Christian groups are increasingly more accepting of homosexuality, researchers find. This correlates with an increase over time in media portrayals of gay characters.
A new PEW study of 23,000 U.S. adults found that “acceptance of homosexuality is growing rapidly even among religious groups that have traditionally been strongly opposed to it.”
Acceptance among mainline Protestants has jumped 10 percentage points in the last seven years. This trend is mainly led by millennials, the most media-savvy generation. Is media the reason for this rapid change in belief?
“It’s a good discussion,” said Steve Snediker, assistant professor of visual arts, as he explained how movies have gradually presented the idea of homosexuality more overtly as audiences have become more accepting.
“You can see why families and churches banned the cinematic experience,” said Snediker.
“One of my best friends is a homosexual,” Snediker explained. “Movies didn’t make him homosexual. Media wasn’t the culprit. Media has given him the confidence to be who he says he is.”
David Brisben, professor of Christian ministries, echoed this sentiment. “I don’t think movies, novels, songs or poems introduce new ideas, beliefs or values as much as they re-affirm already existing ones. In fact, I think even directors would agree with that. They have to appeal to a mass audience in order to have a successful product.”
Brisben said that the acceptance of homosexuality is a natural step for western cultures to take.
“It’s simply a manifestation of our cultural story,” Brisben said. He added that naturalism, or the lack of belief in the supernatural, is common in the U.S.
“No one sits down and tells you the cultural story, you live in it and learn it intuitively,” Brisben said. “That’s why we have the secular-sacred split in our culture.”
“As Christians, we tend to be reactionaries. We don’t think about why people do what they’re doing or behave the way they are behaving,” Brisben said. “So we just throw out there, ‘Homosexuality is a sin,’ and it falls on deaf ears because there’s no place for that in the naturalist story. They hear that and say, ‘Well, that’s a personal opinion.’”
Both Brisben and Snediker recognize movies as powerful tools.
“The Church misunderstands media, what movies are and what movies do,” Brisben said, explaining how the Church reacted negatively towards a particularly influential movie in his own life, “The Philadelphia Story”.
The film is about a lawyer in New York who is fired because he is gay. The film raises many questions regarding civil rights.
Brisben believes that the church should have been behind that movie.
“We fight the wrong kind of battles and fight in the wrong kind of way,” Brisben said.
Both Snediker and Brisben brought up the importance for church involvement in mainstream culture.
“We have the ability as believers to use media to share and promote our own morality through stories,” Snediker said.
“Media is a good way to extend grace,” Brisben said. “The church ought to be doing that.”