The debate continues within evangelical circles regarding acceptance of gay marriage. One pastor saying that embracing it is listening to the Holy Spirit while another maintains God's standards have never changed and the Bible forbids it.
In a Friday conversation on Fox News' "Spirited Debate," host Lauren Green asked pastors Stan Mitchell and Shane Idleman whether Jack Phillips, a baker from Colorado, should be compelled by the state to violate his conscience and his religious beliefs about marriage. Phillips, who declined to make a same-sex wedding cake in 2012 and was ruled against in a state court, will have his case heard at the U.S. Supreme Court in December.
Mitchell, who leads GracePointe Church near Nashville, TN, and whose church affirms same-sex relationships, compared the issue to the civil rights struggle of African-Americans of the 1960s.
"In 1966, in Nashville, the question was could a black person sit and eat at a particular restaurant," he explained. He noted that he was raised in the rural southeastern region of the United States where he was taught that segregation was a biblical "mandate" and where his moral forebears were against interracial marriage.
Idleman, who leads Westside Christian Fellowship in Leona Valley, California, disagreed with this analogy.
"No matter how many laws are passed in favor of same-sex marriage, it won't change God's position," Idleman asserted.
"To tie in race, a person's color of their skin, with a moral behavior, a choice, biblically is not even in the same ballpark," he added.
Green asked the pastors if the Judeo-Christian Bible does indeed condemn homosexuality.
"I have after 33 years in ministry, raised in a very conservative background, come to the conclusion that the Bible doesn't say what we thought it said," Mitchell replied, saying he had done much "careful study" and "heart-searching" on the matter. The Christian Church has a long history of getting things wrong, periodically, he said, only to come back years later and say "Oh my God, we got that wrong, and correct it ourselves."
Idleman responded by stressing that while it is important for Christians to love homosexual persons the scripture is "crystal clear" on the subject, that God has forbidden it, citing Romans 1.
"All the moral laws that God has ever given in regard to morality," he said, "none of those have ever changed."
According to a June 2017 Pew poll, 35 percent of American white evangelical Protestants and 44 percent of black Protestants support same-sex marriage. 68 percent of white mainline protestants support it as do 67 percent of Catholics.
"The culture has been drifting away from God," as has the church, Idleman said of those numbers. "The church used to affect the culture, now the culture is affecting the church."
Pulpits that once stood for God's Word and preached the necessity of repentance from sin
have become worried about being politically correct instead of being faithful to the Bible, he added. "The people, the nation are looking to the church, they are looking at the pulpits to be the voice of truth. And our silence is deafening."
Mitchell said he disagreed that the culture is shaping the views of people in church and that the church is not moving farther from God.
"I feel like we're listening to the work of the Holy Spirit," he said of accepting same-sex marriage. "Jesus said, on the eve before his crucifixion that he had many things to tell us but we couldn't bear them. I don't think all of those things were completely told by the end of the first century, with the death of the last apostles, or the completion of the creeds."
"I think church history bears out that the work of the Spirit continues to inform us on important subjects from suffragism, to divorcees, to slavery, to LGBT rights, to a heliocentric universe. We have been long and hard after the Copernicuses and Galileos in the Christian Church only hundreds of years later to say 'That wasn't apostasy. It was actually the work of the Spirit in us.'"
Earlier this year CP interviewed Alex McFarland, an apologist and director of the Center for Christian Worldview and Apologetics at North Greenville University, who in June said that several things have coalesced in culture that have led to rising numbers of evangelicals to state support for same-sex marriage, namely, "a public school system and a public university system that for decades now, 50 years at least, has been trending away from belief in morality and belief in God."
What is needed, he said, is people being willing to speak the "[t]ruth in love, thoroughly prayed over ... we need a revival."