A revolution in the American South on gay marriage

The Atlantic has a fascinating article chronicling what is perceived to be “a quiet gay rights revolution” in American churches. The thesis is that churches have become more and more accepting of gay marriage, even those in evangelical denominations.

I think the article has a number of disputable points. It's very telling that the author views the “Wild Goose Festival” as a barometer of evangelical sentiment. I would wager that many Wild Goosers would bristle at being labelled evangelical, much less being treated as a poster-boy for the movement. My hunch is that the author's survey of evangelicalism leaves a bit to be desired.

Nevertheless, as a lifelong Southerner, there is one paragraph that caught my attention. Here it is:

It's no coincidence that the two sects most hostile to gay marriage are concentrated in the American South — the region where same-sex marriage polls the worst. According to the Public Religion Research Institute, as of March 2013, 43 percent of Southerners support allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry (up from 25 percent in 2004), as opposed to 62 percent of Northeasterners, 53 percent of Midwesterners and 58 percent of Westerners. If the campaign for gay marriage is to convert this region, it will have to do so through its institutions — primarily its conservative churches, black and white alike.

Notice the figures for the South. It's true that support for gay marriage is still a minority view in the American South. But don't let that diminish the fact that in less than ten years, support for gay marriage has increased by almost 20 points. That figure indicates that there has been a sea change in the South on this issue. Gay marriage support is becoming less and less a regional issue with support predictably dividing between red and blue states. Even in the reddest of states, things are changing rapidly. This shows that a generational change is afoot, and in ten years support for gay marriage will likely be the majority view from sea to shining sea.

This is but one more indication of a long trend. Christians in the South are witnessing the disolution of the old way–one in which many Christian values were reinforced by the wider culture. That day–that South–has gone with the wind. That means that Christians who have grown accustomed to ease in Babylon will once again have to learn what it means to be sojourners. And that may not be an altogether bad thing.


  • Kevin Hash

    Many pastors and probably even more youth pastors have been duped into not talking about homosexuality.
    The world has been saying, “all you Christians care about is the sin of homosexuality”. So to not prove them right, many evangelical pastors and youth pastors have not talked about it, for fear of proving them right. Perhaps justifying their silence by saying, “we’re just focusing on Jesus and not getting side-tracked by focusing on just one sin.”

    So, ironically, while the entertainment media has been talking about it creatively, manipulatively, and relentlessly, many of the kids in church are not actually hearing a grace and truth rebuttal from the church.
    Kevin Hash

  • Brett Cody

    I agree Denny. Perhaps the age of comfortable, nominal Christianity is on its way out. That would seriously not be a bad thing.

  • Chris Ryan

    I’m not so sure that Southern culture broadly reinforced Christian values. I think it reinforced selective Christian values. I’ve spent 20yrs in the Bible Belt South, but I was raised in the Bible Belt Midwest. My home state didn’t even have liquor by the drink until the late ’80s… When I moved South I was shocked at the openness toward alcohol, strip clubs, prostitution, and gambling. These aren’t Christian values. If you go further back of course you have Jim Crow and peonage. And even 20yrs ago I was shocked at the openness of homosexuality in cities like Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, and New Orleans. As an outsider what I took away from the Southern Bible Belt was a focus on appearances, not unlike what Jesus references in Mark 12:41-44 and again in Matthew 6:5. So I strongly agree with Brett–anything that gets us to focus on genuine Christ-led lives & away from an appearance-only belief set is a good thing.

    And please don’t get me wrong. I’m certainly not saying that the Midwest (or for that matter the North or West) has some monopoly on virtue. Quite the opposite as Romans 3:23 attests. Instead what I’m saying is that humans tend to be tribal and involving the Bible in our tribalism is always a fraught exercise. So I’m not sure we can point at the increasing acceptance of gay marriage in the South as backsliding insofar that the South doesn’t have a pre-eminent claim on salvation from which to backslide… If confronting these statistics leads us to a more humble, more authentic, and more faithful relationship with Christ, then I think good things will happen.

    • Denny Burk

      Chris, I agree. That’s why I said this is just one more indication of a long trend. On the marriage issue in particular, the South long ago embraced the divorce culture. That has done more to undermine marriage than anything.

  • James Bradshaw

    I still don’t understand why one can’t disagree with gay marriage and even believe it to be sinful while simultaneously thinking it permissible to allow those who believe differently to live their lives as they see fit.

    Don’t Christians grant this freedom to Mormons, Jews, Catholics and those who do not believe as they do? Since when are we theonomy?

    If one wishes to have a discussion about what types of actions and behaviors one should be free to do (or not do) under the guise of religious liberty, then that’s a worthy discussion to be had. If one wishes to have a discussion on how gay people can live in a manner that is ethical and/or reflects their values as Christians, that’s also an entirely different matter.

