John M. Becker

Gays More Accepted in Churches, Except Catholic Ones

Filed By John M. Becker | September 12, 2014 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Catholic attacks on LGBT rights, Catholic Church, churches, faith communities

Data from a new survey of clergy members conducted by Duke University and released yesterday suggests that overall acceptance of LGBT people in religious congregations increased significantly between 2006 and 2012, but fell in Catholic congregations.

The Associated Press reports:

Duke University's National Congregations Study is derived from interviews with representatives -- usually clergy -- of 1,331 U.S. churches, mosques, temples, synagogues and other houses of worship. Overall, the study found acceptance of gay and lesbian members in American congregations increased from 37 percent to 48 percent over the six-year period. Acceptance of gays and lesbians as volunteer leaders increased from 18 percent to 26 percent.

Growth was especially strong among black Protestant churches, white liberal Protestant churches and non-Christian congregations... The study also found that acceptance of gay and lesbian members in white conservative Protestant churches increased from 16 percent to 24 percent during the period covered by the survey. Their acceptance of gay and lesbian volunteers was unchanged at 4 percent, however.

But as for the Catholics...

RainbowCatholic.jpgPerhaps surprisingly, given the support for gays and lesbians among Catholics in general, representatives of the Catholic churches surveyed expressed less acceptance of gay and lesbian members in 2012 than in 2006. Interview subjects were asked specifically whether openly gay or lesbian couples in committed relationships would be permitted to be full-fledged members of the congregation.

In 2006, 74 percent of those surveyed said yes. That number decreased to 53 percent in 2012. While the decrease is large, the rate of acceptance, 48 percent, still remains higher than that for all congregations surveyed.

Asked whether the same couples would be permitted to hold any volunteer leadership position that was open to other members, 39 percent of Catholic respondents said yes in 2006 but only 26 percent said the same in 2012. That is the same as the number for all congregations surveyed.

The Catholic numbers are actually not all that surprising, for several reasons. First, the U.S. Catholic bishops have mounted an unrelenting crusade against LGBT people, our allies, and our civil rights (chronicled extensively here at Bilerico).

Second, while lay Catholics support LGBT equality at a higher rate than any other Christian denomination, the Duke survey didn't talk to lay Catholics -- it spoke to members of the clergy, who in the Catholic Church are beholden to their homophobic bishops.

Third, while lay Catholics are relatively progressive on issues like contraception and marriage equality, National Catholic Reporter analyst Thomas Reece rightly notes that the priesthood is moving in the opposite direction, with younger, more conservative priests (albeit fewer of them) replacing older, more liberal, Vatican II-era priests.

And then there's this:

The survey was taken "before Francis got into the papacy, and I believe he would have made a difference," said William D'Antonio, a senior fellow at Catholic University of America's Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies. "Francis has lowered the focus on sexual matters and increased the concern for the poor and needy."

For the sake of LGBT Catholics -- particularly emotionally vulnerable LGBT Catholic youth -- here's hoping Pope Francis's change in tone will help LGBT acceptance in Catholic congregations to rebound. If not, the Church risks driving more Catholics to anxiety, depression, and suicide, and falling even further down the slippery slope toward irrelevance.

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