Tuesday, June 9, 2015


The Pew Research Center has just released an important new study of American attitudes towards homosexuality and same-sex marriage: "Support for Same-Sex Marriage at Record High, but Key Segments Remain Opposed, 72% Say Legal Recognition is 'Inevitable.'" (http://www.people-press.org/2015/06/08/support-for-same-sex-marriage-at-record-high-but ). The findings are cause for alarm in the independent Diocese of South Carolina.

The study appeared on the eve of what everyone expects to be a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of the legality of same-sex marriage. It is most likely that decision will be announced in the next three weeks. If the Court rules favorably, that will end the issue of the legality of same-sex marriage in the nation. If the Court decides as expected, it will reflect the will of the people. A clear-cut majority of Americans now favor rights for homosexual persons and same-sex marriage.

The change in American attitudes is one of the most dramatic reversals in the social history of the country. The new Pew study shows that in just 5 years, the public attitude has flipped. 57% of Americans now support same-sex marriage (up from 42% 5 years ago) while 39% oppose (down from 48%). What is more, all signs indicate rapid acceleration of this trend in the future. Approval rose in every category of measurement except for one, conservative Republicans. 

In relation to religion, the study found that of all the social categories surveyed, white evangelical Protestants (I would put the independent DSC in that group) were the most opposed to same-sex marriage. 70% said they were against (64% strongly opposed) while 25% favored. None of the other religious groups had a majority opposed: white mainline Protestant (63% in favor), black Protestant, and Catholic. Thus, a clear majority of Christians in America now favor same-sex marriage. 54% said there was no conflict between their religious beliefs and homosexuality.

Other correlations also stood out in the statistics. Age and education were directly related to attitudes. The younger the group, the more support for homosexual rights and same-sex marriage. The higher the education, the same.   

On the issue of whether homosexuality is inborn or learned, a religious breakdown also appeared. 71% of white mainline Protestants and 68% of Catholics said it is innate while 56% of black Protestants and 55% of white evangelical Protestants said a person's sexual orientation can be changed. Traditionally, evangelicals have stressed their belief that birth gender is God-given and should not be denied and certainly not altered. The study shows that most Christians in America now believe that sexual orientation is inborn and not learned.

What does all of this mean for the two bodies in lower South Carolina claiming to be the Episcopal diocese? The Episcopal Church and its local part, the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, have been in the forefront of rights for homosexual persons for decades. This is part of a concerted campaign for human rights the Church has been conducting since the 1950's for elements in society denied justice, liberty, and equality, namely blacks, women, and homosexuals. The Pew study statistics show that the Episcopal Church is in the mainstream of America (I would argue in the leading edge of the stream).

The picture is starkly different for the independent diocese. As we have seen, the direct cause of the schism in 2012 was the issue of homosexuality. Bishop Lawrence and the majority of his followers left the Episcopal Church as an immediate result of the Church's adoption of rights for homosexuals and for transgendered persons in the general convention of 2012. For two years, they denied their secession had anything to do with homosexuality ("It's God not Gays"). Last year they seemed to soften this attitude with the local promotion of Wes Hill, an openly gay professor at Trinity School for Ministry, an evangelical seminary in Pennsylvania, who argued that homosexuality is inborn (and homosexuals should remain celibate). Then, last March, in their annual convention, they reverted to hardline opposition to homosexuality as they passed three resolutions strongly opposing same-sex marriage. The independent diocese has clearly staked out its position on the issue of homosexuality. The Pew study shows it is far from the mainstream of the American public. What is more, it is likely to be washed away in the ever rising flood of time.

According to other scientific demographic studies, the majority of South Carolinians, among the most conservative people in the nation, will support same-sex marriage within a few years. Moreover, the independent diocese's category, white evangelical Protestants will come to accept same-sex marriage in 20 years. Right now the group most adamantly opposed to rights for homosexuals is white-old-male-conservative-Republican-evangelical-Protestant (reminds me of the independent diocesan ruling clique). As that demographic category diminishes in time, the population base for the independent diocese will shrink too. It will have an increasingly difficult time attracting new members.

The Diocese of South Carolina has already lost a third of its members and income since Mark Lawrence became its bishop. Signs show it has not been able to rebound from the seismic loss of the schism when 10,000 communicants abandoned the diocese. 

Signs also show a rising difficulty is raising money for lawyers. Recent resorts to gimmicks such as lapel pins indicate desperation. The diocese claims it has spent $2m on legal costs. Unfortunately we cannot know the actual figures that are kept secret. There has been no public accounting of where the money has come from or where it has gone. Nevertheless, the diocese keeps going to the same well to draw ever more water in what must be a falling pool.

Since there has been no public accounting of DSC's legal budget, we cannot know what outside money may been added. We do know that in the early 2000's well-known right-wing funds were funneling money into anti-homosexual rights groups. However, it may be that these funds have given up on that issue in favor of donating to more hopeful causes now such as the anti-abortion crusade. They know they have lost on homosexuality and same-sex marriage. That big campaign of the culture war is all but over as far as the American public is concerned.

The big picture shows an enormous social transformation in America (indeed the world) since the post-war 1950's. Justice, freedom, and equality, long hailed as bedrock American principles, were finally applied to social elements long denied them: blacks, women, and homosexuals. American society of 2015 is vastly different that that of 1950.

The efforts of social reactionaries, as the leaders of DSC, cannot stop the tide (or flood) of history, even in South Carolina. As the new Pew Center study shows, the future looks dire for them. If they keep on their chosen path, society will sweep them away into irrelevancy if not into oblivion.