Thursday, May 2, 2013

PPRI Fact Sheet on Gay Issues: 7 in 10 Millennials Support Marriage Equality (and Implications for American Catholicism)

Last week, the Public Religion Research Institute published a fact sheet on gay and lesbian issues at the PPRI website. The fact sheet summarizes what well-conducted studies have been demonstrating for some time now: that a majority of Americans favor marriage equality, and that views about gay and lesbian rights vary widely between religious groups and also between older and younger Americans.

More than 8 in 10 Jewish Americans, three-quarters of "nones" (religiously affiliated Americans), 59% of Latino Catholics and 58% of white Catholics, and 55% of white mainline Protestants support marriage equality. From a religious perspective, opposition to marriage equality is concentrated among the following groups: 7 in 10 white evangelical Protestants, about two-thirds of Hispanic Protestants, and 57% of black Protestants oppose marriage equality.

The figure that stands out most of all for my eye, however, is the following (the fact sheet is citing a March 2013 PPRI/Brookings Institute survey):

There is a nearly 40-point generation gap between Millennials (age 18 to 29) and seniors (age 65 or older) on the issue of same-sex marriage. More than 7-in-10 (72%) Millennials favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally, compared to 36% of seniors. Nearly 6-in-10 (58%) seniors are opposed.

More than 7 in 10 millennials support marriage equality, while 6 in 10 seniors oppose it. This is hardly a new finding, but it's interesting to see the two sets of figures juxtaposed in a stark way in this fact sheet. Opposition to marriage equality in the U.S. is literally dying.

And this is a demographic finding that should intently concern the Republican party, since the fact sheet states that while two-thirds of Democrats support marriage equality, two-thirds of Republicans oppose it. The demographic base of the GOP is literally dying.

Just as it's a demographic finding that should concern churches (e.g., the Catholic church) which simultaneously want to hold a hard, exclusive line on issues affirming the full humanity and human rights of gay folks, and at the same time to continue attracting younger members: as the open letter of a young evangelical, Dannika Nash, to the churches that Fred Clark featured recently at his Slacktivist site notes, studies now show 7 in 10 of Americans aged 23 to 30 turning their backs on churches altogether.

The 7 in 10 figure is, interestingly enough, the same figure as the percentage of support for marriage equality among millennials. It would not be stretching matters to claim that younger churched Americans are rejecting the churches precisely because of the refusal of many churches to affirm the full humanity of gay persons and support the full human rights of gay persons--just as Dannika Nash tells the churches in her open letter. 

Younger Americans who have had church ties up to now are walking away from churches in droves due to the unwillingness of churches to welcome and love those who are gay, with no qualifications and buts, and no messages to wash your dirty hands directed exclusively at those who are gay. In the case of the Catholic church, blaring announcements about love and welcome such as those made by the president of the U.S. bishops' conference Timothy Dolan on Easter day are grossly belied by actions of gross unwelcome and gross lack of love like the removal of Nicholas Coppola from several ministries in his parish in Oceanside, New York, and the firing of Carla Hale by a Catholic high school in Columbus, Ohio.

And this is why I say that the finding that 7 in 10 millennials support marriage equality should concern the Catholic church, in particular. The Catholic church in the U.S. prides itself on claiming that it holds onto members despite the gradual loss of members by mainline Protestant churches that have, so Catholic leaders and apologists maintain, "diluted" Christian faith and are therefore losing people who seek authentic, engaged religious faith founded on fidelity to historic beliefs and norms.

One of the reasons leaders of the Catholic church have aligned their church now with conservative evangelical churches (and with the political party leaders of both groups bless as God's anointed party) is precisely because, so they claim, this alignment will keep younger Catholics in the fold. By assuring that the Christian message remains "undiluted," that the Catholic brand remains "orthodox" in the same way the evangelical brand is orthodox, Catholic leaders imagine they'll retain the loyalty of younger Catholics.

