The evangelical Christian movement, like all large movements, is not monolithic. A new study from Baylor University finds that there is what it calls a ‘messy middle’ that is splitting from orthodoxy while still staying within the evangelical movement. And the issue that is creating this split is the attitude towards gays.
Tolerance toward gays and lesbians is growing within the evangelical community — long a stronghold against homosexuality — with many expressing ambivalent views about the issue, according to a Baylor University study.
The emerging voice of the so-called “Messy Middle” — evangelicals who oppose homosexuality on moral grounds but support equal rights such as civil unions for gays — has strong implications for the gay marriage debate, say Baylor researchers, who will present their paper at the 108th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association.
“As a moral issue, we predict that the opposition to gay civil rights will not have the same staying power as the abortion debate,” said study co-author Brandon Martinez, a sociology researcher in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences.
The “Messy Middle” — which researchers refer to as “Ambivalent Evangelicals” — has differing views from evangelical “Gay Right Opponents,” who oppose civil unions, and also from “Cultural Progressives,” who support homosexual behavior and civil unions.
But in terms of religion, “The Ambivalents are similar to Gay Rights Opponents when it comes to level of belief, church attendance, prayer life, Bible reading, and having friends in church,” Bean said. “They’re enmeshed, not peripheral. You have these people in the pews and serving as Sunday School teachers who are supportive of civil unions.”
In an article about the study , Corrie Mitchell writes:
Ross Murray, who monitors religion and media at the gay rights group GLAAD, said the emergence of Ambivalent Evangelicals mirrors an overall shift among religious people who might still be uncomfortable with homosexuality but don’t support laws that enshrine discrimination.
“They don’t want their religion to be known as the religion against people,” Murray said, pointing to a 2007 report from Christian researchers at Barna Group that showed the top words used to describe Christianity were “anti-homosexual” and “judgmental.”
“I think for a long time the understanding was, in order to be a good Christian, you have to be anti-gay,” Murray said.
This is a very hopeful development, even though there are still evangelical groups that are severely anti-gay such as Focus on the Family. They blame popular culture with its depiction of anti-gay people as ‘bigoted bumpkins’ for creating the ‘Messy Middle’.