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.