Part 2 – The Barna Group’s Research Study on GLBT Spirituality

Yesterday I gave my responses to a media outlet’s questions (four of eight). Today, I’ll give my response to the other half of their questions.

It’s been a great on-going conversation for the first responses that I look forward to continuing, so let me know what you think about these as well:

Q5. Do you believe a person’s sexual orientation has anything to do with their faith? Do you think the way individuals form their opinions, values and beliefs is any different for a heterosexual vs. a homosexual? What factors come into play when we think about the basis of one’s faith and how that is formed/developed?

A: When someone has a same-sex attraction, whether they act on it or not, in one way or the other are automatically cast as deviant to conservative Christianity, and therefore conservative theology. Since my involvement over the years has continued to show me that statement is true, there is no way for GLBT people to have the same experience, teachings or community that heterosexual people inherently receive the right to have. Due to the system that is in place, the current outcome will keep perpetuating itself.   

Q6. According to the Barna Group study, 72 percent of straight adults and 60 percent of gay adults describe their faith as “very important”.  Based on the study, what do these numbers say to you?

A: I don’t care what people say is important, I care how people live out what is important to them. If those statements were true there wouldn’t be a culture war today. Proverbs 16:7 says, “when a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord, he makes even his enemies live at peace with him.” Are we living at peace with the GLBT community? No. Are they living at peace with us? No. Therefore no matter what is communicated, both of us have a long way to go to even consider a statement that our faith is “very important.”

Q7. There were substantial differences in some core religious beliefs, too. Heterosexuals were twice as likely as homosexuals to strongly agree that the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches; two-thirds of heterosexuals believe the single, most important purpose in life is to love God with all your heart, mind, strength and soul, significantly higher than the half of all homosexuals who embrace the idea; and about half of straight adults and one-third of gay adults contend that their life has been greatly transformed by their faith. – What does this say/how do you translate it?

A: The whole culture war stems from a difference in theological belief systems. This data just puts numbers to an already well documented difference. The one thing I find disturbing is how we all have to single out a “most important”—is the rest of the Bible and its other overarching eternal principles not asimportant? My belief is that comparing social and religious acculturation off of a pre-planned option of “most important” roots the culture war even further into their various camps. It’s too easy to look from the outside and point to differences instead of living in the tension of what it is to end these differences together.

Q8. What are some of the trends/things happening in society relating to homosexuality?

A. I have hope in answering this question because I have seen two very clear trends as I speak and teach around the country—one trend from within the GLBT community and one trend from within conservative Christians. From the GLBT community: They are tired of feeling the pressure from their own GLBT hierarchy to conform to the social and religious norms that are “expected of them.” So they are pushing back and pockets around the country are trying to live out this new journey in relationship with each other, and also in relationship with many people who are considered their opposition. From the conservative world: The one thing that I hear more than anything else is, “I feel like the Lord is pulling me in a direction to be with the GLBT community, but I’m scared and don’t know what to do.” I have a little slogan that says, Right from the Gate you Can’t Relate. Understanding that you don’t understanding is how bridge building occurs and true Kingdom reconciliation happens. And it is happening.

Much love.

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  • Bryan Blaise

    LOVE your answer to Q6, Andrew. Appreciate your thoughtful words, again and again… Hugs, The PR Guy 😉

  • Erika Baker

    we met over at the Changing Attitude website and I am hugely impressed with what you’re doing. Coming from the extreme liberal spectrum but having a very close evangelical friend, and therefore, hopefully, understanding some of the evangelical language better, I hope to be able to make my own contribution to this dialogue.

    And I think that learning from each other and building bridges will depend to a huge extent on learning to understand what we mean by the words we use, as well as learning how they come across.

    I can’t count the number of times I flew off the handle with my friend because she’d used what to me seemed emotive language, and which prevented me from hearing what she was actually saying.
    Once we worked out our different lingustic approach and got down to the essence of what we were trying to communicate, we often found that our differences weren’t as great as we had thought.

    It would be really interesting to hear from your side what the main hot button words are, so we can work out whether we both mean the same thing by them.

    In your own writing here, the hot button word that really makes lgbt people cross (and therefore misunderstand you), is “having a same sex attraction” and then “acting on it or not”. To us, being l, g or b is not a mere sexual thing, it’s not just to do with an attraction. It’s the core of our being, as intrinsically part of us as being straight is part of the majority of people.
    It means we are focused, emotionally as much as physically, on people of the same sex, and our closest friendships, our deepest relationships will always be with a member of the same sex, whether they are sexual or not.

