Tuesday, February 05, 2008


Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a time of reflection on our shortcomings in preparation for Easter. Jesus taught that one should take the log out of one's own eye before removing the speck out of someone else's eye. Thus, this is an appropriate moment for the Christian church to take a long hard look at itself. If the research done recently by the Barna group is correct, the church has an urgent need to change if it is going to remain viable into the future.

This fall, the president of the Barna Group, David Kinnaman, published the findings of research on the opinions of 16-29 year-olds about the church in a book titled, “unChristian.” They found that the most common perceptions of Christianity by young non-Christians were negative, led by judgmental (87%) and hypocritical (85%). In fact, even half of the young Christians surveyed agreed that the church is judgmental and hypocritical. The churched and un-churched alike pointed to one particular issue that leads the way in shaping this opinion. The most common perception today is that Christianity is "anti-homosexual." The Barna Group web site reports, “Overall, 91% of young non-Christians and 80% of young churchgoers say this phrase describes Christianity. As the research probed this perception, non-Christians and Christians explained that beyond their recognition that Christians oppose homosexuality, they believe that Christians show excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians.” Young Christians frequently complained the church's teaching has made homosexuality a “bigger sin” than others and not equipped them to deal with their relationships with their homosexual friends.

This is an issue causing great divisiveness within the church itself. Not all Christians agree that homosexuality is a sin. A fair inference from the survey findings would be that many young Christians are questioning this teaching as well. Those who do believe that this behavior is sinful must consider whom is harmed by it. If there is no victim where is the crime? Once before, the church led a movement to outlaw a sin to improve society. The church-based Temperance movement led to Prohibition. Legislation was clearly the wrong method for helping drunkards to mend their ways. If your goal is to help others see the wrong in their behavior, publicly judging them will only move them away from your concern.

Lent is a season of fasting, typically marked by denying oneself a pleasure or giving up a negative behavior. Perhaps this is a good moment for all Christians to fast from judging others. It would be an opportunity to practice the teaching of Jesus that only those without sin are permitted to cast stones at sinners. People of all faiths and people of goodwill of no faith should be able to come together in a free society to serve and improve the common good. This lofty goal should not be derailed by a misplaced focus on judgment that detracts from the reputation of an institution well positioned to improve society, the Christian Church.


sojoman said...

Obviously you're prodding us here to discuss homosexuality as how it relates to sin and if the activity is sinful on it's own. The Bible does allude to the fact that the behavior may not be God's best plan for humanity. However, with that said, it's undeniable that some people, for whatever reason, are attracted to members of their own sex. But here is where I lose it a bit. What about transgender? Or bisexual? At what point does morality kick in and say, "choose a side" and stay there. I think there is harm to society for someone who can't pick a team. And conservatives would argue that's a slippery slope. I think there is some merit to that.

But as far as treating gays and lesbians with love and respect, that must be done. And it needs to happen in a far different manner than how it's been done recently. Jim Wallis believes in homosexual unions more than gay marriage. But the issue itself is used to divide us and blur the lines of discussion. What happens is we fracture our society and set the church as some kind of arbitor of morality. And we do little to give people the impression that we love first and judge later.

I think of the verse in Romans that says "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ" would apply to gay and lesbian people. My personal discomfort with the radical gay agenda has nothing to do with God's ultimate love for every kind of people. I'm not sure that's an answer or a proposition. It's just my take on it.

mkz said...

Dear Ian, you make a wonderful argument for social activism, but a poor example of a Biblical theologian.

the reverend mommy said...

Interesting to reflect upon -- As I lean more to orthopraxis than orthodoxy, I tend to want always and in every place to stress relationship. To speak of groups of people as an integrated whole -- I am finding myself less able to do this than ever.

sojoman said...

I think orthopraxis (right action)trumps orthodoxy (right doctrine) almost every time. The Bible has some glaring, overarching concepts that seem to free it from the narrow interpretations of professional theologians who seek to clarify things to temper their own internal predjudices. I've done this with homosexuality, and I usually feel rather "unclean" afterwards. I cannot completely relate to the internal mechanisms that turn a person toward a different sexual orientation. In the end, we do little for the Gospel when we claim the Bible as clear on an issue that in way is that simple for us mere mortals.

sojoman said...

that's "no way" that simple.