Barna: Gays are Christians Too

Timothy Kincaid

June 23rd, 2009

George Barna is a respected writer and researcher in Christian America. His Barna Group reports are an attempt to make sense of the often conflicting claims, reports, images, and stereotypes that make up the broad swath of the nation that identifies as Christian.

In a new report on gay people, Barna gives us some useful information, some ludicrous nonsense, and some things that we in the gay world already knew – but which will be shocking to those who view gays as the enemies of people of faith.

First the ludicrous nonsense:

Barna tries to provide his readers with a better picture of what gay people are like, in general. And while his discription is certainly more accurate than what many conservative Christians will claim as gospel truth, some Christian mythology about gay people allows him to see differences that don’t hold up to common sense or to mathematics.

The gay and lesbian population, which constitutes about 3% of adults…

Most gay adults are male (60%) and few are married (19%). Gay adults are considerably younger than average: half are under age 40 compared to just three out of ten heterosexuals are under 40. 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.)

Politically, gays are less frequently registered to vote than are heterosexuals (76% vs. 88%).

I see the following errors in Barna’s statements:

The past several exit polls of Presidential elections have consistently reported that 4% of voters identify as gay. If gay’s are less likely to register, and they are only 3% of the population, then those that do register are far far more civic minded than their heterosexual neighbor.

Barna is simply mistaken when he reports that three out of ten heterosexuals are under 40. Actually, according to July, 2008 US Census estimates, 39.7% or four out of ten American adults are under the age of 40. Nor is there any evidence that gay persons are younger than heterosexuals.

Additionally, if “gays are less likely than heterosexuals to be white”, that would definitely come as a surprise to leaders of both gay organizations and minority organizations. Accepted wisdom is that in America there is a fairly consistant observation of same-sex attraction across race, however with ethnic minorities being statistically lower in gay identity.

Indeed, the 2005 CDC Sexual Behavior study showed that white men and women were more likely to report having had same-sex sexual experiences than either Hispanic or black men and women and that they were significantly more likely to identify as gay.

The CDC also provided information that suggest that while men are more likely to identify as gay (2.3%) that women (1.3%), when bisexuals are included both men and women identify as gay or bisexual at 4.1%. So unless we know whether Barna’s study included bisexuals, we can’t really comment about his 60/40 ratio.

No doubt many of you chuckled at Barna’s comment that only 19% of gays were married. If he means legally married, he’s terribly mistaken; the four states in which same-sex marriages have yet been sanctioned certainly have not reported nearly two million same-sex weddings. And if he’s speaking of those who are in couples, the Urban Institute reports that a “study of gay and lesbian voting habits conducted by Harris Interactive determined that 30 percent of gay and lesbian people are living in a committed relationship in the same residence.”

So, it would appear that Barna’s comparisons on demographics aren’t particularly accurate. While Barna’s gay study participants may have been younger, more ethnic, less affluent, and more male than his heterosexual study participants, neither of his samples are likely to be representative of either gay or straight people as a whole.

Now the useful information:

If Barna got his sample wrong, then we cannot rely on the exact extent to which his observations are correct. In other words, if he says that 60% of gay Americans describe their faith as “very important” in their life (as he does), we may not be able to rely on the “60” part, but we still know that most do.

But taking the exact numbers with a grain of salt, let’s look at what Barna found:

70% consider themselves to be Christian,
60% describe their faith as “very important” in their life,
58% have made “a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in your life today”,
About 40% are absolutely committed to the Christian faith, and
27% qualify as born again Christians

Barna compared his gay sample to his heterosexual sample and found that, not too surprisingly, that there are differences.

Although most adults affirm the importance of faith in their life, regardless of their sexual orientation, straight adults (72%) were more likely than gay adults (60%) to describe their faith as “very important” in their life. And even though most Americans consider themselves to be Christian, there is a noticeable gap between heterosexuals who self-identify that way (85%) compared to homosexuals (70%). Another gap was then noted among those who say they are Christian: about six out of ten heterosexuals say they are absolutely committed to the Christian faith, compared to about four out of ten among homosexuals.

And even though a majority of adults have made “a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in your life today,” such a relationship was more common among non-gays (75%) than among gay adults (58%). The research also revealed that straight adults were nearly twice as likely as gays to qualify as born again Christians (47% compared to 27%, respectively).

He went on to explain how gay people also differ in theology, belief in scripture literally, how they contemplate God, and how they worship. In short, Barna found that gays are less Christian, less orthodox, less conservative, and less churchy.

This probably isn’t surprising to any of our readers. Considering the level of expulsion, rejection, and even hostility from some portions of the Christian family it would be shocking if they were not.

And finally, the shocking news for conservative Christians:

George Barna, whose company conducted the research, pointed out that some popular stereotypes about the spiritual life of gays and lesbians are simply wrong.

“People who portray gay adults as godless, hedonistic, Christian bashers are not working with the facts,” declared the best-selling author of numerous books about faith and culture. “A substantial majority of gays cite their faith as a central facet of their life, consider themselves to be Christian, and claim to have some type of meaningful personal commitment to Jesus Christ active in their life today.

Although there are clearly some substantial differences in the religious beliefs and practices of the straight and gay populations, there may be less of a spiritual gap between straights and gays than many Americans would assume.”

They will be so displeased.

Emily K

June 23rd, 2009

Did you forget the part where Barna says gays are less likely to consider family to be a top priority, and that they are more likely to consider their “lifestyles” to be a top priority? I can’t tell.

