Funk on Faith

Conservative Christians losing allies they counted on

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence called for changes in the state’s religious liberty law after the NCAA and several big companies -- including Apple, Angie’s List and SalesForce -- criticized it as a legal cover for discrimination against gays and lesbians.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence called for changes in the state’s religious liberty law after the NCAA and several big companies -- including Apple, Angie’s List and SalesForce -- criticized it as a legal cover for discrimination against gays and lesbians. AP

We live in a time of shifting alliances.

Take the new reality facing conservative Christians in the United States. Just a few years ago, they could count on three givens:

1. Whatever their differences in emphasis, the business community and conservative churchgoers were on the same team when it came to promoting Republicans and battling liberals.

2. Despite some differences on a few issues, conservative Christians – Catholics and Protestants – could count on the pope to stress above all else fierce opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion.

3. Even as their favorite candidates never quite made it to the White House, conservative Christians could point to public opinion polls that showed most voters agreed with their view that gays and lesbians should not be allowed to marry their partners.

In 2015, that firm rocky ground has turned to sand:

1. In Indiana and Arkansas, it was corporate America that successfully pressured GOP governors and legislatures to make very public retreats on “religious liberty” legislation championed by conservative Christians. To please the big companies, with their eye on gay and lesbian employees and customers, these bright red states opted for hastily rewritten legislation that made it clear the new laws were not to be a license to discriminate against same-sex couples. In North Carolina, a religious liberty bill promoted by conservative Christians – including evangelical leaders, family values groups and the state’s two Catholic bishops – died after the business-friendly governor and legislative leaders gave it a cool reception.

2. There’s been no change in Roman Catholic teaching on abortion or homosexual behavior. But instead of taking a hard public line on these divisive issues as his predecessors did, Pope Francis has sought to defuse the culture wars. “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” the pope famously told a reporter on the papal plane in 2013.

Quite a difference from Pope Benedict XVI, who wrote in 2005 that homosexuality should be treated as “an intrinsic moral evil.”

3. Not that many years ago, a clear majority of Americans opposed same-sex marriage. In North Carolina and a score of other states, voters handily approved constitutional amendments reaffirming marriage as only between a man and a woman. (Most have since been invalidated by federal court rulings.)

In 2001, the Pew Research Center found that Americans disapproved of gay marriage by a margin of 57 percent to 35 percent. But since then, attitudes have shifted dramatically.

In 2014, Pew reported that Americans supported same-sex marriage, 52 percent to 40 percent. And it’s not likely to change back: According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, three-quarters of those 18 to 29 years old now support gay marriage.

tfunk@charlotteobserver.com

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