Could Religions Win Back Young Americans by Supporting Gays?

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.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock


pam w.
pam w3 years ago

Churches are declining for some very good reasons and hypocricy of their ''Christian love" is just one of those.

Younger people are seeing the total lack of need for religion---and they're dropping out in droves.

REASON over superstition is an important factor. Good for us all!

Lynn C.
Lynn C3 years ago

Well probably not - it's not just the issue of gays or any other orientation - it's about somebody claiming to have an in with God that no one else has...ha ha ha ha - really?? What arrogance huh?

Julie W.
Julie W3 years ago

Religious participation on the decline? I think that's good news. I would have liked to see a break-down of the decline in a number of religions. It's unclear if this article refers to ALL religions.

John S.
Past Member 3 years ago

Really Winn, just making shit up again? The history of human warfare goes back to the beginning of recorded history (and, no doubt, well before that). A recent comprehensive compilation of the history of human warfare, Encyclopedia of Wars by Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod documents 1763 wars, of which 123 have been classified to involve a religious conflict, The USA is classified as a religious country, but we have only been involved in 17 wars.

To demonstrate this point, let’s look at the 20th century. By all accounts, the 20th century was one of the bloodiest centuries in human history. Two major world wars, which had nothing at all to do with religion, the Jewish Holocaust, and the Communist Revolutions in Russia, China, Southeast Asia and Cuba, have accounted for anywhere between 50-70 million deaths (some estimate upwards to 100 million). The one thing these conflicts and genocides have in common is that fact that they were ideological, not religious, in nature.

sharyn w.
sharyn w3 years ago

Whatever the particular churches, mosques, temples, halls, synagogue,etc stance on homosexuality, LGBT won't make a lot of difference unless the majority of other members of the congregation welcome them or at least tolerate them. Overall organized religion has lost members because of a variety of things like corruption, hypocrisy, greed, lies, cover-ups, sexual abuse, unequal treatment of females, restrictions, rules, intolerance, judgment, damnation,etc of just about every thing and everybody. Christians churches are not Jesus Christ-like and many won't tolerate that anymore. Also science&technology and the advances in science & technology have made some question religions stories of creation. It's like not believing in and/or finding out Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, cartoon characters and Superhero's aren't what we thought and were lead to believe. ps Please do not assume you know how I personally feel about religion, science, tech, creation, LGBT, Santa, Superhero's or anything else I have mentioned in my comments.

Karen H.
Karen H3 years ago

You have to see it from the inside. They SAY they accept others, but they don’t. Catholics are considered idolaters because of all the statuary in their churches (there are other reasons as well). Jews are accepted only because the Bible says Jesus will return after the Temple is rebuilt, and who better to rebuild the Temple after the Muslims are kicked off the mount? Once the Temple is back up, the Jews will be expendable.
They’re convinced they’re the ONLY ones Jesus will “take home to Daddy”.
There will be no change because their God will punish them if they change. They have to win people over by fear. If they can’t do that, then all of those who turn their backs on God will be destroyed. They don’t care if membership dwindles down to next to nothing because they ignore Revelation 7:9-11 wherein the saved include “a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations” and focus on the preceding verses that state only 144,000 will be saved.

da c.
Past Member 3 years ago

Perhaps more people are worshiping their God outside of the confines of a formalized church. As a society we seem to be more empowered and individualized, and especially younger people are more spiritual and less comfortable with the formal structures that often come with organized religion.

Christian Gallison

LGBT issues are only part of it. The public face of religion in America is hateful towards many people. They don't like gays, they want to keep women as second class citizens, they support the conservative movements who are anti-black and anti-brown people. They see churches firing their own ministers so they can perperate their bigotry. They see 'christians' filing lawsuits because not allowing LGBT bullying violates their freedom of religion. About the only positive the see is Pope Francis and so far he has talked the talk, but not walked the walk in any meaningful way. Young people have grown up with access to all kinds of information available to them and bronze age myths, bigotry and hatred just don't resonate with an informed mind.

Karen H.
Karen H3 years ago

God-FEARING people aren’t about to change. They can say again and again that the New Testament supersedes the Old Testament, but when you come right down to it, they’re afraid their god will smash them into puddles of guacamole if they go against the rules. Of course, they feel the rules apply to others and not themselves. Like the guy who told me, “The Bible says you’re not supposed to have tattoos”, and only shut up when I pointed out that he went to Red Lobster every couple of weeks.
It’s also a power thing. The church hierarchy certainly isn’t going to change its tune because they think that would say they’ve been wrong for 2000 years. They believe there’s only one way of looking at religion—THEIR way. They’re entrenched and nothing will drag them out of their rut.

Tim W.
Timothy W3 years ago

Dan L.
" But changing what the Bible says is sin"
You do understand that most 'versions' of the Bible people use, have been rewritten and translated over the centuries. The Bible in fact is only a collection of writings that were written over a very long period of time by many people. It was compiled by men, not God. As far as marriage being between a man and a woman goes, there is historical evidence that in its early days, there were ceremonies specifically meant for the joining of two men. There is even a Cathedral in Europe with two nights buried side by side just as a married couple would have been. I point this out not to begin an argument, but rather to point out that there are many different ways to look at the bible and the history surrounding it.