The Barna Group has released a new survey that explores the spiritual life of gay and lesbian adults. The study examines “20 faith-oriented attributes” and how homosexuals and heterosexuals differ from one another on these attributes. Here are some of the findings of the survey. Heterosexuals are more likely than homosexuals to hold an orthodox view of God, to attend church, to read the Bible, and to pray regularly. Homosexuals are more likely than heterosexuals to be unchurched, to have an unorthodox view of God, and to identify themselves as “liberal” on social issues.
What particularly piqued my interest was George Barna’s commentary on the survey. He argues that some popular stereotypes about the spiritual life of gays and lesbians are simply wrong. He writes:
“People who portray gay adults as godless, hedonistic, Christian bashers are not working with the facts. 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.
“The data indicate that millions of gay people are interested in faith but not in the local church and do not appear to be focused on the traditional tools and traditions that represent the comfort zone of most churched Christians. Gay adults clearly have a different way of interpreting the Bible on a number of central theological matters, such as perspectives about God. Homosexuals appreciate their faith but they do not prioritize it, and they tend to consider faith to be individual and private rather than communal.
“It is interesting to see that most homosexuals, who have some history within the Christian Church, have rejected orthodox biblical teachings and principles â€“ but, in many cases, to nearly the same degree that the heterosexual Christian population has rejected those same teachings and principles. Although there are clearly some substantial differences in the religious beliefs and practices of the straight and gay populations, there may be less of a spiritual gap between straights and gays than many Americans would assume.”
Barna thinks it significant that the study establishes that a majority of homosexuals are spiritual persons. For him, it’s important because the statistic blows up a stereotype that portrays gay people as non-religious. But I find this observation to be totally non-controversial. To say that most homosexuals consider themselves to be religious (or even Christian) is no surprise. Most Americans consider themselves to be Christian, but of course it doesn’t actually follow that they are. There are many sinners who think themselves to be Christian in some sense, but a close look reveals that they are not Christian in any biblical sense.
The problem is that large segments of the population simply don’t understand what Christianity is. In fact, this study says that both gay and straight people believe in similar proportion that “good people can earn their way into Heaven through their goodness.” Misunderstandings about Christianity abound, and it’s no surprise that the rate of misunderstanding between heterosexual and homosexual populations would be similar. This doesn’t make the homosexual population more Christian than we previously thought. It does reveal, however, that the population in general is more confused about Christianity than we would like to admit.
I totally agree with your commentary, Denny. I read Barna’s summary article about this and then Barna’s conclusion, which was an eyebrow raiser, to say the least.
The irony here is that Barna has often been the one to point out that most Americans like to consider themselves spiritual – and that this is true of every demographic group. Yet he and his group have done yeoman’s work in terms of unpacking what it means when the typical American calls themselves “spiritual”. Unless I have totally misread his earlier findings, he has already demonstrated that this adjective means almost nothing, because it means whatever the individual thinks is right in his own mind.
So now we come to this study, where Barna celebrates the discovery that most gay Americans consider themselves to be spiritual – even while his same study demonstrates that homosexuals have an even more loose definition than the average American?
The results of this study speak for themselves. Barna’s conclusion is a jigsaw puzzle piece that has been duct taped to the findings and suggests that he wrote the conclusion or developed it in his mind before the results were compiled.
Thanks for sharing this, Denny.
I would be interested in what Barna sees as the root cause of the differences between homosexuals and heterosexuals on these religious matters.
No doubt, one would simply be liberal bias.
However, I wouldn’t be surprised if another root issue is simply that they are reacting to the church b/c of the churches rejection of their lifestyle. (Reactionary theology seems to be part and parcel of human natuure; it’s not just a gay/lesbian problem!)
Wow, This is an amazing post. It really does break that stereotype that gays aren’t religious or godless at all. Thank you for this!
Tom, I think it goes deeper than mere liberal bias, because there are plenty of folks who are theologically conservative but politically liberal.
We live in a culture of people who base their thoughts of God on how the people of God treat them; I think you are spot-on with the speculation about reactionary theology, but I also wonder how many churches are rejecting much more than lifestyles?
Why shouldn’t we celebrate any insight we find into the spiritual state of any unreached people group? Would we be so quick to scoff if we found out a little bit more about the mythology of Native/Indigenous people, who routinely reject Christianity as a “white man’s religion”?
I agree with everything you’ve said. You’ve got no argument from me.
That’s why I didn’t say ‘merely a liberal bias’, but that a liberal bias is ‘one’ reason.
And I, myself, am on of those theologically conservative but a little more to the center of the political landscape.
But, in the end, you’re absolutely right – we live in a culture that thinks of God based on how His people treat them. And that is why we need to treat them in love, understand them more, listen more, and talk less! Less talking and more sacrificial service would go a long way.
Tom: I recently read this and your post reminded me of it. I think this is a subclass of the problem explored there (and, as Denny noted, partly a symptom of the low Christianity literacy).
Thanks for the link Chris – that’s exactly what I was getting at!
That said (and moving away from the currect discussion of homosexuality), I do find the article baffling on some level, though – how are those things no ‘hypocrisy’? If treating each other unlovingly isn’t hypocrisy, then I don’t know what is. If not attending church isn’t hypocrisy, then I don’t know what is. If being holier-than-thou isn’t hypocrisy, then I don’t know what it.
But, in the end, I do appreciate the insight of most of it and I appreciate you sharing it with me, brother.