Gays Step Up Efforts to Reverse Gay-as-Godless Stereotype

Gay rights activists are belatedly stepping up religious messaging and outreach

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

A groundbreaking survey about the faith lives of gay Americans that the Barna Group put out last week got surprisingly little attention. In my latest God & Country column for U.S. News Weekly, I tied the Barna survey's fascinating portrait of gay religious life to the gay rights movement's recent efforts to ratchet up outreach and messaging. Much of the work is aimed at reversing the gay-as-Godless stereotype.

Here's the top:

Though he was raised in the United Methodist Church, Harry Knox knew he couldn't become a minister in his denomination because it doesn't ordain openly gay members. He enrolled in a seminary of the more liberal United Church of Christ but was eventually denied ordination anyway. "My whole career as an activist is an accidental ministry," says Knox, 48, who now works at the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay rights group. "I would rather be a local pastor."

Instead, since 2005, Knox has built HRC's "religion and faith program," which works to combat the stereotype of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community as antireligious. "For far too long, LGBT organizations did not put religious allies at the forefront of our efforts," Knox says. "That's a mistake we're making less often now."

Those religious allies may be more plentiful than most Americans think. A Barna Group survey out last week shows that most gay Americans lead pretty robust faith lives. While 72 percent of straight American adults describe their faith as "very important" in their lives, so do 60 percent of gays and lesbians. Almost as many, 58 percent, say they've made a personal and ongoing commitment to Jesus Christ.

And though they are much less likely than straights to share the beliefs of born-again Christians—which comes as no surprise, since most churches in the born-again tradition condemn homosexuality—the Barna survey found that 27 percent of gays do hold those beliefs. "Many in the Christian community assume there's this significant gap between heterosexuals and homosexuals in terms of faith beliefs and activities," says George Barna, the country's top pollster on religious issues, who supervised the survey. "While there are statistically significant differences, it's the narrow size of the gap that's most surprising."

The poll unleashed a torrent of hate mail, mostly from believers furious with Barna's conclusion: that many gays are Bible-believing Christians. But more and more gay rights organizations are joining HRC in stepping up efforts to highlight the faith beliefs of many gay Americans, largely through religious outreach programs. And some religious traditions and denominations are taking steps to welcome gay and lesbian members.

Gay rights activists say that the 2004 election, when voters in 11 states passed gay marriage bans that were heavily promoted through churches, was a wake-up call. To help counter the image of the gay marriage battle as a fight between gays and religious Americans, HRC, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and other national gay rights groups quickly hired religious outreach staff.

Read the full story here.