Mainline clergy surveyed on gay marriage

USA Today reports that while mainline Protestant clergy are generally more supportive than the general public about gay civil rights, but are slightly more hesitant than their congregants about the right to marry.

Robert Jones, president of Public Religion Research and co-author of the survey, says 57% of general population and 70% of mainline laity — but 65% of clergy — agree on some form of legalizing same-sex marriage or civil unions.

However, the clergy survey finds 55% say they do not want their denomination to bless or conduct same sex-marriages and only 7% say they have officiated at one.

The Clergy Voices Survey (CVS) surveyed Mainline clergy on broad social and political attitudes and behavior during the 2008 election cycle.

Mainline Protestants make up 18 percent of all Americans and nearly a quarter of all voters. The CVS surveyed senior clergy from the seven largest Mainline denominations: United Methodist Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, American Baptist Churches USA, Presbyterian Church USA, Episcopal Church, United Church of Christ, and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The survey found significant differences across the denominations on religious and political measures.

Here is a summary of the Mainline Clergy Voice Survey conducted by Public Religion Research:

On a range of policy issues, Mainline Protestant clergy are generally more supportive of LGBT rights than the general population, and mostly in line with Mainline Protestants overall. Two-thirds of Mainline clergy support hate crimes legislation (67%) and workplace protections for gay and lesbian people (66%), and a majority (55%) supports adoption rights. Same-sex marriage is the only major LGBT public policy issue that does not enjoy majority support from Mainline clergy; on this issue, one-third supports same-sex marriage and nearly a third (32%) supports civil unions.

Support for same-sex marriage increases significantly when clergy were provided with an assurance that no church or congregation would be required to perform same-sex marriage services against its beliefs. With this religious liberty assurance, support among clergy jumped from one-third support to nearly half (46%), a movement of 13 points.

There are significant and sometimes stark differences across denominational lines. Generally speaking, clergy in the UCC and Episcopal Church are more supportive of LGBT rights, while clergy in UMC and ABCUSA are less supportive. Clergy in the other three denominations in the study—DOC, PCUSA, and ELCA—cluster in the middle but lean supportive on all of these issues with the exception of same-sex marriage.

A plurality of Mainline clergy constitute an Uncertain Middle, while close to one-third are strongly supportive of or opposed to LGBT rights and inclusion in the church.

Supportive Base (29%), clergy who strongly support gay and lesbian rights and generally do not see homosexuality as a choice nor as a sin;

Opposing Base (30%), clergy who strongly oppose gay and lesbian rights and generally see homosexuality as a choice and as a sin; and

The Uncertain Middle (41%), clergy who support some gay and lesbian rights but are ambivalent on others.

What do we make of the so-called “uncertain middle?”

Martin Marty, a leading scholar on Mainline Protestantism, said the “Uncertain Middle” identified in the survey illustrates a paradox of what he calls Ecumenical Protestantism. “Because it seeks to minister to an ever more pluralist America and internally diverse church, it concentrates on conversation more than confrontation, dialogue more than diatribe.” Marty says this characteristic “represents one strength of this group of clergy who are wellsuited to our current task of living justly together amidst our differences.”

Read the USA Today stories here and here.

Here a summary of the survey and the accompanying press release.

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