WASHINGTON – Regardless of their own religious views on the issue, few Americans believe that places of worship are doing a good job handling the issue of homosexuality. The PRRI/RNS Religion News Poll, conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service, found that more than 4-in-10 Americans gave religious organizations a “D” (18%) or an “F” (24%). The number of Americans giving places of worship low marks is more than twice as many as give them high marks; Only 5% of Americans give them an “A,” and only 11% give them a “B.”
A plurality (43%) of Americans say the messages coming from places of worship are negative, and 4-in-10 Americans believe that these messages contribute “a lot” to negative perceptions of gay and lesbian people. One-third (33%) of the public also believe that messages from religious bodies are contributing “a lot” to higher rates of suicide among gay and lesbian youth, and another third (32%) say these message contribute “a little;” only 21% say they do not contribute at all.
“The survey shows that a significant number of Americans are aware of and concerned about the negative impact of messages about homosexuality from places of worship, particularly with regard to gay and lesbian youth,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute. “Notably, despite the negative evaluations of places of worship in general, Americans are more likely to give their own places of worship high marks; nearly half of Americans give their own place of worship either an “A” (28%) or a “B” (17%) on their handling of this issue.”
Of all religious groups, white evangelicals are most likely to give their own church high marks for handling the issue of homosexuality. Three-quarters of white evangelicals give their church an “A” (48%) or “B” (27%). Among white mainline Protestants and Catholics, only about 4-in-10 give their church an “A” or “B.” Catholics were most likely to give their churches negative marks, with nearly one-third giving their churches a “D” (15%) or an “F” (16%).
The survey also found significant generational and partisan gaps on perceptions of the impact of messages about homosexuality from America’s places of worship. Nearly half (47%) of young adults (age 18 to 34) say that messages from places of worship are contributing “a lot” to negative views of gay and lesbian people. Among Americans age 65 and older, less than one-third (30%) say religious bodies are contributing a lot to negative perceptions of gay and lesbian people. Democrats are more than twice as likely as Republicans (42% to 17%) to say places of worship are contributing to higher rates of suicide among gay youth.
“A majority of Americans agree that messages coming from places of worship about the issue of homosexuality are not positive,” said Daniel Cox, Director of Research for Public Religion Research Institute. “Americans are six times more likely to say that messages coming from places of worship are negative as they are to say that they are positive.
Americans across religious traditions are more likely to say that messages coming from places of worship are generally negative than generally positive. Catholics and the religiously unaffiliated are most likely to say that messages are negative (47% and 65% respectively).
Public Religion Research Institute is a non-profit, nonpartisan research and education organization specializing in work at the intersection of religion, values and public life.