70% of U.S. Catholics say homosexuality should be accepted by society, according to new data from the Pew Research Center. The data also suggests that this number will surely grow as generational shifts continue in the church.
The data, part of the 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study released by Pew earlier this week, identify generous gains in religious Americans’ acceptance of LGB people since the first survey in 2007. [Editor’s Note: transgender topics were not addressed by the survey.]
Catholic approval was merely 58% in 2007, reported Crux, gaining twelve percentage points in just a handful of years. Evangelical Christians and Mormons jumped about ten points in their acceptance, though acceptance is still just about one-third.
While the new numbers reveal the percentage of the U.S. population who identify as Christians declining, as well as overall drops in religious adherence, those who are religiously affiliated remain as observant of their faiths if not more so. Taken together, this strengthens the truism that Catholics support LGBT equality because of their faith, not in spite of it.
The Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Jay Brown expressed a similar sentiment, saying:
” ‘Despite attempts to paint religious people as monolithically opposed to LGBT rights, that’s just not the case and these numbers prove that. . .There’s growing support of LGBT people and our families, often not in spite of people’s religions but because the very foundation of their faith encourages love, acceptance and support for their fellow human beings.’ “
Pew’s latest survey backs another report released for Pope Francis’ visit earlier this fall which stated 46% of Catholics approved of same-sex marriage and 66% approved of same-sex couples raising children. At the time, I suggested those numbers were low and offered some thoughts as to why, which you can read here.
70% acceptance of LGB people seems more on point, and the good news is Catholics’ support for LGBT equality stands a good chance of rising as more and more Millennials come of age and come into leadership. Pew explained:
“Changing attitudes about homosexuality are linked to the same generational forces helping to reshape religious identity and practice in the United States, with Millennials expressing far more acceptance of homosexuality than older adults do.”
Why are Millennial Catholics supportive of LGBT equality beyond reflecting views of their generational cohort? Faith is a clear reason, say some commenters.
Catholics for Choice’s Jen Girdish wrote in Crux about a July survey which explored the divide between the views of young adult Catholics and their bishops. She suggested that Millennial Catholics more strongly oppose discrimination (71%), embrace diversity in the church, and practice a faith that respects conscience while emphasizing justice.
Keystone Catholics Stephen Seufert echoed this, writing at the journal Millennial:
“When millennial Catholics see friends and family members who feel isolated and unwelcome because of their sexual orientation, they too feel alienated. And when necessities like healthcare are denied, they often think the Church is being unjust. They see the Church as embracing a narrow commitment to man-made rules and traditions rather than a more loving, compassionate approach. Pope Francis understands that Catholics everywhere are living, breathing testaments to God’s uncompromising love. We must have a real discussion about how that love translates into welcoming gay, lesbian, and transgender people into our communities.”
How much more accepting U.S. Catholics will become and over what period of time depend on two questions. First, how Hispanic Catholic youth respond to LGBT acceptance is key. More than 60% of U.S. Catholics under 18 are Hispanic and its unclear whether they will tend towards their parents’ more conservative values or match their peers’ broader acceptance. Second, Millennial Catholics desire for spirituality does not guarantee they are bound to the Catholic Church, and 41% can envision leaving it. LGBT harm, such as sacramental denials and the firing of church workers, unfortunately will make such an exodus a reality.
Whatever is to come, that 70% of U.S. Catholics accept homosexuality is progress worth celebrating now.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry