By Gareth Streeter
As England and Wales mark 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality, many Christians have taken to social media to reinforce their opposition to same-sex relationships. But do these sentiments reflect the views of the majority of UK Christians and is it time for ‘silent supporters’ to speak up and be heard?
Today marks 50 years since homosexuality was part-decriminalised in England and Wales. Unsurprisingly, many self-professing Christians have taken to Twitter to remind the world that, while the masses might be celebrating, same-sex relationships still demand the disapproval of all true Bible believers.
These voices have always been loud – and social media allows them an unprecedented degree of amplification. But are they typical of UK church goers?
Two years ago, Oasis conducted research on attitudes around same-sex relationships, marriage and church participation in the UK Church. We surveyed 1300 regular churchgoers and the responses might surprise you.
- The question as to whether same-sex relationships should be totally affirmed, split UK Christians almost down the middle. 49.6% were happy to fully embrace them while 50.4% believed that those in a same-sex relationship should experience some bar in participation in church life
- However, only 1% believed they should be banned from attending church altogether
- The majority – 68% - of respondents said that their position had become significantly more liberal/inclusive in the last 10 years
Our survey was not the first to establish this final point. Tracking the results of the Social Attitude Survey since 1983, it is clear that churchgoers have become gradually more accepting of same-sex relationships – albeit at a slower rate than society as a whole. Earlier this year, our general findings were further bolstered by a study by the NatCen Social Research which found the Anglican Communion split 50/50 on the issue of same-sex relationships.
But there was one aspect of the research that jumped out – a stat that’s bothered me ever since.
The survey found that of the Christians who claimed to be fully accepting of same-sex relationships, 75% kept quiet about it with people at church. British congregations could literally be playing hosts to millions of ‘silent supporters.’
I get it. Churches are not always easy places in which to be totally honest, especially on anything to do with sex. Many, quite rightly, feel no need to share their opinions on every single issue or to try to impose their views on others.
But the time for silence is over.
Growing up gay – in church or not – can be isolating and intimidating. The effects linger for life. If common sense isn’t enough to prove this, then plenty of research backs it up. In any debate, share of voice is dominated by the militants – on both sides of the argument. If those who ardently oppose same sex relationships rule the airwaves and the Twittersphere in the name of the Church, people will assume that they are speaking for the majority of Christians.
Similarly, many church leaders might want to start an open, more compassionate conversation on the subject but be understandably fearful of the reaction. She or he might know that vocal Val or persistent Pete has been coordinating a petition against same-sex marriage, but have no idea that the bulk of the congregation have genuinely moved on this. Your brave honesty could give many church leaders the courage they need to start making a difference.
I wish that this question was simply an issue of doctrinal disagreement – like infant baptism, second blessing or the authorship of 2 Timothy – which we could discuss freely in the knowledge that it quite probably doesn’t matter in the scheme of things. But it isn’t. Wellbeing, mental health and people’s very lives are at stake.
So, if like me, you’ve seen the Twitter comments and the Facebook messages condemning same-sex relationships in the name of Jesus, and experience a surge of anger or a dose of disagreement, then it is time to speak out. Silence is not an option. As in so many other walks of life, if you don’t use your voice, someone else will speak in your name.