One of the more unusual political alliances that has developed over the past two decades has been the deepening relationship between U.S. Catholic bishops and Evangelicals in this country. Not surprisingly, one of the areas of common ground for these otherwise seemingly disparate groups is their opposition to marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples.
Yet recent research confirms what other reports have shown: that U.S. Catholic lay people strongly support marriage equality, unlike their counterparts in Evangelical churches. The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) released statistics which show that while 69% of Evangelicals in the U.S. oppose marriage equality, only 37% of Catholics do. On a related issue, PRRI reports the following data:
“Fewer than half (49 percent) of American Catholics agree with the traditional Catholic teaching that sex between two adults of the same gender is sinful, while nearly 8-in-10 (78 percent) of white evangelicals agree.”
Writer Patricia Miller notes that for a long time now, Catholics have been outpacing Evangelicals on support for LGBT people. In a Religion Dispatches article, she reports:
“On the . . . . issue of same-sex marriage, Catholic opinion has tended to be slightly more favorable than the population as a whole and way more favorable than Evangelical opinion. The 2007 Pew Poll found that 42% of Catholics expressed support for same-sex marriage versus 36% of the population as a whole. In terms of trends, 40% of Catholics supported same-sex marriage in 2001 with that number increasing to nearly 60% by 2014. By contrast, only 13% of Evangelicals favored same-sex marriage in 2001 and just 23% approve of it today.”
As for the latest data, Robert Jones, the head of PRRI, points out an interesting twist for those who thought that they knew the difference between Catholics and Evangelicals. It turns out that Evangelical Christians are more in line with official Roman Catholic positions on some social issues than Catholics are. In an article in Tbe Atlantic, he notes the following results from his research, in addition to the two statistical comparisons mentioned above:
“Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of white evangelical Protestants say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, compared to less than half (47 percent) of Catholics. Perhaps most surprising is the white evangelical Protestant view on whether employers should be required to provide employees with no-cost contraception coverage. Despite their history of criticizing Catholics for opposing artificial means of birth control, white evangelical Protestants are far more likely than lay Catholics to oppose mandated contraception coverage (58 percent vs. 37 percent).”
Jones notes, however, that the role Pope Francis will have in politics can complicate this alliance between Catholic bishops and Evangelicals. Of the pope, he states:
“On March 31, for example, he met with 18 members of the Green family, staunch Southern Baptists and owners of the billion-dollar Hobby Lobby empire that is suing the Obama Administration over the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act. But the pope’s call for economic justice complicates the relationship, because it calls both Catholics and evangelicals to cooperation beyond a narrow band of cultural politics. It remains to be seen whether this evangelical flock will hear in Pope Francis’ broader message the voice of a shepherd they can follow.”
Miller’s analysis shows that not only is it unusual that so many Evangelicals are following the Catholic bishops on politics, but that few pundits are picking up on the fact that Catholics, in fact, are not following their bishops. She writes:
“The real Catholic-Evangelical convergence is between the Republican leadership, the Catholic bishops, right-wing Catholics, and rank-and-file Evangelicals, a coalition that was cemented by Karl Rove with his aggressive outreach to ‘conservative‘ Catholics during the Bush administration. But the fact that a big chunk of moderate and progressive Catholics are missing from this coalition continues to be lost on many in the media. It’s as if as long as the bishops are vocal in their objections to progressive polices and someone in the public is making noise, there’s a tendency to attribute it to “Catholics.” How else to explain the PPRI number that only 37% of Catholics oppose the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act, when the widespread perception that Catholics were broadly disapproving of it helped gin up early and critical opposition?”
While ecumenical networking is definitely a positive development, it is troublesome that the U.S. bishops seem to have more in common with members of another denomination than they do with their brother and sister Catholics. This news should be a wake-up call to U.S. bishops that they need to be in better dialogue with lay Catholics, particularly on issues of sexuality. At stake is the very unity of the church.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
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