Barna on the “Spiritual Profile of Homosexual Adults”

Go and read it all, but the comments at the end are really thought provoking.

“People who portray gay adults as godless, hedonistic, Christian bashers are not working with the facts,” declared the best-selling author of numerous books about faith and culture. “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.

Hmmm. I hope some of my more conservative readers get that first sentence.

“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.

I wonder whether that’s an interesting comment on the way we often compromise our beliefs for our emotions?

“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. 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.”

That’s quite a challenging paragraph and something that liberals should consider.

19 Comments on “Barna on the “Spiritual Profile of Homosexual Adults”

  1. Peter – do you think Barna’s sample of gay/lesbian Christians was large enough? I noticed that the total sample was over 9,000, which is great, but the g/l sample was less than 300, which presents all kinds of room for error. I hope his results are accurate, because there is both hopeful and challenging insight if they are.

    If he’s right about straight and gay religious practice, then the Episcopal Church effort to build an LGBT clergy caste is a terrible miscalculation for all but the activists themselves. If straights tend to favor traditional structures, and gay/lesbian Christians tend to seek more private venues to practice faith, then a clericalist LGBT church bureaucracy serves neither demographic. Certainly consistent with TEC’s attrition and dysfunction.

    • If the sample was actually randomly drawn, the results of the main sample are accurate 19 times out of 20 plus or minus 1%. The sub-sample of 300 has a plus/minus of 5.7%.

      The smaller sample is in line with many of the snap polls taken by Gallup or Ekos or [pick your local pollster]. This still provides useful information, and is less costly to do.

      The main sample of 9000 is really very large if done rigorously. The results of that survey are reliable plus/minus 1.3% 99 times out of 100.

    • Another interesting point is that the sub-group of 300 self-identified LGBT is consistent with the more reliable data on sexual orientation. Studies in various Western countries peg the incidence between 1% and 3% with higher rates in large urban areas, double on average, but much higher in known gay-friendly cities like San Francisco or Key West.

  2. Interesting article.

    I don’t quite understand why the final paragraph is a challenge to liberals though?

    • “It is interesting to see that most homosexuals, who have some history within the Christian Church, have rejected orthodox biblical teachings and principles”

      Very clearly Barna identifies the liberal position as outside the orthodox position. Liberalism is *not* mainstream Christianity.

      • Well, first of all, it depends how Barna defines “orthodox biblical principles.” I assume he means tenets such as the divinity of Christ, the trinity, the virgin birth, the existence of a personal devil, the inerrancy of scripture – not just the gay issue? I’d say that “orthodoxy” itself changes over time, for example few Christians that I know believe that witches should be stoned to death – or even believe in witches. I don’t notice original sin being a big issue for debate among many Christians I know.

        But what struck me most was that gay Christians have rejected “orthodoxy”,

        ” in many cases to nearly the same degree that the heterosexual Christian population has rejected those same teaching and principles.”

        So, there is not that much difference between “liberal homosexuals” and …everybody else. It suggests to me that those who see themselves as “orthodox”, “mainstream” Christians actually may be in a very small minority. This is how it feels to me , “on the ground” hearing the views of other Christians. I certainly don’t see the attitudes and beliefs of the like of Anglican Mainstream reflected in the pews. I do attend quite an open Church ,but I used to go to a very evangelical church , and the majority of people were reasonably tolerant, on the gay issue ( not the vicar and a few vocal members though.)

        So – “gay and straight Christians have quite similar views” – isn’t that more of a challenge for conservatives?

      • So interesting, this insistence on the ‘orthodoxy’ of the anti-gay conservative evangelical position.

        I was recently discussing this issue with another conservative evangelical. He made a statement to the effect, ‘Perhaps in 100 years’ time, my position will be seen as anachronistic, but at least those looking back will be able to stay that I stood within the tradition of orthodox Christianity’.

        But, as Sue pointed out, Christian orthodxy isn’t static – it changes all the time. And it often changes for the better. We no longer, for example, cling to the ‘orthodox for 1800 years’ position that the Bible supports slavery, or the ‘orthodox’ belief that ‘witches’ or heretics should be burned to death, or the orthodox position that women’s only sphere of social activity should be within the home, with no scope for working outside the home, participating in the public sphere or following God’s call into the ministry.

        Orthodoxy – or the ‘traditional’ position – isn’t always a good thing.

        I replied to my friend that, when I stood before Jesus on the last day, I didn’t want to have to defend my actions as being ‘orthodox’. I wanted to explain that I did my best to live my life following Jesus’ example and his command to me to love my God and to love others as myself.

        • Carolyn, I think you conflate “orthodox” with “traditional” (although some who claim “orthodoxy” certainly do the same sometimes).

          Orthodoxy refers more to the core affirmations of faith – as in Peter’s blog title, it gets at the “fundamentals” of God’s revelation to humanity. Many would, for brevity’s sake, point to the Creeds as sufficient summary of orthodoxy.

          This is why it is fair to discuss changes in moral and social teachings – to test them as Anglicans against Scripture, tradition, and the reasoned reflection on both. Chrisitianity has been able to witness in pretty much every kind of social system without becoming the permanent property of any one, and to survive the collapse of systems with which it became too entangled (“divine right of kings”, for example).

          The problem with the church’s current exploration of LGBT is twofold:

          On the traditional side, there are harsh ways of thinking that write off LGBT people without a second thought, something that Peter challenges via this site. Harsh legalism couched as “orthodoxy” or “tradition” can obscure the orthodox message of the Savior who “for us and for our salvation came down from heaven…and was crucified for us…” And “tradition”, as you point out in your post, can become a euphemism for “what we are used to,” unchallenged by God’s revealed word.

          On the revising side, the rush to close discussion and get LGBT entitlements to ordination and church marriage has made a hash of any effort to find a Christian consensus. We are invoking the orthodox name of the Trinity over ceremonies and actions way before we are able to say that the mind of Christ has moved the church to do so. We haven’t even learned to live as good neigbors, let alone brothers and sisters in Christ, and we are concocting liturgies and offices. Don’t fault the traditionalists for trying to define orthodoxy by law when the revisers are trying to define “orthopraxis” by the most petty sort of procedural manipulations and a very culture-bound definition of “justice.” Also, the willingness of some revisers to jettison orthodoxy (such as denying the divinity of Jesus or that he was crucified “for us”) in order to get a particular political outcome cannot help but injure church unity.

          I think that our dilema is well stated, even if not intentionally, by your final paragraph. You rightly point out that an assertion of the right words (orthodoxy) is not a free pass into heaven. Jesus said that many who call him “Lord” will be turned away.

          But your own assertion that your good works were generally in the right direction is inadequate as well. You rightly cite the Great Commandment, but Jesus warned that we are prone to “love those who are like us” and, like the Pharisee in the temple, are prone to over-inflate our estimation of our good deeds. You do this by comparing your “defense” to that offered by the hypothetical “orthodox” person.

          In very culture-bound Western fashion, we have separated, overanalyzed and compartmentalized orthodoxy (right statement of faith) and orthopraxis (right application). The polarization of the church is the result.

          Jesus needs to be our focus, for his offering is what we hold up as our “defense” on judgement day (orthodoxy). Otherwise, we get into salvation measured by people who are “better than” and “lesser than.”

          His offering is our appeal when we stray from the hard path of the cross (orthopraxis, trying to live out his example).

          And it must be said that orthopraxis – the imperfect effort we make to walk in Jesus’ path – is our response to God’s love. I think that you are onto this quite well in your post.

          Jesus tells us to be “perfect” – that is, “complete.” The separation of orthodoxy and orthopraxis endangers us.

          • Timothy,

            I think you are too ambitious in your attempt to separate out ‘orthodoxy’ from ‘tradition’. In essence, conservative evangelicals will claim that they are the (sole, generally speaking) defenders of ‘orthodoxy’. By which they mean – their Biblical interpretation is correct and everyone else’s is wrong.

            If you have a look at the thread on Driscoll’s sermon (in which he is very concerned with ‘heresy’), you may get a better understanding of where I am coming from.

            Your concern with ‘orthodoxy’ as opposed to ‘orthopraxis’ is a concern I think finds little support in Jesus’ teachings and actions. His primary concern, when we look at how he interprets Scripture and interacts with those around him – is how his actions (and his interpretations) affect people.

            And he reserves his harshest words for those who most closely adhere to the ‘law’ and insist on their ‘theological orthodoxy’, as it were.

            You have misunderstood my statement about my ‘defense’ on the last day being one of my attempt to follow Jesus’ command to ‘Love others as myself’. I admit I phrased it badly, but I was merely contrasting how I interpreted Scripture with how my friend interpreted Scripture – and my response was phrased as a parallel to the statement he had made to me. That is all.

            I still retain enough of my fundamentalist, evangelical roots to hold to Romans 3:23: for by grace are you saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast’. In fact, as a reformed fundamentalist, it is one of my favourite verses. :-)

            You see, this verse is at the heart of my reservations about evangelical concerns for ‘orthodoxy’ and what appears to be your assertion of the importance of our adherence to ‘orthodoxy’ (as well as, in the case of evangelicals, their attempt to force their Scriptural understanding on others).

            This is related to my comments on the Driscoll thread – what is ‘perfect adherence to/understanding of’ Scripture, but ‘good works’? This insistance that ‘orthodoxy’ must be adhered to, and that departing from it is ‘dangerous’, misses, for me, the importance of grace.

            I strongly suspect that God’s grace is much larger than anyone’s faith. :-)

            For me, that is one of Jesus’ main messages. God’s loving grace, as seen in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Interestingly, Jesus himself tells us that if we have but the faith of mustard seed, we will be able to move mountains. Yet evangelicals (have a look at the Driscoll video, for an example of this) often seem much more concerned with having ‘exactly the right faith’ in ‘exactly the right theological creeds’ (orthodoxy, as they define it).

            Surely this is nothing but works? Wrapped up in theological language, of course, that makes us feel that we are that much better/more faithful/etc than those who don’t believe exactly what we happen to believe.

            This insistance on ‘orthodoxy’ (with the clear assumption that those insisting on ‘orthodoxy’ have cornered the market on God’s truth) always strikes me as both prideful and, in important ways, missing the point of God’s grace.

            I believe that Jesus wants us to ‘follow him’, and he’ll give us the grace and courage to do that (it is not an easy path). ‘Orthodoxy’ and an insistance on orthodoxy quite often simply gets in the way (especially in this case, when evangelicals want to equate orthodoxy with the non-acceptance of gays and lesbians).

            • Thanks for your detailed answer and your application of Romans 3:23 – that is an “orthodoxy” (right saying about God) that can be a real unifier.

              I think that an orthodoxy that does not “get in the way” of orthopraxis takes into account what the BCP calls “the means of grace”. Grace is not just a general goodwill of a God who comes to resemble a disinterested parent. For Christians, it is unearned, undeserved love mediated by Christ crucified. I think that you are affirming that as you cite Rom. 3:23. My main point of distrust in the discussion of LGBT inclusion is that there seem to be folks willing to dump that kind of core orthodoxy (which should be a pretty short list of Holy mysteries to which we hold) in order to get to very particular end results (ordinations and liturgies). Just as you find much of religious orthodoxy getting in the way of human relationships, I find that a good deal of ideological “orthopraxis” is driven by less than altruistic motives and gets in the way of relationship with God.

              It is much easier to discuss these matters, even in disagreement, when there is a foundation of trust in right statement of who God is, what God does and what God will do. Not very far afield from the Creed, that. Might suggest different conclusions about how to apply the information, but still holds us together in a bond that assumes our mutual reliance on grace.

              But look at your last line: “non-acceptance of gays and lesbians.” Is that not an assertion of an ideological “orthodoxy” to close off the discussion? Very, very close to throwing the “bigot” or “phobia” grenades.

              We have to land somewhere else to have this discussion. Somewhere between what you (and Peter, as I read this site) rightly reject (an “orthodoxy” that says “I believe in God, therefore you LGBT all need to smile, get married to the opposite sex and be ‘normal’ like me”) and the other extreme, “I believe in God, therefore LGBT are indisputably entitled to Christian marriage and holy orders.”

              I like what Peter is doing on this site, because it slows down the reflexive absolutes if we let it. Sigh. If only he’d run “the Windsor process”, maybe we’d all be in a better place as a church.

