“Thumbsuckers” (think pieces) about the U.S. Supreme Court’s order to nationalize same-sex marriage will be flowing forth for some time to come. In the early batch, one article from Religion News Service stands out. The writer is the invariably interesting Tobin Grant, a Southern Illinois University political scientist.
Thanks to the massive sample in the 2007 “Religious Landscape Survey” from Pew Research, Grant could access detailed breakdowns on beliefs within dozens of specific U.S. religious groups.
Note: Pew conducted a similar survey in 2014 and reporters should be alert for updated results on marriage attitudes that are likely to appear later this year. Also note: Perhaps Grant himself takes the liberal view on these matters since his RNS page posts a response to the conservative Gospel Coalition from Matthew Vines, whose recent book offers "the biblical case in support of same-sex relationships."
Grant’s analysis of the Pew data has two aspects. First, he researched which large faith groups issued immediate reactions pro or con after the Court’s ruling, and which groups remained notably silent. He figures denominations that said nothing did so due to “differences in opinion among their members” as shown by Pew. That included the “mainline” American Baptist Churches, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and United Methodist Church, and the major “historically black” Baptist and Methodist denominations.
Meanwhile, public statements that praised the Court's action reflected the liberal view held by the majority in 7 groups: Conservative and Reform Judaism, Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), Unitarian Universalist Association, and United Church of Christ, along with self-identified atheists.
Criticisms of the Court were proclaimed by a predictable lineup of 8 groups where the majority of members uphold moral traditionalism: Assemblies of God, Church of God in Christ (probably the nation’s largest predominantly black denomination and the only one to issue a Court reaction), Churches of Christ, Latter-day Saints, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Orthodox Judaism, Seventh-day Adventists, and the Southern Baptist Convention. Grant did not include the numerous small denominations and independent congregations in the conservative evangelical camp.
So, what about the Catholics? Grant says they are in a “unique” situation, with a glaring “disconnect between American Catholics and the church on this issue.” The official church from the Vatican down to parish priests unites in upholding traditional marriage, but a majority of those who identify collectively as Catholic favor the redefinition now ordered by the Court. The same gap is seen among the Eastern Orthodox, though less sharply.
Grant’s second step is to rank 53 U.S. religious groups on whether they think “homosexuality is a way of life that should be accepted by society,” per Pew in 2007. Naturally this second listing is similar but allows Grant to add groups that did not appear in his first listing.
That lineup shows majority support for gay relationships among (roughly by declining percentages in favor): Buddhists, agnostics, Quakers, non-evangelical independents, Americans who believe “nothing in particular,” modernist Catholics, non-practicing Catholics, and Hindus.
Traditionalist majorities occurred in these added groupings: Methodists apart from the United Methodist Church, Presbyterians apart from the Presbyterian Church (USA), Pentecostalists apart from the Assemblies and C.O.G.I.C., traditional Catholics, Pentecostal Catholics, Muslims, Restorationist Christians, Holiness churches, Reformed churches, non-denominational evangelicals, “pietists” such as Mennonites, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
From all this, the Religion Guy draws three conclusions for journalists.
*Religious groups and their beliefs are far more complex than the news media typically indicate.
* Strong internal disagreements afflict several denominations -- the biggest right out in the open being the United Methodist Church -- and will continue to make news.
* Finally, and most obvious, a sizable and variegated lineup of religious believers feels bound to strongly resist America’s new redefinition of marriage for the indefinite future.