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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. Cpt. Obvious

    AE, you're not reading carefully. See Cranium's post above. Science doesn't work in absolutes. Of course there's a possibility that there's no such thing as gravity, but there are little tiny invisible fairies flying around pushing everything towards other things of larger mass, but that doesn't mean that theory is likely or that anybody should believe it.

    There is as much evidence for a global flood as there is for the Tooth Fairy. Do you believe in the tooth fairy because science has not completely, 100% disproved her?

    July 1, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
  2. AE

    ME II says: "Science doesn't deal in "absolute certainty", "

    Richard says: "We know the geologic history of the world, and no global flood ever happened. That information will not change."

    You claim to know the absolute geologoical history of the world? And know for certain that a global flood has never occurred?

    I don't know of any respected geologist who ever has made such a claim. That would be pretty arrogant of them.

    July 1, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
  3. Cpt. Obvious

    AE, you lied when you said this: "There are some very good cases out there using geological data that shows evidence of a world wide flood."

    If a worldwide flood had occurred anytime in the past few million years, the evidence would be everywhere. If the flood had occurred the evidence would be incontrovertible and all over the globe.

    July 1, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
  4. AE

    I know that there are people still studying the matter. We don't have 100% proof there was never a global flood.

    "Peer-reviewed research" once claimed cigarettes don't cause cancer.

    July 1, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
  5. Richard Cranium

    AE
    Our information will become more refined but it will not change that much. You obviously have more faith in your ridiculous book than in actual knowledge. There is no sense in continuing with you since you obviously do not use your brain for logic .

    We know the geologic history of the world, and no global flood ever happened. That information will not change.

    July 1, 2013 at 4:41 pm |
  6. ME II

    @AE,
    "It appears that a global flood was unlikely. But nobody know for sure. You need a lot of faith to make a claim of absolute certainty."
    "There are some very good cases out there using geological data that shows evidence of a world wide flood, too."

    Science doesn't deal in "absolute certainty", however, I am unaware of any peer-reviewed research that supports a world-wide flood. If you know of any, please present it.

    In other words, there is a lot of evidence for the geological history of the Earth and none of it supports a world-wide flood, which should be readily evident if it actually happened.

    July 1, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
  7. Dyslexic doG

    Matthew 7:7
    ”Ask, and it will be given to you seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

    Matthew 21:22
    And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

    Mark 11:24
    Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

    John 14:13-14
    Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it

    so ... if the bible is the truth, and if prayer works, then Christians shouldn't have any worries about these laws being changed to whatever they want. Surely (if the bible is the truth and if prayer works) with all the christians praying in America, this place should be heaven for the Christian Taliban. gays would all leave or die, abortion would stop. everyone else would miraculously convert to Christianity ... oh ... and let's not forget ... all amputees would miraculously grow their limbs back.

    what a crock!

    July 1, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
    • AE

      I pray for knowledge of God's will for me, and the power to carry it out.

      I don't think God is a magical genie that grants my wishes. Put those verses in context and they will make a lot more sense.

      July 1, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
    • A Conversation

      Dog...thanks for pointing this out: After 2000 years, I guess Christians NEVER considered that one prayer may cancel out another and therefore under YOUR interpretation (which must be right after all), Christ's promise of answered prayer is impossible. Or, perhaps, your interpretation of these verses is wrong, and it might be as Christians have surmised for 2000 years–that one must pray within God's will.

      July 1, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
    • tony

      If god is only going to do god's will, regardless of prayers offered, then prayer obviously won't cause anything to change.

      So what's the point of prayer, or even worship? Or even being noticed by god at all?

      July 1, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
    • A Conversation

      Tony...gold star questions! The answer is because God wants us to have a relationship with him (indeed, imagine "love" without relationship) which is accomplished in prayer and worship and action. As for your assertion: "If god is only going to do god's will, regardless of prayers offered, then prayer obviously won't cause anything to change." Perhaps God's will is that we ask first. He may be willing to do what we ask, but only if we ask–again, coming back to the relationship paradigm.

      July 1, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
    • AE

      NIcely put, "A Conversation."

      July 1, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
    • Colin

      Prayers are 100% ineffective. They never work.

      July 1, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
    • A Conversation

      Thanks Colin. I was wondering how long it was going to take for somebody to post something that added nothing to the conversation.

      July 1, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
  8. AE

    @ Cpt. Obvious.

