June 7, 2013
The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press has just released a large, detailed survey exploring public opinion about homosexuality and gay marriage. Included in the survey (Part 3) are a number of questions that explore whether respondents see homosexuality as sinful, and they asked respondents their religious identity, too. The Pew Center has asked these questions before, so they can report changes in these opinions over the past decade.
The results are striking. Over the past decade, there has been a 10% drop in the percentage of Americans who say it is “sinful to engage in homosexual behavior” (55% to 45%). That is a large shift in public opinion, so that’s interesting. But what really stands out are the differential shifts in opinion by religious affiliation.
The biggest shift has been among Catholics, only a third now saying homosexuality is a sin as opposed to half a decade ago (a 16% shift). White Catholics are now even less likely to view homosexuality as a sin than White mainline Protestants (35% vs 38%). Note that they do not have data from a decade ago about those with no religious affiliation, but not that only 18% today view homosexuality is a sin, lower than any religious group.
Among White evangelicals, the shift was quite modest, only a 4% decrease. Today, they are one group most likely (78%) to see homosexuality as a sin. And among Black Protestants, the percentage viewing homosexuality as a sin is just as high, but actually increased 5% over the past decade.
If any Friends were included in the sample, I don’t know how they would have been categorized, mainline or evangelical. Perhaps they would have been asked to categorize themselves. If so, it probably would have mattered whether they were FGC, Conservative, FUM, or EFCI.
These shifts in public opinion that Pew is tracking are quite complex. What are the influences shaping how we think about “sin,” I wonder. For myself, I was brought up in contexts (family, church, community, etc.) that simply accepted longstanding, never-questioned views that homosexuality should be seen as a sin. But as I was challenged to think about it, I realized my view was simply an inherited prejudice, one that in no way fit with my understanding of God’s will.
The Pew Center did not ask God for an opinion. Each of us has to do that ourselves. (I work from the assumption that God’s opinion has not changed.) At the end of the day, I don’t view the question of what is sinful as a matter to be settled by public opinion. What do you think God thinks on this question? For that matter, how do we know what God considers a sin?