              • What a muddled mess I made of the above comment… got to keep my pinky away from “Enter.” Here’s another try:

                Carolyn: I think that we might confuse each other because we live across the pond from each another :) Upon reading your latest, I slap myself on the forehead because I realize that I’ve once again made too many assumptions of common church features. The Episcopal Church hasn’t, for the longest time, had any real “Evangelical wing” like that in the CoE. I forget how well defined an Evangelical position exists where you are, and your comments make much more sense to me in light of that. But just the same, a few more thoughts:

                Thanks for your detailed answer and your application of Romans 3:23 – that is an “orthodoxy” (right saying about God) that can be a real unifier. I don’t think I separate orthodoxy and orthopraxis at all. I think that my prior post is about right saying about God directing right action toward God and neighbor, and that the two are one in Jesus’ Great Commandment.

                What’s funny is that we are not, by and large, fighting over much more than very legal and churchy entitlements – things with which a great many work-a-day LGBT I’ve known are pretty much unconcerned when it comes to their concept of the good life.

                But in the church, at least here in the U.S., LGBT were already a substantial presence in TEC – they didn’t just land from Mars. And diaconal and priestly ordinations were already a de facto “local option.” Not that long ago, the slogan was “unity in diversity.” That was displaced by the new, well, “orthodoxy” of “inclusion” that makes absolute claims to divine knowledge and brooks no diversity of church practice. The consecration of Gene Robinson to apostolic office took local option off the table, as the selection of a bishop asserts a conclusion for the whole church. And TEC’s own research, now in print before the General Convention, shows that the rush to close discussion is the primary cause of conflict in TEC and that decline has accelerated as that conflict has pushed all else aside. If Jesus came to impact how we treat one another (I’m paraphrasing you), then the absolute certainty of “the cause” has made a real hash of it. TEC, by every measure, is LESS representative of the breadth of humanity than almost any other denomination in America. There is a noted lack of “evangelism” – we have no message to share.

                I hope you can step back as see how breathtakingly abrupt are these new assertions – this new statement of “What the Spirit is doing” (that’s an argument used over here – a claim to “orthodoxy” if ever there was). When Jesus spoke of marriage at all, it was always in the context of male-female. I understand the liberal position that he also critiqued the injustices in “normal” cultural assumptions, and that is worth exploring to see if it has direct application to the issue at hand. All I am saying here is that the movement’s certainty about God’s plan for LGBT LITURGIES is too specific a conclusion to draw from a pretty vague “Jesus ethic” or a thematic generalization of his message – especially when he invokes the Genesis passage about male-female union as divine design.

                The most level-headed LGBT Anglicans have asked the church to step back, give a listen and take another look at some moral teachings. Fair enough. Would you do the same with your final characterization of orthodoxy, that it is all about “non-acceptance of gays and lesbians”? We all say NO, sometimes in major ways, to people we love. Spouses, children, parents, friends – we can love someone, live with them in considerably intimacy and see them as no better or worse than ourselves while saying, “What you are asking of me, I cannot give cheerfully or sincerely.” The less level-headed LGBT activists in the Anglican Communion, IMO, have demanded an offering under compulsion rather than a cheerful gift from a convinced church (II Cor. 9).

                Thanks for your time. I like what Peter is doing on this site, because it slows down the reflexive absolutes if we let it. Sigh. If only he’d run “the Windsor process”, maybe we’d all be in a better place as a church.

                • Hi Timothy,

                  I do think, from reading your latest post, that we are speaking from different backgrounds and experiences, so have probably misunderstood one another in places.

                  I’m actually American, but married to a Brit, and I’ve lived in Scotland since 1995. I did go to an Episcopal church in CT right before moving across the pond, but other than that, I’m not too ‘up’ on the situation in the American Episcopal Church – I was raised in Southern Baptist and Grace Brethren Churches, and I honestly thought (until I attended that Episcopalian Church in CT!) that most Episcopalians couldn’t possibly be ‘real’ Christians’ (I cringe now, when I think back on my presumption and pride).

                  My husband is a Church of Scotland minister, and as you may know, the C of S has just sustained the call of an openly gay minister to a church in Aberdeen. Directly after this, however, the C of S then declared a 2 year moratorium on gay and lesbian clergy either entering the ministry or moving charges, if they are currently in place.

                  I agree with you that we need to listen to and dialogue with one another, and that dialogue is impossible if one position is asserted as the monolithic ‘this is what ‘X’ Church, and all associated congregations believes’.

