The Fighting Church: Thoughts on Homosexuality and Christianity

Welcome back to the Our Emptying Church blog series! For the past three months, we have been exploring why Millennials (ages 18-30) have left or will leave the church. We’ve had some significant interviews with Millennials and are about to hear from some pretty great guest posters.

We are specifically addressing the six most common reasons why the number of religious unaffiliated Millennials is on the rise (in order, they are: antihomosexual, judgmental, hypocritical, too involved in politics, old-fashioned, out of touch with reality). Several weeks ago, in light of the coming presidential election, I addressed the church’s involvement in politics and today I wish to jump into the church and homosexuality. I realize this is an emotionally- infused topic, which is why I will attempt to write with honesty, objectivity, and grace. It is also why I only welcome graceful, constructive dialog in the comments section of this blog. It is certainly okay to disagree so long as it’s done in a constructive, kind manner. I don’t intend on changing your stance; however, I do hope to provide a little more perspective on why the church is overwhelmingly seen as anti-homosexual by Millennials and why, in my opinion, we are leaving the church because of this perception.

In times past, the church has not only offered strong objection to the gay lifestyle but made it an object of scorn, disdain, and dehumanization. Hostilely opposing the gay community hasn’t just become a cause of Christianity, it has, for some Christians, become intertwined in their identities. In his book unChristian, generational researcher, David Kinnaman writes:
“…hostility toward gays– not just opposition to homosexual politics and behaviors but disdain for gay individuals– has become virtually synonymous with the Christian faith.” Kinnaman’s research showed that 9 out of 10 Mosaics and Busters (ages 18-41) who are unaffiliated with the church viewed Christians as anti-homosexual.

I see a lot of fear floating around these days and fear tends to make us dehumanize folks.

And there’s a big difference in disagreeing with someone and demeaning him/her.

I wonder if this distinction is a little too muddy in the church.

Millennials are wondering too.

As of late, post-presidential election in particular, I’ve been hearing and reading claims of religious persecution… that some Christians feel their rights have been infringed upon by recent legislation, ACLU lawsuits and the such. I think it important to remember that there are men and women murdered for their faith everyday and that our history is stained with story after story of religious martyrs. These are events of persecution. Being bullied, having Bibles thrown at you, being told regularly that God hates you, or picket signs stating your eternal damnation may constitute the term “persecution” too.

I think it’s important to try to step out of yourself and look objectively. How do you love people? How do you love those that you fear or disagree with? How do you love the LGBTQI+ community? Do you fear working for causes like ending HIV/AIDS? Would you entertain the idea that the legality of gay marriage is actually a civil and human rights issue?

Evangelical Christians have been heard loud and clear that homosexuality is a sin, that it is an unacceptable lifestyle, and that gay couples should not be allowed to marry each other. I’m not sure we Millennials need to keep on hearing it, as we already know where these folks stand. I’d love to hear a little more about how the church is going to fight sex trafficking in Tennessee. Can you tell me how many counties in Tennessee have reported a case of minor sex trafficking in the last two years? Can you even tell me what sex trafficking is? Perhaps we should talk a little more about such things instead of continuing to fight and legislate a culture war.

As stated above, the intent of this post is not to dive into the few Bible verses that mention homosexuality or to change your views on the ethics of the subject, those are personal and you are responsible for researching your own beliefs, but you are similarly responsible for your actions in loving people. Trying to establish Christianity’s primacy in American culture by voting for bans on gay marriage isn’t really a victory for Christians at all. In it, we are completely disenfranchising a group of Americans, of humans. Millennials see this and they are tired of the culture wars. They are tired of the control that Christians seem to feel they must have on all things culture.

I say this as a Millennial who still dearly loves the emptying church.

