“People who portray gay adults as godless, hedonistic, Christian bashers are not working with the facts,” declared the best-selling author of numerous books about faith and culture. “A substantial majority of gays cite their faith as a central facet of their life, consider themselves to be Christian, and claim to have some type of meaningful personal commitment to Jesus Christ active in their life today.
What’s surprising is the “best-selling author” who has made this startling statement is none other than George Barna – who is a conservative author and pollster. His latest poll is a spiritual profile of “homosexual adults” and the “surprising insights” are that gays and lesbians are just as apt to believe in God and be Christians as any other human being, despite their sexual orientation.
As a Christian who happens to be a lesbian, the findings, for me, are a big, “Well, duh.” But, it’s heartening to see Barna doing such a survey and then making a very big and important statement that gays and lesbians are not the “godless, hedonistic, Christian bashers” that the media and right wing Christian organizations portray us as. The best thing about Barna’s latest research is that, finally, a respected conservative voice has given credibility to the idea that one can be both gay and Christian.
Even though this is a significant step – and we should praise Barna for his words – that’s as far as my praise goes. His comments, as well as much of his survey, still produces a slanted and incomplete picture of the reality of gay and lesbian Christian lives.
First, the second part of his quote is a veiled and backhanded slap at gays and lesbians who claim Christianity. Read carefully.
“A substantial majority of gays cite their faith as a central facet of their life, consider themselves to be Christian, and claim to have some type of meaningful personal commitment to Jesus Christ active in their life today.”
A majority claim to have some type of meaningful personal commitment to Jesus Christ. He acknowledges our “claim” to “some type” of relationship with Jesus, but by the comparisons made in his survey, gay and lesbian Christians can simply feel Barna rolling his eyes as he makes this statement.
For instance, the study finds:
One of the most basic beliefs has to do with one’s understanding of God. This proved to be one of the biggest differences noted in the study. While seven out of every ten heterosexuals (71%) have an orthodox, biblical perception of God, just 43% of homosexuals do.
So, while gays and lesbians “claim” to have faith – they don’t hold an “orthodox, biblical perception of God.”
Again, from the study:
And even though a majority of adults have made “a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in your life today,” such a relationship was more common among non-gays (75%) than among gay adults (58%). The research also revealed that straight adults were nearly twice as likely as gays to qualify as born again Christians (47% compared to 27%, respectively).
So, while gays and lesbians claim faith, their “some type” of relationship with Jesus Christ is not the same type of relationship claimed by the heterosexual majority – and most gays and lesbians don’t “qualify” as “born again Christians.”
It’s Barna who has conveniently defined what “born again Christian” means:
“Born again Christians” were defined as people who said they had made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that was still important in their life today and who also indicated they believed that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as “born again.”
And, here I thought “born again” simply meant baptized. But to Barna it comes with a whole list of things one must assent to – which means we’re back to the problem of the straight majority being the gatekeeper. They’re the ones who get to define who is “born again” and who would not “qualify” for such a coveted title.
The two most telling measurements in the survey that show Barna is still rather clueless about gay and lesbian faith concerns the Bible and church attendance.
Heterosexuals were twice as likely as homosexuals to strongly agree that the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches …
If Barna had cared to really research this question, he would have found some interesting information from gays and lesbians. Many gays and lesbians are so-called “Bible believing Christians” who would agree with this statement about biblical accuracy. However, many gay and lesbian Christians are not, and with good reason. The Bible has been used as a weapon against gays and lesbians for so long, our relationship with the book is definitely a bit schizophrenic. We have been long taught that condemnation of homosexuality is enshrined in at least seven passages with the pages of the Bible. We have been taught that homosexuality is a sin and that it is one of the worst sins and will surely be our ticket to eternal flames.
When that’s been your introduction to a text – you tend to be shy about giving it ultimate authority in your life. But, what has happened for most gay and lesbian Christians is that they have dedicated themselves to in-depth study of the Bible – not just a surface reading. Many books have been written about what the Bible really says about homosexuality when the text is put in its proper context and not read straight from the English translations of Greek and Hebrew texts.
After such in-depth study, it’s fairly impossible to assent to a question that asks you to agree that the Bible is totally accurate in anything. In fact, the book is contradictory, sometimes from verse to verse. That’s not to say the book is not holy or not worthy of veneration or authority in one’s life – but the study that gay and lesbian Christians have done of the text have helped them put the book in its proper place – as a companion on the spiritual journey, and not its destination.
The place where the study shows its greatest ignorance of gay and lesbian spiritual lives is in the question of church attendance:
In any given week the research discovered that heterosexuals are the more likely of the two groups to attend a church service, attend a Sunday school class, pray to God, or read the Bible. Gay adults are 50% more likely than straight adults to be unchurched (42% versus 28%).
What Barna misses here is the reason why gay adults are 50 percent more likely to be unchurched than straight adults – there are simply fewer churches where we can go and be accepted. Straight adults can walk into any town anywhere in the country and walk into any church on the corner without fear. They know that the majority of the time they will walk into a church that will affirm their beliefs, welcome them warmly, and make them feel safe and loved. The gay and lesbian Christian has no such assurance.
Gay and lesbian Christians have to do a thorough study of the landscape before they can even attempt to go church. We have to look up the church – check out the denomination and realize there are some churches we can probably never worship in, like an Assemblies of God or a Southern Baptist church. Even the mainline denominations are tricky. Some of them are welcoming, some are not. We know we’ve lucked out when we find a church that has openly declared that it welcomes gays and lesbians through denominational programs like the United Church of Christ’s Open and Affirming program or the Presbyterian’s More Light program. In short, we cannot simply drive by a church on Sunday morning and just walk in and sit down. We have to do our homework first.
The saddest reality, however, is that many gay and lesbian Christians who desire to go to church have absolutely no options. They may live in more rural areas or areas where the closest affirming church is a two or three hour drive so they only go once a month. Of course gay and lesbian Christians are more likely to not have a church home! The question Barna should have asked is, “Would you go to church every week if you had the opportunity?” I’ll bet his numbers would have been much higher for gays and lesbians who desire to go to church but are unable to find a welcoming pew.
All in all, I’m grateful for Barna even wandering into the subject of gay and lesbian religious belief. I think his study is important and can go a long way to dispelling the old “gays vs. God” dichotomy that too often gets played out in the media. However, his overall message is still harmful: Gays and lesbians are Christians – they’re just not as good as straight ones.