    However, the idea that a narrow interpretation of Scripture is somehow supposed to guide our entire body of laws is one that is (rightly) on its way out the door in this country.

      • James Bradshaw

        Michael: If these gentlemen are going to insist that our laws reflect the Biblical standard on sexuality and marriage, then surely you’d agree this should apply to heterosexuals as well, right?

        That means:
        – No divorce except for infidelity or abandonment on the part of an unbelieving/apostate spouse (Christians still haven’t come to a consensus about whether an abused woman can divorce her husband, so we’ll omit that as a possibility).
        – No interfaith marriage can be granted by the State (although I’m not sure if this just means no marriage between Christians and non-Christians or if it extends to Christians with other Christians whose theology they vehemently disagree with … like Calvinists and Pentecostals)
        – Increasing numbers of Protestants are joining the Catholics in rejecting the validity of contraception, even in marriage, so its sale should be criminalized as should medical sterilization
        – While we’re at it, fornicators of any stripe should be punished with fines or imprisonment

        I’m not arguing against monogamy and fidelity, you understand. I’m asking you whether you think the state should create and enforce these types of laws. If not, please tell me why the State should be indifferent about heterosexual marriage and sexual conduct when the Biblical standards are what they are.

        You really think this is all a good idea?

        • Lynn Burgess

          James: You realize I assume that most of the things you list were in fact illegal in America not so very long ago. Interestingly, when artificial birth control became legal and the “pill” was invented, my father predicted that it would open the door to abortion. Why would that be, the devaluing of life, seeing God’s great gift of children as a burden to our own independence and pleasure… Are we not doing the same thing in the realm of marriage and do you understand that in embracing homosexuality as a society that we are opening the door to legal incest and polygamy and any sort of immorality the mind can imagine and desire?

        • Michael Lynch

          1. Okay
          2. The State can grant marriage to a man and woman of any type. It is still a marriage. Read Paul. Pastors should not participate in such marriages.
          3. Okay.
          4. Maybe so.

              • buddyglass

                James: “While we’re at it, fornicators of any stripe should be punished with fines or imprisonment’

                You: “4. Maybe so.”

                That’s what I was responding to. To your point, though, I guess it was unnecessary for me to ask whether you prefer stoning or imprisonment. I should have asked whether you prefer fines or imprisonment, since those were the punitive options James presented and that you voiced (tentative) support for.

      • buddyglass

        That’s answering a question he didn’t ask. He questioned why the belief that homosexuality (and same-sex marriage) is/are wrong is thought to be incompatible with allowing the state to recognize same-sex marriages.

    • Lynn Burgess

      James: You ask, “I still don’t understand why one can’t disagree with gay marriage and even believe it to be sinful while simultaneously thinking it permissible to allow those who believe differently to live their lives as they see fit.”

      If valid, that argument could be used to make any illegal activity legal, bank robbery, murder, incest, abortion, euthanasia (which is taking our country by storm under the guise of hospice), heroin and cocaine, etc., etc., etc.

      Be sure to listen to the recording Michael linked explaining why this is not a matter of a personal choice that harms nobody and very much a societal issue.

      An interesting study is why and how the great cultures of generations past fell, and how often was one of the last actions before their demise the cultural embracing of immorality including homosexuality. Here is an old Moody Science documentary that came out when I was in high school that is a great beginning point for such a study. You will enjoy George Sweeting’s blue polyester suit if nothing else (smile).

      Sermons from Science: Empty Cities

      • buddyglass

        “If valid, that argument could be used to make any illegal activity legal, bank robbery, murder, incest, abortion, euthanasia (which is taking our country by storm under the guise of hospice), heroin and cocaine, etc., etc., etc.”

        Not any illegal activity. If one grants that homosexuality is per se harmful to the individual (and in an indirect way to society) then there are similarities to incest, euthanasia and narcotics, but robbery, murder and abortion are different in that they cause direct harm to another individual.

        Note also that justifying the prohibition of something on the basis of it being “bad for society” opens the door (if not outright demands) the prohibition of many activities we now consider constitutional rights. For instance, proselytizing by members of non-Christian faiths. Cigarettes and alcohol. Or how about homosexual practice itself?

        • Lynn Burgess

          Buddy: “but robbery, murder and abortion are different in that they cause direct harm to another individual…”

          Homosexuality is not practiced alone… and very often one “partner” is decidedly weaker than the other…

          Also, have you heard of NAMBLA – National Assoc. of Man-Boy Love?

          The homosexual agenda is not as benign as the media paints it.

          • buddyglass

            The vast majority of homosexual men aren’t pedophiles and believe we should vigorously prosecute the ones who are. The vast majority of homosexual acts (outside prison, at least) are consensual.

