Perhaps the most significant comment I have heard over the last few days was on MSNBC's Morning Joe program where one of the pundits observed that there was a generational divide in the issue: for the under 35s, gay marriage is not even an issue.
Christians may well throw up hands in horror at this, though I would say that this generational change is not an entirely bad thing. For people like myself, now in middle age, dislike of homosexuality came with the territory; our reasons for opposing it were more to do with our own cultural backgrounds than with any biblical argumentation. Our opinions on the issue may have happened to coincide at points with biblical teaching, but that was more by accident than design. We were basically bigots and we needed to change.
The generational divide does, however, indicate clear challenges to come. The list of such is no doubt long but here are few:
1. We can no longer assume our children will just agree with us on this issue; they are going to want arguments for holding that homosexual practice is wrong. We need to go back to scripture and sharpen our swords, so to speak, as we can no longer assume that the cultural bias will play our tune anyway.
2. The impossibility of criticising gay culture without being labeled a homophobe means that a whole heap of other cultural traits will fly in under the radar, a point made in a recent Spectator article about the arrival of cell phones `apps' to facilitate cruising and anonymous sexual encounters -- a technological development welcomed by leading gay figures and the media at large. As the gay community prides itself on promiscuity and camp outrage, so any criticism of it on this score is anti-gay. But what of heterosexual promiscuity and outrageous behaviour? It too gets a pass as the behaviour of the gay community stands above criticism and comes to set the cultural agenda.
3. Churches that have sold the pass on other issues -- most notably women's ordination -- are going to find themselves skewered by the need to oppose homosexual practice with a consistent hermeneutic rather than the appearance of arbitrariness based on simple bigotry. I suspect many evangelicals were able to live with women's ordination because, hey, they liked women; women's ordination may have been wrong, but it was not distasteful in the way that two men in bed together is distasteful; they never in their wildest dreams imagined what was coming round the next corner, even though enough people pointed it out to them. Now, if they stand against homosexuality, they look like homophobes. Better to look like an outdated fundie than a bigot. Churches that have held the line on women's ordination can at least say `Nothing personal against homosexuals; we simply follow scriptural criteria' when asked by a practising homosexual why he should not be ordained.
4. Those evangelical leaders, academics and evangelical institutions that prize their place at the table and their invitations to appear on `serious' television programs, and who enjoy being asked to offer their opinion to the wider culture had better be prepared to make a choice. As I have said before in this column, we are not far from the place where to oppose homosexuality will be regarded as in the same moral bracket as white supremacy. Those types only appear on Jerry Springer; and Jerry generally doesn't typically ask them their opinion on the ethics of medical research, the solution to the national debt, or the importance of poetry to a rounded education.