To reflect on 2011, I have listed here the ten most popular posts in terms of visits this year. Two of the posts were written in prior years but were visited frequently this year. In addition to being popular, I think they are representative of the stories and issues which I wrote about this year.
Since publication in 2007, I have referred many people to the book, unChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. In their book, Kinnaman and Lyons report that the church is known more for what it is against than what it is for. They also document the extreme anti-gay sentiment which dominates evangelicalism. Among young people outside the church, nine out of ten viewed Christians as anti-gay.
Part of my retreat from the culture war relates to the realization that evangelicals have earned this perception. Evangelicals have not stopped with disagreement, but actively opposed equal treatment of gays. And they have not stopped with political opposition. Evangelical thought leaders blame gays for every societal evil and do so with a venom that is often shocking. When I read unChristian, it seemed that the research reported there validated my worries that Christians were largely on the wrong track.
Until recently, I had referred people to the book without knowing much about the organization which produced it. UnChristian author Gabe Lyons runs a group called Q. On the Qideas website, Lyons describes Q as:
Q was birthed out of Gabe Lyons’ vision to see Christians, especially leaders, recover a vision for their historic responsibility to renew and restore cultures. Inspired by Chuck Colson’s statement, “Christians are called to redeem entire cultures, not just individuals,” Gabe set out to reintroduce Christians to what had seemed missing in recent decades from an American expression of Christian faithfulness; valuing both personal and cultural renewal, not one over the other. Re-educating Christians to this orthodox and unifying concept has become central to the vision of Q.
I was surprised by two items in this description. One, Chuck Colson, a respected evangelical figure, has done a lot to earn Christians the anti-gay reputation that Lyons seems to lament in their book. For instance, today’s column from Colson complains about the President’s recent push to promote decriminalization (more about that in a coming post).
The second element which surprised me was the embrace of the cultural mandate – the belief that Christians are called to create a Christian society. A modern version of this view is that Christians are called to dominate the seven areas of culture and thereby create a Christian society. In an article, titled Influencing Culture, Lyons lays out the program:
HOW NOW SHALL WE INFLUENCE?
The idea of culture shaping is widely debated. Most people, and until recently myself included, implicitly believe that cultures are changed from the bottom-up and that to “change our culture, we need more and more individuals possessing the right values and therefore making better choices.” The problem is that it is only part of the solution. In a widely distributed briefing that was presented to The Trinity Forum called To Change the World, James Davison Hunter asserts, “It is this view of culture that also leads some faith communities to evangelism as their primary means of changing the world. If people’s hearts and minds are converted, they will have the right values, they will make the right choices, and the culture will change in turn.”
Hunter goes on to say, “…the renewal of our hearts and minds is not only important, it is essential, indeed a precondition for a truly just and humane society. But by itself, it will not accomplish the objectives and ideals we hope for.” This could explain why Christianity as it is practiced by many well meaning, admirable Christians in the past decades has failed to have significant traction.
Cultures are shaped when networks of leaders, representing the different social institutions of a culture, work together towards a common goal: “Again and again we see that the impetus, energy and direction for changing the world were found where cultural, economic and often political resources overlapped; where networks of elites, who generated these various resources, come together in common purpose.”
Saving souls is not enough. “Networks of elites” must come together with the “common purpose” of creating a Christian culture. Then he describes the seven mountains teaching with the slightly different phrase “seven channels of cultural influence.”
The Seven Channels of Cultural Influence
What are the different social institutions of our culture that Hunter is referring to? They are the social institutions that govern any society, including business, government, media, church, arts & entertainment, education and the social sector. Their combined output of ideas, films, books, theology, websites, restaurants, investments, social work, laws, medical breakthroughs and technology drive an entire nation.
The ideas and values they perpetuate sustain the moral fiber and social conscience of the culture. The people who lead these influential institutions have the opportunity to shape the ideas, thoughts and preferences of millions of others. If Hunter is right, it doesn’t take all that many people or time to witness dramatic shifts in the convictions and aspirations of a culture.
And one of the most unique channels of cultural influence is the church. Few other institutions convene participants from so many areas of society. When Christians embrace the common goals of both redeeming cultures and individual souls, the possibilities for positive cultural influence dramatically increase.
Lyons then uses what he calls “the homosexual movement” as an example of how one may use the seven mountains teaching to change the culture. He points to an article in the Regent University Law School Journal by Paul Rondeau (a past president of the board of the Parents and Friends of Ex-gays) which claims the current acceptance of gays as people stem from a small group of gays gathered in 1988 in Warrenton, VA. According to this narrative, the ability of that small group to steer the seven channels of influence is what has triggered the social change.
Lyons wants to do the same thing via the Church.
THE CHURCH’S OPPORTUNITY TO INFLUENCE CULTURE
I believe that the church is the hope of the world and is positioned like no other channel of influence to shape culture. Its people are called to be in the world. As John Stott puts it, “we find ourselves citizens of two kingdoms, the one earthly and the one heavenly. And each citizenship lays upon us duties which we are not at liberty to evade.” Although the work of culture creation may take place outside the physical walls of a church building, the local church creates a natural space where social networks of leaders, within all seven channels of culture, can work together towards a common goal. Nowhere else does this potential for synergy exist. Unlike other channels, the church is a living organism where God’s spirit constantly moves and seeks to express Himself through a willing Body.
Sadly, by focusing on just the “spiritual” and the afterlife, the Christian church has strayed away from its potential influence in the here and now, positioning itself instead as just another subculture. Many Christians currently hold unique and influential positions throughout the seven channels of culture, but have never been supported by fellow believers.
There is nothing particularly new in this. This is an expression of a familiar controversy about the role of the church in society. Lyons says it is sad that the church has focused on the spiritual. I think the church does not focus enough on it. Especially as the 2012 election looms, it is clear to me that many in the religious right want to use the church a a tool of political organizing for the GOP.
Lyons and Kinnaman rightly complain that the church today is known more for being anti-gay than for anything else. However, in my view, the approach suggested by Lyons is part of the problem. If the church is seeking to express Christian views of spiritual life to individuals then the personal characteristics of that individual don’t matter much. However, when cultural change is your aim, then those who would be hurt by your vision of culture become your enemies.
For instance, Chuck Colson inspires Lyons to redeem cultures. Colson’s vision of a redeemed culture does not include defense of people oppressed because of their sexual orientation. Colson is using his position as a cultural leader to oppose the decriminalization of homosexuality around the world. If Colson is doing it well, as Lyons implies, then the anti-gay attitudes Lyons documents are inevitable.
I think the Founders got it right. Religion in general can be beneficial when it supports the rights of all and freedom of conscience. However, when one religion seeks to dominate, then others who believe differently will rise up to seek protection for their beliefs.
Really? Museveni to donor nations:
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Friday urged international donors not to let concerns for gay rights affect development aid, saying homosexuals also needed roads, power and trains.
“Before anyone gives me a lecture about homosexuals and their rights, first talk about railways,” Museveni told delegates at the end of a regional meeting in Kampala attended by five other African presidents.
“Homosexuals also need electricity, homosexuals also need roads, homosexuals also need railways,” Museveni said to applause.
Hard to use all of those modern conveniences if you are in jail, Yoweri. Although maybe Museveni is right. If the Bahati bill passes, gays will need electricity in jails, and roads and railways to take them there.
As ridiculous as Museveni’s rhetoric is, it does raise a challenge to those who want hang gays or herd them into Uganda’s prisons. Gays are citizens of Uganda as are non-gays. When Museveni says they need basic services, he is right, even as he is oblivious to the reasons why Western nations are threatening to target aid to specific projects. They know gays need those things and they want them to be able to use them freely without fear of death or jail.
In one of the better studies of the effects of lesbians as parents of sons and daughters, researchers reported that 17-year old boys raised by lesbians were no more likely to be gay than those raised in straight homes. Gartrell, Bos and Goldberg found that 5.6% of boys raised in lesbian households reported sex with other boys whereas 6.6% of boys from a representative national survey reported ever engaging in sex with other boys. The difference was not large enough to be considered a statistically significant finding.
Reparative theorists claim that boys who are raised without a strong, salient father often become homosexual. In this study, the boys of lesbian parents had not been raised with any father figure and yet they were no more likely to report a gay identification than boys surveyed in a national sample with predominantly straight parents. If the absence of strong male role model generates same-sex attraction, the effect should show up in this sample.
I need to add that the group of lesbian parents represent a convenience sample and may not be representative of all lesbian parenting. Even so, the fact that boys raised in these homes displayed no behavioral indication of the effect predicted by reparative therapists is worth noting.
I assume these researchers will continue to follow these families and the results may shift more in line with reparative expectations. However, at present, this study is a challenge to the classic reparative theory.
Gartell, N. K., Bos, H. M. W., & Goldberg, N. G. (2011). Adolescents of the U.S. national longitudinal lesbian family study: Sexual orientation, sexual behavior, and sexual risk exposure. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 1199-1209.
For more on this study, see this post. I should also make clear that this post is not intended to be a comprehensive review of this study. I am here highlighting one aspect of it. There are many findings of interest, including the results with girls which indicates that girls are more likely to engage in same-sex sexual behavior.
Last week, I commented on what I see as an evangelical blackout of sexual orientation research by Christian media and organizations. While I stand by that viewpoint, the situation is actually worse than a blackout. The blackout is selective; some new research is reported. However, the studies reported and the way they are reported seem designed to create a slanted picture.
A case in point. Currently, on the NARTH (National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality) website, scientific advisory board member, Chris Rosik, reviews a new report from Gartrell, Bos and Goldeberg about lesbian parenting recently published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. The headline for the review is
New Study: Daughters of Lesbian Parents More Likely to Engage in Same-Sex Behavior and Identify as Bisexual
This is definitely a new study. The blackout is not total, but as I will demonstrate, it is selective. NARTH ignores the hard science involved in the brain scan studies but finds one aspect of a small longitudinal study of lesbian parenting to report. Now that you read the headline, read what Rosik says about how the study can be used.
While this small study is valuable as a starting point for longitudinal research into same-sex parenting, professionals and policy makers should be very wary of making any meaningful conclusions from its findings. Serious methodological limitations also argue against making sweeping generalizations. As is the case for the vast majority of studies in this area, the sample size is quite small, constituting only 78 adolescents. The sample of lesbian parents is self-selected and appears to be different from the general population on important demographics such as socioeconomic status and educational attainment. Demand characteristics (i.e., external influences such as political goals that might motivate study participants to respond in a particular manner) are not considered or assessed by the study’s authors with respect to the lesbian mothers or their adolescent children.
Certainly the Gatrell, et al. (2011) study provides some intriguing though entirely non-generalizable findings that are consistent with the hypothesis that non-heterosexual experiences and identities are more common among daughters of lesbian families than those raised in heterosexual families.
First, Rosik reports, via headline, the finding that would be of concern to religious conservatives but then in the article says one cannot make such generalizations. If one cannot generalize beyond the sample, then why report the finding as if one could?
The study also found that no children were abused in lesbian homes. This finding is in contrast to heterosexual families where abuse is reported (26% of teens report physical abuse by a parent or caregiver according to national surveys). Since NARTH is commonly represented in cases against same-sex parenting, and such information is relevant to their membership, why was that fact not a part of the headline?
Another interesting finding in the study was that boys were less likely to have been sexual involved with girls in lesbian families than in straight families. Isn’t that what abstinence educators want to promote?
My point here is that NARTH leaders do keep an eye out for new research, however, their reporting of them is selective. And then when they choose to review a study, their review is selective.
I have established that NARTH is a key source of information for Christian right organizations. When some relevant studies are ignored, and others are selectively reported, it seems clear to me evangelicals are poorly served by the organizations they count on for information.