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In Theory:

Youths’ image of Christianity

October 20, 2007

Many young people think Christianity is too judgmental, hypocritical and anti-gay, according to new findings by Christian-based research firm The Barna Group. The group reportedly found that church attitudes about people are creating a negative image of the faith among people 16- to 29-year-olds, and thus driving them away. Are you seeing this within your own faith community? And even if it's not Christian, how do you convey traditional religious messages to youth to keep them interested in the faith?

It's no secret that education in our country is far from what it should be.

Young people are not up to par on math, science and social studies — let alone religious teachings, which are often completely foreign to them. I find that many of the rash statements made about religious organizations being "hypocritical" or "anti-gay" often result from a simple lack of knowledge.

I regularly come across young people (and not-so-young people) who have misconceptions about Judaism. It's my responsibility as a rabbi to educate them, and direct those who are seeking the proper path. Furthermore, it's important for religious groups of all kinds not only to be reactive, but to take a proactive role in communicating their core views to the public. It is critical to put forth our positions on basic issues so that there is no misunderstanding or confusion.

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A good example of such misunderstanding is the prevalent misconception that religion is anti-gay. In reality, this is untrue, since the Bible is "pro" all people, gay or straight, and makes a very clear distinction between a person and behaviors. As with all activities that are deemed immoral, it is the activity itself that is disliked and discouraged — but the individual is always to be respected. This is an important distinction, which sometimes gets lost by one side or the other in the midst of overheated debate.

There's an old Jewish saying that "words which emanate from the heart will enter the heart." Ultimately, if a message is delivered with care, understanding, respect and love, it will be accepted. Following this mode of communication is a sure-fire way of reaching our youth and affecting them positively.

RABBI SIMCHA BACKMAN

Chabad Jewish Center

My denomination, the United Church of Christ, is officially pro-gay. That doesn't mean all my parishioners are pro-gay; some very definitely are not.

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