The findings of PPRI and many research groups like PPRI strongly suggest the opposite. They confirm something we've had every reason to know for some time now, something Robert Putnam and David Campbell told us several years back in their book American Grace: younger Americans are leaving the churches as quickly as possible, and the exodus is increasing, because they're sick and tired of seeing their gay family members and friends trashed by churches. Putnam and Campbell have already told the churches what Dannika Nash is now trying to tell them, a message many churches evidently still do not want to hear, since a church camp employing Nash chose to fire her after she posted her open letter to the churches on her blog.

Just as a church in Wisconsin has just chosen to cancel an anti-bullying speaking engagement of former Green Bay Packers' safety LeRoy Butler after Butler tweeted congratulations to Jason Collins when Collins came out of the closet several days ago . . . . The church has informed Butler that his contract had a morality clause (!) that he violated (!) by tweeting support for Collins (!), and its pastor has told Butler that he's right on gay issues and Butler is wrong. Case closed.

It's because of behavior like this that even solidly right-wing evangelical groups like the Southern Baptists are now losing younger members. The formula of intransigent resistance--I'm right and you're wrong--on which leaders of right-wing American evangelicalism and right-wing American Catholicism have relied to keep younger members in the fold, will in all likelihood work increasingly poorly for the Catholic church in the U.S., if it cares about retaining the affiliation of younger Catholics.

If for no other reason, the choice of Timothy Dolan to hire right-wing Republican (and here) activist Kim Dolan as his new mouthpiece serves the entire U.S. Catholic church very badly, because it confirms something many of us have already suspected: namely, that the people U.S. Catholic bishops care most about in the world are older white Republican makes, aka the money machine. A dying demographic . . . . 

This choice does not provide a bright prognostication of the future of American Catholicism. It also illustrates a stolid determination on the part of the leaders of the American Catholic church to ignore even the symbolism of a kinder and gentler--a more inclusive and really loving and welcoming--church that the new pope has, it appears, been trying to cement into place in the media.

Money, powerful men who are a money machine, count more than anything else for the pastoral leaders of American Catholicism, and will continue to count more than anything else. That's the bottom-line message of Dolan's choice of Kim Daniels as his mouthpiece. That's the bottom-line message that someone wanted censored at the NCR site, when I posted about Dolan's hiring of Daniels at that site a few days ago.

As I said a day or so ago when I commented on Jason Collins's coming out of the closet, one of the chief reasons biblically fueled bigotry of the sort Chris Broussard displayed after Collins made his announcement is being ramped up right now in the American media, political sphere, and many American churches is precisely that those who have counted on homophobia to carry the day now sense that they are losing a major cultural battle. Some folks are particularly exercised by the sense that they have lost the battle against gay rights especially among younger Americans, and they fear events like the coming out of an NBA player because of what such events communicate to younger people.

The vitriol and abuse heaped on gay folks at various Catholic blog sites in the U.S. has ramped up all over again in recent days (and, shamefully, with the tacit and even active collaboration of moderators of these sites), first in response to the debate the Supreme Court has elicited by hearing cases about marriage equality, then by the enactment of marriage equality in more places in the U.S. and the world at large, and now by Jason Collins's coming out.

The fact that some American Catholics who consider themselves the owners of the American Catholic brand continue to feel perfectly free to taunt and attack those who are gay on Catholic blog sites--and why wouldn't they feel such freedom, given the Nicholas Coppola story and the Carla Hale story and Timothy Dolan's empty "Dirty Freddie" bloviations?--does not bode well for the future of the American Catholic church. When it's coupled with what Dolan is communicating by appointing Kim Daniels as his media mouthpiece, it's a morally troubling--a morally filthy--message, particularly to a Christian community whose very name is about all-inclusive welcome.

As the label on the graphic indicates, this is a graphic produced by the Pew Research Center to illustrate its findings in March 2013 re: the demographic breakdown of views on marriage equality.

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