Christianity: Not Just for Haters Anymore

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John Shore and his wife Catherine had been attending the First Presbyterian Church of San Diego for six years when they were nominated to serve as deacons. But before they could be ordained, they were asked to sign a document agreeing that no person in a same-sex relationship should hold any position of authority within the church, which is one of the city’s oldest. It was 1990. The couple had never heard the pastor or any of his fellow church-goers talk about homosexuality. 

"At first I thought she was kidding," John says. "I said something to the effect of, 'Wouldn't it be funny if there really were a document like that?'" John and his wife refused to sign. A few days later, copies of an article the pastor had written calling acceptance of homosexuality a heresy were stacked at the church's entrances. "That's how we learned there was a whole world of Christians out there that doesn't condone homosexuality," he says.

Since then, John has dedicated himself to fighting the idea that being a good Christian means hating gay people. He has been blogging about faith and gay rights since 2007 on his own website. He also wrote a book on the subject, Unfair: Christians and the LGBT Question in 2011. 

But his message is about to get a much bigger audience: He has teamed up with several prominent gay-rights activists—including sex columnist Dan Savage and Truth Wins Out founder Wayne Besen—to launch the NALT (Not All Like That) Christians Project. The project centers around notalllikethat.org, a website where gay-affirming Christians can upload video testimonials in support of LGBT people. The site, which went live today, takes its inspiration from the "It Gets Better" project, a similar media campaign started by Savage to counteract bullying of LGBT teens. Like "It Gets Better," the NALT Christians Project is also intended to serve as a resource for LGBT youth seeking guidance about the connection between themselves and their faith. 

"Over the last 30 years, the Christian right has worked to make anti-gay bigotry almost the only defining feature of Christianity—you can be an adulterer like Newt Gingrich and get the support of fundamentalist Christians so long as you’re anti-gay," says Savage, who coined the term "NALT Christians" after receiving e-mails from fans explaining that not all Christians were anti-gay. "Christians who are not anti-gay bigots need to speak out and come out."

The project is a call to arms for Christians who want to take back their faith from the religious right, which has sucked up much of the air in public debates on faith and policy.  When conservatives like Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum become synecdoches for Christians writ large, it doesn’t leave much room for people like John and Catherine Shore—those who mirror public opinion far more closely than the anti-gay Christians on Fox News.

Indeed, while polling shows support for gay rights varies by denomination, the majority of Catholics and mainline Protestants—the country's two largest Christian sects—favor same-sex marriage. But the anti-gay crowd seems to have won the public-relations war: In a well-known 2007 study of to 16- to 29-year-olds, 91 percent of non-Christians and 80 percent of active churchgoers described Christianity as "anti-homosexual." Savage and Shore attribute the disconnect on the religious right's well-funded media machine; when gay rights are in the news, media bookers turn reflexively to virulently anti-gay personalities like the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins or Pat Robertson. "Tony Perkins is very loud and the NALT Christians are very quiet," Savage says. 

Fixing Christianity's anti-gay image is not just a cosmetic touch-up intended to make it more hip to young people; it's a matter of survival. "The conflation of Christianity and anti-gay bigotry is harming Christianity itself," Savage says. "People are walking away because of it." According to the Barna Group, a Christian polling organization, 59 percent of young Christians leave the faith because they perceive the church to be too exclusive, particularly when it comes to LGBT people. Religiosity has also declined overall. According to the most recent Census figures, from 1990 to 2008 the number of Americans who identified as Christian dropped from 86 to 76 percent while those with "no religion" doubled.

The project’s goal is as much to change attitudes within the Christian community as outside of it. "The problem with the perception of pro-gay Christianity is that we're not really being Biblical, that somehow we're lax in the relationship to the fundamentals of our faith," Shore says. "Exactly the opposite is the case. I'm tired of Christians who are gay-affirming being placed on the defense; I'm as true a Christian as you are."

The success of the NALT Project, of course, hinges on participation. While organizers say it will be hard to match the response the "It Gets Better" campaign generated—which received 50,000 submissions, including many from celebrities and high-profile politicians—they are confident there are enough Christians frustrated with how their faith is perceived to generate a good response. "People roll their eyes and say 'these guys don't represent us,' but if you don't stand up and speak out, who's going to speak for you?" Besen says.

Comments

Wish I could meet far more people like the Shores, such extreme stances of ant-gay bigotry are among the things that push people away from the church. No one with a healthy view of themselves can take (or should take) the amount of venomous rhetoric some people in church leadership positions spew for very long.

We are fighting back. The Big Jesus puppet has been at three Prides so far this year and is the creation of Liberty Church Blackpool. He expresses the fact that we are all loved by Jesus exactly as we are. Check him out on twitter: @libertychurchbp, Facebook: Liberty Church Blackpool or our website: http://www.libertychurchblackpool.org.uk/newsletter.htm.

This is a cheap ploy to get tither's back in the pews. People are leaving christian churches because the churches ideals are finally being seen for what they truly are: antiquated, outmoded and hypocritical. No matter the denomination homosexuality has always been condemned (although secretly practiced - altar boys anyone?) and chastised throughout the christian community. Homosexuals have been judged, repressed, punished, beaten, bloodied and killed by self-righteous christians for almost two thousand years! They are the ones to BLAME for all the torture homosexuals have gone through and now they want us to be part of their team? All because they're losing attendance (read as cash). Oh please. I'm a gay man who's 35. I let go of the need to be accepted by bigoted people after years of introspection and self understanding. I learned how to guide my own moral compass without any of the bull that comes with organized christian religion and I didn't have to part with any of my hard earned cash to do it. If anything this "new stance" does bring me joy because I can laugh knowing the christian religion is no different than a corporation worried about their stock price plummeting. General Motors required a bailout. Seems like the christians are looking for theirs too. And this time from the very group they've been so outspokenly and acted so violently against for almost 20 generations. Well Joseph and Mary, you won't get it from me. It's time for you to drag your old, programmed minds out into an open field and die. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust - to borrow a phrase. This is the dawn of a new age and there's no room for you anymore.

I’m always happy to see anything positive about Christianity in the Prospect, and I’m elated to hear from this article and other sources that Christians are growing more tolerant and accepting of LGBT rights. That said, I have to take issue with some of the statistical assumptions here. It isn’t quite true that 59% of millennials have left their churches due to disagreements on gay issues; while millennials are less affiliated with churches than previous generations, a large majority still are, as confirmed by this survey. It might be more accurate to say that 59% of millennials *who left their church* cited intolerance of gays as a reason. (A good source of information about religion and the millenials can be found at this address: http://www.pewforum.org/Age/Religion-Among-the-Millennials.aspx )

Furthermore, while the number of self-confirmed “nones” is larger and the number of Christians is smaller than in the past, Christians still constitute a substantial majority of the population–76%, according to this very article. American Christianity is (not for the first time) seeing a downward trend in membership that is worrisome; it is not seeing an existential crisis, any more than it did in the late 18th Century or the early 20th Century, two previous times when church membership decreased.

Liberals tend to fixate hopefully on any statistical evidence that “religiosity” is declining, but I think that they miss the big picture, which is that Christianity has endured ups and downs in membership without ever disappearing, or ceasing to be an influence in American culture. It reminds me of the way that conservatives look at population shifts away from cities and toward suburbs and exurbs and say that it’s proof of the failure of urban liberalism; never mind that lots of people (a majority in some metro areas) still live in those big liberal cities, which often still dwarf the suburban counties in population even with losses, and never mind that the last census showed many liberal cities starting to grow again (a caution against assuming that the current trend will continue forever).

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