Wednesday, February 26, 2014

New Public Religion Research Institute Survey: A Third of Millennials Who Have Left Churches Cite Anti-Gay Teachings As Reason for Leaving

The Public Religion Research Institute has just published the results of a national survey which finds that the religious landscape of the United States is being transformed as support for same-sex marriage dramatically increases in the U.S. One of the big takeaways of the survey:

Nearly one-third of Millennials who left childhood religion cite negative church teachings about gay and lesbian people as important factor.

This finding is consistent with a study that PRRI conducted in 2011 which found that nearly 7 in 10 millennials report that religious groups are alienating their generation by adopting stances intolerant of gay folks. A study by the Barna Group in the same time frame replicated this finding. The same finding--that faith communities in the U.S. are alienating a significant proportion of the millennial generation by adopting an anti-gay stance--appears in Robert Putnam and David Campbell's book American Grace, which was published in 2010.

Though we've now seen a half-decade of studies consistently demonstrating one after another that younger Christians are leaving the churches in significant numbers (and here) and are reporting that their primary reason for doing so is that they are repelled by the anti-gay stances of many churches, to the best of my knowledge, the Catholic bishops in the U.S. have, as a body (or individually, for that matter), addressed this important finding with absolute silence. With an absolute refusal to talk about the problem.

The Catholic bishops of the U.S. have implemented no pastoral strategies to deal with this sociological reality. The Catholic bishops of the U.S. have called for no national Catholic discussion of the growing alienation from the church of an entire generation of younger Catholics, due to the perception that the leaders of the Catholic church are resolutely opposed to tolerance for and inclusion of those who are gay in church and society. 

No discussion, no pastoral strategies: and, meanwhile, younger Catholics keep walking away. In droves. Here's PRRI CEO Dr. Robert Jones on the finding of the latest survey:

While many churches and people in the pews have been moving away from their opposition to LGBT rights over the last decade, this new research provides further evidence that negative teachings on this issue have hurt churches' ability to attract and retain young people. Nearly one-third of Millennials who left their childhood religion say unfavorable church teachings about or treatment of gay and lesbian people played a significant role in their decision to head for the exit.

Another finding of the latest survey: the obstinate refusal of the Catholic hierarchy in the U.S. to engage lay Catholics in meaningful conversation about these issues is creating a serious gap between where lay Catholics find themselves and where the hierarchy dictates that they must stand: the survey finds that 

In addition to the nearly three-quarters of religiously unaffiliated Americans (73 percent) who favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry, majorities of Jewish Americans (83 percent), white mainline Protestants (62 percent), white Catholics (58 percent) and Hispanic Catholics (56 percent) currently support same-sex marriage. Hispanic Protestants are divided; 46 percent favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry and 49 percent oppose. By contrast, nearly 6-in-10 (59 percent) black Protestants and nearly 7-in-10 (69 percent) white evangelical Protestants oppose same-sex marriage. Only 35 percent of black Protestants and 27 percent of white evangelical Protestants support same-sex marriage.

Even in the conservative Southern state of Florida, with its Republican-dominated legislature and tea-party GOP governor, as Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg recently reported to the Vatican, though most Catholics in his diocese appear not to support marriage equality, they nonetheless reported in response to the recent Vatican questionnaire on issues pertaining to the family that "many had serious problems with the church's pastoral approach to divorced and remarried couples and to same-sex couples."

It appears to me that the "new evangelization" has its work cut out for it. When a third of the members of an entire generation of younger folks step away from religious communities with the claim that that generation hears no good news at all in how religious communities are dealing with a vulnerable minority group, it would seem that there's an imperative need for those religious communities to reexamine what they understand by "good news." There's an imperative need for such reassessment--and for honest dialogue with those alienated by the current "good news" message of these religious communities--before it's too late, and the generation is simply lost to religious affiliation.

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