            • Johnny Mason

              So apparently all kinds of debauchery are OK as long as it is consensual. Father/daughter lovin is OK as long as it is consensual. Brother/sister lovin is OK as long as it is consensual. 4 men and 3 women is OK as long as it is consensual. So the only taboo remaining is consenuality, and God help us all when that final taboo falls.

          • James Bradshaw

            Where do you get your propaganda from, Lynn?

            NAMBLA is not part of the mainstream gay community.

            Besides, the practice of older men taking child brides is far more common in backwards, fundamentalist religious sects (such is Islam and Mormonism). Warren Jeffs had a whole commune of men who were marrying adolescent girls.

            I don’t support such things, but I’m curious, Lynn, given the Bible’s absolute silence regarding the practice, why do you care? Early Jewish rabbis would sometimes permit older adult males to marry young teenage girls. Their minimum age was 12 for girls, 13 for boys.

            Your objection is based on a secular humanist mindset, not a religious one.

            You’re welcome.

            • Lynn Burgess

              Buddy and James: I began to look up some research on this topic and I found it readily available on the web. The first thing I found was several secular articles stating that homosexual “monogamy” is not monogamy at all…

              It then occurred to me that I am not going to persuade you of anything and you can easily do the research yourself if you are truly interested.

              So I leave you with this… which says it all… don’t miss the last line… THEY WORE THEMSELVES OUT GROPING FOR THE DOOR…

              “But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house. And they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.”

              “Lot went out to the men at the entrance, shut the door after him, and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Behold, I have two daughters who have not known any man. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please. Only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.”

              “But they said, “Stand back!” And they said, “This fellow came to sojourn, and he has become the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.”

              “Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and drew near to break the door down. But the men reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them and shut the door. AND THEY STRUCK WITH BLINDNESS THE MEN WHO WERE AT THE ENTRANCE OF THE HOUSE, BOTH SMALL AND GREAT, SO THAT THEY WORE THEMSELVES OUT GROPING FOR THE DOOR” (Genesis 19:4-11).

              • James Bradshaw

                Lynn, are you suggesting that heterosexual rape is preferable to consensual homosexual conduct? Lot did offer his virgin daughters to the mob, didn’t he? Nothing is written regarding their opinions on the matter. I’m doubting they would have consented. Have you ever talked to a victim of rape? Victims often end up in rehab for substance abuse because of the pain and devastation such an act has on their life.

                Perhaps you’re saying that most gay men are breaking down the doors of heterosexual men to rape them? I assure you … the vast majority of us are not (sadly, there’s always a few). And let’s be clear on this: the men in the story of Sodom were rapists first and foremost.

                Also keep in mind that the daughters in this story later got their father drunk and had sex with him. How drunk Lot had to be to NOT know he was having sex with his own offspring is hard to say. I personally can’t recall ever having consumed enough alcohol to get me to do something like that.

                I’m just not sure what this Bible verse is supposed to tell us, nor am I certain what your intent was in referencing it.

                I’m not trying to belittle you, Lynn. I just don’t think you’ve thought through this very clearly.

                • Lynn Burgess

                  James: You know, I believe that you have honest questions about this matter that are beyond the scope of this blog to answer. I want to encourage you to find a Nouthetic Counselor, maybe one who is also a pastor, who can sit down with you, really delve into God’s Word, and find the answers you are seeking. My own pastor would be wonderful, we are in N.E. Ohio, Dr. Stuart Scott at The Southern Seminary would be excellent, and there are many others around the country. I hope that you can find someone in your area. There is a database of NANC certified counselors at

                  You asked, “Have you ever talked to a victim of rape?” Well, close, as inside the skin of one who lived with sexual abuse for many years… and Nouthetic Counseling literally saved my life both spiritually and physically. God bless you James.

                  • James Bradshaw

                    Lynn, I apologize if my comment came across as insensitive. I obviously had no idea you were an abuse survivor. I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with that.

                    We’ve all had to deal with various forms of betrayal in our lives, and as heart-wrenching as that can be, I can still only try to imagine what it is to deal with this particular form of it, especially if it was at the hands of someone one trusted.

                    Life is cruel and heartless at times. I wish we didn’t spend so much time increasing its pains for each other.

                    • Lynn Burgess

                      James: I was not offended; but I appreciate your sensitivity to my feelings.

                      Nothing has come into my life that God has not used for the good of conforming my life more and more into the image of my Savior and for His glory.

  • Lynn Burgess

    It occurs to me that we have confused the fight for our historic Christian roots as Americans with defending the gospel – and they are not the same thing.

    The fact is that since the founding of our nation Christianity greatly influenced our people. People who were not believers for the most part still embraced general Judeo-Christian principles of living and had a reverent fear of God. That is no longer the case. I would suggest to you that what has really changed is that Christianity is now a minority influence in our nation and this is hugely true in places of influence such as education and the media.

