Original Paper

Review of Religious Research

, Volume 54, Issue 3, pp 349-370

First online:

Beyond the Culture War: Managing Sexual Relationships Inside a Congregation of Gay Evangelicals

  • Jeremy N. ThomasAffiliated withDepartment of Sociology, Purdue University Email author 
  • , Daniel V. A. OlsonAffiliated withDepartment of Sociology, Purdue University

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America’s popular culture war narrative has often portrayed the evangelical community and the gay community as fundamentally oppositional groups whose range of disagreements center around arguments over the morality and nature of homosexuality. Against the backdrop of these arguments, we undertake a qualitative study of a congregation of gay evangelicals, specifically investigating how pastoral leadership attempts to manage sexual relationships amid a congregation that is firmly and self-consciously rooted in both its gay and evangelical identities. We look at the particular goals and ideals that pastoral leadership espouses for sexual relationships, and we explore how these goals and ideals represent, draw from, and potentially help integrate the congregation’s competing cultural identities. We find that pastoral leadership strives for what we are calling a “blended approach” to managing sexual relationships—an approach that simultaneously emphasizes traditional evangelical sexual norms (such as commitment, stability, monogamy, and longevity), while allowing these norms to be significantly tempered by a strong recognition of the private and public contexts that have shaped the gay community’s understanding of sexual and relational life. We speculate that this blended approach to managing sexual relationships may be pointing the way toward future developments within some predominantly-heterosexual evangelical congregations.


Evangelicalism Homosexuality Culture war