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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. jod

    Lol@CNN.

    June 30, 2013 at 9:31 am |
    • Marc

      Thank you CNN.

      June 30, 2013 at 9:34 am |
    • jod

      @Marc Yeah, thanks for the laugh

      June 30, 2013 at 9:37 am |
    • Marc

      @jod, thanks to CNN on this and other articles and the readers' comments, I understood "religion" so much more. Keep up the good work, CNN!

      June 30, 2013 at 9:49 am |
  2. Ken Colwell

    To all Christians...Do not give into he Devil. Simple

    June 30, 2013 at 9:29 am |
    • caseyhayes

      Do not give into eating shell fish, paisley patterns, nylon polyester blends, and dancing at wedding receptions.

      This lady needs to deny service to everyone who has ever done any of these in order to say this is about her religion and not about prejudice.

      June 30, 2013 at 9:32 am |
  3. cosmo

    America is in the sewer now worse now than ever,

    June 30, 2013 at 9:27 am |
    • Marc

      The best has yet to come

      June 30, 2013 at 9:31 am |
    • Andrew

      If America is in the sewer, it's because of smallminded hate laws from pathetic, unlearned extremist jerknuts.

      June 30, 2013 at 9:32 am |
    • korkea aika

      the sewer is your mind. What do you think a gay couple are like at home? They watch TV, sleep, eat, go shopping, mow the lawn, go to church, call their folks, and everything else that straight couples do. So what is your mind focused on? and where does the sewer come in?

      June 30, 2013 at 9:35 am |
  4. caseyhayes

    Her church forbids dancing too. Should people be allowed to deny service to people who dance?

    June 30, 2013 at 9:27 am |
    • M

      True, they need to be consistent now.

      June 30, 2013 at 9:29 am |
    • lol??

      Dancing the dialectic is very dangerous. That's what took Eve down.

      June 30, 2013 at 9:30 am |
  5. anon

    The religion wreck is going down, get out before you drown.

    June 30, 2013 at 9:27 am |
    • lol??

      The first baptism was the flood. The next is fire. Keep up.

      June 30, 2013 at 9:28 am |
    • Primewonk

      @lol – again, there was no flood.

      June 30, 2013 at 9:37 am |
  6. Chimchim

    @shephrd01 so gay relationships are morally corrupt right? Well not to be crass, but you do know that married people go down on each other and many married men visit their wives through the back door right? Wait? Did that offend your delicate sensibilities? Welcome to the other side of judging people on what goes on privately in their bedrooms. Bunch of hypocrites.

    June 30, 2013 at 9:26 am |
  7. AGeek

    How in the hell is "I must learn to not be an intolerant bigot" a moral dilemma?!

    June 30, 2013 at 9:26 am |
    • Damocles

      I know, right?

      June 30, 2013 at 9:32 am |
  8. devin

    I've got to admit, it was absolutely brilliant , the portrayal of those who disagree as h o m o pho bic, bigoted, prejudicial, etc.. And then, equating this issue with that of the civil rights and women's rights movements, that was sheer genius. Of course, it was all disingenuous subterfuge, and yet effective.

    June 30, 2013 at 9:25 am |
    • midwest rail

      Hogwash.

      June 30, 2013 at 9:26 am |
    • AGeek

      Yeah, that equality thing. It sucks when things are *actually* equal, and not just "one is more equal than the other."

      June 30, 2013 at 9:27 am |
    • M

      Dear Bigot: It is what it is. Go look in the mirror to see what one looks like.

      June 30, 2013 at 9:27 am |
    • TeeJ

      Never underestimate the cunning of the heterophobic left.

      June 30, 2013 at 9:37 am |
  9. JMEF

    What are the chances that she goes to the same church that would not allow an inter-racial marriage ceremony be conducted? Pretty good I would guess.

    June 30, 2013 at 9:25 am |
  10. alpg49

    Christ never intended the government to be the instrument of moral compliance. The New Testament couldn't be more clear on this. Morality is a personal issue. We should pursue it on that level, first in our own lives, and then by spreading the word. That's as far as Christ took it, and He should be our example. Civil laws are made to regulate society, not to enforce moral standards.

