Small but increasingly connected knots of conservative Christians are advocating a new approach to homosexuality, says a well-done feature from the Associated Press.
Well done, as in more than 10 quoted sources and nearly 1,400 words. Well done, as in talking to educators and institutional leaders, not just aggrieved activists. And well done, as in showing a variety of approaches to church leadership, and the variety of responses from gay activists.
The article, by veteran religion writer Rachel Zoll, is less confrontational than suggested by the headline: "Evangelicals with gay children speaking out against how churches treat their sons & daughters." You could get that impression if you stopped after the first four paragraphs. If you continued with the other 22 paragraphs, you'd get a different view.
It does start by retelling the case of a 12-year-old dying of a drug overdose when so-called "reparative therapy" failed to quell his gay impulses. But it adds some qualifiers, starting with the parents of the suicidal boy:
"Parents don't have anyone on their journey to reconcile their faith and their love for their child," said Linda Robertson, who with Rob attends a nondenominational evangelical church. "They either reject their child and hold onto their faith, or they reject their faith and hold onto their child. Rob and I think you can do both: be fully affirming of your faith and fully hold onto your child."
It's not clear how much of an impact these parents can have. Evangelicals tend to dismiss fellow believers who accept same-sex relationships as no longer Christian. The parents have only recently started finding each other online and through faith-oriented organizations for gays and lesbians such as the Gay Christian Network, The Reformation Project and The Marin Foundation.
The article shows a lot of research in piecing together the various trends and incidents related to gays and evangelicals. It does include the headliners like the Rev. Frank Schaefer, who won his case in a Methodist church court case. Also Alan Chambers, who closed his Exodus International and apologized for pushing reparative therapy, a psychological process that claims to cure homosexuality.
But the story expands its scope with pro-change bloggers and a YouTube lecture about gays and the Bible. It also mentions a Reformed author calling for change, and a Mennonite professor who was stripped of his credentials for officiating at his son's same-sex wedding.
Like many smallish movements, it's hard to gauge whether the drive to accept gay relationships will remain an undercurrent or win the day among evangelicals. AP quotes Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, saying he doubts it will prevail.
But the article does throw in a couple of measurables:
Kathy Baldock, a Christian who advocates for gay acceptance through her website CanyonwalkerConnections.com, said evangelical parents are speaking out more because of the example set by their children. Gay and lesbian Christians have increasingly been making the argument they can be attracted to people of the same gender and remain faithful to God, whether that means staying celibate or having a committed same-sex relationship. The annual conference of the Gay Christian Network has grown from 40 people a decade ago to an expected 1,400 for the next event in January.
Matthew Vines, author of "God and the Gay Christian," has attracted more than 810,000 views on YouTube for a 2012 lecture he gave challenging the argument that Scripture bars same-sex relationships.
"These kids are now staying in the churches. They're not walking away like they used to," Baldock said.
For all the strengths of this article, it's a bit imbalanced. It cites four Southern Baptist sources, more than any other faith tradition. Is it because that's where the most change is happening? Or because Baptists have been outspoken against homosexuality? Or because they're open about controversies? Or simply because they're the largest Protestant denomination? I don’t see a clear reason why.
If you’ve read my stuff for long, you'll likely know what I'll say next: The AP story lacks much from the opposing side. The most we get is from Mohler, who "continues to believe that same-sex attraction can change through the Gospel."
I'm impressed that AP corrected a misquote from Mohler. The story originally said he said same-sex attraction can never change. He actually said, as the current version acknowledges, only that reparative therapy doesn't work. But Mohler is the only naysayer in the article.
Granted, the story is about ripples of change in Protestant circles, especially evangelical ones. But the denominations have not changed their doctrinal beliefs that homosexuality is wrong. And as the AP story concedes, "It's not clear how much of an impact these parents can have." Shouldn't a couple of other voices have been added to represent the evangelical mainstream?
The pro-gay movement may be so small that most evangelicals haven't yet noticed it, or even think it's important enough to push back. AP was sharp to spot the movement for its potential. It would be wise to write a follow-up in a few months.