    Using words like “attraction” and “acting on” gives us the impression that you are saying that there is a surface level sexual layer to our lives that revolves around the physical only, and that it is up to us whether we acknowledge that and act on it, or whether we become heterosexual celibates.

    If that’s how you think of us, ok, then we have another area where we need to get to know each other better.
    But if that’s not how you think of us, then you might have to reconsider how you express what you mean by those hot button terms.

    What are yours when you deal with us?


  • Jack Harris

    Erika : I appreciate your comments. I think Andrew and I have been chatting about the very same thing you mention. I don't want to put words in Andrew's mouth but I think he probably gets it. I have read enough of his writings to understand to make the claim that he knows that being gay is more than just a behavior. In fact I would say the fact that he DOES get it makes him an excellent bridge builder.

    While he may not agree with us theologically on how God sees our relationships with our same sex partners–he seems to give us the space and the respect to disagree with him. That's a looong way from where some evangelical christians are.

    As Gay Affirming(Side A) Christians, I think it's our job to reach a hand across the divide to people like Andrew. One of the great comments you often hear in my beloved Episcopal Church is this : "We are bound not our ability to agree but our ability to love". I think that's how I view my dialogues with Andrew. I am not here to convince Andrew of my way of thinking and vise versa but we are called to be in relationship.

  • Jack Harris

    Ericka : oops…I just realized that I assumed you were gay and christian. Sorry my bad if I was wrong about that. 🙂 Thanks for writing here you said a lot of what I find myself always's nice to hear someone say it other than me…lol

  • IT

    I long for a day when being GLBT is no more worth notice than being left handed, merely part of the tapestry of the complete human being.

    I agree with Erika that being reduced to one issue is problematic. I live in the complete opposite way to Erika, in a large city. I don't hide who I am but neither do i make much of a point of it. However, as Erika's experience attests, and as our experience in CA in Prop8 showed, by not being open about who we are, in a matter-of-fact way, we become 2-Dimensional and reduced to an issue. The tapestry becomes a mono-chrome.

    i also learned this when a graduate student i know (I am a university professor) came into my office and thanked me. I had no idea she was gay, but she told me it meant a huge amount to see that I could be successful while being honest as a lesbian. She told me that she was encouraged to think she could be open about her relationship without demolishing her career.

    Erika, I agree you are right on something else, it seems that there are hot-button words that are not heard the way they are said, on both sides.

  • It took me a good while to get to the point where I can comfortably and openly dialogue in a mutually respectful manner with GLBT folks, especially those of faith — and Andrew's book was a significant part of that process for me. One day not too long ago I just had the epiphany, thankfully, that debate and polarizing extremism, even if only perceived as such, were such a waste of everyone's time and got us nowhere except for standing with an even deeper chasm between us. I hate shouting contests, and so must God. Yes, words do matter, but also how we say them.

    I am an evangelical, for better or worse, but also a "former" in the sense of being one who struggled mightily with my sexuality, gender identity and urges to act on what I perceived would make me whole with other women off and on in my life. Married with two small children (they are grown now), I did, in fact, act on those urges finally. It nearly cost me my marriage and everything precious to me. By the grace of God, good counsel and with much loving support from my deeply wounded husband, I got to a wholly different place in my life.

    I know there are people who sincerely believe differently from me and are gay-affirmed, and some of these people I can honestly say I love as fellow Christians. We pray for each other. It is my desire that we both can not only see where Christ may reside in each other, but see each other through Christ's eyes and love with his heart.

    How the world desperately needs that from both sides!

    Yes, the "issues" are there and are not pleasant to consider sometimes. Today a dear friend and fellow "former" is in family court, one of two hearings in two different states she faces this week in a years-long legal battle over custody of her biological daughter, conceived in a former civil union, and her parental right to raise that child in her Christian faith. The states have competing marriage laws, and the courts have been compelled to do some legislating from the bench in this deeply confusing struggle. It is heartbreaking from all sides.

    We have some deep waters yet to pass through. May God help us.

  • Erika Baker

    No oops necessary! Actually, I am bisexual and I spent 20 years of my life married with 2 children and very active in my small village church. Then life changed and I am now civil partnered, bringing up my now teenage girls with my “wife”, who in turn has adult children and grandchildren.
    I’m explaining this in such detail because the most astonishing experience I made after starting to live openly with my new partner in the same village and going to the same church was how people suddenly saw us as “the lesbians” and no longer as the complex women they had known us as before.
    I felt a very real sense of being reduced to an issue, to only one single part of my character. And suddenly I found myself in a world where people doubted my ability to look after my children, wondered whether I was Christian at all, and whether I had any moral standards whatsoever.
    It was like going from 3D to 2D in under 10 seconds – the most astonishing thing to have happened.

