By Bob Smietana
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — More than 100,000 same-sex couples have tied the knot since the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriages nationwide last year.
But for preachers, being asked to do a same-sex wedding remains rare.
A new survey by Nashville-based Lifeway Research found 11 percent of Protestant senior pastors have been asked to perform a same-sex wedding.
Baptist pastors (1 percent) are the least likely to say they were asked to perform a same-sex wedding. Presbyterian/Reformed pastors (26 percent) are most likely.
Overall, pastors who identify as mainline were three times as likely to have been asked than evangelical pastors (18 percent vs. 6 percent). Pastors 55 and older (14 percent) are twice as likely to have been asked than those 54 and younger (7 percent).
“Most couples, if they want a church wedding, will ask a pastor they know or who they think will support them,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “For same-sex couples, this appears to be an older Presbyterian pastor.”
Churches split over role of LGBT people
The survey of 1,000 Protestant senior pastors also asked about the role of LGBT people in the church, which remains a contentious issue for many denominations. Fewer than half of Protestant senior pastors say their church allows LGBT people to serve, even in limited roles, Lifeway Research found.
When asked where LGBT people can serve, 34 percent of senior pastors say “nowhere.” Thirty percent say “anywhere.” Fifteen percent say LGBT people can serve in at least one role. Twenty-one percent aren’t sure or haven’t discussed the issue.
Among denominational traditions, Presbyterian/Reformed pastors (66 percent) are most likely to say LGBT people can serve anywhere, followed by Methodists (49 percent) and Lutherans (42 percent). Baptists (8 percent) and Pentecostals (13 percent) are least likely.
Pentecostal (58 percent) and Baptist pastors (54 percent) are most likely to say LGBT people are not allowed to serve. Methodist (5 percent) and Presbyterian/Reformed pastors (14 percent) are least likely. Overall, 42 percent of evangelical pastors say there is nowhere for LGBT people to serve in church. Only 22 percent of mainline pastors agree.
Serving often allowed in the background
The research shows pastors don’t always fit the stereotypes when it comes to the roles of LGBT people in church, McConnell said.
Evangelical pastors are often seen as less friendly to LGBT people, yet fewer than half of their churches completely bar LGBT people from serving, he noted. Mainline pastors, on the other hand, are seen as affirming to LGBT people, yet they are split down the middle over whether LGBT people can serve anywhere. And a surprising number of churches haven’t talked about the issue, McConnell said.
Pastors seem most comfortable allowing LGBT people to serve in the background.
Forty-four percent of all pastors in the survey say LGBT people can serve in “helping or serving roles.” Fewer say they can lead public worship (32 percent), teach publicly (32 percent) or hold public leadership roles (33 percent).
Many mainline pastors (64 percent) say LGBT people can fill helping or serving roles. They are more divided over whether LGBT people can lead worship (54 percent), teach (54 percent) or hold leadership roles (55 percent).
Fewer evangelical pastors say LGBT people can lead worship (19 percent), teach (20 percent) or hold leadership roles (21 percent). A third (35 percent) say LGBT people can fill helping or serving roles.
A previous Lifeway Research study found most Protestant pastors believe same-sex marriage is morally wrong. So it’s no surprise few are asked to perform such ceremonies, McConnell said.
There’s less consensus about the roles LGBT people can play in church.
“More pastors are open to LGBT people serving in their church than being married there,” he said.
Bob Smietana is senior writer for Facts & Trends magazine.
The phone survey of Protestant pastors was conducted March 9-24, 2016. The calling list was a stratified random sample, drawn from a list of all Protestant churches. Quotas were used for church size and Black Protestant denominations. Each interview was conducted with the senior pastor, minister or priest of the church called. Responses were weighted by region to more accurately reflect the population. The completed sample is 1,000 surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.2 percent. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups.
Lifeway Research is a Nashville-based, evangelical research firm that specializes in surveys about faith in culture and matters that affect churches.