                  But when I wrote of the ‘non-acceptance of gays and lesbians’ – well, that is what the evangelicals within the C of S (at least some of them) want to insist on. Although the C of S is a broad church, the evangelicals are only happy within it, if everyone else is forced to abide by their (evangelical) religious convictions – hence this 2 year moratorium on further gay/lesbian inductions in the C of S.

                  From my perspective, in the C of S, Scott Rennie’s translation to Queen’s Cross is the single example of the liberal/progressive wing of the church being allowed to follow its own religious convictions – Queen’s Cross has been allowed to call a minister in accordance with its own understanding of Scripture.

                  Yet evangelicals are now threatening to leave/with hold money/etc.

                  That is – if we all don’t abide by THEIR interpretation of passages on homosexuality, they will (essentially) take their toys and go home (the ones who can afford to, anyway).

                  So I don’t think my comment about the lack of acceptance of gays and lesbians was inaccurate – that is the monolithic position of many C of S evangelicals. They are unwilling to, and are strongly fighting against, being a part of a church which accepts that people have a variety of views on the issue of homosexuality – and that those people should be allowed to follow their own conscience, as they feel God is leading them.

                  It seems as if you feel the opposite has happened in the American Episcopalian church – however, I wonder if that is the case? Quite often, I find that evangelicals feel that they are being ‘forced’ to accept the view that ‘God affirms same-sex relationships’ if there are ANY openly gay/lesbian ministers in charges. And even if individual congregations can chose not to call a gay/lesbian minister, etc.

                  Many C of S evangelicals, for example, are up in arms, saying that Scott Rennie’s call means that they are part of a church which ‘accepts and affirms’ something they disagree with. Except that isn’t the case at all – the C of S has merely recognised that Queen’s Cross Church has the right to call a minister of their choosing, and the evangelical churches don’t have the right to force progressive churches to abide by evangelical convictions on homosexuality (just as a progressive church wouldn’t have the right to force a conservative church to call a minister who was gay).

                  Scott Rennie’s induction at Queen’s Cross doesn’t mean that there is no difference of opinion in the C of S about homosexuality. Of course there is, and we all need to continue to dialogue with one another.

                  However, it ofen feels as if conservatives are only willing to ‘dialogue’ if the status quo (i.e., the exclusion of gays and lesbians) is maintained throughout whatever denomination we are talking about.

                  And that is hardly dialogue, is it? Surely dialogue can only take place when different people/ congregations are allowed to follow their own consciences on this matter.

                  Surely it is not up to us to judge others, nor is it up to us to convince others. All we can do is dialogue honestly and in good faith, leaving it up to God to convict and change hearts where change needs to occur (and concurrently, we all need to be open to God’s conviction that we are the ones who just might need to change – a very difficult thing to accomplish, I know!).

        • Carolyn’s reply is helpful. I think a reading of the New testament makes it clear that Jesus was more inclined towards ‘orthopraxy’ than ‘orthodoxy’.

          • sound –

            1) Christian orthodoxy is a reflection on the glory of God revealed in Jesus. It is anachronistic to portray Jesus as a choice between orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

            2) I have been reading the New Testament all my life. To suggest that people who value orthodoxy simply haven’t read the NT is way off target – in fact, I find it in many cases to be projection by those who read commentaries but not the Bible itself. The New Testament is full of truth revealed in Jesus, beyond his moral example. “In the beginning was the Word… the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” “He is the icon of the invisible God” “The glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”. “The tax collector who said, ‘I am not worthy’ went home justified, rather than the Pharisee who was puffed up by his good deeds.”

            3) Orthopraxy assumes a right foundation by which the praxis is judged – this is what orthodoxy gives.

            4) If Jesus is just a moral exemplar, he’s in a competition with many other fine people and I think that there are certainly more encouraging people to look at from a human point of view. Nor should there be a bunch of people in robes saying strange words and doing rituals if Jesus is not up to the orthodox proclamation of who he is. “If we have hoped for this life only, we are of all people most pathetic.” That’s also in the NT.

  3. I would like this broken down into “white” and “non-white”. That would be interesting.
    He did say that they homosexuals were more likely to be non-white though.

    Also, it would be nice to hear about the perspective of people who refuse to self-identify as “homosexual”.

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