    That’s why I find what Andrew is doing here so very important. Because we can disagree about morals, about personal values and about tenets of faith. But we should always be able and willing to see Christ in each other, and to respect each other in our differences.

    Since living openly in our village, many who have been previously hostile to this amorphous “them”, these gay people you keep hearing about but don’t ever really meet because they’re not “one of us”, have started to understand us much better. That does not mean they agree with us or that they actively support our relationship (although this is a very welcoming and affirming church, and most do). But it did mean that when my daughter was treated for leukaemia, people supported us as lovingly and faithfully with prayers and practical help as they would support any other family in the same circumstances.
    I am feeling like a 3D person again, with friends and not-so-friends in my congregation, but no different from anyone else.

    This conversation across the divide is so important!

  • Erika Baker

    Dear Debbie

    Thank you for your moving story.

    Could I maybe ask you to consider the possibility that you may actually be bisexual, i.e. that you are emotionally and physically capable of having fulfilling relationships with members of either sex? That’s why it might have been relatively easy for you to remain with your husband in what is clearly a very good marriage.

    I ask that because I am bisexual myself, and I was happily married for 20 years. I am now living in a civil partnership with my new spouse, who had also been married before but much less emotionally successfully than I was, because a heterosexual relationship is truly against her nature and as difficult for her as a gay relationship would be for a straight person.

    People who identify as completely gay or lesbian do not have the option to battle with urges and then return to a heterosexual fold. Rather, theirs is a choice between a fulfilling life like the one you have fortunately found, or life long enforced celibacy and loneliness.

    I believe that God blesses all loving, stable and faithful relationships and I give thanks every day that he has shown me the deepest, most precious love of my life and that he is truly the centre of both our lives.

  • Erika, you may certainly ask me anything you desire to. Here is part of my answer. I am going to refer you to something else I just wrote at another blog, if you don't mind, for the rest.

    The psychological community might be inclined to classify me as bisexual, or at least, formerly so. I do accept that it is far more difficult for those — and I know some of these folks — who always felt exclusively homosexual to make the leap totally out of homosexuality toward something approaching heterosexuality. I appreciate their agony, having been through my own version of it. I likewise appreciate their desire to find what they believe is the only kind of fulfillment they can obtain — a same-sex relationship. My heart goes out to all such people. Christ loves them much more than I ever could.

    I do not see myself as bisexual. I do see myself as just as capable of sin and self-centeredness as any other human.

    The APA's recent task force report aside (I presume most everyone here has heard about it), I am speaking now with the realization that The Marin Foundation is a ministry and that Andrew has a heart, first and foremost, for ministering the gospel of Jesus Christ to a hurting world, with truth, love and compassion. That's also my desire as a layperson. Within that framework, we can speak, then, about fulfillment in spiritual or relational terms, seeing Christ as the love object that our heart is first meant to desire and embrace.

    Now, going back to my capacity for sin, I am going to tell you that I have striven, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to give up my "right to myself" and to be in a complete and fulfilling relationship with Christ. It supersedes my love for and my relationship with my husband, whom I can easily love and submit to because I know he is in submission to Christ. Christ meets my deepest needs. That would be true if my husband passed away tomorrow and I were widowed, possibly never to marry again.

    You have guessed, no doubt, that I do not believe the only options for the gay person are a "fulfilling life" with another gay person or loneliness. Can I explain why God allows homosexuality? I cannot, any more that I can explain a host of sorrowful things in this fallen world. I do know hope is there for everyone. I refrain from seeing it in black-and-white, either-or terms because I see a much bigger picture and a loving God who knows us intimately.

    With the above in mind, I am now going to refer you to this post:

    You will see it at or near the top of the comments.

    Best to you.

  • Erika – thank you for your words! I have decided to do a post in and of itself on your question of the hot button words and labels. It’ll be coming soon. Thank you for always being so real and transparent!

    Jack – I am humbled in your perspective on our times of conversation. I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I was at the Field Museum in Chicago yesterday checking out the new exhibit on MLK’s freedom walk and the struggle of equality for African-Americans. One of the original 14 people said the following: “Peaceful non-violence [our movement] was not about winning. It was about learning how to live in harmony with each other.” Wow! That’s how I look at our conversations. I am privileged to talk to you.

