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We've already looked at the first two charges. This week, let's see why those now entering adulthood think we're anti-homosexual. Not "anti-homosexuality," but "anti-homosexual."
More than nine out of ten Mosaic and Buster outsiders (91 percent) said "anti-homosexual" accurately describes present-day Christianity.... Outsiders say our hostility toward gays -- not just opposition to homosexual politics and behaviors but disdain for gay individuals -- has become virtually synonymous with the Christian faith.
"When you introduce yourself as a Christian to a friend, neighbor, or business associate who is an outsider," Kinnaman says, "you might as well have it tattooed on your arm: anti-homosexual, gay-hater, homophobic."
John Burke, local pastor and author of No Perfect People Allowed, has said that people in our culture consider homosexuality a "litmus test." That is, people judge the quality of your kindness and openness on a host of issues based upon how they perceive your attitude on this specific issue. This is true, Burke observed, even if they aren't gay or don't have a gay relative.
Kinnaman found that this is especially true among young people. "While the general population has been slowly edging toward greater acceptance of gays and lesbians over the last twenty years," he wrote, "those under the age of twenty-six are much more likely to accept it without consideration."
I found it noteworthy that Barna's research found that even Mosaic and Buster churchgoers are far more liberal on this issue, with fewer than one-third believing that homosexual lifestyles are a major problem. Kinnaman wrote:
Young people in churches are not sure what to do with homosexuality because they feel incredibly loyal to friends who are gay, and many churches have not given them any concept of how to deal with the topic.... Young people are facing a candid, sexually diverse world, often without assistance or biblical counsel from their churches or their parents.
In fact, the only two tactics that Kinnaman found among church leaders for addressing homosexuality were preaching and politics:
Although most Christians say they are concerned about homosexual lifestyles, just 4 percent of Americans (and 10 percent of born-again Christians) say they have engaged in any other nonpolitical means of addressing what they perceive to be a problem. Only 1 percent of Americans say they pray for homosexuals; a similarly miniscule proportion say they address the issue by donating money to organizations that help people dealing with the lifestyle or that they try to have meaningful discussions with people about it.... This absence of relational and spiritual solutions to the problem of the homosexual lifestyle has left the church particularly vulnerable. Mosaics and Busters are hardwired for relational connections, so when Christians overlook such solutions, they come across to younger adults as insincere and uncaring.
The solution does not involve changing our biblically-informed objection to homosexuality. "It is necessary and appropriate for Christians to affirm that marriage is between one man and one woman," Kinnaman insists. "Nevertheless, even if we could 'win' every legal, legislative, and political battle -- a reality that will become increasingly difficult as Mosaics and Busters take center stage -- the chasm between Christians and outsiders will only deepen. We cannot assume that politics is the only or best way to influence people."
So, if our preaching and our politics have not changed the hearts of our world -- or even the hearts of churchgoing young people, apparently -- then what should we do?
I know that some churches have been able to open doors through conversations about HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. Also, at our church, we provide a support group for those who want help with unwanted romantic attractions to same-sex relationships. It's led by Don Brown of LifeGuard Ministries, and you can contact him through his website if you want more information.
Also, it's important to send the message that we don't put homosexual behavior in a separate category of sinfulness. In other words, God expects us to deal with whatever we do that's out of alignment with his will: adultery, divorce, vicious gossip, pride, unethical business practices, addictions, as well as homosexual behavior. As Paul wrote in
Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
Notice that Paul didn't rank one sin above another. As far as he was concerned "men who practice homosexuality" were no different than heterosexuals who were "sexually immoral" and no different than good old boys who got drunk over the weekend and no different than white-collar executives who swindled employees out of their pensions.
The good news, Paul says, is that no matter which way you were out of alignment with God's will "you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."
It's important that we speak and act in such a way that we get a chance to share that good news with others who need that same experience.
I've posted this edition of LeaderLines on my weblog, Get Anchored. I hope you'll go there and leave comments about your reaction to what we're discovering together.
LeaderLines is a weekly "e-briefing" providing valuable information and inspiration to those who serve at Hillcrest Baptist Church.