Sparked by societal changes, some evangelical Christians have begun to break from a deeply anti-homosexual history. In 2013, Exodus International--the largest Christian organization conducting gay conversion therapy—shut down and issued an apology to gays. Even Pope Francis now-famously remarked, "If someone is gay ... who am I to judge?"
Now two 2014 titles offer a more welcoming and modern take on Bible passages that are often used to exclude same-sex couples from marriage and those who are LGBTQ from full inclusion in the church. Vineyard pastor Ken Wilson wrote A Letter to my Congregation: An Evangelical Pastor's Path to Embracing People who are Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Into the Company of Jesus (Read The Spirit, Mar.) to investigate the historical context around the church's position on LGBT people. After conversations with religion expert Phyllis Tickle, who wrote the introduction, Wilson used scholarship and discernment to transform his views in a changing time.
"Even staunch evangelicals are softening their stance on homosexuality," says Wilson. "I think we're in the middle of a historical epochal shift on the question of LGBTQ Christians." Wilson began writing on the topic because he felt a growing unease among members of his church with gay relatives or potential members already in same-sex relationships. He found that a closer reading of the Bible shows that pederasty and violent, humiliating sex between masters and slaves was the context of much scriptural condemnation of same-sex interaction. "I had assumed that certain types of churches that dismiss scripture are those that were making space for gay people," Wilson says. "But when I read scripture within its proper historical context, the writer of Leviticus didn't even understand the category homosexual. [Those passages] were about men having sex with other men as an act of violent domination. Of course the Bible would rail against these practices. Was there anything even remotely close [in the text] for same-sex attracted people? I could find no evidence that that was the case."
Matthew Vines, author of God and the Gay Christian (Convergent, May) came to similar conclusions. His book affirms his belief in the infallibility of Scripture while also underscoring modern interpretations of ancient Biblical laws that can be unevenly and unfairly applied to same-sex relationships. "My larger argument is this: Christians who affirm the full authority of Scripture can also affirm committed, monogamous same-sex relationships," Vines writes. "Instead of accepting the divide between moderate and progressive Christians who support marriage equality and conservative Christians who oppose it, this book envisions a future in which all Christians come to embrace and affirm their LGBTQ brothers and sisters -- without undermining their commitment to the authority of the Bible."
A 2014 Public Religion Research Institute survey shows swift and significant gains in acceptance of same sex relationships among a variety of religious groups. Almost one-third of members of the millennial generation surveyed said negative treatment of LGBTQ people influenced their decision to leave a church. Wilson says he was inspired to be part of the change that is slowly transforming other evangelical pastors and institutions in order to keep members of his congregation from cutting themselves off "from faith and Jesus, a powerful source of good in their life."