    However, the answer is not political, which is not to say we should not be involved in politics. The answer is the gospel of Jesus Christ. We will never change the minds of unbelievers except that the power of the gospel changes them. In that, I would agree with the suggestion that we would do well to better see ourselves as sojourners and see the lost people around us as souls bound for hell and not as obstacles to the political/cultural heritage and freedoms to which we think ourselves entitled.

    • James Bradshaw

      Lynn writes: “The answer is the gospel of Jesus Christ”

      What do you make of gay men and women who insist they are believers but simply don’t believe that all expressions of homosexuality are sinful? What do you make of the fact that Alan Chambers of Exodus says that the vast majority of even the most dedicated of gay Christians don’t really change their orientation either through prayer or “reparative therapy”?

      “People who were not believers for the most part still embraced general Judeo-Christian principles of living and had a reverent fear of God.”

      So we’re told. Nevertheless, even believers wholeheartedly embraced the racism of the southern slave trade. The Southern Baptist denomination was founded primarily as a rejection of the abolitionists. Women couldn’t vote and, when they married, forfeited all rights to sign legal contracts in their own name. Prostitution was legal in many areas. Even religious freedom had its limitations. In the 1830s, the Missouri governor issued an executive order saying “Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State”. A militia ended up killing a number of them.

      Why do people yearn for the early days of this nation? Despite the brilliance of our nation’s founding documents and the legal system arising from it, our nation was a mess of violence, racism, slavery and misogyny.

      • Lynn Burgess

        James: “What do you make of gay men and women who insist they are believers but simply don’t believe that all expressions of homosexuality are sinful?”

        “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I NEVER KNEW YOU; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WORKERS OF LAWLESSNESS’ (Matthew 7:21-23).
        “What do you make of the fact that Alan Chambers of Exodus says that the vast majority of even the most dedicated of gay Christians don’t really change their orientation either through prayer or “reparative therapy”?”

        The temptation (i.e. orientation as they see it) is not sinful; it is the action. All sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is sinful. Abstaining if one is drawn to the same sex is no different than abstaining if one is drawn to the opposite sex. Just keep your legs crossed if you will and don’t worry about changing orientation. Novel I idea I know.

        Our culture has bought the lie that every living breathing person has the freedom and right to be sexually active.

        I personally do not buy the idea that genuinely born again people who have engaged in homosexual sin do not change “orientation,” but it really doesn’t matter, that is not the issue.

  • Jonathan Weintraub

    There’s an interesting article in National Review by Ryan T. Anderson who co-wrote What Is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense with Robert George. He describes the most radical redefinitions of marriage; open marriage, multi-partner marriage, and marriage leases and makes the claim, without any evidence, that these redefinitions are popular and will become the cultural norm, Babylon.

    The problem with Anderson’s piece, and your piece, Denny, is that there is no Babylon, no cultural sea change. The younger generation accepts the fact that gays and lesbians exist and they want the same love and security, the same “traditional” family structure as straight people. Babylon isn’t the issue. The issue is the choir director in the Southern Baptist church who comes out and marries the love of his life. Then the members of the church are forced to make a very personal decision about the boundaries of their Christian community and the love for their brothers and sisters in Christ.

  • Brett Cody

    It is absolutely the church’s fault that they haven’t had candid discussion about the sin of homosexuality. The problem that homosexuals have is that the church has to publically state that homosexuality is a sin. Until the homosexuals don’t get offended by the church stating what the Bible teaches, then there will continue to be an issue.

    • Michael Lynch

      I think Brett gets at part of the reason for the current homosexual trend. We aren’t simply going to be judged for what’s happening. Read Romans 1. This freedom of homosexual behavior IS a judgement.

    • Lauren Bertrand

      Really? They aren’t talking about it? Go to a prominent Evangelical website like Christian Post, and they have at least two new articles on homosexuality daily. At any given point, at least 10% of the CP’s output is consumed by gay rights issues. The same could be said with the much more doctrinaire, less incisive Christian News, Charisma, and OneNewsNow. Even this website covers the topic at least 1 to 2 times each week. While obviously these sites range greatly in their militancy in opposition to gay rights, the very fact that one can sense a range of sentiment suggests that they ARE very candid about the topic.

      While I confess that I do not regularly attend Evangelical churches, I find it hard to believe that the Evangelical newsmedia can be so vocal about the topic and yet the churches themselves shun it. Is it possible that 1) the churches aren’t ignoring it, but 2) they are discussing it, but escalating percentages of the congregation simply isn’t believing what the churches say? Even CP recently talked about the growing numbers of Evangelicals stuck in the “messy middle” in their views on gay rights.

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