August 15, 2009
Heartbreaking progress,Andrew Brown blog, guardian.co.uk, Friday 14 August 2009
The slow and painful progress of gay rights at the expense of traditional evangelical understandings can't be stopped, because so many gay people are Christians
I admit that I went to the discussion of gay children on an Evangelical American bulletin board to feel superior. But what I found was an astonishing and ghastly testimony to the price that hatred and smugness exacts not on the outcasts, but on those who cast them out as well. A woman asks for help now that her 21-year-old son has come out to her (though he dares not tell his father) and then the floodgates open. Another woman posts:
My son just turned 19. I had an awakening on June 18, 2009, I came home from work and finally found written proof of what I had felt in my heart about him since he was in middle school. I had all the signals from what was on the computer to his friends that he associated with. He tried to hide it by taking the focus off of him and blame others. I said some words out of anger to him and told him to leave because I didn't want that around my younger kids. I left because I was so upset and found out later that he left also. I don't know where he is or how he is to this day. I pray and cry and try to trust.
This is on the board of Focus on the Family, a nasty organisation that spent so much money fighting against gay marriage in California that it had to lay off 100 people this winter. And the party line is still that gays can be "cured"; but you can see from at least some of the comments that there are parents who know this is not the truth. There is certainly a horrible irony in the way that a belief that being gay is caused by bad parenting can itself contribute to parenting so bad that it drives the child right away. Perhaps childless people feel differently, but I can't imagine any pain worse than knowing you had lost a child because of your own thoughtlessness, stupidity and self-righteousness. Of course, it must have been ghastly for her estranged son too. But he has hope.
It is through the individual splintering of stony hearts like that mother's that the current evangelical orthodoxy about gay people will break up, at least in countries where people dare come out at all. There are some other signs that this is happening: a long piece at Fulcrum, a site that is meant to represent the moderate mainstream of evangelical opinion in the Church of England – ie it's wrong about gay christians but not nasty about them – which reviews in ecstatic terms an American book suggesting that gay people have reason to distrust the church, and perhaps the most important thing about them is that they are people, rather than that they are gay. Well, duh. But it's earthshaking in an evangelical context.
It is one of the fundamental untruths of the evangelical position on sexuality that there aren't really any gay people in the church; or that if there are, they would be known. And that's where the third piece of news this week is surprising: a survey (confidence intervals etc at the end) from the evangelical Barna Foundation showing that gay people are nearly as religious as straights in America. 70% of them describe themselves as Christian; 58% claim to have a personal commitment to Jesus Christ, which is one of the great shibboleths of evangelicalism.
There are clear differences in religious allegiance by sexual orientation. Fervent believers, defined as weekly churchgoers who also read the bible and pray every week, are twice as likely to be straight (32% vs 15%); and in general Christianity is less common among gays than straights in the USA. But it is still astonishingly widespread. Weekly church attendance in the entire British population would appear to be lower than among American gays, who are so frequently told by Christians that they are going to hell.
Even more confusing, given the known homophobia of black churches, is that the Barna survey found that
Gays are less likely than heterosexuals to be white and are also much more likely to earn less than $30,000 annually. (That can be partially explained by being younger and thus less experienced in the marketplace.)
But the oddest, and perhaps the saddest of all these statistics is that nearly one in five of them are married. That fact alone guarantees that the heartbreak will continue – but then, as Oscar Wilde wrote in Reading Goal, "How else but through a broken heart may Lord Christ enter in".
This report is based upon telephone interviews conducted by The Barna Group among nine nationwide random samples of adults. In the course of the 9,232 interviews conducted, each respondent was asked if they considered themselves to be "heterosexual, lesbian, gay, or bisexual." These surveys were conducted between January 2007 and November 2008. In total, there were 8,548 adults in the heterosexual category and 280 adults in the homosexual category. An additional 404 people said they did not know what category they fit or declined to identify their sexual orientation. The range of sampling error associated with the total sample of adults is between ±0.2 and ±1.0 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The range of sampling error associated with the sub-sample of 280 homosexual adults is between ±2.5 and ±5.8 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2009
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