    June 30, 2013 at 9:24 am |
    • M

      Civil laws are there to blunt hatred in all its many ugly shades.

      June 30, 2013 at 9:26 am |
    • asygifvasi

      Please! Christians have never cared what the Bible says except as a source of one-sentence quotes to justify their own biases.

      June 30, 2013 at 9:27 am |
    • devin

      Please tell me exactly how you are able to divorce civil laws from morality?

      June 30, 2013 at 9:30 am |
  11. nadinesh

    I loved "slouching toward Gomorra" - nicely written paraphrase!

    June 30, 2013 at 9:22 am |
    • Paul

      Scary, is Republicans acting like a bunch of clowns because they lost the presidency. Money cannot buy you love or an election.

      June 30, 2013 at 9:33 am |
    • Paul

      Scary, is Republicans acting like a bunch of clowns because they lost the presidency. Money cannot buy you love or an election

      June 30, 2013 at 9:34 am |
  12. Mr. Smith

    Or perhaps they could practice what they preach...which is not judging others and loving everyone. Right now, they're just using the bible to segregate. Not much different than the 1960s. I think it's time we take the church out of marriage. Religion has FAR too much influence on everything.

    June 30, 2013 at 9:21 am |
  13. usresham

    Conservatives understanding of marriage is procreation. They do not know what Love is. Love does not see color, gender, etc.
    If two people want to spend their lives in pursuit of happiness in thick & thin. What is wrong?
    People – CONSERVATIVES take oath and then run for divorce , many engage in adultery. Is that allowed in the religion?
    CONSERVATIVES are hollow & phony when they claim moral superiority.

    June 30, 2013 at 9:21 am |
  14. MagicPanties

    So for many Christians the passages condemning gays are no longer given credence, just like the passages supporting slavery are no longer in favor, among other things like stoning, severing limbs etc.

    Perhaps it's time to question all the other fairy tales in this ancient fiction?

    June 30, 2013 at 9:20 am |
    • Chris

      It is your choice to have faith or not, but don't condemn others that choose to practice their faith.....Stop pushing your filthy lifestyle on others...It's just gross

      June 30, 2013 at 9:25 am |
    • Michelle

      Amen!

      June 30, 2013 at 9:28 am |
    • paul

      chris, how is anyone's lifestyle being pushed on you?

      June 30, 2013 at 9:29 am |
    • Damocles

      @chris

      If you don't like it, don't do it. What is so hard to understand about that? If you don't like spinach do you force yourself to eat it to conform to your spinach loving friends? Of course, you wouldn't have any spinach loving friends, would you?

      June 30, 2013 at 9:31 am |
    • hee hee

      @Chris: It's a blog post on a news site. Get a grip.

      When's the last time an atheist knocked on your door on Saturday morning? I think the non-religious have a little bit of karma here. Get some perspective, ok?

      June 30, 2013 at 9:33 am |
    • Chris

      I'm just tired of hearing about how offended gay people are when someone doesn't agree with their choice of lifestyle.

      June 30, 2013 at 9:39 am |
    • hee hee

      Poor Chris. Tired of – one might almost say offended by – hearing about how offended gay people are when someone doesn't agree with their choice of lifestyle.

      All while engaging others on the comments section of an article he could easily have ignored. And ignoring them when they say "how is their filthy lifestyle being pushed"? No one is pushing it dude. You're clicking.

      Exercise for the intellectually-challenged: which of these two scenarios involves lifestyle-pushing? (1) Group one says "you must allow me to eat cake", while group two says "no, you can't eat cake, it's disgusting." (2) Group two is forced to allow group one to eat cake.

      July 1, 2013 at 8:59 pm |
  15. Kurt

    Private business. Let the market decide. If people don't buy her flowers based on her position on gay marriage that's her problem.

    June 30, 2013 at 9:20 am |
    • asygifvasi

      So you are saying my restaurant came post a sign "No Jews or Blacks!"

      Cool!

      June 30, 2013 at 9:25 am |
    • dcobranchi

      And if that lunch counter owner doesn't want to serve blacks, so what?

      June 30, 2013 at 9:28 am |
    • Kurt

      That's exactly waht i an saying. if we believe everyone has changed to cripple affirmative action and the voter act why not? according to many, we are a different nation. if that is true then don't be afraid to go all in. If the majority thesis is correct if any business did that today as a private business you would not be in business long because people will find it repulsive.

