Thursday, May 14, 2015

Religious landscapes, gay Christians & irrelevance

There are few surprises in the Pew Research Center's new "America's Changing Religious Landscape" study, released Tuesday --- the number of self-identified Christians declined by roughly 8 percent between 2007 and 2014, from 78.4 percent to 70.6 percent, while the percentage of "nones" increased by roughly 6 percent, from 16.1 percent to 22.8 percent.

Nor is there much doubt about a major cause --- the rapid drift out of Christianity by younger potential affiliates who increasingly see faith communities as either hostile or irrelevant.

But I was interested in a small area of the study (Page 88 if you're interested in reading about it) suggesting that a mildly surprising 48 percent of LGBT people still identify as Christian despite centuries of aversion therapy, accelerated in recent years by squawking and wing-flapping evangelicals. (Pew conducted a survey of LGBT folks in 2013 that found a roughly 42 percent Christian affiliation rate, suggesting an actual rise in the number of gay Christians, but the methodology was different so legitimacy of the comparison is in doubt).

On the other hand, much of the progress toward inclusion in mainline Christianity has resulted from the work of LGBT people who chose to remain within their faith traditions and become obvious (and focal points for often harsh debate). So we've known for a long time that LBGT folks were there --- for most of church history in the "guerrilla church," making off as needed with the sacraments right under the nose of the altar-rail police.

Even in Chariton. While living elsewhere, I used to run into fellow subversives from my home county at altar rails in Des Moines, where in some congregations subterfuge was unnecessary.

Chariton hasn't changed that much, although LGBT folks certainly are unconditionally welcome at St. Andrew's and might be welcome at a couple of other churches where denominational philosophy has evolved. But we don't talk about such things here. And it's still a crap shoot, since the risk, even likelihood, of stoning is still there in edifices ranging from tin-shed awful to brick, stone and mortar grandeur. 

Our situation probably mirrors the situation nationwide and while it's great that LGBT people now at least have a place in several denominations in some places, it's probably not enough to encourage many to join up. So the percentages most likely will not increase and, like our straight brothers and sisters, we'll watch as congregations Catholic, mainline and evangelical alike sputter along toward accelerating irrelevance.

On the other hand, I'm reasonably sure that there are LGBT folks out there who would respond to an unconditional "welcome home." Sadly, if and when that ever happens it's likely to be too late.

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