By Chaplain Mike
Thanks for a great discussion, everyone. To be continued… Comments are now closed.
I have avoided this for a long time, but at some point, we are going to have to talk about it.
I haven’t wanted to bring it up because, like most hot-button issues, trying to have a conversation about this subject usually only leads to arguing and fighting, with those on the extremes yelling the loudest and drowning out voices that want some space and time to work through their thoughts and feelings. When people are screaming at each other from opposite sides of the room, it’s hard to sit in the middle and discuss something calmly.
What prompts me to bring up this subject? There is a new book that has been getting a lot of press lately. This book discusses the American religious scene, where we’ve come from and where we find ourselves now. It is called, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, by Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell. One of its findings was summarized in an article by Anthony B. Robinson with these words:
“Religious Right Drives Young from Churches.”
Based on their research, Putnam and Campbell found that in the past several years there has been a significant decline in religious participation among younger Americans (those who have come of age since 1990). About 30% of them are now classified as “nones”â€”people claiming no religious affiliation. Folks, these are my children (my youngest was born in 1990), so this finding got my attention immediately.
What lies behind this shift? The research supporting the findings of American Grace led its authors to conclude that the “culture war” approach and conservative political agenda of evangelicalism over the past 30 years has turned young people off and prompted them to walk away from church. And the one issue that has been particularly troublesome for them is the church’s attitude toward homosexuality.
Robinson reports the authors’ findings:
“The association between religion and politics (and especially religionâ€™s intolerance of homosexuality) was the single strongest factor in this portentous shift.”
…this trend is most evident among those coming of age in the 1990s. While some of the twenty-somethings do hold deeply conservative views, as Seattle has seen with the growth of Antioch Bible Church in Kirkland and Mars Hill, a majority of the Millennial generation are liberal on most social issues, particularly homosexuality. According to Putnamâ€™s research, the percentage of twentysomethings who said homosexual relations were â€œalwaysâ€ or â€œalmost alwaysâ€ wrong plummeted from about 75 percent in 1990 to 40 percent in 2008.
This is significant. Our young people are telling us that we have been wrong with regard to homosexuality. Perhaps they are seeing this in the same terms as my generation saw the civil rights movementâ€”when we told our parents and grandparents that they had been wrong to exclude a group of people from full participation in society. Our children, now young, idealistic adults as we once were, are making their dissatisfaction known by the sound of their footsteps walking out the church door. Nearly a third of themâ€”a third of them!â€”have decided that church and religious practice is not for them.
I’m not here to make any pronouncements today. I’ve just written this to say to all of us, “We’re going to have to learn how to talk about this issue, which is apparently front and center on their radar.” We have to figure out a way to think, pray, and act like Jesus with regard to our homosexual neighbors. I’m not saying we need to come to an answer that will make everyone happy. But I think findings like those recorded in American Grace must get our attention, drive us to our knees, and get us talking with one another.
Frankly, I don’t have an answer that I’m satisfied with right now.
- The more conservative among us focus on truth, and want to make sure we all understand the issues involved. They are concerned about sin and what they perceive to be the clear teaching of Scripture advocating sexual purity and the sanctity of heterosexual marriage. They see any concession in this matter as moral compromise and disobedience to a holy God. They advocate for the church to be a strong, unyielding prophetic voice of truth and moral sanity in a world (and a church) that they see coming apart at the seams as it denies and transgresses the most fundamental boundaries established by natural and biblical theology.
- On the other hand, the more progressive among us express a greater concern for love and relational integrity. They emphasize Jesus’ radical attitudes of hospitality and the inclusion of sinners. They point out that the church has mercilessly shunned and condemned homosexuals in the past, and recommend instead that we get to know them as our neighbors and build new bridges of understanding and acceptance. Even those who think the practice of homosexuality is not God’s original design are willing to set that position to the side for the sake of reaching out and befriending those in the GLBT communities. Others have become convinced that the Biblical injunctions were designed to speak against idolatrous or abusive practices only, and not the lifelong monogamous unions that some gays are seeking to establish today.
This issue is dividing churches and entire denominations today. Apparently, the young adults in our midst have much different perspectives and feelings about it than those from older generations. Because “coming out” has been more prevalent over the past twenty years, young people are more likely to have openly gay friends and acquaintances than their parents and grandparents. It’s one thing to have opinions about “the gays.” It’s another thing to think about my friend, ____________, and know how to relate to him or her. And it’s another thing altogether to know how to be the church in a community and serve our GLBT neighbors in both truth and love.
Warning: I’m ready for an avalanche of responses. I will be moderating. If I get busy and have to stay away for a little while, I will come back and clean things up if the discussion gets ugly. If you think I’m letting people get away with murder, just be patient. If your comment gets deleted, don’t even think about protesting. Please check all weapons at the door and keep your contributions civil. This is one time your normally gentle host is going to be very, very intolerant of misbehavior.