“If you had to guess, what percent of people living in America are homosexual?” That was the question I put before a group of teenagers. The answers were fired back in quick succession. One said, “Thirty-something percent.” “No,” another spoke up, “forty percent.” Then the number escalated to sixty percent. The final figure thrown out was an incredible seventy percent! Thinking that perhaps the meaning of percentages was lost on them I asked, if ten percent of a hundred people were homosexual, how many would that be. “Ten” was the immediate response. I hesitated a second to see if anyone would disagree; no one did. When I told them that recent studies suggested that the number was only about three percent, they mumbled in disbelief (see Watson, 1993).
This was not a rough bunch of inner-city kids from Los Angeles or New York. This was a small town in the South, half of whom were home schooled. They were “our” kids! Most of them probably have not yet met a homosexual. They did not have reason to; after all, only three out of a hundred are homosexual and not all of them are open about it. So, how can we account for this distorted perception? No doubt television has played the biggest role. Regularly we are shown protest marches, and “gay pride” parades on the evening news. Comedy shows touch on the subject for laughs, and movies often deal with bigotry and violent acts committed against this minority. Our government’s new policies to allow gays in the military, and in high levels of public office, have contributed as well.
Perhaps another reason for such confusion is related to the way some Christians talk about the subject. Some of the things our children overhear about homosexuality may leave them with the impression that it is so widespread and heinous that the blood of Jesus won’t touch it. If so, that is a tragedy. It is true that the Scriptures condemn homosexuality as sin (e.g., Romans 1:26-27), but the Bible does not promote the exaggerated hostility that often characterizes conversations and attitudes about people who engage in this sin. Do many of us entertain the thought of sharing the Gospel with a gay man? Paul said “such were some of you” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11); someone had brought homosexuals to Christ in Corinth. How many of us would have attempted to do so? Each of us must answer for ourselves whether our attitude toward this sin is more harsh than toward adultery, drunkenness, or gossiping. Likely, our teenagers can tell.
Our task is difficult. We must counter the misinformation of the media, while maintaining a personal balance between expressing hostility toward homosexual people and ignoring the issue altogether. Since our children’s perceptions are largely shaped by our attitudes, this task is crucial.
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