Schaeffer's trial.... has highlighted the growing divide among the faithful over homosexuality. It's a rift that extends across denominations. Except for the Episcopal Church, which recognized same-sex unions in 2009 and ordains openly gay and lesbian priests, the leadership of the country's major Christian denominations has presented a solid front against the spread of same-sex marriage across the country. Further down the totem pole, churches are moving on without their leadership. According to a forthcoming report from the National Congregations Study at Duke University, the number of congregations allowing openly gay and lesbian members has increased from 38 to 48 percent since 2006. Twenty-seven percent of churches gave gay and lesbian congregants leadership roles in the same timeframe—an 8 percent jump.
"Things don't change that much in religion—there's a lot of stability," says Mark Chaves, a sociologist at Duke and one of the researchers behind the study. "This is one of the biggest jumps on a specific subject we've seen since we first started collecting data in 1998." Indeed, while public support for same-sex marriage shot up in the last ten years—in 2003,.... But those who study religious opinion say the trend line among the faithful began to shoot up between 2008 and 2009. "The sea change has hit among religious organizations," says Robert Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), a think tank in Washington, D.C. "Overall, what we're seeing are the changes in American culture broadly reflected in attitudes of religious Americans as well."
With the rift in the pews growing, the big question for religious institutions is whether the issue will lead to denominational splits as it did with slavery, which cleaved the Baptist Church and many other protestant denominations in two. A similar breakup occurred in the early 20th century over the doctrinal issue of Biblical inerrancy—the idea that the Bible contains the perfectly preserved word of God. Jones says that whether churches see similar schisms over same-sex marriage depends on how persistent the divide is. Given how quickly attitudes are changing, he thinks such a largescale schism is unlikely. "When you have big splits, the issue has to sit around for a while," he says. "But the issue is moving too quickly to produce settled coalitions that are facing off."So, to those who continue to claim that faithful Christians and supporters of gay rights are mutually exclusive: you are wrong. LGBT Christians and their allies are finding their voices, and working to effect change. It behooves us to highlight their support, because they are the biggest counter to the religious conservatives who claim that their faith makes them oppress us.