In a masterful blog post weaving Civil Rights history and contemporary moral debates, John Turner tries to understand why evangelical leaders have been so silent lately about the topic of gay marriage. Here is a taste of his argument:
Relatively few evangelical leaders (not to mention the Catholic Church) have changed their opinions about the desirability of same-sex marriage. And certainly some, such as Albert Mohler and Mike Huckabee, remain resolutely opposed. Outspoken evangelical opposition to same-sex marriage, however, has cratered since 2008. Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, Tim Keller, Philip Yancey. These are individuals that many evangelicals respect, yet my impression is that these leaders have been mostly quiet on issues surrounding gay rights. In general, evangelical opposition has become much more careful and muted.
Now, there are many reasons for that. Issues of marriage aside, many evangelicals came to a much-needed realization that the evangelical treatment of gays and lesbians has been deeply hurtful, destructive, and sinful. Thus, one reason for what I’m terming relative “quiet” is a repentance for the church’s past (and, in many cases, present). That would actually be a very charitable explanation, but I think there is some truth in it. Undoubtedly, evangelical leaders want to do a better job of modeling Jesus’s love for all people than did their predecessors in the 1980s.
Beyond that, what explains the “quiet”? A sense of same-sex marriage’s inevitability? A desire to not alienate young evangelicals (and potential converts)? A fear of being labeled bigots by the media (and by potential converts)? There are probably many things at play. It’s interesting to speculate whether the changing opinions of young evangelicals explain this relative “quiet,” or whether the relative “quiet” of many evangelical opinion-makers helps explains the changing opinions of young evangelicals. What seems certain is that when the standard-bearer opponents of a cause became squeamish and uncertain in their opposition, their cause is certainly doomed. Even if the earlier decades of debates over gay rights proceeded against a background of stalwart religious opposition, that opposition partly collapsed after 2008. That collapse certainly does a great deal to explain the recent successes of the movement to legalize same-sex marriage. Even more so than was the case with segregation, if opposition to same-sex marriage does not firmly have religion on its side, it certainly is doomed to a quick collapse.