Just as attitudes toward homosexuality have shifted greatly in the wider culture, change is coming in Christian churches too, though at a relative snail’s pace. Churches worry today about stemming the tide of young refugees from the pews, and intolerance toward gays is a key issue: a 2011 survey by the Barna Group found that 59% of young Christians say they leave churches in part because of sexual intolerance; polls by both the Pew Research Center and the Public Religion Research Institute found almost two-thirds saying homosexuality should be accepted by society and the church.
David Maxwell, executive editor at Westminster John Knox Press (of the liberal Presbyterian Church U.S.A. denomination), says those who have grown up in more conservative churches are looking to liberal Christian and general interest publishers for books that reflect their evolving views, citing their June book, The Bible’s Yes to Same-Sex Marriage: An Evangelical’s Change of Heart by Mark Achtemeier (see Reviews, May 12).
More disturbing for conservative Christians are books supportive of same-sex relationships from evangelical publishers. In May, Convergent—an imprint of the Christian publishing division of Penguin Random House—published Matthew Vines’ God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships, in which he explores the Bible in its historical context and concludes that the few scriptural passages referring to homosexuality have been wrongly and selectively interpreted. That drew impassioned responses: Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Press quickly published God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines, the first in its new Conversant e-book series.
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the seminary and editor of the essay collection, deplored Vines’ assertion that Christians can maintain a “high view” of the authority of scripture while rejecting traditional interpretations of its teachings. Mohler also called it “distressing” that an evangelical house published the book, and other groups and organizations have piled on; in May the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) also denounced the book and the publisher. Stephen Cobb, chief publishing executive for the Christian imprints of Penguin Random House, notes that the four imprints he oversees—WaterBrook, Multnomah, Convergent, and Image—have distinct editorial identities and do not all fit under the conservative “evangelical” umbrella.
A book that does take the conservative position on same-sex relationships is Can You Be Gay and Christian? Responding with Love and Truth to Questions About Homosexuality (May) by Michael Brown, published under Charisma House’s Frontline imprint. And one evangelical publisher charts a middle course: Baker imprint Brazos Press has published Generous Spaciousness: Responding to Gays in the Church (May) by Wendy VanderWal-Gritter; PW’s review (Mar. 10) called her stance “open if not fully affirming,” saying she is “gentle in her urging for Christians to be more hospitable and for gays to be clearer about their expectations from any given congregation.”
Read the Spirit, an indie house publishing broadly in religion and spirituality, released Vineyard pastor Ken Wilson’s A Letter to My Congregation: An Evangelical Pastor’s Path to Embracing People Who are Gay, Lesbian and Transgender into the Company of Jesus (Mar.). Wilson writes of his change of heart based on study of the Bible and the history of its times. Another independent press, Skyhorse Publishing, released a memoir, The Reappearing Act: Coming Out as Gay on a College Basketball Team Led by Born-Again Christians by Kate Fagan (May).
Coming in July from Chalice Press—of the liberal Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) denomination—is Defrocked: How a Father’s Act of Love Shook the United Methodist Church by Frank Schaefer, a United Methodist pastor who was stripped of his ordination in December 2013 for officiating at his gay son’s marriage. Now a speaker and activist on behalf of LGBTQ rights, Schaefer has garnered national media coverage. And the conversation continues.