There’s a generational divide in white evangelical attitudes on gay marriage

Younger people are more in favor of it

(iStock/Lily illustration)

Adapted from a story by The Washington Post’s Sarah Pulliam Bailey.

A new survey shows a dramatic shift in attitudes toward favoring gay marriage among a younger generation of white evangelicals, a group considered to be one of the most conservative on the issue.

Just a decade ago, the gap between younger evangelicals and older evangelicals on the issue was not wide, according to the Pew Research Center. But a new survey suggests that the generational divide has grown much wider, with about half of evangelicals born after 1964 now favoring gay marriage.

Source: Pew Research Center

Julie Rodgers, a lesbian who once worked for evangelical Wheaton College in Illinois, said she looked to people like Christian ethicist David Gushee, who changed his views and began to affirm same-sex relationships in 2014. Rodgers said her views began to shift when she saw another way of interpreting the Bible.

“When pastors and leaders begin to come out [as LGBT affirming], people are going to move. They just need permission,” she said. “It gives people another perspective and permission to say, ‘I feel that way, too.’ ”

Earlier this month, Rodgers got engaged to Amanda Hite, an entrepreneur based in D.C., whom she met after she left Wheaton.

The current state of LGBTQ issues in churches

With no hierarchy or unified theology, LGBT issues have threatened to tear apart churches and institutions, raising questions over whether one can be both LGBT-affirming and an evangelical.

  • Most of the nation’s largest megachurches do not marry gays and lesbians, but some people think that attitudes might be shifting in some churches.
  • Most evangelicals believe gay people are welcome as members and leaders in their churches — as long as they remain celibate.
  • Some evangelicals believe there’s a difference between supporting gay marriage as a public policy matter and gay marriage as sanctioned by churches.
  • A large majority of white evangelicals (including younger generations) continue to see homosexual relations as morally wrong, according to the General Social Survey.

Why younger people’s attitudes are shifting

When young people see an issue legalized, they begin to believe it must be right, said Glenn Stanton, director of Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family.

“We see that with pot in Colorado,” he said. “There’s a legitimizing and institutionalizing when you make something legal.”

Support for same-sex marriage has risen across all religious groups in recent years. As a whole, white evangelicals still stand out in opposition to gay marriage; 35 percent of white evangelicals favor gay marriage, compared with about 60 percent who are opposed.

Matthew Vines, who started the Reformation Project, believes there’s a slow, steady trajectory toward evangelicals affirming gay marriage.

Attitude shifts won’t happen overnight, Vines said. “It’s important that young evangelicals have changed their mind, but it’s not enough to create institutional change,” he said.

The 2016 survey found 75 percent of white evangelicals saying homosexual sexual relations are always or nearly always wrong. That number is down from 82 percent in 1996 and 90 percent in 1987. The survey does not show a large generational gap, however. In 2014–2016 surveys, 70 percent of Generation X/millennial white evangelicals said same-sex sexual relations are nearly always or always wrong, compared to 81 percent of baby boomers/older generations.

Scott Clement contributed to this report.

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