Recognizing that young people hold negative images of Christianity, some evangelicals are advocating more compassion toward gays
David Kinnaman has seen the handwriting on the wall: “As these new generations begin to make up a larger share of the public, homosexuals will gain greater rights and protections and widespread acceptance in our culture.”
Kinnaman is not happy about this.
Kinnaman heads the Barna Group, which conducts survey research on and about evangelical Christians.
Kinnaman is also the author of “Unchristian: What a new generation really thinks about Christianity … and why it matters” (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007).
Kinnaman focuses on young people, ages 16-29, particularly those he calls “outsiders” atheists, agnostics, adherents of other religions and the “unchurched.”
Those now make up 40 percent of young people, he reports.
Just a decade ago Christianity had an overwhelmingly positive image among the young, including outsiders, he says.
But no longer.
“Our most recent data show that young outsiders have lost much of their respect for the Christian faith.”
They hold several negative images of Christianity: it is judgmental (87 percent agreed), too involved in politics (75 percent), hypocritical (85 percent), and out of touch (72 percent).
But the predominant negative perception is that Christianity is “antihomosexual.”
Fully 91 percent of “outsiders” say Christianity is anti-gay. Remarkably, 80 percent of young churchgoers agree: “In our research, the perception that Christians are “‘against’ gays and lesbians not only objecting to their lifestyle” (i.e., sex) “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.”
In short, “A new generation of adults … now accepts homosexuality as a legitimate way of life.”
Kinnaman’s book is meant to warn Christians that their political influence on the issue of homosexuality will ebb and that they need to undertake a “kinder, gentler” approach to gays such as getting to know them, engaging them in conversation, showing compassion and talking about Jesus instead of initially taking a moralistic approach.
I am not sure that “compassion” is what gays expect these days. Acceptance is what most expect.
But given the reiterated condemnations of “the homosexual lifestyle” (i.e., sex) by Kinnaman and his commentators in the book, evangelical Christians cannot offer that. It is their bottom line, their obsession.
But the Jesus of the gospels said nothing to condemn homosexuality. So the Christians eventually have to stop talking about Jesus and talk about “the Bible” (including the Old Testament), or even a rather amorphous (and manipulatible) “biblical perspective.” Bait and switch.
So the Christians have nothing to offer gays by way of sexual relating.
Kinnaman asks, as if uncertain, “Is it still true that homosexuals have deep sexual needs, just like the rest of us?”
But all they offer is celibacy. As one commentator writes, “What if we could provide intimate Christ-centered community and accountability for him or her in that pursuit? We believe that community is the answer to everyone feeling loved and human.”
Somehow it just doesn’t seem the same.
Kinnaman moves inconspicuously from inoffensive “first statements” to more offensive “repetitions.” He first says Christians oppose “church-sanctioned weddings for same-sex couples,” which is part of their freedom in a civil society.
But later referring to legislators, he says it is important to affirm that “marriage is between one man and one woman.”
So he thinks that not only churches should bar gay marriage but the state as well a very different matter.
And Kinnaman refuses to engage the strongest gay arguments. For instance, asserting that a child needs a mother and a father, he opposes gay adoption.
But putting aside the research on same-sex parenting there are many children in foster care and innumerable orphans worldwide with no parents at all.
Are they better off with no parents or with two loving gay parents?
Kinnaman refuses to reply.
Perhaps the most offensive Christian claim is that, as one commentator says, “There is not a special judgment for homosexuals [nor] … a special righteousness for heterosexuals.”
Or as a pastor Kinnaman quotes puts it, “The struggle of gays in being attracted to the same sex is not different than my struggle in being attracted to the opposite sex.”
All Christians know that loving heterosexual sex within marriage is perfectly legitimate and has a “righteousness” according to their God (Gen. 1:28).
The unnamed pastor’s attraction to his wife a member of the opposite sex has a legitimate mode of sexual expression, so the desire (“temptation”) can be acted on.
But his doctrine allows nothing for gays.
Ultimately, one has to doubt these people’s honesty or their intelligence.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 8, 2008