Teach me how to be a strong woman. Teach me about the women of the Bible. Teach me about human trafficking. Teach me how to hug someone I hate. Teach me how to prevent diseases through education and vaccines. Teach me how to meditate on scripture. Teach me how to trade the sword for the plow. Teach me how to change my heart. Teach me how to rid myself of arrogance and pride. Teach me how to lead by serving. Teach me how to speak with grace. Teach me how to preach. Teach me how to fast for a cause. Teach me how to persist. Teach me to weep for the hurting. Teach me how to take care of the earth. Teach me sustainable farming. Teach me how to live with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self control. Teach me how to embrace life’s seasons. Teach me how to pastor. Teach me how not to hate. Teach me how to rid myself of prejudice. Teach me how to get off the couch after a broken heart. Teach me how to love. I beg you. There are so many hurting people in this world… teach me how to love them like Christ, not how to fight a culture war, I beg you. Teach me.

For those Christians who cannot condone homosexuality, yet who still love folks and treat them kindly regardless of their sexuality, thank you. You teach me a great deal. Thank you. I’m sorry that you are sometimes labeled bigoted for your personal beliefs. I know that’s unfair and hurtful.

Let us find the grace that we beg God for and extend it to each other. Let’s put a name to a face and listen to each others stories; I bet we’ll begin realizing that we aren’t so different after all. When we consciously chose love, I sincerely believe we send a loud and clear message to Millennials, much more so than a picket sign or buying waffle fries at the Chick-fil-A.

Feel free to post any constructive thoughts or experiences below.

This post is the ninth in a succession of the series Our Emptying Church. The purpose of this series is to explore why millions of Millennials are leaving the church. Check out these recent posts: Our Emptying Church, When Christianity Sometimes Looks UnChristian, Fake Smiles and Judging Eyes: OEC Interview with Millennial #1, Prioritizing Sin: OEC Interview #2, You’re Losing Us: OEC Interview #3, OEC Interview #4: One Last Chance, Our Beloved, Overly Political Church, Heroes in Disguise: OEC Interview #5, Good Church Folk: OEC Interview #6, OEC Guest Post: Mark and Tammy Edwards


Our Emptying Church: When Christianity Sometimes Looks UnChristian

In case you missed it, last week, I introduced a new series called: Our Emptying Church.

Beginning this month, I’ll be exploring why millions of 18-29 year olds are leaving the church. I’ll be discussing generational differences and hot topics in Christianity; I’ll also be posting interviews with Millennials. I hope to create a healthy dialogue in this space so that we can better understand each other. And I’d be humbled if you’d come on this journey with me.

In the last post, I mentioned that I would discuss what has now been deemed the “Millennial” generation (born 1980-2000). Coupled with the late comers of Generation X (born 1965-1979), this generation of twenty somethings has something to tell the world. And I think it’s time we listen.

So what about this generation of young adults makes them so distinctive? Where older generations felt a duty to attend church functions, they do not. Where past generations were motivated by guilt, loyalty, and tradition, Millennials are motivated by social justice issues and making a difference in the world. Where older generations sought to keep silent about personal struggles, Millennials need community and seem to embrace the messiness and hard topics of life. Where older generations had more concrete views of morality, twenty somethings seem to see the world in shades of grey.

Twenty somethings are the targets of social media and marketing galore. Highly educated, they tend to be skeptical of pitches. Living up to their fullest potential, in a non-normalized life is critical to this generation. Now, more than ever, they are willing to face doubt and faith with real, honest dialogue and not canned answers.

David Kinnaman is a popular Christian researcher and author who has, within the last decade, studied this generation of Millennials. In 2007, he published “UnChristian,” which explained his research of Millennials and how they view the church. This research helps explain why so many twenty-somethings have left or will leave the church. But for many of us, such research only confirms what we’ve experienced personally.

Kinnaman states:

The nation’s population is increasingly resistant to Christianity, especially to the theologically conservative expressions of that faith. And the aversion and hostility are, for the first time, crystallizing in the attitudes of millions of young Americans. A huge chunk of a new generation has concluded they want nothing to do with [Christians].

Kinnaman suggests that Christians have become famous for what they oppose and not what they love, for what they exclude rather than include. After a national survey of Millennials, Kinnaman’s research group found that the three most common perceptions of Christianity are:

1) Antihomosexual (91% of surveyed young adults)
2) Judgmental (87%)
3) Hypocritical (85%)

Closely followed by:

4) Too involved in politics (75%)
5) Old-fashioned (78%)
6) Out touch with reality (72%)

The favorable perceptions about Christianity included that it: teaches same basic ideas as other religions (82%), has good values and principles (76%), and is friendly (71%).

Kinnaman offers this thought:

When [non-Christians] see Christians not acting like Jesus, they quickly conclude that the group deserves an unChristian label. Like a corrupted computer file or a bad photocopy, Christianity, they say, is no longer in pure form, and so they reject it.

I will spend the greater part of Our Emptying Church delving into those six common perceptions of Christianity because I believe, deep inside me, that reconciliation is possible.

Do you agree with this research? Have you encountered these perceptions about Christianity? What perceptions (good or bad) would you add that I did not list?

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If you know me in the least, you know not to use the phrase: “love the sinner, hate the sin” around me. And you know that if you do use this special phrase in conversation, I will then muster of all the love that I can produce at that moment, and hopefully, lovingly express my strong aversion and repugnance for this phrase that has lingered in many pulpits over the years. I am of the opinion that there should be no hate involved anywhere in this process. Hate shouldn’t exist; it shouldn’t even be translatable in the English language. It should be taboo to hate anyone or anything. Take a second to think where hate has gotten us in history. Let’s not forget the most infamous: Adolf Hitler tops it off with his hatred and subsequent attempt to eradicate an entire gene pool, Maximilien Robespierre who brought about the “Reign of Terror” in France post Revolution, Idi Amin Dada: the evil Ugandan president, Pol Pot: the Cambodian leader of the Khmer Rouge, a group that successfully murdered 2 million Cambodians… one of the largest genocides in the world, let’s not forget Joseph Stalin of Russia who is now thought to have taken more lives than Hitler during his reign. Some of these men hated based on skin color/ ethnicity, some hated based on religion, some hated based on another man’s ideals, and some were simply evil, ruthless killers who enjoyed playing god… taking life at will.

What about Westboro Baptist church, the infamous church that protests homosexuality at military funerals while families are trying to bury their dead in peace? This is modern day hatred. Though I listed no American on the list above, America has its fair share of hate through the years. Hate of the native peoples here… look at Andrew Jackson’s forcing of the Cherokee and other tribes on what became known as the Trail of Tears. He hated Native Americans and he didn’t mind sending them on a cruel, west-ward trek during the dead of winter. What about our treatment of African Americans for years… for being the land of the free, America doesn’t have a great track record of not hating a race of people because of their skin. What about women? Women didn’t gain the right to vote until 1919… that was the same century that most of us reading this were born in. Women weren’t viewed as intelligent enough to be able to discern political beliefs and vote accordingly. How sad. (I still see women treated this way in the church, by the way). Anyway, I will digress from all the examples; I think it’s suffice to say that hatred has left wounds and scars on history that will never be able to be removed or forgotten. Black marks… blemishes… indicators of evil in the human race.

So don’t tell me to love the sinner, hate the sin. There should be no hate involved or we will be another generation that made the mistake of hating based on our categorization of someone. (Let me insert a comment here to also say not to misunderstand me: I believe in having one’s beliefs and morals; I am not encouraging a lack of any boundaries, I’m just asserting that some have gone to far with theirs). How many people hate another person and they’ve never even met that person? …never spoken to that person face to face.
But if you must have an intense dislike in your heart, then hate hunger, hate injustice, hate the selling of little girls into forced prostitution, hate unclean water, hate preventable diseases, hate rape, hate molestation, hate genocide, hate conflict diamonds. I’ll end with this quote by Anne Lamott: “And I realized once again that we’re not punished for our hatred… but by it.”