I noticed with interest and, quite frankly, surprise an article headline on the front page of The New York Times dated Tuesday, June 8, 2015, which stated: “Evangelicals Open Door to Debate on Gay Rights.” Laurie Goodstein, the author, covers an apparent emerging trend, when she writes, “As acceptance of same-sex marriage has swept the country and as the Supreme Court prepares to release a landmark decision on the issue, a wide variety of evangelical churches, colleges and ministries are having the kinds of frank discussions about homosexuality that many of them say they had never had before.”
The article goes on to state that evangelical institutions are attempting to navigate a middle terrain between staying “true” to their previously stated positions on issues around homosexuality while simultaneously attempting not to alienate especially younger congregants who increasingly support lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights. This latter point cuts right (no pun intended) to the core of the questions of “Why this?” and “Why now?”
We can look for the answer in the work of Dr. Derrick Bell and his pioneering work in critical race theory.
The late Dr. Bell of New York University Law School forwarded the theory of “interest convergence,” meaning that white people will support racial justice only when they understand and see that there is something in it for them, when there is a “convergence” between the “interests” of white people and racial justice. Bell asserted that the Supreme Court ended the longstanding policy in 1954 of “separate but equal” in Brown v. Board of Education because it presented to the world, and in particular, to the Soviet Union during the height of the cold war, a United States that supported civil and human rights.
In like fashion, I posit that evangelicals and other conservative Christians, as they see more and more people supporting and more states passing civil and human rights protections based on sexual and gender identity and expression, and more and more people are leaving those religious institutions that have not caught up as welcoming congregations, evangelicals seemed to have “evolved” somewhat from dictating policies to at least debating varying perspectives. Whether they will eventually soften their stands is another matter.
As I read the article, something arose in me that I have contemplated writing for many years, though I have continually put it off because it represents thoughts and feelings I never really wanted to make visible. I believed that if I relegated them to the recesses of my consciousness, over time, they would simply evaporate sparing me the task of putting pen to paper (or more appropriately, key strokes to computer screen). But no matter how hard I tried to let go of the pain and hurt, nonetheless, these thoughts and feelings keep resurfacing. Possibly now if I write them down, I can let them go.