A new study released by PRRI, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization, points to several factors that influence the “outlier” label many give the white, evangelical church. Addressing questions of religious liberty, LGBT policy, discrimination and morality, white evangelicals have different views than the average American.
The research was conducted in February 2017 and breaks responses to questions down by religious affiliation. Looking at the results gleaned, it’s apparent that white evangelicals find themselves increasingly further away from the cultural mindset of most Americans—and even increasingly further away from their Christian peers.
Should Businesses Have the Right to Refuse Service on Religious Grounds?
The study found that white evangelical Protestants (56 percent) is “the only major religious group that favors allowing small business owners to refuse goods or services to gay and lesbian people on religious grounds.” The majority of all the other religious groups represented (white mainline Protestants, Catholics, black Protestants, unaffiliated, and non-Christian religious groups) opposed allowing businesses to refuse service.
The study makes another interesting distinction: “Notably, despite opposition to same-sex marriage, more than seven in 10 (73 percent) black Protestants oppose allowing small business owners to refuse service to gay and lesbian people.”
Should Churches Be Allowed to Endorse Political Candidates?
The majority of Americans (seven in 10) do not think churches should be allowed to endorse political candidates and keep their tax-exempt status. The majority of white evangelicals (56 percent) agree with the rest of the country that churches should not be allowed to endorse candidates. However, the percentage of those white evangelicals who agree with this sentiment is the lowest among all the religious groups.
This sentiment among the majority of Americans is in contrast to President Trump’s promise to “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment, which currently restricts organizations (like churches) from maintaining their tax-exempt status while endorsing political candidates.
Is Sex Only Morally Acceptable if It Is Between a Married Man and Woman?
There is not much surprise here with this finding: White evangelicals are the ones who agree the most that sex is only morally acceptable if it is between a married man and woman. Following at a not-so-close second are non-white Protestants. The greater American culture is nearly evenly split, with only a slim majority disagreeing with the sentiment that sex is only morally acceptable if it is between a married man and woman.
Which Group Faces “a Lot” of Discrimination?
Opinions are varied when it comes to which demographic faces “a lot” of discrimination. The study breaks these perceptions down based on political affiliation.
It is interesting to note that while Democrats and the majority of Americans believe Muslims face “a lot” of discrimination—more than they believe Christians do—Republicans are more likely to say Christians face “a lot” of discrimination before they will say Muslims do. In fact, Republicans are just as likely to say Christians face “a lot” of discrimination as they are to say transgender people do.
The researchers pointed to another outlying phenomenon, again involving white evangelicals: “White evangelical Protestants stand out as the only group in which less than a majority (46 percent) believe gay and lesbian people face a lot of discrimination today.”
Additionally, white evangelicals are more likely to say Christians are being discriminated against before they will say Muslims are.
Do Churches Alienate Young People Over Their ‘Intolerant Views’ of Gays and Lesbians?
A curious shift in the perception of whether or not churches are alienating young people over “intolerant views” of gay and lesbian people has happened since the last time a similar study was done in 2013.
“Half (50 percent) of Americans agree religious groups are alienating young people by being too judgmental about gay and lesbian issues, while nearly as many (45 percent) disagree. Current views of the public represent a significant departure from 2013, when nearly six in 10 (58 percent) Americans said religious groups were alienating young people over gay and lesbian issues.”
Across every age group surveyed, Americans changed their views on churches alienating young people, but as the following chart indicates, none so much as young people themselves.
To summarize the research in a couple generalized sentences, it appears the divide between the convictions of white evangelicals and their Christian peers is widening—fueling the outlier perception they have in both the broader American culture and within church culture.
A silver lining in the research stands out, at least to this writer: Young adults have relaxed their perspective on the church alienating them over issues involving gays and lesbians. Perhaps this shift in perspective will grow, and in other areas, and young people will once again turn to the church for the answers they need.
These research findings and graphs came from the following source:
Jones, Robert P., Daniel Cox, Betsy Cooper, and Rachel Lienesch. “Majority of Americans Oppose Transgender Bathroom Restrictions.” PRRI. 2017.