Archives for August 2013

Polling Trends on Same-Sex Marriage

Polling Trends on Same-Sex Marriage

By Rev. Thomas Lambrecht

News reports for several years have trumpeted rising poll numbers in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage.  About six months ago, the poll numbers purportedly crossed the line to majority support.

A recent study by Rice University calls those results into question. The study is unique because it asked the question of the same people, six years apart.  Over 1,300 people were asked in 2006 and again in 2012 their level of agreement with this statement:  “The only legal marriage should be between one man and one woman.”

There was no statistically significant change in opinion from 2006 to 2012.  In 2006, 57% agreed with the statement, and in 2012, 53% agreed with the statement (within the margin of error of the poll).  In 2006, 31% disagreed with the statement, while in 2012, 33% disagreed with the statement.  On its face, this poll shows that a majority of Americans favor the traditional definition of marriage, while only about a third favor changing that definition.

What is more intriguing, however, is to see how many people changed their minds over the six years.  Of those who agreed with the traditional definition of legal marriage in 2006, one-quarter moved away from that opinion in 2012.  At the same time, of those who disagreed with the traditional definition of marriage in 2006, 40% moved away from that opinion in 2012.  The more who moved away from favoring legal same-sex marriage were offset by undecided persons who shifted to favor same-sex marriage, so that the overall percentages remained about the same.

These results belie the pervasive media storyline that people are overwhelmingly changing their opinion to favor legalizing same-sex marriage.  In fact, if I did my math correctly, almost as many people switched from pro-gay marriage to pro-traditional marriage as went the other way.

For more analysis on why the poll numbers vary from one polling organization to another, see the excellent follow-up article by Mark Regenerus.

My takeaways?

  1. Many people are still changing their minds on the advisability of legalizing same-sex marriage.  The debate is not over in this country.
  2. It is profitable for Christians to make the arguments in favor of traditional male-female monogamous marriage in a winsome way, since even those who at one time favored same-sex marriage are open to reconsidering their viewpoint.
  3. Support for same-sex marriage is not as strong in the U.S. as some polls make it out to be.  We should not look at it as a foregone conclusion that it will become legal in every state soon.
  4. Regardless of our opinion about legalizing same-sex marriage, we should be reaching out with love and respect to our gay and lesbian neighbors, coworkers, and family members.  They are people whom God loves infinitely, and we have an opportunity to help introduce them to Jesus and nurture their growth as a disciple.  The last thing we should be doing is bashing, insulting, or disrespecting anybody, including gays and lesbians.  To do so is to fail to reflect the love of Christ for them.

What do you think?

The “Millennials Leaving Church” Controversy

Over the past couple weeks, numerous commentators have responded to an article on CNN by Rachel Held Evans about why Millennials (people age 18-32) are leaving the church.  Evans’ article is really more about why Millennials are leaving evangelical churches.  One of the best responses I have seen is by Brett McCracken, another Millennial, in the Washington Post.

 

My thoughts about the question.

 

  1. Reaching the next generation for Jesus Christ is very important.  We all realize that the Church is one generation from extinction, so strategizing the best evangelistic and ministry models is essential to fulfill Christ’s mission.  At the same time, we should note that the Church’s dithering about young people leaving the Church is not new.  The same concerns were raised in the 60’s and 70’s when I was growing up.  One commentator indicated that the Boy Scouts and the YMCA were formed (over 100 years ago) because young people weren’t coming to church.  In every generation, we need to consider this question anew.
  2. The Millennial Generation, just like all the generations before them, is not monolithic.  One cannot presume to speak for “the Millennials” in total.  The characteristics of some in that generation are different from others.  We cannot presume that the Church can take a “one size fits all” approach and reach all Millennials.
  3. It is unhealthy for the Church as a whole to tailor itself solely to reach one particular group of people.  Individual congregations might see a particular population as their target audience and tailor their ministry to touch that audience.  But for all congregations to suddenly change to reach one particular generation would distort the overall ministry of the Church.  Such a narrowly focused change would catch the Church up in the ever-shifting winds of culture, in a struggle to keep up with change that the Church can never succeed at.  Not only would this be unhealthy for the Church, it would be unhealthy for Millennials to have the Church tailor itself just for them.  It would only reinforce the consumerist mentality too prevalent among all Americans today and the “me” focus of some within the Millennial generation.
  4. What Millennials really want and need is the same as what older generations want and need—an encounter with the real, risen Christ.  If Jesus Christ is present in our worship, our learning, and our ministry to others, people will meet him there.  And meeting Jesus is the most important thing.  Too many of our churches are just going through the motions and not truly experiencing the presence of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit in their worship, life, and work.  The best thing the Church can do is encourage congregations to refocus on experiencing Jesus Christ, hearing his Word to us today, and responding to his call to join him in Spirit-empowered ministry in the world.

