Newsweek recently gave readers the astounding headline that new polling indicates “30 Percent of Young Christians Identify as LGBTQ.” What is more startling is the data comes from a highly respected and trusted research source for most evangelicals: George Barna. What are we to make of such a finding? Is there really a rainbow tidal wave washing over young adults in the church today?
To be sure, our children are increasingly inundated with messaging of how being sexually edgy is the direction to go. And just as companies spend trillions on advertising because they know media messages directly affect behavior, activists know the power of media when it comes to gaining customers to their new ideas on gender and sexuality. But we must also appreciate that findings like this are suspect for various reasons. Let us break it down.
Highly Questionable Findings
This was an online poll of 600 anonymous millennials and the report presenting the findings is 121 pages. The “LGBTQ” question was a minor subset of the overall report, but on page 98 in the cross-tabulated tables it indicates that 29% of “non-Christians” self-described themselves as “LGBTQ” while 27% of “Christians” did.
First, this finding is dramatically out of line with the best mainstream research on the topic. Gallup places this number for all Millennials at 9%. Pew places it even lower at 7%. Even the very gay-friendly Williams Institute at UCLA has the percentage of LGBT teens (which is much higher than Millennials) in the U.S. today at 9.5%.
The problem with this dramatically high number, and the methodology of the study itself, is illuminated by the report’s other very curious numbers. It found 63% of those identifying as Christian are “deeply committed” to “practicing faith’ which is good news. But it challenges all belief that 75% of Christian millennials also believe “all religious faiths are of equal value” and 47% say they “prefer socialism to capitalism.” This dramatically high preference for socialism seriously conflicts with and overlaps the 61% who identify, literally, as “an American patriot,” a curious phraseology offered in this poll.
It is not clear in reading the research methodology of this report how they could have arrived at such dramatic and mutually conflicting numbers. But these are the numbers reported on page 98.
We must also realize something important when considering this term as an identity. No one is actually “LGBTQ.” These are largely mutually exclusive categories and thus a ham-handed descriptor for anyone. As leading gay intellectual Jonathan Rauch explained in The Atlantic in 2019, the alphabet soup “is not a label that accurately describes me or any other American.” He adds, “Imagine if the religious-liberty movement instead styled itself the CJMHBSBA+ (Catholic-Jewish-Muslim-Hindu-Buddhist-Sikh-Baha’i-Animist-plus) movement.” Rauch is correct. It is a nonsense descriptor that describes precisely no one.
So when people identify as “LGBTQ” what is it that they actually mean? For some, it speaks to how they behave sexually. Others, it refers to their gender identity, or lack of it. Some still, it refers to their attitude about sexual mores today, thus the “Q.” Gallup found that most (55%) under this banner simply mean they are bi-sexual, which many in the gay community continue to see as a suspect orientation. So, it is an inherently problematic term as a meaningful and reliable descriptor for anyone.
Social Pressure to Identify as LGBTQ
It must also be admitted that, increasingly, young people will report they are “LGBTQ” or “non-binary” because of social influence. Either friends and social media pressure them in that direction or they feel put on the spot because answering truthfully that they are simply biologically male, female or heterosexual can be embarrassingly plain vanilla. Or they just find it fun to play with pollsters by answering incorrectly.
Yes, polling young people on this question can end up providing more confusion and questions than genuinely reliable answers. This seems to be the case for this new poll.
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