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Why are homosexuals twice as likely to be irreligious?

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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A gay pride flag flies outside of the Cathedral of Saint Paul during vigils help by Catholics for Marriage Equality, Lent 2012 (Credit: Catholics for Marriage Equality)

A new Pew Research study has surveyed the religious beliefs and commitments of those who are lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transgendered (LGBT).  Here’s what they discovered: 48 percent say they have no religious affiliation, compared with 20 percent of the general public.  Among LGBT adults ages 18-29, 60 percent are unaffiliated, compared with 31 percent of the general population.

Only 13 percent of LGBT adults attend worship services regularly, compared with 37 percent of the general public.  Twenty percent of LGBT adults say religion is very important in their lives, compared with 59 percent of the general population.  There are no significant differences between gays, lesbians, or bisexuals on this issue.  Nor are there differences between whites and ethnic minorities or between college graduates and those without a college degree.

Why are LGBT adults so much less religious than the rest of us?  According to the survey, the vast majority say that they don’t feel welcome in religious communities.  By denomination: 79 percent say the Catholic Church is unfriendly to them; 73 percent say the same about evangelicals; 44 percent agree with regard to non-evangelical Protestant churches.

These findings raise a significant question: How can Christians welcome LGBTs without condoning their sexual behavior?

Jesus ate with those who were considered “sinners” by his culture (Mark 2:16).  He consistently went to those who would never have come to him, meeting their felt needs so he could meet their spiritual needs.  If churches require LGBTs to repent before they can be welcomed into their congregation, what other sins should they treat in a similar fashion?  It’s been said that the church is not a haven for saints but a hospital for sinners.

At the same time, Jesus never affirmed sin.  To the contrary, he called sinners to repent of their disobedience (Matthew 4:17).  Paul counseled the Corinthians “not to associate with sexually immoral people” (1 Corinthians 5:9).

How do we balance compassion and condoning?

Here’s what I think: Churches should teach and defend God’s word on homosexuality, but we should do so with God’s redemptive purpose in mind.  These steps may help:

  1. Explain why Scripture teaches that homosexuality is not best for us, showing its physical, relational, and social effects.
  2. Teach the rest of Scripture regarding morality, making clear that homosexuality is not the “unpardonable sin” (Mark 3:28-29) and that all sex outside marriage is unbiblical.
  3. Admit that we have failed morally as well (Romans 3:23), so that we do not consider ourselves better than those who deal with homosexuality.
  4. Invite those who face homosexual temptation to join us in seeking God’s grace, transforming power, and community.

If LGBT people refuse our offer of redemptive fellowship, make sure they know that God loves them anyway.  Then find ways to demonstrate that love in ours.  Interviewer Hugh Downs once asked Billy Graham, “If one of your children had been gay, would you have ceased to love that child?”  He responded, “No.  I would not.  I would love him even more.”