A recent Pew Research Center study reveals how deeply divided we are over same-sex marriage. A majority of Americans (58%) now say that homosexuality should be accepted, rather than discouraged, by society. From reading this data I gather that what is meant here is that 58% believe we should accept homosexual practice, not just homosexual inclination or identity.

The context this creates for the missional church is both challenging and dangerous. Let me explain.

The more the culture moves toward an open acceptance of homosexual practice the harder it will be for conservative Christians to adapt and incarnationally share the good news of Jesus. So long as homosexuals believe they have been singled out for special disdain as unique sinners the more they, and larger numbers of non-homosexuals with them, will resist the gospel. Why? They will see the gospel as a political/moral message that condemns them for something they cannot change.

But the more the church rushes to adjust everything to this new reality the more we run the serious risk of making no moral distinctions at all regarding sexual practice. If anything is clear in Christian tradition it is this — moral distinctions and practices are the result of faithfully following Jesus. The fruit of discipleship will include moral norms.

I think one of our major problems is centered in the question of how we can preach grace while we still hold to a scripturally moral position on a wide range of concerns. Sexuality is such a major concern but it is one of many concerns and when we tend to make it the most important one we do so to our peril. Do we preach morality to the culture or do we preach the grace and forgiveness of Christ? Do we tell the good news or do we keep hammering on the bad news of a culture that is moving toward Gomorrah? The answers are more complex than people on either the left or right seem to grasp, at least to my way of thinking about them. In this instance nuance is extremely important. I believe we are losing the “nuance” of the gospel on both sides of this contentious debate. We want simple answers. Either we stridently oppose homosexuality as the greatest sin of all or we stridently defend it as the newest insight that we believe we’ve found in Scripture. The church is further divided and discussion turns to acrimonious mistrust and the complete rejection of those who do not agree with us.

Among younger people in particular, there is broad support for societal acceptance of homosexuality. More than six-in-ten (63%) of those younger than age 50 — 69% of those younger than age 30 — say that homosexuality should be accepted. Far fewer of those ages 50 and older (52%) favor societal acceptance of homosexuality.

These are among the findings from the Pew Research Center political typology survey, released on May 4, 2011. The survey, conducted in February and March of this year, showed that opposition to gay marriage has continued to decline.

Currently, 45% favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally while 46% are opposed. Two years ago, in April 2009, 35% supported same-sex marriage while 54% were opposed. This is a staggering change for anyone who is paying attention. I see no way that homosexual marriage will not become law in the foreseeable future whether we want it or not. The “wild card” is spiritual renewal that impacts the culture at large.

Pew notes that opposition to gay marriage has fallen by 19 points (from 65%) since 1996. (For more on changing public views of same-sex marriage, see Pew Research Center reports from March 3, 2011 and Oct. 6, 2010.)

The aforementioned political typology survey also found a decline in negative views of the increasing number of gays and lesbians raising children. Today, 35% say that more gay parents is bad for society, 14% view this trend positively, while 48% say it does not make much difference. Four years ago, 50% viewed this trend negatively, 11% said it was a good thing and 34% said it made no difference.

The world that is our present world, and the world that is about to be the one we will have to live in for Christ and his kingdom, will be very different from the world that I grew up in during the 1950s. And it will be different from the one most of you know from your experience too, even if you are much younger than me. My burning question is clear: How shall we live and proclaim the grace of God while we still hold to a thoughtful, Christian morality in both public and private? The challenge is immense. Let us go forward in love and not shut down those we disagree with by harshness or moral arrogance. The world is changing but the good news is still the same – God saves all who call upon him in and through his Son Jesus Christ.

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  1. Bob VonMoss June 4, 2011 at 7:58 am

    If Americans in general had spiritual discernment, they could distinguish the wolves coming in to devour them. Look at the situation with young people and crushing student debt. It’s absolutely robbing and enslaving young people for most of their lives, planting la-la land unrealistic hopes. People look at even young adults as a way to exploit them for personal gain at their expensive. This is just one tiny generation wide example. Who even speaks up about things like this? It’s a country of investment bubbles that bankrupt ordinary people for the benefit of a few bankers at the top. After several bubbles few learn anything. People lost spiritual discernment, because that comes from the word of God and seeing the world based on God’s word with the Holy Spirit. If you’re in Sodom and Gomorrah and we know what that was like, can you run to the hills? Would you make Lot’s wife’s mistake? Even if you got out in time, could you avoid Lot’s mistake? Jesus said, “Remember Lot’s wife!” If you’re in a possible Sodom and Gomorrah trap, remember that woman.

