Senator Rob Portman recently announced the reversal of his position on gay marriage. While this is not necessarily surprising in our current cultural climate, what makes it particularly newsworthy is that Portman is not just a GOP Senator, but one who was vetted to be the running mate for Mitt Romney in the most recent Presidential election. Portman seems to be representative of a growing groundswell of support for homosexual marriage, even within the historically conservative GOP’s ranks. Portman’s reversal comes on the heels of sweeping shifts among the American populace on this issue. Two recent LifeWay Research surveys have found that Americans are changing their mind on this issue at a pretty significant rate. In a November 2012 survey, it was found that the percentage of Americans who believed homosexuality to be a sin had shifted by 7% in just one year. As of that survey, only 37% of Americans are willing to go on record that they believe homosexuality to be sinful. In a recent, and maybe more telling, survey, it has been shown that 58% of Americans believe homosexual marriage to be a civil rights issue, and 64% of Americans believe it is now inevitable that homosexual marriage will be legalized across the country. It is difficult to underestimate just how significant these shifts are, particularly in the short amount of time which they have occurred.
These changing social mores are an indication of a number of things, but they are particularly indicative of how rapidly the American populace is shifting on this issue. In response to Senator Portman’s announcement, I asked via Twitter & Facebook, the following question:
With increasing GOP sympathy towards homosexuality, is it out of line to think an “official” GOP endorsement of gay marriage is not far off?
— Micah Fries (@micahfries) March 15, 2013
In what was somewhat surprising to me, as of this moment, every response I have received – all of which came from conservative Evangelicals – agreed with my sentiment at some level. Conservative Christians have, for millennia, objected to homosexual practice, primarily on two grounds. First, there is the belief that it is explicitly described as sin in scripture. Additionally, however, there is a basic belief about marriage that stipulates that marriage exists as a reflection of Christ’s relationship with the church. Gender, roles in marriage, its permanence, and more, all point to the purpose behind marriage, namely to communicate to those watching an image of the gospel story. Unfortunately, for many Christians, we have abandoned that moral high ground long ago with our acquiescence to the prevalence of sexual infidelity and divorce within heterosexual marriage, among other breakdowns in the traditional model. I am convinced that our protestations concerning homosexual marriage often ring hollow to those who disagree with us because it appears less and less likely that we take our own marriages that seriously.
Having said all of that, I am beginning to believe that a couple of things are possibly upon our doorstep. The first, as I queried above, is whether or not the GOP, on a wholesale level, will soon publicly abandon their commitment to heterosexual marriage as the only appropriate model; and secondly, is it even possible for someone to be elected President of the US while holding to traditional marriage only, while substantial swaths of the American populace disagree with him, and that number only seems to be climbing? All of this leaves the church in an important, but certainly tenuous, situation. It certainly places the American church in a situation they have never been in before. How does the church position itself when they stand on the wrong side of the popularity vote? What does the church do when the political systems that they have been so engaged in have left them behind? Is the church able to speak with clarity and compassion to those who they disagree with, even when those across the aisle will view the church as outdated, at best: bigoted and hateful, at worst?
The answers that the church provides to these questions, and many more like them, are radically important to the cause of the gospel. May we be found faithful.