By Michael O'Loughlin
Originally published on Advocate.com January 22 2014 5:00 PM ET
When pollster Barna Group surveyed young Christians in 2007, nearly 80% said the term they most associate with their faith was “anti-homosexual.” Now a group of evangelical Christians is trying to change this image. The group has launched an online campaign, Imago Dei, that aims to highlight “the image of God in every human being in and out of the womb, without exception.”
Imago Dei is Latin for “the image of God” and refers to a passage in Genesis, the first book of the Hebrew Bible, in which God creates human beings in his own image and likeness.
The project was launched by Rev. Samuel Rodriguez Jr., president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Coalition, who was joined by other high-profile evangelical leaders, reports Time’s Swampland blog.
One of them, Focus on the Family president Jim Daly, told Swampland this week that evangelical Christians have fixated too much on hating the sin rather than loving the sinner. “So often I think that has fallen woefully short, and it certainly appears like we are hating the sinner as well as the sin. And that is the difference — you’ve got to recalibrate and say I know you are made in God’s image, and therefore you deserve my respect,” he said.
Many progressive Christians have rejected the love the sinner, hate the sin dichotomy, claiming it perverts the message found in the Gospels.
Visitors to the Imago Dei site are invited to sign up for an email list, and they are asked to check a box that certifies they “recognize that every human being, in and out of the womb, carries the image of God; without exception” and that they will “treat everyone with love and respect.”
The mission statement says that members recognize that “God exists in all human beings: black and white; rich and poor; straight and gay; conservative and liberal; victim and perpetrator; citizen and undocumented; believer and unbeliever.”
Daly has been trying to soften Focus on the Family’s image on LGBT issues since early last year, shifting emphasis from the hellfire-and-damnation ethos that has defined other Christian leaders such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. The change in tone at Focus stems in part from changing attitudes on same-sex marriage and Daly’s own experience with divorced parents and an alcoholic father, wrote Samuel Freedman in The New York Times last March.
Still, Imago Dei doesn’t signify a shift in how most evangelicals approach same-sex marriage or other LGBT issues. The site states that the project “does not sacrifice truth on the altar of cultural or political expediency but rather it elevates it on the catalytic stand of grace and love.”
Unlike Christian denominations with a strong tradition of hierarchy like the Roman Catholic Church, evangelical Christians lack a central authority to make changes in doctrine or policy. Still, some prominent evangelical leaders, such as Rob Bell, have come out in support of LGBT rights, and Not All Like That, a project to highlight LGBT-positive Christian communities, includes evangelical partners.