David C.

June 23rd, 2009

They will be so displeased.

Rather than displeased, let’s hope for wonder.

Wonder at just how wrong much of what they have been led to believe was. How wrong they were about all “homosexuals being godless”. How wrong they were to trust their leaders to tell them the truth. And how wrong they were about something that seemed to be so obvious from their uncritical thinking.

Timothy Kincaid

June 23rd, 2009

Emily,

I wasn’t sure what exactly he was trying to say in that statement. And I don’t get the sense that Barna’s trying to be condemnatory in this report so I’m cutting him some slack on his use of the word “lifestyle”.

Richard W. Fitch

June 23rd, 2009

Since references to Dr. Warren Throckmorton’s blog have occurred here on a regular basis recently, I have become a regular reader there and read the report when it was posted and have been mulling over a few points. One of the most significant to me would be seeing a breakdown/comparison among gays and straights within the various denominations of church membership. It would seem that an analysis of Episcopalians might net quite different results from that of Southern Baptists, for example. For those who haven’t seen that posting, here is the link:
http://wthrockmorton.com/2009/06/22/new-barna-survey-reveals-spiritual-attitudes-of-gays/
It interested me that Tim pulled some important lines from the Barna report that did not appear in WT’s blog. As always, poin-of-view affects the msg we read.

John

June 23rd, 2009

I think that it’s interesting that over 4% of people who took the survey said that they either did not know their sexual orientation or they refused to say. I think that it’s safe to assume that most of those who declined to say are gay or bisexual. How many heterosexuals would do that?

bme

June 23rd, 2009

I wonder if the stat on gays being married (at 19%) includes heterosexual marriages among those who identify as gay? It is a common assumption among Christianists that gays can marry people of the opposite sex and live happy, fulfilled lives (see also, the recent DOMA brief).

----

June 24th, 2009

Isn’t becoming a “born-again Christian” supposed to turn you straight according to Evangelicals?

CLS

June 24th, 2009

While this is an interesting survey there are aspcets of it that I have to question. What set off the red flag was the claim that the average gay person is younger than the average straight person. That is absurd.

Unless there was an unexpected increase in the numbers of people who are gay in recent years that wouldn’t happen. The percentages seem stable across time so this indicates that due to sampling they surveyed gays who were younger than the straights they surveyed. That would skew many of the answers to questions because they would be surveying youth not gays. And while I expect some difference (I do expect more gays to be unchurched) I expect many of the differences appeared even larger due to a bad sampling.

SharonB

June 24th, 2009

I predict this will have little to no impact on ex-gay and anti-gay christianists. They will simply apply the “no true Scotsman” fallacy to the results.

Burr

June 24th, 2009

Like any poll involving homosexuals, the fact that the trait is self-reporting is a factor. I agree that it’s obviously ridiculous that gays are younger on average, but younger gays are probably more likely to self-report, hence the result.

Ephilei

June 25th, 2009

I think any progress is worthy of celebration.

@John
Don’t forget asexuals. I’m asexual and given the choice between Gay, Straight, and Not Say, I’d choose the last. Asexuals are ballparked at 1%of the population.

spage

August 25th, 2009

As an evangelical, I am not “displeased”. God loves homosexuals as well as the rest of the world. That’s why He sent his Son to die for them. However, if they, or anyone else, rejects Christ, there is nowhere else for them to go when they die but to Hell, a place of eternal torment. That’s why God sent Jesus to the earth, so that people can escape that horrific place. That exemplifies the the measure of God’s love for all people.

spage

August 25th, 2009

In regards to the June 24th link which states: ‘Isn’t becoming a “born-again Christian” supposed to turn you straight according to Evangelicals?’. Being born-again gives one the “potential” to give up the homosexual lifestyle, but the bottom line is the individual’s choice.

I personally know of people that used to be gay but then accepted Christ and gave up the homosexual lifestyle. One doesn’t have the power to give it up otherwise. However, once you become a born-again Christian, you become a new creation in Christ with the power to give up any bad habit, sin, etc.

Alex

August 25th, 2009

spage,

What exactly is the homosexual lifestyle?

Priya Lynn

August 25th, 2009

Spage, gay people may give up their same sex relationships, but they don’t stop being same sex attracted.

Priya Lynn

August 25th, 2009

Also Spage, if your god loves people, why do you suppose he torments them eternally?

Timothy Kincaid

August 26th, 2009

spage

I personally know of people that used to be gay but then accepted Christ and gave up the homosexual lifestyle. One doesn’t have the power to give it up otherwise.

This is pure and utter nonsense. You are playing word games, as you well know.

You know people who converted to a religious doctrine that excluded their ability to identify with their same-sex attractions. So they decided not to call themselves “gay” anymore.

I’m perfectly happy with people choosing celibacy if they think that will bring them some sense of peace. But it is ludicrous to claim that only by conversion to Christianity can one have the power to live celibate or to identify as something other than gay.

Your mistake, spage, is in your basic premise. That by accepting the orientation that God has given to gay people they are somehow “rejecting Christ”. That simply isn’t true.

Rather, they are rejecting your Levitical, ‘scary angry god’ exclusionary, and condemnation and fear based brand of religion.

Priya Lynn

August 26th, 2009

Spage subscribes to the wife-beater concept of love – worship me or I’ll torment you non-stop; that I give you the option of avoiding my beatings by accepting my dominance is a measure of my love for you.

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