The LGBT Gap, By Religion

By Mark Silk 06-18-2013
Photo courtesy Pan Xunbin/

Freedom and peace abstract concept background. Photo courtesy Pan Xunbin/

We all know that when it comes to the acceptance of LGBT folks, religions differ. But what the religions communicate, and how the people in the pews actually feel, are not the same.

In a word, the rank and file tend to be more accepting than the leadership. What’s striking is how much this LGBT Gap varies from religion to religion, and we can get some idea of the variance from Pew’s new survey of LGBT Americans.

As the measure of institutional messaging, we will use the percentages of LGBT people who say a given religion is unfriendly to them. These range from 84, 83, 79, and 73 percent for Islam, Mormonism, Catholicism, and Evangelicalism to 47 and 44 percent for Judaism and Mainline Protestantism. Then there is the proportion of members of each religion who believe that “homosexuality should be discouraged by society.” That’s 45, 65, 20, and 59 percent for the first four groups; 15 and 26 percent for the last two.

Now let’s consider the gaps. At the low end it’s 14 points for the Evangelicals and 18 percent for the Mainliners and the Mormons. In these cases, the membership is pretty much on the same page as the leadership.

In the middle come the Jews at 32 percent and the Muslims at 39 percent. In the case of the Jews, the 44 percent unfriendly number suggests that the Reform and Conservative movements have not done a very good job of getting their gay-friendly messaging out. As for the Muslims, the relatively large gap may be explained by the high number of well-educated professionals in the American Muslim community and the likelihood that the unfriendly number is based on pronouncements coming from Muslim leaders abroad.

By far the largest gap is in Catholicism — fully 59 points separate LGBT perception of Catholic unfriendliness from Catholics’ support for societal discouragement. Simply put, the bishops have gotten the message across very well that the Church looks with disfavor on homosexuality, but the laity isn’t buying it. Or at least, the laity isn’t buying the proposition that society as a whole should follow the lead of the Magisterium.

Those campaigns against same-sex marriage? It looks like the consensus fidelium is to forget about them, bishops.

Photo courtesy Pan Xunbin/

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. Via RNS.

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