Reaction to statements about homosexuality, among all Protestant ministers... 

Study shows vast majority of Protestant

ministers are opposed to same-sex marriage

(Original release date:  July 2, 2003)  Controversy over the issue of homosexuality is dividing some Protestant denominations and churches.  The recent landmark Supreme Court ruling striking down Texas’ sodomy laws has added to the controversy over homosexuality in the U.S.

 

Survey results from Grey Matter Research & Consulting (formerly Ellison Research) of Phoenix, Arizona show that most clergy in Protestant churches continue to view homosexual activity as a sin, even as the controversy swirls around them.

 

The study asked a representative sample of Protestant clergy throughout the United States to agree or disagree with a number of questions about homosexuality.  Statements were worded both positively and negatively toward homosexuality, to avoid bias in the questionnaire.

 

Most telling is that 78% of all Protestant ministers agreed strongly with the statement “homosexual activity is a sin,” including 73% who agreed strongly with this statement.  Twenty-two percent disagreed with the statement (including 16% who disagreed strongly).

 

As might be expected, attitudes about homosexuality varied considerably by theological and political viewpoints.  For example, among ministers who considered themselves politically conservative, 88% viewed homosexual activity as sinful.  This was also true among 78% of self-described political moderates, but only 24% of pastors who considered themselves politically liberal.

 

There is relatively little controversy over homosexuality within evangelical churches, as 86% of evangelical ministers said homosexual activity is a sin.  Mainline denominations such as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the United Methodist Church, and the Episcopal Church are where the controversy generally resides, and mainline churches are where pastors are definitely not in agreement over this issue.  Among mainline ministers, 52% said homosexual activity is a sin, while 48% said it is not.

 

One common stereotype is that older ministers are more conservative, while a younger, new breed of minister is more liberal on social issues.  The truth appears to be exactly the reverse, at least on this issue:  87% of ministers under the age of 45 called homosexual activity a sin, compared to 72% who were 60 or older.

 

Homosexuality is viewed as sinful in large part because few pastors believe it is genetic.  Just 18% of ministers agreed with the statement “people are generally born either gay or straight – it’s genetic,” while 82% disagreed (including 68% who disagreed strongly).

 

In fact, 82% of all ministers agreed with the statement “homosexuality is a choice people make,” while 18% disagreed with it.  Homosexuality was viewed as a choice by 94% of political conservatives, 79% of moderates, and 28% of liberals.  Eighty-eight percent of evangelical ministers saw it as a choice, compared to 54% of mainline ministers.

 

Interestingly, while almost half of all ministers from mainline denominations felt homosexuality is caused by genetics, that didn’t mean they accept gay marriage.  Among mainline ministers, only 28% agreed with the statement “homosexual marriages should be recognized by the U.S. government.”  Seventy-two percent disagreed, including 58% who disagreed strongly.  Among all ministers, just one out of ten felt gay marriage should be recognized by the federal government.

 

Mainline pastors also struggled with how their denomination should react to homosexuality.  Just 10% of all ministers agreed that “your denomination should recognize homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle.”  This included 33% of mainline ministers, and just 2% of evangelical pastors.

 

Two of the largest controversies in many mainline denominations are the ordination of practicing homosexuals, and the blessing of same-sex unions.  Only 10% of all ministers agreed with the statement “churches should bless the monogamous unions of homosexual couples,” including only 32% of mainline ministers, and 2% of evangelical ministers. 

 

Only 13% agreed with the statement, “homosexuals should be allowed to be ordained in your denomination,” again with just 37% of all mainline ministers agreeing (along with 4% of evangelical ministers). 

 

Most pastors also did not believe “homosexuals should be allowed to adopt children.”  Just 16% agreed with this statement, including 40% of mainline ministers and 7% of evangelical pastors.

 

Pastors’ attitudes about homosexuality did not necessarily mean they were avoiding homosexuals in their ministry.  In fact, one out of every five ministers agreed with the statement “there are openly homosexual people who regularly attend your church.”  This was true in 14% of evangelical churches, and 36% of mainline churches.

 

But pastors were split over what their response to this should be.  On the statement “you would not knowingly let a homosexual become a member of your church,” 49% agreed, and 51% disagreed.  Seventeen percent of mainline pastors and 59% of evangelicals said they would deny church membership to homosexuals.