      June 30, 2013 at 9:32 am |
    • AverageJoe76

      @dcobranchi – Then you will need to start your own country. Far as most are concerned, that's not going to be tolerated anymore in America. The court system will break that 'rebellious' nature. Or break your bank, either way.

      July 1, 2013 at 11:34 am |
  16. scott

    people willingly walk off cliffs everyday, every year for decades. the parade continues.

    June 30, 2013 at 9:20 am |
    • hee hee

      Yes, in herds...

      Problem is, you're also a member of a herd.

      June 30, 2013 at 9:28 am |
    • Andres

      the human race is but a billions strong herd. what makes your subgroup so special. welcome to the future when you are but a part of another demographic group: jeew, blacks, catholics, baptists, gays, straights, muslims should have the same rights in a land were state and church are separated. Deal with it and adapt.

      June 30, 2013 at 9:35 am |
  17. Engineer in Raleigh

    I don't know what 'conservatives' are so worried about. Bob Jones University managed to not allow interracial dating all the way up until 2000, long after 'conservatives' failed to keep it illegal. You still have plenty of time to discriminate against gays.

    June 30, 2013 at 9:20 am |
    • M

      Ouch.

      June 30, 2013 at 9:24 am |
    • Andres

      Except the gays are not the blacks. We wont stand that bull.. You really think we will let any mf around discriminate after we earn our rights? We are more organized than ever and mechanisms will be in place installed.

      June 30, 2013 at 9:38 am |
    • AverageJoe76

      @Andres – Be careful in your comparisons. Blacks have an entirely different set of challenges that gays don't have. One being the option of anonymity. Blacks cannot hide, and then decide to come out the closet. Nor do I know of a slavery era or Jim Crow era for gays. Different. Very different.

      July 1, 2013 at 11:41 am |
  18. SE.

    Bible Thumpers once (and some still do) quote the Bible as an excuse to practice racism and misogyny. This is no different. They should try dragging their butts into the true light of our Creator (as well as the 21st Century) and open their eyes and hearts - everyone deserves respect and equal rights under the law. Go read up on the challenges faced by Blacks during the Civil Rights Movement and women during the Women's Liberation Movement. Just like them, in 20 years we will look back on the Gay Rights Movement with shame that it took so long.

    June 30, 2013 at 9:19 am |
    • nadinesh

      I like what you said and how you said it.

      June 30, 2013 at 9:24 am |
  19. HenryMiller

    Being self-righteous and judgemental isn't cool, and any religion that demands that of its adherents is pretty contemptible.

    Of course, Christianity has always been self-righteous and judgemental—once upon a time, they thought nothing at all of simply killing people who didn't agree with them. I guess they've evolved a bit since then, but some of them sill have a way to go.

    June 30, 2013 at 9:18 am |
    • dennis

      Christians are called to be righteous in the eyes of God, not self-righteous. All have fallen short of the glory of God. Christians have also been called to be obedient to the word of God and make judgments of what is right or wrong to do according to that, not to be judgmental. Unfortunately people confuse making judgments or what is right or wrong for a Christian to do with being judgmental. How is this different from any other faith and their judgments of what is right or wrong. Christians should, key operative word – should – be known for their love more than anything else.

      June 30, 2013 at 9:30 am |
    • Mixo Lydian

      The confusion here is that when god is really just an imaginary voice in your head, being self-righteous is exactly the same thing as being "righteous to God." This is the great delusion: we make our own judgements and elevate them by attributing them to a god created by our own myth-making. So, when a person says that god will judge people for being gay, and then that person discriminates against the LGBT community, they are just using what they perceive to be god's judgement as an excuse for their own discriminatory actions.

      June 30, 2013 at 10:26 am |
  20. Chris

    Wow, I really hate religion.

    June 30, 2013 at 9:17 am |
    • FloydZepp

      I wish trolls weren't so lonely.

      June 30, 2013 at 9:18 am |
    • Chris

      It shows...It's not enough for you to not believe.you have to critcize others that do.....That's what people do when they get defensive

      June 30, 2013 at 9:31 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.