  2. laurie June 5, 2011 at 1:53 am

    Ah, John, you posed the very question I was hoping you would answer: “How shall we live and proclaim the grace of God while we still hold to a thoughtful, Christian morality in both public and private?” Yes, that is the challenge. But how to meet it? I suppose I will only have to pray and keep seeking to meet the challenge, for the sake of the Gospel and the unbelievers, straight and gay, that I love.

  3. Jon June 8, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    I’ve been really wrestling with this question. I would love to say “this is not a central issue to the Gospel,” but it seems like I do not always get to answer the questions that I think are central. The volatility of this issue in our culture forces us to deal with this question.
    I’ve wondered about Paul’s missionary ethic, which James affirms in Acts 15: don’t put anything in the way of people receiving the Good News. Does the primacy of the Gospel advancing not just justify, but require a change of stance on this issue if people are willing to reject Jesus and the Church prima facie based on our stance?
    At this point, I don’t think that it does, considering the early Church obviously had moral standards, but isn’t this some of the complexity of a biblical ethic that we must consider?
    Furthermore, I would love to say this is a matter of conscience and be able to love people regardless of their sexual orientation, but the current cultural conversation is so shallow and un-nuanced that this isn’t always “allowed.” Loving someone seems to involve agreeing with everything about their lifestyle.
    And the reality is that I can love someone as much as I want, but decisions inevitably come: does believing that homosexuality is biblically acceptable disqualify someone from being baptized or becoming a member (I tend to think not, since this doesn’t seem to be centrally about the Gospel)? But what then happens if that member of my congregation wants to get married to a same-sex partner? Eventually, it seems like the rubber meets the road on these questions as much as we try to make other things central.
    I realize this was a bit of a rant, but I appreciate the questions that are being asked, and would be interested to hear these ideas fleshed out some more.

  4. RP June 16, 2011 at 9:32 am

    You are asking some much-needed questions. In responses so far it’s obvious from terms like “lifestyle” that an enormous ignorance of the GLBT community is present in most of thje church (as if there exists such a single “community”). To think that the evangelical church is going to have much relevance to tomorrow’s youth is a pipe dream since evangelicalism has become more beholden to the myopic ideologies of the rich and powerful political right wing than to the bidding of Jesus of Nazareth. Youth see through this and are rejecting the anti-scientific baiting of low-information-voters and religious donors that uses abortion, creationism, socialism, and homosexuality as issues for power and position.
    I would posit that few evangelicals have ever researched the historical and cultural context into which the presumed biblical references were first spoken. To do so would be revolutionary…and, likely get one thrown out of most evangelical schools that so present themselves as places of truth and accurate exegesis. As an MBI graduate I can say with certainty that Mr. Yuan’s testimony is borderline heresy already since he’s still single and admitedly same-gender attracted — however, he dare not even question whether traditional thinking on homosexuality is biblically accurate. To do so would guarantee he’d never be welcome there again. That school and most like it still require adherence to dogma more in accordance with the donors and political climbers than with serious biblical research.

  5. Kevinwayne June 21, 2011 at 3:10 am

    I just want to respond with some general thoughts here. I affirm what you are saying generally regarding the fact that it’s going to be tough to maintain a morally firm position on this without throwing in our lot with those who make homosexuality out to be the worst thing possible. At the same time, I wonder if there’s really a need for political action to be taken at all? I think spiritual revival is much more spot on and we could have a win-win situation if Gay Marriage is legalized, but nobody shows up for one! 🙂
    I have also pondered whether or not I think the government should have any say at all in who sleeps with who or who is married to whom. First off, Paul preached in a much more morally decadent time than ours, and he stayed focused on the main thing and did not waiver. Why do we think we deserve any better? More to the point” why do we think we need anything else in order to be faithful?
    Here’s the kicker to all of this: The media is focused on maintaining an argument with the Christian faith about the nature of homosexuality, in regards to whether “gays can change.” They like to act as if it’s a settled issue, but it most certainly is not!
    Take a look at the following resources:
    Now while it’s true that the APA takes a dim view of so-called “therapy” that promises change in orientation, neither do they think it’s immutable!
    Perhaps with this in mind, we can go forth with a new approach that spiritually shepherds people into right relationships with out making it seem as if it’s the new Inquisition? Just some thoughts.
    In any case, the Robert Epstein article cites a peer-reviewed study by Dr. Robert Spitzer – the same APA leader who pushed to take homosexuality out of the DSM – that looks into the question of whether or not gays can change, and answers in the affirmative!
    Myself, I think there’s a lot more issues – even moral and family related ones – that there should be a movement to bring change on. Please look over these resources, follow some of the links within, and consider the issues involved:
    Not just with abortion, but the whole inequity that extremist forms of Feminism has produced in the legal system against men, has me thinking that if there’s anything we need to be focusing on to bulwark and restore the Family, homosexuality is diddly by comparison.

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