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One Southern Baptist pastor said, “I’m on a journey with God. What I believe today about this issue I may not be believing tomorrow … as I continue down the pathway of maturity.”
A United Church of Christ minister said he looks to Scripture, science and his own experience and finds issues around homosexuality “terribly complicated and challenging. … This is one of the questions of our day that we will for the rest of our lives continue to struggle with.”
Still, as public opinion shifts to be more supportive of gay rights, and doctrinal mandates hold less sway over younger generations, a perceptible shift in attitudes also is occurring in religious communities, some researchers state.
In a study of 665 Christian heterosexual students at a Midwestern university, 85 percent of students said their religion’s core teaching views homosexuality as a sin. But fewer than four in 10 respondents said their own beliefs about homosexuality were fairly consistent with the teachings of their religion, researchers Michael Woodford, Denise Levy and N. Eugene Walls said in article in the Review of Religious Research.
In a separate review article looking “Beyond the Culture War,” researchers Jeremy Thomas and Daniel Olson of Purdue University note that more evangelical congregations can expect to face these issues as America’s growing acceptance of homosexuality makes it likely more church members will be open about their sexual orientation.
Gays and lesbians “unwilling to sell their evangelical souls” to affirm their orientation will be coming out at a time when a growing number of churches are seeking to find ways to share values such as unconditional love, commitment, stability and monogamy within the context of how gays and lesbian members lead their lives, according to Thomas.
In these congregations, the focus is shifting to the idea that “We’re here to help. We’re here to minister,” Thomas said.
Overall, new research is providing a more nuanced understanding of how many people in various religious communities, far from being rigid ideologues on the issue, are struggling to find ways to move forward.
This brings back to mind a conversation I had many years ago with a priest involved in AIDS ministry. Back then, some AIDS activists disrupted Masses and destroyed sacred hosts as they demanded that religious groups give unqualified acceptance of homosexuality. And some preachers filled the airwaves with the message that AIDS was God’s punishment for homosexuals and drug users.
The cleric said what was needed was conciliation, the ability to seek forgiveness from one another for being judgmental.
What if today more Americans, instead of promoting polarization over dialogue on the issue of same-sex marriage, decided to forgive one another for the times they chose vitriol over compassion and respect for individual consciences on both sides.
Maybe then the nation could journey together toward greater understanding. Not a bad American dream.
David Briggs is a veteran religion writer and director of the International Association of Religion Journalists. He wrote this column for his Ahead of the Trend Blog, sponsored by the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA).
The Opinion section is produced by the Editorial Department to foster discussion about key issues. The Editorial Board represents the institutional voice of the Star Tribune and operates independently of the newsroom.