Change of Heart: Dramatic Change in the World’s Largest Church

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Change of Heart
Country by Country comparison of LGBT attitudes

Click this chart to read Pew’s entire report on “The Global Divide on Homosexuality”

The Catholic church often is cited in the debate over religious inclusion of LGBT men and women—even by evangelical leaders who not too many decades ago had no interest in working with Catholic allies. Critics of same-sex marriage often point out: The Catholic church will never allow it. And veteran Vatican watchers agree that an official blessing on gay marriage seems unlikely. Among the key reasons that the Vatican is central to this debate:

  • IT’S OLD AND BIG—The Catholic church is widely viewed as the world’s oldest Christian denomination and it certainly is the world’s largest organized religious group. The Vatican claims that more than a billion of the world’s men, women and children are Catholic, a group that represents half of all Christians on the planet. The Roman Catholic church is about the same size as Islam, which is not a single organized religious group.
  • MORE TRADITIONAL THAN PROTESTANTS—Catholic tradition and Vatican doctrine view marriage as a sacrament, setting the theological bar for change very high, while most mainline Protestants do not call the rite of marriage a sacrament. In fact, Catholic doctrine views marriage in a much more restrictive way than American Protestants. For example, divorced Catholics still are unable to remarry in the church without first going through a lengthy annulment process, discounting the authenticity of their earlier marriage. American Protestant churches have jumped past the biblical debate on remarriage after divorce and no longer regard the practice as controversial.
  • WEIGHT OF AFRICA—The Catholic church is growing by leaps and bounds in Africa, home to some of the world’s most anti-gay ethnic cultures.
  • POLITICAL FUNDING—The Catholic hierarchy has significant funds, at the discretion of regional bishops, that can be poured into anti-gay-rights campaigns.

HOWEVER, there is, indeed, dramatic change in the world’s largest church. Across several continents, the world’s Catholic population already is supporting LGBT inclusion in general—and a large portion of the church’s membership supports gay marriages or unions.

The chart with today’s story clearly shows the majorities in many of the world’s most populous Catholic countries supporting acceptance of gay men and women. This chart does not single out Catholic respondents, but a growing body of research does just that after extensive polling of Catholics.

The most complete to date is a Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) report in 2011, drawing on surveys and other research in 2009 and 2010. If anything, this PRRI report understates the widespread Catholic support for LGBT inclusion. All other nationwide research on this issue shows American attitudes shifting to approve same-gender marriage in the last couple of years. Part 2 in this series shows Pew’s 2014 polling with 59 percent of Catholics approving of allowing such marriages.

The PRRI study found that Catholics have widely accepted their church’s call for compassion toward marginalized groups. The PRRI report concludes: “Catholics strongly believe that society should accept gay and lesbian relationships. Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) agree that gay and lesbian relationships should be accepted by society. One in four disagree, but less than 1-in-10 (9 percent) say that they completely disagree. Among the general public, roughly 6 in 10 (62 percent) say that gay and lesbian relationships should be accepted by society, 12 points lower than support among Catholics.”

Are you surprised that Catholics are a leading group in many nations, urging LGBT inclusion?

Do you think the church’s leadership would ever consider changing church doctrine on marriage?

Change of Heart: Which religious groups are welcoming gay marriage?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Change of Heart
Pew chart of change toward gays in American churches

CLICK this chart to visit the Pew website and read the entire report.

PEW research, published in the spring of 2014, concludes that America has flipped on gay marriage.

“In Pew Research polling in 2001, Americans opposed same-sex marriage by a 57% to 35% margin,” Pew reports. “Since then, support for same-sex marriage has steadily grown. Today, a majority of Americans (54%) support same-sex marriage, compared with 39% who oppose it.”

Because the United States is distinctive among the world’s nations for the intensity of religion in our culture, this also means that the vast majority of Americans identify with religious groups. As “Americans” change attitudes on any issue, by definition, it means the members of America’s religious groups are changing their attitudes. That’s different than saying official church policies are changing, but the trend is powerful, Pew concludes.

Within that larger change, Pew finds:

  • AGE MATTERS—A majority of younger Americans, people who are under 30 now, have approved of gay marriage for more than a decade. Clearly, the cultural shift is driven by a dramatic generational change in attitudes.
  • POLITICAL AFFILIATION MATTERS—Not surprisingly, more conservative Americans are drawn to the Republican party. What is striking in Pew’s new report is the growing gap between Republicans and Democrats on this issue. In 2001, the parties were separated by 22 percentage points on this issue (with 21 percent of Republicans approving vs. 43 percent of Democrats). Now, the gap is 35 percentage points! (32 vs. 67 percent).
  • RACE MATTERS—As Americans have read in headlines nationwide, many black church leaders oppose same-sex marriage and black communities are resisting the idea that gay rights is an extension of the civil rights movement. Pew reports that an 11-point gap has emerged between white and black Americans on this issue (54 percent of white Americans now approving vs. 43 percent of black Americans).
  • GENDER MATTERS—Women always have been more sympathetic toward gay marriage. From 2001 to today, women as a group have been 6 to 10 percentage points more approving than men.

