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Posts for June, 2009

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.