Don't get the wrong idea from the headline above. I am not saying that homosexuality is more widespread than we may have believed. I am saying that the response of some Christians to homosexuality may have a much larger potential to harm churches than many church folks think.
According to an article in USA Today, new research published by the Barna Group indicates that young people, ages 16-29, overwhelmingly see Christianity as anti-gay. The numbers are startling: 91% of non-Christian young people and 80% of Christian young people view Christianity, first and foremost, as "anti-gay."
Many in the Christian community, especially in the evangelical Christian community and particularly in the Baptist community, have obviously not seen an anti-gay position as something that would adversely affect their churches. They see gays as comprising a relatively small percentage of the population. So, many Christians seem to feel free to strongly and repeatedly denounce gay people without hurting the overall outreach of the church. This new study suggests otherwise.
According to David Kinnaman, Barna Group president, "The anti-homosexual perception has now become sort of the Geiger counter of Christians' ability to love and work with people." So it isn't that the anti-gay position of many evangelicals has hurt their outreach only to gay people. Rather the anti-homosexual stance of many Christians leaves 91% of non-Christian young people thinking that we cannot love and work with people generally.
Can you see what these numbers could mean for the future of the church? We say we want to reach young people, but more than 9 out of 10 non-Christian young people believe that we are not loving and they think that way because of the hatred that many Christians have expressed toward gay people.
Evangelicals tend to respond to homosexuality in one of two ways: (1) They talk about gay people pretty regularly in extremely negative terms, or (2) They avoid talking about homosexuality as much as possible. This study suggests that Christians are going to have to talk about homosexuality a lot in their outreach efforts and they are going to have to consider ways to talk about the matter such that they do not appear anti-gay. Of course, before we can do that, we may have to figure out how to stop being anti-gay in the first place.
Yeah, the thing is, the overwhelming majority of the young people in that survey are right. Many Christians, especially in evangelical and Baptist circles, are, in fact, anti-gay. We are reaping what we have sown. When Jesus said that the greatest commandment includes loving your neighbor as yourself he did not say "except when your neighbor is gay." We have done a lousy job of loving gay people in violation of the command of our Lord and now we are paying for it because the future of the church is calling us on it. So, what are we going to say in response?
Believe it or not there is more bad news in this study than I have talked about, but I'll stop here for now.