What do you see in these trends?

Why do these factors matter so much? For example, why are women more approving?

COMING WEDNESDAY: Dramatic change in the world’s largest church.

What good is religion? Faith can be a powerful force in marriage

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series What good is religion?

FROM WAYNE BAKER: This week, we welcome journalist David Briggs, who specializes in reporting on research into the impact of religion in American life. This is his fifth and last column in the series …

Wedding rings

Photo by Jennifer Dickert, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The economics of relationships are shifting, and generally not in a positive way for the institution of marriage.

The recession, the rising financial independence of women and cultural shifts and technological advances that make single-parent families more acceptable and feasible are contributing to fewer people walking down the aisle.

Religious groups are not immune to these trends, but new research indicates faith is a powerful force slowing the decline.

Regular church attenders marry at higher rates, divorce at lower rates, are less likely to engage in extramarital sex and have more children than the general population, one new study found.

And highly religious individuals are most likely to hold up traditional models of marriage despite the financial costs involved, including the loss of income when one parent cares full time for children.

Two studies presented at the recent annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Religion, Economics and Culture provide insights into why people of faith are more willing to pay the high costs of marriage and raising families even in an economic downturn.

“Religious incentives play a central role in marriage decisions and should play a role in any economic model of marriage,” researcher Brian Hollar of Marymount University said in his presentation, “Holy matrimony, Batman! Why do the devout pay so much for marriage?”

There are unhappy and abusive unions, but research has indicated numerous benefits associated with married life. Married people, in general, live longer, are happier, have better mental health and are less likely to suffer from long-term illnesses or disabilities, studies have found.

Do these findings seem reasonable in your experience?

Are you married? Is faith a positive factor in your marriage?

Are there ways religion plays a negative role in marriage?

DAVID BRIGGS writes the “Ahead of the Trend” column for the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA). You can read David’s entire column, called “Faithful Unions: Religion Buffers High Cost of Marriage,” at the ARDA website.

What good is religion? Divine support may reduce parental stress

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series What good is religion?

FROM WAYNE BAKER: This week, we welcome journalist David Briggs, who specializes in reporting on research into the impact of religion in American life.

Ancient 10 commandment parchment

The numbering of the 10 Commandments varies by religious tradition. In the Hebrew Bible, “Honor your father and your mother,” is the fifth commandment. Catholics and Lutherans count this admonition as the fourth commandment.

Honoring your mother and father may be on the Top 10 list of commandments—but most parents can tell you that there are times when raising a child can try their souls.

What has been less known is how faith relates to parental stress.

Do religious teachings set up impossibly high standards that increase parental guilt? Or does the idea that God stands with them in times of both joy and anxiety reduce stress and lead to increased parental satisfaction?

The answer is a little of both. But new research suggests that there is a positive relation between some faith practices and beliefs and being a happier mom or dad.

People who regularly attend services were in general more likely to report parental happiness and less likely to say they are overwhelmed by parenting, according to one study of more than 5,500 mothers and fathers that found, “Generally speaking, religiosity is a modestly positive influence on parenting attitudes.”

The belief that “you are doing God’s will” may equip parents with a positive outlook that can help them through the ups and downs of parenthood, says Baylor sociologist Jeremy Uecker. He presented the study, conducted with Samuel Stroope of Louisiana State University and W. Matthew Henderson of Baylor, at the recent meeting of the Association for the Sociology of Religion in New York.

What do you think about these findings?

Have you experienced such parental support yourself?

DAVID BRIGGS writes the “Ahead of the Trend” column for the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA). You can read David’s entire column, called “Divine Support May Reduce Parental Stress, Increase Satisfaction” at the ARDA website. Briggs’ longer column included additional details about the complex way these influences may work in families.

What good is religion? Ask mothers at the margins of society!

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series What good is religion?

FROM WAYNE BAKER: This week, we welcome journalist David Briggs, who specializes in reporting on research into the impact of religion in American life.

Famous TV Moms“Mother.”

Read that word and you’re likely to think of your own Mom. Beyond that, you are likely to remember the thousands of TV Moms we’ve known in network series and commercials. TV images of women are increasingly diverse—but the truth is: White, middle-class women remain the dominant image of motherhood in American culture.

If you’re looking for the true impact of religion in America—and you’re only thinking about these stereotypical Moms—then you’re missing a major part of the family portrait of faith.

