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How Christianity is Perceived

By Alexander Carpenter
David Kinnaman, president of The Barna Group, shared the results of new
research that investigated how young non-Christians perceive
Non-Christians aged 16-29 years old were asked,  What is your current perception of Christianity?

91% said antihomosexual
87% said judgmental
85% said hypocritical
78% said old-fashioned
75% said too involved in politics
72% said out of touch with reality
70% said insensitive to others

As a young Adventist I’m troubled by these statistics, in part because they reflect how many of my young and older friends actually feel. Anyone who claims to care about evangelism and church growth must face these daunting numbers as well.
I blame idiot liberals (h/t Rep. Obey) and dull conservatives for this. Of course this doesn’t apply to all on the right or the left, but the forward-thinkers who “drop out” because they don’t like the theology or the behavior of their fellow believers bare some of the blame for the worse problem of allowing the dullard bigots to define what it means to follow Christ. For far too long Christianity has been abused by folks who put personal economics, fear of change, and informational laziness above the standards of the fruit of the spirit (Gal 5).
I’ve recently been reading Charles Marsh’s The Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice, from the Civil Rights Movement to Today (2006) and he makes the point that the bible was the biggest justification used for slavery. From Leviticus to Paul —  there’s no doubt that a literal reading allows one to make a biblical case for owning humans. The current New York Review of Books (sub. required) has a great article noting the prevalence of white slaves, noting that for almost everyone except those radical Quakers, owning and at times physically abusing humans did not contradict Christian virtue. Interestingly Leviticus and Paul are also the two main resources for Christian attacks on homosexuality.
Of course the drive for cultural comfort lies behind this use of cheap (hermeneutical) labor. A couple of months ago I toured the NY Historical Society‘s installation on slavery and the city (their virtual tour is excellent too). Incredibly, thirty-eight cents of every cotton dollar went to NYC business. “Coincidentally,” many of NYC’s elected leaders actually tried to side with the South at the beginning of the Civil War. Of course the bible was used to justify slavery, but economics and fear of cultural change formed the hermeneutic.
I wonder what forms the Christian hermeneutic on homosexuality? In the statics below it appears that age, i.e., cultural comfort — even for non-Christians — plays a role in how alternative a consenting Christian love seems.
Among Non-Christians Aged 16-29

  • 3% have a favorable view of evangelicals
  • 33% have a favorable view of homosexuals

Among Non-Christian Baby Boomers (born between ‘46 & ‘64)

  • 25% have a favorable view of evangelicals
  • 13% have a favorable view of homosexuals

Among Non-Christian Elders (born before ‘46)

  • 27% have a favorable view of evangelicals
  • 11% have a favorable view of homosexuals

There are several conclusions to draw from this comparison. One is that
negative attitudes toward homosexuality can correspond beyond biblical
reasoning to mere generational taste. Another is that Adventists who care about
the unchurched should stay away from being classified with the
traditional evangelical homosexual agenda.
Take a look at the first set of stats: how many of those characteristics — judgmental, hypocritical, antihomosexual, old fashioned — would apply to Jesus? Certainly the socio-religious context has changed in huge ways in the last two thousands years, but it should be pretty clear in a swift read through Mark and the first century effect that Jesus changed how people interpreted the religious ethos.
From salvation for all, from peacemaking and a preference for the poor, Jesus shifted the paradigm to the paradox of a kin-dom both there and now.  It seems to me that this hermeneutical realignment lies behind Jesus’ words to the rich young ruler. The point is not that everyone has to be impoverished (see Nicodemus), but that our cultural comfort and preferential option for our purse cannot come between us and following Christ. When 91% of the next generation identifies Christians with a “homosexual agenda,” something seems unbalanced with our Christian witness.

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