. Jeffress and others have to do to treat homosexuals and all others who supposedly offend God with compassion and understanding is to treat them as people loved and valued by God.