I’ve been searching for sources that point to the Christian perspective of how they are perceived by broader society, partially to answer the question “does the church realize how out of touch it is?”. I ended up turning to my bookshelf, to a book I studied as a relatively new Christian in 2007.
The book is “unChristian: What A New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity”, by authors David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. In it, they report and analyze research performed by The Barna Group on American 16-29 year olds to gauge their feelings about Christianity. Their findings were overwhelmingly negative, ranging from hypocritical, too concerned with converting people, too political, sheltered, judgmental, and anti-homosexual. Their research was performed in the USA, but the work is extrapolated to the church in Canada, with many Christian groups here continuing to study it and preach/meditate on the connotations it has for all North American churches.
As a new-ish Christian I was gratified to see this type of research being performed, especially as I had distanced myself from Christianity for so long partially because of how it is perceived, as well as my own perceptions based on my experiences with Christians growing up.
However, though I was glad at the research being performed, the book raised some questions about how much the church as represented by the authors really wants to change. Opening it again as a more mature Christian, I found their conclusions much more difficult to stomach.
Both the results published and the conclusion the authors took from them are telling. Of all the stereotypes, anti-homosexual came up the most often. As the authors note:
In our research, the perception that Christians are “against” gays and lesbians – not only objecting to their lifestyles but also harboring irrational fear and unmerited scorn toward them – has reached critical mass. The gay issue has become the “big one”, the negative image most likely to be intertwined with Christianity’s reputation. It is also the dimension that most clearly demonstrates the unChristian faith to young people today, surfacing a spate of negative perceptions: judgmental, bigoted, sheltered, right-wingers, hypocritical, insincere, and uncaring. Outsiders say our hostility towards gays – not just opposition to homosexual politics and behaviors but disdain for gay individuals – has become virtually synonymous with Christian faith.
What I find most telling is the wording they choose to frame their argument. Lifestyle. Unmerited. Critical Mass. Using these words, homosexuality is a lifestyle choice. There is such thing as merited scorn. Critical mass seems to denote a PR crisis, not a spiritual crisis. The list goes on. They continue:
Of course homosexuality is an electric topic. Most people have strong feelings about it. And the issue is incredibly complex, affecting families and children and influencing media and culture. Gay activists have been aggressive in their attempt to change Americans’ perceptions, and values on this topic. We cannot underestimate how a morally relativistic generation, along with sophisticated media and political strategies, have created a tinder box for Christians’ reputations in this regard.
I believe that our sexuality is not a choice because of reports by mainstream psychological associations stating that it isn’t. I believe that sexuality isn’t a sin because of intelligent analysis of the Bible by scholars arguing persuasively it isn’t. These arguments don’t take these into account, instead arguing that I and anyone that thinks like me has been hoodwinked by what some call the (I wish I was kidding) “gaygenda”.
The “conspiracy” really isn’t to transform our countries into anything other a place where people who love as I love have the freedom to marry the partner of their choice and enjoy the same legal freedoms I do. I am troubled by the continued assertions by conservative Christians that there is something sinister at work instead of a basic struggle for freedom and equality, and the suggestion I support equality for LGBT people because I am part of a “morally relativistic” generation. Also consider:
It is one thing to be against homosexuality, to affirm that the Bible rejects the practice of same-sex lifestyles, but it is another to be against homosexuals, to let your disagreement with their behavior spill out in your feelings and words toward them as people. It is unChristian to lose your sense that everyone’s fallen nature affects all aspects of his or her life, including sexuality, and to forget God’s command to love people in order to point them to Jesus.
This sounds a lot more like “love the sinner, hate the sin” (not biblical) than “Do not judge, or you too shall be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you (Matthew 7:1-2, NIV).
There is a great deal of debate over whether homosexuality is a sin; while I believe Christians are called to support our LGBT brothers and sisters, many will disagree. However, the psychological consensus is that our sexuality is not a choice, and not caused by any kind of mental disorder.
Homosexuals are the same as everyone else. I continue to struggle with this issue as I come to truly appreciate how different my understanding of the Bible on this issue is to many others’, yet grapple with my understanding that our sexuality isn’t a choice. I truly believe God wouldn’t create people in a way he would condemn. Homosexuality isn’t an aberration, yet so many Christians continue to mistreat people based on something that cannot help. Where is Christ in such actions? Where does the interpretation of scripture end and bigotry begin? Ultimately, what do we do when so many Christians behave in such unChristian ways? How do we respond in a Christ-like way?
Obviously, there is a great deal of work to do to change perceptions in the church about homosexuality. How do we start a conversation with fellow Christians on this important issue? That will be the focus of my next post in the series.