Monday, June 29, 2015

Duggars Praying, Satan Dancing: White Evangelicals Respond to Obergefell — What Does Church Mean When Love Wins Everywhere Except in Church?

The Duggars are praying, y'all — for all of the rest of us, it appears, though it seems not for themselves.

Some people of faith are going to set themselves on fire (never mind: it was a metaphor) and/or lead a mass exodus of the holy from the nation that has just turned itself through an act of Supreme jiggery pokery into the land of the damned.

Other right-wing evangelicals have announced that we've just witnessed a spiritual 9/11.

Still others are announcing stepped-up "religious liberty" campaigns because . . . well, hard to figure out, when no one's religious liberty in any way vanished with last Friday's decision, though some folks' right to kick others in the name of Jesus and with impunity may have been checked by the decision. And as one of the kickees, I'd say it was high time the nation's chief court clarified that matter.

Declaring the gays full human beings poses a problem for some people of faith in the United States, it turns out — for white evangelicals, in particular, who remain far and away the religious group in the U.S. most resistant to the rights of LGBT people, a point of which Michael Paulson reminds us in a New York Times piece today. Paulson writes,

The dramatic shift in public opinion, and now in the nation’s laws, has left evangelical Protestants, who make up about a quarter of the American population, in an uncomfortable position. Out of step with the broader society, and often derided as discriminatory or hateful, many are feeling under siege as they try to live out their understanding of biblical teachings, and worry that a changing legal landscape on gay rights will inevitably lead to constraints on religious freedom.  . . . 
"Well-known evangelicals who have shifted on same-sex marriage, you could fit them all in an S.U.V.," Mr. [Ed] Stetzer [director of Lifeway Research] said. "If you do shift, you become a media celebrity, but the shift among practicing evangelicals is minimal." 
Polling supports that assertion. Even in an era when most Americans, including a majority of Catholics and white mainline Protestants, support same-sex marriage, among white evangelicals just 27 percent are in favor while 70 percent are opposed, according to the Pew Research Center.

Christopher Stroop, who grew up in a right-wing evangelical church, shares Stetzer's sober assessment of where white evangelicals find themselves following Obergefell: with their backs against the wall and determined to fight:*

The majority of American evangelicals continue to be moved, to greater and lesser degrees, by a fundamentalist ideology tied to an essentially literalist reading of the Bible. And, despite an often large capacity for compassion, this makes it extremely difficult for them to change on key issues, including LGBTQ affirmation and same-sex marriage. Those who are celebrating the "tipping point," it seems to me, are failing to hold their co-religionists accountable for the harm they have done to all of us who could not conform to the demands of the fundamentalist evangelical worldview—particularly to members of the LGBTQ community. They are also de facto refusing to acknowledge their own complicity in that harm. 
However much American evangelical Protestantism is changing for the better—and a significant portion of it is—a hard line on the "sinfulness" of living authentic LGBTQ lives remains the predominant position among white evangelicals by an overwhelming margin of at least 70%. I say at least 70% because, while this is the 2015 Pew figure for white evangelical opposition to marriage equality, when it comes to LGBTQ issues there are plenty of evangelicals who occupy what Baylor University researchers have called "the messy middle." While some of these evangelicals support marriage equality for a variety of reasons, they stop short of full LGBTQ affirmation.

As Clay Farris Naff points out, given the decision of right-wing white evangelicals to hinge the whole meaning of church on holding the line against the gays, what's at stake now for this religious group is its very future: 

Indeed, being in the minority, yet retaining fundamental rights, is exactly what this week's ruling is about. So what rights have gay marriage opponents lost? The answer, I think, is their future. 
Opposition to gay marriage has only one refuge: Old Time Religion. To be sure, there are still plenty of people who take certain biblical passages to mean that homosexuality is wrong (conveniently overlooking other passages that say slavery is right). But their numbers are dwindling. American attitudes on gay marriage have swung about like the boom on a yacht caught in a gale of change. 
What the religious right rightly fears is being blown away. They talk about the Roe v. Wade decision, but what haunts them is Loving v. Virginia. That 1967 Supreme Court ruling overturned laws banning interracial marriage. It came at a time when "We Shall Overcome," with its verse "black and white together," could be heard in the streets across the nation.

And as David R. Henson concludes, following a logic similar to Naff's, all of this raises quite fundamental questions about what it means to be church in the first place:

Today, love won. 
Everywhere in the country. 
Everywhere, that is, except in the church. 
What does it mean that, on the whole, Church has become one of the last bastions of bigotry in a country celebrating love and equality today?

And, it goes without saying, if Father James Martin is correct that not a few Catholics and Catholic leaders, who have made common cause with right-wing evangelicals and have also premised their understanding of the church and its future on exclusion and denigration of LGBT people, then these questions certainly apply to many Catholics, as well.

*It shouldn't escape our notice that the majority of these never-say-die Christians are white Southern evangelicals, and that this back-against-the-wall-determined-to-fight gesture has been typical of white Southern evangelicals from the period when slavery was called into question until today — through the period of Reconstruction to the Jim Crow period, the advent of women's rights, the Civil Rights movement of the mid-20th century. 

And now the gays.

The cartoon is by Bob Englehart of Cagle Cartoons, and was posted on the Facebook page of Southern Poverty Law Center. As Ben Dreyfuss says at Mother Jones, it's on its way to becoming iconic.

No comments: