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Conservatives brace for `marriage revolution'
Conservative Christians say their churches have been unprepared for cultural shifts on same-sex marriage.
June 28th, 2013
06:19 PM ET

Conservatives brace for `marriage revolution'

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN) - With its ivy-covered entrance and Teddy Bear bouquets, Arlene’s Flowers seems an unlikely spot to trigger a culture-war skirmish.

Until recently, the Richland, Washington, shop was better known for its artistic arrangements than its stance on same-sex marriage.

But in March, Barronelle Stutzman, the shop’s 68-year-old proprietress, refused to provide wedding flowers for a longtime customer who was marrying his partner. Washington state legalized same-sex marriage in December.

An ardent evangelical, Stutzman said she agonized over the decision but couldn’t support a wedding that her faith forbids.

“I was not discriminating at all,” she said. “I never told him he couldn’t get married. I gave him recommendations for other flower shops.”

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson disagreed, and filed a consumer protection lawsuit against Arlene’s Flowers. The ACLU also sued on behalf of the customer, Robert Ingersoll, who has said Stutzman’s refusal “really hurt, because it was someone I knew.”

Among conservative Christians, Stutzman has become a byword - part cautionary tale and part cause celebre.

Websites call her a freedom fighter. Tributes fill Arlene’s Facebook page. Donations to her legal defense fund pour in from as far away as Texas and Arkansas.

“For some reason, her case has made a lot of people of faith worry,” said Stutzman’s lawyer, Dale Schowengerdt of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal group.

Those anxieties have only increased, conservative Christians say, since the Supreme Court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act and opened the door to gay marriage in California.

Taking a line from Justice Antonin Scalia's sharp dissent, Southern Baptist scholar Albert Mohler said it’s only a matter of time "before the other shoe drops" – and the high court legalizes same-sex marriage from coast to coast.

“Christians will have to think hard — and fast — about these issues and our proper response,” Mohler wrote on Wednesday.

“We will have to learn an entire new set of missional skills as we seek to remain faithful to Christ in this fast-changing culture.”

His fellow Southern Baptist Russell Moore put the matter more succinctly.

“Same-sex marriage is coming to your community.”

`The debate is over'

Well before the Supreme Court’s rulings, many conservative Christians said they saw the writing - or the poll numbers - on the wall.

Survey after survey shows increasing support for same-sex marriage, especially among young Americans. That includes many religious believers.

Most Catholics and mainline Protestants, not to mention many Jews, support same-sex relationships, according to surveys. The bells of Washington National Cathedral pealed in celebration on Thursday.

Even among those who oppose gay marriage, many think it’s a losing battle.

Seventy percent of white evangelicals believe that legal recognition for gay nuptials is inevitable, according to a June poll by the Pew Research Center, though just 22 percent favor it.

“The gay marriage debate is over,” said Jonathan Merritt, an evangelical writer on faith and culture. “Statistically, all the numbers move in one direction.”

Young Christians have grown up in a far more diverse culture than their forebears, Merritt noted, and many have befriended gays and lesbians.

Pew found that more than 90 percent of Americans overall personally know someone who is gay or lesbian, a 30 percent increase since 1993.

“It’s far easier to wage war against an agenda than it is to battle a friend,” Merritt said.

At the same time, many conservative young Christians say they’re weary of the culture wars, and of seeing their communities labeled “judgmental.”

When Christian researchers at the Barna Group asked Americans aged 16-29 what words best describe Christianity, the top response was “anti-homosexual.” That was true of more than 90 percent of non-Christians and 80 percent of churchgoers, according to Barna.

Tired of being told the country is slouching toward Gomorrah, many young Christians have simply tuned out the angry prophets of earlier generations, evangelical leaders say.

“The shrill angry voices of retrenchment are no longer getting a broad hearing either in the culture at large or in the evangelical community,” Merritt said.

But the battle over same-sex marriage is far from over, said Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage.

“I don’t believe most Christians are going to give up the fight,” said Brown, who is Catholic. He said his movement includes many young evangelical and Orthodox Christians.

“And they are more energized than ever.”

Love thy gay neighbors

Energized or not, conservative Christians must prepare for the moral dilemmas posed by the country’s growing acceptance of same-sex marriage, said Moore, the new president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

“Is Your Church Ready for the Marriage Revolution?” Moore asked, while promoting a special session on homosexuality at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Houston in June.

Many evangelical pastors have seen homosexuality as a distant culture-war battle that’s fought far from the doors of the churches, Moore said.

Now, it’s as close as their front pews.

“I think it’s not so much that churches haven’t wanted to talk about it,” he said, “but they haven’t recognized how much the culture has changed around them.”

The first step, said Moore, is learning to defend traditional marriage without demonizing gays and lesbians.

Walking through Washington’s Union Station last Thursday, Moore said he saw several lesbian couples kissing in celebration of the Supreme Court rulings.

“If we can’t empathize with what’s going on in their hearts and minds, we’re not going to be able to love and respect them.”

Then come a host of secondary questions: How should conservative pastors minister to same-sex couples? Should Christians attend same-sex weddings? Should florists like Barronelle Stutzman's agree to work with gay couples?

`Don't give in' 

Florist Barronelle Stutzman.

In the 17 years she’s owned Arlene’s Flowers, Stutzman said, she’s worked with a number of gay colleagues.

“It really didn’t matter if they were gay, or blue or green, if they were creative and could do the job,” she said.

Stutzman suspects that some of her eight children privately don’t agree with her on homosexuality, even as they publicly support her decision.

Online, Stutzman has been called a bigot, and worse.

She said she’s lost at least two weddings because of her refusal to provide services for the same-sex marriage.

Conservative activists say her case is the first of what will surely be many more, as gay marriage spreads across the country.

As she gets ready to face a judge, the silver-haired florist offered some advice for fellow evangelicals.

“Don’t give in. If you have to go down for Christ, what better person to go down for?”

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Baptist • Belief • Christianity • Church • Culture wars • Discrimination • Faith • Gay marriage • Gay rights • Homosexuality • Politics • Religious liberty • Same-sex marriage

soundoff (5,210 Responses)
  1. Notevangelical

    I've thought for a long time that the Evangelical church has fallen into a trap of it's own making. The evangelicals need to recognize that legally, marriage is, and always has been, about property rights. That's all. The answer, whether they like it or not, is to separate legal marriage from religious marriage. Legally, we're going to get to the place where the law says that any two consenting adults (no, that doesn't allow a 40 year old to marry a 9 year old, regardless of gender, or allows you to marry your cow) can enter into the legal contract of marriage. Any religious group will remain free to have a marriage ceremony for anyone they want, and it won't be legally binding on anyone. I'd even go so far as to suggest that any priest, minister, imam, or guru who signs a marriage license is acting as an agent of the state, and is in violation of the principle of religious freedom.

    That being said, the evangelical church is going to have to lighten up. There are, and always have been, gays in the pews. Finding a better way to deal with them is absolutely necessary.

    Oh, and in the case at hand, I hope the judge throws it out. There is NO legal precedent that requires a business person to sell their wares to everyone who walks in the door. If someone doesn't want to do business with gays, that's their problem. And so is the repercussion of it. If their business goes in the toilet and they loose straight customers and go broke, that's their choice.

    June 30, 2013 at 7:54 am |
  2. a dose of reality

    No matter how you dress it up, there are some fundamental difficulties with Christianity that are pretty hard to overcome.
    1. At its most fundamental level, Christianity requires a belief that an all-knowing, all-powerful, immortal being created the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies 13,720,000,000 years ago (the age of the Universe) sat back and waited 10,000,000,000 years for the Earth to form, then waited another 3,720,000,000 years for human beings to gradually evolve, then, at some point gave them eternal life and sent its son to Earth to talk about sheep and goats in the Middle East.
    While here, this divine visitor exhibits no knowledge of ANYTHING outside of the Iron Age Middle East, including the other continents, 99% of the human race, and the aforementioned galaxies.
    Either that, or it all started 6,000 years ago with one man, one woman and a talking snake. Either way “oh come on” just doesn’t quite capture it.
    2. This ‘all loving’ god spends his time running the Universe and spying on the approximately 7 billion human beings on planet Earth 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He even reads their minds (or “hears their prayers”, if you see any difference) using some kind of magic telepathic powers. He also keeps his telepathic eye on them when they are not praying, so as to know if they think bad thoughts (such as coveting their neighbor) so he knows whether to reward or punish them after they die.
    3. Having withheld any evidence of his existence, this god will then punish those who doubt him with an eternity burning in hell. I don’t have to kill, I don’t have to steal, I don’t even have to litter. All I have to do is harbor an honest, reasonable and rational disbelieve in the Christian god and he will inflict a grotesque penalty on me a billion times worse than the death penalty – and he loves me.
    4. The above beliefs are based on nothing more than a collection of Bronze and Iron Age Middle Eastern mythology, much of it discredited, that was cobbled together into a book called the “Bible” by people we know virtually nothing about, before the Dark Ages.
    5. The stories of Christianity are not even original. They are borrowed directly from earlier mythology from the Middle East. Genesis and Exodus, for example, are clearly based on earlier Babylonian myths such as The Epic of Gilgamesh, and the Jesus story itself is straight from the stories about Apollonius of Tyana, Ho.rus and Dionysus (including virgin birth, the three wise men, the star in the East, birth at the Winter solstice, a baptism by another prophet, turning water into wine, crucifixion and rising from the dead).
    6. The Bible is also literally infested with contradictions, outdated morality, and open support for the most barbarous acts of cruelty – including, genocide, murder, slavery, r.ape and the complete subjugation of women. All of this is due to when and where it was written, the morality of the times and the motives of its authors and compilers. While this may be exculpatory from a literary point of view, it also screams out the fact that it is a pure product of man, bereft of any divine inspiration.
    7. A rejection of the supernatural elements of Christianity does not require a rejection of its morality. Most atheists and secular humanists share a large amount of the morality taught today by mainstream Christianity. To the extent we reject Christian morality, it is where it is outdated or mean spirited – such as in the way it seeks to curtail freedoms or oppose the rights of $exual minorities. In most other respects, our basic moral outlook is indistinguishable from that of the liberal Christian – we just don’t need the mother of all carrots and sticks hanging over our head in order to act in a manner that we consider moral.
    Falsely linking morality to a belief in the supernatural is a time-tested “three card trick” religion uses to stop its adherents from asking the hard questions. So is telling them it is “wrong to doubt.” This is probably why there is not one passage in the Bible in support of intelligence and healthy skepticism, but literally hundreds in support of blind acceptance and blatant gullibility.
    8. We have no idea of who wrote the four Gospels, how credible or trustworthy they were, what ulterior motives they had (other than to promote their religion) or what they based their views on. We know that the traditional story of it being Matthew, Mark, Luke and John is almost certainly wrong. For example, the Gospel of Matthew includes a scene in which Jesus meets Matthew, recounted entirely in the third person!! Nevertheless, we are called upon to accept the most extraordinary claims by these unknown people, who wrote between 35 to 65 years after Christ died and do not even claim to have been witnesses. It is like taking the word of an unknown Branch Davidian about what happened to David Koresh at Waco – who wrote 35 years after the fact and wasn’t there.
    9. When backed into a corner, Christianity admits it requires a “leap of faith” to believe it. However, once one accepts that pure faith is a legitimate reason to believe in something (which it most certainly is not, any more than “faith” that pixies exist is) one has to accept all other gods based on exactly the same reasoning. One cannot be a Christian based on the “leap of faith” – and then turn around and say those who believe in, for example, the Hindu gods, based on the same leap, got it wrong. In a dark room without features, any guess by a blind man at the direction of the door is as valid as the other 359 degrees.
    Geography and birthplace dictates what god(s) one believes in. Every culture that has ever existed has had its own gods and they all seem to favor that particular culture, its hopes, dreams, and prejudices. Do you think they all exist? If not, why only yours?
    Faith is not belief in a god. It is a mere hope for a god, a wish for a god, no more substantial than the hope for a good future and no more universal than the language you speak or the baseball team you support.

    June 30, 2013 at 7:54 am |
  3. John

    I am 63 and a black male. No doubt there have been sweeping changes in American society in my lifetime. And it appears -Again- that sweeping changes are coming-for the better.

    Some of the arguments used against giving-allowing-tolerating gay rights were and are the same that were used for my ethnic group and many others as 'support' for NOT giving-allowing-tolerating the [named groups'] right to be a whole human.

    Looks like society at large is moving forward–though with some kicking and screaming not to. This has been played out many many times.

    June 30, 2013 at 7:53 am |
  4. Mark Yelka

    Do a search on: public accommodation discrimination

    June 30, 2013 at 7:52 am |
  5. rob

    The bigoted religious nuts in this world, especially the U.S., are getting crazier by the day. We need to rid society of this dangerous vermin.

    June 30, 2013 at 7:50 am |
    • Jonathan

      Well bring it big boy. Down south we have all the guns and aren't afraid to use them. Let's get the war on now!.

      June 30, 2013 at 8:05 am |
  6. Steve J

    It's amazing how christians interpret and only follow the parts of the bible that are convenient for them.

    June 30, 2013 at 7:50 am |
    • Jonny Castro

      And it is amazing how little you know of the Bible to be able to comment on that

      June 30, 2013 at 7:58 am |
    • dave

      Perfectly stated..

      June 30, 2013 at 8:02 am |
    • dave

      My "perfectly stated" was directed at Steven not Johnny

      June 30, 2013 at 8:04 am |
  7. gardengirl

    How many of these same people who oppose ga y marriage would have been opposed to inter-racial marriage in the 60s when it was still illegal in some states? How about focusing on other parts of Christianity? Why the hyperfocus on this issue?

    June 30, 2013 at 7:49 am |
  8. Joey Isotta-Fraschini, D.D. ©™

    Turn collection plates into ploughs. Do something good instead of advocating bigotry and hatred.

    June 30, 2013 at 7:48 am |
  9. Ray

    Sick of this gay agenda! It is nothing like the civil rights movement yet it is always compared to that. I do and will not support gay marriage.

    June 30, 2013 at 7:48 am |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      Your lack of support of it isn't going to change it! You're on the wrong side of history!

      June 30, 2013 at 7:50 am |
  10. jw

    there is no such thing as th biblical "god" or heaven. all you religious bigots out there better grow up and realize this planet is shared space. we will get our rights. human rights will prevail. by the way, no one is going to "save" you but yourself. you get back what you give out. its pretty simple.

    June 30, 2013 at 7:48 am |
    • bilbilbit

      Look who's the bigot now

      June 30, 2013 at 7:56 am |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      Being a bigot against religious idiocy won't stop the religious from having equal rights...you're still going to be free to practice your belief regardless. Being a bigot against gays due to your belief and trying to impose those beliefs on people is a different scenario and absolutely wrong.
      In the same sense that you're bigoted towards gay, you're also bigoted towards people don't share the same imaginary friend as you.

      June 30, 2013 at 8:17 am |
  11. DocHollywood

    “I was not discriminating at all,” she said. “I never told him he couldn’t get married. I gave him recommendations for other flower shops.”

    Why yes, I remember growing up in the south. They weren't discriminating at all when they (white resturantes) told blacks to go eat somewhere else. They even recommended some places to eat, although I'd say I couldn't probably repeat some of those 'places' here. Nor did they discriminate at all when they told blacks they couldn't use the restrooms at white only establishments. Because they did often times tell them where they could use the restrooms at.

    As a business person, you should just sell your product. Why is it any concern of yours HOW the recipient uses the product he/she buys?

    June 30, 2013 at 7:47 am |
    • Jonny Castro

      And as I made and control the product I have the right to sell it to whom I want. I made it, I put the hours into creating it, not the US of A

      June 30, 2013 at 8:00 am |
  12. Patrick

    Arlene is a bigot.

    Christ didn't say a word about gay marriage but prohibits divorce and remarriage along with Paul. Yet she has no problems providing flowers for 2nd, 3rd or 4th marriages.

    June 30, 2013 at 7:47 am |
    • Patrick

      Matthew 19: (Jesus Speaking) 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for $ ex ual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

      1 Corinthians 7:10 To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.

      June 30, 2013 at 7:49 am |
    • gardengirl

      I do wonder about the hyperfocus on this issue. It seems odd to me. I'm not Christian but many types of Christianity do focus on other positive parts of that religion. Somehow the conservative groups seem to tend to focus a huge amount on this particular issue. Why? It seems from an outside point of view they do not understand the main message of Christianity.

      June 30, 2013 at 7:51 am |
  13. Frank

    I don't agree with the lady's decision. But if her religious convictions require her to act as she does, should't she have that right? To be sued for following your faith, when doing so does no more harm than hurt some one's feelings, makes me uncomfortable. People should have the right to follow their convictions, provided that no harm is done.

    June 30, 2013 at 7:47 am |
    • Mark Yelka

      Then, people who don't want to serve people of a certain racial group should be allowed to do that?

      June 30, 2013 at 7:56 am |
  14. Justmeeee

    Well you know its a sad day when the gays win a battle. Sorry people.. Did any of these people in these courts ever even attend Church?? My guess is NO. all these people yelling its right does not make it right.. The only thing this is going to do is open the doors to all kinds of more family court cases for divorce and lets face it custody as now the gays will want to adopt children since they cant have their own and thats wrong.. once they break up then child support and all that other stuff comes with it.. This is 100% against the word of GOD... sorry people but it is.. Point bank period! If you dont think this is wrong then you just dont believe in god and need to attend church..

    June 30, 2013 at 7:46 am |
    • Truth Prevails :-)

      What's a sadder day is when bigots speak and people deny equal rights to others based on a 2000 year old outdated book that only has itself to back it.

      June 30, 2013 at 7:49 am |
    • EMcK

      And, whether what you say is true or not is irrelevant. Since religion is not the foundation for our laws, it has no bearing on this decision.

      June 30, 2013 at 8:11 am |
    • Robert

      uhmmm..... because you have to go to church in order to be a christian? So if I don't attend a brick/mortar building with a cross or what ever other religious symbol on it I'm not a christian? I'm trying to make sure I understand how delusional you are. Every church I've ever gone to has been nothing more than a bunch of people gathered to show off their latest clothing purchase, condemn thy neighbor and allow the church officials rob their checkbooks while thinking they are there to celebrate their religious beliefs. Mind you I don't blame my distaste for most relgious organizations on Christ, quite the contrary, it what religious right has done with it that makes me has a strong distaste for church and it's officials who "organize" their religion. So my point is, your statement is strongly misguided and you need to face reality.

      June 30, 2013 at 8:18 am |
  15. bgg1175

    What Christian cannot understand is that you can be opposed to something but you're beliefs should not be enforced upon others.
    But that is exactly what has happened in our World and Muslims continue to force their views on others in Countries they control.
    Christians like Muslims think if laws are changed taking away their power over others that it is an attack again their religion and their deity and therefore it is wrong.
    Meanwhile Christians and Muslims are total frauds and Hypocrites. I could cite the many examples that prove that but I dont need to. -We all know the examples very well.

    June 30, 2013 at 7:46 am |
    • ME

      You are so wise.

      June 30, 2013 at 7:49 am |
    • Jonny Castro

      Well duh Christians arent perfect and still are follow their own desires. That is why we are all works in progress. BTW have you never screwed up or been a hypocrite?

      June 30, 2013 at 8:02 am |
    • faithalone

      Some of the worst people I ever met ere un a church. They (not all) pretend to be holy on sunday but molest children and have affairs within the church. I have a very hard time with such people and their beliefs. I have faith in higher power and also believe it is and never was my place to judge someone elses house. I do not wish them to judge mine either.

      June 30, 2013 at 8:17 am |
  16. davidlv67

    don't care who she go's down for just as long as she go's down

    June 30, 2013 at 7:45 am |
  17. BrianInMaryland

    So much money and energy are used to fight this civil right by the religious groups. Why not redirect those valuable resources to fighting poverty, crime, diseases, high-school dropout, etc.... Isn't solving social problems the main goal of the churches anymore?

    June 30, 2013 at 7:44 am |
    • Jim

      Yep, the Christian churches in America are way too connected to the political process. The laws of a nation have absolutely nothing to do with the practice of Biblical Christianity. These pastors (many of them TV hucksters) with their wide-eyed indignation need to spend more time dealing with the hearts and needs of people.

      June 30, 2013 at 7:49 am |
    • Jonny Castro

      So it is only the churches responsibility to solve social problems and not everyone's? I thought you secularists believe that you have good morals as well? So prove it.
      And who is to say churches dont give to these social issues? maybe they do so in other countries or do so in a way (i.e Celebrate Recovery) that you either dont know about or dont like. Does that mean you get to dictate how they solve those problems as well?

      June 30, 2013 at 8:07 am |
  18. Joey Isotta-Fraschini, D.D. ©™

    There will be peace and love after the Southern Baptist Convention is gone.

    June 30, 2013 at 7:44 am |
  19. Terry Power

    At least the divorce lawyers are happy.....they now have a whole new pool of potential victims to go after...it's bad enough that women are paying "permanent manimony" to their male ex-husbands for marriages as short as 10 years or less....it's going to be pretty amazing when the first woman gets hit with having to pay for life for a marriage to another woman.

    Support alimony reform if you live in one of the backwards states (Florida, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia, Connecticutt, and others) that still see permanent alimony as "the default" in almost all divorces over 7 years. The current laws are anti-marriage and only allow the predatory litigating divorce attorneys to prey on families in misery for their own financial gain.

    June 30, 2013 at 7:44 am |
    • Saraswati

      The fact that same se.x couple could not marry does not mean these issues haven't been occuring for the last 50 years. Thousands of civil cases were handled, including those of such prominent figures as Martina Navratilova and her partner. This stuff is not new.

      June 30, 2013 at 7:58 am |
  20. Jerry

    These deviants are whom the clueless/moronic president applauds. HE will not pay attention to the real issues facing América and then to rub it in our faces he goes sauntering off to Africa at a cost of 100 million dollars. Then to really, really rub it off on Américans faces he promises Africa seven billion dollars of our hard earned money. WOW!!! Can you imagine all the good that can be done in our homeland with seven billion dollars?!

    This IDIOT needs to be impeached before he is able to ruin América.

    Of course the people that pay "didli?" or are benefiting from HIS largess will always defend HIS actions.

    Sooner or later the piggy bank is going to break but it really will not affect our fool of a president because he would have stowed away his millions; sometimes in the same countries that he criticized Mr. Romney for.

    Oh well, the lying and spending games will continue. The "flogging" of the resistors will continue...

    June 30, 2013 at 7:43 am |
    • Aurthor

      Grow up please.

      June 30, 2013 at 7:47 am |
    • ElmerGantry

      @Aurthor
      It's hard for the willingly ignrt to grow up

      June 30, 2013 at 7:52 am |
    • ElmerGantry

      Ooops, dang typo. .... ignorant...

      June 30, 2013 at 7:53 am |
    • Myk

      @Jerry, please explain to us what country you are from, and the reason I ask this is that all 3 times you have America or Americans in you rant there is an accent mark over your "e".

      June 30, 2013 at 8:09 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.