NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Americans hold contradictory opinions on the issue of homosexuality, including whether homosexual behavior is sinful. A similar percentage of Americans consider homosexual behavior sinful to those who do not, and neither view gains a majority, according to a new study by Lifeway Research. The study also found that Americans’ views of homosexuality impacts their openness to participation in a church.
A telephone survey of 1,201 American adults, conducted in April 2008, revealed that 48 percent of all Americans believe homosexual behavior is sinful, while 45 percent believe it is not sinful, almost a statistical tie when considering the margin of error.
The percentage is slightly different when the respondent indicates he or she knows someone with same-sex attraction; 49 percent indicating it is not sinful. Among those who have a religious affiliation, 55 percent of Catholics and 31 percent of Protestants said they do not believe homosexual behavior is sinful. That number dropped to 17 percent among born-again, evangelical or fundamentalist Protestants.
Holding opposing views, 39 percent of Catholics, 61 percent of Protestants and 79 percent of born-again, evangelical or fundamentalist Protestants said they do believe homosexual behavior is sinful. Among the sample of all Americans, 48 percent said they believe homosexual behavior is a sin.
Twenty-nine percent of Americans said their decision to visit or join a church would be positively affected if that congregation taught homosexual behavior is a sin. Among Catholics, that number dropped to 23 percent. Thirty-eight percent of Protestants and 50 percent of born-again, evangelical or fundamentalist Protestants said they would be more likely to visit or join a church if it taught homosexual behavior is sinful.
Thirty-two percent of Americans – almost one in three – said their decision to visit or join a church would be negatively affected if that congregation taught homosexual behavior is sinful. Among Catholics and Protestants, that number is 27 percent. It dropped further to 21 percent among born-again, evangelical or fundamentalist Protestants. Among those who never attend any place of worship, 49 percent said this teaching would negatively affect their decision to visit or join a church.
Those statistics should give church leaders pause and lead them to strike an important but delicate balance between demonstrating Christ’s love for all people while still presenting a biblical teaching about homosexual behavior, said Ed Stetzer, vice president of Lifeway Research and Ministry Development.
“It’s surprising to see how many Catholics disagree with the clear teaching of their church or, for that matter, the percentage of Protestants who consider themselves born-again, evangelical or fundamentalist, who do not believe homosexuality is a sin,” Stetzer said. “Seventeen percent in that latter category may seem low compared to the others, but considering these people consider themselves born-again, evangelical, or fundamentalist, it reminds us of the need for clear biblical teaching on the issue in our community.”
The trajectory in Western culture is toward greater acceptance of homosexuality, Stetzer noted, but evangelical Christians cannot base their convictions about homosexuality on what polls say or the values portrayed in the media.
“We did not develop our views of sexuality because we flipped a coin or took a poll,” he said. “We believe the teaching of Scripture is clear that monogamous, heterosexual marriage is God’s best for people, culture and society.”
Stetzer also pointed to the challenge in the data. “Almost a third of Americans and almost half of those who do not attend a place of worship – the people we are trying to reach – say our view of sexual morality would negatively impact their decision to visit our churches,” Stetzer said. “It’s clear we have a challenging but essential task. We need to strive to show the love of Christ, while upholding the standard of Scripture, to those who struggle with same-sex attraction.”
The survey also asked participants which factors they thought contributed to same-sex attraction and gave them six options: choice, determined at birth (inevitable), influenced at birth (but not inevitable), childhood abuse, lack of bonding with parent and lack of same-sex parent role modeling.
Across all categories of Americans – religious or not – the largest percentages selected “choice” as a contributing factor. Among the sample of all Americans, 51 percent selected choice. Fifty-three percent of Catholics and Protestants and 60 percent of born-again, evangelical or fundamentalist Protestants picked that option.
Among the sample of all Americans, 38 percent said same-sex attraction was determined at birth, while 47 percent of Catholics, 33 percent of Protestants and 25 percent of born-again, evangelical or fundamentalist Protestants selected that option. About one-quarter of adult Americans indicated that childhood abuse, lack of same sex parent role modeling, lack of bonding with parent and influence at birth were contributing factors to same-sex attraction.
According to the survey, 66 percent of Americans are personally acquainted with someone who is attracted to people of the same sex. That percentage held among Protestants and 68 percent of Catholics answered in the affirmative.
Methodology: The size of the survey sample provided a 95 percent confidence that the sampling error did not exceed 2.9 percent for questions asked of the entire sample.