 

I am all in favor of providing a wide variety of worship styles, accommodating a multiplicity of learning styles, and facilitating a broad range of ministry opportunities in order to reach and disciple as many people as possible.  As Paul said, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.  I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings” (I Corinthians 9:22-23).  The Church is here to minister salvation and healing to a lost and darkened world.  We have been called to be “a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible” (vs. 19).  We will need to use all of our God-inspired creativity to reach as many different types of people as possible.  Let’s look at the ministry of the Church holistically, not just narrowly focus in on a certain generation.

 

What do you think?

Coping with a Hostile Society

Things have changed in the U.S. for the Christian Church. Fifty years ago, Christian values and moral teachings were woven into the fabric of our society. Now, the teachings of the Church are often regarded with ambivalence, suspicion, or outright hostility.

Christian teachings on marriage and sexuality are being classed as “bigoted.” The goal of pro-gay advocates is to push Christian moral teaching to the margins of society.

Moves to limit abortion have attracted vitriolic opposition. A recent legislative session in Texas was disrupted by protesters, who yelled and screamed so loudly that the legislature was unable to complete a vote before a midnight deadline on a law that restricted abortions after 20 weeks’ gestation and established higher medical standards for abortion clinics.

In the follow-up special session called to consider the bill again, many protesters came to the state capitol with bricks, rocks, bags of feces, and other things they could throw onto the legislators. (These items were confiscated by police, who screened everyone entering the building.) Pro-life people who came to support the legislation were advised by law enforcement personnel to leave for their own safety. They were escorted in a protective corridor through the pro-abortion activists and shepherded to safety. When pro-life people started singing “Amazing Grace,” some of the pro-abortion demonstrators (facetiously?) started chanting accolades to Satan.

The book UnChristian uses survey data to demonstrate that many young adults think Christians are “judgmental, anti-homosexual, hypocritical, too political and sheltered.”

We are not used to this kind of push-back. We (like most people) want to be liked. We strive for people’s approval. How do we as Christians cope with a situation where, as the Rev. Rob Renfroe, president of Good News, puts it, we no longer have “home field advantage?”

We sometimes forget that in much of the world, Christians are treated with contempt, opposition, and even persecution. We sometimes forget that Jesus warned us that our countercultural perspective would clash with the prevailing opinions of the day. We think there is something wrong with us that we are being treated this way in the U.S., a country founded with a strong and vital Christian presence.

It is true that there have been times and places where Christians have acted “unchristianly.” We have been judgmental and insensitive in how we attempted to express the Church’s teachings. We need to repent of these shortcomings and strive to be more Christ-like in the way we treat others. The new Pope Francis is setting a good example for how we can maintain the Church’s teachings in a loving and humble way.

But we should not live under the illusion that, if we could only repackage the Christian faith in a different way, everyone would like us once more. There are basic teachings of the Church that are at odds with the predominant flow of our society, not just in terms of sexual morality and marriage, but also greed and materialism, striving for peace rather than revenge, the equal worth and dignity of every person from conception to natural death to name a few. And of course it is not popular to insinuate that not everyone will go to heaven someday.

Here is where the advice of the writer to the Hebrews helps us gain perspective. “And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:12-13).

The early Christians were no stranger to contempt, opposition, and persecution. Indeed, Jesus himself was subject to this. Just as he endured the disgrace of the cross, we are called to “go to him outside the camp” and be willing to share his disgrace.

We take our stand with Jesus because this world is not our final home. We are looking toward “the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10). The verdict of society is not the final answer. We strive to live in such a way as to be worthy of our eternal destiny.

We do not seek disgrace or to be held in disfavor by our society (like some early Christians who sought martyrdom). We seek to display a Christ-like character and offer a winsome witness of word and deed to the truth of the Gospel. But we should not become discouraged if the world doesn’t like us or approve of us. We are in good company.