A Look At How the Evangelical Christian Response to Gay Rights Has Changed Over the Years


Using old issues of Christianity Today – the evangelical Christian periodical founded in 1956 by Billy Graham – sociologists Jeremy Thomas (Idaho State) and Daniel Olson (Purdue University) have discovered that "during the last several decades, evangelical elites have actually been subtly but significantly changing their moral reasoning about homosexuality."

More specifically, the evangelical response to homosexuality has been one of four approaches that have varied in frequency over the years:

1. Biblical Intolerance: Dominant approach of 1969-1979. "The Bible says it's a sin, that's good enough for me" Evangelicals acknowledge that being gay isn't a choice (it was seen as a psychological disorder)

2. Natural Intolerance: Emerged in the 1980s. Emphasized natural law, rather than the Bible, as the foundation of public morality and law. Allowed evangelicals to use science (procreation) and medicine (AIDS and HIV) to make moral arguments more palatable for the secular public square.

3. Public Accommodation: Emerged in the 1990s and is the dominant argument today. Homosexuality is a personal sin, but because we live in a pluralistic society LGBT rights should be protected. Marriage, however, remains off-limits to the gays.

4. Personal Accommodation: A recently developed argument that emerged in the 2000s. Continues to remain a minority position. Emphasizes that LGBT rights are about love and respect, not sex. Attempts to push away from morality judgement. The Bible is used to argue for equal rights


The full study (which you can read here) costs $38 to access, but Religion News Service has a detailed breakdown of the study's findings that you can view for free. 


  1. Bernie says

    I have read this several times to make sure I understood what was written….If you read #3 and #4, the information stated is NOT true, as the Christian right wing does not see gay people as equal or deserving of equal rights. And in #4, the love and respect thing is pure fiction……..

  2. says

    “I drove my youngest son to blow his own brains out. but that doesn’t mean i’m going to stop promoting anti-gay hatred all over the world!” – Rick Warren

    let’s look at all these “my personal religious freedoms!” lawsuits and legal challenges – the similarities? these folks only suddenly have a “deeply personal religious objection” when it comes to THE GAYYYSSS! selective amnesia at its finest. all the other biblical sins? pay no heed.

    religion is an EXCUSE to hate on gay people. not a reason.

    the “reason” is personal inferiority – those with nothing of worth in their lives need someone to look down on, and we’re the prime target.

  3. Max says

    Why are Evangelicals ashamed to call themselves Protestants nowadays? All of a sudden they went from Evangelical Protestants to Evangelical “Christians”. Protestants should be proud to be called Protestant.

  4. Nerd says


    This study is not just about the right wing, it’s about editorials that appeared in the magazine Christianity Today. Some of the editorials are written by more moderate or liberal Christians than the usual suspects that grab headlines on Towleroad.

    It’s worth remembering that Christians are actually a really big group, and as such, have a wide range of opinions on different issues, even though a few with the most extreme views often presume to speak for the whole of Christianity.

  5. Mike in nyc says

    That fact that such ridiculous superstitions still exist in the year 2014,
    Is absurd….why do the weak and uneducated still need a make believe Daddy in the sky??!!


  6. Bill says

    @Max : while all evangelicals are non-Catholics (and hence [mostly?] Protestants), not all Protestants are Evangelicals. The Episcopalians, for example, tend to not have that many hangups, no doubt due to Henry VIII founding the Church of England because of a squabble with the Pope over that king’s numerous wives (married sequentially and sometimes divorced by “divorcing” their heads from the rest of them).

  7. Bill says

    @Bernie : what the results appear to show is that the number of articles ranting about homosexuality being a “sin” has remained more or less constant over time (the numbers are in the 5 to 10 range, and for 10, the statistical error is just over 3, so the data is not sufficient to definitively show a change with time). Since some of the other viewpoints have increased substantially, what we can conclude is that number of Christians finger-wagging about homosexual “sin” hasn’t changed much per unit time, although the data will not distinguish between lots of people finger-wagging occassionally versus a decreasing number becoming more and more vocal.

    What does seem to be happening is that the total number of articles in this area is exploding, possibly tracking societal interest in general. A “prophet” needs to rant about something that is getting everyone’s attention. Otherwise he/she ends up sounding like the “scriptures” mentioned in an early computer game named “Zork”, which gave an example of the religious beliefs of ancient zorkers: “For he who says ‘Hey Sailor’ is condemned by the gods …”.

  8. B says

    Why do we even care? If a bunch of deluded people want to cling to their book of myths and fairy-tales and mythical superstition, then so be it. Paying any attention to these fools only gives them power. Ignore their silliness and move on. They are irrelevant and increasingly so. I don’t give a fig about what they think or if their attitudes have changed. It doesn’t matter.

  9. GregV says

    @B: We need to concern ourselves with what they are saying because they are still bringing up gay kids in a hopeless environment. American Evangelicals have also been exporting hateful propaganda to places like Uganda, Zimbabwe and Russia, where gay people are experiencing government-sanctioned mob violence.
    Before the 1970s, American Evangrlicals were largely anti-Black, and horrifying violence and injustices were the result. Religious fundamentalists are, as a rule, slower on the learning curve than the rest of society, but as they catch up and drop their prejudices, all of society is safer and better.

  10. r says

    On a tour of Swedish parliament, the guide was asked if sessions were opened with a prayer, as in the US. she looked as if we were crazy, and replied that in Sweden there is a separation of church and state.

  11. doug105 says

    The Haters have started to whine that gays getting married will somehow take away their Freedom of RELIGION”… Which freedom of
    religion are they are referring to? The right to hate, persecute, demean, disparage, ridicule, diss, murder, maim, brutalize, stigmatize and any and other forms of bigotry and inhumanity ??? THAT freedom of RELIGION ?

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