In large studies and in-depth interviews, researchers are finding many mothers on the margins of society—whether they are suffering with AIDS in Uganda or living in poverty in the Northeast or in a maximum-security prison in the Midwest—rely on religion and spirituality for a pathway beyond despair to having a sense of hope for the future. Their stories reveal a powerful faith that provides a vision of a better life for them and their children.

Consider these findings from recent studies:

Homeless mothers who feel forgiven by God and are able to forgive themselves and others are significantly more likely to have better mental health, one study found. The “results clarify some of the pathways that may help mothers exit homelessness or avoid it entirely,” said researchers at Arizona State University.

About seven in eight mothers attending an AIDS clinic in Entebbe, Uganda, reported spirituality helped them with their circumstances, according to a study of 162 sub-Saharan Africans. “Even if friends and family rejected them, women could still find acceptance in the present—and even hope for the future—through their relationship with God,” researchers at Brigham Young University found.

And, prayer was a special source of strength for incarcerated mothers, one study of women in a maximum-security prison found. Talking to God in prayer also gave mothers a sense of hope for the future, even if they had no practical hope to ever leave the prison system, according to a study at Wingate University.

Do these findings surprise you?

Have you seen examples of marginalized women, or men, who feel they are sustained by their faith?

DAVID BRIGGS is one of America’s most respected journalists covering religion. David writes the “Ahead of the Trend” column for the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA). You can read David’s entire column, called “Leaning Inward—Mothers at the margins find hope, support in faith,” at the ARDA website.

Divided America: Group marriage?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Divided America
Oneida children produced by eugneics circa 1887

About a decade after Oneida’s founder fled to Canada, some of the “children” produced by the Oneida Community’s policy of eugenics posed for this photograph.

Turn over a piece of fine silver flatware and see if it says “Oneida.” If so, it’s made by the company that was founded years ago by members of a commune that practiced a complex form of group marriage.

In fact, under the direction of founder John Humphrey Noyes, the community’s leadership decided who was best suited to produce children, mixing and matching partners in a process of what scientists already were calling “eugenics” in the mid 19th Century. Noyes finally fled the country in 1879; the Oneida Community ended its experiment in complex marriage and eugenics—and members of the community became stockholders in the ongoing silverware company.

What do Americans think about group marriage today?

OK, I didn’t ask a question about group marriage in my national surveys. I think it’s safe to say that the most Americans today would reject this notion of “marriage.” But that doesn’t mean most Americans endorse the traditional definition of marriage. Values about marriage, gender roles, and family are in flux in contemporary America.

Here are two questions I did ask in my four surveys. To what extent do you agree or disagree with each statement?

Statement 1: A child needs a home with both a father and a mother to grow up happy.

Statement 2: Marriage should be defined solely as between one man and one woman.

Americans are divided on both issues. Just over half of Americans agree that a child needs both a mother and father at home to be happy. But more than a third disagree, with only 11% taking the middle “neutral” position.

I observed a similar pattern for Question 2, though there was more support for the traditional definition of marriage. Since the time of my surveys, opinion has shifted, with a majority of Americans now supporting legalized same-sex marriage.

Just yesterday, a federal judge struck down a ban on same-sex marriage in Oregon. Now, 18 states allow same-sex marriage.

A generational divide seems to be emerging. Younger Americans are much more likely than older Americans to support legalized same-sex marriage. The older view of the culture war pitted cultural progressives against cultural conservatives. Now, it seems that the conflict is organized along generational lines.

To what extent do you agree or disagree with each statement above?

Do you see a generational divide?

Who made your silver flatware?

Divided America: Do you trust God or yourself?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Divided America

The Creation of Adam on Sistine Chapel ceilingOne of the main messages of is that, after all, Americans still have a lot in common. We are united by 10 core values. (You’ll find them all on our resource page). But when I give talks about my latest book, United America, I’m often confronted with skepticism and questions.

Why isn’t the family on your list of core values?

Where’s God or religion?

Values like these don’t make the list of core values for a simple reason: Americans are divided on many values, even though they are united on others. All this week, I will give you glimpses of the “other side” of my research on values in America: the values that divide us. Are you ready for the story of divided America?

The most divided value concerns moral authority: Where is the ultimate source of moral authority? Is it God? Or, are you the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong?

Many Americans say that right and wrong is based on God’s law. They also say that American kids should be raised to believe in God.

Americans are unusually God believing and God fearing, according to data from the World Value Surveys. I wrote about this in my earlier book on values, America’s Crisis of Values: Reality and Perception.

But many Americans don’t believe that God is the ultimate source of morals and moral authority. Rather, they say, what is right and wrong is up to each person to decide. The individual is the decider.

For you, where is the source of moral authority?

Does it reside in God and religion?

Or, do you place your trust in yourself as the arbiter of right and wrong?