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
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(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

    Bill is correct, but then he has to wonder why Jesus talked about the flood as if it were world wide and did not correct the record as he must have known better.

    July 1, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
  2. AE

    @ Richard

    Your quote:

    "I have been paid quite a bit for all of the science that I have published. My work is in many fields of science."

    July 1, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
  3. AE

    @ Richard

    A couple days ago you claimed you have been paid well for your published work in a number of scientific fields.

    Can you post a link to some of your stuff?

    July 1, 2013 at 5:29 pm |
  4. Cpt. Obvious

    Any excuse will do, eh AE?

    July 1, 2013 at 5:29 pm |
  5. Bill Deacon

    ME II I don't think the Scripture says a global flood occurred. It says the rain fell on the earth for for days and nights and the world was flooded. A large regional flood like Ballard describes could have been reported as "the world was flooded" by people using oral histories who would not have had the benefit of a global perspective.

    July 1, 2013 at 5:29 pm |
  6. AE

    "I'd consider that progress for you."

    Eh, thanks random and anonymous guy who knows very, very little about me.

    "Now, do you consider it more likely that a complete flood such as the bible describes happened, or that it more likely didn't happen, given the scientific case as described?"

    I have no idea, actually. There is a lot of conflicting viewpoints out there.

    July 1, 2013 at 5:25 pm |
  7. ME II

    From your link:
    "...proof that the biblical flood was actually based on real events."
    "It probably was a bad day," Ballard said. "At some magic moment, it broke through and flooded this place violently, and a lot of real estate, 150,000 square kilometers of land, went under."

    Not quite the Earth with a surface area of 510 million square kilometers.

    These people are trying to find evidence of the real events that may have led to the stories in the Bible, i.e. a large but local flood. They are not finding evidence of the flood described in the Bible as global.

    July 1, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
  8. Richard Cranium

    There is a point where there is so much evidence to support something that you go with it as fact...it is not an absolute, but it is treated as fact. We have all the information we need to proceed as fact. We have been able to assemble enough data from hundreds of sources, thousands even all telling us the history of the earth. Each piece that we go from does not dispute but re-affirms the other pieces. The history of the planet is not a mystery, there are some parts that are a mystery in small part, but we do kknow the history. At no time was there ever a flood that covered all of the earth in water after the time life began...it did not happen.
    If it did, there is no doubt, that life would not be able to start again, since so many of the processes that the earth has that are needed to sustain life would stop, and never start again.
    I could spend all day just destroying the myth of genesis...this is just one of the easiest. There rest of genesis falls to various other sciences. Also, I do not just read this stuff in book...some of the information in some of the books was written by me and many of my colleagues. Since I have not been laughed out of the scientific community, my work stands up to them. Much of the knowledge I use I gained first hand, it is not just "faith " in science when you work directly with this stuff every day. By the way, no one that I have ever met in my circles, even the believers, thinks there was a world wide flood.

    I suggest you watch Nova, on PBS or on Youtube. It will give you a rudimentary start as to why we know what we know, especially the episodes that deal with the global concepts of how the world works. The episodes are designed with school children in mind so I don't think they will go over your head too often.

    July 1, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
  9. AE

    I strive to remain open-minded in my thinking.

    How about this:


    July 1, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
  10. Bob

    AE, those are very hedging words that you are now using, "believe that it is possible...". That is very different from a pure or absolute belief, and seems to indicate that you are agnostic, at least regarding the flood stories. I'd consider that progress for you.

    Now, do you consider it more likely that a complete flood such as the bible describes happened, or that it more likely didn't happen, given the scientific case as described?

    July 1, 2013 at 5:14 pm |
  11. ME II

    "Maybe some day we may know better, but for now, nobody seems to know for sure."

    Willful ignorance.

    July 1, 2013 at 5:12 pm |
  12. AE

    I believe it is possible there was a world wide flood in the past.

    There is not enough evidence for me to completely dismiss it. It may appear to be unlikely.

    But we can never know for sure.

    You have to place a lot of faith in our technology, which continues to get better and better.

    Maybe some day we may know better, but for now, nobody seems to know for sure. Well, except Richard.

    July 1, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
  13. Cpt. Obvious


    The evidence of the natural world show that there was NOT a flood. There IS evidence. The evidence is that the flood did NOT occur. There is no evidence for the tooth fairy either for or against. So rationally, logically, realistically, belief in the Tooth Fairy is more reasonable than belief in a world wide flood. At least the tooth fairy doesn't have mountains of evidence against it like the flood.

    Pull your head out of your azz.

    July 1, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
  14. ME II

    "There is evidence that it may have happened. Even if it is only 99% likely. It is possible."

    What evidence?

    July 1, 2013 at 5:03 pm |
  15. Cpt. Obvious

    AE, if you weren't lying it will be easy enough to prove. You stated that there were "cases" that show geological evidence for a world wide flood. What are these cases? Where can we investigate these cases? Where did you find these cases? You stated that they exist, so where are they and who are the geologists scientists spearheading this research?

    July 1, 2013 at 5:01 pm |
  16. Alias

    All scientific evidence supports the idea that the great flood is a myth. Little details, like there not being enough water on the earth for it to have happened. That is a point that is unlikely to change with future discoveries.
    All common sense says it is a myth. All those animals would not have fit on the ark, and could not have traveled to or from the middle east.
    The histories of China, Ja.pan, India, Egypt, and all of South America all say it didn't happen.
    The timeline of the bible makes it impossible, considering the one family on the ark would have to spread out and repopulate the world, develop new culture, new languages, new religions, and do some really funky twists to their DNA.
    The flood requires blind faith. Either you believe god did it, or you think for yourself.

    July 1, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
  17. ME II

    Your link discusses likely causes of the story of a world-wide flood, not evidence for an actual flood covering the entire Earth.

    July 1, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
  18. AE

    @ Cpt. Obvious

    One would probably get laughed at for trying to prove the toothfairy. My parents told me they put the tooth under my pillow.

    End of story.

    There are enough intelligent and highly respected individuals looking into the possiblity of a global flood occurring.

    There is evidence that it may have happened. Even if it is only 99% likely. It is possible.

    July 1, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
  19. ME II

    There is a difference between "absolute certainty" and accepting that it never happened. Science is also not absolutely certain that the sun will rise tomorrow or that gravity will continue to behave as it has for the past 13+ billion years, but it will.

    "Flood geology contradicts the scientific consensus in geology and paleontology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, cosmology, biology, geophysics and stratigraphy,[4][5][6][7][8][9][10] and the scientific community considers it to be pseudoscience."

    That is only wiki, but follow some of the links, such as this one.

    July 1, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
  20. AE

    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."

    That is not a lie. Maybe I read bad information.

    We can't know for certain. There is a chance the geologists are wrong.

    We may not have the best technology to understand what happens when the world floods.


    July 1, 2013 at 4:56 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.