 

The study also broke down some stereotypes about the clergy.  It’s often assumed that older ministers and those from the Bible Belt are the most conservative on these issues, which did not prove to be true.  On a majority of these viewpoints, older pastors were actually more liberal than their younger colleagues.  In addition, the most conservative pastors were generally in the West, not the South or the Midwest.

 

Ron Sellers, president of Grey Matter Research and director of this study, noted that based on this research, the controversy over homosexuality that is threatening the stability of some mainline denominations is not likely to be resolved any time soon.  “Evangelical pastors are pretty much in one accord on this issue, while in mainline churches, pastors are split almost right down the middle on whether homosexual activity is sinful.  Also, many mainline ministers hold inconsistent attitudes about gay issues, stating that homosexuality is genetic and not sinful, but at the same time opposing gay marriage, adoption, ordination, and recognition of homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle.  And that’s not even taking into account how opinions differ across the world, where European church leaders tend to be more open to homosexuality and African church leaders are more often opposed to it, for instance.”

 

Sellers also pointed out that this study was conducted prior to the recent Supreme Court ruling on sodomy laws, so the findings were not a reaction to the recent news coverage.

 

Study Details:

The study was conducted by Grey Matter Research (formerly Ellison Research), a marketing research company located in Phoenix, Arizona.  Although Grey Matter Research has numerous clients, this study was funded and conducted independently by the company.  The sample of 568 Protestant ministers included only those who are actively leading churches.  The study’s total sample is accurate to within ±4.1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level with a 50% response distribution.

 

The study was conducted in all 50 states, using a representative sample of pastors from all Protestant denominations.  Respondents’ geography, church size, and denomination were carefully tracked to ensure appropriate representation and accuracy.

It will, I believe, be everywhere found, that as the clergy are, or are

not what they ought to be, so are the rest of the nation.

Jane Austen

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Reaction to statements about homosexuality, among mainline Protestant ministers... 

Reaction to statements about homosexuality, among evangelical Protestant ministers... 

 

Statement

Agree Strongly 

Agree Somewhat

Disagree Somewhat

Disagree Strongly

Homosexuality is a choice people make

66%

22%

5%

7%

People are generally born either gay or straight - it's genetic

2

7

15

76

Homosexual marriages should be recognized by the U.S. government

1

1

5

94

Churches should bless the monogamous unions of homosexual couples

1

1

4

94

Homosexual activity is a sin

82

4

2

12

Homosexuals should be allowed to adopt children

2

4

8

85

Homosexuals should be allowed to be ordained in your denomination

2

2

2

94

You wouldn't knowingly let a homosexual become a member of your church

43

16

22

19

Your denomination should recognize homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle

1

1

5

93

There are openly homosexual people who regularly attend your church

2

12

16

70

 

Statement

Agree Strongly 

Agree Somewhat

Disagree Somewhat

Disagree Strongly

Homosexuality is a choice people make

63%

19%

8%

10%

People are generally born either gay or straight - it's genetic

6

12

14

68

Homosexual marriages should be recognized by the U.S. government

5

4

6

84

Churches should bless the monogamous unions of homosexual couples

4

5

5

85

Homosexual activity is a sin

73

6

6

16

Homosexuals should be allowed to adopt children

7

8

10

75

Homosexuals should be allowed to be ordained in your denomination

7

6

3

83

You wouldn't knowingly let a homosexual become a member of your church

35

14

18

34

Your denomination should recognize homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle

5

5

8

82

There are openly homosexual people who regularly attend your church

4

16

17

62

 

Statement

Agree Strongly 

Agree Somewhat

Disagree Somewhat

Disagree Strongly

Homosexuality is a choice people make

31%

22%

22%

24%

People are generally born either gay or straight - it's genetic

17

35

14

34

Homosexual marriages should be recognized by the U.S. government

14

14

14

58

Churches should bless the monogamous unions of homosexual couples

14

18

13

55

Homosexual activity is a sin

39

13

21

27

Homosexuals should be allowed to adopt children

19

21

16

44

Homosexuals should be allowed to be ordained in your denomination

21

16

9

53

You wouldn't knowingly let a homosexual become a member of your church

10

6

12

71

Your denomination should recognize homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle

15

18

22

45

There are openly homosexual people who regularly attend your church

7

30

16

40

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