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


OEC Guest Post: Mark & Tammy Edwards

As part of the Our Emptying Church series, I’m very happy to welcome Mark and Tammy Edwards as guest-posters to the Our Emptying Church series. If you are from the Hermitage area and are high school or college-aged, you likely know these two as they have dedicated their lives to loving this diverse, often eccentric group of Millennials.

From being on staff, to volunteering, to starting college worship services, to hosting multiple Bible studies in their home, to being pushed into a swimming pool fully clothed, to chaperoning crazy teenagers at youth camp, to teaching students, to praying for students, to meeting students for ice cream or coffee or sometimes both, these two have consistently loved Millennials. I’m not entirely sure where they get all their energy, but somehow, they seem to always have it and share it selflessly. Just barely qualifying as Baby Boomers, Mark and Tammy have been married for 25 years and have two very cool kids. I’m grateful for the many hours, days, and years that they’ve loved on Millennials, that they loved on me. I hope you’ll enjoy their perspective as much as I did. I asked them to shed some light on generational differences between Boomers and Millennials and how we can love each other in spite of those differences. You can catch up with Mark and Tammy on Facebook or through their ministry Slic Skate Church.


We began working with Millennials through a former church we attended, mainly because our son was entering college. At that time, there were not many churches in our area that had a College/Career Ministry. You went straight from the Youth Group to the Singles Ministry.

Baby Boomers need to not see church as a place only for perfect people. A great majority of Millennials have tattoos, ear gauges/piercings, and come from broken homes. Baby Boomers tend to look down on this group of people, based on how they look. Millennials are a more caring group not only about the people in their lives, but the lives of people suffering from injustice in foreign lands. For Baby Boomers, it’s often all about the money, status, materialism, etc. Millennials are not really concerned about these things. They tend to have a heart for all people, not just people who look like them, have the same color skin, and go to their church. Being a part of a religion is not important to Millennials. They feel they can have a faith and not be a part of a church body. Sometimes I feel this is a cop out to the hypocrisy they claim is why they do not attend church. Millennials could learn from Boomers the importance of corporate worship and serving in local churches.

I think a big reason Millennials do not see importance in attending church is because Christians do not show the love of Jesus in such a way to make them want to attend church. Sometimes my non-Christian friends are kinder to me than my Christian friends! If there is no true life change shown by people who claim to know Jesus, what is the point??

Boomers also are not open to all walks of life. Absolutely will not open their hearts to the gay community whatsoever. This generation even will abandon their own children that claim this lifestyle (which blows my mind!). Millennials are more tolerant of the LGBTQ community and don’t judge them for it. Boomers are very closed minded about this issue. They do not embrace any opportunity to just befriend the LGBTQ community. They want nothing to do with the community. Period.

Baby Boomers tend to have a faith that has been handed down by past generations. They often don’t really know why they believe, they just walked an aisle when they were 5 or 8 and wha-la that’s it. Millennials are more inquisitive; they want to know why having a faith is beneficial… they want to see it, experience it firsthand. Don’t just tell them, prove it!

If churches don’t wake up and see that there is a hurting world out there and do whatever they have to do to meet the needs of their community, their doors will close. Millennials are not interested in mega churches. They are also not interested in churches who serve themselves. They want to be a part of something that is going to truly make a difference here and around the world.

As always, I welcome graceful dialogue in the comment section. What are some generational differences you perceive between Baby Boomers and Millennials? How can we love each other through those?

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

Prioritizing Sin: OEC Interview #2

In continuing with Our Emptying Church, I’m honored to be sharing with you another interview with a Millennial today. Because of the personal questions I’ve asked, I’m keeping all the interviewees anonymous. This interview comes from a 23 year old woman who I think may just have one of the most beautiful smiles ever. I hope you’ll appreciate her grace and vulnerability as much as I did.

–Did you grow up regularly attending a church?

No, I wasn’t raised in a faith-based home and my family also moved a few times throughout my childhood. Both circumstances made it difficult to be involved in a church community.

–Are you currently actively attending a church?

I’m still seeking a church to get involved in. I’ve been quite the church-hopper as of late, but it’s been a challenge to find a community that shares the same theologies and that have the service opportunities I’d love to share in. However, I am getting my bible study fix, so I find some community there.

–What is your motivation for attending/ not attending?

Within the last two years, I’ve been spiritually challenged to examine two complex, very personal subjects: Calvinism theology and my sexuality. On theology—after thorough study, I’ve discovered that Calvinism is just not an interpretation that I personally subscribe to. Although I don’t mind attending churches where Calvinism is taught, it’s been difficult to find a church that doesn’t in an area where the interpretation is widely accepted. On sexuality—I am homosexual, and many do not know. However, it’s been to the avail of my learning as I’ve observed from the sidelines the relationship between the Christian community and the LGBTQ community. I’m disheartened to know the damage to our witness and to non-believers caused by our very real and false prioritization of particular sins. I’m disheartened to know the hesitancy and fear of judgment (and distancing) that I often experience when sharing my sexuality with another believer. I can’t imagine that for someone outside the church. However—not a justified reason for me to not attend, only to attend more, converse more, and pray more for change.

–If you have one, tell me about your church experience (the good, bad, and neutral).

I have had many excellent experiences with the Church, and I have also had many experiences that I wish had been different. The latter experiences I try only to learn from, as I know I cannot expect perfection from my flesh, so why expect more from others who are very much like me? But experiences like having an older lady, whom I didn’t know, take my hand during prayer at a morning service, or having a loaf of homemade bread left by a bible study group on my porch as a thanks for stopping by, or seeing a church open its doors to the hungry regularly, or seeing a homeless shelter and rehab center built and sustained with the congregation’s monetary donations… I have so much hope for us as an imperfect community, who, in so many ways, I believe truly wish to pursue what Christ intended.

–What is the purpose of the church?

To open the doors for the sick, which is all of us; to extend grace and the love that is the Gospel, and never close to a faint knock.

–Feel pressure to attend church?

No, not particularly. Only when I haven’t been in a while.

–In 1-3 sentences, how do you perceive Christians? (i.e. loving, generous, anti-gay, fundamentalists, too political, etc.)

At times, I catch myself perceiving Christians (including myself) in every way listed. I think it’s easy to see the name of Christ demonstrated by behaviors that define all of those titles, and more.

–In October 2012, a study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life revealed that thirty percent of Millennials (age 18-31) identify as having no religious affiliation. Does this surprise you?

My first thought is no. The religious communities that do exist are so wedged apart by opposing theologies and proclaimed truths, and in such an individualistic culture, our lack of unity as a collective faith-based community only further promotes what I think is being pursued by many of the “information age” as the desirable (but false), Unitarian, individualistic truth: all paths lead in the same direction.

–Fifty years down the road, do you anticipate significant growth in the church or significant decline? Why?

I can’t say. I surely hope that more decide to know the presence, ways, grace and love of Jesus, God the father, and the Spirit.

-Anything else you’d like to share about yourself or your experience?

I cannot say the negative experiences I’ve had with/perceptions I carry of the Church or Christians leave more of a lasting impression than the love, acceptance, brother and sisterhood, and genuine care I have come to know only through my relationships with other believers. To those who have always extended warm welcomes and open hearts, with no other agenda than to care because Christ did for them, thank you always!

As always, I welcome graceful dialogue only in the comment section. Can you identify with this woman’s story?

This post is the forth in a succession of the series Our Emptying Church. The purpose of this series is to explore why millions of Millennials are leaving or will leave the church. Check out these recent posts: Our Emptying Church, When Christianity Sometimes Looks UnChristian, & Interview with a Millennial

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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