Wednesday May 20, 2009
(RNS) Mainline Protestant clergy are generally more likely than most Americans to endorse gay rights, but only one in three supports same-sex marriage, according to a new study.
About one-third of mainline clergy support civil unions and one-third oppose any legal recognition for gay couples, found Public Religion Research, a Washington-based consulting firm, which released part two of its "Clergy Voices Survey" on Wednesday (May 20).
According to a Washington Post/ABC poll released in April, 49 percent of Americans say they support gay marriage, and 47 percent are opposed.
Five states have legalized gay marriage with a sixth, New Hampshire, set to join their ranks once legal protections for religious groups are put in place. Such assurances that churches and congregations will not be required to perform gay marriages make mainline Protestant clergy much more willing to accept them, according to the report. Support for gay marriage jumped from 32 to 46 percent with the "religious liberty"
assurance, according to the survey.
The "Clergy Voices" report details the response of senior mainline clergy from seven denominations to more than 60 questions about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues. The researchers called it "the most in-depth study of mainline clergy attitudes on LGBT issues ever undertaken."
More than two-thirds of mainline clergy support hate crimes legislation and protections from workplace discrimination for gays and lesbians; more than half (55 percent) say gay couples should be allowed to adopt children.
But the survey found "significant and sometimes stark differences" between mainline Protestant denominations, with clergy in the United Church of Christ and Episcopal Church most supportive of LGBT rights.
Clergy in the United Methodist Church and American Baptist Churches USA are least supportive.
The other denominations surveyed were the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
Overall, mainline Protestant clergy have become more supportive of equal rights for gays and lesbians over the last decade, and 45 percent now favor the ordination of gays and lesbians with no special requirements, the survey found.
Still, a slight majority (51 percent) of mainline ministers said that disagreements in their church over homosexuality have become a crisis. Among that majority, 40 percent say the crisis is about how the Bible should be read, 27 percent say it concerns what the church is supposed to be and 23 percent say it's about core Christian doctrine, according to the survey.
By Daniel Burke
Religion News Service
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