barna group research on homosexual faith perspectives

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Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

barna group research on homosexual faith perspectives

I read a fairly vast array of blogs. all the way from tony jones to even, yes, mark driscoll. i read the cry of social justice from the sojourners blog all the way to the calvinist smorgasbord of tim challies. on the more conservative wing of the blog spectrum, i semi-regularly read ed stetzer’s (director of research for the evil empire lifeway) blog. stetzer—coming from a research point-of-view—is a great source of finding various faith-related research.

today, stetzer offered an overview of a new research project by the barna group. the research took a look at the faith perspectives/pattern of self-identified gay, lesbian and/or bisexual people. according to the barna summary, the following research methods were utilized:

This report is based upon telephone interviews conducted by The Barna Group among nine nationwide random samples of adults. In the course of the 9,232 interviews conducted, each respondent was asked if they considered themselves to be “heterosexual, lesbian, gay, or bisexual.” These surveys were conducted between January 2007 and November 2008. In total, there were 8,548 adults in the heterosexual category and 280 adults in the homosexual category. An additional 404 people said they did not know what category they fit or declined to identify their sexual orientation. The range of sampling error associated with the total sample of adults is between ±0.2 and ±1.0 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The range of sampling error associated with the sub-sample of 280 homosexual adults is between ±2.5 and ±5.8 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

before I delve into the actual findings, let me express a bit (or more than a bit) of disappoint in stetzer’s reporting. when i read stetzer’s post, i assumed barna’s findings were—for lack of a better word—negative. it primarily presented pieces of the barna findings that indicated “significant differences” in hetero- and homosexual faith profiles. when i read the actual report by the barna group, though, it was actually basically positive results! stetzer simply didn’t include any of the positive evaluations. rather, he focuses on areas of “significant differences” and when he includes areas of little difference, it centers on the “negative” aspects of american faith trends (i.e. a lack of belief that satan is real, lack of personal responsibility in sharing their faith and the belief that people get to heaven by doing “good things”).
it’s unfair and judgmental to jump to conclusions about stetzer’s view on homosexuals, but he certainly explicity chose not to offer barna’s effort to let allow his research to be a bridge-builder between the church and homosexuals. by all means, though, read stetzer’s post and you can come to your own conclusions.
now, onto the actual research by barna.
after offering many insights into the “spiritual profile” of homosexuals (in contrast to heterosexuals), barna concludes with the following:

“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.”

further, barna states,

“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.”

so, barna concludes with relatively positive conclusions. certainly, his research found “signficant differences”, but he chose to offer a “glass half full” perspective rather than the empty perspective. as an overview of his findings, barna adds,
“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 – but, in many cases, to nearly the same degree that the heterosexual Christian population has rejected those same teachings and principles.”
even in his summary, barna is sure to point out that there are certain “negative” evaluations that are shared—to “nearly the same degree”—as the heterosexual christian community.
i’m not going to go point-by-point through barna’s research, but i would certainly encourage you to read it in its fullness here. what i would like to do, though, is encourage the christian community to begin to look for ways to build bridges rather than tearing them down. gay christians may have a different kind of christianity, but it’s still certainly one that values jesus and a life that reflects him.
further though, i think it’s valuable to look beyond the numbers and the static evaluations. one of the criticisms i and others have of typical barna research is that it provides detached and surface-level numbers, disregarding some of the social dynamics underneath. in this case, it’s important to think about why homosexuals may see christianity differently than the heterosexual community. who have been welcomed into the church: homosexuals or heterosexuals? which group has been told by the church that they are inherently flawed and need to be fixed: homosexuals or heterosexuals? if you are routinely oppressed and hated by a certain group, wouldn’t that change the lens through which you view their core tenets? certainly.
so, i think it’s time to build bridges by majoring on the similarities and minoring on the differences. it’s time to corporately and personally apologize for not showing the love of jesus and inviting a dialogue in which we see both “sides.” i’m not saying you have to turn your back on your inherent biblical point-of-view concerning homosexuality, but you should certainly turn your back on not loving people the way jesus loved people.