Amid Changing U. S. Attitudes, Some Evangelicals Resist, Others Adapt

The audience at last month's Together for the Gospel conference in Louisville, Ky. (Sarah Mesa Photography)
The audience at last month’s Together for the Gospel conference in Louisville, Ky. (Sarah Mesa Photography)

America’s culture war, waged in recent years over gender roles, sexuality and the definition of marriage, is increasingly being fought inside evangelical Christian circles. On one side are the Christians determined to resist trends in secular society that appear to conflict with biblical teaching. On the other side are the evangelicals willing to live with those trends.

For Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., the key question is “whether or not there is a binding morality to which everyone is accountable.”

Mohler is a co-founder of the biannual Together for the Gospel conference, which brought together thousands of evangelicals last month at a sports center in Louisville, a few miles from the Southern Baptist campus. Electronic signs around the top of the arena carried such messages as “We Were Born Out of Protest” and “We Stand on Scripture Alone, Not Man’s Wisdom.”

“Our theme for this year is, ‘We Protest,’ ” Mohler tells NPR. “You might say [it’s] putting the ‘protest’ back in Protestantism.” He and his fellow conservative leaders urge Christians to take a “biblical” stand against such things as no-fault divorce, extramarital sex, “transgenderism” and gay marriage. His new book is We Cannot Be Silent: Speaking Truth to a Culture Redefining Sex, Marriage, & the Very Meaning of Right & Wrong.

Mohler and other conservatives are pushing against strong headwinds, however. Survey data show that the number of Americans who think divorce is morally acceptable has increased significantly in recent years, while disapproval of homosexuality and same-sex marriage has declined sharply. (Click to see changing attitudes on homosexuality and same-sex marriage by religion.) The latter holds true even for white evangelicals, among the groups most resistant to LGBT rights. For church leaders like Mohler, the challenge is unmistakable.

“Conservative Christians in America are undergoing a huge shift in the way we see ourselves in the world,” Mohler says. “We are on the losing side of a massive change that’s not going to be reversed, in all likelihood, in our lifetimes.” In his view, Christians must adapt to the changed cultural circumstance by finding a way “to live faithfully in a world in which we’re going to be a moral exception.” (It is this goal, Mohler says, that explains the passage of “religious liberty” laws to protect people who want to express their opposition to same-sex marriage or “transgenderism.”)

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Marisa Penaloza and Tom Gjelten

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