    Debbie – I will be doing a post on the APA’s decision as well. 🙂

  • Andrew, you and I share the sentiment of desiring to see all of Christendom united in harmony, loving and respecting one another as Christ meant for us to. The Church clearly has missed the mark here, and homosexuality is not the only issue that divides us.

    Here is what I wrestle with, however: The same Jesus who gave us the two Great Commandments ( ) also said, "Do not think I came to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother … and a man's enemies will be be the members of his own household. He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me … and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me" (Matt. 10:34-38).

    This is the crux (pun intended) of our unrest over the issue of homosexuality, as I see it.

  • Sorry. I had meant to cite Scripture for the two commandments in those empty parentheses. Obviously, I was referring to Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, reiterated by Jesus in the New Testament (Matthew's, Mark’s and Luke’s Gospels):

    “And He said to him, 'YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets." (Matt. 22:36-40)

  • Hi Debbie! The way I look at the peace/sword passage in relation to bridge building and this work is exactly what you see in the comments – strong opposition that divides already sub-divisions. Examples being:

    -Christians are torn by this work. Christianity Today recently recently called me a divider, saying that the way I am leading the church on this topic is nothing about uniting anyone or anything.

    -The GLBT community is also being torn by this work. There are many out there who get it and want to unite together, and there are many out there who want nothing to do with any of this—those who are happy with the division.

    Ultimately, my work for peace is that of striving to reconcile an already divided situation. It also just so means that many within both communities will see this work as me bringing the sword and not peace.

    So be it then as I continue to sprint towards this bridge.

  • "So be it then as I continue to sprint towards this bridge."

    Yes, it has to be left in God's hands. He is able to do with this work what He intends. He will sort the wheat and chaff, as long as our hearts are pure and focused on Him. "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" (I Cor. 13:7).

    Bless you.

  • Audrey

    To recommend some other resources on lesbian and gay spirituality: The White Crane Journal (gay male).

    It is common now to say that straight people and "gay" (code word for male only) people are essentially the same.

    We are completely different peoples with very different journeys in life.

    60% of lesbians have no children, nor do we want any. I believe my work is out in the world, and that my purpose has nothing to do with "reproduction." Lesbian feminism is about freeing the world from a 5000 year old tyranny called patriarchy, and that is our mission. We don't believe the church will be whole, until it rids itself of all womanhating doctrines, and all male supremacy. I think a lot of men believe they are superior because Jesus, in her female form, has not yet come back to earth yet. But would you want to take the chance, as a white straight male (our traditional hated enemy) that Christ won't reappear as a lesbian to judge men? Lesbians often smile thinking of the doctrine of virgin birth about lesbian conception. No men were involved with the creation of Jesus, for example. A lesbian centered thealogy really turns these so-called male centric biblical teachings on their head.

    I would say, when I look at my life, that it bears no resemblance to my straight neighbors. We have other things to do, we aren't interested in "family units" we don't go around listing all our children, grandchildren, etc, hetero bragging style… I hate this about straight people actually. You should see me on an airplane when some straight woman attempts to bring out a picture of some child! "I'm not interested in reproduction, I'm interested in you as a thinking intellectually gifted woman," is one thing I often say.

    Our lesbian and gay community doesn't really want to be about reproduction, but we have historically been very involved in innovation, transformation and spiritual direction. Some of the most progressive teachers, artists, and leaders of freedom movements have been lesbians and gays. A straight family represents a rather unimaginative default position to us. The amount of lesbian theory, history, thealogy, and spiritual innovation is vast. In just 40 some years, we have transformed history departments from "men's studies" to histories of half the human race… that is women. Go to any bookstore, and you can see this publishing phenomenon.

    Again, all this information has always been there. It seems odd that straight people are so generally uninformed, as are straight white men about the history of women. Talk off the default button of "male" on Christianity, and you have something completely different, and actually interesting.

    Had to laugh at Andrew being tagged as an "alpha male" in his first night at a gay club. Straight men do have a domineering sense of entitlement.

    Of course, straight men are the last to know this about themselves. Can this oppressive minority (straight white men) be redeamed? Hard work, humility — a virtue preached all the time by men, because I believe it was meant for the male worldwide even in Christ's time. So much of Christian ideals just seems like the way women are forced to be worldwide, so this message may be aimed at men, and women have another purpose on earth. Who knows?