I was all ready to say “Ho-hum” when I read the opening paragraphs of a Huffington Post news story about a new study which finds that Catholic people are more supportive of LGBT issues than most people generally think. I’ve read this story so many times before, I was ready to say. For at least a half-dozen years, almost every survey that has appeared about religion and LGBT topics shows that Catholics lead the way among religious groups on supporting equality measures.
But, just as I was about to click through to another story (in the old days, I would have said “turn the page to another story”), I noticed that the reporter said the researcher of this new study was attempting to answer “why, despite the fact most world religions have proscriptions against homosexual practices, some nations are much more tolerant than others.”
Okay, now I wanted to read on.
The new book-length study, Cross-National Public Opinion About Homosexuality: Examining Attitudes Across the Globe, is the work of Amy Adamczyk, a sociologist at the City University of New York. Adamcyzk’s study says that several factors influence tolerance and support of lesbian and gay issues, including that while faith is an important factor, so are cultural elements. The Huffington Post reported one piece of information that I thought was fascinating:
“One recent study found that gay Polish immigrants in Chicago were much more likely to retain their Catholic identity than gay men in Warsaw who were raised Catholic.
“Only one of the 27 gay men raised by two Catholic parents in Warsaw remained Catholic. Ten of the 23 men in Chicago were still Catholic.
“The perceived hostile environment in Poland forced many gay men to make a hard choice and declare themselves atheists, researcher Hubert Izienicki discovered in in-depth interviews.
” ‘In contrast, the gay respondents in Chicago find themselves in a religiously pluralistic and immigrant society, which allows them to retain their religious tradition and Catholic identity alongside their identity as gay men,’ he reported.”
When democracy is spread, the new political culture can sometimes weaken the hold that religious institutions which oppose equality have over people. The following evidence was offered:
“. . . [In] nations such as predominantly Catholic nations such as Spain and Brazil, which have moved from authoritarian governments to democracies, the changes in acceptance have been considerable.
“In the early 1990s, 38 percent of Spanish adults and 70 percent of Brazilian adults said homosexuality is never justified. In the current decade, just 8 percent of Spaniards and 36 percent of Brazilians hold similar views, Adamczyk noted.”
Pointing to the recent news story of Newark’s Cardinal Joseph Tobin welcoming an LGBT pilgrimage to the local cathedral, Adamcyzk said that personal messages from religious leaders have an important role to play in promoting equality: “It really helps when religious officials come out and say we’re tolerant,” she said.
Adamczyk’s study also shows that strong polarization between religious and LGBT issues is not only harmful socially, but personally:
“What does not work is polarization, where some gay rights groups or religious communities view each other with hostility, cutting off the possibility of dialogue and often adding to the mental health struggles of people seeking to reconcile their religious and sexual identities.”
This last point highlights the need for bridge-building between the LGBT community and the Catholic Church–an idea receiving a lot of attention lately due to Fr. James Martin’s new book Building a Bridge.
One final quotation from Adamczyk tells me that this researcher is not only a highly-skilled researcher and analyst, but someone who recognizes that there is a lot involved in this study that is more than just numbers and graphs:
“No matter how one describes the conflict, on every side of the divide we find individuals and communities that try to make sense of their lives and live with integrity towards their own values, towards the people that matter to them, and towards what is sacred in their lives.”
Yes, in the end, the debate about LGBT equality in church and society is less about culture wars and more about human dignity, love, and the divine.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, July 7, 2017