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Have Evangelicals stepped out of the marriage battle?

Timothy Kincaid

January 2nd, 2013

Google news for “Catholic” and “gay marriage” in just the past week you will have hundreds of unique articles. Google “Southern Baptist” and “gay marriage” over the same period and you will get:

1 article about the Metropolitan Community Church (132 hits)
3 articles recapping top stories from 2012
1 article about gay athletes
1 article about abortion

In response to legislation which will likely result in two more equality states this month, the Southern Baptists have no comment. Sure, Rhode Island and Illinois are not SBC strongholds, but still… nothing?

And this is not a fluke.

Over the last year or so I’ve noticed that while the debate over marriage equality has intensified and while the news surrounding marriage equality has been non-stop, one voice has been increasingly silent. The conservative evangelical Christian community has been nearly mum on the subject. Baptists, Missouri Synod Lutherans, Pentecostals, conservative Methodists and Presbyterians, and the dozens of Reformed, Brethren, Campbellites, and other denominations barely muttered a peep. Even in battle states, evangelicals have – at most – stood in the background while Catholic Bishops have become the voice and face of anti-gay efforts.

This is not to suggest that they have changed their theology, though I do think it has softened. Nor does it suggest that Alabama is going to willingly reverse their Constitutional ban. But it is a fascinating phenomenon which gives me a great deal of hope for change in the near future.

It could be that we are beginning to convince evangelical lay people that allowing gay people to marry at the courthouse or at some other church does not threaten their right to believe and live as they choose. This would explain the shift in support. Evangelicals, being grass-roots driven, are more susceptible to changes in the perceptions and beliefs of their congregants while Catholics, being hierarchal, can hold to positions that are shared by few in the pews but appeal to a handful of old men in Rome.

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Neon Genesis
January 2nd, 2013 | LINK

Evangelical churches don’t need to speak out against gay marriage when they have organizations like NOM and AFA to speak on their behalf. Why risk embarrassing yourself by saying/doing something outrageously extreme when you can let other groups do all your dirty work?

Hunter
January 3rd, 2013 | LINK

This thought keeps hanging around at the back of my mind: How many RC bishops in this country do you think are entertaining the idea that they’d like to be the first American pope? Like maybe George and Dolan? (Both of whom have a lot of catching up to do if they’re going to overtake Cordileone.) And what better way to drum up support in the Curia?

The Protestant sects don’t have that kind of political consideration.

Nathaniel
January 3rd, 2013 | LINK

I think this is a useful insight into the distinctions that drive protestant evangelicals compared to the RCC, and certainly serves as one explanation of the seeming silence of those evangelicals. However, your comment comes on the heels of Franklin Graham’s comments regarding the “moral cliff.” Indeed, ever tragedy of recent times has spurred the condemnation of certain ‘vices’ by evangelical voice-boxes. I find it hard to believe evangelicals are ready to take the marriage fight lying down. As Neon Genesis pointed out, it makes sense for them to take a back seat to the ample anti-gay groups, which are run as much by evangelicals as by RC lackeys. And while I can’t speak for other denominations, the SBC hasn’t much work to do on the front now that all their states are safely ensconced behind anti-gay constitutional amendments. They have always thought of New England as a lost cause anyway, and forget the liberal haven of the West Coast.

Well, actually, I think I can say something of some of the other denominations. Lutherans, Presbyterians and Methodists are more hierarchical than Baptists, and have enough to deal with from heretical ministers, congregations, and even districts. The hierarchy would certainly want to keep quiet about any dissent within the ranks. The RCC is only beginning to endure this battle; possibly because Catholic congregants are already used to nodding their heads in church then going about their lives as they see fit.

Mary
January 3rd, 2013 | LINK

Over the past year, I have read several interesting blog post by Reformed Presbyterian and Independent Fundamentalist Baptist women (i.e. VERY conservative), who are urging like-minded folks to reject “government marriage.” According to their analysis, government marriage has been corrupted by gay marriage, and the pious should only pursue religious marriages. Those in common law marriage states can still legally claim all the governmental benefits of marriage by simply “holding themselves out” as married. Even in states without common law marriage, I doubt anyone at the IRS is checking up on these couples to see if their marriages are registered with a state.

So, I’m not sure that quiet on gay marriage represents softening on the issues, as much as hunkering down and seeking a new strategy.

markanthony
January 3rd, 2013 | LINK

Interesting theory Timothy, although I would agree with others here that you are being a little optimistic. There are several other reasons that Catholic leaders are more prominent in the news media. (BTW, I’m a RC who grew up amongst the Southern Baptists)

Beyond some of the reasons listed above, I think its worth noting that Catholic leaders are being forced to argue with their own flocks. Clearly the Catholic population is split or tilting in favor of marriage, while I don’t get the impression that Southern Baptist population differs from its leadership on this issue. SB leadership just don’t have to throw fits to get noticed on this issue.

Also, there may be some media selection (bias?) at work here. A RC bishop, with all his regalia, can legitimately claim to speak on behalf of millions of adherents. He can even order his pronouncements to be read during services. SB leaders seem to act more like representatives and referees, business suits and all, for a collection of like minded churches and seminaries. Even if Catholic Bishops don’t actually commend their flocks in lock step, they make much flasher headlines.

Josiah
January 6th, 2013 | LINK

Another consideration in light of the point about the RC church having a hierarchy (as well as the Lutheran Missouri Synod and LDS churches) is that they are not as dependent on their congregations for their livelihoods. Financially, churches that do not have complex denominational structures are for more reliant upon their local congregants for the “tithes and offerings” for their weekly paychecks. It gets harder and harder to fling around ridiculous and unfounded cliches about gay people when your congregants are increasingly finding that such “threats” among their children and friends are not what those preachers said they were. Eventually, even those who have moral issues with gay relationships are not going to sit kindly and listen to some preacher bash their loved ones. They may not change their theology, but they may invent convenient excuses not to place as much money in the plate each week.

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