Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Evangelical Shift on Gays: Why 'Clobber Scriptures' Are Losing Ground

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Evangelical Shift on Gays: Why 'Clobber Scriptures' Are Losing Ground

Article excerpt

Young evangelicals are increasingly warming to gay rights, questioning the traditionally harsh condemnation of gays as sinners. If the Christian establishment fails to adjust its rhetoric about gays, leaders may find their young congregants departing, not defending, evangelical churches.

In 1987, Jim Bakker's sex scandal shocked the evangelical world. The husband of mascara-laden Tammy Faye was a super-televangelist with an average viewership numbering over 12 million and ministry contributions estimated at $1 million per week. Then came a litany of accusations, including the rape of 26-year-old Jessica Hahn and financial fraud. Twenty-three years later, his son, Jay Bakker, is causing another uproar among the faithful. This time, it's over homosexuality.

In his new book, "Fall to Grace: A Revolution of God, Self, and Society," the younger Bakker makes the case that Christians should reconsider their position on homosexuality. Such views may find a hearing among young evangelicals who are shifting on gay and lesbian rights. If the Christian establishment fails to recognize this shift and adjust its rhetoric, leaders may find their young congregants departing, not defending, their churches.

Mr. Bakker, who is straight and divorced, says that religious people for far too long have used selective "clobber scriptures" to condemn gays and lesbians. A closer look at the teachings of the full biblical narrative, he says, leads us away from this position. "The simple fact is that Old Testament references in Leviticus do treat homosexuality as a sin ... a capital offense even," Bakker writes. "But before you say, 'I told you so,' consider this: Eating shellfish, cutting your sideburns and getting tattoos were equally prohibited by ancient religious law."

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Reflecting on his call for Christians to drop the sin language on sexuality, religion writer Cathleen Falsani indicated on The Huffington Post that the evangelical church may "be on the verge of a Gay Awakening." She expects that Bakker is a harbinger of things to come, and that Christians are changing their thinking about the morality of homosexuality. In one sense, Ms. Falsani's right: Evangelicals are changing their thinking. But a closer look at the data shows they aren't changing as quickly as she expects or Bakker hopes.

Majority: Gay behavior still 'morally wrong'

The truth is that the vast majority of evangelicals - approximately 7 in 10 - still say they believe homosexual behavior is "morally wrong." Such numbers lend credence to Albert Mohler, president of the conservative Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who says those reconsidering the historic Christian position on homosexuality are coming exclusively from the "far left fringe" of what might be generously described as evangelicalism. He still holds to what he terms "the very clear Biblical teaching" that homosexual behavior is not in God's design for sexuality and is sinful.

After Bakker made his views public, every church where he had speaking engagements scheduled for the coming year cancelled. The withdrawal of his church's biggest donors forced him to lay off his entire church staff.

Nevertheless, the younger Bakker may be something of a bellwether. For one thing, he's not the only prominent evangelical to have argued for a big-tent approach to sexuality. Brian McLaren, bestselling author and founder of the emerging church movement, moved toward affirmation of gays and lesbians in his 2010 book "A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith." He condemns Christians' obsession with sexuality and urges them to construct "a more honest and robust Christian anthropology." Christian music icons Jennifer Knapp and Ray Boltz came out of the closet this past year and asked their fans to reconsider their views. …

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