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Evangelical ‘Messy Middle’ is more accepting of gays
A new voice is emerging in the evangelical community, and it’s turning away from the church’s vocal opposition to homosexuality in favor of a more tolerant attitude.
Researchers at Baylor University found that 24 percent of evangelicals were “ambivalent,” meaning they support civil unions or legal recognition of gay relationships, despite harboring a moral opposition to homosexuality.
“What you have is this increase in people coming out publicly and saying, ‘I don’t want to be a part of this anti-gay rights movement as an evangelical,’” said Lydia Bean, assistant professor of sociology at Baylor and co-author of the study.
The study, “How the Messy Middle Finds a Voice: Evangelicals and Structured Ambivalence towards Gays and Lesbians,” analyzed national data from the 2010 Baylor Religion Survey, conducted by Gallup.
Researchers presented their study at the annual American Sociological Association meeting in New York on Monday (Aug. 12).
On the acceptance spectrum, these “Ambivalent Evangelicals,” fall between those who oppose civil unions — “Gay Rights Opponents” — and those who affirm homosexual behavior — “Cultural Progressives.”
Also called the “Messy Middle,” this group mirrors the 41 percent of evangelicals labeled “Gay Rights Opponents” when it comes to biblical literalism and religious practice, though they are not as politically conservative.
Compared to the 35 percent of evangelicals who are “Cultural Progressives,” Ambivalents are more likely to be married, have lower levels of education, attend church more frequently, identify as born-again Christians and read their Bible more often. Both groups reported similar frequency of prayer.
While Cultural Progressives remain on the outside rim of the evangelical subculture, Ambivalent Evangelicals occupy a central space within evangelicalism. “They are integrated into the churches,” Bean said of the “Messy Middle.” “They’re very much people in the pews.”