It’s no secret that religious participation is on the decline in the United States, particularly amongst millennials. A full one-third of American adults under 34 have abandoned their places of worship, and it turns out that gay rights play a larger part than you might have imagined.
In recent months, Public Religion Research Institute conducted a survey to zero in on why younger Americans are dropping their faith affiliations. Thirty-one percent of such people declared churches’ negative perspectives and treatment of homosexuality an “important” factor in their decision to leave.
For the record, most of the newly faith-less don’t identify as gay themselves, they just disagree with the institutionalized intolerance. However, LGBT Americans are slightly more likely (37 percent versus 33 percent) to give up attending religious services. Incidentally, 92 percent of LGBT Americans regularly attended church as children, nearly identical to the figure for straight Americans.
The poll also makes the difference in generational attitudes toward the gay community even more clear. Milliennials (religious or otherwise) are significantly more likely to support gay adoption and legalizing same-sex marriage, to have LGBT friends, and to have a majority of their friends support gay rights.
For one of the best examples of this divide, look no further than the recent firing of Mark Zmuda, a highly adored vice principal at a Washington Catholic high school. When the church learned that Zmuda was in a relationship with a man, officials terminated his employment. Hundreds of students, nearly the entire student body, declared the church’s policy bogus by holding a sit-in and walk-out to protest. Why would teenagers like these who see Catholicism as a source of bigotry rather than love continue to affiliate with the church after becoming independent?
Even the older crowd that has stayed loyal to its churches understands the problem at hand. Fifty-eight percent of Americans of all ages agree that religion has “alienat[ed] young adults by being too judgmental on gay and lesbian issues.”
With this knowledge, places of worship know a critical tool to bring American youth back to the pews. For many religious institutions, dropping the faith-based homophobia would be a smart PR move. If acceptance of homosexuality is a non-negotiable issue for the majority of America’s youngest adults, churches will need to compromise to maintain its influence.
Will a late-to-the-game “mea culpa” be enough to pull disenchanted millennials back in? It doesn’t seem likely that people who chose to buck tradition would feel the need to go back. Many such young adults have realized they’re capable of establishing values and a spiritual identities on their own without the churches help.
Regardless of whether it would bring anyone back in, religions that drop their homophobic teachings would certainly stand to benefit from a retention standpoint. Moving forward, shifting societal opinions indicate that hanging on to anti-gay views will only alienate more young Americans who have maintained their affiliations for now. By giving millenials one less major reason to disagree with religious doctrine, the likelihood of keeping them active in church life is significantly increased.
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