By Bob Allen
Nearly all major religious groups have become significantly more accepting of homosexuality in recent years, even those, like evangelicals and Mormons, traditionally opposed to same-sex relationships, according to a new Pew study of religious belief and practice in the United States.
Most Americans (62 percent) now say homosexuality should be accepted by society, according to the 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study released Nov. 3 by the Pew Research Center. That’s 12 points higher than when the same question was asked in 2007, when acceptance of homosexuality stood at 50 percent.
While mainline Protestants and Catholics are most supportive of homosexuality among the religiously affiliated, more than a third of evangelicals (36 percent) now say it’s OK to be gay, up 10 points since 2007.
More than half of the respondents (53 percent) said they favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally. Half as many evangelicals support same-sex marriage (28 percent) compared to 64 percent who say marriage should be limited to a woman and man.
Changing attitudes about homosexuality are strongly linked generationally. Fully half of Millennials who identify as evangelical Protestants, for instance, now say homosexuality should be accepted by society, compared with about a third of Baby Boomers and a fifth of those in the Silent generation.
Another factor in relaxed attitudes toward homosexuality is knowing someone who is gay. Among Americans who report knowing someone who is gay or lesbian, two-thirds say homosexuality should be accepted by society. Among those who don’t know anyone who is gay, the number drops to roughly four in 10. About four-in-five Americans (81 percent) say they know someone who is gay or lesbian.
Contrasted to views on homosexuality, the study found little change in Americans’ attitudes about abortion. About half (53 percent) say abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Just one-third (33 percent) of evangelicals support legalized abortion, unchanged since 2007.
The study shows that most Americans continue to view organized religion as a force for good in American society, but large numbers of the unaffiliated say religious institutions are too concerned with money and power, too involved in politics and too focused on rules.
Roughly seven in 10 Americans (72 percent) believe in “a heaven, where people who have led good lives are eternally rewarded.” Fewer than six in 10 (58 percent) believe in hell, and fewer than half of college graduates.
Six in 10 adults — and three-quarters of Christians — believe the Bible or other holy scripture is the word of God. Three in 10 adults (31 percent) and four in 10 Christians (39 percent) say the Bible should be interpreted literally, word for word. Biblical literalism is most common among those in the historically black Protestant tradition (59 percent) and evangelical Protestants (55 percent).
Two-thirds of those who identify with a religious group say many religions (not just their own) can lead to eternal life. About half of evangelicals (52 percent) say there is more than one path to eternal life.
A plurality of religiously affiliated Americans (46 percent) believe their religion should “preserve traditional beliefs and practices.” A third (34 percent) say their congregation or denomination should “adjust traditional beliefs and practices in light of new circumstances.”