Christian leaders defending a traditional ban on homosexuality often say that the future of the church is threatened by any softening of the anti-gay wall that encircles thousands of American churches. But leading researchers—including a self-proclaimed supporter of evangelical Christianity, George Barna—say the real crisis is the widespread impression among millions of young adults that churches are hateful organizations persecuting their gay and lesbian friends and relatives.
The most helpful chart displaying these findings, at a glance, comes from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), a highly respected center for research on religion in America. The chart appears, above, and you also can visit PRRI’s website to read the entire report. But evangelicals tend to discount such polling as irrelevant.
From the heart of the American evangelical community, though, comes the work of pollster George Barna, who is such a strong supporter of this faith group that he describes his work as “facilitating a spiritual and moral revolution.” By all accounts, his Barna Group research follows accepted standards for polling but the signature style in Barna’s columns and books is interpreting the news from an evangelical perspective.
That’s why it was so startling in 2009 to read about Barna’s research, after interviewing a sample group of homosexuals that “27 percent met the ‘born again’ criteria we use.” That finding may not be “startling” to most readers—but it was explosive news to Barna’s evangelical base. In fact, Barna says now that he was shocked by the response from his audience.
In 2010, Barna wrote, “The reaction to that finding was shockingly hateful–not everyone who wrote to or called us responded in that manner, of course, but an amazingly large share of the notes that came in were venomous. A number of emails questioned my faith and salvation. Several outright condemned me and denied the possibility that I am a follower of Christ. I am used to being challenged and am comfortable with debates about how we apply our faith, but the hostility quotient broke the meter after that release.”
He concluded, “After that experience it has been much easier for me to understand the distaste so many gays have for the Christian body – and why so many young adults who are not gay have gone to great lengths to distance themselves from the conservative Christian juggernaut.”
For more than a decade, Barna has been studying trends in Christian attitudes toward what Barna now calls “LGBTQ Rights.” In Barna’s latest overall report on these trends, in 2013, the polling firm concludes that American Christianity is nearing a historic tipping point. The group Barna calls “Practicing Christians under 40” has moved significantly toward favoring “changing laws to enable more freedom for the LGBTQ community” from 34 percent in 2003 to 46 percent in 2013. Lagging behind them are “Practicing Christians over 40,” who have moved from 23 percent approval across the decade to 32 percent approval in 2013.
Barna now regularly warns church leaders that anti-gay attitudes are hurting Christianity in America.
What do you think of George Barna’s experience?
Do you agree with these findings and Barna’s warning to churches?