How Did Catholics Fare in the Latest Report on LGBT Acceptance in the U.S.?

While we have known for a long time that church leaders spouting anti-LGBT messages has been bad for sexual and gender minorities, a new study shows that there’s another group that is being harmed by these messages:  church institutions themselves.

The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) released a report last week entitled A Shifting Landscape: A Decade of Change in American Attitudes about Same-Sex Marriage and LGBT Issues which documents the rapid rise of LGBT acceptance in American society, and looks at how this social change impacts religious institutions.   Overall, the report showed significant progress over the past decade in all sectors of American society and in religious denominations in regard to LGBT equality, according to a news story in USA Today.

One of the report statistics that grabbed the headlines is that young people of the Millennial  generation are leaving churches because of anti-LGBT messages. On The Huffington PostJaweed Kaleem reports:

“In a survey released Wednesday, nearly one-third of Millennials who left the faith they grow up with told Public Religion Research Institute that it was ‘negative teachings’ or ‘negative treatment’ related to gays and lesbians that played a significant role in them leaving organized religion.

“Specifically, 17 percent of Millennials, or adults between 18 and 33-years-old, said negativity around LGBT issues in religion was ‘somewhat important’ to their departure, while 14 percent said it was a ‘very important’ factor.”

“A majority of Americans, 58 percent, also said that religious groups are ‘alienating young adults by being too judgmental on gay and lesbian issues.’ Among Millennials, that percentage jumped to 70.

” ‘While many churches and people in the pews have been moving away from their opposition to LGBT rights over the last decade, this new research provides further evidence that negative teachings on this issue have hurt churches’ ability to attract and retain young people,’ PRRI CEO Robert P. Jones said in a statement.”

The report also broke down some their questions by denomination, and the numbers for Catholics were  mostly positive, except for two disturbing items.  Among the positive results:

  • In 2003, 65% of Catholics said that same-sex marriage went against their religious beliefs, while in 2013, that number dropped to 53%.  When broken down between white Catholics and Hispanic Catholics, the figures show that 58% of white Catholics report a conflict, while only 45% of Hispanic Catholics feel the same way.
  • Today, 58% of white Catholics and 56% of Hispanic Catholics are in favor of same-sex marriage.
  • When asked if religious groups are alienating young adults over LGBT issues, 55% of Catholics believed this was true, but again an ethnic difference existed: 62% of white Catholics believe this to be true, while only 42% of Hispanic Catholics do so.
  • 61% of Catholics polled said they believed that people were born with a homosexual orientation, as opposed to being formed that way by upbringing or environment.  This was the second highest number of any religious group, after Jewish people (64%) who held this view.
  • With the exception of white evangelical Protestants, most religious groups felt that gay and lesbian couples were equal in parenting to heterosexual couples.  Catholics polled high in this regard, with 72% of white Catholics and 66% of Hispanic Catholics believing so.
  • Catholics also polled high in regard to favoring laws that protect gay and lesbian people from employment discrimination:  73%  of both white and Hispanic Catholics favor such laws.
  • 19% of LGBT Americans identify as Catholics, which is comparable to the general American population, of which 20% identify as Catholics.

The first disturbing statistic is that the report states:

“. . .the Catholic Church is perceived to be the group most unfriendly to LGBT people.  Nearly 6-in-10 (58%) Ameri;cans believe the Catholic Church is unfri;endly to LGBT people, more than twice the number (27%) who believe the Catholic Church is friendly.”

The Catholic Church came out ahead of the Mormon Church (53%) and Evangelical Christian Churches (51)% in terms of the numbers of Americans who perceive them as institutions unfriendly to LGBT people.

Clearly, the Catholic Church is presenting a very negative image, even though, statistically Catholics are strongly supportive of LGBT issues. Since the Catholic hierarchy has such a powerful and negative voice in the media, it is not surprising that such a large number of Americans have this perception.  Let’s hope and pray that Pope Francis’ more accepting and pastoral voice will soon be heard louder and clearer by the majority of Americans.

The second disturbing statistic from the report was in how Catholics perceive what their fellow church-goers think about same-sex marriage.  From the report’s Executive Summary:

“Roughly three-quarters (73%) of Catholics believe that most of their fellow congregants are opposed to same-sex marriage.  However, Catholics who regularly attend church are in fact divided on the issue (50% favor, 45% oppose).”

What this says to me is that even supportive Catholics think they are in the small minority of their faith group.  That phenomenon speaks to the power that negative messages from church leaders have.  Such messages can make it seem like more people agree with those ideas than actually do.

Another reason that this false perception exists may be that Catholics who support marriage equality and LGBT people may not be making themselves and their opinions be known in their faith community.  There is probably still a lot of  fear of being ostracized for holding such views, and that is understandable.  But the fact that such a false perception exists means that supportive Catholics need to muster their courage and speak their opinions whenever they can in their faith community.  Everyone will decide when it is appropriate to do so, but some times we all need to move out of our comfort zones a little and test the waters.  Even small gestures and statements can go a long way to help move the issue of LGBT equality forward in the Catholic community.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

Advocate: Religious Americans Support Marriage Equality

National Catholic ReporterSurvey: Americans turn sharply favorable on gay issues

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