    I'm not lying. I may be wrong. But I'm not lying.

    It appears that a global flood was unlikely. But nobody know for sure. You need a lot of faith to make a claim of absolute certainty.

    @ Richard Cranium

    Data changes. There may be new techonological advances in the future that demonstrate what we know today is wrong. That happens all the time in human history.

    I bet in 500 years, some of what we think is true geological fact, will be outdated nonsense.

    Again, you have to have faith in what a geologist thinks *probably* would happen if the world flooded.

    There is probably nobody posting on here who has actually experienced it.

    July 1, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
  9. Richard Cranium

    AE
    No there isn't.
    There is a great deal of proof that it never happened, not all over the world, not all at once. Your data (if you have any) is outdated. We now have a great deal of geological data, back by satelite data proving beyond a doubt that at no time was all of the land mass on earth covered in water after life began. The flood in Genesis NEVER happened.

    July 1, 2013 at 4:12 pm |
  10. Cpt. Obvious

    AE, why are you lying? Don't you realize it makes baby jesus cry? If you had done any real research, you'd know better than to post such a lie.

    July 1, 2013 at 4:12 pm |
  11. Cpt. Obvious

    Ballard offers us his faith and belief, but no evidence. And when pushed, he retreats to a more logical position--that some large, local flood happened in the Mesopotamia valley--and that hypothesis is not in doubt.

    July 1, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
  12. Richard Cranium

    Cpt. Obvious
    Not just no evidence...a mountain of evidence to the contrary. Evidence that shows that no global flood ever happened.

    July 1, 2013 at 4:09 pm |
  13. AE

    It sounds like you have faith in that geological data. I doubt you have actually seen it, gathered it or studied it. People have made a case with that geological data and you accepted it on faith.

    There are some very good cases out there using geological data that shows evidence of a world wide flood, too.

    July 1, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
  14. Martin

    What next??? if a customer refuses to eat in a restaurant and walks out because it doesn't serve kosher food , is that grounds for suing the customer?

    The florist in this case was open about her belief up front and did not wait until the wedding day to refuse service. She has the right to her religious belief as the gay couple in this case.

    July 1, 2013 at 4:06 pm |
    • Joe

      A business which is serving the public does not have a right to discriminate, period. They cannot refuse service because of your race or religion, your age or any other protected characteristic. Refusing service because you're lesbian or gay falls along those lines, although you are too bigoted to see it that way. It's the exact same thing. Don't like it? Then don't operate a public business.

      July 1, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
    • Mrs. Pepperpot

      Martin,
      The customer in your case wouldn't even eat the food because it wasn't prepared in a kosher manner in the first place. Restaurants usually advertise if they're kosher. The customer would know to ask, and if it's not a kosher restaurant, they are free to leave. This happens all the time.

      July 1, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
  15. Cpt. Obvious

    AE, believe by faith, because all the data shows that there was no global flood. If you're going to believe with zero evidence, then just use that catch-all "faith." Why not?

    July 1, 2013 at 4:04 pm |
  16. Bill Deacon

    Robert Ballard seems to disagree with you Cpt. Perhaps science is on the verge of a new finding and will have to recalculate. Until then, a less skeptical approach would seem more rational.

    July 1, 2013 at 4:01 pm |
  17. AE

    @ Cpt. Obvious

    The topic is still being debated. There is no definite answer.

    To know exactly what happens when the world is flooded.... you would have to actually flood the entire world. Otherwise you are just guessing and taking giant leaps of faith.

    There really are non-religious and atheist geologists who believe a world wide flood occurred.

    July 1, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
  18. Cpt. Obvious

    AE, you need to face the facts. There are THOUSANDS of reasons why we know that there was no global flood. One of those reasons is the evidence of geology-–ALL the geological data collected--ALL of it shows that there was no flood. Of course, god could have magically erased all the evidence, but then he'd be a supreme p.r.i.ck to do something like that.

    July 1, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
  19. AE

    There are geologists who support a world wide flood.

    So there are doubts out there. Even if it is highly unlikely, there exist doubts. Even in the scientific community.

    July 1, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
  20. Cpt. Obvious

    AE, floods are common; large floods less so, but they occur often enough that we find evidence of massive flooding in the myths of most cultures. There was no world wide flood for hundreds of reasons. It never happened. There is no doubt. Thus, you must doubt your holy book.

    July 1, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
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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.